Month: April 2020

This and That

Lots of work, but low motivation. Being constantly interrupted doesn’t help. Week 7 on around-the-clock cooking duty doesn’t help, either. Daily hour-long walks have become absolute sanity savers. I just wish there weren’t quite as many others outside. Today, it was freezing and raining, so I finally got to be (almost) alone outdoors. It was glorious.


I feel very disconnected from my job. Yeah, I am on sabbatical, but the research part of it is such a slog. I can’t believe that up until a few years ago that’s all I ever wanted to do. Now I’m just really bored. Bored with the papers I read, bored with the papers I write, just bored with science. You know how the general public says that science is hard and boring? I get it now. I get how they perceive us, all of it.


I’m thinking about a second career. I know it’s a stupid idea, an irresponsible idea, but I guess thinking about just starting over is developmentally appropriate at my age and career stage. The thing is, it’s hard to keep doing my job and taking care of my family, and actually immerse myself in another (competitive, creative) endeavor deeply enough so that in a few years I can expect some money from it. But maybe I’m just scared and more than a little lazy. Right now, focusing on anything requires serious willpower, willpower I can’t seem to summon, because of constant, CONSTANT distractions.

Some random reading along these lines:


Missing alone time, real alone time, several hours without having to look over my shoulder, expecting someone will barge in and need something from me. Could I escape and sneak into my office? 


My nose is stuffy, who knows why (allergies? whatever), and when my nose is stuffy, I just want to bite heads off.


I am so, so sick of cooking.


Sup, blogosphere? 

Linking No Blinking

More links today, as I catch up on stuff.

Auditory Infotainment

Podcasts. What do we think? I am not the biggest fan of the form. I find most that aren’t heavily edited to be a slog:  slow, with too little content for the runtime, and hosted by people whom I don’t find engaging.

But, I found one that’s well aligned with my extracurricular interests, and have been enjoying it on walks. Some episodes are awesome, others so-so.

The host sometimes brings her husband on as a guest. Those are the worst episodes, yet, cruelly, also the longest. She sounds really uncomfortable and giggles (nervously? flirtatiously?) far more than with other guests. Also, for this type of podcast you have to love the topic, and he just…doesn’t? Anyway, she’s great when she talks with other women, and those episodes have been smooth and strangely soothing.

Blogosphere, do you have podcast recommendations?  Please share your faves. 

Loony Links

Annoyability, Cont’d

A few days ago, nicoleandmaggie wrote about annoyance and wanting to spare people, and it inspired this post of mine. 

I try to pursue new experiences and activities in meat space, but what invariably happens is that I am the only non-American-born participant. Some people are weirded out by it; others are not. I don’t know if it is my intrinsic ability to annoy people, the accent, or both; all I know is that there is always someone in these little communities who is annoyed by me and doesn’t bother to hide it.

Let me tell you, it takes some expert-level temporary dissociation to work through these events. Fortunately — or perhaps unfortunately — having been a woman in STEM all my life, I have plenty of experiences in environments where at least some, and often most, really don’t want me around. I handle it fine on the spot, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice or remember the hostility, or that it doesn’t bother me deeply once I am free to feel my feelings again.

This was true in my kickboxing classes, which I started and stopped many times. It’s moot now, with the social distancing and all, but every time I rejoin I am the only one with an accent and since the kickboxing folks are generally nonacademics, the accent freaks them out. Some people don’t care, but some do, and those that do aren’t subtle about wanting nothing to do with me (e.g., looking at me askance, ignoring me if I ask them something, being weird if we need to do a partner exercise together).

This brings me to my sci-fi book club. I’ve been attending about a year and a half and most people in it are nice. But there’s one woman who never fails to take a jab at me, and another man who doesn’t necessarily hate me, but definitely low-key avoids me. I’m one of the newest members, so the rest have longer histories together, and occasionally I feel like I should just do everyone a favor and drop it all. But then I remember I didn’t do anything wrong:  I read the books, I listen, I speak up briefly (definitely don’t hog the discussion, which some others do), so why wouldn’t I have a right to be there? And it’s not like anyone asked me to leave; some people actually seem to like having me around.

I had a book club meeting over Zoom earlier this evening, so a very recent jab is fresh and painful. My husband says most people aren’t even fully aware of how callous they can be, how their needling affects others. I kinda get it, but not really, and, in any case, why does the jab victim always have to be the bigger person? It’s exhausting to always have to have my game face on, pretending I don’t notice.  

Are any of you out there feeling sensitive to others’ annoyance and wanting to flee, blogosphere? Hoping to do a favor to yourselves and the people who clearly dislike you by disappearing? 

Grump Nuggets

— I’ve been in a foul mood today, so not much to discuss. I did manage to (in no particular order) cook a ridiculously large amount of food, go for an hour-long walk followed by an hour-long shower/pamper routine, supervise kids’ school work, and work on a book chapter. It wasn’t a total loss, but I’m pissy and just want to be left properly alone, the kind of alone where there’s no chance of people interrupting you, needing stuff from you, or looking over your shoulder.

— I hate to admit it, but some short-story rejections are getting to me. I am a sucker for punishment — as if all the paper and grant review bullshit isn’t enough, so I had to chose a serious hobby through which I get subjected to even more rejections! I have one piece that is the bee’s knees, but it has an unusual narrative structure, so it’s been raking in close-but-no-cigar rejections and that’s messing with my mood.

— I’ve done flash sprints with a small writers’ group twice now. The way a sprint works is a prompt drops (so far both have been visual prompts), you have an hour to write a story of up to 1000 words, then they’re voted on over the next 24 hrs, and whoever wins gets to be the sprint master the following week. There are people who can write a great, long story of 800-1000 words in an hour. Mine have so far been around 500 words; the second one it took me 15 min to come up with a story arc I didn’t find totally boring, but the time was short, and I ended up with a really rough draft, with a few great lines, but still lots of work needed. Being that I am an overachiever, I hate it that I’m not killing it (yet). People say you get faster with time, but to me a visual prompt is like 732 actual prompts and it takes me a while to sift through all the ideas and commit to one, whereas people say have to just pick one in 5 min and that’s it; I generally edit as I go and spend some time finding the voice at the outset, and once I do, things unfold quickly, but if I lose 10-15 min on the first couple of paragraphs, and it took me 15 min to think of a full story arc (both true last time), I blink and the time is up. Ugh. I hate not being able to immediately do stuff with  an arbitrary level of excellence.

— One good thing: Several colleagues outside my institution have written just to say hi, share how they’re doing amid the lockdown, and ask how we’re doing over here. I found this heartwarming even though I am in the middle of an acute misanthropic episode.

How’s it shaking, blogosphere? How are you doing overall? 

Shit Valley

Warning: Whining ahead. 

Since the beginning of the quarantine, which is now five weeks in over here, the university administration has sent between seven and eight million emails emphasizing how we need to be flexible and understanding with our undergraduates and graduate students, how we need to check in on their mental health, and that we definitely positively should not be pressing for normal-times productivity.

This is all perfectly fine and I fully support it. But I’d like the same courtesy to be applied to us, faculty/PIs, by both the administration and students.

I am not teaching this semester, but my husband is. I have witnessed things quickly — within a week or two — going from “Put your courses online in any way you can, we don’t expect perfection” to “Students want this and that, want more synchronous teaching, more videos, want to chat in person, make it all happen, stat.”

My graduate students definitely expect (and receive) lenience from my side, but want me to keep going as usual. They’re impatient about feedback on their papers and re-submissions, even though I have service in addition to research and kids at home and kids’ school work and tons of daily cooking and haven’s had a moment alone in five weeks.

I know, I know, that’s what being a grownup means, and I have a good, well-paying, secure job, and most people are in much worse conditions now, so I should really shut up, but within this privileged life of mine, I occasionally get tired of being stuck in Shit Valley, located at the foot of multiple hills down which all the shit rolls. Kids’ and students’ shit, because they’re young and need protection and I’m supposed to be able to take it all. Admins’ shit, because somehow we faculty work in the service of them and their grand (by which I mean increasingly corporate) visions, instead of them working for us and the students.

I, too, am human, and some days (or years) I don’t wanna cook or read crappy drafts or parse adminspeak-filled emails devoid of content, and instead I want to be left alone to watch Hart of Dixie for the seventeenth time because the fictional town of Bluebell, Alabama, and its wacky inhabitants soothe my soul.

Blogosphere, what do you do to unwind? Any go-to activities, books, movies, shows?

Linky Dink, Dinky Link


Shopping and Mentoring


You know, I believe I’m doing quite well during this quarantine time. Generally in good spirits, productive, having time for extracurriculars, and keeping the family going.

Then I go shopping and get reminded that we all live in the middle of a shitshow.

The zombie-apocalypse (i.e., nonexistent) traffic; everyone at the store subdued, with masks and gloves on. Never before was the aisle with toilet paper and paper towels the first stopping point. At 7 am on a midweek shopping trip. I wish I could do it biweekly, but we go through A LOT of food (did I mention that the not-yet-13-y.o. Middle Boy is 6’1″?), and I don’t have the space to store two weeks worth of all that meat and produce.

Yesterday, one man in his sixties snickered at me as I picked out fruit while wearing a mask and gloves. I allow that my mask was ridiculous, but I don’t think that was it. He was the only shopper I saw all morning who wore neither a mask nor gloves. He probably thinks we’re all morons.

These days, every shopping trip completely drains me.

Blogosphere, how are you holding up? 



I have a postdoc (PD) who’s been with me about 18 months. Very energetic and productive, but communication has been an issue from the get-go. The problems stem from PD’s poor command of the language, as PD is a foreigner who got their PhD in their native country.

I just looked at a draft of our first joint paper, and my heart sank. On the first page in the preprint form (meaning the page contains the title and the abstract of some ~150 words), I made more than forty comments. There were multiple syntax, grammar, and punctuation issues in each sentence. It’s completely unreadable.

PD said they consulted the two native speakers we have in the group before sending to me, which I highly doubt. I can give some general remarks, but the line edits would just be too numerous. I don’t have the time or the bandwidth right now to teach someone English as a second language, especially remotely. Even if I were to mark everything up on the pdf, then send it back, it would only achieve readable English at the sentence level. We still have to rewrite completely for structure, clarity, and emphasis.

Even in the best of times, I cannot do as much hand-holding for a postdoc as I do for a graduate student, and these are far from the best of times. I said I would just rewrite the whole thing, and hopefully PD can learn from side-by-side comparison. 

Blogosphere, how would you handle this? In normal times vs. corona times? 

Learning in Times of Corona

Kids are back in school, virtually. I am amazed at the great resources available to them. Smurf’s 3rd-grade class is organized; he gets a clear list of daily to-dos on Google Classroom, clicks on each task and does it, turns it in, then proceeds to the next one. He has a videoconference with his class three mornings a week and he’s had some playdates with a good buddy the same way. He’s enjoying his piano lessons over video. I’ve started some light kickboxing tutoring with him, because he’s been really into it ever since I deigned to set up the heavy bag I’d bought for Xmas. He’s super cute in oversize gloves, punching!

Middle Boy’s school situation is much more chaotic. He’s in middle school, so different teachers for different subjects and different kids. Some teachers are comfortable assigning work online, others not so much; the amount across the board is far less than what the kids would do in regular school.

Middle Boy is now learning Spanish through something called Blended Spanish software, which (to me) looks gorgeous. I don’t speak Spanish, but speak (with various levels of proficiency) several other languages; I’ve been meaning to brush up on my rusty German for years now, but hey, no time like the quarantine to take up learning a new language, so maybe I will make it Spanish alongside MB.

It bothers me how little general knowledge the kids have (or maybe it’s just the perpetually blase MB). He was supposed to find verbs ending in -es and -is in a sentence in Spanish, but it turned out he didn’t know what a verb was or what verb conjugations were. These were quick to explain, but why doesn’t he know this from school? (Why don’t many of my undergrads alongside some domestic grad students know what parts of speech are? When I mention things like a compound adjective, so many of them give me a deer-in-headlights look.) I have no idea when these concepts are covered in K-12 English; I’m thinking in elementary school, but I hope it is before the start of foreign-language instruction.

Husband always tells me not to compare people against myself, but I’ve always wanted to know EVERYTHING. Scratch that; I wanted to learn everything where I  could appreciate an underlying logic, and the logic made memorization a breeze. I hated teachers who made me cram without rhyme or reason (I’m looking at you, all history teachers and most biology and geography teachers I’ve ever had). At some point I fell in love with grammar, and that love and fascination with the underlying structures stayed with me as I studied foreign languages. Seeing the conjugations of the present tense of a couple of Spanish verbs, and how natural the rules were, made me giddy.

Anyway, virtual learning. On the upside, at least I now know what the kids are learning and can help out and explain what was missed. And I get to learn a few things along the way! 😉


Likely taking a break from posting tomorrow, as I have a story deadline and some award nominations to finish.

Re some stuff on Twitter. I know it’s a privilege to be home at this time and not outside, doing essential work and risking my life every day. But the likes of me who are fortunate to work from home can’t be expected to self-flagellate over it 24/7.