Archive for February, 2012

The Scoop on School: or, Five Fun Facts Every Graduate Student Should Know

“So, any idea when you’re going to finish your dissertation?” my brother asked innocently toward the end of our conversation yesterday. Why, after three and a half years, people persist in asking this question is beyond my powers of comprehension. Quite frankly, you have a greater chance of getting a straight answer out of the president on any given day than you do if you ask me that question.

I’ve written before about the drudgery of dissertating and the direct correlation between the units of alcohol I consume and the number of times someone asks the above question in any social context. I even went so far as to commiserate with my committee chair over the nails-on-a-chalkboard effect this conversation has on my nerves. “They don’t understand. You’re doing fine,” she assured me several weeks ago.

Then last week, I was filling out my mandatory annual progress report and feeling reasonably accomplished with a forthcoming book chapter publication, a conference presentation, and my work for the English Graduate Organization…until I came to the question: “projected date of dissertation defense?”, and I just might have scribbled the words “buggered if I know” before realizing that this probably wasn’t the professionally-minded response the department was looking for. Then I remembered that in just a few hours, I would be sitting in a room full of fresh-faced, undergraduate English majors, extolling the virtues of graduate school (in other words, perjuring myself).

Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The truth is, I love what I do. Not only do I get to read, write about, and (if I’m lucky) teach literature I love, but I occasionally get the chance to legitimate my fangirlish tendencies as “academic interests”. How many people can watch BBC 1’s “Sherlock” multiple times and call it research? But then there are the sleepless nights, the heart palpitations as a result of overcaffeination, and the threats to drop out of school and join a traveling circus as the wandering freak who can recite random passages from Bronte novels while balancing on one leg and spinning around with her eyes closed. (I’ve been contemplating adding a “special skills” field to my CV just to make room for that). The question that the uninitiated (in other words, non-academics) invariably ask is: how? How do you survive this masochistic mental torture?

So, I present for your edification: survival strategies: five facts every graduate student should know.
1. You will inevitably fall into at least one of these three categories: functioning alcoholic, caffeine addict, or chain-smoker. IF you do not fall into at least one of these categories, you are in denial.
2. You will learn quickly that any grocery list is incomplete without three staples: peanut butter, cereal, and vodka. Running out of any of these items constitutes a nutritional crisis. Running out of any or all of these items the night before a seminar paper is due constitutes declaring a state of emergency. IF you think you can write a paper in twelve hours without the sustenance of protein, fiber, and alcohol, you are deluding yourself.
3. Six hours of sleep will be a record-braking maximum from now until, basically, the end of your living existence, and you will learn to settle for half that on a good day (see number 1).
4. If, like me, you choose to live alone, assign at least one friend to be what I have affectionately termed your “Bridget Jones buddy”—the person who forces their way into your apartment when they haven’t heard from you in at least three days to make sure that you haven’t been devoured by wild dogs. Ideally, this should also be the person you would trust to clear your computer history in the event that you are eaten by wild dogs, or, in a twisted tribute to your love for Oscar Wilde, carried off by a severe chill. You don’t want your anonymously published fanfiction falling into the wrong hands. Trust me.
5. You will occasionally burst into tears for no apparent reason. This is normal, and as long as you have item number 3 on your grocery list staples near to hand, you will get past the moment.

Note: the above is presented as much for entertainment as edification. Evidence that these are universal truths applying to all graduate students remains inconclusive. All facts should be taken with a grain of salt…plus a slice of lime and a shot of tequila.

Related Posts:
Never Give Up on Your Dissertation, for It is Crunchy and Goes Well with Ketchup
“Are You Still Dating that What’s-his-Name?”: and Other Awkward Holiday Part conversation Killers

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The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing: or, Valentine’s Day and the Commoditization of Love?

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”- Oscar Wilde, the Picture of Dorian Gray.

This quotation has been marinating in my brain for the last several days as I’ve been rereading the novel from which it is taken, and I found myself reflecting upon it last night as I entered the grocery store with a friend and was immediately in danger of being sucked into a vortex of Valentine’s Day merchandise: cards, candies, flowers, cupcakes, cookies, balloons, and teddy bears offered fragrant, fluffy, and fatty reminders of the approaching Hallmark holiday. Now, I am in no way averse to the celebrating of Valentine’s Day, but I do think that it’s gotten increasingly like the commercialization of Christmas in the marketing campaigns associated with it.

When I was growing up, my father would come home from work on Valentine’s Day each year with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates each for my mother and me. When I was in high school, the student counsel sold roses and balloons each Valentine’s Day, and my father (who taught at my school) would send me a rose and a balloon each year, anonymously of course, and he still won’t admit to having done it because there was, and possibly still is, the chance that some boy too socially aware of his reputation to openly like the blind girl might secretly have wanted me to know he was out there, somewhere. Forming an alliance with me might be “regarded as a highly reprehensible connection” by the rest of the school, but I was no less worthy all the same. My dad did what he did for the simple joy of watching me participate in the day with my peers.

The past two years, I’ve received a package from my mother with several dozen chocolate muffins from Vitalicious. Nothing says “I love you” quite like a box of fiber-infused, shit-your-brains-out chocolate chip muffins. More importantly, they’re practical, like my mother. These guilt-free, tasty treats are a weekend ritual for me—a hardy helping of indulgence on a Saturday morning. They are, however, rather pricy on a fixed income, and bank account, heart, and waistline appreciate the gesture.

Such sweet simplicity offers a stark contrast to the advertisement from Amazon.com that appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago: a special deal on the new Kindle Fire, an exclusive Valentine’s Day offer! As gadgets and gizmos replace candy and cuddly animals as tokens of our affection, is the price tag on love getting bigger and its value getting smaller? Perhaps, though we might argue that jewelry store sales have been indicating as much for years. Truthfully though, whether you show your love with candy or a Kindle, what matters most is that your heart is in the right place.

St. Valentine’s name is taken from the Latin word “valens,” meaning strong, powerful, healthy, and worthwhile, according to Latinwordlist.com. This day isn’t simply about chocolate, cards, and conversation hearts; it’s about cultivating strong, powerful, healthy, and worthwhile relationships, with yourself as well as with others.

So: love to all, not just today, but each day. Remember that you are worthy of love and are loved in ways you probably aren’t always aware of. Most importantly, remember that love, the most priceless gift we have to share, is also the freest. (Restrictions do not apply. Offer good year-round).
Happy Valentine’s Day!

P.S: Thanks to Yearstruicken over at Year-Struck for providing some inspiration for today’s post. Check out her post: Love in the Time of Garlic, because everyone deserves a bit of bloggy love, especially on Valentine’s day!

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BBC Naked: the Clever Coverup that Reveals all!

The other night I finally had the opportunity to watch the final episode of the BBC’s Series 2 of “Sherlock” with my friend and colleague, the lovely and talented K. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might recall K’s appearance in the Birthday Chronicles, and those of you who have seen us together will express little surprise at what follows.

K and I have spent many a Saturday night at my apartment, watching and re-watching some of our favorite films, most recently BBC’s “Sherlock” (about which we are publishing a long-anticipated book chapter…watch this space for details). Well-equipped with equal measures of wine and wit, K keeps up a steady stream of live descriptive video. As she has frequently pointed out, my blindness shouldn’t rob me of essential (and sometimes non-essential) visual details. So adept has she become at transmitting visual information that, in true Sherlockian fashion, I have often declared, “I’m lost without my describer.”

This past Saturday night’s viewing of “The Reichenbach Fall,” in addition to the usual routine of giggling, pausing, rewinding, and giggling some more, was responsible for the coining of a new catchphrase about to take the world by storm. Partway through the episode, K drew my attention to two particularly enticing scenes. IN the first, John Watson (Martin Freeman) emerges from the shower at the Baker Street flat he shares with Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch).

K: John just walked into the room, and he just got out of the shower, and his hair is wet, and it’s really sexy. Oh, and he’s wearing a robe. Nothing else. Just a robe. You need to know that. It’s important.
Me: And he’s clearly naked under the robe, even though you can’t see anything, because, you know, this is the BBC.
K: Yes, exactly, and he looks really sexy. I mean, really. I just think you need to know. I don’t want you to miss out.

Scene Two: Sherlock and John are in their Baker Street flat, finishing dressing for a court appearance.

K: OK, so, get this. Sherlock and John are in the flat, and they’re finishing getting dressed for court. IN the same room. Sherlock is buttoning up his shirt, and John is adjusting his tie, and oh…there’s eyefucking. Sherlock is totally eyefucking John’s reflection in the mirror. So, they either were just naked, or they’re thinking about getting naked.
Me: They’re BBC naked!

And thus was coined the phrase “BBC Naked,” adjective- a state of appearance in which a character’s clothing is arranged in such a way as to suggest a prior state of nudity or to encourage the audience to visualize the character in a state of nudity to circumnavigate the awkwardness of actual televised nudity. Perhaps one of the best-cited examples of BBC naked is this scene from their wildly popular television adaptation of Jane Austen’s /Pride and Prejudice/ (1995). Discussing the scene in an Interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” several years ago, Colin Firth (whose dripping Darcy has become iconic among fans and scholars of Austen alike) revealed that in the original script, Darcy dives into the lake completely naked. “But,” Firth pointed out, “the BBC didn’t consider that acceptable…so, then in the end I thought, well, what’s second most spontaneous to taking all your clothes off and diving into a pond? And I suppose, really, not taking any of them off.” Thus the image of him emerging from the lake to confront Elizabeth Bennet, dripping and distinctly flustered, while intended to lend an air of propriety to the sexually-charged scene, had precisely the opposite effect.

Hence my assessment of the above “Sherlock” scenes as prime examples of the BBC naked strategy, particularly in scene two. The ritual of dressing together is sumptuously sensual. If John and Sherlock are not dressing after an episode of intense lovemaking (which K and I have in fact theorized is the case), the depiction of dressing together intensifies their level of intimacy and comfort with one another, which, sexualized or not, is an oft-inevitable result of sharing domestic spaces and routines.

Now, of course, having coined this catchphrase, I am presented with a daunting task, because with great power comes great responsibility. It is now my mission to re-watch every BBC series to which I have ever been exposed to seek out examples of “BBC nakedness,” which extensive list will serve as evidence for introducing the term into popular discourse. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

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The familiarity of this story to me is both at once depressing (as in lonely Saturday night with Bridget
Jones’ Diary and a bottle of vodka depressing) and oddly comforting. apparently the Italians have a rival in the match-making business.

I’d just like to add that for anyone resorting to desperate measures to find the perfect partner, daily devotionals to St. Anthony don’t work. Trust me on this. If, however, you remain unconvinced and wish to test the theory yourself, recite the following before bed each night, as quoted from my Sicilian grandmother: “Tony, Tony, find me a man. Find me a man as fast as you can”. Either Tony is taking his sweet time, or “suitable life partners” doesn’t appear on the list of items he has been contracted to search for by the almighty.

But I take comfort. IF a verbally incontinent spinster who drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney and dresses like her mother can score a lifetime with Mark Darcy, there must be a match out there for the Victorianist feminist scholar who quotes the Brontes in casual conversation, reads 800 page novels for fun, and names pets after literary characters. (also: I can cook.

The Chronicles of a Skinny Jeans-Wearing Toronto girl

We are officially in the month of February and the fact that this is Valentine’s Day month is not lost on me this year. In previous years, Valentine’s Day was just like the Good Friday before Easter. It was a day when I avoided wearing red and waited with bated breath for the resurrection of half price chocolate so as to indulge my fat face in all its forbidden sugary goodness. February 15th was Diabetic Coma day, a far better excuse for “a holiday” in my opinion.

This year though is different. My mother has already informed me that she’s praying for me to find a ‘good man’. This year her good man prayer surpassed my immigration prayer on her prayer list. I wondered at why this phenomenon had come about all of a sudden. And then I knew why: This year, I’m 25.

You see, 25 in regular girl years equals 35 in Indian girl…

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