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I was at the Lewis Ginter botanical gardens the other day. In a word: gorgeous. In many more words: The woodland gardens were the most striking. Every twist in the path was a new little vista, there were little streams everywhere, it seemed, twisting among rock and surrounded by lush growth of dozens of different types of plants. There's even a tiny floating garden, though there was no guy in a kayak when we saw it--there was a new 1 foot tall bamboo fence, and a turtle sunning himself just outside it.

I cannot imagine how much more I would have to learn to be able to work on anything resembling a garden this amazing. And fresh out of school (and secondary training) is such a great time to be talking about new challenges. But maybe it is. 

I would like to make little backyard gardens and figure out how to let them have self-cleaning water features. Swimming ponds are one way to do it (given how many pools are out there not being used on a daily basis...) but require a lot of space and water. And deserts may be a place where a rock garden is really the only way to go. I really like a well-done water feature, though. Most of the gardens I go to have some ponds and fountains and streams, but the water is only clear when it is brominated or otherwise kept clean of live things. Otherwise it tends to be full of algae and pond scum. A small amount of pond scum is maybe to be expected, but this was the first gardens I have been to that seemed to have some well-managed water areas with plants happily growing in them.


Dec. 23rd, 2013 07:24 am
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The world is not particularly broken*. People have many toys to play with, the internet is spreading information in a way never seenbefore,and we know how to make food safe.

But there are no guarantees. There are no promises that we will find the way past looming problems, nor that history won't repeat despiteallthe knowledge we have garnered.

People will never agree on the Biggest Problem. My parents don't think climate change is going to be all that catastrophic. My coworkersdon'tthink healthcare should overshadow the economy. Most of us are blind to the horrors wrought in other countries by war and politics.Thereare lots of problems, but people's minds turn them into a dichotomy. If it is not the Biggest Problem, then maybe it is not a problem at all!Andthen anger starts and self-righteousness and no conversation is possible.

It would be more effective to find solutions.

Documentaries will happily focus on a single issue, but it's been ages since I watched one so today I caught up.

Blackfish - Orcas are big scary sentient beings with culture and language, civilizations within pods. The one at SeaWorld who killed atrainerhad one of the most tragic backstories imaginable. I do not know if the documentary was intended specifically to slam SeaWorld, butthecomments on the internet suggest people tend to think SeaWorld and all its employees should be lynched. Presumably some people arealittle more moderate in their views, but they do not stand out. "Training" has come a long, long way since Tilikum was spending nights inametal box.

Last Call at the Oasis - Water! If you take nothing else away from it, recycling water is the way of the future! (Oh, and the fact that it'snotalready widely done is terribly sad).

The Island President - Not quite on par with the previous two documentaries for riveting tension, but it was possibly more informative.Littleislands that somehow got a really good spokesperson. It is ineffably terrible that the same little islands are so screwed up that they thencoupd'etated him a year or so later, but as it turns out, elections hang in the balance AS WE SPEAK!! (A coincidence I find rather disturbing)

So my list of problems needs to be broken into categories:

  • Environment - 
    • Climate change and its effect on ecosystems
    • Deep trawling of the oceans
    • Pollution with pseudo-estrogens and other molecular troublemakers.
    • Depletion of groundwater/freshwater resources
  • Socioeconomic -
    • Poor cost/pay structures for a mechanized world creating poverty
    • Unbalanced health care systems
    • Loss of cultural behaviors to enforce healthy living
    • Ideologic differences and their effect on communal priorities
    • to be continued...
*The world of people. The biosphere may be irreparably effed up for all current species. I would like to be an optimist and say that yeah, we could probably figure out a way to make it less screwed. 
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A bit like climbing the rocks at Devil's Lake and slipping but catching oneself and that moment you don't know whether you are hurt and surrounded by granite or just startled. I think there is some granite.
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If I'm going to get this experimental with adzuki beans, I think I need a food processor that does more than a cup at a time. A decent batch of brownies takes at least three cups.
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Avis: "They are so entertaining when you program them with a sense of independence!"
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Someone in Russia, evidently, has kindly posted Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore. I am not sure if I approve or not, but seeing as the book is out of print and no one seems to show any interest in reprinting it, I consider it null for the time being.

It is one of my favorite books. Tepper has done better than anyone at getting down on paper the odd sense of half-freedom half-constraint of being in between life stages.
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Be the person carrying a AAA card.

Seriously, they could turn my last three interactions into a commercial for their insurance.

One friend locked herself out of her car.
On a road trip, another friend and I got a flat. At 9 pm. In the middle of the desert.

And most recently, a fellow bellydancer from practice left the headlights on in the 26 degree (Fahrenheit) weather that passes for spring in the upper midwest. The car battery was not happy. It was sufficiently unhappy to require a jump, but with the way the car was positioned in the parking lot it was virtually impossible to get another car within hailing distance of the jumper cables.

So we waited an hour for someone from AAA to get done jumping all the other cars in town that had dead batteries, and then drove around an extra half hour to make sure the battery was recharged before she parked for the night (and double checked the lights).

However, it worked out okay. I haven't had a good chat with this friend in months, since we have equally mad schedules, so we're all caught up now.

Having tea now. Sitting in a car with a dead battery for half an hour in winter is chilly work. First time in ages I've managed a full-body freeze shimmy.
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I may have just made my life more complicated, but probably no more hectic than it already was.
caprices: (Default) I wanted to make high-protein cookies. Unbeknownst to me, quinoa is not a miracle carb composed solely of protein. Alas. The reason quinoa is special is because it contains All the Amino Acids, including lysine (this amino acid was a plot point in Jurassic Park). Also it has calcium.

I guess there are some issues with the popularity of quinoa, since it makes the price go up and there are concerns it may become unaffordable to people who depend on it, since it grows where no other grains will.

The recipe was a disappointment too. Cooked quinoa does terrible things to baked goods' texture. 

Here's my list of foods I like that might have protein in them:

Quinoa: 8 g protein / 1 cup serving (185 g)
5 g fiber out of 39 g total carbs (the rest is starch)

Popcorn: 1 g protein / 1 cup serving (8 g... which means by weight it has something like 12 g of protein for 100 g. But no one would eat twelve cups of popcorn in one day, right?)

Spelt: 11 g protein/ 1 cup serving (194 g)
8 g fiber out of 51 g total carbs

Whole wheat: 16 g protein / 1 cup (120 g)
15 g fiber out of 87 g carbs
(All-purpose enriched flour is just a tad lower, 13 g protein)

Black beans: 15 g protein / 1 cup (172 g)              (and 15 g fiber)
Adzuki beans: 17 g protein / 1 cup (230 g)            (17 g fiber)
Edamame: 17 g protein / 1 cup (155 g)                  (8 g fiber, 8 g fat)

1 egg (50 g): 6 g protein, 5 g fat          About 2/3rds of the protein is in the white.

Chicken breast: 43 g protein / 1 cup (140 g)  <-------------------Gold standard of protein
Salmon: 39 g / half filet (154 g)        (13 g fat)
Tilapia: Same.............................. less fat (~5 g)
Beef is roughly equivalent with 44 g protein for a weight of 154 g but with 19 g of fat, and, of course, a serving size is smaller.

Skim milk: 8 g protein / 1 cup (247 g)    -------And 12 g sugar!

Mozzarella: 7 g protein / 28 g
Cheddar: 7 g protein / 28 g   (and 9 g fat)

Whole milk yogurt: 9 g protein / 245 g                     (and 8 g fat) ------------So basically Cheddar is condensed whole milk yogurt.
Nonfat yogurt: 14 g protein / 1 cup (245 g)
Cottage cheese: 23 g protein / 1 cup                      (9 g fat if not low-fat)
Cottage cheese 1% milkfat: 28 g protein / 1 cup (226 g)         (2 g fat, 6 g sugars)
This explains why bodybuilders favor cottage cheese. 

Walnuts (english): 4 g protein / 28 g   (and 18 g fat, wowza)
Walnuts (black): 7 g protein / 28 g    (and only 17 g fat!)

Peanuts: 7 g protein / 28 g     (and 14 g fat)
Defatted peanut flour: 31 g protein / 1 cup (60 g)

Wheee, numbers.

Le Sigh

Jan. 10th, 2013 12:01 pm
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I somehow was under the impression I was going to spend eight hour days this week at my student-experience-field-site, but I am finding I am doing everything but. I have to go there, some day, I really do, but the sense that I accomplish nothing there overwhelms the sense that I accomplish nothing everywhere else.

In the meantime, I am still as stuck as ever on the guy I spend large portions of emotional will not calling every single day. The secret to anything long distance, of course, is to pretend it's not bugging you as much as it is, because if you started to truthfully describe it you would be a quivering heap of despair. Fortunately the last time it was an issue I was on so much mind-altering corticosteroid that I could only maintain one emotional state for about 5 minutes. These days I just feel heartsick and spend a lot of time in my apartment. Partly because whenever I leave the apartment I will by default have to pass either a thrift store, a library, or a grocery store, all of which are pretty high on my irresistible wastes of time list.

Libraries are not so bad, but thrift stores want me to spend all my non-existent funds on newish clothes and teacups. Grocery stores are tricky. They are necessary evils, but there's nothing so frustrating as either going into the grocery store and coming out two hours later with more food than you can use or coming out two hours later with nothing at all because you managed to rein in your shopping impulse so well you put every item in your basket  back on the shelf, because "you don't really need it."

Meanwhile the lentils languish unused in my kitchen.

I live off of bread, cookies, yogurt, and variations on french toast or pancakes. Some apples make their way into my diet occasionally, accompanied by almond butter if I have enough patience to retrieve it before eating the entire apple. I may break the mold today and try to have spaghetti with sauce and seafood.

Most of my dietary variation right now comes from eating dinner with my family. I suppose that might be part of the reason for the homogeneity of my apartment cuisine. In the past I made something interesting instead of making the 40-minute drive out to the farm. Put that way, I wonder if the time spent seeking new and interesting food is equivalent? Just distributed in a novel way.

Anyway, grad school is turning into an awful sort of limbo. 


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This last year was crazy, even for me. I cancelled a wedding, attended two weddings, ended a relationship, got embroiled in a non-relationship. I went to Australia, went to the mountains, had a nervous breakdown over sheep, survived the nervous breakdown, and spent two weeks blissed out in a city that smelled like flowers (then the relationship juggernaut happened). I graduated from vet school, went to classes, drew spirals, went to the city of flowers again, spent a week writing essays every waking minute, and went to classes again. I made some new friends, went through post-break-up hell, played piano, cleaned obsessively, discovered new music, and applied for prestigious fellowships that I did not get.

Crammed in at the end was internship hunting, yet another trip to the city of flowers, and, oh yeah, surgery. All finished off with an epic snowstorm, skis and tea, and a trip to the meadows, where the glitz was cut with huge red rocks.

What have I learned?

I like to travel. I still need to write or I don't feel like myself. I love to bake, I like to clean, I get impassioned and highly unrealistic about public health. I like running by the lake, I like exploring cities.

I don't know how to be on time. I lose hours to thrift stores. Emotional upheaval can lead to lots of writing or none at all.

1. Sleep schedule: Go to bed earlier (10 pm) and wake up earlier (6-7 am).
2. Be healthy: lots of physical activity, and a decent diet with lots of soups and fresh bread.
3. Finish strong: A's in classes, with the requisite hours put in at the library and with study groups.
4. Essay marathons, not sprints: Schedule essays so I can take them to the writing center and revise long before deadline.
5. Treasure deadlines: be on time to lectures, meetings, and for handing in assignments.
6. Stick with it: Seriously, the field experience is all up to turning it into a part-time job this semester.

7. Explore new social circles: Meetup is my friend. Drawing at the zoo, outdoor adventures, speaking spanish, business, and travel.
8. Things I want to do every day: play piano, write, draw or paint, cook a meal, read.
9. Things I want to do once a week: Clean the apartment, spend a day at the farm (walk fence lines, garden, cows, paint, fix things), watch a movie or a tv show while baking.
10. Things I want to stop doing: Going to thrift stores, procrastinating, feeling purposeless.

But how?
  • Sleep schedule: Plan ahead: dinner before 9 pm, no new projects after 9 pm, power down computer at 9:30, have a bookmark for any book being read. If at home or out with friends, announce intention to go at 9:45, and leave at 10 pm.
  • Be healthy: Yoga when I wake up, go outside just before or after breakfast, walk/take stairs when possible, plan a run, hike, or bike ride (depending on weather) at least once a week. Pick a morning for baking bread, and pick out a new recipe for dinner each week.
  • Finish strong: Have a specific bus and time to leave for campus (coordinate with food preparation to be on time), read up on lectures a day in advance, take an interest (and notes) on fellow students.
  • Essay marathons: Put syllabi in planner as soon as available, take an extra hour to do this. Start an outline for each essay in the spring scrivener project.
  • Treasure deadlines: Overcome the fear of arriving early! Plan for 15 minutes ahead of schedule (5 minutes for bus) for the months of January/February.
  • Stick with it: Take readings to NWHC to work on there. And post-it notes. E-mail preceptor once weekly with update, communications lady once every other week, and bring in fresh baked goods once a month.

  • Explore new social circles: Make drawing at the zoo a weekly event. Attend one other meet-up every other week. For fun, e-mail a new person after each event. Set up a flickr account for photos.
  • Things for every day: Piano fits in at the end of the day during wind-down time. Do not start play after 9:55 pm.
  • Draw a daily challenge.
  • Write one line in journal daily. Write 500 words daily (morning), can use dream transcription, headline inspiration, or other prompt. Double points of done at cafe. Triple points if followed up with at least 32 minutes of studying. Even-numbered days can be factoid-rich blog posts.
  • Read a book a week/month. Pace yourself: take number of pages, divide by days given for reading, and follow as close as possible. The goal is to read fantasy without the mad rush at the end (that usually takes a 4 hour chunk out of sleeping time) and to finish literature/non-fiction in a timely fashion.
  • Cleaning: Pick a day that can survive the absence of 3 hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. (Sunday or Monday night) Pick up detritus, dust surfaces, and vacuum. Wash and dry laundry, clean toilet, clean surfaces in bathroom. Clean surfaces in kitchen, clean kitchen floor, wipe down windows and mirrors. Finish up by taking out garbage and recycling. First week of month, use wood polish on tables, stools, cabinets, and piano. Last week of month, polish shoes and repaint table legs.
  • Day at farm: go out Saturday evening, come back Sunday evening. Go to bed in a timely fashion. Feed dogs some in morning, go to woods. Taco Bell option. Haul brush, etc. Interested in machine maintenance, oiling bridles, sweeping out shed rooms, constructing shelves (or steps for granary). Cow records. Alt: learn to airbrush, plein aire watercolors.

Things I'm curious in or foresee coming up but not quite here yet:
  • Shiatsu massage
  • Reviewing much veterinary medicine
  • Applying to more fellowships
  • Networking extravaganzas
  • Playing around with recording some for librivox or doing podcasts
  • Volunteering at a spay-day
  • Community garden: planning a garden to hand off to friends, grow produce for food pantry.
And not this year, but some day:
  • Travel back to Australia, visit New Zealand
  • Travel to South America (not too picky at the moment)
  • Backpack in Europe
  • Spend a year traveling around the States, doing paintings of all the landscapes.


Dec. 16th, 2012 05:16 pm
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My grocery coup this week, spotting some high-end tomatoes that had inexplicably been marked down to $1.50 from 4.99. I held my ground against the scanner at check-out, which had not been informed of the sale, and thus have been enjoying a half dozen tomatoes that would be almost average in summer, and in winter (and at a grocery store) are simply stunning. Since they aren't summer tomatoes, a little extra flavor is called for.

Today I cut one up and put it over some broken up mushrooms. I never have the patience to slice the mushrooms, I just crumble them apart.

Because my plants like my apartment's southern exposure, and also their new self-watering pots, I actually have fresh rosemary and tarragon. I added a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and hazelnut oil over the herbs. I do not love hazelnut in quite the same way I love almond, but it is a beautiful flavor. Besides, it's probably best not to have too many flavors out there that recreate the catnip effect. 

1 sprig each rosemary and tarragon
jot of balsamic vinegar
drizzle of hazelnut oil.


I'm trying pumpkin pie tartlets right now, but I suspect they got way too much nutmeg and may actually be inedible as a result. Maybe refrigeration will help.
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Watching "The Decoy Bride". It is giving me great glee. It is like a particularly entertaining L.M. Montgomery story but with the Doctor and Merida *cough* I mean Tennant and Kelly MacDonald. Like a Montgomery story, the mystery is not what's going to happen but how it's going to happen and on which scenic landscape shot it is going to occur.

Out of curiosity, let's see...well, rotten tomatoes obviously has no taste. 23/47? Critics who fail to appreciate the value (and rarity) of smartly written fluff. A few scenes threaten to veer into tasteless caricature, but through good acting and some directorial restraint they just add a little background. This movie isn't pressing to recreate cinema, and it doesn't waste screen time trying to be anything it's not.
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The melody starts...and it is mesmerizing. The vocals join in, and I am transported by the beauty of the music. The bridge is hauntingly evocative, and I am left speechless by the ending. The song will stay in my memory forever, and I know right off that I like it.

Yeah, no. This has happened with ONE song that I can think of, which has remained obstinately impossible to track down except for the once every ten years that I accidentally tune into the radio right when they play it.*

However, I think I have hit on the proper way to determine if I actually like a song. It requires multiple repetitions, since I tend to get distracted and miss large swathes of the lyrics, when I don't just misinterpret them. Consider it a 3-step process.

1. Listen brief soundbites, to determine if I'm interested. If at least a few songs on the album have potential to intrigue me, I will sit through mediocre music for their benefit, but if I downright dislike it, I am not going to force it.

2. Listen to the album while cleaning, working, or blogging. Given the blanking-out-on-that-part-right-after-words-started, this is a good technique. I have some idea of what songs I enjoyed, and can consider going back to find out what they were singing about.

3. The litmus test: Listen to the album while baking. Since I can dance when I'm baking and less prone to losing large swatches of time, this gives me a much better idea of what the songs are, plus I've heard them once and can decide if they stand up to repeated listening.

4. Repeat as necessary.

It usually takes me the fourth or fifth rendition to start recognizing the separate songs on an album, much less pick out a favorite. I am occasionally astonished at how this develops. The song I could vaguely recognize after step 3 can become "I can listen to this five times in a row in utter stillness" category once I've listened to it while baking, especially if I listen to the whole album twice. This happened with "Almost" by Sarah Harmer, which has a rhythmic, sweeping refrain and nice lyrics, and "Miniature Disasters" by KT Tunstall, which has started edging up into comfort-song territory.

*"Orion, Mighty Hunter" is at least nominally seasonal and can be expected in the autumnal line-up on Simply Folk. It is also obscure as all get out.

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 My impression of Rational Method fanfiction

Oh la la la I am your beloved main character from *rampantly popular* fantasy literature.
Oh, but I read more books and spend all my time studying and the pursuit of knowledge is the most important thing to me.

Here I am in the familiar setting. But wait, rather than relying on the original story's accidental grasp of human dynamics, I shall approach the setting with...

The Power of Rational Thought!

There. I shall now gain friends through my obvious self-control and instant access to social theory. Ex: I shall use my understanding of human nature to flatter people with such a good sense of humor they instantly look up to me! 

This character approaches me with an insult, how dare they? But lo, an opportunity: I shall floor them with a combination of obscure fact (which everyone would know, if they but realized the value of pure rational thought) and insufferably perfect logic. If that doesn't work I shall stand them down with my evidence-based social skills. Somehow I have found the time to practice these social skills, during my Pursuit of Knowledge, and because they are based on logic, I can apply them to any dilemma.

More awkward social situations. Because I am a being of rational thought, I am immune to the attempts of my amygdala to make me fearful. I shall, however, articulate every mental step I take to subvert my own physiologic weaknesses. After all, my awareness of those mental steps makes me a *ahem* more self aware person than other people, who are not quite so smart. I'm sure that only beings of rational thought have found these techniques, everyone else uses a cliche technique to cope with their emotions. If only they were as smart as me, they would see how much better this is than the original story. Now that it has been imbued with...

The Power of Rational Thought!

Even rational thinking people are people, methinks. They just write their Mary Sues with longer words.

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 I acquired mirrored decals for the wall.

They keep falling off.

There's a definite magic ratio for placing these things. If you distance them too far apart, you get the disconcerting sense of holes in reality and floating body parts. If they are too close, well, then you just have a very small mirror, and your arms disappear as soon as you lift them up. At the right spacing, you get caught-glimpses-effect that still allows you to have a good idea what you look like (pretty darn silly, as you keep lifting your arms and lowering them to figure out where it changes to disconcerting).  

And then three of the circles fall off the wall and you are back where you started.

I begin to think that simply hanging a normal mirror would be easier and more aesthetically acceptable. Plus then I won't have all these holes in reality that keep wandering off onto the carpet, like a hamster that you know was there just a second ago.
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 I wish my apartment let me have a cat.

I've been lonely this week, as demonstrated by being a little too eager to talk at length to friends despite not having much of interest to say, and by finding myself sequestered in my apartment for long periods of time. Going outside? I am not yet ready! I suspect I am still going to flip-flop a dozen more times this month on how I feel about boys, both in general and in specific. Sometimes I remember saying, "I really don't want to break up with you" and feeling that way again. But still, there was never anything he really seemed to like, aside from me, and there's something really uncomfortable about being in that sort of relationship.

So this week is taking a week off from thinking of relationships as something I am active in. Instead I am reflecting on the things I did in them and figuring out myself. When it gets too bad, I put on KT Tunstall and enjoy having hair that fluffs when I dance. It apparently takes me forever to make changes in my life, and then I find out I like them. My hair, case in point. Having cut it, finally, I suddenly want to try hair products and styling and, heaven forbid, using a hair blower! It makes for one of those huge/not huge/huge differences in self-perception.

Also now working on my planning&organizational skills that make me late all the time. Tardiness has gone from an inconvenience to a career-threatening pathology, and today I had the realization that not having a career is kind of sucking a bit, because student loans notwithstanding, it gets more frustrating not having cash flow for things like, oh, buying little mirrored wall decals so I can watch myself dance to "Black Horse and Cherry Tree." And the amount of time I waste (when not dancing) is becoming colossal.

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It would seem that having a CD of whale song on makes me really, really mellow.

Which is good, because it stops me from playing with my hair. Honestly, the bottom ten inches had gotten so thin that taking them off does not leave me feeling my head is significantly lighter, but now: My hair flips! My hair hasn't flipped since I was 12! I am enjoying this way more than I expected. In fact, I am now eyeing my reflection and going, "hmm, I wonder what it would look like with another three inches off..."

However, as much fun as it is to have hair down, I think it's probably best to still be able to sequester it in a ponytail. Oh, and now that can be shapely, too, another unexpectedly nice result. It was pretty ragged before. 

And I do not intend to spend twenty minutes every morning combing and blow-drying to recreate the floof the stylist achieved. I have discovered, however, that now my hair is "short" (still past my shoulders) it is not so insurmountable a mental block to consider it being shorter, if that would allow me to wear it loose more often. The ultimate goal, of course, is to be able to wear hats without having to renegotiate with hair sticks or other hair keeping devices. 

The salon I went to was an experience, with a darkened room for the hair wash/head massage, big open studio, and glitzy handles on the doors. I have to give them points--the stylist I saw was willing to take about ten minutes the other day to do a consult on my hair and let me be slightly gunshy about getting it cut. 

And whalesong! 

And this is all sufficiently novel to distract me from the sadness over a someone I know, not to mention myself, being rejected from even consideration for a high-level fellowship. I was holding out hope for a while, but whoever the wait-waitlisted candidates are, I am not one of them. Depending on some uncontrollable variables, I may apply again in a year or two, but I don't actually see myself doing it this next year. I just don't have the academic chops to get in on merit. I'll be focusing on communications for public health and then back to veterinary medicine. I can either try to find a job as a general practitioner, to get a year or two of experience in actual practice, or go after an internship. The internship route is nice because the options for that are clearly laid out, but I have such a lousy GPA and class ranking that it would take more devotion than I currently have mustered to wow a clinic into taking me on. I don't really wow very well.

It is probably silly to say this, but in an ideal world I would have been top of my class at vet school (which may have helped with the fellowship?), and taken the year between second and third to do my MPH. That would have given me time to recover from prednisone and I would have gotten some hard core public health experience in the human world, and both would have helped a lot with the anxiety I dealt with 3rd and 4th year. I would be partway through 4th year now, probably still would have gone for the epi elective and potentially could have gotten a lot more out of it (as it was, I was in many ways just a sightseer). I may even still have applied to the fellowship this year and had a better shot, if I were already in possession of an MPH (like other dual-degree students who got in while finishing vet school, although some of them already had a PhD under their belts too).

I really did undercut myself by pushing through when still recovering from who knows how many years of uncontrolled Crohn's. My ability to concentrate flickers inconsistently as it is, which may have been originally linked to becoming exhausted too fast, and wasn't helped by the rise and fall of prednisone. 

So what lessons have I learned, when I take the time to think? I could benefit from ratcheting down my expectation of how fast I can do things, since I've taken myself past my limits a couple of times in the last few years. I need to focus more on my academic performance--it's odd, I haven't cared much about grades since I started to lose my edge all the way back in high school (probably when the Crohn's really kicked in), but now I'm approaching the end and the MPH is sort of the last word on my GPA and academic performance. I like certain status markers a LOT, like flying to new cities and dressing well but a touch eccentrically, and, it would seem, good hair. I, a bit, envy my sister's job, where she is a medical professional with a lot of training in a high prestige, high pressure job, teaching people, traveling, and still spending half her time at home. The fact she and I are completely different in how we approach the world has not deterred me from thinking my success would look the same.

I still have trouble with procrastination (yeah, I'm supposed to be doing homework right now, and that fact alone makes me wonder if there's something else going on I'm not seeing, that I put it off this easily). I get very excited about communication, but I'm not very good about making social connections formally OR informally. Follow-through is a huge problem for me. I get excited and imagine what I could do, but as soon as it falls through I give up everything except the minimum required to pull through. I have pulled through just often enough that I think this is not insurmountable. For once I would like to give it my all a bit less intensely, for a longer time, and actually feel good about myself. The fact I feel more precariously balanced now and less certain of my ability to pull through worries me (ironically, if I'd gotten an interview I would have been thinking, "it's fine, I pull through", so now I am doubly skeptical of myself, not to mention lingering break-up doubts if not regrets). As with procrastination, I wonder what I'm missing that I could fix.

Oh, the whale song stopped. Well, maybe not a bad thing. I was mellow and then I started self-reflection, always a hazardous undertaking.

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Today I had to write an e-mail of introduction. I dislike business e-mails on the grounds that I do not understand the rules, and no one teaches them. With novels and creative fiction this is fine, where the unspoken standards are actually hauled out, examined, and gleefully broken. With business e-mails, however, there is most assuredly an unspoken standard, but the closest anyone gets to explaining it is "See this example? Do it like this, but not like this because that's not letting your personality/creativity/special genius shine through!"

Journalism has rules for writing articles and stories, just like carpentry has certain rules for building cabinets. They're not rules to restrict and shut you down, they are rules about what works. Surgery is like this too. The reasoning behind the spacing of sutures is high level science dealing with biology and blood flow and immunologic function.

So I will review the rules I know from journalism. Realistically they are applicable to all writing, but it's such a different approach from all the bloody "let your inner creativity shine through" gurus it is hard to think how to make them apply.

Numbered, but not ranked:

1. The Ladder of Abstraction. Actually a new concept for me too, this is the sort of thing writers are expected to intuit. Using nice solid concrete words like concrete and big abstractions like freedom, justice, what have you, creates a nice firm image in the reader's mind. I think I came across my own version of this reading a biography about Tolstoy and why his books are so great. I'm not fond of Tolstoy, but he did do a nice job finding solid ways to describe the peasantry.

2. Alternate long and short. You can have long sentences -- holy cow can you have long sentences, Hemingway took it to the limit and Joyce took it several pages beyond the limit -- as long as you break them up with short sentences. Short. And then you can go back to something long and complicated, because the short sentences are like little anchors keing the reader from getting lost. Get it?

3. Use short words. Short old words are best, as Churchill put it, not least because you get the less literate demographics, but really, there's a lot of strength to mono-syllabic words.

4. Put your strongest line first. The hook. This one can be less obvious, but starting with a question, a startling image, or something that sets the scene. This one is hard to work into e-mails, I am uncertain if small chat and self-introductions have to be included in that invisible format.

5. Active voice! Verbs! No passive voice unless you have good reason for it (diffusing blame or making a statement boring and non-sensationalist).

6. And adjectives must die. Adverbs even more so. Within reason, of course. After all, if you are explaining how to defuse a bomb, probably need to include "red" in the description of the wire. Adverbs in dialogue tags, on the other hand, are nearly always indefensible. (oh, look at that, and adverb AND an adjective, shame on me)

7. If in doubt, cut it out. (as opposed to the surgeon's motto, a chance to cut is a chance to cure)
8. If it bleeds, it leads. (again, the difference with surgery would be: all bleeding stops...eventually)

9. People respond to emotion. This seems to be the hardest concept for scientists to grasp, who seem to think that interest in science should be pure and untainted by pandering to baser interests, like self-interest. Which has a neat little loophole for altruistic behavior precisely because people respond emotionally as though they felt other's pain and joys. See--it's not a BAD thing, it's a GOOD thing!

10. Grammar is good except when it's better off colloquial. There is a place for that sort of thing, along with aphorisms and vernacular, but very, very sparingly used. Sentence fragments, on the other hand, can be sprikled about like mad! So say I, not sure anyone agrees with me.

11. Repetition is lovely, repetition is good. Repetition can drive a point home.

12. Lists of more than three bore us. If you must, no more than five and really deeply consider numbering them and putting them in a little bulleted list. (and then you can add as many as you want!)

13. Paragraph breaks. Almost as helpful as long-short sentence repetition, and easier to see.

14. Read it aloud. Ignore all these other rules, but read it aloud and you will see what NEEDS to be changed or taken out.

All of these and other things that do not occur to me at one-thirty in the morning are going through my head when I write, though I admit the more structural concepts require more work and do not usually make it into the first draft. You notice I made no mention of inverted triangle, the most treasured of journalistic techniques for constructing a story. Yeah, no, not tonight. I suppose these all apply to business e-mails, really. So maybe what my gripe is, is not that I'm not allowed to use my journalistic flair, it's that business e-mails have an additional layer of etiquette I can't quite see. How do you address anyone, these days, for instance? Mister seems odd, missis even more so, and so, for the people I'm usually writing too, I end up with Professor or Doctor. I like Doctor. No one finds it odd (I suspect Professor gets a double take here and there, but heaven forbid I go so informal as 'mister'. This probably says more about the amount of time I have spent among the overeducated than anything).

Losing my train of thought here. Writing tips! Use 'em.
caprices: (Default)
This is a big communication week.

Talked to one professor about health outreach to journalists and got the usual, "We try but those darn journalists are just sensation-writing nitwits!"

Talked to another professor about how the spiral of silence seems to break down a little on the internet -- people's unwillingness to take a stance opposite the group resulting in a skewed perception of what the group's opinion is, since those with the seemingly predominant opinion are more outspoken. On the internet, of course, all the nonverbal social cues are removed or toned down. But what is the effect of skype and conference calls? A question to ponder.

Yet another professor wanted to discuss a mix-up in assignments that I had caused by poor decision making, getting rushed and handing in the wrong thing which then made me look less scrupulous than I would like to be. Though, homework frazzles me in general, something I'm working on. But like tardiness, it is slow going; I have not yet determined the reason behind it.

Then I had to write an introduction e-mail. I dislike business e-mails on the grounds that I do not understand the rules, and no one teaches them. And that will be my next post.

June 2014

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