Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Conference Photos--A Long Good Weekend

This past weekend I was away at a conference. Not strictly in my area of specialization, but I drove down with the Lama, who is one of the founding members of the conference, and who was presenting a paper. The third member of the party was a Chinese grad student who's doing a one year foreign exchange study, whom I shall call E.T. (not her real initials). The conference was at a really pretty campus in the middle of nowhere.

We got off to a bad start up in Chicago because the Lama had reserved a car from Enterprise, but when we showed up at the Enterprise, there were no cars to be had. There were other people in the waiting room who had been waiting already for some time. Time dragged on. The Enterprise people made some calls but we were mostly waiting on returns. All told, we waited over two hours. It was nice getting a chance to chat with the Lama and all, but not nice to preface a five hour drive with a two hour session of sitting and fuming.

In the end the first thing we could get was an SUV. We complained because of the gas mileage, and eventually the Lama got them to throw in a free tank of gas. That was pretty decent compensation given that the gas tank held $60 worth (!) at current gas prices. But if it had been essential for us to get to the conference's first night dinner on time, we would have been sorely disappointed. Oddly, the last time I rented a car it was also from Enterprise, and we also had to wait for cars, over half an hour I think, but in some ways that was worse because we had to stand up in a parking garage rather than sitting comfortably in air-conditioned room. I conclude from two such experiences in row: next time I'm taking my business elsewhere.

I gave E.T. the front seat, assuming rightly as it turned out that she would have more trouble with car-sickness. The Lama drove. We had a sort of three-corner conversation. E.T. is a bit sullen about her experiences here and it shows. I am much more forgiving than I would have been before I was a foreign exchange student myself but she's still somewhat of a difficult person. At left is a picture of the Lama and E.T. after we were finally underway, sitting in traffic on Lake Shore Drive.

The drive was actually a very pretty one. We were going south, and it turns out that in that direction spring had already come. Everything was a brilliant vivid green. We came across a rest area with a wind-mill. I was impressed with it. The wind there was very fierce, and the windmill was going extremely fast, its blades loudly slicing the air. E.T. was using my camera and taking a lot of pictures but she doesn't have the knack of holding the camera straight. The Lama has started smoking again. What a tough addiction.

I graded a lot of papers, spreading everything out in the back seat. That was a good thing. Here is a picture from the road of a funny billboard.

No need for a blow-by-blow on the conference I suppose. The first night dinner was fun. I concentrated on getting to know the two female graduate students with whom E.T. and I were staying (we were divided up, one per graduate student; it was a nice break). It was really great of them to put us up. The one I got to stay with had two lively young cats. She lived far from campus and so I had to follow her schedule, but that was fine. I had made up my mind in advance to be really easy-going. Both of the grad students were part of the conference organizing team, meaning they were responsible for getting the bagels and coffee in the morning, ordering the bag lunches, carrying the cooler with cold drinks, and so forth. I helped as much as I could and they seemed glad for it.

My hostess and I were extremely pleased upon discovering that we were both really fond of tea in the morning. She made a nice pot of tea the first morning and told me I should help myself. While pouring I admired her teapot--it had a pretty blue pattern on it. She said it was her mother's. Just then the lid of the teapot went skidding off into the sink and broke!!! I felt so bad. The next day, though, I fixed it with some superglue that I found in her house and she said it looked as good as new. Still--boo, what a butterfingers I am.

I very much enjoyed listening the papers. Being focused on Chinese philosophy, it was not exactly my field or discipline. Still, there was enough relevance that it was stimulating, and of course it was more useful data on how to give an effective presentation. On Saturday night after a horrendously caloric dinner, many of the cool interesting people were going to a bar--including my hostess--so I went too. I had been pessimistic about my staying-power, but we were actually there until one in the morning. Pocket of Bolts always says that going to bars is actually part of a philosopher's work, and this was certainly true here. A lot of work got done in one-on-one objections and rebuttals and general constructive discussion. I had not given a paper of course, but I listened and contributed when I could. I hope I made a good impression.

The weather was beautiful and we ate our lunches and dinner outside. The seating area most convenient to where we were having the conference was a round brick area which had some benches. One one of the benches was a bronze statue of long-time president of the university we were at. (Hint--see the movie Kinsey?) It's a funny statue. HW's hand is apparently raised in benediction. Here is a picture of me sitting by him.

Another amusing thing was that I got to see one of my grad school classmates, now in a tt position at the university where the conference was being held. Not someone I'd known too terribly well, but it was fun to see him anyway and gossip and reconnect. This is the way connections get strengthened, the vagaries of where conferences are and who happens to be there. He's the guy on the left in this photo. The girl in the center is a grad student who does some Chinese stuff.

On the last day everyone was exhausted, naturally, but I MOSTLY managed to stay awake. I had a really good conversation with one of the professors on how to negotiate spousal hire. I felt in general that the people at the conference were warm and friendly and welcoming. The questions were all quite constructive rather than snarky. It was just a good environment. I had to point out something someone had wrong, but I tried to do so in a really nice way too.

I made three new Facebook friends. :D

It was of course a long ride home (I did more grading), but I got back feeling really inspired to work on my dissertation. Though of course there's a ton of stuff involved with the last week of classes. Both Pocket of Bolts and I feel like we have been limping along just trying to get through to finals week where it's all on the students instead of on us....

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I have had two mildly odd elevator incidents in the past two days.

Yesterday morning, I was getting into the elevator to go up to my office. I got in and I was standing facing out like one always does, waiting for the door to close. Some other people were getting in, including a woman in high heels. For no reason at all that I could see, the woman in high heels suddenly fell down just outside the threshold of the elevator. It wasn't an especially bad fall, but she'd had her keys in her hand, and as she caught herself on that hand, the keys flew out, skittered away, and fell straight down the gap into the elevator shaft. That big bunch of keys was just--gone. Vanished. She was okay but rode up the elevator with us in great bemusement, trying to figure out what to do about the keys. I hope she ended up getting them back!

Then today I was running a language table meeting in one of the university's buildings. I serve tea at the meetings, and so I periodically have to go out and fetch more water to refresh the tea. I was doing that, and noticed a big man with a bright orange vest from our local grocery store. He was complaining loudly that the elevator wasn't working. I ignored him and kept on with what I was doing. But I could hear his voice echoing down the hall and he searched with increasing desperation for someone responsible who could do something about it.

On the way back from getting the water I was really starting to feel sorry for him. I have a soft spot in my heart for the grocery store maybe or something. And the guy was just trying to do his job, which was deliver bottles of water and soda to one of the lounges. But whoever the responsible person for that was, they weren't around now. So I went back with him and his partner to have a look at the elevator. It was stuck on the third floor and the doors wouldn't close. They had their dolly and were presumably still just in the middle of the delivery, unsure what to do. I shoved at the doors but couldn't budge them. Then I tried pressing the down button. The doors clashed a bit, trying to move and close. I went in. The two delivery men came in too, with their dolly. I pushed some buttons. Pocket of Bolts had just told me that elevators' "Door Close" buttons are usually just a fake to make you feel like you have more control than you do, so I didn't set too much store by that one. But I pushed the 2 button, all the time chattering soothingly to the delivery men. Suddenly the doors closed and the elevator moved smoothly down. Oops! I hadn't meant to be in there too! I got off at the second floor and walked back up the stairs to my language table. I hope they finished their delivery okay!

Pocket of Bolts also told me about a man he read about in the news, who was trapped in an elevator for most of a weekend. A bad scene! Elevators are like an alien species; they're like potentially evil-natured robots. Who knows what they'll do next?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Yesterday I went to the dentist for the first time in more than two years. I feel bad about that, but first I was in China and just felt nervous about the idea of trying to find a non-sketchy dentist there. Then I was here but have no dental insurance, and so put it off a lot. Lately, though, it has occurred to me that I had really ought to get my teeth cleaned before getting married, even though it will be much cheaper to do so afterwards. After all, it's probably going to be the most visible high-profile day of my life, and it's probably worthwhile not having yellow teeth! So I shelled out the nearly $200 for a self-pay dentist visit. Apparently this was a rare and shocking thing to do--I was faced with great confusion and blank looks all 'round. I guess if you're poor enough not to have dental insurance you're poor enough to consider dentistry a non-essential expense.

Anyway, the dentist said repeatedly that I had the cleanest teeth she'd seen in a long time. (I get this reaction a lot from dentists. I have lousy soft teeth and not very good gums either, but I do floss and brush absolutely every day.) But she said I obviously grind my teeth in a bad way, to the extent that "the molars are practically worn flat." She wants to sell me a $200 night guard. I am trying pre-bed-time affirmations instead. ("I will keep my jaw relaxed all night. I will keep my jaw relaxed all night.") I of course am completely unaware of grinding my teeth at all, and Pocket of Bolts sleeps like a log and has no clue if I do or not. Last night, though, I did catch myself doing it once, possibly because of the extra message to my unconscious mind.

Sleep is a strange realm of the unconscious yet mysteriously quasi-controllable. I suppose probably I should shell out for the night guard... but it seems not very romantic...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My Sick Day

I am staying home from school today. I feel kind of bad about this because I am the teacher. However, I don't think any of the kids mind. I told them they should use the time to work on their final projects. Hah. Like I would, if I were them. But I have to say that.

Actually, I don't feel that bad. I don't feel as sick as I did yesterday, when I did teach the class. But my voice is almost totally gone, so today seemed best spent resting, mostly in bed.

Yesterday Pocket of Bolts and I went and set up our wedding registry. How odd that was! As others of our friends have reported, though, it was also extremely fun. I'm shy about what other people will think of the china pattern, but PoB and I both liked it very much. We agree really easily on aesthetic decisions a lot of the time, even though we're both really stubborn and opinionated (it's not like one of us is a pushover and one of us always wins or anything like that). I mean, when we don't agree there are fireworks to be sure but we agree quite often, and the plates was one of the things we had no trouble choosing or agreeing on. Funny!

It's strange to think about what our life would look like with nice stuff as opposed to dumpster salvage in our kitchen. I still have a hard time seeing it, but wandering around the Crate and Barrel yesterday started to bring it in to focus a bit!

Not much else to be said about today. I am in the grip of this nasty chest cold and I have mostly been either sleeping or sitting on the couch taking care of small tasks.

After reading Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter over spring break, I decided to learn to knit. Why, you might ask, did I start reading a book like that in the first place if I don't even know how to knit? I mean, it's chock-full of knitting technicalia, which was just babble in foreign language to me mostly. But I was impressed by the Yarn Harlot's diatribe against crochet. I am a long-time crocheter, though not an especially expert one. I've got a bit tired of the way crocheted things look though and of the process of doing it. Also I wanted to try to learn something I can do when the light is not too good. With crocheting, you have to be able to see to figure out into which loop you need to insert the hook, but given that with knitting the loops are all strung on a pole, it ought to be possible to do it when, say, you're watching a movie or riding in a car in the evening. Don't blind people knit? So anyway, I thought I'd try.

You might wonder how I have time for that. But what I need to do is find something that is soothing and comforting but not quite as addictive or time-thieving as video games. So far I think knitting has been doing that pretty well. I am taking it slow, but have about 6 inches of a scarf going. It's fun, and (at the simple low level where I am now) especially good for days like this when my brain is totally thrashed and not firing on all cylinders.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

It Must Be Spring

Yesterday afternoon I went out the door in my down coat as usual. I walked two steps, stopped and thought, something isn't right here. I went back up the stairs, dumped the down coat, and came back down with my lightest jacket over my hoodie. And you know what? I was still a bit warm. All the restaurants are starting to open up their outdoor seating. And get this, on the walk back home I actually stopped and had an ice-cream like dessert while walking back. It was nonfat froyo, not actually ice-cream, but same feeling. Funny, I'm such a stick in the mud. It stays one season long enough and I get to thinking it will always continue that way.

Pocket of Bolts was at a conference this weekend and I was bacheloretting it. That means about what it would mean in the gender reversed situation: I lived on boca burgers and English muffins, stayed up late, slept in, and played video games. However, I also made some serious inroads on my to-do list and cleaned the entire house (badly needed). I even got a little grading done, though I'm still sadly behind.

I've been doing a lot of wedding planning lately (most of the above to-do list items are about that). I haven't blogged about it. It seems...I don't know, like it would be too weird and shallow. It only SEEMS shallow, though. Behind each and every petty decision there is a big underwater iceberg of emotional weightiness. Yes, each and every one, down to what color the buffet linens are and how many corsages we order. A centimeter of space on the invitation. A plastic or a wooden chair. How many appetizers there will be. Whether the ceremony starts at one time or half an hour later. Ordinarily these things aren't very important, but even if I don't care about them other people do. But it's I who have to make the decisions.

I guess (I hope) I'm not a bridezilla. I suppose a bridezilla is someone who actually cares about those things too, who actually believes what the whole scene is trying to convince her (that it's all terribly, terribly important). I don't think I'm that far gone, but I empathize with bridezillas from the very bottom of my heart. It's a strange situation. There's so much to learn, but most of it won't be of any possible use later. (C'mon, when am I going to engage the services of a caterer again anytime in the next 20 years?) You only get one shot, hopefully, and there's no way to do everything right. One decision rests on another, and if you regret one of the early unchangeable ones, you still have to keep on with it.

Well anyway, one advantage of hiring all these people to do things is that once we're done hiring them, hopefully they'll do things more or less okay and we can sit back and actually enjoy it. Mostly what we wanted was a good party, and I hope it will be that. Just a few more things left on the list--photographer, music, registry.

I get high-strung when Pocket of Bolts is not around and get all tired without barely even doing anything. I had a very quiet weekend but still managed to come down with the plague that everyone at work has been suffering from. So far it's just a sore throat and a fever (100.1), but that's unusual for me. Yes mom I've been taking lots of vitamins and resting and drinking a lot of water. I'll probably manage to get rid of it pretty quick. But it's irritating.

I am going to try to post on this blog more now. Maybe not such long posts as this, but at least more often. I think if I don't put pictures on it will be psychologically easier, no mucking around with the camera and photoshop and the blogger uploader and such. And there's actually plenty to say.