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You may have noticed that Fantasia appeared on Netflix recently (along with Fantasia 2000 but I pretend that doesn’t exist). As a person who grew up watching that movie nearly every time I went to my grandmother’s house as a child (she had the VHS, I did not), this was a joyous realization. I loved that movie to death! All the different animation styles, dancing plants, centaurs and Greek mythology, DINOSAURS, hippos dancing with ostriches and alligators… oh, and that really creepy one with demons that I forgot about until yesterday.

I’ve started watching Fantasia before going to bed, because the music is nice to listen to, and if the particular animation is boring I can read my book until it gets interesting again (the beginning with the musicians and the clouds, the sorcerer’s apprentice, the “Soundtrack”…).

As a child, there were many things I ignored because I didn’t know any better. As an adult, some of the animation choices are really strange, and sometimes offensive. This is a good time to point out that the original Fantasia was released in 1940. For whatever reason I always thought it had come out in the 60s or 70s, or even 80s (I was born in ’88). A couple days ago when I found Fantasia on Netflix, I discovered my mistake. Knowing this, the problems I see with it now are not so surprising, and some are obviously worse than others. I also still love the animations.

So I’m going to go through most of the animations and give my thoughts, over a decade after the last time I watched this movie as a child. If you’ve never seen Fantasia, I’m not sure I’d recommend trying to watch it for the first time as an adult. I’m not sure what this thing would look like without my childhood nostalgia. That said, I’m not even sure I’d recommend letting your children watch this. Especially the final animation. But I’ll get to that. The Wikipedia page has a good brief description of how each song is animated, for the ones I label as “boring.”

narrator

First, I must introduce our narrator. He’s not the conductor, or a musician. He might introduce himself. But between every song/animation, he tells us what we’re about to see. He also meets Mickey, and talks to the “Soundtrack” like it’s a person. Wikipedia tells me he’s a music critic.

1. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – Johanne Sebastian Bach

orchestra

This is the first performance, and it features the orchestra with different lighting and shadow effects. Eventually it gets into some animation with clouds and stars and random representations of sound, but I always found this one rather boring – as a child and now.

2. The Nutcracker Suite – Tchaikovsky

Fairy1

I grew up going to The Nutcracker every year with my cousin and grandparents. My cousin and I wore matching dresses, we went out to a fancy dinner… it was a big deal. I have always enjoyed the music from that ballet, especially the bit with all the dances as they perform for the prince and princess on that random island they go to. For the most part, this animation involves performances by plants and fairies. They make everything sparkle with dew, and then as they pass through the seasons, they make the leaves fall off, and eventually they cover everything with frost.

Fairy2

I like the frost fairies the best, but then I’ve always been a fan of winter frost. If there’s enough of it, it always makes things pretty. But! I mustn’t forget the dancing mushrooms. Never have you seen such adorable dancing mushrooms as they have in Fantasia.

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Except for the weirdness that makes them all look generically Asian. I am not sure why they did this. It was 1940 when this was made. Although most of the dances in this part of the ballet are supposed to be ethnic. There’s a Chinese Dance (which is probably this one), a Russian Dance, and an Arabian Dance. But I did warn you – this thing is weird. The tiniest mushroom is still adorable though.

Fish

I almost forgot, this final weirdness in this animation. The sexualized fish. It’s got all this makeup to make it look human, and it’s doing this sensual dance with its fancy see-through fins. It also happens to be my favorite part of the Nutcracker suite (the one with the peacock – at least in the old Seattle performance). I feel like they could have done without making the fish humanoid. But watching it now, it just seemed creepy.

3. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Paul Dukas

Sorcerer's Apprentice

This is another one I found boring. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it goes on too long for me. Maybe I just really don’t like Mickey. Basically, this is based on a poem by Goethe. There’s a sorcerer, and he has an apprentice, who he asks to carry some water around. The apprentice, thinking he’s very clever, decides to enchant a broomstick to carry the water for him. He then conveniently forgets how to make the spell stop. So while he’s playing around with magic waves, the broomsticks multiply and carry EVEN MORE WATER all over the place. And Mickey – the apprentice – falls asleep. Disaster ensues, and finally the sorcerer has to come in all angry and put it right. Maybe as a child the sorcerer scared me. There’s something about his eyes that seems very cruel.

4. Rite of Spring – Igor Stravinsky

Dinosaurs1

This one is my favorite. Mostly because there are dinosaurs. This song is set to an animation depicting the beginning of Earth. First we have volcanoes as the tectonic plates are created (though that’s not what they implied in the animation, because they didn’t know about that back then), then we watch as single-celled organisms evolve eventually into dinosaurs. The animation ends with the death of the dinosaurs (by extremely high temperatures across the planet rather than the asteroid, because again, they didn’t know any better back then) but not before we see a T-rex fight a stegosaurus. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s possible, because I think the stegos were Triassic and the T-rex was Cretaceous, and there’s the whole Jurassic between them, but whatever. It’s still cool to see. They also throw in an Archaeopteryx flying dinosaur, which is cool.

dinosaurs2

The funny part is at the end, though, when the dinosaurs are dying as they travel across the desert in search of water and food. Nearly all of them are dragging their tails. We now know that this isn’t true, because in all the dinosaur tracks we have, we’ve never seen the remnants of a dragging tail. They were used for balance, yes, but not as a third leg. But I forgive them, because it was 1940.

Intermission

soundtrack

At this time we are presented with the intermission, which includes the narrator/host man coaxing the “Soundtrack” into showing what he does with a little sound animation. It’s odd and random, and not very interesting.

5. The Pastoral Symphony – Beethoven

Fantasia - Pastoral Symphony

This animation is set in a mythical world of Greco-Roman beings, like fauns, unicorns, cupids, Pegasus, Bacchus, centaurs, and… centaurettes. Yes, that is what they chose to call the female centaurs. The most demeaning form of that word they could come up with, in my opinion. But it gets weirder. When we first see the centaurettes, they are naked and bathing. I mean, this sort of scene seems totally normal given the ancient Greek world they exist in. Just seems like a weird thing for a children’s movie. But I was a child when I watched this, and never thought anything of it, so who knows?

Centaurette2

 

Centaurette1

 

The whole goal of these centaurettes, it seems, is to attract one of the centaurs. They spend all this time with the cupids doing their hair and walking around like models. And then, in the end, everyone pairs up perfectly. It’s rather boring, if you ask me, but when I was a kid I loved this part. Looking at it now… I find it a bit odd that, for the most part, the centaurs match up by color. The blue ones pair up with other blue centaurs. The pink goes with the pink. The yellow goes with the yellow, and so on. I am trying not to read too much into it – it’s an animated movie after all – but this was made in 1940.

6. Dance of the Hours – Amilcare Ponchielli

Hippo

This is a dance in 4 parts: morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Morning is represented by ostriches, afternoon by hippos, evening by elephants, and night by alligators. Mostly they just do a lot of ballet and then dance around together until their palace collapses at the end. I always found this one a bit boring as a child. I fell asleep watching this one last night, even.

7. Night on Bald Mountain – Modest Mussorgsky & Ave Maria – Franz Schubert

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This is the one I find the most disturbing. It begins with the devil on top of a mountain overlooking a sleeping town. The devil then calls forth all his spirits and demons, and forces them to dance for him. The imagery is super creepy. I’m fairly certain it gave me nightmares as a child, and I may have blocked it from my memory until my housemate reminded me of it a couple days ago.

Demon_Concept_Art

I won’t post more photos than that here, but I will leave you with this part of Fantasia to peruse at your own peril. One of the earliest spirits to appear are those that have been hanged – they fly through the noose on their way to the devil. So many creepy, crawly, horned, winged, ghostly beasts and figures. I KNOW I had nightmares about this animation. Also, fun fact: if this were in 3D is would probably cause children to run screaming from the theater, as there is a significant portion that consists of skulls alternating with demon women (and their boobs) flying at the screen.

I hope you have enjoyed this random snippet from my childhood, revisited. If you intend to watch Fantasia, you have been thoroughly warned.

phd100614s

If you are new to my blog, I am a graduate student. For me this means two very important things: 1) I like to find new and exciting ways to procrastinate instead of attempting the difficult work I have to do and 2) I am OFTEN stressed out and/or anxious and/or worried about a great many things. I do not like these things about myself, but I know I cannot change them overnight. So I have finally come up with a couple of “New Year’s resolutions” that will target these two things. In general, I want to procrastinate less and take better care of my anxiety/worry issues. These goals, while honorable, are rather vague and lofty. I also know I am not alone in having these problems, especially as a graduate student. If you want some better evidence than my word, take a look at PhD Comics. Read them. Realize you are not alone. Then realize that the only way out is through. (Or, you know, you could always quit. I would never think less of you for that, having had the experience I am having in graduate school. It’s just not my personal style to give up.)

I spend a lot of time being jealous of my friends who are no longer in graduate school, living their lives, working, coming home, and having the freedom to do what they want with their off-the-clock time. As a graduate student, we do not have off-the-clock time. Not really. I mean, sure, you need a mental health day a few times a month, but sometimes those are hard to justify with the amount of work we’re required to do. I honestly can’t wait for this experience to be over. But I cannot wish the next 8 months of my life away, and so I must change my attitude about it.

I have discussed my roller coaster emotions induced by my graduate school experiences. But I’ve never talked about my anxiety. It’s a personal issue, but it’s one that I know many people deal with every day. I also know that it is a manageable condition. A couple years ago I learned how to manage my anxiety really well. I was doing great.

Then I went to graduate school, left all my helpful tools for dealing with this problem at home, and anxiety has slowly crept back into my brain over the last year and a half. It’s annoying and frustrating. There’s a lot of self-doubt in graduate school (unless you are arrogant, which, you know, sometimes I wish I could be that in graduate school), a lot of pressure to get things done quickly – especially when you’re trying to do a 2-year Masters degree vs. a 5-6-year PhD. If you don’t think graduate school is stressful, you are wrong, or possibly not doing it right.

Anxiety is not an excuse, though. Yeah, it sucks, and it drags you through the mud, but it is never an excuse. I have come up with a few “resolutions” for this year to help me take control of my anxiety again. My hope is that in posting them here on my blog, I can hold myself accountable for them, and maybe even provide encouragement and/or help to people in similar situations. It’s possible the only person who is going to read this is my mother, but at least I can pretend that other people, people dealing with similar problems, will be in my corner cheering for me if I make this deal with the universe on my blog. I promise I’m in your corner.

My resolutions are these:

1. Limit my facebook usage to once a week, when I need to post my blog in my blog pact group. In order to accomplish this, I have signed out of the website on my laptop. I also don’t have facebook on my phone anymore, but I made that decision sometime ago last year. I’m only a couple days in, but it feels better already. Facebook for me is a time suck, and I would rather spend that time reading or getting more work done, or actually interacting with people in the physical world. This is more to target my procrastination issues than my anxiety, but it also helps reduce the guilt I may feel at perusing Facebook when I need to be doing something else.

2. Exercise daily. Even if it’s just the short 4-block walk from my car to campus and back. Everything I’ve read lists exercise as the number one way to get anxiety under control. It’s science. Not science I understand, because I’m a geologist rather than a biologist or chemist, but it is tangible. I notice the difference when I exercise vs when I don’t. If walking isn’t your thing, and you want to try this too, I highly recommend one of those 7-minute workout apps, specifically one that rewards you for reaching goals, like working out 3-days in a row, or for 30 minutes, or whatever. This is my first line of defense against anxiety.

3. Go to sleep earlier/sleep more. This will consist of only allowing myself ONE episode of TV on my iPad in bed, or none at all, and reading. When I am horizontal and reading, it is very easy for me to fall asleep. It’s easier with my kindle, because I don’t have to worry about turning a light off (but I might even get a new lamp that allows me to just hit it – anywhere – to turn it off). I also need to be better at getting up in the morning, so I can justify stopping working and heading home from campus when I no longer wish to continue for the night. Going to sleep earlier seems like the best place to start. Also, better sleep means less anxiety. This particular method may not work for everyone, but if you’re struggling with anxiety and worry like I am, find a method that works for you.

4. Re-educate myself on dealing with anxiety. Join a therapy group. Read articles online about methods for dealing with anxiety. Read inspirational quotes about managing anxiety. Do one of those thought-journal things. These are all things that will aid in my re-education (and that reminded me of Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines series and the last book is coming out soon yay!), and they might help with yours, too. Managing anxiety is all about having a toolbox of skills and methods to help you. Yes, it takes work, but the place to start is building that toolbox.

5. Eradicate the word “should” from my vocabulary. “Should” is a terrible word. It brings with it massive negative connotations, and heaps of guilt when it’s directed at yourself. This is something I do remember from my days of well-controlled anxiety. Replace it with words like “need” or “want.” It can also lead you to make life decisions that contradict what you actually want to do with your life, and that doesn’t help anyone. “Should” is an awful word. Get rid of it.

Five resolutions kind of feels like a lot, but I think they are all manageable because they are directed, and they’re all stepping-stones toward my overarching goals for this year.

Also, this is a fantastic thing to read if you struggle with stress/anxiety as much as I do. It’s on Captain Awkward’s website, written by Elodie Under Glass as a guest post. The Thought Catalog is also a great resource for tips to deal with anxiety. I recently found their list of inspirational quotes about anxiety to be helpful. Sure, some of them are kind of cheesy, but there are some really good ones in there that I’m going to try to keep in mind this year.

I feel better already having just written this, and I hope this post meant something to those of you who are struggling with anxiety as well. It is not the end of the world. We can manage this.

This winter I will be spending the majority of my waking hours staring down a microscope trying to identify sand grains. This is not a joke. It takes a lot of brain power to make a decision about what I’m looking at. This is my data, after all. I have to make a lot of judgement calls, especially when it comes to identifying rock fragments (yes, sand grains are often rock fragments, and it is difficult to distinguish between volcanic, metamorphic, and sedimentary, but that’s a story for a different day). But, it is very easy to multitask, like listen to music while I do this.

Sometimes music is great, and it’s exactly what you need to get the job done. But when you’re doing the same thing for many days in a row your brain wants to mix it up. This is cutting way into my winter reading time, so I’ve found a clever solution: podcasts (because audiobooks are expensive and I haven’t taken the time to set up my library account here). But I’m not talking about talk show type podcasts. Those are good, but what I really like are the story-type shows, like Welcome to Night Vale

… and We’re Alive, the zombie podcast.

“We’re Alive” is about a zombie apocalypse and follows a group of survivors as they try to stay alive in this new zombie-infested, everyone-fends-for-themselves world. I am totally addicted. It’s the best thing to listen to while I’m identifying my sand grains. One might argue that it’s not that different from any other zombie apocalypse story, and that may be true. You have your protagonists and antagonists, and the goal is really just to survive. But I love zombie apocalypse stories, so I don’t care.

Plus, the characters are pretty great. They are all well-developed, we learn their backstories very slowly, but everyone is really evolving through this crisis together, and it’s like their old lives don’t matter anymore. There’s great diversity of both ethnicity and gender, which makes the whole story seem that much more realistic. Every character is played by a different actor, and it’s really easy to follow who’s talking.

The zombies themselves are a little different too. There are several different types, some of whom might actually be somewhat intelligent, and the complexities of these zombies unfolds as the characters witness their different characteristics. It’s almost like we’re there with them, silent background characters. So far we haven’t found “ground zero” or who might have started the whole mess (though I am only at the end of season 2, and there are 2 more seasons to listen to). It’s well-written, and there’s enough action in each episode to keep me hanging on.

If you’re looking for something new to listen to, and audiobooks are out of your reach, I highly recommend We’re Alive.

If you know of any other good story-type podcasts, please leave recommendations in the comments! I’ve heard about Serial, so that’s next on my list, but I would love to hear more podcasts like this one!

I went to see Into the Woods this weekend with high expectations after all the fuss about what Disney was or was not cutting from the original musical. Sondheim said he liked it, and claimed most of the dreadful rumors were false, and so I had high hopes. For those of you who don’t know, Into the Woods is a musical about the darker side of fairytales. It’s about losing childhood innocence, and it’s about how nothing is perfect in life, but you can still make the most of it. A handful of classic fairytales, including The Baker and His Wife, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel… and probably a couple others are all woven together into the same universe, which gives the characters greater depth and allows them to grow throughout the story. Every single one of them (as far as I can remember) evolves during the story. Character development is spectacular, and is probably my favorite part of this ensemble story.

into the woods poster

I am happy to say that I was not disappointed, and Into the Woods definitely did NOT suck! Though, of course, some things were cut because it’s tough to shrink a full-length musical into the time frame of a movie, but overall I don’t think anything was lost. Now, I will say now that I do not promise no spoilers. I’ll try to keep them light, but I’m writing this with the perspective of having seen the original once before, and that plays a big part in how I felt about the movie itself. That being said, I only saw it once, and it was a couple years ago, so it is not quite so fresh in my head as to really color my opinion of the movie. However, I went to see it with one of my best friends who has seen it loads of times and it’s his favorite musical, and he liked it too.

into the woods agony

This review follows no particular plot, so I’m just going to talk about things as I think of them. First – the performance of Agony alone is a good enough reason to go see this movie. Chris Pine and what’s-his-name are absolutely fantastic as the princes, and this particular scene is filmed in a way that one just could not do on stage. They literally sing the whole song while prancing around on a waterfall. It is magical, and hilarious, and everything this song/performance was meant to be. If nothing else in this post persuades you, go see the movie for this scene.

THR_COSTUME_DESIGNERS_3_Embed copy

My second favorite part about seeing this as a movie rather than a stage performance are the costumes. They pulled out all the stops. Everything is so gorgeous to look at! I particularly loved Cinderella’s slippers. And probably her whole festival gown. The continuity of styles between her costume and her mother’s willow tree was very well done.

anna-kendrick-new-into-woods-stills

 

In case anyone was worried based on the rumors than went around, the baker’s wife keeps her solo and her story goes just as it does in the original. So no worries there. I can see why Emily Blunt already has a Golden Globe nomination for best actress. She was spectacular – despite the fact that she was definitely pregnant in real life during the filming of this movie. Try not to think about it.

prologue

The cast did an excellent job, by the way. I loved everyone in their roles. And while I still wish Bernadette Peters had been the witch (she is just so perfect in that role and I love her voice for it too), Meryl Streep did an excellent job filling her shoes. Her voice may not be as witchy, but she made the role her own, and I was ultimately happy with it.

The thing that bothered me the most, though, was how they did Mr. Wolf. In the original, the guy is dressed up very much like a wolf. They tried very hard to remove all semblance of humanoid features, aside from the fact that he’s standing and wearing clothes. Johnny Depp, however… not so much. Sure, he’s got super creepy hands, and a cute hat with wolf ears… wait… it’s not supposed to be cute.

Johnny_Depp__Meryl_Streep_and_James_Corden_star_in_fairytale__song_filled_Into_The_Woods_trailer

I mean, yes, he looks very creepy, but they still let him look like Johnny Depp, and it felt very much like “We are Disney and we LUUUURRRRRVVVEEEE Johnny Depp, so we’re throwing him in this movie, but we’re not going to make him look like a wolf because he is just too pretty.” The result is Johnny Depp being Creepy!Johnny Depp with a tail and an ear hat. It wasn’t clear if he was supposed to be a wolf or a man dressed like a wolf. True, this whole exchange between Little Red Riding Hood and Mr. Wolf is supposed to have very dark tones that hint at losing childhood innocence and protecting oneself from strange men (need I say more?), but… not making Johnny Depp look like a wolf made this much darker than I thought it was meant to be. Says the girl who just got 2 copies of the newly-translated first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. So perhaps it was meant to be artistic. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when Johnny Depp is involved.

The other flaws included removing a few of the reprise numbers for length, which I completely understand. It also bugged me that Rapunzel doesn’t die. She sort of just goes off with her prince after standing up to the witch and that’s the last we see of her. But I didn’t feel that this took anything away from the plot since the major events still happen.

Into the Woods is clever, fantastical, and dark, and I am surprised to say that Disney actually did a pretty good job of translating the musical to the big screen. Would see again, and would recommend to a friend.

 

My birthday was this weekend, so to celebrate I bought myself a Tiny Hannibal Lecter, NBC show edition. I intend to pose him in various situations and take silly picture for my own amusement, and sometimes I’ll use them as a lazy post when I can’t be bothered to have strong opinions about things.

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Tiny Hannibal wanted to slice the pork… or perhaps it was a forearm…

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Then he took a shot at the lamb… or perhaps it was a bit of rude rump roast…

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Tiny Hannibal stands over his master carving skillz.

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Then, of course, there was the chocolate cake. I’ll let your imagination run wild with what might be baked into it.

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Next up (probably): Tiny Hannibal does Christmas.

Happy Holidays, whichever you celebrate!

I nearly forgot to blog this week!

Excuses:

  • Last week was finals week
  • I’m leaving town on Thursday and must do all of my Christmas shopping before I leave
  • I celebrated my birthday this weekend with school friends
  • I haven’t even started packing yet
  • Life is chaos.

So instead of my opinion about something, or an update on school (I’m done with classes forever yay!), today you’re getting spam poetry. Also this is an excuse to clean out my spam folder.

Thanks for the Meal

Should have been doing long-ago, nevertheless
to novelty picks
like Choose of Fate,
these picks
won’t just allow you to play,
but make sure you seem good doing it.
Typically they’re afraid
the youngster
or they will not stick to it.
MENACING GUITAR CHOICES

It is believed that steel was learned
weapons
arrowheads
spears.
There are many different choices
going all the way to the edge.

stagecoach drivеrs
on the Oldd Wеst
who barely topped out
roughed up wіth thhe men.
Anyone named Ɗanny frοm Windsoг

The heart of your writing
did not sit well with me
Someplace within the sentences
unfortunately jumps
end up being amazed.

a colleague
bought me dinner simply
because I found it
Thanks for the meal!!

Next week I will write to you from a different city!

Let me tell you a story.

On a dark and stormy night back in my sophomore year of college, a horrible thing happened.

My hard drive crashed.

It was epic. It was the kind of crash where your computer makes weird noises, and instead of a nice, clean, apple logo, I got a frowning folder telling me everything was gone. And I mean everything. Photos, documents, manuscripts, class assignments (luckily nothing I was currently working on), a few applications… The loss of the photos (even though my dad had some of them, and facebook had the best ones) and my novel manuscripts was the most devastating. The crying-in-the-bathroom-alone kind of devastating (it was an on-campus apartment, so I didn’t have my own room). I was pathetic. AND it was during NaNoWriMo, so I was doubly upset that I’d lost that particular manuscript. I wasn’t anywhere near finishing, but I liked the story enough to want to pick it up later. There was a really great scene about pancakes… Ok, maybe it wasn’t that great, but it was NaNoWriMo, and it seemed like a great idea at the time.

“Why is this so devastating if she backs things up like a sensible person?” you might be asking right about now.

Yeah, I, uh, didn’t.

I was in a more naive phase of being an Apple user where I thought this sort of thing could never happen. It’s Apple after all, they don’t get viruses, blah blah blah. Don’t worry, I’m still in love with Apple products, despite the expense, but that’s a discussion for another day. The point is, I was an idiot, and didn’t have anything backed up. I might have had a few things in dropbox by that point, but not my manuscripts, and not my photos. To me, this was the end of the world.

I have since obtained an external backup hard drive that I use with Apple’s Time Machine, backed up everything important in Dropbox, and even put all my thesis stuff (and a few other things) on another portable hard drive. Oh, and I also backed up my thesis stuff to the department’s servers. I have a multitude of redundancies when it comes to backing up my data.

Which is why last night’s computer troubles were not nearly so terrifying as my hard drive crashing all those years ago. This time, I was prepared. Though, I hadn’t ever needed to reformat or restore my system before, so it was terrifying in that sense. But at least this time I knew everything important was safe. Theoretically. I still don’t totally trust technology. It may have taken a million hours, but I’m right back where I left off yesterday before I had to perform a brain reboot operation on my computer.

Point of the story: back up your stuff. Hopefully this is not a message most people need to hear anymore, as there are enough horror stories out there to scare people into being redundant. But just in case, here’s my story, and my advice is to BACK UP YOUR SHIT. Often, and in several different places.

Don’t be stupid-sophomore-me. It’s not worth it.

Now, back to the microscope!

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how being in graduate school is an emotional roller coaster. It was kind of a negative post, because I was on the uphill side of a really sweet hill of said roller coaster. Yes, the semester is still winding down, but so is my to-do list. I am so much closer to only having teaching and research responsibilities in my life.

And it feels fantastic.

The Thanksgiving holiday certainly helped a ton as well. I am one seminar (which requires me to critically read a scientific paper in my field of research), 2 classes, and 1 final exam away from being alone with my research (and teaching, but that’s easy and fun).

As for my research, I’m focusing on “point counting” right now, which is difficult, but pretty straightforward. Basically, I’m looking at very thin slices of my rocks under a polarized light microscope.

microscope

I move the slide around in a grid pattern controlled by the microscope stage, and identify whatever lands under the cross hairs. I have to identify 500 “points” of the basic “framework grains” (the more common things found in sedimentary rocks like quartz, feldspar, and rock fragments), and keep track of them in a spreadsheet.

microscope

That’s it.

I mean, distinguishing between different rock types when all you have is a fragment the size of a fine grain of sand is often difficult. But after a while you get used to what certain things look like, and your options are just volcanic, metamorphic, and sedimentary (yes, you can have fragments of sedimentary rocks in a sedimentary rock, though they are generally more rare in sandstones, which is what I’m looking at). There are a few other things I have to identify, but I won’t bore you with the details.

Essentially, this is what’s ahead for me for the next two months of graduate school research.

This, and the Christmas/my birthday holiday of course! This is my giant skylight in the tunnel that is graduate school. It’s going to be a perfect time to recharge and relax and have some fun. Even if it is only 10 days. But I haven’t been home since March, and I’ve been working really hard, so I’m pretty sure I deserve this break.

The point of this post is to prove that graduate school is indeed a roller coaster of emotion. You’ll have weeks where everything piles up on top of you and you can’t even begin to think of a way to dig yourself out. Then you’ll have weeks where everything feels like it’s falling into place and you’re moving right along with the progress of your work.

Granted, things can change in an instant with a few simple words from your advisor, but this can be bad or good. Honestly, I was afraid to tell my advisor I’d be going home just for 10 days because I have very little work I can do remotely right now. After I told him, I realized it was a completely irrational fear. It’s only 10 days. It’s a freaking family holiday, and I didn’t leave town last year. I have no reason to feel guilty for doing this. He also didn’t seem to care AT ALL.

My advice to those of you starting graduate school or thinking about going back to school – it’s really hard, but it’s also very rewarding, and you will have your ups and downs. Know what you’re getting yourself into, and don’t beat yourself into the ground over nothing. And for those of you who are in the thick of it – if things are looking bleak, remember that they’ll probably change in a week or two, so try not to worry about it too hard. Just keep making progress.

You can do anything for a year, and you can do many things for two years. I can’t speak for PhD candidates, but this much I know about getting a two-year degree.

I may not read very many comics, but I adore film and tv adaptations of them. Through the years, I’ve set up my tent firmly in the Marvel camp, in the competition between Marvel and DC Comics. This is generally because I think they make better movies, but also because they have better female representation. I’m not saying they’re doing a fantastic job (I mean, can we PLEASE have a Black Widow movie already?), but for the most part they’re doing better than DC.

the flash

While I enjoy Marvel adaptations more than DC adaptations, I was more than willing to give The Flash a try. Only five episodes in, and I have very mixed feelings about this show/story. I like Barry Allen, as it turns out. He’s kind of mopey, but he’s smart and sweet and all those good things a hero should be. Very few flaws, which is totally unrealistic, but I feel like he’d be a fun person to hang out with. He has room to grow. I also like the set-up for the story, mostly because there’s lots of science-gone-wrong involved. I like that scientists are main characters. I LOVE Jesse L. Martin (secretly I’m hoping one of the meta humans will start walking around making everyone sing just so I can hear his voice). But I have two very specific problems with this show.

First, the portrayal of “nerds” as borderline-annoying brainiacs with very few social skills grates on my nerves. This is one of several tropes that absolutely drive me crazy. Just because you’re smart, and you really like science, does not mean you have no social skills. This is a myth that needs to end. It’s part of the reason I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory.

But the trope I really want to talk about is the one that Iris falls into. I don’t know the name of it, but if you do – please let me know in the comments. After my praise of Marvel comics, I must admit that Mary Jane of Spider-man also falls into this trope. Iris and Mary Jane are trophy girls. They’ve been in the hero’s life for a really long time, and he loves her, but she is completely oblivious, yet everything she does is for him is written to get a reaction from him. I’m going to focus on the specifics of Iris’s character, but I’m sure you’ll be able to see the parallels with Mary Jane.

Pilot

(Isn’t Barry Allen adorable though?)

Iris suffers from a severe lack of agency. Everything she does is either for The Flash, or written in a way that gets a reaction from The Flash. She never does anything for her own reasons, it is ALWAYS tied to The Flash.

Exhibit A: She’s his best friend, yet has no idea that he’s been in love with her since the beginning of time.

Exhibit B: She starts dating her dad’s partner, not because the guy is particularly interesting, but because the writers want Barry to feel sad that he can’t have her.

Exhibit C: She does school? Maybe? And works in a coffee shop? Supposedly she’s into journalism. But we don’t really know what she does with her time when Barry is not pining after her to her face.

Exhibit D: She’s obsessed with writing a blog about The Flash.

Exhibit E: When The Flash confronts her about the blog and asks her to stop writing it, she confesses that she’s been writing it for Barry (a.k.a. The Flash) to prove that the impossible is possible.

Beyond these things, we don’t know anything about Iris. We don’t know what she likes, what she hates, what she wants to do with her life, why she gives a damn about her dad’s partner. I mean, really, who is that guy and why should we care about him? He doesn’t really have any agency either, for that matter.

This is lazy writing. Comic book heroes get reinvented all the time, so why can’t the other characters in the story? [Edited: misleading comment from Wikipedia page on the various iterations of Iris’s character] Seems simple enough to give her some agency and her own purpose in the story outside of how she affects Barry Allen and/or The Flash, don’t you think? I mean, right now Iris is the most boring character on the show, aside from the detective she’s dating. This is mostly because we don’t know anything about her, or what she wants for herself. We know plenty about what she wants for her best friend the superhero, but she is painfully two-dimensional.

It is early days for The Flash, and Iris has plenty of time to become more interesting on her own (a friend of mine hinted at some things from episode 6 that I haven’t seen yet because I don’t watch things when they air that could bode well for her). I have hope.

But that doesn’t make me any less tired of seeing this same thing over and over again: female love interests in comic book stories that are merely a prize for the hero to win after many trials and tribulations, whose desires and goals in life are meaningless unless they are also tied to the hero.

When something is adapted to film or TV, what’s the point of doing it if you can’t at least try to make it better or different than the original?

This post is for graduate students, people contemplating graduate school, and people who want to understand what their graduate school friends are going through.

phd1029

from PHD Comics

 

Graduate school is hard. This, hopefully, is not a surprise. But it’s difficult to understand how hard it really is without going through the experience.

The end of the semester is rapidly approaching, and thus I find myself on an emotional roller coaster. I have a thousand and one things to do, and they all feel like they needed to be done yesterday. I have a lot of feelings about attending graduate school, why I chose to go, why I’m still here. It’s complicated. But I’m writing this post for people who are still thinking about going back to school, so they can make informed decisions, at least about the emotional side of things.

I feel the need to explain that I am in graduate school for geology, and the logistics of how that works. First off, geology, like most sciences, is generally a paid graduate program. You are there either on a research or teaching assistantship (I’m here on a TA), and so you are getting paid to do one of these two things, and your tuition is waived. I don’t get paid much, but I essentially don’t have the stress of worrying about how I’m going to pay for this education in the present or future (although, I do have student loans from my undergraduate degree, so I am not without a significant amount of debt – I just don’t have to worry about paying it right now). This is, of course, different for non-science graduate programs. Some are paid for, some you must pay for yourselves – there are many different ways to go about graduate school. Paid or unpaid, both have their benefits and drawbacks. I, for instance, don’t have to pay for what I’m doing, and I am indeed paid to teach and do research. But this means I am both attending school and working a normal-ish job, so my workload is a bit higher than it would be if I didn’t have to teach.

As a geology graduate student TA, I have to take a minimum of 24 course credits, plus at least 6 thesis credits, during my time here. I am on the semester system, so I teach/grade for two classes each semester (right now it’s Geology 101 lab and grading for Historical Geology/Earth System History, for those who wish to know). I may only have 6 thesis credits required, but the actual time it takes one to complete a thesis is much greater than that. Theoretically, this must all be done within 2 years (and I mean full years, not 2 academic years – I get to use my summers as well).

On top of all teaching and taking classes, I must also produce a thesis project for my Masters of Science degree. Hours upon hours of research and data collection, follow by hours upon hours of writing. Right now I’m neck-deep in data collection.

My third semester is almost over.

Of course, the panic tends to set in for everyone at the end of every semester. Final exams are approaching like fire-breathing dragons (and some professors like to give exams right before Thanksgiving… I have one tomorrow, despite the fact that there are only two and a half weeks of class left before finals. Ugh.). Final projects are due (I’ve got one due next Tuesday, before Thanksgiving). Holiday/vacation planning is in full swing, if you allow yourself to take the time off. It’s a stressful time of year. And it happens twice a year for students.

For graduate students, at least in the sciences, it’s compounded by the fact that your advisor is breathing down your neck asking why you haven’t gotten things done (whether or not they are actually doing this in real life, they’re probably still doing this in your head). It is both a gift and a curse to have an advisor who cares about you finishing your degree on time. I almost wish I didn’t, because it makes me feel guilty when I don’t have time for thesis stuff any given day. As a result, my brain sometimes begins to spiral.

You have research to do! Why on earth did you decide to take that extra class, even though it’s really interesting and will likely help you get a job in the future?? Why are you doing this to yourself? What was wrong with your life before graduate school that you had to abandon it for this life of torture??!

Graduate school, at least in my case (and many others in the sciences), is a juggling act of teaching, learning, and researching. You’d think that taking our the teaching might make it less horrible, but honestly? Teaching is probably my favorite part of this whole experience. It’s also the easiest. Next semester I won’t have any more classes to take, and I do have the whole summer after that. The goal is to start writing my thesis in the middle of spring semester. At this point I honestly have no idea if I’ll make that deadline. It feels far away and scary and there are SO MANY THINGS that need to get done between now and then. Weekends are no longer real. The future is not so vast, and it’s hard to keep things in perspective in graduate school.

In the grand scheme of life, I do not regret this decision. I have met many wonderful people I otherwise never would have come in contact with, and I am happy I have them in my life because I chose to go to graduate school. I am sure my degree (once I earn it, hopefully before I snap and run away) will help me get a better job in future.

But right now I’m in a dark tunnel and I can’t see those shiny lights at the end.

This is what graduate school is like. Not all the time, but at least once a semester. It’s made even harder when you see what your friends back home are doing on facebook and twitter, having a grand ol’ time of life. Or when you see your new, non-graduate school friends go to work and come home able to relax and do whatever they want. I know what that life is like – I took two years off before going back to school. On the one hand, I’m glad I did, because it helped me figure out what I wanted to learn about in graduate school. But on the other hand, I know what I’m missing without school in my life, and that’s hard.

Graduate school is stressful. It is the most stressful thing I have ever gone through. Would I have decided to go if I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now? I don’t know. That’s a really difficult question, one I try not to think about (but inevitably do around this time of year).

I must keep reminding myself that if all goes according to plan (and I honestly don’t know if it is right now) I have less than a year left of this life. My stepmom always says you can do anything for a year. Thing is, I’ve been doing this for a year and a half already. But I’ve made it this far, it would be stupid to run away now. I am not a quitter, and I would hate myself forever if I just gave up and walked away, so no worries of that happening.

It’s really difficult to balance relaxation and fun time with the amount of work you are required to do. This is something I have struggled with my entire life though. It’s exhausting. My greatest advice to new graduate students is this: make time for fun, and for yourself. You may find yourself working 12 hour days (that’s where I am right now). But you need to find a way to cut yourself some slack when you do that, or you’ll burn out. This past summer I did an internship, and it was basically like a real job. Yes, it set me back on my research progress, and yes, it didn’t end with a job offer. But it gave me another taste of the real world post-school, and a chance to recharge for the second year of graduate school (not to mention I met one of my best friends there). I don’t know if I’d be in a better place now, mentally, if I hadn’t done that internship. Sure, I’d have more data for my research project, and I’d be further along with it all, but I’d also be taking another class right now, and that sounds awful.

microscope

Like I said, graduate school is an emotional roller coaster. You get really excited about things like staring down a microscope at sparkly minerals and rock fragments, but then you also get overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do in such a short amount of time. I am going to take things one day or one week at a time, because looking further ahead than that is terrifying. I promise it is not all gloom and doom. I have learned a great many things here and I am thrilled to know them all. I love what my project is about. I just wish I had more time.

Here’s a great list of 8 struggles only a graduate student will understand. Although it’s also a good read for non-graduate students who want to understand what their friends and family members are going through.