Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"In Heaven It Is Always Autumn" John Donne

Oh, October, I like you so much. I'm sad to see you go. I'm happy, for the moment, to be in AR, which is a bit of a change from the usual begrudging tolerance we feel for each other. You are beautiful, Arkansas, and I am loving your weather.

So, in my cheer, and because it very much feels like a Friday to me (thanks exams!), I'm going to post some things that make me love today.

From "First Poems" by Rainer Maria Rilke

Understand, I'll slip quietly
Away from the noisy crowd
When I see the pale
Stars rising, blooming over the oaks
I'll pursue solitary pathways
Through the pale twilit meadows,
With only this one dream:
You come too.


The first stanza of the lyrics:

This is the story of your red right ankle
And how it came to meet your leg
And how the muscle bone and sinews tangled
And how the skin was softly shed
And how it whispered,
"Oh, adhere to me for we are bound by symmetry
And whatever differences our lives have been
We together make a limb"
This is the story of your red right ankle 

And, lastly, a bit of a meloncholic piece I did that I'm working sort of casually on, in the way that people do.


walking, I spy sassafras.
 leaves clutched, torn; inhale.
scents remind me of home.
bittersweet, my heart cramps.
I am alone.

Autumn turns maple leaves here too,
but I long for native trees,
wondering if selfishness keeps me
I remind myself that Friday is coming,
even here, to my island.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Music Sunday: Centipede

The intro is slow, but, as previously noted, I've definitely been into the tech/dubstep movement lately. So, new to me music. Also gets geek bonus points because it's named after a cool little arthropod ( and I work on arthropods! Not centipedes, but on Arachnida, another class of largely 8 legged arthropods):

Also, this is sick:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Quote: Sylvia Plath

"Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
Sylvia Plath

Today is Plath's birthday, so I thought it fitting to post some of her wisdom. Though I'm not sure she believed it, as she committed suicide a month after her book, The Bell Jar, was published in England (under a pseudonym, with very little notice).

I read The Bell Jar in high school, during what I can only describe now as an "emo-goth" phase, where I was full of angst self-injury, and though myself a bit misunderstood.  I think it's notable that, even then, I thought the book a little whiny. Although, if I'd written my own thinly-veiled autobiography, I'm sure it would have read fairly similarly; white, middle-class female with a crushing need to "do well" in a chosen field, bright enough to fake self-esteem but not emotionally developed enough to be able to separate self-worth from outside achievements.  Alas, though I wished myself a female Holden Caulfield (who hasn't?), I definitely was not. 

So then, think not on how she lived her life, but on how she wanted to live it. Be courageous for all the lambs in the world.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Social hormones

I read a note in science about the discovery of social neuropeptides in nematodes (of all things).  Nematodes (roundworms) are highly diverse little suckers, with over half of the described species parasitic. They're almost everywhere and, from personal experience, suck to try to identify. 

I'm sure someone likes you little guys...

Social neuropeptides (like oxytocin) stimulate various important behaviors in mammals, like maternal, reproductive, and aggressive behaviors, as well as (it is thought) to mediate some grouping actions. They're implicated in things like young-bonding and pair bonding (in ewe-lamb and voles, respectively).  So, it's sort of interesting that these things were found in nematodes.

I don't know too much about social neuropeptides, so I did a bit of reading about them and found the following article that's fairly interesting: Social vocalizations can release oxytocin in humans by Seltzer et al. Social neuropeptides are most often released with physical contact, so, it got me to wondering if the increased rates of depression in this country are related, at all, to the lack of physical contact. Humans are wired to be social species, so perhaps the required stimulus for neuropeptide release is not being met via social contact in online interactions. I know this is not a novel concept, and many people, both bloggers and social scientists, have done excellent jobs at describing and exploring this, so I won't muddle my way through it.
This has little to do with what I'm talking about. But they look like they're 
going to be bonding fairly soon.

I definitely fall into the group of people with very little physical contact with others (which doesn't mean I don't necessarily crave it -- I'm just afraid of overstepping social boundaries, I guess). However, Seltzer et al. suggests that vocalizations may stimulate the same levels of neuropeptide (in this case, oxytocin) release as direct physical contact.  Mother-daughter duos were used to explore hormone release and, while kiddos that received complete contact -- physical, vocal, and non-verbal contact -- were the quickest to return to an "unstressed" state, kids who received only verbal comfort showed a similar hormonal profile.

Whew! I guess I'm not destined to fall deep into a spiral of gloom and doom as long as I can still call and chat with my sister on the phone. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Word lover vs. sentence writer

I was invited recently to join an online writing group, to toss around ideas/pieces and to (I presume) get a bit of feedback. And I am gut-churningly sick with apprehension. Because even I thought this was odd, I thought a bit about my reaction and tried to tease out why I react in that way... and I think it's rooted in my relationship with words. So, what follows is my bumbling attempt to detail that relationship, and provide a bit of contrast between myself and the writers of the world.

I was an English major in college because I love to read, and I love to read because I love words. I like the aesthetics of them written, and I like the mouthfeel of different words (minds out of the gutter!). By mouthfeel I mean that a word like "vernacular," for instance, has a very different sort of feeling when said aloud, when compared to a word like "correspondence." Or "candle" has a different rolling weight than "wick." I love words on their own, I love them strung together, and I love to try and figure out why authors choose the words they did. I like to sub synonyms into sentences and see if it "feels" different when I re-read it. Sentences obviously have structure -- but each also has a texture all their own. Just as silk and satin feel different sliding across the fingertips, as tulle and netting work best in different roles, words have specific feelings and a utility that I find captivating.

There is another type of person that sees words more as a means to an end -- just as I view insects as a proxy to explore larger environmental questions -- these people, these writers, use words to convey stories to the world at large. And that is a wonderful, mysterious thing. These people have an apparently innate ability to write for an audience. The drive seems rooted in a need to tell, to express, to bring the world out of a dark place. And, if that sort of thing can be taught, I wasn't. However, because my undergraduate university was excellent, and many of my cohort turned out to be quite successful in their pursuit of higher degrees in English, I suspect it can't be -- at least not easily.

So, I spent my time as an explorer; an essayist of works I loved; plumbing the depths of syntax; historical and cultural context; wondering about word choices. I loved the synthesis. But I was not very good at creating things. Perhaps like a good scientist, I subscribed too closely to the idea that matter could be neither created or destroyed? Surely not -- that is far too romantic. But I never felt the pull to create and share. Sure, I can write passably well, and I do like to jot off the odd poem once and again, but even that, really, is an exercise in word play. Dammit, I just love words!

Oddly, perhaps, this makes me feel like less of a "writer." I feel abashed when facing other writers, others destined to become authors; as though, somehow, I count a little less because all I want to do is read their writing, love it, turn it over a little to see what might be tweaked, to see what I walk away from the piece feeling, to describe what I love about the weight of specific words, phrases, sentences. Somehow, too, wanting to be the author of a book or collection of stories (or being the author) makes them "Real Authors," capital R, capital A. I know my path holds scientific publications, and I've had a poem or two published in regional and college magazines, but I remain discomposed. I can't see myself on par, because writing prose (just prose, not an essay) feels so difficult for me.  

Let me not be misunderstood, however -- I wouldn't change myself if I could. I don't want to lose the little gut flutter I get when I hear or read a sentence that hits me as being just-so-perfect, when a sentence seems to get across what I think the author is saying impeccably and I can look and say, emphatically "I hear you! I really hear you!"  

I try and remind myself that this fear of shunning is a figment of my imagination and that, surely, writing must be akin to running -- if you run, then you are a runner. If you write, then, you are a writer.
I can be a writer. Though, at heart, I will first always be a logophile (a lover of words) or, perhaps, if you'll allow me to borrow from Richard Lederer, a verbivore.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Apology and comic

Sorry I've been neglecting you, little blog. I've been incredibly busy with school and assorted work, etc. (mostly school). The weather here has also been funky, and I've been a bit more introspective than usual, which has been both good and bad.

I'll try to be more on track, but it may be another week until I can get back to a less sporadic place.

Until then, here is a comic from GapingVoid I saw a few days ago. Sometimes believing it is all I've got.
anything is magical.gif

Sunday, October 21, 2012

TED Talk: Billy Collins

Billy Collins is by far my favorite poet. I've never met him in person, but he definitely ranks high on my overall list of favorite writing people, and it is my sincere hope to one day see him read and meet him. He ranks right next to Lewis Carroll on my list of "authors/poets I'd like to meet and talk to," and has the bonus of being alive, whereas the good Mr. Carroll is not.

I first fell in love with his poem "The Lanyard" when I heard him read it on The Prairie Home Companion when driving home from church in my back of my Dad's minivan. I was smitten. Billy has this excellent way of reading and speaking; so quietly droll.  My favorite poem of his is titled "Litany" which has the tongue-in-cheek sort of feel that I love so much about his stuff. 

So, please, enjoy:
Billy's TED talk

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday, salt, and plants

This week is a special week in the Entomology department because we're handing out the Distinguished Alumnus Award, so there's lots of food and meetings and, tonight, special receptions where the department gives us free booze. And I'm still paleo. Sigh! 

The fellow in question is a Coleoptera (beetle) guy, and definitely looks like a stud on paper. I hear he's amiable and a genuinely cool guy, so I am excited to hear his lecture and chat with him over lunch and/or dinner.

Anyway. A little science fact I thought was interesting comes from this week's Science Notes (October 19th, 2012). Originally published in Plant Journal, it was noted by McLoughlin et al. * that too much salt is bad for plants (as well as people!). This makes intuitive sense, but it's nice to read. And, it also was interesting (to me) that the author noted that, for plants, salt stress and drought stress are linked. Again... it makes intuitive sense, but it's nice to read some more intuitive research making the pages of Science. Granted, genes were involved -- in this case, snrk2.4 and snrk2.10 -- but you don't necessarily have to know the methods behind protein signaling to understand the basic premise and conclusions.

Too much salt is bad -- bad for us and bad for those leafy things we're supposed to be consuming the most of (a la Michael Pollan). In plants, too much salt invokes a response similar to drought stress, because the extra sodium is literally pulling water out of the cells. In humans -- similar phenomenon! I'm not a doctor and I struggle with my diet, but I can only imagine the complexities that happen in our body, with all it's moving parts and signaling pathways, if we flood the system with excess sodium. Does it mess up our sodium-ion channels? My guess is yes. But, perhaps that's getting a bit off topic.

What a PhD in chemistry looks like --- through dance!

I'm excited for this weekend, not only because I'm gonna get a lot of work done, but also because I'm going to be watching a cute little ginger-haired fellow for an afternoon. I guess I'd better get started on all that work!
Be well, stay strong, and keep moving.

*McLoughlin, F.,Galvan-Ampudia, C.S., Julkowska, M.M., Caarls, L., van der Does, D., Laurière, C., Munnik, T., Haring, M.A., Testerink, C. 2012. The Snf1-related protein kinases SnRK2.4 and SnRK2.10 are involved in maintenance of root system architecture during salt stress. Plant J. 10.1111/j.1365-313X.2012.05089.x

Monday, October 15, 2012

Music Monday

So, I succeeded at the Tough Mudder Missouri this weekend! Yeah! Bruises and all, I survived, thanks to my awesome team (shoutouts to you -- Karla, Carla, Cheri, Lori, Amanda, and our awesome pack mule spectators Michelle and Lori's Sister -- I can't remember your name right now; sorry!). Recap (likely) to come.

Anyhow, I slept like a rock and drove a ton, so my brain is a bit boggy. Plus, we're on fall break right now, so the next two days are sort of like an additional weekend, where I do very little and absentmindedly stress on the fly about the shit I have to do. Kidding! (sort of). So, I'll just post this awesome piece of music (yep, it is what you think it is). Enjoy.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday quote to think about (October 13th)

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life 

I have an unabashed, delicious, desperate crush on Annie Dillard. I first read an excerpt of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when I was a junior in highschool. I was lucky enough to have an teacher who I took for Sociology, but who also taught American Literature. If we had a reading assignment, after I'd finished, she didn't mind if I pillaged her bookshelves and read different stuff. Because I've always been a relatively quick reader (I really want to use the word 'prolific,' but that's not quite right), I'd almost always have time to read in class, and it was truly wonderful. Anyway, it was during this time that I picked up a compilation of stories and saw Dillard's stuff and fell in love with her quick turns of phrase and descriptions of life. So, I highly suggest at least flipping though Pilgrim at Tinker Creek if you haven't.

Anyway, I like the above quote because I think it speaks to something that I have never really gotten over, which I know is a death knell for the budding writer I was in college -- I loved my pieces too much. In my eyes, once they dropped from my fingertips to the page, they were pretty damn near perfection and couldn't be changed. I know -- grit your teeth at how idiotic that is.  I thought that writing was 95% and editing was, maybe, 5%. How wrong I was! I'm in the midst of trying to get a journal article published, it seems as though I'll never be done with it, and I know that, if anything, writing is 5% and editing is 95%. Truthfully, I'm guessing that it's around 45%/55% of writing and editing, respectively, but "scientific writing" doesn't yet come intuitively for me, so it may be harder than it should be.

Although the above quote doesn't specifically refer to editing, I think, for me, that is what it came down to -- fear of editing. I wasn't yet to a place where I didn't equate my writing to a tangible piece of me.  Editing? What a terrifying thing where pieces of myself would be picked over and parts discarded! F that noise! Ultimately, this was a crippling factor that I really didn't get over until I was a senior in college (and, ultimately, is still something I struggle without outside of science writing). Alas.

And I think what Dillard is saying needn't be limited only to writing -- it applies to life in general: "spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.... Something more will arise for later, something better." Preach it! Go all out, go hard every time, and know that you did your damnedest, because only better things can come from this.

Go Big or Go Home Red Tshirt

Enjoy your Saturday. I'll be running the Tough Mudder with some chums this weekend, so wish me luck!

Friday, October 12, 2012

My little rant about the Nobel Prize for Chemistry

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was again awarded to what can be called biochemistry... but what, to me, is actually medicine. Lefkowitz and Kobilka won the award for "studies of G-protein-coupled receptors," which, while cool, isn't really (to me) Chemistry. This, of course, comes from my very strong view that the prize should be awarded to something more strictly Chemistry based... My sister, a doctoral candidate in Inorganic Chemistry, isn't nearly as dissatisfied as I am, and noted (in our g-chat exchange)

Sister: .... I think it will be a long time until something in chemistry is awarded, because right now nothing really that interesting is happening.

And then, later:

Sister I guess I have just come to accept that biology is more interesting to people then chemistry.
It makes the big headlines.
I think that is what is actually at the root of my irritation... that biology (and biochemical application) is really a sexy discipline at the moment -- full of keywords that will get attention and garner funding.  Ugh. This definitely isn't to say that Chemistry isn't doing cool things, but just that they are not as "sexy" at the moment. And, to me, awarding the prize in Chemistry to something that is not strictly chemistry is only skewing the bias even more against inorganic types of research. The two guys who won are not Chemists -- they are Medical. In fact, one of the guys who won the prize in medicine (Gurdon [and Shinya] - for the discovery that mature cells than be reprogrammed to become pluripotent) was a biologist and did a bunch of seminal research on tadpoles in the 1960s. I think that the Nobel Prize should be an encouragement for the, currently sidelined discipline, and act to help push funding back into that arena. 
But that's just my personal opinion. And I say this as a biologist who will definitely be utilizing all the sexy keywords possible in my grant proposals to try and get my paws on any of that available funding.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Important to remember.

(or, for me, stop trying to whine knowledge into your head -- spend the time on your ass writing that shit out so you don't panic obsessively before exams).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thoughts on playing paleo

My Cfit Box is partaking in the LuRong Paleo challenge. Because I'm a competitive bastard and, frankly, enjoy trying things "just to see if I can," I opted in. Hell, I figured I eat fairly clean anyhow, wouldn't mind a forced jumpstart, and it'd be awesome if  I lost a few pounds over the 9 week challenge.

Famous last words! I'm sure part of it is the mind-game of "you can't eat x" that is screwing with me a little, but it's hard. It's harder eating Paleo than it was to be vegan for a year. I'm not sure if it's because my usual diet followed Michael Pollan's "eat food, not too much, mostly plants" concept, where I'd definitely eat bacon, but as a small side with breakfast or using a piece or two to crisp up a head of broccoli (side-note: hella delicious!). But, a head of broccoli and a piece of bacon do not a meal make.  I'm eating way more meat than I'm used to, which weirds me out for whatever odd reason. Eating nuts and seeds have also helped, but it's not the same.

I found my energy levels a lot more variable, three-ish weeks into Paleo, my weight is up a bit (ugh), and I'm back to using caffeine as a serious crutch. It sucks, frankly. On the bright side, my skin is much clearer than it's been in a long, I've effortlessly kicked my long-standing Coke Zero/carbonated water of any sort problem and, before my weight jumped by a pound or four (very recently), my clothes were fitting better.  AND I've done some things as a part of the challenge I didn't think I could do -- II unders (very few, but it got my ass in gear and hyped!), and some power snatches (snatches terrify me [TWSS! Haha]).

I'm not sure if part of my problem is related to how I'm making pancakes with almond meal (and pumpkin! Fall! Yum!) which I eat with almond butter and dried apricots as part of my breakfast. Is this pseudo-pancake mentally screwing with me?! I don't know. But I do know that my morning is hectic enough without adding an additional problem with packing breakfast.  I'm going to consciously cut back on the amount of fruit I eat (especially after dinner, when there isn't any real need to binge on fruit) to see if that will help with the weight a bit, and add in some additional greens, consumption of which have dropped during this new meaty-meat diet. Meat is expensive! And meat and fresh greens?  

I'm hoping things get better, though.

Some shit I am looking forward to putting back into my meal rotation:
1) Oatmeal.
I miss you a lot, oatmeal. You are delicious as a quick and easy and warm breakfast with dried or fresh fruit or eggs whipped in and topped with nut butter and have staying power. I miss you a LOT. A lot. I look forward to hopefully reintroducing you in a few weeks, especially as it becomes more deliciously chilly in Arkansas.

2) Cocoa powder.
WTF? Why is this not Paleo?! Unsweetened cocoa powder? My usual shake of frozen banana, strawberries, spinach, and cocoa powder is sorely missed.  Plus, puffed millet cereal and granola to be put upon said shake to make it a lunch or dinner shake? I miss you.

I initially had more things I missed on this list, including "real" pancakes (but only from Brandywine, in East Grand Rapids), Coffeemate hazelnut creamer, yogurt, and chili with cornbread, but I don't think I really miss those things quite as much as the aforementioned two.  I mean, I'm definitely going to hit up Brandywine for those sweet potato pecan pancakes when I go home for a holiday (Thanksgiving? Christmas? who knows!), but I'm not raving for them.

Monday, October 8, 2012

New (to me) music Monday: Lindsey Sterling

I'm not an intense dubstep fan, necessarily, but I'm not a hater. Although one of my favorite things about dubstep of all time came from a coach at my box who I overheard say "Dubstep is not just a type of music; it's a way of life," which made me a lot more fond of dubstep if only for that comment. Heh.

Anyway, completely by accident this weekend I stumbled across Lindsey Sterling's dubstep violin piece and it is wonderful. It makes me want to be trail running or mountain biking a technical trail or ... in a dream world, in an 8 at a dawn practice with fog rising up over the water as the sun comes up (I did a tabata erg workout on Saturday at the box -- so the river's been on my mind). Listen to it, love it (live it?).  Buy her CD, watch her youtube videos a ton of times, make a pandora station. Get her to come to NWArkansas.

(image source)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday quote to think about

The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.
-Hugh MacLeod

Not quite sure how I feel about this quote yet, which may mean I'll write a bit about it once I've collected my thoughts.
This weekend I've semi-grasped how to do II unders at the box (yay!),  and, after working for a few hours this afternoon, plan on picking apples at the farm while running the pup, making applesauce and pesto to can/freeze, hoping UMich beats the Boilermakers this afternoon, and generally enjoying the day.  Somehow, though today is deliciously cold and dreary, I've come out of whatever horrible funk I was in and "the scales have fallen from my eyes," as cliche as that is.
So, though this song is a bit slow, I can't stop humming "All I can see" by Brendan James.  Loving the day, today.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Great apes - poetry and Jane

Again, from the very lovely Writer's Almanac (this one is from Oct. 4th).

The Escaped Gorilla
by David Wagoner

When he walked out in the park that early evening
just before closing time, he didn't take
the nearest blonde in one arm and climb a tree
to wait for the camera crews. He didn't savage
anyone in uniform, upend cars
or beat his chest or scream, and nobody screamed
when they found him hiding behind the holly hedge
by the zoo office where he waited for someone

to take him by the hand and walk with him
around two corners and along a pathway
through the one door that wasn't supposed to be open
and back to the oblong place with the hard sky
where all of his unbreakable toys were waiting
to be broken, with the wall he could see through,
but not as far as the place he almost remembered,
which was too far away to be anywhere. 

Firstly: support your local NPR station, please! It's tax deductible and, like your local library, it offers an enormous number of lovely resources. Don't let it slip out of your fingers.

Second: when I read this yesterday it left me with such a sweet and heavy feeling of sorrow in my chest that I knew I'd want to keep it somehow. So, I thought 'hey, I just started a blog! I'll post it there!' Also, Jane Goodall herself has been brought into by the honors college at UArk, so I'm going to see her tonight after I head to Crossfit.

Have you ever felt something similar? That sickly sweet feeling when you read something? If I hear or see something similar, I tend to tear up, but reading, for whatever reason, is slightly different.  Reading gets something deep inside me that wrenches a half-turn to the left -- the same feeling that you might get, for instance, when you think about the next time you'll see your secret crush -- the heart-stop and drop of joy (to see!) and sadness (because it might be unrequited). Ugh. It's so horrible and beautiful. I can't even talk about it because I'm getting the feeling just when trying to explain it and it is excruciating. 

Anyway, it is my secret hope that seeing Jane Goodall talk about the environment (for I'm sure it will be more environmentally-based and less about apes) will instill in me that sweet sickness and I will be, again, assured that restoration biologists are on a beautifully deadly path of heartache; battling against the inexorable push of the suburb and finding sad joy in the "restoration" of the pillaged pockets allowed them -- knowing that some species will inevitably be lost, but that battles must be picked in order to salvage those who are salvageable.

... or it could be a rousing talk about the horrors of humankind pillaging and raping the earth à la Rachel Carson.

Thoughts from Wednesday night

I realize I'd written a number of very self indulgent posts about being overwhelmed and feeling sort of glum... and was struck last night about how weird that actually sort of was. Because I don't haver internet at my house, I worried about it for a bit before going to bed but figured there wasn't much I could do about it. Turns out I have actually written said posts but saved them on my iPad, so my pissing and moaning is safe. All for the good of the world!

Whew. That said, life is hectic feeling for me! I have a midterm tomorrow (WTF? midterm already!?) in Entomology lab, which I wasn't all that concerned about, but now very much am. I have to work all day at Insect Festival tomorrow before the midterm, so I'm cramming in as much as possible now in hopes that much of it will stick.  Contrary to anyone's belief, being in graduate school does not mean you are any smarter than the average bear (I certainly don't think I am), it just means that you have a lot more pressure on you at all times to do progressively harder things. Which, most of the time is cool, because I think grad school  (at least in the sciences) seems to select for people who are obsessive about multiple things -- those often being work and getting fucked up. My personal brand of being fucked up is trying to see how much I can put my body through physically, but most of the time being fucked up involves drinking, which can also be pretty fun. But, I'm sort of past the point in my life where I want to binge drink just to say I did -- I like a good beer, but I'll reserve the beer or five for people I genuinely want to (make out) hang out with. Heh.

Anyway. Luck may be needed tomorrow, because it doesn't make sense to me that the scientific name for the subfamily of true katydids is Pseudophyllinae. Pseudo, what? Wouldn't be so bad, except there is also a false katydid (Phaneropterinae). Oh dear. I'm a little unlucky in that there are no aquatic Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids), so I need to learn all this from scratch. Alas! At least the beetles appear to be fairly straightforward.

Don't stay static!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I very read an insightful blog post by Mara Glatzel (which you can read here). Mara is the writer of Medicinal Marzipan which is, at it's barest bones, can be described as a self-love blog. The writing seems to be oriented more towards women (a sadness, because I think this perception is likely only because the author is a woman), but I think it's very applicable for everyone.

Peripherally about the book Fifty Shades of Grey, Mara focuses, ultimately, on the need to be an "active participant" in your own life, and not to wait around for a situation, or person, to come along and sweep you off your feet to a place where you needn't worry about taking care of everything -- that "safety" that is linked arm-in-arm with turning your brain off.

I like what Mara urges (be aware! open your eyes!) but I don't really like that included in that is the idea that one day, if you are active in your own life, you can be swept off your feet by that someone or something that means you don't have to think so hard anymore. ... and I don't think that's necessarily true. Maybe it's because I'm a glutton for punishment, or maybe because I think that enduring discomfort is the salt that makes the comfort and joy you can find in the world that much more wonderful. Granted, I know I come to this table with the privilege of middle-class white girl from the north, so perhaps my definition of discomfort is trivial in light of the trials and tribulations of the next person, but discomfort is about perception, so I'll leave it at that.

I do know that all the things that stand out in my memory as being wonderful tend to have an element of pain/frustration/discomfort behind them -- crossing the line of my first 5k, marathon, ultra - physical pain; walking out of my immunology professor's office after my oral final in undergrad -- mental and emotional discomfort.  But working at something makes the rewards so much sweeter.

In other news, I am enjoying an apple I picked at the Farm while rambling with my pup last night. Ah, apples. My long-time favorite fruit. Welcome, fall.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


This poem hit my inbox a few days ago in The Writer's Almanac (with Garrison Keillor). Because I have a soft spot for poems about science (amazing, I know), I thought I'd re-post.


 What little we have ever understood
is like an offering we make beside the sea.
It is pure worship when pursued
as its own end, to find out. Mystery,
the undiminishable silent flood,
stretches on out from where we pray
round the clear altar flame. The god
accepts the sacrifice and turns away. 

"Science" by Ursula K. Le Guin, from Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems 1960-2010

I like the poem at first blush but I'm not sure I agree with the portrayal of science as a sort of Mayan god who only accepts sacrifices.  I like the vastness of the sea, the perpetually lapping waves, as a proxy for science, but I think a better imagery would have been to somehow use rivers as a proxy for scientists -- with our increasing knowledge adding to the overall concept of the sea... though, ultimately, understanding that our "offerings" of knowledge are not unique or independent of the whole. Hrm. Not sure if that works, 100%; using the water cycle as a proxy for the complicated, fairly incestuous relationship between science/scientists, but I think it could work, if spun by the right hand. 

Then again, I'm an aquatic biologist with heavy leanings towards restoration ecology, so I may be slightly biased!


'Twas brillig

I am the proud possessor of a double degree from my undergraduate college. The first is in Biology (hence my current pursuit), and the second is in English. I love English. I love reading, I like writing, and it has always come easily to me. But, because I was fairly certain I wasn't disciplined enough to pound away at the keyboard (or typewriter or page) even when I wasn't feeling inspired, I never indulged in the fantasy that I would ever pursue a higher degree in it.

Turns out the joke is on me, though, because writing is an integral part of science too... just as tedious but without all the lovely turns of phrase, similes, and metaphors.  Turns out that, even when you're not feeling inspired, manuscripts still need to be written. Alas.

Anyway, I've decided to try and write a poem a day in October. Rough, right? It doesn't have to be anything decent (and no, I'm not going to post them all here), and I'm sure I'll be relying on word prompts as the month progresses... I'm still trying to decide if haiku is an acceptable option.

I'd still consider myself to fall under the umbrella of "novice writer" -- someone who still feels like they shouldn't have to work at writing if they have some innate sense of it being fun. Which, of course, ties directly back into why it is highly unlikely I could ever be an actual writer of fictional things. BUT, if I could, how lovely would it be to have a word I created become absorbed into the vernacular? Lewis Carroll, one of my favorite authors, did it (chortle? One of my favorite words!), along with Shakespeare (of course)... and, I believe, more recently, Mark Twain? 

In the current day it's a bit harder to get made-up words entrenched enough via societal use to get them into the dictionary, but it sure would be fun. Hell, it would be super fun to somehow transport back to when our language did exhibit that sort of plasticity and see what sorts of words I could get into circulation.  Or, perhaps, what sort of words I could remake to have different meanings. Spam? No longer a questionable meat mish-mash. Instead, it refers to the a type of weed with a yellow flower that pops up in springtime.... used in the following way; "I didn't spread the weedkiller, so my lawn is full of spam." (singular = spam; plural= spam).