January 2008 Archives

This is how I pay the bills


January 23, 12:30 pm: I'll never get this day back, nor yesterday. I'll never get a second crack at the next 6 hours. Yesterday, and again today, it was still dark when I left my house to attend this 4-day meeting. It'll be dark tomorrow too, and Friday. It was dark by the time the meeting adjourned yesterday and I walked back to my car. The sun had come up and gone down without shining on me. A day of my life gone. A day of my dog's life lost forever.

I'm sitting in an auditorium listening to a series of technical presentations, only a few of which are of any interest to me. This morning I listened to a series of chemists describe attempts to formulate new compounds in their labs. I had one year of chemistry in college, so I'm like someone who's had one year of Greek listening to a series of talks given in Greek by native Greek speakers.

The session that's beginning now is scheduled to run until 6pm, and is certain to last at least that long. I'll never get the next 6 hours back.

An hour into this 6-hour afternoon and we're 15 minutes behind schedule.

3pm: back on schedule after a shortened break.

4:10pm: I've dozed off a couple of times. It's amazing how terrible most of these guys--they're almost all men--are at giving presentations. They stand with their backs to the audience, talking to their slides or just reading from them, always in a monotone. Sadly for advanced education in this country, the professors aren't much better than the scientists from the labs. There was one brief moment this morning when I thought: if I were a student and this were a class, I'd remember just that one thing. It was when a chemistry prof anthropomorphized a chemical compound in solution, saying "...and it looks around and says 'Oh my God, I'm supposed to be a hydride,' and it grabs an ion."

5:10pm: illegible slides, speaker has his back to the audience, using a green laser pointer as he drones on. Last slide now, the one he says is the most important: it's a list of the names of his collaborators. There are about 25 names on the slide. He reads them all.

5:45pm: The last speaker is surprisingly good. He's talking to the audience, using his hands, getting some expression in his voice.

6:10pm: freedom.



I just registered for Moosefest 2008. I'm SO excited.

In need of a laugh?


In case you're not already reading Pharyngula on a regular basis, check out this post, and read the comments.

Me, over there on the right


No, not politically *guffaw* -- that's a picture of me over there on the right.

I've been wanting to put a picture of myself here on the blog for a long time, but I didn't have any head shots other than my passport, driver's license, and a handful of badges. I tried scanning one of the badges but the picture was tiny and when I tried stretching it, blech. Then yesterday I had to get my picture taken yet again for another new badge; the company I work for changed the style of the badges (again) and we're all required to get new ones (again). I also learned that I could have my badge photo posted on the internal company website if I wanted to, and from there I was able to download it.

So if anyone's been wondering what I look like, now you know. It's not a bad picture; you can actually tell that I have lips, meager as they are. Mike says I should "smile wider", but I can't make my small mouth any bigger than it is, and when I try to "smile wider" I just end up looking deranged.

This being a badge picture, it's more of a "corporate" look than is usual for me. The earrings in particular, and I usually hang out in sweatshirts and jeans. Anyway, there I am.

Clan of the Black Dog


About thirty years ago I spent some time staying with a friend in Isla Vista, the small college/beach community in California in which U.C. Santa Barbara and its students reside. I was just coming off a very short, very miserable first marriage. I was depressed, emotionally messed up, searching for relief, and hoping to find comfort on the coast. Feeling moody, I went out to walk along the beach one night. I walked the short distance from my friend's apartment to the main drag through Isla Vista and turned in the direction of the beach. Before I'd walked half a block, a large black dog--probably a Lab mix but it was dark--came up to me and started trotting along beside me. He wore no collar. He accompanied me all the way to the beach and all along the beach, staying right by my side. The one time he walked a short distance away to sniff some bushes, I stopped and waited for him to return. He came back, and we continued on our meandering way. The casual companionship of this dog cheered me considerably, much more than the crashing waves. After maybe an hour we got back to the main drag. He stayed beside me until I turned onto the street on which my friend lived, and then, without so much as a goodbye glance, he veered off and I never saw him again.

When I was very young I was afraid of dogs, but by the time I hit middle school I'd gotten over the fear. When my parents adopted a full-grown, smallish white poodle from the pound, I liked it well enough but felt no particular attachment to it. When I brought a kitten home a couple of years later, my parents let me keep him in spite of my mother's allergy to cats. According to received wisdom in my family, one was either a dog person or a cat person, and I was evidently a cat person.

My parents were nonplussed when I came home with a puppy during my senior year of high school. I can't explain why the little black Lab was so irresistible that I would do something so ill-thought-out as to buy a puppy--especially one destined to grow into a large dog--without discussing the matter with my parents first. I named him Cassius after the Roman senator--I was going through a Shakespearean phase. Sadly, my mother, like many of her generation, didn't consider Labrador retrievers to be "house dogs", and Cassius was staked out in the backyard once he'd outgrown his puppy cuteness. My father built a very nice dog house for him, I must say--I remember crawling into it myself on occasion.

Still, after I left for college I never lived at home again, and I couldn't take Cassius with me. Eventually my parents gave him away to friends who lived in the country. They said the family loved him and he had room to run, and I was happy/sad to let him go.

A few years ago Mike and I were in the UK and I was browsing cheap junk souvenirs, stuff for the American tourist market: refrigerator magnets bearing "Coats of Arms". I've since seen a variety of disparate designs supposedly associated with my family name, which is a common, generic Anglo-Saxon name, but the one I found that day bore the heads of three black dogs on a field of white, and I bought it.

There've been other things: black dogs that looked me in the eye, and the time I should've gotten bitten but didn't. It was years and years before I began to recall these incidents collectively and sense some indefinable connection to large black dogs. Lacking a better idea, I drew from Native American mythology and began to think of black dogs as my spirit guides.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted the neighborhood Christmas potluck, at which there was a large turn-out in spite of a forecast of freezing rain. One neighbor stayed late to help clean up; his wife, whom I'll call M, had gone home earlier to nurse a cold. He and I discovered we were both Northern Exposure fans, and we talked about the show while I piled dishes in the sink. A couple of days later M called to ask a favor: the friend who usually feeds their pets while they're away was unavailable and they needed someone to fill in. I gladly offered my services. The following evening I walked to their house to meet the pets and get a key and some instructions.

The pets turned out to be two cats and a 12-year-old black flat-coated retriever named Sara, named for Sarajevo, where M, a retired military officer, had rescued her from abuse during wartime, pulling strings to avoid quarantine by flying the dog to the US on a military plane. In the front window of their house are two signs: "Beware of the Dog" and "Warning: Dog bites first, asks questions later," but the night I visited, the dog stayed by my side, wagging her tail, licking my hands and my face, gently accepting treats from my fingers. M was amazed at how well Sara took to me, and about the third time she said "I'm so surprised," I said "I'm not--black dogs are my..." and I stopped myself, not knowing anything about M or how she would react to what I'd been about to say. She finished my sentence, as a question: "Your totem?" And I thought Yes, that'll work--that's it exactly.

A couple of days later I mentioned the totem thing to Mike. As an atheist with a degree in Religious Studies--go figure--he feels no obligation to either accept or reject another's beliefs, but is rather more likely to critique the basis of belief. I was pleasantly surprised when he gave my theory a nod of respect by saying that my religious experience --I hadn't thought of it as such until he so named it-- was more tangible than that of Christians, and far more tangible than that of some other religions. Thus buoyed, I write this post.

July 2012

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