Thursday, February 21, 2008

Woke Up, Got Out of Bed

And now for something completely the same: a day in the life of a not-busy-enough grad student.

4.01 AM. My alarm goes off.

4.06 AM. Again.

4.11 AM. And again.

4.16 AM. Yet again. I'm awake, really, I'm just trying to pretend that I'm not. I don't usually get up this early, but I was too tired last night to write up the problem set that I spent about five hours solving. I drag myself the three feet across my bedroom to my computer, turn it on, and start writing: syllable structure in Chaha blah blah blah...

4.57 AM. My roommate, who has been working an early-morning shift at her retail job, stumbles out of her room to find me in the kitchen stirring cottage cheese into spaghetti. For some reason I am always starving when I wake up early, and oatmeal just won't cut it. "Good morning!" I say brightly. Once I'm out of bed, I'm a morning person. It's annoying.

5.36 AM. I'm only three pages into my writeup and am beginning to worry that it won't get done, so, of course, I take a break to reply to some emails. I'm trying to set up a Visiting Teaching appointment for later in the week, so my companion gets some bright-and-early scheduling details.

6.01 AM. I hate Chaha. Curse you, speakers of Ethio-Semitic languages! And I hate how frequently I'm using the word "generate." I check and decide on "produce." Grad school kills prose style.

6.43 AM. I've already solved this problem; can't I just explain my solution to the professor orally? It would take five minutes, tops. I hate writing, and the sun hasn't even come up yet. I'd rather be somewhere, anywhere else.

6.44 AM. I find off-season plane tickets to Algiers for only $900. It's not like anything important will be going on in school in March anyway, right?

7.01 AM. On Thursday mornings I go running, and I won't let phonology stop me from that. I throw on some sneakers and head out. I can think of more synonyms for "generate" on my way. Effect. Cause. Induce. Engender.

7.29 AM. It was a short jog this morning, thanks to Chaha. I start writing again. Page five. I am a slow writer.

7.41 AM. A friend emails me, looking for dating advice. I reply. Why do people think I might have constructive advice about dating? I am a solid friend but terrible at romance.

8.03 AM. Marrakesh for $850!

8.56 AM. Panic! Panic! I have class at 9.40 and I still haven't showered or dressed or packed a lunch or packed up my school stuff. I put the finishing touches on my homework and jump in the shower.

9.26 AM. I'm leaving slightly later than I hoped, so I run. It's a rainy morning, not too cold, which I love, so I'm loping across downtown Berkeley with a huge grin on my face, my backpack bouncing up and down behind me. I don't pass any protests this morning, not even Code Pink, which is unusual. I guess that brouhaha has mostly died down, which is a pity, because I always enjoyed passing that intersection when someone was holding up a "Honk to Impeach Bush" sign. Nothing like every car horn in the area honking to get you ready for class.

9.46 AM. I am always late to class. I should have given up being late for Lent.

10.01 AM. Due to my fancy-schmancy graduate education, I now know the Yurok word for a Pacific lamprey. I totally love this class.

11.31 AM. In my next class, we get distracted from our discussion of case-marking in Australian languages as the professor tells a story about a six-foot long goanna charging at her. What's with the wildlife today? Not that I'm complaining.

1.07 PM. In my third class, my professor, who be administering the phonology section of our MA orals, says, very slowly and clearly, "You can't graduate with even an MA in linguistics without knowing that Finnish has transparent vowels." Finnish. Transparent vowels. Check.

2.00 PM. Classes are over for the day. I wander over to the student store to buy Kleenex, cough drops, and various Vitamin C tablets and lozenges and juices that, all told, constitute about 4000% of the recommended daily value. I'd really rather not get a cold right now. Or ever, for that matter. Bring on the Vitamin C!

2.11 PM. I check my email. Gmail is advertising tickets to Jakarta for only $810. I am tempted.

2.30 PM. I arrive at the Institute building, which is close to campus and boasts several comfortable study spots. I settle in to do some reading about nonconcatenative morphology. Isn't that fun to say? Nonconcatenative! Nonconcatenative!

4.51 PM. I am struck by guilt that I have all this time to sit around reading. I should be doing research or working or something, even if I have no idea what I want to research or where I could work. I just feel like a lazy underachiever.

5.01 PM. Speaking of which, I give up trying to fight the nap.

5.20 PM. My alarm goes off. I know not to hit snooze this time or I'll be late.

5.36 PM. I step on a bus heading north, wondering if this time I'll actually see the intersection or if I'll have another one of my get-off-the-bus-a-mile-too-late debacles. Last time I ended up having to run the extra mile, and I've had quite enough "I'm late" running today.

5:59 PM. Success! I am actually on time! I'm babysitting for some friends during stake temple night. They only have one kid, and he's ridiculously cute and good-natured. After his parents leave, I put him in his stroller, and we go out walking.

7.30 PM. This kid has a long attention span for sitting in his stroller, and I have a long attention span for walking around aimlessly. We're a good combination. I give him a bath, put him in bed, and sit down on the couch with some articles to read, amazed at how this was the easiest babysitting job ever.

9.30 PM. Home again, home again, jiggity jig. My apartment is, as usual, a mess, so I spend a few minutes washing dishes and folding clothes, glad I've only got one person to clean up after.

10.00 PM. I love wasting time on the internet. I reply to a few emails--if you're reading this, yours probably wasn't among them; I'm sorry--read some blogs, look up recipes for this week's Sunday dinner, continue winning at Facebook scrabble, chat with a friend, and find plane tickets to Australia for $1000. I want a six-foot goanna to charge at me!

11.15 PM. Time for bed, which really means time to brush my teeth, wash my face, floss, read my scriptures, and then read a novel for a half hour or until I conk out, whichever happens first. Lately it's been the latter, which explains why it's taking me so darn long to get through the 600-page novel a friend recommended. I should have saved it for spring break.

12.00 PM or thereabouts. I fall asleep thinking about living in a white house in Algiers, one of my ultimate life goals. I'd better start saving for those plane tickets.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amazing Grace

My friend came late to institute last night, just as we were dividing up into groups for an exercise, so I grabbed her a chair and dragged it over to where my group was forming. I then lifted up my own chair to move it and make room for hers, and managed, in the course of something so simple, to:

1. place my own chair directly on top of my plastic water cup, which broke in half with a satisfying (and loud) CRACK!

2. step directly onto a plate of olive oil and vinegar salad dressing

3. reel away from the plate, arms waving, and fall directly onto the chair I had just placed in my way.

All this in about five seconds. Every so often it crosses my mind that the name Hannah means "grace," and then I have to laugh. Parents, what were you thinking?

Monday, February 04, 2008

No Direction Home

I'm a big believer in positive thinking, so I'll start with this: I'm good at many things. Like acquiring totally useless skills (coughBraillecough), or whistling loudly, or sleeping. Yes, that's right, sleeping. I'm an amazing sleeper--I can sleep anytime, anywhere, through anything. In the middle of the afternoon? Check. On my floor? Check. While my computer is blasting loud music at me? Check.

I clearly get sleeping skills from my father.

So does Klement.

Luckily, we don't get this from him.

But this isn't about sleeping, much as I would like it to be. This is about things I don't do well. So let's start with the biggest one of all: directions. I am functionally retarded at directions. Roughly half my personal anecdotes start with "so this one time I was really lost," and there's good reason for that. I can't tell left from right without looking at my hands, I can't visualize directions that people are giving to me (though I can read a map, for the record, if I rotate it enough), and I can't for the life of me remember paths I have taken before. It's like other people have in their heads a video of a certain route, where I only have a series of poorly-lit Polaroids, not necessarily ordered correctly, and not necessarily covering the entire route. This means I can remember what certain locations look like--usually based on the signs in the area, since I, as ever, am most drawn to words--but the connections between those locations are beyond me. My family used to make fun of me because one of my most commonly said phrases--besides, of course, "I've read a book about that"--was "hey, what is that doing here?"

I could go on forever about times I have been lost--the time I couldn't direct my grandmother to the library and my three-year-old brother could, the time I went running and ended up two towns away, the time I took a wrong highway exit three times in a row--but I'll spare you that. I will say, though, that my graduate department is housed in the world's most confusing building, period, and that that has caused me a lot of grief. Or, more specifically, a lot of being late to class. For those who went to BYU and remember the JKHB, let me tell you, it's got nothing on Dwinelle. It seems like two buildings stuck together, one of them with four floors, labeled 1-4, and lots of classrooms, labeled with two- and three-digit numbers, and one of the with seven floor, labeled A-G, and lots of offices, labeled with four-digit numbers. Of course, four floors and seven floors do not match up, so to get to floor 3 you have to take the elevator to either floor F and walk down a flight of stairs, or floor E and walk up a flight of stairs. What's more, both sections of the building are squares that only connect in one corner, so when you take the elevator to floor F, good luck finding the flight of stairs. Plus random hallways shoot off each side of the square, and they all look the same. Plus the building is set on a slope, so each entrance from the outside leads to a different inside level. Plus I deeply suspect that, like Hogwarts, rooms and staircases move around at night.

All this means that I spent much of last semester comically confused about where my classes were. I mostly just showed up in my department, whose outside door I finally managed to find, hidden behind the service truck unloading area, and waited for one of my classmates to walk through on their way to class. When nobody walked through, I was in trouble. In fact, I had two of my classes, each meeting once a week, in the same classroom, and I didn't realize it until about a month after school started. All classrooms look the same, you know, and I came at it each day from a different direction, and left each day through a different door, which I think excuses me. At least a little.

So you can imagine how things went the other day when an undergrad approached me in the hallway of my department and asked how to get to room 86. I knew enough to know that room was in the other half of the building, on another floor, and to know that I'd never be able to just tell her how to get there: after a few seconds of me going, "Um, I think you walk straight, and then maybe up some stairs? And then you turn? Left? Or maybe right?" I finally just said, "Let me take you." So we set off on a Dwinelle adventure, with me pretending to be confident and the undergrad sweetly following along, not getting annoyed when I, first, walked us right into the backstage of the theater; second, took us to a dead-end door leading into the courtyard; third, found a set of stairs that didn't lead to the level we wanted; fourth, walked us around the square of the French department, twice; and fifth, gave up.

"You want to know how I find my way around this building?" I asked. She nodded. "I find my way around this building," I said. So, together, we found the nearest exit, walked around the outside of the building, and entered through the door on the level she wanted. For future reference, I told her, she should just memorize that door and never enter through any other one. Or she should find an older grad student, or one with a sense of direction. I'd be much more useful, after all, if she needed someone to take an emergency nap.