Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When September Ends

September has come and and, for the first time since I started preschool in 1987, it didn't mark the start of a school year for me.

Not that it really feels like fall here in the Bay Area, with 90-degree weather hitting us hard (remind me why we don’t have air-conditioning again?), but still, listening to so many of my friends talk about the start of school, you’d think I’d be feeling some small amount of nostalgia for the erstwhile meaning of September—homework! books! teachers’ dirty looks!--but the only thing I can bring myself to miss is the textbooks, and I’m trying devotedly to avoid thinking about that; I’ve already got a stack of books in our living room roughly the height of the Space Needle, so why would I want to add more books to fail to find time to read?

Instead of nostalgia, though, all I feel is…nothing. Nothing with a small side of relief, that is, which makes me think, phew, did I hate grad school that much? Yes and no: I don’t regret my time in grad school at all, and I still believe it was the right thing for me at the time, but it’s just so much nicer, right now, to have a job, especially when that job gives me free food, laundry, and transportation; a flexible schedule; and a workplace full of really smart, motivated, and totally kick-ass people. I was always told the real world was a drag, but I’m having a blast.

Is Silicon Valley not the real world? Is that the answer? In any case: goodbye, September. I'll see you again next year. Goodbye, school. I'll see you when I see you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fragments, shored and otherwise

Let me, right away, express regret that my writing skills have regressed to bullet points only. I'm corporate now; what do you expect?

In some unspecified order of importance:

-I applied to law school (remember?) and got into Harvard, Stanford, and Berkeley. I turned down Harvard and Stanford and chose Berkeley because that's the only place Mike was accepted, and yes, I fully intend to use "I turned down Harvard for you" as a fighting tactic for the rest of our lives. I think that's well worth the $75 application fee, don't you? In any case, I've deferred law school for another year to hang out and mooch free food and laundry services from work. (They ironed my jeans last week. Hilarious.)

-Mike finally, on his third try, got accepted to a Berkeley Ph.D. program. They initially rejected him, but after he won an award from Army (a three year fellowship, plus a seal for marksmanship), Berkeley was persuaded to take him on. (Apparently you really can get anything in this world for money.) He'll be in the Materials Science department, so if you ever want to know anything about tulle, gingham, or silk, you know who to ask.

- We're leaving next Tuesday night for an Epically Amazing Trip to the Middle East (EATME2010, since I love travel acronyms) and, as usual, I have woefully underplanned. Last year I left for a month in Vietnam without ever once opening a guidebook, and this year I'm only slightly better about details--I've skimmed a guidebook, at least, if not acted on any of the knowledge. Last year's trip was fine, though, aside from the arrest, so I'm comfortable adopting "winging it" as a travel strategy since I don't plan on doing any illegal research. We'll be in Turkey, Egypt, and Israel, and I fully expect to have that damn "Istanbul, Not Constantinople" song in my head for at least the first full week.

-On that note, in one of our many planning conversations that have led to few or no actions, we discussed the possibility of renting a car to explore Mount Nimrod in Turkey and I realized that of all the adult things I've done this year--getting married, getting a full-time job, having a subscription to The New Yorker--renting a car makes me feel the most grown-up. After all, the minimum age limits on those other things are much lower. We'll see how the car rental goes before I commit to giving up my "poor student" bus-oriented travel style.

-I always used to joke that since I already had short hair I was guaranteed not to be one of those girls who gets married and cuts all her hair off. Instead, I seem to be doing the opposite: I haven't cut my hair since the wedding and, even more frighteningly, neither has Mike. We--meaning mostly Mike's beard--are out of control. As it turns out, gaining weight is not the only way to let yourself go.

Yes, we are dressed as pirates. Pirates with hippie hair. Make love not warrrrrrrr.

-Since I seem to just be rehashing all my recent Facebook status updates in this post, I'll continue: I'm obsessed with Trivial Pursuit, even though I can't answer any of the sports questions; I've been reading a lot lately (93 books so far in 2010, plus every single New Yorker); I've been running barefoot and my feet are horribly cut up; I fell down the stairs a while ago and hurt my foot; I make terrible puns; and I felt gypped when we spent 4.5 hours at the San Francisco Opera's production of "Die Walkure" and didn't see a single fat lady in a horned helmet. Gosh, I'm boring on Facebook.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Opus 5:30 (Don't You Worry 'Bout Me)

By 5.30 pm today, three coworkers had asked me why I was at the office so late. Clearly, I'm doing this whole "job" thing right.

I was at the office so late because I wanted to eat dinner at the office since there was no one waiting for me at home; Mike is out of town for work for the next few days. I have mixed feelings about this.


He is hanging out at Tahoe (and, oh yeah, presenting at a conference) while I will be working nights and overtime every day.

He is not around to warm my absurdly and constantly cold feet at night. I have to wear socks instead. Socks! In June!

I had no one to laugh at me when I spent the night crawling around the apartment after falling down the stairs and twisting my ankle.

I was forced to watch movies while I worked alone. I hate watching movies alone, even when I'm only half paying attention. Well, okay, let's say a quarter paying attention, in case my manager reads this.


I can listen to my favorite songs over and over and over.

I spent several minutes racking my brain for a plus side besides dinner at the office, but it turns out that most of what I've done in the past few days I can do when Mike is around: read novels? Check. Clean the apartment? Check. Eat cold cereal? Check. Go to bed late? Check.

What it really comes down, to, then, where marriage really cramps my style, is how many times I can listen to "Love Child" on repeat. I have a very high tolerance for repetition, I know, but who can resist the sweet archaic strains of the 60s? Who doesn't want to hum "But no child of mine will be bearing/ the name of shame I've been wearing" all day long? Likewise, who can resist a good old-fashioned music video? Who is that random kid, anyway, and what is he doing on the Frankie Valli's lap? Is Frankie singing to the kid? Is that charming or just creepy?

I have good music cred too, I promise--I've seen Radiohead in concert twice, I read Pitchfork regularly, and on my own time I only listen to whiny indie bands--but for some reason my job takes me back to my childhood, when I was hooked on the oldies station (to the confusion of my parents, who surely wondered why their 10 year old was calling in to request the Beach Boys; "Good Vibrations," of course), and all I want to listen to as I respond to customer emails is my 60s-themed Pandora station. What can I say? Nothing else can keep me in the groove until--gasp!--5:30pm.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Deny thy husband and refuse his name

Right after I got married, I flew out to Utah to present at a conference, where one of my old professors introduced me and my talk by saying, "This is a former student of mine, Hannah, wait, I guess I don't know: what is your last name now, Hannah?"

I didn't realize it at the time, but after I told the audience that I hadn't taken my husband's name, they probably judged me as less caring, but more independent, more ambitious, more intelligent, and more competent than a woman who had changed her name; they probably also wanted to pay me $1,172.36 more.

I don't object to this characterization, especially, and certainly not to the extra pay, but they've got me all wrong here. I kept my own name at marriage, yes, but it's not a principled stand or statement of anything--except, perhaps, of confusion and indecision.

I've thought a lot about the name issue, in my life; this isn't a creepy-girl-obsessed-with-weddings thing but a creepy-girl-obsessed-with-names thing. (I kept a notebook, as a child, of good names for horses, should I ever suddenly come into a stable of thoroughbreds. And yes, I freely admit to a creepily-obsessed-with-horses thing.) I always basically came to the same conclusion: I wouldn't keep my own name on feminist principle. (My own name is originally my father's name, after all; as far as I can tell, it's patriarchy all the way down.) I also wouldn't automatically take my husband's name, though, but make my decisions on he basis of the name itself: anything starting with an H is out (no alliteration), vowels are similarly taboo (no homologous glottal stops), and nothing cutesy or rhyming. (This is an onomastics issue, not a feminist issue, I thought.)

So then we come to Mike's last name: it starts with an N (yes!), doesn't rhyme (yes!), and is, by all accounts, perfectly unobjectionable, apart from its presence on the list of 1000 most common surnames and, despite that, a worrisome tendency to be misspelled. (I'm looking at you, Mom.) I fully expected myself to take his name, right up to the day we went to the courthouse for our marriage license, when, suddenly, I couldn't do it. I had spent so much time thinking of the sounds of a new name that I had all but ignored the symbolism: could I really give up this person that I had been my whole life to become this new, mysterious Hannah N, especially in the midst of all my other life turmoil? Could I really deal with having such a common last name? And while I like the symbolism of a married couple having the same last name, why did I have to be the one to change? How could I balance my identity as an individual within the couple if I let my name be subsumed into his?

(Okay, so maybe it's a little bit a feminist issue.)

And so I followed the path of least resistance, keeping my own name; I figured that this was a decision and revision that a minute (and $320, in Alameda county) could reverse, but, frankly, I'm not inclined to pay the fee anytime soon: my own last name is more distinctive, which is useful, professionally speaking; I've been perfectly happy as Hannah P for 25 years; I kind of enjoy confusing people at church with our different last names; and I definitely enjoy telling people that I kept my own name because my husband's last name is "boring." (Mike's comeback: "She hasn't earned my name yet." Well played, Mr. N. Well played.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Come, listen to a prophet's voice

In another--much more interesting--LDS world:

Lorenzo Snow White served with seven very short apostles,

you'd bet your life, if Groucho Marx asked, that three wives are buried in Heber J. Grant's Tomb,

John Taylor Swift "Should've Said No" to his "Love Story" with polygamy,

Brigham Young Frankenstein pronounced it Fronkensteen,

Joseph Smith & Wesson could protect himself from the mob,

Ezra Taft Benson & Hedges had some Word of Wisdom problems,

and Howard W. Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Salt Lake City sold out at Deseret Book.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

I'm just starting my third week of work at the as-yet-unnamed-but-still-totally-obvious internet company, and the honeymoon period has definitely not ended. I'm in the "user operations" department, which is basically a fancy way to say "customer service," except with the twist of us also being responsible for user feedback, internationalization, harassment reports, site security, and enforcing the site's terms of use. This means that if you're bullying someone, maintaining multiple accounts, or posting child pornography, my colleagues and I will swoop down like avenging angels and bam! disable your account. More specifically, I've been put on the "site integrity" team, which means that I'm in charge of resolving problems with hacking Nigerians or ex-boyfriends, and occasionally even hacking Nigerian ex-boyfriends. You never know.

I enjoy the work, which it's just about as different from graduate school as I could get--lots of quick tasks, with an emphasis on efficiency rather than accuracy--and think each individual hacked account is like a tiny mystery to solve, figuring out who hacked who and when and how. That's right, I'm rapidly becoming the Angela Lansbury of social networking.

That's probably enough about my daily episodes of "Hacked, She Wrote"; I'm not sure what, exactly, the confidentiality agreements cover, so let me venture onto safer territory: the office. I think I mentioned the perks in my last post, but let me just reiterate: a cafeteria with delicious, free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Today's theme was "Mediterranean," and so I ate a spicy chickpea stew, spicy garlic-fried kale, Greek pasta salad, bulgur, and eggplant ratatouille. Yum.) Free snack stations everywhere, stocked with everything from drinks to organic dried apples to KitKats. A casual work environment, with everyone in jeans and sneakers. Smart, interesting, Stanford-educated 25-year-old colleagues. A chiropractor, paid for by my health insurance, who comes to the office. 21 paid holidays a year, plus unlimited sick days and 11 paid holidays. Free laundry service, twice a week. A free shuttle to and from San Francisco for commuters. A new laptop and wireless modem, the better to work on that commute.

Which is the major downside: commuting? I'm not used to that. As a student I always lived within a few miles of campus, and either walked or rode my bike, and suddenly I have to commute every day--every day!--from Berkeley to Palo Alto. For those that don't know the Bay Area, that's about 45 miles--45 traffic-congested miles, including a bridge across the bay. Ugh.

I would never dream of driving this--the thought of that much down time in a day just kills me, plus I can't drive our car, something I'll talk about in another post--so I do it on public transportation, which takes about an hour and a half each way: half an hour on BART, the metro, and an hour on the work-sponsored shuttle. This isn't so bad, really, as it gives me a chance to read, read, read my little heart out. I've read an entire book every work day since I started two weeks ago, and that shows no sign of stopping; in fact, since we're housesitting for Mike's sister in Marin County right now, which expands my commute to 2-3 hours each way, my reading rate has increased. Yesterday I read two books start to finish, and checked my email, and read parts of a New Yorker magazine.

So all in all, it's not so bad. I get to move closer to my goal of reading every decent book every published, plus a good portion of the terrible ones, and I get to join the real world in a big way; there's no better introduction to American adult life, after all, than shoving through crowds trying to catch a morning train into the city. (Well, maybe sitting in a car on a highway into the city, but even I can't read a book a day at stoplights alone.) And, in the end, if the commute is the price I have to pay for interesting work, a steady paycheck, and the daily frisson of pleasure I get from walking around the office with a badge on--I just feel so grown up!--then, hey, no worries: I've got a library card and I know how to use it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Turn and Face the Strange

This is a serious entry, guys.

(Well, aside from the David Bowie references.)

Two weeks ago, I withdrew from school. All the doors are still open for my eventual return, but, really, I don't intend to go back.

Maybe this isn't as serious to you all as it is to me, but, let me tell you, to me it's the end of the world. It's terrifying. I have been a student all my life. All. my. life.

What will I do without homework? What will I do without teachers? What will I do without constant validation of my memorization test-taking abilities?

(I'll take the LSAT and apply to law school, that's what.)

I had always thought that I wanted to get a Ph.D. and be a professor. I am a child of two Ph.D.s who learned to crawl up the steps of the MIT library; I agreed to go to BYU for undergrad because I knew I could go elsewhere for grad school; I always envisioned myself building a career of reading and thinking and, if I had to, writing. I didn't know anything different, I couldn't imagine anything different.

And yet, over the past two and a half years, I have grown steadily more unhappy in grad school--though there were some good times, there were more than enough bad times to balance them out, and, in general, a sense of unease, discontent and, eventually, boredom, lingered over my graduate school experience.

I know everybody hates grad school; that's the way it is. And yet, if I'm so unhappy at it now, how is the end result any different? Do I really want to suffer through another three or four years of this pressure-filled, stultifying environment only to get a $40,000/year job doing exactly the same things, only this time with tenure on the line? Do I really want to go to conferences and force myself to attend talks that bore me or talk with colleagues that irritate me? Do I really want to talk, think, eat, breathe linguistics, linguistics, linguistics all the time? Do I really want to spend my life in trivial arguments? Do I really want to publish or perish? And do I really want to work 16 hour days, to put my time, mental health, family life on the line, for language change? In sum, do I really believe my work is worth it?

I've been mulling over these questions for a long time now, almost a full year, and no matter how many variables I've toggled in my environment--fewer classes, no classes, teaching positions, research projects, whatever I can change--I find myself coming to the same answer: no.

I went to grad school for some of the right reasons and lots of the wrong ones, and, though I don't regret that decision--I got a free master's degree out of the deal, after all, plus a husband, a home, and, most importantly, the sure knowledge that academia isn't the right place right now--I would regret the decision if I stayed, if I let myself be dragged along by the system, writing each chapter of my dissertation just because it's there, or just because there's funding, or just because I'm trapped in the culture and can't think of anything else to do.

So I left. And here's where I consider myself very lucky, because I found something else to do. I got a job. A good job. I don't know if I'll love the work itself, but even if I don't, it's a job that pays well, or at least better than grad school, a job where I work with interesting, smart, dynamic people, a job that gives me unbelievable benefits and perks, and, of course, a job with pretty serious confidentiality agreements, so, uh, don't expect to see much discussion of it around here.

(Curious about where I work? Let's just say that it starts with F and ends with acebook.)

Sometimes when I think about how much my life has changed in the last year, my head spins and I want to reach through a time portal and shake my January 2009 self by the shoulders, just to warn her about the change that's about to come--brace yourself! Take some deep breaths! Hell, take a nap--in a year or so, you'll deserve it. At this time last year I was a single graduate student living in Oakland, riding a bicycle to school and dressing in jeans and T-shirts; this year I'm a married Facebook employee living in Berkeley and taking a work commuter shuttle to work and dressing in…well, okay, I can still wear jeans. At least I have something in my life that isn't ch-ch-ch-changing.