Monday, December 26, 2011

Feelin' Grinch-y (alternatively, Hooray! Christmas is DONE!!!)

Thank Gawd that's over with!! <sigh> I am a terrible cynic. This is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in the sense that I don't make the stupid gullible mistakes that I did when I was younger, but a curse in that I view everything and everyone with suspicion. This trait becomes more pronounced around major holidays - including Christmas. I only get into the Christmas spirit (briefly) when I'm out at Toys R Us, blissfully alone, the night before Chrismas Eve - at midnight (okay, technically Christmas Eve, but I'm not gonna split hairs on this). I think about all the cool stuff that Elliot and Chris would love to receive as gifts, and it does warm my heart a little bit. Then I think about the pouting and potential tantrums that will ensue on Christmas Day when: 1) Elliot's haggard and exhausted parents don't get up at 5:59 am so that he can open his presents. It doesn't matter that we didn't get home from Christmas Eve festivities until 1:30 am. That's no excuse, apparently; and 2) he doesn't get the outrageously expensive 3D game system that he wants - even though he has a perfectly good 2D version. My Christmas spirit kinda starts to evaporate by this point.

On Christmas Eve, we went to Chris's dad's house to celebrate with the Visel side of the family. This year, Chris's dad asked everyone to think of a fond Christmas memory and share it with everyone. I racked my brain all night, but couldn't come up with a decent memory. Now, as I sit here writing, it occurs to me. The one holiday season that I actually enjoyed was in 2003, when I was pregnant with Elliot. Now, I realize that the stereotypical pregnant woman is supposedly a bitch of her formerly nice rational self. This was not the case with me. I went from my ever-pessimistic, moderately dysphoric self to what I considered "normal". I was happy all the time, pleasant and friendly, perhaps a bit weepy (we got a flat tire on my car and I broke out into a big sobbing spell over it), but it was - wonderful. I actually voluntarily went to church with my in-laws around Christmas and enjoyed myself immensely. My dad didn't have Alzheimer's or seven other children at this point, as far as I knew, and all was right with the world. Except for the morning sickness, or rather, the all-freaking-day-for-six-months sickness. I remember spending some portion of Christmas Eve hugging the toilet at my in-law's and trying not to mess up my very first cute red velvet maternity top. But I even felt okay about this because I was just so damned happy. I feel wistful for that Christmas.

This season, I think I'm feeling extra cranky because I'm sorely missing my dad. I never really thought about how just his presence balanced the feeling of my parents' house. I didn't even have to interact with him, the atmosphere just felt "right" when he was there. As much as I love my mom and my brother, going home isn't the same anymore. I thought about this as we drove back to our house and it started to make me cry, much to my surprise. It's been a year without him now - even longer if you count the years with Alzheimer's. When is his absence going to stop hurting so much? My best friend since 4th grade recently lost her father unexpectedly. She texted me the other day expressing that this holiday has been difficult for her and I wanted to text her back with something comforting, but I found that I couldn't. It isn't much easier this year than it was last year. What can I say to help her when I am struggling myself? Ugh. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him. This past Monday, I finally garnered up the courage to visit him at the cemetery for the first time since his funeral last November. I managed to find the plot where he's buried and I just stood there, staring at his headstone. I felt numb just the way I did the night he died - a very strange feeling.

I've forgotten what the point of this post was supposed to have been. I don't like being a Debbie Downer, but that seems to be my frame of mind pretty often lately. Things will get better and I'll be okay. The whole PhD thing will get better soon too. When I stop and think about my life, I realize just how fortunate I am - we have enough money, we have a home, we have decent health (and health insurance!), I have family and friends whom I love very much and who love me back, I have an awesome son who will probably whip my ass at Trivial Pursuit before too long. In the greater scheme of things, I've got it pretty good - and I know it. I guess it just helps to be able to take a few moments to reflect and be grateful. If you've made it this far, thanks for indulging me. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The semester is over. So, why do I still feel so crappy?

I had two final exams this week: cell biology on Wednesday and molecular/biochem today. My end-game strategy was to devote pretty much all of my resources to getting a decent grade on the cell biology test. As many of you know, I bombed the last two exams, so I really needed to pull my head out of my ass for this last one. I feel like I did reasonably well on it, but my gut feeling on these sorts of things has been way off for the entire semester. Very unsettling.

With all my time spent studying for cell, there were only 24 hours left to prepare for molecular. Initially, I didn't have a coherent strategy for it. I've done well enough (mid-80% range) on each of the previous three exams, so I knew that I had some wiggle room on this last one. The topics included 3 hours of bioinformatics, 2 hours of protein synthesis, 5 hours of glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, glycogenesis, glycogenolysis, hormones of metabolism, and diabetes (types I and II), 4 hours of electron transport chain and ATP synthesis, 1 hour of modes of genetic inheritance/pedigree analysis, 2 hours of epigenetics in health and disease, 2 hours of genetic testing and complex disease - Alzheimer's, and 1 very lame hour of cancer genetics. 20 hours of instruction; one stupid test.

I did a lot of fruitless panicking over this exam and a whole lot of number crunching to see how poorly I could do and still probably pass. I say probably because the pass/fail line has not yet been determined. I think it depends on the class cumulative exam average and the standard deviation. If your test average is below the standard deviation of the class average, you're in danger of failing the course. This is what I've pieced together from cryptic emails and conversations with higher ups who aren't telling me everything. I think I may have done more number crunching and analysis of "what if" scenarios than I did actual studying.

The strategy that I finally settled on was one that I've never really put into action before - a plan to selectively fail. I decided that the module on diabetes, hormones, and sugar metabolism that normal people don't give a shit about - was unlearnable. The PowerPoint slides and textbook chapters may as well have been written in cuneiform script as far as I was concerned. I figured that it was better to cut off the rotten limb than to sacrifice the life of the individual. I tried to devote what little time I had left to the topics I thought I could remember long enough to regurgitate onto the exam. There were still some things that I just didn't have time to adequately review - cancer genetics (only worth 10 points, so fuck it), genetic testing (didn't stick in my head well and I didn't care much), and pedigree stuff. I was totally unconcerned with pedigree analysis since genealogy has been a hobby of mine since before the internet came along and made things easy. I can take a five-second look at a plot of circles and squares connected by a bunch of crazy lines and point out who is your second cousin once removed and which one of your great-grandparents married their first cousin and had a couple of messed up kids as a result of some autosomal recessiveness. At least I've got that skill to be proud of, I guess.

I completed the test to the best of my ability in 2.5 hours and left with no sense of relief or accomplishment - only the notion that I was glad to be leaving without having to come back until next year. I crawled along in bumper to bumper traffic with all the other people trying to flee Detroit before dark, and went straight to the Corner to meet Mary. We didn't really get invited to go camping with the rest of the GA/lecturer "cool" crowd who likes that kind of punishment (a whole lot of people in a bare bones cabin that's supposed to sleep 8. In the middle of December. In Michigan. I'm not that kind of masochist, but I can't really begrudge the people who are - too much). Mary and I had an "anti-camping" party at the bar and it was fun.  And I'm sure that was way more fun for everyone involved than having me pout and bitch about how camping sucks all night. Such a humanitarian, I am!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is this all my own fault?

Tonight I had someone whose opinion I greatly value insinuate that my problems acclimating to life at Wayne State are primarily of my own creation. "You're just having a brain fart over there for some reason," was the approximate statement that I recall. Initially I totally discounted this idea, but as I drove home I kept thinking about it and it really started to eat at me. Could this be true? Is he right? If so, what do I do now?? He says I have the intellectual ability to get through a PhD there. I have finally (mostly) come to believe that this is true. Paradoxically, despite my two failed cell biology tests - which are highly uncharacteristic of me - the difficultly of the courses is not the problem. Not at all. I could learn the hell out of the material if I wanted to. That's the key phrase - if I wanted to. The problem is that I don't. I don't have to be the best in my classes; I don't even really have to be good in my classes. All I have to do in order to move on is pass. But why should I want to move on when I hate what I'm doing? My passion for bench work is gone. I'm questioning everything I thought I wanted to do with my life now. I don't have any program cohorts to study with or confide in or complain to. The graduate coordinator is awkward as all get out, so talking to him did not help. I don't belong to a lab either. I'm in a no man's land that is not of my own creation. What do I do? How do you socialize if there is no one to socialize with? How am I supposed to deal with being thrown into a completely different culture with people I only tangentially interact with and have no classes or labs or anything in common with? I deal by going back to what I know and the people who have been my surrogate family for the last several years - at Eastern. But I'm beginning to feel like I don't belong there either. Because really, I don't. I should be bonding with my new peers at Wayne, but I'm not. How can I? Is this all my own fault? Is it simply circumstance? Should I have applied to U of Toledo? Does any of it really matter now?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The great (departmental) divide

The Immunology & Microbiology Department at Wayne State, to which I now ostensibly belong, is having a Christmas party this Thursday at noon in the department lounge/library - complete with a "White Elephant" gift exchange. Given only the facts I have just laid out for you in the previous sentence, I did not need to be informed by the very gossipy secretary that the party would be pretty lame, though I did appreciate the validation of my gut feeling. First of all, it's being held on Thursday. In the middle of the day. With no alcohol allowed. A "party" in the middle of the day on a Thursday without booze just screams lameness. I'm very grateful to have Brenna's thesis defense at 3:00 that day as my out.

All of that aside, the secretary also confirmed my assessment of the department that I had gleaned just from sitting back and observing how the other students and faculty interacted - or didn't - during seminars. Students and faculty apparently don't mix. Even during the new student welcome lunch thingy near the beginning of the semester, faculty segregated themselves to one side of the room, while students went to the opposite side - and never the twain shall meet. She said that Dr. N (whose lab I just finished rotating in) was one of the good faculty and I got an idea of which faculty members did not impress her with their graciousness, to put it nicely. She said she was telling me all of this because, "you're one of the nicest graduate students and I like you." A few weeks ago, she was talking with me about different TV shows she likes and mentioned how she would never talk about that kind of stuff with "the doctors" because I guess she felt as though they fancied themselves too highbrow for things like TV. That was a big red flag. If the department secretary doesn't feel comfortable talking to many of these faculty members, in my opinion, there's a serious problem within the department. I suppose that everything she told me could simply be her own paranoia at work, but I highly doubt that. This woman doesn't have a shy bone in her body, and I find her likable and quite pleasant. She may be a person that an introvert like me can only take in small doses, but there's nothing inherently wrong with that. I'm trying not to let my imagination run wild with worst case scenarios (which is extremely difficult for me), but this whole departmental dynamic worries me. I'm also very concerned about finding the right mentor and lab environment (slim pickings since hardly anyone has funding), but I realize it's kind of early to get too worked up about it. I also recognize that I will probably get too worked up about it too soon in spite of myself.

As for how I'm doing in my classes, I'm doing okay in molecular biology, but not so hot in cell biology. I scored a 68% on each of my last two exams - and there are only four exams in the course, so I freaked out thinking that I was going to get kicked out of the program. I emailed the graduate coordinator, who told me that I wasn't doing as badly as I thought I was. He said that usually the pass/fail line is somewhere in the low 60% range. Since my mean exam score is 75%, while I have room to improve on the final exam, I should be fine overall. Instantly, I went from feeling like a moron who probably deserved to be given the boot to being disgusted by how low the program standards are. It would almost be funny if it wasn't true. What the hell is wrong with me?! Why can't I just be happy that I'm probably not going to fail and stop there? Nope, I've got to muddle it all up with some horror sprinkled with disgust. Christ, I should just be shot and sent off to the glue factory.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Somebody revoke my "(Marginally) Sane Member of Society" card, please!

I hate Christmas music. When I worked in the pathology labs at UM, we always had the radio playing in the background. Unfortunately, we listened to a station that switched over to All-Christmas-Music All-the-Time beginning immediately after Halloween. I do not recall the choice of radio station being a democratic decision. After having listened to a third of a year's worth of the same 20 Christmas songs 8 hours per night, 5-6 nights a week over the course of two years, I just can't do it now; not even 12 years after the fact. This background should make what I'm doing right now highly disturbing, even to me: I'm listening to Christmas music and liking it. Actually, it's only one Christmas song played over and over again - "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. Somehow this is the only song that escaped my eternal disdain even though I'm pretty sure it was in heavy rotation on the radio back then (translation: this is the only Christmas song I like).

 I normally can't read while listening to music, especially not if the music has lyrics, but here I sit, reading up on the generation of NADH and ATP with comprehension (!) AND listening to the One Sanctioned Christmas Song AND swaying from side to side in time with the music. Simultaneously! This is no small feat here, people. Holy shit!! What else requires near-maximal brain power?! This may be one of the rare times the stars have aligned for me and I actually have most cylinders not misfiring, so lemme at it! Maybe I can solve some crazy-ass mathematical theorem (the goal of world peace is just too cliché) and credit the miracle to Mariah Carey's magical voice! Perhaps I should just settle for passing my upcoming final cell biology exam. I've got one pass and two pretty spectacular fails under my belt (go big or go home, right?), so I could really use a miracle of any sort at this point, lol! At the present moment, however, I'm just grateful for this tiny glint of joy in the otherwise barren landscape that has been my life this semester. It's a start in the right direction, isn't it? It's gotta get better soon because I'm staking the last of my sanity on it. In any case, I'm so thankful for my wonderful friends who have stuck by me through this tough time and haven't given up on me; you inspire me to keep going- "I don't want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need / I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree / I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know / make my wish come true, all I want for Christmas is you..."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sourpuss begone!

I'm not gonna lie - I've been very depressed lately - for a number of legitimate reasons. So much so that I'm actually starting to really annoy myself. That's bad. I feel like a useless, floundering, beer-guzzling, pie-eating, sedentary chunk of Kobe beef, to put it bluntly. In a desperate no-holds-barred attempt to cheer myself up, I'm sitting in front of my seasonal affective "happy" light bank, typing up future exam questions, and totally rocking out to The Monkees. Yes, The Monkees - my first musical love, my first concert, and my go-to "cheer the fuck up, already!" music. From the time I was Elliot's age through adolescence and early adulthood, up to the present day - I have always adored them. Even I can't be depressed listening to these lyrics: "I have no more than I did before / but now I've got all that I need / for I love you and I know you love me / yes, I love you and I know you love me..." I can't explain it, but this almost never fails to lift my mood. All I need now is a marathon of the original Star Trek (with Captain Kirk - swoon!). Two of the best childhood memories ever - summers spent watching The Monkees and Star Trek, sitting a foot away from the TV so I could reach the dial to change the channel, lol! Ah, I was born far too late!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I'm all out of clever titles today. Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.

I feel guilty that I've only had time to write once a week lately. This sentence implies so many pathologies I'm not even sure where to start with it. I guess the first assumption is that anyone still reads what I write - I mean, if you think about it, it seems pretty egotistical for me to assume that there are people out there in the "blogosphere" awaiting my next blog post with baited breath. Or any other kind of breath, for that matter. Another thing is why on earth do I feel guilty for not doing something as banal and nonessential as compiling a list of grievances? That's just dumb. I feel guilty for not writing a blog post as often as I think I should, but there's really no appreciable amount of guilt associated with not studying enough or not wanting to do any lab work or any one of the number of things that I really should be doing right now instead of this!!! I blame it on the extensive training I've had in Catholic guilt. Extraordinarily effective, those crazy-ass Catholic nuns are. They have the power to fuck with people's heads like nothing I've ever seen before. The government really should exploit this abundant untapped resource we have for counterintelligence. But I digress.

School is pretty [heavy sigh] "meh", as usual. I had a molecular biology exam yesterday evening that took me the entire 3 hours, from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. I'm not going to say how I think I did, because it doesn't seem to be a factor in how I actually do on exams. I've said in the past that I felt like I failed a test, then learned that I got one of the highest grades in the class. I've also said that I didn't think a test felt "too catastrophic" only to fail beyond even my worst expectations (which is pretty bad, because I really set my expectations low). So with that background, I can't honestly say that I have any idea how well or how poorly I did on this exam. What makes me nervous is that the exam was based on 20 hours of lecture material from 5 different faculty: 5 hours on DNA replication and repair, 4 hours on DNA recombination/chromosome structure, 4 hours on prokaryotic transcription, 5 hours on eukaryotic transcription (2 different profs split this 2:3), and finally, 2 hours on RNA processing. Sadly, only one of the instructors was any good and he only had 3 hours of lecture time. One thing I have learned is that I am terrible at designing assays to look for the evidence or existance of pretty much anything scientific. I think one reason for that is that the instructor didn't fucking teach us how to design any kind of assay!!! Helllloooo!!!!! I think once you reach a certain level of knowledge, and especially if your primary job/interest isn't teaching, you tend to forget just how difficult some things were for you in the beginning. It's not enough to briefly flash some overcrowded PowerPoint slides and say that some group decided to do A, B, and C, and from those experiments clearly deduced X. It may be clear as day to the guy putting this shit together as a presentation, simply because he's done these assays for years himself, but it is clear as fucking mud to the 1st-years. Or at least it is to me, which I find worrisome. [another sigh]

In the midst of all this turmoil, the powers that be want me to register for next semester's classes. I have to sign up for six classes this time, instead of the two that I'm taking now. I know, right?! I did neglect to say that it's the same number of credit hours that I have currently: 10. Five of the classes are required - Fundamentals of Immunology (2 cr.), Molecular Biology of Viruses (2 cr.), Molecular Mechanisms of Bacterial Pathogenesis (2 cr.), Research Conferences in Immunology and Microbiology (fancy name for "Journal Club"; 1 cr.), and Seminar (1 cr.). In addition to those, I need one 2-credit elective. I want to take Functional Genomics and Systems Biology because it sounds like a pretty relevant area of science, but it requires a co-requisite AND it's from like 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Two things immediately come to mind here: one is that I'm all about NOT taking more classes than I have to (I learned that lesson after finishing a 124-credit bachelor's degree with over 170 credits...), and the other thing is that it's dark and fairly deserted in Detroit at 8:00 pm. There have been several armed muggings in the area lately - exacerbated by the fact that many of the street lights don't work because they are on the oldest electrical circuits in the city (installed about the time my dad was born - 100 years ago!). There is something to be said for achieving your 15 minutes of fame, but I don't think being featured as an assault or homicide victim on the 10 o'clock news is the way to go about it. I guess this will have to be food for thought because it's now Sunday and I have officially spent WAY too much time on this. There goes another perfectly good Saturday night. Oh well. Until next time...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Not enough time

I wish there was more time for me to record my thoughts - unfortunately, my thoughts all seem to be varying shades of negative. This afternoon I made the decision not to quit school until the end of my first year. If I'm still as miserable and depressed at that time as I am now, I'll give myself permission to quit and just find a job somewhere, I guess. Yeah, I want a PhD, but not as much as I want my life to stop sucking. I'm just not sure that it's worth it. I haven't had a break in well over a year, my thesis won't be done in time for me to graduate from Eastern this year, the first anniversary of my father's death is two weeks from today, and I've lost interest in everything I'm supposed to be doing. I don't know how to make this better, and it scares me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

"It's-a me, Mario!!"

Thank Gawd Halloween is effectively over! I spent all day yesterday working on the Super Mario costume - sewing seams, then ripping them out and re-doing them because they weren't quite right, sewing a little more, ripping it out and doing it again... I don't think I finished the overalls until 9:00 or 10:00 last night, and then I had to do the hat. I was up until 1:00 this morning working on the hat. Sadly, I didn't get to my own homework (a journal article I had to be prepared to present), but Elliot's reaction to seeing the whole costume finished made it all totally worth it. He was bouncing around this morning like it was Christmas Day, bellowing, "it's-a me, Mario!!" It was so cute! I won't bore anyone with more of the making of the costume, so I'll skip ahead about a dozen steps to the final product:

The overalls aren't really crooked, I swear! Elliot just wouldn't let me adjust the straps.


I'm really glad I finished the hat. It, along with the awesome handlebar mustache, really made the costume. He wore everything but the mustache to school and wore it all day until I took these pictures at 6:00 this evening. It held up really well! And I have to admit that it was a nice ego boost to hear random kids and adults tell Elliot how good his costume was. But the most important thing to me was how thrilled Elliot was to wear it. And he's still wearing it. Sometimes it's nice to feel like a real mom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Meh.

Wow. It's been ten days since I last posted something. Life has been stressful and "meh" all at once. I didn't think that was possible, but now I know better. I'm still not in love with school - my morning mantra has become "I don't wanna go to school. I don't wanna go to school. I don't wanna go to school..." Had a cell biology test on Monday. This time I'm pretty sure it didn't go that well, but I'm equally sure that it didn't go well for anyone else, either. I'm still working on Elliot's Super Mario costume. I'll try to post pictures in the next couple of days. No major mishaps, so that's a plus. However, I've sacrificed my weekly trip to the Corner so that I could devote time to it. He'd better like this costume.

I just got back from the dentist and apparently I need a full mouth replacement. I should preface this by saying that if there is anything I'm OCD about, it's oral hygiene. I have one of those Oral-B electric toothbrushes and I brush for 2 minutes at least twice a day. And I floss every. single. night. Weird, right? I did inherit pretty hardy enamel from my father, who ironically, lost every single tooth in his head because he never took care of them. What do you expect from someone who was born long before the advent of the modern toothbrush (1938) and before toothbrushing became commonplace in the US (WWII)? I've been told that he had beautiful natural teeth before he lost them. Anyway, the point is that I haven't had a cavity since I was about 10 - and I've only ever had 2 cavities, despite the massive quantity of sweets I've consumed on a regular basis since childhood. I didn't have any cavities today, but evidently, my gums are receding and as a result, I'm chipping off some of the enamel near the gum line. This is a direct result of the excessive jaw clenching I've been doing since I started at Wayne, which is actually starting to wrench my teeth loose from their attachments in my jawbone. My back lower molars have been ground flat and I've managed to grind off some of the enamel there too. I was completely unaware I was wrecking my mouth. The only symptom I had was that sometimes when I bit into something chewy or crunchy, it felt a little like I was gnawing on tinfoil. And this only manifested in the last 2-3 weeks at most. It seems likely that I have managed to do all of this damage just since the beginning of September. I made an appointment to have teeth impressions made for a bite splint to keep me from grinding or clenching in my sleep. Not sure what I should do about the daytime grinding and clenching - as far as appearances go when wearing one, a bite splint could be marketed as 99% effective birth control. I guess I'll have to quit making fun of Chris when his wears his bite splint (I nicknamed it "birthey"). Boo.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My brain hurts

I forgot how tiring having to think all the damn time is. I'm honestly surprised no one can see smoke coming out of my ears, because it often feels like my brain has seized up and can't process any more new input. This combined with the hellish drive home (I managed to avoid 2 sideswipes today - yay me!) usually has me completely zombified at the end of the day.

I have a rotation project in Dr. N's lab now. She kindly typed it all up for me and I keep meaning to make a copy of it to bring home so I can try to plan my time more effectively. She told me that she expects me to be in the lab at least 10 hours a week and I wanted to say, "oh, that's it?? This'll be a breeze!" Thankfully, my internal censor was on task that day and I kept my fool mouth shut. Racking up 10 hours a week should not be a problem - I accidentally put in 5 hours today alone. I meant to only spend maybe 3 hours doing a few things: cast/run/stain a gel, cut vector out of the gel and gel purify it, reconstitute new primers and put a PCR in the thermal cycler, and pour a liter of LB + antibiotic plates. I guess I got a little overly ambitious.

My project is to make a luciferase reporter vector (to put into E. coli) driven by the cpsA gene promoter from Group B Strep. cpsA is the first gene in the operon that controls capsule synthesis. Other reporter systems have not worked, so if the luciferase reporter works the way we hope, then we can swap in different promoters in the capsule operon and ask basic questions about how they function under different conditions. This is my understanding of the project anyway. I'm not really doing anything that I haven't done before as far as techniques go, but the learning curve is really in figuring out how things are done in this particular lab. Running gels has been my biggest frustration so far because it is sooooo much less efficient than the way I used to do them. The only plus is that they use a DNA stain that you don't need to visualize under UV. At Eastern, I could run a gel and take a picture of it and be finished in 30 minutes. In Dr. N's lab, it takes closer to 2 hours by the time I get a picture of the gel onto a computer. Maybe if I end up joining the lab I can try doing things differently, but for now I'm just going to suck it up and do what I'm told.

That's enough writing today. I have a meeting at school tomorrow at 8:00 am. This means that I have to leave at 7:00 am, which means that I have to get up before 6:00 am, which means that it will be a contest between me and Elliot to see who gets to sleep first. And he's going to bed now :(

Friday, October 14, 2011

A nice view from jail, or, I can see Canada from my school!

I am exhausted and I have lots to say, but not enough energy to type much. I'll write more over the weekend probably. Maybe. Until then, a brief synopsis of my week: attended department seminar, started lab rotation, stress, procrastinate, stress, lab, stress, stress, minor freak-out, lab, procrastinate, moderate freak-out, beer, lab, study, lab, procrastinate, study, lab, study, lab, procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate, cram, stress, procrastinate, cram, look out the window for signs of zombie apocalypse, cram, stress, procrastinate, cram, procrastinate, apathy, take molecular biology exam at 4pm, get out at 6pm, go home. Breathe...and start studying for the cell biology test in 10 days. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is what I saw today when I got up to look out of one of slit-like windows in the jail cell Micro Department library where I was holed up by myself all day:

Crappy camera phone picture of the Ren. Cen., Ford Field, Detroit Receiving Hospital, and maybe even Canada. No signs of the zombie apocalypse. Yet.

The top of the Renaissance Center was lit up with red LEDs. It was actually quite pretty, especially this morning on my way in. From the window, I could see trees beyond the Ren. Cen. (which is on the riverfront), so in true Sarah Palin fashion, I declared that I could see Canada from my jail cell department library on the 7th floor of Scott Hall. It's probably actually some stupid island in the Detroit River, but who cares about facts when you're Going Rogue? Sorry, I just couldn't resist that last dig.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The old gray mare just ain't what she used to be...

I'm blind, crippled, and apparently rusty with the pipettes. I should just be shot and turned into glue or gelatin or something else that's more useful than the current incarnation of me.

Blindness: My contacts were bugging me yesterday afternoon, but I didn't want to wear my new glasses because they don't fit right and make me feel drunk. So I decided to just take my contacts out and deal with it. My vision isn't all that bad, especially up close. Or at least that's what I thought before attempting to wash my car. I had to wash the damn thing like 5 freaking times before I got all the spots I kept missing. And I found another spot on the rear bumper this morning! WTF?? I've never been this bad at washing a car, ever. I expected it to take me 45 minutes from start to finish. It took me two hours! And at the end, I was so tired, and sweaty, and out of breath that Chris seriously asked me if I was okay. So, this is a good segue into...

Crippledom: I had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon again yesterday because my right foot still hurts two years after having dropped a casserole dish on it. Even though x-rays show no abnormalities, the pain hasn't gotten better. I've gotten to the point where I've altered my body mechanics in such a way that now other stuff hurts that shouldn't hurt. In addition to not being able to run or do push-ups or anything that bends my toe a certain way, I can't walk down some sets of stairs without my right knee feeling like it's being wrenched from the rest of my leg. And just in the last couple of weeks, my left hip has started bugging me - probably from me pathetically limping around trying to compensate for my bum foot. I got a carbon fiber insert for my shoe to keep my foot from being too bendy when I hobble. If this doesn't work, I'm not sure what I can do. The doctor mentioned something about potential nerve damage being the reason for the continued pain. It really troubles me to think that I may end up having to live with this for the next 50-60 years.

Rustiness in the lab: I haven't done any bench work in at least the last 3 months or so. It would be safe to say that I'm rusty even under the best of circumstances. However, I would not consider a day when I had to: 1) present and explain part of a paper (that I just barely read) in front of relative strangers, 2) tell the seminar speaker about me and what I do in front of more relative strangers, and 3) start a lab rotation, to be the best of circumstances. I was pipetting 20 microliters of E. coli into 50 ml of LB with chloramphenicol when the barrel of the pipette inadvertently touched the inside of the 200 ml flask (near the neck). I was doing this while the PI watched, presumably to make sure that I didn't start mouth pipetting whatever I could get my hands on. I was understandably nervous and I made a mistake. The PI pointed out what I had done wrong by explaining that the barrel of the pipette is not sterile, so I should be careful not to touch it to the inside of the sterile flask because it could contaminate the culture. I don't think I could have felt any dumber than if she had caught me licking the floor, clueless about why I shouldn't be doing that. Being the overly sensitive, people-pleasing perfectionist that I am, I've spent much of the rest of the day until now berating myself for being such an idiot. Logically I know I'm not an idiot and that I'm bound to make mistakes, especially in the beginning. I am realizing that I have a certain reputation at Eastern that has not come with me to Wayne State. I have to prove myself all over again. This sucks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Learning how to think

I have two predictions for the future. One is that life is going to get a lot more hectic and time is going to be at a high premium. The other prediction is that it will rain in the next day or two. I have two reasons for making these predictions: I start my first lab rotation tomorrow and I just washed my car this afternoon. Sigh. I have lots to write, but no time to write it.

Today in cell biology, the class was broken up into small groups and sent to different departmental libraries to discuss a problem set that was assigned last week. My group met in the Pharmacology Department library. The problem set told you to pretend you were a researcher studying breast cancer in the MCF-7 cell line (developed at Karmanos). You wanted to figure out the mechanism by which estrogen activates MAP kinase (to stimulate cell proliferation) in these cells. Some fake data is given along with some background info and limited descriptions of what was done to produce the data (i.e. inhibitors used to block certain substrates and Western blot results). You had to reason through the information that was given to you and apply what you should already know about the specific receptors, second messengers, etc. in order to sketch out a pathway. It's one thing to be able to analyze and interpret data from your own research project, but it's another thing altogether to have to do it for a completely different project in a different system that you really don't know much about. It's hard! I spent a lot of Saturday night reading chapters of background on G-protein coupled receptors and GTPases and nuclear receptor signaling (barf). Then I spent most of yesterday struggling through the problem set. Right when I was about to give up and go to bed, the mechanism snapped into place in my head, so I quickly sketched it out and wrote which reagents were critical to determining each step in the pathway and hoped that my interpretation wasn't completely wrong. Long story short is that it turns out my interpretation was correct. I think half of my group mates had come up with different mechanisms, judging by the looks on their faces when the correct pathway was brought up on the screen. It isn't necessarily bad to come up with alternate mechanisms, but at least I know that I was interpreting the data correctly and that I was thinking through the evidence in the way the instructors had intended. This is what I call learning how to think - probably one of the most valuable skills I can develop while I'm here. I'm not really sure if it's something that can be effectively "taught" or if it's just a matter of being forced to wrestle with papers and data and more data and papers until you kind of figure it out for yourself. In any case, it's exhausting. Ugh - that last passage just sounds so damn egotistical no matter how I phrase it. It's totally not intended to sound that way though! I mean, no one is penalized for "wrong" answers - which is good because I certainly don't get everything down on the first pass. But it is good to know that I seem to be on the right track and that I don't seem to have to work significantly more (or less) than anyone else to get my work done. Well, sometimes I may have to work a little longer just because I am easily distracted by shiny objects, court shows, belly button lint, you name it. For tomorrow's discussion I have to hurry up (yeah, right!) and finish muddling through this 2005 paper out of PNAS: "G protein-coupled lysophosphatidic acid receptors stimulate proliferation of colon cancer cells through the beta-catenin pathway." Oh joy of joys.

On tap for tomorrow is molecular biology, stupid paper discussion, 1st micro departmental seminar, then (finally!) I get started in Melody's lab. Eeeee!!!! Crap, I have to finish reading the paper she gave me to read a couple of weeks ago. Gotta run...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thank God for EMU

Okay, so today in cell bio I had the second of the two professors (who I mentioned yesterday) that hail from New York - Dr. T. He is also the course director for the cell class. Just like Dr. N did yesterday, as soon as he saw my iPad he made a beeline for me: "What is that?" "What do you use it for?" "Show me how you take notes with it." He reminds me very much of Jamin - strong personality, blunt, but very engaging and animated - I like him. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about people from the East Coast that is just so likable, for lack of a better word.

We finally got our cell exam grades posted this afternoon and I did really well: 88%. It was actually the second highest grade in the class; the highest grade was a 92%. This brings me to the reason this post is entitled "Thank God for EMU". So far my courses are very similar to those that I took for my master's degree - although they have us reading far more journal papers and we discuss techniques A LOT. There's a ton of active thinking the professors ask you to do with problem sets or group discussions or whatever, which I think is great. But the material is hard and it comes at you fast - as it should since this is grad school. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I really can't imagine being able to handle a PhD program straight out of undergrad. No way. One aspect is just the lack of general life and work experience. The largest difference though, is just how much more complex and voluminous the stuff you have to learn is. And you'd better learn it quick, too. There were several exam scores in the 40-60% range, and I suspect they came from people fresh out of undergrad who have no clue what they are in for. I am so incredibly grateful for the awesome professors I had at Eastern. I attribute my good grades at this point to the fact that EMU profs know their shit and they know how to teach it. Also, having been a GA/lecturer who had to work at least 20 hours a week teaching in addition to dealing with my own coursework, learning how to do research, and figuring out how to get it all done has made a HUGE difference. Getting tossed into the fray right from the start was brutal, but it is certainly paying off big now. I'm feeling more confident in my abilities and I'm starting to think that maybe this PhD thing wasn't a colossal mistake after all. Doing a master's in biology at Eastern is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Period.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I like New Yorkers/so you wanna be Super Mario, eh? A double feature.

I have to say that I really do like New Yorkers. They shoot straight from the hip, they're brutally honest, they aren't (usually) arrogant assholes, and they are funny! Jamin has become my New Yorker benchmark since he's from Manhattan and he embodies all of the aforementioned qualities. And he's one of my favorite people to boot. So far at Wayne State, I have encountered two professors who are from New York. The one I've had for the last couple of days in molecular biology is Dr. N. He looks like your standard middle-aged professor, with a slightly larger than average (for the profs I've encountered, anyway) paunch. Yesterday, he got to class early and had to come out into the hallway to say that resistance was futile and that we might as well come into the room. This was almost 10 minutes before lecture was scheduled to start. I know that words on a page (or email or text message, etc.) can't really convey the tone of the dialogue or the spirit in which it was intended, but immediately I could tell that 1) he wasn't trying to be a jerk, and 2) he had a New York accent. Yesss! This should be a fun lecture! And it was. Today was even better. Again, he was there early - waiting for students to show up and kind of pacing at the front of the room. I was the third student to walk in and I asked where everyone was. He wondered the same thing aloud and said that he was instituting a new rule just then: he would lecture 5 minutes for every student who was present when lecture was scheduled to begin. Class is supposed to start at 9:30 and I came in at 9:25. There are about 27 students in the class, so I wondered how exactly this was going to play out. Everyone finally showed up right at 9:30, so it turned out to be okay. I sit in the front row, which makes me an easy target for professors. I really don't like being an easy mark for anyone, but I'm getting old and can't see or hear so good anymore, so it is whatever it is. I may as well have painted a bright red bullseye on my forehead this morning because I have an iPad that I use in class to see the PowerPoint slides, rather than printing out hundreds of pages of them per week. I convert ppt files to pdfs and I have an app that lets me mark them up. I explained this in one of my early posts. Dr. N didn't miss a beat - as soon as I pulled the thing out of my bag, he was asking all kinds of questions about it. What kind of reader is it? What do you use it for? What app lets you take notes on the pdfs? Again, he wasn't being jerky at all - he just couldn't conceal his curiosity about it. I'm weird - I really love people who are my relative opposites. It's funny. If you're outgoing, have no internal filter, and have a good sense of humor, I'm in love. I do have what I think is a good sense of humor - maybe a bit twisted, but still good - but I am certainly not outgoing or filter-less in normal situations. The exact combination of qualities varies from person to person, but those things seem to be a common thread most of the time. Anyhow, lecture gets started and today we're talking about DNA manipulation techniques. PCR, restriction enzymes, cloning, sequencing - that kind of stuff. Amazingly, I seemed to be the only student who knew that EcoRI doesn't cut E. coli DNA because E. coli DNA is methylated (thanks, Jim!!). A cancer biology student, thinking eukaryotically of course, hypothesized that the enzyme or the DNA assumed a different conformation, so no cleavage occurred. Nope! We aren't talking about G-protein coupled receptors! Try again! Ha ha! For a split second, I felt knowledgeable like I did when I taught micro. Then some other student said something about the DNA being "different" and that was a good enough answer, I guess. So the funny part of class was when we were talking about PCR. Referring to Kary Mullis (who won a Nobel Prize for PCR, even though it wasn't really his invention), he said that Mullis was a jerk before dropping acid and coming up with Taq polymerase for PCR and he's still a jerk. He also said that Kary Mullis just goes to show that you can have the brain of a rodent and still win a Nobel Prize. It doesn't sound nearly as funny in print now as it did when he said it - I guess you really had to have been there. It was hilarious!

Enough school crap and on to Halloween costume crap. Elliot decided that he wants to be Super Mario (as in Nintendo video game Super Mario) for Halloween. Mary said that she could give me a Mario costume that her son had, and I told Elliot this, but he said he wanted me to make one because it would be more special. This kid is freaking smart and he knows exactly which buttons to push to get what he wants. Dammit! Mario wears blue overalls with big yellow buttons, a red long-sleeved T-shirt, a red newsboy-type cap, white gloves, and a big bushy mustache. Apparently, the American sewing pattern companies only make like 5 patterns for boy shit, and none of them happen to be patterns for overalls. American sewing pattern companies (McCall's, Butterick, Simplicity, and Vogue) suck balls. Since I'm weird, I like the German pattern company, Burda. Even the paper they print their patterns on is better quality. Burda was the only company that had more than a couple of patterns for little boys. The problem was that their pattern for overalls looked to be too complex for what I wanted - pockets all over the damn place, decorative seams everywhere - just too technically difficult for me to work with in a short time frame. I did, however, almost (almost!) buy the pattern they had for lederhosen. Could you imagine Elliot's reaction if I told him I decided that he would be a brown German for Halloween instead of Super Mario? He actually IS a brown German, but that's beside the point. Every time I tell Chris that I'm black Irish he just laughs at me until I tell him that my mitochondrial DNA comes directly from County Cork, Ireland. Then I must start sounding like the mom from Charlie Brown, because he totally tunes out everything I say after that. Alright, so the point of this part of the post was to say that I think I succeeded in drafting most of a pattern this afternoon:

Super Mario pattern pieces I drafted today. Ignore the attention-whore Siamese. He goes wherever I go and I can't stop him.
I kind of half ripped apart last winter's bib overall snow pants and drew these pattern pieces according to how they were constructed. I think I'll try to slap together a muslin prototype to make sure the pieces work as they should and so I can fit them to Elliot directly before cutting into the fleece I bought for the project. This should be an interesting process. I'm waiting to draft a pattern for the straps until I can figure out how long they need to be, since they won't be adjustable. Is it wrong that the part I'm most excited about is finding a fake mustache? (Sigh) It probably is.

Instructors on the Jerkism Spectrum

Yeah, I know I said in my last post that I would get up to date on this year's Halloween costume stuff in this post. But I haven't made any more progress on it, and furthermore, I just don't feel like talking about it. So there.

For the last week or so in my cell biology class, we've been assaulted with signal transduction crap. The instructor for this module or whatever is Dr. Jerkbag (name changed to protect my own ass). He's British. He's not terribly fun to look at. Didn't get a real good line on how bad his teeth were, but I was able to see at least one crooked incisor. And today my assessment of his overall disposition has plucked him from the "mildly arrogant" bin and dropped him squarely onto the "jerkism spectrum". In plain English, he's a passive-aggressive dick. The man couldn't put together a coherent PowerPoint slide if his life depended on it. Thankfully for him at least, it doesn't seem to. Most of his slides are just words. Lots of big fancy words. And some of the words are purple. It still isn't really clear to me if purple words are supposed to be important somehow or if he just likes the way certain words look in purple typeface. The thing he did that changed my opinion of him for the worse was what he said at the end of lecture today. He'd been talking about MAP kinase pathways and came to the last slide, which had a figure listing all the different signal transduction pathways. It showed the Toll receptor signaling family directly beneath MAP kinases. He pointed to the Toll signaling pathway and asked what big headline news story had just come out about it. I'm usually really good about keeping up with the news, science news in particular, but I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about. He asked, "doesn't anyone listen to NPR in the morning on their way in?" and I literally had to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, "I prefer to stay awake for my commute, so I avoid NPR in the morning at all costs." He was clearly exasperated that no one said anything, and I really think he mistook our silence for ignorance rather than anything else (if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all). Then he explains, with the most condescending tone possible, that the discovery of this signaling pathway won a Nobel Prize. Oh gee, sorry, I was more interested in the story of Dr. Ralph Steinman, who died of pancreatic cancer three days before it was announced that he had won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. This guy used his Nobel Prize-winning science to help extend his life enough to win the award, but not long enough to be told that he won it. The Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously, but the decision to award it to him had been made in good faith that he was still alive at the time, so he was allowed to keep it. I'm so sorry, Mr. jerkbag professor, that I found THAT story slightly more compelling than Toll receptor signaling, especially since it was the story that vastly overshadowed any mention of the other two scientists sharing the award. It was these other two guys that discovered Toll signaling. Steinman worked on dendritic cells. To top it off, since it was the last lecture of his module, he said to the class, "Well, it's been fun..." then muttered under his breath, "sort of." He really made me wistful for Winning's cell biology class.

Tomorrow, we get to be lulled into somnolence by a new professor with fantastical tales of nuclear receptor signaling. Just shoot me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The grand re-opening of Mama's Halloween Sweatshop

It's that time of year again. The only time of year that my tiny shred of domesticity comes to the surface. It's Halloween costume making time. Every year since I began grad school (except for last year), I set aside a month or two to sew Elliot a Halloween costume. I get to feel like I'm not a totally delinquent mom, and he gets a cool costume. I've always liked sewing - I think I mostly learned how to do it from watching my mom make stuff for me when I was little. It's a useful skill, and one that many people are surprised to find out that I have. I remember how exciting it was as a kid to try on things in various stages of completion and knowing that my mom put so much time and work into making something special just for me. I guess I just wanted to share those experiences with Elliot.

I still use the same sewing machine that stitched little clothes for a much smaller and younger me. It's almost 50 years old, but it's built like a Sherman tank:



There's really only three things I dislike about this machine: one is that it won't take a double needle for top stitching, it weighs a freaking ton because it's enameled cast iron, and the last thing is that it doesn't have a free arm. A free arm is a feature that makes it much easier to hem sleeves or any other small tubular opening without sewing the opening shut. The lack of a free arm makes sewing tiny children's sleeves almost impossible to get right on the first try.

I sewed my first Halloween costume for Chris (many many years ago) to wear to a Halloween party. He had long hair at the time and we found a plastic crown of thorns, so the obvious choice was to go as Jesus. The bonus was that he could carry around a big jug of wine to complete the look. He'd probably murder me if he knew what I was doing right now, but this picture is too good not to post:

Chris as Jesus. His dad (an elder at his Missouri Synod Lutheran church) was NOT happy about this.

I guess part of my reason for wanting to make Elliot's Halloween costumes is to avoid what every kid who lives in Michigan dreads when being readied for trick or treating. Behold the horror:

If it weren't for the cheap vinyl smock they called a costume in the early 80's, you'd think I was going sledding. My mom did make the cool Wonder Woman headband, but she would not let me wear my Wonder Woman Underoos as a costume. Boo.
Fortunately for Elliot, my traumatic memories of cold Halloweens have spared him much heartache and humiliation. I'll show you the costumes I've made for him so far, and tomorrow I'll finish with what I've been asked to make this year. I'll just say that this year will be different in that I am starting very late, just found out that he's been invited to a Halloween party in less than 2 weeks, and I have to draft my own pattern this time.

Batman 2007. Elliot was 3 years old. The cape was cut on the bias, so even the slightest breeze made it billow out fantastically. If it was socially acceptable for adults to wear capes, I totally would've stolen this from him.

Spiderman 2008. I made this using an awesome vintage pattern I found on eBay and lots of spandex. Thank God it wasn't cold that year! All of the webs were hand drawn with Sharpies. I went through a bunch of them. Elliot was 4 years old.

Scary T-rex 2009. This would've been a lot easier if he hadn't wanted to be "scary". I ended up using special automotive spray paint that actually sticks to the green fake reptile skin vinyl to make the belly a lighter color. Elliot also demanded that his costume have two-fingered gloves, since real T-rexes only have two fingers on each hand. Not sure where he gets his perfectionistic streak from. I ended up making "claws" out of Sculpey clay, and securing them (at least enough for pictures) with glue and tacking stitches. The head is paper mache. He was 5 years old, and this is the most recent costume I've made.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One catastrophe unexpectedly (and miraculously?) averted...

The grades from my "catastrophic" molecular biology test have been posted, and I'm apparently not as dumb as I look because I didn't fail it. Scores were posted by student ID number and I must have checked and double-checked the spreadsheet against my ID card a dozen times. I got an 83%, which is passing (there is no grading scale anywhere that I can find, so I'm going by the one I found in the graduate nursing bulletin). I had expected to see maybe a 50%, and certainly nothing above a 70%. I'm still half-expecting to be told that someone made a mistake and that the poor sap who scored a 52% was actually me. I feel a little bit relieved that I didn't fail horribly. Now I have to wait and see how I did on the cell exam.

Tomorrow is Graduate Student Research Day (sort of like EMU's Graduate Research Fair, but bigger), so my usual classes have been cancelled so that everyone can go to the talks and poster presentations. The associate dean of the med school's graduate programs made a personal appearance at the end of lecture this morning and said that he expected to see all of us there tomorrow. I can't get out of it because he knows who I am, plus most of the other Immuno & Micro students are presenting, and they'll expect to see me there too. This thing is an all day event, and I don't know how long I'm expected to be there. I really don't want to be there from 8 to 5, but I didn't want to ask because it implies that I don't want to go. This would be true to a point, but I think it would be bad form to admit it outright.

School is going to start picking up steam in October. My first rotation is scheduled to begin Oct. 10th in Dr. N's lab, possibly either working on capsule production in Group B Strep or looking at lantibiotic production in Group A Strep. Each rotation is about 8 weeks long, so this first one will end the first week of December. My next rotation, beginning January 9th through March 2nd, will be in Dr. W's lab. Here's the funny thing about that: Jim will be doing his sabbatical next semester in Dr. D's lab, working on cholera toxin regulation. At the same time, I'll be doing my second rotation in the lab of Dr. D's former post-doc, Dr. W, also likely working on cholera toxin regulation. Weirdness. My last rotation is March 5th to April 27th with an immunologist/virologist, Dr. R. He studies proteins that may be involved in helping HIV replicate in host cells. I'm nervous, but kind of excited about doing rotations. I'm not really sure what to expect.

Our departmental seminars begin on October 11th (and occur every Tuesday for the rest of the term) and go from 12-1. The PhD students, not faculty members, are responsible for making arrangements for seminar speakers, so this should be interesting. Also, journal club (called RDP for research data presentation) starts on October 19th (Wednesdays), also from 12-1. Everyone has been assigned a date to present something, and my day of reckoning is March 14th.

Gotta get to bed so I can get up super early for Graduate Student Research Day. But more importantly, I need to rest up to go the Corner Brewery tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Meltdown showdown

As much as I'd love to write about my life being all rainbows and puppies and butterflies, I just can't. One reason is because it isn't. And let's be honest - who wants to read about someone whose life is "perfect"? I don't. And apparently neither do you, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this sentence right now.

Yesterday I stayed at school all day trying to cram for my cell biology test. Overall, I don't think that test was quite as catastrophic as my molecular biology test was. Still not great though. This time, I gave up about two hours in, instead of taking the entire three hours. That's progress, right? I really need to start studying for this stuff. So after I got home yesterday evening, I actually did what I should have been doing for a month now - I cracked open my textbooks and read ahead. Yes, you read that right. I read ahead! I'm not sure I've ever really truly done that. And I'm doing it again today too. Yay, me.

Today hasn't been the greatest day. This morning got off to a rotten start when I hear whining and crying coming from the living room. This is at 7:45. Chris takes him to school and he's not out of the shower yet. I think the first bell rings at 8:05, so there's not much time for them to wrap everything up and leave the house. Elliot's crying because he can't build a Ninjago Lego guy. I am not a morning person, nor am I a very patient person even under the best of circumstances. I am especially cranky and impatient in the morning, particulary in response to whining and crying. I tell Elliot to put the Legos away and finish getting ready for school. He's got about 1000 (I'm not exaggerating this figure) Lego bricks spread out all over the floor. Have you ever stepped on a Lego brick? On a hardwood floor? In bare feet? IT HURTS. He cops an attitude with me, so I raise my voice. Chris finally comes out of the bathroom, Elliot's still bitching and whining and generally acting like a brat. I'm annoyed with Chris because he's running late, therefore I'm now running late too. I don't remember the straw that finally broke the camel's back. All I remember is being very pissed off and yelling at both of them and storming out of the room. Elliot and I both had temper tantrums this morning.

Later in the day, I have to pick Elliot up from school so Chris can go to the store. I don't know what the fuck took him so long or why he wanted to be the exalted shopper, but he ultimately didn't get home until almost 8:30. All we had in the house to eat was stuff to make a grilled cheese. So at 7:00, I'm about to make one for Elliot for his dinner and see that the unopened (yet somehow expired) loaf of bread is slightly furry. I try calling Chris, but he doesn't answer and his voicemail isn't set up, so the call automatically disconnects. I am not happy. I end up driving to McDonald's to buy Elliot and myself dinner. I am still not happy, and I'm intensely unhappy enough that I haven't attempted to talk to Chris because, well, it just wouldn't be prudent. Maybe tomorrow. And that's all I have to say about that.

I had intended to talk about more academic type stuff, but this is what poured out of me instead. I'm exhausted and still feeling kind of upset. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day to talk shop. Let's hope tomorrow is a better day period.

Monday, September 26, 2011

No rest for the wicked

I was all super motivated to write a few minutes ago, but now I'm just not. I'll do a quick recap of events since last Wednesday, and perhaps elaborate (or not) tomorrow.

Wednesday in a word SUCKED. I had my first molecular biology exam. Some of it went okay, I guess, but the last section (which counted the most towards my grade, of course) was catastrophic. Like, I'm going down in flames and no one is gonna survive this wreckage kind of catastrophic. I was COMPLETELY unprepared for the shit that got lobbed at me on this part of the test. Fucking enzyme kinetics, and math, and equations, and mechanisms, and the stupid pushing electron arrows, and bonds flying all over the place. Oh and the regulation! Can't forget enzyme regulation! You know, if I really wanted to draw pointless arrows around a bunch of dumb ball and stick molecules, and if I was just fascinated by Km and Vmax and half Vmax, and half equilibrium arrows - I would've been a fucking chemist!!! But I'm not, and do you know why? Aside from the fact that I'm a biologist, it's BECAUSE I FUCKING HATE CHEMISTRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I HATE IT, I HATE IT, I HATE IT (jumping up and down and screaming now)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

Thursday wasn't as horrible. There was a new student reception for me and the lone master's student in the Immuno & Micro department. It basically consisted of a meat and cheese tray, lots of potato chips, some fruit, and some veggies that no one touched. Oh yeah, and pop. It was only mildly awkward. There were no formal introductions of the "new students" to anyone. It was basically a game of "The unfamiliar faces must be the new students. Huh. Where's the rest of the food?". Okay, it was mostly me wondering where the rest of the food was. I was hoping for at least some pizza or something. What a let down. So I ate a bunch of cantaloupe that gave me gas and made me feel a little nauseous. This, in turn, made me worry that the low-rent melon I just loaded up on was contaminated with Listeria. The department secretary did give me my first key, though. I think she told me that it opens the office, the lounge, and the library. Woot. Boy, was I happy to go to the Corner that afternoon. I look forward to Thursdays more than I look forward to just about anything else. It's just enough of a pick me up to keep me from going completely batshit crazy. I'm holding steady at just a little batshit crazy, and I think that's as good as it's going to get for now.

Friday. I really don't remember Friday at all. I didn't think I was THAT hungover. Oh well.

Saturday we finally got our new mattress delivered and Chris finished building the frame for it. It's a crazy-expensive TempurPedic and honestly, it was more comfortable in the store. I sleep just as poorly on it as I did on my old mattress, except now I have a hard time flipping over because I have to climb out of the memory foam chasm my body has carved into the bed. I have a hard time turning over and so I wake up 3 or 4 times a night. Then my back still hurts when I get up in the morning and it still takes me a few minutes to limber up before my range of motion extends beyond "shuffle". But the cat is totally in love with this bed, which I really didn't expect:


That night when Zeus (the aforementioned cat) came to bed, he established his cat groove under the covers as usual. And he didn't move an inch until late afternoon Sunday - some 16 hours later. He was just a non-moving lump under the comforter, which I really should have taken a picture of. I was starting to wonder if he was dead, because he NEVER sleeps all day - especially when I'm there for him to yell at and generally harass. I checked on him. Nope, not dead. Just annoyed that I woke him up.

Alright, this was supposed to be a short post, but it isn't. I'm just not very trustworthy. Sorry. More tomorrow.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Word of the day, b*tches!

It's Friday night, I'm studying, I've had a beer, and I feel feisty. So the word of the day today, children, is "Hyperbaton": inversion or transposition of normal sentence structure, often for emphasis and/or dramatic effect. English translation: to talk like Yoda. For example, standard English uses a subject-verb-object sentence structure as in the phrase, "Jim covets Glenn's sheep". The subject is "Jim", the verb is "covets", and the object is "Glenn's sheep". In hyperbaton, the structure might get switched around to object-subject-verb as in, "Glenn's sheep Jim covets". In this case, the emphasis is on Glenn's sheep that Jim is coveting, in contrast to the first sentence where the emphasis is on Jim, who is probably less interesting than the sheep. I tried to find information on the psychology of why people might talk or write like that when it is normally out of character for them, but gave up when all I could find were Star Wars fan sites. Obviously, nobody takes this shit seriously but me. Well, that is all for today. Tune in tomorrow or Sunday for my recap of the last half of this week. The word "catastrophic" features prominently...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A report from the trenches

Today is the big molecular biology exam and I feel mostly unprepared. Because of the exam, we didn't have mol. bio. lecture at 9:30, but we still had cell bio. at 10:45, so I still had to drag my ass down here this morning. It doesn't make sense for me to waste an hour or more driving home and back for the test at 4:00, so I'm just going to stay at school and study. After lecture, I tried to find the medical library so I could camp out. Naturally, I went the wrong direction coming out of the stairwell and the hall ultimately came to a dead end at a classroom. I didn't realize that the hallways on some floors don't make a full circle around the building. So I turned around, found the bridge to the other building and went down a different stairway. I popped out just outside the cafeteria ("The Vital Signs Cafe" - yeah) in Scott Hall. WTF?? I didn't see a certain med student who usually flags me down in the cafeteria, so I slowed down and checked for the presence of microwaves, so I can bring my lunch next time. Check. There are several. Lots of vending machines, although I didn't check to see how outrageous the prices are. They have an area with sandwiches, salads, and cooked stuff, so I picked up some chicken salad scoops (no bread) with grapes. Now I have until 1:30 (when the cafeteria closes and I get booted out) to sit here listening to and watching med students. They're almost cute, what with their medical-ese and entitled student grousing about the presentation of concepts in their lectures. They look so motivated and energetic and very very YOUNG. I am tired, want to go home and veg in front of The Peoples Court, and I am, um...thirty-something. Sigh. By the time I finish this and do a post-doc, Elliot will just about be an adult, and I will be close to retirement age. Maybe Jim can hold off on retiring for a bit so he can give me his job. Then Ashley can replace Kurta and maybe Jen can take over for Clemans. No one can replace Walker, so he's gonna have to stay. When he dies, we'll have to freshen up his cardboard cutout and then we'll just stuff his corpse into a wall during the next remodel. I've got it all worked out. If only I devoted this much time and energy to studying. I tried explaining to Elliot the importance of doing a little homework everyday so he doesn't end up all extra-irritable and frantic like his mother who waited until the last minute to do her homework. I showed him all the amino acid structures I've been drawing over and over and over again and you know what he did? He laughed. I told him that I wasn't kidding and he just laughed harder. Maybe I should quit school and go into stand-up.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The changing of the guard

Writing is exactly what I shouldn't be doing and really don't have time for now, but it was either procrastinate this way or by cleaning up the kitchen. I had an 8:00 am meeting today to go over requirements and what is expected of me as one of the 6 recipients of an NIH training grant (Minority Biomedical Research Support Program aka IMSD) that will fund my tuition and stipend for 2 years and give me a little bit of money for research supplies and conference travel. Basically, the message is "no pressure or anything, just don't screw up and you'll be fine!". The program director sent out an email with the date and time of today's meeting and closed with the request to please be on time. I left the house at 7:15 and was delayed this time not by rain, but by some moron who couldn't figure out where the brake pedal was and rear-ended the car in front of him. In bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. In the left lane (which has no shoulder). I just about came unglued. I finally got clear of that and raced up to my exit only to get tied up in construction on John R at Warren. Are you fucking kidding me??!! The light cycle for traffic on John R trying to cross Warren is ridiculously short. The light stays green for no more than 15 seconds (I've timed it), just enough for 4 cars to get through - at most. Unless someone just has to turn left onto Warren (no Michigan left turns here!), then only 2 cars get through. After a few light cycles, I got through, got to school, and yada, yada, yada I ended up being 5 minutes late. I hate showing up anywhere late. Especially for the first meeting of the semester. I had even called the program director's cell phone to let her know, but she didn't answer. ARGHH!! Deep breaths...

Lucky for me, one of the other 5 recipients of this training grant is D, who I've met a couple of times before and is a 2nd year student in Immuno & Micro. I had emailed him yesterday asking about the content and format of the molecular biology test and we chatted a bit about the tests today. After this morning's meeting got out, we went up to his lab and he grabs this HUGE stack of old cell bio and molecular bio tests off a shelf and basically tells me that I am now the keeper of the exams. I guess the stack is added to every year and passed on to the next newbie. There's stuff going back to 2002 in this pile - it's amazing!

My pile of salvation.
I feel like I don't know anything, even though I've had this material before. It seems like for every new bit I can cram into my head, something else that I really needed falls out. Are PhDs just really good at faking like they know shit or do they really and truly learn it? I'm not talking about "learning" something to get a passing grade on a test and then promptly purging it. I always viewed the PhD as the stage where you finally and permanently master all of this crap that you spent umpteen years in undergrad or other grad work practicing with for when you have to learn the stuff for real. The depth and breadth and magnitude of the knowledge that I always thought PhD students were gaining is not possible!! It can't be, especially with the amount of material we have to know and how fast we have to learn it. It's like trying to create the philosopher's stone - the substance that would magically transform ordinary metals into gold. Every alchemist thought every other alchemist had a leg up on them; racing to unlock that final key step that would to allow them to make the stone, and thus become infinitely rich. When will I figure out how this whole system works?? That is, the PhD/learning thing, not the alchemy thing. Although I may end up having to resort to that.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Water water EVERYWHERE! And some academic stuff too.

Okay, I should start out by saying that I'm pretty obsessive about checking the weather forecast both before I go to bed and first thing after I wake up. As far as I knew last night, we were supposed to get rain today, but not early in the morning. So you can imagine my horror at 7:45 am as I lay face-down in bed blindly swatting at the snooze button and I hear it raining outside. I've mentioned before how long it takes me to get to school when it's raining. Right. Somehow, I manage to eat something, shower, and leave the house by 8:30. Traffic wasn't quite as bad as I expected and I made it to school 20 minutes early. Awesome! Had class and didn't fall asleep. Yay. This is about as good as it gets. That is, until I tried to get on the freeway to go home. Bah. Traffic was stopped up because just the middle lane wasn't under a foot of water. Only idiots in SUVs were driving in the heavily flooded left lane. Opposing traffic traveling in the left lane made wakes so big that water was splashing up at least a foot higher the concrete median - it was unreal. I'm basically sitting in the middle lane creeping along when some jackwagon in an SUV comes barreling up the left lane - through the pond of water. I've never had my car be completely doused like that before. It sucked. I don't even want to think about how bad my commute will be when it snows.

Anyway, I have a test in molecular biology on Wednesday evening. It's from 4-7 pm in one of the med student lecture halls, which is not at all where or when I normally have class. I think that's weird. In anticipation of the grade I'm likely to get on this exam, I decided to do online evaluations of the faculty that have taught so far, which will get me 10 extra points. I'm desperate. These aren't done the way EMU does it. Evaluations for molecular biology are online and apparently done at the end of each "block" of material (which I explain below). And they have to be done within a week of the end of the block. After a certain date, you get locked out of that evaluation. You get an email that tells you who you're evaluating, along with a PIN and a password. There are 24 multiple-choice type questions, along with free text fields for comments that go along with each question. All 3 faculty I had in the most recent block are evaluated at the same time. My answers are supposed to be anonymous, the only thing the course director can see is whether or not I completed the eval.

The structure of the courses here is pretty different from that at EMU also. Here, at least in the 2 classes I have now, material is broken up into "blocks". For example, Block 1 was all about the structure of biological macromolecules, Block 2 was enzymology and protein function, and it keeps going until Block 15, which is genetics. Different faculty from various departments come in and teach different portions of the block or sometimes the entire block, based on their area of expertise. The material I'm being tested on was taught by 3 different faculty members. In the case of molecular biology, a total of 15 faculty members will have taught a portion of the material over the course of the term. This can be a positive thing if you get someone who is good at teaching and if your learning style meshes with their teaching style. It can also be very very bad. And of course they're all different - some are straight lecturers, some assign problem sets, some assign journal articles, etc. The prof. who just kicked off Block 3, membrane biochemistry, does a mix of chalk-talk and PowerPoint. Amazingly, none of the faculty - 4 in molecular bio and 3 in cell bio so far - have fallen behind with any of their lectures. That's impressive. Overall though, I think having that many different people teaching is going to make the class harder no matter the level of the stuff being hurled at us.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Part 2 - some of what I learned, etc.

I can't imagine anyone is still following this story, as I am sick of telling it myself. But I have to finish what I started, I'll just try to keep it brief. My dad started having problems related to congestive heart failure in early 2006 and had to be hospitalized. He was very ill and there was a very real possibility that he wouldn't make it out of the hospital alive. It was during this time that my mom told me something that my dad had made her swear not to tell me. Remember when I said that I thought I had been an only child until my younger brother was born? It turns out that I am actually just the youngest daughter of the 9 children in total that he had. My oldest sibling is my sister, Audrey, who is 67 and a month older than my mother. My mom told me that my dad had been married twice before and that he had 7 kids from his second marriage. He had apparently paid child support, but never saw them again after he split from their mother. I really can't even begin to describe my feelings during this time, nor do I want to revisit them, so I won't. Suffice it to say that it's been a long journey to get to where I am now. I will never understand why he felt he had to lie to me. Alzheimer's ensured that all of my questions will forever go unanswered. That and the betrayal of trust were the worst of it. Did I ever really know him at all? I don't know and that still hurts. I haven't yet figured out how to forgive him. That is still a work in progress.
However I feel about him, I'm sad that Elliot doesn't remember having any relationship with his Grandpa Mitch. My parents and mother-in-law alternately took care of baby Elliot during the day so that Chris and I could go to work. For a while, my dad was really good with my son - they napped together, they played together.  Because I'm weird, I keep my dad alive to Elliot by making him the benchmark for all things that are "old". For example, we watched a documentary about the Titanic recently and I told Elliot that Grandpa Mitch was 6 months old when the Titanic sank. Then we talked about how long ago that was. Knowing someone THAT old makes the history seem more tangible. We've also discussed the fact that the last Passenger Pigeon didn't die until 1914 - Grandpa Mitch would have been 3 years old then. At the Detroit Science Center, we saw a model of the 1st modern traffic light in the U.S., installed at the intersection of Woodward and Michigan Ave in 1920. "Hey Elliot, did you know that Grandpa Mitch was born before traffic lights?! How crazy is that?!"
So that's about it. During the course of today, I've realized that there are so many more stories to tell about my father than I thought there were. Maybe one day I'll get around to writing the rest of them down. Happy centennial, Dad. I hope it was a good one.

Part 1 - some of what I know.

My parents were introduced by a mutual friend in the mid-60's and they dated for 10 years before they got married in 1974. My mom was 30 and my dad was 40 - or so she thought. I'll come back to this later. I was born in 1976 and was an only child - or so I thought (more on this in the next part) - until my brother came along in 1981. My dad worked for the Ann Arbor Public School system as a custodian before switching to the paint department. He painted all of the schools in the school system, and I was always a little excited and proud to see my dad working when it was my school's turn to be painted.
Life hummed along as life tends to do until a letter from the Social Security Administration, addressed to my father, came in 1989. The letter was basically asking my father why he wasn't retired yet. Exactly what happened after this, I am not sure. I do know, however, that the shit really hit the fan once my dad was finally forced to tell my mom the truth. He knew exactly why the SSA had sent him that letter. When my parents first started dating, my dad told my mother that he was born in California about 1934, which would have made him 10 years her senior. This is the birthplace and birthdate that is listed on my birth certificate as well as my marriage certificate (since it was on my birth certificate). He told her his real age at that time: 78 years old, making him not 10 years her senior, but 33 years her senior! He said that he'd had to lie about his age in order to get work at some point and he just never corrected the error. Much later as an adult, I hypothesized that he was living in California in the mid-1930's when he was issued a social security number (FDR's "New Deal" really was new then) and it was convenient to make that his new birth year. I wasn't able to verify that he lived in California (even though he said he did) until a few days after he died last November. I was searching Ancestry.com for any new scrap of information I could find to help me make sense out of his life when I stumbled upon an "Index to Register of Voters" for Los Angeles precinct 238, dated 1934. And there was his name staring back at me. As well as the name of his first wife, Dora, whom he'd also kept secret. He voted democrat and so did his wife, but I digress.
I was 13 when this all came out, and all of a sudden my dad had become old enough to be my grandfather. In fact, he was older than both of my mom's parents! He became the "cool" dad somehow, just because he was that old and didn't act like it. He had always loved clothes and cars, and although his own fashion sense fell by the wayside, he still liked a sweet-looking ride - with lots of bass-heavy music blasting out of it. He never kept a car for too long before getting a new one. The one he had the longest was also his last, like he told me it would be. It was a black 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix two-door, with a rear spoiler. Nearly every time I'd come over to visit, he'd be out in the driveway happily polishing it. For a few years, he ran an auto detailing business as a side job. He had a small number of clients - mostly older women. When I bought my first new car 11 years ago - the Jetta, which is now on its last legs - he taught me how to detail it properly (this is a story in and of itself). He hesitated to point out what I was doing wrong when he saw me washing it because as he told me, "I know you don't like nobody tellin' you what to do". Can't imagine where I got that from. Ultimately though, he got to the point that he couldn't drive safely anymore because of his dementia, and my mom made me take it to my house so he couldn't see it and keep asking about it. It soon became clear that we needed to sell the car. We got the necessary repairs made to it, since he hadn't been able to maintain it himself in quite some time. I spent most of a day detailing it, inside and out one last time. It was so pretty:



The people I sold it to were buying it for their teenage daughter and wanted something driven by a little old lady. This was the next best thing. So I took my dad's old license plate off and sold his car.  Before the buyers had even made it to the end of the street, I just started sobbing. I mean, to the point of not being able to talk or breathe. I felt like such a traitor. I had just sold my dad's car right out from under him. Since finding out he had Alzheimer's, emotionally, I think the day I sold his car was one of my darkest. He loved to drive. He had driven damn near his entire life (his first car was a Ford Model A, for Christ's sake!) and I just sold the last remnant of his independence. That really drove home for me the fact that he was going to die and I felt like I had just helped speed the process along.
Good grief, that tangent really took a turn for the macabre, didn't it? Sorry. More of the story later.

Happy 100th birthday, Dad: an introduction to the story.

Today would've been my dad's 100th birthday. Aubrey Archie Mitchell was born September 18, 1911 in Gregory, Arkansas to a Baptist minister, John, and his wife, Lottie. My middle name comes from her. If you've ever received an email from my emich.edu account, you know what that name is. Only my dad's sisters and brothers called him Aubrey, everyone else called him Mitch. Some of you know his story and some of you don't. He was older than dirt, as I used to like to remind him, so it's kind of a long story. I only have first-hand knowledge of the last third of it, since he was already 64 by the time I was born. I can't retell it in a single sitting, so I'll likely be writing in fits and starts throughout the rest of the day. Time to go collect my thoughts...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Don't blame me for my bad attitude, blame the architects.

In the course of putting off studying (again) for my molecular biology test, I was perusing the PhD Comics archives and found this:


I circled the "Neo-Penal" style. Remember what it looks like because it will be important in a second.  Note the underlined and italicized "...drain your very Life Force". Now I'm going to show you another picture. Try to guess what it is:

Not really a prison. Just looks, feels, and probably sometimes smells like one.

No, it's not the Wayne county lockup - that's actually much nicer looking. This is Scott Hall at WSU. This building houses research labs, med school classes, my classes, etc. It's basically the main hub of the med school. This is where I go every day to have the Life Force drained out of me. The first time I saw this building, I actually said, "God, this looks like a prison!" Oh yeah, it also has security guards posted at a reception desk just inside the front doors. Can we say "prison"? Yes. Just don't say "Neo-Penal" out loud though. It doesn't matter how you spin it, it just sounds dirty. You have to show your WSU ID or sign in. These people mean business too. I tried to sneak past one of the guards I'd already seen several times before I got my ID and she caught me before I could get to the elevators. They have guards posted at the medical library front desk too. I don't know if any of them are armed. I'll try to find out. Hopefully not the hard way. In case you want to know what the Wayne county jail actually looks like, here it is:

The Wayne county lockup. Looks like a nice place to have class, doesn't it?

A rollercoaster of a week

I have so many thoughts and emotions swirling around that I can't keep anything straight. Nothing externally earth-shattering happened, but I tend to live in my head and I'm exhausted because of it. I've become aware of a disturbing habit of talking to myself - out loud - every morning in the shower. It isn't a new behavior, I'm just newly aware of it. Not sure which is worse. I say the same thing every day: "I don't want to do this anymore". I haven't decided what "this" is. The top candidate right now (and rightly so) is PhD school, but "this" could also be showering, driving, trying to look like I don't want to stab someone in the eye, thinking, feeling, being sober...the list goes on. 

Wednesday. I did end up going to the farmers market on Wayne State's main campus. I took the medical campus shuttle, hoping it would take me to places I hadn't made it to on foot. This whole thing seemed more exciting at the time than it does as I half-heartedly try to recount it. I'm tired of telling this lame story, so here's the abbreviated version. Got on shuttle. Drove around awhile. Made a stop at Henry Ford Hospital where two impossibly young and attractive female doctors mistook this shuttle for a different one. Their simple mistake pissed off the surly eastern European driver, who after the doors shut, started gesticulating wildly and sort of yelling stuff I couldn't understand. I decided that I would not be taking the shuttle back to the med school since walking doesn't (usually) involved pissed off gesticulating eastern Europeans. Got off shuttle when I saw lots of college-y looking people milling around. Briefly scoped out the tiny farmers market:


Found the tent that sold crepes and bought a turkey, swiss, and spinach crepe for $7.00. I'm still baffled at how much shit costs in Detroit. Feels like Ann Arbor. And I don't miss that part of living in Ann Arbor. I've never seen a bigger crepe in my life - it was at least as big as a 78 rpm record. Folded up, it was still pretty fucking huge:

Ginormous expensive-ass crepe

I couldn't even eat the whole thing. I haven't had much of an appetite lately anyway though. And frankly, it's about time that I quit shoving everything that looks like food into my mouth because it has gotten way out of hand. Seriously. I have a wicked case of "thesis ass" that I need to work off. "Thesis ass" is a close relative of the "office ass" that many of the case managers at M-CARE were afflicted with. With "thesis ass", there's lots of sitting (duh, right?), but a lot more cussing and shrieking than typing. Shit, I just remembered that this is supposed to be the abbreviated recount of Wednesday. Okay, back on track. Stopped at lame-o WSU bookstore to get the stupid lanyard I wanted last week (I'm nothing if not persistent) and scored a bonus item: an orange homework folder. Elliot needed a bunch of folders of specific colors, including orange. Do you know how hard orange folders are to find? I was convinced that no one made them and that the teacher was playing a practical joke with her supply list that I was not finding too funny. The ONLY place I have found that had any orange folders was the lame-o WSU bookstore. They even had two different colors of orange folders!! WTF?? So I bought an orange homework folder and a Wayne State lanyard for my ID. Walked back to the medical campus. Got lost in the building next to Scott Hall while looking for the medical library. Found the bridge into Scott Hall while lost. Came back and found the medical library that I had walked past on the way to getting lost. Sweaty now. Ew. Waited around for another hour before my rotation interview. Had interview. Talked about host proteins involved with HIV replication. Left. Went home. Don't remember much of the rest of the day, probably because it sucked. Helped Elliot study for spelling. He was happy and thought it was fun. Felt like a really smart mom.

Thursday. Had class. In molecular biology, I'm pretty sure the professor knows that I don't know what the fuck she's talking about. I've never had a prof who looked at me with the slightly disappointed gaze that tells me she can read my mind. She gets frustrated when she asks if anyone has any questions, but no one responds. I want to just come out and say, "look lady, it's not like I know this shit so well that I don't have to ask questions. Gimme a break. I'm a first year - I'm not nearly that arrogant yet. The problem is that I don't know enough to be able to ask ANY question." We are light years apart in terms of the level of understanding or comprehension. And I have a test on this crap next Wednesday. It should be a blast. The high point of the day was going to the Corner with Ashley and Walker, and staying long enough to see the GA crowd come out of the woodwork. I had 3 beers and a great time with my friends.

Friday. Holy fuck - I had 3 beers last night and I feel like I've been run over by a truck. What was I thinking?! Go to class. Hung. Over. Barely supressed the urge to puke when going over incomprehensible serine or cysteine (whatever) protease mechanisms. Went home. Still hungover. Texted my friends and begged them to let me help move the micro teaching lab. Went to Eastern. Felt like a stalker. Jim told me I was a stalker. Jim was being a dick. I let his foul mood take me down with it. Went scavenging for random shit in the psych department. Got creeped out by the rooms with windows for cameras. Back hurt. Feet hurt. Hungry. Upset. Felt old, lonely, and broken. Went home. Got stuck in construction traffic on I-94. Managed not to go apeshit crazy before making it to the house. Laid down. Cat tried to make out with me. Got back up. Emailed Walker for reassurance that Jim really doesn't hate me. Walker is awesome and made me feel better. This emotional rollercoaster bullshit is why I tend to keep everyone at arm's length. It's harder for people to hurt what they can't reach. I hear Chris playing World of Warcraft (lots of mouse clicking and keyboard key tapping sounds). I think I'll go make fun of him to make me feel better about myself before I go to bed.