Wednesday, March 31, 2010

And the Blitzkrieg is OVER!!!!

Breathing is such a nice, pleasant activity. I have never before appreciated it quite as much as I do now. And the sky is blue - I hadn't noticed that in a while. I've been noticing other things today, too, like birds singing, the flavor of food, the way the sun feels on my face . . . it is so nice to finally be finished with the paper/presentation blitzkrieg of the past two weeks.

I learned some very important things about myself lately. For instance, I now know that I can write twenty-one pages and cite ten sources in only thirteen hours. I also learned that my spelling gets "creative" after about 2:00 am. Oh, and I discovered that I can simultaneously write a bibliographical paper and create a Keynote (it's the Mac equivalent of PowerPoint) presentation, on two separate subjects. I didn't know I could do that!

It was utterly insane of me to voluntarily combine two mandatory twenty minute presentations into one forty minute presentation, and do it on the same day that the thirty-page paper was due. I told my prof that if I ever do that again, he has the humanitarian duty to shoot me! Still, it was heavenly to wake up this morning and realize that I only have to write one book review today, and then I can relax and just do paper revisions for the rest of the week. It's going to be a very pleasant week. :0)

In other recent news, I picked up a new ball for Jasper yesterday when I went to get something better for dinner than what the cupboards were offering me. The store had those big plastic balls on sale (the ones that are about the size of a soccer ball). I figured it would be another good park toy for Jasper. Of course, when I got home he could see it in the bag, and excitedly pranced around staring at it until I let him have the new ball for a little while.

Ay yi yi! The dog is in love with the ball! He spent an hour pushing it all over the apartment, having the time of his life. Unfortunately, he can't play with a ball of that size without barking at it - constantly. Loud, sharp, yippy barking. He set off a chain reaction with the dogs above and across from us, which I'm sure no one appreaciated - luckily, it was evening and not nighttime. I let him have the ball again for a little while today, with the same result. I guess we'll be spending some considerable time outside this weekend, so that Jasper can play with his new ball in the grass. He drove me nuts for nearly an hour after I took the ball away today: he cried, begged, and growled at me trying to get me to let him have it back. I told him that his whining was far less bothersome than his barking, and ignored him. Tough love! Eventually, he settled down and resigned himself to playing with his long toy snake, occasionally sneaking glances at the box I put his ball in, and shooting me pleading looks.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Wrong Inspiration

Today I sat down at my computer, intent on getting that huge oft-mentioned paper done. Just as I was getting started, I had an idea for an improvement to one of my fiction stories, a fantasy/satire that I have been working on, on and off, for several years. Eight hours later, I was shocked to discover that it had grown dark. I got an additional fourteen pages of work done today, but it was on the fiction story! The paper, sadly, still lies in neglect.

The fiction story has an interesting history with me. Its roots come from a "choose your own adventure" story that I wrote for English class in ninth grade (age fourteen). I lengthened and revised it a bit for another assignment in my tenth grade creative writing class. Then, when I was twenty and a junior in college, I revised it into a fantasy story, keeping only the general premise and a few of the adventures the same. Most of the things I had come up with in high school were scrapped. A year later, I revised it and lengthened it again. Then I didn't touch it again until this year. In the past month, it has been revised yet again, and, thanks to my work from today and one day a few weeks ago, is now about twenty pages longer. At sixty-four pages, this story is now the longest that I have ever written. My thesis, of course, will soon change all this.

It's odd to have one story that has, in a sense, grown up with me. The alterations reflect improvement in writing style as well as changes in personal philosophy and ideals. I wonder what this story will be like when I'm thirty or forty. Will I continue to revise it as I grow older? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I need to get it out of my head so that I can get my mind back into WWII, where it needs to be right now.

Professional writers don't know how lucky they are - they get paid to do what I keep distracting myself with. Well, back to the grindstone - the correct one this time!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Safe Driving Techniques and More Books!

Last night was my biweekly Inklings meeting (my writing club). As always, it was the best part of the week. And, as always, it lasted for about 8 hours! We tend to like to socialize a bit! Normally I wouldn't spare the time for social activities during prime paper-writing season, but my resolve has been not only to work my butt off in grad school, but also to have a little bit of fun. So, even though that thirty-page bibliographical paper needs more attention (it's well underway, but far from finished), I decided a little time off wouldn't kill me. After all, it's a pretty easy paper to write - more like an expanded annotated bibliography with an introduction and conclusion than anything else.

The drive home from Inklings was . . . interesting. And cold. Apparently, it frosted tonight while we were having our meeting, and when my friend dropped me off back on campus (where my car was), I found the windows and windshield thoroughly covered. I broke my brush back in the fiasco a month ago, so I had to clear the windshield by melting it. I couldn't get the windows to clear, so I had to make the drive home with two open windows, just to be able to see off to the side and behind me. Had there been any traffic, I may have frozen to death!

I was delighted to find that one of my new books has arrived, which will help on the revisions I need to make on the other big paper. It's way ahead of schedule, but I caught a major weakness that has to be addressed: none of my sources were from the Balkans. Everything I used was from English, American, French, or German sources. To get the full story, I needed an accurate account from both sides (this is a practice that I always follow in research, and not just in history). This is no easy matter, as the Communists stifled most of the written accounts that came out of the Balkans from the period I'm covering, so there are not good records, most sources are not in English, and the scholarship in the field is not as thorough as I would like. What sources there are have to be evaluated for accuracy. Luckily, this is also a blessing, since it means there is a void in the field of research that I may be able to fill. So, my chances of getting published are a bit higher if I pursue this topic further.

I ordered some more of my books tonight, mostly sources to be used my research for this semester, which will also likely be expanded into my thesis. I can't believe how well I did at finding some cheap used copies in good condition! While many valuable resources are now online, in my field, most of the scholarship is still in book form. I get a lump in my throat when I reflect that someday books, like newspapers, will be obsolete and will no longer be printed. Fortunately, I think the funeral of the book is still much further off than that of the newspaper. On one hand I love the many benefits technology has brought me; on the other, I mourn what it replaces. I guess that's just the complex dichotomy of the historian.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Unexpected Windfall

In the sea of stress and frustration, I found a little island of relief yesterday. I drove up to Manassas to finally close out my credit union account up there. After finally convincing the woman I dealt with that no, it would not be useful to keep the account open "just in case" (you know, since driving three hours up there to do banking would be SO convenient), I was successful. And then, a very unexpected thing happened . . . the woman told me how much money was in the account.

To give a little background here, I was convinced that there was about $20 in that account. The last statement that I recall reading said as much (unless I was in such a hurry that I skimmed the wrong line). So when she informed me that I had $400, I kinda shrieked. And startled a few people. But what else could I do in light of such an unexpected (and NEEDED) windfall? Between this and my tax refund, I may be able to pay for all of my remaining books (assuming that I manage to graduate in spring of 2011, like I'm shooting for).

After closing the account, I stopped by the dollar store to buy Jasper a new frisbee. He broke his old one in half when I took him to the park the other day. You've never seen a dog so wild about fetching a frisbee! After he broke it, he practically leapt at my throat trying to keep me from throwing it away. Eventually, we made a compromise - I threw half of it away, and he carried the other half in his mouth for our entire half-hour walk. I can hardly wait to introduce him to his new frisbee, once I finally finish all this work I have this week (and the additional student loan research that I mentioned in my previous, rather angry post).

By the way, I apologize to those who may dislike reading political posts - but that last one just had to be said. It was either blog about it, or march on Washington. Blogging requires less gas, and doesn't take as much time away from my papers. If you come from an opposing viewpoint, read the bill and the US Constitution before posting any comments. If you can back up an opposing viewpoint using the Constitution, then please post it. I welcome educated opinions and dialogue. If your only facts come from a political speech or CNN, then please go do some research - I say this not to be haughty, but out of genuine concern. Back to yesterday . . .

In the evening, I went out to dinner with two former coworkers. We ate at Noodles, one of my favorite restaurants. It was great to forget studying for a few hours, and even greater to be among friends. I'm still pretty solitary here in grad-land, although I do have my biweekly writing club meetings, which are a blast. The drive back to Lynchburg was pleasant, as any country drive in Virginia is. I love the way dusk turns the mountains to shades of rose and lavender, the sight of blooming dogwoods and redbuds, and the way the smell of the blossoms wafts into the car whenever I drive past. Tulips and wildflowers were already in bloom by the sides of the road, and green leaves were finally creeping out amidst the trees. It was a lovely night.

Thank You, Mr. President

Thank you, Mr. President.

I am a graduate student. I have no money. I live from hand to mouth, and I depend on my Stafford loans to pay my tuition costs (which, by the way, are not low). I have stacks of books to read each week. Every waking minute is spent worrying about what to write in my next paper - and there is always another paper to write. I write at least two small papers each week, all the while working on at least one or two ongoing large papers. I have presentations stacking up on top of each other like Duplo blocks. I practically ingest coffee through an IV.

My stress is very high, Mr. President. I am in debt up to my eyeballs, and I am trying to get through school as fast as possible to keep from adding too much more to it. I have little chance of getting a job in the USA once I graduate. The one thing that I haven't had to worry about, Mr. President, are my loans. They were cut and dried. The money is in my student account, and I've been confidently eying it, knowing there was just enough.

And then, because you couldn't do it in the open like an honest person, you snuck a clause into your massive pork-barrel health bill about overhauling student loans. Is my money still there? Do I have to reapply for aid? Do I have to sign another promissory note? Who do I pay back now, the government or my lender? Who is my lender now? Do I owe part to my old lender and part to the government now? Do I still have my money on the same terms? Are you going to change my interest rates or the date when I have to start paying it all back?

I chose a bank I had dealt with in the past to be my lender. They gave me agreeable terms. They treated me well. I was happy. Now, because you are determined that government should take over as much as possible of the private sector, I have to waste time that I could use for studying trying to figure out what is going on with my loans. I'm confused and I am frustrated. I have no idea what the new terms of my loan will be. I have no idea what changes you will decide to make for me. And now, when I should be writing my thirty-page research paper, I can't. Instead, I have to call every office and their brother office trying to figure out what is happening with my loan.

What do student loans have to do with healthcare? Nothing, aside from the fact that you're trying to convince everyone that 62 million dollars supposedly saved from loans (which, like your other claims, you have yet to back up with evidence) will pay for your 938 BILLION dollar scheme. You have no idea how to pay for it, but you shoved it through anyway. And of course, since you took all that campaign money from special interest groups, they got to have a say in what went into the bill. The people of the United States didn't get a say, but your pals did.

You have no right to tell me who I can and cannot borrow money from. You have no constitutional right to interfere in this matter (let alone the matter of health care) at all. None. Zilch. Nada. You have the constitutional right to protect my rights and to protect me from harm. I don't care what intentions you claim to have in all this, the point stands - YOU HAVE NO RIGHT. You have violated the United States Constitution. (Have you ever read it? I have. It's a great read.) You have no right to force me or anyone else to buy health insurance in 2014 - and threaten us with fines if we don't. You have no right to make me or anyone else pay for someone else's abortion. I wonder if your supporters are aware of the fact that many premiums will go up by as much as 30% under your "brilliant plan." Taxes have to increase to help pay for your plan. In the middle of a depression, companies will lose millions of dollars because of your plan. Do you think that won't mean more lost jobs?!

I am mad as hell. I want to storm down to Washington, grab hold of your padded shoulders, and shake that self-congratulatory, I-just-saved-the-world look off of your face. I want to sit you down and make you read the Constitution (probably for the first time). Then I'd like to make you read it again, just to drill it in. I'd like to make you study history, government, and economics so that maybe, just maybe, you'll finally come up with an idea that isn't downright stupid. And maybe after all that you'll also realize why giving the queen of England an iPod with videos of your speeches was in poor taste, and why reassuring terrorist groups that you're going to cut the number of US troops in their playground by a certain date is lousy strategy (and stupid).

I am going to campaign for whatever candidate runs against you in the next election until I drop from exhaustion. I don't care if I have to quit whatever job I have by then in order to have time to do it; I will campaign until I'm blue in the face to keep you from being reelected. I will sell my blood to buy signs if I have to. And believe me, plenty of others feel the same way. We've had it. We've been humiliated internationally by all of your many faux pas, we watched in horror as you collected a Nobel Prize that you had no right to (for heaven's sake, you hadn't done a blasted thing to earn it, and you had the nerve to accept it), and now we've lost even more of the liberty that far better men than you DIED for. We will campaign against you and have tea parties until we puke just to get you out. YES, WE CAN!

Thank you, Mr. President. Now please go help North Korea and Iran the way you've helped the USA.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Signs that I Woke up too Early this Morning

Coffee attempt #1 - forgot to add the coffee
Coffee attempt #2 - forgot to close the lid on the coffee maker
Coffee attempt #3 - put the allergy pill in the coffee instead of in my mouth
Coffee attempt #4 - (fresh cup) missed my mouth when trying to take a sip; as a result, now more awake

Taking the dog out attempt #1 - couldn't figure out why I couldn't get the leash on him
Taking the dog out attempt #2 - realized the dog wasn't wearing his collar

Breakfast attempt #1 - forgot why I was in the kitchen, stood silently for two minutes trying to figure it out
Breakfast attempt #2 - sat down to eat, realized that I left the cereal on the kitchen counter

Writing attempt #1 - opened the wrong document on the laptop, started working on the wrong paper

Should I even bother writing my paper right now?

Sometimes Panic Can Be a Good Thing

For the past week, I have worked night an day on my HIST 500 paper. For the past two nights, I have had barely any sleep, and when I have slept, I've dreamed about writing the paper. I have ate, slept, and lived this thing. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning today, I had a twenty-five page paper that I felt proud of. I did good research, had a strong argument, and had flawless formatting. Still, I worried. In my introduction on this one, I tried something rather creative, and I felt concerned that it might not be smooth and polished enough.

So, I took it to my mentor, Dr. Saxon, and had him look it over. I told him just to check the intro, but he got engrossed and read the first eleven pages. In grad school, this is a very good sign. He informed me that it was good work, and my whole world seemed to brighten. I had no idea how much brighter it was going to get . . .

You know that feeling when you work really really hard to finish a paper and then learn that it's actually not due for another three weeks? You know, because you had the wrong syllabus and were mistaken about the due date? No? Well, don't feel bad. Up until today, neither did I.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Guerrilla Warfare, Pizza, and The Great Moth Massacre - All in One Day!

As the title of this post may imply, it has been a most interesting day. It was supposed to begin at 7:00 am, but I was so exhausted from traveling that I let myself sleep in until 9:00. Foolish, foolish girl! Two hours of potential writing time, wasted on a very creepy dream. Ah well, at least I don't have to worry about getting another sleep-deprivation migraine.

From the moment I awakened, there was work to be done. I worked on my paper on SOE (Britain's Special Operations Executive) in the Balkans until about 1:00, then took a break and cleaned the apartment. After that, I got back to work. The significant changes that I made to my topic and argument a few days ago have nullified a large portion of my research, thus making it necessary for me to frantically hunt down more sources. My work had good results: I managed to get another six pages typed. I hope to complete two more before turning in tonight (it's going to be another late night).

Cleaning is, unfortunately, a dangerous pastime for me. I dripped bleach on one of my favorite tops, thus permanently exiling it to the "at home only" drawer of the dresser. While I was stacking kleenex boxes neatly in the closet, one fell and hit me in the head. Naturally, it got me with the corner and managed to cut my head (first bloodshed of the day; sadly, not the last). I followed this performance by mysteriously cutting my knee while kneeling to clean (I still have no idea how). Then, I gave an encore performance by slipping on my freshly mopped kitchen floor and landing in a crumpled heap, smacking my elbow on the dishwasher on the way down. The bruise and bump add visual interest to an otherwise dull arm. After the fall, I decided that studying is much safer.

Around 4:30, my future roommate Brandi called and invited me to dinner with her, her parents, and her boyfriend. I decided that I needed to be anywhere that my computer was not for awhile, so I gratefully accepted. We had a delicious dinner at a cute little pizza place that I never knew existed (and will definitely dine at again in the future). Then we ambled back to the apartment to get Brandi's furniture moved in (she'll be moving in in May). I am so excited to have found such a likable, amusing roommate with so many interests in common with me! Jasper took an immediate liking to her, which is unusual - he's usually wary of strangers. He even attempted to help decorate her bedroom by offering her a few of his favorite bones - another unusual gesture. I have a very good feeling about this future living arrangement!

Brandi and I will be meeting up in a little over a week to write out a roommate contract. I highly recommend this to anyone who decides to get a roommate. Even if you really hit it off with someone, it is a good idea to clarify what each person expects and desires. I learned the hard way about bad roommates in the past. By making a contract, Brandi and I can discuss how each of us prefer to live (studying conditions, cleanliness, cooking preferences, etc.) and many potential conflicts can be avoided. Plus, it gives us a chance to know each other even better before living under one roof. We'll be spending a great deal of time together in the future, since we're both taking the same summer class and have identical schedules for next semester. So, it is necessary that we do everything possible to ensure that we get along very well!

In other news, I learned over spring "break" that I will be getting a substantial amount of money back from the government on my taxes. This windfall is going to buy my summer books and some of my books for the fall, as a well as a couple of helpful supplemental books that I have been longing for (there is an excellent history atlas and a large history book that, while not required, would greatly aid me in my coursework). As I was eagerly pricing out some of my books for the summer and fall, I was struck again by the strange paradox of academia: The more I learn, the more I find that I don't know!

Oh, are you still waiting for me to tell you about The Great Moth Massacre? Well, apparently, I have a large-scale moth invasion at the moment. I'm not certain whether they're having a revival meeting or are planning to attack me en masse as I sleep, but whatever their intentions, there are a heck of a lot of them. So, inspired by my studies of guerrilla warfare in the Balkans, I have spent much of my day engaged in carrying out guerrilla tactics of my own against these annoying winged creatures. I tried to convince Jasper to eat them, but he showed no interest. At last estimate, around twenty moths have died today. A few have tried to be clever by resting on the ceiling, but I found a surefire way of getting them - I shoot them with water from a spray bottle, then clobber them after they fall on the floor. It's messy, but necessary. I am determined to exterminate all of these invaders by the middle of the week.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Drive Me Back to Old Virginny

Jasper and I are hittin' the road again tomorrow. My little car has once more been loaded to the brim by my concerned parents ("Here, we got you some ham to take," "Oh, here's some of those peppers you like," "You needed more bottled water, right?"), and the suitcase is ready to be added to the heap. I spent every day of my spring "break" working on coursework, and there's still a load to do over the weekend. It is going to be a very exhausting next few days . . .

For one thing, I'm driving for about 12 hours tomorrow to get home. Since I can never sleep before traveling, I'll be exhausted when I finally get there. Jasper has another ear infection, so I've got to take him to the vet as soon as I can. (Honestly, it's almost like having a kid!) Plus, he's due for another flee prevention treatment and another vaccine (against Lyme disease, since Virginia has oodles of ticks). Of course, there's the monstrous, horrendous sociology paper to write (it's for a history class, but the topic is clearly sociology and not history - blech). The worst part of that paper is that it requires the use of ALL the horrid books that I have read and despised for that particular class this semester. Also, I need to finish the 25-page rough draft that's due on my research paper, which has been hindered by the fact that I significantly altered my topic . . . three days ago. Much of my research is now for nothing, and I have to go on a source-hunting expedition. On the bright side, I have a very good argument now, so I'm expecting to impress my prof on that paper. I managed to get two book reviews written over my break, but the third one could not be done because - you guessed it - I forgot to pack that particular book. I have to prepare a presentation that I'm giving on one of the books. All that has to be done by Tuesday (most of it by Monday, actually). Wasn't there something else . . oh yes, I need to get some work done on the 30-page paper that's due on the 29th.

Oh, and did I mention that my new future-roommate is moving her furniture in on Saturday and I still need to clear the boxes (from when I moved - yes, I should have done it sooner) out of her room? I also promised to help her with lifting and such.

I have very exciting plans for Tuesday night and Wednesday. As soon as I get back from class, I am going to take a sleeping pill and sleep for at least nine hours. Then I'm going to lecture myself on wasting time sleeping when I should be studying. Then I'll write my next book review and work on my 30-page paper. If I have time left over, I may indulge in taking a few deep breaths.

Academic Masochism, thy name is grad school.

And I am clearly a hopeless case, because in spite of the panic-inducing stress, I still love it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring Break Used to Mean Relaxing . . .

But now it means reading and writing like a crazy history maniac. "Spring Break" is a fallacious term in my case; it should be called "Spring Catch-up" or "Spring Hold-on-for-dear-life!"

I made myself nocturnal for about four days, in preparation for departure. Then on the 9th, I slept all day, got up in time for class, and left right after class finished (about 6:30 pm). I rushed home, grabbed Jasper, picked up some dinner, and then hit the road. We officially left for Michigan at 7:30 that evening; we arrived at my parents' doorstep at exactly 6:30 the next morning. Surprisingly, it was not too bad of a drive. Jasper got carsick going through Bedford, but that's to be expected - Bedford is a gorgeous little town, but the road I take each time twists and turns in a seemingly-nonsensical manner amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains, and even I have to fight not to be sick going through it. Aside from that, there were no troubles.

Jasper was overjoyed when we pulled into my parents' driveway. As soon as I unlocked the front door, he rushed in to see if anything had changed since the last time we were here. I sluggishly unloaded the car, greeted Dad and the other two dogs, then tried to start reading. No luck; my body was adamant that sleep must precede research. A short struggle later, I gave in. After a lengthy nap, my body and mind were both ready to start working. There have been few pauses in my work since then. I start reading while I eat my breakfast each morning, and don't stop until dinnertime. After dinner I have a break, then work some more, then finish around 8:00 or so. It's been far more like History Boot Camp than Spring Break!

All this reading has had the unfortunate effect of giving me some very odd dreams. In the past few nights, I have had a picnic in a trench in WWI (and woke myself up by muttering aloud "This is so inaccurate"), donned the attire of a flapper and danced the Lambeth Walk, and dropped by parachute into Yugoslavia. Thank goodness I'm not studying the Russian Revolutions!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The World's Stupidest-Looking Dog

Sadly, thanks to me, my dog now wins that title. He rolled in something repulsive outside, so he had to have a bath tonight. As I was drying him, I noticed that he had some mats, even though I brush him regularly (I guess I should start using the comb on him instead of the brush). I had to cut a few of them out, which gave me a "bright" idea: Why wait for Mom to give him a haircut? Shouldn't a woman of twenty-five be capable of cutting her own dog's hair?

The answer to that last question is a very large, emphatic NO!!! Unfortunately, I was not smart enough to realize this. So, with a trim-trim here and a trim-trim there . . . my dog soon looked horrible. I tried to cut more to correct the mess, and made a bigger mess of it. My dog looks like he got into a fight with a weed-wacker and lost. I will never again attempt to trim Jasper's hair. Clearly, I am too inept to attempt something of this magnitude!

Jasper is now curled on the opposite end of the couch, as far away as he can get from me, glaring at me as I type this. Even he knows that he looks stupid.

The True Definitions of MA

We all know that PHD really stands for "Piled Higher and Deeper". Of course, that also describes grad school pretty accurately. Tonight, I decided to spend my time in the productive manner of coming up with alternative definitions for MA, rather than reading about Fin-de-Siecle Vienna, like I am supposed to be doing. Here are some of my best definitions:

M.A. (or A.M. if you are in a school that pretends to be British) is generally thought to stand for "Master of Arts". Those of us in grad programs, however, know that it really stands for:

"Massive Angst" - The standard mental condition of graduate students.
"Academic Masochism" - (Courtesy of my friend Josh) The action of taking out an enormous loan in order to pay for self-inflicted mental torture . . . known as grad school.
"Myocardial Assault" - This is what Dr. Mann's book selections do to his students.
"Archival Megalomania" - A temporary euphoric delusion of grandeur felt when one realizes that they are reading documents which a minimal percentage of the world is aware of the existence of.
"Monumental Assignments" - These are given out en masse and expected to be completed in an insufficient amount of time.
"Mental Affectation" - A feeling of intellectual superiority felt when discussing one's thesis topic with someone who has no knowledge of the topic.
"Mental Abasement" - The condition of a graduate student discussing their thesis topic with a professor; also the point at which a grad student realizes that they truly know nothing - usually this occurs while giving a presentation.
"Microsoft Anxiety" - A condition affecting those unfortunate students who do not own a Macbook. It is the constant knowledge that their computer has no deeper desire than to consume and destroy the paper that they just spent all night typing.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (Yet Again)

You know, I think that may become my theme song for grad school!

Owing to my injuries, heavy work load, unfortunate circumstances, and the Army's knack for not answering phone calls or emails in a timely manner, I have had to give up on ROTC. I was really enjoying it and was getting pretty gung-ho on the idea of the Army life for me, but it's just not going to work out. I'd rather not delve into all of the issues that finally made this clear to me, but, suffice to say, I now have to find another way to pay for grad school. Prayers are welcomed and sought!

I tried to see about getting a GSA position from the history department, but unfortunately, they have all been assigned already. I then tried to get one through another department, with the same results. For the past two days, I have hunted for obscure scholarships, harassed people with power, and even considered trying to find a waitressing job (no, that will not work).

So, here's where I stand now: I have enough money left on my Stafford loan to cover the summer (I'm taking two summer intensives) and next semester's tuition in full. The government gave me back lots of tax money, so my books are covered. I have likely found a roommate (she is super sweet and is a fellow history gal), assuming that everything falls into place for her, so my living expenses will be lower. I have concocted an insane plan that might not work: I am taking the two intensives this summer, and will try to get one class (from my last grad school attempt) to transfer in as an elective. That will pull me one semester ahead in terms of work. If I then absolutely murder myself with work, I can possibly graduate in three semesters rather than four. That leaves only next spring to pay for, if it works, and I can take out a second loan to pay the remaining few thousand dollars. I'll be in debt up to my eyeballs, but at least I'll have my MA. If it doesn't work, I'll figure it out from there.

Gee, I can't wait to get started on my doctorate!

I really need to marry a man with money . . .

Books I read in January and February

Not too bad of a list! Of course, only a few of them were for fun; the rest were all required.

The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (Eric Hobsbawm)
Hobsbawm is an unapologetic Marxist, so his view is naturally a bit skewed. This was an exceedingly dry, dull read, although I did like the first few pages. Honestly, I don't recommend this one.
Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (John A. Lynn)
I absolutely loved this book! It's an engaging study of the different battle philosophies and methods of various cultures, as well as a study of how culture directly effects a nation's view of war. Each chapter starts with a vivid description of a historical battle. Since I'm a military and intelligence historian, reading this was a real treat! My copy almost did not arrive in time for class, so I actually got concerned enough that I sat on the floor outside Dr. Saxon's office for almost three hours one day, reading his copy. This is definitely a book that I heartily recommend.
Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (Rogers Brubaker)
This book repeatedly put me to sleep, as the writer does not write in an engaging manner. I grew very frustrated with the continual use of passive voice, which I feel should be unacceptable in a published work. Although I did not enjoy the book, the resulting class discussion was fascinating, as they usually are in that class (Readings in Modern European History).
Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (Stephen Toulmin)
Although I disagreed with a few of Toulmin's conclusions and grew a bit frustrated with some areas that I found too repetitive, I rather enjoyed this book. It made me view the 17th century in a far more sympathetic light. It also challenged a few of my views on history, which led to some deep thinking. So, while it is not the easiest book to read, I do recommend this one.
The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier (Jakob Walter)
Wow. This book was so good that I stayed up until an obscene hour reading it, unable to put it down. It was fascinating to get to see inside the mind of an enlisted man who served under Napoleon during three of his campaigns, including the disastrous invasion of Russia. I definitely recommend this book, although I would advise against reading it at night, as it gave me a very disturbing and vivid dream.
Family Fortunes (Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall)
While I disagree with many things that Catherine Hall believes, she is an excellent historian and is particularly gifted at writing narratives. Unfortunately, I did not particularly care for this book, mostly since the subject matter was not of interest to me. I have the utmost respect for the authors, however, as they did excellent research and were kind enough to include many illustrations and charts, which are always a nice addition to a history book. Although I didn't care for the book, I still feel that it is a good one worthy of recommendation to anyone interested in the subject matter.
The Franco-Prussian War (Geoffrey Wawro)
I could read Geoffrey Wawro every single day for a year and not grow bored. The man is a gifted writer! He has a wonderful wry humor that makes his books deliciously entertaining while still crammed with information. I learned so much from this book that I had a devil of a time writing a concise review - there was just so much to mention about it! I had no idea that the Franco-Prussian War was so interesting until I read this book. I was literally on the edge of my seat reading this! I give it a very ardent recommendation.
The German Colonial Empire (Woodruff Smith)
Passive, passive, passive! Grrr. Also, Smith successfully found an interesting topic, then managed to focus on the most boring aspects of it. The short-lived German colonial empire resulted in the first genocide of the twentieth century, yet Smith completely neglected to mention it! There were tribal wars and the flamboyant Carl Peters . . . and he pretty much ignored them, too. Unfortunately, very little has been done on this topic, so I'm afraid this book is probably the best source available on Germany's colonial empire. Regardless, it does not get my recommendation.
A History of Military Thought (Azar Gat)
Azar Gat is, in short, one of the most brilliant military historians. This book (actually three books in one, but I only had to read the first one) is not an easy read, but it was definitely worth the effort. It was fascinating to see the shifts in military thought from the Enlightenment through the German Romantic movement. I particularly liked the fact that Gat focused not only on key military thinkers like Machiavelli, Jomini, and Clausewitz, but also on a few of the lesser known men. I'm sure there will be quite a bit more Gat in my future! I recommend this book, but only to those interested in military history - I think anyone else would probably find it dull.
Marianne in the Market (Lisa Tiersten)
I do not enjoy studying material culture. I hated every second that I spent with this book. Unless the history of shopping interests you, avoid it at all costs.
Napoleon's Wars (Charles Esdaile)
Esdaile is a fantastic historian who really knows how to write. I loved the way he analyzed the influences that made Napoleon who he was. This book was colorful, vivid, and full of life - honestly, I was not terribly interested in Napoleon until I read this book. It is such an enjoyable read that I will likely reread it for fun someday when I'm no longer a graduate student. Two thumbs up, and an enthusiastic recommendation from me!
The Oxford History of Modern War (Charles Townshend, ed.)
This is actually a collection of lengthy articles. I enjoyed reading it, but I did get a bit bogged down with all the details (numbers of troops, names of different weapons, etc). I recommend it, but it's another work that you would have to be interested in military history in order to enjoy.
Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution (Lynn Hunt)
Lynn Hunt's work is probably the best so far on this subject. That being said, and with tremendous respect for Hunt as a historian, I must say that I really wish she could have imparted her vast wisdom to me in a more interesting manner. It was not an easy or a pleasant read. I appreciated the illustrations and the excellent footnotes (so much nicer than endnotes). I enjoyed the chapter on the use of symbols during the Revolution. One or two of Hunt's conclusions made me a bit uncomfortable, but on the whole, she is a very intelligent woman. I will probably reread it sometime to try to get more out of it, someday when I have longer to spend - trying to read it in only two days made it unpleasant. I do recommend this book, but this is another one that you have to have a love of the subject in order to appreciate.
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
This is my all-time second-favorite novel, and I read it about ten times (or more) each year. I love it, love it, love it! Jane Austen is my favorite author, and I think it is tragic that she did not write more novels than she did. I have entire passages of this one memorized! I not only recommend it, I feel that anyone who has not read it has a severely deprived life and is to be pitied!
Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear (Richard Connaughton)
I greatly enjoyed this book, and have tremendous respect for Connaughton. He brought the Russo-Japanese War to life for me, and had me captivated. That being said, I have to offer a stern rebuke: No self-respecting historian should ever stoop to the level of writing a book devoid of citations! For heaven's sake, man, give me footnotes! Or endnotes, if you prefer! I am horrified that such a talented historian would dare deprive us of citations! Okay, rebuke over. I thought this book was excellent, and I recommend it.
Sugar Bust for Life! (Ellen and Theodore Brennan) and Sugar Busters! Quick and Easy Cookbook (H. Leighton Steward, et. al.)
One of my smartest decisions this year was going on the Sugar Busters eating plan. I have now made a few alterations, such as allowing myself pretzels and my favorite cereals, but on the whole, I am sticking firmly to this way of life. I recommend both of these cookbooks, as they are ripe with ideas for tasty meals that are faithful to a healthy eating plan.
Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Joan B. Landes)
Oh, Joan Landes. A postmodern feminist who prefers a theoretical view of history over a factual one (and admits it). No, I do not like her work at all. Reading this book was even less fun than having one's eyeballs repeatedly stabbed with toothpicks while undergoing a root canal and listening to ten thousand bagpipes being played by beginners. It is a miserable, horrible book that should be used to torture information out of terrorists. I not only don't recommend it, I advise burning it if you are ever so unfortunate as to come across a copy of it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jasper's Nemesis, Round Two

It took a day or two before Jasper fully calmed down and returned to normal after his first terrifying encounter with the upstairs neighbors' hideous bulldog (the dog means to be friendly, but is so large and ugly that I can well understand Jasper's fear), so you can imagine how shook up he was tonight after a second encounter. Fortunately, this time was far less traumatizing for him, since there was not a long chase involved.

Jasper is very good about letting me know when he needs to go, so when he started up with his "potty-time" whine and his little "I can't hold it for very long" dance, I took him right outside. As soon as we got to the grass, I heard a loud bark coming from the darkness, and that ginormous bulldog came barreling towards us. Jasper gave a loud squeak and actually leapt into my arms - literally. I carted him inside immediately, then spent the next twenty minutes calming him down. I knew he still needed to go out, but it took a lot of convincing before Jasper would go - normally just the word "outside" sends him into ecstatic raptures of joy. Never before have I seen my dog empty his bladder so quickly! He barely even stepped into the grass! As soon as he finished, he bolted back to the door. Clearly, he was in no mood to spend extra moments outdoors.

Eventually, Jasper relaxed and became his usual playful self. He spent a good amount of time beating his rubber chicken against the wall, then raced around the apartment with his octopus in his mouth, finally stopping after he accidentally collided with my chair - he did the same thing last night, only the collision was with the bedroom door. He's my dog all right!

A little while ago, I found a new form of entertainment. It may be a little cruel, but it sure was funny. I had emptied my plastic jar of dried minced onions when I made soup earlier, so I pulled the label off, cleaned it, and then filled the container with a few pungent dog treats. Then I gave it to Jasper. Nearly half an hour later, he is still chasing the jar all over the place, growling and doing his best to try to get the treats out. Don't worry; I'll let him have one in a little while. I'm curious to see if he can figure out how to get the lid to open on his own.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Long Weekend

From Wednesday to Sunday, I read, researched, and wrote. Brief relief came in the form of my Inklings meeting on Friday evening (Inklings is a writing group that I belong to) and church on Sunday morning. Aside from those two interruptions, I clocked in an approximate 40+ hours of work. And no, I didn't get it finished, since most of the work was research for my biggest paper of the semester, which I will be writing over my spring "break". I had planned to finish writing the three short papers (all due by Tuesday) on Sunday after church. I wasn't feeling well, however, so it was slow going, with me occasionally drifting off mid-sentence.

Then the migraine and the upset stomach hit. Sunday night found me reeling from pain and nausea. I struggled to keep reading, but gave up after the optical disturbances set in, making the words on the pages dance in sickening circles. By two in the morning, I was huddled over a basin, emptying the contents of my stomach, whimpering piteously between rounds. The headache grew, showing no mercy to its unfortunate victim. By three in the morning, I looked and felt like a battered and torn leaf caught in a raging hurricane.

Since due dates know no mercy, I was up at the crack of dawn, ignoring the lingering pain as I furiously typed a book review about a book that I could scarcely recall reading. It's not my finest work, but at least I got it done. I shall now attempt to get one of tomorrow's papers finished before leaving for my class. I am Grad-Girl; hear me roar.
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"