Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Even without Classes, I Still Stay Busy

I know, I have been horrible about blogging in July. Bad Stephanie! But, if it makes my poor, neglected readers feel any better, let me assure you that it is not because I am lolling about at a beach or swimming pool. Actually, I haven't been swimming since March, and frankly, I'm not much of a beach person. They get dull, in my opinion. No, lately I have been swamping myself with some big projects. Here's the lowdown:

1. I resumed piano lessons after a fourteen-year break. After the obsessive teacher I had as a child, I stayed away from the piano for quite some time, recovering. After a few years, I started tinkering around with it again. Since moving back to Virginia, I have started playing daily, but desperately wanted lessons to refine and direct myself a bit more. So, even though I have a busy year ahead and am a pauper, I decided that lessons were one extravagance the pocketbook could handle. It's an excellent stress release, and when I play hymns, it's almost as if I'm praying through music, thus opening a whole new door for personal devotional time.

2. I started some mega research. A paper that I wrote for a summer class came out a bit odder than expected, and got a result that I never expected: my teacher loved it and thinks I should refine it into a publishable article and even consider it as a thesis topic. So, I decided that he was right about the article idea, and am now working to see if it can be cleaned up for that very purpose. As far as the thesis possibility goes, I am also considering that idea. Last week, I journeyed up to College Park, MD to go to the National Archives II (many people don't know this, but there are actually two national archives). I spent a day researching two separate possible tracks to take with my thesis and wound up with two other possible ideas as a result. Grr! I'm going to have to go up again, probably on Friday of this week, in order to refine the research a bit more. Believe it or not, it was an amazing and thrilling time pouring through about ten boxes worth of cables and interoffice memos from the OSS, so I can't wait to do it again.

3. I have made tremendous strides on my fantasy novel. I scrapped a few chapters and wrote some new ones. My novel is now on chapter eight and isn't even halfway done, although I have sailed past the 75th page. I normally never make it this far without getting overly critical and deleting my entire work, so I'm quite proud of how this novel is coming. Earlier today, I solved the major plot hole that has been plaguing me, so now it should be pretty smooth sailing for a while. Amazingly, I still like my main characters!

4. My writing group (Inklings III) and I are taking our first brave steps into the world of publishing. We're looking into self-publish options now and are beginning plans to start our own press. We're also considering starting an E-zine, and we are working on the plans for a website. We figure that with group promotion, we can finally get somewhere. After all, if absolute crap like Twilight can get published, than surely our work ought to stand a chance.

5. The work and research continues on my doctoral plans. I have made the highly ambitious decision to apply to two international schools as two of my top five. I know the chances of getting in and getting funding are slim, but the programs and possibilities are too magnificent for me not to take the chance. And what have I to lose? So, as it presently stands, my first choice is still University of North Texas, second is University of Glasgow, third is University of Wales Swansea, and I am not sure yet on four and five. Schools in the running for those slots include University of Kansas, Temple University, George Washington University, and Texas A&M. Gradually, I'm getting things narrowed down.

6. Believe it or not, I actually have a social life. Yes, the history gypsy does get out -- weekly, in fact. I've been spending time helping my roommate with some of her wedding planning, having game nights and movie nights with Inkling friends, ice skating, and even enjoying the odd dinner party. Tomorrow, Brandi (the roommate) and I are off on an adventure to Appomattox for the day. We're planning to hit a few historical sites, go hiking, enjoy a picnic lunch, and look at a few bridal shops (for her) on the way back. It should be a great day, assuming that the weather cooperates (we do have a chance of thunder storms). In the evening tomorrow, Brandi and I are planning homemade pizza and a Jimmy Stewart double-feature (tonight we enjoyed a Hitchcock film followed by The Quiet Man).

7. I am also busy buying all of the books for next semester. Colonial History is all set, but I still need to track down and order my books for my Reading Seminar in American History and my Historiography class. Fortunately, I do not have quite as many books being required for the fall as there were for the spring (I think there are only two less, but yes, it does make a difference).

8. Oh yes, and one more thing. For some odd reason, I also got it into my head to start writing a second novel. Drat these impetuous ideas! For the sake of my sanity, I am not allowing this second novel to go beyond the planning and character sketch stages until the fantasy novel is completely written. I'm afraid my head will implode, otherwise.

I'm quite amazed (and even perhaps a bit shell-shocked) by all that I've gotten done so far this summer, as well as by what I have left to do. Next week, I'll be journeying back up to Michigan for almost two weeks, then when I get back down here, I'll be visiting some more archives. Classes and work start up again on the 23rd of August, and it is definitely going to be another high-stress, high-interest semester. "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jasper's New Haircut

Since the weather keeps hitting over 100 degrees each day, poor Jasper has found going outdoors to be a miserable experience. As a little snub-nosed dog, it's harder for him to cool himself down than it is for other breeds, so he can't take the high temperatures quite so well. I've been feeling pretty sorry for him, so the other day I sent him to the groomer to get a really short cut. Unlike the last time that he cut cut super short (in Korea), this time he does not look like he belongs in Fagan's hideout (read Oliver Twist if you don't know what I'm referring to). He seems quite happy with his new cut, and I'm happy that he still resembles a (healthy) dog.

Friday, July 9, 2010

And . . . It's Over!

Another semester completed! As of today, believe it or not, I am halfway finished with my M.A. Yup, 15 credits under the belt! It's a little hard for my mind to grasp at the moment. I just can't seem to adjust to the idea of not having any due dates (well, other than self-imposed) for the next month and a half. In a way, it almost feels a little bit sad. Whatever shall I do with myself?

Today marked an excellent end to the summer semester. My presentation, which I had a great deal of fun preparing, earned a grade of 100%. My research paper earned a solid A, and my instructor loved my argument (which, in light of the heavy dose of Freud in my paper, I was not anticipating). The 4.0 is solid and holding, another surprise. The most amazing part of all of it is that despite working harder than I have ever in my life imagined working, I am having more fun than I can ever recall having.

Between my interesting classes, my terrific roommate, Inklings (my writing group), and the skating rink at Liberty, where I have been spending a great deal of time ice-skating lately, this summer has been a blast so far. I occasionally get by on minimal sleep, but I've been loving every minute of it!

Of course, this summer is not all fun, games, and interesting papers. On Monday, I am retaking the GRE, attempting to put my prior score to shame (I did well the first time, but I think I can do even better). Facing that multiple fanged monster of a test again is an intimidating proposition, but it'll be worth it if the higher score gets me into the doctoral program of my choice. So, I'll be spending most of this weekend cramming and studying (and perhaps also offering up the occasional frantic prayer). If the math section of the GRE doesn't down me in one gluttonous mouthful, I'll be driving up to D.C. later next week to have my first scouting expedition in the National Archive, hunting down enticing primary sources for my thesis. The change from hunted to hunter will be quite pleasant, I'm sure.

Well, time to sign off. Jasper's due for a few shots at the vet (he's very excited).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Almost Gone

As you can see, the black eye is finally on its way off of my face. Good riddance! I'm tired of people looking at me as if convinced that I ought to be checking into a women's shelter. Oh, and for those who may be wondering, no, I did not get another perm. I got a hair cut today, and my hair decided that it was going to curl on its own. So, rather than attack it with a hair straightener, I gave in to its whim.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An Overdose of Freud

Oh, woe is me! Never have I felt so mentally unclean! I wish I could shower my entire brain in scalding water.

I have been working on perhaps one of the oddest papers I have ever written. Back in the spring, I was able to acquire a number of primary documents (about 2,000+ pages worth) on the psychological profiling that the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) did on Hitler. From perusing the documents and also reading several books on OSS psychological operations, I noticed an interesting blend of Freudianism and Realpolitik in the OSS mindset. This, then, led me to my present paper.

In order to prove my thesis, I had to not only give considerable focus to the writings of several psychoanalysts on Hitler; I also had to read a heck of a lot of Freud. Ohhhhhh...... Let's just say, Freud was a very, very, very, very, very, VERY dirty man. I have no idea how he ever came to be taken seriously. The man's mind never strayed farther than an inch from his crotch! Ugh. Is it possible for a brain to vomit? Mine certainly wants to.

Lest my complaints mislead anyone, let me assure one and all that, despite my distaste for Freud, I have found this to be a thoroughly interesting and intriguing paper. While learning about the sexual peculiarities of Hitler was, shall we say, disturbing to the utmost, it was also quite enlightening, since I understand some of his actions a bit better (understand, not condone or empathize with). Mixing psychology with history has its dangers, but analyzing psychology's impact on history is quite fascinating. I realized only yesterday that although my major focus in my work is military history, I have yet to approach any topic in the same way as military historians. I am repeatedly coming at my topics from social, cultural, psychological, and even literary (without straying into lit-crit) angles. I may just be carving out a unique niche for myself in this field after all!

This present class ends on Thursday. After I turn in this research paper later today, I'll have only a short film analysis paper and a presentation to prepare. The film analysis paper will be a fun diversion for me; I'm using a classic film (of course) and analyzing it using two excellent books (which both specifically mention that film), plus the first-hand experiences that I had when visiting the exact locations where the storyline takes place. How neat it that! My film is So Proudly We Hail!, an account of the nurses who served first in Manilla and later on Corregidor. The film was supposed to be an accurate depiction, but Hollywood even back in the 1940s never let the truth stand in the way of a good (or bad) story. The nurses who survived wrote two accounts of the events, which gives me primary sources with which to analyze the film. In the summer of 2008, I myself went to both Manilla and Corregidor, where I retraced the steps of the nurses who served over there (for pictures and details of my experience, look in my blog archive for August 2008). I think this may be the most direct personal involvement I have ever had in a history paper. It's too bad that it has to be such a short little paper.

After this class concludes on Thursday, I'm planning to take a few days off from any history research at all, and shall just enjoy a bit of summer fun here in lovely (and HOT!) Virginia. I may take a few daytrips out to a few historic sites for fun (okay, so maybe the no research thing might not work out). After a break for a few days, I'll be leaping into my thesis research, which will mean considerable time spent up in Washington, D.C., digging through dusty archives. Because I'm a complete history nerd, I'm really looking forward to the archival research. It's fun to look at primary documents that only a select few people have ever before seen. Maybe I should consider a career as an archivist.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jasper's Second Birthday (June 28)

Yes, I celebrated my dog's birthday. Yes, he got presents.

Crazy? Well, let's consider why before anyone begins to judge me:

Jasper has been with me since my days in Korea. He kept me from going crazy when I lived alone. Now that I have a roommate, he keeps us both in stitches, makes us takes breaks from studying when we ought to but are inclined not to, and keeps us both company while we read. He offers me his favorite toys (and himself) whenever I don't feel well. He licks my sore, sweaty feet when I come home, exhausted, after a day full of classes or errands. He rests his head on my arm or the side of my computer when I type. He greets every visitor as though they were his long-lost best friend. He treats my coming home as if it were a holiday each time. Jasper makes me go out and enjoy the sunny weather, and keeps me active when I'd rather be lazy. He alleviates any desire for cable with his numerous antics. He dutifully serves in the roles of vacuum sweeper, court jester, psychologist, nurse, companion, personal trainer, foot warmer, masseuse, night guard, doorman, food taster, garbage disposal, and alarm clock -- and asks for nothing in return.

Yes, Jasper deserved to have his birthday celebrated. It was the least I could do.

A Brief Foray into Interior Design

The other night, I got very itchy to move furniture, and decided that the time was ripe to redo the way I had my bedroom setup (maybe I did get some of my mother's genes after all). My roommate, smelling calamity in the idea of me moving furniture alone with a broken hand, immediately leapt to my aid. After about an hour of shoving, pulling, and muttering, followed by the recollection that I own furniture sliders, and then more shoving (but with far less energy expended), my room looked like the haven I have long desired. I finished reorganizing it yesterday, gave the place a thorough (and needed) dusting and vacuuming, and now it is ready for "Show & Tell":

I am quite happy with the results. And yes, I thanked my dear roommate accordingly: I made her "Eggs Stephadict" for breakfast this morning.

I also made a change to the living room, by finally getting new lamps (on sale at Lowes, of course). I think these lamps are a huge improvement over the old ones (which are cute, but just not big enough to give sufficient light).

A Few Recent Shots of Jasper

Eye, Eye, Eye!

As you can see, my black eye has now entered into the stage scientifically known as the Supremis Uglias, or, as it is more commonly referred to, the "Ugly as Sin" stage. Apparently, my eye is at last indulging in its lifelong goal to invade and conquer the right side of my face. The picture captures some of the ugliness, but owing to the lighting, you are missing out on seeing the full impact of the green and yellow spreading throughout my visage.


Well, there goes my chance of making my fortune with my face! (Unless Hollywood is looking for someone to play a hideous monster in an upcoming feature film.) It occurred to me yesterday that if I got a black eye on the other side, dyed my hair blonde, stole some clothes from a bag-lady, and went without showering or eating for three months, I could look like an Olsen twin!
"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"