Monday, February 18, 2008

Please Stand By

Hello readers! So lately I've been sucking at blogging and while I've been meaning to write a quick note to update you all, it hardly seems worth it as the update would consist of: writing writing writing. And more writing. Writing a Ph.D. dissertation pretty much sucks as bad as people say it does. Right now I am just trying to get my rough draft done. I've been handing chapters in to Dr. Hari as I finish them and it seems corrections should be relatively minimal, so once the additional iterations begin I should have some more time to pay to you. I miss you, friends. Not only do I feel spatially isolated (sitting at my dining room table ALL DAY) but feel mentally isolated as well. However I notice that every time I go on the internets, hours of my precious time seem to be sucked into a black hole which I can never recover. So I've been limiting blog visits and posting until I get over the hump that is four more chapters. Hang in there with me, gang and hopefully things will get way more interesting soon enough.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Finally, A Happy Post

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post about a white kitty that had been abandoned in my apartment complex. Her family moved away and left her outside to scavenge for her own food. Where one day this kitty had a home and guaranteed meals, the next day the door was cruelly shut on her. Unfortunately for me (and fortunately for my kitties) she didn't like other cats or else she would be living her with me now, that's how sweet, gentle and beautiful she was.

To refresh your memory, I had fed this kitty for a few days until a foster situation and eventually a home could be found for this kitty. With management's permission I fed her outside her old apartment so that she wouldn't have to stray too far for food while management was dealing with the legal ramifications of a bunch of assholes breaking a lease, leaving an apartment full of their crap and of course abandoning their pet. For a couple days, I would just leave food and later see that it had been eaten. After a couple days, she poked her head around a corner, and starved for attention rubbed up on me. I was sad to see her beautiful white fur full of dirt, grime and crust which I thought was scabies at the time, but turned out to be her poor sunburned skin. The next day I took a photo:

When Heather first decided to foster her, she had to have a room to herself becuase she hated other kitties. It is very difficult in cat circles to find foster homes and even permanent homes for cats who don't like other cats. People without cats who want them usually don't know to go to rescue organizations or else they want a perfect little pet store kitten. So Heather kept "the white kitty" for a couple months and named her Madonna. Initially there were a couple of people who wanted to adopt her, but nothing panned out.

Six months ago, Madonna was adopted by a single mom with a preteen daughter. Heather had a bad feeling about the situation from the start, but disregarded her gut feeling so badly did she want this to work out. The woman turned out to be irresponsible and let Madonna out onto her second story open balcony. Heather later got a call that Madonna had jumped off the balcony and was missing. After Madonna was found, the woman was frazzled about the incident and rather than promising to do better with Madonna, asked to give her back to Heather and start over with a kitten. Heather took Madonna back, but didn't give the woman a kitten.

So for awhile longer Madonna lived excluded from other kitties in a foster home in the garage of a retired couple. Until two weeks ago.

My dad, stepmom and sister were the perfect family for Madonna. Both my dad and stepmom were experienced cat owners who happened to be cat-less at this time in their lives. They heard Madonna's story, fell in love with her picture and had to have her. My stepmom felt a special connection with this vagabond kitty and after traveling halfway across the globe to adopt my sister from China, she had absolutely no qualms about hauling a cat home from Florida. So two weekends ago when the whole family came down to visit, they left with Madonna, who has since been renamed "Sauvie".

She couldn't be happier and neither could dad, stepmom, sis, or me. I truly love this kitty and couldn't imagine this turning out any better. And you thought I was all gloom and doom.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


My friend and fellow blogger brainhell passed away this week after a long and courageous battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He is now free from the confines of his withered body and his soul can be at peace.

I first met BH about two and half years ago, after his diagnosis but while he still owned his life. I found him extremely clever and smart. He took it upon himself to read medical journals and be his own advocate for the health care he received. I loved his blog because you never knew what you were going to find there, but it was always captivating. Shortly after he quit his job to stay home and enjoy his family, he had so much time and energy to be mischievous. I recall one post where he described getting junk mail, cutting up music CDs he didn't want and shoving them in the return envelopes of the junk mail and sending them back. He had a fantastic sense of humor about himself and was a terrible flirt with the ladies. We often called his place BH's harem. Once he posted a picture of his torso to make a point about losing muscle mass and covered his nipples with hot pink stars. I think one of the women was still giving him a hard time about that pretty recently. I always felt flattered that he was so bright but would often email me with scientific questions. He even asked me for some of my journal articles and a copy of my master's thesis. He then admitted he didn't get very far and I didn't blame him.

One of the things I will always be grateful for is that he helped plant the idea for doing TNR on my feral kitties. I needed the extra push from local animal groups, but he followed their story and strongly advocated spaying and neutering programs. Towards the end when he had stopped visiting other people's blogs and just read his own, I sometimes updated him on the kitties, and told him they all had him to thank for their health and new quality of life.

When I started reading BH, he had a small community of blogger friends much like me: smart, nerdy, liberal, silly. Then as his illness progressed, his blog understandably became more and more about ALS. He then steadily amassed a huge following of ALS suffers and caregivers as well as health care professionals and everyday people filled with compassion who stumbled upon his story and returned day after day. I always felt bad, but I started to back off after that. Rather than commenting everyday, I commented less because rather than speaking to a small group of people who's names and opinions I was familiar with I was suddenly a drop in a bigger bucket and I felt too intimidated to speak. Once, Kurt Schilling even stopped by to say keep fighting the good fight. Brainy thought it was me who told Kurt about his blog but it wasn't. It was another one of the core readers who was with brainy early on. But brainy, I never stopped reading and I think you knew that. Once in awhile I would comment simply to say thinking of you. Hoping you are comfortable.

There were a lot of people on BH's blog this week. He left his farewell post a week ago (it has received 189 comments so far) and after that his friend in real life started his own blog to keep BH's readers updated. His family updated BH's blog on Saturday tell us BH had passed. They also posted a picture of BH's face for the very first time and he is as handsome as I had always pictured him in my mind. Since then there have been a slew of people linking their own tributes to BH and what his blog meant to them. I'm too embarrassed to do that. But what his blog meant to me was that it is possible to look death in the face with strength and courage . He never once changed his convictions, his personality or his sense of humor. And he was honest about his fears, his regrets, his physical condition, his moods and discomfort. I deeply admire this honesty and he left as a legacy a heartbreaking but very real account of what it is like to die of ALS. Despite the tremendous sadness this brings, I think it will be invaluable to the ALS community. He also touched so very many lives and the hole he left in the blogosphere can already be felt.

Brainy, now that you are gone, I have a confession to make. You made the assumption once that because I am smart I am good at chess. I am not. You challenged your blog friends once to play chess against you online and singled me out as someone you would like to play. I never told you that I didn't play with you because I knew you'd kick my ass.

It's been fun being your blog friend, BH. I'll never ever forget you.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Yes We Can

minnesotablue sent me this video via email. Whether you a fan of the O-Man or not, the inspirational message is infectious.

Pass it along.

Friday, February 01, 2008

It's Really Happening

I'm really moving towards the finish line. Despite Dr. Hari's please for me to stick around one more semester (he has several new students who need training on various equipment), he's letting me graduate. Yesterday I submitted my sample dissertation pages to the graduate college for a format check. I had the lovely privilege of giving them $150 to measure my margins for me and promise to put my dissertation on microfilm. (What's that?) It's non refundable so if I don't finish this semester, I have to pay it again next semester. That's incentive enough for me put my nose to the grindstone.

Today I submitted an application packet for a National Research Council postdoctoral fellowship. If I get it, I would go to work in a national lab in Washington, DC. The guy who I would work for has been in contact with me daily helping me with my application and 15-page research proposal. He's an incredibly brilliant, nice guy who has been so helpful. I would love to work for him, but he doesn't get to decide. The research council does. I think I have a shot at getting it. The fellowships are pretty competitive. My undergraduate transcripts are nothing to write home about, but I pulled myself together in grad school, my proposal is strong and I chose impressive people for my references. Hopefully they all said nice things about me!

Of course I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket and am applying for several more jobs. None of the application processes are as involved as the NRC fellowship though, thank goodness or I'd be screwed.

Also due today was my application for degree. I had to decide whether or not to walk in the commencement ceremony and get "hooded" by my professor. This was a tough one but I decided against it. I didn't tell Dr. Hari but he didn't ask. The gown you wear for your Ph.D. commencement ceremony costs $400 to own and $200 to rent. Since I'm not going into academia, there is no need for me to own one. It's not that we don't have the money, I just feel weird about spending it on something I'll rent for one day. Maybe if my parents were going to be there I'd do it for them, but my mom is coming for my defense (more important) and my dad was just here. Lastly there is the distinct possibility I won't even be in Tampa for my graduation ceremony. The final copy of my dissertation is due April 11 and the ceremony isn't until early May. I have to start a new job whenever someone can take me. I just hope I don't regret this decision. Mostly I'm just angry I had to commit to an answer so soon.

But the prospect of leaving graduate school felt the most real to me yesterday in our lab meeting, where I was officially relieved of the title "Helium Girl", and passed the torch onto Moe. I know she will do a fantastic job of sweet-talking Kirby, our liquid Helium supplier, and ruling the equipment time with an iron fist. I've been Helium Girl for over two years and it is stressful but it made me feel indispensable.

So that's what I've been up to. Your blogs have been my reward for hard work - I work a few hours and then go read one or two or five. I'm sure they will be a big part of what gets me through to the other side.