Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Since the past few months have been filled with a metric ton of whinging, bitching, moaning ,and panic attacks, here a list of things that are somewhat awesome.

  1. Netflix streaming video on the XBox 360.
  2. My friend and cohort member Maria(h) for providing a place to bitch and much fun.
  3. My group members for being diligent, responsible, and quick with the emoticons.
  4. The sweet soul who uploaded a ton of Dylan Moran to YouTube.
  5. The sweet souls who uploaded Q.I. to YouTube.
  6. My New York/East Coast friends who love from afar.
  7. The Nursing Department at UP.
  8. My family, who don't care that I can't do much in the way of Christmas presents.
  9. A washer and dryer in the apartment.
  10. A fridge full of food.
  11. Steady rent money and benefits.
  12. Charles Dickens.
  13. Jane Gardam.
  14. Stephen Fry.
  15. Junot Diaz.
  16. Explosions/ridiculous races on Top Gear.
  17. A husband who loves unconditionally, laughs easily, and who can brew a proper pot of tea.
  18. Parry two ripostes.
  19. Vladimir Horowitz.
  20. Coffee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From Student to Scholar

An idea that's been bouncing around in my head is a change in my self-image from student to scholar. The difference between the two is slight in theory and gigantic in application. I've always considered myself a student of Victorian Studies. Even when I was doing original archival work in the BL or Senate House, reading up on forgotten scientific romances, I never thought of myself as a scholar. Scholar always felt too professional a term for my work - I was reacting to assignments and small personal curiosities. The main intention of my research and essays was never really to add to the body of work on a subject, but rather to get a good grade while writing on something that at least somewhat caught my interest.

I began my work at the iSchool as a student, admittedly a student who was somewhat nervous and apprehensive about the focus on theory and the workload. My intention was to get a degree often termed by some associates as "The Library Union Card". I would develop a skill set, turn in a portfolio, and get cracking on professional job applications.

A series of exchanges with the Dean of the school of nursing where I work altered this perspective. In her emails and during an unexpected and delightfully rich phone call, she referred to us as "fellow scholars". My IRB application (still in process, cross your fingers) asked for me to demonstrate how my efforts for my information behavior class would add to a greater body of work or understanding of the world. And for once, I had an answer. True this project isn't one that I would have necessarily chosen for myself, but I find myself inexplicably drawn to the subject. Perhaps I'm simply too in love with Gregory Bateson, with "the pattern that connects". I love jumping from text to to interview and back, to creating what is a holistic vision of the world (or at least a very tiny slice of the world for a very tiny portion of the population). There's an excitement for my work (and indeed, it's work now) that I've not felt in a long time. There's a sense of meaning with this project, that I might actually impact that world some way.

I'm not sure why I feel the world will benefit more from an understanding of the information behavior of nurses as supposed to an examination of nineteenth century critics vision of women poets or the time shared by Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Art and literature and their criticism surely have an important place in our society and I wouldn't denegrate that for all the world. It's just that I used to believe that my goal in life would be to write a seminal text on something that a student, lost in the middle of a term paper, would happen upon and shout with joy at finding a critical quotation to link together her paper. Or maybe just another good article to add to the bibliography. One of the two. Either way, I would prove to be of use to someone. Maybe the clear definitions of my users or user groups allow me to look out and see the benefits immediately. Of course, this doesn't answer why I have the need to be useful, to help or be recognized for that help, but there it is.

I'm at the beginnings of my individual paper for this course and I'm having to cut myself off from reading. There are too many interesting paths to follow. But most importantly, or excitingly, I'm starting to see the holistic nature of the field. I majored in Victorian Studies because I loved the moments in my liberal arts career when it seemed that all my courses were collapsing in on each other, that the same themes and issues and ideas made up the entirety of the world that I was on the verge of understanding something big, something great. I doubt that this complete understanding is anywhere within reach, but it's nice to have that feeling again. I means that I'm on to something at last.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Calm Before the Calm

Usually at this point in the semester (my mind still won't wrap itself around a quarter system), I'm hoarding sources for papers (sources that will remain unread until the last minute), trying to keep ahead on reading, and generally hiding under the covers and panicking like mad.

This time around, things are a bit different. I'm pretty much on top of work, in a few days I'll be drafting a paper a full week in advance, and it looks like the Great Final Group Project is heading towards awesome. Of course nothing goes smoothly and I'm facing a few setbacks and difficulties, but it's nothing that won't work out in time, nothing that can't be fixed. And I have absolutely no idea what to do with this surprising turn of events. Sure, I see the final days of the quarter (unhappily coinciding with the launch of the new consortia borrowing software) will probably be approaching fraught, but at the end of it is the rest of Nicholas Nickleby and the collected Rankin Bass Christmas DVDs.

There's a small part of me that's ready to panic about not panicking, but it's surprisingly silent.

Let's hope it stays that way.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Caffeine and Community

At the end of my road (a short bike ride or a leisurely walk) are the building blocks of my early days here in the Oregon: our bank, the post office, Planned Parenthood, and a fabulous 24/7 cafe with wireless. When we were visiting Oregon to see if it was for us, I spent time at the library working on term papers. On a whim during one of these trips, I looked up a book I needed to cite in the public catalog. Somehow, miraculously or by another form of divine intervention, they did indeed own the book and it was checked it. They also had the great two-volume set of Wilfred Owen poems. Clearly, I was home.

Since starting work at an academic library on the other side of town I've not really visited my public library. Everything I need is closer to hand at work - I have my preferred informal personal sources (hi IB homework!) and the ability to waive fines. Still I keep thinking I should be spending more time there since it's becoming more and more difficult to focus at home, at least when AK isn't out at classes and I can sprawl out in the living room. I know that I don't want to work in public libraries, but is that also part of my aversion to the space? Or it is more of an aversion to packing everything up and bicycling or walking in the cold and the dark to another space, one without a kettle and the laundry the needs to be folded?

Right now I'm at the aforementioned cafe (more coffee, easier to talk) waiting for the arrival of a group member who has been having a hard time and needs some help catching up. I've actually spent a fair amount of time these past few weeks with people in my program. It's not really what I expected - I think I figured that online meant I would be working alone all the time - but I'm grateful for the opportunity to vent and to get some perspective from people who are going through the same thing. This program is taxing on my time, my sleep, and my sanity. It's strange to think that we're so close to the end. In about a month I will hopefully be on a couch with a pile of novels and Christmas music blaring in the background.

What a fantastic dream.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


In a rejection of my iTunes, I've pretty much been listening to the following two videos non stop for the past four days.


Not exactly sure that that says about my musical tastes or state of mind.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Mind the Gap

Yeah, it's been awhile. The ease of LJ and the notion that I am not required to post anything of substance there has been almost too great to resist. The message boards for my program (see below) take up some of the "typing ideas in a box and hitting publish" energy. And then there are the thoughts for the paper journal. Anyway...

A summation of sorts before we begin.

I'm in grad school, am alternatively terrified and deeply in love with what I'm learning. There's more group work than I anticipated, the boards are easier to navigate than I thought (I really do need the extra time to ponder), and the balancing act of full time work and part time school seems to be working. What I didn't anticipate about this program is that I would find myself thinking about the program all the time. There isn't a minute of my day where I'm not either puzzling out some concept (metatheories, how you vex me!) or planning my attack on homework for the week. On top of this I've found myself "being there" for friends and then feeling guilty that I've lost precious studying time. I guess the balance isn't as perfect as I thought.

However, none of this compares to the blinding panic and fear that coated my first quarter at Birkbeck. There's no new city to navigate, no bank accounts to create or any of that administrative BS (though it did take several weeks to straighten out my student account, but that required phone calls more than anything else). I have the necessary resources to deal with panic this time around - familiar places and people and habits to keep me steady. But I find I'm not really reaching out to them as much as I thought I would.

The residency was hard in that I was again in the middle of a new city, trying to make friends with the 80 or so people in my cohort, and crashing on a couch two buses from campus. There were moments when I doubted that I could deal with this at all - that I was far too stupid or weak to take on grad school again. I pushed myself through it and left the residency feeling positive, feeling capable. I can't emphasize enough how different this feels from my first grad program, how calm I am and how unanxious I am about grades. My adviser (who I may have to change from in a year or so as she's in the iSchool, but not inlibraries) gave me a fantastic pep talk in week three, about learning for the sake of learning, for improving oneself and the world. It seems cheesey, but it really resonated with me. I have to do this degree so I can go on and make more money and have a proper career, but it's also because I love the work I'm doing and want to take on more. Working in libraries is what I do and what I love. I need to keep plugging away at this and hope for the best.

The other major change I've noticed is my ability to just keep doing. I used to be paralyzed by fear in London. I would curl up under the duvet with a novel checked out from Senate House and just ignore. Today there's a new coping mechanism - the doing things in tiny bits and tricking yourself into thinking you're not doing work until the assignment is done. Case in point - looking at web design assignment turns into just preparing for it turns into completing it. Worrying over an assignment turns into looking at the criteria and then an email to the reference librarian for an appointment. This is how I wound up getting my application for grad school done with plenty of time - "I'm just going to sit here and draft and not finish anything brain, so no need to put the perfectionism into gear!" Let's hope I can keep tricking my brain for the next three years.

That's essentially life - posting and reading and staving off anxiety. I've been reading, but mostly re-reading old favorites (I picked up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the first time in three years) and papers on information behavior. Exciting times.