Woo! Just finished my first interview for my dissertation research — and it went swimmingly, I think! Feeling much relief here, as well as some amusement at myself for needlessly stressing so much. Hopefully my participant enjoyed herself as well! Now, a couple of notes for future interviews:

  • zoom.us works great! Very clear directions, very easy to connect to for everyone, very simple controls, and it saves beautifully — in both video and audio format, which will make it far easier for me to do a text transcript. I'm sold! I'll be sticking with zoom instead of skype from now on. Thanks, Sam, for the invaluable recommendation!
  • Note to myself: before the interview starts, turn on a light in the room! I didn't realize it was getting dark because I was so focused on my participant… so when I finally looked at my side of the screen again, I realized I was almost completely darked out — almost menacing looking! Totally not the perception I want to give… ;)
  • I should let my participant's words lead the discussion more, I think, rather than worrying so much about the questions. When my participant was most animated and, I think, most enjoying herself was when I let her just tell things in the way and the order she wanted.
  • Sounds silly but of critical importance: use the restroom before the interview starts! Very embarrassing… ;-p
  • Another note to myself: have fun! This doesn't mean I can't be serious or focused as well, of course, but I think when I was enjoying myself was when my participant was having the most fun as well. I'm so very grateful to both her and the lovely person who connected us! Though I can't mention any names for the sake of confidentiality, you know who you are — and you're amazingly good folks!

That's it! The first of, I hope, many fascinating interviews with many wonderful women. To infinity… and beyond! :-D

I'm starting to become somewhat unhappy with a current trend I'm seeing on-line: increasingly indignant or strident calls for women to "step up" and start more enthusiastically participating in STEM (or the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)… purportedly so as to give women more of a voice in society, so as to change it for the better. I have a number of issues with this assertion:

  1. It presents lack of women in STEM as a woman's problem — they need to get off their dead butts and get with it!
  2. It assumes the arts are pretty much valueless to the true running of society; and…
  3. It presents men's desires/fields/whatever as the goal and source of power, which does nothing to alleviate society's misogyny — which means that will doubtless carry over into the STEM jobs just as it has in every other previously male-dominated field.

At some point I may write more about #3, but right now I'm just going to give a perspective on issues #1 (since I personally lived what I'll be relating below) & 2… because I've felt great sympathy and admiration for Ada Lovelace since I first heard about her.

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I've had some fascinating discussions recently with a few friends about things like privilege and trigger warnings and such. I'm writing my thoughts down because not only was it really interesting seeing someone else's perspective on this, but I also want to be sure I've thought this through as best I can… and writing stuff like this down helps me organize my thoughts.

When I stop and think about it, trigger warnings make a lot of sense to me. If something I'm writing or lecturing on could cause a terrible physical and/or emotional reaction in someone else, I'd much rather not do that to them. It seems only basic courtesy to me, like not randomly kicking or spitting on someone else, you know? Yet on-line I've noticed a great many Very Serious Missives by Very Grave Men about how an insistence on trigger warnings is the first step in a slippery slope leading to denial of everyone's basic human right to free speech.

I don't see this, actually. In fact, what I think things like this boil down to — and this is just my musing aloud here — is a conflict of conscience between feeling uncomfortable and guilty… and lashing out at whatever it was that made the person feel that way. In the US, however, it doesn't seem to be acceptable to simply say, "Dude, you're making me feel really bad about this. Can we pause a moment while I process these feelings?" In fact, it doesn't seem to be acceptable to even admit that one has such feelings. From what I can tell, it seems to emotionally translate approximately as "guilty feeling = (possibly non-conscious) admission of culpability," and so the guilty-feeling person quickly lashes out in anger, in an effort to deny both the guilt/bad feelings and the self-perceived culpability. Anger as an emotion does seem to pretty much obliterate most others, after all.

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Up to this point in my life, when I wrote papers for school I could usually hold the whole thing in my head as a sort of conceptual template. I'd write that down, then look up actual quotes I had in mind from specific books, so as to prove my points. This works fine for me as long as my papers — or individual chapters — were no more than, say, 25 to 30 pages. I started to struggle a little with holding the entire framework in my head while writing when I had to do my thesis, and later my comps exams. However,  most of the "standard" chapters — the Introduction, Acknowledgements, Preface, etc. — were written individually for various classes ahead of time. Also the largest chapter in the thesis was not quite 40 pages, and had a very clear-cut point throughout… so despite being almost 70 pages total, I could still manage to hold the entire conceptual thing in my head while writing.

For the comps it was even easier, though oddly enough I've been told by other students (in both Women's Spirituality and in a variety of other fields) that comprehensives were incredibly difficult and wrenching to write. They have all my sympathies! For myself, the comps were only one per semester, and the conceptual points I was supposed to be making felt pretty straightforward to me. Both profs really liked my work too, so I guess I did fine there. :)

Now I'm working on my dissertation, though… and it's supposed to be something like five rather closely related chapters. In those I have to interview some folks, explain and develop several related concepts that must be established first, and try to stay under 200 pages. Eep! Oh, plus I suspect my three-member diss committee's going to be quite a bit more stringent than my thesis committee of two. :)

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Most of the time in my life I don't have to deal directly with the social effects of living in a culture based on a scarcity mindset. During the presidential elections, though, it's a constant, in-your-face irritation: sort of a "if you're not for me & mine then you're the enemy & must die!" attitude. I do have friends I care about deeply, whose opinions differ from mine on important topics. Most of the time we can discuss these issues thoughtfully, calmly hear where we believe different things, change our minds if we feel so inclined, and if not, courteously agree to disagree.

There are certain topics, though, which seem to be really knee-jerk reactions for many people. Politics is one… just off the top of my head, patriarchal male privilege seems to be another. The heated defenses I sometimes hear for such subjects is so virulent, so furiously denying any validity to any position but their own, that I can only believe they've woven those beliefs into part of their personal mindset. It almost appears that if you disagree with them on those issues then apparently they feel you're also saying they themselves are bad people… I think? I admit I'm not entirely sure how this works. Sadly, because we have this scarcity mindset there also seems to be a linked attitude that if you are to promote your belief or candidate… you must therefore trash the other side's beliefs or candidates. This can cause some really ugly situations. Trump's disgusting promotion of ignorance, bigotry, racism, sexism, and violence is just the most visible result of this unfortunate meme.

I find this meme enormously frustrating for the simple reason that, as far as I can tell, this path leads to nothing more than anger, unproductive shouting matches, and broken friendships. I would far rather you tell me why your belief/candidate is good, than why mine is supposedly stupid and irrational, you know? I can then take that data, do a bit of research on it if I so wish, and integrate it into my worldview. I may not change my mind, but you have actually enriched my understanding by sharing so with me.

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Things that make me smile

26 Feb 2016 In: House stuff, Random, Wonderful pets!

I'm currently struggling with stress headaches caused by my accidentally pinching a nerve in my neck or head — which, according to my doctor, are alleviated daily by taking Advil, and will go away on their own in about three weeks. The headaches (sans the painkiller) are bad enough that they wake me in the middle of the night, so I'm being religious about the Advil, and working hard to surround myself with things that make me happy, as I really don't like being either a downer or unpleasant to the people around me. To that end, here are a few things that make me really happy:

Flowers! As a teen I lived in Texas with my family on a 7+ acre plot of land, which bloomed each year with daffodils, apple trees, a plum tree, one of the last virgin groves of pecans in the state, myriad colors of iris, an easter lily, a rose bush, one red tulip, and more that I'm probably forgetting. Flowers make me ridiculously happy, and I'm always delighted to see them blooming now as I walk Goldie. Here are a few from our walk: bird of paradise flowers

bird of paradise flower

bird of paradise flower

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I'm reading my email & letting my brain wander idly in a train-of-consciousness writing… and it occurs to me that the question one of my correspondents asks is a good one:

Why do I want to be good?

That is, actually, easy to answer for me: I want to be good because being good makes me feel good. Plus I get the added bennie of helping to make the world a little bit better every time I'm good — and that makes me feel good too. Pleasure feedback loop for the win. ;)

I know there've been studies that show this, curiously enough: given the option of doing something nice for ourselves or doing something nice for others, those who chose to do something nice for others had a slower endorphin rush — but it lasted much longer. Up to three months later, when the researchers asked the study participants what they chose to do, those who did something nice just for themselves had difficulty remembering what it was, and were somewhat indifferent to it in retrospect. Those who did something good for others, however, remembered it quickly and easily, and had a repeat of the endorphin glow they'd initially felt! That sounds like a win to me, as well as good proof that we really are a social species — we're even chemically hardwired to feel better when we help each other!

I'm sitting on the Bridge (what we call our computer room) and admiring the sky outside as I type. There's a big old pine right outside the second-story window, its branches wet and black from the rain, and its needles a mix of bright green and the tan-brown of fallen dead needles. The sky behind it is cloudy slate gray from the rainclouds, but every once in a while the sun peeks through and gilds the old pine, brightening its colors and warming the view. It's a lovely mix of visual/emotional reaction, because while the grays are duller visually, they mean rain — which we desperately need here in drought-stricken California… and I love the sound of falling rain pattering lightly on the skylights as I sit warm and safe and dry in our new (as of about a year now, wow!) house. But the sun's return is a joy as well — we're past the Solstice by a few days now, and each day there's about three and a half more minutes of sunlight as this great, wonderful, ancient Gaia continues on her whirling dance through space. I am so very lucky to live here and now.

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It's three days after Solstice and Christmas Eve and well after Hannukah… and I have a ton of things to be thankful for. First and foremost for me: I have officially advanced to candidacy!

Halleluia! :)

Halleluia! :)

In case I didn't make it clear just how unutterably happy & relieved that makes me:


…yeah, THAT excited. :)

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(Author's note: according to the website, Dickens Fair is "A Victorian Christmas Card Come to Life!" Located just south of San Francisco, Dickens Fair runs for approximately each weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. It's a truly wonderful and Christmassy recreation of Dickens' London, which I greatly enjoy visiting on a yearly basis. Personal favorites are waltzing at Fezziwig's, the delightful shows and shops, the delicious scent of the candied almonds… oh, and Charles Dickens giving wonderful readings from his beloved book A Christmas Carol!

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair!

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair!

Thus this blog entry: an attempt to communicate how wonderful Dickens Fair is, but perhaps in a more Victorian-era style of writing. The Fair is a fantastic way to start your Christmas season — check it out, and let me know what you thought of it in the comments!)

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Just got the news: after a month more deliberation than required by my actual dissertation committee, the HRRC Committee (that is the committee that determines if my research will be ethical towards those whom I will be researching) has finally belatedly given their approval to my dissertation proposal! This means after nearly a year and a half of my writing, researching, engaging in random required effort, more writing, angsting and panicking, even more writing, leaping through flaming hoops of paperwork, and yet more writing… I am now officially ABD (All But Dissertation) — and allowed to actually start work on my dissertation!!

Hallelujah!

Halle-freakin'-lujah!

Break out the confetti — it's a miracle! :-D

Bestiaries depict mythical, moralizing animals, but are also potential allegorical sparks that can bloom into brilliant mental bonfires. My bestiary is this mythologizing animal's fascinated exploration of beauty & meaning in the wonder of existence -- in the hopes of inspiring yet more joyous flares of intellectual passion.

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