Weekly Shocks' Blog


Bits of Fluff in Revision Period: Limbering Up The Old Appendages

Man, where has the time gone? It seems like only hours have passed since I handed in my dissertation, then staggered back to my bedroom to spend some quality time examining the inside of my eyelids. But it’s actually been two weeks and now I have to do the whole ‘maddened-with-primal-terror’ thing again in preparation for my final (yay!) exam on Monday. I’ve actually managed to trick my progressively stupider brain into doing some revision over the past couple of days before he wised up and shut down to go off drinking, so I may actually be in decent shape for this weekend’s last mad dash of cramming. But a big part of exam preparation also includes coaxing my hands back into the nineteenth century in anticipation of three solid hours of hand-writing. I can’t type worth a tin shit, but at least what comes out of my sorry technological efforts is legible, which is a helluva lot more than what I can say about my penmanship, especially after I hit the two hour panic mark in Oxford exams. Give me a laptop, and I can manage. Give me a pen, and I might as well be scrawling Arabic on a scrap of toilet paper using chicken shit as ink.  And furthermore, because I don’t hand-write very often anymore, it really, really hurts when I’m forced to do so in exams. My hands are weak and pathetic atrophied messes and I may as well saw them off and replace them with hooks.

I don’t, of course, because I’m not a caricature pirate or a total freaking lunatic, but also because I like my hands. I like one hand more than the other, sure, but that’s to be expected: it does more of the work and is more likely to sustain injury because I am a complete klutz and incapable of dressing myself in the morning without an ambulance and emergency room on standby should something go horribly wrong. And it often does. I’ve done some serious damage to my hands over the years. Both of my index fingers have either been broken or badly sprained. I honestly can’t tell you which, because I never really figured it out myself. All I know is that at some point I did something unbelievably stupid (don’t know what), and they were very upset with me, and so they have healed themselves into horrific, crooked zigzags and I’m now incapable of laying either of them flat on any surface. ‘Sokay: I deserved it. I broke the middle finger of my right hand (don’t know how) and the tip has an absurdly squashed and lumpy look, as if the bones in it have been replaced with mashed potatoes. The bones in the rest of my fingers have thus far escaped serious calamity (don’t know why). However, because my skin is translucent and pasty, the bizarre number of scars I have collected over the years (don’t know when) are patently visible and I look as if I once had a job serving baby lions finger foods. My circulation is terrible: as a result my hands are always cold and, inexplicably, clammy. I bite my nails. Occasionally one of my sisters will observe that my cuticles are a mess. I’m still not entirely sure what a cuticle is and if I can or should do something about this. So, to sum up: my hands are weak, crooked, pallid, scarred, frigid, sweaty, cracked, and occasionally bleeding.

My hands are heroin addicts.

And I love ’em. I mean, they are mine, after all, not anyone else’s. (I’m coming dangerously close to quoting Jewel here, Lord save me.) And it’s not as if I can pop down to the Hand Store and pick up a new set, although in my more disloyal moments, I sort of wish I could. I definitely wish I could on Monday. I’d pick out a sweet, supersonic pair of steel-gray POWER HANDS that could legibly keep up with the pathetic drivel my brain is trying to vomit out at a million miles a second. But because the scientific community is all obsessed with curing cancer and AIDS and ending world hunger and all that other rot, no one seems to have created POWER HANDS yet. Fools. This is why I’m in the SOCIAL sciences, where all the real work gets done. Real work, like revising for exams. And figuring out how my pathetic, sweaty, wimpy hands are going to last through three hours of pressure-cooker scrawling. Oh boy. This will be fun. Wish me luck.


Bits of Fluff in Revision Period: Tim Wakefield better be on the All-Star Team or I will be very, very grumpy.

We’re approaching the midway point of the 2009 baseball season. I’ve kept my baseball posts fairly limited for a couple of reasons: I’m a fan of the sport, but I’m not a complete diehard and I worry that if I post one incorrect statistic on a player or fact about the game, some crazed lunatic (almost certainly a Yankees fan) will come after me with a wrinkled copy of  the MLB Rule Book, a tub of warm, flat Budweiser, and a swinging baseball bat, and then it’s bye bye writing career and intact skull. I also tend to ramble when talking baseball, because I miss being able to see it everyday and there’s that whole thing about absence making the heart grow into a bleeding, sopping mess of loquacious nonsense and it’s just such a beautiful sport and I adore it ever so much and for the love of GOD, will you just stop it with the baseball talk already. You’re in England, no one cares about that silly game here. OK, message received, point taken. But I do want to ask one minor, rhetorical question:

How freaking awesome has Tim Wakefield been this season?

Yeah, I know, his ERA isn’t top notch. I said rhetorical, damn it. Shut up. Look at the positive. Nine wins on the season: that’s tied for second best in baseball right now. Two complete games already. He’s leading the Sox (who are doing just fine, thank you, two games up in the AL East with a tidy little .609 winning percentage) in wins and just a touch behind their ace Josh Beckett in ERA and innings pitched. He’s getting the job done and well done, too. Oh yeah, and he’s 42 years old. Booyah.

It’s still a long shot, but because of his high win numbers and strong performance, there have been whispers from some and bellowing shouts from others (mostly Sox fan-lunatics, God bless ’em all) about getting Tim on  the All-Star roster this year. I make it no secret that Tim’s my favorite player and in my devoted irrationality, I think he should be on the All-Star roster every year. But this time, it’s different. Tim, is after all, 42. And, sure, he can probably play at his level for another four or five years, assuming the Injury Demons leave him the hell alone. But you know there’s only a limited amount of time left before Wake has to put aside his nasty little knuckleball and ride off into the Florida sunset.  Before he does that, though, doesn’t he deserve a spot in this fun and mostly meaningless midsummer game with the big, disgustingly overpaid superstars? Especially this season when he’s been so solidly, unassumingly good? I say hell yes.

Also –  and I know this counts for squat when deciding All Star Game rosters –  the man is, from everything I’ve heard and seen, one of the nicest guys in baseball. No temper tantrums. No eye rolls. No brooding moodiness, no smashing up locker rooms and hotels after a difficult game. No throwing his teammates under a bus in press conferences. He’s willingly done some time out of the bullpen in the past when his knuckleball has been shaky, and he’s such a team-oriented, easy-going kind of guy, you sometimes get the feeling he cleans up the locker rooms and scrubs the toilets at night when the rest of the team has gone home. He doesn’t beat his wife or go out partying with Madonna. You’re never going to see his mugshot plastered all over the morning papers after a raucous night out during which he wraps a borrowed BMW around a tree and strolls away uninjured before spitting in a cop’s face and getting carted off to the drunk tank. That’s just not who Tim is. He has a family and he golfs in his free time. He donates absurd amounts of both his time and money to charities, mostly involving kids. He’s been nominated about eight hundred times for the Roberto Clemente award, which he has never won, because he’s Tim. He’s your classic nice guy: he does his job, does it well and with little fanfare, but because life is occasionally a bitch, he’s passed over for everything.

Well, damn it, not this year. I want Tim in the All-Star Game. When asked if he was hopeful and excited about the possibility of being on the Team for the first time in his long career,  he gave his signature nonchalant, hardworking, ‘the-team’s-the-most-important-thing,’ nice guy answer: “Yeah, that would be pretty cool…Hopefully I’m at least considered for a spot, and if I make it, great. If not, I’ll finish up the second half.” No biggie, right? Bullshit. Heck, Timmy, if you’re not gonna lobby for own your well-deserved inclusion on the All-Star Team, I’ll do it for you. I’m drawing up the bumper stickers and the campaign buttons now. I’m organizing the parades. I’m bitch-slapping all the killjoy know-nothings who inquire, with baffled stupidity, ‘Who’s Tim Wakefield?’ To hell with ’em.  TIM WAKEFIELD FOR ALL-STAR. Oh yes. It’s the right thing to do.


Bits of Fluff in Revision Period: Guilt Trip, Successfully Vanquished!

The alert and hyper-observant (or at least the sober) readers of this blog are probably very familiar with a certain oft-repeated admission of mine: I am a multi-slacking, lazy, procrastinating hack. Sad, but true. This used to bother me quite a lot, but the older I get, the more accepting of my failings I become, mostly because I can’t be bothered to come up with half-decent excuses anymore. Isn’t that awesome? I’m too lazy to explain my own laziness. I should have been a hippie stoner, man. What the hell am I doing in grad school?

Oh well: my baffling life choices aside. Today, while pretending to be at least somewhat cultured and socially aware, I skimmed through The New York Times and came across this article. Oh shit, son, here comes the guilt trip and, boy, is he ever ready to whoop some ass. Even though I’ve become less ashamed of my own smothering indolence lately, I can still muster up enough self-respect to blush when I see stuff like this which reminds me that everyone in academia – everyone! – works harder than I do. These kids are simply revising for their university entrance exams and already they’ve put more time and effort into their studies than I’ve done throughout the entirety of my post secondary-school career. The first kid they interviewed apparently spends 14-16 hours A DAY studying. Holy cow. I don’t spend that much time on anything in a single day unless there is a guarantee of a nap, tasty snacks, and a hefty bundle of cash at the end of it. So, in summation: I don’t spend that much time on anything. Ever. Never have,  never, ever will, God willing.

As I’m reading this article, I’m all set to ride the guilt trip of my own comparative laziness through to its natural, soul-shattering, ass-kicking conclusion and return to my own revision (which is going just swimmingly, by the way: I’ve done absolutely nothing all week), but then I came across this, and all is right again in the World of Lazy Bums:

“In Sichuan Province in southwestern China, students studied in a hospital, hooked up to oxygen containers, in hopes of improving their concentration.”

Dear sweet Mother of Jesus and holy dog crap on a dipstick. That just transcends all your typical levels of hyperactive over-achievement bullshittery and heads straight into the Land of the Blubbering  Batshit Insane.  It gives me a raging case of the heebie-jeebies just thinking of it. Can you imagine the scene? Dozens of trembling, sweating, nauseated kiddies taking hits off an oxygen tank, pouring over books and pages and pages of scrawled, desperate notes, and their parents are probably standing only inches away, ready to smack them with rulers should their attention flag for just a second. And what the hell kind of hospital ward are these kids sitting in, anyway? Are there test prep ICUs in China? If so, I bet they’re right next to the morgue so the kids never forget what awaits them should they fail to get into university. Seriously. It baffles the addled and sluggish brain.

Well, that does it. Clearly these kids are working too damn hard not only for themselves but for me as well. Someone has to compensate, and the task has fallen on me. I shall take it up admirably. I will start with a long, drowsy nap. I will then read a trashy novel that has nothing to do with my exam. I will play video games for at least an hour. I will stare off into space for a good 45 minutes, thinking about nothing in particular. I will refuse to get out of my pajamas all day. I will not be hooked up to oxygen for any of this. I know. This is madness. This is almost suicidal. I’ve taken on a very difficult task and may very well cause myself serious bodily harm in completing it, but it must be done. For me and all those poor, oxygen-drunk kids in China. I’ve got your back, my friends. You just keep on studying for both of us, ok? My exam’s next Monday. And no, you can’t bring in the oxygen tank with you. Sorry.


Bits of Fluff in Revision Period: Brilliant Oxford Graffiti

Scrawled in black on the back of a bathroom stall in one of Oxford’s many, many pubs: “Look up. An important message awaits!”

Scrawled in black on the ceiling : “Ha Ha! Dumbass!”

I will miss this place.


Bits of Fluff in Revision Period: Pointless Queries Guaranteed NOT To Be On My Exam

Let’s kick it, shall we? Yes. Put your safety gear on.

1) Anyone check out Garfield lately? No? *sigh* Slackers. Do I have to do everything around here? Fine. Let me provide a visual for you lazy bums:

Garfield June 8

Notice anything weird? Yeah! What’s up with the color scheme, Mr Davis? I’m happy he’s mixing things up a bit, but I’m not sure I’m liking this whole Garfield-on-an-acid-trip feel. It reminds me of the Pink Elephants scene in Dumbo, which is still one of the most terrifying montages in all film history, I think. Have you been re-watching Dumbo, Mr Davis?  I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Still, good work, as always. Carry on.

2) Do you think Pluto has gotten over the whole planet-demotion thing yet? Or do you think he’s just out there in the cold, dark, vacuum, slowly circling the distant Sun, and he could really use a hug right now? Do you think  he cries himself to sleep at night, his self-esteem in tatters? More importantly, do you think I should stop attributing deeply depressing and mildly disturbing human emotions to erstwhile planets? Me too.

3) How come the cord to my headphones is literally three feet long? It’s a nice feature in theory, I suppose, but it’s actually a giant pain-in-the-ass. The cord is constantly tangled and gets caught on everything. And I can never think of a scenario that would really require such a long cord anyway. I suppose it’s nice that I could conceivably listen to my iPod when it’s all the way across the room, but it never actually is. Who designed this? Why? And who’s it for, anyway? Giants? Am baffled and mildly annoyed.

4) Who was the first person who looked at a lobster and thought it would make a tasty delicacy you could dip in butter and charge fools an arm, leg, and spleen for the privilege of eating? That took some serious ingenuity and prescience and a level of insanity that borders on genius, man. Big ups to you, dude (or dudette, if that happens to be your preference). I want to shake your hand.

5) Why do I keep saying “big ups” so much lately? Where the hell did that come from? Must stop. It’s weird and annoying.

6) Did you know that the guy who created Pet Rocks is now a millionaire? Seriously. Apparently the things were only sold for about six months during 1975, too, and they cost an unbelievable $3.95. For a freaking rock. I wasn’t around in 1975, so I have to ask: what the hell were you people thinking? Weirdos.

7) Did you know that there have been over seventy million Tamagotchis sold since their debut in 1996? Seriously. Did you have a Tamagotchi back in its heyday? Or a Pet Rock for that matter? Do you feel a little ashamed of yourself because of that? You should.

8 ) How come every musician in the world has written a song using the same chord progression as Pachelbel’s Canon? Don’t believe me? Check this out:

It’s a beautiful piece of music, sure, and its accessibility is obvious. But aren’t song-writers just a little embarrassed by their unoriginality? Or is it unintentional? Or are they too busy cashing their multi-billion dollar checks to much care either way? Do I sound bitter? OK.

9) How come every humorist in the world has created a list of ten quasi-amusing random thoughts and thinks everyone will be ever-so-excited to read them? And how come these lists all make some sort of self-referential, self-deprecating slam against the author, as if anyone really believes that she is that modestly unaware of her own extraordinarily limited talents? Don’t you hate it when humorists do that and don’t you really think they should just get on with it already? Damn straight.

10) Did I really just do that? Lame. Moving on.


Bits of Fluff in Revision Period: Subfusc

During my glorious post-dissertation celebrations (coma-like sleep, long, lazy strolls throughout the city, scratching my belly button, etc.), a few well-meaning friends and family members emailed me asking how it feels to be done with Master’s Degree Numero Dos. It was very sweet of them to do so, but the reality is, I’m not finished yet. I’ve still got an exam left, which is worth a hefty twenty percent of my overall degree. I think this is Oxford’s way of kicking all of us in our teeth after we’ve slopped through ten months of a giant piece of written brilliance (or, in my case, crap) and done so successfully and without going completely mental. “Ahahahaha! Not so fast, my pretty little things,” Oxford shrieks, “Time to don your fancy dress and spit out everything you’ve learned in your option papers (Remember those?! HAHAHAHA!) in three hours or less! And make sure you do so in comprehensive, elegant essay form as well!”

Cheeky git.

I actually don’t mind exams. They’re a quick punch in the gut, then you’re done. Kind of like tearing the Band-Aid off in one, merciless, bloody swoop. However, because we’re in Oxford, the Freak Show Capital of the World, we actually have to wear special clothes to take exams. They call it ‘subfusc.’ My mom calls it ‘the penguin suit.’ It consists of black trousers (or a skirt if you’re so inclined), a white dress shirt, a black jacket, a white bow tie for the gents, and a black ribbon for the ladies, black socks and shoes, and the Harry Potter gown and mortar board. It looks really, really stupid. Actually, that’s not entirely true: on men, it looks distinguished and handsome and elegant. Men look pretty damn hot in subfusc, let me tell you. If you’re not lucky enough to be a man, however, it looks really, really, really stupid. I’ve yet to see a girl, no matter how otherwise lovely, pull off subfusc without looking like a puritanical schoolmarm with a red-hot poker shoved so far up her bottom it’s now making conversation with her uvula. I would call this unfair and sexist and indicative of the horrific gender divide that still persists in elite universities, but because I have to revise for my exam, I just can’t be bothered to give a flying toss. Besides, I have to find my stupid ribbon.

Furthermore, I need to remind everyone that it’s June, and June in Oxford can occasionally mean boiling lava steaming hot, complete with no air conditioning. Not always, but it does sometimes happen that you end up taking your exams in rooms that would be more appropriately used as saunas, except there’s no sign of balding, potbellied men in towels discussing stock figures and football scores. Thankfully.  Also, you don’t have to keep your subfusc on fully throughout the exam, although this is occasionally even worse than the stupid-looking subfusc itself. Exams often become a bizarre game of striptease essay-writing as you trawl through your questions while sweating and cramping and groaning and removing as much of your clothes as you’re legally allowed, and everyone else around you is doing the exact same thing. It’s all very distracting and bothersome, especially at Oxford where you just know no one is getting any at all and this really isn’t the best time to be, well, inappropriately attired. Right? Right. Yeah. OK. Ahem.

Anyway! My exam is in two weeks. And in those two weeks, I think I’m going to devote much of my blog writing to bizarre bits of random observations that have nothing to do with my option paper.  Which is pretty much how my blog is set up already, but now I’m going to be a bit more honest and open about it. What’s that saying again? Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery? Or something? I’m not sure I have a problem or am in need of recovery, but it seems like a nice cheerful way to end an otherwise whiny post, so there you have it. Enjoy!


And SCENE.

I’ve been waiting to say this for seven months.

My dissertation is done. Finished. Complete. And hopefully good enough to pass unscathed under the hyper-critical, laser eyes of Oxford examiners, although, frankly, at this point, I don’t much care. Ding dong, the witch is dead. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Celebrate good times. Come on.

A few, brief, self-indulgent comments on the process:

Final word count: 27,654. Yes, I am crazy like a fox, and, yes, I stayed up all night manipulating this bitch up to that number. Don’t judge me.

Microsoft Word 2007 is not quite as crappy as I first thought it was. Clearly, it was designed by an insane person high on crack, but I originally thought it was designed by a barely animate doorknob. So, progress. Hooray.

My typing and spelling skills, never particularly good to begin with, become almost amusingly wretched after 4am when I am high on aspartame,  caffeine, and lack of sleep. Not only do I misspell every other word, but I often misspell the same word over and over again in exactly the same way. This suggests that I’m either stubborn or delusional, perhaps both.

When in panic-writing mode, I can produce over a thousand words an hour. I find that impressive. And the writing,while not  especially good, at least doesn’t suck eyeballs. Then again, I haven’t slept in a while, so we’ll see what I think of my writing after a few hours days of sleep.

Aw, who am I trying to kid? You couldn’t pay me all the money in the world to re-read this matted and rancid piece of horse hair. If I didn’t still have to submit it, I’d burn it, then spit in its cinders.

Still, it’s done. And I am a happy girl.

Off to print, bind, submit, and sleep. Better blog postings to come, I promise, once the sleep thing has been taken care of. Keep it real, homedawgs.


A Moment of Dissertation Panic

I tend to underwrite when it comes to academic work, because I usually can’t be bothered to bullshit more than I have to when making a point. This wasn’t a problem when I was an undergrad back in the States, and page limits were enforced rather than word counts. A little hint to any college students who read this blog and are having difficulty padding their papers to the required page-length minimum: Courier New, 12 point font. It’s your last hope and the Holy Grail. It looks (barely) professional and it’ll add about 25% more space to your papers than Times New Roman. Most professors are probably aware of  this cheap little padding trick but are probably too embittered to care. I got away with it more than I’d like to admit. It saved my ass on many, many occasions.

Sadly, I’m in grad school now, and I’m supposed to be too mature for these kinds of games. Yeah, right. Worse, though, my dissertation length is measured in words, not pages (damn those sneaky Oxford dons for screwing me out of my safety net!) , so Courier New, 12 point (God bless him) is no longer an option. Worst of all, my dissertation is supposed to be 30,000 words in length. Or so I thought.

I’ve got about 24,000 words right now. And I really, really don’t want to write anymore, partly because I’m lazy and sick of the whole damn topic, but mostly because I’m already starting to repeat myself, and when that happens, I panic. The last dissertation I had was a comparatively easy-peasy 15,000 word-er, but I freaked right the freak out the night before it was due and, literally, rewrote the entire thing in one caffeine-crazed, barking-at-the-moon sitting. I panicked because I made the colossal mistake of talking to my course mates about their work and listened to them bitch about how difficult it had been to get their dissertations completed under the word count. (15,000 is actually the worst length to write for, I think: it’s just enough space to say nothing at all.) My piece of crap, on the other hand, was already completed and pathetically repetitious and, even worse, it only clocked in at about 13,500 words. I quickly forgot all of my previous academic training and immediately decided,  the night before it was due, that it was way too short. THE NIGHT BEFORE IT WAS DUE. So I added crap. And erased it. And added more crap. And erased that, too. Finally, at about 9am, when I could no longer see straight and I was sweating like a pig and my bloodstream was flushed with 75% caffeine and my hands wouldn’t stop shaking, I gave up. The bitch was done. I must have managed to pad another 1500 words into the thing by then, and, hell, I didn’t even care anymore if it was legible, let alone good. So I finished up the bibliography, mopped the sweat and Diet Coke stains off my keyboard, and ran the word count.

13,475.

What. the. f*ck.

So to hell with adding more to my current dissertation. I won’t go through that crap again, especially when I know I’ll probably end up cutting anyway and making the final product even shittier than it was before I took my hacksaw to it.

But is 24,000 really justifiable when your limit is 30,000? Cue the panic. I know it’s just a word count and substance is far more important, but damn it, I’m the same person who obsessively checks her blog stats everyday for no other reason than to see the numbers. Numbers matter. Or they do to me, anyway. But what do I do? I’ll be damned if I talk to any of my course mates about their dissertation lengths, though, because I already know what their answers are going to be and what it will do to my fragile sense of sanity and self-control. So I emailed the most calm and easy-going person in the whole damn world who also happens to have passed this course last year with flying colors. He thinks I’m insane and is probably right, but when people think you’re insane, you can email them – without fear of punitive measures –  the following inanity:

“Word count: 24,598. Too short? Please don’t say it’s too short.”

His response:

“Read your student handbook: 30,000 is the LIMIT not the TARGET. It’s fine. Stop worrying and go have a beer.

Well, son of a bitch.

I’m not a beer person, but I may very well take that suggestion. Not ’til Friday, though. That’s when this bitch is due. Sheer morbid curiosity demands that I pluck away at the thing until then. I bet I can hit the 25,000 mark, easy. Damn it.

I really am insane.