Friday, December 30, 2005

Fine Art

The other day on Project Runway, which I do not watch, the designers criticized another designer for working like a fine artist--he did not really allow "deadlines" into his world. He focused on his body of work, primping and prepping, taking apart and revamping only to revamp a million more times, as the clocked ticked away. It was about producing perfection, a tiny piece of him, and not about getting it out in time for others to see it. The focus was always how he felt about it, not how others would feel about it.

So now, instead of thinking of myself as neurotic or obsessive, I believe that I'm a fine artist.

My 3-page proposal is officially 4.5 pages because I decided that 2 working hypothesis were not enough; the third was absolutely necessary for balance. I have revamped it several times and wordsmithed it to death, agonizing over words as if each one could be the deciding factor for whether or not I get this fellowship. I have read 200 background papers even though I probably only had to read about 50 to grasp the material enough to write something coherent.
I really should send it off--especially given the fact that my generous extension is not going to be generous for much longer.

Coherent isn't good enough.

I'm a fine artist, baby.

The Spy that Bribed Me

Dear NSA,
I will offer you a deal. If you pay for this stupid internet service that I can't really afford and replace my phone lines so that I can talk without hearing that crackling noise, I will allow you to spy on me. You can not place cameras in my bedroom or shower, but you are welcome to watch me write and/or blog, cook, and sleep. You can read my blog as I write my posts--it's kind of like advanced standing, which everyone appreciates. That's about all I do, just to warn you ahead of time.
Thank you,

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Blank Stare

One of my mother's former students was set on fire by a young man (they were both tweens) a few months ago. The firestarter was angry over something trivial and a notorious bully--he forced his way into the victim's house, doused the poor child in some flammable liquid, lit a match, and watched the flames.

This led my mother and I to discuss psychopathy. As much as we would all like to believe that the parents are to blame or the schools or the Evangelical Christians or Al Qaeda, for a small group of people, it appears that they are not born with the necessary processing systems required for appropriate social behavior. There are a lot of theories about psychopathy, including the role of empathy and affective processing in developing a social consciousness.(for reviews: Blair, RJ. Dev Psychopathol. 2005 Summer;17(3):865-91; King, JA. Neuroimage. 2005 Nov 21).

If in these individuals, there are serious impairments in the circuitry mediating socially appropriate behavior and a lack of functioning in the regions needed to "teach" social norms, then all the behavior modification, parenting, and warm fuzzies in the world are not going to prevent the instrumental aggression characterizing psychopathy, that aggression resulting in deleterious societal consequences. Currently, we do not have a pharmacological intervention that is optimally efficacious in treating psychopathy and, if we have learned anything from the treatment of other psychiatric illnesses we would understand that we have no way of ensuring compliance even if we found a miracle drug.

My mom looked at me for a long time after our conversation had wound down...and then she asked the question with no answer. It's even better than the "if a tree falls in the woods..." question.

Should psychopaths be held accountable for their actions, then?

I just stared at her blankly.

Obviously, if someone can not exist in society without causing harm to others then they can not be allowed to be free...

What does "holding someone accountable" mean?...

There is no real answer to this question--I do, however, think it is good food for thought, albeit contextually morbid...

You're welcome.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I forget but then remember

Sometimes, I forget that I'm an adult. I forget that, if I am sad and hungry, I can order whatever I want to eat, including ultra-spicy Indian food. I am not bound by the random, sad tidbits of food lingering in my empty pantry. Yes, I should make the economically-wise choice and mix that tuna with that can of diced tomatoes and spread it on the left-over, 4 strands of soba noodles. I should, but I don't have to. I wouldn't do it if my husband were here and not at work, so why should I do it to myself? Sometimes, I am important.

I also forget that I'm allowed to open a bottle of wine and have a glass while I work, even if it is a weekday. I don't have to stare at it and wish that I could have it. I'm allowed to drink without showing my ID to an invisible, parental bartender--especially if it is a school night.

It's nice when I remember that I can do these things. I'm glad I don't remember all of the time, but every so often, it's nice.

The Tail-End of Heaven

As crazy as my family is, I wouldn't have them any other way. They are loving and their home is warm (although incredibly loud--almost illegally so) and they know how to make Christmas a non-commercial, non-Capitalist enterprise. I'm very blessed.

And then, I returned back to the lab--the anti-christ...mas.


Without going off on an angry tirade, I'll just say people who look a gift horse in the mouth get kicked in the head for their stupidity. Also, when someone does something that you are too lazy to do, don't complain that they did it in a way that is not convenient for you and, under no circumstances, don't explain to everyone how you are busier than they are unless you are positive that your blinders are off.

On the other hand, I did get one of these from a caring friend. She knows that I'll be spending a lot of time sitting at my desk and in the car over the next few months, and she knows how painful that is for me, literally. I'm using it right now, and I actually love it.

When are we going to figure out how to glue tailbones back on?

I guess I should have thought about that before falling down the stairs twice in one month. Even though that was forever ago, I still have a little PTSD when I stand at the top of the stairs.
At least I know my amygdala is intact, albeit a bit dysfunctional.

Where was I?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

Mom: Where are the dog treats?
Me: Don't worry about it, the dogs are fine.
Mom: I want to give my grandpuppies dog treats, they are here somewhere.
Dad (yelling because he's deaf): What are you looking for?!
Me: Nothing
Mom (yelling): the dog treats--where did you put the dog treats?
Brother2 (talking over the parents): Mom, what is this on the grocery list--I can't read it.
Mom: I can't find anything--where did you put them last?
Brother1: Mom what is this?
Dad: What? I don't know where they are at. Why does everyone blame me?
Brother1: Have you seen Madagascar yet?
Me: No I haven't. Mom, stop worrying about the freakin' treats.
Dogs: Barking and growling over chew toys.
Dad: Where's the grocery list?
Brother2: I already told you, I have it. I just need to know what this word is.
Mom: Honey, did you see the picture of your cousinX yet?
Me: Mom, Brother2 needs you to answer him.
Dad: What? What picture?
Brother2: I really thought the giraffe was funny.
Dad: Where's the grocery list?
Mom (leaving the room): I'll just give the dogs ice cubes.
Brother2: Mom, come here.
Dad: Are we going to the grocery store?
Me: Everyone just stop for one minute. Mom, read the list to brother. Dad, brother has the list--give him one minute and you guys can leave.

Merry Christmas Everyone! God bless family!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Santa Part II

Alright, so Trisha got me thinking that perhaps Santa may not be as generous as we all wish he could be. This is understandable given the rumor that there is no Santa. It looks like it's up to my family to come through this year and pick up the slack Santa has left behind, so here is part of my real wishlist. It's really hard for me not to check and see what my mom got me already, but I'm holding back. For those of you thinking that it is awful that I still make a Christmas list , I would like to say that this list was created specifically for my mother to curb her spending and direct her to things that I can use/want. She is trying to make up for all those years that she didn't have money by now buying me expensive things that I really don't need, so this was the solution my brother and I came up with. This way she still feels like she can choose our gifts, but at the same time, she is not picking out things that cost more than my rent.

Learn Something:
Blame my Amygdala
The Tipping Point
Cook Something:
Love the Cuban Food
Polish Cookery
Measuring Heaven
Silicone for your kitchen not your chest
Read Something:
Memories of My Melancholy Whores
You are Not a Stranger Here
Treat Yourself:
French Kiss (this is my favorite LUSH product, by far)
Gemstone Bracelet
DuWop Lip Venom
Listen To Something:
Rosemary Clooney's greatest hits
Walk the Line
Dress Yourself:
I do my own stunts T-shirt
Parsley Makes it Fancy

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,
I never understood why I got the made-in-China, knock-off barbies or the homemade, Canadian Cabbage Patch Kid or the uncool sweaters from last year's stock. Now that I'm poor, I understand, but there are a few things that I want this year anyway. I noticed that there have been no hits on my Amazon wishlist, and it's not that I doubt your miracle working abilities, it's just that I wanted to remind you that if you don't shop now, I will never get my presents by Christmas. I haven't been good this year, but in my defense, I haven't been bad either. In case you are feeling extra generous this year, you could also look over my wishful, wish list:

Boots from my Roots
Rainy Day Boots
It's Just Me Dress
I Love You, Vera
Necklace for the Rest of Us
Blue Christmas

Friday, December 16, 2005

Are you there, Oprah...It's Me, Margaret

Warning: Random content resulting from severe lack of sleep and feelings of worthlessness.

Has Oprah ever done a show on women scientists? She talks a lot about equality and leadership and encouraging women to ignore whatever glass ceiling is lingering over them, but has she ever focused on the issues facing women who made it really far while at the same time stood still the whole time? She spent a lot of time promoting that quack, Phil, who deserves less air time than Tyra Banks in my opinion. At least Tyra only offers fake empathy and doesn't try to pretend she is anyone other than who she is, unlike that poser, Phil. She has also spent a lot of time convincing us that all we need is independence from abusive men, a makeover, and a car to be happy. As much as people believe that Oprah cares about real issues (as opposed to profiting from them), I often wonder if she really cares about the deep issues.

Anyway, I've decided that because I am too old and not sexy enough to be America's Top Model or American Idol, I need to find a different dream. I guess I'll lower the bar for myself and choose successful scientist. Oprah needs to do a show on this as I can't possibly figure these things out on my own.

Topics Oprah needs to cover:

--Why do you feel alienated from other people, even successful people, who are not in science?
--Why are you so angry with people on TV (movie stars, reality stars, and general folk)?
--Why do you avoid telling people that you are getting your PhD and that you are a scientist?
--Why don't you correct people when they assume that you are a psychologist instead of a molecular neuroscientist? Note--I'm in NO way saying that it's more hard core to be a molecular person; in fact, the opposite can absolutely be the case. I have just found that people are more comfortable with believing that I'm a psychologist--probably because it has traditionally been a woman dominated field for several decades now.
--Why do you apologize after correcting people or debating with them over their misinterpretation of a medical or scientific fact.
--Why do you demean your own intelligence in front of people after winning games? Why do you purposely lose games sometimes?
--Why do you lie about your scores to people, subtracting off points or honors?
--Why do you feel like you have to be extra prepared when collaborating or debating with men in your field, even if you have more knowledge on the topic of discussion?
--Why do you email people when you first interact with them as opposed to talking with them directly or on the phone?
--Why do you feel that there are not more tenure-track women in science?
--Why do you think the leaky pipeline exists?
--How do you explain the data showing differences in the evaluations of productivity of men versus women?
--Why do you avoid women mentors?

That's just a start. I know that some of these things are specific to my own issues, but after an interesting talk with another woman in the lab, someone who is so different from me but, at the same time, so similar, I think these questions could apply to a lot of intelligent women. By the way, just to eliminate any confusion--I still want the makeover and the car. Also, don't get me wrong, I occasionally find myself enjoying Oprah--she serves a purpose and I respect that.

Interesting side note: Spell check substitutes macabre for makeover. Hee...hee...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


I forgot to warn our student not to open up the upright freezer. I'm an asshole. I knew by the expression on her face that she had opened it. There is a certain face one makes when they open up a freezer door at work, on a Monday morning, and get knocked over by a ratcicle avalanche.

I don't want to hear any of you complain about the funk in your work fridge.

I owe her for spacing on this one.

Very funny

Be careful what you ask for.

My meeting went well. All I have to do is finish staining the brain slices that I already have and then spend the next two months analyzing the data. Everyone was on board with me defending in April/May; I can't even begin to express how happy that makes me.

An important piece of advice for fellow students: start constructing your tables and graphs early. It's important after collecting the majority of your data to determine the comparisons you want to make and what groups you have/need to support your conclusions. This will help you avoid having "holes" in your data. You do not want to get almost to the end and then realize that you need one more group to make the necessary comparisons and to convincingly support your conclusions.

So, in addition to the successful completion of the meeting, God (who I did not bite, by the way), decided to throw me a second bone weighing about two tons.

At the end of my meeting, we started to talk about jobs. Everyone got really excited about a particular fellowship that I may be a competitive applicant for. "Go for it!" they cheered.

The deadline is this Friday. Yep, that means transcripts, letters of recommendation, a grant proposal written with a mentor at my chosen institution, and a completed application form that asks for everything except for my blood type. There is nothing like calling a random person whom you've never met or spoken with, who does research in an area you know nothing about, and saying "hey, you don't know me, but what are you doing this week?".

Hee...hee...hee...thanks, God.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Memo to God

Today is my big committee meeting. I had a semi-big one last month, but today is the large-scale, shock and awe campaign. Well, I hope it goes better than that, but who knows;) I just wanted to share with you my early morning conversation with God.

Dear God,

I know we have not been on the best of terms since way back during the days of traffic cone stealing, bridge decorating, and political sign defacing. Granted, I seemed to have "strayed", but let us remember that you never did send that elephant or childhood friend to occupy my idle time. I'm not accusing you or saying it is your fault, but, as my mother likes to say "it takes two to tango--you are both grounded". Speaking of, it doesn't always take two to tango, but that is a different grievance.

When I spilled my coffee on my brand new sweater that I couldn't really afford this morning, I realized that you and I may not be on the same page today. I specifically did not ask you to get rid of that wrinkle on my forehead in exchange for today. Let me remind you also that I did not ask you for world peace or new energy sources or any of the other large-scale demands that exhaust you. All I am asking for, aside from my health, the well-being of my crazy family, and maybe a small fortune in the foreseeable future, is that you make today go smoothly.

To strengthen my case, I would like to argue that I used to be good at one time. I used to not question or doubt or shake my hands at the sky in anger. I used to "understand". There is a good chance that, if today goes smoothly, I may be prone to less anger and, in turn, a more open heart. I can't make any guarantees, but statistics are on your side; we always turn to you during weddings, funerals, and catastrophic world events (not to mention right before almost being killed by a car, airplane, or wild boar) so an event such as today may just push me in your direction. When people win the lottery, they often scream "Oh, my God" or "Praise the Lord", and today would kind of be like winning the lottery...

So, I'm just asking you to take a few moments to reconsider how this day should go for me--I'll even forget the coffee incident if you just throw me a bone.

Thank you (and this is one big joke so don't get angry),

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas Gift Stresses

So, what do you get for a father who is suspicious of "the man", who loves sci-fi, and who has no hobbies other than pretending to hunt? I think you get him a 2X4, some rope, and this book. I think he has great potential for becoming an expert crop-circle maker given his tremendous drafting abilities and his engineering brain. At least he can try to make it onto one of those "UFO's Revealed" shows. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 08, 2005

500 words of paralysis

I think we all know that I have no problem spewing out 500 words of verbosity. In addition to my blogging tantrums and tidbits, I often have to churn out 500-word abstracts an hour before the deadline. You would think that a 500-word writing sample should flow out of me like the product of a bad sinus infection. Unfortunately, I am paralyzed by this task. I draw a blank everytime I try to start--I, your chatty cathy of bloggers, can not think of anything remotely important to write about. All of this training and education, and I'm reduced to tears by this simple task.

What the hell is wrong with me?!

Zombies Want My Brain

Will I need this when I'm gone?

Would you donate your brain to science?

There is a particular brain bank that wants my brain (because I'm special--interpret "special" liberally). I found out about this brain bank through a researcher in my field. She gave me a list of "special" brains that the bank would like to have. This issue has come up before, and I've thought about it so many times that one would think that I've come to a decision.

I am already an organ donor, but your brain is a different beast. I can't figure out how I feel about it. My brain won't really let me understand; it loves to avoid big issues.

Would you fork over your think box to someone like me? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What I learned

Things I learned at my meeting:

A.) I think I'm beginning to speak well and present my science convincingly because everyone kept thinking that I was junior faculty. It was hard for me to correct them, and there may have been an occassion or two where I let it slide (accidently on purpose of course). This was an important revelation because this was the first time I've gotten positive reinforcement on how I speak/present myself. There were several times where semi-famous people directed their questions to me instead of my mentor. That was nice and brought warm fuzzies to my tummy.

B.) The word DNA freaks people out. They respond better to "genetic information". I'm still trying to figure this one out, but it was a pretty consistent difference.

C.) Don't make assumptions about how supportive (or non supportive) people will be until you test them out. I ran into my grant manager, and she asked me about my next step following graduation. Upon sensing my apprehension, she immediately went into lots of career choices available to me and gave me the names of some people in a variety of "non traditional" science positions. This was weird for me because I assumed she would push me into finding a post doc. My grant is a competitive grant given to people who show promise as young researchers and is meant to train them to become research faculty. I thought she would be the last person to be honest with. I was wrong.

D.) Do not buy gloves that cost more than $5 because you will lose them the next day. It doesn't matter that you have never lost a glove in all of your life--you will lose them. Moreover, the "Lost and Found" department will laugh at you when you try to impress upon them how important it is that you find your gloves.

E.) The field of epigenetics is underrepresented in neuroscience, especially in translational research. I can't wait for this to change.

F.) When someone is critical of your work, get even more excited as you present it to them. Shakespeare was not a stupid man. Everyone wants to be entertained deep down inside.

G.) People really like my work. They really do, and I think I convinced several labs to hop on board my train and start looking at some of the things I've been looking at. I'm excited about that.

H.) There are only 3 women associated with my program who are on the faculty tenure track right now. One of them is probably going to get axed, even though she came from a famous lab and does great science, because she is having difficulty getting a grant. Apparently it doesn't matter that the tenured faculty judging her can't get grants right now either.

I may have learned a few other things, but I'm tired and can't really think right now...

I am not a freebie

I am a funny person. At least, I belive I am funny, and self-denial and illusions are the stuff reality is made of so, yes, I am funny.

When people come to my poster, people who are not researchers or doctors but who are pushing a particular drug, and go into depth about how they hate sleeping in hotel rooms, about how hotel rooms are lonely and cold and maladaptive for sleeping, how should I respond? When there are 28 men for every 1 woman, and you have been testosteroned out of your mind, how can you really take someone like this seriously.

I advised him to take the very same drug he was there to sell. It's very sedating.

I thought I was being funny, witty if you will.

You really shouldn't come to my poster unless you are really interested in the incredibly boring genetic/cellular mumbo jumbo that I'm talking about. I do not have free blinky pens nor do I have flashlights or candy.

I am not a freebie.

That would make a good blog title.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Where Am I? Not Where I Should Be.

Right now, I am supposed to be at a conference (yes, another science fair). It is across town and a pain to get to because they (the man) refuses to put a subway stop at my Univ. for fear poor people might find us. It would have been easier to leave directly from my house, but I just stopped by the lab to do one more little thing...

And now I'm stuck. I'm stuck for several reasons. The first reason is quite practical. Both my feet are asleep because I sit on them when I'm at the computer. I try not to do this as it causes my knees to hurt continuously, and I'm sure it does nothing for the swelling in my legs, but I can't help it. I also hold my thumbs when I'm nervous or walking by myself, but that's a whole different issue.

The second reason is also practical. I can not finish up here until I get into the core facility, which does not open until 9 or 10am, depending on who is working there today.

The third reason is psychological. I do not want to be pushed into the crowds of people pretending to care about research and medicine when all they really care about is showing their face and gaining recognition for whatever bullshit study they are presenting. This meeting is comprised of physicians mostly, and it shows in the science. Sorry doctors, it's nothing personal--I understand there are limitations when you are working on human primates instead of rats.

The fourth reason is physiological. I'm freezing. My lab is cold, the bus is cold, the outside is extremely cold...I'm paralyzed by the ice building up on my nose.

The fifth...what was the fifth? Oh, yeah--I'm blogging instead of conferencing (I know, conferencing is not really a word in the way I just used it).

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Laugh Away

We make plans and God laughs at us.