Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tools of the trade

In school I always thought that the diligent fact checking, the piercing critiques, and need to justify all assumptions were intended to prepare us for a world where our facts would be diligently checked, our ideas subject to piercing criticism, and our assumptions thoughtfully questioned.  Regularly I realize I had it backwards, and that reality is far more frightening.  Back then, with the worry that an omission or flaw would be found came the comfort that someone more knowledgeable could fill in gap, patch up the hole, point the way.  For academia, it seems the point of the training was to learn the defensive arts.  Elsewhere, specific knowledge is more dilute and rather than a shield a compass is required.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Capitol Scents

I love the way DC smells.  I know it's not known for its olfactory charm, but there's a drought in LA and here, microparks bloom.  Between mall and metro, there's a patch of peaty moist mulch.  And a honeysuckle bush reminds me that school's nearly out for the summer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Boogie Man

I'm sitting in a Starbucks near Fairfax and Olympic, and I nearly asked an older woman sharing my table to watch my things as I went to restroom.  Almost committing that irrationality that I've so often been the object of, except it's usually in airports.  In that arena where we have the most paranoid dreams about the abstract -- where we used to always have to tell that un-truth that yes, our suitcase had been within our sight since the moment we closed the latch, and unattended baggage is treated with the same gravity as a b*mb, we retain enormous faith in the specific, as long as it has an understanding smile.

Friday, March 16, 2012


I think it started with Verizon's "Big Red". Ditch your boring job much better. . . You'll watch YouTube on a horse. . .

Catchy?  Yes.  And maybe I should be applauding this trend since there are some who attribute a certain amount of first world angst to the unattainable aspirational world that occupies those twenty minutes that ensure our favorite procedural fills the hour.

But this?  

It’s a problem as old as gaming itself. Stay home and just keep playing, or get to work on time so your coffee-breath boss doesn’t ride you like a rented scooter. Who says you have to choose? Your PS3 stays home, but the game goes with you. Never stop playing. PlayStation Vita.

I'm all for indulging the impulse to play hookie from work every once in a while, but I'd like to think that the potential payoff for doing so is more than playing Sony all day, and that I'll use the Star Gazer app more often than Angry Birds.

I'm OK, you're OK, gone too far? Are there people who see this commercial reflection and say, "Yes that's me, and I love what I see?"

Monday, March 12, 2012


It's been three years, and it doesn't feel that long.  Three years since grad school; three with a job.  It's too easy to lose your sense of season in LA.  Where there's a pattern the rhythm is wrong.  Rain in winter, hot winds in the fall.  I travel for work to places with a more familiar clock, but it's a disorienting exercise.  March. . . in Oklahoma?  In like a lion and out like a lamb like my old home?

Then there's the matter of the lack of school calendar.  Freshman. Sophomore. Junior. Senior. New quarter; New quarter; New quarter; Break. New quarter; New quarter; New quarter; Break. No more.

Only sameness remains. 

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Some physicists happily divorce their field. They leave before their heart is broken convinced that they could never really care for the sub-sub atomic, that they could never find such abstraction fulfilling. Biology treats them better anyway.

But Seth won’t love the one he’s with. This professor of mine loathes my department, our field, and anyone who dares show interest.

My senior year, Seth was sent to meet and recruit applicants from his alma mater; I was one such applicant. He was supposed to be selling the program, but all he could talk about was how nice it was to be back and how much he wished he could stay.

He scheduled his elective course for first-years during a required first year course. He protested the time change by not showing up.

Half an hour later, someone found him. He had been in his office but we hadn’t been persistent with our knocking; the lights were off in his windowless room.

He entered with creases on his cheek from the papasan chair cushion on his office floor and a chunk of hair sticking horizontally from the side of his head with There’s Something About Mary - esque determination.

But at the APS meeting, Seth looked great for his ex. He was in pinstripe pants and really nice shoes, and even in their best plaid flannel, no pure physicist could compete.

In front of the rest of the faculty, he asked me which program it was I visited at UC San Diego.


“Really – and you met with – but you still didn’t. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to. . .”

I just had to let it go.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

As I Was Coming From Van Nuys

Perhaps the most frustrating of hypothetical pursuits is the search for just the right come-back long after the moment has passed.

I was on the rapid metro, and he kind of looked like Bill O’Reilly. With a much larger stomach. His sunglasses afforded his eyes a privacy that made his expression obscene. And he was far too well dressed for the way he was sitting.

He accused me of speaking “woman-eze,” a dialect characterized by indirect responses. He had asked if I had a laptop in my bag. I said, “Not with me, no.”

Fifteen minutes later, more people had boarded, and I had become re-immersed in my mp3s. I received a few comforting but uneasy glances, and I realized that he was talking about me.

“She’s part of the counter-revolution. But it’s genetic.” His wife had a 160 IQ, but that damn second X-chromosome kept her from being a provider. “They can’t do math. They can’t do science.”

“They care too much about how they look. Like you.” He turned. “You color your hair, you’ve got lipstick; you dress well. My wife dresses me.”

I do nothing to my hair but wash it, and my clothes were all hand-me-downs from friends, and. . . fuck it, yeah. Sometimes I do wear lipstick. And that’s so beside the point.

I tried to summon a laugh but, “You’re so off, it’s amazing,” came out with only a weak snicker. I was full of ammunition, but shooting blanks.

What else could I do? Spout off my resume? List every female scientist I know? Challenge him to an integration bee?

I’ve been replaying all day. Suggestions are welcome.