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Mana reqsisqani

The quarter is starting to get to its feet over here.  I’ve had all my classes save one, my neurolinguistics seminar, which I’m rather looking forward to tomorrow.  Monday was a bit more harried than I anticipated, as the professor I’m TAing for wanted us to hold section.  This is rather unorthodox for the first week, let alone the first day!  On the bright side, he also is in the habit of preparing exercises in advance, so there was not much work to be done in that short preparation period.  Section is required for this class, and as such it was completely packed this week – not a single spare seat in the house.  Teaching in cramped conditions is a little difficult because the room gets hot, and the kids are a little less apt to volunteer in a large class.  Last quarter I averaged something like 10-15 students in my non-required sections, and yesterday I had about 30.  It’s slightly ridiculous, and I think slightly unnecessary to have required section attendance, but on the other hand, this class is also going to be a fair bit more difficult. Other than a bunch of TA stuff, I only have Quechua on Mondays, so it works out nicely to have several low-stress hours of class attendance and then just one hour of teaching.  Very nice indeed.

Today all I had was Phonetics, which I fear is going to be equal parts trying and inspiring.  It’s taught by the professor I TAed for last quarter, who is the most laissez-faire professor I’ve seen.  We have no syllabus, no book, no readings, no homework, and no real expectations for our term paper.  This is nice, but it also means he teaches the class with the expectation that none of us are really learning anything, or even want to be there.  He told us this morning that he expected us to attend class “at least 51% of the time”, which I know is a joke, but sets an odd tone for a graduate seminar.  Graduate students don’t skip class – we’re putting a lot of our lives into being here, and we tend to be rigorous and reliable students.  We wouldn’t have been admitted if we weren’t!  For all that, it’s still going to be an interesting class.  We’re doing acoustic phonetics exclusively, and it’s a subject that’s one of my secret loves.  I feel some days like I could have been a phoneticist in another life, if acoustic phonetics had been taken seriously by our Generative-minded undergraduate department.  As it’s not really part of the Generative research paradigm, it wasn’t actually taught at USC.  What little of it I’ve done (which is more than most, admittedly) was from my very favorite professor, an adjunct who USC didn’t hire and who was teaching Intro Phonology, though he was in fact a phonetician.  I got a big kick out of reading spectrograms, and he inspired me to be a linguist.

Sometimes I look back at those days and I see what it was that got me inspired about linguistics and linguistic research.  If I hadn’t continued to bark up the phonology tree (though each class after his was somewhat of a disappointment), I certainly could have ended up as a phoneticist.  There’s a lot of room for phonetics in phonology, actually, particularly in the cognitive science approaches.  I think all three of these things converge in some way, if for no other reason than both being concerned with scientifically describable data with direct language interface.  In other words, both cognitive science and phonetics are among the very few contact points of hard science (biology, physics) and language.  Typology fits into this picture too, if you think of it as an offshoot of applied statistics interfacing with evolution, biology, migration, what have you.  Typology is an interesting grab-bag of domains, which I think takes a particularly large mind to grasp and is probably why Lewis is well suited to it.  It’s like majoring in world history.  The world is a large place, with lots of history, affected by an inconceivable number of factors, and those who can synthesize that knowledge are laudable.

My brain feels flushed with thoughts of career.  And today, I’m feeling determined to be a straight-backed eyes-forward engaged-in-my-life sort of individual.  This happens to me less than it ought, but if there’s anything less useful than being a defeatist by nature, it’s feeling defeated about being a defeatist.  I’m not getting much work done today, but I’m determined not to let it get the better of me.  I’ve been to class, finished my Quechua homework, emailed all my potential referees for the internal fellowship application whose deadline is coming up, and I even found time to blog.  I’m prepared for tomorrow, and I’m not going to feel swamped or behind on anything though I am, at turns, both.  Today, I do what I can, and revel in the very success of doing.


Wednesdays are great days.  Though I had section this morning, and it was sort of just alright.  For some reason, that section is sort of… slackery.  They only sort of of half did their homeworks, half participated in class, and only one or two kids really seem to care at all.  A couple fell asleep, which is par for the course.  My Friday section just seems sharper and more with it.  But as I said, section was passable, and I got through it, and really 50 minutes a week is nothing I should be losing sleep about.  Though I did have a total anxiety dream this morning that everything I wrote on my board was jibberish and I mixed all my examples up and everyone snuck out of the room but a few kids at the end.  A complete mess!  Thankfully section was not nearly that bad!

After section I always feel really free, even though I’m already running late for cogneuro.  Class was great, we had a guest lecture from a professor who is also heading up the “ERP Bootcamp” Lewis and I are attending this summer.  His lecture was great, his research was interesting, and he was really open to questions.  It’s interesting to be taking this cogneuro class which is being treated essentially like a weekly rotating seminar.  I’m getting at least a taste of all the major labs at the Center, and who is doing research on what.  Very neat.  Also heard from my lab professor today, and I’m feeling well relaxed about our plans.  He’s been on vacation and I was worried I was being lazy, but it turns out he’s really busy, and I think working by myself for now is probably best for both of us.

The rest of my day was great – hit up the gym, had a really delicious salad for dinner, watched episode three of our Masterpiece Theater adventure, read two and a half papers, and graded my Friday section’s homework.  So good!  It’s been a good, relaxed, productive day.  Yep.  Oh!  I also forgot to blog about summer jobs – Lewis and I both got minimal employment with the department for part of summer, which when I put it that way, sounds lame.  But realistically, I hadn’t been holding out getting any work this summer, and a TAing gig for each of us is fantastic.  Minimal work, minimal pay, but a little bit of cash flow is just what I could have hoped for.  And it’s within the school at that!   All is well.

Language counciling

Pretty good day today, but mighty long.   Had a lovely surprise evening with our friends Heather and Kevin who kept me company (and took me to Sudwerk!) while Lewis was out with his padre tasting some tasty cheese and beers in SF.

Section this morning was great!  I skipped the stuff that I thought was crappy from the earlier section, and went straight to the exercises and group work.  I think it went really well, and there was a great vibe with the students.  I’m feeling quite good about both sections this quarter, and I hope I can keep that feeling rolling for a while.  Had office hours after that, which was kind of a disaster.  I only had one kid come in, sort of at the end of my time, and I spent a full 90 minutes with him.  Arg.  I don’t know quite what to do with this kid, but I’ve never seen anyone completely lacking in any kind of linguistic intuition before.  I never even got to the point where he could tell a consonant from a vowel.

I feel bad, cause I know he’s really struggling with his phonetics homework, but I just don’t know what to do to teach him this stuff that should theoretically be intuitive.  He keeps blaming it on being a second language learner, but I’ve had tons of esl kids before, and that’s really not a valid excuse.  As a linguist, I think I’m more atuned to the difficulties language learners face since we spend so much time talking about SLA and bilingualism.  This really turns me around in application though – it’s impossible to know when you’re being too hard and when you’re not being sympathetic enough.  I don’t think asking people to memorize the IPA and the position of your articulators.  I think there’s a leap of faith you need to take as an ESL student that what we’re saying isn’t some kind of crazy conception of how the English language should be done.  [t] is the most common sound cross-linguistically, the least marked if nothing else, so asking an ESL student to decompose a [t] into it’s phonetic parts isn’t ridiculous – they should be the same parameters in their native language as they are in English, more or less.  I have a lot more sympathy for the vowels, because I know English has a middling-to-terrible vowel system.   Urgh.  I’m doing my best, but by the time I explained what the questions on his homework were supposed to be asking (and spending 90 minutes doing that…) I was just so totally drained.  I want to help him, but I really can’t keep this level up all quarter.

Thankfully, my afternoon class was great.  Lots of interesting discussion on typology, and I got my assignment for the presentation I’m giving for that class.  Got the paper (book?) I wanted, and I’m looking forward to getting my one presentation out of the way early (I’m going the first day) since I’ve got my cogneuro presentation on the last day of class.  It’s probably time to start thinking about paper topics, I suppose.  The quarter system is rough that way – it’s just the end of the second week, and it’s already time to start hammering out final papers.  It’s at least good to get your topic started so you don’t get blindsided later when you’re completely lacking in time to do research.  My topics for both classes are completely open, so it’s almost more difficult to start thinking about whether I can work these papers into the thesis-y master plan.  Or something like that.


I should be going to bed already, since I have a 6 am train to catch.  I guess it’s another list?

  • no section or office hours this morning = sleeping in!
  • got myself some decent gym shoes
  • had the first session of my last class.  it’s good!
  • spent all night getting stuff ready for san diego trip

And now… to bed.

A good word: cytoarchitectonics

Super productive day, but I don’t feel much like being expository tonight.  Mostly because I’m pooped!  List form it is:

  • Cogneuro class this morning – learned about EEGs.  Very neat!
  • Met with lab professor to set up research plan for this quarter.  Starting a Monday reading group (to count as my “directed reading”) and a Wednesday hands-on training deal.  Professor wants me to be trained to analyze the raw fMRI data he has collectd but not processed yet.  Also intend on starting a new study (to be partially directed by my interests?) and gathering pilot data already this quarter!
  • Spent a while at the gym doing generic cardio stuff (stairs, mostly) cause I think it helps destress me a bit.  Also tried an actual weight lifting device, and now my arms are sore in the strangest places!
  • Made oatmeal cookies with orange-essenced cranberries and white chocolate chips.  They turned out pretty good, for a recipe I hadn’t tried before.  Should bake them a little less next time.
  • Did a bunch of paper trolling (as in, reference chasing and google scholar browsing) for papers to start our reading group off with.  Too many choices already, but I found some really good background papers for myself at least.
  • Traced the pattern for Lewis’ PJs onto sturdier tracing fabric, and cut out all the pieces.  It’s starting to look like I’m doing something with this!

That’s all from me tonight.  This week is going crazy slow!


What a wonderful start to my first day of spring quarter. Had my cognitive neuroscience class this morning, and it went much better than I had been dreading.  I should have known it was going to be fun, but I was getting myself a bit worked up over the professor not emailing me bcak, and seeming sort of odd.  She is odd, but in a good way, and apologized for the email snafu, and seems completely unpreturbed that I’ll be missing 30-45 minutes of class every Wednesday.  Luckily only half those are not “real” class days, as we have some cancelled classes and student presentation days.  Anyway, good class, good group, and I’m really looking forward to it.  Oh, and we only have a 6 page paper to write!  That’s crazy short – undergrad short!

I had a really productive afternoon.  Went to Vacaville while Lewis was in class to check out possible work out clothes at Eddie Bauer.   Found not only work out clothes, but also really cute summer shirts to wear, and some other acoutrements.  I did spent twice as much as I thought I was going to (miscalculated a 30% off.. oops) but I’m in the middle of not stressing out about it, where I’m going to stay.  Clothes were bought.  They will serve me very well.  I’m feeling very good about my waredrobe, and that seems to cost some money, and I’m willing to spend that money while it appears we have a smidge to spare.  Oh, I also hit up JoAnn’s Fabrics to pick up the tracing paper I need to get going on a pair of jammies I’m trying to make Lewis.  Yay.

Only other major accomplishment today: the gym!  I went!  I attended a yoga class tonight, and it was really nice.  Lots of popping and cracking of my tired bones, and lots of working muscles I haven’t bothered with in ages.  The group was really welcoming, and non-intimidating, as I was hoping for.  Hour long class had me totally beat, and completely relaxed.  Spent a few minutes before class in the womens-only room as well checking out the machines, and it was lovely.  Very low-key, no one bothering anyone or making a fuss.  After these two major successes, I signed up for the gym for-really – a 6 month go.  Phew.  It was cheaper than it could have been (one month free and no sign-up fee and discounted to boot) but it was still quite a downpayment.  But I figure, if I go to yoga even twice a week, it’s only like four bucks a class.  And right now, I am way more than four buck relaxed and worked out.

So close!

Last day of classes!  I’m so close to spring break, I can almost taste it.  I think I’ve finished my research write-up, and I’m feeling well prepared for my Quechua final on Wednesday.  Not sure my neuroimaging professor is going to actually give us a final quiz… so that just leaves my semantics paper!  I’ve got it half done or more already, and I’m hoping I can maybe polish off the draft tomorrow.  Phew.  I’m really ready for break.  Aaaand for sleeping in tomorrow!


My day was pretty bueno.  I did take the opportunity to sleep in this morning, and it was fantastic!  I don’t skip class very often- in fact, I think this was the first time I’ve missed Quechua except the day I was sick, and let me tell you, sleeping in on a Wednesday is pretty dang fantastic.   My Wednesday was especially empty today at that, since the class I TA for had no homework due this week thus I didn’t need to meet with my professor.  Yay!  So one meeting was all I had today, and it went pretty well.  Talked to my QP advisor about some interesting issues today, and he seems to be really into what we’re doing, so that’s nice.  Now to polish off my blissfully short week – one class worth of student presentations in semantics, and a cancelled Friday class!  What luck!

High Anxiety

I think a good metaphor for my grumpy and uncomfortable position lately might be “life vertigo”.  I got to this place I always wanted to be, and now I’ve got no hand holds, no railings, and no one to follow.  This surely isn’t a good thing, it just seems to be freaking me out.  I never really planned ahead for being where I am.  A bit like always playing the lotto and then one day winning, and having no idea what to do with yourself any more.

I got invited to give a talk to a student-run forum of phonologists and phoneticists at Berkeley and I’m not sure what at all to do with that.  On one hand, I don’t have any phonology research of the empiricle bent to present to these students in the next few months.  On the other hand, I’m deep in the murky depths of this theoretical phonology paper, and that might be interesting to share.  Provided I have some conclusion hammered out before that point.  Which is part of what’s making me so cranky this week… I’m definitely at an impass on my QP research and feeling fairly overlooked by the professor who is supposed to be overseeing that.  But I think a little distance and some time to think about it will do me some good.  Anyway, not sure what I’m going to tell Berkl folks at the moment, but it’s an interesting opportunity, and I’ve been invited to attend the ongoing events.  So if nothing of my own presentation happens, I could at least attempt to make some connections and see what folks are up to over there.  Unfortunately their meetings are at a really inconvenient time, at least for me to be in Berkeley.  *shrug*

Other less exciting things happened today.  I went to the dentist and got a thumbs up from everyone.  I went to my morning neuroscience class and felt pretty uninspired, but I partially (or perhaps even mostly?) blame that on my neuroscience midterm ennui from yesterday and my professor’s lack of preparation or enthusiasm this morning (he had just flown in from San Diego before class).  Made it through that, and I had intended to catch the very-much-seeming-important colloquia on “the functional anatomy of auditory processing” but I failed on that count.  It’s information I can gather elsewhere, and my mind was too burned out and unfocused for it to have done me much good.  Besides, it was the only chunk of time I had to get lunch before the dentist.   And goodness, getting to the dentist was a mess.  Sacramento isn’t really made for rain squalls… the freeway just about whited out and started flooding almost immediately.  I was really glad I only had a few miles left to go, and escaped the majority of the hard rain on the way home as well.

So I came home, made brownies, and watched movies on TV all night.  I just didn’t have it in me to be doing any more work.  I’m really just about at the end of my wick for whatever reason.  It feels like my restful night was already beneficial, if I may judge by my current state of relative complacency.   I think that’s a sure sign that I need to take it easy this weekend and prepare myself for my last midterm, and second half of this quarter.  Phew.  I’m ready for summer vacation already.. but I suppose I can at least look forward to spring break.  5 more weeks?

Last week is this week

Hi, blog.  It’s me.  I’m sorry I’m too dumb or surly or tired to write every day like I’m supposed to.  I do think about you when I’m off doing other more restful things.  And besides, you know I’ll always come back.

It’s the last week of the quarter.  More specifically, tomorrow is the last day of classes.  This is the one time I sincerely wish I didn’t have sections on Friday nights.  I’m not sure how many folks will actually come, though I have a hunch it should be about normal.  I’ll get a small bump from pre-finals freakouts, but a negative effect for being late on the last day, so all in all, no net change.  I’m hoping it goes alright… my lesson plan this week didn’t go off too well yesterday (good greif, was that only yesterday?) and I haven’t thought of what I should do to make it more fun.  Reviewing just isn’t that exciting.  And the other alternative is to talk about historical linguistics, which is also rather unexciting and I don’t want to bother the students too much with the specifics since they won’t need to know most of it.

As far as my own classes go, it really doesn’t feel like they’re over, though all I have left is to turn in the papers.  They’ve been consuming so much of my time, it’s incredible to me to think that I won’t be seeing any of those familiar faces or places, or be obsessing over any of those topics for the foreseeable future.  Not that I won’t run into people around the department.  I just have really cherished my theory class, and grown accustomed to needing to be constantly working on my 260 project.  Seems like certainly this must only be a temporary reprieve from work and when the holidays pass we’ll be back to the same-old.  Except instead, I’ll be learning about brain scans and semantics and Quechua.  Oh Linguistics, you’re a charmingly broad field.

I finished my book (Flaubert’s Sentimental Education) and I’m at that point in my reading cycle where I need to detox from my old book before I can dive into a new one.  This is awkward around now (bedtime) when I’m ready to turn off and go curl up in bed, but have no motivation to do so since I’ve not go anything to entertain myself to sleep with.  I’m also not sure what the next book should be.  I’ve got strong candidate in a new Louise Erdrich (new to me, anyway), and the newest W. S. Maugham we bought (Moon and SIxpence) as well as a Vietnam-era war book I picked up on the recommendation of my favorite old English teacher.   It’s nice to try and balance out the reading regime.  I’m rather fond of those naturalist/victorian-type writers (Zola, Trollope, Flaubert) but their writing is so absorbing and thourough I can’t just read them back-to-back.  I require something more modern, or at least with lighter prose to offset them with.

Last night I tried picking up a book someone gave us (The Time Traveller’s Wife).  I had been hesitant about this one (as about most books people give us) since my tastes aren’t very Oprahs-book-club-y and I do tend to prefer classics and my small set of more modern writers to the wider wilds of modern literature, but I wasn’t quite ready to commit to anything else.  I got through the prologue and first section, and I think I’m ready to put it back on the dust gathering shelf it came from.  There’s something which I’m sure is a natural direction for our modern novels to move in (and I’m certainly no Lit or English major, so what do I know?) but it really doesn’t satisfy my novelust to read books that sound like screenplays.  The overly chatty, dialogue-driven, sparingly (or conventionally) described just starts getting on my nerves.  Dan Brown’s novel was like that, and so is The Time Traveller’s Wife. Why did we go from 0-to-sexy-romp in just a few pages?  Did I need to be titilated to convince me this book is worth reading?  The premise sounds interesting, albeit somewhat cheesy-scifi-y, but the tone of the novel has completely thrown me off.  I understand that it’s supposed to be realistic and people have sex in real life, I just get annoyed at having to sexualize all the characters in a novel when I’d rather be reading something else.  Though this really does probably point out more than I’m some kind of moral conservative who wants people to keep their sexy stuff to themselves than it says about modern prose.  But why read something that doesn’t please you?

Alright, enough epistolating about literature.