October 12, 2008


I've been home alone today; Z went climbing with some friends. I've been sick for close to three weeks so don't really mind the forced solitude and inaction. It's been hot here today - hot and windy. It feels like the first day of summer and I spent some time sitting out in the sun in a tank top and skirt. Luxury! I've opened the front and back doors, creating a wind tunnel through the house in an effort to warm up the freezing interior. I love brick homes in summer when they stay cool, but in winter they are just so cold.

Needing some sound to occupy the emptiness, I put on the CD we bought from the Abayudaya who we visited while we were in Uganda. It takes me back to the Friday night services we attended in the tiny synagogue on the hill. The music - oh the music! Effortless African harmonies envelopping us as the sun set. I think about the lives of the people we visited and can't help but feel like all of my problems are those of a spoiled, white, middle class, westerner. This music puts it all in perspective. If I listen closely, in the background I can hear the buzz of cicada and the occasional goat bleating. It reminds me of heat and dust and green lushness; of matooke and beans and long bus rides; of long days and short sunsets and tremendous storms; of bright sarongs and spending a whole day sitting under a tree talking with the Rabbi who had just burried a child.

It also leaves me itching to do something. This is the feeling I encounter most often these days: an eagerness to be doing something. And no, analysing PhD data doesn't count. We caught up with an old friend of Z's yesterday and his Australian wife. She asked me over lunch what I wanted to do when I'd finished my PhD. In responding, I realized how much my answer has changed in the last few months. I used to say, with little hesitation: research. It's true, I love learning things and exploring the natural world. But that, right now, doesn't feel like enough for me. It feel too, well, academic: obscure, removed. I want to do something with this life. At least I can try to right some of the wrongs - it's the least I can do.

I've been especially inspired lately by Lumpkin who's spending this month in Colorado volunteering for the Obama campaign. He's turned words into action. I want to do the same and yet feel so stuck in PhD-land. It's so full-on that I rarely have energy for much else. I guess I'm just ready to be done. Really ready. I'm ready for the next stage, the next thing. I did the maths yesterday and realized that I'm one month short of half way, assuming it takes me the full 3.5 years, which seems a realistic assumption. Sometimes these past 20 months feel like they've flown by, but more often it seems to have been an eternity. Can I hold out for another eternity? When I think about the reward, the answer is an unhesitating YES. When I think about the reality of all that I have to do, some part of me shrivels.

I guess I'll get back to that data entry.

October 04, 2008


Well hello. I haven't seen you in a while. I thought I'd drop by for a quick visit. Maybe we can share a cup of tea while I tell you about my day. It's been a nice sunny Saturday here in Melbourne, a perfect day to garden. In fact, after a few hours of back breaking bending, the garden's in: zucchini, capsicum, tomatoes, spinach, spring onions, jalapenos, snap peas, green beans, basil, oregano, dill, lettuce, mint, thyme, parsley, coriander, and a lone strawberry plant that held on from last year. It's not nearly as big as K&K's garden, but then again I'm not as insane as them and I don't like cucumber quite as much. It's incredibly satisfying to grow food. For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to try being self sufficient for a while - to entirely survive on things that I can grow and make. It's not feasible now - and may never be, so I have to find satisfaction in my urban vege patch.

I've been thinking a lot about the state of world lately (it's hard not to with a financial meltdown, a global weather melt-up, and a looming election), and have come to the conclusion that I am deeply concerned. Deeply truly worried. I think it tinges everything I do, creating a base mood of No Good. I feel like we need a massive massive massive system overhaul: we need to change the way we do everything. Z and I were talking about this last night. He painted an inspiring picture of a city without cars, where all the black tops have been reclaimed and turned into wildlife corridors, grazing pastures and vege patches. As I was driving (ahem) to the nursery today, I tried to picture the streets without bitumen. I saw sheep grazing and trees full of birds and lots of big vege gardens. There would still be arterial roads and bike lanes and pedestrian walkways. But it would be quiet and green. Can you picture it?

So: a cultural, societal, governmental reboot. I think that we need to become truly local again. It's globalisation that's doing us in: the sheer expenditure of resources to make, for example, a cell phone chip in China using coltane ripped from the jungles of central Africa for resale in Melbourne is boggling. Tied into this is the imbalance of power, in which corporations have all the control. They don't care about you or me, just making money. Can we overhaul corporations? Maybe. Would it be easier to tear them all down and start again with a different structure? Maybe not.

But enough talk, enough thought. What about action? How do we make such massive changes? How can we start living locally? What can I do? I certainly think about almost everything I buy and use; I try to only buy produce that's grown/raised in Australia; I ride my bike whenever I can; I am registered to vote in two countries; I'm getting a PhD in ecology. But it doesn't feel like enough. Or rather, these actions feel like the equivalent of playing the viola on the deck of the Titanic as she sinks: inadequate to say the least. Z and I talked about the need for Homo sapiens sapiens to turn a corner. The problem is, see, that we're in this huge ship and it's going to take years and years to start around the bend. And I'm not a patient person. I want to know that things are going to be OK -and if they're not, I want to be doing things - big things - to make sure they are.

So, in summary, it's been a lovely sunny Saturday here in Melbourne to think about the state of the world while planting what I hope will be a productive and delicious garden. I hope we get to catch up again soon - it had been too long.

July 03, 2008

The greeness of the grass

Z got into a discussion last night about whether or not we should adopt a dog when we return from the States. I should probably have described this as a "discussion" as it was rather heated. We do not have permission to have a dog in our current rental which is a source of some anxiety, especially considering that the vacancy rate in this town hovers around 1%. However, the likelihood of getting caught is small and there's a chance we could bluff our way out of a situation by claiming the dog is really mum's. Or we could ask the agency that manages our rental for permission to get a dog. But if we are told no and get a dog anyway, wouldn't it be worse?

It took me a while to figure out the subtext of our "discussion". Neither of us is particularly happy here right now. I am wondering why the hell I started this PhD in the first place and whether I want to finish it. Z finds his work tedious on a good day, and we both feel a lack of deep social satisfaction. So what are we doing? What am I doing?

Earlier this year, my fieldwork monopolised my time and energy. During my trips, I was busy and surrounded by interesting people. And yet, towards the end of the field season, all I wanted was a predictable schedule that had me spending most of my time in a warm, dry, stable office. And now that I have that, I'm bored out of my skull. The grass always seems greener.

I fear that this adage can be equally applied to our situation in Australia. I've been toying with various improbable scenarios lately. For example: we (used in a global sense) run out of fuel. There's a last flight back to the States. Do we (used in a local sense) board that plane? Or: One of us is diagnosed with a serious something. Do we stay or go? It was this latter thought experiment that made me aware of some of the complications. In the States, we would have no health insurance. In fact, if one of us got sick and we were living in the States, it would make a whole lot of sense to return to Australia. As much as I miss my friends and the general population of the Bay Area, there are serious downsides to living in the U.S. of A. Health insurance, for example. Higher costs of living and smaller pay checks. A pitiful two weeks off per year. Life lived at a hectic, full-throttle pace. Traffic. Over crowding. Crap coffee.

But how much do these things matter? What actually matters? To me? To us? What are the most important things? And if I'm so damn unhappy, why aren't I doing something to fix the situation?

I suppose I am. I have a holiday coming up. Perhaps the vacation and distance will enable me to look forward to being back here for another couple of years. Or maybe, being back in SF will seem like a too short taste of something delicious.

So, do we get a dog? No really, this is all related. So much of my life at the moment feels like something to tolerate or survive or get through in order to get to the good stuff. That's no way to live: waiting for something better. Putting off getting a dog until we own a house or have stable jobs or know which continent we want to live on seems like one more way to delay pleasure. Not only that, but dogs have this innate ability to find joy in the most mundane things (half a tennis ball, for example). Having a dog would add an immediacy and purpose to our day-to-day existence here in Melbourne. Is that too much to ask of a furry bundle? Perhaps. Would the dog make any difference? Perhaps.

What will make a difference is a vacation. 12 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes and counting...

June 30, 2008


The challenge du jour is to incorporate the following into daily conversation:
1. Erinaceous: Like a hedgehog

2. Lamprophony: Loudness and clarity of voice

3. Depone: To testify under oath

4. Finnimbrun: A trinket or knick-knack

5. Floccinaucinihilipilification: Estimation that something is valueless.

6. Inaniloquent: Pertaining to idle talk

7. Limerance: An attempt at a scientific study into the nature of romantic love.

8. Mesonoxian: Pertaining to midnight

9. Mungo: A dumpster diver - one who extracts valuable things from trash

10. Nihilarian: A person who deals with things lacking importance (pronounce the ‘h’ like a ‘k’).

11. Nudiustertian: The day before yesterday

12. Phenakism: Deception or trickery

13. Pronk: A weak or foolish person

14. Pulveratricious: Covered with dust

15. Rastaquouere: A social climber

16. Scopperloit: Rude or rough play

17. Selcouth: Unfamiliar, rare, strange, marvelous, wonderful.

18. Tyrotoxism: To be poisoned by cheese

19. Widdiful: Someone who deserves to be hanged

20. Zabernism: The abuse of military power or authority.
From here.

June 19, 2008


It has been two weeks of rampant grumpiness. I am equal parts I-hate-everything and I-want-to-curl-up-into-a-ball-and-cry. When vigorously mixed, you get a lovely dose of not-much-fun. Please take a moment to send Z your thoughts on the most sympathetic channel you can find.

I need a vacation.

June 15, 2008

June 10, 2008

Please hold

A couple of weeks ago, my external hard drive died. As it was within warranty and only served to back up all my data, it wasn't such a big deal. The replacement unit arrived over the weekend and today I'm transferring all 100+ of my fish videos from DVD onto the hard drive. You know that window you see when you're copying a file between locations on your computer, the one that tells you the "Time remaining"? It's usually terribly inaccurate, right? Well, I was just informed that it would take 37551 days and 22 hours to complete a transfer. That's about 103 years. And the count is going up. I think this is what is referred to as a lost cause.