Saturday, September 25, 2010

Home Again and Happy Fall!

Autumn Field, Tompkins County, New York, September 22, 2010
Happy fall, everyone. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend much of the first day of fall outdoors!

I'm very pleased to say that the meeting with Prospective Advisor went great. I was totally not nervous when I arrived, probably owing to the fact that I'd been for a hike, had not entirely imagined that visitor passes and parking zoos would take up quite that much time, and had left my directions to hir office somewhere that wasn't with me. I'd pretty much run the nerves out of me by the time I got to hir office (on time); I would have preferred to be a little less sweaty, but w/e. Zie was also very welcoming and easy to talk to; it quickly went from "interview" to "shop talk." Prospects are iffish because of funding constraints, but making the connection with Prospective Advisor was totally worth the trip.

I drove up a day before my meeting and took the opportunity to spend some time in one of my favorite places (within a couple of hours of the U., definitely a perk) and took some pictures. I also had the opportunity to hang out in a cafe in a very small town in upstate New York and overhear several conversations. The statements that liberalism is Satan and you can't believe in god and vote Democratic gave me pause. The pumpkin-pear bisque was very yummy, though!

And now, some more photos!

First stop, Women's Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, New York. The reconstruction of the Wesleyan Chapel is complete. You can see the difference in the brick; the redder brick is the surviving original structure of the Chapel. The reconstruction is to size, built over the original foundations. I think this reads so much better as the Chapel than the standing ruins that it has incorporated/replaced. Honestly, I was skeptical of the reconstruction of history, and didn't expect to like it. But I think I like it.

Wesleyan Chapel, Women's Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, September 22, 2010

Interior, Wesleyan Chapel, Women's Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, New York, September 22, 2010. There is screening on all the windows, which will be great in the summer. But it means you can't easily see inside, which sucks. The doors were closed and locked when I was there.

I was also able to spend some time at Taughannock Falls, New York. I try to do something different every time I'm in the area. This time, I went up the South Rim trail above the falls, and was pleasantly surprised. Next time, I may try the approximately 2-mile round trip up the North Rim trail, across the top of the falls, and down the South Rim trail. I wanted to try it this time, but just didn't have the time.

Taughannock Creek, Taughannock Falls State Park, Tompkins County, New York, September 22, 2010. The creek bed is exposed shale (no sand/mud); there wasn't much volume of running water, so you could actually walk up the creek bed.

Fall in the caldera, Taughannock Falls, Taughannock Falls State Park, Tompkins County, New York, September 22, 2010. I just love the colors.

Abandoned road alignment, Taughannock Falls State Park, Tompkins County, New York, September 22, 2010. I kind of cheated and took an unmarked path off the South Rim Trail; the trail itself runs across the top of the bridge. This would have been one hell of a curve to take; there is a sheer drop into the creek gorge just above the falls immediately to the right of this photo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

First Date Jitters!

Bright and early I will be on my way to a meeting with a prospective PhD advisor. I kind of think of these meetings as "first dates" -- we meet briefly, talk about mutual interests, and all decide if we want to spend more time together.

I am not nervous about my abilities, background, interests, or anything on a professional level about this meeting. I'm actually feeling good about what I want to do, why, and why I chose this particular person to work with. But I'm nervous nonetheless!

Fortunately, I am driving up a day early, and will be able to spend some time before the meeting not too far from the U. in an area that I absolutely adore. Hopefully, the thunder storms they're calling for bugger off, and I can spend some time in the gorgeous fall outdoors doing a little hiking and a little reading without feeling like a lightning rod. (Fine, it will be reading Prospective Advisor's recent work...but I -do- find it interesting, or zie wouldn't be on my list of prospective advisors! Also a good reason for no rain: I could only get my hands on an interlibrary loan copy. Is it just me, or is it weird that the closest library with a copy to lend was very-far-away Texas?).

Still feels kinda like a first date, though. I will endeavor to return with pretty pictures, and a synopsis of the meeting.

On another note: I continue to not hate my body. And sporting equipment that was tight on me a couple of weeks ago... not so much. I cannot tell you how completely different this is for me...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Open Letter to My Body

Dear Body,

We have had a strained relationship for just about as long as I can remember. I have ignored you, and I have hated you. I have hated how big you are. I have hated when you don't work right. I have hated when you don't move right; when you drop things; when you hurt.

Today, I asked you for what I thought was impossible. And you delivered more than I thought was possible, and then delivered again, and again, and again.* I am in awe. I did not think we had it in us. I cannot hate you any more. You are awesome. And together, holy shit, it's *all* possible.

-- Me.

* I took part in an athletic event today as a member of two teams. I took part in a total of at least 10 heats (possibly 11, but I really can't be certain right now), and a total distance of at least 5,300m or 3.3 miles. Most of the heats were sprints of 200 to 500m; the last race was a fight to the finish for 2,000m. I thought I was done after Heat 3, but emptied the tank for 7 more heats. Holy shit.

Monday, September 6, 2010

PhD Application Grumble

I'm going through the application materials for the schools I am applying to (at least, those which have application materials available so far). I'm making notes about what, in particular, certain schools want to see in their personal statements/statements of interest, etc. etc. (One school in particular wants to know why, if there is a significant gap between previous school and PhD land. I am assuming 10+ years counts as significant).

Here is what has me stumped and grumbly: the GPA. I did my undergraduate and MA level schooling up in The Great White North. The Great White North does not (or at least, did not, when I was there) bother itself with Grade Point Averages. That was an American thing... like calling universities colleges, and second year students sophomores. For the record, in TGWN, universities are universities; colleges are colleges; and your second year of university is referred to as your second year.

One university has specifically requested that students with international credentials just leave the GPA thing alone, and they'll figure it out when they get the transcripts. Another school gives no guidance, and I've popped off an email. This is why starting so freaking early is a Good Idea; grad school applications are rife with niggly bits that take time to sort out.

So, while I am frustrated that I can't just answer the question, at least there is time. What I *am* worried about are these online recommendation letters that require me to complete my application online before recommendation letter requests are sent out to recommenders... it means I have to have all my shit sorted and complete sooner rather than later, including those personal statements...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Social Annihilation

America was a very interesting place in the very late eighteenth/early nineteenth century; interesting, at least, from the distance of two hundred years.

Fresh out of the Revolutionary War, riding early waves of the Industrial Revolution and snowballing scientific discovery, Americans sorted out what it meant to be American. We left our small towns, and pushed west; we mined coal and built canals to carry it to increasingly industrialized cities, our manufacturing no longer dependent on water power. We built railroads, and new towns sprung up along them like a string of pearls. Free of the Church of England, we sought our own meaning in utopian communities and home-grown religious traditions.

It all sounds very progressive and romantic. But there was, of course, a price. When a person's world was limited to a couple of days ride by horse or buggy on shitty roads, and they knew or were related to pretty much everyone they encountered, they (and everyone else) knew exactly what their place in the community was. As people began to travel further, move to industrial centers, or set out to make their fortunes, communities became very fluid. Members of families who had lived in one place for generations would move away; people who had no family ties to an area would move in, or just stay a spell before moving on. The social order was in flux, and there were so many strangers...

It became necessary to wear your social rank and status on your sleeve; to visually advertise to the strangers around you, where you placed in the social pecking order. There was an entire ballet of right clothing, right mannerisms, right pursuits, right language that, it was assumed, only true members of the elite could pull off. But because none of these things are inherent within a person, social rank and status became contested -- people of lower social rank and status emulated the social ballet of the elite, and when too many of them got close to being good at it, the bar was moved. This even played out in cemeteries:

... the working poor tried to assure themselves a place in funerary society by securing burials in cemeteries or churchyards that were equivalent to those of the bourgeoisie, or within bourgeois cemeteries in inferior graves and spaces. The alternatives - to be sold and/or stolen, dissected, and/or displayed in a museum, or to be dumped anonymously in a mass grave in a potter's field - represented social annihilation. The dissected body was nothing but a collection of body parts and waste, a thing; potter's field was a dumping ground, a place of exclusion…. For working men and women, burial in the cemetery or churchyard symbolized inclusion in the social order. (Sappol 2002: 35-36)

It was important to be important enough that your body was not exhumed by the Resurrection Men and sold to medical schools for dissection or dumped in an anonymous paupers' grave. Funerary display was one way that families could assert their place in society; that they could show, by virtue of having All The Right Trappings, that they belonged. I think the idea of social annihilation is an interesting one in the context of material status display and negotiation.

Significant sources for the above include:

Baker, Faye Joanne
1977 Toward Memory and Mourning: A Study of Changing Attitudes Toward Death Between 1750 and 1850 as Revealed by Gravestones of the New Hampshire Merrimack River Valley, Mourning Pictures, and Representative Writings. M.Phil Disseration, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Halttunen, Karen
1982 Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.

Hoffman, Frederick L.
1919 Pauper Burials and the Interment of the Dead in Large Cities. An address read at the National Conference of Social Work, Atlantic City, N. J., June 4, 1919. Prudential Press, Newark, New Jersey.

Sappol, Michael
2002 A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomies and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth-Century America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Shively, Charles
1988 A History of the Conception of Death in America, 1650-1860. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York. PhD dissertation, Harvard University.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wrangling Meetings

I've been scheduling visits to prospective PhD schools. One was done a year ago, one is set, one is pending, one won't happen because I've already been there (though it was many years ago), and prospective advisor and I will meet at an upcoming archaeological conference.

One school I haven't heard back from re: are you taking students and request for a visit; I will re-send, now that school is back. One school I haven't written to yet (and need to get on that). And I won't be visiting School On The Other Side of the Country, at least not at this stage.

I feel like I am running out of weekends and time. Thank goodness I have a healthy chunk of vacation time left this year; I'll be using it!

Also on the To Do list:
- Write statements of interest
- Retake the GRE
- Perhaps a nap