During my tour of apartments as I was moving to Cleveland, I saw a dining table made by attaching four legs to a panel door and covering the top with glass to create a level surface. I decided to build one for myself, and instead of a funky pastel color and clips to hold the glass in place, I wanted to design something more elegant. Here is the result:
Here are some photos of the work in progress, starting with the door as purchased from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore:
Flipping through radio stations one day and I hear these lyrics
Don’t you dare go running down my little town where I grew up
And I won’t cuss your city lights
Now I have to keep it on this station and listen to the rest of this song.
And as someone who’s lived in cities after growing up in Ocala, Florida (ever heard of it?) I am extremely annoyed. Listen, guy, we have better things to do with our time in the busy big city than talk smack about your small town. And plenty of these city slickers you’re so defensive towards grew up in the same small towns. I’m reminded a little bit of the various cultural divides in the U.S. that show up in our politics…
Which brings me to this next song:
A couple guys in first class
On a flight from New York to Los Angeles
(blah blah blah they’re making fun of these square looking states with cornfields)
They’ve never drove through Indiana!
Met the man who plowed that earth, planted that seed,
Busted his ass for you and me…
Last time I checked, farmers didn’t farm for free – they busted their ass for the money. And let’s not get into agricultural subsidies. But my real question is… Why was he on the same flight with these arrogant meanies from the city overhearing their conversation in first class?
Oh, that’s right. Because nearly every young person from a small town wants to experience the broader set of opportunities and cultural experiences that exist in cities. (Well, except for this guy.) And especially the young people who are going on to make some of this music. What does that mean?
The show American Idol has more winners from the south (9 out of 11) than you’d expect from population statistics alone. And small-town south, no less: Burleson, TX; High Point, NC; Checotah, OK; Conway, AR; Garner, NC; and, Leesburg, GA, are some of their hometowns.
Even if you set aside the theory that southerners have more practice from singing in church, someone still has to care enough to vote for them, whether it’s out of a feeling of hometown pride, of our kid’s gonna make it to the big time, or of something else. Any way you slice it, people in small towns really care about getting themselves or one of their own to the big city.
God knows how many songs have been made about the struggle of going from a small town to a big city and trying to make it as a musician. The hook on this song at first has the line
Please don’t worry ’cause I’m all right
I’m playing here at the bar tonight
but at the end of the song the hook goes
Please don’t worry ’cause I’m all right
I’m staying here at the Ritz tonight
At the Ritz, is that right? I can’t find any Ritz hotels in those amazing small towns.
At least Carrie Underwood had the good sense to sing about life in the big city with the perspective of a wide-eyed innocent feeling a bit nostalgic about her hometown.
I’m in a world so wide
It makes me feel small sometimes
I miss the big blue skies
the Oklahoma kind.
I should be clear: I’m not hating on country music, only certain attitudes that are needlessly reinforce divisions among us and in some cases are simply not rooted in any reality. It’s just music and I’ll confess – if I’d been blessed with the ability to sing, I wouldn’t mind sounding like this guy:
If you’ve been around longer than 20 years, you’ve done a lot of things, a lot of things have happened to you, and it becomes hard to remember why you chose one path and not another. In my case, I’m in my second year out of school and working, and I have to admit that if someone asked me in high school, “Where will you be in 10 years?” the answer would not have been working on the next generation of materials and their interaction with humans and the environment.
I’ve been working on a series I call Connecting the Dots of my Career to help myself make sense of where I’ve been and how my interests have grown and evolved, so I may better understand where I’m looking to go next. The writing is driven by my school and work experiences, but I’ve found that many of my personal relationships are inextricable from the narrative. I’ve been writing it in parts, and here is each one with its own teaser.
Part 1. My plan changed a few times in college:
I chose Chemical Engineering. Why I made this choice, I cannot remember today. But 3 useful things came out of that choice:
#3 - Because of a scheduling error, a ChemE course in Cell Engineering that all of us wanted to take junior year conflicted with the required Physiological Foundations course… What course did we end up taking? Micro/Nanotechnology.
Part 2. Laying the groundwork for breakthroughs unknown, in my first two years of grad school:
The funny/unexpected thing about all those AFM hours is that it ended up being a minimal component of the ellipsometry work… but later it was crucial to my report on free-standing films and for measurements of sub-nanometer thickness graphene sheets.
Part 3. The lowest point of my time in grad school occurred, but I turned things around to graduate on a strong note, while several useful ideas were planted, in my last three years:
Looking back at it now, I realize I effectively staked my PhD career on this technique… I faced a lengthy struggle to make it work well… An accumulation of frustrations gave rise to self-doubt. Thoughts of “file paperwork to get the Masters degree and leave” crossed my mind.
Part 4. To Sweden and back, with a clearer understanding of the impact I want my work to have:
Nanomaterials will improve many technologies, and consumers will compel us to prove that the materials don’t harm them. Having come down this path, immersing myself in nano-health-risk studies and gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges in using CNMs commercially, I’ve begun to envision my potential next step. I believe my knowledge can contribute to the development of actual products, not just published papers and patents. I think the following two areas are ones in which my understanding and skills may prove effective…
The title of these posts, Connecting the Dots of my Career, is inspired by the first story in the famous Steve Jobs commencement speech.
On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky. She saw no Indians now; she saw flour-mills and the blinking windows of skyscrapers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Nor was she thinking of squaws and portages, and the Yankee fur-traders whose shadows were all about her. She was meditating upon walnut fudge, the plays of Brieux, the reasons why heels run over, and the fact that the chemistry instructor had stared at the new coiffure which concealed her ears.
A breeze which had crossed a thousand miles of wheat-lands bellied her taffeta skirt in a line so graceful, so full of animation and moving beauty, that the heart of a chance watcher on the lower road tightened to wistfulness over her quality of suspended freedom. She lifted her arms, she leaned back against the wind, her skirt dipped and flared, a lock blew wild. A girl on a hilltop; credulous, plastic, young; drinking the air as she longed to drink life. The eternal aching comedy of expectant youth.
It is Carol Milford, fleeing for an hour from Blodgett College.
The days of pioneering, of lassies in sunbonnets, and bears killed with axes in piney clearings, are deader now than Camelot; and a rebellious girl is the spirit of that bewildered empire called the American Middlewest.
– The opening passage of Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Get out your headphones and iPods!
Instead of a written post, I’ve made a podcast for you. Joining me on this podcast is my good friend Ebonee Walker, who is currently a grad student and one of those people who excel at the art of conversation.
Our topic is the title of this post, but in 16 minutes we zip our way through a discussion of ex-girlfriends, maid services, eating cereal, music by Babyface, and house husbands.
How to Listen
The podcast is in mp3 format. To play it through your browser or iTunes, just click on the link below. For iPod listening, you can download it by right-clicking and going with your browser’s expression for Download file as…
Podcast file: Every_graduate_student_needs_a_wife.mp3
This podcast is definitely an experiment, so if there’s one thing you enjoy about the podcast, do me this favor: leave a comment telling what you liked so we can do it for you again and share the joy by sending the link to someone you know.
If there’s something I could do to make a better podcast, do me this favor: leave a comment suggesting an improvement.
You might be wondering why there’s a photograph of a rain-drenched car at the top of this post. I’ll get to that. But first…
1. A quick look at 2011 on this site
Which, really, is a look at only November and December since I didn’t do any writing in the prior ten months.
Total productivity: 5,870 words and 2 videos in 12 posts (average post length, 489 words)
Your favorite posts, based on total views in 2011:
- My mother’s plan for me to marry a brown girl is doomed.
- Is it Un-American to Ride Public Buses?
- Things I learned in Sweden
(In case you’re wondering, my favorite post to make was this one because I learned something really useful along the way. And of everything on this site, this post received the most views in 2011 – and remains the all-time most-viewed post.)
All that being said, I’m glad you’re reading this site! The site stats tell me that, while I might indulge myself writing about serious things like the bus system’s finances, the fun stories are what resonate with you – so I’ll keep writing them! I enjoy the off-site dialogues that spring from these posts, and I feel great satisfaction when you say that you found a post like this one useful.
2. My Goal for 2012
I have one goal in 2012 as a writer: to write 2 pieces that are featured on sites where I don’t have editorial control.
I’m not 100% certain what I’ll write or where I’ll contribute. I read a few personal finance sites – like Get Rich Slowly, in the sidebar – so, maybe a piece on how to find value in the used car market? (AKA why Saad drives the Crown Vic in that photo.) Or maybe essays about the stuff that everyone relates to, like relationships and dating and social stuff. (Sorta like I did with that piece on marrying a brown girl.) Or maybe fiction like short stories posted in installments. (No ideas yet, just throwing it out there.)
I am open to your suggestions, as well… What do you want to read? Let me know in a comment!
And of course, I’ll keep writing on this site like I always do – experimenting, trying to make things fun, make things sexy.
(In a way, I already write for another site, with my occasional, brief contribution to Em & Lo like this one. But I’m greedy and I want to inform, entertain, and help more people! By the way, bookmark Em & Lo and visit them because you will enjoy their columns!)
Happy new year!
Friends and loved ones, you know I like books, and right now you have the perfect book in mind for a gift. I’m looking forward to reading it. But don’t give me the book unless it would look impressive on a shelf (and very few books qualify). Instead, give me an Amazon gift card – or cash – and tell me what book you’re giving me. I will buy it for the Kindle and read it there.
Of course, if you do give me the actual printed book, I will still love you and be thankful and read it. But later on, when I’m moving apartments, I will lightly curse you because you’ve contributed to the amount of heavy stuff I have to pack up and transport, when it was totally avoidable.