Studying for exams: week 3

This last week in Chicago was cold and miserable and miserably cold.

I find it very difficult to motivate myself to do things when it’s like that.  And by “things” I mean, anything that requires me to leave my apartment.  I basically ventured out only when I absolutely had to, for my Thursday study group, my TA commitments, and a seminar at the Newberry Library.  And I hated pretty much every second I was outside–it’s the kind of cold that saps all the water from your skin as soon as you step out and sucks all your breath away at the slightest wind.

The rest of the time, I was holed up in my apartment.  I just have to say, thank god for my study.

Dignified as hell.
Dignified as hell.

Pretty much I just sat around drinking tea, and the occasional glass of pinot, watched the fire, and worked on my STS field.

Not. Bad.

I’ve hinted at some of them above, but here are my successes from this week of studying:

1. The STS study group meeting was once again phenomenal.  We worked through actor-network theory, which is a way of describing the world as an intricate web of objects–buildings, texts, plans, people, animals, etc.  None of the objects ranks above any other, which sometimes makes historians uncomfortable–oh noes, what will we ever do without people and free will?  But I like thinking about things this way because it allows me to consider medicines, diagnoses, patient letters, and the patients themselves, as all part of a social production.  It multiplies the number of historical materials I have to work with, and it makes everything more complex than it appears on the surface.  It takes the homogenous and makes it heterogeneous.  It makes investigation more investigatory.  I’m so cool with that.

2.  Actor-network theory then proceeded to give me a thousand ideas for my novel, as well as point out a thousand things I was already doing with magic/energy/machine/human hybrids that are totally in line with STS studies.  Shazam.  More on that at a later date.

3. I sat down and reformed my Modern Britain field this week.  This was sort of a mixed bag for me…I had to take off a good deal of my beloved medical history in favor of (what I, but not all, would consider dull) political sagas, but in the process I removed 12 books and 4 articles from the list.  Here’s how the new list breaks down.

  • Modern Britain: Total Books – 71; Total Articles – 13
  • Books – 35 to review (49%) and 36 to read (51%); Articles – 11 to review (85%) and 2 to read (15%)

All told, now, I have 109 books to read (61% of my list) and 69 to review (39%).  I still only have 3 articles to read (7%) and 43 to review (93%).

So, yeah, not a huge difference, but it’s something.  And hopefully this new list will be manageable, instructive, and appeasing.

4.  I started teaching myself how to shadowbox.  It is so frigging fun.  And I discovered that boxing is one of those random things that I do left-handed.  I’m a southpaw!

5.  I had the opportunity to hear one of my fellow grads, Julie Fountain, demurely rock out at the bimonthly (or so) British Seminar Series at the Newberry.  I always find it encouraging to watch people at a similar stage in their work handle themselves with professional ease and humor.

bouquet garni6.  Both of my home-cooked meals–kale lasagna and Istrian minestrone–turned out super well.  I used a new cooking technique for the minestrone, too, which I always enjoy.  I threw a bouquet garni in the soup.  Basically you take a cheesecloth and some butcher’s twine and wrap up herbs (here, thyme and parsley) and Parmesan rinds into a little bundle, which soaks in the soup and infuses it with flavor.




Bummers from this week:

My dream come true...
My dream come true…

1. I drank the last of my jackpot Pepsi.  On January 25th, probably due to the power of my magical top hot, I put a dollar into a vending machine at school, and it proceeded to not only give me my dollar back, but also shoot out every Pepsi available.  I managed to grab about five before the machine clogged.

I subsequently offered them to my students, but they all drink Coke for some god-forsaken reason, and, thus, I returned home with my hoard.  My mother was horrified that I took more than the one I purchased, but I informed her that since the machine gave me my dollar back, I was no longer bound by the rules of capitalism.  Free Pepsi for all.

Maybe that was actually more of a success from a previous week petering out…

2. I had to miss a show by the inestimably productive, passionate, and pfantastic Grant Wallace Band, a musical group formed by some of my dear friends.  If you live in the Chicago area, and you are looking for some something both studied and relaxed, multiform and accessible..and if you like folk sounds with a dash of gospel viola…go check these guys out sometime.  They’re wonderful.

*   *   *

Week 3/9 plan:

This is going to be a bit trickier because I have a number of previous/standing social commitments, and they all fall in the middle of my prime study time.  So, I’ll have to be very disciplined and use all of my available time wisely, even when I’d rather take a nap.

My overall goal is to make a dent in my British field, just to show it who’s boss.  I need to shake some of the mystique off of it and prove to myself that despite some setbacks and discouragements, I really do know what I’m talking about when it comes to British history.

I also need to submit a report to the Graduate School, proving to them that I used my Provost Award money to go to England and do research, rather than…buy $2000 worth of skittles or something.  And I need to write some letters of recommendation for a student.

The choir project is firming up…I have to figure out when elements I can reveal and which must remain hidden until the event, and then I’ll update on that.  Mystery! 

*   *   *

Also, if all y’all hadn’t heard, archeologists just confirmed that they found the body of Richard III of England…under a car park.  I’m sure his murdered nephews would find some kind of historical justice in that.  Stick us in a staircase, will you, Uncle Dick?


Historian, novelist, musician, and imagination professional.

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