Archive for: January, 2005

Birdthday Rejection

Jan 31 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Yes, it's true that today is my birdthday and yes it is also true that I have decided that I will NOT become a year older as most people do. My logic; if I can't have a job that actually pays a living wage like all the other adults I know, then I refuse to grow up at all!

Even though I am too ashamed of my current un(der)employment situation to tell anyone that today is my birdthday, I hoped that my friends would magically figure this out anyway and send me lots of great gifts in the mail. I checked my mail earlier than usual today, looking for all those wonderful cards and packages and colorful wrapping papers and cakes and pies but instead, I only found one letter. It was yet another rejection letter for a tenure-track position. Baaad timing, methinks.

But instead of receiving the typical rejection letter (pictured for ease of comparison) that usually consists of two or three self-esteem crushing sentences, I discovered the nicest rejection letter I've ever received (and after 18 months of job hunting, I have become quite a connoisseur of rejection letters so I am very capable of making this judgment).

I was so impressed that I decided to republish the text of the letter here. This letter is a great model for those of you who work in academia and are looking for polite ways to reject your job applicants without making them feel they are something disgusting and smelly that is stuck to the bottom of your shoe (all names have been elided to protect the guilty, of course);

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Dear "GrrlScientist",

Thank you for allowing us to consider you for the faculty position in Biology at (elided). The search committee has now finished the selection process, and I am sorry to tell you that you have not been selected as a finalist for this position.

On behalf of the search committee, I wish to extend our appreciation for the time and effort you put into your application, and for making us aware of the skills, experience, and motivation that you might bring to a teaching role. We would like to keep your materials on hand, in case other opportunities arise.

Visiting faculty positions open periodically, in response to short-term needs, and Regular (continuing appointment) faculty positions open in late summer / early fall for the following academic year.

All our positions are posted on the Web site: (elided)

Thank you again for your interest in teaching at (elided). I hope we will be able to utilize your talents in the future.

Sincerely,

(elided)

Faculty Hiring Coordinator

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Despite the fact that I think this is a very nice letter, I do have an editorial comment; the faculty hiring coordinator's secretary uses too many commas and capital letters, yet she has a job that pays a living wage (and I don't).

Hoppy birdthday to mee.

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The First Day of Class

Jan 28 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

After 18 months (exactly) of searching for a job, and 3 months, 2 weeks and 5 days of unemployment, I finally have a job that actually pays my rent, a job as an Adjunct Professor of Science. Of course, if I plan to eat or wash my clothes or ride the subway, I must support those habits by being paid to do a variety of other things, such as pet sitting or tutoring or freelance writing, but for now, I am grateful for this job.

As I rode the subway home last night after my first day at my job, I found myself in the company of hundreds of excited and hopeful college students. It appears that yesterday was the first day of the academic semester for many colleges and universities in NYC. I closed my eyes for a few moments to enjoy my almost overwhelming feeling of satisfaction, of joy, of belonging. For months, I have doubted my value as a scientist, as an intellectual, and as a person and I was certain that my academic and research lives were forever lost to me. I was nearly ready to write a resume full of fiction and send that off to the many temp agencies in NYC in search of a mind- and soul-sucking "survival job" so I would have some way to mark time before my eventual death.

But a single phone call cut through my depression and changed it all. It was almost as if an alarm clock had awakened me from a nightmare so I could discover that my meaningful life had been there all along, that it was curled up in bed next to me; comforting, warm, real. As I sat on the subway last night, I felt this fierce, powerful conviction that I had rediscovered my true home: Academe. It's been a long time.

It was so abstract that I was afraid to believe it was true, so I'll say it again, I HAVE A JOB!

As you probably have guessed, yesterday evening was the first day of my anatomy and physiology class. It was the lab portion of the class (the photo on the cover of the lab text is how I feel right now). Despite the fact that last night was our first meeting, the lab went well and I managed to teach the students how to use microscopes without anyone destroying anything.

I arrived on campus several hours early so I could locate and inspect my classroom and talk with the people who set up the lab for me (CLTs -- Certified Laboratory Technicians?). Prior to this, I had spent hours trying to decide how many lab exams to have, the percentage of the total lab grade that each exam is worth, and how to account for other things such as lab reports, attendance and "lab technique" (basically, this is how I hold each student accountable for cleaning up after themselves, for personal conduct, etc.). I finally decided that I would never devise the perfect grading scheme, but what I had written down seemed good enough to start with, at least.

Surprisingly, when my students arrived, I was not nervous even though "stage fright" (or perhaps terminal shyness) has been an ongoing battle throughout my life. Okay, I was just a teensy bit nervous, but my relative ease in front of my students was unique for the first day of class.

I have 27 very motivated students. They range in age from 20 to 45 or so. Two are caucasian and approximately half are immigrants and they all speak English very well. All of them are employed, either part-time or full-time. Slightly more than half of my students are male, which is unusual (in my limited experience) for classes such as these that are designed for those pursuing nursing and other medical professions, such as Physician's Assistants (PA) and respiratory therapy (should I mention that the average PA's or general duty RN's starting salary is $45,000 ($60,000 in NYC with an Associate degree, $62,000 in NYC with a BSN) -- both are bachelor's degrees -- and the average starting salary for a respiratory therapist is $34,000, while the professor with a PhD who is teaching these students their anatomy and physiology only earns enough to cover rent, if she's lucky? Oh nevermind, I get ahead of myself sometimes).

At the beginning of class, I introduced myself and told my students a little about my background (but I forgot to tell them that my own collegiate career began in a Community College, too). I told my students they can call me by my first name, but I think they are somewhat intimidated (by me? by my title? by my position?) so they all call me "Professor Owl" instead.

In spite of the fact that I grew up in a farming community where college educations were very unusual, I wanted to be a university professor for most of my life. In fact, one of my favorite words is "professor" because it has such a lovely and venerable meaning, and hearing myself addressed in this way is so powerful and evocative. When I was a TA (Teacher's Assistant) and a guest lecturer in graduate school, my students liked to address me as "Dr. Owl" or "Professor Owl". At that time, I felt very uncomfortable with this, almost as though I was promoting a fraud by prematurely accepting credit for something that I had not yet accomplished. But hearing the respect in my student's voices (almost reverence, really) last night when they addressed me as "Professor" is a verbal reminder that I've finally "made it", or so I would have thought when I was a graduate student.

But things look so very different from this side of "achievement" than they do from the other side, when I was a grad and undergrad. For example, I never thought I would be unemployed (and seemingly unemployable) after I had earned my PhD and completed a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship, nor did I EVER think I would have to seriously consider living on the streets. How could I have missed this? How?

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Survival Job Survival 101

Jan 26 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Last night, I slept better than I have in almost one year. Even The Dump Truck cooperated by refraining from dropping bowling balls on his bedroom floor (my bedroom ceiling). This morning, I awoke in a warm apartment to the sounds of my birds quietly discussing politics in the darkness. It was so pleasant.

After donning my favorite blouse and my newly patched pair of jeans, I arrived at the Community College (CC) a few minutes early and felt an odd momentary sizzle of excitement as I walked into the building. Professor Owl.

My building is nice. Even though the labs were dark when I peeked into their windows, I could see that they are large and modern.

I met the people who run the Science Department where I will teach (profess?). I was given the course textbook (still in plastic wrap), and the course materials and I filled out mountains of paperwork (I wonder how many forests were sacrificed to the gods of bad handwriting on my behalf?). I was told about the odd CC class schedule and how to decipher their grid system so I am teaching the right topics at the right times and places. "The grid" seemed to make sense when they explained it to me, but looking at it now, it is utterly incomprehensible to my exhausted brain.

I listened and asked questions and answered questions and walked around the building and looked out onto beautiful Manhattan from the departmental windows and eavesdropped on desperate students trying to add my class.

My class.

After three hours of this excitement, my brain was crammed to the explosion point with wordswordswords, names, books, diagrams, syllabi and peoplepeoplepeople. They finally let me go in the early afternoon. Exhausted. Drained. Hungry. This experience will help me empathize with my students tomorrow.

My students.

I fell asleep on the subway under a mountain of books and papers and almost missed my stop.

I hope I do well tomorrow. I am so tired now that all I want to do is go home, eat a non-chocolate meal and snuggle under my blankets while I dream of Resplendent Quetzals.

This reminds me, I have one piece of advice for everyone who is or will be in a similar place as I was today (after hiring, before the paperwork); if you are too broke to properly celebrate your new job with numerous rounds of competitive drinking with your friends, resist the urge to eat a big bag of Peanut M & Ms for your celebratory breakfast. Especially avoid doing this on the morning when you meet your colleagues and supervisors for the first time, even if a Peanut M & M breakfast normally makes you feel really good.

That is all.

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Non-academic applications: 2 (editor for a science journal, science writer)

Academic Interviews: 1 (preliminary telephone interview for tenure-track position at a smallish midwest university)

[I admit I've been quite depressed this past week, which has greatly reduced the number of applications I've sent out recently. I hope that getting this CC job will help me deal with the prospect of hundreds more rejection letters from my professional/academic applications jamming into my post office mail box and email boxes. I once jokingly referred to these as "fan mail" but my amusement with this little "alternative reality" game died approximately ten days ago.]

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Some Good News

Jan 25 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Today, I was offered (and accepted) a position as an Adjunct Professor of Science at a local community college. I will teach an Anatomy and Physiology lecture/lab and I somehow managed to convince them to offer me a second class, a Chemistry lab for nursing students. Classes start Thursday. Thursday, as in, less than 48 hours from now.

After making sure that I would be paid enough to cover my rent (and believe me, rent will be ALL that my stipend will cover), I accepted the position. According to this college's policy, because I will be working nine lecture hours per week on these two classes, I will be paid for ten lecture hours. I will be busy three days per week (Tuesday-Thursday) and will devote the other four days per week to working on my research and scientific papers. And blogging, of course!

I will still be cat sitting, tutoring and freelance writing to cover my other expenses (food for me and my birds, power, cell phone, and MTA cards). And I still will not have any health insurance. I'm happy that I enjoy good health (fingers crossed)!

Welcome Hedwig, to the adjunct schtick. It's a survival job, but not a living.

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The Dump Truck

Jan 23 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

This morning, my upstairs neighbor woke me up earlier than usual with a loud crash that (I later discovered) sprinkled a few chips of ceiling plaster and paint onto the hardwood floor of my bedroom. Dammit, I just cleaned!

During the past six or so months since my upstairs neighbor moved in, I adjusted my daily worry schedule to coincide with his peak nocturnal earthmoving activites so I can make maximal use of this otherwise wasted time while he rumbles around above my head like a runaway dump truck. Incidentally, this also explains how he earned his nickname from me; "The Dump Truck".

But living under The Dump Truck has not been entirely worthless because I have learned at least one important lesson; I learned that I am not as pacifistic as I thought. In addition to worrying about my employment and financial situations, I also invest a portion of my newly-scheduled night time worry hours into wishing that Santa had left a bazooka leaning against my bedroom wall last month. Well, my birthday is coming in a few days, so perhaps Santa will make amends for this, although it is my opinion that Santa has MUCH to compensate me for and I am not talking about missing Christmas gifts, either.

The Dump Truck also was the impetus for me to meet some interesting night time conversation partners in the NYC police department. After my complaints to the landlord about The Dump Truck did not result in any noise reduction, I began using that wonderful "non-emergency" police number in NYC, 311. In fact, I am sometimes tempted to call my 311 conversation partners to "catch up" on those sleepless nights when The Dump Truck is peacefully snoring above me (can't he do anything without making a huge noisy production out of it? In fact, it would not surprise me to learn that his unadulterated noise-making capacity is the reason his wife divorced him).

My contacts in the NYPD inform me that I am filing a "Quality of Life Complaint" when I call them to object to The Dump Truck's noise-making. I like that phrase better than "Noise Complaint" because it implies that the police actually take this sort of thing seriously and that they will do what it takes to remedy the situation that threatens my precious "Quality of Life". But it also raises some interesting questions; what exactly can be designated as "Quality of Life" and can I file a Quality of Life Complaint about my entire sucky life? What happens if I file such a complaint and nothing improves? And gawd forbid, if my life becomes even worse after my complaint has been filed, what happens then?

Some people assert that my neighborhood is noisy because my neighbors are Dominicans and I "should have known" this before I moved here. But how should I "have known"? Osmosis? Certainly, noise-making capacity isn't genetic because when I moved in more than one year ago, my (then) upstairs neighbor was a Dominican man and he never presented a noise problem (sure, he had a loud stereo, but he turned it down after 9 pm, as all civilized people do and as required by law). The Dump Truck, by contrast, is a short, very white-skinned man with hair the color of those wilted carrots that you sometimes find in your refrigerator vegetable crisper, and he relies heavily on furniture-moving therapy during the wee hours.

I know these things because I visited him very early one morning during one of his middle-of-the-night noise-making sessions and found myself face-to-face with his insipid grin, almost as if he expected me to ask him for a cup of sugar. Barely able to restrain my desire to wrap my hands around his skinny neck and squeeze until his eyeballs popped out of his head, I told him to stop the noise, that it was 230 am fercrissakes and some of us actually had jobs that required us to get out of bed in a few hours (this of course, was back in the days when I actually had a job).

But because I hurt my back yesterday while hauling my clothes to the laundromat that is one block away and because I thought the resulting pain was enough punishment for me to suffer for one night, I mistakenly thought that karma or cosmic justice or whatever would protect me from having to endure The Dump Truck's nearly nightly noise festival last night. So it was that I found myself in the darkness at 148 am desperately wanting to wail uncontrollably into my cell phone to the 311 staff, wanting to tell Jan or Michelle or whatever her name was that my back hurt so much that I could barely move without wishing to shoot myself with this year's nonexistent Christmas gift, that I was tired of struggling so much for nothing, that this is just not right and what did I do to deserve this, that I wanted to file a general Quality of Life complaint because my whole life sucks, and all I wanted was a decent night's sleep for a change and is this too much to ask?

But I was too tired and in too much pain to do anything of the sort. Instead, after I filed my noise complaint (ho-hum), I crawled out of bed and walked slowly, painfully and quietly (so as to not teach my birds yet more unpleasant phrases) to the bathroom medicine chest where I found the ibuprofen in the reflected moonlight from the falling snow outside my window.

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Central Park Brrrrrrrds

Jan 21 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

I freely admit that I am a cold-wimp. This means that I have not been birding much (only twice) this week, despite my desire to escape my current sadness by losing myself in the lives of birds. My personal goal (to avoid depression) is to go birding at least once per week and more often when the weather is reasonable. But considering the current weather situation, I am not sure if I can live up to this promise: I don't have health insurance but at the same time, I do have a particular talent for becoming desperately ill with pneumonia. As I write this, a blizzard (or "Nor'easter") is on its way and I have no idea how long it will be before I can go out to look for birds again in Central Park, nor how often I will do this.

I am sad about this. My Friday/Sunday morning birding excursions have been the only time(s) each week when I spend time in the company of people. Otherwise, I am alone, unless you consider being crammed into a subway car with hundreds of cranky commuters to be stimulating social interaction. But I was lucky; even though my birding companions don't know me well (nor I, them) they accepted me into their group immediately. I am pleased to note that they also look forward to seeing me each week and they always have fun stories and jokes to share with me.

Because of the weather, only four others (out of 10 or so "regulars") in the birding group showed up on this very cold Friday morning to poke through the bushes in the icy winds in Central Park. Perhaps because I was the last to arrive, everyone laughed and cheered when they saw me walking towards them -- probably in recognition of our shared insanity. It was a nice way to start the morning.

We did not spend much time looking for birds in open areas because the strong wind was so cold. Instead, we spent most of our time near the birdfeeders on The Ramble and at the northwestern end of The Lake. The fox sparrow made an appearance under the feeders while a red-breasted nuthatch fed on suet in a feeder, above. We marveled at a yellow-bellied sapsucker hanging motionless from the trunk of a tree, approximately three feet above the ground. This bird had puffed its breast feathers into a fluffy globe whose diameter exceeded that of a softball so as to capture the warmth of the morning sun radiating from the tree trunk.

At the northwestern end of The Lake, a savannah sparrow picked at our offerings of peanuts from the flat rock in the company of sparrows while chickadees swooped down to collect them and greedily hoard them away into secret niches. Nearby, an immature yellow-bellied sapsucker added new holes to his collection of active sap wells already drilled into the trunk of a small conifer while chickadees closely watched his progress.

The Reservoir hosted many ducks and gulls on Sunday but they were all gone by Friday, when it had frozen over. We also were unsuccessful in our search for the boreal owl near Tavern on the Green, although we have carried out a thorough census of owl poops in the middle regions of Central Park. (Searching for poops and pellets under trees is an efficient way to locate roosting owls).

Although I have seen neither Pale Male nor Lola on or near their restored nest this week, one of my birding companions reported they were both perched on their nest early on Sunday morning and it appeared they had added more twigs to the structure. But I have seen Pale Male from my office window almost every morning this week as he circled low over the bare trees of the park. On all occasions, he seemed to simply be enjoying himself by soaring, and never attempted to capture any of the terrified pigeons that flew frantically from him. Much to my disappointment, Pale Male never once visited me by perching on my window ledge this week.

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Central Park Bird List, 16-21 January 2005 (31 species total seen):

Weather: cold and windy; poor light all days

Binoculars: Swarovski 10x50

Telescope: none

Mute swan (introduced), Cygnus olor, 1 adult on The Lake

Canada goose, Branta canadensis canadensis

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata

Hooded merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus, 1 pair on the Reservoir (Sunday)

Ruddy duck, Oxyura jamaicensis

Red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, 2 adults (Pale Male and Lola)

Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis

Herring gull, Larus argentatus

Great black-backed gull, Larus marinus

Rock dove (introduced), Columba livia

Mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, The Ramble birdfeeders, also Shakespeare Garden

Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus

Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius, 1 immature working a coniferous tree on the northwestern shore of The Lake (Sunday), 1 sunning itself against tree trunk near The Ramble bird feeders (Friday)

Downy woodpecker, Picoides pubescens

Hairy woodpecker, Picoides villosus, 1 flying through the trees and calling at The Ramble (Sunday)

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

Tufted titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor

Black-capped chickadee, Poecile atricapillus

White-breasted nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis carolinensis

Red-breasted nuthatch, Sitta canadensis, 1 at The Ramble birdfeeders

American robin, Turdus migratorius

European starling (introduced), Sturnus vulgaris

Fox sparrow, Passerella iliaca iliaca, (rufous with grey stripes) 1 feeding on the ground at The Ramble birdfeeders

Savannah sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis 1 feeding on the ground at the northwestern end of The Lake (Sunday)

White-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, both tan and white morphs

Dark-eyed junco, Junco hyemalis hyemalis

Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

House finch (introduced), Carpodacus mexicanus

American goldfinch, Carduelis tristis

English (house) sparrow (introduced), Passer domesticus

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The picture linked here is found on the Buchanan County Bird Club photo gallery website. It is linked without permission with no intent to profit in any way, except to satisfy my desire to share the beauty of the birds I see with my readers.

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Panegyric

Jan 19 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

It is obvious to me now that I was NOT thinking rationally when I sold and gave away my beloved bird family so I could accept my postdoc in NYC, especially when I promised my birds (and myself) that I would bring them all back "home" after my life settled down. I remember dropping them off in pairs at the Continental Airlines desk in Seattle shortly before they flew away to their respective destinations in all parts of the country. I remember looking at them through teary eyes as I fiercely promised, "I will bring you back home to me, as soon as I have a home."

Then I turned my back on them and walked away, even as I could hear their piercing whistles echo through the cavernous building. Even as my heart was breaking.

But I lied. Like all of my fantasies, that's never going to happen because my flock of birds not only moved to new homes, but they are continuing to move beyond this plane of existence, forever beyond my reach. They scatter. They are gone. Fading memories. They glitter in the distance like broken glass. Broken promises. Broken trust.

The first lory I ever had the pleasure of living with, Paris, died yesterday morning. Of course, I try to read my email only once per day, so I did not learn about her death until this morning when I found this message waiting for me from my friend, S, whom Paris lived with for the last 4 years of her life;

This morning my 21-1/2 year old dusky hen, Paris,
died in my hands at the vets. I checked on her this
morning and she was in her dog kennel outside by her
heat lamp and she was panting and acting like
something was wrong. I threw on my coat and headed
to the vet's about 40 min away from home. When they
put us in the examining room and were setting us up,
she died. My vet is doing a necropsy this afternoon
and I'll pick up her body tomorrow. I've got her
old friend, Pierre, in the house now so I can
observe him and keep him company. I've been
dreading the day when she would die. At least I got
to hold her and say goodbye. S

Paris was a female orange-phase dusky lory, Pseudeos fuscata, who was born on the 4th of July, 1984. She was 20 years, 6 months and 2 weeks old when she died. For the first 14 years and 8 (or so) months of her life, she lived with me, first as a pet and then later, with a male of her kind. Paris (and the flock of lories that I purchased and bred over the ensuing years) intrigued and delighted me with her funny voice and her sweet nature. She was a gentle and kind presence in my life who always could cheer me with her goofy antics -- antics that earned her a vast collection of nicknames such as "BatBird". Paris was a brave and unique individual from another culture who generously shared her life with me and my friends and who taught me much of what I needed to know, particularly about social behavior.

Even though no one really knows how long lories live, Paris's longevity was unusual. Most captive lories don't tend to live very long on average, because people tend not to feed them properly. Because lories are parrots, people often feed them seeds or pellets under the misconception that all parrots naturally eat dry seeds (actually, few psittacines naturally eat dry seeds). In fact, because lories are nectivorous, their diet is similar to what the average hummingbird consumes. Further, since they have a soft diet, lories' crops are unable to grind hard objects, so seeds collect and build up like a block of concrete, choking the birds.

Several other common hazards to lories' long term health in captivity are also related to diet; first, they must be fed nectar, fruits and vegetables -- all soft, sweet foods that spoil rapidly and therefore must be replaced often with fresh to avoid bacterial infections that can rapidly kill them. Lories are also susceptible to iron-storage disease, the bird version of the rare but deadly human disease, haemochromatosis. This is a condition where the body captures excessive amounts of dietary iron, a rare essential element, and hoards it in the liver. After a few years of a typical captive diet that is rich in iron, the bird's iron-choked liver is transformed into a hard, blackened mass that resembles the sole of a shoe, and the bird suddenly dies from liver failure. So considering this brief listing of health hazards that easily could have cut her life short, Paris was certainly well-cared for by others in the lory community after she left my care.

But I always thought she would live long enough to come back home to me, even though knowing that she was happy and healthy and living in lovely Seattle gave me much comfort. Almost as if she was my child, I was proud that she was out there in the world, teaching others about birds as she had taught me, that she was giving other people so much pleasure -- she was a true birdie ambassador. But regardless of where she lived, she is -- was -- part of my inner emotional core; my family. Thinking about Paris now almost seems to call her here to me. I can almost hear her silky wings cut through the air as she flies to me, almost feel her push her warm fluffy head under my hand, slowly, slowly ... demanding in her quiet but persistent way that I stroke her soft plumage, just as in days long ago. I wish I could postpone her departure by stroking her again. And again. Stay with me, Paris.

My fascination with Paris and her tribe led me to refine my life's passion. You could say that she changed my life forever. My love for lories quickly embraced all that they touched: I came to know and appreciate the flora, fauna and geology of the islands of the south Pacific, the evolutionary home of the lories. As I learned more about them and their island homes, I was convinced that telling my birds' story will greatly increase our understanding of the molecular mechanics of evolution while also deepening our knowledge of evolution in this compelling geographical region. Because I believe in my birds so much, I carefully prepared for years to pursue my longstanding fantasy called "Plan B" (to sail away to the islands of the south Pacific so I can live with and study my birds' wild relatives); I learned to sail, to cook southeast Asian/Pacific island cuisines and to speak and read Indonesian. Paris and her kind were the focal point and the inspiration that launched the thousand bright, shining ships of my postdoctoral career, the career that eventually led me to give up my flock of lories -- the very same career that has abandoned me now, just as I abandoned my flock of lories several years ago. Karma is a bitch, isn't it?

But I was stupidly optimistic: I thought that making small personal sacrifices, such as temporarily giving up my flock of birds so I could pursue my postdoc work that focuses on lories, would provide me with the credibility necessary to make big advances for my birds in the future. I thought my research would direct scientific interest onto my birds and therefore protect many (most? all?) species from the onrushing extinctions that threaten the continued existence of almost all island species, particularly island-dwelling birds. But as with everything, I was wrong. I failed. Again.

Sleep well, sweet Hallowe'en bird, upside-down BatBird, demanding shriekmeister, loving VelcroBird, gentle sensei who taught me so much. I am so sorry I let you down, dear Paris. I abandoned you. I am just like my parental units.

After all the relocating I've done, I don't have a single picture of Paris to share with you all, so I linked to my favorite photo of a dusky lory. This is a picture of another friend's dusky lory, Tiki, standing on a camera. By seeing this picture, perhaps you can sense the person under the feathers.

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Performance Art

Jan 17 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

A colleague of mine is visiting from beautiful Seattle this weekend. A colleague who was in graduate school with me, who shares professional interests, lab space and even the same advisor. In a sense, I guess we are family; sisters. In fact, my academic colleagues are the longest relationship I’ve ever had, except for my relationship with my parrots.

I am happy about this visit, but I am also quite depressed about it.

I know it is not healthy to compare my life to anyone else’s, that doing this is only asking for trouble, but at this point, it is difficult not to make comparisons because of our shared academic history. We earned our PhDs from the same lab approximately one year apart, but this is where our similarities end. Unlike me, she is gainfully employed in a meaningful job in the field, she has a loving marriage and still has her pets, her parents and family love her, she lives in Seattle in the loving embrace of her friends and last but not least, she is a talented writer.

This weekend has been excruciating because I want to show my colleague and her husband a good time, I want them to enjoy their visit to my beloved city and I want them to enjoy all the wonders that my former employer has to offer, but at the same time, I simply want to die. I want to die because it is obvious to everyone that I lack everything that makes life worth living: I fear I have nothing to offer.

Well, my office phone is ringing. They are calling, they are here. The curtain goes up. Bright lights burn my eyes, blinding me.

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(108pm) NO! That phone call was not them after all, it was the chairman of a university search committee for a tenure-track position, calling me to set up a telephone interview for this week. Wha ... interview??

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(530pm) They arrived, my colleague and her husband. They had a great time and now they are leaving. I watch them from my office window, four floors above as they put their luggage into their taxi. I am so sad, I miss them (how can I miss them? They were only with me for a few hours!), I don't want them to go. I wish I was getting on that plane with them, it would be so easy to go back, I want to go back to my former life that I painstakingly built, back to my former life where I had a flock of friends and a flock of birds and a community that needed and respected me, but if I left this, my other beloved home in defeat, what then? My former life is gone forever, I cannot reclaim it by simply returning to the place where it was located, I have to rebuild it the best way I know, here, in this place that I love.

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Secret World

Jan 15 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Have you ever had a secret? A secret that made you smile inside as you held it close to your beating heart, like a small and precious bird? A secret whose feathery warmth gave you strength to brave the terrors and boredom of everyday life? A secret that, like a good book, altered your perspective by possessing your waking and sleeping thoughts so they blended seamlessly together into a single, magical world? This is what birds are to me; they are my refuge in this storm, they are my magical world. I am a writer and birds are the story, I am the instrument, birds are the tune, I, the scientist, birds, my beloved mystery. The diaphanous filaments of their lives bind me to them, creating a silken web that I willingly tangle myself in, a secret world that I escape into gratefully.

So it was that I finally escaped into my secret world in Central Park yesterday and today (Thursday and Friday, 13 & 14 January) and found that I was expected. The Ramble birdfeeders hosted the usual array of hungry avian visitors but I was surprised on Thursday to discover one fox sparrow feeding companionably in the company of white-throated sparrows and sooty dark-eyed juncos, his rusty plumage harmonizing with the newly fallen leaves. Then on Friday, I was delighted by two common grackles parading around on the wet earth under the feeders, the pale sunlight lightly stroking their iridescent plumage as they busily flipped soggy leaves in search of seeds.

The Reservoir accommodated notable guests, too; a pair of hooded mergansers. I almost missed seeing them on Friday because I was ready return to my office to thaw my frozen fingers around a steaming mug of tea when these gaudy ducks appeared suddenly, wings flapping frantically before they hydroplaned across the water's surface and then settled down near me. Their unexpected arrival did not disturb a bathing male bufflehead who scarcely paused his rhythmic preening of thick snowy feathers while he flapped a delicate pink foot in the cold breeze. The sleek mergansers peered about alertly, their slender necks craned, their rounded crest feathers raised, but after a few moments' inspection, they were satisfied and relaxed visibly.

Overlooking the model sailboat pond, Pale Male and Lola were calm as well. They perched casually on nearby buildings or lolled about on the winds above their restored nest as is usual for them in the afternoon. As if knowing they were safe, fat rock doves congregated in the tree branches above my head.

But on Friday, Lola spent the afternoon following Pale Male from building to building and settling next to him on patio railings, window ledges and television satellite discs, neatly folding her wings across her back. Pale Male spent the afternoon ignoring Lola, studiously surveying his kingdom before sidling away from her or opening his wings so the winds could deliver him to another perch. And so it went for almost an hour. One could almost imagine Pale Male and Lola as an old married couple, the husband sitting in his easy chair and drinking beer while his wife unsuccessfully sought affection by snuggling on his lap during commercial breaks. Apparently, even long-term avian relationships have their problems.

But it was cold and my numb fingers were painfully protesting their plight, so I finally, reluctantly, left my secret world so I could thaw out. It awaits, I shall return.

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Central Park Bird List, 13-14 January 2005 (31 species total seen):

Weather: either foggy and cool or unseasonably warm, windy and rainy; poor light all days

Binoculars: Swarovski 10x50

Telescope: none

Mute swan (introduced), Cygnus olor, 1 adult on The Lake

Canada goose, Branta canadensis

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata

Hooded merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus, 1 pair on the Reservoir

Ruddy duck, Oxyura jamaicensis

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus, 1 chasing birds near the model sailboat pond

Red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, 3 adults, including Pale Male and Lola at their restored nestsite

Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis

Herring gull, Larus argentatus

Great black-backed gull, Larus marinus

Rock dove (introduced), Columba livia

Mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, The Ramble birdfeeders, also Shakespeare Garden

Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, 1 adult male at The Ramble birdfeeders (Thursday) and 1 at the model sailboat pond

Downy woodpecker, Picoides pubescens, 3+ (females only) at The Ramble birdfeeders

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, 1 seen in The Ramble, calling to one or more -- heard but not seen (Thursday),

Tufted titmouse, Baeolophus bicolor

Black-capped chickadee, Poecile atricapillus

White-breasted nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

American robin, Turdus migratorius

European starling (introduced), Sturnus vulgaris

Fox sparrow, Passerella iliaca iliaca, (rufous with grey stripes) 1 feeding on the ground at The Ramble birdfeeders (Thursday)

Song sparrow, Melospiza melodia, 1 at the Reservoir

White-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis, both tan and white morphs

Dark-eyed junco, Junco hyemalis

Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis

Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula versicolor, 2 at The Ramble birdfeeders

House finch (introduced), Carpodacus mexicanus

American goldfinch, Carduelis tristis

English (house) sparrow (introduced), Passer domesticus

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"Getting It", NOT

Jan 13 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

This, sent by a friend ...

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Strippers Make Money: Career Day

PALO ALTO, Calif. A popular speaker at a Palo Alto middle school's annual career day might not be invited back after he advised students that stripping -- yes exotic dancing -- could be a lucrative potential profession.

William Fried (freed) informed eighth-grade students at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto on Tuesday that exotic dancing was a lucrative career move -- offering as much as a quarter (m) million dollars annually. He also said the exact amount of financial opportunity was directly proportional to the dancer's bust size. Fried is the president of Foster City's Precision Selling, a management consulting firm.

He told students: "The truth of the matter is you can earn a tremendous amount of money as an exotic dancer, if that's your desire."

Fried has given his 55-minute talk "The Secret of a Happy Life" to students for the past three years. He also distributed a tip sheet that includes a list of 140 careers, ranging from accounting to wrestling, as well as exotic dancing and stripping.

The school's principal plans to send some apologetic letters home with students.

Fried says he doesn't think he offended anyone.

 

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Let me repeat: Fried says he doesn't think he offended anyone.

Um, okay. Can someone out there please explain why this joker has a job while I am unemployable?

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Academic Job Applications: 2

Non-academic Job Applications: 6 (editor for professional journal (2), scientific assistant, lab supervisor (2), and production editor (part-time) -- this last potential position, if I get it, guarantees that I cannot pay my rent even though I would be employed. Oh, joy).

Academic Job Rejections: 1

Non-academic Job Rejections: 1 (Editor for a (unnamed here) professional scientific publication -- this rejection hurt, too).

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