January 2014

Books read in January:

  1. Bring Up the Bodies. Hilary Mantel.
  2. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Susanna Clarke.
  3. The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre Dumas. (150/875pp)
  4. Encyclopedia of the Cat. Bruce Fogle.
  5. Life as we knew it. Susan Pfeffer.
  6. Here, There Be Dragons. James A. Owen.
  7. Champion. Marie Lu.
  8. The Modern Middle East. James L. Gelvin. (25%, in progress)

Some of the books read this month were long, as in running in the 800+ page range. I will probably come back to The Count of Monte Cristo, but it was a bit much after just reading the 1000+ page Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

My mom and I are reading The Modern Middle East together, and one thing I’ve noticed is that it focuses heavily on how Early Modern Europe influenced the Ottoman and Safavid empires. What about their neighbours to the east, however? Why so western-centric? And I noticed this to be the case with Here, There Be Dragons, also — the fantastical world, which is supposed to be all the imaginary worlds that have ever existed, is composed entirely of the imaginary worlds of Western European folklore and mythology. What about Asian folklore? Russian? Any of the myriad of African folklores? Australian Aboriginal? Various Latin American? North American Indian?

Time and time again, the motifs drawn on in fantasy literature comes from the Western European tradition. Part of this is due to that is what is taught as the canon for literature in most literature survey courses. Writers write what they know, and so they write about fantasy worlds that are based on Western European mythology. And so this trend is self-perpetuating.

But fiction and fantasy are not solely written by American and British writers. And not all American and British fantasy writers confine themselves to Western motifs (such as N. K. Jemisin or Guy Gavriel Kay). So, my dear readers, who are they? Recommend books to me — fiction or non-fiction — because I don’t want to be confined to only one literary tradition when I go exploring…

Let the Games begin

This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education has been making the rounds in my academic circles on Facebook. I share it here because my non-academic family and friends should read it too, especially as I begin my Academic Job Search.

The Odds Are Never in Your Favor: Why the academic job market is like the Hunger Games

“Doctoral students are usually type-A overachievers, and so your loved ones have faith that you’ll come out OK because, well, you always have.

But the academic job market is a process that necessitates failure.”


Dear readers, I volunteer as Tribute. “We who are about to die salute you.”

Well, I hope I don’t die, but I salute you nonetheless.

Murder she knit

IMG_9541I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been knitting. Part of my PhD Recovery Plan has been to spend hours watching Castle and Sherlock and knitting. In the last week I have knit one legwarmer and have started on its twin. (I have one episode of Castle left! How can I knit without a murder/detective mystery show? I guess Fringe or back issues of Doctor Who will have to suffice. Oh! I forgot about Silent Witness. More forensics, yay.)

Last night, my housemate, her boyfriend, and I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It turns out that it is (very) loosely based on the short story of the same name by James Thurber. “Oh!” I said, and stood up, pulled a book of the shelf, and proceeded to find the short story. It was short enough to read aloud. Living with me, it seems, provides for literary entertainment.

Also, isn’t the knitting needle case my mom made for me lovely? I really like it. I’d like it even more if I had more needles to put in it…

Pantene Beautiful Lengths

My various health conditions and medications prevent me from donating blood. Instead, I grow out my hair and about very four or five years I cut it short. The last two times I have donated my hair to Locks of Love, a charity which makes wigs to give to children being treated for cancer or who lose their hair for other medical reasons. My hair was finally long enough to cut to donate again, but this time I chose to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths.

IMG_9483Beautiful Lengths is a partnership between Pantene and the American Cancer Society. Like Locks of Love, Beautiful Lengths makes wigs for cancer patients — the difference is that Beautiful Lengths gives these wigs to adult women, particularly those being treated for breast cancer. Over the past few years I have come to know a few different breast cancer survivors who fought and won. I am also part of a community that was touched by one who, despite all the bravery in the world, was defeated. The world is a cruel place. If my hair can be made into a wig that will help some woman out there keep fighting, then I will gladly cut 11 inches (29 cm) off and send it to Pantene Beautiful Lengths.

Which is what I did.


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As usual, I had an audience when the stylist put my hair into ponytails and made the first cut. Whenever I make the cut and donate my hair, I find myself seeing so many women with long hair and wonder why they don’t also donate. Hair is a renewable resource and a lot less painful to donate than blood.

If you have long hair, I urge you to consider donating it to charity. Locks of Love requires a minimum of 10 inches (25 cm) and Pantene Beautiful Locks requires a minimum length of 8 inches (20 cm). And if your hair isn’t long enough to donate — why not let it keep growing before you make your next cut? Your hair can help someone else feel beautiful again.


The high today was 77 F/24 C. Bright sunshine without a cloud in sight. The sun rose at 7.30am and set at 6pm, giving us almost eleven hours of daylight. For lunch, Kelly and I sat outside eating tacos and quesadillas, basking in sunlight.

The sun shines harsher in the desert. Here, it is dry and dusty, the trees hunched over scrubby brush and the dry gold and brown grass. The beauty is unique. You learn to appreciate the varying shades of brown, of rock and dirt and hard ground. Despite the dusty green and gnarled brown trees, a pale blue sky, dry grass, you can have a tree full of birds: swallows, mockingbirds, blue jays, a cardinal flashing red. It defies all logic, but the sky is bigger in Texas. One has space to breathe, to stretch out one’s limbs, to look far and wide, and relax.

It is good to be home.

Over the frozen sea

Crossing the brilliant sea of white clouds reflecting the sun, the clouds parted after some hours and out of the steady, solid blue of the Atlantic came this: sea ice.

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IMG_9393(Click photos to enlarge.)

Can you determine what is land, what is sea, and what it ice? Look closely enough and you can even see the cracks in the ice floes…

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These last three are in reverse order than when I took them in order to demonstrate how we flew along the delta of a frozen river, somewhere in New Brunswick, I think.

What beauty, what stark contrasts, what chill runs through my bones when I consider such thing as a frozen sea. I knew it existed of course, but had never seen it with my own eyes. I wonder what it would be like to walk along the ice, to live in such a forbidding place such as this. I was reminded of the folk song Frobisher Bay, here sung by the St Andrews Madrigal Group:

Cold is the arctic sea
Far are your arms from me
Long will this winter be
Frozen in Frobisher Bay
Frozen in Frobisher Bay

“One more whale,” our captain cried
“One more whale and we’ll beat the ice.”
But the winter star was in the sky
The seas were rough the winds were high.

Deep were the crashing waves
That tore our whaler’s mast away
Dark are these sunless days
Waiting for the ice to break.

Strange is a whaler’s fate
To be saved from the raging waves
Only to waste away
Frozen in this lonely grave.

The year of the cat

A friend of mine in Oklahoma has been trying to find homes for her adorable, house-trained, very well socialised kittens (they even like dogs!). Being on another continent, I of course cannot adopt one, but even so I am being tortured by the photos she keeps posting of the kittens on Facebook.


How can you say no to this face?!

So I’ve come up with a New Year’s Resolution for 2014 after all: get a kitten by the end of the year.

Rain, rain…

Go away!

I mean it. The UK has been battered by some pretty rough weather as of late. Southern England has been the hardest hit, but it’s still pretty awful up here in Scotland. There was a major storm that toppled trees and flooded rivers and villages in England in late October. Then a tidal surge that was the largest in 60 years wreaked havoc on the coasts in early December. And since Christmas, the UK has been hit by storm after storm off the Atlantic, with more tidal surges, and it’s forecast to continue into mid-January. Seriously, we’ve had about 20 days and nights of rain already. Another 20 more and we might all be flooded away.

Luckily there hasn’t been any flooding in my area and the rain is more of a nuisance than causing any real harm. I’d like to go outside and run errands without having to strap weights to my boots to keep from blowing away. I’m still a desert girl at heart and I don’t know what to do with so much rain. But I am concerned about the areas down south, where the land is so saturated with water already that it can’t absorb any more rain. Which leads to flooding.

My parents left this morning and I have plenty of things to do around the house to keep me busy, so I’ll postpone any ventures outside until tomorrow when I have to go to work. I hope those of my British readers in the UK are staying safe, dry, and warm.

* Yes, I’ve written an entire post concerning the weather. I’ve lived in the UK for half a decade, okay?

Sunset, sea

Yesterday afternoon, the clouds paused. It has been raining for days and days as gales have hit the UK. For days I’ve listened to the wind howl in the chimney, buffeting the house and lashing rain at the windows. Apart from sleeping, the weather itself has kept me indoors.

But it stopped raining. I hopped on my bike and cycled to West Sands in time to watch the sun set on the last day of the year.





I can feel so cooped up in this house, in this ugly, residential area of town, where it’s just houses and houses and houses. It can be frustrating, sometimes, that I have to first get out of this part of town to go anywhere. But the sea, the sea. The roar of the waves, the reflection of light and shadow on the sand; the sea reminds me why I do love this town, most of the time.

Last year was so good, until the end. The beginning of 2014 sees me emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically worn out, exhausted, and weary — not exactly a fortuitous start. If I’m lucky, maybe 2014 will be the mirror of 2013: a poor start, with a good finish. Yes, let’s hope for that.

If I were one for New Year’s Resolutions, I’d first say that I want to stop crying every day (crying is exhausting and it give me headaches), but I already manage that as best as I can. Instead, perhaps I should make more of an effort to get out to the sea.