Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hamlet--But With Dogs

As soon as I concluded my thesis writing and defense, I snatched up the nearest book I could find. That book was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, one I had purchased with Christmas money based on Donna's recommendation*.

I had heard the book was a sort of modern Hamlet. The book certainly contains similar elements to Shakespeare's play, but it also extends those themes into the relationships between humans and their dogs. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle tells of the boy Edgar, who was born without a voice and whose parents breed and train dogs. These dogs are special, special because of the vision that Edgar's grandfather had to breed a dog who is a true companion, not merely a useful work animal.

The book plays on themes of love, of soul-mates, and of revenge. The novel too focuses on language: since Edgar cannot speak out loud, he must communicate via different avenues, including his beloved dog, Almondine. Yet he is obsessed with words and language, and he is given the responsibility of naming all the pups in the Sawtelle kennel. His relationship with language is entirely physical, enacted through written and signed forms, embodied by his well-worn dictionary. His inability to communicate verbally underscores the ways other characters in the novel are unable to speak, even though they have the power of speech.

I don't really want to give too much away of the plot, but Wroblewski was able to get me to really care about the characters in deep and complex ways. I wasn't completely repulsed by the story's villian because Wroblewski didn't completely villainize him, writing a complex character that a reader could be drawn to in spite of herself. The writing was vivid and well-paced; though long, the novel read quickly and concluded well.

I'm glad I read this book, and I look forward to loaning it out. My next book is The Mysterious Benedict Society, which I picked up this weekend on a lark because I liked the cover art** and thoroughly enjoyed the first two chapters. I do enjoy being able to read for pleasure again!

*I like knowing that I have people who can really recommend good books and movies to me. I've liked nearly everything that Donna has recommended. Thanks to her, I purchased Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
**The book was illustrated by Carson Ellis, who is also the artist responsible for The Decemberists' albums and is married to Colin Meloy, their lead singer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Week After

If you haven't heard by now, I successfully defended my thesis on the 16th. This past week (and weekend) has been spent lazing about, reading books, thinking about putting the finishing touches on my final copies, and visiting with good friends.

The defense itself was, well, intense. I had prepared a twenty-minute formal presentation, only to be told the morning of that I needed to prepare to speak "no more than fifteen minutes". After the panic subsided, I figured I'd just go with what I'd prepared. When the defense began, my adviser introduced me and set an informal tone to the defense, so I ended up discarding my notes and just talking. And I think it went better than if I had been more formal.

Then came the questions. Oh, the questions! For about 40 minutes, they grilled me. I didn't have time to even be nervous about anything, though my adviser had to bail me out of one tight spot. Toward the end, the defense became a discussion on the writing and educational needs of engineering students from all who were present (I had three guests), which I thought was a great way to conclude. After receiving an "you're okay" gesture from my adviser, I stepped into the hall for a moment , chatting with S, an engineering professor. Then my committee called me back in and congratulated me. I was now a Master.

I thought I would feel some great sense of relief, but I was a little dazed after the intensity of the defense, and I still can't quite believe it's all done. But it is, and I felt pretty good. I learned a lot about large research projects, which should serve me well in my PhD program.

I've begun reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (great recommendation, Donna!) and I read Coraline on the way home from Little Rock. Coraline was good, and although the movie differs quite a bit, the film's changes enhance the story on that level. I enjoyed both for their individual merits, and would recommend them for children (probably seven or older, though).

I've also been cleaning and cooking, participating in the Kitchn Cure Challenge, and doing lots of yoga. I missed taking care of all the little household things like cleaning and cooking and keepting the house tidy. I'm sure I'll get tired of not working and schooling all at the same time, but it won't be any time soon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'Twas the Night Before...

It's 10:30pm, the night before my thesis defense.  Part of me thinks that I'm hyping myself up too much--but I can't help it.  I want to do so well, and it means a lot in terms of my education.  I'm trying to tell myself that I have this, just to relax...but my nature is to panic slightly.  Luckily, people have asked me really hard questions, and I do so much better answering questions.  It's weird how that works--maybe because I prefer a setting where I'm conversing with individuals rather than talking for twenty minutes without relief.  My future teaching style, perhaps?

So, it's 10:30, and my thesis defense is tomorrow.  I feel pretty good about my ability to confidently talk about my thesis for twenty short minutes.  Seriously--do you realize how short twenty minutes is?  I can't talk about anything in depth.  Really, it's quite ridiculous. 

To keep calm I have practiced (successfully) twice, I have baked chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese icing, and now I'm preparing to go to bed.  Luckily, I have until 2pm tomorrow to wait, so if I miss anything tonight, I have a little while to catch it up.

I'm ready for this.  I'm so ready.  I feel good, I feel confident, I will defend successfully.  I just hate feeling so anxious!  Time to gather my outfit, iron it, and crawl into bed for a good night's sleep.  Good night, all!

Friday, April 03, 2009


Two signs seen around campus:

ASG campaign sign: "Making Yesterday's Ideas Tomorrow's Reality"

Red Cross Blood Drive: "Recycle Life--give blood!"

Seriously, people? Do you even think about what words mean??

(Back to my thesis. I'm >this< close to being finished...)