Thursday, December 13, 2012

Last Days (And Not Because of the "Apocalypse")

These last days of the semester are like every other semester, save for one exception: I'm not freaking out. Again, I think it's evidence that I'm growing up and handling challenges in a sensible, rational way. I didn't buy an industrial pack of Redbull from CostCo. I'm not wasting time on websites (except for this one). The final papers have instead turned into a reflection of 2012 and to a degree, further back.

Most of you have only heard about my academic obligations and my career endeavors. Only some of you have heard the nitty-gritty that has become my personal life. Most of the nitty-gritty has worked out and taken care of itself but some details still remain. These details have become the greatest stressors in my life, far more than school and work have been.

In juggling this personal life and my graduate program, I've figured out much about myself, how I operate, and why I think the way I do. And instead of trying to actively change these, I've figured out how to work around them.

I realized that I don't think linearly or even cyclically like most. Instead, I think conically, in circles and moving across a spectrum in a rapid and unpredictable manner. No wonder people have had difficulty figuring out how I got from Point A to Point F in a matter of a few steps.

I've begun to understand the basis of my relationships, both platonic and romantic. I've figured out where I'm invested, where I'm not, and where this stems from. What I struggle with is addressing these different problems. I'm seeing changes in my lifestyle and the effects these changes are having. I'm struggling to get back on track to where I want to be. But this came after the hardest reflection: figuring out what I want.

This existential reflection is necessary for human development. Everyone goes through it at some point and no one is excused from the "what does it all mean?!" moments that we often classify as quarter- or mid-life crises. While I haven't skipped them altogether, my existential crises have scaled back considerably (compared to last year) and only pop up under the inevitable pressures associated with deadlines (like the past two weeks).

The coping mechanisms have changed in some ways. I still clean extensively to clear my head and I still check my email compulsively. But I'm not pounding energy drinks and locking myself away. I'm not snapping at people under duress. I'm sitting comfortably in the library, writing notes in all places, listening to either RHCP or classical piano on Pandora. I'm not yearning for the bike rides my friends are going on tonight, as I used to. My wheels are rubber side down and I'm crossing things off the list.

The sense of success and accomplishment is also different. I'm taking more pride in my work (probably because I love what I'm doing) and working harder to produce better work. My success in my planning classes is evidenced by the perfect (or near perfect) scores on memos, maps, and presentations. And while I've not been as successful in my other classes, the fact that I'm reading comments and revising papers based on those comments shows that I'm taking it seriously. The truth is: I haven't been this serious about school in...probably four years or so?

Yesterday, I finalized my plans for my MPR and, while it's not necessary for another four weeks, began outlining my research and making notes. It's probably the most I've been motivated this semester. And although I still have two papers to crank out over the next two days, I'm not worried that I'm going to do poorly or that I'm not going to get it down in the timeframe I've set for myself. RHCP and the piano are keeping me going, as well as the reward of rebuilding and riding my carbon as soon as Monday.

Even with all this work, I couldn't be happier with this semester and every stumble-and-fall I made. Here's to the end of this and the beginning of that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


My dad has always told me "Life is a series of trade-offs, Jilsie. You have to realize that not everything is going to be perfect all the time, but that there's always a silver lining."It's a lesson I started to listen to sometime in high school and that has followed me all the way to my inevitable career path.

Part of public policy is weighing the costs against the benefits. We often call these trade-offs (or compromise, in some cases); what we are willing to give up, in order to gain.

In graduate school, there are many trade-offs we face in our daily decision-making:

  • Turn a paper in on time, but sacrifice sleep
  • Give up sleep to get that paper in time, but sacrifice some of the quality
  • Going to the library instead of going to the bar
  • Giving up a shift at work (and income) to finish class assignments

Most of my trade-offs have fallen into one of the above categories. My favorite one has been skipping bike rides with friends and going to the gym to work out, in order to finish papers and other assignments. One trade-off I have NOT given up is sleep. It may leave me turning in assignments a bit late or sub-par in quality, but it means that I'm not snapping at people or lashing out when it comes down to the wire (which is where I am right now in the semester).  

Trade-offs are also coming in the form of job opportunities. A few weeks ago, I was offered a job at a high end bicycle shop in Berkeley. This time, I wouldn't be selling, but working in an administrative and managerial position. In addition, I would be responsible for incorporating advocacy involvement into the shop's overall mission and goals. Aside from being able to work alongside some really cool guys, I'd get to work with one of my best friends, as well as one of the funniest mechanics that I know. Obviously, this is a great opportunity for me, to finally combine my skills with my passion.

But you know what happens next: something is standing in the way. That "something" is a dream internship position with the City. I applied for three different internships within the same division: parking policies, Complete Streets projects, and bikeway and facilities design. Again, an opportunity that combines both my passions and my skills. (Not to mention a SWEET pay and a foot in the door).

How do you choose? One job was offered before I find out about the other one. Do I say Thanks, but I'll pass, under the assumption that you'll get the dream job? Or do I say Here's the situation, let me get back to you?

Luckily, I didn't have to do either.

Unfortunately, I wasn't selected for 2 of the 3 internship positions. I also have considerable doubts in being chosen for the last one. 

But now, I can consider the job as a real possibility, rather than a missed opportunity. I still have to lay my future plans out on the line for the owner, but when in doubt, tell the truth.

While I'm mildly bummed out that I didn't get the internship, I've picked up where I've left off and have been working to make more money, finding a client for my MPR, and finishing up my work for the semester. 

The other silver lining is that I made the cast of Vagina Monologues, showing end of February. Not working 16 hours a week with the City means I can make all rehearsals and put on a great performance. Shameless plug: please come support Mills, as well as a cast of incredibly talented ladies, this February! More information to come. :)

And for your reading and logic pleasure, 
a pie graph displaying one of life's best trade-offs.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Down to the Wire

While making note on upcoming deadlines and presentations today, I had a nasty realization: I have five class days left until the end of the semester.

I call this nasty because it's crept up on me. In the past, I have been anxiously awaiting the winter break and counting down the days, all while either huddled in a corner of the library over my computer or curled up in the fetal position, wondering how I was going to survive the remaining days.

This time around, I am not that scared person. Yes, the end has caught me by surprised, but it has instead served as a motivator. It is motivating me to move my ass, finish these papers BEFORE the deadlines, and begin preparing for the next chapter of graduate school: MASTER'S POLICY REPORT.

The Master's Policy Report (MPR), for those not familiar, is the equivalent of a master's thesis. But instead, we are working with clients to produce a relevant report, showing that we are capable of applying the skills we just paid nearly $30,000 to learn. Most of us have successfully found clients and have, more or less, begun the research. Yours truly, however, is still searching and anxiously waiting to hear back from several transportation-related agencies who might have work for me.

This, however, is not my priority at the moment. It should be, but there are more pressing things that need my attention. Things such as:

  • Job application assessment
  • Modeling and forecasting problem set for TLUP
  • Paper on Fruitvale TOD (also for TLUP)
  • Case analysis that is WAY past due
  • Several small memos
  • Several GIS maps
  • Preparing a presentation for a public meeting that will involve a public official whom I (and many of my colleagues) have very little respect for
  • Studying for the only exam that I have to sit for
All things considered, this list is completely manageable and would have been smaller, had I been diligent with my deadlines earlier in the semester. Oh well. The fact that I'm not hugging my knees and rocking back and forth is a good indicator that I have grown up and have finally learned how to manage impending deadlines. 

So while I'm used to drowning myself in Redbull and caffeinated tea, I think wine will suit me just fine this time around. After all, I am an adult and in graduate school. In graduate school, we keep it classy. Plus, I am my mother's daughter. 

Here's to rounding out the semester with full force and a head held high.

Friday, November 9, 2012


I don't have much to post right now, other than the fact that I'm in the throes of midterm season, in which we have something due almost every day for a two week period. In short: not many exciting things are happening. Well, they are, but there's a LOT to write about and I'm not exactly graced with a bounty of time and leisure.

So instead, I will entertain you with some quotes that arise during homework parties (or not), often with my best friend Anne or some of my PPOL colleagues.

"What you're doing is like fingering. It feels so good, but it's the start to some not-go-great decisions." -Me, upon Anne mentioning her desire for a hamburger and milkshake.
"I'm like the alcohol to your studying." -Anne, in response to my previous comment.
"It's like the Bush Administration. Lots of damage done in 8 years that isn't going to go away overnight." -Me, telling the massage therapist about the state of my back and why it's so knotted up along the spine.
This will be one of those posts that will be continually updated. Until I knockout these two analyses, I'll refrain from updating (as much as I want to). But I have some worthy topics to discuss, like my nerdy transportation obsessions.

All in due time, as my dad says.

Monday, October 29, 2012

If You're Going to Believe in Anything, Believe in...


My brother wrote this and posted it to his page on Facebook. As always, I'm insanely proud of him and everything he does. Especially this. It's the height of the election season, with a Category 1 hurricane barreling down on the Eastern seaboard and the ridiculous, ongoing comments made by members of the Republican party.

Someone please explain to me why the Republican Party is so anti-science, yet nobody seems to challenge:

"there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk" - Mitt Romney September 2012

Mr. Romney, before 2011, there was a consensus on all of these topics among such organizations as the Ame
rican Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Association and the National Research Council, along with the national academies of more than two dozen countries.

"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." Todd Akin August 2012

Mr. Akin, there is no biological mechanism to stop pregnancy in the case of rape, in fact studies suggest that women are perhaps twice as likely to become pregnant from rape.

Not to mention, there are still Republican proponents to the ideas that: vaccines cause retardation, the planet was shaped by an intelligent designer over thousands of years, rather than millions of years, global warming is a hoax, teaching critical thinking skills and similar programs is a bad thing because they challenge student's fixed beliefs and undermine parental authority, and stem cell research is "killing children in order to get research material" (Gingrich).

I'm not saying you shouldn't be Republican and should be Democrat, I'm saying believe in science! Do not refute it because of media or political challenges.

And if you're concerned more about the economy than science, know that half the economic growth since WWII can be traced to innovations in science and technology.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the policy of the United States Air Force Academy or any other government agency. They are my original views, and the facts presented are not biased, since they are facts.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Adventures in Software

So far, my favorite adventure in graduate school has been concentrated to the next two to three weeks of my education. It's a technological overload and my brain is fried, but I still find myself dreaming about it and giddy about working with it the next day.

This week in Local, we're learning GIS. It's been an up-and-coming important skill for people to have in the past few years, but in case you aren't familiar, you can read about it here. We're learning on a program called ArcGIS, which is produced by a company in Redlands called Esri. Apparently, Esri has been around since the 1980s but despite the technological advances, not much of the program has changed in the last 30 years and is still subject to crashing. Specifically, we're using ArcMAP 10 to complete the class exercises, but we all successfully crashed the program on the first day. Due to this, my colleagues and I have become especially adept at constantly saving our files throughout our work process.

Over the course of the next three weeks, our class will do multiple exercises in the program and follow up with a memo of our work and our experiences. Overall, we will be using our newfound skills to map patterns and trends of littering in the Laurel District, our neighbors right up the street at MacArthur and High. That's one of the neat things about GIS: you can map just about anything.

The first exercise focused on zoning, whereas the second exercise focused on census population and geo-referencing. We'll be doing the third exercise sometime next week, so I'm not sure what it will focus on until we meet for class. On Tuesday, after our first day on the program, I went to sleep dreaming about GIS and how I could revise the map that Jackie and I were working on. That dream made me wake up, jot down a few notes, and go back to sleep. I went to school early the next day so I could hop on the computer and make revisions. Most of them had to do with re-labeling zoning designations (which I have nearly all of them memorized), but I also cleaned up other pieces of our map. When we had class, Mark gave everyone about 15-20 minutes to finish up the assignment. Suffice to say, Jackie & I just sat at the computer, futzing around with the map since we were already finished.

Our second assignment is on census population and geo-referencing. Isabel and I swapped partners, so I'm working with Christine now. We're not moving as quickly as the first assignment, but we also have to upload much more data and use multiple programs (i.e. to do so. We didn't get incredibly far and since I feel like I have this information pretty solid, I'm going to let Christine be the driver on this one and I'll just observe.

Aside from GIS, I'm also learning software for my Qualitative Research Methods class called NVivo. It's a program that compiles and organizes your research data and allows you to do other cool things like coding. We've reviewed it over the course of two class periods, but I don't find this nearly as interesting as GIS. I can see its usefulness for a large-scale, long-term research project. But otherwise, I think I'll stick to computer transcriptions and handwritten coding.

FINALLY. What I'm probably most excited and nervous for: AutoCAD! I found Autodesk, a website that allows you to download the software FREE (not for a 30 day trial) if you are a student or educator. Of course, it only allows you to download one program (so choose wisely!); this ended up being a not-so-big deal, since they only had one Mac version. Otherwise, PCs have a HUGE range of programs to choose from.

I decided to download AutoCAD as a way to increase my skills and make myself more appealing to the internships I'm applying for. In general, it's something that I've wanted to learn for awhile, even if I don't go into planning. As far as learning it goes, this is purely Trial-and-Error. So far, I've only opened the program and then closed (just so I can be sure it works). I don't have the kind of time I would like to really peruse, but I've searched, downloaded, and saved a couple of free manuals and internet help pages. I'm hoping that the tutorials will prove more useful in teaching me what each combination of little tiny button and keystroke does, rather than do it all on my own. Normally, I would take the latter approach but I'm just not afforded that kind of time right now.

Roughly nine weeks into the semester and I feel like I finally have my footing. I'm playing Get Ahead more and more, rather than Catch-Up, but I still have a few things to make up. At this point, much of my time is concentrated on revising my resume, applying for jobs and internships, and trying to find a client for my MPR. Balance that will my daily class readings and memo-writing and you have one tired, hungry, stinky graduate student. I wish there was a way that I could read in the shower or have a machine that shovels food into my mouth as I type. *Sigh* If only.

Also: if anyone out there knows AutoCAD, you are MORE than welcome to lend some of your expertise. There might just be some homemade cookies or brownies involved. :)

Earthquakes: just one of about 192,358 million things you can map with GIS.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Quickie

I have about a million things that I need to tell you all about, but I am stocked full of papers to propose, memos to write, and maps to make. And I am having a generally good time doing all of it.

But soon, I will provide a more comprehensive, detailed update of what is going on. Here's what you have to look forward to:

  • The update on my car;
  • My 23rd birthday;
  • Learning new software (there's been a LOT this week);
  • My progress with my MPR (it's been slow);
  • What few social interactions I've had recently (like debate parties); and
  • My usual ramblings

I love, love, LOVE you all for staying with me and reminding me that I'm not alone in this huge endeavor and that I do, in fact, have a fairly exciting life, despite the lockdown I'm in for the next 7.5 months.

Also, to keep you occupied (see what I did there?), here is my favorite photo from Occupy Oakland, on the day of the General Strike. The woman is a good friend of mine from undergrad at Mills.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Another Reason Why People Should Invest in Bikes

Most of you know how much of a bicycle and public transit advocate I am. However, there are times that I feel like a hypocrite or an impostor: I drive my car (more often than not) and while I work in a bicycle shop, I hardly get to ride my bikes!

But today confirmed everything that I have ever argued against cars. There are many costs, both perceived and unperceived, associated with the car. Fuel, maintenance, insurance. The list is endless. Today, I was reminded of another cost.

The cost of having your tires slashed.

Yes. My tires have been slashed. Who, when, and why: I have no idea. But if I find out what little shithead is responsible for this, I hope karma comes back to them and HARD.

I drove my car to and from school yesterday and parked in front of my neighbor's house with no consequence. I had lunch, hopped on my bike, and left for class at Cal. This morning, I tried to drive to school but quickly decided my car was in no shape and drove Stephen's car to class instead. Initially, I thought my car was being slow and creaky because I was low on gas. My gas light lit up Monday night, but I figured I still had miles to go before it was completely empty. I decided I didn't have time to stop at the gas station on my way to school, so I went back to the house to ask Stephen if I could borrow his car. I went back outside to grab my parking permit off my windshield to put on Stephen's car.

THAT'S when I realized my tires were flat and it wasn't the low gas levels that was making my car creep along.

I didn't have time to deal with it; I couldn't miss any more class. I dealt with it after I got home from school. I called AAA, they came and inflated my tires. Then, we found the cuts. As we were inflating, we could hear and feel air whooshing out of the tire. We found several small cuts on the sidewall of each tire. So we called CostCo. They were still open and told us to tow it on down. Except...wait...we don't have the tires you need. Wait, hold on. We might have two. No, nevermind. They're being held for another customer. We'll go ahead and order them for you.

So I'm out a car (which isn't a bad thing) for an undisclosed amount of time. The plus side to this is that I'm going to be bussing and biking more, something that I am looking forward to. What I'm not exactly thrilled about it is the cost of the new tires. Even though two of them are dead, I have to replace all four, for equal wear and so I don't spin out on the highway in some bizarre freak accident.

This instance (along with so many others) reinforces what I've known all along: that I can and should live a car-free life. I love this car and have many good (and bad) times in it. And I'm going to miss it when it goes. But when it bites the dust, I know I won't be scrambling to a dealership to get a replacement.

Folks! Ride your bike! It's significantly cheaper, healthier, WAY more fun, and people who ride bikes are generally happier than your average car driver.

And to the asshole who slashed my tire (and maybe you were the one who also broke into my neighbor's car or their house): life is out to get you. Watch your ass.

Not Giving Up Yet! OR A Lull in My Motivation

Again, I somehow slipped and it's been two weeks since I last wrote. And shit, these last two weeks have been something along the lines of hell. Being sick, juggling the work schedule, catching up and staying ahead in class. The time-suck of each of these is ridiculous. Looking back, I wonder how the hell I managed to not slippery-slope down the mountainside of all the work I'm occupied with. Somehow, I made it happen. 

Sick. Dear G-d, I was sick beyond anything I can remember in recent memory. It all hit after a week of high stress, late nights, early mornings, and poor eating habits. My focus for the week was largely commanded by a group research project and presentation for Core I. We'd spent the better part of the last three weeks dissecting and disentangling a "problem" for the city of Berkeley that, given our research, doesn't really exist. The amount of work and the late nights created a toxic combination that I eventually succumbed to and spent the weekend and half of the following week in bed, not doing a damn thing. Whoever said "Being home sick is a great opportunity to get work done" was never truly sick to begin with.

I suppose I bounced back fairly quickly, largely due to Stephen's help and care. I didn't fall behind as much as I thought, but I'm still playing catch-up. There are still cases to read, brainstorming to do, memos to write, resumes to revise, jobs to apply for. It's a never-ending list that sometimes has me wondering how I haven't thrown in the towel yet.

Believe me, I've wanted to, especially in the last week. I'm finally learning that amidst all the hustle and bustle of the never-ending list of obligations, I HAVE to take time for myself. I finally did that this past Saturday. I got the day off, I rode to Marin from the Ferry Building with some of my closest friends. We drank delicious microbrews all afternoon, before riding to Larkspur to catch the ferry back to SF. Some of us went to a barbecue on Treasure Island afterwards (in which we each scored some sweet bike stuff FOR FREE). It was easily one of the best days of my life and I realized that I need to stop for a hot second and do something for myself. I can't just plow on through the list without a break. If I did, I'd never get out alive.

That's the short of the long of it. I'll do my best to update again soon, amid lists and papers and everything else that has my arms tied behind my back.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Breaking the Dry Spell and I Am TRULY a Graduate Student

Yesterday was the first day in over a month that I got to ride my bike.

Yes, you read that correctly. Bike Girl was off her bike for a very long, very depressing 35 days. I finally broke the dry spell in riding to class at Cal. And I had to pick probably the hottest day of the year to do it. I was drenched in sweat by the time I got to class and I felt bad for whoever had to sit in the desk after me.

The best thing about riding yesterday (besides the obvious) is that I remembered how good everything about it feels. I forgot what it felt like to sweat and breathe heavily, feeling the burn in my legs and the lump in my throat. More importantly, I'd forgotten how cycling has a way of sweeping my mind clean and seeing things in a new light and with more clarity. For example, we're talking about the impacts that land use has on travel patterns and vice versa. We've been focusing on travel and the urban form, but I suddenly thought of city centers, business districts, new urbanism design in the context of a large university. I thought about how students mill around the property, some buildings more visited by others, housing condensed in the immediate surrounding areas. My transportation-land use juices were flowing like crazy!

Opposite of my love for TLUP, I am growing increasingly frustrated with Berkeley's idea that they have a problem with sexual trafficking. I'm doing a case research with other colleagues, proposing solutions Berkeley can take to combat its so-called trafficking issues. I'll get into the dirty details later, but this case has us working close to 100 hours in the past 4 weeks, with 3 of those weeks spent trying to tease out the issues and differentiate what they are asking of us. This week has been particularly brutal-- every day has been a meeting, accompanied by 2 to 3 hours of work on the project. Today was the wrap-up, having spent a collective 6 hours doing research, discussion, presentation work, and formatting. Tomorrow is the culmination, in which we present our findings to the class. At least we have the cherry on top (re: Celebratory Beer) to look forward to.

Today had me at school from 9am until 9.30pm. There was a brief break to watch the first round of the Presidential Debate. We got the presentation completed, although I wasn't sure if I was coming home tonight. I was certain that if I ever made it home tonight (and I did), I would hit the bed fully clothed and never get around to this post. But today was the indicator that I am TRULY a graduate student.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Celebrate the Small Victories

Today started out pretty crummy but quickly turned around, once I put my head to the ground and got to work.

After submitting essays, transcripts, and commentaries, I was getting ready to go to an information session for the California State Auditor Office when Caro reminded me to get some stuff out of my mailbox. I found a stack of important dates, upcoming class assignments, and graded assignments. The assignment at the bottom was a memo I had written for Local. I was caught off-guard a bit when I saw the grade.

A perfect 10.

I haven't gotten a grade like that, in a class I care about, in who knows how long. I was pretty excited for this little thing. I leaned over and asked Isabel what she got on her memo. She replied and when I told her my grade, she brightened and reaffirmed my own excitement. I told her that this was the best grade I've gotten in so long. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that I needed to have a little bit more faith in myself.

She's right. Isabel reminded me that even though we're working toward this bigger picture, it's the small victories along the way that make up the bigger picture and make it that much more worth it. I got a promotion at work, along with a raise. I had a good pre-interview today. I got that 10 on a memo.

Like Isabel said: celebrate the small victories.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Little Bit of Mindless Television is Okay... Right?

Tonight is an important night.

Tonight marks the return of my favorite TV shows.

I don't own a TV, but that's what the internet is for. Tonight is the season premiere of Grey's Anatomy and I'll tell you: it only goes downhill from here. Once Upon a Time, Revenge, and Private Practice will all begin in the next week and I can confidently say that any "free time" (I say this loosely) I once had will now be gone. 

It's been a long, frustrating wait through summer for these shows to come back and I know the premieres will leave more questions than answers. This is just something I'm going to have to work into my schedule. Yay! More time management!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Effects of Graduate School OR Read, Write, Sleep at Table in Books, Repeat

True to my word, I am reduced to blogging about once a week. Until I can take care of my employment problems and catch up in my readings, I won't be blogging as often as I'd like, but hopefully this won't last very long. I've come to look forward to blogging and I hope you, dear readers, have come to wait anxiously for a new post.

One thing I've realized about graduate school is not only its importance (I figured that out a LONG time ago) but its impact and effect on other essential areas of my life. It has not only taken over my life but has also managed to bump other priorities to the back burner, if not off the stovetop entirely. (Pardon the weak pun). Here's how things have played out in each of the arenas.

WORK: I have, once again, reduced my availability at work, so that I have more time for school. It occurred to me last night (as I was grouchy and putting out inventory) that I no longer value my time at work. Everything associated with work is no longer worth the $10.25/ hour that I get paid. I used to pick up hours, stress about making money to pay bills, cram all my obligations into a repeated twenty-four hour period. But I'm no longer motivated by money. Understaffed, underpaid, and overworked has created a noxious situation for me and I am struggling to find a way out. I'm beginning to think that I will find the solution sooner than I expect.

CYCLING: I can't remember the last time I rode my bike. (I think that covers it).

[On a general fitness level, I went to the gym a couple of weeks ago and that was GREAT! I just have to find more time to make it happen. I think I'm gaining the Grad School Thirty!]

SEX LIFE: I have become so focused and stressed from school that it has mostly killed any desire I may have had to be intimate with a certain man. Believe me, it crosses my mind. And so does the endless To-Do list of readings, memos, and research. The impending deadlines for assignments makes me cringe, not aroused. There is NOTHING arousing about the work I have to get done.

SOCIAL LIFE: The state of my social life (or lack thereof) comes as no surprise to me. I knew what I was getting myself into and even took measures to let my friends know "Hey, I love you, but you won't be seeing me for awhile". Understatement. I hole myself up in the MPP building on a daily basis, walking between the building and my car and rarely anywhere else on campus. You can find me in one of three places: MPP building, library, my home. If you come to any of these places at the appropriate time, you will see me, get a big longer-than-usual hug, a little bit of bitching and moaning (sorry!), and then back to huddling over my books and computer. These are my new habits. I would love to break them and I will. In 7.5 months.

RELIGION: Grad school has not made me more or less religious, but it's certainly impeding on my religious convictions. We're in the throes of the High Holy Days and I have not been to services, nor will I probably go. My decision to miss services at this important time of year stems from the fact that I have already missed several classes in the last few weeks for travel and conference (re: job opportunities). All this missed class is making me feel guilty for skipping a day for religious observance. I shouldn't feel this way, but I do. As I type this, I am on the fence as to whether to fast today or not, even though I won't be in services. There's a bowl of fruit and yogurt next to me, but I have yet to touch it. I think my indecisiveness will ultimately lead me to just blow off eating and fast anyway.

I hope that as we progress through the semester and presentations pass, I will be able to do one or more of the above. I miss them all dearly (just as I miss you) and might just snap. This isn't true, but it would be nice to have a day off for friends and frivolity. So: please be extra lighthearted for me! I will return the favor eventually. :)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Again? Already? OR An Internal Soliloquy on the Realization of the Fast-Approaching Real World

While discussing a class assignment with Michaela and lamenting how lost we feel in our work and not sure what our professor wants from us in this assignment, it dawned on me: I have 8 months to go until I have another degree.


We're four weeks into the semester and all I can think about is how quickly senior year of undergrad went by. And while the work is now more time- and effort- intensive, I realize that this year will also go by, quick as a whip.


Juggling work and class and these recent travel adventures has proven to be tough, but if I can survive this, I can survive anything. Even this economy and mediocre job market we're about to graduate into.


That's another thing I have to add to the list. Updating resumes, references, editing cover letters, ironing blouses.

Is this what my life is going to end up being like? An endless To-Do list?

God, I love grad school.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Career-Bound, Courtesy of My Sister

I have the best sister in the world. And here's why:
Caitlin paid for my entrance to the National Women's Bike Summit, hosted by Long Beach and the League of American Bicyclists.

Most people know how much I love bikes (short of getting it tattooed on me). I know that I want to integrate cycling into my life as much as possible and make a career of it. For the most part, nothing about bicycling and bicycles is lucrative; it's a good thing I have no desire to filthy-stinking-rich. I'd rather be rich in friends, family, and changing the community for the better. Which is why this Bike Summit was so important to me (and many of you had to hear about it for weeks leading up to it).

I've spent the better part of two years, trying to figure how I want cycling to play a role in my future. It's obvious that I want to always be able to ride my bike. But a career? I've come up with several possibilities: bicycle sales, bicycle mechanic, bicycle advocate, transportation planner, transportation consultant... the list goes on and on. If it has the word "bicycle" in it (not "bicycle thief"), I want to be a part of it. 

This conference gave me the opportunity to listen to women in the bicycle community talk about their experiences and their hopes for the future of bikes in America. I heard from Leah Missbach Day, the co-founder of World Bicycle Relief, Ovarian Psycos, and several women who have made their way into the political arena, fighting for representation for both women and bikes. There were women from advocacy groups and cycling programs for low-income & women of color. There were racers and directors of local bike coalitions. There was even a mom of six who lives car-free with a seven passenger bicycle. Women are doing amazing things with bikes in the communities where they live and they were nothing short of inspiring.

It was hard to choose what seminars to sit in on. There were two break-out sessions, each with three panels to choose from. They all sounded so amazing, but I finally decided on Beyond Spandex, Toward Social Justice: Women Redefining the Movement (in which we talked about putting the emphasis on women and closing the gender gap) and Making Our Communities Work For Us; Women and the Political Process (in which we discussed the lack of female representation in the political arenas and what we can do to change that). Both sessions were beneficial to me in terms of personal development and career-searching. In the second session, one of the panelists is doing EXACTLY what I'm wanting to do. We talked after the session was over, exchanged information, and will continue our conversation on her research and the possibility of me picking up where she left off. Needless to say, I am giddy about all the networking I did and all the wonderful, amazing women I met today.

The conference was only one day, so tomorrow is going to be spent doing homework, seeing the area with Drew, my brother-in-law, and checking out an L.A. Galaxy game at night. Hopefully, I can get significant work done in the morning so I can enjoy the rest of the day and not stress about my return trip to Oakland on Saturday.

It's been 18 months since I was last in Los Angeles and for the most part, I'm not terribly fond of being here, but putting up with the region was BEYOND worth it.

This was the best birthday present. Ever.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Third(ish) Week In and I'm Already Losing Track of Time

As predicted, my supposedly "daily" posts are slowly turning into "every few days". Actually, one of my best friends pointed out that it's been nearly two weeks since I last posted. I started writing a post last week, talking about how Labor Day screws up the school schedule, but as you can see, that never got posted. Two weeks is a lot of ground to cover, so I'll make this fairly brief, so I can spend more time writing about my very fun (but very short) jaunt down to Los Angeles!

So, the past two weeks have looked something like this:
Class, readings for class, stressing about readings for class, spacing on reading commentaries, work, grumbling about work, stressing about getting homework done while at work, obsessively cleaning my house, late nights, limited sleep, and poor eating habits. (I told you it was going to be brief; about the only exciting thing is that my roommate is awesome and we had an awesome party last weekend)

The travel I've been doing this month is certainly to blame, though transitioning from full-time work to full-time school has also been difficult. Really what needs to happen is for the internet to go away. That's what I'm going to blame. Does anyone else feel this way: when you have all the time in the world, you don't spend it at the computer but when you're busy, you find every possible way to not do the work you are responsible for?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's Clear This Up Or Sometimes I Can't Finish a Post Right Way

For those of you that have been reading so far, thanks for the following! As I said in my first post, this is largely an outlet for me to bitch and moan about grad school, but will also become a way to keep people in the loop of what's going on in this life of mine.

Upon re-reading my most recent post, I realized that I have already fallen behind. Yesterday's excuse is that I spent the better part of the day traveling and did not have a connection to post the entry (so I had to finish it a day later). This will happen sometimes because like I also mentioned in my opener: school comes first (most of the time).

A second thing I realized is that I am rambling on and on about my classes but they are vague and ambiguous statements and unless you are in the classes, you have no idea what is going on. So, let's clear some things up.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, this is what my class schedule looks like:

9.30-10.45am: Organizational Efficacy (PPOL220) with Carol
11-12.15pm: Local Policy, Planning, and Management (PPOL227)* with Mark.
2.30-3.45pm: Qualitative Research Methods (PPOL216) with Carol

After these classes, I'll probably hit the gym for an hour or meet with members of my cohort to work on any one of our million class projects.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, this is what my class schedule looks like:

11-12.15pm: MPP Integrative Core I (PPOL230) with Mark and Sharyl
2-3.30pm**: Transportation & Land Use Planning (CP213) with Dan Chatman

After this, I will most likely roll down the hill and work at the shop from 4-9pm.

In case it wasn't clear before, I work in a bicycle shop. Mostly I sell things but occasionally, I get to work on bikes, maybe build one from time to time if the shop is slow. Due to my ridiculous class schedule, I have to scale back my hours from this summer, but will still be working about 20-30hrs a week. I've put in for: T/TH after class (4-9pm) and anytime on Fridays and Sundays. I've left Saturdays for my own sanity and a whole day to work on class readings and meet with colleagues. Due to the School + Work schedule, I don't foresee much (or any) social time. Which means I should probably have a drink or two when I'm meeting with classmates.

There you have it. This is going to be my life for the next nine months.

*According to Mark, we will be referring to the class as "Local" by next week.
**It's really more like 2.10-3.30pm, due to "Berkeley Time". Again, I think they should change the schedule to reflect this. Apparently, Harvard does the same thing.

Day 4: Not Quite In Over My Head...Yet

Today is a different kind of day. Typically, I have Mark in the morning and then quickly head back home to jump on the bike and ride to Cal for 213. Instead, I'm skipping 213 and will be spending the duration of that class up in the air on my way to Colorado. This holiday weekend is being spent celebrating the beginning of Cameron's final year at USAFA and most of my time will be spent reading for classes (both for next week and this past week).

After a late night of cleaning, I spent this morning doing last minute errands in preparation for my trip. After all the remaining cleaning, packing, and showering, I hopped in the car around 10am to head over to the shop to pick up another textbook that came in. I figured since I was just down the street, I would also head to Krishna Copy to pick up my reader for 213. Another Berkeley joke: there are THREE Krishna Copies within .75mi of campus and NONE of them are related to the others. I ran back to my car cursing after finding this out and pulled two illegal U-ies in order to score a parking spot in front of The Original Krishna Copy. Three minutes and ninety-four dollars later, I am the proud owner of a two-part reader. It was fun trying to cram this in my bag and then make my way through security with it. Better be worth it.

Even though the speed limit down Telegraph is 35mph, I was booking it at about 45-50 and making it through every light. I made it to class with about 10min to spare, a feat I hope to never have to pull off again.

 I think this class, more than any other class, is going to be the one that sends me under. It's not so much the workload, as it is what we are working towards. This is the precursor to our Senior Thesis class, in which we gather the materials in order to prepare to write our Master's Policy Reports (MPRs) next semester. It's not extremely work-intensive compared to the rest of my classes. But that will certainly become the case next semester. Understanding the purpose of this class is what makes me feel as though I may be in over my head.

After class ended for the day, I needed to head to the airport to catch my flight. First things first, I need highlighters. For the life of me, I have not been able to find my pencil pouch ANYWHERE, even tearing my room apart to find it. It went missing about two weeks ago but I've not recovered it. For the time being, I am in a DESPERATE need of highlighters.

So desperate in fact, that I was willing to pay the inflated price for a pack at the bookstore on campus. However, when you walk into the bookstore, see a line of 15 women at the cash register and you have to be at the airport in 30 minutes (and it takes about 20 minutes to get there), you realize that you aren't THAT desperate. Though, it was extremely tempting to grab the pack, toss $5 on the counter and yell "keep the change".

I made it to the airport in good time, even picking up a double-double from In-N-Out. The airport was business as usual: eating lunch and cracking up over a video, while waiting for my plane to board. I nabbed one of the last aisle seats at the back of the plane, thinking this was a prime space to be so I could read for class during the 2.5 hour flight.

WRONG. The row in front of me had two young boys, talking and watching a movie (without headphones). And the row behind me and on the other side of the aisle had a mid-40 year old rocker that looked something like Chad Kroeger, but with more tattoos and an air of California drug propensity. We landed around 5.20pm MDT and he yells out "WOOHOO! It's 4.20". It was even better when I turned and reminded him that it was actually an hour ahead and he missed it. I got a glare for it, but considering his chattiness kept me from getting more reading done, I didn't feel bad in the least bit.

It was a relief to be off the plane, even though it would later mean waiting an hour for Cameron and Nate to come pick me up and then another 90 minutes of driving to the Springs, after we got caught behind a car accident on I-25 that shut down the highway (and Cam's car) for a good half hour. How I managed to make it through dinner and then back to our host family's house, I don't know. But I was out cold and had no more thoughts of traveling. Only of how I was going to get all my readings for next week finished.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 3: Getting the Ball Rolling or Already Behind and Scrambling to Catch Up

Today ended up being MUCH better than I thought.

I managed to fall back into my school morning routine pretty quickly. I got to campus, chatted with some friends, and made my way to my new academic home. All my classes are held in Reinhardt Hall and since it's stocked with a full kitchen, showers, and lockers for each student, I expect to be living there part of the time. And I'm more than okay with that.

Considering I didn't read for ANY of my classes today (I still don't have all my books yet), I managed to get by. We jumped into discussion of the material for Organizational Efficacy; I realized that Mills has given me the tools to get by in a situation when I'm not prepared. I got by and contributed to the conversation using my own knowledge and experiences. I really overestimated the class, but I am still conscious of the fact that I can't skip the readings. I'll only be hurting myself.

My class with Mark was FANTASTIC and I can tell I'm going to love every second of it. I signed up to lead three class discussions of the reading throughout the semester. And since I'll be missing a few classes, I'll be giving mini-presentations on what I learned during my travels, as they relate to planning. Again, not something I'm particularly worried about.

I had a two hour break following Mark's class, in which I shared lunch with Isabel, chatted with friends, and sat on the benches beneath the Campanil. I've spent the past four years here and never once  have I sat beneath the clock tower. I find this amusing, since my favorite historical fact about the campus is that the Campanil (which chimes every quarter hour) was the first concrete-reinforced structure west of the Mississippi River. When you consider the area west of this major river, this is a serious deal. I turned in my cross-registration paper (YAY!!!) and then cruised back up to Reinhardt for my final class of the day.

This class, Qualitative Methods, proved to be a little harder to BS. We were supposed to have read the majority of a book that (you guessed right) has not arrived yet! Even though I could think of valid answers to many of Carol's questions, they were text-specific, so I didn't want to risk looking like an idiot and a liar. As they say "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, rather than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Again: sound advice. Sometimes, though, I have to mentally tell myself NOT TO SAY A WORD in class, when I haven't read the material due for that particular class lecture and discussion. The last thing I want to do is be called out by a professor for having not done the readings.

Heading home was a relief, despite the things I have on my To-Do List. I'm leaving tomorrow after class to Colorado to visit Cameron and see my folks for Labor Day weekend. I took the initiative of making a list of everything I need to do. I got to most of them, but I will still end up packing tomorrow morning. I had Riley over for dinner and to keep my company while I did my laundry and cleaned up. Now, he's passed out (which I'm ready to do also) and I will get to the rest of my travel things tomorrow, before I head to class and then to the airport. I'm not looking forward to having to haul so many books to Colorado, but considering I have fallen behind from the start, this is my opportunity to catch up. Getting ahead isn't likely, but one can hope. As long as I have hope, the odds will be in my favor.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 2.75: Sound Advice or It's Okay to Freak Out Sometimes

Today ended up being an overall success, but it didn't look that way initially.

Last night was great! Movie was funny, adventurous, and it was wonderful being with my crew and providing important bike-related commentary throughout the movie. Not sure how much the rest of the theatre appreciated it, but it was a riot all the same.

Sadly, things started slipping south after we left the theatre. We gathered outside for our usual group photo, when my friend jumped into my arms. My phone flew out of my hands and hit the ground, breaking into its three usual pieces (phone, battery, and back cover). Considering I drop my phone all the time (and have YET to put a protective covering on it), I wasn't too worried. But of course, the one time a friend would be the cause of the phone explosion, it would be the time that my screen shatters. Phone is still functioning now, but it was fairly blitzy immediately after the crash. I had a hard time getting ahold of necessary people and that's when all the cursing and muttering under my breath began.

I had arranged to meet up with my friend Rob to give him his boom box yet. When I got to his place, he could tell I wasn't too happy and he gave me his usual enveloping hug. I collapsed on his couch and as soon as his cat jumped into my lap, I just started bawling. "What am I doing? Is this even right for me? How am I going to manage all of this? I'm broke as shit." So many questions flowing, just as fast and numerous as the tears.

Rob held me and explained that grad school is going to be like this. That it's the toughest two years of school, but there's a little bit more slack given than undergrad. With undergrad, he told me, they weed out who is lazy and who is willing and wants to go the distance. He said that professors are more forgiving than during undergrad. The best thing he told me is that professors, even if we fall on our faces the first time around, are there to help us and train us, that we are the cream of the crop and the prodigies of their field and without us as students, they wouldn't have anything to do. We are no longer subservient in the academia hierarchy, but we are peers, intellectual equals that will carry on the knowledge.

I went back home, still worried about my first day of Mills classes, but knowing that no matter what happens, I have this great support system. I'm also reminded that "Hey, you may be 23. But it's okay to cry sometimes!"

Day 2: Weighing My Options or Pick a Buddy & Stick With Him

So, this is not REALLY day 2 of being a graduate student, but for the sake of organization, it's easier to keep track of the number of classes I've been to.

Today was my orientation for Mills MPP. It was great seeing old friends and new colleagues. We did an icebreaker which consisted of explaining what made each of us embark on this journey we call Public Policy. I talked about how I seek to increase accessibility for non-auto users. I even warned them that bicycles would be a regular topic with me. After the ice-breaker, there were faculty and staff introductions, along with explanations of the classes in the curriculum. Probably my favorite speech was Dan Ryan's, about how the grading works in MPP but more importantly, how grades don't really matter. It confirmed what I knew all along and how I've been living the last four years during school-- that the grades don't matter, as long as I understand the material.

It was informative, but all-in-all, I could have gotten away with skipping it and instead spend the time reading for Transportation & Land Use Planning ("TLUP" or 213). At the break when everyone was heading to the barbecue, I had to head over to the M Center to pick up my cross-registration paperwork. Monk was there, so we chatted a bit while we waited to be called. When it was my turn and I explained I was picking up paperwork, I nearly shit a brick when the lady tried to tell me it would be TWO business days. I calmly told her that her information was incorrect and that her colleague was explicit about a 12pm pick-up. She checked the file folder again and found it. Certainly a relief, but it reinforces that the M Center* and the bureaucracy needs some serious reformation.

I got in the car and headed home to make some lunch & swap out papers, books, and other necessities. I'm in the process of getting back into the groove of things, which normally happens pretty quickly, but since I'm taking classes at two separate institutions, there's a bit of a trial period to see what works and what doesn't. Already, I have found a route to Cal that I much prefer and will better serve me, even when I'm running behind schedule. Today found me riding through Temescal, past the Claremont DMV, and catching College Avenue at Rockridge, all the way into Upper campus. Fifteen minutes, door-to-bike-rack. I'll start Strava-ing it next week, so I can track my training.

Now that I know about Berkeley time, I can better manage my time before class. I spent today sitting on a bench beneath a tree, trying to skim the readings in time for class. Not beneficial whatsoever, I got a zero on the reading quiz. Luckily, Chatman drops the two lowest grades. Not that excuses really matter (or get you anywhere) in grad school, but even in expediting all my books when I ordered them 10 days ago, I still haven't gotten many of them in. Thus, some classes I just won't be able to read for at the moment.

But not all was bad! Being the witty, charming woman that I am, I struck up conversation with a man I had noticed the previous class, sitting just two seats down from me. Good small talk about our interests and getting to know one another. Best part: we're study-buddies! Or, somewhat. For now, Daniel is hooking me up with notes for the classes that I will miss this month due to travel. As far as I'm concerned, he is a godsend. In addition to that, Chatman and the GSI (Carrie) are posting the lectures on bSpace. So even if Daniel ends up missing a class, we're both covered. Lecture was great (as expected) and my paperwork got signed! We'll just have to see if the M Center can't fuck up this one too.

With class done for the day, I cruised down to work to see if I had any other books delivered. After I had a textbook stolen off my porch last fall, I decided I wasn't taking any chances and have since sent all books and other ordered material to work. Even if I'm not there often anymore, it still gives me peace of mind and a sense of security. No books arrived, so I don't have to feel so guilty about not reading for my classes tomorrow. I think I can safely go to the 'Premium Rush' dinner and viewing with the gang tonight.

For now, I will finish getting ready for classes tomorrow, before I roll over to Emeryville for dinner and the movie. It's truly my last night of freedom for a LONG time, so what better way to spend it than heckling the hell out of a movie that will probably serve to spark the interest of people and encourage them to get a bike. Let's just hope that these people who jump on the trend don't go and make the rest of us look like a-holes.

Until tomorrow!

*For those of you unfamiliar with Mills, the M Center is the registrar office and is responsible for pretty much EVERY piece of paperwork for every single student that is enrolled at Mills. It is notorious for long lines, crappy hours, and losing all sorts of paperwork, which often sends each of us into a tizzy and into a dinnertime tirade of how we could do a better job of running the M Center.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day 1: Graduate School Isn't as Scary as I Thought or, How I Managed Not to Cry

When you've been working full-time all summer, school sneaks up on you. I at least started a list of books I need to buy, but when I woke up this morning for work and school, it still hadn't dawned on me that I am a college graduate and starting my masters program.

Instead, I was having to ride through a cloud to work with no appropriate gear and traumatized by the fact that there were already assigned readings and there was no conceivable way that I was going to get them covered before my class at 2 o'clock! I was scheduled at the shop from 7.30am-1pm but I was so nervous & burnt, I had to clock out early. Thankfully, my manager gets it and was cool about it. He and my co-worker could tell I was visibly upset and nervous. They ended up talking me down, which helped significantly.

I left work and got to campus about 40min before class was to start. I went up residential streets on my bike, to avoid all the walkers on campus. Hauling up Channing on a fixie and 20 extra pounds on my back was no easy feat, but I figure I'll become stronger and faster after a few rounds. When I got to campus, I locked my bike outside the building but stupidly left my helmet hanging out on my handlebars. It wasn't until a good 20 minutes later that I realized I didn't have my helmet and I almost flipped out. Turns out, it was still hanging where I left it, but I will NEVER be doing that again. I blame my shaky nerves for my carelessness.

I ventured inside Wurster Hall, which is the College of Environmental Design, but also where the City & Regional Planning department is located. I found my class, with another class in session, so I went back out to the main lobby. Looked around at the various postings and maps, trying to focus on anything that might continue to keep me calm.

It got to be 1.55pm and I was getting nervous because the previous class was still in session and there was no sign of other students waiting around for the class. Joke's on me, Cal runs on "Berkeley time", in which all classes start 10 minutes past the hour. Why they won't switch the schedules to reflect that is beyond me, but it's nice to know there is that little window, since most everyone (except me) runs late.

Class was a breeze, the usual review of the syllabus and urging us to get the books for the sake of our brains and our learning. The professor is AWESOME! I found myself thinking that he is very much "Mills material" and this very well could have been a Mills class, save for the many, very fine looking gentlemen in my class. I've yet to learn anyone's names, but I will be sure to change that. I contributed to the subsequent discussion and realized that "Hey, you really know what you're doing".

When I realized this, I knew that this semester was going to be great, even with the $350 in books that I'm going to have to read. I'm finally getting to study what I love and set myself up for the rest of my life.

And that's how I managed not to cry on my first day of graduate school.

A Different College Experience, or Why I'm Doing This to Myself

Against my better judgment, I have decided to start blogging about my graduate school experiences. I figure with all the readings and the writing I'm going to be doing, I better get in the habit of doing it all on a regular basis. I tried this during my undergrad, but that failed miserably. Hopefully, I will do a better job this time around.

A little about me: I just finished my undergrad at Mills College in Oakland and received a B.A. in International Relations and minored in Economics. Now, I'm continuing my graduate studies in Public Policy, also at Mills. How do the two relate, you may ask? Answer: they don't. I don't plan on using my BA for anything except to pad my resumé and joke that the reason I studied this was so that I could have international affairs. Instead, I found my new love in Public Policy, specifically transportation policy and planning. In a perfect world, I would be a bicycle/pedestrian planner and work to make riding bikes everywhere increasingly more desirable. For now, I will focus on the general studies and then hone in on the skills, possibly go back to grad school for City/Regional Planning. But for now, the economy sucks and I need to get through this masters program first.

I hope to post daily (which will probably turn into weekly) updates on my experiences, thoughts, comments, complaints, and questions regarding this new chapter in my life. If all goes well, this will be my outlet to bitch and moan, instead of my friends having to listen to me. They may not be in grad school, but they also have their busy lives. I figure this is a way to spare them.

So, enjoy! Feel free to ask questions, tell related stories, offer advice. All of it is welcome & I'll do my best to respond accordingly and in a timely manner. Because remember, school first.