Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

Favorite Books I Read in 2012

In honor of the new year about to begin, I thought it would be a good time to "countdown" my favorite books that I read (or listened to) during 2012. Most are books that are a year or a couple of years old, ones that I couldn't get around to before this year. A few are much older, but here they all are, anyway, maybe for other grad students who hadn't had the time!

10. Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay (2008, 2009, 2010)
Loved these books -- loved Katniss, loved Peeta, loved all the characters, loved the social critique, loved the intensity, loved the world that Suzanne Collins created. I know they are made for Young Adults, but it didn't matter; they were so enjoyable.

9. Our Tragic Universe (2011)
A weird and cool story about stories; this book has a great voice in the narrator.

8. A Happy Marriage (2010)
One of the tear-jerkers of the bunch -- a beautiful account of a human relationship's beginning and ending.
7. Room (2010)
One of the most dramatic books I've read in recent years! The narrator is pretty memorable, too.

6. The Story Sisters (2010)
This story haunted me as I read it. Lush and dark, and full of feeling.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2008, 2009, 2010)
I never wanted these to end!

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005)
The other big tear-jerker -- but also touching and uplifting.

3. Wicked (2000)
Elphaba is probably one of my favorite characters of all time.
2. The Leftovers (2011)
Smart and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic tale about the people left behind on earth after an event that resembles "the rapture," yet doesn't discriminate the religion, age, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or status of its... victims?  

1. The Marriage Plot (2011)
Wonderful story, with metadiscourse about the limits of romance plots in novels as well as a few memorable characters.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"I haven't taken leave of my senses... I've come to them" -- Merry Christmas to All!!!

Hello GSAS Grad.Life readers!
      I am hoping you all have a wonderful holiday. It is the season to be with family, and to remember what is important in life, and to be grateful for it.
     Congratulations on finishing the semester -- now it is time to celebrate! You've earned it!
My favorite traditions:
homemade pizza on Christmas Eve, jigsaw puzzles, homemade cookies, driving around to see the lights with my brother and sisters, watching Alastair Sims as Scrooge with my dad and mom, my mom's beautiful tree and my parent's beautiful Christmas village, listening and dancing to favorite christmas carols, singing and playing guitar with my husband at the family Christmas Eve party, matching PJ's from my mom for me and my sisters
.... love them all!!! What are some of yours? Here's my favorite scene:

Well... I will be back very soon with more posts -- back in the swing of things before the week is over! :) But for now, enjoy your holiday traditions and time off!
Until next time, Liza

Answers to Yesterday's QUIZ!

10 a. "I know you're not the real Santa Claus."
9    b. "It just needs a little love."
14  c. "I don't know anything!/ I never did know anything!/ But now I know that I don't know/ All on a Christmas morning!"
13 d. "But you know, the thing about romance is... people only get together right at the very end."
12 e. "That's pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you... "
15 f. "What the hell is that?"-- "It's a gun." -- "Are you sure?"
1    g. "Football? Football? What's a football?"
11 h. "You can mess with a lot of things, but you can't mess with kids on Christmas."
4   i. "You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money."
2    j. "You're supposed to be the leading lady in your own life, for God's sake!"
6    k. "All their windows were dark. No one knew he was there."
3    l. "Promise you won't kidnap me and my brother and plant stuff in our brains?"
7    m. "Why haven't you learned how to button a coat?"
5    n. "Second, there are, like, thirty Ray's Pizzas. They all claim to be the original. But the real one's on 11th. And if you see a sign that says "Peep Show", that doesn't mean that they're letting you look at the new toys before Christmas."
8   o. "But... but maybe he's only a little crazy like painters or composers or... or some of those men in Washington."

Monday, December 24, 2012


I love Christmas movies! Here are a list of my favorites, plus a quiz. Match the quote to the movie! Submit answers in the comments or on FB! I will post answers in tomorrow's post. No cheating with Google! I will find out!* 

1. A Christmas Story

2. The Holiday

 3. The Family Man

4. It's a Wonderful Life

5. Elf

6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

7. Scrooged

8. Miracle on 34th Street

9. A Charlie Brown Christmas

10 & 11. Home Alone, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

12. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

13. Love, Actually

14. Scrooge

And, last but not** LEAST.........
15. Holiday in Handcuffs
Come on! Clarissa Explains it All and AC Slater?? TV movie gold!!! 

__ a. "I know you're not the real Santa Claus."
__ b. "It just needs a little love."
__ c. "I don't know anything!/ I never did know anything!/ But now I know that I don't know/ All on a Christmas morning!"
__ d. "But you know, the thing about romance is... people only get together right at the very end."
__ e. "That's pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you... "
__ f. "What the hell is that?"-- "It's a gun." -- "Are you sure?"
__ g. "Football? Football? What's a football?"
__ h. "You can mess with a lot of things, but you can't mess with kids on Christmas."
__ i. "You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money."
__ j. "You're supposed to be the leading lady in your own life, for God's sake!"
__ k. "All their windows were dark. No one knew he was there."
__ l. "Promise you won't kidnap me and my brother and plant stuff in our brains?"
__ m. "Why haven't you learned how to button a coat?"
__ n. "Second, there are, like, thirty Ray's Pizzas. They all claim to be the original. But the real one's on 11th. And if you see a sign that says "Peep Show", that doesn't mean that they're letting you look at the new toys before Christmas."
__ o. "But... but maybe he's only a little crazy like painters or composers or... or some of those men in Washington."

Happy Christmas Eve!!!!! xoxoxoo Liza

*There's no way for me to find out.
**does not reflect majority of critical opinions.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Celebrate Post Non-Apocalypse with Post-Apocalypse Film Fest

Well, if you are reading this, it means the world did not come to a crashing end!
Celebrate with a post-apocalypse movie marathon while you are wrapping presents and cooking your holiday feast today. Here are my top ten:

1. The Stand (1994)
Amazing plague movie based on novel by Stephen King. Gets a little weird at the end, but pretty awesome concepts.

2. Independence Day (1996)
Most of the world has been wiped out by aliens... what is next for humanity?

3. The Matrix (1999)
Okay, to be honest -- I JUST saw this movie for the first time. But I loved it!
4. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Who doesn't love the irony and satire of a good zombie movie?

5. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Who doesn't love a clever and doubly ironic spoof of the said ironic and satirical zombie movie?

6. Children of Men (2006)
Dark, intense movie about the world in disarray once women have become infertile.

7. WALL-E (2008)
A look at humans once they've wasted the Earth.

8. The Road (2009)
Amazing movie after an amazing novel -- the story of American survival after everything is wiped off the face of the planet.

9. 2012 (2009)
SO bad it's good-- the kind of hilarious but intense action that draws you in riveted.

10. The Hunger Games (2012)
The planet has undergone radical change, and the population has diminished, and resources are scarce. In this dystopian novel, the resources are controlled by The Capitol, which rules in tyrrany, doesn't treat its districts fairly, and forces them to participate in sacrificial games, in an arena, for public entertainment, as punishment for a rebel uprising 75 years before.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mayan Predictions May Prevent You From Reading This

     I have scheduled this blog entry to post on Dec. 21, 2012 -- hopefully, you will be able to read it.
    Alas, jokes about the end of the world according to the interpreted Mayan calendar have had somewhat of a pall cast over them since last Friday's mass murder in Connecticut. In fact, jokes about not being here tomorrow simply aren't that funny anymore. 
    Still, writers are reporting and blogging about it; yet, most articles I have come across are reporting on the scientists and academics who are debunking the myth of Friday's alleged apocalyptic event. 
The Guardian writer Ian Sample spoke with one academic who tried to clear up the confusion:
John Carlson, director of the Centre for Archaeoastronomy at the University of Maryland, is one of only a dozen or so active researchers on the Mayan calendrical system. "I often get asked what's going to happen on the day. I say lots of things are going to happen. Some people will be born. Some people will die. A car headlight will burn out. There will be earthquakes, like there are every day. And none of this will have anything to do with the ancient Mayan calendar," he says. Lest there be any doubt, he speaks the next lines loudly and slowly: "There are no ancient Maya prophecies for anything to happen on this date. There. Are. None."
While Sample's interview with Carlson really does seem to take the fun out of the predicted apocalypse, its tone reflects, I think, the huge shift in the general attitude towards the myth since the events in Newtown. When twenty 6 and 7 year olds die by the hands of one, it really does feel like the world is falling apart, despite vows to move on and make something positive and generative come out of such devastation. And, much like when 9-11, or Columbine, or the Aurora shooting, or other terrible criminal and terroristic acts occur, when so many innocent and unassuming lives are lost, we question why we are here, and we think a little more concretely about how we can take even one day for granted on this earth. 
     So, if you are reading this now, I am glad, because it means we have lived another day, and may be granted the mercy to see another sunrise tomorrow. Enjoy this weekend with your loved ones, and happy holidays. Until next time, Liza

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"GradHearts" Dating Service: All I Want for You.

    Just got word of a new dating site, called GradHearts. Free to join, it works a lot like and okcupid -- you know, a profile, a picture, some filters, a wink, a blink, and a nod. The catch is that you have to have a graduate degree (a Master's or a Phd) to join up!
    I went undercover and logged in, to see what it was like and report back to you, readers! To create your profile, you just have to fill out a quick "About You" survey, to help generate your profile. On the professional side, it asks for your degree level,  subject studied (arts, humanities, law, engineering, medicine, or sciences), and current profession. On the personal side, it asks for your date of birth, marital status, sexuality, politics, and religion. Next, you use a map to "locate" yourself, zooming in as far as your very street, if you want!
   After you enter your own stats, you then have the option to select what you are looking for in a partner -- with the same categories as above. Upload a 140 character statement about yourself, and then a more detailed paragraph, if you want, plus the all-important PHOTO, and then, viola! You're now officially a member of Gradhearts.
   The site is pretty new, so not much is out there on how well it works, or how interesting the dating pool is. Overall, I think it is an interesting idea, because sometimes it is indeed easier to date someone who knows what you are going through -- kind of like when Hollywood actors say it is easier to date another person in show business, because they understand that kind of life. However, some say you'll have more success dating someone who does something totally different from you -- so who knows! Weigh in on that point, if you want!
    Regardless of opinions on grads dating grads, and although I can't say first hand if the site will find you an eternal romance, or even a fun fling, I wanted to let the GSAS world know about it, in case you have a special holiday wish this year. :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Newtown Tragedy Horrifies and Enrages Fordham Graduate Students

     When I learned on Friday afternoon about the horrifying school shooting that had taken place that morning, I was in the staff lunchroom in the high school where I work in the afternoons. I was actually writing a post for this blog, about a new dating website for graduates called "Gradhearts." I quickly scrapped that post, for obvious reasons, and began to read about the event on the internet.
      It was hard to not to be viscerally affected by the news -- with laughing students milling around in the school library just yards away from me, and having recently just practiced the shooter on the premises lockdown drill in this school, all of the teachers and staff in the lunchroom were barely able to speak, choking back tears.
      Later in the day, as information unfolded about what exactly happened, and how and why it could have happened, the GSAS community began to respond to the shooting via social media. The response was, at first, to express shock, sadness, and bewilderment. Most everyone used words like "unspeakable," "unfathomable," and "incomprehensible," in their responses on Friday. Many, including me, had an extremely physical reaction, feeling sickened, nauseous, ill, and/or shaky.
     That day, Father McShane released the following statement:

    Dear Members of the Fordham Family,
    Our hearts are broken today by the senseless killing of children and adults—we are not yet sure of how many—at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
    Words like horror and tragedy almost lose their meaning in the face of such loss. The pain and sorrow of the victims’ families is unimaginable, and must be nearly unendurable.
    I know you all join with me in prayer for the souls of those who were killed, and for their loved ones, whose mourning is only beginning. Keep the grief-struck families in your hearts, and pray, too, for the healing of their community, and this nation, from this most grievous wound.
    Joseph M. McShane, S.J.

     As the weekend wore on, more of us began to come to terms with how we felt about this massacre: enraged, furious, saddened, heartbroken, fed up, disgusted. More of us began speaking out on social media, together working through the arguments and ideas about gun control, the Second Amendment, mental illness, mental healthcare, violence, media coverage, American cultural values, and even religion, God, and faith.
     Tonight, President Obama spoke at an interfaith memorial service and prayer vigil for the victims, delivering a moving and inspiring speech calling for change. Many of us are now responding to this speech, too, searching for a way to make meaning out of the senseless horror.
     As a community, I know we will continue to discuss this, and I hope we will not only keep the conversation going but also be moved to action. I hope the GSAS family can contribute positively and constructively to this call for change in our social policies and cultural values. I give all my love, thoughts, prayers, and hope to the families and community members affected by this tragedy.
     The faces of the 6 and 7 year olds who died, and the faces of the teachers who died trying to protect them, are flashing now on my TV screen. It is too sad. I try to think about their families and I get sick again.
     I try to think about the survivors -- the children and teachers who were in the next room, or the room down the hallway, as their friends and classmates and co-workers were murdered. I am heartbroken for them, too.
    My job at the high school I mentioned above is to provide academic and behavioral support to one of my students with autism. I feel deeply, too, for him, hoping that the emerging coverage related to this tragedy about Autism Spectrum Disorder-- the disorder that makes his life so much harder than his friends' lives --  won't make people afraid of him or others who also struggle with it.
    More to say, of course... but for now, good night. -- Liza

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Warning Labels and Seamless Garments: We All May Be Naked Soon!

    The Council of Graduate Schools' annual meeting, held last weekend in Washington, yielded some choice metaphorical configurations about the current graduate school experience, as Stacey Patton of The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. 
     In his plenary address entitled "The Future of Graduate Education in the Humanities," MLA president Michael Bérubé said graduate education today is "like a seamless garment of crisis, in which, if you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels."
     The image of nakedness evoked all too much vulnerability for me. But vulnerability of Bérubé's image was nothing compared to the analogy Patton used to summarize another discussion at the conference, held the next day. 
     In this session, entitled "Graduate Student Debt: Issues and Implications," participants suggested that graduate institutions offer more transparency for incoming or prospective students about the financial realities of graduate school. Patton analogizes these kind of FYI's to "warning labels" -- you know, like the kind you may find on:


Swimming Pools:

Here, Patton summarizes the gist of the session's conclusions and suggestions:
What graduate programs can do, some presenters said, is offer warnings, information, and guidance.
That process, some people said, should begin at admission with disclosures about what debt and repayment options would look like with or without a fellowship. Individual programs should also provide comprehensive data on where recent graduates landed jobs and what types of salaries they're earning.
Armed with that knowledge, students will then have to decide for themselves whether pursuing a graduate degree is worth it or not. 
In light of these analogies, I began to wonder: How might a graduate education warning label read? Here's a rough draft:
Oh yeah -- and you may be naked, too. Don't say you weren't warned!
What do you think of the figures of speech and analogies underpinning the current discourse on graduate student reform? Write in!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Graduate Students Are the Worst"

    Today, looking for a certain article on graduate student life, I entered the words "graduate students" into my Google search bar. As I typed g-r-a-d-u-a-t-e- -s, the Google instant results feature displayed its predictions, and to my surprise, first on the list after "graduate students" was the clause "graduate students are the worst." I laughed, and then showed it to my husband, and he laughed. Curious, he told me to click on it, and we discovered, for the first time, 30 Rock's 2008 clip that declared graduate students the worst people of all time.

    The clip is four years old, and has about half a million views on Youtube, but I had honestly never seen it or heard about it before today. (Not a faithful 30 Rock viewer, even though I think the show is great.) When Liz and Jack exchange the comment simultaneously like it is an accepted fact, it made me laugh, for sure, but why? Liz and Jack's joke is funny not just because it is at the expense of graduate students but also because they are using the stereotype of grad students to make themselves feel better about their own shady, semi-despicable actions and incompetency. But why grad students and not, say, 7th graders, or lawyers, or the guys who compete on the Bachelorette?
   Consider now this quick compilation clip from The Simpsons:
Okay.... so, does everyone hate graduate students? Are grad students the worst?
    After I did a quick search, I found that the clip and others like it have been commented on by bloggers and commentators before. Mike Spry's essay shares the same title, "Graduate Students are the Worst," so I thought I would read his op-ed through for a few more laughs. But Spry's essay goes beyond the self-deprecation and self-preservation of functional graduate school humor and delivers a sharp criticism of what graduate education has become, and what it turns its students (including himself) into. "Grad students aren't bad people," he says, just "humorless," reductive, useless, self-absorbed people. In other words, "the worst."
    Spry's essay comes from a place of experience -- and not a positive one. Clearly, he has found fulfillment in other environments in life that he never found in or as a result of graduate school. But what do writers of 30 Rock and The Simpsons mean by their jokes?
    For me, I see these TV jokes as an extension of the self-deprecating line of humor that graduate students themselves have created as a means of pre-emptive self-preservation. (Think of "Piled Higher and Deeper" comics, "When In Academia" tumblr, and the famous xtra normal cartoon "So you want to get a PHD in the Humanities.") What do you guys think of Liz Lemon's joke? How has "grad school humor" affected you? Does it alleviate anxieties and give us affirmation of community sharing in some of the same experiences?  Does the self-deprecation provide us with a means of self-defense? Does it secretly hurt our feelings?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Surviving End of Semester Holiday Blues

     Wow, December really snuck up on me! It's now December 3rd, and, although radio stations are ringing out with cries of it being the most wonderful time of the year, it's the *least* wonderful time of year for most graduate students! I was just commiserating with a co-worker about it: while everyone else begins to slow down for a bit, to meet for holiday drinks and holiday parties and shopping trips and tree trimming get togethers, we graduate students get inundated with deadlines: lit reviews and papers are due, data need to be submitted, proposals need to be approved, committees need to be formed, topics need to be chosen, forms need to be signed, applications need to be handed in, students' papers need to be graded and handed back, grades need to be filed -- I'm exhausted just listing it all!!! You begin to feel a bit like Scrooge, bah-humbugging all the revelers.
     And while all this is going on, invitations keep coming in, as people are getting more and more into celebration mode while you slave away. December used to be my favorite time of year, but ever since I entered the graduate school world, it has gotten more and more frustrating to turn down offers to go enjoy the holiday cheer with non-graduate school friends and instead hit the books/ library/ laptop. The good news is, all of this ends usually a couple of days before Christmas, although it is not so much fun for Hanakkuh celebrators -- this year, like most years, Hanakkuh coincides with finals week! :( The worst part of it is that you feel left out of everyone else having a really good time. It sucks to have to turn down an invite for cocktails because you have to hand in a 20 page paper in three days. But it sucks even worse to give into the temptation and go out to celebrate and then realize the next day, in a panic, that it was a terrible mistake and that your seminar paper is going to suck, and that you can kiss a good recommendation from this professor goodbye. A bad performance at the end of the semester can really dampen the holiday spirit for good. It is much better to get through it, knowing you did the best you could. But it also would be nice to not have to completely ignore the holiday season until the day that your last paper is due.
    Since I've been at this game for a few years, and have had to endure many Decembers of slugging through the deadline muck while everything else around me seems glowy and cheery, I've developed a little system to get me through it, using the Premack Principle. Yes, it is basic psych 101, but it does work for me. The Premack Principle, identified by behavior psychologist David Premack in 1965, simply states that preferred behaviors (like watching a fun holiday movie while drinking hot chocolate) can be used to reinforce non-preferred behaviors (like grading a stack of papers or finishing a fellowship application.) This is pretty basic stuff -- but if you can get into a habit of doing something preferred after you do something non-preferred, you will increase the probability of getting that non-preferred thing done, for the present and for the future. It's a really good method, for me, of keeping procrastination to a minimum -- knowing that I have to "earn" my holiday treats, one at a time. And the difficulty of each task is matched to the pleasure taken in each reward -- for example, finishing a great paragraph earns me a handful of green and red M & Ms; finishing the paper earns me a Chocolate-Espresso Martini. It may sound oversimplified -- you may be thinking, you still need the discipline to do your work in the first place. That's true -- but, knowing there is a behavioral principle involved somehow makes it easier for me. I tell myself -- use the Premack Principle! -- and I feel as if I am training myself somehow to make work easier in the future. So, keeping in mind the Premack Principle, I though I might provide for my fellow wallowers a handy list of smallish scale activities and treats to reward yourselves with for each little goal accomplished this December, to get you in good holiday spirits but also keep focused on your work!

1.) Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream -- Get a good kind, that you make on the stove top. The ritual of heating up the milk in a small silver pot, stirring in the hot cocoa mix and then topping with some delicious whipped cream -- and then sitting down to sip and savor -- will be the perfect mental reward for a few good hours spent at the library.

2.) National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation -- airs TONIGHT at 8 and 10 on ABC Family, and next week, too, on Wednesday and Thursday. (You might even grade papers or update your CV during the commercials!)

3.) Holiday Jigsaw Puzzles: It's a tradition in my family to complete the Springbok/ Hallmark 1,000 or 1,500 or 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzles released each year during the holiday seasons. Between my siblings and my parents and me, we could all easily spend hours on end sitting around the table working on the puzzle during the December months. In fact, as a child, I was told that Santa wouldn't come unless we finished the puzzle. At the time, it was an ingenious way to keep us kids at bay while holiday excitement stirred up inside of us. As we got older though, it was one of our most beloved holiday traditions. But during my years in graduate school, I have restricted myself to partaking in the fun ONLY as a reward for doing work. And it works in different scales too; spend time finding just one piece is a good reward for reading 25 pages; sitting down for the evening to finish a whole puzzle is a good reward for handing in a seminar paper. Try it this year as you hand your work in! From my family to yours -- you're welcome.

4.) Mulled Wine (also known as Glögg): One Friday night in the next three weeks, when one final project or paper is done but you still need to tackle final projects for a few other classes, invite a few other grad students over and get a pot of this going on the stove. It's a delicious treat that won't break the bank and that will instill some holiday cheer in you even when another week of writing papers looms ahead of you.
5.) Online Gift Shopping: Often, I have emerged from the end-of-semester rush with only two or three days left to shop for any gifts. And I've found that, when the big day is that close, shopping is the last thing I want to do after I hand in my last paper or submit my students' grades. I want to hang out with my friends and family, not be cooped up in a mall with strangers and food courts. So, do it on your own time, as a work-break, using the wonderful world of the world wide web. Spend some time at night, after you've done your quota of graduate school work for the evening, researching one gift for your parents, or best friend, or niece, or spouse, or son or daughter. If you want to really get wild, order it. You'll feel like you accomplished something "holidayish," and you'll feel festive for thinking of someone else instead of your own pile of work and your professor's red pen. The best part is that you can do it on your on time; even if it takes you until midnight to email that dreary lit review to your professor, the internet stores will be waiting for you, with open arms.

Just my two-cents for the beginning of December -- hang in there, everyone!And remember, you can always read this blog as a tiny reward for doing some work, too! ;) I'll be posting throughout December with fun seasonal Grad.Life tidbits and commentary on the graduate school world!
Until next time, Liza