Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Strange Day, Indeed

Today was odd.


After my classes, I was conversing with some fellow students in our studio space (which holds all 34 of the Level II Graduate Students) when a middle-aged fellow and a thirty-something fellow came into the studio. The thirty-something demanded to know whose studio we were in.

"Uh, Dirk's, Vicky's, and John's," my studio-mate replied (I was standing right next to him).

"Who told you-" he said, thrusting his finger at a table we'd brought down the day before from the 4th floor "-that it was acceptable to steal other people's things?"

The three of us being addressed looked at each other quizzically. "Um, Dirk told us it was ours and to go upstairs to get it," I replied. I could feel my hackles rising. Stealing? What the heck?

"And you just do whatever he says, do you?" he shot back. I could see my studio-mate's muscles bunch up in his forearms: not a good sign. "If he told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that?"

Apples and oranges. There's a big difference between relocating a table and committing suicide, and my studio-mate pointed this fact out to him. It didn't go over well.

"Look, Dirk told us it was ours and to go get it since we didn't have a crit space. We did," another class-mate said, obviously aware that large studio-mate (as in, imposingly tall and somewhat terrifying) was not going to be able to keep his cool much longer if he bore the brunt of the unwarranted criticism.

The irate guy finally left when we told him we didn't care about his table, he could take it, we had work to do, thankyouverymuch. We proceeded to loudly criticize him within earshot in none too flattering tones.

One of our studio professors, John, heard us and came to see what was going on. We explained, not holding back with the criticism and calling our berater "incredibly unprofessional", and he asked for a description of the fellow. We gave it. He frowned. "That was Bill Pruitt," he said, "He's one of the assistant professors."

"That jacka** is a professor?" I asked. I received a surprised look from John, mostly because I usually keep it civil and ladylike, insofar as language is concerned.

"Yeah. If he really upset y'all and was as bad as you say, go report him to the dean." He paused. "It probably didn't help that you told him Dirk told you to go get the table: they hate each other. That's not something that you need to get involved in."

Ah, the politics of higher education.


I had an assignment to document someplace that was either a utopia or a heterotopia (someplace describable as "other": either a place where "others" are kept, like an insane asylum or a jail, or a place that is out of place within its context, i.e. a Chinese temple in the middle of the barrio).

I decided to document a "utopia": Sugarland, TX.

If you've never been to Sugarland, you're not missing much. So-called because Imperial Sugar was (is?) located there, it's a bedroom community like no other. For instance, in one part of town, all the signs are the same dimensions, mounted at the same height, and constructed out of the same dark brown metal.

The Mercedes-Benz dealer's sign is the same size and quality as the McDonald's across the highway.

It's creepy.

So I drove to Sugarland to document this "utopian" American community. En route, I was almost run off the road by a guy with dealer plates who was weaving in and out of traffic like he was involved in a high-speed chase.

I snapped some photos, returned to my apartment, and created a montage including crepe-myrtles and images from 1950s female-targeted advertising along with screen shots from The Stepford Wives. Because the place just has that kind of quality to it: Stepfordian.

Look out, Paula Prentiss: Sugarland is gunning for you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not Exactly Relaxing In the Sun

Saturday was an interesting day.

I had lunch/brunch with the BIL and my beautiful niece at a restaurant called Guadalajara, and then went up to the College of Architecture to meet up with some of my studio-mates. One of the girls from my studio called, and informed a nice - and large - fellow that she was going to visit the sites assigned to us by our professor for our first project. Did we want to join her?

Of course we did! Particularly as the large fellow had no car, and I had no idea where we were supposed to go. She and her friend arrived and we all climbed into her 2-door Honda Civic to head out for Discovery Green in downtown Houston.

We were about 5 blocks from campus when we realized the air-conditioning in her Civic was not working. Down went the windows, and we continued on, growing stickier and smellier by the minute. At some point, I realized I was not wearing sunscreen and did not have a hat, and I resigned myself to getting a mild case of sunburn.

Discovery Green was interesting, to say the least. There was a lawn where a Hispanic radio station was setting up an inflatable screen in preparation for a showing of Spy Kids. There was an amphitheater with a permanent stage built out of cypress (I think) and steel. There were strange boxes covered in glossy colored cubes that led down into parking garages below the surface of the ground.

Then, there were two nearly identical pavilions that sold drinks and food and housed public restrooms. A small pond hosted very small kayaking experiences for tourists. And there was a playground (almost deserted in the 109-degree heat) and a water plaza, with jets of water that arched over its granite surface.

The water plaza was packed.

Most of the water plaza's inhabitants were obviously low-income families, with the parents sitting in folding chairs or on the grass nearby, a few dads supervising their kids, and squealing happy children. Oh! How ecstatic they were to be playing in the water! It was wonderful to watch, and I took a lot of pictures of the kids in the water.

Then, we headed for Bayou Bend Park, thinking it would be easy to find.

It wasn't, yet it was. See, the thing is: Bayou Bend Park is long, following Buffalo Bayou (duh) for a few miles. It's impossible to know where to park your car to get there.

Eventually, we settled on parking near the City of Houston's free public skate park (helmets required). We got a bit bogged down, admittedly, watching the skaters fly over the ramps, swoop up through the half-domes, etc. Once a few of them realized they had an admiring audience, the tricks flew faster and more furiously. Fortunately, we didn't witness any accidents!

Then, we wandered off to look at the rest of the park.

It's kind of creepy.

There are circles of Bald Cypresses arranged at random, with "seats" made of triangles of granite arranged in their midst. I say "seats" because they looked more like altars for slaughtering animals. Most specifically, slaughtering goats while wearing black hooded robes and chanting in Latin.

We came across a steel structure that encircled rectangles of granite for sitting/slaughtering, and had images of eyes overlaid with clear plastic protractors, among other demonic illustrations, fitted between the metal of the trusses. It was about this time that we decided to leave.

It was also about this time that the beagle puppy ran by.

We thought it belonged to the jogger it was chasing, at first, but when we saw him try to shoo it away, we realized otherwise. Then we heard a man calling for his dog, which was obviously not responding.


The upshot was that one of the guys in my group ran after the dog, caught it, and lured it back towards us, where I grabbed its wriggly little wet body and carried it 1/4 mile back to its owner. Apparently, "Hunter" the beagle puppy had gone for a swim in the bayou before he wandered off...

Good deed accomplished, we headed back for the un-air-conditioned Civic, all of us sweating, covered in puppy mud, and tired.

I got home and took a cool shower, fretting over the fact that my skin was blotchy from the heat. Then I lay in bed reading, drinking water, and eating cornichons to help replenish all the salt I'd lost during our treks. Eventually, I got up and put some clothes on so I could go grocery shopping. When I did, I caught sight of myself in the mirror: NO SUNBURN.

year ago, I would have been beet-red all over, looking absolutely terrible and preparing myself mentally for the inevitable peeling and itching to come. This time, there was no such problem. I'd heard that the Paleo Diet decreased the likelihood of burning in the sun, and now I'm a believer.

Maybe I don't have to hide from the sun, anymore! Though it's a good excuse to use for leaving if I ever find myself surrounded by satanic structures in a public park again...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Back to School: Progress Report

I pulled an all-nighter, Tuesday night, so my earlier graphic was somewhat prescient. I skipped on the skimpy bathing suit, though, and wore a shroud-like sweatshirt and jeans.

My review in class Wednesday afternoon went fairly well; I was the first person to present the idea of a knot as a mathematical concept - strictly ordered - instead of as an indicator of chaos, and my takes on the other two "tiny projects" seemed to garner a bit of respect from the professors.

Let's hear it for research and nerdiness winning the day.

I feel better, now, about my ability to succeed in grad school. Quite frankly, I was so unhappy with my project on Wednesday morning that I was having thoughts of "just give it all up and get a job." The somewhat baffling respect from my classmates ("How did you have time to do all that?" and "Oh, I know I'm not going to like you: you're going to make me look bad.") gave me a much-needed boost of self-confidence.

I slept for 6 hours, Wednesday night, had a migraine by Thursday afternoon (ugh) and slept from 6:30 pm Thursday evening until 10:00 am Friday morning.

I feel much better now.

And now, I'm going to head to Office Depot to pick up a few things, then go up to the school for my Friday evening classes. Yes, my only classes on Friday are from 4-6 pm. Ridiculous!

At least my apartment isn't a total disaster area, now. I did manage to clean it up a bit, Thursday evening, after my all-night design-a-thon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back to School!

Today, Dear Reader, was my first day back in school.

I have a desk near the window (hooray!), and a couple of the girls in my studio asked me to join them when they went to get food at the University Center Satellite.

The campus is so enormously sprawling that they have a mini-University Center. How's that for "urban planning"?

I made the mistake of wearing shorts, though. Seeing as the university overcompensates for the heat outside by cooling its buildings to Arctic proportions, I will be wearing long pants, in future. At least, until winter comes, when they will hopefully keep the buildings a bit warmer.

I already have oodles and oodles of work to do, Dear Reader, on three "tiny projects," as our German curriculum director termed them, and they're very conceptual in nature. My undergraduate work was more along the lines of "arrange a series of pristine white boxes and clear glass until they look nice."

Here, I'm supposed to define Originality, Innovation, and The New as the first part of our tripartite assignment.

I have my definitions down, for the most part (it's good to be a wordsmith), but the rest of the assignment has me a bit puzzled. I'll be sitting down with some of my books on architecture and design to try to figure out what my Originality, Innovation, and The New examples will be.

Then, there's The Knot assignment (as opposed to The New assignment). We are supposed to think about knots in multiple ways, then create some, and then use our analyses of the knots to design a building. Mine is going to be a String Theory research center.

Thank you! Thank you! I'll be here all night!

And yes, if asked, I will say it's a String Theory research center. I hope they don't ask, though.

The third mini-assignment involves boxes of given dimensions that then collide. Collisions tend to be violent and create mish-mashes of things. I have some brilliant ideas for collisions, and the materials out of which the boxes could be made, but alas! the brilliant ideas are all too time-consuming to pursue, right now.


I'll just have to think of something else that's brilliant!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Royal Pain in the Neck

I had my Botox treatment on Wednesday, as I previously blogged.

"How was it?" a couple of people have asked. "What was it like?"

Answer: I have no idea. I was out like a light. Dr. Pain is kind enough to heavily sedate his patients before injecting them with botulinum toxin.

I know I said I would receive 21 injections of Botox, but I was wrong.

I got 31.

A few of them are bruised, but not badly, and fortunately not on my face. And, yes, I can move my eyebrows, though not as high as they used to move. The muscles of my upper forehead, however, are completely inert, and only move when rudely shoved upwards by their lower counterparts.

I don't know if it was because I slept in a funny position, last night, or what the deal is, but my neck is killing me today. It hurts like a sonofagun, and I either have to let my head drop completely, or hold it up perfectly straight. Anything in between is agony. I bet it's a Botox/bad-sleeping-position one-two punch.

The good news is that I was pretty much completely recovered (until this morning) within 24 hours of the procedure. No, I haven't noticed whether it's caused a decrease in my migraines. I did have one this morning, though.

In other news, I went to my grad school orientation, along with all the other newbies. There were about 16 of us there, and half seemed to be in the Level I program (a three year course of study), and half of us were in the Level II program (a two year course of study).

I'm a Level II.

I was also the only one who had worked in my chosen field. At all. No one had even done summer internships!

As a consequence, they all clustered around me, asking me questions about what it's like in architecture offices (um, not like studio), whether architecture is a stable field of employment (I had to fight to keep from laughing), and where I worked.

When I dropped Oldsmobile's name - usually an attention-getter - nobody blinked.

And did I mention that I was old, compared to my fellow students? Because I am. Very. Most of them are 23-ish. I did not share my age, but at the youngest, they had to calculate that I'm at least 26 (I'm 28, soon to be 29).

And they also seem to be under the delusion that there is no partying involved in architecture.

One lovely young lady was completely shocked when I told her of the typical routine in my undergrad days:

All-nighter Thursday.
Studio Jury Friday.
Bar immediately after Jury.
To a friend's house immediately after bar (with more booze in tow).
Pass out on said friend's living room floor with several other architecture students.
Wake up at 10 Saturday morning.
Get food.
Go back to studio.

Poor little advertising student: she wouldn't have made it with my undergrad crowd.

We would have eaten her alive.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fill 'Er Up

With Botox, to be exact.

This coming Wednesday, I receive my first Botox treatment.

No, the Botox is not to hide unsightly wrinkles, or to try to freeze away the years by paralyzing my facial muscles. Seeing as I'm regularly told that I look like I'm 19 years old, I have no reason to try to make myself look younger.

I do not want to get ID'd when I go to PG-13 movies.

The Botox will (hopefully) help my migraines even more. Sure, my migraines have lessened considerably in the past month or so, but I'm still having them a couple of times per week, and that's a couple of times too many.

In some ways, I'm excited. The procedure is being performed by Dr. Pain, so I'll spend several days in Plano prior to and after the procedure. I'll get to see my mom, and one of our friends who is recuperating from a massive surgical procedure. And I'll get to hang out with Major Tom Shadowmaker for a few days, which is always nice.

My excitement at returning to Dallas for a few days is kind of overshadowed, though, by my fear of having yet another treatment for migraines/pain that could, potentially, go awry.

I'm having injections in my forehead, scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles: a total of 21 injections in all.

I most likely won't be able to move my eyebrows afterwards, so there go the amusing facial expressions I use to get my niece to giggle. There's also the possibility that my head could drop forward, as happened to a former architectural client of mine who had the injections in his neck to treat spasms from Parkinson's Disease.

Having to work harder at holding my head up, not being able to register emotion using only my eyes: these are things I can deal with.

My biggest fear is a recurrence of daily migraines that could, potentially, derail my whole reason for moving to Houston. No one has mentioned more migraines as a potential side effect of the treatments, though, and so I'm hoping it's unheard of.

But then again, the epidural steroid injections I received weren't supposed to exacerbate my migraines, and they did.

And if my migraines do get worse, how does that affect my schooling? The fact that I'm now living in Houston with an apartment I have to pay for, partly out of government loans?

If things get worse, then what do I do?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Braving the Elements

The elements, in this case, are not the those typically discussed by mystical New Agers: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. No, the elements I reference are these: the Great Outdoors and the Not-So-Great Indoors.

Ever since I moved to Houston, I have noticed the large quantity of mosquitoes that inhabit the place. They mostly seem to reside in my apartment.

Although their numbers are dwindling, I often find rogue members of the insect kingdom hovering hungrily around my bathroom (while I'm in the bath) or circling my bed, waiting for me to go to sleep so they can gorge on my blood.

I'm very fond of my blood. I've been through a lot, just so I can continue making it: 2.5 years of almost-daily chemotherapy, to be exact on what "a lot" is.

If I was still on chemotherapy, I'd have the joy of knowing that the mosquitoes wouldn't live long, as they used to bite me (yes, I let them), fly about three feet from me, and then drop out of the air.

At the time, I took a certain macabre joy in being a walking talking vessel of poison. I was something of a super-villainess to biting insects, complete with shiny bald head and everything.

A female Lex Luthor of mosquitoes, if you will.

But these days, my body doesn't kill the skeeters like it used to do, so I'm left frantically trying to get them before they get me.

There are a lot of tiny bloodstains on the walls of my apartment from mashed mosquitoes.

So that covers the Not-So-Great Indoors.

The Great Outdoors weren't all that great, either, in truth.

Today I visited the campus of the University at which I begin my Master of Architecture degree. I attempted to go, yesterday, but Google Maps was on crack, and so its directions sent me... not to the University. I ended up in north Houston - in a not so great part of town where I was too frightened to exit - and drove for about twenty minutes after I realized my (or, rather Google's) error just so I could find somewhere "decent" to pull a U-Turn.

I'd been on the road for about 60 minutes, by this time, what with the wreck that blocked the right lane on I-45 and all.

I decided to try again, and to go back to my neighborhood to start all over.

Easier said than done, as the entire freeway was shut down in the southbound direction due to a massive wreck involving an 18-wheeler.

Three hours after I first left home to visit the University, I arrived back at my home without having so much as glimpsed it.

Attempt #2 took place, today, and it was successful. I reached the University in about 15 minutes, found a parking spot, and got out of the car.

I immediately wished I had not done so.

Fortunately, there are trees where I was walking at first, so I had the benefit of a bit of shade. Unfortunately, I had to cross into an area of ineffective brise soleil, no trees, and no other vegetation to reduce the heat of the microclimate.

The University has an architecture school. They have no excuse for environmentally ignorant buildings.

Anywho, I finally found the Student ID office, and had my ID made (not too terrible, but not nearly so flattering as my drivers license picture. Yes, I am serious: I want 8x10 glossies of that DL picture). I went to the book store and discovered that 1) only one of my classes requires textbooks; and 2) I would have to special order the "clicker" to be used in one of my classes, and I'd be emailed when it arrived.

The clicker is used for attendance (it's a little electronic device, similar to a remote control) and to show that I'm paying attention in class. I have a feeling that my professor might be, erm, a bit obsessive-compulsive.

As I walked around the campus, finding my way back to my car, I remembered the Asian women at my alma mater who carried parasols to shield themselves from the blazing sun. After the amount of exposure I gained to the sun, today, I'm thinking it might be a good idea.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Proud to be Gluten Free!

So I've written about how my migraines became fewer and farther between since I kicked the gluten habit. It's been since July 30 that I had gluten, and honestly, I keep feeling better and better.

I've noticed a few other things, since I'm more aware of how foods make me feel:

1) Milk makes my nose stuffy. I'm going to assume I have a slight dairy allergy, as a result. For some reason, yogurt and heavy cream (used in my coffee) do not have the same effect on my nasal passages.

2) Milky Way candy bars contain gluten. You wouldn't think it, but they do. There's malted barley in the nougat. No more Milky Ways for me (except for the celestial one).

3) Candy in general makes me feel awful. One of the things that has happened since I kicked the grain-habit is that I'm not used to the insulin spike that follows carbohydrate ingestion. So if I hypothetically get carried away and eat an entire bag of Haribo Gold Bears in a ten minute stretch of time, my insulin levels hypothetically spike, and I hypothetically feel like utter crap immediately afterwards.

But that's all hypothetical. Ahem. Right.

4) I have more energy. Huh? But I thought carbs like those found in grains give me energy? Don't they? Well, no, not a good kind of energy. Yes, they provide an energy rush after ingestion, but that dies down after about an hour. A full pound of meat and half a dinner plate of vegetables, however, gives me enough juice to go for hours. Amazing. Even a salad of cold green beans, tomatoes, and mint alongside a pile of canned tuna leaves me feeling more satisfied and energized than a tuna sandwich would.

I won't go into all of the other things that being grain-free has done for me, like the wonders of grain-free digestion, but I will say this: if you feel bad all the time, try giving up grain.

It just might be the best thing you'll ever do for yourself.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh Blah Di, Oh Blah Da!

Life goes on!

Things are starting to take on some semblance of normalcy, around here.

And by "here" I mean my apartment in H-Town.

I have cooked a real meal on my stove, and discovered that its Level 4 setting is about what my old stove's Level 6 setting was. Fortunately, my 14 oz. sirloin didn't suffer too much in the searing!

I have unpacked more things, and put them away. Some are relegated to a cardboard box that will be unceremoniously shoved underneath a skirted table.

I have received a number of packages via UPS, so my UPS guy and I are now on smiling, "Hey, how's it going?" terms.

I will be sending back the contents of one package - wheeled ferrules for my sofa, to elevate it since it was made for wood floors, not carpet - because I only measured one of the six legs on the sofa, and four of them won't accommodate the ferrules. Other brass wheels will be exchanged for the ones I mistakenly purchased.

I've read a book, which I'd read once before but was absolutely certain that I had not read. It was Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White. I read the copy I already owned, so it's not in any way like my proliferating copies of The Count of Monte Cristo, which I misplace and then buy a duplicate of, only to find the original right where it should have been.

Besides, you can never have enough Counts of Monte Cristo lying around.

I received a shipment of shorts from The Gap, one of which will be returned because 1) they're too big; and 2) I look like I'm wearing baggy liederhosen. Not particularly flattering.

The last thing I want is to be mistaken for Kurt Von Trapp while traipsing across campus.

I'm still not 100% on board with the whole "wearing o the shorts" bit, mostly because I've spent the last ten years keeping my legs covered so they don't blind everyone in the vicinity. I don't do tanning. So I feel, I suppose, the way the young ladies of the 1920s felt when fashion dictated a raise in the hem-line: somewhat scandalous at all that bare skin - and with a 33 1/2" inseam, that's a lot of leg - but still condoned by society (to a degree).

I've spent 45 minutes on the phone with a surprisingly delightful and helpful young woman from AT&T who helped me re-register my wireless router/modem thingy after it inexplicably ceased to function, yesterday.

And now, I'm about to head to bed.

At 7:40 p.m.

Hopefully, I will finish the book I am currently reading (The 6th Lamentation) and begin reading another one, perhaps Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan or The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities by one of the Warburg family's descendants, who apparently has made a career out of outing her family's little secrets.

I look forward to some scandalously delicious reading, to go along with my scandalous shorts.