Giving up

Yesterday I procrastinated by cleaning up my home office. This morning I’m going in to the lab to feed the little beasties and wash some more glassware. Then I’m going to come home and buckle down to nothing but grading for the rest of my life. It’s all over, I’m resigning myself to nothing but drudgery for eternity. Goodbye, everyone. Time to crawl into the pit of despair and make it my own.

Definitely a senior moment

I’m puttering about in the lab, waiting for students to show up, and was mainly just cleaning a lot of glassware. Then I had to make up some solutions and culture more flies, and then as reflex dictates, I had to label everything.

This is a rule. Every time you make a bottle of something, you slap a label on it that says what’s inside and the date you made it. If I didn’t, I’d probably have a seizure trying to get to the container, even if gorillas charged in and snatched me away. It really is that important.

So tape goes on, sharpie comes out, I start writing. “16 March…”, and then, brain freeze. I forgot the decade. “81”, my fingers itched to write. I was in grad school. This is when I got into this habit. It must be…

No, that’s ridiculous. It’s not the 20th century anymore, that’s over. “01”? Maybe?

20 fucking 21? NO WAY! That’s the distant future, I’m a young man working in the lab. After a brief discombobulation, though, I realized it really was 2021, a date that belongs in a science fiction novel, and most of my life had just flown by. It’s going to take a while to get used to this.

So that must be what senility is like, just a whole series of shocks over the most mundane moments. Maybe my brain is going.

Nah, not really. I got very little sleep last night, work has been piling up again, I’m dog tired and stuck doing the most mindless routine tedium. I’ll mention this incident next time I see a doctor for a checkup (that should happen next month, once I’m fully vaccinated), but I think what I really need to do is catch up on my sleep and put a lot of work behind me. A nap and a vacation, that’s what I need.

It’s not too late to shower us with rubies

Last year was our 40th wedding anniversary, which we had to spend apart because Mary got caught by the lockdown in Colorado. This year, Tuesdays are my heaviest teaching days, so I’m just spending the whole day on zoom and in lab.

We’re such a glamorous couple.

I note that the traditional 40th anniversary wedding gift is rubies. If you’ve got a few you can spare, drop them in an envelope and send them here. You all forgot to send them last year; to be honest, I didn’t even notice then.

The day after

I had my shot of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday. Today, I’m feeling it: my arm is sore, my limbs in general feel like lead, and my brain seems to be running at half speed. This must be the possible lethargy they warned us about. It’s nothing too bad, and even if I’d known the specific effect ahead of time, it wouldn’t have dissuaded me in the slightest.

Fortunately, as an early anniversary gift, I bought us a larger coffee maker, which helps a little. Also, it’s not as if professoring takes much brain power, right?

Siblings wrecked my sleep last night

I had an intense dream where I was at a family reunion, and everyone was there, including my dead father and dead sister, and weirdly, they’d aged an additional 20 or 30 years as if I’d been totally mistaken about attending their funerals, and they’d been just living their lives while I was oblivious and unaware. Then my baby sister Lisa, who died in her 30s but was now a gray-haired and healthy 52, took offense at my joy at seeing her again and started punching me, battered me to the ground, and was kicking me to death. My father, who was also looking strong, glanced my way and said, “You deserve it”, and then all my brothers and sisters joined in.

That’s when I woke up, totally bewildered by what is going on in my brain. I got to lie there for a few hours wondering what sick guilt was lurking deep in the rotting core of my mind, and what it was trying to tell me, and wondering why I was such a horrible person. Now I’ve got a lot of work to do today, and this worry is going to prey on me all day long. Is there an oneirologist in the house?

Asymptotes get in my way


I know we have a lot of polyamorous people on this network, and people who are not interested in long term relationships, but that’s not me. I’m a devotedly monogamous kind of guy, and today is our 36th wedding anniversary, so I had to do some math. (Isn’t that everyone’s response to important dates?)

Percent of my life spent married to one person: 61%

Whoa. That’s disappointing. That number is just not big enough. So I had to fudge it a bit. We started seriously dating in 1976, so…

Percent of my life spent romantically involved with that person: 68%

That didn’t help much. Only 2/3 of my life? She’s so much more.

But hey, I met her for the first time in third grade, so maybe I can nudge it up further.

Percent of my life knowing that person: 86%

That really feels like cheating. She was just that other kid in class who was better at math than I was, so that shouldn’t count.

I know 100% is mathematically impossible because there were those 8 empty years where I didn’t even know she existed, but I have to strive for a percentage that approximates her importance. At least 99%. I estimate that in order to reach the point where I have spent 99% of my life married to Mary, all I have to do is live to be 2300 years old. And she has to live that long too, or there’s no point.

We can do that. Easy.

Then maybe we can aim for 99.9%.

Does R.K. Milholland spy on me with secret cameras?

I saw this latest comic and started feeling paranoid and checking the ceiling for lenses. It’s been a depressing couple of weeks, and…we’re hosting more cats. My son’s house got flooded by a water main break, he’s sleeping on couches at friends’ places, his gear is stored in various places, including our car, and we had to take in his two cats, temporarily.

It does not ease the situation. Our existing cat is a minion of the devil who hates strangers and strange cats, so we’ve had to wall off the two groups in separate rooms. I still come home to find our satanic beast snarling and hissing at a closed door. We are the only two other creatures on the planet she trusts at all, so far, and it’s a little uncomfortable to be the patrons of the bestial anti-christ.

So don’t do it, PeeJee! Not unless, of course, we can figure out how to translate real creatures into a two-dimensional cartoon world, and you really want a cat that will attack all your patrons on sight.

“hot water, good dentishtry and shoft lavatory paper”

Those are the best things in life, according to Cohen the Barbarian, and I spent most of my morning taking advantage of the middle one. I have been shirking — it has been four years since my last dental checkup — so had a few hours to get a good thorough working over. My morning was spent lying back, getting x-rayed, having my teeth poked and prodded and scraped, getting the occasional metallic taste of blood, being ordered about, open wider, turn this way, bite down on this.

It was terrific. I don’t know why I don’t go more often — probably because I don’t have any pressing dental issues, and it does take a chunk of time — but a good workout at the dentist’s office is so relaxing, and I feel so mellow afterwards, in addition to having a sparkly clean tasty mouth, it’s like a spa day for me. I love the gadgets and the pointy little tools and dental chairs are incredibly comfortable, and it helps to have a bunch of competent professionals I can trust. So I’ve decided to be a responsible adult and made another appointment for the same thing in April.

And now, while I’m all loose and unstressed, it’s a good time to get the next step in my lab prep done for next semester, and finalize those syllabi. I don’t know why Cohen didn’t include a university education in his list…maybe it’s #4, right after the soft lavatory paper.

So, next term I’m teaching our introductory course, Fundamentals of Genetics, Evolution, and Development, and I’m also teaching our Genetics course. I can do these two course in my sleep, so prep is easy, except for the fact that I’m always tweaking something. The challenges I’m facing are:

  • Genetics is horribly oversubscribed. Our enrollments keep going up and up, and this year our required molecular biology course filled up fast (don’t panic for the students, they’ll just take another section in the fall) and everyone who couldn’t get in seems to have signed up, with my permission, for the elective Genetics course. Either that or I’m just incredibly popular.

    So I’m making up extra large batches of flies, and I’m going to be making extra, unscheduled time available in the lab.

  • I’ve taught FunGenEvoDevo many times…but on our weird two days a week, hour and 15 minutes each schedule. This time around it’s on a three days a week, 50 minute schedule. I’m going to have to tweak my timing, but it might actually work better to hit first year students with smaller, more digestible bites.

  • Notice that both courses have “genetics” in the title. This sometimes confuses me: I’m supposed to give the first-years a gentle, conceptual introduction to the basic ideas of Mendelian inheritance, while in the upper level course I can hit them with the wickedly tricky problems and hard ideas. Sometime I might mix the two up, which isn’t good.

Also, so many fly lines. I now have to go up to the genetics lab with my minty clean teeth and spend a few hours setting up dozens of bottles for the first fly lab, in two weeks.

Away in the darkness

There has been a bit of silence here because my mad wife decided she wanted to go camping. In Minnesota. In the middle of January. I know winter camping is a thing, it’s just not my thing, but I went along. So we headed off to Glacier Lakes State Park yesterday, where she’d reserved a snug little cabin for the evening.

Strangely, the DNR link above advertises the place with lots of pictures of beautiful meadows and sparkling lakes and groves of wild flowers. For some reason, they don’t tell you what it’s like in January. It’s like this.


Skies like spilled milk. The lakes are sheets of ice, covered with snow. The trees are barren and skeletal. Which isn’t unlovely, in its own way, but it’s not how I picture camping (which is more gray, with constant drizzling rain, and bears.)

It wasn’t bad. We settled in, we later went to bed, and we turned off the lights, and discovered something else about the experience.

Total darkness and silence. We were far from anywhere, there were no other campers, the heavy cloud cover meant the moon and stars weren’t shining through at all. I held my hand up to my face, and saw nothing. I waited an hour, for my eyes to adjust…still nothing. There was no wind, and no animals were crazy enough to be out and about, so there was no sound, either. So this is what a sensory deprivation tank might be like.

It turns out I do not cope well with sensory deprivation. I was lying there awake all night, my brain churning away trying to find something outside itself to latch on to, and refusing to go to sleep until it heard a little noise or got a faint glimmering of something. I don’t know whether it was claustrophobia or agoraphobia, but something about being swaddled in dark emptiness was unsettling.

So next time my wife demands that I share her madness, I’m bringing a metronome and a night light. I’m kind of wrecked for the day now, too, and am suddenly noticing more acutely the tick of the clock here at home, the occasional distant swish of a car driving through the snow, and all the clutter in our house.