Friday, November 29, 2013

Unexpected Joys of the Dissertation: Thanksgiving Dinner at McDonald’s

Today I did something I have never done in my entire life: I spent over 12 consecutive hours in a McDonald’s restaurant. To make the experience even more memorable, it was Thanksgiving Day.

As a writing venue, this particular McDonald’s had several things going for it. Most importantly, unlike most of my usual haunts, it was open. Also, since this was a college town, it had been designed to accommodate students who needed a quiet place to work. Like most McDonald’s (hmmm….what is the proper way to pluralize a possessive proper noun?), the main part of the facility had several televisions blaring and was not conducive to studying. But this particular McDonald’s, instead a playland for kids, has a large quiet study room, with a variety of seating options and plenty of electrical outlets. A glass wall seals the study room off from the noisy part of the restaurant.

As an additional plus, the service was friendly, much friendlier than I have found in my rare visits to a big city McDonald’s. I was pleasantly surprised by the food, particularly the Homestyle Burger…it was really good! So was the Peppermint Latte (I had two.)

The one drawback of the quiet study room was the temperature. It was freezing!! Fortunately, I was somewhat prepared. I had multiple jackets, sweatshirts, and blankets. (I learned that lesson last weekend, when I had to borrow a writing blanket from a friend who lives in town.) I also had a pair of writing gloves (gloves without fingers). I purchased the gloves last night, in anticipation of a cold writing session. In the last six months, thanks to a kind husband and total immersion in the dissertation, I have only made a half-dozen or so visits to grocery/retail stores. One of those visits was last night, and it’s a good thing I did it. I should have looked for an electric blanket too.

During the day, most of the McDonald’s patrons appeared to be college students. Some stayed quite a while (though I outlasted nearly all of them). I suspect I may have been the only one born and raised in the U.S.A. In the evening, the clientele changed…more teenagers and children. I wonder if they were getting ready for Black Friday shopping?

A friend heard I was in town to write, and invited me to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. The friend, also a graduate student, understood perfectly that I could not commit to a specific time, that I might show up anytime or not at all, and that writing my dissertation took priority over eating a holiday dinner. But apparently my friend’s mother was horrified that I was spending Thanksgiving at McDonalds’s. I think my friend had to forcibly restrain her mom from delivering turkey and stuffing to me.

Speaking of moms, my mom and my husband ate Thanksgiving dinner together at Golden Corral, eighty-plus miles away. Since I ate under the Golden Arches, we were all together in spirit.

A year and a half ago, I wondered if I could find joy in the dissertation writing process. Today, I did.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Important note: Only 56 minutes of writing time were used to create and edit this blog post.
(Those who know me well are aware that I am engaged in a constant battle with perfectionism. This note is to reassure them I have not relapsed.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Keep Calm and Write On

When I arrived at work yesterday, the sign pictured below was attached to my office door. So far, no one has claimed responsibility.

I have several suspects in mind, and have begun inquiries.

Regardless of who did it, I plan to obey.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I’m back!!

As my faithful readers have undoubtedly noticed, my little blog has been sadly neglected for the last few months.


That question is currently under analysis. The preliminary findings of that analysis have already emerged, and I would love to share them with you. Unfortunately, I am prevented from doing so by the same root cause that produced the phenomenon under investigation (an enthusiastic blog-writer vanishing from her own blog). At a later time, after the situation causing the blogger’s blogging hiatus has been resolved, I will post a detailed report.

In the interim, please be assured that I have not been completely idle. I have stopped drifting, and have kept myself busy by decorating, with the help of my investors.

(Yes, the links are safe …and relevant.)

In the coming weeks, I hope to revive the blog from its coma through a sequence of short posts at regular intervals. Very strict time limits will be imposed on the generating and editing of these posts. Without such limits, the patient is unlikely to survive; if it does survive, its long-term outlook will not be positive.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Why I Love a College Town

10. Free cupcakes during finals week.

9. Free bacon and eggs at 9 pm during finals week.

8. You can spend the night in the library during finals week (some students wear their pajamas).

7. No one minds when you spend 12-14 consecutive hours in the same restaurant, using the air conditioning, wireless, and electricity.

6. Baristas who know your face and your order, without your telling them (Sweet Eugene’s House of Java: “regular nonfat latte with sugar-free hazelnut and a scone warmed, up with a fork”)

5. Deli/bakery servers who know your name, your face, and your order, without your telling them (Blue Baker: “Club Bleu, no mustard, no mayo, cut in half”)

4. Blueberry Peach bread on Tuesdays (Blue Baker again...can you tell it's my favorite place?)

3. People feel safe enough to go jogging at 1:30 a.m.

2. Laundromat with attached restaurant/bar (Harvey Washbangers). Above the bar is a panel with numbered lights, one for each washer and dryer, so you can see when it’s time to leave the restaurant and switch the laundry. The french fries are pretty good too!

1. Laundry attendant who finds your lost kittycat sock in the dustbin and runs into the parking lot to find you and return it.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chemistry Building Addition: Introducing my new writing assistant

(This is Stop #21 in the Texas A&M Building Writing Tour, my attempt to motivate myself on my dissertation by writing in every campus building before I graduate.)

In recent weeks, my dissertation productivity has increased considerably, with an unfortunate result — the near extinction of my recreational writing.

I’ve been wanting to start blogging again, but it seemed so difficult to switch my writing gears. Plus, I felt intimidated by my backlog of buildings. So, to get unstuck, I decided to write in a new building, and tackle a really easy writing task: Gushing about my new portable monitor.

The 16.4” HP U160 Portable Monitor is a remarkable product. Simple, beautiful, and functional. It runs from a single USB port (no external power source). The attached case flips around and becomes a stand, so I can prop the non-glare screen at any angle. It starts automatically, as soon as I plug it in. Using the HP DisplayLink Manager software, I can specify the second monitor’s location, to the right or left of my laptop. This gizmo requires no computer savvy … just drag the windows and documents over to it, and drag them back when you’re done.

This is a wonderful writing tool. I can read a journal article on one screen and write about it on the other. I can compare two sets of statistical output side-by-side. If I’m doing lots of cutting and pasting between documents, I can keep them both visible simultaneously — no more switching between windows, confusing myself, and pasting paragraphs into the wrong file. It’s fantastic!

Every writing nomad should own one of these. At 3.4 pounds, it’s light enough to carry anywhere (official weight from HP, confirmed by my own independent measurement). Wherever I am working, my new monitor is by my side — at my apartment, the library, or the local bakery/deli. At my favorite coffee shop (which has tiny round tables), the monitor sits on a tall chair borrowed from the bar.

When it’s time to go home, the whole thing folds into a flat package about an inch thick. I’m not sure if the black outer covering is leather, or vinyl, or what, but it has a rich, classy feel. The inside is lined with soft velour/felt material to protect the screen. Embedded magnets gently snap the case closed, with no need for zippers or latches.

The subtle embossed HP logo adds a nice touch — I love my monitor so much, I don’t mind a little advertising. In fact, I sold two of them in the first week alone — HP should put me on commission!

What do you think is cooler, the monitor or the multicolored  glass-encased helix?