I have been quiet here lately. Life has been hella full of engineering education stuff -- which is good, because that's what I'm studying! It's also been exhausting, and I spent much of last week recovering from a nasty cold. It's very, very difficult to force me to take care of myself; I lie in bed with my mind just vibrating, trying to convince me that it's perfectly fine thank you very much.

No, little Mel brain. You had crossed the point of tiredness where you no longer felt exhaustion. You haven't been there for a while, but you used to live there all the time, so it felt normal to you. You're still tired. Rest some more.

Of course, this is complicated somewhat by the start of my Readiness Assessment tomorrow... morning, I presume. Readiness is the comps/quals/prelim equivalents for my department and supposedly has my brain occupied 'till the end of November. Basically, you get to write 30-50 pages (or so) on 3 topics your committee selects. Research, read, and write. All in 2 weeks, all on top of your normal commitments.

My "normal commitments" during this time include 4 dance performances (did I mention this week is tech week?) and running a 5k. Oh, and a 14-credit courseload, plus research. (Research is totally going on the back burner for two weeks. Sorry, Changemakers and Sage2Guide and those grant proposals I shot out partial drafts on last night, but I'm going to focus on graduation requirements for the next 14 days.) Hey, I might be a crazy overloader, but at least I'm improving. We're just working on monotonically improving sanity levels in my life here. They are going up.

In preparation, I am undertaking a mind-clearing that involves inbox zero (just finished) and a braindump of interesting things I've wanted to write about. So here you go.

AnnotateIt seems like a neat tool to try. I'm thinking about radically trasnparent research here, collaborative data analysis, having people review papers and books as they're being written...

Via Sumana, a good post about indirect communication, an art I both have and haven't mastered. It's something I can and want to be good at, but I'm also aware that my cultural conditioning (and the technical culture I often work in) does not value this sort of discourse as highly as direct communication. For a low-context culture, sometimes STEM is an awfully high-context culture.

Then it starts getting trippy. I had a strange dream last month, and most of the preceding text was a writing warmup so that I'd be able to actually post this one.

I dreamt that I gave birth to a daughter. (For anyone who knows me, you'll also know that the concept of HAVING BABIES! has been so far away from my to-do-in-life list that it ceased to be visible to the naked eye around the age of 10, which is why I was so weirded out by this dream.)

I remember the dream starting in a hospital room -- white, brightly lit, tile floor, all that. And I'm lying in the bed, thinking "gee, what's supposed to be happening?" so of course I hop off (totally spry, not in pain at all) and wander out the door and ask the nearest nurse what's up. And she asks well, how much are you dilated? And I think "wait, I'm in the hospital for that? (as opposed to, I don't know, an appendectomy) and say: um, not much? Can't be much? Aren't you supposed to feel something? And the nurse says yeah, that usually happens first.

And then suddenly, a little red infant's head crowns. And I go: "...like that?" and quickly walk back into the hospital room, where I stand at the foot of the empty bed and give birth to this tiny, red, crying infant and place it very gently on the bed, umbilical cord still attached. Some doctor-type person leans over and says "it's a girl!" and my extended family (who has somehow gathered around me) choruses "it's a girl!" and starts sending the news out over the grapevine. And dream-Mel is thinking that it was all pretty easy and wasn't that supposed to hurt more? (There is a brief, momentary flash of "wait why the hell am I having a baby this doesn't make sense?" before dream-logic kicks back in.)

There are two beds in the hospital room, both queen-sized, side by side. And now there's blood all over one, so I decide I'll lie down in the other, so I pick up the baby and walk around to the right side of the bed, the umbilical cord snaps and the baby's already sitting upright on the bed, looking around with clear eyes and a little head of black hair. Huh. Should probably name her. Before the baby gets a name, ASIAN FAMILY ARRIVES (again!) and I find myself rapidly narrating the stream of visitors to the kid, figuring out everyone's new English and Chinese title relative to New Baby on the fly ("Um... this is Melanie, she's... that's... aunt #8, Pue-ee! I think!") and I am somehow not surprised when my Guakong shows up, even if he died in real life when I was 18. I don't quite know what his proper Chinese title is, so I sorta fudge it: "That's your... Gua-kong-po!" and quickly switch to "Great-Grandfather... holy cow, great grandfather?"

This memory is rapidly crumbling, which is why I wrote it down as soon as I woke up. It's taken this long to post it, but it's been rattling in my mind since, so I gotta get it out.

Anyway. My family's streamed through, they're gone, I start thinking about the naming thing again, then I get distractomel and look at the kid and think hm, maybe should take care of baby first, and so I ask the kid: am I doing this right? hey, are you ok? I mean, are you supposed to be hungry, or something? Sorry, I don't have milk at the moment, but we could get you a bottle... and the kid responds no, no, I'm fine. No, really, I'm fine. And then I say "wait, you're a baby! How are you talking?" and she says "I'm a baby, I can't talk. You're understanding me and imagining the output in words." And then she curls up into me and stops talking and goes to sleep. And I think: whoa, this is way too easy.

SCENE JUMP! Both my parents in the bleachers of a professional baseball game, where batters are hitting game balls into the stands. They both scramble for baseballs, get one each at about the same time (separately), and hand me a baseball for the baby. (Awake-Mel notes that baseball is the stereotypically American-culture sport, so this is sort of like my parents going "hey, Western things for grandchild!" which is surprising -- and baseball is also the sport I liked playing the most as a kid until I got old enough that they wouldn't let girls play any more.)

SCENE JUMP! I'm carrying the infant in a tiny carrier (a little basket with a handle) into my parents' house, through the kitchen; it's a sunny and warm day out the window, and one of my cousins is beside me. And I think more of my family is nearby, but they're not in the house yet. And I keep asking: "well, what do I do now? I don't know what to do." I'm not anxious in the slightest; it's more of a matter-of-fact curiosity that hey, look, baby! So now what?

That's what I remember. There are flashes of other things; a bus ride that I slowly fall asleep on, a conversation about having a second kid (for which I think the conversation ended on a "well, why not?" note). But throughout the whole thing there are two undercurrents: one is a fierce, fierce love for Tiny Infant Thing, and the other is that even my dream-self had this undercurrent of thought of "wait why the hell is there a baby I don't see how this logically follows and I don't remember wanting one of these this makes no sense OBVIOUSLY BABY IS SYMBOLIC!!!"

Aaaaand then I woke up. This should not be construed as any data whatsoever towards what I do or don't want in real life, by the way. But these new sort of images keep recurring, and they frighten me, because they are full of things I have actually rejected for most of  my life (and still push away from now).

I'm standing barefoot in a garden, and I know it's mine. In the corner of our backyard (wait, "our" backyard? Wait, "backyard?" Why don't I live in the city like I think I want to?) is a mud oven (okay, that's cool) and my children, still young (WAIT WHAT KIDS?) are there, pulling bread they've baked out of it. Warm, crusty loaves. They're going to run upstairs with the hot loaves wrapped in a thick towel, all eager to show their dad. (WHAT? DAD? GAH!) And as I watch this, I'm remembering building the oven with them as tiny children, stepping in the mud, their little handprints and signatures carved into the side of the wall. And it's a happy, sunny, content time, everything feeling good and right (BUT THIS IS WEIRD!), and I grab a handful of strawberries from the garden bush and eat so that the juice runs down my chin, and plant my hands in the rich dirt and turn into a stable, comfortable handstand.

Okay, I would not mind being able to do a handstand on a casual basis. I'm working on that now, actually. But seriously. It's terribly disconcerting to have these sorts of images in my brain, like foreign invaders; they don't fit into the self or the identity I've made. I'm a Mel, you know. I run restless around the world. I live in short-term apartments in cities, running back and forth inside their buzz until I wear out in one city and move on, nomadic, to the next. I don't... settle down like that. I...

I tell myself they're just dreams, because I don't want to imagine what it might mean to take them seriously. It's always safer to dismiss your dreams, even if that's in part the act of a coward.

But then again, I am writing them here. So there's a part of me that's no coward at all about this.