Thursday, November 05, 2009

477. The Mysterious Grant from the Bren School, UC Santa Barbara... Case Resolved! THANK YOU!!!

I bet this will happen once and only once in my life, but sometimes little magic wands and tooth fairies do exist in the psychologically barbaric, cold-shoulder universe of large-scale university bureaucracy... and bureaucracy in general....

Take for a example... a grant... I received... that I only knew about... since two days ago... through a phone call with Corlei... the graduate student liaison at Bren.... Ya, like WTF! Pardon my crass language, even guised in acronyms! Before yesterday, this is what I knew: someone in the Graduate Division waived their magic wand around September 20 or so and waived my fees and tuition. Wow. That's weird. The billing note stated it was a "graduate internship" or something. Uh-huh. Okay. What the hoo haa hay is this? Whatever. I didn't pursue this any further (I just thought maybe this was an administrative error and that ignorance should be bliss in this circumstance). I just secretly cried with joy to know that I had health insurance for the quarter.... And I still took out two loans at first... I call them "Obama loans"... both of them from the Federal Government. It's beautiful money and it's worth borrowing.... I'd do anything for Obama! Like, SERIOUSLY! Then it was down to one direct, subsidized loan....

And so, I basically had the "hxll month" of October in which I was non-stop living without any down time to reflect. I was "holding my mental breath," and in all honesty, I feel that I need to hide away and "puke" for a little while. So, here I was... in Riverside... and I called Corlei because I had a couple of concerns in terms of my interactions with certain professors... one is not an "open, transparent" relationship in which I can be completely uncensored and revelatory... and the other relationship is concerning simply because this professor is on sebatical... so I feel completely horrible and guilty for bothering him. And so Corlei pops the question, "Did you get your check?" And I was like, "What check?"And she proceeded to explain to me how Dean Haston sent me an award letter about a month ago, stating that I received a "block grant" (?) from Bren that would help with tuition, health insurance, and basic living expenses. And I was like, "WHAT?!" Corlei advised me to pick up the grant/check as soon as possible and then we set up an appointment for November 16. Huh. Weird. Plain flat out weird.

So, the first question is... how did I feel (Yes, oh yes! I am a psychologist to myself!)? I felt stunned, but in a dulled way. I didn't jump up and down, as if I received a National Science Foundation fellowship, like I did back in April of 2003 (stone ages, I tell ya). I didn't feel like I was struck by lightning, but I kinda sorta felt I won some really crooked lottery game. Sort of, that was only 1% of my feelings. The truth is, in the past year, I have been a "shadow of Bren." A rather elusive creature, one who lurks in the building at night or during weekends. One who goes in and out for brief meetings and then splits to work in the blank slate environment of Kinkos (over a festid, library). I don't know. I've been feeling like some vile, base graduate student organism, even more loathsome than any slimy or scaly reptile, perhaps equally as hideous as that vertebrate parasitoid Alien in the Alien-series movie. Why? Because I'm just this little "kicking-n'-screaming rebel from CCS," a flat out stubborn b#@* about pursuing "environmental media" or the synthesis of science and multi-media storytelling to more holistically explore and address coupled-human-environmental systems. I always saw myself as a "problem child," "a muckracker" to the Bren community, simply because I was pushing boundaries of their definitions of "interdisciplinary" (I mean, physically, not lipservice-acally). As a symbolic experience of interaction, I remember my first day of school at Bren back in the Fall of 2008, while we grad students were all introducing ourselves to each other, and when I said "I'm Victoria. Environmental Media Ph.D." I saw the eyes of Dr. Keller (water quality expert?) bulge out, his brows elevate almost as far as they could biomechanically lift. And he seemed shocked, but in a pleasant sense, transmitting a telepathic signal of 'What are you doing HERE? But here you are, so welcome aboard.' with his gestalt sequence of succeeding facial expressions. *Sigh.* By that point I felt like a timid mouse that came out to see some light, 'cuz they said they'd be some cheez for me to eat.... Now maybe I'm this rat in the shadows. Anyhow, nevertheless, my advisor Oran. "an intellectual fishermen who has beckoned me to cast my web long and far into the nooks and crannies of this UCSB campus" has been so supportive in my experiences thus far. But I know deep in my mind and my heart, that the only way I'm going to survive in this community for FIVE LONG YEARS is (1) TANGIBLE PRODUCTIVITY. "Don't talk. Just do. And deliver final projects without necessarily anyone's expectations of them. Leave a trail of tangible, physical work." and (2). EXTERNAL VALIDATION. "Seek external validation and build communities outside of Bren such that when it comes to be any form of Academic Judgment Day, Bren faculty cannot deny that I had received official acknowledgments from external academic parties." The goal is to leave the Bren experience accomplishing my personal goals and not having a single professor shake his or her finger and scold me "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" simply because it hasn't been done before in such a such a new way, even though it makes complete common sense to pursue it (I have dealt with that mentality for close to 6 long months last year, and I am FED UP with that!). It's the most HORRID, wretched experience for a professor to tell me "you can't do that!" Professors, especially those on your committee have some level of mastermindful control over you and the contents of your head, and so it's really important for the professor NOT TO PUT YOUR MIND IN A PRISON. Your committee needs to guide you, let you grow, and if they need you to specialize, they need to be expert tricksters to make a graduate student's head become self-filtered, self-focused....

So, here I am, strategically trying to carve out an academic existence as an "environmental media oddball" with obscure strategies. And here I WAS, all summer of 2009, flipping out about 12 times, surviving through five more overt panic attacks (about 1.5 weeks of wasted time, mind, and energy) simply because (1) my NSF fellowship was about to be over (2) I've been stood up from three different departments in concern of TAships, and many TAships are being reduced to 25% (3) the University of California is financially crumbling top-down, thanks Mr. Swartzebooger, Yudolf and the executives rest (4) I was going to have to familiarize myself with the student loan syndrome.... So... I have psychologically suffered all summer... and the last month I have learned to live "cut down" and "more frugally," and suddenly... to realize... that I received a GRANT from Bren?

By this point, I was crying. Some tears in my eyes are about to appear right now. My psychology is a wreck, and I have a few more months to stay floating before I go financially on the "negative side" of student loans. Taking student loans though was a huge benefit because it made me realize (1) that I was truly motivated to the very core to pursue my road in environmental media and (2) that I will have to truly start considering the notion of "financially floating" when pursuing this Ph.D. track. It has been a good month in that sense. This whole "mental readjustment" to real-world finances.

The money I received from National Science Foundation was very impersonal. Some random assortment of scientists made some decision to give me money because I was some undergrad who already knew how to scientifically write and design my own plant vegetation experiments. I never put a face to the money; it just came flying over from Washington DC and it was coming from people's taxpayers dollars. NOTE: I want to make sure that taxpayers realize that they are truly investing in a good resource when they are investing in maintaining a minimal salary for my existence. I can tell great stories that might help them "laugh, then think," then break their routine and try something excitingly, and fearfully new.

But now, the money came from a "more local source." It came from the Bren community. And it's a much different sensation. Deeming myself as an "academic outcast," or an "academic who has a hard time being with other academics, and likes to bathe herself in the real world," I am now starting to question this identity, this self-perceived or self-constructed label of "outcast in the shadows." On a very fundamental level, though environmental media is not a mainstream pursuit at UC Santa Barbara, I somehow felt... appreciated for existing. Appreciated for pursuing this road... appreciated for whining and griping and kicking and screaming and transferring three different schools... all for just to follow my core dreams? Appreciated... appreciated.... I'm not sure about "accepted," but at least appreciated. Appreciated enough such that I can survive at least one more quarter without going under financially.

Upon learning of this grant, I went to Santana's mom-n-pop chain Mexican restaurant of the Inland Empire and ordered a $6.50 tray of chicken nachos and enjoyed 2/3 of it in the wee hours of a chilly-desert Rivesidian night. The other 1/3 went to my father's lunch the next day. I wished I shared the nachos with Jules and my family, but they were all asleep. I told Jules I will buy him a small carrot cake for his retroactive birthday (he was impressed that I received a grant and I didn't even have to catch a single fish! He works so hard wakes up 3am in the morning almost every day to go catch lobster and fish; I feel lazy and wimpy). I will take my sister on a boat ride for Christmas, and I will terrorize my mother and father with whacky presents from the 99 cents store for the holidays. My mother was terrified and she told me she will give me a list of things she wanted, just to prevent my giving her a venus fly trap or a plastic tube of candy with a twirling plastic monkey on top. I must celebrate! One more quarter without debt!

At the core of my visceral existence, there is a primal, desperate character of Victoria that screams "I am a stubborn b#@* and don't even think about trying to budge me from where I'm heading." This visceral self is an unstoppable, super-muscular, reptilian godzilla type that can't deal with prison bars or walls in front of her line of intended action. So, I've been learning to live with this visceral self since age 19 or so.... and yes, this primal, desperate Victoria has been taking the more "emotionally sensitive, rational Victoria" on such interesting adventures. Sheesh!

Thank you, Bren.

I will give Dean Haston a copy of "The Mountain's Last Flower" and inform her that I can do a small run print of my work the last year or so (poetry, short stories, novella, film), for exposure around the Bren community. It would be nice to get other people's feedback. Especially since they're a part of my school.

I need to figure out how to be notified about important issues outside the realm of email, because I truly have ECP or electronocommunicatiphobia.

This human society is Biologically Incorrect! Victoria's Mental Ecosystem to be continued... one more quarter... without being in debt....

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