Friday, May 22, 2009


Lonely abroad, pushing on.

I'm in Italy.  Enough has happened in the last ~3 days or so to write pages about, but I'm lacking the energy/motivation, so we're gonna go summary style here.  Someday I'll post pictures and better stories.

Spending 24+ hours traveling by plane, train, subway and foot - exhausting.  Knowing how to ask for directions - useful.  Not knowing how to understanding the instructions you're subsequently given - problematic.  Hostel - has a bed, enough to make it amazing!  Also a sketchy shower.  Food - haven't had anything yet that wasn't quite tasty.  Esspresso - life saving means of dealing with jet lag.  Jet lag - something I've heard a lot about but never fully appreciated... suckiness.  Math course - excellent; not very hard so far (mostly stuff I have already taught myself), but spending 6+ hours a day listening to lectures on mathematics in english has been helping me maintain the ol' sanity levels at an acceptable point.  One thing that falls inside the comfort zone at least.  Language - I'm learning bits and pieces, and gaining a lot of sympathy for young children whose parents use big words and sentences to communicate over their heads so they don't understand.  So far everyone has been really friendly though, so that's nice.  I've gotten a heck of a lot farther with a little language guidebook than I would have imagined possible, quite easily.  People quickly know that I'm not from Italy, but so far don't immediately know I'm from the US - I'm taking this as a positive sign.  So far Theo has been a Russian and a Brazilian.  

Overall feeling about international traveling (based on my now vast experience) - it's not as difficult as I had expected, and I feel like I can manage quite well and rise to the challenges with patience and energy.  Fun to see new places and experience new things + good food.  But, I'm lonely.  All the time, it's just me that I have to depend on, and only my own thoughts to hear.  All the new-ness of things generates a lot of thoughts and new ideas, but between not knowing the language and not having a travel buddy, there isn't much outlet for it all.  As much as everyone back at the bio station thinks that I am a solitary hermit by tendency and nature, I really very much value personal interactions.  We'll see how things go in the following weeks - I'm  hoping that my stays on organic farms will be more personal than this city business.

On top of it all, I've found out in the last two days that my grandfather has passed away, after breaking his hip last week.  Still spinning in circles in my head.  It was what he wanted, and he was surrounded by family and peace.  But I am so far away from it all, and even more helpless than ever.  I don't know how to describe it.  Of all of my grandparents, I was probably closest to him.  His approval meant so much to me, and I know he was very proud of me, but I can't help but feel that I wasn't good enough, and didn't do as much as I should have.  Ugh.  Try explaining that to someone in Italian.  My little survival Italian guidebook doesn't come close to having the right words if I can't even find them in English.

Can't deal with this more now, class is starting soon and I've got to get my act together again. 

Theo out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On my way...

One flight down.  3 more hours in this airport, another flight, waiting for an hour, then an 8 hour flight across the Atlantic, and I'm in Italy!!!  Yeeeehaw

In the last two days I managed to pack up everything in the house I was living in and store it away in the basement; I won't be moving back into that house again when I return.  It was a lovely place.  I tried hard to pack light, but I'm sure I have too much stuff even so.  Sigh.  ~28 lbs in an external frame pack, including clothes, tent, sleeping bag, toiletries, sunscreen, hat, sandals, pocket knife, cord, clothespins, pack towel, first aid kit, and a water bottle.  All in plastic trash bags to protect against rain.  Then I've got a small day pack, with paperwork for the trip, a notebook for the workshop, camera, pens/colored pencils, travel guide to ireland, italian language guide, one pleasure reading book, and a laptop.  Wooo.

I don't like good-byes.  Eugenie is in the Galapagos by now; spoke to her several times on the phone yesterday while she was traveling, but now that she's in Ecuador, we're out of reach, probably until she returns in about two weeks.  Even then though, it'll be occasional internet access if anything.  You'd think that with as well as we've managed over the last year (!) spending most of our time in different places, 2 weeks to a month wouldn't be so hard.  But I'm really going to miss hearing her voice on the phone, and sharing each other's days through instant messaging.  Guess I'll just have to keep myself distracted.

Got my NSF rating sheets today, go figure.  Must have finally finished their decisions.  Looks like I scraped into the fellowship with two very goods and four excellents.  Sort of strange to read other peoples' comments about yourself.  Pretty good by and large, although there were some (rather justified) mentions of parts of my application that were vague...  That's what comes from applying without knowing what school or department or advisor you're going to have the next year!  Now I just have to do my best to live up to everything that I talked about.

Interesting happenings so far on the trip:

On my first flight I ended up talking with the person sitting next to me.  She's a local elementary school teacher/librarian and knows the bio station I work at.  She asked me if I knew anything about the guy she sees outside behind a house at all hours of the day digging massive holes in the ground.  But of course, I replied.  That's Terry.  He's nuts.  (He's building waist-deep trenches in the dirt around plots that he's setting up where he hopes to manipulate water levels and study drought effects.  Every year he also builds rain-out shelters that traditionally get trashed by summer thunderstorms).   So that was fun.  We also discussed principles of epidemiology (vaccination, social network models, mathematics, Jared Diamond), ecology, math in biology, traveling in Italy and china, and water issues in the south west.  Not bad for pre-8 am conversation!

Currently I'm looking at my juice bottle, which carries the phrase "When it comes to juice, we understand your need to get Naked".  Hmmm.  Probably I'll pass on that right now - might not be the best idea in an airport!

Ok, time to get some stuff done quickly on my remaining 30 min of internet time...


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Loss of man points...

Loss of man points:

Your housemate returns home from a night on the town, and finds you sitting on the couch in the darkened living room, watching a chick-flick starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Gain of unabashedly-being-yourself points:

Not caring enough to flip to channel 43 and pretend to have been watching Terminator 3 instead.

That's just the way I am.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

All the news that's fit to ... blog?

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's been a long time...

But spring is here, and I've been out living my life and spending a lot less time writing about it.  Winter breeds introspection.  Spring, heralding summer, not so much.  Or at least what I've been introspective about I can't write down here.  But, I'm having a lethargic afternoon and the grey matter isn't firing real well, so I figured it's as good a time as any to provide assurances that I'm still alive.

Since I wrote last, stuff has happened.  Major items to follow:

1)  I've located a cute little house that I will be renting and sharing with my cousin this next academic year, as we both start graduate school.  It's a cheerful yellow outside, with a big porch, new carpet and flooring, front-loading washer/drier, good insulation, and a very clean interior.  Out back, there's some lawn space, parking, annnnnd - a vegetable garden!  I'm pretty delighted.  Soooo many orders of magnitude better than the (dump) I lived in last year of my undergrad, not that there aren't good memories from that place.  "Growing up" - ie, renting, going to grad school, managing your own insurance and vehicle, etc, has to have some perks... and I think living here will be one of them.  It's a reasonable distance from the campus, but in a neighborhood not dominated by undergraduates or apartment complexes.  Perfect.

2)  Looked like my grandparents might be able to make it back to the skilled nursing facility closer to my extended and immediate family after all.  But I just heard last night that my grandfather fell and broke his good hip, so that plan may be shot to hell.  I still don't know how to deal with all of that, heck.




Transient Theorist isn't just thinking about a theoretical trip, he's packing up for some extended, real-life transience.  

For anyone previously following my life, I've been wanting to get out of the US and travel for a long time.  Casting about for travel buddies I've been largely unsuccessful, and hence procrastinated about going anywhere.

But in a bold move the other week, I threw caution to the wind (dogs?), found a plane ticket, and hit "Confirm".  Since then I've been planning how I'll attend a 4 day math/ecology workshop in Italy, then spend the rest of almost a month's time splitting vacation and travel time between Italy and Ireland.  I'm going to see some sites, learn some Italian, eat good food, WWOOF and get my hands dirty, and hopeful do a lot of hiking, wandering and riding on trains.  With a little more luck I won't get mugged/lost/imprisoned/etc.  I'm clueless and I know it, but I can be a quick learner...  

I feel bad-ass about the whole trip.  Flying solo.  I'm actually doing it.  It's not just something other people do and come back and tell stories about, I'm going to do it to.  No more listening to other peoples' stories and doubting that I have the guts to do what they've done.  I'm going to see a different place and a different life and be a stranger to it all, even the language.  And maybe come back a little less scared of the world, less sure of what is impossible, and more at ease with wherever I find myself.  Time to smash a few walls and break out.

It's heady stuff, this reminding yourself that the tallest walls are the ones that you build around yourself, and that as solid as they seem, a little bump and you can knock them all down.  So far the excitedness is out-weighing the panic..... wooo.  Although it makes it hard to focus on anything work related.  

I'm trying to pack light - I want everything to fit into my external frame pack.  Planning on taking a tent, my sleeping bag, a few changes of sturdy clothes, guidebooks, printouts and maps, a camera, and not much else.  I'll probably even leave my lap-top behind(!).  Just to prove it doesn't run my life.  So probably there won't be many updates here until after I return towards the end of June.  Don't miss me too much - I'll be out becoming a more interesting, regret-free person.  I promise I'll bring back some stories and pictures for y'all.

- Theo