Archive for January, 2009

It’s funny how things go, when the go

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2009 by spiebocks

I had my last final on December 20th. Macroeconomics has never been my favorite field. I know I could have done better if (1) I studied more (it always seems there’s more that could have been done) and (2) the exam had been written better.

As for (1), well, that’s just life. However, (2) was out of my hands. You see, this professor (consensus says) should not be allowed to write exams. In studying for this final I found numerous errors in past solutions guides; assumptions appeared magically, solutions only partially unexplained. Unfortunately, these study guides were actual past exams and today’s exam was no different – it was confusion layered over confusion. I could dissect this macro topic more but this is not a moment I would like to recall. I’ll leave the essence of the experience with this – “that’s life”.

Metrics, the day before (Friday) was okay. However, I made the mistake of not reading the instructions properly. We were only supposed to answer 2 out of 3 questions; the exam difficulty level was such that we would only have time to answer 2 questions. I answered three questions. I couldn’t understand why everyone seemed far calmer than I felt, why they wrote deliberately and satisfactorily while I wrote as if my academic life depended on it. I found out the error in my ways shortly after the exam and am still kicking myself.

Either way, my grades were decent. I didn’t get the expected A+ in Micro, though.

After the depressing blow of the Macro exam, I decided to take a short nap only to wake up 6 hours later and realize I had missed my bus to New York. Charles, of course, was devastated that I would not be around to have fun and teach him what’s what. I was convinced to go out with the fellows in my program that Saturday night. I figured I would drink little if anything at all in case the night were to be as damning as our last venture into DC. When we got to Rocket Bar, however, the Turks and the Chilean played it safe and I surprised myself by having fun. I couldn’t help but remember one of my cousin’s sage remarks as night turned to day: “you don’t really know someone until you get drunk with them”. Since I never drink to the point of incomprehension, my mind remained sharp(ish) and I was fascinated to “see” my friendship with some and disappointment in others grow exponentially. Thanks Alcohol!

My flight to Texas was scheduled for 4pm on the 23rd. I waited 30 minutes for the airport shuttle outside the graduate apartments and couldn’t help but notice the sadness I felt. I didn’t want to go home. I guess this feeling has been creeping up on me since I took that Research Associate position at the Center for Health Policy at Duke in 2006. Although intermittent, this sensation is strong enough that I’ve recognized its basis: as time goes on I become more and more removed from the life where I was born and raised. This place is home less and less. I didn’t want to leave my new home. I always figured if I wanted to do something of importance, something to help others I would need to help myself first and gain perspective. The obvious move was to move on, away, continue in a quest for education, learn what I could do and how. That’s what I liked about that job, I knew that the papers I wrote, programmed, published were making a difference in the medical community. Finishing up the M.A. there also helped in my endeavor to “grow” but not because of the coursework, more so because of the people I interacted with. I suppose if I make it out of the PhD program alive, I’ll continue in the research sector for this purpose; with pass rates what they are, that’s a big if though.

I enjoy most of my time in the Valley (due to family and friends) though I am constantly reminded of my distaste for this place. The majority of people here seem to live in a vaccum, unaware of what goes on in the world. This place reeks as an anachronism, although it does seem to be slowly catching up with the rest of the world.

The other day, while at a cousins house we heard a noise in the backyard. We saw two “thugs” snooping around, undoubtedly to steal something. My cousin, ever the hot head, went to get a weapon, I simply went outside. I calmly explained to them that there were consequences to such actions and that I would take personal offense if such actions were to occur at this place. I doubt they were educated, but I guess they had street-smarts, they left quickly. I supposed if they hadn’t I would have hurt them. I’m not prone to violence, I prefer it on TV and video games, but I sure don’t appreciate others hurting my family in any manner. When my cousin came out (with a fishing knife of all things), he asked what happened. I said they just left. After a few minutes of obscenities, I told him: “listen, it’s the valley, what do you expect”. Ultimately, this was a discriminatory remark – it’s not as if violence, thievery, etc doesn’t happen everywhere else, but I didn’t care.

I’ve kept my phone off for the overwhelming majority of my time here. Part of it is because I don’t want to meet up with old friends because some of these old friends smoke and I’m trying to steer clear of that. The other part is because I just don’t care to converse with anyone except exceptionally close family and friends. After the tragedy of the first semester of an econ phd (any one in econ will label it as such I believe) what would otherwise simply be a family visit feels like vacation. I read books that have been waiting to be read, watch movies that I missed out on, spend time with the few people I hold close (well, some of them). Life is pretty decent right now and yet, I can’t wait to return for the next semester. I feel madness creeping in every once in a while when I realize I don’t have some article or problem set to finish.

My grandfather died in 1999 after a long battle with prostate cancer just a few days before my birthday. This man was as much of a father to me as my father is. A month earlier the hospital had let him go home, as they do with most patients facing their end, to die. Since then, attendance to our family dinner on the 1st of every new year has been mandatory (it was implicitly optional before). This time around, one of my uncles put together a mosaic of video, photos, and spoken word of the last 5 years of my grandfather’s life. It was beautiful. I couldn’t help but remember how although the funeral was intended to be only a family affair, the funeral home overflowed with people paying their respects, saying goodbye. He lead a long life as a simple man, a barber, a father, uncle, and grandfather and it’s astonishing how many people he helped. How many homeless and downtrodden people he and my grandmother would feed or help in some other way despite their meager means.

The night ended with the telling of stories, his stories. These were primarily for the youngest of children who never got to know him but also for the rest of us, simply to remember.

I’m currently reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake. As with most of his books, I like it but I can’t help but see it as a facsimile of Slaughter House Five. I’ll probably move on to David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion next. Among the many movies I’ve seen since arriving home, Wall-E has been the best. I’ve always been a fan of Disney/Pixar films and Hercules is still my favorite in that category but Wall-E is a very close second. How interesting, a film with few words (at least at the beginning), driven primarily by simple, human, expressions on a machine.