Life as a solo grad student

There are an awful lot of boring things. What do you mean I have to do the dishes, take out the trash, vacuum the floors, clean the bathroom, feed the cats, feed myself, scoop the litter box, maintain my car, pay tuition, do laundry, AND go to school? Sheesh. I had to do exactly one (okay, kind of two or three) of those things while at Harvey Mudd. And I had Mike around to share the load in San Diego.

On the plus side, I’ve developed routines and systems that I don’t have to explain to anybody for pretty much all of the above. But, surprise, NMSU is looking to have an average of 0.9 MAW (that’s Mudd Average Workload, a very precise unit). Which is awesome! Really! I’m teaching two lab sections and starting a small research project! I have three classes and three homework assignments due next week – that hasn’t happened since Mudd! But I also didn’t have to run errands at Mudd. Hmm.

Let me shove the amusing negatives aside for a moment to simply say: this place rocks. Seriously. The other first years are awesome, and I get along well with all of the grad students and genuinely want to be everyone’s friend because everyone is so cool. The professors are great, and quirky, and accessible, and knowledgeable, and human beings. My apartment is fantastic. The town suits me, for the most part. I am looking forward to spending four or five (or six? maybe not…) years here: working with these people, living in this town, learning more about astronomy.

With that out there, I have three little stories for you. The topics are: a spider, google maps, and music. We’ll go in reverse order just to mix things up.

First: music. As you probably know, I play viola, and it’s a pretty big piece of my life. I’ve played since fifth grade, and I successfully auditioned into the local professional symphony (for pay!) during my senior year of high school. In college, I played in both campus orchestras for all four years, even though friends thought I was crazy at times. They were right, but it was fantastic (like most crazy ideas). In San Diego, I played briefly with the SDSU Symphony and then stumbled up on the La Jolla Symphony, which was better than my wildest dreams. After a nerve-wracking audition I played with them for 1 1/2 years. The orchestra routinely received accolades on par with professional symphonies, and I was honored to make music with them. So naturally, when I came to Las Cruces, I set up an audition with the NMSU Symphony, which seems analogous to the La Jolla Symphony because it is part student orchestra and part professional community orchestra. I had the audition, and felt it went well. A few days later, I got an email saying I hadn’t been selected. I was devastated, and pissed off, and confused. A glance at their musician roster indicated that they may have already had a full complement of violas, which is virtually unheard of. Maybe they give preference to music students, or there was a virtuoso who auditioned right before me on viola. Who knows. But I frantically began researching alternatives. There didn’t seem to be any… until I stumbled across the New Horizons Orchestra. It’s mostly older folk, but at least two of them know how to email, and they rehearse on Thursday nights, and I am welcome to come to the next rehearsal. Crisis averted? I haven’t given up on the NMSU Symphony… they know I exist, I’ll be back to audition last year, and the coordinator was kind enough to say she would contact me if they ever needed a violist to fill in for a single concert.

Next: google maps. It’s been the main way that my iPhone has paid for itself. You type in a business name or an address on the fly and it tells you how to get there. Amazing. Except. Sometimes google thinks it knows where something is, and it’s wrong. Not “off by a block” or “other side of the street” wrong. More like “a mile away and not in a gated community” wrong. Often, though, these discrepancies can be resolved by zooming into the little map until the names of businesses appear. Not sure if 123 Face Avenue is being mistook for 125 Face Court? One probably has a little dot labeled “delicious restaurant name” when you zoom in, and the other does not. So, when typing in an address and searching by business name (labeled with the same address) brought up two different locations, fellow first year student Michael and I assumed that the spot with the labeled name was correct while the other was spurious. Off we set. Unfortunately, the mapped route led us into a gated retirement community in Mesilla (essentially west Las Cruces). So I found another route, approaching from the opposite direction, which wasn’t too far out of the way. We found… another gated entrance to the same community. What. There were clearly only two roads that led to the spot on the map proudly labeled “the restaurant your friends are waiting at is here,” and we had just tried them both. In desperation, we tried to cajole google into pulling up what we had assumed was the wrong location, with no luck. In the end, Michael spotted the restaurant a bit off the main road with his eyes alone. It was on the opposite side of the main drag, nowhere near the first location. How a popular restaurant got listed on google maps as being in a gated community is beyond me.

Finally: a spider. While many of the living-by-myself pieces are boring and cumbersome, I am perfectly capable of handling them. Laundry, check. Dishes, check. Cleaning, check. You get the picture. There are, however, two teeny tiny things that fall squarely into the I cannot handle this category. One is smoke alarms, and the other is bugs. Apparently, this high desert town is notorious for bugs. Big bugs, weird looking bugs, bugs in your house, lots of bugs. This was a prime motivating factor for seeking out a second story apartment in a relatively new building. Since a young age, I am particularly paranoid that I will discover a bug in my bedroom in the evening. In fact, when I first became aware of the fact that I would one day go off to college, two thoughts paralyzed me: (1) I don’t know how to iron and (2) who will kill the bugs?? As you can guess, item (1) isn’t too much of a hindrance since I do indeed know how to iron now despite not really needing to on a regular basis. Item (2), however, as any suitemate or roommate I have ever had can attest, persists. Before you roll your eyes and say “really, Meredith, you’re bigger than a bug, why can’t you just squish it and get on with your life?” I beg you to take a moment and read this.

Back now? Amused yet somewhat empathetic? Good. So. Monday night, I’m two seconds from turning the light out and going to sleep and I spy a large black blob where wall and ceiling meet on the far side of the bedroom. It moves. I panic, and after a few long minutes, convince myself there is nothing to be done and I have to ignore it and go to sleep and hopefully it will just evaporate. I got the worst night’s sleep I’ve had in a while. The next day, after carpooling to a quiz night with friends, Michael drops me off a bit after 11pm and I immediately head to the bedroom to scan for bugs. Damned if this ginormous black spider isn’t chilling on the opposite wall from last night. NO WAY can I sleep in my bedroom knowing that thing is alive and crawling around, and no way can I kill it myself, either. I hurriedly call Michael, and he humors me and turns around to come save the day. As soon as I get off the phone, it has disappeared. Crap. I just begged my new friend to turn around and come kill a bug for me and now the bug is gone. Not cool. I begin to have an existential crisis. Michael arrives, and searches the premises. After an agonizing ten minutes, he finds it: hiding on the rim of my clock (which is black, like the spider). He says he needs a chair, and I begin eagerly pointing out every chair I own. He knocks it onto the floor and nails it with his shoe, and is even kind enough to dispose of the remains. I was able to sleep, and have only encountered one other weird, small, squirmy earwig-like bug (in the bathroom sink) since then. For my upcoming birthday, Aunt Pam has already ordered me a bug vacuum.

So, there you have it. Three not-so-short stories. In other news, the Previa is (hopefully briefly) in the shop because it recently became apparent that it was in the market for a new starter. The friendly folks at Pep Boys here in Las Cruces confirmed my suspicion and should have the $200 part acquired and installed sometime tomorrow. So much for ever having any money. Guess that’s just another fun part of being a solo grad student, no?