This is the blog of Maitri Erwin. I am a geoscientist, chair of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Women’s Network, publisher of MaitriLAB and Back Of Town, advisor to Project Gutenberg, and Green Bay Packers football fan. More in About. Here is where you can find me. Blog posts follow below.
— Maitri (@maitri) March 29, 2016
When I was two, my parents dropped me off with my grandparents in India and took my older brother on a trip to the United States and that other nation-state known as Disneyland. I had a wonderful time with my Thatha and Patti, visiting old temples all over South India and being treated like mini-royalty by all of their friends and relatives. At the end of the summer, our little family reunited in Kuwait and my parents invited a few friends over to look at slideshows and film reels from their trip. As the pictures flipped across our off-white living room wall, I could not help but notice that I was not in a single one of them. Adventureland? No. Tomorrowland. No. Mickey Mouse’s 50th birthday? Nope nope nope. In fact, Mom told me I was inconsolable and demanded to know my whereabouts in each and every image. How could I – the most important person in my world and the darling of my family – not have been with said family during a really important trip to a very important place? Foreseeing that “You spent a great time with your grandparents, remember?” wasn’t going to cut it, the folks quickly decided to act on my memory loss. They told me that, in each photograph, I was standing in the back behind them / Donald Duck / bushes / statue / water cooler. “You’re back there.”
In those years, Dad would feed me meals as much as he could. Days after the Disneyland show ‘n’ tell, I would receive spoonfuls of food and ask him details of what We did on Our trip to Disneyland. And he told me about the Jungle Safari Ride, except the animals in his version were alive. Lions, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, wonderful wild LIVE animals surrounded the boat! And then, in a singular stroke of genius, he concocted the story of my bravery in the face of these creatures: I stood at the front of the boat and yelled at each of the animals, and they feared me. “Get away, Lion!” “Get away, Crocodile!” “Get away, Hippopotamus!” And I gobbled it all up, along with the food Dad was trying to make me ingest.
Desperate father + gullible toddler = epic life stories. I was two. I wanted to belong to my family. I wanted to be there.
This Lundi Gras, I sit in an armchair that is not located in the city of New Orleans, dictating these words into a microphone (and correcting the tool when it doesn’t understand words like “Thatha” and “Lundi Gras”). At the end of last year, I was diagnosed with acute disc herniation at three cervical (neck) levels, with disc degenerative disease, stenosis and osteoarthritis at the C6-C7 level. An anterior cervical discectomy and fusion will take place in a couple of weeks followed by rest and physical therapy. Will I have a cadaver bone, titanium plate and screws placed in the space where my disc material once was, remain home-bound for almost two weeks after, and have problems swallowing and speaking for some time after surgery? Yes. Do I want to go through with this and actually look forward to surgery? Most definitely.
Let me yell as if I were at an animatronic crocodile: MOST DEFINITELY.
Chronic pain is real. As it worsens, the impact that it has on the body’s ability to do even the simplest things, much less travel, exercise, sleep and take on other forms of medical treatment, is immeasurable. But, we don’t necessarily feel it: Humans are historically bad at acknowledging what we can’t see, the body adjusts, it bargains, wheedles and shifts, and then pain becomes the new normal. Until it realizes for a small instant in time what it was once like not to live with pain. A cortisone shot administered a few weeks back did its job for 36 hours – a glorious day and a half in which I thought I was rescued and all was possible. It made me see that it wasn’t just the last couple of months, but almost two years that I’ve lived like this, slowly degenerating into pain, electric shocks down my arm, inflammation, loss of feeling and muscle weakness, all culminating in the fall off a bicycle onto my weakened left side that forced me to see a doctor. For a brief dexamethasone-filled moment, the world wasn’t such a bleak place. Those of you who know me know that I’m an anxious person, but depression? That was a completely alien beast till now. Yeah, The Pain makes you sad, grouchy, reclusive and a whole bunch of other miserable things that you don’t understand because you don’t know that it is The Pain and, even if you do, you are stronger than The Pain and just need to power through it. Even the malaise I can handle, but The Pain began to impact my ability to think clearly and make decisions and to perform work at the high standards to which I hold myself. When I stop functioning as me (and start referring to it as The Pain), it’s time.
I decorated the house, watched the Krewe du Vieux and Krewe Delusion parades for a change and pretended to make a mask before it was time to throw in the towel (with the good arm). The Mardi Gras Mathematics was inscrutable: Neck cannot hold more than one strand of good beads, left arm cannot go over head for more than four seconds, I wince when anything/anyone even grazes my left arm, a nap is all I want and, most importantly, NO NEW MASK and NO CLEVER COSTUME. Oh, and did I mention no anti-inflammatories and painkillers until after the surgery? Therefore,
Mardi Gras 2016. To make me feel better, a friend in New Orleans offered, “It will be here next year, some other time.” That’s just it. Will it? New Orleans is a lot like life: high highs, low lows and absolutely not guaranteed at all. Have we forgotten already? Don’t we remember ten years ago when we kissed the freshly-drained parade routes? It is our privilege to be there.
In a recent fit of self-pity, I snarled at D not to send me any pictures from New Orleans. “I don’t want to see any of them because I won’t be in them.” D smiled and said: “Oh, come on, it’ll be like Disneyland. You’ll be in the back!”
So, I close my eyes and make believe I am in New Orleans, all dressed up on the parade route and screaming, “Get away, drunk tourist! Get away, smelly hipster! Get away, neutral-ground-hogging Chad!” I am a New Orleanian. I want to belong to my family. I want to be there.
Further discussion on Twitter:
— Maitri (@maitri) February 10, 2016
I miss blogs and their great mix of discovery, long-form writing and discussion. Writing, reading and commenting in them on a regular basis lent itself to purposeful connections and a sort of truth I am unable to get from Facebook and Twitter. You definitely wouldn’t know anything about me from what I post in the latter media. Some of this has to do with a third corporate party curating (controlling) the conversation and a lot comes from what I think is our inherent reluctance to share real successes and failures in spaces that were constructed as showcases.
Once upon a time, I created this blog to talk about what I want how I want and they’ll pry my words from my cold dead server space, dagnabbit. And I will again soon. Too much in the way of marvelous and grievous has happened in the last few months not to slice up here. I got what I wanted. I didn’t get what I want. First, I need to sleep on it. No, really, sleep deprivation is a thing.
Two more of my post-Katrina blog posts were published in Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina. Here is a nice interview with the anthology’s editor Cynthia Joyce.
I am now Chair of the SEG Women’s Network, which promotes greater participation and leadership by women in geophysics worldwide. At this year’s network breakfast, we raffled off Women in the Geosciences: Practical, Positive Practices Toward Parity. I’m pretty excited about this book as it’s a much-needed addition to existing resources for women in STEM.
The SEG Annual Meeting 2015 and the Agile hackathon right before it were great successes, despite lower turnout. In this low oil price environment, almost every company is cutting people to cut costs, but processes are as arcane as ever. They’ll figure it out some day, when it’s too late.
Galacticon 4 was comically disastrous (due to the organizers), but somehow redeemed itself (with no help from the organizers). SciFoo 2015 before that was much better for me this time around as there were many refreshing new attendees, and no cliques from the previous years to deal with.
D and I have very little added sugar in our diets, but we’re drastically reducing our intake of processed foods. Along with the preservatives, a bottle or packet of almost everything seems to contain added refined sugar, so simply cutting out regular sugar and high fructose corn syrup is pointless. Why do sriracha chili garlic sauce, canned chicken soup and refried beans require added sugar? If you need convincing that refined sugar is bad for your metabolic health, check out the results of this recent study by Robert Lustig. I met Dr. Lustig at SciFoo this year, coincidentally. Nice guy.
Happy Halloween! While Google tells you how unoriginal your costume is, only I warn you that blackface is always a bad idea.
We did it! We made it to Pluto. It is very exciting to have followed a long-clock mission from start to finish, especially when we can use good science news. My blog post on the Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission from 9 years ago. NINE years ago.
The Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission is a 4-billion-mile journey to characterize the geology and morphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface composition and characterize the neutral atmosphere of this system. It is also a chance to study further the Kuiper Belt, an umbrella term for the space crud beyond Neptune and before our solar system ends. This “fastest spacecraft yet” took 9 hours to reach the moon after launch on 19 January, 2006 and is estimated to reach the Pluto-Charon system in July of 2015 (right before I hit middle age) and the rest of the Belt a few years after.
The journal of the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists interviewed me a few months back on the essay on integrative innovation in the geosciences I wrote for Agile Geoscience’s 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics. The essay and interview are now out in electronic form for public consumption.
The Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) Women’s Network’s article about the participation of women in SEG was just published in the Full Spectrum column of The Leading Edge. “Women are becoming a more important part of the technical workforce at a global scale. The geophysical community has been educating and training women at ever-increasing rates over the past few decades. As a profession, an industry and a society, we have much invested in this tremendous resource. Are these resources being used to their fullest potential?”
A small step forward is invariably met with two giant steps back.
Wired | Congress’s Attack On Geosciences Is A Dangerous Game “It is geoscientists who research how to find the metals, energy sources and water that we will need to continue to prosper as a nation … as resource use increases, we need more ways to make sure the supply lines for resources are open and it is Geosciences that allows this.” The irony is that the Texas Three – Lamar Smith (R-TX), John Culberson (R-TX) in the House and Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the Senate – line their pockets with oil wealth generated by the very science they have defunded.
Wisconsin State Journal | UW System Regents committee rejects proposal to fight controversial tenure changes by Legislature Let’s get something straight: this isn’t about academic tenure. First, tenure at the world-class educational and research institution that is Wisconsin is not easy to get. Second, even if it can be and is abused a bit, tenure gives liberties, academic freedoms that are the foundation of an engaging and well-rounded education. And, finally, everyone knows a modern professor’s worth, tenured or not, lies in their ability to bring in funding. What is now happening in Wisconsin, thanks to Walker and his hand-picked regents, is the continued erosion of the state university system in service of eventual privatization, using the straw man of tenure abuse.
The reality is that high-quality faculty candidates do not take offers from universities if eventual tenure is not a possibility. Along with the ever-decreasing budget, how can the University of Wisconsin even begin to stay competitive nationally and globally? For the sake of political and their own financial gain, Walker and the Wisconsin state legislature have systematically dismantled a great place of higher learning, the Wisconsin universities system and The Wisconsin Idea, the notion that the university belongs to the taxpayers who make it possible, that “the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom.”
This is Professor Bob Dott, a great geology researcher and instructor from whom I learned a lot about the history and philosophy of geology through discourse and debate, tools employed well only with the professor’s and student’s ability to speak without fear of dismissal. Among other accomplishments, Dott has won multiple awards for a distinguished career in geoscience, wrote The Roadside Geology of Wisconsin and is one of those responsible for turning a key geological outcrop into a State Historic Site. I placed that picture up there as a reminder that faculty like him and his work for the science and state are what we stand to lose.
The future demands the technical innovations and human resources highlighted at the start of the post. I don’t see these happening without a federal commitment to geoscience funding combined with strong state university systems that made so many of us who work towards these goals.