school


I just posted the last two papers of my undergraduate career: my honors thesis, “Differentiating the Effects of Social and Personal Power,” and my research project for Psycholinguistics, “The Relationship between Clarity of Enunciation and Idea Density.” They are under ‘writing,’ which is under ‘out’ in my sidebar.

I don’t recommend reading them unless you are a researching these topics (in which case, I do recommend reading them). If you’re not used to scholarly writing, just read the abstracts–the first paragraphs. They tell you everything you need to know. It’s kind of funny that I just worked really hard for over a year on something that almost no one will be interested in reading. It was an astounding amount of work, comparable to making a record, from songwriting and rehearsing to mastering. And a lot more work than some records. This was not a punk record.

Well, since I just said not to read it after I’ve been posting about it for months, I guess I should at least summarize it. Here we go:

Social power is power over other people. Any kind of power. There is a lot of research on what having social power does to you, and it’s mostly bad: more stereotyping, less perspective taking, seeing others as a means to your ends etc. It’s the kind of stuff that might keep powerful people in power. Reading this stuff is pretty alarming for a feminist like me. It’s way more complicated than that, of course, but you’re getting the super short version here.

Personal power is power over yourself. There hasn’t been much research on its effects, just enough to suggest that it’s what people really want when they are struggling for power over each other, the real goal is self-governance.

I tried to test whether personal power has similar or different effects on perspective taking than social power. I was not able to do that, for complicated reasons. I was, however, able to find evidence that people consider personal power a broader category than social power. That is, you can sink to greater depths and rise to higher heights of personal power than you can social power. Second, I found that without a salient reminder of personal power, people did not make a distinction between social and personal power. That’s pretty interesting, because if people are out there trying to claw their way up the hierarchy, it may just be because they haven’t made the distinction between what they probably really want–personal power–and what they are working for–social power.

That may seem intuitive and like “why would you want to spend a year finding evidence for something so obvious?” but for a scientist, coming across something that seems obvious that hasn’t been tested is a gold mine. All kinds of obvious things have turned out to not be true. That’s one cool thing about psychology–it’s a baby science, so those unlooked-at areas are all over the place. There is only one other scientist that I’m aware of that’s looking into this subject too, Marius Van Dijke, in the Netherlands. Luckily, he’s got resources and will likely have much more traction on it than I could as an undergrad with one year to work and a $100 budget.

Next Friday, sometime after 5 pm, I will have a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from the University of Oregon. I’m going to walk and have a cap and gown and everything–I just borrowed the costume from a friend. I was supposed to buy a green braid for $12 too, because I’m graduating with honors, but it seemed like a scam. A lot of what comes up around graduation have seemed like scams. You can spend thousands of dollars on costumes and invitations and rings and memberships in various societies, not to mention airfare, lodging, and party supplies for friends and relatives coming from around the country. I have to admit to being a bit cynical about the whole thing. I only decided a couple weeks ago that I was going to walk. I went to the ceremony for the psych department last year and was not moved by it. Plus, I’m a little disappointed in how little you have to know to graduate from college. You can learn a lot, if you set your mind to it, but you don’t have to. I doubt you could graduate without being able to read, write and do some math, but I know for certain that you don’t have to do any of them well.

But I changed my mind. First, I was nominated to speak at the ceremony. I didn’t get the gig, but it seemed possible for a while, and I thought it would be a great challenge to come up with something good to say, and deliver it effectively. That would make the ceremony meaningful for me, and it would be weird to speak but not walk. And then when I started thinking about it I liked the idea more and more. Doing my honors thesis in the last year I’ve made several friends in my graduating class. We’ve been through the wringer together and supported each other and I feel really warmly towards them. I’ve also gotten to know some of the faculty and grad students in the department. And I have a bunch of good friends in Springfield and Eugene now, from dancing and music and Not Back to School Camp. It would be great to see them all in one place. I sent an email invitation to everyone nearby who I have an address for. I have no idea who will show up, I’m looking forward to seeing whoever does. (If you live in the area but did not get the email, I’m sorry. I may not have your address. Please come!)

Then there’s the importance of graduating itself. That I’m not so sure about. I love going to school. I love learning. I’m chronically curious. My getting a BS is about as momentous as skiing a lot is to someone who loves to ski. A couple of my friends who are graduating with me will be the first people in their families ever to graduate from college, and I can see that that makes a difference. My family has graduate degrees within a few generations on both sides, and everyone I’ve met in my family could easily have gotten a graduate degree if they’d been interested. They just haven’t been interested. Can I feel pride about this? I’m not sure. I think I’m going to give it a try. I have made the most of it. I have truly applied myself, learned a mountain of information, learned how to conduct scientific research, made myself into a much better reader and writer and more rigorous and open-minded thinker. I’ve also gotten myself into a graduate program in which I intend to become a strong and resourceful ally for couples and families. That is stuff to be proud about.

A guy who works in my social cognition lab, Adam Kramer, worked at Google recently and had access to their database and developed this way of sorting the words people use in blogs–a huge sample, as you might imagine. He found that blogging exists in a five dimensional space: melancholy, social, ranty, metaphysical, and work. These are apparently real and parsimonious dimensions. Since his presentation, I’ve often wondered where my blog fit in that space. I asked him about writing a blog widget that measured individual blogs–or posts, even. Posts might be better. I’d like to have a little bar graph at the top of each post indicating the level of rantiness, etc. He seemed to think it was a good idea but didn’t seem to be in a big hurry to write it. He’s working on his dissertation, about delayed decision making.

Anyway, that was just to set up my little rant. Ahem.

It pisses me off when my fellow students are on the internet during lectures. I can’t stand it. I have to move to the front row or something so I can’t see. Many of them are also using their computers to take some notes on what the professor is saying but that’s about 15% of what I see, and I’ve never seen a student with a laptop in a lecture who completely abstained from the net. The lure of Facebook is too strong. I’m not sure why it gets my goat so much, but it does. It may be that I relate to the professors more than I do to the students in most cases, especially these cases. If I was teaching a college class, I don’t think I would allow laptops. Check them at the door. I’ll buy you some ice for your poor, aching, handwriting hand. Oh, and your phones, too, thanks. Texting is just as bad.

I am a few weeks past halfway through my 38th year, conveniently marked by my brother Damian’s birthday, and the start of my spring term. Here’s an update on how my intentions for the year are coming along.

1. Add new knowledge to the field of social psychology: I have just finished (I hope) crunching numbers for my honors thesis, and I can say that I have helped produce some new evidence, at least. It is not as sexy as I had hoped, but I have learned a whole lot about the process of psychology research, and that is the main point, as my advisor keeps reminding me.

2. Break my habit of scratching and picking my skin, including biting my lip: I have made some progress here, using a technique Reanna told me about: snapping myself with a hair band around my wrist whenever I had the urge to touch myself. My success varies clearly with my stress level. It requires mindfulness. Another insight/confusion: picking and lip biting, I can tell, are pure stress responses, but the scratching I think is more than that. I seem to be an itchier than normal person. A dermatologist told me that it was the “notoriously harsh” hand-made soap I have been using. I accepted that explanation until I realized on my ride home that he had been wrong. I only use soap on a few key areas. By his reasoning my armpits should be itchier than most of me, and they are not. Any ideas?

3. Celibacy: This has been no problem. I have not been tested, however; no one that I am aware of has wanted to have sex with me. When I first told Grace about this one, she said, “You are going to learn a lot from doing that, but you know, now that you are committed, you will immediately meet someone who will make it very challenging.” Well, not yet.

4. Dance every day, working on 1) musicality 2) vocabulary 3) style: This is going pretty well, though some days my dancing is just a token, so I could say I did. I had a big breakthrough in musicality on my fast dancing at Seattle Balboa Festival in February. The choreography I have been working on with Karly has been helping my working vocabulary. And the main reason I decided to take ballet is to improve my poise and lines. It is easy for me to get into an I-could-be-doing-so-much-more/better state. There is a guy who started in the same beginning class that I did in Eugene who really dove in and is now a rock-star dancer in Portland, winning national competitions. But I still give myself a thumbs up on this one.

5. Finish bachelor’s degree: Yes. I am on track to graduate with honors on June 13, 2009.

6. Get accepted into a couples and family therapy graduate program: Yes. I start in the University of Oregon’s CFT masters program on September 29 (happy birthday to me!), 2009. I’m very excited.

7. Maintain this blog: I have a lot more ideas for posts than actual posts, but I am pretty happy with NME so far. It has been a consistent source of inspiration for me. I get about 20 clicks a day, on average, which seems pretty respectable. The lowest I go is three (two of which are my ever-hopeful-for-a-post Mom, I just discovered), and my peak was 62 on March 31, the day after I posted the guide to my sidebar. I wonder who you all are.

8. Meditate every day: Yes. Sometimes just a few minutes, but yes.

9. Produce a record with David Waingarten: This is not going to happen this year, which I’m sad about. I love this guy’s voice and songwriting. He also makes movies, though, and that’s what he did with his time and money this year. The movie looks good, though. Here’s a preview: This Is Now

10. Record an EP with my band, Abandon Ship: This project is not on schedule, partly because of #12, below, and partly because of how much work an honors thesis is, on top of an internship and classes. I am working on it , but it will almost certainly not be done by my birthday.

11. See healthcare provider each month until all my body concerns are resolved: Yes, I have been doing this. I’ve seen a dermatologist, an orthopedist, a urologist, and two chiropractors. I’m disappointed with the results, so far. I seem to be collecting concerns faster than I am resolving them. Hmm… That makes it seem like I am on my last legs. I am quite healthy, overall, actually.

12. Set up a slick system of musical collaboration over the internet and use it regularly: This has come together much slower than I anticipated, but I have every reason to believe I will be up and running by early May. I can hardly wait.

13. Shift my schedule three hours earlier for at least one term: In bed by 11 pm: I’m very happy with this one, so far. I have not pulled it off perfectly for a term straight—my dance schedule conflicts somewhat with it—but I’d say 90% of the time I’m in bed by 11:30, at least, and that means I’m waking up naturally before my alarm 90% of the time. I love it!

14. Sing out every day: I have not been doing this as I had hoped. I am still inspired to sing out like my friend Zen Zenith, but I have not been working on it with any regularity.

15. Take African dance classes: Yes, I have taken two classes from master dancer Alseny Yansane, and they were awesome. Unfortunately, I have been having this low back pain that has kept me from dancing with that extreme athleticism. When my back stops hurting, I will go back.

16. Write at least one song per month: Nope. I have not written even one complete song. Ouch.

17. Make at least one of each item in Maya’s cookbook: Yummm. I have made four of 19 recipes: Fluffy Whole Wheat Pancakes, Super Hero Granola, Corn Chowder, and Maya’s Tomato soup. They were all excellent except I burned the granola.

I watched a training video for recognizing post-traumatic stress disorder in psychopathology yesterday. Part of it was a Vietnam veteran describing his stress cues—he had to monitor and manage his stress level carefully so that he wouldn’t become scary or dangerous to those around him. He said something like “If I find myself scanning the bushes for gooks, or deciding which person in the room I would need to kill first, if it came down to it, I know that I need to lower my stress level.” The man’s story was moving and I cried quietly throughout it, but at that moment I was surprised to find myself a little jealous of him. My thought was “It must be nice to have such obvious stress cues.” It wouldn’t be nice at all, of course, but the sneakiness of my stress cues does make it difficult to manage my stress, which is a big part of my ongoing project to master being kind to myself. I was inspired to come up with a list of stress cues that I could try monitoring, to see if it’s helpful. Here it is so far:

I can feel tension in my solar plexus and between my shoulder blades

I am craving sweets

I am having trouble with focus or motivation

I am grinding my teeth, usually along with a drum beat in my head

I am biting my lip or picking at my skin

I am in the grip of an unpleasant emotion

I am experiencing intrusive thoughts

My writing or typing gets sloppy

I am easily frustrated

I am feeling jumpy

Sitting up straight seems out of the question

March 24, 2009

Dear Nathen Lester:

It is our pleasure to inform you that the Couples and Family Therapy admissions committee has recommended to the Graduate School that you be admitted to the Fall, 2009 class. Your credentials, letters of recommendation and response to our interview questions suggest to us that you can excel in the CFT program.

…..

Once again, congratulations on your acceptance into our program. I am happy to talk with you at any time prior to your enrollment next fall. We look forward to working with you!

Sincerely,

Jeff Todahl, Ph.D., LMFT (KY)

CFT Program Director

I had my interview for the University of Oregon’s Couples and Family Therapy masters program today. I think it went really well, despite sleeping through my alarm and waking up three minutes before I was supposed to be there. I was interviewed by two of the heads of the program, one of whom went out of his way to tell me that I’d done well on two separate occasions during the day. He had asked three questions: What does diversity mean to you? What does it mean to be sensitive to diversity? What is cultural competancy?

I see that my last post was about a dance event, which makes it look like all I’m doing is dancing. I am doing a fair amount of dancing, but what I’m mostly doing is school-related: my internship at Stepping Stone, statistics for my honors thesis, and studying trigonometry. It’s the last week of my term, and I’m busy. I’ve got some more thoughtful posts in the works, but only short and hopefully sweet ones for now.

I just got back from the Portland Lindy Exchange–at 3 am this morning. Three nights of dancing. I had  so much fun. I don’t think I can effectively express what is so fun about it right now but I can tell you about another couple compliments that I really liked.

There was a lot of fast music–northwest dancers like fast music. I do, too. I’ve been doing a lot of Balboa, which works well for fast music, and I’ve gotten comfortable with fast tempos, and able to lead musical dances. At the last dance, about 24 hours ago now, I was dancing with a great Portland dancer named Desha, and in the middle of the dance, she said, “Nathen, I love how relaxed you are! So many leads start to feel rushed when the music gets fast, like they are struggling to keep up.” I really liked to hear that. I feel relaxed! Woohoo!

On Friday, a young woman I didn’t recognize asked me to dance. She was good and we had a fun time. Afterwards she thanked me and said that last year she had come to this exchange after having been dancing for only a month, barely knowing how to do it, and her favorite dance had been with me–that I was the guy who had made her feel like she was doing a good job and that she was fun to dance with. I liked that, too. It reminded me a little of when someone I taught to swim joined the swim team, partly because of my enthusiasm for her talent, and a few years later was an all-star swimmer.

I write commas after every item in a list of three or more. I start sentences with conjunctions. I like writing that way, but when I do, I imagine all of my old English teachers shaking their heads in disappointment. And not just them, but everyone out there who paid attention in their high school English classes. I’ve been thinking for several days about a short entry here, early on in my blog, to justify my choices. As I highly doubt any of my high school teachers will happen across this blog, I’m probably writing more for the latter group, but thinking about my old teachers has inspired me to address them, as part of this post. The letter is the stronger part, so I’m going to start with my justifications. If you are not interested in grammar or punctuation, I suggest you skip the next two paragraphs, to “Dear Mr. James….”

I’m studying psychology, so everything I turn in has to be “in APA style,” and the American Psychological Association has strong opinions about commas in lists. When I make a list separated by commas, I must put a comma after the second-to-last item, before the “and.” For example, here is a list of some colors I can see from where I’m writing: white, cream, brown, turquoise, and blue. I feel a little embarrassment every time I do it, but I’ve grown to like it. It seemed unnatural at first, but I think that’s because it was unfamiliar; as I say that list out loud, I do pause before “and blue,” as if there was a comma there, whether I’ve written one or not. The convention clarifies word pairings, too. “Turquoise and blue” in a list indicates a pairing of those colors, where “…turquoise, and blue” means that those two colors are the last in a list of three or more.

Starting sentences with conjunctions is not APA style. In fact, I would never turn in a formal paper with a sentence that started with a conjunction. I was delighted to read, however, several years ago, in Fowler’s Modern English Usage (and later in some other fairly respectable books), that there is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a conjunction. I like starting some sentences with “and,” and sometimes “but.” It feels like talking. The only thing I don’t like about it is imagining someone reading what I’ve written and judging me ignorant. As Tom Sawyer said, I know all what I’m talking about.

That said, I’m also interested in improving my writing. If you think I’ve posted bad writing accidentally, please let me know. I’ve been known, for example, to write sentences like, “I want to know whether or not you think my writing is bad or not.” That is not a stylistic choice. It’s just plain embarrassing.

This letter came to me in a moment of retrospective embarrassment, while doing some peer editing in a class last term.

Dear Mr. James, Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Hoagland, Mrs. Cheraz, Mr. Schag, and Mr. Tilson:

I am so sorry about all the boring, boring, boring crap of mine you had to read. Wow. That must have been a heroic effort, grading those terrible papers, pointing out all of those indefinite references and two sentence paragraphs, but most of all just reading that weak, uninspired junk. It is ironic that you, who probably appreciated good writing more than any of the adults in my life at the time, read my writing for a living. I hope the other kids in my class made your life easier than I did, but based on the grades you gave me, I doubt it.

In my defense, the writing assignments you gave me were mostly awful (with the exception of my sixth grade paper on Millard Fillmore, when Mr. James encouraged me to write about how he was our most boring president, and the story I wrote for Mrs. Taylor about the dog who had terrorized me when I was eight), and I never got the sense that you wanted me to write about my real experiences or what I was actually interested in. Huckleberry Finn, for example, was one of my favorite books. I loved it. I listened to dramatizations of it for fun. I had read it several times before I was assigned to read it in school. I just never cared about the symbolism in it. I could have written a moderately engaging paper about how hilarious it was, or how I related to Huck, but I was never going to write you anything interesting about the symbolism of the Mississippi River. Sure, there is symbolism in that book, but you have to admit that symbolism is not what makes it great, especially not to a fifteen year old.

On the other hand, I sure didn’t try very hard. I wrote just about everything I gave you the night before it was due, revising only slightly as I typed the final drafts. I could tell just how much effort it took to get a B+ on a paper, so that my test and homework scores could keep me floating in A territory. And I wasn’t embarrassed. It was almost a point of pride to me, how little I worked on that writing. Let’s just call all of it a joint effort—a collaboration between you and my teenaged self, all of that weak, last-minute, uninspired writing.

You did inspire me, too, just not about writing. The books that you had me read really were great—a heck of a lot better, in retrospect, than the fantasy novels I was into at the time. I also appreciate the ways that you (especially Mr. James, Mr. Schag, and Mr. Tilson) modeled open-minded, deep, critical, and flexible thinking. Thanks, too, for the way you seemed to like me. I think if I was to meet most of you today, I would want to be friends with you.

Sincerely,

Nathen Lester

This has been my busiest term of school ever. I’ve got two very challenging classes, Social Psychology and Applied Data Analysis, my honors thesis, and a ten hour a week internship at Stepping Stone, a residential treatment center for adjudicated teenage boys. On top of that, I’m taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam–a really hard test, like the SAT for getting into graduate schools) during finals week. That’s on the same day as my last final. That’s the point in my story where my classmates’ eyes bug a little. “OK, that’s crazy.”

This is too busy. I don’t like it. I like being in heavy intellectual training. I like being in this kind of shape; I can read and understand a journal article in a couple hours, for example. I enjoy being this productive, too, but I’ve gotten stressed out. About halfway through the term I started skimping on my non-intellectual stuff, to keep on top. My meditation practice is getting the squeeze–I’m rarely sitting for more than 15 minutes a day and often it’s just a token few minutes. That’s when I feel how strong my mind is going the most–when I’m sitting to meditate or lying down to sleep, this clear, powerful thinking, like a force, pushing up to the front of my head, driving my awareness and dominating my experience. I am getting enough sleep, at least. I’ve been strict with myself on that and it makes a big difference. My exercise has been getting the squeeze, though. All I do is bike, and I like biking but I also like to run, lift weights, and swim. I just can’t do them as part of my commute. I ride for transportation 30-90 minutes a day. I bike between classes. Sometimes it feels like all I do with my body is bike, sit, and sleep. Not very much walking, even.  I dance, too, probably four hours a week on average. That’s gotten some squeeze, but not too much. My songwriting and music playing has gotten the squeeze. My emotional support has gotten the squeeze. I’m down to maybe one co-counseling session a week and no phone time with friends. I’m lucky to live with good friends, so I still get supportive conversations. I get almost no physical affection, though. I can’t blame that on my term–I’m just far away from my most affectionate friends and family. Danielle, Maya, Jeannie, Mom, I miss you! I miss the rest of you too. I want to be in your lives more. I want to know how you are and what you’re doing.

But not for a couple more weeks. After this post, I’m putting my head down, business only, until the term is over. I’ll start posting again in mid-December. Have a great Thanksgiving and end of fall!

Here are some photographs of my calendar I took when I first conceived of this post, a few weeks ago. They are the first six weeks of my term. I’m a little nostalgic about how much more balanced I felt in those days. (Look at all that blue, red and pink!) Here’s what you’re looking at: I kept track of what I did, as I did it. Anything that I did for at least 15 minutes at a time made it on here. (My week calendars do not look like this ahead of time–they have only firm commitments and deadlines in them, GTD-style.) The columns are days, Sunday to Saturday, from about 8 am to about 11 pm. The purple is school stuff, like classes and studying. The blue is personal stuff, like cooking, eating, cleaning, and talking with friends. Green is office work, blogging, working in the elections office, teaching dance classes or lessons. Orange is dancing. Red is meditation and co-counseling. Pink is exercise. Yellow is Suntop stuff–chores, meetings, and outings.

Week 1

Week 1

Week 2

Week 2

Week 3

Week 3

Week 4

Week 4

Week 5

Week 5

Week 6

Week 6

« Previous PageNext Page »