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Friday, February 6, 2015

I fought the yawn...

...and the yawn didn't win. I don't know what's going on with my body: no amount of sleep ever seems enough, and when I had finished my morning chores and was ready to start work, I was truly afraid I would be too groggy and exhausted to get anything done. Au contraire.

The smart move was my decision to work on sabbatical stuff, not psych stuff. I truly wasn't sure I'd have it in me to read with any kind of intelligence, but once I started going over some of the critical material I have in hand, I found I was wide awake--and even more so when I wrote the first annotated bibliography entry.

In fact, I had intended to do an overview of the critical reception of the novel separately from the annotated bibliography, but now I think they're really more likely one chapter. However, I'm not going to make up my mind about that just yet: I'll see how the material seems to come together as I proceed with it.

I am still feeling quite a bit of anxiety about how slow my progress is and how little I seem to accomplish in any given day (sound familiar, Paul?), but I'm trying to simply enjoy the fact that I am, in fact, producing something at least most days.

What I particularly liked about today was that, after I took a walk (exercise of some sort, especially outdoors, being an important part of my self-care in this process), I actually had enough mental acumen to tackle some of the psych stuff. I am feeling more than a little panic-stricken as I face these readings. Let me give you a brief example. I'll leave out the bouquets of source citations and just provide the actual sentences:

"Indeed, fear conditioning regulates several proteins importantly involved in the induction and maintenance of synaptic plasticity [so far, I'm understanding this], including AMPA receptors, Pl-3 kinase, and A-kinase anchoring proteins, nexin protease, and mitogen-activated protein kinase among others. [Do the what who now?]"

And now, for an example including all the source citations--which, I must say, make me fervently appreciate the way that MLA documentation systems work to avoid junking up sentences this way:

"Accordingly, inhibiting synaptic plasticity in the LA with a variety of manipulations including NMDA receptor antagonists (Fendt, 2001; Goosens and Maren, 2003; Lee and Kim, 1998; Maren et a., 1996b; Miserendino et al., 1990, protein synthesis inhibitors (Maren et al., 2003; Nader et al., 2000; Schafe and LeDoux, 2000), protein kinase inhibitors (Apergis-Schoute et al., 2005; Goosens et al., 2000; Lamprecht et al., 2002; Lin et al., 2001; Merino and Maren, 2006; Migues et al, 2010), or antisense oligonucleotides for plasticity related genes (Malkani et al., 2004; Ploski et al., 2008) impairs the acquisition of fear memory."

Both sentences are from "Seeking a Spotless Mind: Extinction, Deconsolidation, and Erasure of Fear Memory," by Stephen Maren, published in Neuron 70 (June 9, 2011). And that's just two consecutive sentences out of a much longer paragraph, out of a 10-page article (plus 6-1/2 pages of references). And I have to read that kind of thing for the next four months.

I'm so bewildered by it all, I've asked the professor for this first section of the class for a meeting: I want to find out if I am expected to have a real grasp of all those specific details or if it's enough for me to understand that "inhibiting synaptic plasticity ... impairs the acquisition of fear memory." Because that part I get. And I get that there are a number of neurological mechanisms involved in inhibiting that plasticity. But if I need to know all the various inhibitors and antagonists and genes involved, I'd better say bye-bye to the money, withdraw from the course, and slink off with my tail between my legs. This despite the fact that I just spent much longer than I anticipated pursuing another line of research for that paper that I'm already in a panic about. (I floated the idea--and the articles I've found--past the professor, too, as I asked for a meeting.) I am hoping wildly that the second and third segments of the course are easier for me, but this first bit is scaring the pants off me.

BUT--and this is important for me to hold onto--my experience reading that sort of thing is probably very like what my students experience when they read a passage of even relatively sophisticated literary criticism. I find it completely understandable--but I have a completely different frame of reference than they do, and it's important for me to keep in mind where they are in terms of their exposure to complex writing. I honestly don't think they're incapable of getting it: it's just completely new to them (like all the brain stuff is to me), and they'll need help getting their bearings. Good to remember. Good to feel, viscerally, as a way to remember.

I'm sure I had other stuff I wanted to say about today, but one of my colleagues, who is also a dear friend, has spent today with her husband in surgery, only to find out that, not only does he have cancer, it had spread much further than the doctors originally thought. And another dear friend, a former student, contacted me to ask if she could borrow a "couple thousand" to get her through a crisis. That situation, fortunately, resolved itself before I had to get too deeply involved (she wrote back to say she'd "worked things out"), but my friend whose husband has cancer: that's just an emotional whammy for me, and it's rather knocked everything else out of my head.

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