The projects

Everything we do is a randomized trial. That is to say, we identify some effect we want to test then create a natural experiment where half the subjects are randomly assigned to receive treatment and half serve as a control. This design eliminates the selection and nonresponse bias I spent basically the last three years of my life dealing with. Poof! Gone.

Some areas we're testing in:

-local newspapers' bias's influence on national political races
-various framings of the intelligent design/strict evolution debate
-media and perceptions of Americans abroad - in tea houses in North Africa!
-best methods of nonprofit fundraising.

This was going to be really long, but it's late and I'm gonna run before work at 8 tomorrow. Maybe if there's begging for it.


The meeting

On Sunday at 3pm, I abandoned my parents in the middle of furniture maneuverings and went to my new office building. It's made of uneven reddish stone in a pseudo Medieval revival, with crenelles topping the tower and facade, tall, narrow windows with crossed iron bars and a big gate of the same before the heavy wooden door. Or at least what I thought was the door. A couple of phone calls got me to the sleek, modern addition (where the office actually was) that managed to maintain the squared off look of its predecesor.

The other research assistant was wearing a strapless black dress made of eyelet, my boss an old t-shirt and loose plaid shorts of cotton. He joked that my peer was dressed down compared to the usual attire, since Monday was evening gown only. We spent five minutes with him tracking down and e-mailing the new employee forms that had taken two days, plus some advance work, at my last job. Eventually the co-author showed up with mussed hair and a lumberjack flannel shirt. The two bosses together got super excited over the fact of an interest being shared between both research assistants that could then be exploited in a new project. We spent three and a half hours covering all the projects I'd be on in a very disorganized fashion. Boss kept saying, "we need to give her a better big picture," and then kept devolving into details of a story already familiar to the others in the room.

The only indication it was Easter was that the coffee shop they normally frequent was closed, and we had to go to Bruegger's.


The place

I live in a two bedroom flat on the third floor of a cute little house. The neighborhood surrounding is all turrets and delicate trim, double-decker porches and gingerbread. As you enter my place, you ascend hardwood stairs between walls covered in yellow satin fleur-de-lys wallpaper. Seriously, it's cloth.

Unlock the door, then there's another three-quarters of a flight, which opens immediately into the common area. Just one big room, probably 15'x22', with part of the 22 serving as a walkway into the kitchen, also large. The third floor is the top, and there is no attic, so my room is in the side gable, my roommate's is in the front. There is no range hood above the stove because the walls slope in too much. It's really pretty darling, feels something like a rec room or a tree house. Nice woodworking detail around each door and window - oh and the windows open with an old-school sash! Amazing.


The arrival

We pulled up to my place at 9:45pm. Feeling greasy from hauling and driving, I pulled on the pants on the top of the stack, which were black, but had to accept my fate of wearing running shoes. Together? Ugh. Then they dragged me to a swanky martini lounge and Asian fusion restaurant near the quad. All the servers were in head-to-toe black. The hostess station was like a podium in the entryway. Two glass-enclosed foyers flanked it, with seemingly identical bar stools, well-turned spheres of wood, and besuited men. They checked their watches so frequently that at first I thought they were waiting on dates, but I think I figured out they were bouncers of some sort. They had gado gado! I hadn't had it since Amsterdam. Food was pretty good. Way too expensive. And slow. I got annoyed with my parents commenting on every woman who went into the washroom. Did they do this when I was little? If so, why do I not feel inclined to it?

Unloaded the boxes in front of the mattress and box springs. Checked out the closets (full). Set up the bed. Made the bed. Toasted with champagne whose cost probably equals a week of my current salary. Slept.


The drive

I decided I'm never going to want to write the mammoth "this is my new life and how I got here" post that no one will ever want to read, either, so we'll break it up into vignettes, whatcha say. If you're reading this one, I probably sent you the link in lieu of a full response to an e-mail you wrote me. Don't be offended. The best part of my new life is that it demands efficiency.

The first thing I remember is seeing the reflection of my dad leaning forward, gripping the U-Haul steering wheel with hands close together, in the sideview mirror over the laminated map of DC I was examining. We needed gas for the U-Haul. We didn't need the fifteen minute detour we took. While pumping, they sent me next door to the Caribbean/Greek (???) place for food. The guy behind the counter made conversation about Tennessee, Connecticut, soul food, and 80s ballads. As we finally readied to pull away, Mom kicked me out of her passenger seat to direct the backing up. So I rode two-thirds of the way in the U-Haul, without the security of my magazines or CDs. Scary thought, but I felt like I was coming back to the closeness my father and I had before I hit thirteen. We talked bikes, new places, post-undergrad academia, Mom's stress level, and classical music. Then we listened to the radio.

I remember looking up to see a billboard for "Princeton BMW" and thinking, that's a place I've never seen before. Or the Newark airport from the outside. There's a really beautiful bridge around there, too.


Maybe I just dreamed this is New England

Planned Parenthood has an office at the corner of my street and a main drag on the way to campus. This morning a portly senior citizen was standing at the foot of their driveway wearing one of those over the head placards. Just after I'd passed he called out, "You who contribute to the deaths of these babies will be held accountable by God. THOU. SHALT. NOT. KILL." A guy wearing an Auburn sweatshirt (that's in Alabama, folks) walking the opposite direction looked at him skeptically. Blue state, shmoo state.

My move as a series of lists

Things my parents didn't really need to see, but did anyway, as they packed:
-the empty carton of a box of condoms I had discretely emptied into a first aid kit
-the red satin-covered copy of the Kama Sutra I received as a gag gift in December
-a list of words for certain anatomical parts, in my handwriting as I have no printer, prepared at the request of a friend

Things I probably could have left in my old home:
-the eight foot long sofa that didn't fit up the stairs at the new place
-the two-shelf, two-drawer desk organizer I never use
-my address book from elementary school
-The Devil Wears Prada, an audiobook I bought in desperation at a Wal-Mart somewhere in the cultural vacuum of southwest Virginia after forgetting my road trip CD wallet and realizing there are no public radio stations for hours

Things I have recovered over the course of the move, in descending order of the amount of time for which they were misplaced:
-brown stone pendant on leather strap that I absolutely adore -- gift from Mom/Santa
-Mitch Hedburg, Mitch All Together
-the book that I was reading -- not that I have time to finish it now or anything

People to whom I offer worlds of gratitude:
You know who you are. I'm not calling you out. But thanks. And I love you!


Improvisational forms

Not only is April National Poetry Month, but it is also Jazz Appreciation Month. The internal website at my office informs me that a third awareness-raising designation of April is as Financial Literacy Month. The only common factor I can think of among all three is some perceived opacity and difficulty in education.

Jazz and poetry seem to have a more natural affinity, however. Here is an excerpt from an interview with poet Robert Pinksy in American Poet:
It's fun to accompany somebody on a discovery of how you can play in relation to a certain set of chord changes in a certain tempo. It's a pleasure to accompany Hart Crane and Emily Dickinson, as they show what you can do with a fixed line and an emotion and a set of things to say, as the emotion and the line and the rhythm and the syntax push against one another, dance together, dance apart, come into conflict, argue about it, make peace, explode, do all the different things that those stylistic elements can do. And I think that it expresses a kind of awakeness and a kind of pleasure, regardless if the material of the poem is dark, that calls up, if everything's working right, an answering awakeness on the part of the reader.

I also like the thoughts he relays earlier in the interview about how both jazz and poetry rely on quotation.


April is National Poetry Month

A Quiet Poem

When music is far enough away
the eyelid does not often move

and objects are still as lavender
without breath or distant rejoinder.

The cloud is then so subtly dragged
away by the silver flying machine

that the thought of it alone echoes
unbelievably; the sound of the motor falls

like a coin toward the ocean's floor
and the eye does not flicker

as it does when in the loud sun a coin
rises and nicks the near air. Now,

slowly, the heart breathes to music
while the coins lie in wet yellow sand.

Frank O'Hara



So I was in the world music section of the CDs at Borders looking for this, which is good! Finnish fiddling.

But world music is not well organized. It goes Celtic, French, Gypsy, Spain/Portugal, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, Far East, Various Artists, Reggae. So it took me a long time to find the two Scandinavian discs wedged in at the front. And I had to flip through lots of other ones first, giving me plenty of time to notice the horrific self-labeling like, Klezmer Juice, Belly Dance Zone, and Celtic Mystery vol. 2. But the best title that I ran across by far was Lullabies from the Axis of Evil.


Irony, fearlessness, and cred

Saturday afternoon I stood on the sidewalk, perusing the dollar books outside the secondhand store with my sweetest friend, waiting for two others to return from their errand to fetch running shoes. Rested, calm, breezy, brilliant. My post-yoga peace had extended into diner brunch, intimate conversations and reading in the coffeeshop, and then this - my favorite thing to do - browsing through books I've never read.

This bookstore is right next to the self-proclaimed biker bar of the neighborhood. A neighborhood, mind you, so past gentrification I doubt there's an honest-to-God, raised-by-rednecks motorcycle owner in a fifteen block radius. Vespas and city bikes are the natural two-wheeled vehicles of the habitat. Like many other bars in my city, this one clamors for a niche by way of gimmick. It's as though people are afraid to have a neutral space because they think their own identities can't fill it, so they take somebody else's but mock it, mock themselves absorbing it.

I digress. There were, in fact, two dudes about to mount motorcycles parked in front of the bar, and they were wearing black jeans, steel-toed boots, leather vests and garishly decorated t-shirts. Maybe I'm not a good judge of authenticity, but it seemed a bit much to me. One was concentrating on his bike (where by concentrating I mean revving the engine), and the other came over to help, but first he turned on the radio of his. "Hells Bells" came on at a raging volume. I raised my eyebrows and looked up again. My friend was looking at me but the bikers weren't, so I started headbanging and dancing. And then they noticed. Both had broad smiles on their faces as one made a shrugging gesture that was half "c'mon" and half "why not?" Maybe they thought I liked the good-girl-with-a-bad-guy role.
Sunday afternoon, when I felt I'd been circling my room for hours, I took a break to read in the park down the road. A girl, maybe eight years old, was riding her bicycle around the loop made by the sidewalk. She wore a spring green long-sleeved tee and had metallic purple streamers on her handlebars. I smiled at the image. I'd seen her pass by a couple of times when she was slowed by a group of large men walking four abreast. Slowed, but not deterred. She called, "Excuse me," in a child's voice that was nonetheless loud and unwavering enough to part the sea of bodies for her. I was so proud of her. I wondered at what point after my arrival in the city I stopped engaging with similar groups. Individually, if someone speaks to me politely, I still respond, but I would never have excused myself and hoped to get by that crowd without harassment. But she's just being who she is, and expecting them to make way for her, a little girl on a bike.

No more than five minutes later, I heard a yelp smaller than the previous call, and saw the streamers among limbs splayed on the concrete. Fearless enough to take a tumble. Her mother walked the bike, and her father carried her, past me. The last thing I heard her say was, "I promise to be more careful next time."



Yesterday afternoon I was walking through the cutest, neatest, most expensive rows of townhouses in the district. There was an older gentleman kneeling in his rectangle of dirt, clippings already in the tree boxes below, sprinkler and temporarily potted plants at the ready. I felt a little tug just below my breastbone. I should be doing the same thing.

My instinct is to pick things of permanence, things you wouldn't want to sell on craigslist. A comfortable sofa purchased new, a charcoal grill, piles and piles of books I love, heavy duty pots. Everyone from old friends to now-ex-boyfriends and party transients commented on it. "Hey, aren't you just here for a two year gig?"

The space I live in reflects and influences my mental state. I don't like being required to ignore my surroundings. By the time I moved to my current residence, I was sick of dorms, sick of never scrubbing down the stove someone else would be using in a month, sick of pretending that crate could pass for a china cabinet. I wanted to feel at home, so I made a place where I could. By getting comfortable, I permitted myself to content others, too. I planted flowers and herbs in my pots, made dinner often, had a stock of wine at the ready.

Now I need to relocate for a new job. It will be intellectually challenging, spiritually rewarding work at a far less cushy establishment. And a year from now, it will take me halfway 'round the world. Since everything I own but a suitcase will go into storage, it doesn't make sense for there to be very much. The large sofa seems a luxury now, but it's coming. Bed, too. Mom's taking back the antiques she invested in, though, and the grill will be sold to a friend with a patio just made for barbeques. The last two bottles of wine will be opened at the bon voyage blowout.

Today I filled a garbage bag and two-stack laundry basket of clothes I won't be wearing, then another bag of papeterie clutter that found its way into my nest. This is how I say goodbye to places. I resubmerge in the context, flick through my mental files by looking at paper ones. Gone is the stub from the first show I saw with a now dear friend, case studies for the grant application I withdrew, my finisher's certificate from the marathon, receipts from my favorite hangouts, notes with ingredients, driving directions, and SAS code, gallery pamphlets, boarding passes.

What I really hate to throw away is personal correspondence. Those are their words, their fingers put pen to paper that made its way to me. The first couple of times I moved in college I tried to filter out the most essential letters to save. That led me to read all of them when hours are too rare, and correspondence still falls in the same category as the rest. All I really care about are the people whose presence lingers, and these shreds of paper are barely serviceable reminders. It's all in my memory. And if it doesn't stay, maybe that's for the best. We all have to downsize, tune up, defrag every now and then.

So my friend on the far west end of P Street can set out his perennials. Me, I pulled up the weeds and turned the soil.