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Cape Town, part n: the flight back (and thoughts on research areas) - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2005-03-31 11:08
Cape Town, part n: the flight back (and thoughts on research areas)
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<aside> I'm skipping ahead to the flight back now, because I have it written, and most of it isn't about the flight back anyway. :~) I'll post more when I have time to write it. I'm especially looking forward to posting about our tour of the township and the discussions of African activism we had with one of David's friends. </aside>

We spent our last day in Cape Town shopping for wines and souvenirs (mostly gifts). We couldn't find the excellent Muratie Amber honeywine anywhere (the winery was an hour's drive away), but found the other bottles we were seeking. Then we visited raucous Green Market Square downtown, where we picked up a few souvenirs and were plied by skilled and dedicated salespeople with dozens more. Though I was fascinated by the arts and crafts that were on display and wished I could talk more to the sellers about where they were from and how they made or acquired them, I had to escape the hubbub after about an hour, completely overwhelmed and drained. (I dislike shopping in general, and pushy salespeople don't improve the experience.)

We refreshed ourselves with tea from a friend of D's who he had finally reached just that morning. She lamented that we weren't staying longer, since there was a big ballroom social that evening. Then we made one last visit to D's sister J and her husband R, and their two kids. I was wearing my Grace Hopper Google shirt, and before I left clever B had learned to say "Google!" We had a lovely dinner at D's parents', then packed our souvenirs in layers of clothing and headed to the airport.

Our flight back was thankfully not nearly as eventful as our flight out (except for a run-in with a mean immigration agent). We even shortened our six-hour layover in Minneapolis to two hours by flying standby on the flight before our scheduled one. (The travel agents D used sure didn't do a good job with the layover times.) In between fitful bouts of sleep and perusals of the last 259 blog entries on my "friends" page (which I had loaded into 13 tabs of Firefox right before we left; unfortunately, I still have three more days to catch up on), I found my thoughts returning to school and research.

As some of my recent blog posts describe, my recent thoughts on these matters are soured with feelings of frustration and ineptitude, and I'm struggling to identify just what's going wrong. After reading through nawl's grad-school choices, I couldn't help but question my own choice. Would I be happier if I had chosen to go somewhere else? What do I want to be working on, anyway? What would really get - and keep - me excited? I've been feeling pressure from advisors to narrow down my research focus, but I'm still at the point in my education (and don't currently see a way out) where many things sound somewhat interesting, but nothing sounds like a perfect fit. Should it be technology-focused sociology (my advisor's primary area)? Usability research? User-interface design? System design? Graphic design? Technology and poverty research? Information law and policy? Data mining? Technology in city planning and architecture? I can't even articulate what I want to do with it all: the academic life sounds grueling and insanely difficult to get into, and I'm not sure I'm even capable of life-long research (it doesn't feel like it in my current state of mind, though when I was less depressed and stressed I used to boil over with ideas). I don't seem to represent myself very well, especially in person, and especially when I know I'm being judged. How can I possibly develop skills that I actually want to utilize, and that someone would actually pay for?

Anyway, one thing that I've been wanting to do for a long time is to take some design classes, probably from somewhere other than Berkeley. Despite my marginal performance in the Introduction to Drawing class I took last spring (due to trips, conferences, and the usual issue of overcommitment - sort of like this semester ...), my TA said that I had "real potential" if I chose to pursue design. And it's something that I really enjoy, though I don't think I'd want to do it exclusively (much like everything else on my list of interests right now). The clothing design I've been doing recently has rekindled that desire.

Outside I can see the snowy peaks of the Rockies between puffs of cumulus. The captain says we're passing over Salt Lake City; from my window I can see patches of the Wasatch Front north of that between the clouds. Almost home.
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