The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible - Vladimir Nabokov

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you - Zora Neale Hurston

28 January 2010

As Promised

Crystal at Crystal Clear Proofing made a new award, which I am happy to accept! It's for cat lovers, and it's easy to pass on, so I can fulfill my promise to do so right away without battling Blogger's hyperlink tool.
If you adore your furry friend (even when they spit up hairballs on the carpet rather than the tile no matter how many times you try to teach them) then take the award and display it proudly!

27 January 2010

Strange Customs

I've long known that scientists are more superstitious than sailors, but I had to share this tidbit, which had me laughing even in the midst of grant writing purgatory.

Cloning is a molecular biology term, which basically means taking a bit of DNA, a gene we're interested in studying, and pasting it into a handy dandy tool called a plasmid. A plasmid is another piece of DNA, but one that we know all about and can control. We then use the plasmid to put our gene of interest into a new situation and observe what happens. This is how we discover if a gene is cancer causing: We put it in normal cells donated from a piece of skin or wherever and see if too much of the gene causes the normal cells to start behaving like a cancer. That's the just of it anyway.

Cloning is one of the most fundamental techniques, but not the simplest. It was the first thing I learned when working in a lab during my last year of college, and it took me an entire year to get it to work. A year. Despite the fact that 20 years have passed since then and all manner of new methods have been developed, cloning is still a pain. It is as fickle and capricious as the ocean and no amount of scientific exactness and planning can guarantee all goes smoothly. Thus, the elusive and unnamed "Cloning Gods" are often invoked.

In Seattle, towards the end of my PhD, my supervisor gave us all seashell necklaces from Hawaii to aid our cloning efforts. There was always the smile and wink about "magic" and "luck", couching it with "it can't hurt"--we were all logical, educated persons after all--but beneath the joking mask was a touch of real belief. You laugh off the Cloning Gods openly but privately whisper, "I didn't mean it." One of my colleagues even wore an aluminium foil hat during sensitive procedures to cancel out "negative thought waves". All in fun. Yeah. Right.

Today, I witnessed a slightly disturbing never-before-seen ritual among members of the secretive Molecular Biology tribe. Not even National Geographic has previously described these customs, so feel privileged. In the throes of cloning woe, a student and two post-docs oversaw the ritual beheading of Barbie as a sacrifice. There was lots of laughter, but many of us said, "Isn't that going a bit far?" --"My cloning wasn't working," the student replied, as though that explained everything. Yes, my anthropologically-inclined readers, ritual sacrifice did not vanish when the blood-drenched steps of the Aztec pyramids were swallowed by jungle centuries ago; it is alive and well in the sterile halls of academia.

There must be some way of using this in my writing? Perhaps an ancient, Dan Brown-esque, cult operating in a pharmaceutical company? Possible. Possible. I'll make a note and stick it in a file somewhere for later. Oh well, back to work. Thank goodness I have no cloning to do.

26 January 2010

I Love Awards, Really

I've received two blog awards in the last couple of weeks from amazingly talented writers (Thank you Michele and Anne!!! ), who also happen to be beautiful people, and I'm not just saying that because they gave me an award. Check out their blogs if you don't believe me, or even if you do--they're worth your time.

But I haven't done my homework. I haven't been visiting new blogs that I can link to and fulfill my award duties. I haven't even been writing for my own blog! Therefore, I will likely be passing these awards on to people who've already won them. I know there are plenty of other wonderful blogs out there that haven't received an award, but I haven't discovered you yet. I'm sorry.

For the Bliss (Happy 101) Award I must list ten things that make me happy:

  1. my husband
  2. dark chocolate
  3. writing
  4. the utter relaxation of snorkelling and exploring an underwater world
  5. take off in a plane, especially if I'm going someplace new
  6. getting lost in a good book, game or DVD boxed set marathon
  7. kittens
  8. chocolate
  9. learning something new
  10. did I mention chocolate yet?
Now to pass it along to some cupcake-sweet people:

1. I know you just got this one Tabitha, but you deserve it for your beautiful posts
2. Anne, because I sense you are both a tough cookie and a sweetheart, and I like both!

3. I surmise from the manly blue colour scheme of Alan's blog that he won't be displaying this pink cupcake, but he's getting it anyway

4. Crystal gets this for making punctuation painless

5. I've recently discovered Lynnette's blog, but I'm enjoying her posts and this definitely will go with her colour scheme

6. Stephanie just finished her book. Congrats to her! She's probably feeling blissful right now

7. This one's for M.J. Here's hoping she'll come back soon and post some more

8. Emma for her infectious optimism and energy

9. I wanted Dezmond to get an award so he knows I really do read his posts every day, even though I don't comment (bad me)

10. Elizabeth really is the sweetest

Finally, the second, Silver Lining Award, which I have long coveted and am so grateful to get, goes to...

  1. Chasing Empty Pavements
  2. From the Desk of a Writer

  3. Help! I Need a Publisher!
  4. Elana Johnson
See? That was fun. I love passing on awards and plugging other people's blogs...I just don't like making hyperlinks (I know I must of messed up some because cntrl-v was on the fritz, so let me know and I'll fix it). Next time I promise to post about an award as soon as I get. I'll be good, I swear. Please don't leave me off of your award lists!

As I was writing this, I discovered Emma Michaels gave me an award (Thank you!!), and as promised I'm passing it along right this second.

1. Southern City Mysteries
2. Let's Try This Again
3. The Lipstick Chronicles
4. Terry's Place
5. Organized Chaos

My editing window freaked out on me a couple of times, and I lost my link to Blogger, but the lists are done and all has ended well. I have three new awards that I'm giddy over, and I hope I made some more blogger's just as pleased as me. Thanks again Michele, Anne and Emma, and congrats everyone!

Now, I really, really need to get back to work (bad me for blogging on a Thursday when I should be doing science)...

10 January 2010

Writing is writing...Right?

My already deficient blogging routine is going to take a big hit over the next couple of months as I am forced *shudder* to write a scientific grant to fund my research for the next few years.
These NHMRC (the acronym is boring enough, you don't want to know the full name believe me) grant applications are about 30 pages long. No sweat for a writer, huh? But they aren't plot-driven pages brimming over with fascinating characters and zesty dialogue--they are hypotheses, aims, technical approaches, time lines and materials required. The most exciting thing I can look forward to writing is the 'expected outcomes' section. This is where I say how wonderful my idea is and that it will (somewhere down the line in 10-15 years, maybe 20) contribute to the treatment of cancer (maybe). Never ever be definite in science writing: always couch statements with may, perhaps, possibly, if as predicted...

Other ways in which grant writing is the polar opposite of good writing:

1. use lots of jargon, abbreviations and acronyms

2. avoid all adjectives

3. no 1st or 3rd person--use the royal 'we'

4. do not describe the setting (the readers assume everything will take place in a lab)

5. give away the end at the start--never surprise your reader

6. include pictures and diagrams that you cobbled together in Photoshop

7. this is your one chance to write in future tense (we will extract and compare DNA from the cell lines of interest and this may enable us to determine if there is a difference between immortalised cells using the ALT or Tel mechanism of telomere maintenance...) ASLEEP YET?

8. make up new verbs based on jargon: hybridise, polyadenylate, PCR amplify...

9. couldn't think of anything but I like lists with ten points

10. use passive voice whenever possible (cells will be treated...)

I pray my writing skill recovers quickly from this immersion in a nightmare pool of technobabble. I plan to meet my goal of 500 words per day on my current wip regardless, but I'm not sure my brain will change gears easily. Methinks there will be much editing ahead. Thank goodness I worked on my manuscript over the holidays (I'm at 20,000 words, yay!) and came up with a decent outline to guide me during this difficult time.

Wish me luck!