Tag Archives: Egon

When You Want to Know Everything

I am not entirely certain, but I think a great part of it might have to do with what I associated “science” and “engineering” with when I was a kid. Even when I was little the idea of scientists in white coats was a bit weird. I had seen them made fun of in cartoons enough to appreciate a caricature. My grandfather worked in a hospital lab and for me such lab coats were for doctors.  I never could put my finger on it until recently but as I have went back through the franchises I enjoyed as a kid, I finally realized who I wanted to be:

Commissioned art from Eddie Nuñez digitally colored by author

I know that they are basically the same person, barring the mutation thing. But that was it. Referencing in books, figuring out solutions and answers, the person that people went to for obscure things, that is who I have always wanted to be. In fact, it turns out that when I was 8 I tried to teach myself Assyrian and Sumerian because Egon knew them.

Now, here is the problem: There isn’t a path of study that can lead to that outcome. That outcome is not quantifiable nor does it really bring prestige or money to your alma maters and paters. As I continue to work towards finishing what has become a huge portion of my life I take solace in the fact that all of the extemporaneous stuff I have done through these years have led me more towards being the person I really wanted to be.  Whether or not a Ghostbuster and a Ninja Turtle were the reasons I decided to get a PhD, they remain the noblest aspect of this entire experience.

If you enjoy either franchise check these crossover out. If you like both, buy the recently released hardover collection

I have learned more about myself in the things I have done to stay sane during graduate school than I have about any topic I have studied. When it came time to pick a major for university I settled on Mechanical Engineering because I was good at math and mechanics. If you’ve taken courses in engineering you can see where this is going. I completed all my core courses my first year in college and realized that I didn’t want to be a career engineer in the sense that we were learning it. I wanted to design and build things,  not manage button pushing operations.  There is a perfect example of this in Egon’s life in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters: “Cry Uncle”

Real GB #19 Cry Uncle by clist007

In “Cry Uncle” Egon’s uncle shows up and reminds Egon that he said he would come work for him at Spengler Laboratories. There Egon would get to do “real” science.  Once at Spengler Labs, Egon has his white coat, and is tasked with feeding the research rats and mice. When he admitted it wasn’t what he expected, Uncle Cyrus explained there are no small jobs in research.

I really like this shot because it shows that it isn’t only the rats that are caged.

There isn’t inherently a problem with going into a field you are good at, especially if you are interested in it, but for me it was extremely limiting in the scope of my expectations for college. Such expectations continue to shape my opinions of higher education.  I think the first thing I found odd was that the way our classes parsed out on the rubric I would be a senior taking freshman speech. Nothing built on anything else. Even the Engineering courses, which were only offered every other semester or so, wanted info in and were built on the premises that you passed or dropped out.

When I went back 5 years later I tried my hand at a broader field: Anthropology. I took every course my university offered and enjoyed them all. I did field work in Belize with another University and ran the gamut of geology towards that degree. Issues of being color blind and terrible mineralogy courses dropped me out of that certification (although I still practive the paleo and science outreach that I learned there) and ended up with a history degree. That itself is just as problematic because everything is formulaic and most of the people at the top hate everyone and have painted themselves into such tight “intellectual” corners that they wouldn’t dare step out of their offices to help someone even if they could.

I even completed an advanced degree in History. Then moved on to combining what I had done and what I thought I wanted to do. History of Science. I worked on another MA, which was worse than History because of the way our coursework is arranged. I still wanted to know more. Not more of one thing, but more in general. There were loose ends that needed to be tied up. So I reached out and ended up taking graduate level hours in Art History and Biology. As I have worked through all the stories I want to tell, and then figuring out how to appease the Academy and still get to write for the audience I want to engage with, I realized that I still want to know it all, and I want to be able to use that to help people answer questions and solve problems.

I still want a lab and a workshop. I doubt I will ever build a nuclear accelerator or a portal device, but with such a practical environment, who knows. I think that this is one of the reasons I have gravitated towards museum exhibits. Aside from presentation and engaging the public with collections (and collecting) there is the technical aspect of getting the displays built, arranged, and installed. Practical needs that people ask you do do.

I think the best thing about all of this is that it took years of advancing schooling to get back into comic books only to find what I study and write about was there all the time. That isn’t to say I write about mutations or ghosts, but a huge swath of my work is science and popular culture, and how the public engages with science. As for my dissertation, it will compare early American Naval and Army expeditions in their scope and treatment of the scientists (naturalists) and artists as were full expedition members. The first one, The United States Exploring Expedition (U.S. Ex.Ex), was in many ways undertaken due to John Symmes’ insistence and marketing that the Earth was hollow.

The Hollow Earth Theory

Even my PhD advisor admitted that my niche might be in being a generalist.

The Road to Comps Part 7: Scenic Turnout 1

I have finally finished the first section of the comps list. This marks the end of the first “question” in theory if not practice. Most of my work crosses the subdivision created to make the list make more sense. Before I start to work on the rest (I am almost finished with the background section on the American Studies portion at the moment) I wanted to share some of the things I have learned about this type of work and how I manage to stay sane throughout the attempts to synthesize everything in print.

Scheduling. This seems obvious and impossible. It isn’t so much of “I must read 173 pages every 2 hours in order to finish this” as much as it is setting aside chunks of time to work on the sources, but also (and sometimes more importantly) having chunks of time where you don’t. Through the first few weeks I would use the weekends to catchup on things I missed and would marathon through 2 or 3 books each day on Saturday and Sunday. While this allowed me to get our regular blog posts and keep ahead of where I thought I should be it became a doldrum of monotony after two weeks. After I finished the first section I revamped the schedule and took another look at the list.

First thing I did was stop marathoning the weekends. I started to treat Saturday and Sunday like the rest of the days of the week (in relation to prepping for comps anyway). This means I get up at the same time but instead of going to work I take care of things around the house until the time I would be off anyway. Then I fix something to eat, watch my dinner episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and set off to reading. This was less monotonous but wasn’t very different from the previous, and it wasn’t getting me any farther ahead on the readings.

Talking to a Troll on a Bridge
Talking to a Troll on a Bridge

I once was a boilermaker. I worked shutdowns in industrial maintenance. This means 7/12s (seven days a week, 12 hours each day) until the shutdown or turnaround was over. These typically lasted several weeks and then we would have time off until the next one. Turns out several weeks of the same thing is about all you can handle, especially when it is reading a normal size book a day (I saw “normal” to mean abound 350 pages  which is about what I can digest in a day’s reading). So I took another look at the list and pulled out the calendar.

By putting a book on the calendar and doubling for some of these anthology pieces (and the Walt Whitman biography beast) and by getting up an hour earlier, I manage to free a full day on the weekend to do nothing related to comps. That probably isn’t entirely true as almost everything I end up doing finds its way into my work. But, hey, a day off! It also serves as a buffer in case something comes up that would interfere with our regularly schedule program. In the most recent case it was attending the opening of our Picturing Indian Territory exhibit at the art museum.

Orko the magnificent
Orko the magnificent

With the current schedule running, I am actually at the time of writing this, a day and book ahead, I will read the final book on my list a few days after Christmas. That is if I continue to treat the days of break as workdays. The days for blogging have been built in as well. This one was supposed to be tomorrow and the next a couple days later, but I think I can get two out this weekend (don’t look for that to become a common occurrence anytime soon).

What do I do on the days I am not reading? I spend it painting and pastelling random bits of pop culture from 80s cartoons. At least that is what the last one consisted of.  It happened that the end of the first section and the second time I had a full day off hit together so I finished a prepared board and canvas in the morning and took a more ambitious project after lunch. In addition to arting it up, I have been utilizing my obsolete iPhone to try capture a time-lapse of the mess. Below are the time lapse creations of the fruits of a day off when I could have read at least two books:

The first was a prepared board for pastels for Egon talking to the King Troll from the episode Troll Bridge 

As you can see the capturing system (and the art) is far from a professional affair.  But I also had a small canvas for Orko, to celebrate the recent beginning of a 6 issue DC comics crossover of He-Man and the Thundercats.

The great thing about painting bits of cartoons from 30 years ago is they mainly use primary colors. This is extremely helpful for someone who is colorblind. In fact, since the pastels don’t have labels, I don’t do them unless my wife is here to double check skin tones or accessory colors. I suppose one day I will do something random as I see them or match them to what I see, but currently I would like them to be “right”

To that end, this one has been the most ambitious projects as far as size and content. I have done a couple ninja turtle acrylics before of Rocksteady and Bebop from the cartoons and then a panel from the new comics, but never have I situated them into actual art. It was actually a lot of fun, and I was surprised there there wasn’t a version of NightHawks with turtles somewhere on the internet. There isn’t one of the Ghostbusters (or the Real Ghostbusters) either so I might have to give that one a try some time.

This may seem like a waste of time, and I go back and forth on whether it is or not, but I do know that this small break in plowing through an enormous reading list has severed to make the workweek more tolerable. If you have made it this far and are wondering why you feel burned out over your work, you might try adjusting some things to give you a break. It doesn’t have to be painting, it could be bike riding, hiking, swimming, snow skiing, practicing the japanese noseflute, video games, something, anything, or even nothing. Comps (or generals) is one of those things that isn’t actually testing you for a “grade” in the sense that you have to remember a bunch of facts in an order in order to regurgitate them back for your professor. You are being “tested” in order to prove that you are suited and situated firmly enough into your discipline not to embarrass yourself in conversation with other people in your discipline. More than a few people will tell you that during preparations for comps “you will never know more about your field than you do now.” I know the sentiment and I am glad they share, but at the same time that isn’t really comforting to me.

A tribute to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks
A tribute to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

The next scenic turnout may be art, or something else entirely. It might be a conglomeration of the things done on the days off between now and when I finish the next section, or something in the middle that think is more clever than it probably is.