Sunday, December 30, 2007

"I" as in India: New year, new computer

Lately, every computer I touch dies a miserable techno death. It seems that I posses a super power--one that could potentially paralyze vital informational systems all over the world. If I were truly evil I could wreak some major havoc with this new found power but the only people I've inflicted any harm upon are myself and my hubby. I've been through 3 computers in the past couple of months. Two of which are on loan (oopsie). So, against my better judgment, I decided to shell out for a new laptop--what's a girl to do?

After about twenty minutes of research on the top notebooks out there, I found what seemed to be the best fit for me. I has some specific needs that weren't included in the package so I figured I should speak to an actual human in order to ensure an accurate order--and maybe even haggle a bit:

Computer Rep (CR): Hello welcome to (insert name of giant computer company/monopoly/megalomaniacs). My name is Brittney. How may I be of service to you today?

PhDini (PD): Hi, um, Brittney. Is that really your name? (Feeling rather vulnerable to begin with, when forking over thousands of dollars, I like to talk to people I can quasi-trust. Given the CR's strong accent--and clearly not a French one--I just couldn't believe that her name was Brittney.)

CR: Yes, mem (I'm guessing she meant ma'am), it is.
PD: Really? Huh. Where are you Brittney?
CR: Um, the United States of America, mem. I am where you are.
PD: Mhm. Really? You are where I am. Where exactly would that be? (Hubby looks confused as he listens to my side of the conversation.)
CR: In the United State of America. Mem, is there something I can help you with today?
PD: Ok, whatever. Yes, I need a new laptop.
CR: Ok, have you purchased a (insert overpriced crap computer brand here) previously?
PD: Yes, and it died. I was using it without a problem for 2 years and it just decided that it wouldn't start anymore.
CR: Do you have a protection plan?
PD: I had the basic plan that comes with the computer for the first year. So, I guess that's a no.
CR: I see (sounding rather smug).
PD: Yep. Not so smart on my part. But had the computer actually lived up to the hype that the company pushes on us, I don't think I would have needed it.
CR: Excuse me?
PD: Nevermind.
CR: Ok, mem. Can I have your name please?
PD: Sure. It's PhDini.
CR: PhTini?
PD: No, PhDini. P, as in Peter. H, as in, um...Harry? D as in dog. I as I don't know...
CR: I as in India.
PD: Yes, I as in INDIA. That came rather quickly to you, Brittney. Indeed, I as in Innndeeeyah.
CR: Um, yes. Ehem, so then it's N, as in Nancy.
PD: Right. And then in India.
CR: Thank you, mem.
PD: Are you in India, Brittney?
CR:, mem, I am not. I'm in the Unites States of America.
PD: Really? (Could my finely tuned intuition be failing me, too?)
CR: Ok....(sigh)... I am in India. I am trained to say that I am where you are. To increase the trust. My name is Rumia, Ok?
PD: I knew it!! Why didn't you just say so. I trust you way more now. I know everyone outsources these days, I just wish we'd all be honest about it.
CR: Ok, mem. So which computer do you want? (Rumia is clearly annoyed now.)
PD: Which computer? Right, um. Oh, man. I totally forgot!
CR: I am sorry, mem. You forgot?!
PD: Yes, I did. Maybe I can pull it up on my husband's laptop, which is still immune to me. Just wa--

Oh well. Suffice it to say, I royally pissed off Rumia. I do feel bad about that. It's not her fault her company makes her lie to unsuspecting customers. It's not her fault that they force her to use a tainted, uber-American moniker. Nor is it her fault that her employer likely makes her give up her evenings with her family to take accent-elimination courses. I really wish Rumia the best of luck in her accent-elimination endeavors.

I'm actually not altogether opposed to outsourcing. After reading about how you can outsource your life in Esquire, a friend of mine hired an assistant in India to do personal assistant type of stuff (emailing, phoning, making reservations for him). I haven't followed up on how his arrangement has been going but in the face of a new year, with many many new tasks to be completed, I can see how it would be nice to get a little help from a friend abroad. How does this relate to psychology? Well, aside from the implications of tricking customers into feeling comfy with outsourced salespeople, I think perhaps that much of the negativity my brain absorbs from my clients may well be wirelessly streaming into my computers and killing them--not so softly, I might add. But I'm a scientist. A researcher, in fact. So this is just a hypothesis. Obviously, there is no causation with correlations. Just coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

Find yourself with Personal DNA

Personality tests are always fun! Personal DNA also has a feature where you can "psych" friends by analyzing their results. You can be a PhDini, too!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Insider Thoughts on Couple's Therapy...An issue-oriented post.

Friends and family often ask me for advice about problems they're experiencing. This is essentially free therapy for them under the presumption that I have can share my issues with them for some reciprocal advice--but I rarely get that. Do I mind? No, not really. If it ever gets excessive, I just plead ignorance and reflect how difficult it must be to go through such an ordeal. Reflection, if you're unfamiliar with psychotherapist lingo, refers to a sort of re-stating of what a client says in order to confirm that we understand what's being said. I actually find that when my colleagues and I use reflection, we're actually stuck and have no clue what to say next. When done right, the client usually just responds positively: "Yes, exactly! And to make matters worse...." This usually helps the conversation along, while allowing the client to feel that we truly get what they're saying and that they're being heard. This may sound like we're just fleecing clients in need, however, to effectively reflect in a convincing way, we actually do need to understand where a client is coming from. So, no, we're not fleecing anyone. You can save that draft of hate email for another post.

I have a special fondness for couples therapy. In my second year of grad school, I chose the child/family/couples track of clinical training, with no real experience in this area at all. My program has two specialty tracks: Child/Family and Aging. Then there's this third track, the adult track, which refers to working with everyone that's left over. I'm in the adult track. I figured that if I was trained in both of the other tracks, I would be covering my bases with respect to the specific needs of kids, families, couples, and older adults. What else would "just adults" be dealing with? So, when my co-therapist and I first laid eyes on our inaugural couples case, we were so eager--brimming with therapeutic hope and a brand spanking new reserve of innovative interventions. We had no clue what we were in for. The couple we saw were dealing with things that are rarely discussed in training texts. Transvestite prostitutes anyone? (Actually, we had three separate cases that dealt with TPs, as we started calling them!) Oh sure, we'll take care of that no problem. Let's just talk that one out...

Well, we helped some couples achieve some happiness and other relationships dissolved before our eyes. I finished that year with a better understanding of the true goal of couples therapy. It's not about saving the relationship at all costs. It's not about just translating different communication styles. It's also not about working miracles or doing the fighting for couples in a "safe space". Couples Therapy is truly learning about who the heck you're in the foxhole with and figuring out what you want out of the relationship. If this means you want to do everything you can to salvage this thing you've got, fine. Try it out. Do what the therapist asks you to do. But if you come in with the hope that the therapist is going to change your partner and that you're doing just fine, you might want to re-evaluate your expectations. Also, if you think just going to therapy is the panacea you both need, that the therapist will simply mend the relationship with her magic wand, you're in for a surprise. Therapy is work. The hardest reality to accept, and to convey to clients, is that sometimes we feel that both parties would be better off not in the relationship. The final goal in sessions is up to the couple, so if you want to give it the old college try, of course we'll work with you. However, it usually becomes clear during the course therapy if the relationship is heading toward hopelessness. Our supervisors often reassure new therapists that it's okay that couples break up if that's really what seems best--it never seems okay for the couple, of course. I've noticed that many couples are well aware of the reality of the future of the relationship before stepping foot in the door and are just coming to therapy to say they did everything they could. More often than not, one member of the relationship feels this way more than the other--I find this scenario particularly heart breaking. In the end, I think that couples therapy helps people become really honest with themselves.

If you're not quite ready to jump into couples work,this is a wonderful book that's based on the training manuals for couples therapists, only it's geared toward the general public. The authors are the among the premier relationship psychologists and this book is based on over 20 years of their research with thousands of couples.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

American Airlines...How I hate thee, let me count the ways...

I'll admit it. I'm a travel freak. I don't just love traveling--I really love the nitty gritty parts, like airports. I don't mind spending hours in airports--really. I enjoy going to the little shops and buying trashy tabloids. I love having all of my most important belongings contained in bags circling my feet like a fortress wall. I really love the strategic packing of all of my most important belongs with the hope that I will defy one of the fundamental laws of physics. I love travel size toiletries. I love people watching, especially seeing the metamorphosis of facial expressions as the realization of a gate location change or a delayed flight occurs. It's magic. It's unicorns, rainbows, and images of kittens in baskets. So, I admit it--I am a rare breed. Most people, most sane people anyway, don't enjoy any of these things. They hate them almost as much as they hate airline food. The one thing I do hate about traveling is American Airlines.

So, trying to get out of Eyota, MN was pretty easy. I got on an earlier flight to Chicago and had enough time before my next flight to grab a bite to eat. Since this was O'Hare Airport, known for its expanse of boutiques and restaurants, I thought this would be a pretty sweet place to be stuck during a burgeoning snow storm. Little did I know that my gate was essentially the most isolated location in the entire airport. It was easily a 25 minute walk to get to with my 10-ton bundles of precious stuff, which quickly became less precious with every waddle. I ended up eating at the FOX Club Box, which may sound fun if you're into that sort of thing, but it was actually just a crap shack. This was only the beginning of my travel nightmare.

After several hours of waiting for my already twice delayed flight, boarding began with a bang. Families with babies, so many babies, and frustrated travelers squeezed through the nylon ropes to the boarding agent. I waited patiently for my boarding group after the first, executive, and gold star classes sauntered past me. Group 5, that's me! I gave my boarding pass to the woman who then told me there was something wrong with my pass. Say whaa?? I go to the desk where a mean looking bird lady, with tragic salt and pepper hair (which looked more like a raccoon curled up on her scalp and died than actual hair), basically ignored my pleas for help. She just tip-tapped on her little key board. It must be nice to have so much power. After about 10 minutes of tip-tapping, she finally looked up and asked if she could help me. I told her, nervously, that something was wrong with my boarding pass. After some more tip-tapping, never making eye-contact with me again, she stated that my ticket was for the following morning. Say whaa whaa? Nope, I did buy my ticket for that day and quickly pulled up the email confirming this on my laptop. "I don't care what your email says, the ticket you purchased is for tomorrow, ma'am. Do you understand? You did not buy your ticket for today." I could have slapped her right there and then. But alas, I needed to get my tush on that frickin' plane and no one, and I mean no one, was going to stop me. "That's a mistake, how could I receive a confirmation from your airline for a ticket today when it's for tomorrow?!?! It's not even for the same time so it's not like I accidentally read it wrong. I need to get on this plane! Is there anything that can be done? I didn't buy a ticket for tomorrow..." Silence. Tip-tapping. Was this woman cognitively deficient? Was she deaf? Was she Satan disguised in a sad polyester uniform (which was quite unflattering, to say the least)? Oh yes, she was some kind of daemonic minion of the damned because she proceeded to find me a ticket, silently, while I ranted and raved because she wouldn't let me in on her little secret holiday miracle of getting me a seat. Oh, it gets better. As I finally get the boarding pass from this she-devil, she proceeded to get her last little word in. "I'm letting you on but so you know, you bought the ticket for the wrong day." That's nice. Real nice."Well, actually I didn't but than--" Before I could finish my expression appreciation she takes the passes and flings them in the air (Holy cuckoo cowpoke, Batman!). "That's it, you're not getting on this plane! You've caused a scene since you got here and it was up to me to let you on this plane. You've been nothing but rude, just forget it!" Okay, crazy-pants, clearly we're not working with the same set of social rules here. "Why are you doing this? Please let me on the plane!" After much pleading, kissing ass, and squeezing out faux tears, she allows me on the plane while cursing me as I vanish into the tunnel to freedom. I sat in my seat, shaking, upset, and totally blown away by what just happened. Who does this? Who gets off on this kind of power trip? Incidentally, the plane was half empty. This woman, who worked at the American Airlines gate L8 at 10:30 PM in O'Hare Airport Saturday, December 15, is evil and demented. That's my expert opinion. Everyone should know this.

American Airlines screwed up, again. I am planning on contacting them about this event. I have a record that supports that I was right. They also screwed up my honeymoon trip to Mexico. I've had it. The world needs to know that this airline is essentially the worst one I have ever flown. And I travel quite a bit, domestically and internationally.
There, I feel better. Emotional expression through writing has been shown to help with distress, depression, and anxiety after a trauma. American Airlines=Trauma.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Knowing thyself & pinning down fact or fiction when it comes to the UK school curriculum

So, I've been trapped in Eyota, MN, for a week now. Let's just say I'm here for research purposes (I may get into this later or I may not. Mmm, mystery). To pass the time, the hubby and I have found refuge in the local Barnes & Nobel. I kind of like being forced to spend hours there since I so rarely get to read for pleasure (a good enough reason to skip grad school) and it has one of those built-in Starbucks--read and caffeinate, oo la la! Hubby is not as excited since he is a writer and does this kind of stuff all of the time for work, but he's a trooper nonetheless.
On one of my most recent B&N caffeine binges, I came across this book: Do You Think What You Think You Think? by Julian Baggini. He's a thoughtful Brit who put together a philosophical workbook to tame the Descartes within. It's pretty fun--if you're into self-inflicted mental torture in the way that I am (sudoku, anyone?). There are a bunch of exercises, including logic proofs, to work your "mind-muscle" as the locals here so fondly refer to what they believe is hiding somewhere under their snow hats and lack-luster hair. Oh yes, these games will not only sharpen your syllogistic skills but they will also show you how consistent your thinking actually is with the help of the "Philosophical Health Check." I found, sadly, that I have as many "tensions" (philosophical contradictions) as the majority of folks taking this test online. So I should finally give my mom a reality check--I'm not that special. Ok, I'll do the self-therapy later--in private. (You're welcome, in advance.) Hubby, by the way, is extremely consistent in his thinking and is quite proud of this finding. Good for frickin' you.
All that aside, something really creepy happened this morning. One of the questions in the Philosophical Health Check was (and I am paraphrasing so as not to be hunted down and flogged by the author): The Holocaust is a historical reality that took place pretty much as the history books state. Agree or Disagree? So this question, along with 29 others, is a test to see if you consistently view facts as objective truths or subjective expressions of culture/societal norms that aren't stable and change with time--or something like that. Regardless of how you feel on the matter, hubby gets an email this morning about how the UK is removing the Holocaust from their history books so as not to offend Muslims. It was in the form of a chain letter, but creepy because we both took this little survey last night. So what's the up with the UK? Is this true or not? And what's with the timing, don'tcha knohhw?!
After a little researching, it seems that this is likely a hoax. Apparently, only one school in the northern section of the UK has done this (scary enough, if you ask me)and that it's been the only school to change the curriculum in such a way. It doesn't help that some newspapers, with questionable fact checking, are circulating a vague version of this story that has only fueled the rumor. This demonstrates one of the most important lessons of my graduate school career: Don't trust anything you read. Just because it's published doesn't mean it's right. Thankfully.

Friday, December 14, 2007


You don't know who you are until you come face-to-face with who you aren't. Nothing makes this statement more real to me than spending a week in the middle of nowhere--especially in the mid-west. I'm not a region-ist, as this may imply. I'm a realist, and let's face it--we are all pretty different. Compatible people tend to clump together in different parts of the country because it feels good--like home. That's okay. I'm okay, you're okay--as long as you stay over there and I'm over it?
Despite my unexplainable fascination with rural small-towns that allow one to disappear off the grid, the mix of pseudo city and podunk country town that characterizes Eyota, MN caused an existential awakening in me. I crossed the line. I'm out of my element. And now I feel like I know who I am more than ever (though not completely). What I am not: a blind optimist, a blind pessimist, a bartender who serves popcorn instead of peanuts, a nurse with a yearning to see California, a cab driver in a one-cab-company town, a hotel receptionist really excited to make that once-a-month trip to the movies, the medical patient in the elevator joking about the water bottle in my backpack being filled with vodka (you wish, Bill Wilson), an evangelical mother of three spreading "the word" while picking at her acrylic claws, or an intellectual Starbucks barista aching to break out of this tired town. Despite finding all of the above intriguing in a human-interest sort of way, I realized that I'm just an observer looking in on them from the other side of the window. I kind of always feel this way, actually. I'm not them, and they sure as hell share this sentiment(given the looks I got while skimming "God Is Not Great" (Hitchens, 2007) in the local Barnes & Noble).
So who am I? Well, I am: present, liberal, optimistic in the face of challenge, pessimistic in the face of naiveté, a humanist, an existentialist, a humorist, an amateur anthropologist, a multi-cultural daughter of immigrants, curious, mischievous, sensitive, mildly aggressive, and a student of psychology. This blog is just a documentation of a journey through my experiences both inside and outside my head.