Thursday, April 8, 2010

To P, with Love, on his 30th Birthday

Dear P,

Sometimes after you fall asleep at night, I lie awake and wonder what would become of me if you ever died. After over 10 years together, it is hard to even imagine a life without you in it. Who would I call when I fell off my bike? (It's hard to believe this is still a problem for me at this age but, alas, we both know it is.) Who would finish reading the recipe when I gave up halfway through? Who would mock the hapless schmucks on reality TV with me? This imaginary world is horrible, mostly because it's so completely and totally inferior to the one I live in now.

Turning 30 is a milestone and I hope that as you reflect on your life until this point you are filled with happiness and pride. I hope that you realize how much you have changed me - encouraged me to be a better and stronger woman. I hope you recognize what kind of man you have grown into - one who is brilliant and fearless, kind and gentle, considerate of others, successful, and, of course, an amazing husband.

Happy birthday, love. Here's to another wonderful decade together. Thank you for all of the wonderful adventures together.

All of my love,
Your wife


Today is your day
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Karma: You owe me $20

On a recent evening, P and I went to our beloved Trader Joe's for our usual weekly grocery shop.  After parking the car and getting our cloth shopping bags out of the trunk (how very suburban eco-friendly of us, right?), we spied a crumpled $20 bill lying halfway between our car and the white SUV parked next to us.  The space between our car and the SUV was relatively large, about three feet.  P bent over and picked up the bill.  He then pulled out his wallet, about to claim his newfound treasure.

Me:  "We can't take that money!  It probably belongs to that guy." [I point to the SUV.]

P: "No way.  It's too far away from his car.   See?  It's much closer to our car." [Gesturing ensues.]  "Plus it's on the passenger side, not the driver's side.  Someone probably dropped it as they were walking into the store.  There's no way to find that person and give it back."

[Silence, as I examine the evidence, assessing the validity of his claim.]

Me:  "Hmmm... you're right.  Someone probably did drop it on their way into the store and we can't very well ask at the customer service desk for the person who lost $20..."

[Silence again, as we exchange glances realizing that there is no moral ambiguity here - we are free to keep our $20 prize.]

Me: "But, wouldn't it be nice if it didn't belong to this guy," [pointing to white SUV] "but he 'found it'" [yes, I actually used air quotes here], "anyway?"

P: "You mean we just leave it here for him to claim instead of us taking it?"

Me: [Nodding emphatically.] "Yeah.  Like a random act of kindness kind of thing."

P: "I guess that would be kind of cool.  If you really want to..."

[I nod again.  P takes the $20 bill, puts it under the windshield wiper of the white SUV, and we continue on to our weekly grocery shop.]

It felt good.  I wanted to go inside the grocery store and wait until the white SUV owner came back, just to see the look on his/her face, but I didn't.  God, if you're watching, can you please count this incident in the "pros" column?  I'm gonna need all the help I can get.   

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The "I" in Jeopardy

Alex read the question in his usual sing-song almost taunting lilt, and the gratingly familiar Final Jeopardy tune began.  The three contestants scribbled their answers with a furious intensity.  The stakes were high; the winner would, after all, proceed to the final tournament of Teen Jeopardy  and the game had been a close match until now.  Despite his best efforts and some very good luck (who knew they would put a question about Tony Hawk, his all-time favorite skater/ sports hero, AND that he would get a Double Jeopardy for that question?), Karan was not as far ahead as he would have liked.  Sarah and Anurag had put up a good fight and, going into Final Jeopardy he was tied with Sarah at $12,800, with Anurag trailing closely behind with $11,600.

Luckily, the final question in the "Nonfiction Writers" category was easy: "On July 21, 1944 she wrote, "I'm finally getting optimistic... an assassination attempt has been made on Hitler's life."  The answer was obvious, as every high school student worth his salt had read The Diary of Anne Frank at least once.  This would all come down to bidding strategy and if he was anything, Karan was strategic.  Surely everyone would get it right, so his only chance was that Sarah would underbid.  He crossed his fingers behind his back twice for luck, as he always did, and bet it all.     

Since he was in third place, Anurag went first and put the correct answer: Anne Frank.  He had bet all $11,600, but that wasn't going to be enough for the win.  Sorry, buddy - you actually seemed pretty cool.  Sarah was next and after she revealed her correct answer came the moment of truth: she hadn't bet it all!  She only bet $9500!  

Karan was beaming.  He had won!  Even though he had promised himself that he wouldn't smile during the show (he didn't want his braces to reflect the light into the cameras - so very dorky) he couldn't help himself as he grinned from ear to ear.  His eyes searched the audience for his mom and dad as he thought about how very proud they would be.  

But, something was wrong.  Alex was saying something as he read Karan's answer and it sure didn't look congratulatory.  Karan could barely hear, his heart was pouding so loudly in his ears.  "..while you were writing that down, our researchers were going through all of their research materials. And we could find no instance of the young lady being called "Annie", not Anne, which was her name. So it is going to be bad news..."

What?!?!  Suddenly, Anurag was walking across the stage to shake Alex's hand, and Anurag was waving to his parents in the crowd, and people were clapping for Anurag, the winner.  That asshole.  

ANNIE?  ANNIE?  ANNIE FRANK?  Karan knew better and yet he had still written "Annie Frank" instead of "Anne Frank".  He had known the answer and he had lost Teen Jeopardy on a technicality.  On an "I".  

His blinked back tears, as he shook Anurag's hand and congratulated him on his victory.

I was inspired to write this blogpost by the epsiode of Teen Jeopardy that aired yesterday (August 5, 2009 - you can read the transcript here  Poor Karan, my heart went out to him as I watched the show - it was one of those rare moments when you know you are witnessing something that will haunt someone forever.  He was so excited when he thought he won.  Just more evidence that there is not enough money in the world to convince me to relive the teenage years.    

Saturday, August 1, 2009

5 things I love

  1. Waking up in the middle of the night, when it's really quiet and all I can hear is the steady rhythm of Arthur's dog snores coming from his dog bed in the corner of the bedroom.
  2. Glorious guacamole.  It's even better in the restaurant-style stone thingee-ma-jigee that P got me 2 birthdays ago.
  3. Getting under a dry roof and watching (and smelling) a miraculous summer rainstorm.
  4. The feeling of accomplishment after finishing a long run.  My body feels good and I expect that at any moment strangers could come up to me and congratulate me (they don't, of course, but somehow I feel entitled to some kind of wider acknowledgement of this physical feat).
  5. Reading a passage, email, book, story or article that is cleverly written.  This doesn't happen altogether too often, but occasionally I'll read something and just feel like I "get" the author (most likely we share neuroses of some variety).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Please don't take a picture of me...

Fellow R.E.M. geeks might recognize the title of this blogpost from the song "Bad Day."  Today feels plain out rotten and it's not the sticky summer rain that's giving me the blues.  Certainly, there is no life-altering devastation that I can complain about, but there are a lot of little things that I could kvetsch about.  Maybe I have unrealistic expectations about what happiness is or should be.  Maybe I have PMS.  Maybe I'm just a whiner.  

Regardless, I have some serious Freaky Friday envy right now (i.e., maybe if I close my eyes and wish hard enough I can magically wake up in someone thinner/ smarter/ richer's body). 

Alas, ich bin kein Jodie Foster oder Lindsay Lohan (thankfully, I suppose) and will just have to stick this one out.  Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Dream of China: Impressions from the PRC

The Great Wall - we did a 6-mile hike along this lonesome stretch.  
Lots of steep ups and downs - my butt hurt for days afterwards!

Me in Shanghai, in front of the Art Museum.

Drumroll please... I have achieved my goal of visiting Asia.  That is, I did China - not in a dirty, Debbie Does Dallas kind of way, but in a sunscreen-laden, tourist-map-holding, sneakers-wearing, fanny-pack-toting (OK not really on this latter one, I have better taste than that) kind of way.  

Anyway, there are several things that made an impression on my eager mind.   I thought I would blog about them so that I could hopefully remember them in 10 or even 20 years from now.  Here goes:
  1. It was hard not to be a little grossed out by the, ahem, sanitary conditions in China.  Spitting is a MAJOR problem (this point cannot be emphasized enough).  Roughly 3/4 of Chinese men smoke and I cannot help but think that this contributes significantly to the near ubiquitous sound of men (women don't do it) hawking and spitting loogies (sp?).  It is just everywhere - we even heard someone do it on the plane ride back!  We got to calling it the Chinese symphony.  This means that walking on the streets of China requires considerable care so as to avoid stepping in a pool of spitty goop or colliding with the midair trajectory of hurling saliva and phlegm.  The sanitation issue was augmented (for me at least) by the fact that young toddlers in the post-infancy but pre-toilet training phase do not wear diapers.  Rather, their pants have large slits at the crotch and when they need to go, they simple go outside, squat, and take care of business.  One night while we were dining al fresco, the cutest little Chinese girl got up from the table across from us, walked into the sidewalk area that separated our table from hers, and peed.  For the rest of our meal, I watched as countless waiters and waitresses trudged though that small puddle of urine as they scuttled between the indoor kitchen and the outdoor tables.  My inner germophobe was activated.   
  2. Commenting on the driving customs in foreign places is more than a little hackneyed; how often have you heard the following: "You won't believe the drivers in Paris/ Los Angeles/ Timbuktu!"  Thus, my commentary on Chinese driving may seem trite, but consider this: private car ownership was virtually impossible in China until the mid 1990s.  Today there are something like 15 million privately owned cars on Chinese roads and China is the world leader in private car purchases.  What this amounts to is millions of relatively new and inexperienced drivers.  Unexplainably, a norm of excessively aggressive driving seems to have emerged along with this car craze.  I offer one anecdote of such behavior: We are taking a bus from the mountain summit to the base of the mountain.  As the bus hurtles down the two-lane mountain road, I am increasingly alarmed by the speed at which the driver takes the mountain's sharp hairpin turns.  While my companion P is assuring me that my fears are most certainly overblown, a buzzing blur of metal whizzes past us in the opposite lane.  We are dumbfounded: a bus has passed us on this tiny, twisty two-lane mountain road!  Seatbelts please!        
  3. TBC...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dividing Lines


Living in Berlin last year made me think a lot about artificial divisions. How a wall can be constructed to separate two peoples and how it can take on a life of its own. Appreciated this piece from Christoph Niemann in the NYT today on this subject.

Makes me wonder what life in North Korea must be like...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Me, circa 2002

Studying for a final exam (i.e. surfing my old emails in lieu of studying), caused me to stumble upon this email, which I wrote on August 11, 2002. The email is to my then-boyfriend (now husband) P. P had gone on a trip with his brother to Brazil and I was in a desperate state of missing him.

What I learned from reading this email: I have always been neurotic and stressed out. Even when things aren't stressful, I seem to find some way to make them that way!

P -

It's 10 p.m. on Sunday night and I am still at my parent's house. Both my cell phone and yours are totally dead, so I hope you didn't try to call either one tonight and I missed you! If you somehow get this message, the # here is (XXX) XXX-XXXX . I really hope you guys are having a good time.

Everyone left this morning (visiting relatives). Last night D, K, A (the other girl) and I went out to Sequoia's in Georgetown because it was K's last night. It was OK. We didn't get home until really late.

Anyway, I did nothing today. I studied for the GRE for about 3 hours and pretty much laid around the whole day. I had planned to go to Kaplan today and take a practice test and somehow it didn't happen, so in my head I am panicking. I am way overstressed lately - my mom thinks I have some sort of stress disorder or something! I feel a little wacky. I'm probably going to call in sick to work tomorrow because I feel so wacked out. I also have a serious case of not wanting to deal with the outside world lately. Are there meds out there for me?

Seriously though, I am fine. I don't want you thinking I have gone off the wire in the two days since you've been gone! I know you're busy, but send me an email whenever you get a chance. I will hopefully have the cell phones operational by tomorrow evening! (You know me - I'm one place and the charger is always another!)

How is the lady you're staying with? Is her house amazing? What is Rio like? Are you already leaving for your next destination tomorrow (Monday) or is it on Tuesday?

Please be careful with yourself (you promised!) and I will talk to you soon.

All my love,

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Things seen and heard: Easter mass

My parents came to visit this weekend.  As part of our Easter festivities, we went to Easter mass.   The church was packed to the gills, filled with those like myself with an on-again, off-again relationship with the church.  In the pew in front of us, sat a very bored and quite exasperated little boy about 5 years old.  I sensed he was not a "regular" either and that being asked to sit quietly through an hour and a half mass was a seemingly unending task.

About halfway through the mass, very loudly and amidst a silent sea of people deep in prayerful reflection, says the boy:

I am SO done with this place. 


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How much of human life is lost in waiting...

I've got waiting on the brain.  I feel like I am always waiting.  Right now I am waiting until Thursday night so I can have my exam over with.  I am also waiting for tomorrow, when we find out if we got the house we wanted in Ann Arbor.  I am waiting for Saturday when I am supposed to meet up with a  friend I haven't seen in a while.  I am waiting for the semester to end, so I can reclaim my life and reacquaint myself with free time.  I am waiting to get that call,  be that wife, scholar, sister, daughter or friend that I am certain to become.  I am waiting for that one thing, that panacea, to rain down, blow in, squirm up, sneak through or seize upon me.  

I. am. waiting.  

I am consumed by what's nexted-ness.  Surely I must be forgetting that one-thing something that is right now?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Things seen and heard

Said to me recently: "Do you know that you have a really distinctive way of rolling your eyes?  It's so you."

Insight into how others perceive you is so very revealing (and not always flattering, ahem).  We build up images of ourselves in our heads and we think we know ourselves so well, but it is only ever half of the picture.  There is also the image of us that runs around in other people's heads.  Somewhere in between lies the true us (really tempted to make a lame statistics joke about true population parameters here, but am desperately trying to refrain.  Wow, my life has become entirely about math(!), but I digress). 

Like this, for example.  I don't consider myself an extreme eye-roller, especially at school (where I know the commenter - an acquaintance - from).  Apparently, other people may see me this way though.  And while I in no way aspire to eye-roller characterizations (my association with eye-rolling: malls, tans, and Sweet Valley High novelas), truth be told I may indeed be an eye-roller (gulp).

I don't know what my point is exactly, more than I just want to say it is not surprising that miscommunication occurs so frequently.  If I think I am one way and you perceive me another, it is entirely possible that we become two ships passing in the night.  And with that, I sign off now, as this is beginning to resemble a Bayesian game (!), so with that, I bid the fair reader Adieu.

p.s. Is there some way to stop rolling your eyes if you're a chronic roller?  Now that it's been pointed out to me, I realize that I DO do it all the time!  Perhaps ERA (Eye Rollers Anonymous??)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Facebook: A Gateway Drug

Facebook is a trap: it may seem innocuous at first, but its seductive charms lure you deeper and deeper and before you know it, you're hooked.  It is easy to slip into the mindless anonymity of browsing photos from an old friend's latest vacation/ night on the town.  Then -- bam -- before you know it, you are a fly on the wall for the birth of the first child of that girl who sat next to you sophomore year in Mr. Bode's english class.  Your glazed eyes fix to the screen, as you mechanically refresh your browser every 2.3 milliseconds to see if any of your friends have updated their away status with an even wittier message since the last time you refreshed.   I'm not going to lie - I engage in a whole lot of this activity (who doesn't derive a little Schadenfreude at the discovery that their biggest high school frenemy is now a lardy housewife or unemployed spinster?).  During quiet moments, I often will slyly glance at the computer monitors of my 7 officemates (fellow PhD students) and smugly reaffirm that I am not alone in this guilty pleasure.  

However, deep down, I am still kinda iffy on the whole thing. Didn't I lose touch with these people for a reason?  If they really mattered all that much to me in the first place, wouldn't I have made the effort?  Also, I have become a "plus one."  That is, I have superficially met people at parties or some other casual encounter, only to come home and have a "friend" invite from this person waiting in my email inbox.  At first, I thought this was a nice way to extend a casual encounter into a friendship, but then I realized that I had become the target of serial frienders.  The people who engage in this are hunters, targeting prey to increase their friend numbers, presumably so that they can appear popular (you can easily identify a serial friender - most of them have upwards of 400 Facebook friends).  Seriously, is this some sort of popularity contest - she who dies with the most friends wins? 

Finally, there is some degree of self-loathing involved in Facebook cruising.  It is a little pathetic/ creepy to feel like a voyeur secretly observing the lives of those you know, used to know, or only partially know.  It is awkward to go into the office and ask a colleague,  "How was your vacation?" -- as if you didn't know that it was a sunny and happy from viewing the photos they posted immediately upon their return.  Nope, Facebook etiquette requires you to feign ignorance, pretending that you have not viewed them and their significant other on the beach wearing minimal clothing or sharing a romantic sunset dinner.

I guess my point is that Facebook is artificial - it allows us to live in an artificial world - where we have artificial friends and artificial interactions that are completely removed from the world we actually live in.  Still, I don't think I'm ready to leave this artificial world behind just yet... 

Friday, January 2, 2009

I couldn't have said it better...

Bed is my friend.  Just bed, he thought.  Bed will be a great thing.  It is easy when you are beaten, he thought.  I never knew how easy it was.  And what beat you, he thought.

"Nothing," he said aloud.  "I went out too far."

- Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Up next... 2009...

Oh, but I have been a bad blogger... neglecting my poor little blog for the necessities of the day-to-day tedium.  It's now 2009 and I don't know what I resolve for this year, but here are some things that are coming up... 

Things I know will happen in 2009:
1. P and I will go to China (tix are already booked).  Very exciting as it will be my first foray into Asia (OK, technically my second, as I did take the ferry over to Asia when I was in Istanbul last spring.  Somehow that seems like cheating, though.)  I refuse to eat cat, however.

2. I will move again.  P got a great job in Michigan and has finally cashed in his spousal "We're Moving for my Career" chip (I've already cashed mine in three times, so I suppose this is only fair).  A new state and a new life is a scary thought, but I have a really good vibe about this, so here's hoping for good times in the Midwest!

Things I plan to make/ hope happen in 2009*:
1. I will go camping - hopefully multiple times.  Feeling a great primal urge to reconnect with the outdoors.

2. I will be kinder to my mother.  This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it's hard when you are simultaneously so similar and dissimilar from a person.

3. I. will. run. all. the. time.  I had previously set this (now seemingly crazily ambitious) goal of two marathons before 30.  Currently am at one down, one to go with a September birthday looming on the horizon.  Training might be hard with the move and the China trip over the summer, so I am rescaling to perhaps a half-marathon (?).

4. I will be more mellow and take things as they come.  My dentist will appreciate this as maybe I can stop grinding my teeth into a fine powder each night.

5. I will try to appreciate people - friends, family, husband - for who they are, not who I want them to be.  This, of course, will be conducted in concert with aforementioned #4.

*Please note that these are not resolutions - note the "hope" in the title.  I am not resolving to do all of these things as I'm sure that would signal a certain death for their hopes of attaining achievement.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hail to the (new) Chief

Barack Obama will be our next president. One year ago, I didn't think it was possible. Six months ago I still didn't find the idea tenable. But, ladies and gentleman, the impossible has happened: a (half) black man will lead this country.

Like so many of my compatriots, I find myself in a state of mild euphoria. Obama has already changed our generation, has ignited passions and cast aside cynicism. He has motivated more than two-thirds of us to vote (from the point of view of a political scientist, this is particularly astonishing). He has made the impossible possible, and so anything is possible. Reforming health care? Saving Social Security? Ending the war in Iraq? Restoring our image abroad? Done, done, done, and done.

At least, I think. Or, perhaps more accurately, I hope. Because there is a hitch: Obama has raised our expectations exponentially and I'm a little afraid of what this will mean when he arrives in Washington. A Democratic House and Senate will no doubt be a significant aid, but our system is designed to make change difficult. Resources are limited. So is time. We are amidst a major financial crisis. It is highly likely that he will not be able to deliver all that he has promised us. My sincere hope is that people won't be disappointed by this reality; that, as a country we won't become even more jaded and cynical than we already are (or were).

However, my greatest hope is that we can recognize that one man working alone cannot solve the problems we face. (What can I say? I'm an idealist.) I hope that we will answer his call to a renewed sense of civic duty and pride. I hope that we can, as the President-elect so eloquently stated "[remake] this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand."

So, hail to the new chief. I wish him the greatest luck. He will need it.