Saturday, November 10, 2007

Procrastinating

I have a lot to blog about. Things that have happened, things inspired by conversations I've had, scenery type things - such as this one view of the city (well, "city" I live in) that I sometimes pass on my way to and from work, down one of the side streets - that or the greenish blue (like an old penny) steeple of a church near my house. I can see this steeple from many other places, so it seems familiar. I look at it and think...well, I'm not sure what, but something home-like. This place feels like a home now, but I have the chance to leave soon. I don't know if I will. On the other hand, I don't want to stagnate in New Brunswick.

Anyway, today I went hiking in the Pine Barrens and it was AWESOME!!!!!!!!1!!!1!! E. and I spontaneously picked up my friend L., whom I hadn't seen in awhile, and the three of us went hiking and bug collecting. I got some giant wood roaches. It was funny because Elena was going to drop me off at a choral concert instead of at my house - until we realized that I should not walk into the concert 1) in dirty clothes that barely matched 2) carrying a large insect collecting net but most of all, 3) with ziploc bags in my purse that contained live cockroaches.


When did my life get so weird?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Life Plan

A friend and I used to post silly Life Plans in our away messages on AIM. She started it. It was something like a list of various dream professions, with every other item on the list being, "Burn out." So I made my own. I can't even remember what was on there, besides "A blues singer" and that was reeeeaaaally out there in terms of what I see myself doing in the future.

And now that future is much closer than I realized. Shortly after changing my graduation date to January 2009, my advisor concocted a way for me to graduate in May 2008. !!!!

My plan had been--and I was pretty comfortable with this, seeing how much I like my life now!--to take the remainder of the classes I needed, which was only two or three things, in the Spring 2008 semester, and then do something like get another internship over the summer. Then I would sign the lease to stay in my current residence for another year, take that one three-credit only-offered-in-the-fall course I needed next fall, and because I'd have this apartment until September 2009, look for a good job in this area, or look for a fun job that paid the bills while I had a nice laid-back life, recharging while I pondered what to do next. Grad school? Scientist job?

Though I suppose there's nothing saying I can't still do this...only have it run from September 2008 until September 2009, as opposed to beginning in December. You know, bum around for an entire year instead of just nine months.

So now I'm reformulating my life plan, and I think that this is it so far:

  • Finish out the current semester and attempt to get A's and B's (I'm kind of already burning out, so it's not such a bad thing that my adviser wants me to GRADUATE NOW)
  • Work on my research over winter break, to make up for not doing much these past two months (oops)
  • Take classes next semester, try not to go crazy in the process, hopefully make time to continue working so that I do not go poor and can afford the final item on my list.
  • Graduate. Hopefully with a two professional certifications, two graduate courses on my transcript, and honors. Oh, and some money and my sanity.
  • Go on two-month North America Road Trip with Marie Elane
  • Write book, or something, about our progress. And also write book (or something) about our previous travels. Maybe write book jointly, and have it available in English, French, and German, and then sell it, and then make enough money to travel somewhere else. And also have a name for ourselves so that we get hired by good jobs.
And then...NO PLAN. Perhaps I should not make a plan for anything after the trip...not until 2008.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I have a lot of really good friends right now. I think of this because I just realized how many people, in the past month and even just this week, have made a point of telling me where there are good insects for me to collect. Some have even caught insects for me. For example:

  • One friend kept two hemiptera in her freezer for me
  • One of my housemates trapped a hemipteran in a Burger King cup, and put that in the freezer for me.
  • My other housemate caught a gypsy moth caterpillar for me, and once, despite the fact that he was running late, open the door to yell up to me that there was an interesting fly near the front door
  • The other day, when I let a friend into my house, she said, "Sarah, Sarah, there's a really cool bug on this pumpkin on your porch!" and waited, while I was not being a good hostess, for me to catch and put in the freezer the aforementioned bug.
Additionally, my housemates are ridiculously tolerant of all of the containers of insects that are in our freezer.

That's love, there. (A friend and I have been having an ongoing conversation about the great amount of love in our lives, from friends and family, which puts in perspective how not important having a bf or gf is. Additionally, my friends are so awesome that the bar has been raised considerably for anyone who wants to date me. Now I have to think things like, "Would he ever participate in an insect collection? Would he spend an hour sticking a coat hanger into my car when I lock myself out of it?")

I blog about nothing in particular, just a short update as I procrastinate spread out the arduous task of finishing an entomology lab write-up.

So, a weird thing that happened today. I got randomly sick. I left the house this morning ridiculously - and I mean ridiculously - happy. I think I bounced a little bit on Jones Ave. I felt great! Awake - pre coffee! - and ready to start my day. It just seemed like it would be a good day. Despite some of the stressful things hanging over my head, I felt okay. Maybe because I was spending eight hours at work, and I really love my job right now. I can also immerse myself in this job, no matter what's going on outside. No matter how much work I have to do or haven't done that was already due, no matter how much chaos or drama there may be in the rest of my life, when I am at work, I put as much focus as I want into examining the writing, conversation, problems, and successes of the students I tutor, and in coming up with tasks or words for them.

That's enough being sappy about my job.

Oh, I also really like my co-workers at the Writing Center.

Anyway, around Hour Six or so I started to feel a little tired, but I thought this was just from a stressful week and from tutoring for six hours. Within a half hour, I went from feeling a tiny bit achey and tired to hot, red-faced, dizzy, and very tired and achey. So weird!

And I have all these plans for the rest of the week, so I hope this cold or bug or whatever goes away as quickly as it came on. I'm going to load up on echinacea, hibiscus tea, and garlic, and yes, I will take real medicine, too.

There was a positive surprise today. I got a paycheck! I didn't realize it was payday!

Monday, October 29, 2007

‽‽‽‽‽‽‽‽‽‽


That is an interrobang. Isn't that cool? I want to find a way to incorporate this, regularly, into my writing.

Monday, October 22, 2007

GOMOW

Between moments like that which produced yesterday morning's happy post, I've been experiencing this growing anxiety and sense of lack of control over aspects of my life over which I ought to have control. Things like responsibilities.
These sorts of things tend to spiral into utter Crazy; some sort of minor academic setback, like a bad grade on a quiz (or imagined bad grade on a quiz not even taken--because that is what we overachieving crazies do) will eventually become a giant internal struggle over What I Am Doing With My Life, Anyway; Why am I studying science? or Why did I study literature before? and...the worst...What The Hell Am I Going To Do When I Graduate In 2009? I have to remind myself - that's TWO THOUSAND NINE. A LONG WAY OFF. But then I reassure my inner crazy that there are indeed reasons to worry! Because in order to prepare for that faraway graduation date - well, first I have to go through the whole self-shaming process of feeling bad for being in school for so long in the first place - I have to, of course, do something meaningful professionally with my summer break - and if that's too faraway to worry about now, what about winter break? Surely it's not too soon to worry about January! And clearly I am too old to spend my winter break merely tooling around the house or catching up with friends!
So I skipped my afternoon class. Instead of sitting in the back feeling awful for not having the assignment to turn in, and then making To Do Lists while not paying attention to the lecture, I decided to take a mental health two hours. It seems that the Universe smiled on my decision; I came home to a letter from CC in the mailbox. While I was sitting on the front step to read it, I noticed a HUGE interesting insect on the sidewalk and just happened to have a container to catch it in! Surely this makes up for skipping entomology class - working on my collection!
I also, to feel more like I have some control over my own stuff, to feel reined in, finally sat down and made an Excel Budget Spreadsheet, which includes the amount currently in my bank accounts and things like projected earnings for 10/22-11/22 and projected expenses. And then I made a list of rules, because even though Projected Earnings - Projected Expenses yields a positive value, I don't want to waste that money. I want to save it! So I made a list, at the bottom of my Excel sheet which now looks way too scattered for such an orderly program as Excel, consisting of things like "No buying clothes until 11/15" and "No buying wine until there's nothing left on the rack." Meaning my wine, not waiting for my roommates to drink theirs which is sharing the rack with mine. I realize the potential danger of rule #2...that I will just drink all the wine really quickly and buy more. OH WELL. It's my budget, my rules - there's no one to tell me my rules are stupid, etc.
I started this budget in September, then forgot to update it for a week, then decided to put it off because one-time-only expenses like textbooks and 3M hooks would throw off the budget and just depress me and make me not want to continue. Also, I didn't get paid until last week - about a month after I expected to get paid. Oh hell, maybe I'll wait till November 1st. Then I realized - November would bring Thanksgiving. December brings Christmas. There's always an excuse. And that is why my budget, rather than being a normal monthly budget, is cockamamie and runs from the 22nd of the month to the 22nd of the following month.
In summary, I knew I had to do something, because I was starting to get the crazy feeling I had in 2006 - when I made a set of New Year's Resolutions called Get Out Of My Own Way (GOMOW) 2006. (It included things like going out and buying one pair of jeans to wear until I lost weight, instead of being annoyed that my clothes were one size too small.) Anyway, I vacillated between remembering how happy I am in my cute little house with my cute circle of friends (though it is smaller than it was during my first undergrad degree years) and my interesting classes and my awesome job - my simple happy life where it's OK to not be rich and where baking soda is a perfectly acceptable hygienic product - and feeling crazy, like I needed to spend every minute socializing and buying things and OMG I HAVE WORK TO DO AAAHHHH!!!
It was only a matter of time before I started thinking about cutting all my hair off. (See November 2005 and the short hair days.)
But now I have a Quick Launch icon for my budget, right next to Firefox, and feel much better.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Little Jesus in Velvet Pants

There are many things to be happy about right now.

I have an outdoors, nature-related activity planned for today which involves fall colors and a camera!!!!! Maybe even hiking!!!!! And the weather is perfect for it!!!!!

Yesterday I went apple and raspberry picking with three friends (my roommate, my former roommate, and her new roommate, interestingly enough) and went to a diner and then went to Target - all the things I love to do! Including bumming around the house drinking tea!

!!!!

Then [my roommate, AZPlants] and I made and canned several jars of jam. I discovered that my canner works really well on the stove in this apartment - the water boils quickly, nothing tips, nothing falls over spilling boiling water and boiling jam all over the kitchen and its inhabitants...always a good thing.

We successfully made and canned jam without anyone getting severely burnt or injured, without setting the house on fire, and without even spilling something. The jam even turned out nicely! We managed to take on a rather involved domestic endeavour without any sort of Anne-Shirley-like disasters.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find my digital camera, so there are no pictures of this miraculous occurrence.

I invented a jam recipe, which I'll probably make again, and then photograph, and then post. It was Lemon-Jalapeno jam. Really quick and easy Really involved, but worth all that hard work - especially for the lovely people to whom I will be bringing this jam as a host(ess) gift.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Draft posts

I'm so glad I jot down notes of things I want to post about later, because I don't have time when I think of them/experience them.
I mean, what did I mean by this, and how did I think it was going to help me remember what I wanted to write about?


Boys and Girls III (or Feeling Twenty-One)
Write about evening - the Dunkin Donuts - the sun -

What!?!?!?

:(

I've been following some of these stories this week.

It makes me sad. And also sad that there are so many human rights issues right now, that people can't just focus on all of them, or fix all of them. I'm not sure why this one specifically has caught my attention. The description of the monastery is really terrible. (Sorry to be a downer.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On Not Being a Snake or a Termite

Now that I’m happy (I feel like those, “I’m full!” Taco Bell commercials from back when I had TV), I might not have as many interesting, funny things to rant and write about. And I’ve been meaning to type up funny stories from my past – the things I tell people when I’m entertaining them, but never think to write down. A few days ago, someone told me that I should really write the story of my senior thesis, that in addition to the thesis itself, the story of its development is interesting. So that is coming soon. In the meantime, here’s a REALLY LONG nerdy thing I wrote.

The following is from an e-mail I wrote to a friend, responding to a rant/vent and request for advice. I’ve edited it for a more general audience. I’m leaving the pure advice part, in the beginning, in the text, because it kind of sums up other things I’d want to write about anyway.

The answer, in my opinion, is simple. Do What Makes You Happy. At the place I am in right now, this is what I think is important. Do what makes you happy without doing harm to anything else. Your "purpose in life" and all things like that will probably follow. If you are happy, relaxed, calm, you will be more able to accept what's around you and more able to do good things (like be nice to people, be patient, etc.) Of course these things still require thought and effort...but being happy, having certain needs satisfied, will help. I mean really happy, not "happy" because you got all kinds of cool stuff and you're having FUN!!!!!!!1 but that real, peaceful happiness.

I don't remember much about Taoism from Religions of the Eastern World 101 or whatever (and let's not forget my senior thesis was about Taoism in literature, so I should totally remember more) but the thing that stood out to me the most was the concept of Wu Wei, which my professor defined as “non-action.” If you see a snake in the path, don't fight the snake. Walk around the snake, or choose a different path. Obviously it's not always that easy to know what the snake is and what the path of non-action is. Sometimes non-action is impossible, and the path of least action, the path most in accordance with the Way, is not immediately clear. However, if it does seem clear - if you are happy and have an opportunity to be happy without harming others, I suggest not fighting it. Don’t create/be a snake.

- - -


This goes for your Purpose in Life, too. If you are not creating a lot right now (haha I first wrote "write" now), maybe you aren't meant to do it RIGHT NOW RIGHT NOW. You're still young. It's not a bad idea to set aside some time - I wish I made more time to at the very least record what I'm doing right now. But anyway, the short answer is, I wouldn't worry about it. If you want to socialize, socialize, as long as it's healthy and really making you happy. Humans are social creatures. It is an inseparable part of who we are – physically, psychologically. Humans are not meant to be solitary beings, and I think that trying to go against this will make one crazy, even if the reason is simply chemical/biological. To a certain extent, I think that self denial will not help one do more good in the world. Following the path that seems to fall in front of you, including engaging in human socialization, could lead you to Whatever It Is You’re Supposed To Do.

- - -

[This was part of the advice, but this is something I’ve been reflecting on and meaning to blog about for a few weeks now.]

I've been thinking somewhat lately about the concept of purpose in life, and wondering if perhaps we overcomplicate things. Part of what has led to these thoughts is the information that I’ve been receiving in my classes. I am taking an entomology class and a soil class, so in both of these classes, we talk about small “yucky” organisms that are essential to everything we do, to all life, but aren’t thought about much by most people. I suppose what happens when you double major in a humanities field and a scientific field is that you start to mush things together in your head.

On Purpose in Life: The human crab louse spends its whole life cycle on the genitalia of one person. Its entire world is localized to not just its host species, not just to a specific host, but to a specific part of that host. It doesn't think, "I could totally be head lice today. I'll try it out."
So, we have the entire planet as our potential habitat, and some organisms just have somebody's crotch.

On socializing: Termites are "social creatures", and I think the professor said something like, insects like this show the beginning of social behavior in life forms. I am hesitant with my wording here, because I don’t want to come out and say that termites are less evolved, that this is primitive social behavior. It’s tempting to go there, but I’m not sure if it’s accurate.

For example, something I learned about in various classes last year, something I found incredibly fascinating, is that many species of insects actually practice agriculture. I’m not kidding. (I also won’t be offended if any of my three readers skip past the science part.) The genus Atta, for example, comprises leaf-cutter ants that actually farm a certain type of fungus. The leaf-cutter ants don’t actually rely on the leaves that they bite off of trees (sometimes causing a defoliation disaster) for their nutrition. It’s usually said that they do not have the enzymes to digest the leaves, though I think there’s some question of this now. The ants actually carry the leaf pieces to their fungus garden and feed them to the fungus. The fungus has the enzymes to digest the plant material. The ants can then consume part of the fungus, and this is how they survive. This behavior can actually be pretty complex. For example, if they need to move their nest, there are ants (I think the queen) who know to carry part of the fungus with the colony to the new nest, and they know how to re-establish this fungus so that it will grow in the new nest. The ants know to stop the fungus from producing fruiting bodies (which just look like little brown mushrooms when allowed to grow). HOWEVER, the ants also know to let the fruiting bodies develop once in awhile, if the fungus does need to reproduce. Otherwise they encourage the fungus to just grow and digest plant matter for them to eat.

- - -

Back to termites and their social behavior, and how it’s making me think about human roles. The division of labor in the termite colony is pre-determined, by morphology or genetics or something. (You can see how little I’m paying attention in class.) My point is that it is clear for them whether they are the queen, a worker, a soldier, or whatever. If they are not the queen, their job is to protect the queen or to serve her in some capacity. The queen serves a function as well, so it’s all very harmonious. If the nest is attacked or damaged somehow, the termites (the soldiers or workers, I can’t remember which) sense this and immediately rush to the damaged area. They throw themselves into the hole and cement themselves in. They plug up the holewith their bodies and die in order to save the nest.

When the professor said this, cries of “Ohhh!” and “Aww!” arose from the class. My professor responded that this is not sad at all. The termites “aren’t alive like you’re thinking of it.” Their individual life is not the same as our life or that of our pet cat. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t important, but the life of a termite is not like the life of a human being, with all this potential and all these options.

People are not termites. I don’t know which is more advanced, or if such a qualification just doesn’t apply here. First of all, it’s interesting to note that “social behavior” doesn’t exist in all life. Amoebas and bacteria just live, they eat things, things eat them, they die. They don’t get sad about it. They probably don’t defend each other. It’s also interesting to think of “social behavior” as being so different from our own, though people will try to argue that some individuals aren’t important, that they exist as a functional group in a colony, that their life and death do not matter and that their is a real hierarchy or caste system. Blah. "Social behavior" like we have now perhaps began (if we are to consider insects as less evolved than we are) as no sense of the self as an individual, but as performing a function - being born into it. (Back to Purpose in Life.) It must be so easy – the being’s morphology dictates who it is. As the human crab louse never thinks of migrating up to the head to be a head louse, the worker termite probably never thinks, "But I WANT to a soldier! I can overcome the limitations of my morphology to be a soldier!” I’m not going where it may look like I’m going with this – that people, similarly, shouldn’t try to overcome their “limitations,” that some role is determined for us by our geographic location and morphology and even our gender.

I’ll switch to soil biology now. In a teaspoon of soil, there is a HUGE amount of life. Microbes! Rotifers! Hundreds of them! Dozens of nematodes! Some insects! Probably some plant-y things. Meters of fungal mycelia! Some insects, and maybe a big old earthworm.
For some organisms, a few square inches of soil is THE ENTIRE WORLD. It is their Earth. Just as for the human crab louse, somebody’s crotch is their Earth.
And when I come to conclude, I run out of steam a bit. Clearly, our individual lives are important. Even though one could come up with hundreds of counter examples, showing how humans sacrifice themselves, for example, to save “the nest,” it’s not that simple. For one thing, there are people left behind to mourn their death. One could make conjectures about human mob behavior. (And I’m sure there are exceptions in termites and ants and lice, even if no humans have observed them.)

But mostly what I take from this, this crapload of information, is that when getting confused by the big picture, it’s a good idea to stop and focus on some small aspect of it. You don’t cross a road in one giant step. You take little steps. Sometimes you can’t see the end of a road when you first start walking. Quit trying to! Focus on where you are right now, and the rest will become clear. If you look ahead to much, you could miss out on what’s near you. You’ll miss something nice, or you’ll miss some uneven ground, trip, fall flat on your face, and maybe not even make it to the end of the road. So there.

Anyway, when life seems so complicated and huge, I think it might help in the future (though I’m not 100% sure how) to think about how much life is in a teaspoon of soil, how for some organisms their Earth is an area a million times smaller. And for some organisms, their life purpose is predetermined by their morphology. I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to say – maybe that it’s ok if we don’t save the world by the age of twenty-five, or visit every continent by the time we’re thirty. It’s OK if we just inspire one student or friend this month, and it’s OK if we don’t even manage to get out of Middlesex County all week.

Feel free to discuss, my three readers!

I'm famous!

Thank you, Kristy!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

God, that was so not part of the prayer

Last night, I couldn't focus on my homework, so I de-stressed by catching up on the blogs I like. Kristy of She Just Walks Around With It posted a great entry WITH DIAGRAMS, and Laurie of CrazyAuntPurl.com posted, among other things, a news report from LA where they are apparently terrified of rain. It was great. She also posted the following, which I just felt the need to share with as many people as possible - I thought it was so funny, and every time I sat down to e-mail it to my friends, it just didn't feel right, so here it is in my blog:

I was REALLY mad about this guy. He almost caused two accidents and also was just being a real piece of work. Then I felt bad for being so hateful again in traffic. In other areas of my life I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt, but in traffic there is just not a nice sweet bone in my body. So I thought, "What would Deepak Chopra do? He's probably not hateful in traffic." And because I am full-up on my self-help, I knew Deepak would send the dude a little prayer.

So I tried. I tried, I really did. "Dear God, this ugly dude is pissing me off and I hate him and his banged up car ... gee no wonder his car is all smooshed, look how he drives!...oh crap this is so not how Deepak would do it. Let me try again..."

I sat there and tried to breathe. After all, traffic wasn't moving. It's not like we were going anywhere. I had time to get my Deepak on.

"OK, God, it's me again trying to be nicer. See, I am trying to pray for this HEY YOU SH*THEAD THE LIGHT IS GREEN YOU WANTED IN HERE THAT MEANS GO JESUS CHRIST ON A CRACKER ARE YOU BRAIN DEAD oh crap!! God that was so not part of the prayer!! I am so sorry, let me try again. But seriously, the light was green. Also sorry about the Jesus part."


I have so been there. I consider myself A Nice Person, but sometimes I just get so cranky and, as she put it, hateful. I recognize this, and I try to stop it, and the result is something like that prayer.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bad mood

Do you know what irks me? Other than things that irk everybody, I can think of two little things that annoy me. One is when people walk in pairs or even worse, groups of three or four across, on the sidewalk and don't move out of the way when someone is coming the opposite direction, so that person has to walk in the mud. I think that is rude. I think you should just walk single file when someone is coming. Then you can go back to walking double. Couples doing this especially annoys me. You will not stop breathing if you stop holding hands for one minute. It's OK.
The other thing that irks me is when I go to the farmers market and I have clearly bought my own grocery bag, yet the people insist on putting everything in plastic bags. Even when I say "It's OK, I brought a bag." I once went to a farmers market - where there was a stand selling "Lafayette Farmers Market" canvas bags, so it's not like the concept was unheard of - and the vendors actually gave me attitude about using my own bag. Why has the reuse of bags become an issue of conflict? I do not understand. I mostly just find it odd to encounter this at farmers markets, places that tend to be frequented by hippies and environmentalists and other people who would think to bring their own reusable shopping bag.
It doesn't annoy me like, as much as real world problems, it's just a little thing that ticks me off in the moment.
I hate when Firefox malfunctions, and as I type in a window, it somehow gets stuck on Ctrl+F, so instead of recording my text (such as an e-mail), Firefox just keeps trying to FIND whatever I'm typing, and it keeps flashing read and beeping because it cannot find the text, as if to say "You idiot! Stop typing!"
Why am I in such a bad mood? Something that will eventually become a Funny Story. I'm house-sitting right now for my parents. Usually I don't mind this. I like the excuse to get away from my "city", from all the people and whatever drama is going on (even if it's good drama), to be surrounded by nature, do some activities I like without interference, and get my homework done. Actually, this never happens. I devote so much time to fun farm country stuff that I never get any work done up here.
Anyway, this time I haven't been enjoying it as much. For one thing, being alone in this house in the middle of nowhere is creeping me out. It's dark and full of weird noises, not people noises. I keep imagining that I'll get attacked by a wild animal, or thinking how a serial killer could break in and NO ONE WOULD KNOW FOR DAYS because there's no one around in this quiet, empty town!
I'm in a bad mood because I got home and the lock to the front door was broken. This happens every once in awhile - something gets loose and the door will not unlock from the outside. After struggling with it, I finally went out to the back door, which meant walking through the dark, scary yard. I turned the lights and highbeams on in my car so I could at least see some of the path. I came in through the back, turned on the lights, saw that the pets had made a big mess of the front room, and before cleaning that up, went outside to turn out the lights on my car. Of course the front door unlocked fine from the inside. Anyway, as one last blow dealt by Mean Nature, I slipped on some water (it rained a lot today) and fell into a pricker bush. Flat on my face. Woe is me.
On the bright side, the neighbors were not home to witness this or to hear the horrible string of obscenities I released, and also, there were no bears, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, or serial killers in the pricker bush.
And one of my housemates got a vermicomposting thing for our kitchen. Yay!!!!!!! Pet worms! [I had to add this explanatory note in 2011. I learned this via e-mail a few minutes later from my housemate in the city.  There was no housemate in the country home. There were no pet worms at that house.]

Weird

Earth in 250 Million Years?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Goodbye, Shampoo! and other stories

I'm house-sitting in beautiful, scenic Sussex County this weekend, so it seems like a good time to blog. I am in an empty house with no one to talk to.

There are a few things plaguing me - things that really bother me if I get to thinking about them, but otherwise exist as just a hum in the background or a distant buried memory - and for the most part, I'm happy right now.

I'll just sum it up briefly now. Some of it is a convergence of the Karma Obsession of 2006 (an oversimplification - basically, after getting a lot of information about Eastern religions - a class, hearing the Dalai Lama speak, reading some books, writing a thesis that had to do with Taoism - I started to rethink things, which included a phase of being CRAZY worrying about the ramifications of everything I did, thinking of it in terms of karma) and the Ecological Footprint Craze of 2007 (very much like the Karma Obsession, only with environmental impact/cruelty impact). Blah that was a long sentence. This post will be full of bad grammar, just so you know.

Anyway, I've been referring a lot, in my sporadic blog posts and in e-mails or conversations on how simplifying my life, materialistically, and focusing on things that are alive - the natural and social worlds - have made me a lot happier. With this simplification comes this lightness, this feeling like some weight has been discarded.

I keep going on tangents with this post.

Anyway, I don't feel like talking about it right now (sometimes I get sick of talking about the environment/human rights/that kind of stuff BLAH BLAH BLAH) but I've been thinking how funny it is, that people are now LOOKING for alternatives to commercial chemical products - that what was probably common sense at some point is now this big thing you have to SEARCH for, since we've all gotten so used to all these expensive chemical products. (I find it amusing, too, that there are mad expensive eco-friendly cleaners out there, when the cheapest household ingredients work a million times better.)

I thought of this because I was trying to find a recipe for "natural laundry detergent." Basically, I just wanted to know if castille soap concentrate and borax would be enough - since I used to just use borax to wash my clothes, anyway - or if I should add baking soda or something, and how much of each ingredient do I use, anyway? (I eventually gave up, used my own judgment to make my own "recipe," and my clothes seem clean.)

Anyway, I just wanted to announce that for almost two weeks now, I have gone shampoo-free. I still wash my hair. Just not with shampoo. Right now I'm using baking soda as a de-yucky-er and apple cider vinegar as a further de-yucky-er and conditioner. My hair is soft and shiny and totally not greasy. The curls are really nice. The inch at the bottom that felt almost like split ends now feels like the rest of my hair. I hope this lasts. I mention it because it feels like a big deal to me and I want to just proclaim it to everyone I know - LOOK my hair looks better now than it did before and I'm doing something NON TOXIC and low maintenance and oh, did I mention it's ridiculously cheap!?!?!?!?

Sometimes I feel so light and happy and I just want to proclaim to people, "I don't have cable! I don't have air conditioning! For fun, I go outside, read a book, or talk to real live people! I don't use shampoo that dries out my hair anymore! Not to sound weird or anything - cause I know it does sound weird - but I've been cutting all these toxins out of my life and I think it's really making me feel better! Oh, I also like my job and my classes! My family, living situation, and my friends are great, too!" It doesn't feel at all like self-denial. It's stuff that I didn't even notice it was gone; I had no time to miss it. It quickly got replaced.
I spent (wasted? nah!) so much of my college life obsessing over the future - what kind of degree I was heading for, what kind of career, etc etc - and now I realize that what I've always been saying to myself and others is something I need to listen to myself. Life is short. Planning ahead is fine, but don't live for the future so much that you don't enjoy the present. What if I were to get hit by a EE next week!?!??! So, I haven't lost ambition, but I have no idea what my future holds and I don't care. I am happy now. Therefore, I am confident that as long as I continue on this path, I will not only be successful and happy in the future, but somehow move toward my goals of Doing Good in the World. I want to do more than just be kind to others, blah blah blah. I want to make a big difference. I always have.

I have all these stories and things I want to share, some of which I've been repeating to people all week and they maybe want me to shut up already and just talk about normal things like the weather, but I will post them, in a nice edited form, later. When I can think. I will just share a moment from this evening.

At a diner with a friend, the topic of prescriptions comes up. I announce that I have stopped taking mine. I tell her how since I started drinking organic milk and eating "less crap" - natural and health food - my health has gotten better and I need to take a lot less medicine. The sentences come out in between forkfuls of gooey, greasy Disco Fries that I'm shoving into my mouth. Hmm.

I suppose I am only selectively cutting out toxins.

Everything in moderation, I guess.

Friday, September 07, 2007

. . .

Times are transition-y and weird.

- - -

Everyone is at different levels of adult-i-ness right now, all of which are appropriate for our age. I just learned that a friend from high school bought a house. My last purchase, which seemed like a big deal too, was a quiche pan.
- - -

Last weekend, a friend was talking about spending an entire year feeling detached, I suppose intentionally, with the justification, "This isn't permanent." These physical surroundings, this living space, this routine, and these people - this isn't permanent. There's no point in getting attached, or there's no duty required of me to get attached. )That last sentence was mine entirely, not what my friend said.) I've just been reflecting, ever since, on this idea of detachment. It was interesting that someone would admit to it, especially one so long-lasting. I can't say I haven't felt that way, which is why I have been thinking about it (particularly the sentence that I added in.) The funny thing is that I can't remember exactly what I was being detached about. I guess that's the nature of the thing, isn't it?
Anyway, I was thinking about why people do this. What are the reasons we would intentionally, or at least - in a way over which we have control - remove ourselves from situations? The easy answer is, "To avoid getting hurt." Is this valid? What I mean is, should people do this?

Is there ever a good reason to limit one's own capacity to feel, and therefore experience? I don't mean detaching from something traumatic; I mean detaching from a situation with good and bad, not allowing oneself to experience any of it - good, bad, other. Things like a transitory period in life.

A slight tangent - it's weird the things that can feel like a Period In One's Life. A chapter. It's interesting how a three-day camping trip can seem as substantial as a period of six months working at the same job.

(For example, I used to reflect in some ways I could not put into words how strange it was that I would work at the software company for the summer, go to school for three months and experience a "chapter," with a beginning, middle, end, and all kinds of intellectual and emotional growth or at least, adventures - things that become stories - and then I would return to the office and find that everything and everyone was unchanged. It put things into perspective. For me, a SEMESTER seemed like a long time, and I felt like I was sooooo much different, but for most of the world it was simply three months.)

(Or when you see friends that you haven't seen in awhile, and they treat you exactly the same. There's this inner adolescent that wants to assert, "Hey! Haven't you noticed that I'm different!? Don't you see how I uh...talk differently? Use different vocabulary? Have new inside jokes and slang? Make references to different current events and great thinkers/writers/whatevers? HEY!" I guess it's a little humbling to have them treat you the same way, but it's also a reminder that as much as we grow, we're still the same people. Growth and change are two different things, I guess. Anyway, we're still the same people and this isn't necessarily bad.
- - -

So anyway, detachment. There are so many times when it's acceptable to do this. I think even if we don't put it into words, we might think, oh it's ok that soandso is being standoffish, or whatever. He or she doesn't want to get too close, because he or she is leaving soon. I think this is often so unrealistic! I guess what I'm getting at is, maybe it's better to plunge into things emotionally, to be fully present for things such as meetings with other individuals. To allow oneself to like people, to become friends, to become attached.

This summer - well, two weeks ago - when I was getting ready to leave my job, I was thinking how I really hoped the friends I had made there would want to stay in touch, stay friends. Not just be friends of convenience, because we were in an office together and it made sense to eat lunch together and therefore, converse and therefore, learn about each other's lives...but as soon as we find some other people to fill that niche, we can move on.
I want to look at the people I meet as unique and not just interchangeable parts.
Anyway, I was glad when they all expressed some kind of interest in staying in touch.

So, this is what's on my mind right now. I am wondering how much I have missed out on by being detached, by refusing to acknowledge what was right in front of me, and how much I can consciously change this without being a total weirdo. I guess on some level I have acknowledged that this life I have now may be temporary - this living situation, this academic and work situation, these friends who are physically close. In a year and three months, I could be anywhere. I supposed I have decided that I don't want to treat it that way. I don't want to half-live this temporary life, this little chapter.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

More with Less

Just a quick note - I think part of the reason I'm feeling much more laid back now, happier in general, is in part because this summer, I was earning half as much money as I'm accustomed to. There was now a logical reason not to buy things. When I did go out and buy something, it was a big treat. Aside from groceries and the occasional Belgian beer bottle, I only bought two books, three articles of clothing, and...no CDs at all.

It forced me to re-examine what was already available to me. Such as the library. At the very beginning of summer, I put in several requests for them to either buy or get things from Interlibrary Loan - Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking, Clotilde Dusoulier's Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook, and three CDs that my favorite artists just put out. I requested the new Smashing Pumpkins, the new Tori Amos, and the new White Stripes. These things did not come in all at once. (I should note that the library already carried Tori, Smashing Pumpkins, and White Stripes CDs, so if the library did buy these things on my account, at least I wouldn't be the only patron checking them out.)

After a few weeks, the Smashing Pumpkins' Zeitgeist arrived. The library actually purchased a copy of it! Well, it's not very good. It doesn't suck...it's not painful to listen to...but it's not really catchy.

A few weeks later, American Doll Posse arrived. It's also not that great. Not bad, just not worth the equivalent of a quarter to a third of my non-profit work day.

I finally heard "Icky Thump" on the radio, and felt I would simply burst if I did not go out and buy the new White Stripes CD RIGHT NOW. But how do I know that the rest of the CD doesn't suck? Thanks to this website a friend at work pointed me to, Pandora, I can listen to music legally and free and the CD-buying frenzy has calmed. (It's not like, any music you want on demand--you put in a song or an artist that you like and it makes a radio station for you, playing music that it thinks you would like based on what you've put in. You rate songs, too, and you can skip a certain amount per hour, so that your station is personalized more and more. A good way to hear music you wouldn't think of checking out, too.)

And just so I'd know that they hadn't forgotten me - they're just sloooooooowly filling my requests, which is fine--the Sparta Public Library <3 just informed me that Super Natural Cooking has arrived and will be held for me until Monday.

So, in a way this DOES relate to materialism, I guess. But it's a different kind, I think. For one thing, I don't get to keep these things. I have to return them. But then I am sharing them with other people. This can relate to the community idea. When I went to pick up the cookbook this morning, the former chef librarian was at the desk, and we discussed books, her new blog, and local farmers markets.

While it's still materialistic and consumptive on some level, it's not the same as getting stuck in the buying-more-wanting-more addictive cycle. This is making happiness with what is available.

On a similar note to the above, while going through my room to try to de-clutter - a constant project of mine that goes nowhere usually - I've been finding all these old CDs. I have been forcing myself, when I get sick of my new stuff, to listen to these old CDs. The other day, I got stuck in horrendous traffic. In Somerset County, no less. (We write about Somerset County at work - that's our big project - so being stuck here was particularly silly. Talk about taking your work home with you.) I pulled a CD at random from a stack in my glove compartment, noted that the date on it was something "/00", thought "oh no...sophomore year of HIGH SCHOOL...this could be trouble..." and stuck it in the machine.

After some cheering, guitar tuning, and a "Thank you for your patience" by a singer who I identified as Thom Yorke? or something? Jeremy Enigk? ???? (being in traffic, I muttered "I'M NOT PATIENT!!!!"), a live version of "Theo B" by Sunny Day Real Estate commenced. What followed was a block of Modest Mouse. Awesome!!!! Not all my musical taste seven years ago was sucky!

This CD, in addition to being good, has also been a source of humor, as what follows the block of Modest Mouse--directly--is a block of Deftones and Tool. Huh? Followed by the Get Up Kids and...one Ani Difranco song. Oh, high school.

Anyway, this is an example of making happiness with what one already has.

When I really think about it, despite bouts of boredom, being annoyed at my job (which has overall been cool in many ways - don't get me wrong), all the changes of plans, getting stuck living at home again, and not making much money, this has been the best summer I've had in a long time. I kept pretty busy, made friends, reconnected with old friends (is this also an example of making happiness with what one already has? ha ha), went to some fun parties, got to go hiking a couple of times, spent a lot of time outdoors, spent minimal time in front of the TV--in general, though I did not do many of the things on my "to do" list - I had a lot of fun and got to try lots of new things. (And this is counting summer as starting on Memorial Day - AFTER the France trip.)

Now, I'm going to go support local agriculture and buy some vegetables.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sleepwalking Strip Malls

Strip malls are ugly. Highways are (usually) ugly. Suburbia is ugly. This is what I often think. It surprises me, sometimes, that people can live in these aluminum-sided boxes with a little rectangle of stubby lawn out front and ugly pointless shutters on the windows, with ugly curlicue metal at least in one place on the property (maybe holding up the mailbox, for example), and maybe a couple of sickly trees on the property - not tall enough to actually provide shade.

This is extremely snobby of me. (At least I admit it, and don't think these sort of things all the time.)

Sometimes it surprises me how accepting the majority of New Jerseyans are being surrounded by strip mall after strip mall, no real parks to break up the monotony, just stoplight-bespeckled roads cutting towns into pieces as hulking, monstrous trucks clangingly trudge along, sighing and roaring like an elderly dragon should they encounter a hill to ascend.

It's surprising how we let our life fall into a routine. A majority of people (or so it seems) work the same hours, and thus sit in the same traffic, in order to sit in an over-air-conditioned office in front of a computer screen for eight hours, accomplishing approximately two hours worth of work (because efficiency, for whatever reason, isn't exactly rewarded) and spending the rest of the time doing what I am doing, mastering the covert Internet-Explorer-and-AIM-window-minimize.

We line up at a Dunkin Donuts where the staff and the other customers will be rude to us, to get a coffee that costs about 30 times what it would cost to make it in our own home and, if it's the Boonton Dunkin Donuts (not my favorite Bedminster Dunkin Donuts), is 30 times worse than the coffee I can make myself.

Sometimes, I look around like, "These people are zombies. I hope they go home to a better life, that they enjoy their two-hours-of-freedom-before-falling-asleep-to-Jon-Stewart each evening." Other times, I realize that though my office-job-life is temporary (usually no more than a summer long before I return to school), I have totally become one of these zombies. I, too, cannot function until I have had my coffee.

And it's not so bad.

Even in this life, this monotonous, routine-driven life in which maybe 10% of our time is spent according to our own will (and even less if one has a family to take care of!), even then, it's not bad if you know how to look for each day's gifts. Even if you don't, if you have no intention of asserting your own individuality, the importance of responsibility to yourself, whatever you want to call it, even if you don't consciously take the time to notice things like a funny bumper sticker, a stranger holding the door for other strangers at Dunkin Donuts, an interesting bird or tree or flower along Easton Ave, this life isn't bad at all.

(I mean, what do I really do when I have free time? My one day off this summer, I did nothing but watch TV, be cranky, and go to CVS.)

Today, at the rude Dunkin Donuts, I noted that one of the employees took the time to ask a customer to taste her coffee and see if it was made right- if it was the right temperature or had enough sugar or something -and then I ended up running into E., an old friend who's worked down the road yet I haven't seen her in a year.
Even if I didn't work in an office that's really a historic home, adjacent to hiking trails and a beautiful native plant garden, I still get to come out of my house every day and communicate with other people. As a result, I've made some friends. Even at the software company, not only did I make friends with my coworkers, but spending the whole day on the phone - sure I talked to some jerky customers, but there were plenty of pleasant ones, too, people who made normal conversation and jokes with me.

My dad and I were having a conversation, somehow connected to my frustrating, obsessive desire to Do Good In The World, my frustration with how much bad there is in the world - so many horrible things. I was really upset because so much happens - so many people are allowed to die - for money! Some company makes money off of things like cars with intentionally poor gas mileage or, as this article I read part of yesterday showed, things that make cell phones and remote controls function--things we DON'T NEED--and as a result, people die. There's just nothing - now I'm having trouble finding words. There's just no room in people's minds for the thought that this cruelty, this violence, is unacceptable, and they could still make plenty of money without allowing these things to happen. (I guess, as people speak with their wallets- start to buy fair trade coffee, etc- these things could gradually occur, not out of any sense of morality, just more greed, but hey, at least it's something. Maybe we'll see a world of cruelty-free electronics.)

Sometimes, I realize what large numbers of people exist that are actually capable of this violence, and I think, in despair, that this world isn't even worth saving. For a split second, anyway.

More than that, when I'm being pessimistic, I think that, overall, there has probably always been as much bad in the world today, throughout the history of...well, things capable of morality. Like maybe this world is, on average, just as bad and corrupt and cruel as that of the Middle Ages, or something. Some other time period in which we think people were inferior to us and barbaric. (Frankly, I think that anyone who happens to wear a suit, dress and speak nicely, yet profits off of violence, is pretty much a barbarian. But what are any of us? I don't know.)

Oops, I totally didn't mean for this to take a depressing turn. Should have just ended on the happy note!

Anyway, my dad said something like, This is the world we live in. This money-driven world, he meant. This is the world we live in - and that's just the way it is. The only thing you can do is try not to go crazy, try not to I guess be a victim, but mainly what he was telling me is that you can just do your best to make change in this world. That you have to - as I've been saying lately - keep making small changes, and not discredit them. Once, we were having this conversation (it comes up a lot) and he pointed out how much my piano students loved me. That I made their lives in some way better by teaching them music and by just being there, being myself, talking to them, being friends with them, whatever. (What all of us do for different people throughout our life.) Is it fair of me - is it right - to discredit this? In a way, it's like saying that the happiness of that student, just because she's one of six billion, is insignificant. I guess he's right.

So, in short, in all ways - in this obsessive desire to change the world (which has governed my life for as long as I could think of such things - I think it began when I was about seven, I would start clubs with the neighborhood kids with names like The Save The World Committee...a pack of seven-year-olds was going to save the world!), in a life of monotony and ugliness, in a state like New Jersey, the capital of suburban sprawl and previous bad planning - we just have to accept that this is our world, and we can't hope to knock it down and start all over. We just have to do the best with what we have, and to remind ourselves to look around, to see what's really there. In the midst of all the ugliness, there are our "insignificant" interpersonal communications. Smiling at someone, talking to someone, listening to what they did this weekend, matters. Hidden between the strip malls and highways of New Jersey are historic villages and natural parks - not just in the rural counties, but in built-up areas. (Like Paterson Falls - which I've still never been to.) This is the world we live in, this is the structure we're given. The key to survival is to keep alert for these small things, hidden gems of the day (or ugly city), to preserve our own sanity - and for people with a Dorothea-Brooke-complex like me, to keep looking for little, manageable changes that I can make.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More of that lonely Tupperware feeling

I was sitting on my bed, debating whether to go out, clean the apartment, or what else to do tonight, and I kept having all these thoughts - all these things I wanted to write down. I sat down at the keyboard and now I feel paralyzed. Writer's block. So I'll just write whatever I can, even if it comes out stunted, rambly, and/or boring.

I've started some small draft posts this week. I don't want to just leave them never completed, though. I found, when I was looking for something else I'd written, an old draft post I wrote last summer that was just a list of things that happened. Some of it made me laugh, only because I remember what I wanted to write about - the one line in my blog was not funny at all though - and some of it made me think, "WHAT happened? What was I trying to refer to?"

I hate transitions. That's not true. But I find transitional periods very very uncomfortable. They are, I guess, like being on a roller coaster. Sometimes it's thrilling and fun, and sometimes it's just nauseating. Sometimes there's this very distorted sense of reality. For example, when preparing to leave something, feelings often fluctuate - from seeing the soon-to-be-left-behind-place only for its good qualities, or only for what was bad about it. So, I can go back and forth from, "Oh, I can't believe I'm leaving, this is so sad..." listing all of the things I'm going to miss, to "Omg...I HATE this. I hate ___ and ___ and __ and I can't wait to be through with it! Good riddance!"

I know it's really commonplace, but to me it's very surreal, preparing to leave a place. I wonder what it is that I miss - the routine, the familiarity, the people, ???

So, a week from tomorrow, I'll be finished with my summer internship. This is a weird feeling. Not long ago, I was feeling out of place and uncomfortable there, awkward, not sure of the structures, norms, patterns, and now that's all gone. It's weird when, in the last week of something, you discover something new, like "Oh THIS is the best gas station to go to" or "There's a Dunkin Donuts right here!?" It's weird, like, "This information will be useless to me in a couple of days." And while I know that in a couple of weeks, I'll be so used to my new situation, I won't miss the old one at all, sometimes I almost wish I couldn't forget things that easily. Like, for some time period, this pattern was your LIFE, your ROUTINE, the way you did things, and now you just switch.

But why do I even care about such little things? I am weird.

Another source of this feeling is that I have started living in my new apartment, somewhat. Tomorrow I'll go back to my old house, and I'm sure I'll go up to visit a lot, especially as beautiful autumn approaches....

Anyway, I digress. (What a surprise.) So, there's absolutely nothing wrong with my new apartment; in fact, I don't want to speak too soon, but I think I am going to love living here. But it's still very new, so there's a lot to adjust to. Every night I sleep here, while I usually wake up well-rested, I either wake up several times throughout the night, or have very strange, vivid dreams. Clearly, I'm not used to the place yet.

Even when awake, I sometimes have minor feelings of panic in the midst of a totally normal situation. I felt especially weird and awkward with the new people I'm living with, not because of THEM, simply because I would suddenly get this worried feeling, this awareness of my own eccentricity. When people are new, when you haven't yet fallen into a rhythm with them, set up boundaries and standards of acceptable behavior (propriety I suppose), it's weird. (I couldn't think of how to end that sentence.)

Anyway, we all ended up at the bar together on Tuesday and had a lot of fun, so that awkwardness is not an issue really, anymore. It convinced me that this will be a fun year.

- - -

In general, my attitude has changed. At some point this summer, I think this happened. I stopped having that same feeling of having a deadline. Like at the end of some period of time, I would no longer have the chance to do the things I wanted, the fun things, the creative things, etc.

(Though I still want to make a list of things to accomplish by 2010.)

(By the end of the summer, my to do list has dwindled to Buy textbooks and Learn to make ice cream.)

So anyway, clearly something is wrong with my writing. I do not write as I used to. I do not despair, though. I think it will come back to me. Discipline should help, even if it means posting things like this.

Something is crippling/strangling my writing. I felt so inspired, and as soon as I sat down at the keyboard, I felt like a wall sprang up in my mind. I would walk away from the keyboard, have some more ideas, sit down, and feel that wall again. Well, in time this will pass.

So anyway, I think I may have successfully shed this feeling of needing to always be doing, doing, doing - to the point where I ended up doing nothing. I just hope it doesn't go the other way, to complete laziness, to an absence of creativity. To a blur of finishing homework, going to work, and going to bars with my friends. Not that this would be such a horrible existence; I just want more. I want to write, for one thing. I want to make things, create things, learn things. Not necessarily for attention - to have some kind of audience. Not even for the finished project. I just want to create things for the act of doing it, the process of writing, making art, whatever. I want my creativity to encompass something other than what I make for dinner.

Something to write about later, because I'm running out of steam - all the thoughts I have, lately, about my constant desire, my obsession, with maximizing the good I can do in the world. I think about this so much that I end up doing nothing, that I end up neglecting the small things. I've also been thinking a lot about ways to simplify my life, things I could give up, things I can't give up and why...For example, if I own a TV to watch just one show I like, one show that somehow makes my life better (light entertainment, learning something, whatever) but it leads to me watching hours and hours of crap, is it worth it? The internet is this way for me. I waste so much time on the Internet, but I feel like the good things I've gotten from it are worth the tradeoff. But are they? I don't know. It's just so easy, for some reason, with these types of things (laptop, TV) to get sucked in, to not want to tear oneself away. They feed on everyone's human sense of curiosity.

Even books - sometimes I think I miss out on life because I've got my nose so far in a book.

Facebook is a good, specific example. I've wasted so much time on it, I've made myself feel bad looking up things I don't need to know, and yet it's a great place to post my pictures, to keep in touch with people who are far away, and to find people with whom I lost touch, people I really did want to keep in touch with.

It's really all an issue of self control, I suppose.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Summer's Almost Gone...


I would have posted something poetic last night. I was feeling poetic. I was feeling positively fourteen. It began as I was driving down I-295, passing the exits for Mount Holly that would probably have taken me to my friend L's house, passing the exits for Camden and Philadelphia, going further and further south to places I've never seen before--this feeling of being fourteen (outside of the driving part. since I did not drive when I was fourteen.) It was this feeling - now how did I describe it when I was fourteen? - "of loneliness" that is physical - not quite painful, though. My fourteen-year-old self described it as having a Tupperware container somewhere inside you, in your gut or something - an emptiness whose boundaries and shape are defined. I don't know how accurately that fits, but it was sort of like that, this feeling of a loneliness bubble in the pit of my stomach. As a fourteen-year-old, I always asserted that it was better than complete emptiness - that bubble (or "Tupperware") - and it's true. How I was thinking, as the silver Sunfire and I plunged further southward, was like I was holding onto that "bubble," touching it with my hands to learn more about its shape--as opposed to ignoring it.
I felt this way again as groups of people were leaving my friend T's going-away party, as it got dark and the Christmas lights got turned on, as the food got packed away. I felt this way as I was driving home and would have come back to write something about it, but my face hurt too much. That very unpoetic thing --a toothache --just wiped out all thoughts that make for good writing.
- - -
So, a few days after posting my last post, I got e-mailed a comment on it from CC, and I realized I had NO IDEA what exactly it referenced. I went back and saw that my last post was all over the place, without clear breaks to show when I was jumping from one topic to the next. Oops. Oh well.
Anyway, last night/this weekend's feelings fit with a draft post I started during the week, so I'm going to combine it with, I hope, less disastrous results.
- - -
As the summer is winding down, I'm realizing how little went according to plan. Originally, after my adventure in France, I was going to have an adventure in the Pine Barrens, working at a research station and living in the woods. This would only be 6-8 weeks, after which I would move into my New Brunswick apartment and work at low pay, at whatever hours I wanted, in the herbarium. I would live near all of my Rutgers friends. T was even living down the road. (I can see, from my bedroom window, her house.)
But I guess only one adventure is allowed per summer. A grant did not come through, and I could not get paid by the Pine Barrens. It was very lucky that I found this internship in the planning department of a local environmental non-profit. Didn't I even say, once, that working to preserve open space and nature in New Jersey was what I ultimately wanted to do?
Originally, I planned to live the New Brunswick summer life - going to the not-as-crowded bars and parties, having dinner with my friends all the time, hanging out with my neighbor T whenever I wanted, all of it is in this un-air-conditioned, humid, sweaty haze. It would have been great.
Instead, I had to live with my parents yet another summer, the fourth consecutive summer in which I worked in Montville Township!!!!!! There's no adventure there!
And so I worked a forty-hour week, sat in rush hour traffic, had only a little time here and there in mornings and evenings to get things done and/or socialize before the weekend - those two days a week that are like gold to someone working a forty-hour week - arrived. The weekends were taken up with socializing and driving all over New Jersey to do it.
The result is that I only saw my friends a handful of times, which was especially sad considering that some of them are moving away. And now that it's the end of the summer, my time to see them, to change the pattern I'd gotten stuck in, is up.
Now that there's only two weeks left of my internship, it seems like altering my routine is not going to happen - and even if I do, I'll only get to do a few of the things I wanted to do. For awhile I was in this really good habit of going for a walk twice a day (before and after work) and practicing the piano no less than five times a week - beginning by keeping up with my Hanon exercises and scales instead of just launching into a song and crying because I couldn't play it. This faded into forty-hour-work-week-mush. I hope this is just a summer thing, and not what I'll be doomed to after school ends. I hope that, with effort, I can get out of that rut.
Anyway, I wrote last week about this realization - that this will not be the summer in which I finally accomplish all those plans. I never even finished writing my summer To Do list. I didn't finally go through everything I owned and decide what I need, what I'd like to keep around, and what I could once and for all let go of. And this will not be that summer. I'll be lucky to go through one desk drawer. This was not and will not be the summer in which I learn how to play the Moonlight Sonata, to play guitar, or even to drive a stick shift. I won't learn how to spin my own yarn or make currant wine. I didn't read Chaucer or twenty novel-sized books or have an awesome garden. I didn't pick all the fruit I wanted. I didn't make wild blueberry jam. I didn't even finish my plastic bag purse. I didn't see most of my friends more than a handful of times. Should I regret this? I don't know. It was a fun summer, overall. I met some cool people at my internship. The few times I did see my friends, I really enjoyed.
I just couldn't help being sad as I walked around my friend T's house last night at her going-away party. (She is going out of the country for a full calendar year.) Everything was making me a little sad - seeing old photos, seeing kids running around, seeing people in our age group with kids - I guess "sad" isn't the right word, but I was thinking how time just gets away from us, how things change so fast. They don't change for the worse - but sometimes, instead of just being happy for what is, I miss what was. Maybe this is the wrong attitude to have.
My friend will only be gone for a year, but there's just something sad about friendships where you saw someone every day dissolving into once-a-month-if-you're-lucky-I-mean-we're-both-just-so-damned-busy relationships. When I see these people, I feel like we all just can't talk quickly enough, to get all the words out, all the stories, all the catching up of the past year. As well as the reminiscing. Now I'll acquire a new set of friends to see every day (housemates, new classmates) and this inner pouty child wants to say, "But you're not them!"
(Well, I guess we can make new friends without betraying our old friends.)
But it does make me feel lonely to think how few friendships prevail, as though we just replace our large group of friends from one phase of life with another. Are we all that replaceable?
And then, those friends that we do keep, that we maintain the same feelings for, but don't see as often - what happens after a break of one or more years? Is it awkward? In some ways, you can just fall into your old ways with people, but there's always some gap, some kind of awkwardness, some feeling of, "What do I do now?"

Friday, July 13, 2007

Three new posts!

I feel the need to explain why I am posting four times in one day. This is all revived old stuff, some of it only a couple of days old, that I didn't have time to post until now because work has been eat-your-own-hair kind of crazy with two Farmland Preservation Plan deadlines looming over us and server crashes and power outages and cockroaches oh my! When I got home, I was in no mood to blog - to sit in front of a computer some more. So below is the whole week's worth of posts.

Mixed up

When I was in high school and early in college, I was really big on making mix CDs. I think that the only thing that ended this craze was getting a new car with an MP3 player. Now I just make CDs with a bunch of folders on them. Whenever something little breaks on my car and I get annoyed, I just think of the sunroof and MP3 player - two unnecessary but awesome things that my car has.

Anyway, anyone who has made mix CDs knows that it is an art. A badly made mix CD can ruin your car ride; it can even make you hate your favorite song. The main issue is not the songs themselves, but the transition between the songs. A bad transition - songs in the wrong two keys, songs at different volumes, songs of vastly different moods - can be jarring. Thus, mix CDs took a lot of time and effort to complete - it was all about finding the perfect, good-mood inspiring transitions, not just the best songs.
This was the first mix CD I ever made for distribution among my friends. Inspired, I guess, by the Emo Diaries, there were many "volumes" of "The Emo Punk-a-Riffic Mix."

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Yes, truly art.

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What may have been one of the last mixes ever made never got distributed among my friends. It was the summer mix of 2003 - bands with names like 'Hot Hot Heat' and 'The All Girl Summer Fun Band." There was some happy, pop punk-y New Found Glory and other not-sucky emo at the end. I rediscovered this CD last weekend. I forgot all about The All Girl Summer Fun Band and how great they are. I don't know why they never got big, especially with songs like "Later Operator." So, I write this post partially to tell the world (my three readers) about this great band, and partially to pose a very important question.

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What kind of anal retentive nutcase makes a rough draft of a mix CD?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Love and value-added agricultural produce


Intoxicated with the madness,
I'm in love with my sadness.
Over the top, perhaps, but let's not pick on Billy. We've all felt that way sometimes. Even after the age of fourteen.
When I first heard Regina Spektor a week ago, it reminded me of the first time I heard Little Earthquakes. Though Boys for Pele remains my favorite Tori Amos album, there's nothing like that second time* I listened to Little Earthquakes and thought, "Music like this really exists!?" and then felt compelled to play it on loop several times
So I started thinking last week, Why don't I listen to Tori Amos anymore? I still like this style of music. I still like Tori. What compels me, when I get bored of my new CDs, to refrain from pulling out Under the Pink? For that matter, what keeps me from listening to Siamese Dream, the CD that used to accompany my fall drives in the country? I think it's because I've always been afraid that listening to that music would remind me of the time I first got into it, when I would play the CDs on loop, that I would start to feel not only nostalgia but whatever feelings I had at the time of my Smashing Pumpkins-and-Tori-and-Dave-Matthews phase. Memories from 1998 would bubble up to the surface after being buried for nine years.
When going through the time capsule that my bedroom has become, I started to re-listen to The Aeroplane Flies High and Adore. I found that listening to these classics did not remind me of my first "love" - a standoffish classmate who clearly had very little interest in me - as I feared it would. It did remind me of my first real love--
Billy Corgan.
Yes...Billy. Sigh...a whole line of less than threes...the poet, the musician, emo before people really used that word...the creator of the soundtrack of my teenage years...a man who, though he never met me, could somehow voice my true feelings. An online journallist (people didn't say "blog" then, either) and poet I loved, puce of puce.com, once wrote a poem called "Billy Corgan Understands" or something like that. Sometimes it really does seem like only Billy Corgan understands. I know people say all those mean things about you, Billy--that you're a control freak, that you were no fun to be in a band with - but I don't care. How could the man behind "Thru the Eyes of Ruby" have anything but a beautiful soul?
Sarcasm aside, I was ecstatic to find that I could listen to this music without any weird nostalgia, just newly discovered appreciation for one of my favorite bands. The Pumpkins were (are?) so good! I had to get over the loss of D'arcy awhile ago, and now James Iha, so will they really be the Pumpkins we all knew and loved? I don't know. I guess I will have to listen to their new CD.
* The first time I didn't really get it. I had to listen to it once, to make room in my head for the idea that piano music and good singing could be COOL and not just something to appreciate in an academic sense. I had to listen to it once and think, "She's talented, but this is weird," before I was truly altered - before I was writing the lyrics to "Silent All These Years", "Girl", and "Mother" in the margins of my Algebra and Physics notebooks, before I was combing through Napster for B-sides, before I was fervently seeking out Tori Amos sheet music in Sam Goody and pounding away at "Winter" and "Yes Anastasia" on the out-of-tune barely-used-since-the-sixth-grade-recital-fiasco piano.
- - - -
In other news, lately I have been experimenting with the world of value-added produce. This is the name we, in the Farmland Plan Writing World, give to pickles, jams, salsas, and other things that go into glass jars.

This is what jam looks like when it is cooking down, in case anyone cares.
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Why no! I do not know how to rotate this picture! [Or make it bigger!]
So a week ago, after a ridiculous amount of time and effort being spent on locating New Jersey grown sour cherries, and slightly less time spent translating a French e-mail, I made my cousin-once-removed Dominique's recipe for pickled sour cherries. I do not know what they are called in French--Cerises avec du Vinaigre? The recipe called for such things as white vinegar, brown sugar, and exactly THREE PINCHES of cinnamon, all boiled together and poured into glass jars of fresh cherries "un peu acide." (You can imagine the smell that filled the house during this process.) The recipe did not specify how long to process these jars (if at all) nor how many cherries to use, but gave specifics like "Place them in complete darkness for exactly two months" and "Attention! When you first open the jars, they will be very strong, just like a new pot of mustard!"
I imagine something like this does not get processed according to FDA standards - does something being bathed in boiling vinegar really need to be cooked some more? - but at the last minute, I did it anyway...in a makeshift fashion.
Here they are being processed!
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This is not a proper canner.
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This is not a proper jar-grabber.
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Look at those nice finished pickle jars!
I felt so old-fashioned and hick-like, in a classy, French sort of way, that I had to take a picture of my pretty, sparkling jars. Oh yeah, because I had too many red currants and leftover vinegar solution that I couldn't justify throwing away, I also haphazardly threw together a batch of pickled "groseilles."
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Billy approves. <3>

Domestic Goddess

I found an old post from August 17th labeled "Domestic Goddess." I thought, "Ooh!" but it was just a couple of notes - not a substantial draft.



[Pictures of garden] Later, write about The Dangers of Tomato Cages. I remember this...vaguely. I think it was this day. The tomatoes needed to be staked, desperately. They were growing like an entangled mat of vines. Those poor plants were healthy - each about six feet of strong vegetative growth...with no flowers and therefore, no fruit. No one was very appreciative of these tall, majestic creatures due to their absence of actual tomatoes. Unfortunately I don't remember enough of this to make it funny, but I remember vaguely spending a lot of time straddling the vegetable garden--I should back up a bit. Our garden is in an old playhouse foundation, so the only way to get to things in the middle of it is to climb on the subdividing wooden balance-beam-like things and pray you don't fall face-down in the mud. I also tend to go out in the garden before changing out of my work clothes or shoes. So picture me, wild hair and all, trying to straddle two balance beam-like things in heels, flailing around, losing my balance, trying not to get peat mixture stains on my white dress pants. AAAHHH. Now add to this image the Big-Haired-Jersey-Girl ALSO struggling with tomato cages, which are three pieces of wire fence-like things, attached to form a triangle around the tomato plant so that the plant has something to lean on and doesn't fall over and form a jungle with all the other tomato plants. Also add to this image that I was not wearing dress pants, but a skirt.


The tomato cages were rather unruly. As I was adjusting them, one fence-piece would fall off and I'd have to reattach it to the other two; the pieces would slide up and down and refuse to stay the same height; the cages would fall over instead of sticking into the dirt; or the pieces would flail around instead of attaching to the rest of the triangle - hitting me in the face, nearly knocking me off of my balance beams, poking me with their fence-y little tops, and, at one rather low point, flying up my skirt!


I was not pleased.


In the end, the tomatoes were caged, I was relatively unharmed, and in the fall we had a nice amount of Fried Green Tomatoes.


Blackened pie. I remember this one. Unfortunately, a picture probably speaks a thousand words in this case, and I do not know where the pictures from this event are. In short, I picked a whole lot of red currants at Alstede Farms (one of my favorite U-Pick places...I'm always trying to get people to go here with me) and found on allrecipes.com a German recipe for red currant pie. I think it was one of those wonderful multi-layer springform pan desserts that Germany seems so fond of. I love making those. It had a lemony shortbread crust, and the top layer was like meringue with the red currants mixed in. The crust was cooked but the meringue was not, so I stuck the pie under the broiler and walked away. I never learn. I always ALWAYS do this - when I broil ANYTHING - pizza, cakes, vegetables, whatever - I do not come back after five minutes. I get distracted and come back when I smell burning. The meringue formed a thin, tar-black top layer; however, under this was perfectly delicious cake. Still, the pictures made it look like I was a terrible cook. Between that and my vegetative-tomato-plant-knot, I had the surface appearance of a domestic nightmare.
Ribbon embroidery. I have no idea. I think I was just going to post pictures of a project or something.
Clothes shopping. Always a topic for funny stories; however, at this point, I have no idea which funny story I was referencing.

Happy Friday!