Sunday, October 31, 2004

Trick or Treat

Halloween festivities abounded this weekend, last night especially. The only complaint I have is about myself. My costume was pretty lame. I resurrected the cactus dress from high school (which made a couple appearances at Amherst), put on a pair of blue fishnet stockings, and teased my hair. Throughout the course of the night I was everything from a disco queen to the grand canyon incarnate to the wild west to a Connecticutter. Don't ask.

Anyway, my vote for top three costumes of the night go to the following:

1. Erin's perfectly put-together 50's outfit, featuring small feathered hat with veil, white gloves, chiffon neck scarf, iridescent compact purse, and rhinestone cat-eye glasses. If only those stupid Target shoes hadn't been two different sizes... (and both for the left foot).

2. The Amalgamator, a super hero with assorted junk of all kinds strapped to him. He let you take whatever you wanted, though he was shamelessly promoting his stand up comedy and improv troupes via labels with website addresses stuck to all his give-aways.

3. The Soccer Mom. This girl's costume rocked, and she was perfectly in character as well. She wore a pink turtleneck, a visor, and a sweatshirt plastered with iron-on soccer decals, puff paint, and buttons made from "her kids" soccer portraits. The real kicker (pardon the pun) was the ziploc baggie full of orange slices she was carrying around and offering to everyone as she extolled the virtues of vitamin C.

I really have a profound appreciation for people who take Halloween seriously. It's one of the only nights a year when grown men and women can dress up in ridiculous outfits and roam the streets. I pledge right now to do a better job with my own costume next year. Besides, after over a year of living outside of New England and 7 years of living outside of the state, I don't think I can be a Connecticutter again.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Life is a Sidewalk

... and I (don't really) want to walk it all day long.

No, that's not entirely true. I like walking, I really do. But not when I want to get somewhere fast. Like when it's 2 p.m. and I still haven't eaten lunch yet and I'm just leaving campus. I don't want to spend 10 minutes walking home. I want to be there NOW, preferably with a bagel covered in peanut butter en route from the plate to my mouth.

Plus I miss the sensation of driving, of crawling into that seductively secure - seemingy aluminum box, turning on the radio, and pressing my foot against the acelerator. I miss flying past store windows. I've had enough of creeping along with enough time to examine every item displayed. I miss passing other cars on the highway. I'd rather grip the wheel in my own two hands than sit in the passenger seat, which I do now only once a week if I'm lucky enough to be headed in the same direction at the same time as one of my roommates.

I told you so, certain people will say, but owning my own car just isn't in the stars right now. Not enough money, not enough need, and really not even enough desire to cancel out all the headaches car ownership causes. But I wouldn't mind my own set of wheels once in a while. It's one of those classic American fantasies, to be out on the open road, with nothing but possibilities paving the way from here out into the great unknown...

Monday, October 25, 2004

La Lutte Constante (and the Chinese Dinner)

There are three of us working toward our masters' degrees this year in my department, and one of us is a 30-something Haitian man, another is a fresh-out-of-college Chinese girl, and the third is me. At first I thought we'd have nothing in common, but I'm beginning to revise that opinion.

Last night, I was served an authentic Chinese dinner by one of my colleagues (I'll let you guess whom.) I was a little let down that the meal was not a schmorgesbord of new and exotic dishes, but I realized that it was pretty good considering the facts that a. we are not in China and b. she lives in a dorm and had to make do with this bizarrely huge industrial kitchen provided for the dorm residents. She made something that looked and tasted a lot like tortellini with mushrooms and bok choi into a sort of soup, and then scrambled eggs together with a cut-up tomato. I can't really complain because it was good, and hey, it was a free dinner. But I think the most exotic ingredient was sesame oil, which I've had my fair share of already. Maybe I'm just much more worldly than I think.

Today, I was talking to the same classmate, commiserating with her about how much easier our lives would be if we had actually been raised in France. As I was trying to explain to her why I chose to study literature at the graduate level in a foreign language (when I suppose I could have chosen to do it in English, seeing as I majored in that as well), I realized that I actually crave the challenge. Perhaps it's masochistic, but if it isn't obvious already, I don't like taking the easy road. Which sometimes comes into conflict with one of my other strong character traits: the tendency I have to detest being bad at anything. If you're thinking that this combination must result in some kind of daily internal struggle, you're right. But I'm not sure I could live any other way.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Envying the Undergrads

This weekend is Parents Weekend here at the college at the U of C. Walking over to get a roll from the Medici Bakery for lunch, several wide-eyed parents nearly walked right into me. I'm still not ever the weird feeling I get from being here where so many kids are actually going through their own college experiences while mine has been over for 2 years already. Theoretically, there are only half as many undergrads as there are grad students here, but everyone I see walking around looks like a college kid. The University of Chicago definitely has its own special brand of college kid too, but they're normal enough. I can't help being intrigued by how they look and what they say, how they interact with each other. A part of me is jealous of them, living in the dorm, dealing with roommates, going to practice, eating in the dining hall. I could do all that again... except maybe live in a dorm, though there are a couple here that look nicer than any place I lived at Amherst.

I think what attracts me the most is the belief that I now know how to do college, so it'd be easy. Applying the same standard rules of thumb you learn in college to grad school doesn't exactly work. For instance, I can't just come back here to my apartment every night, grab a tray in the kitchen, and try to get a look at what they're serving in the grill line (but man, that'd be nice sometimes.) Just once I'd like to go back and relive something a second time, though, to feel like I really knew exactly what to expect and how to do it right.

But I suppose life kind of works like that in a certain way. Once you get older, certain experiences start to resemble others and you realize you can apply certain lessons you learned in the past to situations that pop up in front of you. I guess I'm doing that now with teaching. And if the name of the degree I'm supposed to earn at the end of this year has any truth to it, I should be able to begin next year perhaps not having mastered everything about grad school but at least thinking, "yeah, I know what this is like..."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

In Search of MORE Time

So I hoped to avoid exclusively posting complaints about my life as a po', overworked grad student, but I guess I can't deny what I am...

Still, in this post I'm going to be expressing more of a positive feeling of frustration than I did in the last. For class today, we were assigned to read several bits of Proust chosen from Swann's Way and The Fugitive, two parts of the multi-volume epic In Search of Lost Time. Even in English (perhaps more so in English because of the limitations of translation), Proust is a little mind-bending. But for some reason, he spoke to me in some odd way while I was doing this reading. And class today (all 3 hours of it) seemed to go by rather quickly. (I hesitate to say it flew by because hey, it was still a 3-hour-long discussion of Proust.)

The other time-gobbler I'm wrestling with is my inability to read more than 20 pages an hour in French. I've begun to stop translating word-for-word as I read, but I'm still so darn slow. Even when I'm engrossed in the reading, I run out of energy before I get tired of the story itself. There are things that become more pressing, like moving my body or eating.

While I am indeed thankful that I'm feeling excited by what I'm studying, I'm also learning that just because it's interesting doesn't mean it gets any easier or goes any faster. I suppose these are the kind of problems I should thank my lucky stars to be having.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Ca va? Oui, ca va.

The French have a really easy system for asking and responding to the question: "how's it going?" It involves three words (see above). Of course you can expand on this, but for now I'm sticking to the basic formula. For one, it's easy to pronounce and requires no nasal sounds or rolling r's. And more specifically, it's actually incredible appropriate for how things are going. Someone asks "It goes?" and I reply, "Yeah, it goes."

Cause sure it goes. I mean it always goes. And half the time I feel like it goes pretty smoothly, that I'm good, as we like to say chez Currier. But then there are the times when I feel like the train is moving forward, but it's scrapin' along the track, swaying wildly, belching thick black smoke, and blaring its horn, i.e. the totally amorphous it is not going so smoothly.

Take this afternoon. I was at a "welcome reception" for students in the graduate program of my department. I was totally self-conscious but doing OK, chatting in that light, noncommittal tone everybody tries so hard to assume in situations like this. I was chatting with my professors, feeling proud of myself for feeling adult enough that I could chat them up in a social setting (alas, however, not in French... baby steps...) Then I breezed over to a fellow student who, in the course of our conversation, thought she was being helpful by offering me a bit of advice. Unfortunately, from my perspective, she dropped a bomb.

"So what you should really do is start writing your papers now."

In my head: "What?!" Out loud: "Oh, really? Hmmm."

"Yeah, see everybody waits until the end of the quarter and then what happens is you can't get them all done and you end up getting extensions and having to write them all over winter break or spring break and then you get to spring quarter and you've never really had a vacation and you're completely burned out. "

Out loud: "Oh I see." In my head: "Holy #@*+%!"

"So yeah, start now."

Out loud: "I'll, uh, do that." In my head: ... well yeah, you get the idea.

So the train chugs on, as in the scenery is still flying by, but I'm not sure who's in the engine room and where exactly this puppy is headed. But tonight I guess I'm going to come up with a few paper topics, try to figure out how to begin a graduate-level seminar paper, and then start writing about concepts and ideas I thought I was supposed to learn about in the coming weeks. Mais, tout de meme, ca va.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Le Marathon

Well, it was all they said it would be... and more: the day of reckoning, the ultimate test of will, gut check time. Believe it or not, these cliches were floating and then spinning wildly through my head in between mild fits of delerium during the last 6 miles of the marathon yesterday. And all I can really think to say when people asked me how it was is "hard."

Because it was one of the most difficult things I've ever done, if not the most difficult. It was definitely the most challenging physical task I've ever accomplished. But I don't want to downplay the mental difficulty either. To get through the last mile, which I managed somehow to run every step of (after resorting to a combination of running and walking through miles 21-25), I basically had to turn off my brain. It was the most successful I've ever been at shutting myself up, if that makes any sense. But there was no way other way I was going to be able to make it through that last mile running (er, shuffling, but still not walking).

I owe a lot to Baker, who basically pulled me through those last 6 miles, wearing a tee shirt he'd turned inside out with a D made out of duct tape plastered to the front. (People kept cheering 'Go D,' and it took me a while to figure out why they weren't saying my whole name, since I had "Dana" written down both arms and legs in permanent marker.)

But I finished it. I won't go into the gory details; suffice it to say, extreme nauseau and muscles morphing into rocks were the sensations I was dealing with. Am I glad I did it? Yes. Am I going to do another one? Um... not in the next 12 months, at least. I'll leave it at that.

Despite the pain, however, the weekend was incredible. Seeing friends from Boston whom I hadn't seen in months, meeting new people, curling up on a sofa and eating delicious food made by Baker's mom were highlights of Sunday afternoon. Check out this website to see pictures of the day's events (and notice that in the "Afterglow" shots I'm barely able to stay vertical for the duration of the time it took to take the picture.)

Perhaps I should have waited longer to post this account of the marathon experience, so as to describe it with a rosier glow, but I figured I should honestly describe my immediate reaction. It was tough as hell, but also good, both in ways I never expected it to be.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Shameless Self Promotion

I'm sure some of you at least know that I've written a couple articles for a website called Digs magazine. It touts itself as "a home + living guide for the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation." I count myself a card-carrying member of this club, so I felt moved to write one article on what it's like to live at a boarding school as a young adult and another article on how to make Irish soda bread.

Anyway, I was browsing the "boards," or the on-line forum section of the site, where people write in with thoughts and ideas, and found this post:

"I made the Irish Soda Bread, one of the recent articles. Couldn't find whole wheat flour (I really wanted it too!) but had wheat bran. Also, I used craisins instead of raisins. Oh... soo yummy yet soo easy!"

I'm a hit! Or, my Irish soda bread is at least (well, mine in the sense that I slightly modified the recipe from Cooking Light, but still). Anyway, I'm planning to collaborate on an article that will be a review of two TV series on DVD ("Felicity" and "24") so look for that soon at Digs.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

T - 3 Days

Until the marathon, that is. Even though the planning required to coordinate an event like this among 3 runners + various friends, family members, and other assorted spectators is incredibly difficult, I am beyond excited for this weekend. I mean, there's almost enough to be excited about without even thinking about the running itself. And I think that's going to demand about 99% of my attention.

Anyway, today I led 2 more lector sessions and also held my first "office hour" during which the French 100-level students come to practice their conversational skills with me. Or recite a poem. Like the kid who sang "Ma Vie en Rose" to me today. That was interesting.

So, in completely unrelated news... yesterday I went outside to enjoy a pre-class granola bar. (I have this class from 4:30 to 6:30 every Monday and Wednesday, which is, if you remember well, Dana's cranky/stupid time and also Dana's "wow I'm ravenously hungry" time.) So I'm chewing, minding my own business, when I notice a pair of eyes boring into my skull. No, it wasn't a creepy old man or a masked thief.

It was a squirrel.

And he didn't seem so interested in me as he was in my granola bar, I guess because he's doing that whole getting-ready-to-hibernate/stuffing-himself-silly thing. As I ate, though, he proceeded to hop in little circles around the bench I was sitting on, slowly honing in on his prey. At one point, he hopped off around behind me, and feeling his beady eyes on the back of my head, I whirled around. He had one paw on the back of the bench, ready to attack from behind. When he saw I'd discovered his plan, he backed off only to come back around in front and make little half-lunging motions at me, as if he were going to pounce at any moment. I stamped my foot on the ground in front of him a few times, but that only caused him to first back up an inch or two and then advance a little closer the next time around. At that point, I couldn't shake the visions from my head of him clinging to my hair, clawing at my eyes, while I screamed and thrashed, running in circles around the quad. So I grabbed my bag and left.

I know Mother Nature is cruel, and that's it's every man (0r squirrel) for himself out there, but something was seriously wrong with that rodent. I hope he doesn't make it through the winter.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Je suis prof

Well thank goodness someone came through for me in response to Saturday's post. I blame my temporary incompetence on the professor's British accent, which is only slight but still strong enough to make you think the word he's said should be spelled differently than it is.

This morning at 11:30 I led my first lector session. Despite the fact that it was held in a room heated to about 185 degrees, I think it went well. Last night the coordinator of the lector sessions sent out a flurry of emails telling us that most of the sessions were now going to be held in two separate dorms. Mine was in what turned out to be essentially a common room next to the dorm's kitchen. Probably because today has been the coldest its been so far this fall, someone decided to blast the heat so strongly that it was blowing out of the vents at full force. This plus my nervousness may have actually resulted in sweat dripping off me. Yes I know that's gross, but sadly, I'm not really exaggerating. Remember that teacher you had way back when, the one with the dark half moons swelling under his arm pits, growing bigger and bigger as class wore on? Yeah that was me. But I'm sure the students in my section didn't saunter up to their roommates at lunch and crack jokes about their sweaty lector while they waited in the salad bar line. I'm sure they thought I was super cool... yeah.

Anyway, I don't want to be their friend. I want to be that brainy but sophisticated grad student they all look up to. I think I'll have to keep working on that, but at least they left knowing that jus de pomplemousse means "grapefruit juice" in French. And really, that's all that matters.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Weekend Wrap Up

Before you do anything, please read yesterday's post.

Now on with our regularly scheduled program...

I just got back from a great run along the lakeshore. I'm really going to miss those once the winter rolls in, but I'm pretty much determined to bundle up and get out there at least once a week despite the cold. Anyway, it was my last real run before the marathon, and I have to say, I feel really ready. I just hope I can keep the adrenaline in check long enough to finish the race at a steady, conservative pace.

Last night, my roommate made Indian food for herself, her ex-boyfriend, and me. Yes, we were sort of a strange group but we had a great time nonetheless. She made dal with rice, spicy potatoes, and chicken marinated in yogurt and spices. I know what you're thinking at this point: "How did Dana (a.k.a. Little Miss Tender Tongue) handle all that spice?" Well, I got a serving of potatoes scooped out for me before the real spice was added, and the chicken was not all that bad. Plus I had a little bowl of yogurt to slurp from every time I felt the sparks ignite in my mouth.

Tomorrow I begin my teaching assignment, and since next week is going to be a tad on the busy side (ha!) I should probably get going and attend to that, ahem, studying I should be doing. Before I sign off, however, I need to make an addendum to my Top Ten List (parts 1 and 2). Here it is:

11. Hyde Park Produce

This little shop has cheap fruit of reasonable quality and 99-cent spices. They also have interesting tofus, honeys, and other goodies. I'm a big fan, and I'm planning to make a second trip today.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Ode to the OED

I love the Oxford English Dictionary. Thanks to my assocation with various academic institutions throughout the past seven years, I've had access to the online version pretty much non-stop. It's a great resource.

However, it seems to have failed me here. Or maybe I'm just confused. I swear that one of my professors spent a great deal of time discussing the "epistomological implications" of something last week. But here's the closest I could get to a definition of that first word:

episotome (n.)
[ad. mod.L. epistoma, f. Gr. upon + mouth.]
An appendage in front of the mouth in Crustacea and certain insects. Also applied to similar parts in arachnids, molluscs, etc.

Now I might be missing something pretty big here, but I highly doubt this professor was talking about the effects rendered on the study of the self by those little pincher-type things crabs have in their mouths. That's just silly.

So where have I gone wrong? I'm pleading for some help. Write comments, email me, anything. Make me smarter, people.