Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I wandered over to Clemons today in an attempt to write.  

I sat down at a carrel and then proceeded to read every message written on it.  Some of the messages are crude references, or invitations "for a good time".  People have scratched in their initials or their Greek initials or simply initial hearts initials.  Many of the comments express the stresses of normal students - "I hate spherical coordinates."  "I hate studying."  "I'm going to ace this test!"  "Last final ever!"

But this is what's kind of amazing - most of the comments are written by students hoping to inspire and help each other.  "You are awesome!  You got this!  Faith in yourself is the 1st Step to Success!"  "I'm here for you"  (with another written under it, "Yes, really!")  "It is only in the depths of our exhaustion and madness that we approach understanding our true selves - Richard Wagner" "You are loved."  "It's almost over!  Hang in there!"  "Don't give up.  You got this!"

People respond in a conversation-like manner.  "Thanks!"  "Agreed!"  ":)" "Amen!"

And despite the fact that I have now joined the dozens of other students who have sat at this carrel, stressing over my load and my future, I feel a sense of camaraderie with these people.  People, who as beleaguered as myself, looked up from their book or their computers and scratched something out either to inspire themselves or for some unknown classmate out there who might find themselves in a tough situation.

Either way, I'm impressed and inspired and encouraged.  THANKS.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

At the Heart of It

I found this video today while looking for something to do for English class.

How to Fly the World's Fastest Plane

By the end of it, there were tears in my eyes.

It's a beautiful airplane, with some great technology.  It flew supersonic, as a matter of course.  And the men flying it got pretty close to space - I always like to imagine what space looks like and feels like and the thrill of being there.

I have a very confusing relationship with my field.  I really love aerospace engineering.  But I have no idea how I fit into it.  I love the technology that comes out of it but it also terrifies me.  The repercussions of my field have a large impact on the types of wars fought and the manner that wars are fought, as well as the types of peace sustained.  It's a fine line to walk.

What will I do in this field?  What kind of job will I hold?  How will I contribute?  Will I even be able to contribute?

I've been asking these kinds of questions now for fourteen years.  I've tried several times to entertain other options and each time, I come back.  I can't seem to walk away from something that, at the heart of it, I love.

I'm in the right field.  But is the field right for me?  I honestly don't know.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Chance of a Lifetime

My roommate and I, sometimes of a night, pull out our ukuleles and sing, "The best things in life are free."  We smile at each other.

But I don't think I've ever believed it.  Not really.

Last night, restless but determined to do something, I coaxed my roommate to take some dirt we had made to a friend.  So, off we went, in the crisp fall air to our friend's house, where we found her sheepishly finishing up a painting.  (She insisted she wasn't an artist - we weren't convinced)

Then, began a delightful catch-up session with one of my dear kindred spirit friends.  She told us stories about her most recent play, about her experiences working at historic Williamsburg and her annual autumn trips up to Boston, MA.  My roommate and I hung on to her every word, building our own castles in the sky.  Boston, you see, is a bit of a Mecca for the romantics that we are.  (And the much hoped-for destination of my roommate come graduation)

Our dear friend thrilled us with stories about her trip to a Green Gables-esque bed and breakfast, about her pilgrimages to all the great Transcendentalist writers, as well as her love affair with apples.  We have to go!  My roommate and I cried out.  Even while I listened, though, I thought: One day.

One day - this has become a mantra for my life in the past few years.  Those things require time and money - two luxuries that I simply don't have.  Instead, I content myself with the castles in the sky and feeding off the crumbs of others' adventures.  All the great experiences though, with this mantra, feel far away.  And in my time-poor and money-poor state, they feel like the experiences that I will never get.

My friend found out we enjoyed listening to her obsession over apples and pulled out a few heirloom gems for us to try.  We tasted the Hidden Rose apple which reveals a beautiful pink interior flesh and supposedly tastes like raspberry lemonade.  (Try as I might, I could only taste, "apple")  We expertly nibbled on the Lady Apple, which is the oldest cultivated apple in existence.  And we gloated over the Starlight Pippins ("stolen apples") from some famous person's overgrown garden whose name I can't remember, which had a satisfying sort of tingle when you bit into it.  Our very own heirloom apple testing!

We shared stories and laughed until our sides hurt and promised ourselves we needed to do this again, very soon.  The hours had passed like mere minutes.

As my roommate and I walked back home, my whole life felt brighter.  My roommate soaked in the autumn smell and dreamed of Boston.  I stuck my hands in my coat and realized that this sort of memory was something that had cost very little in time and money but would encourage me and buoy me up for a long time after.  I almost wanted to remain in that moment forever and then laughed at myself for the absurdity in wishing I would be stuck in ABD, stressed and frenzied dissertation writing mode forever.

Turns out you can enjoy some of the best things - friendship, laughter - for free.  Now.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fan Girl

I've liked the Bundesliga now for over 3 years (since the 2010 World Cup).  Yes, a lot of that interest has been Hasebe-centered.  But for the record, the only Bundesliga jersey I own is Schalke's.  (And yes, in the Riveirderby today, I'm cheering for the Blues.)

Being a fan of a league on a different continent in a foreign tongue has its setbacks.  For one, I can't watch games ever.  Secondly, Google translate can only do so much.  Third, no one I know knows anything about the Bundesliga - even the ones who say their favorite team is Bayern.  (Grr...Bayern)

In spite of these roadbumps, I thought I had been making some pretty good progress.  I now know that PK can stand for Penalty Kick or Pressekonferenz.  I know the difference between the Europa League and the Champions League.  I know game schedules and standings.  I recognize players and names from just about every team in the top flight.  (Heck, I even know know how to casually use the words 'top flight' in context.)

But last week, while looking through the Bundesliga website, I found a reference to something called the Humba.  Which apparently, is becoming so famous that kids in Africa thought "the Humba was in fact the German national anthem, such was its upbeat, foot-stamping rhythm, and very German essence."

How have I never heard of this?  What is this amazing song?

As much as I can tell you, the player of the winning team yells out, "Give me an H!  Give me an U!  Give me an M!  Give me a B!  Give me an A!"  (which, is it just me, or do 'H' and 'A' sound almost identical?)  And then everyone jumps up and down and chants, "Humba, Humba, Humba." It sounds exhilarating and hilarious.

And as anyone from UVa can attest, there's nothing so fun as jumping up and down in the cold singing made-up words:  Wah-hoo-wah!  Wah-hoo-wah!  Univ-V, Virginia!  Hoo-rah-ray, Hoo-rah-ray.  Ray, ray, UVA!

Addendum: My roommate and I found the song with lyrics.  It's our new house song and we sing it and jump up and down whenever we can now.  (As in the past half hour since we discovered it.)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

In a Name (on little or no sleep)

Here are snippets from a conversation my roommate and I had while I tried to convince myself that "less than four hours of sleep is legit" and she tried to convince herself, "No, I really do need the next three hours to sleep" after coming back from her eight-hour shift at the hospital.  I'm putting quotes but I don't remember who said what.

"Do you think that they shortened names in the Book of Mormon for nicknames? I mean, sure, he's Jeffrey R. Holland in the scriptures, but he's Jeff in real life."

"Yeah, we could shorten Nephi to just 'Neph'.  That's actually pretty awesome.  I want to name my kid Nephi so I can call him Neph."

"Yeah, I'm not naming any of my children Nephi.  Maybe my"

"Lemuel could be shortened to 'Lem'.  Hahaha, Laman would be shortened to Lame-o!"

"Would we call Alma 'Al'?"

"How do you ever shorten Amaleki?  If you call him 'Amal' it's so close to Alma, you'd always  get those two confused."

"Or maybe their names in the Book of Mormon are the nicknames."

"What if we're completely mispronouncing the names in the Book of Mormon?  They spoke Hebrew and wrote in reformed Egyptian.  Surely, our American pronunciations are wrong."

"But Joseph Smith met several of them, right?  He had to have learned how to pronounce it."

"Or he pronounced it wrong every time.  And poor Moroni, maybe, he cringes every time we say it.  Every time, every single one of us talks about him, he's up in Heaven, groaning over how much we butcher his name."

"Maybe he's like, 'Dad, why couldn't you have given me a simpler name?  Like yours?"

"And Mormon's like, 'Well, son, we couldn't both be named Mormon.  That would have confused everyone.  I'd have to give you a nickname and shorten it to Momo or something.'"

"Hahahahaha.  We have the best conversations when we're both exhausted.  We should always make a point to talk to each other when we're both sleep deprived."

2AM And I Must Be Lonely

I went looking for good 2AM songs to jam to while I worked and found this instead.

Star Date with 2AM.

Date at 2AM with 2AM?

Sleep would be nice too.  But dissertations don't write themselves.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Silverscreen Sightseeing

(1) Lee Tadanari once used movies - Gladiator and Roman Holiday - as guides for what he should see and do while on vacation in Rome.

(2) Last night, while watching Walk, Don't Run with my roommate (while working on English class lessons) I realized I'd missed a great opportunity to check out some of the filming locations from one of my favorite movies.

(3) One of my friends recently got back from New York City, where she made a point to go and visit places used in the movie You've Got Mail.

What movie locations would you like to visit?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Confusing Myself

Friend: How was your day?
Me: I had my meeting with my adviser.  And then I had a meeting for my job next semester.
Friend: You got a job?
Me: Not a real job.  I'll be teaching kids Fluid Mechanics.
Friend: ...So, like twenty-year olds.
Me: Huh, what?  No, kids.
Friend 2: Erin, you call everyone 'kids'.  We're 'kids'.  Hasebe's a 'kid'...
Me: Oh yeah, even President Obama is 'kid'.  No, these are actual, legitimate elementary school-aged kids.
Friend: Oh, haha.  Cool.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Message

This summer, I deleted all the old posts to my blog.  I just needed a clean slate.  The blog was just getting so boring.  A pump can only break so many times before you start to think I'm making it up.  If we're being completely honest, I started to think that I was making it up.  Or taking a hammer to my lab in my sleep.  Or hiring someone in my sleep to take a hammer to my lab.

I pondered that blank slate of a blog for a while.  I still want to write.  I still want to blog.  But I wanted to write something worth reading.  I thought about book reviews.  I contemplated inspirational quotes.  Or good news articles.  I really was hoping for humorous essays. 

The blog remained empty.  Life kept happening.  I moved apartments, had another pump break and found myself peering yet again into a strange and dark UNKNOWN of a future.   

Then, I read a book: I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak.  Read it.  Please read it.  It's a book about a man who shares messages with people that he is directed to, through clues given to him on playing cards.  It's intriguing and compelling and moving enough that I even cried.  (But note: if you are squeamish over foul language, this one has it)  

At the end of it, I found something I have been missing: people

People changing people.  Every day, we meet people who change our lives, change our perspective, help us when we're down.  I want to focus on those people, the ones who change me, the ones who inspire me, the ones who challenge me.  

I get so abashed writing about people.  People don't like to be focused on or mentioned or put on display.  And mostly, I'm afraid of people's reactions when I focus on them or mention them or put them on display.  Will I write something that offends or hurts?

But honestly, when it comes down to it, for me, this life is about people.  Flawed human beings interacting with flawed human beings.  In some ways, the results are atrocious.  The news is filled with examples of how some people hurt and abuse, mistreat and negatively impact others.  The wounds take years, lifetimes and even generations to heal.  On the other side, in some ways, the results are miraculous.  A person comes into another person's life and causes them to do something unselfish, unanticipated.  That person finds herself being changed by her interactions with others.  That person starts caring, helping, listening and loving.  Suddenly, that interaction is not so ordinary - ordinary people are now doing extraordinary things.  But the funny thing is, not one of us flawed human beings gets only one or the other.  We are both.  We mistreat some people.  We love others.  Sometimes, we even mistreat people that we love.

So, forgive me if this blog is about people and my thoughts about people and my interactions with people.  Forgive me if you're one of the people I mention.  Most importantly, forgive me if I say something that offends you or hurts you.  The flawed human being that I am is trying to interact with other flawed human beings.  The results are not always perfect or miraculous.  But they're definitely worth living.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Book Review

One-line blurb: Xinran gathers the stories of women she has met who had to abandon, give up, or abort their baby daughters in China.

One-line concluding message: We must not underestimate the pain and suffering that any mother who has given up a child endures.

I love Xinran - she is one of my favorite authors.  This is the fourth book of hers that I have read.
It's a very serious book that deals with a very serious premise and tone and at times, graphic descriptions.

For some reason, I picked this book up casually.  I'd been reading a slew of young adult fairy tale books and longed for some non-fiction.  Once I realized the seriousness of the content of the book, I had to put it down and then approach it in a better mindset.  Xinran is a master storyteller, including you in her own life and in the lives the women she meets in such a way that you are re-living that moment with her - you can feel the awkward silences, hear the nervous clearing of throats.  Although I had known something of the situation with girls in China, I had not realized the variety of circumstances or methods that daughters were abandoned, etc.  The book definitely had a clear purpose in letting adopted Chinese girls know a little of their backgrounds.

The book left me personally very sad and frustrated with the culture.  Not just the culture that demands that rural families have a male heir to provide for you in the afterlife, or the culture where appearances must be kept up and so unwed mothers must give up their babies, or even the culture that forces parents to spend significant time away from the home to invest in their country/work.  I do feel for the situations of the various mothers, and for the tens of thousands of babies who don't make it and for the thousands who get adopted overseas.  But I'm also left asking, "Surely, if such a culture devastates and haunts the mothers, the fathers are affected in some way too?  And the grandparents who demand grandsons?  And the sons who are born at the sacrifice of their sisters?"

So, in the end, what do we tell our adopted daughters about their birth mothers?  Probably not the truth, until they are old enough to handle the gruesome details of a harsh reality.  If the letters in the appendix are any indication, you tell your daughters a happy story about how their mothers really did love them and didn't want to give them up.  You spend your time investing in Chinese history and culture so these daughters will love their mother country and their Chinese mothers.  Beautiful sentiments, but I think, in the end, everyone is still left asking questions with no answers, and hurting without an antidote.

Do I recommend this book?  Yes, with reservations.

Monday, October 14, 2013

In Agreement

Me: Baby's coat is Miracle-on-34th-Street adorable.
Sister: Yes, it is.
Friend: What's so adorable?
Sister: My daughter's coat.  It's a red dress coat.
Friend: You're right.  That is Miracle-on-34th-Street adorable.

(I'm just so glad that people understand what I mean)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hard of Hearing

I'm talking on the phone with my sister while she is buying Cheerwine for another sister.

What I thought she said: Now, tell me how to get to Dubai.

Me: ?!! What?!  That's quite the change in topic.

What she actually said: Now, how many do you think I should buy?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Badly Done, Emma

All day I felt like crying. So I decided to go on a walk with friends.

It was like a modern adaptation of Emma and her friends going on a lovely outing to Box Hill. We tried to be witty and funny which just resulted in being annoyed with each other which just escalated until we parted, fuming. (Except one of us. I don't think he fumes. Which just annoys me...)

In any case, I went back into my apartment and reflected on my actions, my words and, even more importantly, my intentions.

Am I a friend or not?  Well...then, act like it.   

Esse quam videri