Monday, December 31, 2007

happy (recuperating) new years!

So here I am writing this at 9:30pm on New Years Eve, instead of being out on the town, out and about, out taking names, out (and i think i'm out of metaphors for going out). Why you ask? Well I made the very (in my opinion) grown up choice to spare my poor, ravaged stomach the onslaught of alcohol that it would inevitably receive if I went out tonight. Yes, the dreaded, stalker stomach flu hit me full force Friday night, and while I feel tons better and have actually been able to eat fairly normally today for the first time, I feel like going out and drinking would be the equivalent of telling my poor, recovering stomach to go screw itself.
Looking back it really was inevitable. We fell like Dominoes. First my sister a couple of days before Christmas, then my dad the night after Christmas, then my brother-in-law the night after that, and my mom the night after that. And I feebly maintained the hope that my youthful vigor would keep me healthy. Well I was an idiot. It took one, tiny queasy feeling Friday night for me to know that it was coming. And within a few hours I was the sickest I've been in a long time. Saturday was spent in a feverish haze. It was weird in a way, because I haven't been sick like that in a really long time, especially not at home. And any fears I might have had that my mom would not be as dutiful a caregiver for me at 22 as she was when I was younger were quickly put to rest. Even though she herself was still recovering, she kept my ginger ale glass full, asked me about once an hour if I was warm enough, and allowed me to remain in bed for a full two days. God bless her. Obviously I've had bad colds and a couple of sore throats and coughs and such since I've been in college, but I haven't had the not being able to do a thing for yourself kind of sickness, the kind where you sleep for sixteen hours straight but still can't get out of bed to get the chap stick the next day, or wake up a in a puddle of your own sweat from a high fever, or kind of abandon hygiene temporarily. It sucks. And I guess if I had to get the stomach flu this year I was lucky to get it while firmly ensconced in the comfort my family home. Although by the same token, my family are the little germ carriers who got me sick in the first place. It is amazing that tiny, invisible little germs can take down five people in less than a week. All pride in my youthful vigor is kind of out the window. Also, I'm no doctor or scientist, but it seems a little unfair that a virus that goes by the nickname stomach flu does not just attack your stomach but it also attacks your entire body. Kind of a case of false advertisement if you ask me. From now on I'm calling it the crippling head ache, throbbing legs, appetite destroying, life sucking stomach flu of misery. It's a lot more accurate. Ugh. I just can't wait until I'm 100%. I feel like I have a lot of eating to do to make up for lost time. I'm still on the slightly bland foods phase, but as soon as I'm completely better I am going to eat the spicest, tastiest, most flavorful meal I can find. I'm thinking Thai.
So my bout with the stomach flu kind of makes a nice transition into the New Year. It was an involuntary, painful thing, but it kind of served as a forced detox. I wanted to start eating healthy after the New Year anyway, and now I have a clean slate to do it with. I haven't drunk coffee or alcohol in several days, and I lost three pounds with the whole not eating for two day thing. So I'll channel my inner Pollyanna and make some lemonade out of my sickness lemons (I was so close to finding some really clever sour lemon, sour stomach analogy there, but I just don't have the energy at the moment, please create your own if you care to). Other than healthy eating I'm not making any other resolutions. I used to always make a lot of resolutions, but I've kind of stopped believing in the utility of New Year's resolutions. I think it's wonderful to want to challenge yourself to be better or do better by making goals for a new year, but I also think unless you have more will power or self control than I, it's hard to make goals for an entire year. I prefer taking things one day at a time. And I'm fully aware that one day this year I might be the best version of myself I can be; avoiding bad carbs, volunteering, writing a brilliant work of fiction, spending less time watching tv, etc. But I'm also fully aware that the next day I might desperately need to order a large, Hawaiian pizza from Gilroy's, plop down in front of a mindless America's Next Top Model marathon, and make fun of people from my bedroom window. I can't make choices for an entire year. I can only make choices for one moment inside of one day. The best I can do is try to make the majority of those choices veer towards bettering myself, and only occasionally give into my inner couch potato, junk food loving misanthrope.
So goodbye 2007. I can honestly say that creatively this was the best year of my life. It started with my last fiction workshop in the spring which emotionally kicked my ass (as a fiction major I've learned that while other majors or careers for that matter might be catalysts for self esteem and warm fuzzy feelings, writing fiction and putting it up for criticism more often than not ends in tears) But, it's because the only way to get better as a writer is to get criticized, no matter how uncomfortable that is. And with three semesters of workshops and criticism culminating in the spring, I do feel like I've improved. I do, however have a long way to go. But after the spring, I kind of took a partial leave of fiction (at least fiction for public consumption) and dove headfirst into the world of non-fiction and journalism. Summer and fall brought me two wonderful, challenging, rewarding, life influencing internships with two wonderful magazines. I can in no way categorize or number the things I learned. I am so thankful for those experiences. A non-fiction class this fall also gave me the chance to take a break from writing about other people's lives and start writing about my own. It was pure self-indulgent, self-exploring, self-everything bliss. It's easy for someone who loves to create fictional stories to forget about the vital importance of documenting your own story in life, no matter how ordinary it may seem compared to fictional adventures. But I learned it's just as challenging and just as rewarding (albeit in different ways) as writing fiction. Which brings me back to this very blog, started in 2007. I hope it goes well beyond this year into many more to come. So if this year has been the year of creative changes and challenges, my hope and wish for 2008, with the (sigh) end of college and start of who knows, is that the year brings just as many personal changes and challenges for me. I'm looking forward to diving into the unknown. I don't know where I'll be in life when 2009 rings in. What a terrifying/thrilling year it will be :)

Friday, December 28, 2007

tiny thoughts

I think the Richmond City Traffic Department (or whoever is in charge of street cleaning) is messing with our heads. One day there are signs on our side of the street that street cleaning is Friday. The next day the signs are gone. And then there are signs on the opposite side of the street saying that street cleaning was in fact Thursday, but did said street cleaning occur on Thursday? Nope. I really think it's someone's idea of a sick joke to make all of us Fan residents scurry around with our cars every time we see one of the dreaded red street cleaning signs, only to have to move our cars again when the signs disappear and reappear somewhere else. We are not monkeys, traffic sirs. And we do not appreciate being toyed with. Fan residents may seem meek, with our front stoops and our miniature front gardens, but you just wait for the wrath of the Fan to be unleashed if this vortex of street cleaning confusion does not end soon.

So everyone in my house has succumbed one by one to the stomach flu, and I feel my turn might just be inevitable. Because of the suddenness of the stomach flu, it's almost like there's a stalker in my house, creeping through hallways and hiding behind doors, waiting to pounce on me and force me into submission. One second I could be merrily eating my lunch and the next moment the stomach flu stalker could have me in its grasp. Because of this, I can't shake the feeling that every meal might be my last for some time. (Disclaimer for grossness). When I'm considering a meal, I seem to not only be considering how enjoyable the food will be going in to my stomach, but how painful it would be going out. Anything a little spicy or acidic gives me slight pause. Do I really want to become intimate with fried jalapeƱo poppers for hours over the toilet? Or a favorite food even. My beloved Ukrops tuna could turn into my enemy in just minutes. I don't enjoy these thoughts, but in the current state of my household, they're kind of inevitable. I'm just going to cross my fingers that my remarkably strong constitution will keep me healthy (and hope that by imagining my constitution as strong it will in fact be strong, because really I have no idea what my constitution is capable of withstanding).

One of my favorite features of ITunes is the helpful "Listeners Also Bought" list that appears whenever you look at music. I've found some awesome songs and new bands through this, and they're usually pretty spot as far as what kind of music a listener of one band might also enjoy. And I was thinking wouldn't it be great if everything in life worked like that. You go to a restaurant and at the end of the night they give you a list of restaurants that's labeled. "Customers Also Enjoyed." Or when you buy clothes, you get a list of other stores or brands that you might like too. Or it could even go beyond buying things. In college at the end of the semester you could get a list of classes that "students also enjoyed" or when an internship is over you get a list of careers that "interns also enjoyed." What about leaving a city? Someone could hand you a piece of paper listing cities that might be to your liking, or old friends could give you a list of people that you'd probably like to hang out with as well. The world would be a lot easier if there were only these helpful suggestions around.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

"Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!"

Merry Christmas to you all :)

Monday, December 24, 2007

my christmas eve wish list

Tis the season. And tis also the season where I compile a list of things I want. I no longer mail said list to the North Pole, but I do deliver it in a timely fashion to my parents, complete with links to the exact things I want, detailed descriptions of items in a store (I have to restrain myself from drawing a map of Nordstrom for my mom).I could jump on the navel gazing band-wagon and punish myself for being so materialistic. I could box up everything in my room, put on a Santa suit, and drive it to good will. I could stop buying, stop receiving, stop wanting. But the truth is, I probably never will. Humans aren't saints. We're just us. The best I can do it try to want less, to give more, and to understand that I am incredibly blessed, not only because there will be a pile of presents under my tree come the morning of the 25th, but because of the way I am able to live my life on a daily basis. Gratitude is a difficult thing to hold onto. But I think that on those rare occasions that you can be truly grateful, you realize that gratitude doesn't just end with a smile and a thank you; it should motivate and galvanize. It should make us want to be better, to do better. So on this Christmas Eve, I have a new wish list, for myself, for anyone who reads this. We're all a little bit selfish by nature, but we're also prone to kindness and compassion. Sometimes we just forget to use it.

1) USO care packages for deployed soldiers.

2) Adopt an animal from the African Wildlife Foundation (they'll send you a cute little plush toy!)

3) Give a gift from the World Vision Christmas gift catalog

4) Donate to Save the Children before the 31st and your donation will be doubled

5) Donate to America's Second Harvest, the Nation's Food Bank Network. There are food bank shortages around the country. I think anyone would agree that it is unacceptable that anyone should starve in our country today.

So I'll get off my pedestal now. But I have no problem being thought preachy or patronizing, if even one person sees that list and gives to one of those very worthy charities. And it is in no way a list for everyone besides me. I'm using it to motivate myself, to remind myself that as upset as I might get for not getting a certain DVD or book tomorrow, I am so insanely lucky in so many ways. And I have no right to live my life without helping those who aren't so lucky. So there it is, my Christmas wish list.

Merry Christmas Eve everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

thoughts from atonement

I went to see the film Atonement today, and let's see, it's been about two hours since it ended and I think I've finally stopped crying. It completely sucker punched me. I knew it was going to be sad (period pieces about WWII and beautiful young people in love usually are), but Lord, I'm not sure I've cried that much in a movie theater since I saw Titanic when I was in sixth grade (don't judge me, for an eleven year old watching Leonardo DiCaprio die of hypothermia was a very traumatic thing). But besides simply being achingly sad, I loved the movie. I thought it was brilliantly acted, beautifully shot, subtle in all the right ways, and full of a delicate simplicity in its depiction of tragedy. But, and here's a big but, I haven't yet read the book. So anyone who has read the book might have a completely different view and think I'm a total moron for thinking otherwise. I could tell that a lot of the people in the theater had obviously read Ian McEwan's book. I noticed meaningful whispers during small, seemingly insignificant scenes or when a new character was introduced. Even before something sad or terrible happened, there would always be a collective intake of breath, because these people knew it was coming. You could just tell that for some of the people in the theater, every little detail carried so much more weight and importance. And I felt for these people.
It is an unsettling and vulnerable position to be in when you watch a movie adaptation of a favorite novel for the first time. Yet speaking personally, time and time again I will stand in line and pay the nine dollars to see a movie version of a beloved book, knowing full well I will leave two hours later feeling vaguely disappointed at best, heartbroken at worst. And it's like the old cliche, being unable to look away from a car wreck. Because you have to watch it, no matter how many times you've been disappointed in a movie version of a book, you can't hep but hope they'll get it right this time, somehow the filmmakers will find a way to do the impossible, translate something from page to screen without losing any of its integrity or beauty. If you love a book, you're always going to be tempted by the chance to see all of these scenes and characters made into reality. But the problem is, a movie will never be the same as a book. It's can't be, hence the two different mediums. It can be a great, Oscar-winning film, but if it's made from a book you truly love, there will be something missing. If they do a really good job, maybe it'll just be a tiny subplot or line of dialogue that's gone. You'll feel a little cheated but you can still walk away positive. But if the filmmakers do the unthinkable, and do a careless, shoddy job with the adaptation, then it's like watching someone take a beloved friend and make her over into Britney Spears, or listening to your favorite song remade by Hannah Montana. It's unsettling. It's heartbreaking.
I love books, and I also love movies. Reasonably I should be able to love a book and love the movie version equally. But I can only really enjoy movie adaptation of books I just like. And sometimes if this is the case I'll even like the film better. For me The Devil Wears Prada book was just so-so, but I found the movie to be an improvement, infused with a new kind of warmth and kindness where the book was simply petty and often cruel.
But for books I truly love, well then it's just hopeless. I've gone to see every Harry Potter movie in theaters, each time thinking, maybe, just maybe, they'll come close. And sometimes they do (the third and fifth films come to mind), but even those very good films can in no way
stand up to the books I love so dearly. A tiny moment like Harry joyfully telling the Dursleys at the end of third book about his new godfather, the escaped "murderer", may seem insignificant and extraneous to the filmmakers, as well as to the vast majority of people who watch the movies, but for me to not have that moment in the movie left me unsatisfied. And it's like that for all of the Harry Potter movies, as well as all other beloved book to movie adaptations. I go to see these movies and find myself flinching or cringing every time something I love is missing or changed, even as I can enjoy the visual thrill of seeing the worlds I know so well inside of my head come to life before me on the screen. It's a very conflicted process. Common sense would tell me to stop going to see film versions of my favorite books, yet I know I never will. I'll get excited by the preview, and convince myself that this time will be different. Although if they ever make movie versions of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I might just have to take a Xanax beforehand. Otherwise I could very well end up shouting things at the screen.
So one more thing about Atonement. There's this shot about two-thirds of the way through, a five minute long uninterrupted tracking shot that reveals the hundreds of thousands of British soldiers at Dunkirk, waiting for evacuation. It's staggering. It's one of those rare movie scenes that is so vast and so devastating that you know it will stay with you. It kept making me think of the scene in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett goes to the train station and the camera pans back to reveal the wounded soldiers, and then it keeps panning, and keeps panning, until the screen is filled with an impossible number of wounded men. I remember watching that for the first time when I was little, and even though it's a movie with carefully constructed sets and well applied make-up, I cried like I was watching something real. The scene in Atonement is a lot like that, so chaotic and large scale that you can't compartmentalize it as just another movie scene. It gets under your skin.
So those are the thoughts sparked by seeing Atonement. I heartily recommend it to anyone (just really, be prepared to cry). Yet I will put out the disclaimer that I recommend it purely as a film, not as a book adaptation. I understand that even a film as well made and well acted as Atonement, could be a disaster for someone who really loves the book.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

please watch this

I absolutely love Michael Cera. I've loved him since he was George Michael in Arrested Development (single tear running down my cheek in remembrance of that late, great show), and I loved him in Superbad. I can't wait to see Juno when it finally comes to Richmond. Quite simply I think he's hilarious. There are very few actors that can make me laugh so much by doing so little. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered a website called which was created by Mr. Cera himself along with a friend. There are ten little episodes of the "Clark and Michael show" and they are brilliant. I know because as soon as I watched the first one I couldn't stop and I proceeded to watch the remaining nine in one sitting and giggle all the way. The closest I could describe it is Flight of the Concords minus the accents, plus a really bad idea for a sitcom, plus Los Angeles, multiplied by all of these amazing cameos (any series that incorporates David Cross and Sam from Freaks and Geeks blows my mind and reaches the highest maximum level of awesomenicity) Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development are two of my favorite shows and both were sadly canceled much, much too soon before their time. So it gives me no endless source of pleasure that both are living on through collaborations between the very talented members of their casts. So please, if you find yourself needing an escape from family this holiday and want to hole up in front of your laptop for a few hours, go to and enjoy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

they're coming back!

Starting in January my nightly routine will finally settle back into place! My future husbands, er, umm, my favorite fake news comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will resume their shows January 7th!!!! (strike or no strike) Until the bleak past two months of no new episodes of either show, I didn't realize just how dependent I was on the one hour of Comedy Central between eleven and midnight. But especially during the school semester it's as much a part of my nightly routine as brushing my teeth or a glass of milk and sugar-free Milanos (before the teeth brushing I assure you). The shows let me wind down in bed, giggle a lot and smack my head in mutual exasperation at the stupidity of the media and world leaders. Sure, I can get my news solely from other sources, but there's something about the Daily Show and the Colbert Report that supplements the regular news or at least softens it enough that I don't start immediately collecting items for my hermit hut. I can read the news online at ten p.m. and either cry, fume or cry and fume simultaneously (this combination seems to happen most often). But then like clockwork I can turn my television to the Daily Show and with one punch line or silly visual gag there's order in the world again. Because suddenly there's someone else out there to share my fuming/crying attitude, except this person is a talented and awesome comedian who can take all of that frustration and anxiety and expose the absurdity that's the source of it all (or if there's no absurdity in the situation itself then at least the media's reaction to it). The news often leaves me speechless and teetering on the brink of cynicism. And some might say that the Daily Show and the Colbert Report are products of cynicism and bitterness. But I disagree. These shows are vestiges of humor and sanity in a world very often lacking both. Satirists have thrived in society for a reason. A silly joke reveals folly to remind us of the opposite of that folly, the common human decency and hope that are often coated in so many mounds of (pardon my french) political and media bullshit. It's true that The Daily Show and the Colbert Report are ultimately just television shows. The world obviously runs along without them. But in my own little life, they allow me to go to bed most nights believing that maybe the world isn't so upside down after all. And on the really bad nights, the nights when even a funny show can't make a situation seem redeemable, they at least distract me with a laugh. So that is why I'm counting down until January 7th. Because my little life needs Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, or at least until world peace is established, poverty is eliminated, politicians become incapable of manipulations or deceit, the environment is saved and all of the nuclear weapons on Earth are dismantled and scientists discover how to turn the spare parts into cures for all of the world's diseases. So until all of that happens I'll prefer my nights capped off with Jon and Stephen. It's a little late so pardon the folksiness of my next sentence. But they are the proverbial sugar to make the medicine of the news go down. And with them I am able to go to bed drugged and happy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

comfort cooking

So this past weekend I made my first, honest-to-God, from scratch, Southern meal. I made it for some of my best Richmond friends to celebrate being home for Christmas, but at the same time some of my motives were selfish. I also cooked to bask in the beauty and detectability of Charleston cuisine, and by extension Charleston itself. I will be away for almost a month, but that's no reason I shouldn't enjoy fresh crab cakes and home-cooked buttermilk biscuits; one bite of each takes me straight to Hominy Grill breakfast or dinner at Fleet Landing. Now Richmond has its own wonderful cuisine, fully embedded in the south (for all of you people who may say that Richmond is in the north, don't even tempt me to list the various reasons why this city is definitively Dixie). But food from the deep south is different, especially food from the coastal deep south, and in the three and a half years I've been in Charleston I've grown to love it, everything from shrimp n' grits to boiled peanuts to fried green tomatoes. So it was both a challenge and a thrill to prepare a meal completely from my new favorite cookbook (the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook). It was an even bigger challenge to make the entire meal without my mom in the next room to pester with questions about how to work the food processor or what exactly the difference is between flat leaf and regular parsley. So without further ado the line up:
1) cheese straws - This was made slightly difficult, because I couldn't figure out how to assemble my mom's food processor (damn you Cuisinart and your safety measures that make everything so complicated, who really cares about the occasional amputated finger). So despite having to make the dough in a blender (an interesting experience mandating the need to dig around in the bottom of the thing every few minutes with a fork while simultaneously crossing my fingers that the blender wouldn't explode from the sheer exertion it seemed to be putting out), they turned out great. I loved the unexpected spice the crushed red pepper gave the recipe, and the way the straws went from soft dough to slightly crispy crackers in only ten minutes.
2) Buttermilk Bird's Head biscuits. They're called bird's head biscuits because they're little as opposed to the massive "cat's head" biscuits you see a lot. Again these would have been a tad easier with a food processor but they turned out just fine without one. Although I am really an equal opportunity biscuit eater and will eat almost anything even resembling a biscuit. So I'm probably not the best to judge.
3) Mac n' Cheese. The Lee Bros. stick the Mac n' Cheese recipe in the vegetable section, and I love them for it. But like everything in their cookbook and like a lot of southern food in general, Mac n' Cheese only looks simple and unrefined. I think southern food doesn't get a lot of credit because food snobs look at things like grits or fried chicken and assume they known everything about it. They don't see any complexity or nuance. But really good southern cooking is full of complexity and nuance. There's just no showiness or arrogance. Southern cooks don't have to hide behind layers of fanciness or trendiness (all of those restaurants serving foam as food i'm looking at you). The best southern food uses innovation without for a second losing tradition. It's simple, but never ordinary. But I digress. As far as Mac n' Cheese the Lee Brothers recipe sticks with the oodles and oodles of cheese and elbow macaroni that makes Mac n' Cheese familiar, but incorporates extra sharp cheddar and high quality Swiss or Gruyere cheese as well as Bay Leaves to give it a kick. Mmm.
4) Creamed Corn. So I must confess I bought canned corn kernels. The recipe calls for fresh ears but apparently corn is seasonal. I really am not all that up on my seasonal vegetables. This recipe was as easy as pie, basically just combined a teensy bit of flour and butter to make a paste like substance, then pour in the corn and cream and simmer the whole mess until its done. Another comfort food that some may turn their noses up at, but just as tasty as any fancy side dish.
5) Crab Cakes. These were slightly intimidating because I had never made crab cakes before and they are one of my favorite foods so I was a little worried about screwing up. But they turned out great. I'm with the Lee brothers in their view that the best crab cakes let the crab shine through and don't cover it with deep frying or loads of breading. Basically they're just crab, mayo, a little bit of mustard, a tiny bit of bread crumbs, parsley and green onions. I sauted them in a pan until they were slightly brown and then baked them five minutes. Voila. Oh but the one catch is fresh crab is a must; no canned stuff. Although it is a pain in the ass to go through and get the shells out, my least favorite part about making meals with crab in it.

So I was supposed to make a red-velvet cake to top off the whole southern extravaganza but sadly one afternoon in the kitchen + 5 other dishes + one, two-handed me = does not a home cooked desert make. I'll save that one for later. But regardless everything turned out great. I love to cook period, but there's something about cooking what's familiar that makes me feel safe. When I'm in Charleston and missing Richmond and home I like to make my mom's chicken chili or tuna pasta salad. There's just this instant, visceral sense of comfort from making food I grew up with. I took it for granted for most of my childhood that my mother put a home cooked meal on the table almost every night. It is true that in a lot of ways a cooking legacy for women is the result of years of limited opportunities. But I don't think it's that simple. I think women took something that might have at one time been a burden or obligation and we made it our own. My mother learned to cook from her mother and I learned to cook from my own and there's something incredibly powerful and rewarding about that chain. It's kind of beautiful in a way, how something that might have one time been ugly and oppressing has turned into a heritage and a source of pride for a lot of women. I love the thought that years from now, when I have my own children, all it's going to take is making a pound cake or making tuna salad (the way my grandma does, with chopped pickles, chopped celery and plenty of lemon juice) to remind me of where I came from, and the strong, beautiful women in my family who came before me and lived through a time when they might not have had a choice about putting a meal on the table. It's the same way cooking lowcountry food or even simply southern food will always remind me of who I am. Yes, cooking is a way to eat. But I think anyone who truly loves to cook, who loves to find new recipes or rediscover old ones knows it more than that. It's a scribbled recipe, faithfully kept for years in a wooden recipe box by my mother, now typed up on clean white paper, kept just as faithfully, but with a whole new appreciation, by her daughter.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

bye charleston, hello richmond

What a difference six hours makes. I might as well come out and admit that I spent the first hour of my car ride today crying. Not to worry, this has been a recurring theme every time I've driven away from Charleston this year. I get into my car and I'm fine, but inevitably the second I get on 26, no matter how hard I try to ignore it, I start to picture what it's going to be like when I make the drive in August, when I leave Charleston. Cue the tears. It was especially hard today because again, as hard as I tried to ignore it, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that this could be my last Christmas in Charleston (or at least the last for a while). It's an ongoing battle not to spend my senior year thinking in terms of lasts. All it's going to do is make me a blubbering and sentimental mess. I know this, yet I still have a hard time with it, especially with Christmas, because Charleston, while lovely year round of course, is especially lovely at Christmas.
And it's hard to describe; because what makes Charleston so wonderful at Christmas aren't the obvious things. That's not to say that the obvious things aren't great. I love the James Island Festival of Lights, the giant tree in Marion Square, the trees lining the block of King Street, the lit Palmetto trees lining Coleman Blvd. out in Mount Pleasant. I love when the Budweiser Clydesdales come (by the way where were they this year. Are they late, delayed somehow, off delivering Budweiser and cheer to some other part of the world? I guess I may never know) I love a healthy dose of kitsch and tackiness and glitter along with my Christmas festivities. Yet the truth is none of these things really suit Charleston. It's sort of like dressing up a cat in a Christmas sweater and a Santa hat. The end result is not what one would call natural or even all that endearing. Charleston to me is like this fantastic old broad, someone who has never followed a trend in her entire life and doesn't even know the meaning of tacky or gaudy. People might try to force these things on Charleston, but what's honest and true about Charleston at Christmas aren't the lights or plastic Santas. To me Charleston during the holidays is best captured at oyster roasts in the cold night air, people huddled together holding beers and prying open the big, salty oysters while laughing and talking. Or gas lanterns, because even though they are there all year, there's something about Christmas that makes you notice the lanterns in places you normally otherwise wouldn't. Christmas in Charleston is people coming off their boats to warm up with hot chocolate (or a cold beer) at a waterside bar or restaurant. It's real candles in windows, not the plastic ones, or simple holly wreaths on doors along the Battery. Over the years I've found that the best Christmas traditions in Charleston are ones that you have to find upon closer inspection. It's applicable to Charleston in general as well. On the surface Charleston is post card pretty, with tourist trap seafood restaurants (ones that deep fry their crab cakes and serve crap dip with saltines) and crowded shopping districts. But anyone who truly knows this city, anyone who truly loves it, knows that the real Charleston can be found in quiet patches of marshland weaving between neighborhoods or in hidden shacks alongside creeks where the seafood is no-frills and served with boiled peanuts. Charleston is a city of many layers, and it has been one of my greatest thrills to dig deeper and deeper into this place and find what is honest and untamed. Finding Christmas in Charleston is simply a continuation of that. Yet to bring all of this back to my point, it was extremely painful, almost in a physical way, to think that I may not see Charleston at Christmas next year. Thus the car crying. I've realized that leaving Charleston is not, unfortunately, going to be like tearing off a band-aid, all the pain in one fell swoop. This year is basically going to be akin to having said band-aid (one that was super-glued to my skin) being pulled of inch by inch. It's going to hurt like hell. My goal is to let the hurt come only in spurts so that it never stops me from enjoying every second I have left of this beautiful town. And life is unpredictable. I could find myself here next Christmas, feeling foolish for shedding tears over nothing. Who knows.
So six hours after I left Charleston I arrived in Richmond, and several simultaneous things helped to ease the pain of leaving Charleston. First the Richmond skyline all lit up. I never really appreciated the holiday skyline until I left home. Now it's one of my favorite things to drive up 95 and see it looming in front of me, all of the buildings clearly defined against the night. Second, the cold air when I got out of my car. When I left Charleston this morning it was 80 degrees. When I reached Richmond, I stepped out of my car in a short sleeved tee and sandals and had to run inside and pull on a sweatshirt. Finally weather to match the season. The third thing that made me blissfully happy to be in Richmond was being able to run to Ukrops to grab dinner (I'm sorry Harris Teeter, I love you too, but you simply can't compare to the 'krops). The fourth thing that made me ridiculously, cheerfully happy was driving through Carytown and down Monument Ave and seeing both dressed to the nines in their holiday finest. As much as I love Charleston, Richmond will always be my first home. And there are these instant things about Richmond that always make me feel safe and comfortable, no matter how long I have been gone. My deepest hope is that it will be like that with Charleston too. I'd like to think that even if I stay away for month or years (okay I take that back, I can never stay away from Charleston for years, even if I have to swim, climb or hike to get to the lowcountry), but anyways, I'd like to think that all it will take is the sight of our beautiful bridge stretching over the harbor or the view from Coleman onto Shem Creek to bring me back home again. I really need to believe that, and until I've been proven otherwise I will.

Incredibly Random Side Note: So Project Runway this season is killing me! And the problem is that for the first time I genuinely like all of the contestants (okay well Victorya is a little cold and Ricky is the cryingest crybaby that ever did cry) but other than those quibbles everyone seems good natured and decent. Reality show contestants aren't supposed to be likable across the board. It's why America's Next Top Model is so enjoyable because half those girls are either crazy, severely deluded or just plain idiotic. When one gets sent home I can giggle and change the channel. But since Project Runway involves talented and creative people with actual ambitions for their lives besides being on television, it makes it very emotional to watch. Just this week I started out sad because Chris was gone and I loved Chris. Then I got even sadder because Jack had to go home because of medical issues and I loved Jack (and this is not just because the producers occasionally throw in a gratuitous shot of Jack in his underwear, I promise). Then I got happy again because Chris came back since Jack left although I was still sad about Jack, and well can't you see how this is taxing on a person such as myself? I really need a good Santino or a Wendy to break up all the love. I guess I'll just have to keep watching with a box of tissues next to me for now, until one of them reveals his or her evil side (Christian I'm watching you, you're tiny and your hair defies logic).

Monday, December 10, 2007

selling back books

Is it just me or is there something incredibly demoralizing, perhaps a tad humiliating about selling back books at the end of the semester? Here you come, fresh out of finals, bursting, nearly skipping with end of the year joy, ready to rid yourself of the detritus of the past semester. And you stand in line for half an hour, finally make it up to the buy-back book table, after watching the students before you make major bank with their ginormous text books, walking away with fists full of cash. And you hand over your pile of books, watching hopefully as the sullen girl behind the counter types information into the mysterious, all-knowing college book database. And then the counter girl looks up at you and announces in a clear, loud voice (so that everyone in line can hear) "That'll be a dollar fifty." One dollar and fifty cents. And suddenly it isn't just counter girl, but the entire academic institution doling out your pathetic and meager sentence. I'll drop the first person now, because obviously this has happened to me on not one but many occasions. There's something so depressing about receiving such a trifling dollar amount on a book you spent weeks, sometimes even months on, a book that cost five or six times more money just three and a half months prior. Of course the text book industry is a scam, everyone knows that. Books go out of print practically every week, with a new one popping up in its place that is nearly identical except for maybe an added footnote. Yet I still manage to convince myself every time that I might actually get some substantial money. And time and again, I get one dollar, two, on rare occasions possibly four. I watch my books get tossed into a box, reach out for the meager amount of money, and walk away feeling like the college has just told me, in no uncertain terms, that the contents of my head are worth as much as a McDonald's value meal. Sigh.

Also, as I stood in line to sell back my books (the line happened to be right in front of one of the freshman dormitories) I watched the freshman girls go in and out of the dorm and I was struck by the simultaneous sensations of missing freshman year and of being so insanely happy that I am no longer one of those girls. Every girl I saw brought up an instant memory. The girl in pajama pants stumbling back from Craig Cafeteria, barely able to stand up straight after no doubt an interesting night. The girls hugging outside of the dorm doors, wishing each other Merry Christmases, inexplicably close to people they have only known for four months. All of the girls going in and out of the Hungry Cougar. I can remember literally hundreds of lunches from that place, poor quality deli wraps and make your own salads. I can't help but feel instantly affectionate towards these girls, because they are all so obviously thrilled with their relatively new independence but still very transparently unsure of themselves. My freshman year in college (especially first semester) is this insane blur, but underneath all of it was this undercurrent of utter terror, being in a new place with new people, everything heightened and surreal. I realize now that it's necessary to be scared shitless for a while, because it shakes everything up and forces you to become a new person, one who can handle living alone and making your own decisions. But when you're going through freshman year, it's all about disguising the fact that you have no idea what you're doing, because you're convinced that everyone else does in fact know what they are doing. The result is all of this faux confidence and loudness and bravado. So I see these girls (who by the way are starting to look impossibly young) and despite their somewhat annoying tendencies I can't help but feel for them. I was them.

Yet, on a related note, there is something about freshman that needs to be addressed. If you are a freshman, before you walk out the door you need to look down at yourself, and if your shorts are the size of boy cut bathing suits, they are un...acceptable. I don't care how skinny you are, no one (who is not a horny boy or a creepy pervert) wants to see that much of you. And the only way to make this more unacceptable is by pairing those shorts with Uggs. Short shorts and Uggs literally defy logic. Uggs are designed to keep you warm. Tiny shorts are basically equivalent to wearing just underwear in terms of climate protection. Put them together and you are threatening to make the universe explode with the sheer senselessness of your outfit. So do us all a favor and reevaluate this combination, put on some real pants that would not make your mother blush, and save the Uggs for when it's not 70 degrees outside. Thanks!

Saturday, December 8, 2007


So I just finished watching a wonderful and beautiful movie called "Paris Je T'Aime." It's a love letter to Paris disguised as a film, with eighteen tiny movies for each of the neighborhoods of Paris, all done by different directors. I had heard good things about it, but mainly I rented it because of my love affair with Paris, which began the day I set foot there for my semester abroad. I knew that with the movie I could gorge myself on images of narrow streets and stone apartment buildings and the gleaming Seine in the moonlight, all of the things I miss a great deal.
And of course it made me cry. The second the credits flashed over the sparkling Eiffel Tower I was a goner. Because I ache for Paris. I always will. It's why my room is covered in photos from the time I spent there, why a tiny post card of the Eiffel Tower at night hangs in front of my computer so I can see it as much as possible. And I guess it's a weird thing, to surround myself with all of these images and memories that make me ache. I rented the movie tonight knowing it would make me sad. But if it makes any sense, it's sad in a good way, aching in a good way. We all do it. It's why people look over photographs from childhood or take home videos. It's saving letters and cards, even the insignificant ones. Humans are weird creatures in our desperate, stubborn, incessant need to remember. If we were driven only by reason we would shed our memories because memories are illogical things. It's grasping at objects that are no longer there, reaching out, despite all common sense, for a place or a person or a feeling. And always, we will come up empty handed.
Yet as we grasp, for a moment it's there. I reach back in my memory for Paris and I get a second of Sunday morning in the Marais, flower and oyster stands on either side of me, motorbikes buzzing by, Orthodox Jewish men rushing past, people walking with falafel, tables set out on the sidewalks for Sunday brunch. And of course the second waivers and ends. I'm no longer in Paris but in my apartment in Charleston. I blink and then I ache. But it's worth it isn't it? Remembering is the most exquisite kind of pain. Because to miss something so much means that you once had something that great, something worth missing. I had Paris; for four beautiful months I had Paris. So for the rest of my life I will watch movies about the city, look at my photographs, buy pretty much anything if it has a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it, and as I do these things I will probably get a little sad. But sad in the best, most necessary way.
I can only hope my life will be filled with experiences that will one day cause me beautiful pain.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

finals road rage

Oh finals week, that special time of the year when I vacate my normal place of residency and move into Addlestone library. As I sit here not studying, hopped up on caffeine and in full sleep-deprivation mode, surrounded by my fellow caffeine crazed, sleep deprived students, I thought I'd share some things I've learned about unacceptable finals behavior. This is my seventh go round at this whole shindig so I feel like I have some authority, right? maybe? anyone?

1) If you are going to listen to headphones in the library, that is fine, but you must, and I repeat must, keep the volume to a minimum. I know some people bring headphones to the library to drown out noise, yet if those same people really thought about it, how kind is it to drown out noise while in the process creating noise for the people around you without headphones? Yesterday for example, I was in the third floor study room and a girl two seats down from me was listening to her music loud enough for me to hear a repeated saxophone blast. I'm not even going to ask why she was listening to music with saxophones in it if not for the purpose of swing dancing. But the last thing I need when I'm trying to concentrate on African political theory is saxophone!

2) So this is one of my biggest pet-peeves. It's the last few minutes before a final. You've spent the last few days (or hours) studying. You get to the classroom, pencil ready, doing your mind stretches or whatever, and there will always be a couple of people loudly and frantically going over the material. I understand that for some this is reassuring, hearing themselves say it out loud. Maybe they are missing interior monologues. For whatever reason they feel the need to rapidly run through all of the information in a voice audible enough for all to hear. Yet one of these people will undoubtedly say a piece of information that is new to someone, or different from how someone studied, and bam - panic spiral. And then you start taking the exam and the panic spiral becomes a panic paralysis, and it's all just a panicky downhill slope from there. If you really need to speed study in the seconds before a final, do it outside the room far from innocent bystanders who just want to at least maintain the illusion that they are prepared.

3) Library gawkers. Okay so this one I probably do myself. But it's still creepy. People are at the library for hours on end. They get bored and distracted and a little on edge. So the first shiny object or random person that appears is going to get attention. But when the library is at full capacity, and you have to walk through it, all of those ope-mouth stares=un...comfortable. But again I'm sure when I'm in library catatonia I am the same exact way, so tis a bit hypocritical of myself, I will admit.

4) The rest of the world. Yes, you heard me right. I am making the claim that during finals week the entire rest of the world is unacceptable. And maybe this can only make sense to those in the midst of finals insanity, but whenever I venture out to a place that is not a library or starbucks during finals, and find myself suddenly surrounded by glowing, rested, showered people going about their lives, I always find myself taken aback and wondering how can this be? For during finals week we college students suddenly become a different species, jittery and nocturnal and unsure how to handle sunlight. We stumble around in our sweatpants or yoga pants (really pants at all is progress) clutching enormous cups of coffee, loaded down with an entire semester's worth of text books and notes, rubbing our bleary, usually contact free eyes. Yet in the confines of our world, we are not alone. We run into similar creatures, and nod and smile because we alone understand each other's plight. Far be it from us to judge the girl passed out on the library chair. We were her just the other day. Guy standing expressionless in line at Starbucks, like he somehow went in there by mistake. Check. We literally feel each other's pain. And so when I find myself at these times thrust into the real world, around people who coordinated their outfits that morning and haven't forgotten to brush their hair in three days, I just feel like these people, these people without pencil indentations on their fingers, belong to a different world than I. It is not until I find myself again in the safety of the library, watching the guy in front of me let his head droop ever so closer to the table, that I am home.

Or at least the florescent-lit, always freezing, overcrowded home that I have come to know (and well if not love than at least be on very polite terms with) these past few years.

Monday, December 3, 2007

moments of clarity and some side notes

As I stayed up until 4am last night to write a ginormous case study paper for my Politics of Africa class, hopped up on caffeine, a strange thing happened. I was grateful. This is not to say I wouldn't have rather been sleeping, or watching tv, or really doing anything at the 2am mark, but in one moment I suddenly realized that this year, (not counting a possible foray into graduate school), will be the last time in my life I am fully expected by all members of society to devote my time and energy to the sheer process of thinking. When you tell people you go to college, they're satisfied. They're not going to follow with a "so what do you do?" In a year I'm going to be 23, and people are going to start asking me what exactly I do, fully expecting some real answer. If I tell them, "Oh well today I read some political philosophy and tomorrow I'm going to dive into late 18th century British literature", they'd smile politely and walk very quickly away. College students complain all the time about work, trust me I'm one of them. But I think a lot of us just like to hear ourselves complain. Because really, we choose to go to college, and as much as we fight and procrastinate and bitch and moan, would any of us choose to be in a situation where at eighteen, or even younger, education ends and we're supposed to start making a living?
I spent twelve hours yesterday devoted completely to intellectual pursuits, and tomorrow once I've recovered from lack of sleep and caffeine withdrawal, I'm going to spend many more hours doing the same thing . That sounds pretentious, but maybe that's the point. With college coming to a close, I'm realizing that the window in my life where I'm supposed to be pretentious is rapidly shrinking. In college if you end up drunk at a bar talking about politics sure it's obnoxious to bystanders, but it's also earnest and well intentioned and expected. If I end up in those same conversations in a few years, ones unhindered by reason or patience, then I'm going to want to punch myself in the face. And of course I can keep learning. I hope I do. I'll always be a person who will read any book I get my hands on. But it will be different. I'm not going to write an analysis paper or listen to a lecture about what I'm reading, and if I do then clearly I will have some issues. I'll have bills to pay and a job to go to, a family not too long after all of that. For the last year or so I've often said that I'm ready for school to be over, but not college. But now I take that back. I've kicked and screamed my way through eight semesters of papers and busy work and lectures and articles. And in a few days, when I'm sleep deprived again because of finals I'll probaby kick and scream even louder. But for one moment at least, in the wee hours of last night, I received some much needed clarity. I lead a pretty charmed life right now if the worst thing I have to do is spend an entire day using my brain.

Random Side Note: I was watching TV the other day and flipped past the Christian network and who should I see but Kirk Cameron awkwardly standing at a podium, preaching about hell and fire and brimstone (well not exactly those words but that was his gist). Why is Mike Seaver doing this? Shouldn't he be living in his parent's garage with his inappropriately named friend Boner? I don't like it when my fictional characters so rudely intrude into the real world.

Another Random Site Note: The USA won Davis Cup!! and it was played on Versus, a cable channel most people have never even heard of....sigh...I know it's a losing battle about tennis getting the respect it deserves in America but it still makes me pugnacious when a respected, long-running international sporting event gets virtually ignored. Except for the US Open and maybe the final rounds of Wimbledon, I've seen tennis on the front page of the NY Times once, and that was because of a betting scandal. But all bitterness aside, watching them win was awesome, especially since I was at the quarterfinal against Spain in Winston Salem.

Yet Another Random Side Note: I went to an oyster roast to watch the parade of boats Saturday night with some friends, and I witnessed the most amazing thing. A lot of people brought their kids, and all of these children congregated in front of the band (the Blue Dogs who were awesome) I felt like I was at a Wiggle's concert. These kids either ran around in circles, dug things in the sand, tackled each other, or best of all DANCED. Dozens of little babies dancing on a beach in front of a band. Just picture this, and if you are even the smallest amount like me you will giggle. And the most awesome part of the awesome parts. The band started playing the Who's Baba O'Riley, and in like 30 seconds, nearly all of the babies stopped whatever motion they were involved in, stood silently, and stared at the band for a solid couple of minutes. It's like they were hypnotized. Oh babies, just like tiny drunk adults. And in the case of these babies, tiny drunk adults with an affinity for The Who.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

end of semester nostalgia

I am almost incapable of giving a professor a bad evaluation, like ridiculously so. I could rant and rave about a professor for three solid months, grind my teeth and pull my hair with frustration over assignments and grades and lectures. I could plot all of the ways I will tear him or her to pieces come the end of the semester. But inevitably, I get the sad little evaluation with its fill in circles and inane and repetitive questions, and I just...can't...bring myself to do it. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that I get nostalgic over literally anything. I go on a day trip and by the end of the day I'm waxing sentimental on things that happened, oh I don't know, 8 hours earlier. So when it comes to a full semester, it's bound to happen. It could be one of the worst classes of my life, Calculus for example, but the last day comes, and suddenly I'm thinking fondly of those golden, early days of the semester, all of the time I've spent with logarithms, and really logarithms aren't that bad, in fact, i'm going to kind of miss logarithms. Honestly I don't know what's wrong with me. Plus thirteen years of Catholic school left me with a constant, crushing sense of guilt waiting to pounce at any moment. There's no quicker way for me to bring on that guilt than to give a professor a negative evaluation. I know that's not really the way guilt is supposed to work, but the thing with Catholic guilt is you don't really get to pick and choose. You're simply guilty about everything.

Also I will never stop being amused by the "hostile" option on the "how interested were you in taking this class" question. It's so inadvertently hilarious that a college evaluation is asking students if they were openly hostile to taking a class. I filled it in once for my Images and Issues of Contemporary Arts class, and it gave me an endless source of happiness.

Two more classes left and it's the end of my last fall semester in college. Although I'm still very happy to be living in the land of denial when it comes to such things. You should visit sometime. It's lovely.

Random Side Notes:

30Rock makes me giggle uncontrollably, and Tina Fey is sort of my hero, or maybe it's just her character Liz Lemon who I think is the one of the best female characters on television, ever. Either way she's awesome.

Annd one last thing. USA v Spain David Cup Final starts tomorrow! There's a distinct chance I'm sleeping in my Winston Salem Davis Cup Quarterfinal T-Shirt tonight. I'm not going to affirm or deny, just putting it out there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

weekend life lessons and deli meat epiphanies

For the first time since I've been back in Charleston after Thanksgiving break, I actually have some free time, so I thought I would contemplate the past weekend. There's nothing like a nice glass of wine and fancy Alouette cheese spread (I splurged) to make me contemplative. So in no particular order, here is what I learned over the holiday break:

1) Some things never change. I went to UVA on Saturday to visit one of my best-friends and see the UVA/Tech football game. It was the first of these games I had ever been to, though of course being a native Virginian I had heard plenty about the rivalry. I knew that things could get pretty heated, fights could break out, etc, but I somewhat naively thought things might be different this year considering what happened last spring at Virginia Tech. And I was, of course, completely wrong. There were boo's a plenty, jeering, name calling, the works. Even at half time when the poor VT marching band played, the UVA kids let 'em have it. And honestly I don't even know how I feel about it. It's true that in a lot of ways it was comforting, that on that day these weren't victims or survivors but just college kids, intensely involved in a decades old rivalry. And I don't think anyone wanted for the rivalry to go away. But at the same time, it creates a difficult question. How do you move on without forgetting? How do you find normal again when normal has been shattered? I'm not even sure if there is an answer to either of those questions. All I know is that I was both happy to see the full fledged animosity between the two teams and uncomfortable all at the same time. And I must admit, even though I was cheering for UVA the whole time, that it was nice to see all the Tech kids there go crazy at the end of the game when their team won. They deserve to have something to be proud of, something to cheer about, after everything that has happened this year.

2. Football is really, really not my sport. I had a wonderful time at UVA, and since CofC does not have a football team, it's always nice to experience that whole crazed, college sporting atmosphere. But seriously? I stood up for more than four hours! I could never give my heart to a sport requiring so physical a commitment just to watch it. In tennis you sit politely until a truly spectacular shot, and that's when you leap to your feet and go crazy. It's much more fitting my personality and physical laziness. Also tennis is not about the jeering and the boos. I don't know what it is, but I get so uncomfortable when anyone is booed. It doesn't matter who they are, I immediately start feeling sorry for them. Maybe because I picture myself getting booed and I want to cry, because well, who wouldn't? In everyday life, booing is not except able. You're not going to be walking down the street or shopping for groceries and suddenly be faced with a line of booing strangers. But my point is, I do not have the spirit for football.

3. Even fake snow makes me absurdly happy. I went to one of the Richmond outdoor malls when I was home, and although I had heard about their tradition of making it fake snow in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I had never actually been there for it. One of my best friends and I were just running in to grab a few things when all of the sudden I noticed a crowd of people gathered, with Christmas decorations and lights everywhere and carols coming from the speakers. And then looking up into the dark sky, there it was, snow, tons of it, pouring out of fans from the ceiling, coating the air. I'm not ashamed to admit that if I had been by myself I may have started twirling (snow for some reason always makes me want to twirl). But so as not to embarrass my friend, I restrained myself. But still, it was absolutely lovely. Charleston doesn't really provide me much snow, and the last time I got a genuine, ground coating snow fall was in high school. This may not have been that, but it still made me as giddy as a five year old. I don't know what it is, but snow is perhaps the quickest, surest way to my heart, even apparently if it is fake. I obviously don't discriminate when it comes to precipitation.

4. I actually like Jane Austen. Up until now it has been one of my deep, shameful secrets that I sort of hated Jane Austen. I had only read Emma, but that alone was enough to make me never want to read any of her work again. It was so dull and tedious and boring. But I felt awful about this. I loved the movies so I couldn't understand why I didn't love the books. Plus Jane Austen just seems so necessary to any girl who wants to be a writer. What was wrong with me if I would pick Hemingway over her any day? But on the way back from Charleston I started Pride and Prejudice for one of my classes, and within a few pages, I actually, kind of, liked it. And within a few more pages I started to really like it. Now half way through, I can genuinely say that it might end up being one of my favorite novels. I don't know why, but even though Pride and Prejudice was one of my favorite movies I always assumed that the film version fleshed out the Elizabeth Bennett character and made her a lot more cool than she could have been in early 19th century print. But I was so wrong. Elizabeth Bennett is such a strong and amazing character in the book, especially considering when Austen wrote. She's quick and smart and decisive, and I sort of have a literary girl crush on her, as well as Jane Austen.

So those are the life lessons I have accumulated over the past few days. Clearly I've been very busy. Also this is an aside, but as I was in Harris Teeter this evening I realized that no other grocery item makes me feel quite so adult as deli lunch meat. Maybe it's because I saw my mother order it every time I went to the supermarket with her, or because it took me a while to be brave enough to order it myself, but for whatever reason I felt very old tonight when I placed my order for a 1/2 pound of Oven Roasted Turkey Breast.

So now I'm off to walk Summer, my roomate's dog (my fake dog) and then forcing myself to cook a healthy chicken dinner even though I'm exhausted and would much rather order something unhealthy for delivery :)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Why I Love Tennis

So last night I was watching the Andre Agassi documentary on the Tennis Channel, and after getting choked up not once, but several times, I got to thinking about why I love this sport. Some who know me might call my love of tennis obsessive. And a lot of people don't really get it. What could be so great about a sport that's better watched alone and in quiet, a sport that doesn't involve tail-gaiting or bean dip, whose main event of the year is a dignified Sunday morning affair where the proper dish to serve is strawberries and cream? Tennis is not for sports bars, or large social affairs. It's incredibly complicated in terms of its scoring system. The rules changes for different tournaments. It has a year round schedule. I can understand how an outsider might look at it as a weird sport to obsess about. But I love tennis. I've loved it since I was little and my family used to watch Wimbledon or the US Open at our beach rentals over the summer. I loved it when Andre Agassi was still a rebel, and Pete Samprass was still chasing records instead of owning them, long before that Swiss dude came into the picture. And for the purposes of clarification, to explain why I can easily spend 5 hours watching one match, or devote an entire weekend to a tournament, I thought I would try to explain, once and for all, why this game is so great, why it means so much to me. Let me count the ways.

1. Tennis is all about human drama. I love stories, of all sizes, shapes, and sorts and tennis is the ultimate sports vehicle for stories. And not stories in the inspirational sports movie way where you find out about the plot points after the event has happened. In tennis, every single match is a story about two people (except for doubles) standing across the net from each other, with no team to shield them or helmet to hide their emotions. As an avid viewer of tennis you know about the lives of the players. There are a lot of tennis players but only a small number consistently at the top. And through press conferences or post match interviews or the commentators, you find out the subtle details of their characters and lives. And so when you watch a match you're not just watching anonymous guy in shorts, you're watching a person who's gone through emotional struggles or spent a while recovering from injury, a kid whose on their way up or a fading legend trying to stick around for a few more years.Players can't hide in tennis. Every frustration or triumph is out there for view. And it creates these matches, usually at least one a tournament, so rife with human drama.
What other sport could create the emotion of watching Andre Agassi beat Marcos Baghdatis in the 2nd round of the 2006 US Open, Agassi's last tournament. Here's Agassi, 36 years old, a legend, but one who has been let down physically by his body. It's obvious he loves the sport because he's stuck around that long, but it's also obvious he's in pain. And Baghdatis is 21, an up and coming player, young and talented, and it's a huge tournament, so there's a lot at stake for him. And it's more than a sporting event, it turns into this 5 set epic, lasting well into the night, but the crowds are packed until the very end, everyone in New York cheering Agassi on, not ready to say goodbye to him. It goes to a fifth and both players just smile, knowing that its past them now. It's all come down to this tiny fraction of points. Agassi wins and it's phenomenal. He's more than a decade older than Baghdatis, obviously struggling physically, but he wins, and everyone in the place is on their feet like its the final. I remember watching that match in my bedroom, staying up into the wee hours to see it finish, and knowing that it was about more than tennis then. It was about this individual fighting with everything he has not to leave, to play one more match, one more point. It was beautiful in a way sports rarely are, because it was about more than the ability of the body, it was about the tiny, impossible, oh so human struggle of having to face change, to move on from something you love, knowing its for the best but still not quite willing to say goodbye
Or what about the drama of Pete Sampras playing after his coach has passed away, literally crying during the points, pushed beyond his emotional limits, but not giving up, winning the match. There's James Blake coming back from a year filled with injury, sickness and the loss of his father, his rise back to the top of the game. Or the Serbian players who are in the top 10 now, whose early lives were marred by war and struggle but who found a way to overcome those challenges and do what they love on an international stage. I've seen players playing their mentors, their best friends, their siblings. Or the times players bring personal dislike onto the court, the gloriously outrageous trash talking and bad behavior. Tennis is not driven by teams or organizations but by individuals, and because of that it will always be about the human stories behind the players. And for that I love it.

2. In tennis you follow players, not teams. Some might say that is a drawback because while teams can go on for decades, players sadly cannot. Some players have very short careers, ending before they are even 30. But there's something about sticking with a player, seeing them go from an awkward teenage kid to a graceful and classy man in his early 30s that makes the sport latch onto your emotions in a way few others can. You feel an affection for players because of this, because they're out there for public consumption, on their own, and all of their ups and downs and failures and successes are going to be seen in a harsh and unforgiving light. The first round upsets, the times players get beaten badly by guys much less talented than them, all of these are hell on a fan, but it's a gradual process. Following a player through the bad stuff makes it all the more sweet when they achieve success. Not to harp on Agassi too much, but in the middle of his career he spent a year in the bottom of the rankings, losing a lot, almost out of the sport, and then he comes back and wins the French Open and starts winning majors again. And for someone who has followed his career, it's an incredibly emotional and rewarding thing.
3. The dramatic comebacks. One of the greatest things about tennis in my opinion is that it is never too late for a player to win a match. It's not like basketball or football where things run on a timer, the length of tennis matches are determined by points. A player can be one point away from losing, having not won a single set or game, and it is still not too late for them to win it all. Some of the greatest matches I have ever watched have been the comebacks from two sets down. I remember Andy Roddick facing a break point in the 2003 US Open against Nalbandian, and coming back to win the match and go on to win the tournament. These are the matches that have fans shredding their nails in anxiety, almost ready to throw in the towel because it seems hopeless, but the thing is it is never hopeless. A player can find his game or a second win or a purpose and start to fight well into the match.

4. Late night matches at the US Open. Matches that start past 10pm and go till almost 2am, sitting up in bed in the dark with my eyes glued to the TV screen, not even thinking about turning it off until its done. Some of the greatest matches I've ever watched have been US Open night matches, the aforementioned Agassi/Bahgdatis match, the classic Agassi/Sampras match from the 2001 Open, one of Andy Roddick's first big matches against an equally young Lleyton Hewitt also at the 2001 Open, James Blake finally getting the monkey off his back and winning his first 5 setter against Fabrice Santoro at the 2006 Open. And far too many other great night matches that have me sleepwalking the next day.

5. Early morning watches at Wimbledon, getting up early and watching live tennis over coffee and breakfast. In my mind summer and tennis are always connected, with Wimbledon right in the middle at the end of June and beginning of July.

6. Because great tennis moments stay with you, no matter how small. James Blake looking up to the sky and smiling when he and Agassi went into a 5th set tie-break at the 2005 US Open. Andre Agassi at 35, after winning the US Open semifinal, walking back into the locker room with a huge smile on his face and finding his baby daughter there to greet him. 19 all in the 5th set of the epic 2003 Australian Open Quarterfinal between Roddick and Younes El Aynaoui, both players utterly exhausted and to the point of collapse, Roddick hands his racket to the ball kid and El Aynaoui follow suit, the ball kids play while both players sit down on the court and take a rest. John Isner, a 22 year old kid, fresh out of college at Georgia, taking a set from Federer, possibly the greatest player of all time at the US Open, a look of pure, sheer jubilation on his face. Rafa Nadal quietly acknowledging the greatness of Agassi when he beat him at his final Wimbledon match, allowing Agassi to take the moment. The embrace between Novak Djokovic and Baghdatis after their 5 set 2007 Wimbledon match, both players exhausted and drained, Dkokovic the winner, but both holding onto each other, out of respect and admiration. Rafa Nadal, covered in clay, holding on to his parents and for the first time in hours looking like a teenager instead of a tennis great. The small waved apologies after let cords, the way tennis players have the class to acknowledge win they win a point out of sheer dumb luck. Tennis players smiling to themselves after playing a great shot, unable to hide the simple joy of doing something cool. The classic moments from before I was born but which thinks to Tennis Channel and rain delays I've been able to watch, Jimmy Connors 1991 run to the semi-finals at the age of 39, all of the great Borg and McEnroe matches, so many other classic moments in tennis history. Which brings me back to what inspired me to write this blog in the first place, reliving one of my favorite tennis moments, Andre Agassi's farewell, him sitting in the chair after his match, looking with red eyes out into a standing crowd who would not sit down, even as the minutes began ticking away. I live for the tiny things in life, and they don't get much better than that. Tennis is my passion, and I hope I've done it some justice.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

my love for demetri has no bounds

So I really thought I was done with my last post, because again sleepy and turkey-ed out and what not. But I found how to add videos and it asked me to pick a topic to search for in YouTube and of course I immediately thought of Demetri Martin because he's silly and brilliant and generally amazing. And then I got four video boxes of him. So I just needed to share my excitement because like I said he's as cool as a pair of leather sleeves.

If you don't already know watch and learn.

turkey day

Happy Thanksgiving! I am lying here after the usual face stuffing fest know as my family Thanksgiving party. It featured its usual deliciousness: turkey, stuffing, mashed taters, rolls, etc. I'm not sure its class level could compare to the Faux Thanksgiving my friends and I threw together in 5 hours last weekend, which featured gourmet dishes from the one and only Melvin's, the super fancy Harris Teeter, and even a splurge at Whole Foods. I'm telling you, we are a classy bunch. Nothing says fancy like Mac-N-Cheese and biscuits. Be impressed.

On a more serious note, I saw this really cool thing on the evenings news last night about this girl who started a program to thank our troops through text messages. She started it in high school, which I thought was amazing because who does things like that in high school? I was still trying to get over a horrifying box dye phase and trying not to fail Chemistry. But then that got me thinking, of all the issues that young people should care about right now it should be our troops. It doesn't matter if you support the war or not. Because to be honest, the phrase "supporting or not supporting war" is pretty idiotic in and of itself. How can you simplify things that much? I think this is a sad and increasingly hopeless war. I think the reasons we got into it our muddled at best. I don't think there was an evil conspiracy behind it though. I do think the leadership failed. The planning failed. In essence my thoughts on this war are a confusing stew of confusion. As most of my thoughts are. But back to my original point. Regardless of your feelings, our soldiers deserve our compassion. Because they signed up for a job that pays shit and that most people would never do. Because they are currently involved in circumstances that I cannot even fathom. Because when they are finished they are expected to come home and go back to how everything was before they left. Because on average they're close to our age. I wrote about this in a much clearer fashion minus all the turkey sleepy drugs or whatever that tripto-thingy is called. So instead of trying to force my full and sleepy brain to express my thoughts I'm just going to paste what I already wrote here.

"Most people will tell you that Halloween is the definitive college holiday. More than New Year’s Eve, more than any of those family-oriented holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, Halloween belongs to the young.

A little less than two weeks after Halloween though, there is another holiday. It is one that can easily go overlooked, but with every passing year ties itself closer and closer to our specific generation. Veterans Day is November 11. In Charleston this year there were a series of events to mark the holiday. Yet I can’t help but wonder how much of that falls on deaf ears when it comes to an age group born long after the last, futile years of Vietnam. On more than one occasion this year I overhead students my age casually asking what the American flags in Marion Square were for. If we’re honest with ourselves Veterans Day is not a holiday the majority of young people take much note of. It seems to belong to graying men with sad eyes standing near memorials or on beaches, thinking about their wars, wars that we acknowledge and honor, but do not, can not, remember. How can a holiday devoted to honoring veterans have anything to do with our generation? It is for our parents maybe, our grandparents definitely, but not for us.
4,320 US soldiers have been killed in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan at an average age of 27. 30,270 have been seriously injured. Yet these statistics do not even touch on the more than 1.6 million US servicemen and women who have come home uninjured, yet with incalculable mental and psychological scars. Advances in medicine have produced the blessing of fewer battlefield deaths, yet once these wounded soldiers return home they are greeted with a system that has not caught up. A report by the Institute of Medicine found that more than 90 studies involving drug and psychological therapies have failed to produce reliable results about how to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, despite the fact that an estimated 12.6 percent of troops returning from Iraq and 6.2 percent returning from Afghanistan will suffer from it. The consequences from this lapse in adequate treatment are staggering. According to a recent five month investigation by CBS news, more veterans have killed themselves after returning from Iraq than have been killed in battle in Iraq. Similar studies point to a rise in homelessness, substance abuse, and divorce rates among recent veterans.

These statistics categorically affirm that we are and always will be a generation of veterans. It is an ugly and uncomfortable reality, but it is one we must acknowledge. The men and women who are fighting and dying in these wars are our peers. The men and women coming home from these wars with physical or emotional wounds are our peers. To recognize this simple truth would mean more than empty salutes or flag waving ceremonies. It would mean allowing ourselves to extend compassion to the members of our generation who need it most right now. It would mean not resting until they receive adequate treatment; not letting the same tide of homelessness affect our veterans in the way it affected the veterans of Vietnam. And perhaps it could mean something even greater. To recognize that returning veterans truly belong to us, are a part of us, could galvanize our generation in a way nothing else has, to challenge our representatives and leaders to find an end to this miserable war and bring them home."

So there it is, my little essay or rant or what not. I thought it was especially relevant tonight, because as cliche and corny as it is, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. And I would personally like to give thanks to the people who in my view deserve it most right now.

Zach Morris time-out

I need a Zach Morris time-out. How much easier my life would be if i could just put my hands in the shape of a T, and everything around me would freeze. Zach never seemed stressed out and I think this is why. Every day there must be a thousand moments where I say that I'd do this or that if I just had enough time. I have 24 hours every day, give or take some for sleep/eating/tv watching/school/work/internship, okay give or take a lot then. Lately it just hasn't seemed like enough. My time in this town is hurtling towards its conclusion and every month time just seems to move faster. I want this year to be as slow as possible. I wish every minute could feel like an hour, because I don't want to leave. It's going to be the hardest thing I will ever do to leave this city, and every part of my soul is telling me to stay, but I know I can't. There are so many things I want to do and places I want to go and at least for a little while that's going to mean leaving this place behind. But it's physically painful to even think about that. I find myself tearing up at random moments, driving over the bridge at sunset or leaving Harris Teeter, walking past the homeless men in Marion Square, all of these every day things that I have taken for granted for more than three years. I keep thinking of things I haven't done here, making these lists in my head like I'm facing a death sentence or something. Reason tells me that I can come back, do all of these things years from now, but I know it's never going to be the same. Visiting a city and truly living in a city are two different things. This all brings me back to my freeze fame idea. I want to take a time out, spend as long as I need going over every inch of this place, soaking in every detail until I'm full. I want to live fully in my skin, without school or work or stress to take anything away from my enjoyment of this town that I love so much. I just need a break, time to think and to live and to be still. If Zach Morris could do it how come I cant?


The last few days have been some of my worst in recent memory. This is not to sound melodramatic. My life is pretty wonderful most of the time so "worst" isn't necessarily saying a lot. I just have been consumed, in every sense of the word, by stress. Somehow this week and the next week happen to contain a ridiculous number of tests, papers, presentations, projects, etc. I spent TWELVE hours Monday on a single paper. Like twelve hours straight. In a chair at my computer. I got up to go to the bathroom a couple of times. And at, I don't know, hour nine I made myself a sandwich. I went into this academic black out. Every single word just seemed to take so much effort to the point where I felt like I was writing one sentence every half hour. I'm usually pretty fast when it comes to writing papers. But this year things just feel so much more important. I have to have a certain GPA to graduate from the Honors College. I'm about .001 away from that GPA which doesn't sound too bad, except the thing is I can't screw up. One C grade or lower and that's it. I probably won't be able to raise it enough after that. Until this year I never realized how important it was for me to graduate from the Honors College but it is. I've worked so hard to stay in it. All of my friends who started the Honors College with me dropped out. And I really wanted to at times. But with the influence of my parents and my own self I stayed in it. I took 12 hours of a Western Civ Colloquium, Calculus, Hons. Appreciate for Math, a 6 hour bachelor's essay, a 3 hour independent study, Hons. Geometry, etc. Every single class that I've had to fight to do well in, really have had to try in, has been for the Honors College. To not graduate from it at this point would be devastating. Maybe it makes me vain or stupid, but I want my diploma to say Honors College. Because I'm not just graduating from CofC, I'm graduating from the Honors College of CofC. To come this close and not make it would be such a blow. And because of that every paper, every test, every quiz this year carries with it an extra weight. I guess i really hadn't started to feel it until this past week, and suddenly it just hit me. Every word of that paper I wrote felt like it was crucial. I think that's why it took me 12 hours. I've gotten though the hard part of this week but just barely. I came very close to losing it multiple times. Yesterday alone I almost started crying in my first class, then on the way to Starbucks before my internship, then actually at Starbucks after my internship when I had to force my tired and fried brain to study for a test. I was just pushed past my limit. I usually try to avoid stress, and not let school worry me that much, but I can't avoid it right now. This semester is important no matter how hard I try to ignore that. It's taken me a lot to be at the place in my life where I can acknowledge that I want to receive recognition for my academic achievements but I do. And I guess the cost of being in that place is just crushing, draining stress.

On that note, I was thinking the other night about how whenever I used to be upset when I was little I could make everything better by piling stuffed animals on my bed. I used to put as many as I could fit, all surrounding me. And without fail it always made me feel better, like I was less alone or something, or just comforted on a really basic level. I really wish I could go back to that. If for the last few nights a pile of stuffed animals could have made me feel better my life would have gone a lot smoother. Instead I had to watch Three's Company until I drifted off to sleep because my mind was moving too fast to fall asleep otherwise. There's a lot I wish I could go back to just for a day or so, to take a vacation from my life. I want to be eight again. I want to be lying on my bed with stuffed animals heaped around me listening to Mariah Carey's Daydream CD. I guess for right now I'll have to settle for an adult bed in an adult apartment. But I do still have my panda and I think if I look hard enough I might be able to dig up some Mariah.

random thoughts

It is one of my cherished ambitions in life to be a wino. I would love to have an extensive wine cellar in my basement, to know how to smell a glass of wine and know everything there is to know about it. I want to go to wine country and frequent wine tastings. I want to be able to take one look at wine list and know if I am at a classy establishment or a bargain basement joint. Basically I want to be a pretentious wine snob. But there is a problem. I only like one kind of wine. I don't know how this happened, but I have basically come to the conclusion that I only enjoy Pinot Grigio, and not just that but basically only Pinot Grigio from Italy. How did this happen? I want to like all wines but I take one sip of Sauvignon Blanc and want to do a spit take. Reds? Don't even get me started. I have loved one other wine, and that was a 400/dollar bottle that I got to have a sip from at French winery. So I don't think that's something I'll be buying by the case. Am I doomed to be a sad Pinot Grigio hermet afraid of all other wines? For now I think sadly yes.

So there are animals in the walls of my house. And I only wish this was some kind of metaphor. I don't know how this happened but every night for the last week I have been woken not once but several times by frantic scurrying and occasionally squeaking right near my head in the wall behind my bed. I have to calm myself down and convince myself that there is no way a small rodent could punch their way through a plaster wall. There's not right? What does one do in this situation after the landlord has been alerted? Buy a gun and go hunting? I'm all for animal rights but once those little creatures are in my domain I'm a little less friendly. If a squirrel got onto my bed I would have no qualms about sending it right to squirrel heaven. I sincerely hope this does not make me a bad person. However last night it was kind of pathetic. I woke up around 3 am to what sounded like an animal running from one end of the wall to the other. It was squeaking hysterically, and I kept hearing loud thuds that must have meant it was ramming itself into the walls. I can't think about this too much or I will start to envision a poor little squirrel in one of those little helmets with a flashlight on it, separated from his squirrel buddies, trying desperately to make his way to the surface. And now I feel bad for the squirrel. Precisely why I try not too think about it too much. I just really am tired of nature sounds in my city apartment.

I was thinking about it the other day and when does a guilty pleasure stop being guilty and start just being a pleasure? Because I'd feel a lot better about myself if so many of my pleasures weren't guilty. How great would it be if a Matchbox 20 song came on the radio and instead of loudly intoning "lame" as to impress my friends, I could fully admit my love for Matchbox 20. When I am alone you better believe I'm blasting that stuff like there's no tomorrow. Also Sherryl Crow - I'm sorry but I love her music. I even love her music when she steals it from Rod Stewart. I downloaded The First Cut is the Deepest and still get excited when IPod shuffle chooses to play it. See, my IPod doesn't discriminate. And sadly it doesn't end there. The first song at my wedding WILL be Bryan Adams "When You Love Someone", even if I haven't necessarily admitted that yet to most. Also I have several High School Musical songs in my music library. And I know them well. Like all the words well. And sure I pretend to love them ironically in a "its so bad its good" way, but really I just love them. They're so joyous. Plus it makes me thing of Zac Efron - yet another guilty pleasure but I don't care. It's confession time right? So yes, I love Zac Efron and his feathered hair. I also loved Jesse McCartney before he disappeared or went to rehab or wherever pretty, non-threatening actor/singer/dancers go. It doesn't end with music though. My favorite TV programming block is on Soap Net weekday afternoons; two hours of 90210, followed by the OC, followed by One Tree Hill. Yes, One Tree Hill. One of my favorite movies of all time is Newsies, yes Newsies, about singing and dancing newspaper boys in New York who go on strike. And before admitting these things might have made me feel a rush of shame and dread, but I am ending that now. I will no longer feel guilty about my guilty pleasures. I am embracing the cheesy and the low-brow and the sappy.

Matchbox 20 rocks. Yes you heard me.

Also in the time I wrote all of this I could have been working on either of the two ginormous papers I have due this week, or studying for my Politics of Africa test on Wednesday, or working on my internship work. Clearly my priorities are in order.

a beginning

So my confession is that I was always been mistrustful of blogs. There is something I used to find slightly self-serving in the whole genre. I'm also a private person and the thought of sharing my life with virtual strangers seemed well, bizarre at best. But lately I've changed my view. I kind of see now that blogging is just an extension of creativity. More than anything else it's a way to write - daily, by the hour, monthly, whatever - just write. I want to be a writer which means I should be writing allll the time. You can only learn so much about technique or style. The best way to become better as a writer is to do it as much as humanly possible, and more than that to do it in a way that offers itself up to public consumption. I can write all I want for myself, but at the end of the day I know I am writing only for myself. I'm not challenging myself to be better or funnier or clearer. I know I'll be able to understand myself and so I don't aim as high. So this way I have to challenge myself, even if only one person ever reads this.

I also have admitted to myself that I live far too much inside of my own head. I am a shy person, which to outsiders mean I am quiet, but the truth is I am only quiet externally. Internally I never shut up.I think all the time, and sometimes my brain seems ready to implode with the weight of all of these thoughts. This is not to say I sit around pondering the deep mysteries of life, or challenging myself with existential dilemmas
. I'm not that deep or pretentious (hopefully). Really I just think about everything, little things like what I saw on TV last night that no one else seemed to catch thus I have no one else to obsess about it, or that new great song that I secretly listen to over and over again in my car. I think about my plans for the night, for the next day, for the next ten years. I think about what an idiot this or that politician is and how stupid people are who believe him or her (sometimes my inner self can be very judgemental). I just think too much. So maybe by writing some of these thoughts out I can give myself a break. Blog me can take over, and my brain can go hang out by itself for a while. God knows it deserves the rest.

So here goes. I only expect two things from this, to become a better writer and to lessen my internal chaos. So clearly I am not aiming too high.

We'll see what happens.
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