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.
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