Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I have been called mellow on more than one occasion. This always comes as a shock. Maybe I don't always display my anger, but that doesn't mean it's non-existent. And at this particular moment at midnight on a Monday night, I'm particularly angry about a lot of things that will undoubtedly seem silly and stupid in a few days/months/years time. But I need to sleep tonight and I won't without venting so here goes. Disclaimer for pettiness and rage induced irrationality.

F-ing Henry's on Market has still not returned the 100 DOLLARS they stole from me more than a week ago. It's unacceptable. For some, having 100 dollars go missing from your bank account isn't a big deal. But I'm a college student aka poor. And to have them take the money wrongly, then take their sweet freaking time getting it back to me not only makes me vow to never go there again, but to spread the word until everyone I know never goes there again. Oh and maybe plan to spray some crude graffiti on their walls, until I realize that I could never in my life spray graffiti unless it was directed at a canvas owned by myself. But still, freaking Henry's is now my mortal enemy. And I just know if I was some 50 year old local with a house south of Broad I would have had my money back a week ago, plus an apology from the manager. College students are people too, Charleston drinking establishments! And the amount we spend on alcohol probably pays your bills. So one more reason you suck!

My adviser. It's official. College advisers are worthless. They're professors with other jobs to do who get assigned students whether they want them or not. Some advisers may find a way to pay attention to their advisee and actually, you know, advise them. But my adviser unfortunately is too caught up in her career or book deal or whatever to give me the time of day. As a result, more than two months after the end of last semester, I still do not have a grade for my last semester internship, except for the big fat, F, the Registrar's Office put in its place because it has been so long. Meanwhile I have literally done all but show up at this woman's house. I have resorted to putting "read receipts" in all my e-mails to her like a crazy person. I show up at her "office hours", but shock of all shocks she's not there. What do I have to do?! Hire a sky-writer to spell out "talk to your frickin' advisee" across the sky above the College of Charleston? Kidnap her baby and use my grade submittal as a ransom? College seniors, heck college students in general are stressed enough, busy enough, everything enough. The least an institution could do is spring some bucks to hire people who specialize in advising instead of sticking us with whatever professor happens to catch their fancy. College and its layers and layers of paperwork and procedure and bureaucracy is confusing! We need people who can actually help us, who want to help us. And the part that gets me the maddest is that finally this woman responds to the plethora of panic e-mails I have been sending her way, and she writes back a terse, two sentence reply. No apology. No excuse. She simply doesn't care. She doesn't care that I'm a graduating senior who has to sort through the confusing mess of getting my credits in order with my major department, my minor department, the Honors College and the general college by May. I had this woman as a professor and I used to respect her. But at this point I'm tired and never want to deal with her again. I wash my hands of advising. At least in my experience it was at best a joke, at worst a pain in the ass.

Annotated bibliographies. Yeah, you heard me. I'm pissed off about annotated bibliographies. Of all the ridiculous, time wasting things I've had to do in college, these may take the cake. Unfortunately I have two classes requiring them this semester. But seriously? Isn't a bibliography one of those magical things that speaks for itself. Like a table of contents, or a title page? If a professor really wants to know what a source is about can't he or she just look it up and read the abstract? Shouldn't he or she be doing that anyway to check for that whole plagiarism thing, i.e. the whole point of doing a bibliography in the first place? And if it's not for the professor, then why the hell do I need to annotate my own bibliography. If I'm writing a fifteen page research paper I should darn well hope that I know what my sources are about without having to refer to my bibliography. Stupid, stupid, stupid. This may sound petty, and okay, well sure it's petty. But right now I'm in a petty mood so just roll with it.

So what really got me in this mood tonight was seeing another example of something that's hard to explain. I'll just say that I'm feeling a little stung by a former employer. And it's completely on my end, because clearly the position has evolved. But it evolved after I left, and maybe it's childish or stupid and I'm sure I'll realize as much or just get over it, but I feel upset, or to really be blunt, like I wasn't as good as whoever is there now, and these changes reflect this new person's initiative or drive or motivation or just likability and as a result this person has gotten all these cool new things to do or credits or what not. And this probably makes no sense, but I at least have the restraint not to go into deeper detail. Because this is really more me feeling childish jealousy than anything else. The experience was amazing and life changing and I shouldn't let stupid things alter that. So there. Even within this posting I'm learning to channel my rage into more zen-like avenues.

And finally I'm just mad at this past month for its unbelievable amount of suckage (although there were good parts, and I will go into further detail about the amazing Funny or Die show and our road trip to go see it later). But all in all a lot of sucky things have happened this month; the trivial (falling down the stairs way back in January and I'm still bruised), the less trivial (hitting another car with my car in a seemingly minor fender bender but which ended up sending my car to the shop for more than a week and costing my very understanding parents our entire 1,000 deductible. Sorry mom and dad!) and the very not trivial (serious sickness in the family and the death of a kind and interesting lady who hosted one of my friends in Paris and who let our silly bunch into her big, old apartment on a regular basis to drink wine and watch tv. I'm more sorry for my friend who knew her well. I knew her only passing, but she made a definite impression and it's a sad thing that she's gone. Future Hollins abroad kids will never know the pleasure of wine and board games at Beatrice's house.)

So that's that. I feel better now. And as always talking about the big, sad things reminds me of how really silly and unimportant the little things ultimately are. I get mad, and I fume, and I vent. I cry or rant or kick something. But hopefully I come back to a place of perspective. I think I at least found that tonight. Hopefully that means I'll be able to sleep :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

oh life

Henry's on Market charged me 100 dollars for a non-existent bar tab (mine was only 7 dollars thank you very much, I like to have fun on a Saturday night but I usually don't drink 100 dollars worth of alcohol myself). My adviser avoids me like I'm the plague and as a result I have an F listed for my skirt! internship last semester which brings my GPA far below where it needs to be to graduate from the Honors College in May (although if I have to knock down every door at the College of Charleston or body slam some people I will get this fixed. And no I don't know why body-slamming would be necessary, nor have I ever done this before, but I'm just sayin'). So I should be cranky, grumpy, crabby, grouchy, every variation on the word pissy. And for a moment earlier this evening when I learned of these two things one after, I may have been. But I made a choice. I took some time away from my computer which seemed to be only the bringer of evil tidings. I poured myself a glass of Pinot. I got in a good dose of reality tv smorgashbord, America's Next Top Model premiere and the always entertaining Project Runway reunion (by the way I so called that there would be a Ricky crying montage, there would be no justice in the world had there not been). I took a deep breath, tested out my new camera and all of its super cool, fancy settings on kitten (Palmetto if you want to be formal but I've had a hard time calling something so tiny by a real name, it's like babies, for the first few months of their existence sure you can call them George or Patsy, but really when it comes right down to it, "baby" is the only thing that really fits). And then I remembered that in one day I will be in Richmond seeing my mom and brother. And in two days I will be reunited with some of my favorite people in the entire world and together we will see Will Ferrel and Demetri Martin in Chapel Hill. So really, how could I stay down, when such fabulousness awaits me. Life is good, even if people try to steal my money and give me failing grades for no reason. Life is good.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

a request for positive energy

Something so profoundly unfair is happening to someone in my life that it must be some kind of cruel cosmic joke. Out of respect for this person I won't go into details. But I'd like to ask for prayers, positive energy, hope, anything to be sent out into the universe. I know this makes me sound like some new age, hippie dippie mama. But I'm not. I don't like horoscopes or astrology. I even balk at talk of fate. I'm fairly practical, not superstitious. I'll walk under ladders and break a mirror without flinching. But I believe in God. Not in one English speaking, beard wearing, man on a cloud necessarily. Not even God in a strictly Christian sense. Just one God, one force, greater than me, greater than all of this. I don't believe he makes people better with a flick of the wrist or with a nose twitch ala I Dream of Jeanie. I don't believe that bad people are the only ones who die, and that good people get all of their prayers answered. But I believe in hope. I believe that at the very least hope and prayer and good energy can make things easier or make people stronger, even if it can't fix the things we so desperately need to be fixed. So if you close your eyes and pray to God, Buddha or Allah, or simply some big, transcendental something, please send an extra prayer or bit of hope out there tonight.

Friday, February 15, 2008

how many times?

The last thing I suspected to see when I clicked onto newyorktimes.com this morning was another college shooting, another death count, another image of kids holding onto police officers amidst otherwise scenic looking campus settings. It's always a shock, yet it keeps happening. Schools and colleges, places where we go to learn, places we should feel safe in, are torn apart by an angry, disturbed person with a couple of handguns. We hear the same accounts, people hiding behind chairs, behind projectors, behind anything, while a silent gunman has their way. And then in one final shot it's over, and the worst kind of silence descends. There's no other word to describe what happened at Northern Illinois University but tragedy. Those kids shouldn't have died, not there, not in a college classroom on a Thursday evening. It's not right and it's not fair. Those things are certain. What is less certain is what the reaction will be, if anything will change in a society that if we're honest, we have to admit is built around this myth and glorification of violence. What makes me sick is a reaction I've heard on several occasions. People suggest that the solution to these massacres is to equip teachers or professors, heck, even students with guns. That way they can defend themselves. It's this certain American mindset that produces an idea like that. Lord knows we shouldn't tighten gun laws, or ban automatic handguns or strengthen the mental health system. No we should just throw more guns at the problem, pile weapons of violence on top of violence, until every school and college in this nation resembles an armory. That's the world I want to live in, the world I want to send my kids off to. Freshman orientation will include seminars on how to properly shoot and clean your guns. Professors will start resembling law enforcement, with gun holsters attached to their khakis. That's going to make us safer.
I just don't understand how people can look at a problem as vast and complex and deep rooted as violent crimes and seek not to work on the actual problem but to paste on a faux solution, defense masquerading as offense. Sick and cowardly people, the ones who carry out these massacres, they see bloodshed and guns as the only solution to their problems. Do we really want to react to problems in that same vein? Why can't we reevaluate what it is about our culture that clings to violence and to weapons perpetuating violence? Why does the FCC freak out about a nipple or the use of the c-word, but have no problem about shows where one of the female leads has her head cut off, or the countless number of crime procedurals that compete with each other to see who can come up with the newest, most gruesome methods of portraying murder? Why does fuck merit an R-rating, while PG-13s can be chock full of bullets and bloody fist fights? Our government has no problem transgressing the Constitution when it comes to matters of individual privacy and liberties, but even talk about a closer examination of the Second Amendment, and you're called un-American. The truth is the language of the second amendment arguably doesn't even guarantee the individual right to bear arms. Take a closer look:
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
This amendment talks specifically of civilian militias. The right of the people to bear arms does not necessarily mean the right of a person to bear arms. The language could be debated forever, but it's hard to ignore the fact that when this constitution was written, the second amendment dealt with civilian armies who might be called up for defense. Yet people who cry second amendment every time someone even looks at their gun ignore this historical fact. They claim the amendment guarantees the individual right to bear arms in their home, but they ignore the very real possibility that this right was never intended as individual, but rather as a collective right involving only organized military groups. Currently a case about a hand gun ban in DC is on its way to the Supreme Court, where for the first time in 70 years, the highest judicial body in our nation will debate the meaning of the Second Amendment. It's a potentially landmark case that could either greatly strengthen gun control laws or render them impotent. Yet regardless of the outcome, I still find myself wondering why people cling so desperately to a "right" that has become bloodier and bloodier with each year. And even if you must believe in the right to carry a gun, you should be able to admit that gun control laws in their current form are flawed and very often ill enforced. Because the people who carry out massacres like the one that happened yesterday are very often the people that these gun control laws are supposed to prevent from obtaining guns. They have histories of mental illness or have been in trouble with the law previously, but time and time again these people obtain firearms. I believe very strongly in personal responsibility. These shooters are not victims. They made a choice. But in a society like contemporary America, those choices so easily turn into rampages, fueled by a violence obsessed culture and easy access to weapons. And again and again, we turn our televisions on and are confronted by images of innocent people carried out on stretchers or running desperately away from a scene of unimaginable carnage. They are the real victims. They are primarily victims of the criminals who carry out the massacres. But they are also victims of a culture that has refused to change, has refused to reevaluate itself and its laws. How many more college shootings is it going to take? How many more random mall shootings or city council shootings or anywhere shootings are we going to have to endure before people admit that something is broken here, not permanently, but badly enough that it is going to take radical changes to fix. It's not un-American to question your country's values. It is un-American to stand by and do nothing while your nation strays so wildly from the nation it once was, the nation it still could be.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

dear valentine

Dear Valentine,
On this, the most Hallmarkian of holidays, I'd like to give you a chance. I'd like to believe you might exist, hiding behind gaudy displays of pink saran wrapped chocolate hearts, surviving the olfactory onslaught of over preserved roses. In the pantheon of holiday figures, you are often the most despised, the source of the most cynicism and bitterness. We can give so much love to an old man in a red suit, dress up in costumes to chase away demons on Halloween, but we have a hard time believing in you, valentine. So give us something to believe in. Prove yourself worthy of February the 14th. Make the cliches come true. Whatever the elusive all is, let love conquer it. Whether they're broken, sick, warmed, full; show us some real hearts, ones not filled with candy. Break out of this civilized, artificial, corporate shell we've forced you into. Because if you're real, then I have a good feeling that nothing about you is civilized or corporate or artificial. Wreak some havoc on this world, the good kind, the kind of havoc that makes people change, start dancing in the streets, burst into inappropriate song. Act in a way that will make Hallmark deem you too radical for a sponsorship. Be vulgar or insane. Just don't be this valentine I see at CVS. Pink isn't even your color. What do stuffed bears have to do with love? Valentine, frankly you've demeaned yourself over the years. But it's not too late to turn it around. Because like Ms. Woolf said "what greater delight and wonder can there be than to deviate into those footpaths that lead beneath brambles and thick tree trunks into the heart of the forest where live those wild beasts, our fellow men."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

i have a crush on anthony bourdain

As the tedious and seemingly never ending writers strike drags on, I have been forced to leave the comfy confines of scripted network prime time and venture out into the non-scripted cable wilderness, looking for any kind of TV sustenance. This may be the winter of our entertainment discontent, but I for one have found tiny bright spots on the otherwise bleak landscape. My latest: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. I had heard of the show before, and had maybe seen seconds of it as I flipped through channels, but I had never watched a whole episode before, despite my love for the Travel Channel. I just recently found out that Anthony Bourdain was the basis for the short lived Fox show Kitchen Confidential which I loved during its very brief lifespan (come on, it had Bradley Cooper annd Sam from Freaks and Geeks, what's not to love?) So if I loved the fictional Anthony Bourdain, it was only a matter of time before I discovered and loved the real thing. And I think he's great. He seems arrogant as hell, cranky and weathered, full of cynicism. But there's a rough-hewn poetry and joy in the way he seems to approach food and life and experience. An appreciation for what is genuine and good and real. I love foreign and different food and I love travel, but both of these things represent challenges to a comfortable and familiar way of living. It's so easy to get stuck letting life happen to you, going to the same restaurants, staying in one place. But I've realized more and more you have to make life happen, literally seize the day as the saying goes. And maybe I love No Reservations because it represents one giant squeeze on life, with all the good juices pouring out. In the episodes I've watched Anthony Bourdain is not doing anything particularly extraordinary rather than the secretly extraordinary act of living and living well. I may have to live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain for now, but as far as vicarious living goes, it's hard to beat.

Friday, February 1, 2008

the Bob Vila gene

We inherit a lot from our parents. Some of these things are apparent immediately; hair and eye color, skin tone, weird genetic mutations if your parents happen to be relatives. But a lot of our hereditary inheritance takes its time to become known. I for one, never imagined that I would become a fixer upper lover, a Home Depot-ite if you will. But I should have known. It was in the cards all along.
I have never lived in a new house, not even a relatively new house. The "youngest" house I have ever lived in was very early 20th century place just across the river from downtown Richmond. From there my family moved to an 1830s Midlothian farmhouse, then on to a late 19th century Fan townhouse. My Richmond houses were always in a state of transition. It seemed there was always a project or renovation going on during my formative years. I grew up in the midst of fresh paint, varnish, caulk, and four by fours. The idea that a house can be done is just not something I really understand. For my parents, there was always something to be fixed (usually faulty plumbing or heating, one of the lovely quirks of old houses), something to be restored (gorgeous hardwood floors are yet another lovely quirk of old homes), something to be modernized (there weren't a lot of walk in showers in the 19th century, go figure). I can distinctly remember my mother complaining at my Midlothian house, that it was a never ending project. She would watch her HGTV and read home and garden magazines, but I never really thought she enjoyed any of it. I assumed my parents were working to an end point, a finish. But then when we moved out of that house, my parents chose yet another once elegant but a little rough and fading around the edges, very old house. I don't think we ever even looked at any home that could be considered modern. No stainless steel kitchens for this family, or massive bathrooms adjoining carpeted master suits. Once again my parents were drawn to crooked staircases, dusty radiators and tiny powder rooms. And once again the renovations began. We've been in that house eight years and in that time my parents have redone the kitchen, the front porch, the entire outside of the house, dozens of lighting fixtures, tiling in the bathrooms, and new paint jobs for every single room. And that's just to name a few projects. But that doesn't even begin to suggest the countless hours spent reupholstering, refinishing, rearranging, and redecorating. And I've watched this all with a sometimes detached eye, helping sometimes, complementing occasionally. But I've never really taken a role in their fix up frenzy. It was just another weird aspect of my parents, with weekly trips to Pleasants (that's the local equivalent to Lowe's for all you non-Richmonders) and HGTV always on when my mom was in the room. I've gone with my mom to open houses in the neighborhood to get pointers on their furnishings or decorations. My mom combs estate sales for beat up old pieces that she will then work tirelessly to restore to their former glory. And to be honest, there was a point when I might have rolled my eyes at this behavior. I used to visit friends' houses in modern subdivisions and be slightly envious. Everything was new, everything was shiny and efficient, from the trash compactors to the showers bigger than most bedrooms. I even loved the unfamiliar look of carpet from wall to wall, remembering with a shudder all of the splinters I incurred running on wooden floors at my house. Here were windows that actually sealed tight instead of letting in alternately frigid or steamy air depending on the seasons. Here was a central heating system instead of the massive radiator in my room that could instantly turn the room into a sauna. I would return to my house, with the sound of hammering or sawing in the air, and wonder how nice it might be to for once live in a new house, one that was finished.
But all of that changed. Maybe it was growing up. Maybe it was going to college. But I think more likely, it was that I began to realize that for better of for worse, the love of old houses with all of their flaws and cracks and failings, was part of who I was. I was born with it, and I certainly grew up surrounded by it. And even without choice, I seem to be drawn to all things and places old. I lived in a 19th century apartment building in Paris, straight out of any text book about Haussmann. And then, perhaps most serendipitously of all, I found my little blue house in Charleston. Okay, so maybe not so serendipitously considering one of my good friends already lived here, but still I feel like it was fate. My current abode, like most things in Charleston, simply oozes age. It was built as a single family home in the 1820s, and even though it's been changed to two apartments and modernized in a lot of ways, the age of the place is everywhere. It's in the slightly rotting side porch that is still perfectly suitable for dusk time reading. There's the slanted wooden floors full of pock marks and stains. The fireplaces have sadly been covered up by ugly stucco but their presence is still there, remnants of a time before electric heat. I love my little apartment, and even though I rant and rave at the bugs that creep through the holes and cracks, shiver through the rare cold nights, try not to hit my head in the tiny bathroom, and dry out my hands washing all of our dishes minus a dishwasher, I can't imagine living anywhere sleek and polished. And without even realizing, I've started creating "projects". I lived here peacefully for a few months, happy not to make changes, but the longer I've been here and the more it feels like home, the more my inner desire for home improvement kicks in. It started with a new kitchen island, then a new shelf in the kitchen, and since then a week has rarely gone by where some idea hasn't crossed my mind. I have to avoid the home department in Target. Trips to Ikea are like torture, because in all of their put together sample rooms, I see capital I, ideas for the apartment. As a renter I have to hold myself back, but if I owned the apartment (and had an income of my own), I can't even imagine the projects I would plan. I guess the reality is that I am my parents' daughter. I love the challenge of old houses, how to improve them in a way that lets their true selves shine, rather than remaking them in the image of something showroom pretty and soulless.
I love knowing a house has a past. I think it's the southerner in me, the daughter of southerners, and the granddaughter of southerners. But I simply can't find solid ground unless
I know there are layers of history beneath it. I am doomed to spend my life fixing decrepit plumbing and heating systems and shivering with the drafts that come effortlessly through old windows. I will always fall in love with gorgeous old wardrobes and desks that have sat forgotten in consignment or antique shops but which with a little bit of work, can once again be the center of attention in a room. And I will spend a lifetime getting to know the old homes I will undoubtedly keep living in, softening rough edges and restoring former glories, happy to be one tiny part in a history far longer than my own.
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