Monday, October 22, 2007

What better motivation than mortification?

Way back in the fall of 2002, I decided at the last moment that I would apply for the Marshall Scholarship so that I could study literature in England for a year or two. Like so many goals I had that year, this one was hazy at best, and my application essay was fueled by the usual heady blend of caffeine and sheer panic. Nonetheless, I got called for an on-campus interview with a panel of five professors.

My preparation for the interview consisted of taking a nap, wearing eyeshadow, and making sure I didn't tuck my skirt into my underwear. In some ways, I'm glad I didn't spend too much time getting ready for what turned out to be THE WORST INTERVIEW OF MY LIFE.

Sometimes, situations are so overwhelming or horrifying that your instincts kick in, leading you to fight or flee. Sadly, my instincts are defunct, and I opted for giving the most inane, nonsensical, and borderline offensive answers to each of the friendly, yet penetrating questions asked by the panel. It's all a blur now, but as I think about it, I still feel queasy with shame.

The only part I remember clearly is being asked if I thought learning a foreign language was an important part of a liberal arts education. And I said, "No," which was perhaps the worst answer I've ever given. Regret instantly set in as I watched every professor scribble madly on his or her notepad (probably something along the lines of: "This girl is a waste of financial aid."). Needless to say, I was not a Marshall Scholar that year.

The silver lining of this story is that guilt and shame are tremendously motivating, as is that old desire to be at the top of my class. Which means that I have started to take my weekly Spanish class way too seriously, and am worried beyond reason about the fact that I cannot understand the grammar of indirect objects. Sadly, this is pretty much all I can think about, when I'm not thinking about food, sex, work, or that elusive five-year plan. I'm starting to feel a little conspicuous among my coworker classmates, all of whom are attorneys and/or engaged, and therefore too busy to think too much about their Spanish skills. So I find myself raising my hand too stridently, leaping a little too fast to answer the question, as though by getting it right, I could erase the mortification of THE WORST INTERVIEW EVER five years after the fact.

Or maybe I am just an incurable brown-noser. Hard to tell.

Listening to: "Poor Aim: Love Songs," The Blow.

Reading: The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz; The Book of Disquiet (albeit very slowly), Fernando Pessoa (as Bernardo Soares); and Windflower, Nick Bantock.

Recently cooking: bean and cheese quesadillas on corn tortillas.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007


Update: No more tristeza! My friend eventually got in touch with me and we met up two nights later. Two bottles of wine and three pounds of Thai food later, our friendship was back on its feet.

I spent a few hours by myself this afternoon, walking around various Smithsonians in Washington, DC. Traveling by myself always makes me reflective in a way that I almost never am, even when I'm alone at home or traveling with someone. I feel kind of dreamy and melancholy; I walk slowly, thoughtfully. I wander into walls.

Around 5:30, after the Museum of the American Indian closed, I decided to walk down (or up?) 7th Street to the Gallery Place Metro Station. The sun was setting, and all the buildings seemed limned with hazy gold, like the "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" interlude in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It's the kind of light that makes you ache for a reason to be sentimental, because the sun is asking you to remember that last hour of light from every summer day since you were a kid.

Today, I was feeling down because an old lost friend had stood me up for lunch. I don't know if I would have been more upset if we were still good friends. I guess that somehow I expected a better effort because we had so much time to make up for. And when I walked out onto the National Mall, into a burning beautiful evening, I wanted to cry for the loveliness of it and for my own pathetic self.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Putting Edge

On Saturday, my cousin and her husband drove from Michigan with my sister so that we could go black-light mini-golfing at the Putting Edge, which is surely the venue of choice for birthday parties among the hip 11-year-olds of Norridge, Illinois. Black light murals of psychedelic mushrooms were complemented by the latest tunes from Fall Out Boy and the overwhelming fug of stale popcorn and adolescent flop sweat. In a word, AWESOME.

I shot one over par and beat my nearest competitor by two strokes. Manfriend, sadly, shot about twenty-seven over par, losing by about fifteen strokes. He redeemed himself in a hard-fought air hockey match against my cousin's husband, so I didn't break up with him.

My sister decided to stick around for a few days, so Sunday consisted of sleeping in, going to the library, and discussing her future over coffee. She's making some big decisions today, so keep your fingers crossed for her!

Reading: Sex Wars, Marge Piercy (intriguing so far).
Just finished: Unbowed, Wangari Maathai (really good memoir); Money Changes Everything, edited by Jenny Offill and Elisa Schappell (a mix of mostly thoughtful and occasionally tiresome essays).

Listening to: Let My People Go, Darondo; Naturally, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings; Coal Miner's Daughter, Loretta Lynn.

(Image credit:, which looks like a much nicer place than The Putting Edge)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

...they pull me back in

Last weekend, Manfriend and I Amtrak'd ourselves back to my homeland, the southwest corner of the Mitten State, to attend a wedding reception for my uncle and his girlfriend of four years, who tied the knot last month in Colorado. The usual suspects attended: my family; various aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins' spouses, and second cousins; my late grandfather's half-siblings; and my grandmother's two living brothers. These three are the oldest members of our family, and it was great to see them together. One brother, the youngest of the six kids, has been living in a nursing home for three years, and hadn't left in the past eighteen months.

When he saw my grandma, tears began streaming down his face. Pushing her walker, she moved slowly over to his wheelchair and bent to hug him. We all wiped our eyes as they held each other for several minutes, talking and enjoying the sight of each other. I don't know if they'll meet again in this life.

When I left for college eight years ago, I was trying to carve out my own path in the world, far from the influence of my parents and the small communities in which I had been raised. I'm beginning to find, however, that I gravitate toward my family like a moon held in orbit by a planet's mass. I know some of my friends better than I will ever know some family members, but taken as a whole, the history and the ongoing bonds and traditions of family exert a powerful force. I imagine that this will always be true for me, and I'm glad to share these connections, while also being able to live a life of my choosing.

Reading: Unbowed, by Wangari Maathai (fascinating!); A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn (amazing!).

Just finished: Drinking Coffee Elsewher, ZZ Packer (great!); Chambermaid, Sarai Rao (terrible!); and The Keep, Jennifer Egan (so-so!).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Scenes from the Farm

My sister is leaving to teach in South Korea in October, and so of course my dad had some advice for her:

Dad: Make sure you don't give your passport to anybody. Ever.
Sister: Uh, whatever.
Dad: I'm serious. Have you ever heard of white slavery?

Yes, the perils of international human trafficking are my dad's main concerns for my globe-trotting sister. I'm more concerned that she won't be able to find shoes that fit her giant feet for an entire year.

Just say NO to Stranger Danger, Seestur!

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The French Press

Lucky for you, the title of this post refers to my coffee maker and not a randy new sexual position, a la Cosmopolitan's infamous sex tip articles: "28 Moves to Make Him Totally Have a Big Orgasm," or "13 New Manly Moan Zones You Should Know About!" Reading Cosmo in my teens meant I was ever-so-prematurely in the know about how best to use scrunchie as a cock ring and how exactly the Reverse Cowgirl in the Pike Position with a Triple Salchow and a Twist will Blow My Man's Mind.

Not that a lonely nerd in the middle of nowhere needed such advice.

No, my post today is really about my lovely old Bodum French press, which has just come out of retirement. When Manfriend and I implemented our new Frugality Plan, I worried that I would have to wean myself from the caffeinated teat. Que lastima!

Fortunately, frugality is relative, so purchasing good beans and making my own coffee, while a little costly, will still be cheaper than buying a fresh cup every morning. Viva el cafe!

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Charles in Charge...of Love

Since I read a few celebrity gossip blogs and have the regrettable habit of watching Good Morning America while I get ready for work, it has come to my attention that a book called The Manny has recently been published. Truth be told, it sounds like Charles in Charge crossed with a Danielle Steele novel:
Jamie Whitfield, 36, lives on Park Avenue with her three children and her mostly absent high-powered attorney husband, Phillip, and works part-time as a producer for a prime-time news program. She hires Peter Bailey—29 and biding his time until he get funding for his software business—to plug the household's gaps and be a father figure to nine-year-old Dylan. The two, of course, are attracted to each other, and when Peter's money comes through, he doesn't tell Jamie. Phillip's temper tantrums when lacking pulpless orange juice or a wooden-handled umbrella are surprisingly funny, and a subplot where Jamie chases a trashy but potentially career-making story is strong. Jamie's co-workers are more realistically portrayed than her shallow friends, but even Jamie's children come alive when they root for mom's success. (Publishers Weekly, via Amazon)
If this were a Danielle Steele novel, though, Peter would have a twin brother named Jean-Paul, a darkly handsome world traveler who appears mid-novel and sweeps Jamie away on his jet as Peter yearns in the distance, finally realizing what he's lost. Jamie will enjoy the life of a pampered expatriate until she realizes that in the world of international glamor, everything is not as it seems!

Maybe I have a future writing copy on the back of paperback novels.

Anyway, I have to wonder if the mainstream media obsession with this manny nonsense is an expression of amazement at 1) a man debasing himself by performing caretaking work traditionally held by women (especially low-paid women of color), and 2) the fact that a man might be good at such work. I might consider the latter to be a small sign of progress, if it weren't treated like a colossal joke at every other turn in this culture.

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