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Friday, June 29, 2007

Wendy’s with Kelly

I hate when plans fall through. Particularly with my group of Pittsburgh girlfriends, everyone shows such enthusiasm at the idea of going out, and then, as soon as one obstacle presents itself, everyone gives up.

Last night was one such instance. We had intended to go dancing. We chose Thursday night because by then, Vicky would be back from her various travels and Kelly would not yet have left for her internship in D.C. I was tremendously excited, not having officially “been” twenty-one—and therefore capable of entering any club or bar I please— in the States, yet. We initially made our plan when a bunch of us girls got together at Emily’s house as a sort of “welcome back/good-bye” gathering.

But then people started dropping out. Emily French left for vacation. Emily Holupka went to eat dinner with her friends from college. Becky needed to pack for vacation. Vicky was tired. Thus, Kelly and I were left plan-less and disappointed, both having returned from Europe, with Kelly already about to leave again. I tried my best to make other plans, but my friends just continued to prove their unreliability: Bob invited me to a party in Monroeville, and he was supposed to call me once he was ready to go with the address of the party. Of course, he never called.

After waiting for almost an hour to go to this party, I called Kelly. Both of us were fed up and feeling the overwhelming sentiment of, “screw guys; let’s go get chocolate.” Consequently, we found ourselves parked in Kelly’s van outside the Wendy’s drive-through, eating Frosties and reflecting on our return to the States: how we felt about different aspects of living in the States—I hate having to drive everywhere; she feels weird thinking in partial French; we both despise “needing” so much stuff)—and how different/the same people (our respective families and mutual friends) seemed. We talked about people we know who are in various stages of dying, and how shocked we were about finding out about them since arriving home. This led to discussions about our parents and our random thoughts about their mortality. (What would be our reaction upon hearing the news of our parents’ death? Which parent could handle the other’s death better?) We talked for over an hour, just sitting in the van in the dark parking lot of Edgewood Town Center.

I cannot believe Kelly is already leaving. The two of us have been on separate continents for almost six months, and we’ve only finally returned to the same city in the past week. I have seen her three times in six days, and I feel like I haven’t said even 2% of all I need to tell her, much less heard all that I imagine she has to say to me. It makes me wonder if trying so hard to keep in touch with people is really worthwhile. Our lives are going to take us separate ways in the end, anyway. In a year, I’ll have a job in one city, and she’ll probably have one somewhere halfway across the country (if not halfway around the world). We might never live within one hundred miles of each other again. What will we get out of staying in touch, other than more stress and renewed memories of a former friendship?

It scares me that I am asking myself these questions, because I have always been the one to insist upon staying in contact with others. I never considered distance anything more than an obstacle to overcome. Now the future, with its jobs and adult-ness, looms before me, begging the question, What is really worth my time and effort? Should I keep harassing Kelly when she doesn’t e-mail me back for two weeks? Should I spend the money to call her? In the end, I fear it might all be nothing more than an exercise in futility. People need people in the here and now. They need bodies. They need faces.

I am really going to miss that girl.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Meeting Andy

I hung out with Andy last night. It was so refreshing: I felt like my conversations with him were the first “important” conversations I have had with someone since I have been home. I wasn’t listing things that had happened to me just for their entertainment value, and he wasn’t telling me the logistics of his life like he was reading them off of a shopping list. What we said had meaning for both of us; we were really communicating.

I also felt like I was re-meeting Andy, like he was a completely new person than the one I have known all my life. Gone was the Andy who lived for the sole purpose of dating and pleasing his girlfriend. Gone was the high school Andy, who did as little work as possible while achieving the best possible return. Gone was the skinny, bony, boyish Andy I remember. Instead, I encountered a tall, conscientious young man who is searching for direction in his life. This is not to say he has “lost his way”—as so many of our other friends have—but, rather, he is thinking hard about his current pursuits and where they will lead him.

Any outsider would say that he is barreling 100mph toward success, with his multiple lab jobs, prestigious fellowships, graduate classes, and hospital work. Yet, instead of panicking about “needing to do more” (as success often breeds the demand for more success), he is contemplating whether or not these are all things he truly loves to do. He wants to be happy, and he is trying to find out how.

Andy has always been someone I have respected. In high school, we always competed for the best grades, but where I worked hard to land the grades and “beat him,” he just did whatever amount of work he felt like doing and watched the grades play out as they would. Luckily for him, his genius got him through, and each of us “won” about half of the time. If my class had had a valedictorian, it would be hard to say who would have received that status.

Nevertheless, I did not just respect Andy for his intellect. I have met many smart people both in high school and college, yet few of them impressed me as much as Andy did. Andy thought about life. He did not take people or events at face-value, and he was always looking to get more out of every experience. I never spoke to anyone as frankly and searchingly about love, happiness, or spirituality as I did to him during our years in high school.

For a time, it seemed he had lost this desire to “dig deep.” We no longer had much to say to one another once he got a girlfriend, and we fell out of touch, only seeing each other occasionally in the summer, both busy with our lives. When he and his girlfriend broke up, I e-mailed him, and we wrote back and forth a few times. Then, last night, I had a bit of spare time, so I called him up. I drove down to Oakland to see his new apartment (which, although he has been living there since February, was at least new to me), and we went for coffee. (Well, he got coffee. I got apple juice.) Then, we went on a walk around Oakland, ending up in a park for a while, before returning and sitting on the porch of his apartment. “It’s the little things that matter,” he told me at one point, lurching away from a spinny-contraption in the park.

And he is right: it is the little things, and I noticed all of them that night. I noticed how he looked older—not old in a worn-out way, but more mature. He has filled out since I last saw him, and he now wears a scruffy, unshaven look naturally, without looking like a boy trying to pretend to be a man. He paid for my apple juice—a small gesture, but one I appreciated more than he could possibly understand. I noticed how he thought about what he wanted to say before beginning to speak, looking into a space by the back of my head as he gathered my thoughts. I noticed how frankly he looked at me as I spoke, how he asked questions and seemed to really want to know the answers. I noticed how he lit cigarettes casually on the porch, and how I didn’t really mind anymore.

All of these things are important. They matter. We are growing, and time spent apart only emphasizes even more strongly how much and in what ways.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Self-Discovery

It’s very strange being home. Everything is simply massive: the cars are massive, the buildings are massive, the rooms are massive, the portions are massive. People in America are noticeably taller than people in Europe; I certainly no longer stand out as “the tall girl” now that I am home. I feel as if just by coming home, I have undergone some sort of transformation.

Observing changes in myself seems nearly impossible, and yet I seem to find ways I have become different—act differently, think differently, talk differently—every day. For one thing, my self-confidence has improved. For the first time in my life, I actually don’t care what others think of me. I am okay with me, I am okay with what I choose to do, so what my peers think is really irrelevant. I have always told myself that I felt this way, but it was more a matter of self-insistence than reality; I was insisting that I felt that way so maybe I finally would. Now, I find myself proving that I feel this way by acting accordingly. Finding myself doing this almost automatically is liberating, in a sense, but also worrisome. I greatly fear seeming pompous or stuck-up.

I have been through a whole range of experiences that most of my friends could not even begin to imagine: I settled in a new country and navigated (successfully) other countries without even being able to speak their native languages. I did not so much learn to take care of myself (because did know how to do so before I ever lived in England) as I proved that I could take care of myself. For the first time, I was truly on my own: every appointment was scheduled, every meal cooked, every illness treated, every purchase paid for, every plan made, and every crisis solved by me. This is not to say I was isolated from my friends and family while abroad. Rather, I became free from my dependence upon them, both material and emotional.

I have always been frugal (and reasonably so, I would like to think). Early on, I realized that if I wanted to enjoy my stay in England (and travel to foreign places), I was going to have to resign myself to the 2-to-1 conversion rate and the fact that I would come home with less than half of the money I had saved in my entire lifetime. My mother has always claimed, “What is the point of having money if you are unwilling to enjoy it?” and although I had heard her say this many times, I only listened with half an ear. Now, it has almost become a way of life for me. Sure, now that I am back in the States, I do feel a vaguely pressing need to “get back to work.” Compared to how much money I had saved before, I am now relatively poor. However, I trying to make money with a new goal in mind: in stead of simply making money in order to feel secure—saving it to have, “just in case,” as I once did—I am now working in order to raise enough money to go and visit Angela in Singapore next summer. Money comes and goes. I have finally realized that no amount of money will ever make me feel truly secure. Instead, I have discovered security in my own resourcefulness and found confidence in my capabilities.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Beauty and Irony in Amsterdam


I have visited many liberal cities, but none that flaunt their acceptance of “alternative lifestyles” as blatantly as Amsterdam. The Red Light District? It’s real. Completely and utterly. I saw women posing nearly-naked in windows, giving passer-byers (male ones) “come hither” signals. Angela informed me how this system works: the women rent out windows for a daily fee. Then, when they get a customer, they invite him in and close the shades. The shades are red: hence, the Red Light District.

Also, regarding marijuana legality? Not only is it legal, but it is extremely prevalent. You cannot walk down a street without encountering at least either one shop selling drug paraphernalia. Most likely, a sex shop will reside next door. Part of me is convinced that these shops are all for the benefit of tourists. After all, even the souvenir shops sell bongs, rizzlers, and dildos. Plus, Amsterdam cannot be any more ridden with smoking sex-fiends than any other city. Well, perhaps more people smoke hash because it is legal, but I did not find evidence of this in my observing the public, and I have a pretty good nose for the stench of weed.

If it hadn’t been for the beautiful canals running throughout the city, the sexuality and bohemian-ness would have been overkill. What was especially unusual about our stay is that we accidentally booked a Christian hostel . . . in Amsterdam, of all places! Talk about ironic. Michelle was very obviously pleased and felt right at home, while Angela balked at the idea of being exposed to more aggressive evangelism (she has had some bad experiences with religious groups). As for me, I was just annoyed that a hostel I considered extra-responsible for being generous and accommodating to its guests forced us to pay for using its sheets. Bedsheet charges are one of the things Angela and I keep a lookout for when we are booking hostels, so I am almost certain Shelter Jordan (the place where we stayed in Amsterdam) did not advertise this additional fee on its website. Furthermore, we were informed that sheets “were not an option,” so even if we had happened to bring our own, we would still have had to pay the charge. What sort of “charitable Christians” trick poor student travelers into paying extra for their stay? Perhaps the same ones who feel justified in starting Holy Wars….

A self-observation I made in Vienna:

Being around Angela and Michelle makes me realize how much I actually don’t like children. The two of them love children. Angela works at a teaching center for very young children at home in Singapore, and both girls go absolutely ga-ga at the sight of basically any child under the age of four. Even crying children qualify. At St. Steven’s Green in Dublin, Angela and Michelle could have stayed sitting on that park bench for hours just watching the little kids run around on the grass. In Prague, Michelle actually followed one little boy holding a chocolate ice cream cone in order to take his picture until his grandmother grabbed his hand and protectively pulled him away.

I, on the other hand, barely give children a passing glance. Babysitting always bored and exhausted me—representing exercises in patience and creativity that I always felt were poorly rewarded for the effort required—and those interactions only involved five hours with a set of kids. I cannot even imagine having a set of my own to look after 24/7. I would go insane!

I think my future husband (assuming I get married) will have a big influence on my decision whether or not to have kids. I have a lot of ideas and opinions about parenting, but I don’t think I actually like kids all that much. Having the ideas and enjoying putting them into practice are two completely disparate things. I have been told I would make a good parent, and perhaps I would, but would I enjoy being a parent. I suppose there is no way to know until you are one.

Prague and Vienna: Money, Music, and a Massive Surprise

Prague is cheap

That is what I was told before I left for the June Trip: Prague is cheap. Of the four countries we visited, it was the only one that had its own currency, and it was weak currency, at that. For instance, our “decent” Prague meal (since we always reserved one “nice” meal at which to sample traditional—and usually pricier—international cuisine) cost me about 300 Czech Crowns. Because approximately 30 Crowns equals 1 Euro and 1 Euro equals 1.5 US Dollars, my meal cost me about $15. This is pretty average for a proper meal in the US, but in Europe, it is definitely less expensive than the usual. (When spending GBP or Euros, I almost always spend over the equivalent of $30 at any given restaurant.) However, believe it or not, my bus ticket to Vienna—an international bus ticket at that, since Vienna is in Austria—actually cost me less than that meal (270 CzK). However, since converting monetary units was so complicated, it was too much effort to determine a “good deal,” so I generally shied away from buying things. I took 2,000 CzK with me and did not manage to spend it all.

Unfortunately, I spent all of my Euros. Our stay in Vienna proved to be more expensive than I had anticipated, because we attended a performance of the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Michelle was enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing this choir perform, but Angela was absolutely ecstatic. A singer herself, she demanded that we take the best seats available in the allegedly “best acoustic theatre in all of Europe.” During the performance, she swooned over their clear, bell-like voices, particularly that of the soprano soloist.

As for me, I appreciated attending the performance, particularly because it will no doubt be a once-in-this-lifetime experience (and because I can now brag to all of my singer friends that I saw the Vienna Boys’ Choir). Nonetheless, I feel like all of the expertise I have gained from my mother and sister has turned me into a choir snob. I couldn’t help but silently ridicule the boys’ technique (or lack thereof): they didn’t open their mouths when they sang; they didn’t stand up straight; most of them didn’t even look like they wanted to be there, especially the older ones (“older” being a relative term, of course, when the average singer appeared to be about eight years old). They sounded lovely, no doubt about it, but I wasn’t particularly pleased with the size of the theatre (it was very small), nor did I like the arrangement onstage. The boys stood on risers on either side of a piano, which their conductor played as accompaniment during some of the pieces. Surely, if this choir was as prestigious as its reputation, the venue could afford to hire an accompanist? For 58 Euros, I suppose I expected something more impressive, something less like a recital.

The most interesting part of the Vienna leg of our trip was our hostel stay. We stayed in Panda Hostel, which turned out to be someone’s apartment converted into lodgings for travelers. There were only two bedrooms, housing a total of maybe twenty people, at most, and this many only because the high ceilings permitted the installation of triple bunk beds. The kitchen was fully equipped with cutlery and dishes (which is unusual for a hostel) but lacked—of all things—a stovetop. Consequently, all cooking had to be done with the microwave. Then, there was one bathroom with a toilet and sink, one bathroom with a bathtub and sink, a table in the entrance hallway to serve as a “dining room,” and that was it.

While we failed to personally acquaint ourselves with any travelers in either Dublin or Prague, Michelle, Angela, and I got to know several of our hostel mates in Vienna. The first were a group of boys traveling together from New York. We went through the preliminaries with the chattier two (there were five total): where are you from, where have you been, where do you study, etc. It was during these introductions that I mentioned I studied at Rochester. One boy, Victor, stopped dead in his tracks. “You’re not serious.” Of course I was, and he proceeded to tell me that he, too, attended the University of Rochester. Talk about a small world! He was only entering his second year there, so it is logical that we had never encountered one another. Nevertheless, I wonder if I will see him on campus when I return in the fall, since I will now recognize his face.

I can just imagine the encounter: I approach him, maybe in Wilson Commons or Rush Rhees, greeting him by name. He looks puzzled. “Who are you?” “Vienna, remember? We stayed in the same hostel….” And then there would be little else to say. Maybe I just won’t recognize him.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Alcohol in Dublin


Dublin—not surprisingly—had by far the largest drinking culture of all the cities we visited. Ireland being the home of Guiness, Michelle, Angela, and I pair homage by going to Temple Bar (the area where all of the bars were), entering an Irish pub, and ordering a half-pint of Guiness. Actually, Michelle and Angela ordered the half-pint; I just tasted it. I made out on the deal, though, because the alcohol was so thick and strong, neither of them wanted any more than a tiny sip, either. The best part of the experience was getting to listen to live Irish music in an actual pub atmosphere. It was exactly the way I would picture it: brightly colored wood, very crowded, with bearded men bobbing their heads as a fiddler and singer performed loud, lively melodies. I could have done without the singer, but the fiddler was phenomenal.

The next day, because Angela was determined to see it, we set off to find the James Joyce museum. We walked up the street where it was purportedly located but failed to see any sort of fa├žade that might demarcate the front of a museum. Thus, we turned around and began to walk back down the lane, looking more closely at each address over every door. As we passed one doorstep, we saw an unkempt straggly-looking woman sitting on the bottom step. She reached out to us, calling, “A hand, ladies….” Having been similarly approached by other beggars and bums, I proceeded to walk past, ignoring her.

As the three of us continued on our way, we all three mentioned feeling badly. I had noticed crutches resting on either side of the woman; she probably just wanted some assistance getting down the street. Nevertheless, traveling and seeing so many homeless beggars and tramps has made me wary for my own safety, so I was perfectly willing to proceed to the museum, which I soon located a good ways down the street. Turning, I found Angela right behind me. Michelle, however, was a good ways back. “We found it!” I called, but she only nodded and continued to proceed slowly. Once she finally reached us, Michelle handed us her bag. “Here, watch this,” she said. Then, she turned and jogged back up the street. Angela and I were thus faced with a dilemma: should we follow her? We decided to wait outside the front stoop of the museum and watch her, to make sure she would be safe.

The woman had indeed wanted some support walking down the street. Angela and I watched as Michelle supported her at the elbow and the two of them progressed very slowly toward us. The woman clearly could not support herself with the crutches; she was trembling so violently that she and Michelle had to take two breaks to sit on a step before they managed to reach us. Finally, they made it to the museum, and the woman virtually collapsed onto the steps. “I’m going to go get you some food,” Michelle told her. “I need vodka,” the woman corrected. “That’s the only thing that stops the shakin’.” She held out her hands as if we couldn’t see her whole body jerking around. She couldn’t even sit still on the step. “I’m going to get you some water and some food,” Michelle repeated, and set off down the street. Maybe I misheard, I thought to myself. Maybe the woman just asked for water, and I misunderstood because of her accent. However, soon the lady was beseeching me and Angela to go to the store and get her some vodka. It was just right around the corner. Wouldn’t we be a dear and get that for her so she could survive. She might not make it much longer, and treatment centers wouldn’t act fast enough, she knew that. Angela and I politely declined, saying that we had to wait for our friend to return.

Because the woman was sitting on the step and I was standing upwind, I suddenly discovered how horribly she stank. Not only that, but upon closer scrutiny, I could see that her pants were completely undone. This was what alcoholism had reduced her to: a quivering, chattering, pitiful skeleton that stank like shit. From seeing her condition, I truly did believe that if she did not get alcohol sometime soon, she might indeed die. And yet, drinking was what was killing her.

As it turned out, the woman got her vodka. After Michelle finally brought the food and drink back, the woman insisted upon being helped down to the bus stop. We walked along with her down to the corner, and there, at the corner—just as she had claimed—was the liquor store. She wanted to go in, and although Michelle had only agreed to walk her to the bus stop—not to buy her alcohol—if she let go and left, the woman would surely collapse right in the doorway of the liquor shop. Therefore, she walked the woman inside, stood there as she bought vodka, and then led her to the bus stop up the street.

I have been thinking about this incident ever since. Michelle is a staunch Christian, and she no doubt helped this woman out of the “Good Samaritan” ideal that Christianity promotes. Yet, did her actions actually benefit the woman? She did what the woman asked and made her “happy,” but was helping her to feed her addiction actually an act of kindness? How can you define a “good” act when some people’s desires are not—as we might define them—good? The man the Samaritan helped was obviously in need of medical help, and that was what he asked for. However, this woman was also in need, but what she needed was intensive psychological and physical care, and what she wanted was a quick fix. We couldn’t provide what she needed, and we felt morally opposed to providing her with what she wanted. If the intent is what counts—which is no doubt what most Christians believe—then I suppose Michelle did the right thing. However, I cannot help thinking pragmatically: did what she do actually help that woman, or did it just help her to hurt herself?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

June Trip Return

The twelve-day trip was lovely, but I am tired, and I want to go home. Perhaps I will blog about what I did and saw there once I get back to the States. For now, suffice to say: Dublin is overrun with pubs; Prague has pretty architecture but not a lot to do; Vienna blatantly flouts its classical music influences despite the fact that almost all are male and are either under twelve years old or dead; and although the Red Light District was quite an experience, the most shocking thing about Amsterdam was the number of people who ride bicycles. I saw parents riding their children to school…on the fronts, sides, and backs of their bicycles! And instead of having a “parking garage” for cars--as we typically think of one—I saw a three-tier parking garage for bicycles!

Also, I must add that I feel much more aesthetically appreciated in Europe than I do in the United States. On these trips abroad, I have been danced with, complimented, oogled; and even propositioned by strangers, and while not all of these advances were welcome, of course, they are--in at least a minor way--a bit flattering. You would think these European men never saw a tall girl before!

Friday, June 8, 2007

British Expressions

  • Blimey—the equivalent of the American expression, “Oh my goodness!”
    To have a go (at)—1. to make fun of, often in a sarcastic way; 2. to rant at in an angry manner
  • Smashing—awesome, amazing, superb
  • To take a piss—to make fun of
  • Lovely—a multipurpose word used to express genial goodwill and preference for something/someone; often used as an equivalent for the words “nice,” “pleasant,” “enjoyable,” etc.
  • Knackered—1. tired out; 2. old, worn, raggedy
  • Cheers—usually used to mean “thank you,” but also capable of standing in for many other common expressions such as “good-bye” or “I agree”


    And now, for an imaginary conversation between two British individuals discussing a comedy skit they just watched, which will exemplify the meanings of the afore-listed words:

    P1: Blimey! That George Carlin is an awfully angry guy for a comedian.

    P2: He just likes to have a go at the American government. I thought his performance was smashing.

    P1: He’s too angry for my liking.

    P2: Oh come, he was just taking a piss.

    P1: Well, thanks for the lovely evening, but I’m knackered. I’m going to bed.

    P2: Cheers.

  • Thursday, June 7, 2007

    Wacky Weather

    It’s June 6th, and I am currently sitting in Fluf’s room wearing basketball shorts, a T-shirt, and a sweatshirt. Yes, it is June, and I am wearing a sweatshirt. Typically, the days here have not gotten any warmer than the low 70s. Yet, several days ago I was on the beach, frolicking in the English Channel and sunning myself in a bikini. Crazy English weather!

    Speaking of donning my bikini, as I did so, I was happy to see that I have redeveloped my “swimmer shoulders.” Since returning from Greece, I have dutifully partaken of every swimming session available. This means that I have been able to swim for about one hour, five times a week. In that amount of time, I have redeveloped the muscles in my shoulders and arms to the point of visibility. Of course, the muscles also work much better, and I am getting faster—the most important quality, obviously. I am certainly not in anywhere near as good physical shape as I usually am during the swimming season, but I am pleased to have redeveloped my swimming abilities to some extent.

    Unfortunately, I will lose all this progress over the next two weeks as I travel to Dublin, Prague, Vienna, and Amsterdam in my last gallivant around Europe. I’m not saying the tradeoff will not be worthwhile, but it’s just frustrating to finally be at the point of developing some semblance of athleticism just to lose it and have to start all over again. Of course, I’ll be starting my life all over again when I get back to the States, in a sense, so what’s one more addition?

    Monday, June 4, 2007

    Death Knocking

    My parents called me over twelve hours ago, and I still cannot stop thinking about death. It is so close and yet feels so far.

    When they called, they informed me that the mother of a girl I went to school and swam with is currently in a coma. She wasn’t involved in a car crash, she didn’t have cancer. She simply woke up one morning feeling a bit ill and short of breath, so she called the doctor. He told her to go to the hospital, and as her daughter was driving her there, she slumped over and never woke up. They say she has no brain activity outside of her brainstem: a vegetable. It’s terrifying. My friend’s mother has suddenly become no more than a few rudimentary reflexes and a pile of drool. That could have been my mom.

    I guarantee that when her family looks at her, they see the same old Mom. They see the person they knew. That someone must still be in there, they imagine. Why can’t we bring her out again? Why can’t we turn her back on? How did this happen? Could we have prevented it?

    I picture myself driving my mother to the hospital. Maybe in my mind, I’d be thinking God, mom, today? Why do you have to be sick today? This is totally ruining my schedule; I could be a thousand other places right now. Maybe I’d even snap at her. And then she’d be dead. She’d be dead, and I would have missed my final chance to tell her how much I love her, how much more important she is to me than any stupid volleyball game I was missing or movie I wouldn’t get to watch with a friend.

    She’d be gone like that, in the time it takes a traffic light to turn from green to red. She would be dead in the car with me, and I wouldn’t even know. I’d probably panic when I saw her slump over in her seat and think that if I rushed, if I drove faster and beat that red light, if I made it through at the tail end of the yellow, she’d be okay. It’s probably dehydration or something I’d tell myself. We’ll get to the hospital and they’ll fix her. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? Forty or fifty-year old mothers aren’t supposed to wake up and die one morning.

    What if it were my mother? Would someone find me to tell me right away, or would everyone wait until I came home as scheduled? Would I feel guilty for being here, far away, and not having spent more time with her? Is it possible to feel guilty for something over which I have no control?

    Perhaps most importantly: what do I do with the time we have left?

    Saturday, June 2, 2007

    Things I will need to get used to upon returning to the States

  • Being around people taller than me
  • Not saying “lovely” and “nice” to describe everything that seems “lovely” or “nice”
  • Not hearing the word “cheers” throughout my day
  • Huge stores
  • Being forced to drive everywhere
  • Working
  • Scheduling time to see friends (rather than just knocking on their doors)
  • Scheduling…period.
  • Not having a cell phone (…maybe)
  • Things I will miss upon returning to the States

  • Not being able to walk everywhere
  • Prominent, reliable public transportation (particularly trains)
  • Having time to pleasure read while studying at University
  • Easily accessible friends
  • Complete independence and autonomy to do what I want when I want
  • Consistently fresh, sweet fruits and vegetables
  • Taj (the Indian grocery store where I buy at least 50% of my food)
  • The myriad of good-quality second-hand shops in Brighton
  • Europe’s comfortable, uncompetitive atmosphere and attitude
  • Living by the beach
  • Foreign accents and new vocabulary words
  • Comparing America with other countries/cultures
  • Things I am looking forward to when I return to the States

  • Seeing family and friends
  • Washing machines that fully clean my clothing
  • A bedroom bigger than the size of someone’s walk-in closet
  • Showers that don’t have mold growing out of the walls and hair climbing out of the drain
  • Water pressure in the showers
  • Not having to wash 29 other people’s dirty dishes in order to have a pot to cook with and cutlery to eat with
  • A refrigerator that doesn’t leak water and flood the bottom shelf
  • Reliable internet access
  • Driving
  • Not having to pay twice the amount for everything I buy
  • Playing and watching competitive sports
  • Better equipped, cleaner athletic facilities (back at UR, that is)
  • Knowing exactly what size pants and shoes I need to buy
  • Stores being open later than 5pm
  • Friday, June 1, 2007

    Female Fashion

    The female form seems forever intended for decoration. Whereas men dress practically—in pants, shirts, and jackets specifically designed for movement and activity—females traditionally use what we call “fashion” to constrict movement and basically feel as uncomfortable as possible. Consider the following list of typically “female” clothes:
  • jewelry (earrings, rings, necklaces, etc.)
  • scarves—not the wooly, warm kind
  • hats
  • tights
  • skirts and dresses

    All of these clothes—in some form or another—get in the wearer’s way and restrict their movement. In other words, they operate purely to “look nice.”

    Jewelry: consider typically “female” jewelry—dangly, beaded earrings; loopy necklaces that dangle in front of a girl’s face when she leans over; rings that clink against metallic and ceramic objects brushed by the wearer’s hand, etc. All of these items—particularly earrings, necklaces and bracelets—have the potential to get caught around handles, on hooks, or in crevices, potentially choking the wearer to death or shredding her earlobe. They serve no practical purpose other than to ornament the wearer, and often they make her look more ridiculous than not. (Sparley rhinestones smacking you in the cheeks every time you twist your head? Neon purple beads the size of olives weighing around your neck? Silly silly silly.)

    Scarves and hat: these articles can be worn by the male sex, too, and also for practical purposes. Typically, when styled to be worn acceptably by both genders, these clothing items are intended to keep the wearer warm in cold weather conditions. A wooly scarf can keep the cold wind from assaulting the wearer’s neck, and a fuzzy hat can conserve a significant amount of the 80% or body heat that ordinarily escapes from an individual’s head. However, when girls use these accessories to look fashionable, the accessories morph into restrictive, impractical styles. Take page-boy hats—one healthy gust of wind and the wearer will be chasing the hat down the street (I have seen this happen). Dinky, gauzy scarves are no better—they typically go the way of dangly necklaces, endangering the wearer’s health every time she leans over any sort of moving gears and promising to slop sauce or soup onto her lap at the dinner table if she isn’t careful.

    Tights: I have always had a personal vendetta against these. The ordinary argument in favor of tights is that they are meant to keep girls’ legs warm. How are they supposed to keep anyone’s legs warm when they are made of nothing more than fine-grained netting? Leggings perhaps could serve this purpose, but tights do nothing more than keep the legs numb to changes in wind direction, make a girl’s legs itch, and create a hole in her pocketbook every time they develop a runner. And think of the varieties available: black opaque, black sheer, footed, footless, control-top, neon pink, and my personal favorite—fish net. Can anyone argue for practicality now?

    Skirts and dresses: this is the easiest category to argue against. What girl can move, unrestricted, in a skirt or dress when she has to worry all the time about it getting hiked up and revealing her knickers (assuming she is wearing any)? Even sitting becomes laborious; depending how short the skirt is, she must be conscious of any potential gap between her legs at all times. Talk about making someone self-conscious!

    I don’t entirely understand how this focus on decoration came about, when it so blatantly opposes the order of things in nature. In the animal kingdom, males are the ones who must attract females with their appealing appearances, not the other way around. Birds provide the best example of this phenomenon: the male cardinals, peacocks, and mallard ducks are all the ones displaying vibrant colors and patterns with their feathers. Females are ordinarily dull and unimpressive. What happened to reverse this order in humans?

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