Saturday, February 28, 2009

Marathon Progress

Passed the 17 mile marker this morning in 2:24:36. (2:37:36 if you count the time it took to cross streets and my water break halfway.) Hell yeah!

Follow the route if you desire.

Yes, it's a little boring. I meant to run down to the Williamsburg Bridge and into Brooklyn, but if you notice that little down-and-back beyond the Queensborough Bridge, I suddenly realized that "FDR Drive" is a highway. There is simply no way to run down the east side of Manhattan! Hopefully next week will be a little more interesting.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Translation: Italian Soccer Fan

Because 1) I am in publishing and 2) my mother is in publishing (and deals with copyrights no less!), I have no desire to be accused of plagerism. Therefore, let me announce once, loudly, "I did not write the following passage!" It is from the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I could not help but post it here because, while the book is enjoyable all around (although as an inexhaustible critic, I must express my disappointment with its ending), it stood out to me as such a unabashed celebration of language, I felt compelled to share it.

The context is this: the author--Elizabeth--is at a soccer game in Italy. She is sitting in the stands, surrounded by cheering, stomping, cursing fans, one of whom was ranting and raving with particular gusto, directly behind her. This is her rendering of what she heard.

Dai, dai, dai, Albertini, dai . . . va bene, va bene, ragazzo, mio, perfetto, bravo, bravo . . . Dai! Dai! Via! Via! Nella porta! Eccola, eccola, eccola, mio bravo ragazzo, caro mio, eccola, eccola, ecco—AAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! VAFFANCULO!!! FIGLIO DI MIGNOTTA!! STRONZO! CAFONE! TRADITORE! Madonna . . . Ah, Dio mio, perche, perche, perche, questo e stupido, e una vergogna, la vergogna . . . Che casino, che bordello . . . NON HAI UN CUORE, ALBERTINI! FAI FINTA Guarda, non e successo niente . . . Dai, dai, ah . . . Molto migliore, Albertini, molto migliore, si si si, eccola, bello, bravo, anima mia, ah, ottimo, eccola adesso . . . nella porta, nella porta, nell—VAFFANCULO!!!!!!!!!

Roughly translated to:

Come on, come on, come on, Albertini, come on . . . OK, OK, my boy, perfect, brilliant, brilliant . . . Come on! Come on! Go! Go! In the goal! There it is, there it is, there it is, my brilliant boy, my dear, there it is there it is, there—AHHHHH! GO FUCK YOURSELF! YOU SON OF A BITCH! SHIT-HEAD! ASSHOLD! TRAITOR! . . . Mother of God . . . Oh my God, why, why, why, this is stupid, this is shameful, the shame of it . . What a mess . . . [Author’s note: Unfortunately there’s no good way to translate into English the fabulous Italian expression che casino and che bordello, which literally means “what a casino,” and “what a whorehouse,” but essentially mean “what a friggin’ mess.”] . . . YOU DON’T HAVE A HEART, ALBERTINI!!!! YOU’RE A FAKER! Look, nothing happened . . . Come on, come on, hey, yes . . . Much better, Albertini, much better, yes yes yes, there it is, beautiful, brilliant, oh, excellent, there it is now . . . in the goal, in the goal, in the—FUUUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUUU!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Humiliation #3

Time number three was thanks to Tom2. And this one did involved Valentines Day. And flowers.

I initially met Tom2 my freshman year of college. We lived on adjacent halls on the fourth floor of our dorm, and he was one of the guys I ended up befriending, simply because they all seemed less judgmental and more easygoing than the girls on my hall. This didn’t mean we had common interests—I had zero interest in playing Mario Kart/Halo/Soul Caliber or throwing a ping pong ball at a plastic cup while inebriated—but the general level of acceptance was high enough that I could take my notes into their rooms and feel “social” while studying, even if I was the only one doing it. It felt better than trying to pretend to be interested in “Desperate Wives Club” and painting my fingernails with my own hall mates.

In any case, we remained casual friends through the course of college and, in our senior year, ended up living together in a suite—ironically enough—with three other members of our original freshman crew. Gradually, over the course of our first semester, we grew to become better friends. Not only did we live in much closer quarters than we ever had before, but we also shared a love of sports—both watching and playing them—not to mention the fact that we were the only two individuals in our suite whom I would venture to dub “athletes. ” Our social preferences were more similar to each other’s than to anyone else’s in the suite, thus leading us to spend increasing amounts of time attending functions at bars and bowling alleys. And finally, we developed a mutual interest in watching movies late at night. (Albeit, this was probably his interest; it was more my attempt at cinematic self-education and way to avoid working myself to death.)

With a wince and a grimace, I’ll admit it: by the second semester, I began wondering if there was any potential for romantic interest in our relationship. This is not to say that I wanted to ruin our friendship, by any means, but come on—the guy was spending at least three nights a week with me sitting on his bed with him, in the dark, at ten o’clock at night, watching movies. And on Tuesday nights, our regular bowling nights, he and I would still put on our shoes, get in his car, and drive out to the lanes, even if everyone else who ordinarily came to bowl had backed out. So maybe I was wishing too hard for a reasonable, respectable, good-looking guy to finally fall for me and projected this wishful fantasy onto him. Either way, it made what happened that much worse.

My birthday happens in January, and the next major holiday after that is one of the most dreaded: Valentine’s Day. Personally, I’ve never dreaded it, because I’ve never had a particularly good or bad Valentine’s Day. Typically, my dad has bought me chocolate or jellybeans, my parents send me a cute “we love you because you’re our daughter card,” and the day passes in a whirlwind of red glittery signs and broken flower stems. However, what I do dread is the entire holiday shopping season leading up to this particular calendar day. It seems that the entire season is built to enhance one’s feeling of loneliness, as everyone else frets and dithers over what they should buy their sweetheart and where they should get reservations, or if they should eat at home, etc. The older I get, the worse it gets. When you’re little, everyone gets a little paper Valentine in his or her decorated shoe box, and maybe even a lollipop attached, if you’re lucky. When you’re older and single, you have to buy your own lollipop. And that’s not what heart-shaped lollipops are for.

Needless to say, I must have mentioned somewhere along the line that I had never received a “true” Valentine before.

“What do you mean a ‘true’ Valentine?” I was asked.

“You know,” I would say, “like one from a boy.”

Now, I certainly wasn’t telling people this in the hopes that I would receive a Valentine; this was just a fact that reflected how I felt at that time, and so I said it to whomever I was with. I paid no attention to my company when I said these sorts of things. What came next taught me to start noting my company before I blab away.

Valentine’s Day that year fell on a Tuesday—our weekly bowling night. That morning, as I sat in the common room of the suite to lace up my winter boots before I trudged out into the snow and headed off to class, Tom asked me if I was doing anything that night. Simultaneously, my heart both leapt for joy and sank to my feet. Was he about to ask me out for Valentine’s Day? “When?” “Like, at eight,” he told me. “I’m doing an editing session in the library at six,” I answered miserably. “It’s scheduled for two hours.” “Oh.” He looked a little worried. “Well, we wanted to go bowling earlier, so we were going to try to leave at eight.” Now I was confused. We always left for bowling at nine because Ryan—our other most constant bowling companion—always had to talk to his long-distance girlfriend for an hour (8-9 p.m.) before we could leave. Tom never could have convinced him to skip his precious phone call on Valentine’s Day of all days . . . could he?

I expressed my skepticism, but Tom made it seem pretty urgent that he had to go bowling at eight and assured me that Ryan had agreed. Therefore, I told Tom that I’d try to make it back by eight but that if I couldn’t get back in time, to just go without me. I was supremely disappointed at the idea of missing our bowling night, particularly tonight, when the couple in our suite was sure to be doing something special for the holiday (and they liked to stay in, which meant that there would be no escape for me), but what could I do?

As luck would have it, however, my editing session ended early. I was finished by 7:40 p.m., and I hustled back through our suite through the cold, hoping that they hadn’t left without me. As soon as I opened the door, I breathed a sigh of relief; Tom, Ben and Eric (my three male suitemates) were all sitting together in the common room.

”Awesome!” I exclaimed, breezing in and heading to my room. “I’m going to put my stuff away, and I’ll be ready soon.” Of course, I got wrapped up in checking my email, particularly because I had a few minutes, and the next thing I knew, Ben was in my room, tugging at my arm.

”Come be social,” he whined. “We’re all out in the common room.”

”Give me a minute,” I told him. “It’s not even eight o’clock yet.”

”You never spend time with us,” he insisted. “You’re always being antisocial.” Now Tom was standing in my doorway, too.

”Fine!” I shut the lid of my laptop. “I’m coming!” I grabbed my coat and purse and headed down the hallway after them. Plopping down on the couch in the common room, I looked around expectantly. “So, what do you want to talk about?”

That’s when there was a knock on the door.

Ben opened, and in barged After Hours, the UR’s coed a cappella group. Scanning the room, the leader—a pale girl I recognized as part of the UR Protestant Chapel Community, with a mane of springy bright blond curls and big peach-pink lips—spied me and proceeded to zero in. Her entourage followed, and once they had all formed a semicircle around me, the singing commenced. From this moment on, I proceeded to be serenaded by our college a cappella group, on Valentine’s Day, in front of my suitemates, to the tune of “[When I Think About You] I Touch Myself.” I have never seen Tom look so pleased with himself.

And what do you think happened at the end of the song? The lead singer—who had been crooning straight into my face for all the breathy parts (“I'd get down on my knees; I'd do anything for you….”)—pulled from behind her back a single red carnation. I’m sure by that point my face was fit to match.

So that is why, if any reader out there is ever trying to do something to woo/impress/please me, beware: flowers have had a dodgy history in my life!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Humiliation #2

Humiliation number two occurred my senior year when I was working at the Hillside café (more of a coffee shop than a café) at the University of Rochester. In this instance, a slightly older man brought me the flowers.

Ed was a thirty-five-ish, waif-like, Asian man whom I had met—ironically enough—through my friend and then-roommate, Tom2. (The irony will be revealed after reading Humiliation three.) We met one night when Tom2 took me to his friend Jason’s apartment to play darts. Ed and I were both beginners (i.e. had held a dart maybe once or twice before in our lives), so we took turns sitting out to let the others play more competitively and consequently took to chatting about how unskilled we were at the sport. Ed was very pleasant, asking me about my studies and telling me about his former life in Singapore. (I was very interested in this, having just made a Singaporean friend and planning to travel to the country to visit her after graduating in May.) When our evening had concluded, Tom2 had other plans, so Ed volunteered to walk me back to my apartment (in spite of the fact that is was located less than ten yards away from where Jason lived). I figured this was just his way of being gentlemanly and responsible—he was significantly older, after all, and had been raised in a different culture—so I allowed him to do this and then bade him goodnight.

What should have tipped me off, I suppose, was when I received the birthday card—at my house. In Pittsburgh. Through one email exchange (yes, I foolishly gave Ed my email address to “keep in touch,” although in my defense, I still thought he could help me in planning my trip to Singapore), Ed had asked me where I was from. (He said he liked to travel, and so it was good to have friends in various places.) Afterward, he apparently asked Tom2 for my home address. Meanwhile, I went merrily on my way home for winter break, and then, in early January, lo and behold a card appeared in our mailbox from Ed. I was shocked! Yet, receiving a birthday card—at my house no less—seemed like more than enough. I certainly did not expect him to give me anything else for my birthday…or to use my birthday as an excuse to give me anything else….

I was hauling a cart laden with boxes of cardboard coffee cups, bottles of Dasani, bags of espresso, plastic lids, and other supplies into the coffee shop one morning at 9 a.m. when I was approached by my coworker, Ashley.

“There’s a man here looking for you.”

As soon as she said “man,” every guess I could have given for the term “guy” flew out the window. I didn’t know any men! I stopped pulling the cart and followed her gaze. Someone was rising from a table on the other side of a giant concrete pillar in the center of the room. Extended in front of this person was a bouquet of yellow blossoms wrapped in what seemed to be a combination of plastic grocery bags and translucent plastic. The bouquet obscured his face, but I could see his petite stature and his overly academic clothing, and from these clues, along with the black hair peeking over the top of the bouquet, I knew.

“Oh hello, Ed.” I could feel my coworkers trying not to climb over the counter in their curiousness over this exchange.

“Happy birthday, Allison!” He lowered the bouquet enough to see me. “Or belated birthday, I guess.”

“Thank you.” I tried not to blush as I took the flowers and set them on the cart behind me—anything to get them more out of sight. “You really didn’t have to.”

“I’m sorry I missed your birthday. But I am in time to get a smoody, no?”

“A…oh, yeah. What kind do you want?” His pretext for saying he would come visit me at work was always to say that “he had heard I was the best smoothie maker at Hillside” and that he would have to come and test this for himself. Apparently he had chosen now as the time.

“ Whatever kind you think is good.” He looked at me expectantly.

I looked at my cart and then at the three sets of saucer eyes watching me over the counter. “Actually, I have to finish putting this stuff away. But Ashley,” I pointed to the short red-headed girl over the counter, “will make you one.” I gave him an apologetic expression. “Sorry. Maybe another time.”

He face fell. “Okay. Maybe another time.”

I rolled away with my cart, careful not to be rude, but also careful not to prolong the conversation. I noted that he left without ordering a smoothie.

My most immediate thought was to throw the flowers into the trash, but Michelle (another coworker) hurried over to see “what kind they were” and to find out “who that guy was,” so I had no time to get rid of the bouquet before she had confiscated it. She and Ashley made me put them in water on the coffee counter so they would survive until the end of my shift. Everyone who came into the shop asked so many questions about “whose flowers those were,” that I barely survived until the end of my shift.

One more episode awaits….

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Three Humiliations: #1

First things first: either I’m a terribly unconvincing writer (that I couldn’t make any of you believe I was another person); I’m a terrifically wonderful writer (that I made myself immediately recognizable); or else everyone just knows me too darned well. Apparently, it wasn’t humiliating enough for everyone to assume I was the pathetic girl who was too stupid to figure out how to avoid giving out her phone number; I must be forced to publicly admit, “Yes, I was girl #3.”

Speaking of humiliation, my self-introspection was sparked today when one of my colleagues recounted his three Most Embarrassing Moments. This caused me to stop and wonder, “What would I consider my most embarrassing moments?” I suppose, with my compassionate and talkative nature, I was hoping to share some in return, but frankly, I could not think of a single one. Does this mean I never embarrass myself? Surely not. My first guess is that I might immediately erase all embarrassing mistakes from my working memory, so as to keep my ego intact. However, there is simply no way that every single thing I have ever done to humiliate myself has escaped the lock safe that is my mind. Therefore, I sat down and had myself a think. Or, rather, I went running.

Here is what I discovered: my Most Embarrassing Moments were not ones I brought upon myself (or at least not directly). They were not instances where I tripped and fell on my face or spilled some beautiful dessert down the front of my dress. In fact, none of them had anything to do with some action of mine. No, my top three instances of personal humiliation were caused by the actions of others. And they all involved flowers.

Time number one was at a swim meet. I was about twelve or thirteen years old, having just come out of seventh grade and all of the junior high insecurity that involves. Being the little genius I was—or at least that people believed me to be—I had taken the SAT’s for “practice” that year, as part of a Johns Hopkins program, “just to see how I’d do.” I scored a 1070 composite—this was waaaay back when the total possible score was still a meager 1600—and my verbal score was apparently high enough to warrant some sort of special reception, where each child received a paper award with our name on it, and a cookie afterwards. In any event, it was at this “hooray for the smart kids” ceremony that I met Tom1 (not to be confused with another Tom, Tom2, whom we will come to later). We ended up sitting next to one another during the ceremony, and both of us were so bored that we spent the entire time making jokes about the speakers and each kid that went up onstage (which of course made me wonder what someone in the audience was saying about me when I went up onstage…but that was another matter). Afterwards, when we were eating our cookies at the reception, Tom1 sought me out and enthusiastically suggested that we stay in touch. Ever the letter-writer, I cheered to the idea of having another pen pal and happily wrote my address on the back of his program. A week later, he called me. Even back then, the internet was stalker-friendly.

Flash forward to the day of the swim meet. By then, Tom1 and I had spoken on the phone several times. Most of these times consisted of him being bored and talking about his dog and me trying to think of plausible excuses for getting off of the phone. Meanwhile, though, I filled the excruciating gaps in conversation with things about myself, facts about my life. Somewhere along the line, I must have mentioned that I swam. And somewhere along the line, I must have mentioned this particular swim meet.

It’s a meet that happens once-a-summer, as the Championship meet for all of the local teams that compete against one another. In recent years, it had been held at my community’s pool. This particular summer, I was swimming two events. One of my events—the fourteen-and-under medley relay—had a chance to break the pool record, so my relay was really excited. We had gone out earlier that week and purchased matching swimming suits and caps, all in garish, florescent colors and a hideous fruit salad pattern. We were stoked.

I suppose this is why I had mentioned the meet to Tom1. After all, how could I help myself? I was supremely excited about it, and I was telling pretty much anyone who would listen about our potential to break a pool record. However, never in a million years did I think he was actually listening to me prattle on. We were thirteen (okay, he was fourteen, because he was one grade ahead of me, but still). Thirteen-year-olds don’t hear this sort of thing and think, “Okay, this means something to a person I barely know; I’m going to take action.” Even if they do have a crush on that person.

So there I was at the pool, dressed in my suit and cap, hunting in my swim bag for my goggles, preparing to go to the waiting area for my event, when my sister came charging out of nowhere and grabbed my arm.

“Alli!” she exclaimed. Her eyes looked like they were about to burst out of her head. “There’s someone here to see you!”

Honestly, I had no idea it was him. If I had known, I might not have gone to the entrance to meet him. But since I didn’t, I let her drag me up the steps, to the pool’s entrance gate. And there he was: round glasses shoved up against his slightly pudgy face, belt cinched over his tucked-in T-shirt, bouquet held out in front of him, with colors almost as bright as my bathing suit. My sister, meanwhile, in all of her nine-year-old-glory, was ogling the flowers, ogling me, and going back to ogling the flowers. Tom1 was sweating. He looked slightly out of breath.

I saw all this, and it was like we were on the phone again. If I could label the feeling, it would be a sense of apologetic dread. All I could immediately think was, “Oh no. How am I going to get rid of him?” And now I had these flowers that everyone was going to ask me about. . . .

Number two to come.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What a Science Degree Can Do for You

Deciding to double-major was one of the smartest choices I have ever made—particularly deciding to double-major in a science. At the time I was choosing my course of study, I wasn’t making my choice according to the future I had mapped out. In fact, before I ever arrived at college, I already had the vague notion that I might want to study both science and humanities of some sort. After all, my favorite classes in high school had been Anatomy, Biology, English, and Etymology, and since there was no seemingly feasible way to combine all of these, the best I could do was attend a school that would let me study all of them rather than tell me I had to go study history and calculus instead.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at Rochester, Biology was immediately ruled out as my second major for the sole reason that the beginning classes were made intentionally impossible in order to weed out the students who “weren’t serious” about becoming doctors. Essentially, those students included me (although I probably would have worked just as hard as the students who would go on to become doctors, anyway). Therefore, I enrolled in a class that what looked to me to be an equally or at least the next-most interesting subject: cognitive science.

Meanwhile, I immediately pursued the course of study I knew I would major in no matter what: English. I was fairly certain I would concentrate in Creative Writing, regardless of its practicality, because that was what interested me the most. But then, that was what drove most of my undergraduate career work: I studied what interested me. And this was why I ended up double-majoring in both English/Creative Writing and Brain & Cognitive Sciences—because both subjects interested me.

Yes, they were quite diverse. Yes, they demanded extremely different ways of thinking and working and studying and learning. But I liked it that way. If had had to spend all of my time memorizing data and spitting it out on tests or writing lab reports for Brain & Cognitive Science classes or reading hundreds upon hundreds of pages every other day for English classes, I might have gone crazy. Balancing both majors over the course of four years probably made me enjoy the work more than if I had completely immersed myself in one discipline or the other. Maybe I would have produced more writing if I had studied only English, or maybe I would have been included in some substantial research papers had I worked in one of my Brain & Cognitive Sciences professor’s labs, but I am a girl of varied interests, and my “well-roundedness” has always made me a more valuable person in the long run.

Which brings me to why double-majoring in a science was such a smart move: this unlikely pairing of majors—and its resulting “well-roundedness” has proven to make me more valuable than I otherwise would be; this time, in the professional world. I am currently undergoing my 6-month review at work. This is a harrowing time, for one thing because it involves a self-grading process, but for another because it involves being evaluated by not only one, but by both of my bosses. Plus, on top of that, my status within the company, as well as a potential raise in salary, all depends upon this evaluation. So, suffice to say, it is important that I do well. (Not to mention that my own sense of self-worth has always rested heavily on evaluations like these. In spite of knowing that you cannot control opinions of others, I have always tried hard to please my superiors in every activity, from school to sports, and now, in having a Real Job, I cannot help but want to be liked and respected by these important people more than ever.)

Fortunately for me, my review is halfway over, and the first half has gone positively. It has gone so positively, in fact, that I will be receiving more work as a reward for being such an efficient employee. To some, this may seem a punishment, but I welcome the challenge, because with more responsibility comes more power (although I believe someone’s famous quote traditionally reverses those two terms), and with more power comes more respect…. And of course with more power and respect comes more money, but everyone knows that publishing is not the vocation to pursue if you want to make money. In any case, my new project was given to me on the basis of my “being a scientist.” And, in fact, my last project—the task of interviewing a Princeton researcher who won a prize from the Wiley Foundation, which has not happened yet but will take place in April—was also given to me in part because of my background in, familiarity with, and appreciation of science.

I certainly did not study Brain & Cognitive Sciences with the intention of going into the publishing industry and using it there. In fact, even once I figured out that it would be an asset to my application, in certain circumstances, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to use it, because I was convinced that I would be best suited for a career in book publishing. I envisioned myself working on fiction books, reading slush piles, maybe finding misplaced commas and missing periods. But, as some people strongly believe, everything just might happen for a reason; and now here I am at this grand publishing company, working in life science journals and current protocols, having upper management refer to me as a “scientist” and give me duties accordingly. It’s actually kind of cool, when I stop and think about it. Who would have thought that little bookworm me would ever be considered more science-y than the next guy?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine’s Day: a situational guessing game

How well do you know the author of this blog?

Three situations; three girls; one night. Can you guess which one involved Allison?

1. She’s up at the bar, waiting for the drinks she just ordered. The guy standing next to her—who, coincidentally, looks a little like a Puerto Rican version of Burt from “Sesame Street”—turns to her and says, “Hello, may I introduce myself?” Raising an eyebrow, she says, “Sure.” He holds out a hand. “I’m J__.” “Hi J__,” she says, shaking his hand. “I’m A______.” He proceeds to ask her more about herself, adopting what she considers to be quite a cocky manner when he discovers she is not an alumni of a school “on par” with Georgetown, his alma mater. “So what are you doing here?” he finally asks. “Hanging out with these fat cats,” she answers, taking two drinks that have finally arrived and handing them to her two friends, who are standing behind her in the crowd. “What are you drinking?” he wants to know as she turns back to wait for her drink. It finally arrives, and, tired of talking to this muppet-faced Georgetown highbrow, she replies, “Captain and Diet. I call it a Skinny Bitch.” And with that, she smoothly makes her exit.

2. This guy’s been following her all night like a case of bad breath. She’ll make up some excuse to leave—to go to the bathroom, to refill her drink, to get something from her coat—and as soon as she turns around, there he is again. He has a face like a little puppy, too, which is why she can’t summon the will to tell him to get lost. He just looks so eager to please. She thinks that maybe if she weren’t interested in someone else, she might find him good-looking enough to give him a chance. He is mildly attractive, in a clean-cut sort of way. But she is interested in someone else, so all this attention is just exhausting. Finally, though, it’s the end of the night, and she’s made it clear she’s about to leave—her final escape. He’s hovering over her as she sits and waits for her friends to say their goodbyes, trying to make the room stop spinning and wallowing in grief over her broken camera, which fell on the floor just as she was going to get a picture with the party host. He leans down asks if he can have her phone number. Wincing slightly, and with no lack of pity, she says, “I think you should go.” He straightens and, with a regretful smile and an awkward high-five, he leaves.

3. She didn’t mean to get wrapped up in conversation with him. It’s just that the first guy she got stuck talking to was dumb as bricks, and this man had a really bizarre accent—which he explained he had acquired by travelling since childhood and speaking 13 languages—so she figured she may as well get into conversation with someone halfway worthwhile before that other silly Indian guy came back and tried to twirl her again. Problem is, she should have seen the warning signs way in advance: most notably when he started telling her how refreshing it was to meet someone like her at a bar, how she carried herself well, and how she seemed very intelligent and “girl-next-door.” She should have known that this was all code for, “you look like you’re still in college (she had been asked this very question by 3 guys already that night) and you’re listening to what an unattractive forty-year-old man like me has to say.” Of course, the fact that she is this oblivious and girl-next-door type brings us to the horrific next stage in our encounter, in which he asked for her phone number. She immediately thought to give him a wrong number, but luckily she anticipated his calling her so “she’d have his number” (which he immediately did), and it would have looked awfully suspicious if her phone hadn’t rung. . . . So the only alternative was to vow never to answer when he called. Which is why, when she filled in his contact information in her phone, she labeled his number with “VDay” instead of his name. Good thing, too, because he called her twice later that night—after she had left, sometime around 3 a.m. “Rule of thumb for bars,” one of her friends told her later, “is never talk to a guy you don’t intend to give your number to for more than five minutes. And never give your number to a guy you wouldn’t fuck.” She’ll have to plan a better exit strategy for next time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
Having read Blink prior to The Tipping Point, I came into reading this book viewing it as “the novel that made Gladwell famous.” After finishing it, however, I was left thinking, “this was very clearly his first book.”

The Tipping Point goes out of its way to spell out a concrete agenda right from the start: it is going to explain why certain phenomena spread like wildfire and others do not; why one fad will catch, and another will fizzle; why one message will be passed like an epidemic, and another will get lost in the din. Gladwell accomplishes this by fashioning a structure of constant repetition. His chapters are identically laid out, with each illustration followed by mountains of explanation, followed by re-illustration, followed by re-explanation, until he is positive that his reader has grasped what he has attempted to explain. Then, in later chapters, he brings back his earlier illustrations and re-explains them again, just to make sure his reader has not forgotten about them and also to make sure the reader knows how they apply.

In a way, all of this explanation would be good, if Gladwell were teaching a concept that would be tested at the end of the book. However, this is a book for the general populace, and as a member of that populace, I want to be entertained. I like his illustrations, and I like his explanations for them, but I do not like having him dredge them up and re-explain them every time he wants to make a new point. Clearly his favorite example was Paul Revere, because every time he had a new point to make, there was that infamous guy and his midnight ride, galloping across the page. If Gladwell would have just laid out the puzzle pieces and then neatly tied them all up at the end, I may have been satisfied. However, the fact that he would lay one piece down and then insist on immediately picking it up again and squeezing it into its proper place—that irritated me. I like it when the author trusts me to do a little thinking for myself.

Reading can be used as a form of learning, and reading can be used as a form of entertainment. Occasionally—but not often—it can be used for both purposes. In The Tipping Point I think Gladwell was aiming to achieve both. However, the book was written and marketed toward a more general market, and the general market wants to think, “Oh! That’s so cool!” not, “Boy do I feel smart after reading this.” The general market is not going to go out and apply Gladwell’s marketing strategies after reading his book, because these people are the ones on whom his strategies are supposed to work! People reading about his “stickiness factor” and “the power of context” who already know about these concepts have more legitimate terms for them, and everyone else probably doesn’t care enough to do anything with the concepts. Therefore, Gladwell should have focused more on amp-ing up his “interesting examples”, rather than explaining “here’s how everything fits into my theory.”

That being said, I found the most fascinating part of his book the Afterword. This was where he discussed reactions to his book and what he learned after publishing it. This was where he included sections of material that he would have written in the book, had he had the knowledge and opportunity before finishing it. I think all authors wish for this opportunity, and I felt that this section of the book was not only more insightful, but better written than the rest. Perhaps by the time Gladwell wrote this part, he already had the experience of having written and published Blink. In any case, the concept of Outliers does not interest me—it does not seem novel or innovative enough to warrant writing a book about—but I will be curious to gauge the public’s reaction to it.

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Monday, February 9, 2009


I remember the first time I felt true development as a swimmer. It was at one inconsequential WHAT (Woodland Hills Aquatic Team) practice—one of many I attended as I began to train with the team for the first time during the spring of my senior year of high school. I had just finished my first and last swim season on the high school team (having played basketball during the winter sports season the previous three years of my high school career), and I found that I not only enjoyed the sport, but I respected and admired the coach so much that I wanted to keep training with him. Thus, in spite of my very short and consequentially unimpressive swimming career, I joined WHAT and began to train with other, “serious” swimmers.

While I had known very well how little I had contributed to the team throughout the high school season, I was brutally reminded every day how poor my swimming abilities were when I began to attend WHAT practices. Obviously I had to begin in the slowest lane, and this meant swimming with eight and ten-year-olds. I was seventeen and twice their size, and I still couldn’t beat some of them down the pool, especially with a kickboard. At the very least, it was a lesson in humility. However, I am nothing if not dedicated and tenacious when I want something, and I wanted to work for this coach. I wanted to be a part of this team, and I wanted to make him proud of me, even if he never said so. Obviously he had other swimmers to give his attention to, who would do impressive things in the pool and who would go on to swim for important colleges and maybe even make National or Olympic trials. I, however, worked hard every day for that little sliver of attention I might earn by “getting better.”

On the particular day I am remembering, George (our coach) assigned us a very typical set: a series of repeat 100s. For non-swimmers, a “100” refers to the yardage swum. One hundred yards equates four lengths of what most people consider a typical pool; two lengths if you’re lucky enough to swim in an Olympic-sized pool. In our practice set, we had to swim four 100s on a certain time, and then repeat the set twice, with each repeat getting faster. For instance, in my case, I was assigned to swim the first set of four 100s on a repeat time of 1:45, meaning that every minute and forty-five seconds, I had to leave the wall to start my next hundred until I had completed four 100s. The second set would be on 1:40, and the third would be on 1:35.

So the set was four 100s repeated, repeated 3 times. Twelve 100s total. George wrote our names up on the board beside the intervals we were assigned to do. There were only three intervals: the “A” group, the “B” group, and the “C” group. On this day, the “C” group’s first set of 100s started on a 1:40 interval. This meant that by the third set of 100s, the interval would be down to 1:30.

“No way am I going to be able to make that,” I told him as I strapped on my goggles. Ordinarily, I would hit the wall and barely have enough time to look at the clock and orient myself before I had to go again. And that was on a 1:35 interval. I had never done a 1:30 interval before. “Sure you can,” George said. “You’re faster now. You’ll see.” Yeah, I’ll see all right, I thought. See how slow I am. I pushed off and started the set. By the third set of repeats, I was gasping for air. I would hit the wall, and I would have to push right off again. It was like swimming a straight 400, because every time I finished a 100, I would bring my head up and George would be saying, “Ready…go!” and I would have to push off again. But I made it. Not once did I hit the wall and see the second hand drifting past the 30 second mark on the time clock. It might be centered dead on that 30 seconds, and I might not even stop for a single breath before starting the next repeat, but I made it.

That’s when I knew: my body was swimming physically faster than it had before. I had just completed a set five seconds faster than I had done it at previous practices. It was possible to do this—it was possible to get better.

I have had this same experience with running, but now it’s twofold. Because with running, I never thought I’d physically be able to run for as long and as far as I am trying to push my body as I train for this marathon in May. Every Sunday, as I add miles to my long run, I am astounded when I finish. Did I really run that long? Did I really go that far? It seems impossible that I would ever have found this goal impossible, and yet what I am still striving to do seems so daunting. I have completed up to sixteen miles, and even as I waddle home on wobbly legs, this mentally seems insignificant. I still have to add ten more, in the coming weeks. Yet I went out today and ran five miles in under forty minutes. I remember when running four miles in forty minutes was a feat that would be cause for celebration.

It’s funny how goals can shift and morph, depending on perspective and ambition. I am excited and nervous to see what the future brings.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: Perfume

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
Suskind is attempting to be Nathaniel Nawthorne. The idea is a good one: that a man can conquer society by smell. Truly, our sense of smell is the strongest, most persuasive of our senses, so this idea is essentially an intriguing one. What's more, setting it in the era of "perfumers" and in France made it all the more appealing.

However. The writing simply doesn't hold up. Passages are long and unweildy, and descriptions of scent simply are not...fragrant. Reading about sight and sound does not transport me to the time and place of this novel. I do not feel loathing for the protagonist, as I feel I should, but only a mild disgust. I also feel I should be captivated by him, but I am merely bored, because I can predict him, although he seems to be the "unpredictable" kind of murderer.

The language and pacing of the book is what makes me claim that Suskind is attempting to fashion his writing after that of Hawthorne or even Dickens. However, he just never succeeds. The fact that this novel was apparently made into an equally disappointing movie is quite sad, because in this case, the movie could have easily been an impovement upon the novel, particularly had they changed the ending.

If you're going to read Hawthorne, read Hawthorne.

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Self Review

I hate performance analysis. I thought I was done with it after high school, after those god-awful projects called Portfolios, where you had to include a certain number of certain “types” of work, and every piece had to include a standardized Cover Page on which you described the assignment and then wrote about why you thought you had done a good or a bad job on it, what you learned from it, or some such blather. It was so tiresome to write about yourself that way all the time. If the piece was good, I knew it was good; that was why I had gotten an A on it. Plus, it sounded arrogant if you complimented yourself too much; but on the other hand, if you berated yourself too much, other kids got mad at you for being falsely modest and fishing for compliments. Plus, if it was bad work, then I didn’t want to wax poetic about how I “could have done better.” If I had wanted to do a better job, I would have! So the whole process was simply tiresome and a huge waste of time as far as I was concerned. A waste of time, and an even bigger waste of paper.

But now here I am, stuck doing it again! Along comes my six month review, and lo and behold! My boss presents me with a six-page-long form called “Performance Planning, Appraisal, and Development” which asks me to describe what I do and how well I think I do it. What’s worse is, I don’t get to see my “grade” first. My bosses assess me after I grade myself. So do I give myself “straight A’s,” in the hopes that they see me as confident and competent? Or do I try to be modest and claim that I believe this is how I’m supposed to do my job (which is in fact what I really believe, although I do think I am slightly more efficient than the average Joe Schmoe)? Which side of the self-esteem line am I supposed to walk? Because now my job depends on it. This isn’t about a simple report card, with a silly little letter on it. This is now about money and professional reputation. This is going to affect my Real Life in tangible and potentially irreversible ways. This is, for better or for worse, something I have to do, and something I have to do well.

The worst part is, I live my entire life performing the self-review process. My daily internal dialogue consists of, “Yes!” “Oh no.” “You are such an idiot! How could you do that?” “Thank god you did that.” “Oh my god, that would have been a disaster.” “You are so amazing.” “You are so retarded.” All day, every day, I evaluate what I do and how I do it. That’s just who I am. However, I am constantly going over this “performance evaluation” with a split mind. Half of me is confident and proud of my achievements: this is the half that is pleased when something goes well and will attribute successes to my own intelligence, hard work, or proper planning. The other half is never satisfied, always striving to be better, and therefore, constantly finding fault. If something goes wrong, it was my own lack of foresight, my own stupidity that is to blame. If someone is unhappy with something I have done, I should have known better; I should have done it right the first time.

Consequently, going into a formal evaluation with this sort of dual mindset is immensely stressful. Which “me” is being realistic, and which is blowing things out of proportion? Everything in life is such a delicate balance, and now I have to create that balance on paper. At least from here on out, it will only happen annually.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Bed Project

Pre-bed bed.

It's here! Three days and two hours late; raw and uncensored.

Finally! Ready for sleeping.

Necessity of Sports

I can’t live without sports. This is, in all senses, a literal statement.

First of all, neither my body nor my mind can survive without exercise. You may find this assertion melodramatic, particularly considering all of the “exercise keeps you fit” and “exercise reduces stress” messages that saturate the media; however, I literally go crazy if I don’t exercise. I don’t start “bouncing off the walls,” as one may imagine of a person with too much energy; rather, being inactive actually makes me miserable. I feel as though I am being lazy, and then I feel guilty about being lazy, which then leads me to feeling defeated about feeling guilty but not letting this guilt drive me to correct the laziness. That cycle feeds upon itself until I become downright depressed.

I did an experiment one spring (albeit an accidental experiment, but the results were conclusive enough) during which I exercised every day for several weeks, after which I began to taper off into four-day-long jags of sitting around and doing nothing. What I found was that by day three, I had become so irritable that I was snapping at my family over trivial matters and that overall I felt a sense of dreariness and frustration. This never happened in the summer, because I was on a swim team then; it never happened in the fall, because I played volleyball then; and it never happened in the winter, because that was basketball season. However, I had never learned to play softball, tennis never really stuck, and the only time I ran track was in eighth grade. Thus, I had no spring sport.

The bottom line is that I need to exercise, and I need to exercise constantly. In a way, this could be considered an addiction. A thing becomes an addiction when you start needing it to feel “normal.” Some people are addicted to drugs; some are addicted to sex; perhaps I am addicted to exercise. Before you get jealous, however, consider this: people who don’t exercise especially often get a rush of endorphins when they finally get up and do something active. My body and brain, on the other hand, need that exercise-induced “rush” just to maintain their basic level of functioning. So for most people, exercising is a rewarding experience. For me, not exercising induces the punishment of physical/mental withdrawal.

Besides keeping my mental and physical well-being intact, the second reason I cannot live without sports is that they give me community. I strongly believe that everyone needs some sense of community, whether that community is the geographic kind (comprised of all the families living on a certain block or in a certain apartment building tenants), the circumstantial kind (created by a school or work atmosphere, where you regularly interact with the same people), or the mutual-interest kind (here the possibilities are endless: churches, boy scouts, book clubs…you-name-it). I have relocated many times throughout my life, the most drastic move being my relocation from Pittsburgh to Rochester, in order to attend college. I then relocated again when I studied abroad in England for six months, and a third time when I moved to New York City to pursue an internship—and ultimately my career—in publishing. Each of these times, I had to pack up and go somewhere entirely new, where I had no mental map of the area, no idea of the culture, and no pre-formed social circle. This last item—the social circle—was probably the most difficult obstacle to surmount, because in spite of what others may think, I do not tend to make friends quickly. In fact, the term “friend” is a title I am very hesitant to apply to any individual.

”Community,” however, is different from “friendship.” The two can be associated and even intertwined, but they are very different things. Friendship is a very specific relationship between two people. It can be affected by other people, friends, situations, but friendship is, in a sense, an “agreement” made between the two friends. Community is a group dynamic in which you as an individual feel known, accepted, welcome, and—perhaps most importantly—wanted by a body of people within a certain context or situation. Creating this context to meet these people—this is what sports has done for me.

A sport brings a group of people together who are working toward a common goal. Team sports are the best for this, because the goal is then not only shared conceptually, but it is shared in terms of responsibility, as well. Everyone is needed, and everyone therefore supports one another. Granted, this is not to say that community cannot be found elsewhere. I sought it through all sorts of activities, with many different groups of people. I tried attending and becoming active in various churches. I was a girl scout once upon a time. I participated in numerous music ensembles (children’s choir, concert band, jazz band, my church instrument ensemble, marching band), and I used to take dance classes. Yet none of these things have accomplished what sports have been able to do: to make me an enthusiastic, active member of their community.

The “athletic community” wasn’t nearly so integral to my identity in high school, because at that time, other “communities” were more prevalent. Everyone deferred to their own pre-formed social circles, so sports teams were “extra.” If you got along with your teammates, great, but otherwise you just played together and then went to hang out with your “real” friends, whoever they happened to be. However, once I left for college, all of these pre-formed social circles vanished. No one knew each other, so everyone had to find some common basis for relating to one another. Sports were one way to do that. College athletes banded together like little tribes, spending not practice time together (which constituted a majority of their day), but also attending meals together, partying together, and essentially forming their own social groups—i.e. communities. I very badly wanted to be a part of such a community, and in my sophomore year joining the swim team. It was a lifesaver, because without that team structure and fellowship, I would have felt completely ungrounded and “identity-less” throughout college. In high school, I could easily fall under the “academic” category. At the University of Rochester, however, everyone was “academic!” By joining the swim team, I became a member of the community of College Athletes.

Midway through my junior year, I left Rochester and landed in Brighton, England to study at the University of Sussex for six months. In an entirely new culture, surrounded by entirely new people, I again sought some sense of community. Here again, I came upon like-minded people athletes at a local swimming pool. Granted, this team was nothing like my college team, but the attitude was the same: everyone wanted to get better, everyone wanted everyone else to get better, and most importantly, my attendance was welcomed, remembered, and even encouraged, which made me feel “part of the group.”

This same community-through-athletics happened again twice when I came to New York City. First, while I was living at Columbia University over the summer, I found a small running team in Central Park called the New York Harriers. They willingly took me along on their run the first Tuesday I showed up, and most of the people I met in the group remembered my name every time I returned after that. This was how I became interested in running: these people were all tremendously dedicated to this sport, and they were all very encouraging and enthusiastic. To spend time with them and become a part of their community, I had to become a “Runner.” And so I did.

I ran with the Harriers throughout the two months I lived at Columbia University. When I moved to Queens, the weather was about to get colder, and I began to look for a gym. Most gyms in NYC are inordinately expensive—on the order of several hundred dollars a month—especially those with swimming pools. This was what led me to look into publicly funded gyms, otherwise known as New York Park and Recreation Centers. Armed with a list of every location in the city, I began to visit each gym, surveying the facilities and—consciously or not—gauging the friendliness of the people inside.

On the night I visited the Chelsea facility, I discovered one gymnasium full of volleyball players. Contrary to my usual tentative nature, I went in and asked a girl if this was a league or anyone could play. To my delight, she said that you just had to show up—it was “open court”—and all teams were pickup. This sealed the deal: I paid my dues, joined the gym, and began attending open court volleyball sessions every Monday and Tuesday night.

One of the greatest challenges of moving to NYC was the feeling that I didn’t have any friends. Obviously I still had my friends from high school and college, but none of them were immediately present, and there is simply no substitute for in-the-flesh, face-to-face friends. Once I landed my job at Wiley, I became friendly with a group of lunchtime runners (so much so, in fact, that a group of us travelled together to Philadelphia to run a half marathon). This was certainly a start. However, most of these “work friends” had families. All of them were at least five years older than me, and because we all lived in such disparate parts of the city (or even in different states, since many of them live in NJ, while I live in NY), there was little-to-no chance of “getting together after work” for any reason, never mind on weekends. Also, now that I worked in Hoboken and lived an hour away in Queens, it was extremely inconvenient to try to run with the Harriers. Central Park is situated directly between these two locations, and I couldn’t exactly chain my belongings to a park bench while I joined the Harriers for their 7 p.m. Wednesday night runs. Thus, volleyball was my only other potential source of “friends.”

Finding “friends” at volleyball seemed very unlikely to me, though, because Monday and Tuesday night volleyball sessions were like mini UN meetings: everyone was not only from a different part of the city, but we were all different ages and different ethnicities. Everyone didn’t even speak the same language! Therefore, imagine my surprise when the first time I felt I could say I was “going out with friends” was last Friday night, when a group of thirteen arbitrary volleyball players from our Monday/Tuesday sessions decided to get together for a good-bye dinner. (One regular attendee, Mariana, was leaving to go back to Mexico and finish her master’s thesis.)

Just because I played volleyball with them did not make these people my “friends.” Just because we were going out for dinner also did not make them my “friends.” Instead, I realized that I truly enjoy these people’s company, and the fact that we are now making an effort to expand our social interaction beyond its ordinary, “safe” context was what made me suddenly realize that these people—who had created an athletic “community” for me here in NYC—had now become friends. But without that initial community, created by the sport of volleyball, I never would have come in contact with these people at all.

This is what sports do for me: they make me mentally sound, physically healthy, and socially complete. This is why I have stayed and must remain an athlete for life.