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Thanks to my friend over at a2v for this cool little time-consumer!

I basically pasted a bunch of my old blog posts into it, and out came this very cool little word cloud…  Click on the picture to see the big version, and maybe make one of your own!

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Today, I was in a meeting at work where we were discussing a global initiative that will take our programs to India, for students in the most disadvantaged classes there.  There was this sense of, “Yes, this is a good thing to do–there is no question about that.  But does it fit in to our overall mission?  And should we be helping these children half a world away when we haven’t even figured out how to help the children two blocks away?”

It got me to thinking…  We see so much on TV about how children in other countries are starving to death, begging in the streets, living in shacks.  No doubt, they are much worse off than most children in the United States.  But people seem to ignore the fact that there is real, abject poverty right here in the US.  I grew up knowing kids who lived in houses that looked like abandoned shacks (and had the heating and electrical capabilities of said shacks).  There are millions of children who survive on the free school breakfasts and lunches, and are lucky if they get a meal over the weekend.  (This is particularly disturbing if you think about the fact that these children are about to have a 4-day weekend, and many of us will be gorging on the traditional fare.)

I grew up in a small, rural, and exceptionally poor area of the country.  I knew these kids, I saw these kids, I sat next to these kids in school and played with them after.  Growing up, I thought we were rich.  It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized we were probably lower-middle class at best.  I was amazed by the amount of disposable cash, clothing, cars, video games, whatever else, that my friends had.  I was even more amazed when I found out that only a handful of us were on financial aid.  Because I thought my family was rich, I couldn’t even conceive of the kind of family income it would take to pay for a Duke education.

Lately, it seems that celebrity culture has taken over, and luxury goods are more attainable for even average consumers.  I think that makes it easy to forget that starvation and poverty can happen in our own country, just two blocks down the street.  So, with the upcoming holiday, I am thankful for all the blessings I’ve received:  a warm home, a good education, loving parents who went out of their way to hide when we ourselves were poor.  And I’m also thankful that I understand that true poverty doesn’t just occur in India or Mexico or the African country that is being taken up by celebrities today.  There is poverty in Durham, North Carolina, and all over the US too.  We cannot help them all, but we can try.

Someone* once said that you should never apologize for not posting to your blog. So I won’t, but I’ll give you a little explanation about what’s been keeping me away.

Life here in Durham has been hot and dry and dusty. It’s the end of October, and today was the first time that a long-sleeved shirt and closed-toed shoes were actually a necessity. I am not a fan of heat or humidity, and while I hate rain, I also hate what the lack of it does to this area of the country. In Santa Barbara, that was a whole different story. Long stretches without rain are normal–like when I moved there on August 1 and the first time it rained was Halloween (and startled students came and asked me if classes were cancelled). But here, a dry fall means that it stays hot. Almost 100 every day through the end of September, and still 85 every day at the end of October. I guess for a girl who hates snow, this should be a good thing, but again, not a fan of heat and humidity.**

Also, I love the fall. I love the trees changing color and the crisp air and there’s just a smell that fall has, clean and fecund at the same time. The humidity drops, causing the sky to become this just impossible shade of blue. Fall has always felt like baptism to me, cleansing me of the sins and stressors of summer, preparing me for the winter ahead. Even if I end summer with worry and anger and frustration stamped on my forehead, the chilly mornings, fiery orange trees, and sunny Saturdays of football wipe that all away. But not this year. This year, the heat has held all that down close against me, and piled more on besides. I am having a hard time at work. My non-work friends are busy with their own jobs and have no time to hang out. I sit at my desk and seethe. I am not a happy person, and I hate it. I don’t like what this fall, not just the weather but the situations it has brought, are doing to me. I need to GTFO, get happy, or both.***

I was thinking all of these things as I drove home from work on Tuesday. I was also frantically searching the radio and all the CDs in the car for a decent song and coming up empty. It took me a few minutes to realize why. I have always had a “song of the moment”—a song I want to listen to every time I get in the car, that I belt out at the top of my lungs with the windows down and the clean, cool breeze filling the car. There’s a blogger, Charming But Single, who did a series of posts called “There are Songs About All of Them.” I could do a series called “There’s a Them for Every Song” (and I just might!), because there are times when I listen to the “classic” stations or “mix” stations and hear song after song after song that conjure up specific memories for me. Like “Extraordinary” by Liz Phair reminds me specifically of being stopped at the stop sign on Ocean Road at the bike path by San Raf at UCSB, because I would always make sure it was the last song I heard when I was driving around Goleta my first fall at UCSB. And the entire “Barenaked for the Holidays” album reminds me of Poker Nights at Mike Shinn’s, because I had that CD on repeat in my car from October to February the year it came out, and my longest drive was generally to Mike’s house. The problem is, I don’t have a “song of the moment” right now. I have nothing that I have to hear as soon as I get in the car, and one last time before I get out. There’s nothing that fills me with joy or with longing or with some emotion other than anger.

Well, I firmly believe that the universe conspires to give you what you need. Tuesday night, I was watching the previous night’s episode of The Hills (I can’t help it, I just love it), and there was a song at the end that essentially trout-slapped me across the face.**** It’s called “This Time Around” by I-94. You can download it on iTunes to see what I mean, but the part that really affected me was this:

“I need something in my life
That fills my eyes with light, my eyes with sound.”

Yes, yes I do, as a matter of fact. And this song just did. With the temperature dropping and the adoption of my new theme song, I’d say fall is coming on fast. Things are looking up, and I believe there is something amazing, beyond my wildest dreams, just ahead. I’ll keep you posted.

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*I have no idea who, and I’m too lazy to try and figure it out.
**This is where Santa Barbara pwns the universe in every way—I had no air conditioning, but I didn’t need it. I had heat, but I never turned it on.
***And I am—Operation: Unicorns and Rainbows is fully underway, but since it is a matter of national security, I cannot share the details at this time.
****Sorry, I’ve been spending too much time SuperPoke-ing people on Facebook.

Today is one of those days–will forever be one of those days–when you remember where you were when…*

And I have been feeling nostalgic lately–as I tend to do when I am less than happy with my current situation–but it’s generally been for Santa Barbara, where I had more friends, was happier, liked my life best.

But today. Today, I was standing under the live oaks behind the Texas Union. I was staring down Whitis Avenue, toward Dean Keeton, and a hot dry wind was swirling around my ankles, kicking up the gritty red dirt. I was there, even though my eyes were open and I was awake and I was staring at my computer screen, sitting in my office here in Durham, North Carolina. I was right there.

On September 11, 2001, I lived in Austin, Texas. I was a brand new graduate student and a brand new res life person. I lived in a building with 150 brand new college students, women who had been in college for just over a week. And here’s what I remember:

I remember that I didn’t cry. Not for days or for weeks. Maybe not even for months. I’m the girl who really does cry at long-distance telephone commercials. I cry at the end of nearly every movie or book. I get teary-eyed whenever I see video of Christian Laettner’s shot. But I didn’t cry on 9/11. I don’t think I ever cried out of terror or empathy. Now, I cry nearly every time I see pictures, or film, or anything that has to do with 9/11. But those tears are of anger and frustration at the way this tragedy has been used to strike fear into us and to manipulate the American people–not by Al Qaeda, but by our own government.

I remember that I didn’t have any inkling that this would become such a defining moment. I walked out of my apartment around 9:50 AM Central Time, and heard noise from the lobby TV. I was annoyed because that TV was supposed to stay on the university info channel during the day, but RAs and other night staff could watch movies if they wanted to. I figured that the night staffer had left it on the wrong channel. I walked over to remedy the situation–I was in charge there–and I saw that it was on the news, and there seemed to be smoke coming from the World Trade Center. I walked downstairs, to my office, and everyone acted like it was a normal day. I logged on to CNN.com, but I didn’t see anything important. I went to work.

I remember that one of my co-workers, who at the time was my closest friend on staff, locked herself in her apartment and cried. She was so hysterical that her boss called me and asked me to go in and talk to her. I was the only one she’d let in. I remember that I hated her for that. I thought she was selfish. She’d spoken to all of her family members (who were in DC), and they were safe–what was the big deal? I thought she was incredibly selfish. I was 23, she was 30, and it was our job to be out there, comforting the 18 year olds. Instead, she was not only abandoning her post, but making me do it to. I could not forgive her for that, and though I have forgiven her for many things, I still cannot give that up.

I remember that class wasn’t cancelled. Students did not have to go, but faculty had to report. In an university community of 52,000 students, there were bound to be people who had nowhere else to go. It was a good decision.

I remember that I had my Sports Law class from 4-7 that night. We toured the UT Law Library so that we’d be able to use its resources for the class. Our professor had it shortened so that we could attend the candlelight vigil at 6pm at the UT Tower, which was pretty ironic, I thought.**

I remember that, as my classmates and I gathered on the couches in the Law School lobby, we talked about the thing that still gives me goose bumps. Our professor for our Monday night class, which was basically an introduction to our program, was also the Dean of Students. She talked about how other administrators always pressed her to make declarations about the freshman class after observing them for a few days–what were the trends, how would the year go? She told us that she always refused because the last time she’d tried, well, then there’d been Kent State, and that had changed everything. You just never know, she said. That was shortly before 7pm, a little more than 12 hours before the first plane struck the towers.***

I remember that the University closed early on Friday, at 2pm, for a University-wide memorial service. It was to take place 100 yards from my office and apartment. But I didn’t go. A handful of coworkers and I took that free time and went to see a movie–Two Can Play That Game. It was a terrible movie, but it was just what we needed. Then we went to the Hula Hut and got drunk, staring out over Lake Travis, trying to pretend that nothing had changed.

It’s weird the things you remember, and how vividly, in times like that. Things that seem unrelated, that make no sense, that don’t even begin to convey the magnitude of an event that changed a nation. But it’s all true. I remember.

*******************

*And who could forget? Especially after Alan Jackson wrote that song that demands you freeze such a moment in time.

**Incidentally (or coincidentally?), my first day at the University of Texas was also the 30th anniversary of the UT Tower shooting.

***And it did change those freshman, and will change generations of freshman; I have seen the difference and I know that they are irreparably damaged, even if they do not.

Last thing I remember was the 4th of July…

Seriously, this summer was like a time warp. It seemed to move incredibly slowly when you were in the midst of it, but looking back, it’s all a blur, and I don’t know what I did with my time. Well, I kinda do. First, work gave me a first-rate ass-kicking. Then, I’ve been neck deep in Swap-bot and crafty trials. Hopefully, there will be viable projects coming out of those trials in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, do you want to see what I’ve been doing? Ok, here you go. These are photos of the Chunky Poetry Book that I made for a swap on Swap-bot. I had a lot of fun with it, but it was really a ton of work. I also received my book from someone else already, and I hope to get those pictures taken and uploaded to Flickr in the next few days, because it’s really cool, too.

There are about 500 half-written posts floating around in my head and my laptop, as well as a bunch of book journals that I need to catch up on… My goal is to get all of those up here before I go on vacation, starting September 15. And then do a whole bunch of writing while I’m on vacation, too. We’ll see how that goes…

AAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA.

And I really miss In-N-Out burger… Thanks to the Bagel of Everything and other assorted folks over at Ration Reality for the lift to make it to the end of the day. I needed it! 🙂

I’ve been shaken to my core by the Virginia Tech shooting, and that is something that’s very hard for me to admit. Normally, I get really annoyed by people who try to insert themselves into major tragedies. For instance, on 9/11, I was a first-year RD. I had gone through crisis training, but this was something for which none of us could have been prepared. Still, I had to remain calm to help my staff and students through something that was so incomprehensible. I didn’t cry until weeks afterward.  On the other hand, one of my colleagues locked herself in her office and bawled while watching CNN, which of course played the video of the two planes crashing into the towers on an endless loop. Nevermind the fact that we were in a helping profession and there were students who needed help and assurance and just someone to talk to. Nevermind that they were terrified 18 year olds who had been in college for less than two weeks and she was nearly 30 and had a job to do. Because I was one of her closest friends on staff, I was sent in to talk to her. I was sure, from her reaction, that she had lost someone close to her in this tragedy, and I went in ready to console her. When I found out that she didn’t, that her family and friends were safe, I felt myself harden inside. Here I was, comforting her, when I should have been helping students. We were hired to be the authority in these situations–what was her problem?

A few years later, my parents came to visit me while I was working in another housing job. My dad and I had been fighting all day because a miscommunication with my mom meant that I found myself without car insurance. That night, a young woman in my residence hall had been sexually assaulted. I briefed my parents, who had been waiting to go to dinner with me, and then gave them a number for a pizza place. My dad said to me, “I don’t understand how you can be so calm and authoritative in a situation like this and burst into tears over the whole car insurance thing.” It hit me then that I had become very good at compartmentalizing my feelings in times of crisis. I had learned to put my students and their needs first–and taking care of myself later. (This particular incident spurred me to go into counseling so that I would have an appropriate outlet for the residual effects once the crisis was over.)

So here we are, just a few days after what the media calls the “Virginia Tech Massacre,” and I have become that thing I hate. I have watched every single morsel of Oprah’s coverage and the tapes that were sent to NBC. I’ve combed all of the victims’ profiles in the New York Times for the saddest details. I randomly burst into tears in the Target yesterday afternoon. (Yet when I saw that some people on the bulletin boards saying, “This could just as easily have been me… My husband is a professor at X college in California!!!”–I still get angry because, no, it could not just as easily have been you unless you were in Blacksburg that day.)

And I guess my emotional response is so great–and so uncontrollable–because I worked in college residence halls for six years. Because there was always some creepy resident that no one liked or wanted to talk to. Because i didn’t make a greater effort to connect with those students. Because I would tell my RAs to call the police rather than put themselves in danger, but praised them when they responded well (and by that I mean, quickly, unemotionally, and without complaint) in tough situations. Because the thought of losing one of my RAs is so unspeakably awful, I can’t even let it bubble up to the top of my brain without having tears spring to my eyes as well. Because I want to call every single one of my former RAs and say, “Don’t die on me. Don’t you ever die on me!”

If I had been the Resident Director in West AJ, I know that I would have stood tall, taken charge, gotten my students to safety, consoled students and staff. I wouldn’t have cried in front of anyone. But after it was all over–after the TV trucks left, after the police tape was removed, after the rest of the world has moved on and expects you to do the same–what then? The sense of loss is so great, it emanates from that place in western Virginia. It is so great, that staff can’t shoulder it alone. So I’ll keep shedding tears for them because I know–it could just as easily have been me.

Happy Ash Wednesday, everyone! Ok, I guess wishing people a happy day isn’t quite in keeping with the spirit of the day, so never mind.

First of all, can I just say, “God Bless Steven Page“? Well, I don’t care how you answer–I just did! 🙂 I love his comment about John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”. I had actually been thinking of writing a blog post in response, but he did it nicely and quite succinctly. I heart him.

Also, just a note about what I’m giving up for Lent. I am giving up stupid internet things! Basically, I decided that I can only use the internet for communication (email, this here blog, and livejournal–where I read my friends’ journals and comment, oh and also facebook, because that’s how I keep up with like 3/4 of my friends and my brother) and to keep up with the news and do legitimate research. I will not read blogs of people I only know via the internet, and will definitely steer clear of celebrity gossip blogs and YouTube. (I have a few exceptions to this rule–I will read PostSecret and the She Walks blog once a week.) I have spent WAY too much time on that stuff lately. And also games, since I usually play web-based puzzle games every night while I watch TV. I will also attend at least 1 church service per week.

My aim this Lenten season is to figure out what I should be doing with my life and with my faith. Recently, I have taken to identifying myself as a Christian, a Methodist, and have even gone so far as to say that I am religious. I am–I just haven’t been attending services. A lot of times when I attend services, I get so angry because I feel that the clergy members are very hypocritical. I don’t expect them to be perfect, and I do recognize that they are human, but I cannot stand for any intolerance and double-speak, which I found a lot of in my more recent forays into church. But lately, I have been feeling the need for a little more guidance with regard to my faith, and how do I expect to get that when I don’t go to church? This is something I can’t do on my own.

In addition, it’s time for me to figure out where I’m supposed to be, and the ways my life can be used to serve others. I work for a non-profit, but since we serve a population that, often, is wealthy and entitled, I sometimes feel like I’d be more useful elsewhere. I am considering making a run at public policy grad school, so I intend to do some reading in Public Policy, and some soul searching about what I really want to be doing with my life, and then get started.

And on one final note, I think Duke Basketball players should be banned from church services. Ok, not really, but it’s really hard to focus on repenting when Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus walk by you right after you get your ashes on your forehead.

Sometimes I get a little down on my alma mater.  I had a hard time adjusting there, and I tend to paint my entire four years that way, forgetting that’s not entirely true.  Today, I wrote a letter (an actual snail mail letter, can you believe it? who does that anymore–I know right?) to a friend of mine from college.  She’s having a rough time, and I’m trying to convince her to move here to be near me.  Here’s what I wrote:

Especially this time of year, I think about all of the time we spent together your senior year.  I realized that all the best parts of my college experience have you in them.  If I could freeze one night of my life and live it over and over again Groundhog Day-style, it would be one of those times…  A chilly night when we spent hours in the Bryan Center café, watching the café boys and getting our drinks with skim not WHOLE milk.  And then went back to your room and pretended to do our awful French homework until the wee hours, while simultaneously trying to annoy/flirt with T and C.  And, with G’s help, changed A’s white board to say embarrassing things like “ChlAMYdia” and “I want to go visit “KissAMYee St. Cloud, Florida” while she was out on dates.  And put on dinner-theatre shows for J singing “PEEE-EEET” instead of “Dulcinea”.  Leave it to Southern girls to put four syllables in Pete.  

It really was good times.  I posted that here so I can remember.  I’m writing a post on my reaction to the Duke Lacrosse stuff, and I think it will help to remember this.  I hope to have that post up by the end of the week.  We’ll see.  It’s been a hard thing to write.  I may break it up into pieces, and see if that makes it easier.

Remember October?  Remember this?  Oh, I was so hopeful, so full of promise and energy.  I was going to write 50,000 words and make a zillion holiday crafts and finish my Christmas shopping all early and organize my house and start keeping up with this here blog and garden and conquer the world and become a celebutante and and and.  Well, today’s December 19, and tomorrow I go on vacation for the holidays.  So what happened in the intervening days?

Well, for starters, I didn’t get anywhere close to 50,000 words.  I just barely cleared 10,000.  I know it’s a start, but I didn’t finish.  And you don’t “win” NaNoWriMo unless you hit the big 50K.  Some of my writerly friends are fond of cooing at me, “Oh, but you tried!  And that’s what’s important!”  Ok, friends.  This is not the Special Olympics*.  The goal was not to try, it was to do (or do not–which I did).  There’s nothing wrong with saying that I failed to meet my goal.  It doesn’t mean that you’re calling me a failure.  The important part is figuring out why I didn’t finish, and what that means for my participation (or non-participation) next year.  There are a million tiny, annoying reasons (like the ginormous scary virus that hit my office network on Halloween, and for the next two weeks made me so weary of dealing with technology that I couldn’t bear to pick up my laptop at home?) (or how about that car accident I was in on November 8?) (I could keep going.) (but that would be lame.), but really, it all boils down to the fact that I did not make NaNoWriMo a priority.  And I will probably never be able to.  See, I love the holidays, and I love making holiday crafts and baking and cleaning my house so that it’s ready for Santa (because Santa does not bring presents to little girls who have messy apartments).  And I like to start early, which I did, and therefore, I neglected NaNoWriMo.  I did not acheive the goal that I set for myself.  It’s ok.  I failed, but it does not define me.  Of course, the result is that I am now in the midst of not one, but two novels.  I like both of them, and I think that means I have to finish both of them.  Sigh.

Ok, and then there’s the blogging I was supposed to do.  Also (sort of) a victim of the holiday rush.  I actually have about a half-dozen, half-written posts.  One is on this whole big mess and I keep getting bogged down in it.  I truly intend to finish it and post it before New Year’s, because I can’t stand the thought that it will continue to hang over my head as we begin 2007.  I also have others, like the one about how my friend M is forcing** me to go on Match.com with her.  That will probably wait until the new year.  Oh, and then there are the resolutions, which include BLOG MORE!*** and READ 50 BOOKS!****  So yes, I am sticking around here.  And I promise I’ll work harder to keep up.  Maybe even make writing a daily thing, like I’m supposed to.

What else happened?  I participated in a kick-ass ornament swap, and I keep meaning to post pictures of all the awesome ornaments I got (and the ones I made).  I helped my mom make Christmas stockings for me and my kittenface.  My house is pretty freaking clean, and I even had a holiday party (we played Cranium…  OMG, I am a huge dorkus).  So really, fall was not a total loss.  I am really looking forward to the winter.  I’ve got big plans, y’all.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.  And Happy Chanukah to all, too!

*Please don’t get offended.  I didn’t mean this in a disparaging way, though reading back over the post, I can see how someone might take that.  The goal of SO is to get people to try to do things they think they can’t.  Therefore, just participating is admirable.  That’s not the case with NaNoWriMo, is all I’m trying to say.

**She made me set a date (January 7) and keeps telling all our other friends about it.  And she also keeps saying, “OMG, I can’t believe the lame messages I get from guys.  I can’t wait until you’re on it.”  She sells it so well, no?  She’s also quite adept at manipulating me into doing things, like playing on the fear that everyone will think I’m a chicken if I don’t follow through…

***Well, we saw how well that turned out last time.

****Funny story:  I told my dad that I was shooting for reading 50 books in 2007.  I though this was pretty awesome, as it’s slightly less than 1 per week.  (I was going to go with 52, but thought it might discourage me from reading really good non-fiction because I can’t speed through those as well.)  His response?  “Oh, that’s great sweetie.  I’m about to hit 70 this year, and it will be the fourth time I’ve done that since I started keeping track in 1990.”  Gee, thanks, Daddy!  Way to make me feel like sh*t!