Sunday, August 24, 2008

Puppies and Rainbows

I spent most of last year hoping I'd get an opportunity to speak at the new graduate student orientation this year. My first year of graduate school was an important one for me, and though I am still figuring things out, I wanted to help. This is partly due to the fact that I wasted a huge amount of time last year being unnecessarily scared. I was convinced that I'd been accepted as some sort of fluke - maybe the DGS put my application in the wrong pile? - and I tried my damnedest to fly under radar. In case that was the case, I didn't want anyone to notice.

Well, it wasn't the case. Though grad school does at times seem a breeding ground for rampant insecurity, by the time August came around and I found myself staring into a sea of new and curious grad student faces, I felt good. I felt good about the program and myself in it, and that is almost entirely due to the fact that after a year I have found my people. There are amazing scholars here who not only know my name and my work, but also know me. They are happy when I darken the doorstep of their offices. My colleagues are passionate people, and after a year (and a fortuitous freshmen focus pairing) I have a mentor so amazing it's almost miraculous. Grad school is hard. Everyone knows that. But it doesn't have to be impossible. The people make it better.

So that it what I said, when I spoke at orientation. In fact, that's what the entire panel said. And sure, perhaps we made it seem a bit "puppies and rainbows." Maybe I was overcome with happiness to be back from summer and amongst these people I admire so much. Maybe I was feeling too lovingful of the entire graduate process. But I don't think there's a way to be too into graduate school and the people around you. I think that's what makes for good colleagues, interesting scholars, and passionate teachers. Academia is about the people. It has to be, otherwise we wouldn't have this cult of celebrity around the top minds, the very best teachers, or the most compelling speakers. In this business, our thoughts control our destiny. And where do we get these thoughts, Clarice? We find out what we love. Or, as one of my colleagues said, "You find what lights you up." This is the humanities. You can't stop being human. And even if you can stop being human and still get away with it, I choose not to take that particular route.

The funny thing about adversity, or so about a million quotable people have said, is that it often shows you the truth about something. I am not saying that petty people show you the true nature of the world, but rather that with the bad ones come the really good people as well, just to restore balance to the force. I am disappointed in the actions of some of my colleagues, particularly because I have invested a near-absurd amount of energy believing these people to be...better. But mostly I am disappointed in myself, for getting so worked up about it in the past few days. I have the right to be angry, and I am. I have the right to be hurt, and I definitely am hurt. But I am letting the boogie men win when I avoid them because I'm afraid I'll cry, hurl, or explode. I am letting them win when I feel so overwhelmed with their toxicity that I want to leave altogether. Particularly when 95 percent of the people around me are wonderful, brilliant, professional people.

Well, my parents would say, that kind of behavior just makes me a silly bitch. So in the spirit of school starting tomorrow, and in the spirit of the thesis, coursework, testing, and PhD applications to come, I think it is a good time to stop being a silly bitch.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Michael Phelps and I have a mutual friend on facebook

Impressive, no? I mean, it makes sense, since I have a friend who is also an athlete at Michigan, but I was nevertheless surprised when fbook delivered that little tidbit.

Ok, that is obviously not the point of this post.

Before the Olympics started, Laur and I had a serious roommate bonding moment over our mutual apathy for the Olympics. In fact, I was kind of even excited to NOT watch them. Which is weird, because everyone knows the summer sports are way better than the winter ones. (With the notable exception of figure skating.) But, I couldn't muster that much enthusiasm this year because Ian Thorpe is out. (He was my fave.)

Anyway, when I arrived home on Sunday, my mother was her usual adorable blend of terrifying efficiency and overwhelming cuteness. She'd just completed tearing a huge hole in our kitchen, thereby merging the kitchen and our garage. But she was also SUPER into the Olympics. Mostly she just likes it when the P.O.M.Es do any better than 4th. The Brits are ALWAYS coming in 4th. It's a source of huge entertainment for my father, but is generally less amusing to Mum. So we've been watching a lot of Olympics. Mostly on the Canadian channel, because they actually show the events live (unlike NBC, who has the weirdest definition of live ever). I love the Canadians because they will mention the Canadian athletes even when they are hysterically behind. ("The Canadian athlete is now in 57th place!") A while ago, they did that with Simon Whitfield (in the triathlon) and he somehow went from like, 73rd to 1st! It was so cool. But enough about the Canadians.

I am kind of in love with Michael Phelps now. Not in luuuuuuurrrrrvvvvve, but I mean, wow. Of course, it is easy to support someone when they're ridiculously talented. Although, it is more than slightly depressing that we're the same age. He's insane! Mostly though, I think his mum is so precious. She is such a midge. I am not sure how she birthed that orca, but props to you, Mrs. Phelps.

I'm really only paying attention to the swimming, since the gymnasts creep me out (they all look pre-pubescent) but I should say that I am kind of loving the racing. I am loving the hugging across lane dividers, I am loving the teeny Japanese man who beat all the super tall guys at the beginning of the week, and I am LOVING all the relay teams (even though I get flashbacks from relay practices from interminable erging winters). I really like it when America wins, even though I think the Yanks sometimes say really stupid things. Example: one of the relay team members saying that Phelps winning 8 medals is bigger/more impressive than anything else in sports, including the Tour de France. Um, what? False. Has this guy never seen the Tour de France?

Mostly I just like it when someone adorable wins. Which reminds me! I was so excited that Jamaica won something.

I will say though, I am not into NBC. First, they lie about things being live. Secondly, they have been MEAN to Ian Thorpe. As someone who teaches other people how to use sources, I feel someone should point out that what the Thor-pedo said about Michael Phelps was NOT as bitchy as everyone is claiming. Thorpe even said "I'd love to see [Phelps] do it [you know, win everything]" and THEN he hugged Mrs. Phelps when Michael whomped every single record Thorpe ever set. So let's not sass the poor man. Instead, let's calm the deuce down.

An Open Letter to Endnotes

Dear Endnotes:

Listen, I can appreciate wanting to be the center of attention as much as the next girl. I can even appreciate the value of interrupting someone for the sole purpose of providing largely useless information. All I'm saying is, I feel your timing could use a little work.

Take, for example, your taller, smarter, better-looking sibling, the footnote. The footnote provides the same information, but saves the average graduate student the trouble of flipping back and forth. I understand that Renaissance English requires a little clarification, from time to time, but seriously man, you are ruining my flow! Or rather, you are ruining Webster's flow. So cut it out, punkface. There is a distinct difference between being fashionably late (at the bottom of the page) and not showing up until people are passed out on the couch.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tardy Party

Wow. I am very late in posting for this one. Anyway, before I jump right into my turtle post, I would like to point out that PAUL has not responded to his own prompt. That's right Paulo, I am calling you out.

Anyway, turtles. I actually have quite a few turtley things. Not the real live ones, you understand, but keychains, desk accessories, stationary. My family keeps purchasing them for me, and it's all because of my big mouth.

In my family, people either get married pretty young, or they go totally nuts (in a charming way, of course) and become spinsters. Not joking. I thought spinsters only really existed in the 19th Century. (Ok, practically speaking I knew this wasn't true. But don't you just always imagine spinsters dressed up like Queen Victoria? I do.) Anyway, we Dalstons have our very own spinster. Auntie May. I never met this woman, because she was older than God when my mum was a little girl. I have been told that I am essentially a clone of May, personality-wise. Kindred spirits, if you will. Or maybe I'm the reincarnation of Auntie May. Either way, this does not bode particularly well for me. Plus, I seemed to have inherited every crappy gene from both sides of my family. The allergies, the boobs, and MAYBE, the spinster gene. And, because my family is just like this, they think it's totally hysterical to make fun of me for it. As if my spinster concerns weren't legitimate! It's science, people.

Well, the way I figure it, anything worth doing is worth doing right. I don't want anything to sneak up on me! How embarrassing would it be to be a sub-par spinster? So I figure I need a big house, lots of weird art projects, and a bunch of cats. EXCEPT, I am deathly allergic to cats. So you can imagine I was pretty disconcerted when I remembered that. I immediately called my mother.

Me, in my most dramatic voice: MUM! I am doomed to fail at spinsterhood!
My mother: Toria, you silly bitch, you are 21 years old.
Me: Yeahbut!
My mother pauses, as if she's waiting for me to make an actual point. She has a tendency to do this.
Me: Yeahbut, shouldn't I be prepared for this? What am I going to do? I can't have cats! Which means I'll have to have a turtle, or something. A turtle? How naf!
My mother: A turtle? (I can't really explain it in writing, but she said "A turtle?" in a voice that could only mean "How did I, the most rational person in the world, birth this crazy mofo?")
Me: Yes. It can only be a turtle. And I shall call him Habib. (Um, Toria, wtf?)

The conversation pretty much withered from there, what with my mother being exasperated with me, and calling me a silly bitch a few more times. And that year for Christmas, I received no fewer than four turtles. My mother the joker. At this point, I'm not sure if the turtles represent my future, or my blatant detour from the patented family rationality. If they redid Bridget Jones, I do feel little Habib would figure in prominently. At least he would in the first half of the movie, before Bridget sorts things out with Mark Darcy (rar!). But until Renee Zellwegger starts packing the pounds on again, I will be more than happy to be the Pullman-area supplier of turtle-themed goods.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sea Monkeys, Milk Money, and James McAvoy, oh my!

Yesterday, Julie proposed that we go to Lewiston to see Wanted at the Orchard (for a dollar, no less!). Obviously, I said yes, because I am currently pursuing a TOE (theory of everything) specifically geared to James McAvoy, which basically states that everything he's in is amazing. Seriously. There was The Last King of Scotland, Becoming Jane, Penelope, and Atonement. They were all good. So when I saw the trailers for Wanted, I was both excited and anxious. Because let's be honest, it didn't look that good. But I refused to believe that James would let me down. Anyway, I can happily report that Wanted was exceptionally enjoyable. Guilty pleasure...maybe. But, rar! Something for everyone. Hopefully something for our 104 students as well, because we're showing it for class. Before anyone gets all nervous, we found no fewer than eight philosophical problems in the film. So it's totally legit!

We also went to the casino. I will admit that in previous years, slots held little to no fascination for me. Mostly because my only experience with them was one failed effort in the Vegas airport. But the baby casino in Lewiston is pretty rad. I probably only feel so positive about this because I made fourteen dollars. The "Milk Money" machine was particularly awesome, mostly for the bonus rounds. If you get a bonus, you pick a cow (Hefina or Bovina) and they go into a little barrel, wherein they swivel their hips around (which is, I guess, how you milk a cow in slot-machine land). Then, depending on what kind of milk comes out (triple points for chocolate, double for strawberry, and extra prizes for egg nog) you get money! Equally charming is the fact that both cows speak with a Jamaican accent (I didn't even know they had cows in Jamaica!) I could give or take the actual slot machine part, but the bonuses are amazing. Julie got a bonus round on the sea monkey machine, and she made 18 bucks! ON A PENNY SLOT!

I am pretty sure, when I have to go into Gambler's Anonymous, this blog post will be integral in one of the steps.

Sidenote: "Betti the Yetti" sucks, even though it's a funny name for a slot machine. I didn't win ONCE. I lost five bucks in approximately 2.5 minutes. Were it not for a second pass at "Milk Money" this whole post would have been a lot more negative.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Do the D-I-S-C-O (BB Fanboy post)

Here's the problem with me "revealing" myself as a fanboy of something: I am obsessed with essentially everything, and am also very vocal about said obsessions (Lauren just read that over my shoulder and immediately said "it's true!" so you know I'm not lying). Here is an abbreviated list of things with which I am publicly obsessed:

1. So You Think You Can Dance
2. Harry Potter
3. Shakespeare
4. Henry VIII and his four thousand wives
5. Bad movies (Like The Mummy, and P.S. I Love You, and The Phantom, and a bunch of others)
6. Dashes
7. Existentialist philosophy
8. Select people
9. Aromat
10. Slurpees

Okay, I think you get my point. I am an excitable person. So when I read this post I was like, "Crap. Should have played things a little closer to the chest. No one's going to be surprised now!" But then I remembered disco. Only Lauren really knows how much I love disco.

Now, before anyone gets too excited about how dorky this is, and starts making jokes about John Travolta, etc. I would like to point out that I mostly mean the style of dance. Here is an example of what I mean. Also, if anyone watches this and isn't immediately obsessed/immensely impressed, please don't tell me, because I will just be devastated.

So anyway, we all know that my current number one obsession is So You Think You Can Dance and that I value it over the property and overall happiness of all Spokane residents. (Juuuust kidding!) The people with whom I watch this blessed television event (Lauren and Ju-Ju-Ju-Julie and the Trouts) know that I get super stoked every time Dorianna Sanchez (the disco lady) choreographs something (even though the dancers this season haven't quite achieved the Sara-Neil perfection of the afore-linked video). I LOVE IT! It's so pink and shiny and smiley (which would be my chosen words if I ever had to write another one of those college admission essays about three words that describe yourself). Technical dancing skills are all very well and good, but approximately no one would be impressed or at all entertained if you busted out some contemporary dance in a club.

Need more proof that I love the dorky disco? Please reference my overwhelming adoration of Mamma Mia!

The Abba montage outfits were admittedly heinous (see above, from the broadway show), but how much fun was that movie? I've always had a soft spot for Abba, which I inherited from Jo. When we saw the movie, people were singing in the theater, which in my estimation is proof of a good time. Since I secretly wish life was more like a musical, I was super into the sudden musical outbursts. Here's one now:

Who wouldn't want to be friends with people like that? I have already informed Lauren that she will be expected to sing, and dress in ruffles, should I ever find myself wondering which of three incredibly attractive men is the father of my charming bastard child.

And here's something you probably didn't know, which further proves my commitment to disco: if you were to stop me any time in the next couple of weeks, I think you would find that my ipod is playing any one of about 8 songs from this movie. Oh, or the song from the SYTYCD disco routine. If you're really sneaky, you could probably find me dancing in the stacks at the library during work (because I like to provide a soundtrack to my book-finding efforts. It lightens things up, since I'm usually looking for books with pictures of dead bodies for the Stiff exhibit.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Danger, Will Robinson!

Do you ever have that moment, where all of a sudden, you realize that you have unwittingly put yourself in a totally non-negotiable position? You are bopping along and then you pause, come out of your fog, and think "Oh shit. If this were a movie, everyone in the audience would be saying 'yeah right, as if anyone would be stupid enough to get themselves in that situation.'"Like in horror movies, when they run upstairs, or wander into the woods at night.

I don't often find myself in these situations, but I am a little Pollyanna-ish about the world, so it's happened once or twice. I frequently imagine how mad my mum would be if she could reviewmy actions on film. Approximately half the things I did in France would have earned a "You silly bitch" from one (or both) of my parents. (Sidenote: that is an affectionate term in my family, I swear. It even sounds cute in my mum's accent. The Johnsons are very into using completely unsavory names as terms of endearment.) Spending the night in the Bordeaux train station in the company of a particularly un-charming, crazy homeless man (obviously not by choice) was admittedly not the smartest decision I've ever made. Wandering around a rough Parisien neighborhood at 4 in the morning, also not especially sound judgment. I was alone for most of my month-long Interrail experience, so I can tell you that some pretty suspect characters enjoy loitering around Italian and Belgian train stations.

My first thought for this post was to write about accidentally stumbling into a protest (with police, and tear gas) in Budapest. Now, I know what you're thinking. How is it possible to accidentally find yourself in a protest? Because there are a lot of people, and they are yelling, you might think they would be easy to avoid. Well. It just so happens on that particular day they were ALSO holding a candlelight vigil to mark the 50th anniversary of the Soviet tanks pulling in. So there were a bunch of people standing around, quite peacefully, when my friends and I went into the House of Terror (both the Nazis and the Soviet secret police occupied this building, at different points of time, and it's a museum now. God, it's horrible in there. But I will have to save that for another post.) We came out, and the masses were moving along, so we figured it was something of a parade. We went to dinner (Indian, and delicious, in case you're wondering) and when we came out again, there were more people! We assumed they were the same people, and they'd just wound their way back to that part of town, so we didn't really think anything of it. They were going our way, so we just fell in with the crowd as we made our way back to the hostel. Sure, they were way louder than before. I just kind of assumed it had taken them awhile to get into the full swing of things. Maybe like, phase three of the vigil? Obviously I don't speak Hungarian, so I had no idea what was going on UNTIL some man stopped me and asked for my pashmina. RUDE! I was completely confused, and tried to explain to him that a) it was freezing, so I was disinclined to acquiesce to that particular request b) it was brand new and c) pink was not really his color. After a very long pantomime between the two of us, and approximately two words of english on his part (which I think were "gas" and "police") we determined he wanted to use it in case the cops (who were apparently up a few blocks) decided to gas everyone. As you can tell, this guy was not especially concerned about my respiratory health. We decided that it was a pretty good time to find an alternate route to the hostel. Except for Ande, our resident Peace Studies major, who wanted to actually join the protest. Typical.

So that was probably one of the most dangerous situations I've been in. But I can't say it felt dangerous, because nothing happened. Except, I almost lost my pashmina. I mean, for most of the experience I had NO idea what was happening. I probably would have been more freaked out if I spoke Hungarian. But isn't that always the way? Ignorance is bliss? My friends were around me. I (probably rather stupidly) assumed everything would be okay. Strength in numbers, right? Besides, everyone loves Americans! (Just kidding.)

At any rate, it seems to me that it's not so much the place that's dangerous, but the people. When Hobbes said life is "nasty, brutish, and short," I think he meant that we make it that way. Except for some places like Australia, where every plant and animal is trying to kill you (another story for another post), mostly it's the people that make a place safe or dangerous. Which is perhaps why when I think about dangerous places, I immediately think of the crazyhead in Bordeaux, or creepers in the train station, or a mass of angry Hungarians. I also think of this guy I encountered on a bus once. I was going home from downtown Bellevue (the yuppie capital of the world). As I waited at the transit station, he came up behind me and repeatedly tapped on the glass behind my bench. Then he got on my bus. He smiled at me (in a not nice way) all the way home. After I got off the bus, he continued to smile at me, through the window as they drove away. And then he got off at the next stop, just down the road. I have never been more terrified, or more concerned for my overall well being, even though my house was less than 15 minutes away. I grew up in that neighborhood. We buy corn at the Red Apple market there, and last-minute birthday cards at the Hallmark. My dad and I used to go to the Dairy Queen after tee-ball games. My elementary school is just up the hill. But in that moment, it was the most dangerous place in the world to me.

As a happy p.s. though, I called my male friends and they quickly came to my rescue. Captain Creeper went away without much fuss.