Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Return of the Native (Speaker)

Now I know that everyone feels inadequate at the start of graduate school--or so everyone has claimed--but in my case it's true. Of the eight new students to my department this fall (not counting the two visiting scholars), six have done graduate work in linguistics before (one of them even to the point that she had a finished and approved dissertation proposal, apparently), and six have taken classes in the department before. I'm the only one that doesn't fall in either category.

This leads to many conversations which I can't participate in, conversations that start either with, "when I was writing my master's thesis on phonology," or with "when I was taking a class last year with Professor X*." I do a lot of listening.

But yesterday I found my niche in the class. I was sitting around, listening to the German girl and the Italian guy talk about, I don't know, something complicated.

"So, you see," he said, "when people are treated with this type of therapy, there's less chance of do you say...a going back?"

I leaned in. "Relapse," I said.

"Right!" he said, and continued with the conversation.

A few minutes later, the German girl was saying something. "So blah blah blah what's that called...the person being treated...?"

"Patient," I said.

"Thanks!" she said, and they were off again.

So I'm good for something: I'm a native speaker. I may not have a master's degree already, and I may not quite understand what, exactly, the Korean guy wrote his thesis on, but I can respond with complete confidence when, in phonetics class, he leans over to ask me what "big toe" means. Hey, I'll take what I can get.

*I bet you didn't know he's a linguist!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Terms of Address

I just went to see a movie with a guy from my ward here, a very nice, very tall Jamaican-descent Berkeleyite with some pretty rocking dreadlocks.

The usher taking our ticket smiled at my friend. "Wassup, brother?" he said. "The theater is #1, off to your left. Enjoy the show, man!"

Then he looked me up and down, pausing slightly, and said, "Good afternoon, ma'am."

I don't even know what to think.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Today was orientation day at Unnamed U, both the campus-wide "We welcome all 3,000 of our new grad students and want to make them get to know each other RIGHT NOW!!!!" and the much smaller, much saner department orientation, which was essentially the same thing, only with "3,000" replaced by "9, only 7 of whom are actually in attendance."

I had a very pleasant morning, if such a thing can be said, at the campus-wide orientation; in some ways, i.e. the part where we offered one factoid about ourselves for each M&M we ate, it smacked of freshman orientation at the Lord's Undergraduate Institution, or at least I suspect it did, given that on that day so many years ago I lasted through precisely thirty minutes of get-to-know-you games before I snuck off to the library to read Georgette Heyer novels.

In other ways, though, it was probably a good preparation for grad school in all its many glories: I had to sit through fifteen minutes worth of information that took two hours to present. I learned lots of new stuff: this year, Indian foreign students outnumbered Chinese foreign students for the first time. The incoming class has students from 49 states, all of them except Nebraska. I live next door to where Jack Kerouac used to live. (Literally. He was at ***3 and I'm at ***5.) Oh, and I met some interesting people, from a bearded white guy with an Indian accent, to a hyper-friendly electrical engineering fourth year who comes to new student orientation just for the buzz of meeting new people. And, of course, I suffered through the obligatory Northern California indoctrination: "If we can solve it in California, we can solve it for the world." Right. Maybe Unnamed U needs a new slogan: "Let there be misplaced idealism." Or maybe "A voice of one crying sustainable living in the wilderness." Or maybe just "Truth."

(Ha, ha.)

Most of all, though, the orientation, especially my department orientation, left me overwhelmed and, frankly, terrified. You can only take so many hours of grad students telling you their life as a first year was Study Hell before you start to feel nervous, with that sneaking, sinking sense of oh, wait, I'm going to be stressed out. And, just in case I wasn't worried enough, I'm the youngest and least experienced of my entering class, which consists mostly of foreign students (4/9), students who have already finished a master's degree (at least 3/9; I'm not sure about some of the others), and students who have spent years working; I'm the only one who's not a California resident, and one of the only ones who hasn't spent time at Berkeley before; the only Mormon, clearly, in a place where, when that comes up, people say, "yes, but you're not a practicing Mormon, right?"; and one of only two girls. Oh, and the one is a German girl who looks like a supermodel, and who is very nice to boot. And here I thought I could at least match the looks of the average Ph.D. student. Curse you, Germany! Quit ruining the average for the rest of us!

And, of course, I feel like everyone is vastly more prepared--or, at least, able to project that impression--and as I left the building, after getting a residency lecture from the graduate secretary, who was sure to emphasize that I should save EVERYTHING, every receipt and every piece of mail and every, I don't know, package of ramen, I was already practicing my deep breathing, thinking, what on earth have I gotten myself into? And so I rushed home, stopping only to buy massive amounts of sugary items, changed into a Hello Kitty nightgown, and curled up in bed with my favorite Georgette Heyer novel. (Yes, I'm the youngest of my cohort; what of it?) I think I'll stay here until school starts. It's much easier to be orientated when there's only a book to face.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Recipe

for bikini salad

Start with a base of braccoli
Add two cans
Add some itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dots
If you still need more ingredients, raid the panty for anything you can find there.

And voila! Choose your own dressing, or don't dress it at all; with bikini salad, you can't go thong!

Friday, August 17, 2007

This Is Not My Beautiful House!

Finding an apartment in Provo was never a big deal: I seemed to stumble into housing situations, or, more accurately, I seemed to rely on others to choose housing situations for me, and since I rarely notice things like low ceilings, ugly carpets, and broken dryers, and since I lived in the library anyway, that system worked, I thought, quite well. I still think fondly, and not without amusement, on January 2005, when I returned to Provo from Egypt and started classes with no winter clothes, no school supplies or textbooks, and no apartment. One afternoon after phonetics class, I called three apartments, walked two blocks to one of them, signed a lease, and moved in. That was that.

I should have known that the Berkeley housing market was not like the Provo one when the secretary of my new department sent around an email to all incoming graduate students warning us that “the biggest worry and nuisance facing you is probably housing.” This over, say, registering for classes, choosing an advisor, or financing a higher degree in a useless subject.

I, personally, would worry most about that whole where-is-my-next-meal-coming-from issue, but where-will-that-meal-be-cooked was also a pressing concern for me in my first weeks here, so I spent, as I’ve mentioned, entire days refreshing the Craigslist rentals page. I scrolled through what seemed like hundreds of ads for tiny, dark bedrooms in tiny, dark apartments, for which I would have to pay…well, a lot of money.

I was clearly not the only one willing to pay what seemed like the GDP of a small nation just for a 8’x8’ room; I very rarely got replies to my emails or phone calls, despite being, as far as I can tell, an ideal tenant. (I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I’m quiet. I’m responsible. I can wash a dish. I’m a grad student, an advantage in a town crawling with undergrads. I even have a scholarship, so I can afford to rent a room, though not an apartment.) Yet I count, now, 29 unanswered emails in my inbox, and my cell phone bill shows 15 or so unreturned calls. Thanks, housing market. You can sure make a girl feel good.

I investigated nearly every response I got. After nearly two weeks of emailing, calling, and visiting, though, my roommate options were still slim: an awkward guy who, after showing me the apartment, asked if he could keep my number and call me sometime; an old Jewish lady who wasn’t sure if she could live with a Mormon; and a lovely lesbian couple renting out their guest room to make money for a baby.

Needless to say, I decided to keep looking. The lesbians, who seemed like the best option, lived farther from campus than I’d like, and I suspected I’d always feel slightly out of place in their charming Crate and Barrel-furnished home. The old lady was conspicuously lonely, and the awkward guy—well, I don’t really have to explain that one.

In the end, though, I found an apartment that is, basically, exactly what I was looking for. It’s three blocks to campus and downtown and four blocks to church. It’s surrounded by thrift stores and Indian sari shops, kitty-corner from an Indonesian restaurant, and has sixteen(!) bookstores within a mile of it. The rent is cheap, for Berkeley, which means I’m only paying twice what I did in Provo, instead of three or four times. I’ve only got one roommate, a very funny, very nice late-twenties Staples employee, and we get along swimmingly, at least so far.

But yes, there is a catch: it’s a one-bedroom apartment. And I have a roommate. Though I’ve sworn I’m not going to share a room again until I get married—and, depending on how loud a future husband snores, maybe not even then—and so I have done the logical thing. I have moved into the living room.

That’s right—I’m paying all that money for three walls, not four. I can’t use the door-hanging mirror I inherited from a cousin because I don’t have a door. And my roommate now, instead of knocking, can just stand in the kitchen and say, “Hello?” because I can hear her. I have, in essence, 75% of a room.

My fourth "wall." Yes, that's me in the corner taking the picture.

It’s not so bad, though. Turns out, that's plenty, if I've got bookstores around. And now, after a week of daily trips to Ikea for furniture and floor-to-ceiling curtains, and after a few days of unpacking, I am finally, officially, moved in. And it doesn’t look so bad. I've got a bed, a desk, a couple of bookcases, and curtains pretending to be a wall. Oh, and because the rent is so low, I've got money for my next meal, which will probably be Indonesian food. What more could a poor grad student want?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Possible Subtitles for DHL's Advertising Slogan "Go All The Way"

(see the ad)

  • We'll still respect you upon delivery
  • Prove your love for international shipping
  • If you don't use us, someone else will
  • It's not normal to wait for a package
  • Don't you want to see what door-to-door service is like?
  • C'mon, everybody's doing it!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Summer To-Do List

register for classes
tidy room
research work
go running
buy bookcase
reply to emails
edit friend's personal statement
return library books
unpack boxes in bedroom
officially accept scholarship
rejoice greatly

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Spoilers Ahead!

While writing a much-overdue letter to Melyngoch, I had to think of something to cover the backs of 14 photocopied pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and therefore justify the inclusion of those pages in the envelope. I decided to be a bad friend, and completely evil person--because, hey, that's always fun--and give away the ending. Or, rather, "give away" the "ending." The result proves that I have far too much time, and far too little artistic talent, on my hands.

They're not real spoilers.

Rowling was out of new ideas for Book 7. Please note the death curse.

Haven't you ever noticed that "James Potter is an anagram for "Darth Vader"?

"Yipee ki-yay, mother-lacker" is my new gmail status.

That crossed-out drawing was supposed to be a fist. Oops.

Filler Filler Filler Filler Black-and-White Filler

"Planet of the Capes"! I am so funny.

At least I used bright colors. Thank you, Crayola.

I think that snake does look fat in that color.

If Tolkien wrote the series and Peter Jackson directed the movie.

The death curse is "Oedipus Complexus."

Note the label on the wand case.

I'm surprised I haven't already been struck down for this one.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

My, What Strange Teeth You Have

Twenty-three may not be a groundbreaking age in most people's terms--I could already legally threaten my life and health in almost any way I wanted--but it means a lot to me. Twenty-three marks six years since seventeen, and, therefore, disproves my dentist's prophecy that I would lose all my teeth within five years.

This dentist was neither the first nor the last to foretell the doom of my teeth. Once, a dental hygienist simply refused to believe that I was biting down. When I informed her, through clenched teeth, that I was, her eyes widened slightly and she said, in a voice halfway between nervousness and disbelief, “I think the dentist should see this.” When the dentist saw this, he simply burst out laughing, and called for an audience. With the entire office staff gathered around me, he declared to my mother, loudly and with wide gestures that almost knocked over the receptionist, “Mrs. [P], your daughter’s bite would make a rabbi go cross-eyed!”

Maybe if you look at my teeth cross-eyed, they'd look normal; with 20-20 vision, they're certainly not. Dental schools should hire me as a case study; I have a malocclusion that is simultaneously Class I, II, and III, and no one knows why. At various times in the past three years, while trying to explain my teeth’s post-orthodontia game of musical chairs, dentists have told me that I am a mouth-breather, a tongue-thruster, and that I swallow like an infant. Plus, I have a square face with no chin, and excess vertical height, although whether the surgeon meant in my face or just in general was ambiguous. Fixing the problem is as hard as diagnosing it: the four or five oral surgeons I've visited have each had a different suggestion (braces, surgery, braces and surgery) and a different prediction of success (guaranteed, doubtful, 50%). I once watched a jaw surgeon—a licensed professional, mind you--spend twenty minutes trying to figure out how my teeth work. He had plastic molds, and he moved them up and down, left and right, the look of perplexity on his face growing every minute. At last, he looked up, deeply serious, and simply shook his head at me, making soft, “tsk, tsk” tongue clicks. He looked so disappointed that I felt guilty, as if it were my fault.

It's not my fault, though: I wore braces for three years in middle school, including an agonizing two weeks during which my jaw was rubber-banded shut, and I wore my retainer every single night for another four, until, finally, a dentist told me to just throw it away, already. I am mildly, slightly, okay, fine, totally and utterly obsessed with my teeth. I brush and floss and rinse with mouthwash at least daily. I see a dentist regularly. And, most obsessive of all, since that day six years ago, I count down the time until all my teeth fall out. I wake up every morning and run my tongue over my teeth, checking for loose or absent ones (currently: all present, three loose) and verifying their current position (currently: contact between 9 and 24, 14 and 19; not bad--but weren't 3 and 30 touching yesterday?). Yes, most people got over that in fifth grade. Other people have stress dreams in which their teeth move and crumble; this is my stress reality. Nearly everyone close to me has, at some point, received a stressed-out, weepy late-night phone call about how embarrassed I'd be to get dentures in college.

But now, with my last birthday, it's been more than five years, and I have still all my teeth, down even to my stubborn baby molar. Their underlying form may be crooked, but they look straight, and, what's more, they work perfectly fine. (I mean, I rarely chew on my right side, because the teeth don't make contact, but, really, that's not so bad. I don't really like to chew food anyway.) Plus, I've relaxed somewhat about the possibility of losing them. If they go, they go, and at least I won't have to suffer through thirty seconds of Listerine every morning. And besides, though I dreaded dentures in college, "dentures in grad school" would be a great title for my autobiography.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another Year Older

Just before my 16th birthday, my family moved to Belmont, MA. On my actual birthday, we closed on our new house, and so I spent my sweet sixteen supervising a moving crew while my parents took my younger brother to the hospital, where they were told he would need open-heart surgery. I knew no one in the Boston area then, and so the only person apart from my immediate family who wished me a happy birthday was a burly and surly moving guy, who grunted “happy birthday” and then told me that being sixteen sucked. At least he said happy birthday.

Just before my 20th birthday, my family moved to India. Though they had been in Utah with me for much of the summer, they needed to close on their new house on my birthday, and so left the States a mere four or five days before my birthday. On my actual birthday, I sat through four hours of Arabic class, and probably did as many crossword puzzles to stave off boredom. I probably spent the rest of the playing dominoes, where I'm sure my friends wished me a happy birthday.

Just before my 21st birthday, my family, who, again, had been in Utah with me most of the summer, left for India again. On my actual birthday, I sat through class, work, a meeting with a professor, and a long line at the DMV, where I chirpily informed everyone around me that I was turning 21, in the hopes that they’d tell me happy birthday.

Just before my 22nd birthday, I arrived in Indonesia, jet-lagged, confused, and alone. On my actual birthday, I sat through eight hours of TESOL training, wondering why those in education theory don’t wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and ask, “When did all the intelligent parts of you die?” Having been there only two days, I knew nobody, and so spent the evening running on the treadmill and reading Virginia Woolf, though not at the same time. Because I was twelve hours ahead, I didn't hear from anyone until the next day, but at least I got lots of birthday greetings then. Better late than never, right?

Today is my 23rd birthday. Just before my birthday, a few days ago, my family moved to Belmont, MA. On my actual birthday, they are closing on their new house. (History repeats itself.) I have just moved to California, and I know nobody here. (By now, that’s practically tradition.) I have no solid plans; I’ll maybe do something fun in San Francisco, maybe get myself a library card, maybe move into a new apartment, and maybe spend the day lying on the couch with a book. All of those options sound pleasant, and all of them sound far better than intensive Arabic, the DMV, or TESOL training. Now all I need for the day to be complete is people saying happy birthday to me. (Hint, hint.)

Happy birthday to me!