Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Endorphins All the Way Down

I was running the other night when, after about an hour, suddenly I felt so good, so incredibly good, that I found myself nearly shouting, out loud, to the empty dark around me, "I HAVE NEVER FELT THIS GOOD IN MY ENTIRE LIFE! THIS IS AMAZING!" And then, because I, in the words of one friend, "can't turn it off," I paused for just a moment before adding, still shouting, "I DON'T KNOW WHY THE EXISTENCE OF A RUNNER'S HIGH HAS BEEN SO HOTLY DEBATED IN THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY. THIS IS CLEARLY CHEMICAL. WHEEEEE!"

It's probably a good thing, come to think of it, that I was running alone at night: in the dark, no one can see you make an endorphin-fueled fool of yourself.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Memory Monday: Clothes-Minded

(in the spirit--or, more accurately, imitation--of Amy's Flashback Fridays)

The SLO commented on my last post, based one of the pictures there, that my taste in clothing clearly hasn't changed since I was a kid. Now, that statement isn't entirely true--I'm slightly less likely to go out in bike shorts and an oversized T-shirt--but it's certainly more true than even the SLO could guess. I still love hand-me-downs. (The shirt I'm wearing right now used to belong to my cousin.) I still love bright colors. (It's neon green.) And I guess I have to admit to leggings. Sometimes. Rarely. (Hey, is it my fault they're back in style? At least they're not stirrup pants.) And that's just the start of it: I have the same short haircut as when I was four, the same squinting facial expression, and the same tendency to forget to cross my legs when wearing a skirt.

Look how cute Klement is!

More than all that, though, I don't just have the same taste in clothes--I have the same clothes. My favorite pair of pants date from a trip to California my freshman year of college. The skirt I wear for running was a Christmas present my freshman year of high school. The pajamas I wear in the summer are my seventh grade gym shorts and my fourth grade field day T-shirt. And, to top it all off, my favorite T-shirt, which I still wear regularly, was a gift from my aunt and uncle when I was eight. Yes, that's right, eight: this shirt and I have been together for fifteen years, with only one short hiatus of a few months when my mom tried to take it away from me and give it to Klement.

(My mom is always trying to kill my fashion buzz. First there were the turquoise shorts with the sunflowers on them, which I had to sneak out of the Goodwill pile at least once a month, then there all the days in high school she sent me back to change into different colors. Pink and orange totally match, Mom.)

This shirt and I won't have another fifteen years together, it's clear: it's fraying at the bottom edge, and developing holes around the collar. Any other person would have given it up long ago, but I'm attached now; how could I let go of an old friend? I get this way about all my clothes, of course--a certain pair of jeans springs to mind, a pair I threatened to wear until they "literally fell off my body," and then did, in fact, wear until they grew substantial holes in the hips, knees, and back pockets, and then grew holes through the patches I sewed on--but it's even more so for my Indonesia shirt. This one I will wear until it literally falls off my body. Let's just hope I'm wearing something underneath it at the time.

Easter 1992, in Utah, with Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Marie, The Duke, and cousins Guber and Minnie.

With Guber again, circa 2001/2002. I love that I have two pictures of me and Guber and the Indonesia T-Shirt. I also love that I have pictures of Guber's car at the time, in which we were known to cruise Boise's Main Street listening to Frank Sinatra. It was a very good year.

With Jen at our high school graduation party, 2002

With Margaret in LA, 2003

Asian photoboothing it up in Indonesian the Beautiful with the SLO, 2007

Monday, April 07, 2008

To The Duke On the Occasion of His 19th Birthday

A few months ago, a young man knocked on my door selling newspaper subscriptions. It was a Sunday evening, and one of our lessons in church that day had been about charity--"true religion is this"--but had, I thought, come perilously close to justifying keeping wealth: the sort of lesson, then, that drives me crazy, because I want so badly to rail against the idea, or even hint of the idea, that God loves the rich or wants us to be rich, but, every time I open my mouth, I realize I am a total hypocrite, since, after all, when was the last time I sold what I have and gave to the poor?

So I was already, basically, a golden opportunity for this young man, practically itching to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only, but the boy would have persuaded me anyway: he was, he said, going door-to-door selling newspaper subscriptions to put himself through college. I'm still not quite sure I believe this story, but that didn't matter--"he must be about 18 or 19," I thought, "just my brother's age. Boy, this would be a hard way to pay for college. Poor thing." It took a minute for it all to add up: going door-to-door. Talking to, and being rejected by, strangers. 19ish years old. Pretty soon, The Duke will be on a mission, doing this exactly.

And so now I have a subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle, which I never ever read; the newspaper piles up in our front hallway, unopened, until someone remembers to take it downstairs to recycling.


The Duke at his high school graduation


We've been talking about The Duke's mission call, as a family, for a while now, starting at about the time, in my memory, that missionaries stopped seeming old and wise to me and started seeming like kids, much younger than me. I remember once in India, after we had the missionaries over for dinner, joking with The Duke about how that would be him soon, trying to eat tuna casserole with his hands and asking my father, "So, what place you from, Brother?" It was funny then to think about The Duke on a mission, eating with some other family, causing them to giggle at his strange foreign antics, because it was still all hypothetical--those days were ages away.


Riding bikes together through a bird park in Rajasthan. Check out his hair.


I called The Duke today, on his birthday. "Happy birthday!" I said. Without missing a beat, he replied, full of enthusiasm, "Thank you! You too!"

The Duke's sense of humor is one of his best traits: he's funny, much funnier than I am. He never calls attention to himself or his jokes, but if you're listening, he's always ready with a quip or off-the-cuff remark that not only reveals that hey, this kid is funny, but also hey, this kid is smart. One of my favorite Christmas presents of all time is a photocopied set of cartoons The Duke had been drawing in his spare time. They're offbeat little sketches, perfect reflections of the Duke's quirky humor, and looking at them never fails to make me smile.


One of my favorite cartoons.


His mission call came last week, and so we set up a family conference call, all of us on speakerphone. The Duke started reading the letter: "Dear Elder P********..."

And, just like that, my mom and I both started to cry. Elder P. Elder! How could they send him on a mission! Two years! He's just a child!


The Duke, Klement, and Petra, Easter Sunday, 1994

But he's not a child anymore. The Duke is a young man, and, what's more, a young man excited and ready for a mission. He's steady and mature, remarkably mature for someone his age; he spent the summer hanging out with me and my friends, all at least five years older than him, and never once reminded us, in his behavior, of his age. He's constantly thinking about and considerate of others. This isn't surprising, given his childhood self, a little boy who was kind to his younger brother, afraid of Old Maid cards, and tolerant towards the older sister he shared a room with, who woke him up every night, without fail, to play Twenty Questions. (The answer, for the record, was always Uncle Sam. I don't know why.) He's a fair and even thinker, not given, as I sometimes am, to angry tirades or fits of pique. He's intelligent, questioning, and genuinely curious about the world, and has spent his life building up an impressive array of diverse skills and talents: computer programming, physics, acting, fencing, rock climbing, drawing. He's naturally obedient, but certainly no mindless clone--he somehow manages, as with his "white Afro" in high school, to develop and maintain his own style quietly, unobtrusively, without ever making a fuss. Actually, that last bit may be the best descriptor of all: The Duke does not make a fuss. He does what needs to be done, and does it well, with no complaining and no boasting. And on top of all that, he's good company--easygoing, interesting, and, as I said, funny. I tell you the truth: some lucky missionaries, starting at the end of July, are going to have an excellent companion. And some lucky mission president is going to be thanking his lucky stars for Elder Duke.


The Duke and Obed, one of my 10th grade students in Indonesia


This is starting to sound like a eulogy, which it's not meant to be; he's not dying, I know, I'm just more emotional about this mission thing than I expected. I'll miss my brother. A lot. I can write him letters, and he'll be back before I know it, but what will I do without late-night emails from him pointing out funny things on the internet? Who else will message me on gchat to remind me about Biggus Dickus? Who will hang out with me on vacations, playing Go Fish over and over, or watching and re-watching our favorite Monty Python sketches? Plus, of course, I'm terrified for him--missions are hard.

That's not all, though. More than missing him, more than worrying about him, I'm excited for him, and, more than that, proud of him: my baby brother is all grown up and going on a mission.


Sailing down the Mekong


The Duke continues reading:

"You have been called to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in..."

We all hold our breath.

"...the India Bangalore mission."

Of course. It is perfect: he will have his old seminary classmates as companions. The Duke has lived in India, and now knows how to live there, how to balance the chaos, how to weigh beauty and tragedy, how to overlook, how to forgive, how to love--or, at the very least, he has a head start on knowing. He will be himself, always himself, and that self will be not too hot, and not too cold, but just right.


Family Christmas picture, 2004


Happy birthday, L.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Normal, Shmormal

One of my major life goals, on entering grad school, was to work as hard in grad school as I wanted to work for the rest of my life; at this point, school is my job, paid and all--er, thank you, U.S. Department of Education--and so I might as well treat it like one. For people who sailed through their undergraduate days partying, that might mean amping up the work level, but for me, the sort of student who dedicated all her time and energy to the pursuit of As, that means learning to take nights and weekends off. I'm not perfect at it yet, at the very least, I no longer spend every Saturday working in the library, or thinking about working in the library, as I did as an undergraduate.

(I hesitate to admit that; what if my classmates should read it? Oh, the guilt! I am a terrible graduate student!)

When I described last weekend, the end of spring break, to my father--I made Moroccan food, I went to a movie, I helped a friend weed her backyard, I went running, I helped host a dinner party for ten people, I went to a baseball game, I read a book--my dad's comment was, "Wow, it's like a normal person's weekend!" I liked that--imagine, I could be a normal person!--and so, I set about making that my goal for this and future weekends.

And I was on a normal person roll this weekend. My biggest accomplishment was trying, and succeeding, at honey cookies, a recipe which I remember fondly from childhood visits to my great-grandmother's house. Unfortunately, she baked them from memory, and the most specific recipe we got from her before she died was elicited in a conversation something like this:

"First, you need some flour."

"How much flour?"

"Enough flour. And then you need some sugar."

"How much sugar?"

"Oh, as much as you need. And then you add the honey."

"How much honey?"

"It should sound like this: glug, glug, glu-"

So I spent some time on Sunday afternoon messing around with flour, sugar, and honey, constantly tasting and asking myself, and occasionally my roommate, "Is this anything?" until I decided that yes, it's something. And so now, for any of my relatives reading, I can make a decent approximation of Great-Grandma H's honey cookies.

Not that honey cookies were the only thing I accomplished this weekend. On Friday evening, I went to a baseball game--again, can you believe? I'm practically a fan now--where my friend Two* and I sang, danced, and generally made as much noise as we possibly could, which, trust me, is a lot. On Saturday, I cleaned my apartment, grocery shopped, read a book, talked on the phone, spent far too much on running shoes, went running in said shoes, only to find that they make my feet go numb, stood up, alone in front of my computer, as part of the solemn assembly, did some reading and homework (okay, so I'm not perfect at my goals yet), watched a movie with Two and The Onion, after which I slept on their couch rather than walking home, and spent a good chunk of the evening calling and driving around Oakland looking for a battered woman's shelter for a girl I met on the bus to Two's apartment. Sunday I listened to some of conference, began organizing the stack of books and papers next to my desk, fell asleep on my floor, music blaring, surrounded by unorganized books and papers, did dinner and games with some friends, and ended the day by donning a serious contender for the most ridiculous pajamas I've ever worn**, which is saying something for a girl who owns a Hello Kitty nightgown, three muumuus, and an endless supply of brightly-colored sarongs.

See? That's totally a normal person's weekend. And now, like any normal, weekend-enjoying person with any normal, weekend-free job, I can feel free to dread Mondays. At least I've got Great-Grandma's honey cookies to get me through.


*There are two reasons for this nickname; Two will love one of them and hate the other. Then he will try to claim that he loves them both, just to prove that I cannot predict him. Two, if you're reading, I'm sorry; I'm a brat for even mentioning this, I know, but it's just so easy. Plus, you know how to avenge yourself.

**One of my favorite things about being single is that no one ever sees me in pajamas. This leaves me free to dress, as tonight, in skintight, ankle-length green leggings and an oversized, very oversized, green Obama T-shirt, which, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, actually says "O'Bama." I feel like I need to go politically organize some leprechauns. Maybe next weekend.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Guest Appearance

Despite having not one but three spring breaks last year, I wasn't prepared, this year, for the idea of a mid-semester vacation--what? there's no classes next week? really?--so I failed to make plans for any exciting trips to Cancun, or Miami, or Laguna Beach, or wherever the kids go to drink and take off their clothes nowadays.

(Me, I don't need to travel for that: a few weeks ago I could be found at a bar in Berkeley, at a friend's bachelor party, sipping ginger beer and playing strip pictionary, all the way down to my tank top. That's right: I lead a wild, wild life.)

Luckily, not everyone failed to make exciting travel plans for spring break, and so I got to play hostess, one of my very favorite pastimes in the whole world. I am serious: nothing makes me happier, with the possible exception of peanut butter M&Ms, than having house guests to take care of. First, the week before spring break, Hot Jeff, an old friend from Writing Fellows at BYU, came into town, on his way to Yosemite, and spent a few days with me, exploring the wonderful world of California weather, Berkeley institute classes, Vietnamese sandwiches, living rooms posing as bedrooms, Code Pink protests, and camping snacks from Trader Joe's. The visit wasn't all that eventful--especially considering that the last time we spent more than a few hours together was in India, touring around Delhi and Agra--but it was delightful nonetheless, especially considering it also included a visit from Sarah, my hero. Jeff, don't let's wait so long in between visits again, okay? You're welcome in California anytime.

I had no time at all to mourn my guestless loneliness, thank goodness, in between when Jeff left for Yosemite and when Tolkien Boy and Ginsberg descended on me, ostensibly for the PCA conference, but, in the end, mostly for general hanging out and San Francisco fun, as none of us ended up presenting at the conference. And so we spent several glorious days goofing off: exploring the city, watching a rugby game, eating Vietnamese sandwiches, celebrating Easter with a picnic, playing Anagrams, and holding a special meeting of FOB East Bay along with thmazing and Lady Steed.

(Full disclosure: I do not write. Ever. But I am not a total dead weight on the writing group, since, in my role as official FOB mascot, I provided breakfast and entertained the baby, while occasionally interjecting things like, "Wow, the grammar of that last sentence was very interesting!")

(Fuller disclosure: playing with the baby is not an official mascot duty, but a pleasure. How could I resist the cutest baby ever? This kid makes my uterus hungry. It's frightening.)

By the time my week playing hostess ended, I was too tired to invent last-minute big plans, and so I spent the rest of the break on another, less beloved game: playing adult. I went to jury duty, cleaned my apartment, did my taxes, went running, read articles about Australian languages, helped a friend weed her garden, did my laundry, did my Visiting Teaching, helped tutor members of the Chinese branch in English, ate Vietnamese sandwiches, and basically pretended to be competent and responsible. The most entertaining day of the latter half of my break was the day I rode BART back and forth, for no reason and with no destination, while doing my morphology reading. (I work well on public transportation, as it turns out, mainly because I have nothing to do but work. Well, that and chat with people like the Austrian retiree who sat next to me on the way to Fremont.)

And now I'm back in school, once again adding the role of "diligent student" to my successful run as "responsible adult." But what I really want to play, as always, is "enthusiastic hostess," so let me take this opportunity to encourage all and sundry to come visit me. The sun is always shining, there is always space for an air mattress, Vietnamese sandwiches are always delicious, and I will always be happy to see you, feed you, and spend lots of money on you. Think about it.