Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday, Sunday, So Good To Me

I'm with Lynnette: I always love testimony meetings in which people stand up and tell stories, rather than those in which people simply recite a number of propositional statements about their beliefs: I know the Church is true. I know Jesus is the Son of God. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know the latter is what we are encouraged to do, but those meetings often seem dry to me, lacking anything I couldn't get from, say, reading the Articles of Faith, or even the Nicene Creed.

(I went to Catholic mass this morning before church, so it was on my mind.)

Really, what sets our testimony meetings apart from a recitation of doctrine is the opportunity to glimpse the human who believes those doctrines, the stories that human tells about those doctrines, and the way those doctrines affect the life and mind of that human. I love hearing personal testimonies, even the kooky ones that I laugh about later.

All this means that today was the sort of testimony meeting that I love. The relatively new convert sitting behind me whispered to the guy next to him, "What should I say?" and then ascended to the pulpit to tell us of his pre-conversion days of wine, women, and song; my visiting teachee, after slamming the Boston-area wards she had just visited, told us that "hurry up" was the worst thing you could possibly say to a person; and a quirky mid-thirties Tongan (I think) fellow apologized for not making it to church the past few weeks--there were some rock concerts he just had to go to--rambled for a few minutes about who knows what, and told us that without reading the Book of Mormon, you can't be a Mormon.

Fun as it might be to mock this last one, and I suspect many people were, especially given that last month he stood up and bore an equally eccentric testimony, these glimpses into his life and personality increased, for me, the value of the statements he made, those doctrinal pronouncements we are supposed to limit ourselves to. I could see that he wasn't just reciting, that he honestly meant them, and it was, for lack of a better word, touching.

Add all that to the fact that Catholic mass was pleasant, Lynnette taught Sunday school, and I persuaded my visiting teacher to skip the last hour of church and come with me to the "How Berkeley Can You Be?" parade (counting it, of course, as her visiting teaching for September), and I'd say that I had a pretty good Sunday.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Roommateimony

I came home from an exhausting Wednesday a few weeks ago, and, while talking to Roommate about something or another, turned on a Talking Heads song. Suddenly, we were dancing around the apartment singing along, at the top of our lungs, to "fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better," and then experimenting with the best lighting to get only a silhouette of a dancing figure visible through the curtains between the living room and kitchen that are my fourth wall. (For the record: no lights in the living room, overhead lights in the kitchen.) The pictures we took didn't nearly do it justice, so you'll just have to trust me when I say that it was like an iPod commercial in my apartment.

My roommate has gone out of town, which means that for the next week I have our apartment to myself, leaving me free to play music loudly, dance around the apartment, and...well, actually, not that much will change. It blows my mind that I fell into a situation with a roommate as cool as mine, one who can not only dance to the Talking Heads with me, but then retreat quietly into her bedroom when we're done, as I retreat into mine--one who, basically, is smart and funny and kind and all that, but also, like me, an introvert. I'll miss her this week: silhouette dancing isn't nearly as fun with just one.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Good Will Toward Goodwill

I decided this morning that my room lacked something important. Well, something important besides a fourth wall, or a door: a chair. I have a chair at my computer desk, so there's a place to write, and I have my bed, so there's a place to sleep. Missing, though, is a place to read, which means that I've done the vast majority of my reading over past few weeks while walking to and from school. While that's all well and good, sometimes I like to read without having to worry about oncoming traffic. I needed a chair.

So I headed over to my local Goodwill, which is roughly a block away from me, and which I love: they're huge, well-stocked, and willing to bargain. (A few weeks ago, completely on accident, I bargained a pair of shoes down to $5.99 from $8.99; while that did save money, I do, believe it or not, have a few shards of dignity left, so I won't be repeating the experience.)

It only took me a few minutes in the store to find the perfect comfy chair, reasonably priced at $7.99. It took me a few minutes longer to try picking up the chair, realize it was too heavy, try pulling the chair, realize I couldn't grip it right, try pushing the chair, and realize that, without wheels, it wouldn't glide so smoothly on the sidewalk outside. Luckily for me, an aging black man in an employee vest walked past me just as I was standing next to the now-out-of-place armchair, considering how to get it home. He asked if I needed help, and, hearing my predicament, offered to lend me one of the store's dollies--"but only if you promise to bring it back," he said. I swore up and down that I would, and thus we had a deal.

He got the chair onto the dolly for me, and then I pushed it up to the register, practicing for my walk home. As I did, he walked behind me, announcing, loudly, "Look, everyone! She's pushing it herself! Isn't she just adorable?" Apparently there's something to be said for that helplessness thing after all--if, that is, you want men the age of your grandfather treating you like their granddaughter.

After I paid for the chair and started pushing it out, another employee came rushing after me to help me. It seemed like she was going to push the dolly the entire block back to my apartment, so I assured her I was fine on my own and that I would bring the dolly back.

"Scout's honor?" she asked. "Er, Girl Scout's honor?" I hesitated at that, and she began to laugh. "You were never a Girl Scout, were you? I'm taking that dolly back!"

"I was a Brownie!" I said. "And I swear I didn't leave for honor-related reasons! Cross my heart and hope to die!"

Laughing again, she let me go, and I pushed the dolly and chair up the hill to my apartment, singing as I walked, and walked, and walked. When, ten minutes later, I returned to Goodwill, dolly in tow, the store employee looked up from the register and grinned. "Hey everyone," she said, "check it out! It's Brownie girl! With the dolly! Looks like even Girl Scout dropouts can have honor."

So now I have a chair on my balcony (the only place it fits), and a nickname at Goodwill. What--besides, of course, a girlfriend with bows in her hair--could be better than that?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Weekly Have-Done List

I've been rather silent in the blogosphere the last week or so, not because I haven't spent every waking hour of my day at or close to my computer--I have--but because so many of those hours were filled with transcribing Sundanese, waxing verbose on syntax assignments--as specifically instructed by one of my professors, who told us that verbosity was the secret to grad school; can you imagine how happy I was to hear that?--reading Indonesian literature, beating Alea at online Scrabble, and conspicuously not replying to emails.

During the few times I've stepped away from my computer in the past week, though, I have:
  • stepped on, and cracked, my iPod. I should have learned two things from this--iPods purchased for $30 in Cambodia definitely aren't real and don't charge things on the floor-- but, since I already knew the first and am ignoring the second, I guess the masking tape holding my iPod together is a constant reminder of, well, nothing.
  • spent Friday night huddled up in a movie theater chair, futilely trying to cover my eyes and my ears at the same time, to avoid the movie on screen, Resident Evil: Extinction. While I ordinarily wouldn't stand in line to see a movie based on a video game--oh, sorry, the third movie based on this particular video game--in the complex system of social rules in my head, I am obligated, as the new and mostly friendless girl in town, to accept any invitation I receive, especially when they come from people who have to move a bow and arrow from their backseat before there's room for me. Not even my girl-crush on Milla Jovovich could redeem the movie, but the fun company could and did redeem the evening.
  • realized, as a direct result of the aforementioned movie, that when disaster strikes, I will be the first to die. My survival instinct, I'm pretty sure, is nowhere near as strong as my curse-God-and-die instinct.
  • enjoyed the jokes of my fellow first-years; when I heard one of them, today, try to transcribe a sneeze ("Was that a nasal ejective?") instead of just saying "Gesundheit," I knew I had found heaven.
  • added to the piles of books in my room, making it a grand total of 47 books I have checked out from the university's library and will probably never read, seeing as how I can only finish off a book every two days or so during my daily walks to and from school.
  • gone grocery shopping, an experience which never fails to make me self-righteous about my poverty; lugging two weeks' worth of on-sale cans of green beans and tomato soup home in a backpack makes me want to stop into the upscale grocery store I pass on my way home and say to all those tax-hiking, goverment-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, Hollywood-loving left-wing freak shows in there, "you may be buying locally-made organic cookies, but I am walking home. Who loves the environment now, you old hippie?" (I could ride the bus, but, really, the grocery store is only a mile away, and both the exercise and the suffering are good for me.)
Oh, and I've also gone to institute, watched Casablanca on the big screen for the third time, gone to a barbecue with Indonesians, helped build a sukkah in the backyard of one of my professors, watched Shakespeare in the park, cooked dinner for four, gone to the temple, done my laundry for only the second time since I moved in a month and a half ago, and of course, faithfully studied for and attended my classes, which have quickly and without warning nearly doubled in number and time, because of various seminars plus colloquia plus invited speakers plus working groups plus study groups plus, I don't know, linguistics yoga groups or something. (I wouldn't put it past this place.)

Things are good, and if I could only add "went to bed on the same day I woke up" to the list, I might venture to say, with Tony the Tiger, that they're grrrrrrreat!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stake Conference

a svithe

We had stake conference today, which, surprisingly enough, I attended, and was rewarded for doing so by not only hearing what was essentially a barbershop quintet, but also seeing my old Arabic professor (who still lives in Utah) and Carol Lynn Pearson and thmazing and Lady Steed and their ridiculously cute kids. I also heard interesting stats about the local temple, stories about working with homeless people, and what it means to "look like a Mormon." (Don't get me started.)

Really, though, what I learned, besides that I have a cool stake, was this: serve others. Be kind to others. Love others. Nothing else, not today not any day, really matters as much.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Books, Books Everywhere

Last night I decided that, as a reward for surviving three whole weeks of school, I could quickly stop by the used bookstore that's on my walk home, and maybe even buy something. Fifteen minutes max, I told myself, and remember that you don't have much shelf space.

I should have remembered that I have no self-control when it comes to used books. One hour later, I started walking home again, laden with five paperbacks that had struck me as interesting, among two books of essays, one about the Mormon woman experience, and one by Camille Paglia. The salesgirl looked at me a bit strangely as she scanned them, and I don't blame her.

Last year I had tons of spare time, but nothing to read; this year, living within a mile of 18 bookstores and 32 libraries, my to-read shelf runneth over but my spare time is limited. Still, though, I can't complain, not when I wake up to the floor of my bedroom looking like this:

My room is clean now, with all those books neatly stacked on my shelves, but I almost regret that. Books make me happy, and books strewn about the room make me even happier--that and only that, makes a place feel like home. I can say, then, that this place finally feels like it's mine, something I never accomplished in my nine months in a homestay in Semarang, albeit for a good reason. (That place wasn't mine, after all.)

Now if only I could find the time to read all those books!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The International Poetic Alphabet (IPA)

a new, more creative phonetics transcription system

[a tea kettle's whistle
and hiss.
it stops
lets off steam]

[pride sticks in my throat

[a quick uh-oh of surprise
or pain]

[some days
i am bent

[the wind outside brushes against
bare branches]

[a storm builds--
heavy dark
and thunder rolls]

[what the thunder says]


Maybe I'm the only one who finds this concept funny. Whatever its other failings, though, this sort of IPA would make my phonetics assignments way more interesting.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Fun With Phonetics

We're working on narrow transcription of English in my phonetics class this week, so I spent most of my weekend sitting at my computer listening to sound files of various American English dialects. By my iTunes's count, I have listened to the sentence "she had your dark suit in greasy wash water all year" precisely 1,023 times in the last two days. (My "Top 25 Most Played" playlist is now no longer entirely Okkervil River.) That, of course, is not counting all the times I listened to the sound files in programs like Praat or WaveSurfer, or all the times I listened to them on my classmate's computer, or all the times I simply listened to snippets, focusing closely on "had your," "had your," "had your."

I think I'm losing it. As I tried to listen in church today, my mind ran a constant loop of
wɑʃ wɑɾə˞
wɑʃ wɑɾə˞

wɑʃ wɑɾə˞
wɑʃ wɑɾə˞
wɑʃ wɑɾə˞

and so of course I listened in sacrament meeting even less than usual, because while the speaker was telling us what she learned from her nephew's baptism, I was thinking, did Speaker 8 really articulate the "r" in water? And was there some rhotaciziation in "wash" for Speaker 3? And why on earth would someone put any kind of suit, dark or light, in greasy wash water for an entire year?

And now it's nearly 2 am and I'm still thinking, exploded or unexploded? Stressed or unstressed? The answer, at this time of night, is clearly "stressed," and, in a few minutes, "exploded." I think it's time for bed.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Homemade Joke

(some of you have heard this before; I apologize)

Q: What do you call a pair of 19 year old boys who surf the internet at night looking to convert people?

A: Nocturnal e-missionaries.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Okkervil River

Way back in March 2005, I went to see The Decemberists in Salt Lake City, with an opening act called Okkervil River. Since opening bands are generally hit-or-miss, and since I had never heard of them, I showed up late, catching only about three or four songs at the end of their set. They were decent enough, but didn't really catch my ear on the first, live, listen. A few months later, though, I heard a song of theirs on internet radio, downloaded a few more, and soon was in the throes of a buy-all-their-albums, listen-to-them-daily, tell-all-my-friends obsession that hasn't yet abated. I've been kicking myself, these past two years, that I missed the chance to really listen to them live.

Well, no longer. In support of their new album, The Stage Names, they played a show in San Francisco last night. I've had my tickets for over a month, the 5th was marked on my calendar with tons of exclamation points, and the thought of the concert was the only thing keeping me alive during my seven hours in a row of grad classes. (Have I mentioned that I have the world's worst class schedule?)

I left for the concert a little later than I wanted, mostly because I burned the Campbell's tomato soup I was going to have for dinner, and was forced to throw together a different sort of instant meal at the last minute, and I just barely missed the train I should have gotten on, forcing me to wait another fifteen minutes for the next one. I didn't want to miss the opening act this time, because, hey, you never know how you'll feel about them in a year's time, so when I got off the train in San Francisco's Castro District, I was feeling hurried, and decided to run the ten blocks from the train station to the club. I took off my favorite pair of flimsy sandals, which are comfortable but hard to run in, and sprinted uphill past a quick cross-section of San Francisco society: gay and lesbian couples, then gentrified yuppie types, then clumps of hipster 20-somethings waiting outside the club. No one turned to look twice at the girl running down the street, alone, at nine o'clock at night, sandals in hand, purse bouncing with every step. This is a big city, after all, whose motto should be "San Francisco: We've Seen Weirder."

I'm sore today, both from the uphill run and from the fact that I spent the entire hour and a half of the concert standing on tiptoe, but, let me tell you, it was worth it. They began with my current favorite track from the new album, "Plus Ones," which I love for its numerical wordplay, and it only got better from there, as they went through a setlist that included a generous amount from older albums (including, to my great delight, "Black," "It Ends With a Fall," and "Okkervil River Song"), as well as the highlights from the new album, like "Unless It's Kicks," which Will Sheff, the lead singer, declared was the band's new anthem, with its focus on "some midlevel band" which has "been driving too long," and "John Allyn Smith Sails," whose transition into the Beach Boys's "Sloop John B" was like a descent into a dirge, given the way words like "I feel so broke up" are woven into a song about failure and suicide. And, of course, they played their latest single, "Our Life Is Not a Movie Or Maybe," prefaced by an amusing story about how, for their appearance on Conan O'Brien on the same night as Jeff Goldblum, they rewrote some of the lyrics of the song to reference movies like Independence Day and Jurassic Park. They were told they couldn't play them for Conan, apparently, so they played them for us. Throughout the night, I had my fingers crossed for some of my other favorites, like maybe "The President's Dead" or "The War Criminal Rises and Speaks," and was slightly disappointed not to hear them, but the last song changed that: hearing "Westfall" live, and having the concert finish with the entire crowd singing "evil don't look like anything" along with the band, was quite enough bliss for one night.

At no point in the night, though, did I even feel a trace of disappointment with the performance itself. The cast of instruments was varied--guitars and drums and piano, of course, but also a mandolin and an accordion and a trumpet and maracas and a tambourine--and all six band members were full of energy, especially Will Sheff, who got more and more casual as the night went on, shedding first his suit jacket, then his tie, then his crisp white button-up in favor the T-shirt underneath, as he jumped around on stage, his always-emotional voice nearly a histrionic wail as he sang lines like "wish I could remember why it mattered to me/It doesn't matter to me anymore." With that sort of on-stage enthusiasm, I believed him when, later, he claimed, in song, "I'm doing what I really like and getting paid for it."

Given my love for this band, I'm glad to hear that from them, and I hope they will continue doing what they really like for years and years, as long as, of course, that implies they'll continue putting out hyperliterary albums as good as Black Sheep Boy and The Stage Names and giving concerts as good as the one last night. Laugh at me all you want--my friend Emily certainly did--but I had a giant grin on my face all through the concert, and the high still hasn't left me today. Will Sheff may sing that he "[doesn't] know what notes you want to hear played" and "can't think what lines you'd like me to sing or say," but I say, don't worry, Will, you're doing just fine--you've got great reviews, an upcoming international tour, and the undying love of this particular fan. Sing whatever you want, and I'll be listening.

I Live Here

As I was walking to school this morning, a middle-aged woman stopped me to ask something in a quiet mumble.

"I'm sorry?" I said, not understanding.

"Did you see the hair of that guy in front of you?" she repeated.

"Um, no," I replied, still a bit confused, squinting at the Asian guy about fifteen feet ahead of me.

"It's all shaved on the sides," she told me, "and long in back."

"Oh," I said, "that's nice." Awkward pause.

"But he's Asian, so he's an asshole," she said, almost conversationally. "They're all assholes. But you know that--you live here!"

I didn't know that, actually, but I decided it wasn't best to argue, not there, not on the street, and, besides, I was late for a meeting with a very kind Asian who had agreed to help me with a class project. I eased the social awkwardness by giggling nervously and walking away slowly, with the woman shouting at my back, three or four more times:

"They're all assholes! You know that--you live here!"

I love this town.

Ambiguity in San Francisco

I walked past this sign in The Castro last night:

And I wondered--are they using "gay" as an adjective or as a noun? That is, do they mean "we'll clean in a gay way" or "we'll clean your gays"? I'm almost tempted to call and ask.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

And Nothing But the Truth

This morning I got to campus earlier than usual, given that I have no classes on Tuesdays or Thursdays, so I could discuss my syntax homework with some other students from my class. I spent an hour and a half debating possible analyses of English possessives, and was on a bit of a syntax high by the time I left, wanting to climb a rooftop and shout to the world, "<Specifier>, {Modifier}, (Complement), Head!"

Instead I just walked to the library, enjoying the early-autumn breeze and sunlight before descending three floors to my own personal library carrel, which is hidden in a corner no one passes, and thus shelters me from having to see another person all day long. I came to grad school partially to get a library carrel, having seen and coveted the grad students carrels in Harvard's Widener Library when I was in high school, and the fact that I can check books out and leave them there thrills me every time I think about it.

And now I'm awake, slightly past midnight, dressed in my standard paper-writing outfit, a sarong, tank top, and head scarf, eating trail mix and writing up the solution to my syntax homework, which has reached six pages thus far and will probably stretch all the way to the maximum ten. I get to use words like "constituent" and "lexical frame" a lot, and every so often I have to jump up and ask my roommate whether she thinks whether, in a phrase like "that story about the dog of his," the story or the dog belong to him. (Anyone? Bueller?)

I rarely tell the truth on my blog, as self-satire and sarcasm are funnier, but here it is: I am happy. I count pennies and walk everywhere and spend entire days in the library and entire nights at my computer, and can imagine no better life. Sometimes I grin to myself, when I hear the subway rattling under me when I walk to school, or when the class bell rings as I sit outside reading Old Malay epics. I always knew I was born near grad school and during grad school, and now I know I can add one more preposition: I was born for grad school.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Adventures in Hiking

Yosemite National Park is, as it turns out, in California. That came as a surprise to me, since I had always confused Yosemite and Yellowstone (look, they both start with Y, they’re both in the west, and they both have bears; how can an East Coaster be expected to keep track of the difference?) and therefore assumed that Yosemite was also in Idaho. (We won’t even talk about how disappointed I was to learn, a year ago, that Yellowstone is only barely in Idaho.)

I learned this because my (extremely athletic) ward had planned an overnight hiking and camping trip at Yosemite, which also explains why I found myself, late Friday night, or, to be more accurate, early Saturday morning, after classes and informal syntax gatherings, after a rushed packing job and dinner, and after a trip on BART and four hours in a car, sleeping in a tent, trying not to roll downhill onto the three girls crammed next to me. I mostly succeeded.

Early Saturday morning, around four, the ward activities coordinator walked around the campsite, shining his flashlight into tents and singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for which I’m sure he will get bonus points in heaven, depending of course on how God feels about the U.S. flag. I know I will get bonus points for not strangling him.

We were at the trailhead by six, loaded down with water, and, in my case, everything a girl could need hiking, from moleskin for blisters to a whistle to a deck of cards. (My hyper-responsible uncle packed for me. Though, um, not entirely.) We set off in a group, about forty of us, determined to make it to the top of Half Dome.

My quest for Half Dome went wrong about three miles in. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack, hiking together with this guy from the ward, keeping a safe distance from the dating couple ahead of us, but when the four of us came to a fork in the path, we couldn’t see the others up ahead, and couldn’t see Half Dome listed on any of the signs, and so, entirely on accident, chose the path less traveled by.

(I would like to state here, for the record, that I did not choose our path. That’s right: I got lost and it wasn’t my fault. I’m still excited about that.)

By the time we figured out we had taken a wrong turn, we had climbed a mile of steep switchbacks, and had probably fallen behind the last people in our group, so we decided to continue on our new hike. Another few miles along the path, we ran into a pair of girls hiking the same trail from the opposite direction, who were tired and blistered, and resting from their with heavy backpacks, and convinced them to turn around and join us. (I like to think my deck of cards was a draw for them, but, come to think of it, it was probably the moleskin for their blisters.)

But our path less traveled by made all the difference. Sure, the new hike was eight miles uphill, but so was Half Dome, and the new hike didn’t require hiking those eight miles down to the group’s designated meeting spot, just hitchhiking down, which is a lot easier. (Advice to females: ask around while waiting in line for the bathroom.) And sure, there was no shade on our new hike, and sure, I exhausted myself by volunteering to carry another backpack, but at least I didn’t have to pull myself up a bare rock face with cables. (Plus, hey, bonus points in heaven.) And I may have missed out on bonding with the whole ward, but This Guy and The Couple were very pleasant, even funny, and so were our new hiking friends, once we agreed to disagree about whether Mormons are Christian. I don't think I've ever enjoyed getting lost so much. And in the end, the view from Glacier Point, with the sun shining on Half Dome across the valley, was worth any number of sleepless nights, national anthems, wrong turns, heavy backpacks, heat, and evangelical Christians, all of which is a very convoluted way to reach my real point: I'm glad Yosemite is in California.