Friday, December 18, 2009

Diamonds Are Forever

Back when I was at BYU, surrounded by the newly-engaged and happily-married, I made fun of those women who, after acquiring a diamond ring, couldn't stop staring at it, talking about it, or subtly (or not-so-subtly) flaunting it, women like the first responder in this question, who confused the size of their diamond with the size of their husband's love, who fell for the evil diamond industry's marketing ploys, who encouraged their fiances to blow their meager savings/sell their cars/go into debt all for the sake of something sparkly on their finger. I was above all that, and not shy about saying it: in my first-year German class, when all the other girls (freshmen, no less) could describe their perfect engagement ring in great detail (diamond, of course!), I announced, to the gasps of my classmates, that I didn't want an engagement ring at all, and I certainly didn't want a diamond: as I outlined in my answer to that question, diamond rings come with unnecessary costs, financial and otherwise, and I'd rather have something on my finger that didn't have me humming Kanye West (Though it's thousands of miles away/ Sierra Leone connect to what we go through today) and dreaming of armless children in mines.

Well, once again, I have to eat my words. (I sure have been doing a lot of this lately: I'm smart and majored in the humanities and don't really know what I want to do with my life, so I'm applying to law school. Helloooooo, stereotypes!) I held my ground on the engagement ring--a feminist point for me; since the man is not expected to wear one, an engagement ring feels to me like a symbol of possession--but, dear readers, I have a diamond wedding ring. And, even more shameful: I love it.

My ring is simple, as diamond affairs go, with six small rectangular-cut diamonds set into a white-gold band.
The band isn't as shiny as it should be--in some lights it looks less white gold and more gold gold--and the diamonds don't sparkle quite like they should, mostly because they're set crookedly. Most people who asked to see my ring smiled and made more-or-less tactful comments like "It's very you," or "That's a cute box it came in!", and they were right: it is very me. (And it came in a super-cute box, too.)

And where did we find this perfect ring with super-cute box? At a pawn shop in Reno. That's right: we were having trouble finding rings we liked--at one jewelry store, I tried on a diamond ring, grimaced, and asked, "Do you have anything less shiny?"--and so, just as we were wondering whether or not we'd have to get rings custom-made ("are we really such bitches?" I asked), Mike pointed out that we'd be visiting his grandmother in Reno two weeks before the wedding, and where, really, is there a larger selection of used wedding rings than Reno's main drag?

So we found parking near one of the main casinos, and walked down the street, which consisted mainly of pawn shops, casinos, and wedding chapels. We browsed four or five pawn shops, each of which held more wedding rings than I thought existed in the entire world, and tried to avoid looking at the handgun displays, which were often right next to the rings--just in case you've made a huge, tiny mistake, I guess? (Downtown Reno is seriously one-stop shopping: you can make some money, buy a ring, get married, get drunk, get divorced, and shoot your ex, all in one afternoon.) As we walked between pawn shops, we saw a couple fighting, loudly, with lots of swearing, about who was drunker, and surreptitiously checked out their rings. We also watched the police break up a violent fight outside a casino, the true Reno experience.

And that's why I really love my ring: not only is it pretty (at least to me), it was cheap (the best way to show love for me is by not spending money), and used (which means I don't have ethical worries about the diamonds), and its crooked and slightly chipped diamonds remind me of that afternoon slumming in Reno pawn shops, and, in turn, of how lucky I am to have found a man who matches me so perfectly it's kind of unbelievable, a man who shares my ideas about romance (he didn't propose, I arranged our honeymoon, and his idea of seduction is saying "I seduce thee"), compromise (rock-paper-scissors), adventure (camels across North Africa? sign me up!), crossword puzzles in bed (yes), traditional gender roles (no), and paying attention in church (maybe)--in short, a man who would buy his fiancee a wedding ring from a pawn shop in Reno. That, my friends, is well worth eating a word or two.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bless Me, Santa, For I Have Sinned

I have a confession to make: my mother-in-law sent us some Christmas gifts last week, with strict instructions not to open them until Christmas, and what did we do? We opened them.

(Confession #2: I still can't say "mother-in-law" without doing a tiny internal double-take. I mean, seriously, a mother-in-law? I'm not used to that.)

Back to the matter at hand: Christmas. I think most newlyweds, at least those with blogs, are supposed to be excited for their First Everything: Our First Thanksgiving Together, Our First Apartment, Our First Fight About the Dishes. And, sure, we've got some good firsts--Our First Kiss was pretty awesome, for instance--but neither of us are big holiday people. Our First Halloween was spent eating bags of candy corn and watching The Wire. Costumes? Parties? Please. Celebrations are for people who aren't hooked on the best show ever to have been on TV.

So it's not like anyone expected us to be Christmasy, right? We'll be traveling for the holiday itself, so we haven't bothered with a tree, and even though we have an entire box full of Christmas ornaments and decorations (thanks, Mom!), right now it just seems like too much work to put them up, especially if, come two weeks, we won't be around to enjoy them.

(Should I make another confession? It also seems weird to put up Christmas decorations when our apartment has no decorations at all. That's right: bare walls, baby. I've been in this apartment for four months now and the only thing I've hung is a calendar--a cheap calendar I got for free at a bookstore, no less. Clearly, I am a failure as a homemaker. But hey, my way means fewer ways to damage the walls of a rented apartment. Plus, fewer fights about whether to hang my batik cloth and schwa paintings or Mike's posters. Everybody wins.)

Anyway, while it's like me to not get into the holiday spirit, it's not like me to open presents early; I was a child who never, never, went looking for Christmas presents, even though I knew perfectly well where they were hidden. I was a child who ate all the oat bits of Lucky Charms before the marshmallows. I was a child who saved Halloween candy for years. In other words, Delayed Gratification was my middle name.

But I'm married now, and so I have put away childish things in the name of marital harmony. When Mike suggested that we open the presents right away, I argued with him but eventually gave in. Or, okay, I eventually lost the 3rd round of rock-paper-scissors. (Should that be another confession? That we resolve disagreements with rock-paper-scissors instead of reasoned, intelligent discussions?)

In any case, maybe Mike was right: we had a great little pre-Christmas Christmas, which got us a little bit more in the holiday mood, and now we don't have to worry about traveling with too many. So I'll end with my final Christmas confession: I opened presents early and enjoyed it. How many Hail Rudolphs do I have to say for that?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dylan in the Heart

For those who haven't heard, let me be the first to break the news: Bob Dylan has put out a Christmas album. Yes, that Bob Dylan. Yes, Christmas songs.

Seriously, I'm not even kidding, and if you know what's good for you, you'll find some samples of this album to listen to--Dylan's death rattle doing Christmas classics like "The Little Drummer Boy" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is not to be missed, even if the latter sounds a bit more like a threat than a promise, and songs like "The First Noel" sound like a clear challenge to Tom Waits, the former king of singing-as-a-continuous-low-growl. Oh, oh, oh, and your life is not complete if you haven't heard him croaking through the Latin lyrics to "Adeste Fideles," sounding for all the world like a child fake-speaking a foreign language.

So, Mr. Dylan, congratulations, and a strong showing indeed. And for Dylan fans like myself, I've got some ideas of other territories he could explore:
  • He could make like a high school choir and try some madrigals! This album would feature songs like "My Bonnie Lass, She Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and, probably, would use the magic of recording technology to have Dylan sing the songs in full SATB parts: scratchy, amusical, tuneless, and bass.
  • Along the same lines, for those who want to expose their kids to Dylan early, there's always the possibility of Tangled Up In Red, Yellow, and Blue, on which Dylan covers every from Barney to Raffi, perhaps with a side trip through the ABC's and the primary colors. Haven't you always wanted to hear Dylan sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in a round with himself?
  • As CBS used to put it, "nobody sings Dylan like Dylan," to combat the Dylan covers which were all over the airwaves in the 60s. Well, it's time for Dylan to strike back and sing everyone else like Dylan! On Like the Rolling Stones, Dylan covers his favorite non-Dylan golden oldies, infusing them with his signature sandpaper vocals, leading to brilliant mash-ups like "A Hard Day's Night's A-Gonna Fall." Everyone will get satisfaction from these gems!
  • Broadway, Broadway, Broadway! On Positively 42nd Street, fans can get 525,600 minutes of Dylan, as he covers everything from "Memories" (can't you just hear him caterwauling now?) to "Seasons of Love." Dylan as Andrew Lloyd Webber has always wanted to hear him!
  • Remember that born-again phase in the 70s, when in songs like "Jokerman" and "Gotta Serve Somebody" Dylan seemed somewhat confused about whether he believed in Christ or had become Christ? Well, be confused no more: he believes in Christ, and so does the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! On their joint album, Just Like a Mormon, Brother Dylan drawls his way through "Come, Come Ye Saints," slower even than any church organist would take it, mumbles the words and butchers the to "Adam-ondi-Ahman," and gets "High on a Mountain Top," if you catch my drift. Though Dylan can hie to Kolob with the best of them, the real highlight of the album is their group rendition of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," because, really, why hasn't the MoTab recorded that already?
There you have it, folks: new Dylan albums to await. Pre-order them now, while supplies last, and remember: all proceeds go to charity!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Say cheese

In our fridge right now we have:

1 block fresh mozzarella cheese
2 tins crumbled feta cheese
1 tin crumbled goat cheese
1 block pepper jack
1 block paneer
1 block halloumi

plus the usual assortment of fresh vegetables--broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and carrots.

When did I start eating so well? Apparently I am now both in Berkeley and of Berkeley. Pondering this, I feel a strong urge to stock up on peanut butter M&Ms or candy corn just to balance out the disgusting foodsnobbishness of our fridge.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Why couldn't I get THAT day over and over and over?"

I got married more than a month ago and I still have not posted any pictures. Clearly, I am a failure as a blogger. (Then again, I got arrested in Vietnam more than three months ago and I still have not posted any pictures of that either. I think that makes me a winner as a blogger.)

But wait no more! 9/19/09, to me, was just like that old song, you know, the one by the Dixie Cups: going to the chapel, and we're gonna get married...

By "chapel" I of course mean "temple."

The sky was blue (whoa whoa whoa):

And we'll never be lonely anymore:


There's not much to be said about the actual wedding ceremony--it was short and sweet, just us and our parents, we both remembered that the right answer is "yes" rather than "I do", and let's not go into how Mike giggled the whole time--so I'll move into the really good part, the reception. My mom was the wedding planner extraordinaire,

did I mention that I wore my mother's wedding dress?

and all I said I wanted from the party--this is true--is that I wanted to have fun. I've been to far too many weddings where the bride and groom stand in a receiving line, clearly not enjoying themselves, to want to repeat that for myself. And thank you, Mom, I had a blast. And how could I not? We held the party at a place that looks vaguely like the buildings on Tatooine:

It's a science museum, so in addition to having a great view

it had a wedding whale

a giant model of DNA

rock structures that can be shifted to replicate earthquake effects


a stream that can be dammed up

and plenty of other fun toys.

And if that location weren't cool enough on its own, we added to it with flowers and saris

a gamelan troupe

tons of food, gathered from American, Korean, Indonesian, Arab, Indian, and Vietnamese restaurants, to represent the countries in which we've lived

and a dessert table that was almost buckling under its own weight.

And so we whiled away the afternoon, on that sunny September Saturday, singing

and dancing

and karate kicking

and hanging out with the cardboard cutout of my missionary brother

and being carried in chairs

and being tossed on a blanket.

Yes, friends, I had fun. To channel Bill Murray from Groundhog Day: That was a pretty good day.

[thanks to my cousin Margaret for the pictures]

Sunday, September 27, 2009

That bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam...

I have been married now for one week and one day:

Saturday we got married. (More on that later.)

Sunday we explored Gualala and watched 30 Rock. (It's our couple hobby.)

Monday we drove California Highway 1 and opened wedding presents. (Not at the same time.)

Tuesday I got sick and spent the day on the couch moaning to myself about a headache and a backache and a runny nose and, of course, that pesky cough. (Two months and counting.)

Wednesday was business as usual. (What is usual?)

Thursday I flew to Utah. (Ain't nothin' like Provo in the fall.)

Friday I gave a paper at a conference. (So the school would pay for me to hang out with my old professors and Annie and Alea and Chrish and ke.)

Saturday I took the LSAT and flew back home. (All the cool dropouts go to law school, right?)

Sunday we went to church in our brand new married-folk ward. (Babies everywhere!)


"How's married life?" everyone asks me. (Hey, it's conversation.)

Well? I have no idea. I did a double-take this morning at church when someone asked me about my husband, I can't stop staring in wonder and confusion at the ring on my finger, and I probably spent more time this week without Mike than with him. But we had some nice phone conversations while I was in Utah, and when I got back he was waiting to pick me up. Is that what married life means? Not having to take public transportation home from the airport? I can learn to live with that.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"I'm usually more charismatic than this."

I've been telling myself, over the past few months, that a lot of the reason I wasn't blogging was that I didn't have much to say; all that was really going through my head, at any given time, was "I hate school I hate school" and "I love Mike I love Mike," and I figured neither of those were appropriate blogging topics, mostly in that they're so incredibly boring. (For the record, though: I hate school, but I love Mike. Also for the record, I've given up on finding a clever nickname for him; he may appear later as "Mister Whiskers," but for now his real name will do.) I told myself that after the Semester of Doom ended I would come up with witty repartee, interesting life events, or at least something other than SCHOOL MIKE SCHOOL MIKE SCHOOL MIKE.

So here we are, with the Semester of All Hell Breaking Loose safely behind us, and with only a Semester of Research Without Coursework ahead of us, and what do I have to say? WEDDING WEDDING WEDDING.

And that, my friends, is just not interesting. I'm not one of those brides consumed with details and The Perfect Wedding, Just This One Day For Me and Me Alone, and for the most part I've turned the planning over to my mother, who is doing a fabulous job, but there's still all these pesky little pre-wedding life tasks to be taken care of--we have to move to a shared apartment, for instance; we have to get marriage licenses and buy wedding bands and get special temple recommends and visit/meet his parents and book a hotel room for the honeymoon and buy him a suit and me a dress and figure out how on earth we're going to fit them into the tiny bedroom closet in our new apartment; we have to juggle work and school and wedding RSVPs and just plain spending time with each other, and, really, how do those Perfect Wedding brides handle it?

And so, instead of the interesting person I thought I'd become after all my papers were turned in, I've become, at the end of this summer, a counting machine, with all my thoughts focusing obsessively on various countdowns:

29 days until the wedding

Let me tell you about the honeymoon we almost planned: couch surfing. Hilarious, right? We also tossed around ideas like camping (too many pine needles), a human nest (too weird), and a yurt at a nudist colony (too many penises). We've settled on a cabin at a north coast resort, which sounds blessedly private, normal, and free of both pine needles and extraneous nude male bodies.

7 days until Mike gets back

Can you believe he's gone off backpacking with a month to go before the wedding? It was planned well before we got engaged, so the timing is just bad luck, but I suspect I might die without him, if not from missing him then from the stress of moving and furnishing our place by myself. I even had to buy our bed alone, which I secretly hope he hates, since that would be the perfect revenge. Mike, if you're reading this: an extra-soft mattress would be just what you deserve.

19 days of coughing

It's the freaking acoughalypse over here, as I've spent the last three weeks with a cough bad enough to keep me awake at night throwing up. I've drunk Robitussin by the gallon, kept cough drops in my mouth at all times, and even--this is big for me, since I distrust all medicines and medical professionals--visited a doctor. She listened to my cough, said, yup, that sounds nasty, and prescribed me an asthma inhaler. An inhaler! I'm not having trouble breathing, I'm having trouble breathing without coughing. The inhaler is, you may have guessed, not doing its job. I'm convinced and secretly hopeful that I picked up a case of tuberculosis while in Vietnam a few months ago, mostly because, come on, dying of consumption just before my wedding? Now that would be charismatic and interesting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In Mother Russia, liftoff has YOU

In my two-month blogging hiatus (oops), I've acquired lots to write about: my trip to Vietnam for research and an exciting run-in with the police; my trip to New Hampshire for my father's 50th birthday "Half Century of Excellence" celebration; and my trip back to Berkeley where I think I've decided once and for all that I hate grad school and don't want to be an academic after all, though that may just be the summer classes speaking.

We'll save all that for later, though; for now, I'd like to present a quick quiz. Is this a picture of:

a. an advertising model for REI's outdoor gear?
b. one of Berkeley's many homeless people?
c. a young actor gunning for a role in an upcoming Grizzly Man/Into the Wild-style nature film?
d. the man I've decided to marry?


I offer a very simple prize for guessing the correct answer: an invite to the wedding, this fall, here in the Bay Area. For those of you who are shocked and appalled that my I-don't-know-what-to-call-him-because-I-hate-the-word-fiancé* has not been mentioned before on this blog, I apologize for nothing! I tend to keep quiet about my romantic life, at least on the internet, since I follow what I've heard referred to as the Soviet space program approach to dating: tell no one until you're sure the launch is successful. Only then can you rub it into the face of the evil capitalist pig-dogs.

(My affianced1 takes this philosophy even more seriously: his parents didn't even know I existed until he called to tell them we were engaged, and likewise with his older sister, who still isn't quite sure this isn't all a giant joke. Way to start me off right with the in-laws, dude.)

Not that I've had to keep silent for too long: I've only known him since the end of January, when we met cute in Sunday School. (Cue chorus: awwwww, how righteous!) A mutual friend introduced us by telling me that my intendeda had voted against Prop 8; this surprised me, because I had previously assumed, based on his Scandinavian-heritage coloring, baby face, and habit of writing in Korean during Institute class, that he was boring, younger than me, and hyper-Mormon. My response to this new information, ever so charmingly, was "Oh, so you're interesting, then? Looks like I'll have to start talking to you."

I did, and he is, and I've been pretty much smitten since the first time we hung out--to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus, which I would say is the perfect geek date except for the fact that our first actual date was to a British-style pub in San Jose to see some friends of his dress up like pirates and sing sea shanties--when, in the short space of a single evening, he vehemently decried patriarchy and then teased me for being incompetent with the TV remote. My betrothed# has lived up to the potential of those first few interactions, never failing to be interesting and never failing to treat me with equal parts respect and mockery. We're an odd pairing in some ways--my spouse-to-be!, in the words of another mutual friend, "is the outdoors," and he's stated, on more than one occasion, that his love for me is conditional, depending on my willingness to take up long-distance backpacking, and you all can probably guess how I feel about that--but in most ways, all the important ways, we work, and it's obvious, and we're happy, and it's obvious. So there you have it, internet: we have liftoff, and so I can finally talk about him on my blog. Phew.

Oh, and in case you're wondering: T-minus two months until the wedding, and I'm serious about those invites.


*I think it has to do with negative memories of giggly 19 year old newly-engaged girls at BYU who couldn't stop saying "my fiancé this" and "my fiancé that." Shoot me if I ever turn into one of them.
1This one is only better if you nasalize the proper vowel and sneer slightly.
aMy intended what?
#Three syllables, please.
!This is getting awkward: now I'm just one of them, but with a better vocabulary. Maybe I should just start referring to him as a fiancé.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My syntax brings all the boys to the yard

I've written about this before, but May and December are the wackiest months of the year for a student, months that seem positively schizophrenic, as I spend the first half of the month frantically moving from paper to paper to paper, panicking all the while that I CAN’T FIND MY PEN I HAVEN’T EATEN IN SIXTEEN HOURS WHY CAN’T I GET THIS STUPID PAPER FINISHED I WILL NEVER FINISH IT AND I’LL BE FORCED TO DROP OUT AND LIVE ON THE STREETS AND DIIIIIIEEEEE, and then, suddenly, after clicking the last ‘print’ or ‘send’ button on the last paper, all the panic and stress drain out of me and I spend the rest of the month, I don't know, practicing my camera settings by stalking my mother’s dog (December), or going sailing, hiking, swimming, and picnicking (May).

(Though the post-semester relaxation may be a little harder to find this year, as I'm getting on a plane to Vietnam in precisely a week from today. Um, did I mention that I'm doing research in Vietnam this summer? It's going to be a total disaster. I can't wait.)

In any case, I just have one paper left to write until I am officially done with this rough beast of a semester is over, just one 25-page treatise on generative syntax standing between me and a master's degree. (That big, scary oral exam I was freaking out about? I passed, and, what's more, enjoyed it: I had so much fun that I actually asked for another question when my advisor said it was probably time to finish. Yes, I am a freak.)

I am currently delaying writing this paper, mostly because, after churning out three other 25-page papers in the last two weeks, mostly late at night/early in the morning, and sometimes in even odder situations, like on BART into the city so I could apply for a Vietnamese visa, or in a heavily air-conditioned Denny's in California's Central Valley, I have been reminded of the actual facts of my work style: I am, to put it succinctly, a procrastinatrix extraordinaire, and the panic about this paper that I need to motivate myself to write hasn't quite hit yet. Plus, I have hated this class so much, and suspect so deeply that the professor isn't reading my work, that I am tempted to write only a first page and a last page and fill the rest with 23 pages of open letters to my professor:

Dear L,

To be quite honest, I haven't understood a single part of this class since late January. To be even more honest, I'm not sure you have either.

Confusedly yours,



Dear L,

You are such a bad teacher that you have made me disbelieve in your subfield. That's right, after taking your class, I don't even think syntax exists. Thanks a lot.

Nihilisticly yours,


On the off chance that she will read or at least skim my paper, though, I'll refrain, and instead follow the pattern of the last three weeks, churning out rambly drivel in one long, panic-fueled session, typing terrible terrible introductions like "like Gaul, this paper has three parts," and "it is impossible to know," which, frankly, usually means "I don't feel like finding out." Plus, to fit the pattern I'll have to find some strange song to get hooked on: I wrote most of historical linguistics paper listening to the "Tabbouleh Song" on repeat, which means I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere in there are the lines "No we don't need hip hop, house, or trance / Cuz this song about a salad gonna make you shake your pants." And I'm putting the Tabbouleh Song first in the hopes that no one will continue reading to discover that my addicting song during my field methods paper was Kelis's Milkshake. Seriously, how embarrassing is that?

Back to work. And for anyone wondering how I can concentrate with loud techno/hiphop/rap playing--today's song du jour is DAM's Min Irhabi--let me just say: I can teach you, but I'd have to charge. And hey, given the usefulness of a master's in linguistics, that's just about my best money-making option these days.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Schutzian process of retypification? Drink!

The end of the semester is inching towards me, which means that not only am I internally weeping with stress--less than a week until my master's exam! aaaah!--but also that I am so. incredibly. sick of all my classes. Frills, guys, sometimes I sit in my syntax class and wonder what would happen if I ran out of the room screaming in frustration and boredom.

This past week was perfect timing, then, for my invention of a new game, which I will call "how to survive a three-hour anthropology seminar."

(Catchy name, huh?)

The game is easy, and depends on only one prop, a (preferably caffeinated) beverage. Clutch it in your hand like you'd die without it, as you very well might; three hours of sleep a night is not enough.

The rules are simple: drink for academic anthropology stereotypes.

When someone uses ridiculous jargon? Drink! (Come on people, phenomenology? Ethological? Aboutness?)

When someone abuses English productive morphology? Drink! ("De-embeddedment"? Are we serious?)

When someone quibbles over definitions? Drink! (What does Silverstein really mean when he says "referential"?)

When the talkative dude with the goatee says something that might be deep, or might just be really obvious? Drink! ("Truly, my face belongs to you all, even though I consider it one of my most intimate possessions." How am I not myself? I not...myself?)

When someone cites an idea as being FamousThinker-ian? Drink! Drink! Drink! (Levi-Straussian. Kantian. Saussurean. Boasian. Bourdieuian. Hegelian. Whorfian. Merleau-Pontyian. Voloshinovian. Chomskyan. Goffmanian. IN ONE THREE-HOUR CLASS PERIOD I AM NOT JOKING.)

When that chip-on-her-shoulder Indian girl across the table cuts in with, what else, a comment about colonialism and power dynamics? Sigh. Drink. You deserve it.

When someone calls into question the true agentivity of human actors? Drink! (Oh, wait, that was me. Two sips, then.)

When you realize that you've just gotten through an entire three-hour discussion in which not a single person has cited any actual data or examples? Finish your drink. You've got a syntax class to get through next.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

You'd think I could have thought of one about Easter too

My ward wants to celebrate Holi, that most fun of Hindu celebrations--no, wait, who are we kidding? Diwali is pretty fun too, at least when celebrated in a country with no restrictions on its fireworks--later this month. This was announced in church a few Sundays ago, and as my friends around me nodded--right on, man, that sounds like a good idea--I fumed silently: Holi was last month, people. If we're going to bastardize someone else's religious tradition for our own enjoyment, can't we at least do it accurately?

Apparently, I have no sense of fun at all. Just call me Holi-er than thou.

(Pause for groans.)

What can I say? I'm a Purimist about my religious holidays.

(Ba dum chh!)

At least we're not trying to replicate 'Eid al-Fitr; I'm the Rama-don of respect for Islam.

(Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all month.)

Want me to quit this? It'll Pentecost you!

(Or should I say "Puntecost"?)

More religious celebration puns? Seder it ain't so!

(I can never pass over the chance for a pun. Ha!)

Think I'll ever stop appreciating other religions? Nope! I'm reLentless!

(Get it? Get it? Lent, the forty days of fasting and punitence? Oh, I kill me.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Get Back, Jojo. Go Home.

The week before last--my, how time flies!--was my SPRING BREAK!, and so, in celebration of the fact that, unlike last year, I am now officially a California resident and therefore not trapped in California for the break, I went to Tucson.

Tucson, you say? Right: the visit was nominally for a conference, because, really, what graduate student thinks they could have an entirely school-free week?, but the conference was only an excuse to visit my cousin Margaret and spend a few days hanging out with these guys, all at the expense of the university. Rock on.

It's never too early to learn about jumping pictures.

Now there's a funny story around this conference, mostly that the abstract I submitted for it way back in December was a wild guess at a hypothesis, and, true procrastinator that I am, I basically hadn't worked on the project at all since submitting it. If my life were a touching ABC family special, I would have suffered public humiliation for my unpreparedness, but, as it is, I sailed through it all, despite having only thought of an analysis for my data on the plane on the way to the conference and having stayed up all night putting the presentation together. Plus there were technical issues and therefore no time for a question period. How much luckier could I possibly get?

The rest of the break was divided between transcription--sometimes I think I have nothing in my life but Ao or Kawaiisu transcriptions--and becoming Booker's new favorite non-parent adult, mostly by conducting covert theory of mind experiments on him and dangling him upside down by his ankles. If only seducing boys my own age were as easy.

Tucson was unexpectedly lovely, set in a desert straight from Central Casting, with tall saguaro cacti marking the skyline everywhere, growing in backyards and by the side of the highway. I couldn't have asked for better weather, a better place to stay, or better company as I transcribed. What a vacation!

(Thank you, Margaret and Clark, for your hospitality.)

The best part of vacations for me lately, though, is coming home: I got to my apartment alone in the early afternoon, and, to revel in my post-SPRING BREAK! Saturday freedom, I rode to the grocery store for fancy produce (mangoes! rosemary! chard!), stopping once briefly on my way there to observe a drum circle at the local flea market, and once on my home to visit a friend. It's finally sandal weather, I have a bike, an apartment, friends to see, and money to blow on mangoes. Gimme that California grass any day.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Are We Not All Left-Handed?

All the jokes about 10 types of people aside, looking at the human species as a whole it's fairly obvious, even to the untrained observer, that there are fundamentally two types of people. For the sake of our discussion here, we will assign these types random variables: let's call them Type X and Type Y. (Some people claim there's a third type, who are biologically X but consider themselves Y, or vice versa, but we'll dismiss those claims offhand: these so-called "third types" are simply suffering from X/Y confusion.)

Biology affirms this simple division into Type X and Type Y on every level, from basic daily functions to certain cognitive, linguistic, and personality correlates of the divide. For example, Type X individuals tend to be more creative, and use both sides of the brain better, while Type Y individuals tend to rely more on the left side of the brain, home of logical, analytical thinking. Other differences are too numerous to list here, but, all in all, they affirm the unique natures of Types X and Y, and, moreover, how those types are different, distinctive, and complementary. It therefore follows that belonging to one of these types must be an essential pre-mortal characteristic, part of an individual's divine nature and destiny: God created us in his image, right-handed and left-handed.

Since the fall, human society has misinterpreted the true relationship between left-handers and right-handers, with the latter type unquestionably privileged: they have held all the power, made all the decisions, and designed all the manual implements, while left-handers have, for the most part, remained marginalized and powerless. Parents have actively hoped not to bear left-handed children, and this poor Type X has been seen as inherently less valuable or righteous, even in Christian societies. The Bible, for instance, focuses primarily on right-handed characters, consistently affirming God's love for and approval of them, whereas left-handed characters appear only infrequently and, as often as not, cast in a negative light. Through the ages, and across cultures, left-handed individuals have been closely associated with witchcraft and the devil, and there are instances of these individuals being burned at the stake simply due to the bad luck of having been born left-handed. These historical biases towards right-handed remain encoded in ordinary language, and even though we may strive to make our modern language use more sensitive and less handist, we may not even be aware of the histories of words like 'sinister' or 'gauche.'

In today's church, of course, we do not condone this cultural and historical baggage of the X/Y divide, but just the same, we do not condone entirely erasing the divide. The modern movements which claim that the virtue of equality requires a homogenization of all relationships are misguided. In the worldly philosophies of the equality of handedness, which encourages left-handers to abandon their traditional roles of sitting around helplessly and pursue such traditional right-handed pursuits as using scissors or running for president, our society has only found confusion, unhappiness, and the breakdown of all our most important institutions, like homogeneity of desk orientation in elementary school classrooms. Left-handers are equal, but they must stay separate.

Some argue that this emphasis on handed roles in the Church leads to functional inequity between the types, using as evidence the fact that the vast majority of Church leaders are right-handed, or that the Church has not only not repudiated scriptures like Matthew 25:33, which support the traditional association of right with righteousness and left with wickedness, but also incorporated the symbolism of these scriptures into sacred gospel ordinances, namely taking the sacrament. Those who argue this way are on the road to apostasy. Right-handers don't run the church just because of millennia of cultural and historical bias against left-handers, or because they are inherently more righteous or more beloved of God, despite what the scriptures seem to suggest, but because they are actually less righteous. Left-handers are not just equal to right-handers, they are superior! Left-handers can do what right-handers can never do, not in all eternity: their sacred ability to write Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, without getting their hands smudged with ink, is the greatest of all divine missions, a sacred stewardship that right-handers could never hope to aspire to. A proper understanding of the role of the left-handers, and the nobility to be found within it, will bring peace and purpose to the lives of all those who embrace it.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Hannah and Her Scissors

A very clever friend of mine once wrote a parody of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land that began "February is the shortest month." Hilarious as the parody was--if I remember correctly, some of the footnotes were in Swedish--I mostly think about it in the context of the February blues, and how grateful I am that it is the shortest month.  I'm tough and all, but 28 days of that is about my limit.  

Most years, the February blues hit with a general malaise, a sort of mid-winter blah, in which I want to, as another friend put it, declare life bankruptcy until...well, until April, frankly: the worst part of February is that the light at the end of the tunnel is March. 

This February what I had was not so much malaise as mania, not so much a lack of sunshine and warmth as an outpour of it, in this unseasonably warm and dry winter, which I can't enjoy at all due to a life that is nothing but work work WORK.  This February would be best experienced as a montage: no one wants to live those individual days of waking up before dawn to study; or of being in charge of a conference and so running from room to room to plug in electrical equipment, take out trash, unlock doors, and set out snacks; or of a long drive to Bakersfield for even longer sitting around chatting aimlessly when there's WORK to be done; or of days of eight hours of class in a row; or of, I don't know, all those other boring aspects of responsible adulthood: dishes, sweeping, grocery shopping, and trying desperately to get enough sleep to function. 

I fight the February blues in the same way every year, and this year was no exception. One Thursday afternoon about two weeks ago, I couldn't take it anymore.  I got up from my desk, packed up my stuff, jumped on my bike, and stopped at the first haircut place I found, which turned out to be a tiny, Vietnamese-run family shop down the street from my house.   I sat down in the chair and described what I wanted ("short") to the lady, who nodded at everything and started cutting. As we made small talk, mostly me asking questions about Vietnam, it quickly became clear to me that she didn't understand my English, but was simply giving responses to what my questions might be: "My village is in northern Vietnam," to "do you live around here?" and "I started cutting hair when I was little" to "when did you come to America?"

If she doesn't understand those questions, I slowly realized, she certainly didn't understand my directions.  I wondered, briefly, while watching her snip away, whether this should worry me, but then decided that, after my college years of cutting my hair myself, on a whim, using paper scissors and no mirror, I probably shouldn't care about what a professional decides. 

The professional's decision was fine, even decently cute--though I did have to fix the back a little bit, again with my paper scissors--so now my hair is short short short again, vaguely Sound of Music, and I was, as usual, surprised at everyone else's surprise--didn't they know that this is my real hair, the haircut of my soul? Didn't they know that the shorter my hair is, the happier I am? And didn't they know it was February?  They don't call it the shortest month for nothing.  

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The 'There' There

(with no apologies to Gertrude Stein)

There is a face I look forward to seeing when I come home: that of my Eritrean--or maybe Ethiopean, her English isn't too good and I didn't quite understand the response--next-door neighbor, Adhanet. She often pokes her head out from behind her door as I walk down the hall towards my apartment to see what all that racket is. (It's just me, ma'am, just me and my bicycle.) She's old, a grandmotherly type, and has a pleasant face, with a big, gap-toothed smile and a blue cross tattooed on her forehead. She lives alone too, or at least there's only one bed in her apartment, but my favorite new hobby is trying to figure out how many people come and go from her apartment on a daily basis. There's a woman I think is her daughter and a man I know is that woman's boyfriend. There's a small Ethiopean (or Eritrean) man in a security guard uniform, and a tall woman, a classic Eritrean (or Ethiopian) beauty in a nurse's uniform. There's a man who's always talking on his cell phone, and, in the mornings, a steady stream of mothers dropping off small children for my neighbor to babysit. Sometimes, when Adhanet opens her door to say hi, three or four toddlers slip out from behind her and go sprinting down the hallway as fast as they can. We look at each other, laugh, and chat for a minute until the kids come running back. She may not have much English, but she's always eager to practice it: "Hello! How are you?" I tell her I'm fine and ask how she is. "Good! How are you?" I'm good, and how are the kids. "Good! How are you?" Bored with that conversation in English, I asked a classmate how to do it in Tigrinya, and now we alternate: Hello! Kemei aleki? Sometimes she invites me in for coffee and we play this game in an endless round of smiles and how-are-yous.


There was a street fair the first Saturday I lived in this neighborhood, with the entire ten-block stretch of my neighborhood blocked off to vehicle traffic so that folks could take in song and dance performances. Local businesses set up picnic tables outside, and a classmate and I sat in the sun, ate the fried chicken sandwiches my neighborhood is famous for, and talked about modern reflexes of the proto-Austronesian phoneme /q/.


There are four shelves of books in Spanish in my local public library--child's play, you say: everywhere has books in Spanish, these days. Next to it, though, is an entire shelf of books in Amharic, and, next to it, an entire shelf of books in Tigrinya. Oakland is the second most linguistically diverse city in the country, with over 150 languages spoken in the city. Some days I'm pretty sure I've heard all of them.


There was a worried look on the face of my former institute teacher as he drove me home a few weeks ago: "Are you sure you're safe here?" he asked. "This is a, um, transitional neighborhood." He meant that word negatively, I'm sure, worried by the people loitering on street corners and the proximity to a major metro station, but the transition is exactly what I find so fascinating about the streets surrounding mine: gentrification is on its way, it's clear, but it's only slowly diffusing, leaving the neighborhood a strange patchwork quilt of high-rent and low-rent. In the first two blocks of my bike ride to school, I pass a paint and hardware store, and then a tea shop with a children's play area in the back, perfect for overprotective yuppie parents. Next is a Korean community center, complete with internet cafe and karaoke place, and then another paint and hardware store. The next ten blocks continue the checkerboard pattern: an upscale sushi place and a downscale Ethiopian place. A salon offering haircuts for $10, next to a shop offering gourmet chocolates for $10. A hipster pizza place. A check cashing place. A thrift store. A "recycled materials" store. A Peet's coffee. A laundromat. You get the picture.


There is a black Baptist church on the corner of my street, which is all stained glass and silence on weekdays, but which explodes into gospel-singing hat-wearing worshipping fullness on the Sabbath. There is a dollar store on the other corner staffed by a very friendly Yemeni man who calls me--and, okay, all his customers--habibti, 'my darling,' and comments when I haven't stopped by in a while. There is a homeless guy who stands on my street, usually directly across from my apartment building, all the time; we raise our hands good morning to each other, and I feel safe when he's around. There is a homeless newspaper vendor outside of Walgreens named Kevin, who I greet happily every time I run in for cereal or deodorant or what-have-you. He knows that I'll buy a paper from him, and I know he'll give me his huge smile, and tell me to 'take care.' I feel like I am getting the better end of our bargain. And of course there is my apartment, a small white square studio that I love truly, madly, deeply, unreasonably, mostly for the thrill of seeing my last name on the buzzer outside and remembering that this place is mine and mine alone.


There is a smile on my face every morning as I bike to school, seeing the life of the neighborhood as I pass by. Say what you want, Ms. Stein, but right now, I don't want to live anywhere but here. So there.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Let the Sunshine In

I drafted out a really whiny blog entry last night around 10 p.m, because I was feeling the stress of the semester already descending on me, because I was sure that this is the Semester From Hell, because I had too much syntax homework, because I was supposed to do 100 pages of reading on phenomenology and I don't even know what that is, because I was reminded, knowing that I was exhausted but still had several more hours of schoolwork to do, of my undergraduate years, when I worked far too hard for far too long, and spent far too many nights in the library testing how long I could go without eating. I even went to far as to quote a tidbit I read in Harper's magazine once, a heartbreaking suicide note from a Japanese fifteen-year-old: "because I am already tired."

I don't have the internet at home, though, so I couldn't publish my self-pitying reflections until the morning. And, because this is just the way things go, when I woke up in the morning the first thing I saw was the pattern that light filtering through trees outside my window creates on my wood floor, and by the time I had showered and eaten and dressed, I was awake and ready to tackle a little before-school syntax, and by the time I left it was eight o'clock and the sun was up and the fog was burning off and the bus was on time, and by the time I got to school I had thought of an elicitation topic for my afternoon session and decided how to coordinate volunteers for the conference, and by the time I got to class there were soft ginger cookies and a view of the entire East Bay from the window, with the sun sparkling on the unloading cranes in Oakland, and I felt positively Frostian in my change of mood.

It's still the Semester From Hell, sure, and on the one hand I'll never get to do anything but study without my internal guilt trigger going crazy with all the work I should be finishing, but on the other hand, sometimes the light streams in through the window and life, even phenomenology, just glows.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Like Hope, Only Different

The inauguration, by all accounts, was a rousing success. Hearts were touched. Spirits were uplifted. Lives were changed.

Or so I hear. Yes, that's right: I ignored this particular National Moment, a fact that I'm sure my children and grandchildren will bemoan. After so many months with a crush on Obama, and an even bigger crush on Michelle, I'm all burned out on rhetoric. So, the morning of, I woke up at 7, read about syntax while eating breakfast, and biked to school in time for my 9.30 class, where I happily chatted with classmates, catching up after the break since it was the first day of school, waiting for our professor to show up.

And waiting, and waiting. After about ten minutes with no professor, one of my classmates pulled out his laptop and turned on the rest of the inauguration coverage, which, at that point, was adoringly documenting Barack's First Bill, with all the enthusiasm of first-time parents watching their child, their perfect, brilliant child, take its first steps. After thirty minutes with no professor, one of my classmates left: "call me if he shows up," he said as he walked down the hall to his office. After an hour with no professor, we were all still sitting there, watching the coverage of the inaugural lunch, staring off into space, and talking, or in my case FREAKING OUT about the conference we're holding and how nothing's going right in our preparations. (Seriously, it's going to be a disaster and it's going to be all. my. fault.) After an hour and fifteen minutes with no professor, a few people started to shift in their seats and mutter, "maybe he's not coming." The true believers reacted instantly: No! There's five minutes left! He could still show up and at least pass out a syllabus!

After an hour and twenty minutes with no professor, students from the next class started coming in. That was it, class was over, and we all shuffled out, a little disappointed--not even a syllabus?

I realize, now, that this blog entry is structured such that you all now think I have a lesson to teach here, something Godot-esque, something about the value, or maybe danger, of expectations, when really I just wanted to tell a funny story about how a room full of students quietly waited for their no-show professor for the entire class period. Maybe it's meaningless, maybe it's not, maybe it's all symbiosis, who knows? But there is this: we had a very pleasant morning together, united in our belief that someday our professor would come. So even though we never got that syllabus we so desperately wanted, where was the harm in our great expectations?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Man knows my history

The problem with starting a blog when I’m off on exotic foreign adventures is that now I feel like many, if not most, of my readers—yes, that’s you, hello! Welcome!—expect non-stop action from my blog, of the kind that only travel can provide: being stalked by a water buffalo, getting so sick I still can’t tell you how sick I got, being serenaded in Arabic by a tour guide. Even my trip this summer, which was tame in blog-fodder compared to Indonesia, provides plenty I could write about: trying to blend in as we stalked a group of Iranian pilgrims through Damascus,
getting dripped on by a giant medieval water wheel,
sleeping on a hostel’s rooftop with this view of Jerusalem,
conquering some medieval castles,
being conquered by other medieval castles,
jumping around medieval ruins,
failing to jump around ancient ruins,
posing with world-famous scenery,
being asked to pose, as if we were world-famous scenery,
surreptitiously trying to pose with Israeli soldiers, because, frankly, they are world-famous scenery,and, through it all, acquiring a pretty good Chacos tan, for someone as pale as me.

But now, most of the months of year, you all are forced to put up with whatever mundanities of American life I can come up with, and I’m afraid my blog must inevitably get dear-diary boring: dear diary, today I woke up. (10 am. It’s still winter break here.) Then I took a shower. Then I ate breakfast. (Apple-cinnamon oatmeal.) Then I spent a long time reading (From Ancient Cham to Modern Dialects: Two Thousand Years of Language Contact and Change, by Graham Thurgood). Then I emailed some people about the conference my classmates and I are organizing. (Dear so-and-so: Hi. I need something.) Then I transcribed some Yurok. Then I transcribed some Ao. Then I worked on a conference presentation. Then I talked with a friend, cleaned my apartment, cooked dinner, read some more (Women and Authority, edited by Maxine Hanks), and some more (In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, by Todd Compton), and went to bed. Thrilling, I know: who really wants to hear all those details of personal history?

Even my weekends don’t make that much better blog material: I spent this weekend at the LSA's annual meeting, where, in addition to listening to a number of talks, some of which entertained me, some of which bored me, and some of which caused me to fall massively in academic love with a certain German typologist, I volunteered, in exchange for free registration, to be a perky registration desk volunteer and, later, to ignore my duties as a room monitor by falling asleep in the hallway. (Yes, at the largest and most important professional conference in my field. I have got to work on that.) And let’s see, what else? I finished Rough Stone Rolling, which felt like a major victory in our time; I saw a 5000-person protest downtown about the violence in Gaza; I watched a movie with one friend and spent an evening hanging out with another; I visited the singles ward in the city, where the girl I sat next to in Relief Society gasped, after only two or three minutes of conversation, “Oh, I've got someone you just have to meet!”; and I ate dinner with my Eritrean next-door neighbors, who barely speak English but who are, as far as I can tell, very nice. (Actually, these last two incidents made me feel like I was abroad again: possibly nothing encapsulates my experiences in foreign countries more than not understanding dinnertime conversation and being set up by strangers. If only I had also had a violent stomach illness, I would have felt right away from home.)

I’m not complaining about any of this: I like my life right now, especially the part where it's still winter break, but it doesn’t make for very interesting reading or writing. I have a post-it note on my computer with a whole list of other things to blog about—things that automatically make me cry (when they sing the Marseillaise in Casablanca; the scene where the baby is born in Children of Men; film strips of World War I), why I’m addicted to the New York Times’ wedding announcements section (anthropologically speaking, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the personal and professional lives of the nation’s elite. Plus I’m a romantic.), why I want to marry an immigrant so he can get a green card (why let my citizenship go to waste?), and what happened that one time my brothers and I rearranged all the furniture when our parents went out for the evening (they didn’t think it was as funny as we did)—but most of those things really merit no more than the passing mention I just gave them.

So where does that leave me, besides not blogging very regularly? I’m not sure. I could rehash more travel stories in entries like this one, thinly disguised as being relevant, but that fools no one. I could engage in more scholarly discussion about linguistics, but I do that so much already, or about religion, politics, or literature, but no one cares, and, plus, I don't have the time or energy. I could tell more jokes (what’s brown and sticky?), include more cute pictures of my mom's dog, beg my readers for post ideas (anyone?), post some of the innuendo-laden limericks I write (There once was a city called Sodom...), but those options are unoriginal, cliche, pitiful, and inappropriate--I mean, come on! My grandma reads this!

So I guess I am left with this: dear diary, today I woke up. Then I took a shower. Then I ate breakfast. Then I blogged. And now, internet, you know it all.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Winter

I would say that the last three weeks of break were the laziest ever, what with all the decadent, hedonistic lounging and chocolate-eating I did--let me tell you, nothing beats a Christmas day lying on the couch eating Kit-Kats and reading Asterix comics--but since hours of watching DVRed episodes of Flight of the Conchords and or playing Rock Band with my brother were always punctuated by actual physical activity--running, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, swimming, rock climbing, you name it--I suppose I have to concede that this break was only almost the laziest ever.

Judging by the amount of schoolwork I did, though, this break certainly claims the title: with a nightmare semester looming in front of me (four classes for credit, two research jobs, one independent research project, two conferences to attend and one to host, and orals in May), I chose to milk the Christmas holiday for all the relaxation it was worth instead of doing what I can to be ready for the academic maelstrom of the next four months. And so I lazed and lounged, spent entire days cooking (sugar cookies, key lime cookies, vanilla layer cake, pumpkin soup, honey green beans, roasted red pepper salad, salmon and saffron rice, squash chili, bean and beef chili, and four different failed-but-still-delicious attempts at my favorite Chinese restaurant dish, The Green Beans of Love and Happiness), and saw as many East Coast friends as I could, a goal that necessitated an impromptu trip to New York City to party--or, okay, to bond with takeout and chocolate chip cookies and an action movie and then party--on New Year's Eve with my cousin Guber, who needs to start blogging again. Guber, do you hear me? BLOG.

Not that I've been the best blogger ever, these past few weeks, but, sorry, hanging out with family and friends and Boston's dear old Citgo sign, all the while trying to stay warm in a frigid Boston December, takes all the time and energy I have. Now that I'm back home and enjoying a mild and sunny Berkeley January, though, maybe I'll stop being lazy and start writing again. Maybe. In any case, many happy returns of 2009 to one and all!