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!