Monday, July 1, 2013

Thoughts on self-confidence, and snapshots of the summer so far

I've been at my childhood home in the humming metropolis of Glen Ellyn, IL for about two weeks now. I will doubtlessly soon write some ruminations on how I feel about Glen Ellyn. Whenever I'm here I (unsurprisingly) spend a lot of time remembering what it was like to grow up in this place: what I liked, what I disliked, what seemed normal at the time but now seems strange and foreign.

My appearance feels different here. Or more specifically, how I feel about my appearance feels different here. I felt pretty confident in Syracuse: perhaps I'm getting older, perhaps I'm finally getting less interested in worrying about myself -- whatever the reason, I moved throughout and lived within Syracuse without spending nearly any time worrying about my appearance.

But when I come back home, some of that old, familiar worry about my appearance slips back. I'm not sure if it's because when I'm here I remember how awkward and unattractive I felt while a gawky teen in high school - or if people do wander around looking more put together than they do in Syracuse. To be honest, that wouldn't be very difficult. High fashion and extremely punctilious grooming are not generally found within the hallowed halls of academia. My high school, on the other hand, did have several very well-dressed students. It wasn't uncommon to see my trendier high school classmates wearing short, yet tasteful, skirts and pumps to school once we hit sophomore year. A particular subset of students would dress up more formally for their high school classes than I do now, at 26, to TA a class or lead a lecture.

At the time, of course, I wore baggy jeans accompanied with skin-tight tee shirts from my school's theater program. I topped it off with one of those tattoo choker necklaces that came back for about a minute there in the early 2000s. My mother lovingly described me as "grunge."

Me reading a murder mystery at breakfast. My high school's mascot was the "Hilltoppers." My high school was on the top of a hill, and was very, very pretty. The film "Lucas" was filmed there. It was a very picturesque place to worry compulsively about not being thin enough! 

This is from a family dinner at Mapo Restaurant, in Naperville. My stepsister Catherine moved to Taiwan two days ago! This was earlier last week. She ordered sweet and sour chicken, saying that she couldn't get Americanized Chinese food in Taiwan. 

"Strike iron while it is hot." A pretty good, albeit somewhat cryptic fortune, don't you think? My father received the same one in his cookie. I suppose this means I should squash any remaining fears of inadequacy and just live life as if I were 100% confident, correct?

Because I enjoy several of the same recreational activities as senior citizens, I signed up for the summer reading program at the public library here in Glen Ellyn. I participated in this program every year without fail as a child. Back then, you would record the books you read on a special form, taking it in once a week or so for the librarians to stamp and occasionally give you a little prize if you reached a goal. I had no idea they had an adult version of the program, but I obviously signed up as soon as I was told about it. 

Now, everything appears to be done online. Or at least the adult version of the program is. As you can see, I have read two books since being home: Death of Yesterday, a Scottish murder mystery featuring a lazy policeman; and The Missing Ink, about a tattoo artist who also solves crime. I would recommend the latter, but not the former. I love Hamish Macbeth mysteries, but this particular iteration has an odd ending that ends in extremely tedious chase scenes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Snapshots of a day: June 16, 2013

Here are some photos throughout my day from Sunday, June 16th. I tried to do A-Photo-An-Hour, but clearly that was too much responsibility for me to handle on a Sunday.

Saturday, June 15th -- 9:00pm

OK, so this is the day before June 16th. But here is the booze that we drank cocktails out of before heading to Rain Lounge to celebrate Pride! It was a really fun night. And - if you haven't tried Tennesee Honey Jack Daniels, I highly recommend it. If you like very sweet alcohol, that is. 

Sunday, June 16th -- 11:00am

Post-Rain Lounge, I stayed overnight at my friend Emma's house. Everyone woke up late the next day, and Emma made us all delicious Turkish coffee.

Sunday, June 16th -- 12:00pm

I decided to walk home after eating breakfast at Emma's. I do not have a car, and although Emma does - I cleverly realized that the rest of the people groggily waking up at Emma's house were not going to want to be driven home for a while. So I headed out in the rain, wearing the conservative yet little-black-dress, flats, and neon-belt that I had worn the night before. I sort of looked like I was walking a "Walk-Of-Shame," but considering the clothes I wear out to bars are indistinguishable from clothes I would wear to work or synagogue, I didn't feel too silly about it. I was cold, though - I didn't wear a cardigan to Rain, and it was drizzling and chilly.

Sunday, June 16th -- 12:10pm

Look at this cool tree! Spotted on my walk home. 

Sunday, June 16th -- 1:15pm

Made it home, kicked off my shoes and watched a relaxing episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. 

Sunday, June 16th -- 2:10pm

Took a long shower, and pulled on these clothes to wear for my trek to campus to get some work done. As you can see, in Syracuse NY in mid-June I felt the need to wear a blazer, scarf, and long-sleeved tee. It has been so unseasonably chilly here. 

Sunday, June 16th -- 3:00pm

As soon as I make to the Graduate Student Lounge of the Religion Department, I feel absolutely exhausted. I mean, look at everything I had done that day! Watched television, showered.... so exhausting. So I curled up in a chair, took a brief nap, and re-read a little bit of the second part of Mendelssohn's Jerusalem. Later, I even drummed up the strength to type up my notes on this section! 

Sunday, June 16th -- 5:00pm 

Re-exhausted from my efforts of typing up notes, I decide to walk around the campus-area and get an iced latte. It was now sunny and warm outside! The sun really cheered me up. 

Sunday, June 16th -- 5:05pm 

Beaming at the sun, I take a picture of some cars and a tree.

Sunday, June 16th -- 5:20pm

Latte in hand! As you can see, it starts to get a little bit cloudier here. I was outside for the approximate 15 minutes of sunshine yesterday. Good timing. 

Now I met up with a few friends to grab dinner at King David's. I took no pictures of the delicious vegetarian feast I consumed. 

Sunday, June 16th -- 9:00pm

I trot over to my favorite local bar and restaurant, Beer Belly, to have a glass of wine with my friend Emma to discuss how much fun we had the previous night, amongst other things. (You may have noticed that I'm addicted to talking to Emma. I miss her if I don't see her in over a day and a half. It's going to be a rough summer without her.)

Monday, June 17th -- 1:00am

After returning home, I watch some more Law & Order: Criminal Intent and work on my cross-stitch. This says "Lousie," an homage to Louise Belcher from Bob's Burgers. It will say "I'll see you in hell!" underneath it, which is a quote she says that really encapsulates her spunky-9-year-old persona. I messed up the heart by her name, though - so I'll have to redo that.

Thanks for viewing my day with me! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

On ambition, feelings of inadequacy, and cross-stitching

I attended two defenses today -- an M.A. thesis and a Ph.D. dissertation.

Both went well, and both sufficiently impressed me. I thought both speakers seemed eloquent, articulate, professional, happy, and pretty much every other positive adjective. I was wowed.

Because I am shockingly interested in myself, I took these defenses to not only listen to my friends and colleagues demonstrate great work, but also to do some reflection about myself, and how I feel about graduate school.

I really like graduate school. I really, really like the program I am in. I like the instructors, I like my classmates, I like the freedom of the department I am in, and the amount of support given to me to explore my own scholarly interests.

But because I like graduate school -- and my particular program -- so much, I occasionally feel like I'm not focused on the result enough. I generally don't think about what kind of "adult" scholar I want to be. Sure, I'll think about how to improve my seminar papers, my comprehensive exams (about a year and a half away) and about what seminar papers I want to submit to conferences, but that's really it. The idea of not being a student and being a professional in this field terrifies me.

I've just started the program - so I have at least four years left of being in my graduate student cocoon - so perhaps this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

But I do very often feel that most other graduate students have a personality trait that I am suspiciously missing -- a nearly insane level of drive, ambition, zeal. Sure, I have some ambition to be The Best Scholar Ever, but on a daily basis this ambition rarely sees the light of day. Just having the emotion of wanting to be a really, really good scholar frightens me. I could fail!

It's easier for me to function not thinking about how I'd like to Become a Really Good Scholar and instead think about I Need To Write 25 Good and Interesting Pages on Moses Mendelssohn. I'm very deliberately not seeing the forest due to the trees.

When I do have sudden burst of ambition -- when I feel that I should feel good about myself and think that I can really make it in this field -- I immediately feel so overwhelmed that I push it back down again. I then refocus my energy on other emotional pursuit, specifically crushes.

Once I was talking to an old adviser of mine -- an Arts Administrator (I have a B.F.A. in Theatre Management) and we had the following conversation:

"Well, the dating scene at the Jewish Theological Seminary is pretty weird. Nobody wants to date me. It's awful. What gives?!" I exclaimed, unceremoniously wiping some hummus from the falafel I was eating on my jeans.

"Maria, you just told me you were feeling so overwhelmed by all of your coursework. How do you even have time to pursue dating?"

"Well, I probably don't have that much time to date. But I always seem to find the time to lament my single status and develop intense crushes on people. I find the time."

I almost invariably find the time to sleep, relax, socialize, develop crushes on people, spend too much time thinking about feelings, blog, instagram. Other graduate students seem much more willing to sacrifice these things in pursuit of their ambition to Be A Great Scholar. (Especially sleep.) I'm only very rarely willing to sacrifice sleep, friends, or thinking about attractive people in order to have the best graduate school career I can have.

And on a daily basis, this usually does not bother me. I have a great life! I even recently became single again -- through my own volition!!! -- so this gives me even more time to think about my favorite topic, Why Don't More People Want to Date Me? Don't They Realize How Awesome I Am? and Once I Get a Really Amazing Partner, That Will Show Them All.

But then I attend two amazing defenses, and I feel like the wind is knocked out of me. The ambition To Be The Best Scholar Ever, generally so carefully guarded, came out.

I want to be good at this, I found myself thinking to myself. And I can probably do it, if I work hard enough. Some day, that will be you up there. You're actually pretty smart, you know, Maria. You can totally do it! 

So I came home. Did I spring to action on my papers?

No, I took a nap. In my defense, I was really tired.

When I woke up, I sat on my couch and thought about how impassioned I had felt about my studies earlier that day.

I can maybe do that, maybe I will succeed, I thought to myself. And then, immediately, No you can't. You're just lying to yourself. You're not as smart as those other people, and you never will be. You're a fraud. You shouldn't do anything today. You don't deserve to work today, you're such a disaster. It's too late for you anyway, you would have had to already read about 5,000 more books than you have read in order to be successful. My heart beat increased, I started chewing on my lower lip, my hands started sweating.

I irritably watched some television, and then picked up some cross-stitching. I started cross-stitching the word that best exemplified how I was feeling.

This will be a swear word, and as you can see, it begins with "F" and "u." I felt doomed.

While cross-stitching, I started to feel a little bit better. The rhythmic nature of cross-stitching is soothing, and I eventually began to think that I maybe wasn't doomed. I want to write a blog post, I realized to myself. There was a small voice inside of my head that said, This is EXACTLY why you won't and will never be a successful scholar! Successful scholars don't have hobbies!!! And you're going to blog about a hobby? That's a hobby on top of a hobby. How many hobbies you need? I hate you so damn much, Maria, but I managed to squash it down. Nope, I told myself, I really want to write a damn blog post. And it's going to be great.

And now I'm feeling much better.

I mean, all I really have to do this week is to finish writing 25 good and interesting pages on Moses Mendelssohn. Plus, I'm going to a state park with some of my amazing friends on Wednesday! 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Studyscapes: A distracted week

This week I had much more trouble focusing than last week. Maybe that's because it was dreary and rainy for almost the entire week here in Syracuse. Maybe it's because I've been exercising regularly and my system is understandably confused by all the endorphins surging through my system, causing me to be twitchy and easily distracted while studying.

I have been incapable of working at home recently. This is good, because it gets me out of the house. This is bad because I have to lug books and my laptop around which angers my back. Another plus is that I am starting to have a vaguely-responsible schedule where I work during the day and socialize at night. It's not quite responsible yet, because I'm eating dinner at 8:30pm or 9:00pm and staying up until 2:00am, but baby steps. (Actually, for the past few days I've been going to bed at around 3:00am and waking up at noon. We're stopping that little trend tomorrow, because I'm going to a friend's thesis defense that begins at the ungodly early hour of.... 11:00am. Maybe I'll show up in my pajamas.)

One thing I do when I cannot concentrate is play a television show I really, really like in the background. It works better if the show is being piped into my ears through headphones. This sounds counter-intuitive and as if I'm just terrible at studying and giving myself an excuse to watch television instead of study, but it really does work for me. The requirements for me to do this are:

It has to be a show I've basically memorized. Shows go in and out of respectable choices based on how much I've been watching them lately. There was a time when the old seasons of Arrested Development was my go-to -- but I'm too rusty on that now. I get too distracted when it's on. I'm on an H. Jon Benjamin kick right now (if I had to marry a voice, it would be that voice) so I can only study while listening to Archer or Bob's Burgers. Also, I can never look at the show for this to work. It needs to be essentially a radio show - something you only listen to. (BTW, Archer is AMAZING for this. As is Bob's Burgers. You barely need to look at the show to understand what is going on, and 90% of the jokes.) (Actually, I tend to like shows that are less-visual and more audio based. I watch a lot of TV, but very rarely "watch" it. I knit, putter around, clean, cook, or poke around the internet with the TV on in the background. I like to follow along with a show even if I physically don't watch the majority of it. This can be fun, too, because I'll occasionally finally "get" or "see" visual gags on my fifth or sixth viewing of an episode.)

The magical thing about this is that as soon as the show comes on, I immediately start working. No gap. No point where I stop to watch the show for a few minutes. And then - the most magical thing about this system - is that eventually, I'll get so interested in my work that listening to the show in the background is distracting me, so I'll quickly snap it off to better concentrate.

It's great. It really "eases" me into studying when I'm feeling tired or crabby or just don't want to start.

My desktop picture is of some of my favorite wing-tipped shoes! And in this picture, you can see the shoes that were on my feet! Hah! 

Notes that I hand-write invariably have arrows, flow-charts, and things written in the margins.

This is the detritus of a piece of "classic coffee cake" from Starbucks. And a latte. The coffee cake was really good, but left crumbs everywhere. It was chilly that day, so I was wearing black corduroys. They were clean when I put them on that morning. They were not clean the moment I tackled the crumbly coffee cake. This didn't bother me too much because I always look pretty sloppy.

And this is my 'scape today. Those awesome pink glasses? I wear them OVER my prescription thick-black-framed secretary style glasses. Because I am the coolest. Sometimes people will look at me strangely, or laugh, when I pull them off. I don't care. I love these sunglasses.

Also featured in this picture is my gigantic bottle of lime seltzer water. It's difficult for me to drink straight water sometimes. So I've been buying lots and lots of seltzer water. I can still drink it if I cut seltzer water with regular water (it still retains a tiny bit of fizz) so that helps me be somewhat economical. 

Moses Mendelssohn is, of course, still awesome.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

When my keys were on the wrong side of my door.

As I alluded to in my previous post about last week's studyscapes, I was locked out of my apartment from Saturday night to about 2pm on Sunday. I wanted to share a little bit about that adventure.

First of all, I would like to proudly state that this is the first time I have locked myself out of my apartment in Syracuse. This will doubtlessly shock and surprise some people, mostly the Office Coordinator of the Religion Department, who has taken to asking me every time I breeze through the office, "Maria, do you have all your items? Double check." This is because I have left pretty much anything anyone can leave in an office. Twice. Keys, books, pens, scarves, headbands, cardigans.... they've all been left there so frequently that every time something is left in the graduate student lounge, people assume it's mine.

But I've never locked myself out. I've always managed to locate my keys before needing them. This is largely due to the fact that my keychain is pretty sizable. One of my friends recently demanded why my keychain was so big, even though I think it is moderately sized. He seemed to think I had too many keys. And yes, I have a few keys that probably open locks somewhere, although I would be hard pressed to know which locks exactly. But still. They must be important, or else they would not be on my keychain. Here are the non-key items I have on my keychain:

I have a tiny flashlight, a small "DePaul University" keychain some staff members gave me when I graduated and completed my term as Vice-President of Student Government, and a small beaded hippo my ex-boyfriend gave me from South Africa. He told me that it reminded him of me. And it's a hippo. Considering I didn't stop feeling fat every time anyone looked at me or breathed in my general direction until rather recently, I felt kind of insulted about this. But I do think the hippo is cute, so I keep it.

Back to the other night: I had gone to a bar with my friend Emma to drink some wine. Great night. After walking the 15-20 minutes back to my apartment, I arrived at my apartment and realized that I was keyless.

I was devastated. I sat on the stoop to my porch for a while and whimpered, which is not a good thing to do at night in my neighborhood.

I gathered up my strength, texted my friend Emma to tell her I would be sadly returning to her house. Upon returning to her house, Emma fed me some late-night pizza and we basically had a little sleepover. There was lots of giggling.

Emma, who is much more of a functional human being than I am, woke up at around 8:00am. I woke up and wandered into her kitchen, horrified to learn that I had slept in someone else's home until 10:45am. Then Emma made me an omelette, after apologizing for her lack of vegetables. I was tired and crabby at this point, annoyed that I still was locked out.

"I only have tomatoes and cheese, and I feel like that's not a good omelette. Do you like tomatoes? What about feta? Let's see....pesto? Would pesto be good in an omelette?" Emma called out from the kitchen, while I rhythmically rubbed my eyes. Because she's adorable, she continued to ask me a lot of questions about this omelette. I answered "Yes," or "I don't care," to every question except to the question "Would pesto be good in an omelette?" to which I responded immediately, "Please don't put pesto in my omelette."

I decided I needed some emotional support, and I foolishly thought I should contact my mother. It was now about 11:30am, so 10:30am in Glen Ellyn, IL (where I grew up). "Hello?" my mother answered the phone groggily, clearly with her retainer still in her mouth. Clearly, the apple does not fall far from the tree when it comes to oversleeping on Sundays.

 "Well, where is your key?" my mother demanded once I told her my predicament.

"It's in the apartment," I explained. "But the door is locked."

"The door locks automatically?" she demanded.

"Yes." I responded.

"Oh," my mother concluded, still groggily, "So you have the key. It's just on the wrong side of the door."

".....Yeah, that's... well, quite a poetic way to put it..." I said.

"You know what I would like for birthday that is a key?" my mother said, suddenly changed topics. "Another car key. We only have the one, because we keep losing them, and I just know we're going to lose the last one and it's going to be a disaster. And they're expensive. So.... good birthday gift."

"I feel sad, cranky, and alone," I said, subtly trying to turn the conversation back to myself. "I want some motherly support."

"Maria, for God's sake, call a locksmith if your landlord doesn't get back to you. You can handle this."

After eating the delicious yet pesto-free omelette Emma made me, I stopped at the Starbucks to get an iced version of my favorite drink -- the sugar-free hazelnut latte. Then my landlord called me and said he would let me into my apartment.

When I returned, where was my keychain?

On the damn hook by the door where they belong. I so rarely put anything away that when I do I am stunned. And, apparently, much more likely to leave my keys in my apartment. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Studyscapes: Week 1

I am still working on a few papers this summer. The work is enjoyable and I hope and pray that it is going well.

I have been taking photos of the scene in front of me studying, and posting them on facebook, twitter, and instagram (mariathemagpie). Commenting on one of the photos, I quipped that it was my "studyscape," and then immediately found the word cute. I like taking these photos. I imagine that in the future I will look back on them and fondly remember working on past projects. Or I'll think I was self-absorbed. Either way.

It's been really fun working at different places in Syracuse this summer. Most of the students (particularly the undergrads) are gone, and the campus area has this strange yet relaxing ghost town vibe that I also find very appealing.

This is me re-reading selections of and taking copious notes on Moses Mendelssohn's Jerusalem. I am at my favorite local pub and bar, Beer Belly. I am drinking a sort of strange Dogfish Head beer that has a lot of grape flavors in it. It's a strong beer and Beer Belly sells them in smaller glasses, but as you can see, I still had two. They were delicious.

This is me at the campus Starbucks, re-reading Altmann's introduction to Jerusalem. The nice thing about Starbucks is that they really crank the A/C up. It's probably like 67 degrees in there, which feels amazing after suffering in 89 degree heat. (I'm not good at being in the heat.)

I took this photo while at the Syracuse Bird Library. I was there not really to work, but to wait. The night before I had gone to Beer Belly with my good friend Emma to drink wine. It was fun. I walked to my home, only to realize that I had left my keys in my apartment. I sat on my stoop and considered sobbing, but I don't live in the best neighborhood to sit around on a stoop crying at 1:30am, so I instead walked back to my friend Emma's house. I spent the night at Emma's, and the next morning I grabbed my favorite Starbucks beverage -- a sugar-free hazelnut latte -- and then waited at the Syracuse library for my landlord to call me to inform me that he had victoriously opened my door. I obviously didn't have any of my books, so I somewhat randomly pulled some books off the shelves that had to do with Moses Mendelssohn. Then I read half of an article about Mendelssohn's view of ecclesiastical law and excommunication before my landlord called me to report I could return to my hot and humid apartment.

In conclusion, I like making these studyscapes. I'm going to take photos of them more, and will post more of them here. I will not share all of them on facebook (as I have been doing) because that would be overwhelming.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fitzwilliam Darcy: Psychopath, or Most Dreamy Man Alive?

Like any self-respecting bookworm and psuedo-Anglophile, I have read Pride and Prejudice. And, like any fan of Pride and Prejudice, I have seen (and basically memorized the entire script of) the incredible BBC miniseries adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

I was not a big fan of the 2005 film. This is primarily because I despise Keira Knightley. My mother, after seeing the 2005 film, commented that this version probably more adequately displays the moderate social class of the Bennett family. The 2005 film is also less bright and.... well, beautiful. 

A huge part of the beauty in the 1995 miniseries is Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Beyond being a talented actor, this man is seriously easy on the eyes. So easy on the eyes, in fact, that Helen Fielding's hit book Bridget Jones's Diary (a book I embarrassingly love and read every year on January 1st) features pages and pages devoted to drooling over Firth as Darcy. 

When I was much younger, I once wandered into my family's living room. My mother was sitting in "her seat" -- a rocking chair near the television. There was almost certainly a throw around her shoulders and a cat on her lap. This was the oddly picturesque setting of my childhood. Stepping into my childhood home occasionally gives visitors an uneasy feeling of displacement, because it's suddenly difficult to peg what decade it is or exactly what kind of people we are. Once I was talking to a boyfriend on the phone and said, "Oh, who's at the door? ....Oh, never mind. It's just the milkman." (Seriously, it was the milkman.) This caused my ex to fall over himself laughing, asking "Where do you live? In England in the 1920s?" Shortly after that, he broke up with me. 

This particular night, before I had been dumped by anyone, my mother was watching an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice -- either the BBC miniseries or an earlier adaptation. I couldn't easily follow along with the movie, so I half-watched and half read a book. The book could have been either a Sweet Valley High or a fantasy novel about a beautiful girl who could also cast spells, either of which would have made me feel fat.

Nearing the end of the movie, when Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth and she accepts, I found myself incredibly irritated and nonplussed.

"What?" I asked. "She's marrying him? Why is she looking so happy about it? Didn't she like, hate him?" 

"Well, she did," my mother said shortly, obviously annoyed that I was interrupting the climax of the movie. 

"What?" I repeated again, just in case my mother hadn't registered my confusion. "But.... I'm sorry, is this not the same guy who was super snobby and refused to dance with her?"

My mother sighed. "He gets better. If you had paid attention, you would know that," my mother responded, her eyes fixed intently on the flickering screen before us.

I silently asked my mother, "Really, Mom? Really? He changed THAT much?" while boring a hole in the back of her head with my self-righteous, indignant eyes. I imagined that my intense silence was deafening. In reality, my mother was blissfully unaware of me seething behind her, and she sighed contentedly while petting the cat.

As I grew up, I continued to read young adult novels that made me feel fat. I also began to read Jane Austen novels, which also made me feel fat. (Making me feel fat didn't take a lot in those days.)

After reading the book and watching the BBC miniseries countless times, I too began to understand Darcy as someone who Gets Better. Beyond that, I began to view him as the Most Romantic Man in the World. How I swooned for him. How I wished that someday someone above my social status -- someone who gets both milk and eggs delivered, for example -- would inappropriately fall in love with me, be a passive-aggressive dick about it, and then take me to live with him in a mansion filled with oil-portraits of himself.

Later in my life, I was eating dinner with my friend Michael. He was gently explaining to me that I should accept that other people come from families that seem "strange" to me, because my family seems f***ing insane to outsiders. 

"No it doesn't," I said, taking an enormous bite of a brie-and-walnut appetizer. He looked levelly at me. 

"You have large portraits, done in pastels, of both you and your little sister framed in your living room. And neither of you are smiling in them. You're just staring, like it's the damn olden days." 

"But those were done by a street artist in Quebec," I protested.

He stared at me. "You read the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes aloud to each other while curled up under mountains of blankets. I don't know why a living room needs so many blankets" -- I have to give him this. It is 90 degrees in Syracuse today, and I have two blankets in my living room. Four if you count the one I use as a futon-cover or the one I use as a tablecloth. And I live alone. The remaining blankets I put in storage, thinking to myself, "two is probably fine for the living room in June." -- "AND," Michael continued, gearing up for his big finish, "you guys quote Pride and Prejudice to each other all. the. time."

I stared at him. "That's not WEIRD," I said, baffled. "Asking what your high-school aged child got on a test is weird. I mean, how do these parents even know when their kids HAD a test? Besides, Pride and Prejudice is amazing."

"No it's not," he said immediately. "It's terrible. Mr Darcy is an emotionally abusive psychopath who lures Elizabeth in with his money."

I was aghast. I had never heard such an indictment on Mr. Darcy before! Sure, I had similar sentiments before when catching the tail end of Pride and Prejudice with my mom -- but I was young and feeling fat all the time. Surely I didn't know anything. 

But now... every time I think about Pride and Prejudice...

I can't help but wonder.... is Fitzwilliam Darcy a psychopath? Is my secret desire to end up with someone who initially refuses to dance with me because I'm too ugly somehow problematic? Heaven forbid. . . . 

Monday, May 27, 2013

How to stretch out cheap flats -- and why you should be less of a pushover than me

I have weird feet. My shoe size ranges between a 9 - 9.5. My feet are very narrow with very high arches, which means that it can be difficult to find flats. Regular width flats will often just slide off my feet when I walk, even if they are the correct length.

I've also found that most inexpensive flats stretch out a good deal after wearing them in. Because my feet are already so narrow, this can cause a flat that once fit to just be too big. I started buying a shoe size down when buying flats to combat this.

I like doing this, because it enables me to still buy inexpensive shoes and (usually) get them to fit very well after some stretching. I'm opposed to spending a lot of money on flats because I go through them quickly -- even more expensive (and presumably better made) shoes never have a long life with me.

Here are my tips for intentionally buying shoes that are a bit too small with the hopes of stretching them out:

- Never spend a lot of money on the shoes. My rule for cheap flats is only under $20, with under $15 being preferable. If you're going to drop more than $20, you should buy shoes that fit from the outset.

- Some shoes are stretchier than others. If it feels like it won't stretch, it might not.

- Do not attempt to stretch out shoes if you just had a pedicure and you want to keep it looking great for awhile. Toes get a bit squashed in this process.

- Do not buy shoes that are too small and think that you will stretch them out at a dance. I recently did this, with the shoes pictured above. It was a really stupid move. I was incredibly uncomfortable halfway through the dance. Also remember that dancing in uncomfortable shoes is more painful than walking in uncomfortable shoes.

- Do not wear the still-too-small shoes to see a friend for lunch. I did this the other day, (the same damn black flats!) and it was another mistake. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get some good stretchin' time in, because it was slightly raining out (see the end of the post for how walking around in the rain helps), and because I would only have to walk to and from his car.

A wrench was thrown in my plans after lunch when my friend expressed desire to continue hanging out after we had finished eating. I recognized this for the rare opportunity it was, and I sure as hell was not going to squander it.

My friend is a bowtied gentleman who seemingly hates hanging out with people. Getting him out of his apartment to hang out with me is like pulling multiple teeth. Particularly if the teeth in question are going, "Maria, I don't want to leave this mouth and go to a really fun gay bar with you and some of your friends, I don't drink and I think I'll just watch television." And then you, yanking out the teeth are all like, "Come onnnn, teeth! Just get a seltzer with lime in a lowball glass and everyone will think you're drinking." And then the teeth are like, "You're misinterpreting why I don't want to go to the bar."

So as soon as there was the opportunity to hang out with this friend (with the bonus of being able to procrastinate, my favorite hobby) I leaped at it! And I sagely thought to myself, "I cannot ask him to take me home first to change shoes. The risk of him changing his mind while driving me there and just dropping me off so he to return to his busy schedule of misanthropy is too great."

We ended up at the mall. At first it was fine, and I had hopes that it wouldn't be a problem. But eventually, my feet hurt. A lot. So then I was compelled to buy some new flats, at Payless, for $20.** (Luckily these flats fit - and I think they're cute to boot!) Immediately after exiting the Payless I forced my friend to hold all my shopping bags and my purse and used his shoulder to steady myself while flopping around and changing shoes. "Maria, you're like falling apart. What is the matter with you? [Pause. At this point I am still hobbling around, using his shoulder to stabilize while I put on the other shoe.] Stop touching me."

The moral of the story.... only wear the still-too-tight shoes out when you know exactly where you'll be going for the whole day. Or do, if you need a reason to justify buying another new pair of flats. (An alternative moral of the story is, of course, that you should probably not be as much of a pushover with introverted friends as I am.)

**Eagle-eyed readers will now note that I have purchased two pairs of shoes, adding up to $35, one pair of which does not fit. Why not just spend more money on a good pair of shoes that fits and you wouldn't have to hobble around? To which I respond: Shut up.

Anyway... back to the task at hand:

Gather some socks and a hair dryer. Wet the socks. Put them on. It's gross. I know. Put on the shoes.

Blow dry the shoe with your foot clad in the wet sock still in it. Hold the hair dryer very close to areas that pinch more -- on me, right around the big toe and pinky toe. I would guess that's the same area of concern for almost everyone. You should smell the material of the shoe heating up and stretching. It's a weird smell.

While drying the shoes, change your foot position fairly regularly. Scrunch your feet down so they are more crammed into the ball and toe-area of the shoe. Then rock back and forth from heel to toe. If it hurts or pinches more, lean into that area and add heat.

Once you've had enough of that (I never blow dry for very long - it's cumbersome and uncomfortable) tip toe around your house.

After walking around on tiptoes for a bit, I usually sit on my couch and watch television or putter around online. I sit with one leg crossed over the other and rock the foot on the ground from ball to heel, switching legs occasionally.

If necessary, repeat another day.

Another good way to stretch out shoes is to walk around in the rain. When returning inside from the rain leave the shoes on for a while.

Give your toes a break after a while of this! It is hard on them.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

My weekend - some poker, some liquor

I hope all of you are having a good weekend and are settling down to watch a lot of Arrested Development.

Last night, I played poker with some friends and drank some of the following liquors: Hot Sex, a chocolate vodka concoction and a pinot noir called Fat Bastard. I brought the wine, my other friend brought the chocolate liquor. We were in a "vaguely inappropriate names for alcohol" kind of mood, it seems.

The chocolate vodka liquor was literally called hot sex. I'm sure Hot Sex people they called it that just so people would buy it after jokingly saying "Of course I like hot sex!" I'm also pretty sure that's why my friends bought it (also because of the chocolate) so good job, marketers!

Although I liked the liquor all right, it definitely did not live up to its namesake.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Painstakingly organizing all of the paper in my apartment

Graduate school has a lot of effects on a person's life and well-being. One of these effects is accumulating enough paper and documents to drown a small pony. I'm not sure how one would go about drowning a small pony in print-outs of JSTOR articles and photocopied pages of books on spatial theory, but I guess filling a swimming pool with these documents and then dropping the pony in would be a good place to start.

The other day, I needed a particular sheet of loose-leaf that had some particular notes on them. A friend needed the information that was on this particular sheet of paper.

Throughout the entire school year, I am pretty disorganized. Well, sort of. I'm the kind of disorganized person that can almost always find what I need to find - this being a bonus of very rarely throwing anything away. I am disorganized in that it will take me a long time to find things I need, because there's no rhyme or reason to my storage habits.

 I try to use separate folders and separate spiral notebooks for each seminar. This practice is, as I understand, completely normal and widespread among basically all students. I also understand that most students do not consider it a difficult task. The height of organization is not to have a "Spatial Theories" folder separate from a "Spinoza" folder.

It's too much for me, though. By the end of the semester it's just too hard for me to have multiple folders and spirals. I end up using one battered notebook where I dutifully record everything from seminar notes to lovesick diary entries. The one-spiral approach makes my backpack lighter, but it leads to disorganization. (It also leads the fear that someone will accidentally learn my deepest darkest secrets, like who I want to go to the senior prom with, but I like to live life on the edge.)

Faced with the task of finding this particular piece of paper, I devoted a whole day to finally getting around to organize all of the paper in my apartment. And I do mean all of it. I had just been dumping stacks of paper unceremoniously in the drawers of my desk, on top of my desk, in the chest I keep all my knitting and cross-stitch projects. . . . Like I said, not a lot of rhyme or reason to the system.

Piling things into categories (by seminar class) and stapling articles together that I had left stupidly unstapled took hours. Hours.

 This is me about halfway there. I sat on the floor and also watched "Call the midwife" while doing this, making the experience bearable.

As you can see, non-paper stuff was often mixed in the stacks of paper. In the above picture, you can see pencils, a book full of games to play with small Jews to teach them Hebrew, an iPod case I've never used, and a birthday and hanukkah card. This is part of the reason it took so damn long.

Things I wrote throughout the year (including lesson plans I designed to teach tiny Jews Hebrew), documents that I'll likely use as reference materials (documents relating specifically to Jewish thought, mostly), and documents still left to read were hole-punched and placed in these binders. (Actually that's not true. A large stack of papers are currently placed in the white binder, but not hole-punched. I was too tired to hole punch them. I'm looking forward to the day when I energetically pull out the white binder to look for something and then have all of the documents inside spill to the floor! Knowing me, I'll probably be so disgusted with myself, that I'll just leave them there and sulkily go back to watching Call the Midwife.)

To solve the problem of storing the vast majority of the documents -- printed out articles or book chapters -- I took a little stroll to my kitchen, AKA Box Central!

I rarely throw away boxes. I instead gently place them in a small cranny between my refrigerator and a wall.

As you can see, currently opening up my fridge requires a great degree of dexterity, tenacity, and stealth. You can also see I enjoyed some Tam Tams this past Passover.

I carefully selected some perfectly aged boxes to store all the documents I deemed "worthy" enough to save. 

Eagle-eyed readers will be able to make out that the top box is full of documents from a class I was a Teaching Assistant for, Faith and Reason in Islam. The box underneath has documents from Feminist Theory, a class I audited on Religion in Contemporary China, and a Spatial Theory class. The classes are separated by dilapidated folders.

When I inevitably found assumed-lost syllabi in the piles of paper-detritus, I triumphantly put the syllabus at the top of the pile of course documents. I thought that was very clever of me. It's like the title page for the mountains of documents.

I then put these boxes in my closet.

I suspect they will age there gracefully for a few years, at which point I will end up recycling the boxes in one magnificent swoop. The odds of me ever saying to myself "Hmmm.... this reminds me of an article I read for a class I audited about China! I should dig through my closet to find it instead of searching online for a new copy!" are pretty slim.

But I can't bear to recycle ALL of the documents I acquire throughout the semester... it seems cruel and unusual. I've toiled over these documents, carrying them from the department printer to my home! Many of these documents I even read thoroughly!

So this is what I will do. Store them in boxes in the back of my closet.

And then I will walk over my filthy floor, at least feeling somewhat organized.

Oh, and for those of you who wondered if I found the one piece of paper that spurred on this organizing frenzy? Nope. I must have thrown it out, which is pretty surprising. But oh well. Life's like that, sometimes.

(If anyone has any suggestions on how to determine which documents to save and which to dispose of, clearly I could use it.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Several Goals for the Summer

I have several goals for the summer.

1. Get back on the blogging train. Because if something happens to me, and I don't mention it over social media outlets, it's like it never really happened.

2. Do yoga three times per week.

3. Walk, skip, jog, or hop twice per week.

4. Look at myself in the mirror and think "Damn! I look good!"

5. Repeat #4 only with a swimsuit on.

6. Clean glasses five times per week. This might not seem like a goal, but instead just a normal thing that normal people do. However, if you've ever met me, you know my glasses are normally filthy. I just forget to clean them. My eyes adjust to the specks of dust and sunscreen once they're on. Then I clean them and I'm shocked and how bright and clean the world around me looks.

7. Remember to take my anti-depressant every day.

8. Learn German.

9. Practice modern Hebrew.

10. Write six times per week. Blogging counts, writing in my pink and orange diary counts. Pinning things on pinterest does NOT count.