مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Scared stiff.

I just finished gobbling down cinnamon rice pudding and cinnamon granola bites after a very high-strung first day, and let's just say I might need to complement that with some dark chocolate gelato and possibly half a cheesecake before I even begin feeling comfortable about this semester.
First impressions:

Biblical Hebrew: My teacher, Carli, is cute, young, smiley, and fun. We meet in a beautiful roundtable conference room in the JFSB with a big, sunny window and my class is small and mature. Even if the subject matter weren't fascinating, I'd be happy to attend every morning at 8 AM. Also, Biblical Hebrew has nothing to do with speaking (the component of Arabic with which I struggle most). Reading? Translation? Writing? I am all over that. Weekly quizzes might creep up on me, but at least they're all laid out on the syllabus. I've never been happier to take a four-credit class.

Linguistics: Okay, seriously? This 300-level class should be listed as 100 for the number of freshmen there are in my section. It's taught by a grad student not much older than I am and looks to be a freaking cakewalk, but not a useless one. Honestly, these humanities kids have it so ridiculously easy I want to scream. Appreciate it! Please! You're incredibly lucky! People are nice to you!

Organic Chemistry: I've never been so freaked out by a professor on the first day, and not because the subject matter is particularly intimidating. Dr. Ess is very young and looks quite unassuming, but opens his mouth to unleash a hurricane of contradicting words while scribbling five equations out of order and out of context on three chalkboards without bothering to define any of the variables. It's obvious this is the first time he's taught ANYTHING, and it doesn't help that the course is entirely graded in competition, which is totally going to kill my peace of mind when I, along with the entire rest of the class, receive below 60% on my first midterm (as this crazy man intends, as smugly stated on the syllabus). Fully 50% of my grade will be determined by the final exam, and 40% will come from three other exams. There's no graded homework, just some recitation-session quizzes of which you can drop exactly none. As long as I stay in the top 20% of the class, I'm "guaranteed an A or A minus" (that cutoff isn't even explained). This guy is going to be the death of me, and I'm mad because I think I have a decent shot at mastering the material. In the words of the kid behind me, "It was nice until right after we finished going through the syllabus."

Second-year Arabic: In the words of Emperor Kuzco, "Scary beyond all reason?" And I haven't even attended the large-section grammar lectures yet. My comprehension is reawakening, but my verbs and my spelling are simply gone. Stay tuned for my fear to take a more definite shape. As for today, it took me three tries to correctly pronounce "?بتشتغلي أي"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On going back.

Fun with words:
"Goodnight Moon" (Brown) meets "Mad Girl's Love Song" (Plath).

Goodnight, Mad Girl

Goodnight to sleep, goodnight clear eyes and head
Stress disappeared but now consumes again--
Goodnight, Mad Girl; your summer's all but dead.

Goodnight, Me Time, and welcome, spots of red
As books and tests and teachers shuffle in
Goodnight to sleep, goodnight clear eyes and head.

Enjoy your one last leisure night in bed
New scheduling will drive you quite insane
Goodnight, Mad Girl; your summer's all but dead.

Goodnight to stillness; hope for calm will fade
Exit peaceful songs, parties, and friends
Goodnight to sleep, goodnight clear eyes and head.

Goodnight, messieurs, goodnight all sweet things said
Soon you'll be hard pressed to recall my name
Goodnight, Mad Girl; your summer's all but dead.

I should abscond to Istanbul instead
Or Cairo--Moscow?--Crete!--Israel again?
Goodnight to sleep, goodnight clear eyes and head.
Goodnight, Mad Girl; your summer's all but dead.

Really, though. Tomorrow I have Biblical Hebrew, work at Independent Study, Modern Linguistics (I know, right? That's another story for another day), second-year Arabic, and Organic Chemistry. On the other hand, I think I have just enough money left in my account for tomorrow's 7:50 AM flight from SLC to Dubai. Not that I've checked.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Nonspecific gastroenteritis.

I never get sick.

I mean, sure, I occasionally contract a winter cold or eat something that doesn't particularly agree with me, but I haven't really been incapacitated by my body since I was in junior high school (despite living on a steady college-kid diet of frozen peas, ice cream sandwiches, and oatmeal for the past three years; consuming all sorts of unsanitary street foods in the Middle East; and rarely getting more than four hours of sleep). I guess I thought my stomach was invincible.
But today I was sick. Really, really sick. I missed work and spent the whole day positively writhing in my pink Snuggie thanks to stomach cramps. I even threw up three times. Bleh. And it didn't help that my family was gone all day. I know, I know, I'm twenty years old. But every girl wants a little attention when she's sick, especially when she hasn't felt this way since the "it" item was a Furby. On her way out the door, while noticing my twelfth swift flight to the bathroom, my mom called out something to the effect of, "Hey! At least you'll lose weight!" I guess she's right. But at this point I think I'd rather be fat. :-(

This five-pound box of happiness showed up at my house this morning, and, being sick, I had the time to watch four straight hours of all-new bonus features. It's hands down the coolest complete DVD box set of all time, from the textured collectible case to the included map, letter, board game, episode guide, and ankh-with-secret-compartment (you think I'm kidding). It even includes a little blacklight so you can comb the entire contents of the package for secret messages. Which I have done. And found some. And enjoyed every moment.

Also, did you hear about this week's Lost Auction? The producers auctioned off all kinds of original props from the series to wild acclaim--some stuff, like the iconic Dharma van, went for upwards of $50,000. I would've wanted Charlie's DriveShaft ring, but I can't say I have $10,800 lying around the house. Right now, the Complete Collection is a big enough investment for me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The more I think about actually moving in and starting school, the more I feel like dragging my face across asphalt. Don't get me wrong. I want to better my Arabic, trace my Hebrew vowels, delve into Egyptian funerary typology, and diagram chelation reactions. I want to meet my students, design my lab lectures, excel at designing Independent Study physics courses, and really dig into my controversial honors thesis. I just don't want to do all of that at once. I don't want to kill myself worrying about exams, work schedules, deadlines, waking up on time, maintaining my GPA, poring over the MSAR, strengthening my med school resume, shadowing physicians, involving myself in service leadership, fitting into a new ward, applying for my second round of study abroad scholarships, researching summer programs, and never feeling like there are enough hours in the day. I've been in college long enough to know how it feels, and that's what I'm dreading. The Testing Center. Long nights at the library. Never feeling fully prepared. And the walls, gosh dang it, the walls! If summer is rainbow sherbet and soft white sheets, school is grey flannel and that infernal speckled ceiling tile. Mouse-chewed, industrial post-consumer ceiling waste and dull, grey, overstarched, suffocating flannel.

In other news, I met my roommate and am in the process of designing a new aesthetic for my side of the room. My chosen colors are blue and white, and I think I'll do a deep denim comforter topped with light blue and white pinstriped throw pillows. Blue NBA basketball sheets will give my bed a kitschy sort of charm, and my purple Arrested Development poster will tie in with the purple buttons that accent my pillows. I'll hang three vintage Vogue covers and a promo for the Dharma Initiative, and I think that should do it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I return to Utah to the tune of four loads of laundry, a web of class and job scheduling conflicts, a $688 semester booklist, an engaged best friend, multiple messages from my apartment complex (who has moved me for the third time), unmanageable roots, bad skin (I always break out after long flights), and overall bloated-ness after a week of (literally) living large. Sigh. Saying "I miss Boston" is a gross understatement.

I met my family in a DC hotel and was surprised because though I love them, my first emotional reaction was overwhelming homesickness. We had a wonderful time together, but I'm a different person when I live alone--better in many ways, perhaps worse in some, but always me. It's like a part of my real self dies when I contort myself to fit back into my family niche, a part that reawakens every time I'm away for extended periods of time, but only at the expense of leaving another part of myself starving in the process. I, or what I like to think of as I, can't seem to exist simultaneously. I'm a case study for failed individuation; feed me to Carl Jung.

Manhattan was wonderful and I don't know why so many people speak badly of it. It wasn't Boston--sprawling, green, clean, academic Boston--but it was beautiful, all crowded and lit up and bustling. Everybody there walks just as fast as me and I fit right in as I zoomed down Fifth Avenue, five hundred dollars of Mad Money (my family's version of a surprise cash gift) in my knockoff purse and tiny point-and-shoot in my hand. I can't believe I'd never seen Times Square before. I lived in London before I was sixteen; I saw Paris and Manila before eighteen and made it to Cairo, Jerusalem, and Amman before twenty, but I never made my way to New York before Wednesday. Broadway was a highlight; we saw Jordin Sparks premiere a starring role in "In the Heights" and stopped by "Wicked," of course. We sat in home-run range at a Yankees game and ate sandwiches and cheesecake slices as large as our heads at Carnegie's Deli. We had $50 steaks and limo rides, late-night food cart stops and huge desserts, and it was all fabulously indulgent. Now I just need to make friends who will go back with me. I want to stay out in the city for 30 hours--one day, one night, and one good breakfast before crashing in a hotel room or hostel or what have you. Doesn't that sound fantastic?

Anyway, back to work. Tomorrow: schedule hair appointment, begin work training (and attempt to explain newly developing scheduling conflict), look into buying books, look into buying Lost: The Complete Collection (ohhh yes).

Sunday, August 15, 2010


This morning I rolled over in my white sheets to grope for my alarm clock like I have every day since moving to Cambridge. The clock read eight-fifteen. It took a moment to register. Okay. Eight-fifteen. EIGHT-FIFTEEN?! Electrified, I leaped out of bed, ripped off my sheets, ran my bedroom trash can to the one outside, zoomed into the bathroom, threw out all my shower stuff, threw open my makeup cabinet, swooped its contents into my blue duffel bag, slammed down the lightswitch in my room and literally ran to the T stop, bags banging painfully against my thighs. At 8:14 I was asleep. My flight was scheduled to depart at 10. So much for a leisurely goodbye.

I reached the Harvard T in record time and sped downstairs to the inbound train. Off at Charles/MGH due to my normal train randomly becoming an express train headed in the opposite direction. New train to Park Street. Transfer to the Green Line. Train to Government Center. Transfer to the Blue Line. Train to the Logan Airport (interrupted by a crowd of T security men who delayed our travel by at least ten minutes as they chatted with our driver). I reached the Airport stop at 9:15 and almost cried. My flight would now be boarding and I was still six bus stops from my terminal. I hadn't even gone through security.

I scanned the glowing board for my departure time, sure I'd see a fateful final boarding call. AND THEN: Delayed. My flight had been delayed just half an hour. Just enough time for me to get through the airport and even grab Starbucks before stepping onto the plane on my own terms. Now that's what I call a tender mercy.

So goodbye, Boston. Sorry I was too strung out to take one last look around Cambridge or enjoy my last morning ride across the Charles River. It's been fun. And by "fun" I mean I loved it here so much that in the future I plan to move back.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I'm finished.
When I was formally introduced in the lecture hall at Maxwell-Dworkin I could barely hold my notes. My presentation was full of stops and starts, of nervous pauses and quivers in my voice. But I made it, and as my mentor encouragingly reminded me, I said everything I wanted to say. My data is good. My poster was pretty. My defense was shaky, but thankfully my work speaks more confidently than I do.

I'm enjoying my last few days in Boston and will meet my family in DC on Sunday. Today I packed my whole room into two massive suitcases and wheeled them half a mile down the street to the nearest UPS store to be ground-shipped back to Provo (far easier said than done. Try navigating Cambridge's packed sidewalks with both hands behind you, lugging suitcases that when put together weigh more than you do), and yesterday I planned a wonderful day (after Jerusalem and this experience, I've become a very experienced personal itinerary planner) for myself in the city: a three-mile morning walk; a pumpkin-chocolate-chip pancake at The Friendly Toast; quality time at The Garment District, an "alternative department store" in Cambridge at which I found an adorable Betsey Johnson blouse for just $18; an entertaining tour of Fenway Park (and the chance to sit atop the famed Green Monster); a ride on the Swan Boats and quality time at the Make Way for Ducklings statue in the Public Garden; and an outdoor performance of Othello for free in Boston Common. This is a lovely way to end my summer--as long as I stop thinking about the fact that it's ending.

P.S. I got the job for which I talked about interviewing in my last post, even though I had to run frantically around my lab building in search of a semi-empty room from which to conduct the Skype interview. I ended up on a couch on the communal twelfth floor, hoping that no one around me would be too loud during lunch or be bothered by the fact that I was talking to a computer (and trying to seem intelligent while doing so). Meet Independent Study's newest Instructional Design Assistant. What can I say? I needed a second job. :-)

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Three pictures for my twentieth birthday:
Birthday cake (Boston Cream Pie cupcake)
Birthday ice cream (Chocolate Chip Cookie Hard Frozen Yogurt)
Boston Temple
I went out to a delicious breakfast in the morning involving the most moist and scrumptious dark pumpkin bread I've ever tasted (thanks, Henrietta's Table), but was too content during said breakfast to take any pictures. My day involved a temple conference in Belmont, the re-watching of Toy Story 3 (as a goodbye to childhood), a cupcake and ice cream, clothes shopping for the first time since being in Boston, and Arrested Development (three-year birthday tradition). All in all a satisfactory day.

Tomorrow I'm participating in a job interview over Skype. Apparently the group of interviewers is going to webcam me onto a projector screen. My face will be blown up to the size of a white board and they will ask me questions as if I were really in the room. Awkward.

Friday, August 6, 2010


One year ago tonight I was called up eight flights of white limestone stairs to the front office of the Jerusalem Center to receive my very first package. It contained two new shirts, a mix CD, and a hundred dollar bill rolled up the size of a fat toothpick and hidden inside a card so the Israeli government wouldn't confiscate it at customs.

One year ago tomorrow I woke covered in rose petals to my all-time favorite birthday present:
Candles in two heaping mugs of peanut butter and Nutella swiped from the Oasis, pretzels, Israeli cookies, a letter from my mom, a bag of birthday candy, fresh flowers, and paper hearts taped all around the room listing "19 fabulous facts about our favorite 19-year-old roommate." I will always love my Jerusalem roommates Bethany, Hannah, and Katherine for getting up so incredibly early to make me so incredibly happy. And it didn't end there. Bethany had taken the trouble to collect happy birthday wishes from my extended family and friends all the way across the globe and she had dispersed them in note form to people all over the JC to give to me at random so they lasted the whole day. It was the loveliest and most thoughtful gift I've ever had and I still keep one of the notes bookmarked in my scriptures.
I took a New Testament final that day that actually went terribly, but I was in such a happy birthday state that it barely affected me. I was way too wired to do any serious study beforehand, so Cary played me "Jesus Christ Superstar" on his laptop as we sat on the couch outside the Forum. After New Testament I blitz-memorized my student manual for the Field Trip final and then relaxed with Arrested Development in one of the study rooms. Later that night we visited the Western Wall to welcome the Sabbath with the local Jewish population and I made a very special birthday wish/prayer and folded it into the wall. I finished out my first day as a nineteen-year-old in the Center enjoying homemade peach cobbler and a rocking dance party.

And today I finished out my last day as a nineteen-year-old at my sixteenth-floor desk in a research lab at Children's Hospital in Boston learning the ins and outs of graphic design for my very first scientific poster. I took pictures of tibias I sectioned at 10 microns and stained with alcian blue and nuclear fast red, alizarin red, and hematoxylin and eosin; I scanned my last cell culture plates into my laptop and quantified them with ImageJ according to a protocol I developed myself; and I gathered all my summer data and compiled them into something aesthetically beautiful--soft sea greens and whites complement my myriad graphs, significance levels, and cell culture stats. It's entitled "Functional Role of Telomerase-Expressing Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Skeleton" and it's going to be wonderful.

Tomorrow I'll be twenty.
And now, eighteen-year-old-self, it's time to answer your question.
No, I'm not detached. I feel twenty.
I feel accomplished. I feel like a good scientist. I feel like a good person. And yes, I feel the breath behind my soul again, though not in the same way. I guess that means I'm changing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


These are the beautiful members of the Breault lab who have been so wonderful to me: Dana, Bethany, David, (me), Camilla, Rebecca, Diana.  
Today I attended the annual picnic for the Division of Endocrinology, and all I can say is that I thought the one on "The Office" was hyperbolic. I had a wonderful time, and there was delicious food (tender ribs! cornbread! potato salad! red beans and rice! pecan pie!), but it made me laugh out loud to stand around making polite and awkward small talk with fifty pediatricians holding plates of barbecue. I mean, the main thing everyone really has in common is work, and the purpose of the picnic is to talk about anything other than work, so it was entertaining. :-)

After making it all the way home on the T, I decided to turn right back around and hightail it out to the harbor to see an IMAX called "Hubble 3D" and relax on the waterfront. The IMAX was stunning; really good science always brings tears to my eyes. Space is beautiful and unexplained and mindblowing and infinite and I don't think about it half as much as I should. I walked out of the film and onto the long dock that extends into the harbor, stretching out on my back on a bench at the very end and calling two of my very favorite people. I talked and talked as ferries, sailboats, and baby cruise ships floated by, settling down for the night and turning off their lights, and then I closed my phone. It's soul-nourishing to just sit by the ocean in the dark. I thought about my six best lifelong friends and how differently all of our lives have played out. We're total opposites and always have been--photographic negatives of each other in every way--and yet we love each other and mesh so well. It's interesting to see how each one of us is handling her adult life, as we're all "twentysomethings" now. Or at least we will be; I'm the youngest of the bunch and I turn twenty on Saturday.

I love Boston. I will come back here sometime and remember this night.