مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

So let it be written...

...so let it be done.

There it is, in all its glory.
My very first non-straight-A.
In fact, it's a real live B. 
And it's mine, really mine.
I can't decide whether to celebrate or cry.

oh, wait.
maybe I can.

thanks to kelsey for two of the photos. and y'all are right, the costumed one's not from this year, but we haven't changed so it might as well be.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


found while combing the far reaches of the Internet while my dad makes hot potato soup in our new Blendtec, my brothers engage in a fierce Ping Pong tournament, my mom settles in for her fifth hour of a Lord of the Rings marathon, and my little sisters build princesses out of Tinkertoys.

Ice party.

Emma's quite talented (not to mention stylish).
The other day I was privileged to be the guest of honor at my little sister Emma's eighth birthday party. We held it at the local figure skating rink where Emma has been practicing her skills. She's never taken lessons, but she can fall into a two-footed spin almost as well as I can and zooms around on her little skates like she's the Tasmanian Devil. Eleven seven- and eight-year-old girls were invited to the rink for her party, and I helped everyone strap on their bright blue party hats and rental skates before pushing them out onto the ice. I was there as adult-skater supervision--to make sure no one got stranded or hurt in the pre-Christmas crowds. We assumed most of the guests would find their legs and make their way around the rink just fine. Yeah, we thought wrong. During my first lap around the ice I picked up no less than three little girls, one of whom (the blonde in the picture below) had retreated to a corner to sob at her inadequacy. "I c-c-can't skaaate!" she sobbed as I glided over and scooped her up. "Yes, you can," I reassured. "I'll help you."
note my frazzled smile, as well as my "Designated Party Adult" cone hat.
Laps two and three brought me no less than three other hangers-on, and let me tell you, it is dang hard to keep your own balance while holding up six eight-year-olds. We formed a huge chain, which effectively gave us a wide berth as others swerved to avoid clotheslining themselves on our arms. It all worked out, though--maybe a little too well. I heard that little redhead bragging to her mom about how fantastic a skater she turned out to be and I laughed to myself as the mom promised to take her back to the rink to practice. Hope you can skate, mom. :-)

In other news, I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. My parents found me some beautiful Arabic/English short story compilations (some with CDs so I can hear them read!) and I can't wait to rock my new snow coats, shoot some new film, and use up my gift cards. Gotta love the holidays. :-D

Friday, December 24, 2010

عيد الميلاد

No matter how old I get, Christmas Eve always seems like the LONGEST day of the year.
I guess it's just old Father Time's way of reminding me that I'm not as old as I think I am. :-)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Some of my family traditions:

Sunday, December 19, 2010


"He sat down at his wheel and opened a plastic bag filled with several balls of clay the size of grapefruits. He took the first one out and in a matter of a few moments, created a vase. He took a second ball and created a bowl. A third became a plate, and a fourth, a bottle. The whole exercise took no more than ten minutes and by the time he was finished, I felt I had been hypnotized by his silent art of creation . . .

I believe he was trying to teach me that there is more than one path to happiness. Each of the vessels he made that day started as an unimpressive lump of clay, but all of them were transformed into their own unique vessels, full of beauty and purpose. I recognized that in my efforts to get into dental school, I had been blind to any other option . . . I recognized that I had found happiness in learning to carve wood, in farming, and in fishing. But the happiness I found working as a tailor had easily eclipsed all the happiness I had experienced in my life. In a moment of humility, I saw that my prayers had been answered, just not in the way I believed they would be. I found the happiness I sought, but it required that I forget my single-minded goal and open my eyes to a broader picture. Looking back on it now, I wonder if I ever could have been happy as a dentist. I don't even like to visit the dentist."

--Ben Behunin, Remembering Isaac, 137-139

Friday, December 17, 2010


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

I just rocked my three-hour Arabic final.
And when I say I rocked it, I mean I blew it entirely out of the park. It's demolished. Burnt to the ground. Liquified. Vaporized. Flash frozen and sent through a meat grinder.
I could figure out EVERY SINGLE THING I SAW.
I'm not saying I'll get 100%. I'm absolutely sure that I won't. It's Arabic. There are infinitely many opportunities for mistakes--a forgotten short vowel, a missing letter, a misvoiced participle, a misjudged case ending--but let me just take this chance to say that on this exam those mistakes should be extremely few and far between. I saw all the tricks--deceptive xabar-kaana-s, ism-inna-s, definite and indefinite diptotes, attached and unattached sound plurals--and I played by all the rules.

It was my best and most enjoyable final ever, and I've had a lot of good finals in life. The greatest thing about Arabic exams is that they're really a just chance to show off how much you know--how hard and how long and how doggedly you have pushed yourself to the limit for your knowledge. And it's real knowledge--it's yours and it's tangible and it's useful and valuable and no one can take it away from you. This semester has opened my eyes to how much I honestly love this language. I go to class because I absolutely WANT to be there. Arabic (especially fusHa, my favorite kind) is a language that just keeps on giving. There's just so much in it--so much depth and beauty and structure and elegance that no one could ever learn it all. It's inexorably rigid and yet so artistic, creative, and shocking. And writing--يا سلام! The fact that I can WRITE and attempt to write WELL in this language is opening up a whole new world for me. Writing in Arabic is like writing in English--on LSD. It's so much more colorful and intense--every single little morpheme has to agree just perfectly and you can be so beautiful and indirect with style and vocabulary and the way you choose to formulate your sentences--
Obviously, I just can't get enough. :-)

After the exam some fabulous people asked me to join them at In-N-Out for a post-exam celebration, and I went and had fun with them even though I never eat cheeseburgers. Then I zoomed home and just allowed myself to feel my happiness.

I have learned so much this semester--nuanced tense and Arabic case markings (casing has become my FAVORITE Arabic activity of all time), hydrohalogenations and stereochemistry, progressive sound change and syntactical theory, Old Testament syntax and fifteen words for differing numbers of livestock--!

Welcome, Christmas break! I'm absolutely thrilled to see you!

(Next semester preview: Arabic 202; Biblical Hebrew; Intro to Tibetan; Middle Eastern History since 1800; and History of the Ancient Near East from 330 BC to 640 AD).


Thursday, December 16, 2010


b-b-but first, a quote from Coleman:
"You are the person schizophrenics think everyone is."
(she's right, you know!)
Ironic (or inspired?) that the day I find out I’ve earned my first B is the day I feel so wildly fantastic at everything else. My major linguistics paper—double-digits' worth of single spaced pages on the phonetic, phonemic, morphologic, and morphosyntactic differences between fusHa and amiyya masriyya—came back flawless, compliments of my Overzealous Grad Student. I spent the early afternoon crafting a real personal narrative in Arabic as part of my final exam; it’s sweet and engaging and sometimes even elegant and it’s mine, from me, all mine. I ate Oreo ice cream and discussed literature; I cased every Arabic sentence with which I came into contact and loved every minute.

Oh, and did I mention I’m officially getting a B in o-chem?
Yeah, it was an afterthought for me, too.
(well, for now; I’m sure the existential crisis will descend when it actually hits my transcript)

GPA now:

GPA as of next week (projecting that the grading of my finals proceeds as ascertained): 

^ oh, hey, Christmas colors. ^

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This is by far the most intricate and captivating thing I have seen all week.

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Thought of You from Ryan J Woodward on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


For today's linguistics final, my task was to recreate the phonemic structure of a proto-language using lists of cognates from three of its daughter languages and devise general rules for why the sounds changed the way they did. After two frustrating hours of stretching phonetic environments and conjuring up abstract justifications, I knew my approach was off. I wasn't seeing the big picture. Picking apart a language is like sorting through the pieces to a complex, interwoven puzzle; everything seems random at first, but once your rules start to click the entire data set falls magically into place. I knew my approach was wrong, as meticulously formulated as it was, but I couldn't convince myself to change. My logic was infallible because it was mine.

And that's really how I live my life. Arrogant though it may be, I consider myself to be absolutely, perfectly correct at all times unless explicitly proven otherwise (cited references, please). And today it was harder than I ever thought it should be to tell myself that my initial intuition for this problem was fundamentally flawed. But with half an hour to spare I forced myself out of my solipsistic paradigm. I made myself do things that made no sense. I floundered in exceptions and impossibilities and, really, I almost gave up--but then the Red Sea parted and BEHOLD, THE CONDESCENSION OF THE SOLUTION. It was weird. It was pedantic. But it was right. My Overzealous Grad Student (I'll miss him) flipped to the back of my exam after I turned it in (five minutes to spare) and congratulated me on my success.

I think an essential part of individuation is learning that you aren't always right--that your infinitely logical solution isn't always the best, that you have a really hard time pronouncing that consonant cluster, that you don't know what pi-allyl electron resonance means, that you don't know every single vocabulary word. You're not perfect. But that's okay.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Finals week.

Monday, 8 AM: Religion
Monday, 2:30 PM: Organic chemistry
Tuesday, 11 AM: Linguistics
Wednesday, 7 AM: עברית מקראית
Friday, 11 AM: العربية

سأموت على يد الكيمياء العضوية
There are no words for the degree to which I cannot stand organic reactions (though infrared spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance are looking to be strong points).

And check out the intimidating signature line on this e-mail I received last week.
Calm down, humanity.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


And now, from the other end of the political spectrum:

Happy Hanukkah.

Also, read this article from The Economist.
"[In a survey] Almost everyone said they liked “mainline” Protestants, Jews and Catholics. Evangelical Protestants liked almost everyone else more than they were liked in return. Mormons liked everyone else, while almost everyone else (except Jews) disliked Mormons. And almost everyone disliked Muslims and Buddhists more than any other group . . . Osama bin Laden did not help American Muslims by attacking America in Islam’s name, but Mr. Putnam and Mr. Campbell believe another factor is at work: the fact that Muslims, Buddhists and Mormons do not have a place in what people have come to call America’s Judeo-Christian framework. Tolerance of Jews and Christians only? That is not quite so impressive."

And enjoy Joel 2:9 (along with Antoine Dodson). Can't say we weren't warned.
"They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief."

Monday, December 6, 2010


Sometimes I feel like the needle hand, but most of the time I'm the bubble kid.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Both ways.

It's time to resurrect the fig tree again.
I want incompatible realities and it's killing me.

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which one of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

~ Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Thursday, December 2, 2010


"It is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence — that which makes its truth, its meaning — its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream — alone." 
"It occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility."
(Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)

I have two jobs: one I like and one like the ones Palahnuik satirizes in Fight Club--the kind where I stare at a computer all day and do meaningless things like manually uncapitalize all the capital letters of the first terms in pages of lists or find every instance of italics in a two hundred page history text and change them to bold. I stare at my screen, slack-brained, and navigate my little pointer to each little superscript number above a footnote, highlighting the number and only the number--if I accidentally include a space I have to try again--to double-check if InDesign has really styled it as a superscript. Over the course of a week I may do this five hundred times.

I also write accessibility text. The inclusion of accessibility text is a legal requirement in web-based course design, because blind people who may want to participate in your web-based course cannot see the images on the screen and therefore do not have the same learning opportunities as a seeing student. Every image in the course, then, informative or not--a diagram of a Langerhans cell or a graphic of a grinning cartoon student in the margin--must be explicitly described in accessibility text so blind people don't miss out. I'm working on a high school anatomy course right now, and today I wrote accessibility text for detailed diagrams of deep muscles. And then I realized something. My work will never matter to another human being unless by some mad chance a blind high school student signs up for an almost entirely visual online anatomy course. And just like that, the laughable and overwhelming futility of the hours I spend at that cursed screen turned into a metaphor for my entire job.