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I study languages.

Monday, July 25, 2011

See you in 2013.

"Stages"
by Herman Hesse

As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.

The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slave or permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.

Endings.

Well, folks, I'm reaching the end of my rope.
I enter the Provo MTC this Wednesday afternoon, إن شاء الله.

I'm saying goodbye to the people I love and it feels weird. For me, leaving for months on end isn't abnormal because I've spent various semesters in various places around the globe since I was 15. This just feels like I'm leaving on another one of my adventures, but for some reason everyone's making a big deal about this one and hosting goodbye get-togethers and singing dramatic songs and giving me things. Last Sunday's farewell talk went over well; my topic was meekness and I was able to incorporate a lot of my language learning experiences by comparing them to learning the language of the Spirit. I was overjoyed to see some of my very favorite people in the audience and hope it won't be the last time I see them, though life moves fast and that is a very real possibility.

I spent my last week of normal life at our traditional family vacation spot, Hebgen Lake, Montana, with my family and best friends/cousins, spending six fluid days sunning my pale skin, rereading some books I love, eating to my heart's content, sleeping late and watching moves later, sitting in the shade discussing politics, and zooming around on boats and jetskis. I might be the only sister missionary in the MTC with a peeling summer sunburn in places I won't be able to display for a year and a half. :-)
I said goodbye to most of my family after Sacrament Meeting outside the quaint little brown-tiled church in West Yellowstone. My brothers hugged me for a long time and we all got teary-eyed. I'll miss Ryan for three full years; he'll go on his mission before I return from mine.

And then tonight I got to have late-night dessert with as many of the Friendship as were in town. I love these girls. :-)

I have a few more things to check off my list and then I'll be ready to go. I think my last good meal will be Mexican food--Los Hermanos--but I'm still deciding what to watch for my last movie and what to listen to for my last song. Again, it just doesn't seem real.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Flow.

try to realize it's all within yourself
no one else can make you change
and to see you're really only very small
life flows on within you and without you

when you've seen beyond yourself then you may find
peace of mind is waiting there
and the time will come when you see
we're all one and life flows on within you and without you.

Friday, July 15, 2011

مع السلامة يا درس العربية

I spoke my first Arabic words in a room with a view of the Dome of the Rock. Our class was casual--a quirky supplement to a summer in Jerusalem--but the language made an unforgettable first impression. I remember pronouncing the letters of the alphabet slowly and in sequence, exaggerating the خ and stuttering over the غ. At that point I could not have fathomed that choosing to take this class seriously would change the direction of my future. I could not have imagined the way I would spend hundreds and maybe thousands of hours poring over the spidery script, the way I would so easily leave my lifelong dream of a medical career to compose sentences and paragraphs, to memorize verb forms and decline participles. But maybe my subconscious knew more than it let on.

After diving into an intensive first semester with the language--and long before any thought of changing my major crossed my mind--I wrote, "Arabic has catalyzed my intellectual expansion for the first time in years." I detailed my ecstasy at discovering I could read, my ongoing frustration with speaking, and the pieces of artwork (!) I made to describe my feelings. And throughout my two-and-a-half-year struggle to read, write, speak, and listen, this blog assumed its true form. It is, passionately, a love letter to the Arabic language. Nearly a full twenty percent of my five hundred and eighty-six posts mention Arabic, chronicling my frustrations, challenges, successes, and failures. This is why I was so sad this morning after walking into the last Arabic class in which I will participate for eighteen months. We translated an article from al-Jazeera, reviewed the حال construction, ate my goodbye donuts, and then I left the JKB, beginning to understand just how much I will miss all of this. "Because Arabic is my first second language, my oldest child. And I love her more fiercely than I can explain."

"Well, I hope you come back to Arabic after your mission. You're really good at it."
--Dil Parkinson

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Culmination.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Now.

I am doing just a few things right now in my calm before the storm:

1. Attending and loving Arabic class
2. Working as a research assistant for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
3. Putting the final touches on my mission shopping
4. Going to the temple as often as I can
5. Thinking about doing more actual, doctrinal, linguistic preparation for my mission (I know I should be doing more, but with three months in the MTC it's hard to feel motivated during my last two weeks of freedom)
6. Fearing that my visa will be denied or something else will go wrong and my mission will have to be postponed (this just barely happened to a friend of mine--he was supposed to enter the MTC today--so I am incredibly freaked out!)
7. Spending time with my fabulous family
8. Sleeping as much as I like
9. Eating as much as I like (probably not the best idea, but I figure I'll lose weight subsisting on kimchi)
10. Reading as much as I like

My farewell's on Sunday, I spend the following week at Hebgen Lake with my cousins, and then I come back and enter the MTC. Two weeks from this minute I will have been at the MTC for two and a half hours. I can hardly believe it.

After Arabic this afternoon I attended a lecture given by an Egyptian professor from the American University in Cairo. He spoke on his personal experiences in ميدان التحرير (Tahrir Square) during the Egyptian revolution this January and I almost cried. I've never cared more about a political event in history as I did about Egypt this spring, and I'm sad that I'll miss the election scheduled for September and the developments surrounding the new constitution. It's strange to think about how much politics I will miss, strange to realize that there will be an eighteen-month void in my newfound political consciousness. On the bright side, though, Cairo will probably be calm enough that I can study there with BYU when I return from Korea. إن شاء الله

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Glass.

I saw The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams performed at the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City yesterday and came away entranced. I love to stumble into good literature; it's rare I pick up a classic novel or play without any background, but walking into this one I couldn't have told you a thing about it. I surprised myself by how strongly I identified with Laura, the adult daughter nicknamed "Blue Roses" who, remaining unmarried, dissolves into her own imaginary world populated solely by delicate glass animals. The only "gentleman caller" the family can persuade to come meet Laura, Jim, not only breaks her favorite glass animal--a sparkling unicorn--but totally shatters her fragile psyche. The play is heartbreakingly beautiful and if I ever marry I want blue roses in my bouquet. Enjoy my favorite scene.

Jim: Now how about you? Isn't there something you take more interest in than anything else?

Laura: Well I do - as I said - have my glass collection.

Jim: I'm not right sure I know what you're talking about. What kind of glass is it?

Laura: Little articles of it; they're ornaments mostly. Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here's an example of one, if you'd like to see it. This one is one of the oldest. It's nearly thirteen. [He stretches out his hand.] Oh, be careful! If you breathe, it breaks!

Jim: I'd better not take it. I'm pretty clumsy with things.

Laura: Go on, I trust you with him! [Places it in his palm.] There now, you're holding him gently! Hold him over the light, he loves the light! You see how the light shines through him?

Jim: It sure does shine!

Laura: I shouldn't be partial, but he is my favorite one.

Jim: What kind of a thing is this one supposed to be?

Laura: Haven't you noticed the single horn on his forehead?

Jim: A unicorn, huh?

Laura: Mm-hm.

Jim: Unicorns, aren't they extinct in the modern world?

Laura: I know!

Jim: Poor little fellow. He must feel sort of lonesome.

Laura: Well, if he does he doesn't complain about it. He stays on a shelf with some horses that don't have horns and all of them seem to get along nicely together.

Jim: How do you know?

Laura [lightly]: I haven't heard any arguments among them!

Jim [grinning]: No arguments, huh? Well, that's a pretty good sign. Where should I set him?

Laura: Put him on the table. They all like a change of scenery once in a while.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wisdom.

Today my cheeks are huge, my mouth is bleeding, and my pupils are dilated. The surgery was quick and I got to load up on nitrous oxide and watch Anchorman (ten times funnier when high) over my dentist's head. Hydrocodone's never been my favorite pain med (it makes me all queasy), but on the bright side I did get to watch six episodes of Hoarders (I just cannot get over those people) and lay in bed with packs of frozen peas strapped to my jaws. The highlight of the day was a visit from my sweet cousins Hannah, Mitchell, Erika, and David (who just came home from his mission to Honduras yesterday). They brought me a mango Jamba and a quesadilla, which I was pleasantly surprised that I could eat by ripping into teensy pieces. It makes me sad that my generation of cousins (Hannah, Michael-Sean, Mitchell, David, McKinlee, and Covey/Kelsey) are all going to be in Provo together this fall for the first time in over 3 years and I'm going to miss it. :-(
They'd better write me letters. :-)

I was also disappointed at missing Arabic class this morning (and probably tomorrow morning as well), particularly since I can only attend once next week thanks to the Fourth of July and a trip to the Shakespeare Festival. Where is the time going? Pretty soon (and by pretty soon, I mean in 17 days) I'll be giving my farewell talk. Talk about مجنون.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Muna.

I am the intersection of infinite passion and a finite heart that yearns.

I read something like that somewhere once and mistakenly attributed it to Robert Browning, but I finally tried looking up the quote today and realized that it isn't actually a quote. Browning uses this imagery in his poem "Two in the Campagna," but his words are "The Old trick! Only I discern - / Infinite passion, and the pain / Of finite hearts that yearn." With all respect to Browning, I like my corruption of his words better than the original. I am infinitely passionate about many things and know what it is to feel pulled in a thousand directions only to regret having a finite heart that yearns for everything and cannot have it all.

Today I also learned that my Arabic name, منى (Muna)، means something. I picked it just because I liked شكل الكلمة وصوتها (its shape and sound), particularly since it sports a nice alif maksuura on the end (the large swoopy one that dips below the line; it's my favorite ending letter in Arabic). In Italian Mona (as in the Mona Lisa) is a contraction of ma donna, which means "my lady," but Wikipedia tells me that in Arabic Mona means "unreachable wishes." It apparently originates from a plural noun, though a rare one. So I am unreachable wishes, the intersection of infinite passion and a finite heart that yearns.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mobius.

The repetition in this poem perfectly captures the nature of its subject; it's like material synecdoche for something inherently intangible.

Warning to Children
by Robert Graves

Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.
In the parcel a small island,
On the island a large tree,
On the tree a husky fruit.
Strip the husk and pare the rind off.
In the kernel you will see
Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled
Red and green, enclosed by tawny
Yellow nets, enclosed by white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where the same brown paper parcel -
Children, leave the string alone!
For who dares undo the parcel
Finds himself at once inside it,
On the island, in the fruit,
Blocks of slate about his head,
Finds himself enclosed by dappled
Green and red, enclosed by yellow
Tawny nets, enclosed by black
And white acres of dominoes,
With the same brown paper parcel
Still untied upon his knee.
And then, if he then should dare to think
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Greatness of this endless only
Precious world in which he says
he lives - he then unties the string.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

GRE.

Taking the GRE this morning stressed me out because I know this is a test for which you are supposed to study. However, I'm planning to enter graduate school for language (Arabic), and what gets you into the grad programs I'm looking at are actual skills in your target language, not the GRE. There's not a minimum GRE cutoff for language programs even at the best schools; it's more of a hoop you need to jump through in order to become a graduate student. Because my scores won't be considered very important by my future grad programs, the extent of my studying for this exam consisted of spending from 1-3 AM last night (this morning?) clicking through math concepts I've long since left behind (area and angle measure of an arc created by intersecting chords that do not pass through the center point of a circle? come on) and wondering how this was all going to go down.

The whole testing experience was stressful; I was head-singing and leg-bouncing the whole way through. The testing center (all the way out in Lindon, by the way) is more like the sterile area with the air shower and protective gear in my Harvard lab than it is like a normal classroom, all take-off-your-sweatshirt-empty-your-pockets-and-turn-around and no-go-back-you-enter-one-at-a-time-and-we-take-your-picture-with-the-surveillance-camera. These days the GRE is an avant-garde computer-adaptive exam, but its software is an unsettling throwback to like '90s MS-DOS; before you begin you have to go through an inane tutorial on how to click buttons on a mouse and select options on a screen (my favorite "don't do this" picture: the mouse sideways with someone's hand straight on top of it, palm upward). By the time you get to the actual test you are half expecting someone in grunge gear to pop out from behind you and start singing the Saved by the Bell theme song, and you're mentally confused and worn out by perusing every screen on the computer use tutorial despite the fact that you obviously know how to use a computer (but what if there's some function I need to access and I don't know about it and it screws up my test? I'd better read everything, just in case).

There's a writing section (2 essays, one on the logic of an argument and one on your perspective on an issue), a math section, and a verbal section on the GRE, and then there's an experimental research section. I was under the impression that I wouldn't be informed which section was experimental, but the program told me so in a big gray '90s dialog box and asked for my participation. I thought, hey, what the heck, I'm already here, but the real reason I think I agreed is that there's always that fear in the back of your mind that maybe if you don't participate in their research they'll round down your scores.

The worst part is that at the end of the GRE you have to look at your scores. To most people this might be considered a benefit, but I like distance between me and my test scores. I like to look at the letter that comes in the mail three weeks later and say, oh yeah, I remember taking that test, and then I don't stress about what specifically I missed because it's been so long I can't remember a thing. I clicked in to see my scores and immediately felt disappointed, which was not a surprise. I knew I would feel disappointed no matter what, because as a perfectionist I hate to see any errors in anything.

Overall, I know I could have done better on the verbal section (apparently there's strategy to this; the computer weights more heavily toward the beginning questions, so if you miss one of them you're screwed right off the bat and have to reclaim whatever semblance of dignity you can by answering the rest of the questions perfectly, which I think happened to me), but I was positively surprised at my math score. I expected a 750 in verbal and got a (unofficial; real scores appear in a few weeks) 650, and in math I expected a 550 and got a 680. So my overall score is respectable for a graduate applicant and about what I expected it to be (1330), but with a different distribution than I expected. I might take it again just to prove (to whom?) that my verbal skills are way better than my test reflects...but I think that's just the perfectionist in me speaking (not to say that I don't let her take control of what happens in my life 98% of the time).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Reclamation.

that's what i'm talking about.
:-)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Growing.

I was incredibly frustrated with my Arabic speaking skills last semester. I felt like in comparison with two and a half years of steady upward progress in grammar, comprehension, composition, and reading, my oral speech capabilities insisted on remaining grossly underdeveloped. However, as of two days ago I don't think I've ever spoken more fluently. I can't pinpoint a reason as to why, but somehow I speak with more fluidity, at a manageable conversational speed, and with most of the correct declinations. I'm nowhere near perfect, of course, but complex conversations about the roles of public social establishments in Islamic culture during the Middle Ages, the historical and architectural significance of Moscow's Red Square, and the different artistic styles present in the facade of the White House seem to flow more freely than ever. It's a mixed blessing, as I'm heading off to the MTC in just about a month and for the next year and a half my finally-emerging speaking skills will have to be put on hold, but I'm still incredibly pleased with my progress (and incredibly surprised that my efforts are finally starting to pay off). It's nice to know that I can do it, despite the fact that this has taken more hard work than I ever could have imagined, especially to push through periods where I don't think I'm making any progress.

Moral of the Story: I take a while to do things and get frustrated if I can't do them right away, especially if others can. But if I work hard and am patient I will realize success, even if it takes longer than I thought it might. Some people are naturally open and exuberant and changeable and can adapt to new things more quickly than I can, but I'm a grower. Slowly but surely I grow into people and situations and languages and roles, which takes seemingly infinite amounts of concentration, time, and effort. I just have to realize that it's okay and I'm okay, because if I keep plodding along at my very own pace I know I'll make it in the end.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My day.

I get up at sevenish and run for an hour or so on the elliptical while watching Lost, which is perfect because not only am I so sucked into the story that I almost don't feel myself ripping the fascioles of my gastrocnemii into small proteinaceous pieces, I also feel like I'm in the jungle running around with the Lost people. And, man, I would run anywhere with those guys.

I shower and style my hair/makeup/outfit/self while listening to my pretentiously international summer playlist which bears the distinction of having only one song to which I can understand all of the words (a favorite is a colloquial Lebanese Arabic indie tune in which all I can understand is شو مع لك؟ كيف تبان؟ [excuse the fact that I can't spell in Shami, but let's face it, neither can anyone]).

Then I go to school. I'm not enrolled but since school is basically the only thing I really know how to do I go to classes to keep myself busy. Arabic is the high point, of course, as I really don't think I can love anything more than I love that language, and then I also attend Mission Prep, which I hope will be helpful and in which I am glad I'm not actually enrolled because there's only one teacher this term and he is a dude who seems to enjoy inflicting undue stress on the poor new freshmen who populate the class (today we sat through a 20-minute discussion about how to log on to Blackboard).

I finish classes around lunchtime and go home to eat whatever I can find in the fridge or, alternatively, convince someone to give me money so I can live it up with whatever foods I choose for my last month of life as I know it (a good argument which almost always works). I particularly enjoy shrimp tacos from Bajio, tomato soup from Zupas, and fat-free pistachio yogurt from Golden Spoon.

The afternoon is the hardest part of my day because I generally have nothing to fill it. I basically hang out at bookstores with the creepers and senior citizens who also don't have anything to do from 1-5 pm, and I wander the shelves picking up ten thousand things and sampling them and putting them back. I can't seem to really get into any solid reading this summer, which bothers me on like ten subconscious levels, the loudest of which keeps reminding me that I won't be able to read anything I want for the next eighteen months so I should freaking get a move on or else I'm going to regret it.

I take the GRE on Saturday, so I should probably study for that at some point, but it's crazy hard to make yourself stay inside and review trigonometry when the sun is shining and you know you have limited days during which you can drop everything, think about nothing, and just lay out in the sun, which I often do (and love doing).

In fact, on most days this behavior devolves into a series of existential crises which I experience face down on patches of grass throughout Provo. (Keep an eye out.) Today's took place outside Borders at around 3 pm, where I lay on my stomach across the token strip of grass by the west exit and thought myself out. It was a small strip of grass and I almost took up the whole thing, but I couldn't be exactly face down because my face would have been right on the seam between the square grass pieces, which I had lifted up earlier to examine the little grassy roots underneath and wonder at the irony of having woven grass squares and look for little bugs because something has to live down there and isn't the whole thing just like Heart of Darkness, but the very existence of grass squares might mean the wilderness is losing, so does that mean Conrad is wrong and if so what does that do to my worldview, maybe I should reread Death of a Salesman because Loman and his concrete prison are sounding more accurate than ever, but no, we've got Barbara Kingsolver in this corner with her jungle that eats itself and lives forever and isn't that my favorite image in all of literature, so shouldn't I be convinced despite the fact that I am laying on my stomach at three in the afternoon with my face between grass squares that probably came out of some factory in the Midwest where the economy makes the dude that pumps the dirt into the machines grateful he still has a job despite the fact that it is mind-numbing and pointless, unlike me, who has no job and is currently laying face down on his product while wearing a pencil skirt and heels in the middle of the day in full view of other bookstore customers and employees.

I eventually go home and have dinner with the fam and teach the two-year-old some Arabic and think about all the things I need to be doing that do not exactly have to take place right now, because I have five weeks to do them and if I do them all at once I will have nothing whatsoever to do for the next five weeks and that is what really will send me over the edge (if so much face time with the grass doesn't do it first).

Waiting to leave on a mission really does seem interminable.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Score.

The soundtrack to my summer features amped-up Hindi fusion vibes--particularly the award-winning score from this movie (one of my all-time favorites). India is vibrant and colorful and the center of the world right now, and before I have to listen to docile hymns all day I am getting in lots of ear time with these crazy/sexy/free creations. This is fast becoming the genre that best matches my internal environment when I am in a driven/adventurous/psyched mood.

I love everything about this song. Listen even (especially?) if you hate embedded music files; just sit there and feel the restless motion. It's quintessentially summer.

End-games.

As my MTC entry date (July 27) begins to bump up against my consciousness I am making many important appointments: interviews, endowments, wisdom teeth removal, goodbye get-togethers, farewell talk, etc. I am extremely grateful for my mission call and couldn't be more ecstatic about my destination, but as I think more and more about Korea I can't help but feel how automatically intelligible Latinate languages are, how much more accessible almost anywhere else in the world seems than someplace of which I have zero mental concept. I have been many places and I know what to expect from international travel, particularly from the Arab world and super-metropolis cities. But I have not been anywhere like the Korean countryside and in my mind it is a question mark, which is less bad than it is totally blank. I simply don't know what's coming. I don't know what spending three months at the MTC will be like, and I don't know what I will feel when I am dropped into a country and expected to become eloquent and convincing enough to persuade a person to change the fabric of his or her life using a language I will have studied for only three months. What I do know is that I am an adjustable person and can make a life out of practically any circumstances, regardless of how heavily the shadow of change feels before I take the plunge. And I take comfort in the fact that it will be the Spirit, not me and my choppy Korean, that will convert the people who are ready to hear the truth.

Throughout my entire life I have consistently and naively jumped into the end-games of specialists; with no particular preparation I chronically end up in situations for which others spend years training. As a novice I skip into and out of culminating events in people's lives and once there I get my bearings, adapt, and eventually mold myself into a semi-functional entity appropriate for my context, at which point my timeline skips again and I find myself somewhere completely different. As the youngest member of a medical aid team in the Philippines I had to translate physicians' notes but spoke no Cebuano; as a fifteen-year-old I moved to England alone to study liberal arts at Cambridge; at nineteen I bought a sublease in Boston and trained in cutting-edge stem cell research at Harvard Medical School; my freshman year in college I found myself heading a DNA research team of male students five years my senior and TAing for almost-graduates; my introduction to Middle Eastern Studies came through months of trial and error feeling out linguistic and ideological divides in Jerusalem; I selected Arabic as my first second language with no previous linguistic background; for no apparent reason I decided that my "sport" would be adult figure skating and, skipping the first three classes, I spent weeks bruised and falling until I learned to spin.

Missionary work is another end-game, and as usual I know I will work alongside people far more qualified than I am, people who know what they're doing and what they're getting into because they've worked to become good at what they do. And as usual I will have to feel out my boundaries, figure out my position and lay out the things I don't know so I can learn to function in my context, modeling those I see and admiring their commitment and knowledge. But this time I am in for the long haul; months in Western Europe or even the Middle East are small potatoes compared to a year and a half in Southeast Asia. Thrilled to start my journey, I realize that it will be a journey, a long and difficult learning process peppered with both positive and negative experiences. I guess my time on such a path is a microcosm of life, a small iteration of my living fractal sped up to fit in eighteen months. As usual, I don't feel ready. I'm not ready. But maybe feeling ready is impossible, because I can't prepare for what I can't anticipate. And maybe I need to accept that and simply move forward in faith.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tree.

"I am almost 21 years old*, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I'm starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life's sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it's my own choices that'll lock me in, it seems unavoidable--if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them."

~ David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
*adjusted to reflect my age

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer.

I finished all three of my remaining finals today (everything but Arabic, which I took on Monday) and wrote for so long (four and a half hours straight without stopping and then one more hour after a break) that my hand swelled up and froze into position around my mechanical pencil. Every time I tried to move my finger joints they creaked like ancient door jambs, but I finally made it and dragged myself off campus to the tune of what I hope will be a 4.0. The warmth and sunshine definitely helped; before my tests I studied sprawled out on the ledge next to the library and felt so happy I couldn't help but retain everything I read.

I'll still be hanging around campus for as much of summer term as I can, so don't celebrate yet, BYU; you haven't gotten rid of me. I'll attend the second half of my Arabic bridge class, hang out in the back of a section of Mission Prep, and try to find my way into a random history or politics class just for Arabic practice (I find trying to take notes or translating/transcribing a lecturer's comments in real time in Arabic boosts my at-speed reading-writing-oral comprehension; concentrating on spelling things right while making my letters and sentences grammatical and legible while simultaneously searching for appropriate vocabulary to match a speaker's words while listening for new information is a trip).

I came home late this evening exhausted and ready to crash, but most of the Friendship is in town and they coerced me into night swimming in the Crosbys' pool. It was probably the last time I'll see Katie before I leave on my mission (she lives in California), so I'm sad about that, but we had a nice catch-up sesh and she promised to send me lots of letters and pictures. :-) Tomorrow morning a few of us are hitting up the temple for baptisms for the dead at 7 AM, and then the rest of the day will stretch out in front of us and we will wrap ourselves in unscheduled time.

Welcome, summer. For me you'll last only a month. But I'm so glad you're finally here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Erasmus chiasmus.

I took my first class at BYU the summer before I entered as a student. It took place in room 250 of the Maeser building and our subject was fifteenth-century Florence. We picked apart Machiavelli and Erasmus, contrasting the former's The Prince with the latter's Education of a Christian Prince.

I took my last class at BYU (well, for eighteen months) the summer before I left on my mission. It took place in room 250 of the Maeser building and our subject was the biblical and classical origin of Western civilization. We ended the semester studying Machiavelli and Erasmus, and the bell rang to end my final class during a discussion of The Prince and Education of a Christian Prince.

Such serendipitous chiasmus lends poetic closure to my decision to take an eighteen-month break from my university education. I'll resume in spring 2013 at age 22.

Finals tomorrow, so I'd better get to the library. My goal is to end on a 4.0. :-)

Monday, June 13, 2011

الكنافة

There's nothing I want more than this right now.
Kunafe (الكنافة) is a traditional dessert in the Arab world with which I fell in love in Jerusalem. What's interesting about this sweet is that every place that has it, whether inside or outside the Middle East, seems to make it completely differently. The basic concept is always the same--cheese, dough, sweet wheat, sugary syrup, and pistachio garnish--but I've never had it the same way twice. The best way to have it, in my opinion, is the way they make it at my favorite دكان الحلويات in Jerusalem's Old City. Enter Damascus Gate, walk straight down the largeish middle road until you're forced to choose your path at a fork, choose the street on the right, and walk until you see Jafar Sweets on your right-hand side. You'll think you've gone too far, but keep walking--you'll know it when you see the blue-and-orange light-up sign. Ask for the stuff that looks like the picture above. The pastry is more than worth the trip.

I'd better be careful, though; the Arabic Wikipedia entry tells me that 250g of the stuff (sue me; I'm a scientist who worked with nothing but the metric system for years and I still cannot picture an amount in grams) is worth 961 calories. Go figure.

Friday, June 10, 2011

نهاية الفصل الدراسي

I like to read this poem as reassurance in regard to my university experience. My flawless GPA lost its virginity to organic chemistry in the fall and its irreparable imperfection (however slight) freaks me out every time I look at my transcript. At the end of each subsequent semester I live in fear of causing further damage (and consequently further damaging my chances to attend whatever graduate school I want). I like this poem as it relates to school, but not as it relates to life, because lines 2-5 don't square with my religious philosophy in such context. The poem reminds me that I don't have to kill myself for academic perfection and that what is most important is allowing myself to love what I study. The world is bigger than my academic preferences and all of it is open to my imagination. Though lonely, as a thinking person I will always have a place "in the family of things."

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine,
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles and the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two years.

 I think I'd do almost anything to be able to relive my Jerusalem Center experience as the person I am now, but at the same time I know I wouldn't be where I am today if I had not gone when I had.

I came to the JC as a disillusioned eighteen-year-old who had just finished her freshman year in college. I came searching for intellectual stimulation and new experiences in a world where it felt like I'd already done everything, a world for which I had such high expectations but which consistently delivered disappointment. I had wanted the world from college; I came bright-eyed, question-filled, and ready to blossom, but felt cheated by my experience. Two semesters of eighteen-plus credits, packed to the brim with chemistries and calculus and senior-level microbiology courses for which I had completed none of the prerequisites had proved mind-numbingly easy, not to mention impersonal, and I applied to Jerusalem to enhance my already-pristine medical school resume and to try something else--anything else.

You should know I loved my time in Jerusalem. I said I'd never been happier, and I still think that's true. But we detect happiness in an overwhelmingly general assay, and there were plenty of things I did to damage my own experience.

I didn't think about the social aspect when I applied; to me, such an issue has always been irrelevant. But in such an airtight, inbred community, where all we had (and all we were allowed to have) was each other, the social scene soon became all I could think about. If anything the situation became a dystopic experiment: What happens when 79 college students interact with no one else for four straight months?

It's painful to reread my journal and hear so much about interpersonal relations in my group and so little real information about once-in-a-lifetime visits to time-immemorial places. I remember becoming so caught up in who liked me and who didn't that I cared more about where and with whom I sat on the bus than our destination. I remember doing things that contradict my nature in order to (try to) win someone else's approval, and I remember being hurt by the pettiness and immaturity of others along the way. There was one chick in particular who always bragged about loving everyone while making her distaste for me very obvious (the hypocrisy bothered me way more than the dislike). Her blog (which I still follow as a Jerusalem relic; I don't think she knows) actually gives me my very favorite external description of myself from that time period. I think it's supposed to be negative, and I think that's why I like it so much.

I am hesitant to blame such social obsession on my relative youth. I was the youngest girl on my program, but definitely not among the least mature. I think my attitude and that of the similarly obsessed people around me stemmed mainly from living in a social vacuum; if no one else in the vacuum likes you then you are alone, and in Jerusalem you can't be alone, because if you are you are consigned to isolation from the city and the experience, as you can't leave the building without at least two colleagues, not to mention the fact that you don't want to be alone in your pictures (which I don't understand now, and I really regret not having more pictures of just me) which you are sending home to friends and family so everyone will think you are happy and socially well-adjusted.

I should have been happy with the friendships that came automatically, however few in number, and I shouldn't have cared so much about the image I wanted others to have of me. I should have lost myself in the experience and the schoolwork (which I did to an extent) and the learning of it all rather than worry about being liked. I should have listened more closely to the guides and professors and sat where I could take down their every word rather than hang out near the back so people would notice I was trying to be "cool" or whatever it is you try to be when you'd rather talk about nothing than listen about something. I should have documented my experience more thoroughly, giving precedence to things that actually mattered.

But if I had not gone to Jerusalem as the person I was, I would not be the person I am now. I made a few lasting friendships that have been huge blessings in my life. I learned to live in a land of divisions, to respect Judaism and Islam and their adherents equally. I learned that I do not hate international politics. I learned how to love new foods and how to fall in love with a city and an ideal. But most significantly, I found Arabic, which has gradually wrested control of my schedule from the sciences and radically altered the direction of my future and career. I can't ask to go back. I would have to live it the same way, with all my imperfections, to receive the benefits I now enjoy. But I would like to have the same experience again at this point in my life. Extrinsically, the emotionally balanced Arabic scholar would glean more from her experiences in Jerusalem than the self-confused teenager. However, that's not a choice I have the power to make, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Linked.

Rereading my first impression of what became my major (assessed as an eighteen-year-old neuroscience major) sounds like something out of a movie. Relationships don't really start like this.

On one hand I remember my frustration and my argument remains valid. I've always been an empiricist, though I'm not as brutal as I used to be, and my call to "make a physical difference with your work instead of postulating hollow, sophistic nonsense that boils down to nothing more than circular reasoning" still rings true. On the other hand, as I rack up years in college hours in literature I feel like I'm finally learning to value abstraction.

I've spent most of my intellectual life devaluing the intangible, deriding the liberal arts for concentrating on invisible ideas rather than concrete truths. As my eighteen-year-old self so venomously put it, "What keeps you alive and able to articulate such ill-defined principles are the ion concentrations in your neurons, not some metaphysical connection to universal mythemes." Sure, it's the ion concentrations that keep you alive, but maybe it's the simple realization of human togetherness that keeps you wanting to live. Or not.

I know it's college-student cliche to finally immerse yourself in Plato and fall in love with the theory of recollection not just because it's fascinating, but because you've articulated it, too. You can laugh because before now I've never gone through Herodotus, Thucydides, or Livy (my place-in-history obsession hasn't died) or because I've never written about Cicero or Vergil. The ideas might not be new--I could argue history and philosophy before I read any of it; the theories are familiar to anyone who's been in school. But for a science-hardened neophyte, the opportunity to draw my own conclusions from the texts I've heard about for so long has proven surprisingly satisfying. My mind (and my library) is richer for the experience.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Complex II.

I think I've finally reached the spillover point for my current intellectual phase; for years I've convinced myself that it's enough for me to vacuum things into my mind and evaluate them in dialogue with myself rather than venture outside to solicit the opinions of others about the things I think. My internal rhetoric has always been enough for me. I am both egotistical and open about my powers of reasoning, as I find others' opinions perpetually fascinating and worth testing (from which point I may incorporate iterations of them into my repertoire or not) but by nature inferior to my own. I am continually learning--testing and weighing and sampling and piecing together my self from the conglomeration of ideas that exists outside my internal world--but in a more proletarian sense, unless you're interesting, I don't care what you think, and I definitely don't care what you think about what I think.

Though egotistical, my philosophy is egalitarian. My thoughts don't matter to you in the same way yours don't matter to me. Others are rulers of their own internal dialogues and so have no reason to value anything I believe. They will draw their own conclusions from our common source of information and whatever they come away with is as valid as what I construct. I have never understood the need to share information about what one thinks. Though gratifying in a sense--it's nice to have someone listen--if I read a book, listen to a lecture, or attend a class and come away knowing the presented material I can be content in my interpretation and no one else has to be involved. Don't get me wrong; I can defend myself, so if someone manages to compel me into a debate he can prepare to argue, but unless he is factually wrong in his argument I feel no need to let him know I think otherwise. To others I am irrelevant. They shouldn't care about my thoughts; they are fundamentally uninvolved.

But I've become increasingly frustrated at reading and reading and reading and never having an open dialogue in which I can present my ideas--the real ones, the ones that live outside the boundaries that sometimes seem so set in stone. BYU isn't the right forum for those, though it's not because they aren't compatible with the gospel. It's because they're not traditional, and in this culture you grow up learning that nontraditional things must be kept to yourself. Teach the mainstream, keep the eclecticism, right or wrong or otherwise classified. And maybe that's where this whole complex originates. I live an environment in which I have been primed to keep anything remotely interesting inside myself. Is it any wonder I can't make comments in class?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tribute.

This is my little brother Ryan. At least, this is the way I think of him.
But this is my little brother Ryan now. He's 18 years old and graduates from high school today.
Where I might be kind of awkward, Ryan is really cool. He's a state championship basketball player (#12) and one of the most athletic and popular guys in school. I can barely keep track of all of his friends (or dates). He's a fantastic student, incredibly smart (coming to BYU in the fall!), and a phenomenal writer, though in personality and attitude he does his best to downplay seeming...well, too much like me. :-) He's laid back, happy, and confident, but never arrogant.
But what makes Ryan really awesome is his heart. Cool-guy facade aside, he is thoughtful and conscientious and kind to everyone. He values integrity and is so well liked because he is so inherently likable, because he goes out of his way to crack a joke or make a comment or otherwise brighten your day. He is naturally spiritual and willing to work for the knowledge he acquires, and he will be a truly amazing missionary.
Ryan and I will miss each other on our missions--he'll leave after winter semester next year, while I'm still out, and I'm really, really going to miss him.
What can I say? He was my first friend.

I love you, Ryan! Happy graduation!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A girl who reads.

"Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You'll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She's the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore. She's the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she's kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author's making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book. Buy her another cup of coffee.

It's easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn't burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.
Or better yet, date a girl who writes."

~ excerpts from a heartwarming piece by Rosemarie Urquico
see the full quote here, many thanks to jbod

Monday, May 23, 2011

Presentation.

I am frustrated and on the brink of tears. Why can't an oral presentation ever go well?

This morning I had to give a speech in my best fusHa Arabic about volunteering in a Palestinian hospital. Worse yet, I had to be filmed by the National Middle East Language Resource Center. It wasn't pretty. I forgot words from my script and paused for inordinate periods of time, trying desperately to make myself recall any coherent sentence. I panicked and couldn't keep my syntax straight. And when I finally got back to my seat I slumped down and had to keep myself from running out of the room or bursting into tears.

DEAR WORLD, PLEASE DO NOT MAKE ME DO THINGS LIKE THIS.
Grading me on the way I speak--in any language--only hurts my feelings. Don't kick me when I'm already down. It has taken me twenty years of conscious, difficult work to be able to control my speech in English, and I have already had to realize that in Arabic I will have to be patient for such skills. I'm grateful for the practice. But evaluating the mistakes of which I am already so painfully conscious in a way that could potentially injure my GPA just makes me sad.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Again.

Today I went to a fireside hosted by a dude who has lived in المملكة العربية السعودية for the past sixteen years. I waited until after all the old people had had a chance to shake his hand and tell him marginally relevant run-on stories, and as he was walking out, I zoomed right up next to him. I had to say something to him in Arabic. He'd walked near me earlier, and I'd totally chickened out, saying just "Hi" in English. Despite my flawless track record in Arabic classes, I have a terrible fear of saying things out loud to native speakers or people who speak well. This has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion, as I've missed out on a lot of speaking opportunities. It's just incredibly hard for me to get up the guts to say something that I'll probably end up saying incorrectly; I beat myself up for weeks about mistakes. But this time there was no one else around--just me and the dude. We were walking out of the church, and this was my last chance.

"هل تتكلم اللغة العربية؟" I started, stuttering over the verb.
"¿Cómo?" said the man.
Confused, I repeated myself, carefully pronouncing every vowel. "هل تتكلم اللغة العربية؟"
He still looked confused.
"Arabic?" I prompted, desperate for recognition.
"Oh. I don't speak any Arabic," he replied, kind of annoyed.
My uncle, who was making conversation in the foyer, spotted us and came over. "Hey! You know what? My niece speaks Arabic!"
The man answered, "Yeah, she just did. I couldn't understand a word." And then he turned away to talk to his wife.

I was annoyed and insulted. The problem wasn't my Arabic, it was the fact that he spoke no Arabic.
And really, sixteen years in Saudi Arabia and you can't speak a word of Arabic? حرام عليك، يا رجل.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Be prepared.

It's sunny today for the first time in what seems like forever (the news says it's rained for 39 out of the last 52 days), so this morning I decided to go on a bike ride up Provo Canyon. It was fantastic to feel the sun on my shoulders and the wind in my ponytail as I zoomed up the canyon, headphones threaded through my helmet. But on my way back down, I could tell something wasn't right.

There's just one blind corner on the bike path; it's in the middle of a shady dip that winds around and under the highway. It's actually my favorite part of the trail; it takes you out of the sun, gives your legs a break, and you get to ride right next to the river. It's easy to speed into the turn and coast out, which I usually enjoy doing. But not today. The presence of a space-consuming family on roller skates caused me to ease slowly into the turn to avoid them, and it's a good thing I did.

I arrived about thirty seconds after a terrible accident. Two girls on bikes had collided on the blind corner. One had been wearing a helmet, and she was scratched up but okay, but the other girl lay supine on the pavement, eyes open and frozen at weird angles. She was completely still. The few of us that happened to be passing through called the paramedics and stopped traffic around the corner so others wouldn't speed into the turn and hit the motionless girl. I didn't know what to do. Despite all that I've studied about acute neurological injury, I have no credentials or experience in practice, so though I wanted to help I didn't touch her and kept my diagnostic ideas to myself. Instead, at the request of the paramedics (who arrived with incredible speed), I positioned myself and my bike across the trail and asked incoming bikers to get off and walk. I described the accident to those who asked as the EMTs loaded the still-unresponsive girl onto a spine board and sped away in an ambulance. One biker a few years older than I immediately put her hands to her temples when I told her what had happened. "Oh my gosh," she exclaimed. "And I'm not wearing a helmet today."

Moral of the story: Helmets. Please wear them. Traumatic brain injury can happen to you.


Also, according to Mr. Harold Camping (yeah, his website's down...wonder why?) today is the Rapture! At 6 PM local time all over the world, righteous Christians are going to be sucked up into heaven by Jesus while everyone else suffers in a sequence of earthquakes, fires, and plagues until October 21.

I love the hype and really get a kick out of eschatology in all its forms, serious and non-. I was 10 years old during Y2K and remember watching the ball drop in Times Square from the TV in my playroom, end-of-the-world kit in hand (comprising some extra Martinelli's, a chocolate orange left over from Christmas, and a Y2K-themed Beanie Baby). I couldn't wait for my computer to explode and for the Western world to rebuild from scratch.

So we've got Camping's Rapture today (for which I indulged in a large portion of Magelby's chocolate cake last night, just in case), and then in 2012 we've got the big one, the Mayan prophecy for December 21. I just realized that I'll be on my mission for that one--I wonder if Koreans are into the whole 2012 thing? I really hope so. :-) Also, I realized that I'll miss all the fun surrounding the 2012 election. I wonder when I can register for an absentee ballot. What can I say? The world's a fun place to be right now.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Recurring.

Discussion of early church history (1800s) in my religion class this morning served to reassert a belief I've already articulated. The 1800s are dead to me the same way the Mayan civilization and the Ottoman caliphate are dead. They exist outside my rationale for consciousness and my image of a coherent world; history that is not my own is stories and nothing else. I can see ruins, I can touch statues and stand on old city walls and unearth shards of pottery, but I cannot believe it is real in the same way I believe my life is real. I am a product of the cultural paradigms inside which I have developed and I cannot really fathom things differently. It's like trying to think in four dimensions. Trying to comprehend history comes off as an intellectual exercise rather than a belief that it was once reality. You can make things up and tell me they were true, had been true in Spain or the Congo or Australia, and I will imagine things like I imagine when you tell me the Nabateans carved Petra and Stalin slaughtered millions.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Class.

Two o'clock is hard for me. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, that's when my Historical-Comparative Linguistics class starts, and though I like the class, I can barely keep my eyes open. Regardless, in my impaired state some part of me still attempts to take notes. With any semblance of rational judgment out of the picture, though, whatever base element of consciousness remains gets all garbled and all it can remember about taking notes is the fact that you write down some of what people are saying to you. It loses all ability to prioritize information, but in a valiant effort to maintain control it writes down things that, though very interesting to read when I wake up, are never very informative. Things like "ppl war" and "disappeared a the (triangle)s." But today I read over my first-hour notes and felt entirely pleased with myself. Because for the first time, some of my unconscious self's notes showed up in Arabic. I wrote (get ready for this):

لا -- صعبة
(translation: no -- difficult)

I don't know what I meant. I don't know what I was supposed to be writing about. The only memory I have of this sentence is thinking something like "that's an object plural." Which is kind of comforting, I guess. If I lose the ability to focus on immediate tasks, at least I'll always remember how to decline Arabic adjectives for groups of inanimate objects.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Summer.

The last few days of warmth (it snowed last week!) have finally convinced me that it’s summer. It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself to have this realization—I’m generally so busy and so far away from home that the season barely registers. And in theory, this summer shouldn’t be much different—ten graded credits and two audit credits have the potential to keep me indoors for the next month or so. But now that it’s warm, I’m not so sure I’ll let them. Instead of reading Sophocles’ three Theban plays this week I went on a date with a longtime friend for Korean food, watched my little brother win summer league basketball games, had a barbecue and fire pit outside with some fantastic اصحاب من درسي العربي, helped to plan an “Amazing Race” day date for my brother’s senior ball date, went swimming yesterday morning, and hung out in my swimsuit as I ate watermelon and let my hair dry curly.

There’s just one thing I crave that I can’t let myself have. This is usually the time I dye my hair pink, but that can’t happen this time around because I’ll be a missionary in just about two months. It still doesn’t feel real, even as I send in my visa application (I look like an angry alien in my I’m-not-even-thinking-about-smiling-I-promise-Kim-Jong-Il picture), learn honorific particles of address from Rosetta Stone Korean, and start thinking about going through Preach My Gospel again. I really should be doing more preparation, but between school and summer it’s really hard to focus. I'll get it under control...after all my homework, some frozen yogurt, and maybe an America's Next Top Model marathon. :-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Simple.

Receiving a phone call is simple. But when your phone rings, pulling you out of your papers and study guides and busy work, you realize that the person on the other line is actively concentrating his or her attention on you and has been for at least as long as it takes to decide to call you. If it's an important call, they may have even wondered what to say or imagined how you might react.

And sometimes that's really nice to think about.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wanderlust.

Summers of My Life
2006: Cambridge, England (lived/study abroad); London, Paris (visited)
2007: Bohol, Philippines (lived/humanitarian aid); Cebu, Manila (visited)
2008: spent between Montana, California, and Texas
2009: Israel (lived/study abroad); Palestine, Egypt, Jordan (visited)
2010: Boston (lived/biomedical research internship); DC, New York (visited)
2011: PROVO, UTAH

I know, I know. I'm not really complaining. I have a year and a half in South Korea on the immediate horizon, ما شاء الله. But for now all the travel pics on Facebook are tugging at my heartstrings because I'm remembering that I haven't spent a summer here since I was 14.

Consolation
by Billy Collins

How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a cafe ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two poems beginning with F.

"For a Five-Year Old"
by Fleur Adcock

A snail is climbing up the window-sill
Into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see and I explain
That it would be unkind to leave it there:
It might crawl to the floor; we must take care
That no one squashes it. You understand,
And carry it outside, with careful hand,
To eat a daffodil.

I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
Your gentleness is moulded still by words
From me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
Your closest relatives and who purveyed
The harshest kind of truth to many another,
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.

--------------------------------------------
"Forgetfulness"
by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New beginnings.

I think I'll push this right to the top of to my growing list of things to do before July 27. :-)
Thanks, Uncle Stephen, for the generous gift!

Blemblow.

"Do you want to ride Blemblow? He's very, very blue."
of course I do.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Gobama!

"There is no doubt that al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad. As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. I've made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam, because bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al-Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."

شكرا، يا أوباما، لإيضاحك
ومع السلامة يا أوسامة!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Called to serve.

Dear Sister Sagers,

You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Korea Daejeon Mission. It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 18 months.

You should report to the Provo Missionary Training Center on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. You will prepare to preach the gospel in the Korean language.

 --------------------------------------------

I arrived home from school at 6 PM and barely even wanted to look at the huge white envelope on my counter. I couldn't--it was just too much. I couldn't begin to fathom that the next eighteen months of my life would be decided by the contents of a single letter. And I couldn't let myself make a single guess. Sure, places and languages flitted in and out of my mind, dissolving almost as soon as they took shape--Italy, Hong Kong, Brazil, Taiwan, Washington, Texas, Massachusetts--but I wouldn't let myself make a single guess. There was a huge question mark in my mind where my mission call was and I wanted to keep it that way. I didn't want to put my hopes in the wrong place because I knew wherever I was sent would be perfect for me.

When people started pouring into my house, bubbling over with their guesses and congratulations and compliments, I started to get a little nervous. They asked, "Don't you just want to open it right now?" and I replied, "No. Actually, I don't even want to look at it." But as soon as I stood up in front of my fireplace, surrounded by family and friends, I felt extremely calm. I'm an emotional person, and I always expected to break into tears when I read my mission call out loud, especially to a crowd. But to my surprise I felt entirely collected and at peace. I opened the letter, pulled out the papers, and immediately snuck a quick glance at the place. I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear when I saw Korea--and then I began to read. I still can't believe it. And I am so entirely happy.

Take one.

I am blogging to keep my mind off the fact that my mission call is on my kitchen table. It's just patiently sitting there, waiting for me to stop freaking out, pick it up, and tear into its smug little face so I can find out where I'm going to spend the next year and a half. Maybe smug's the wrong word. Perfect might be the right one--in the verb tense sense, not the flawless sense. Or maybe both. I don't know.

In the meantime...it's that time again! First impressions for spring term!

Arabic 221R (standard Arabic tutorial): This class is the little intravenous line that will keep me alive by infusing my mornings (8 am!) with the subject I love most. I'm so madly happy that Arabic's not yet out of my life that I'm more than ecstatic to do anything this course requires. It's a grammar/texts/vocab review, not necessarily a continuation of Arabic 202, which is a little disappointing, and it's taught by a fellow student, which usually bothers me, but Griffin is dedicated, sincere, and talented and I know this will be a positive experience.

Religion C 325 (second half of the Doctrine & Covenants): I specifically added Brother Dorius' section for a number of reasons: he's kind, open, remembers me, gets to know his students, teaches effectively and interestingly, and (best of all) his class is a piece of cake if you do the work. I look forward to attending. Plus, I'm really thrilled to be getting into the text; I haven't spent as much time as I should have in it in the past and I'm excited to discover it.

Linguistics 450 (historical-comparative linguistics): Mixed reviews about the professor (Skousen) led me to walk in with apprehension, but I think we're really going to get along. He's old, funny, opinionated, intelligent, and confident and I'm looking forward to the hours I spend in his classroom. Language reconstruction is hard, and I remain scared of when I have to do it on my own, but such additional exposure to the finer points of my major is reminding me why I changed it in the first place. I know I like a class when my notes are covered in meta-notes (margin musings, quotes, examples, etc.).

Honors 201 (biblical and classical roots of Western civilization): Hmm. This is the only class about which I am unsure. It's a Civilization 1 GE class (ugh) and we have a grading TA (ugh), but I'm hoping for a better experience in an honors section. It's essentially a comparative literature course, and the reading list comprises classics from Gilgamesh to Dante, which looks promising, but I'm just not sure about the professor. He seems funny, but his mannerisms and style of speech confuse me, and the syllabus looks complex. Time will tell?

*Bonus Audit! Near Eastern Languages 511R (Dead Sea Scrolls translation): I'm excited to study and translate the Dead Sea Scrolls with one of the members of the official translation team (and an editor of the Biblica Hebraica Quinta, which I am psyched to get when it's all done). I'll learn the nuances of Qumran Hebrew and how to read the handwritten text on the scrolls as well as gain a comprehensive background in their content and scholarship. And I'm just auditing, so there's no real pressure grade-wise.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Game.

Let's play a little game of "Me or Not Me" on the Internet.

Me.


Not me.
 
(though that class sounds cool and I wish I knew Jeb the Professional Matador) 
 
Me.
(read it and weep, folks; Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul loved me and all my preteen angst)

Not me.
(part of an elite slew of student-athlete Lady Hornets? sounds just like me!)

Me.
(and a total of two non-family members came to said book signing. beat that, Oprah.)

Not me.
(two words: CHICKEN EXPRESS)

Wait for it...

...except when it's your mission call.

The whole thing just doesn't seem real.
JUST COME ALREADY!

This will be An Experience (and I'm never one to miss An Experience)
It represents a significant time commitment (18 months)
It will be very difficult (and I love a challenge)
It may involve travel
It may involve culture shock
It may involve learning another language
It may not involve any of those things
It will bless my life
It will give me a break to think about what I really want to do
I will be a more knowledgeable doctrinal scholar
I will be a more spiritual person
I might even learn to love other people
I will hopefully change someone's life for the better

I am going to do this and I am going to be better for it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

State.

Something I found to listen to is launching me back into the circular conversations, the old human ones where I scare myself by asking if I'm crazy and if I'm conscious and if I'm making irrational decisions without knowing I'm impaired and if so how would I know and if I were would it even matter because what I do and think and feel is how it is and how I am.

My name is Jessica and I form damaging emotional attachments to states of being and to people.
I carefully plant such attachments way down deep inside and nurture them in dark soul soil visible to no one else but me. In time, my rational side comes to hate her emotional twin's secret flowers; passive-aggressively, she doesn't uproot them, but tears their leaves into smaller and smaller pieces until her fingers can't rip them anymore. In rare circumstances she might even nourish the mutilated stems back to health, watching their leaves regain the bloom of life before repeating the entire process--torture in the first degree. But I always come to find that my dysfunction stems less from what become my vices than it does from the notion of attachment--the necessarily-being-attached, the idea that I am one puzzle piece of many that will make me me. I don't know if I truly trust the concept of becoming one, of merging myself with other things, and this is why I consistently create obsessions with the inanimate and the impossible. Such projections constitute a virtual reality which satisfies my insatiable human need for attachment without offending the laws by which I function, which are founded in the first degree on singularity.