مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

Monday, January 31, 2011


"The bud stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing..."

--from Galway Kinnell's "Saint Francis and the Sow"

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Today the work of Arab poet Nizar Qabbani (نزار قباني) reminds me of Wednesday's scene in Tahrir Square.
Finding this poem in its original Arabic (and subsequently retranslating it back into English myself; thanks, Hans Wehr!) took me hours. I started by attempting to back-translate the most important points of the English version I know into what I thought might be Google-able search terms in Arabic. I then attempted to use those terms to sift through huge databases (in Arabic) of the prolific poet's work to find something (in Arabic) that sounded like the poem I know in English. This particular poem also happens to be nameless, which really did not help.
 لكن معلش.
Feast on the fruits of my success!

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

We want an angry generation
We want a generation which plows the sky
To blow up history
To blow up our thoughts.
We want a new generation
That does not forgive mistakes
That does not bend.
We want a generation of giants. . .
Arab children,
Spring rain,
Corn ears of the future,
You are the generation
That will overcome defeat.

نريد جيلا غضبا
نريد جيلا يفلح الآفاق
و ينكش التاريخ من جزوره
و ينكش الفكر من الأعماق
نريد جيلا قادما مختلف الملامح
لا يغفر الأخطاء . . . لا يسامح
لا ينحني . . . لا يعرف النفاق
نريد جيلا، رائدا، عملاق
. . .
يا أيها الأطفال
يا مطر الربيع
يا سنابل الآمان
أنتم بذور الخصب في حياتنا العقيقة
وأنتم الجيل الذي سيهزم الهزيمة

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The knife.

"This is just a caricature, this, the skeleton of experience-- I mean you know this is just one slivery, wafer-thin slice. To adequately relate even five minutes of internal thought-making would take forever-- It's maddening, actually, when you sit down, as I will . . . to try to render something like this, a time or place, and ending up with only this kind of feebleness-- one, two dimensions of twenty."

"When she went in again and they had 'opened her up'--a phrase they used--and had looked inside, it was staring out at them . . . a tiny city of cancer with an unruly, sprawling, environmentally careless citizenry with no zoning laws whatsoever . . . having one single eye, one blind evil eye in the middle which stared imperiously, as only a blind eye can do, out at the doctors . . . [who] sewed her back up, leaving the city as is, the colonists to their manifest destiny, their fossil fuels, their strip malls and suburban sprawl."

--Dave Eggars, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I perfected my hand at surgery over the summer and today I got to experience its darker side. Despite the anesthesia I felt electrifying hysteria in my blood as my abdomen was carved like meat. The three-inch incision snakes across the bottom of my rib cage, comprising fourteen stitches, and after it heals I'll have a scar. Surgery--controlled trauma--is trauma no less.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Have you been following this?
Al-Jazeera's live stream has been playing throughout my Middle Eastern Studies classes and I cannot divert my attention. My dominant policy is to keep political science at arm's length, yet I've been talking about Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed El-Baradei all day.

More than anything, I want to yell and scream and write and know and watch and help. I want to rip things, run into the streets, and throw rocks. I want to set cars on fire, run toward guns, and make signs.

What I can't figure out is why I feel this way.


And yet I do, almost overwhelmingly. I don't want to do anything but watch/read/follow international (and almost totally non-American) media as Cairo burns, hoping that from its ashes will arise--what? A populist regime? A softer line from the brutal police state?

I am grateful to live in the United States of America where I can speak freely and live fearlessly under a stable and well-maintained government. I am grateful for our social, legal, economic (yes), and political infrastructure.

To succeed, this Twitter rebellion, this uprising largely organized by social media (which will shape the theses, books, and papers of my generation; I hope someone somewhere is taking screenshots) needs an ideology, a plan, and a face. Here's to staying on the edge of my seat as things play out.

God be with Egypt.
الله يبارك فيك يا مصر

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Moral imagination.

Excerpts from a speech to Stanford undergrads by William Deresiewicz.
Stuff like this makes me feel better about electing to leave my flawless med school resume for an uncertain future with the language it took years for me to admit that I liked best.

"It's not about inventing a new machine or a new drug. It's about inventing your own life. Not following a path, but making your own path. The kind of imagination I'm talking about is moral imagination. "Moral" meaning not right or wrong, but having to do with making choices. Moral imagination means the capacity to envision new ways to live your life. It means not just going with the flow. It means not just "getting into" whatever school or program comes next. It means figuring out what you want for yourself, not what your parents want, or your peers want, or your school wants, or your society wants. Originating your own values. Thinking your way toward your own definition of success. Not simply accepting the life that you've been handed. Not simply accepting the choices you've been handed. When you walk into Starbucks, you're offered a choice among a latte and a macchiato and an espresso and a few other things, but you can also make another choice. You can turn around and walk out. When you walk into college, you are offered a choice among law and medicine and investment banking and consulting and a few other things, but again, you can also do something else, something that no one has thought of before.

Moral imagination is hard, and it's hard in a completely different way than the hard things you're used to doing. And not only that, it's not enough. If you're going to invent your own life, if you're going to be truly autonomous, you also need courage: moral courage. The courage to act on your values in the face of what everyone's going to say and do to try to make you change your mind. Because they're not going to like it. Morally courageous individuals tend to make the people around them very uncomfortable. They don't fit in with everybody else's ideas about the way the world is supposed to work, and still worse, they make them feel insecure about the choices that they themselves have made—or failed to make. People don't mind being in prison as long as no one else is free. But stage a jailbreak, and everybody else freaks out.

Many students have spoken to me . . . about the pressure they felt from their peers—from their peers—to justify a creative or intellectual life. You're made to feel like you're crazy: crazy to forsake the sure thing, crazy to think it could work, crazy to imagine that you even have a right to try. Think of what we've come to. It is one of the great testaments to the intellectual—and moral, and spiritual—poverty of American society that it makes its most intelligent young people feel like they're being self-indulgent if they pursue their curiosity. You are all told that you're supposed to go to college, but you're also told that you're being "self-indulgent" if you actually want to get an education.

All you can decide is what you think now, and you need to be prepared to keep making revisions. Because let me be clear. I'm not trying to persuade you all to become writers or musicians. Being a doctor or a lawyer, a scientist or an engineer or an economist—these are all valid and admirable choices. All I'm saying is that you need to think about it, and think about it hard. All I'm asking is that you make your choices for the right reasons. All I'm urging is that you recognize and embrace your moral freedom.

And most of all, don't play it safe. Resist the seductions of the cowardly values our society has come to prize so highly: comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control. These, too, are nets. Above all, resist the fear of failure. Yes, you will make mistakes. But they will be your mistakes, not someone else's. And you will survive them, and you will know yourself better for having made them, and you will be a fuller and a stronger person."

Right now...

I'm playing statistician for my second language acquisition research and remembering how much I love manipulating/graphing/grouping/analyzing data sets (thanks, Excel!),
reading a lot of interesting Arabic thanks to المظاهرات العنفية في القاهرة,
acquiring a taste for academic linguistic papers (and acquiring the style I need to write my own),
trying out a shortened version of what once would have been my honors thesis as a political editorial,
transcribing interviews with study abroad participants and learning to put myself in their shoes,
catching up on 30 Rock (it's back!) and hanging in suspense over Dexter,
still not believing Jimmer Fredette is real (I walked by him on campus today and was way too shocked to even say congratulations!),
signing up to judge an elementary school science fair,
acing quizzes I haven't studied for (and the ones I have),
enjoying the pretty new red streak in my hair,
loving living in a spotless apartment (my roomie's mom is here),
somehow managing to be late to Biblical Hebrew every single morning (sorry, Carli!),
and trying my best to stay positive despite never finishing my neverending to-do lists.

Monday, January 24, 2011


"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
--Theodore Roosevelt

"The worst sort of critics are butterfly collectors - they chase something, ostensibly out of their search for beauty, then, once they get close, they catch that beautiful something, they kill it, they stick a pin through its abdomen, dissect it and label it. The whole process, I find, is not a happy or healthy one. Someone with his or her own shit figured out, without any emotional problems or bitterness or envy, instead of killing that which he loves, will simply let the goddamn butterfly fly, and instead of capturing and killing it and sticking it in a box, will simply point to it - "Hey everyone, look at that beautiful thing" - hoping everyone else will see the beautiful thing he has seen." 
--Dave Eggars
I've started my second language acquisition research and as I examine the reams of data to which I now have access--numbers and words that represent months and months of gritted teeth, loneliness, tears, and Arabic--I realize I don't want to become that kind of critic. I have nothing but admiration for those who so painfully expose themselves in order to learn, who wake up and try again even when all seems lost, when progression becomes the unobtainable attestation of some naive idealist. I hope one day to count myself among them, to have other research girls transcribe my interviews and examine my journal entries, meticulously tracking my slow but steady progress and holding rulers to my results.

the butterfly?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Art 2.

me walking to school at 7 AM in Slushpocalypse 2011, of which I was regrettably unwarned. 
an artist's rendering.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


One of the perks to teaching a three-hour lab (humanities majors have trouble understanding this; I actually teach a diagnostic pathology LAB--like a science lab--not a TA session of a normal lecture class) is that I have three hours to do with as I please. I lecture for the first half hour or so, then let my students loose to shatter their confidence on whatever tricky histopathological specimens I have for them. As I help them hone their diagnostic skills--

--No; remember, a Leishmania amastigote is found inside what kind of white blood cell? A macrophage, that's right. THAT's an eosinophil. Yeah, I know it all just "looks like blood." Keep practicing and I promise you'll be able to tell them apart.

--I subject them to richly studded playlists of my musical choosing. I love music and I love forcing my taste on unsuspecting others. :-) Four semesters of teaching has taught me the best music for parasitology lab is ambient and people-friendly--something that can play in the background without seeming too out-there, but different enough that if somebody takes the time to really listen they'll make a comment. I start simple, then move into more and more eclectic stuff as my students get to know me. In all honesty, it takes almost as much time for me to prepare my playlists as it does my lectures. And it's way more fun.

Friday's (a work in progress)
Feist, La Meme Histoire
The Weepies, Gotta Have You
Sufjan Stevens, Casimir Pulaski Day
Jay Brannan, Both Hands
Andrew Bird, Scythian Empires
Jenny Lewis, Black Sand
Dar Williams, The One Who Knows
Belle and Sebastian, Mayfly
Kings of Convenience, The Build Up
Rilo Kiley, Pictures of Success
Conor Oberst, Cape Canaveral
Tristan Prettyman, All I Want Is You
She and Him, Thieves
Regina Spektor, Blue Lips
Bright Eyes, Easy/Lucky/Free

Friday, January 14, 2011


This morning I received an extraordinarily, scientifically, fabulously official e-mail that starts
and I think I will keep it forever.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


This is an online chemistry teacher. I don't know his name, his age, or his story, but I spend all day with him. I know when he gets a haircut and when he has a cold. It's my current task (for this job) to watch, caption, organize, and take a screenshot of every single one of his (dozens upon dozens upon dozens of) chemistry teaching videos. If I ever see this dude in real life one of us has to drop dead, because there's no way we can exist in the same place at the same time. I mean, I know the contents of his entire closet.

Also, does anyone hate the dynamic of a class with adult students (older than the professor)?
Each of my history classes is blessed with one obnoxious old person (one, an at-least-forty-five-year-old woman who tries to dress like she fits in--tons of makeup, cutesy newsboy hats, sparkly scarves, the works--and another, a random fiftyish-year-old man). The man's okay, but the woman raises her hand all the time, creating awkward situations for our professor, who tries to listen to her comments with the respect due another adult's opinion (a problem in and of itself) while keeping her from overgeneralizing and vehemently asserting things that simply aren't true. Fact is, you're wrong, lady, and if you weren't old he'd shut you down. We're sick of hearing you blab on about things our relatively young professor has to back up and correct while trying his hardest not to offend you.

I'm having a huge phase with this song. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I grew up with words in my mouth; vocabulary and syntax blessed me early and I read fluently before I turned three. In my memory there is no time before, no conscious obscurity, no figuring things out, no working toward a goal. For me literacy just was, and so too was grammar and spelling. In kindergarten I sighed and lay down in frustration during Reading Circle time; the kind German woman in charge gave me a blank notebook and as other kids tripped over 'fought' and 'caught' I got to write stories. My first grade teacher was so amused by my six-year-old editorial rigidity that she put me in the high school spelling bee, where I competed against teenagers and held my own. And grammar! Grammar was not and never has been an issue of thought; for me it is instinct. I can feel grammar; from some deep and incomprehensible place I know why certain words go certain ways. I've always known, and not because I worked to gain that knowledge. It's because it is already there.

I was incurably unilingual until my second year of college; a stint in high school Spanish taught me nothing but "queso" and "pantalones" and I walked into my first Arabic class scared out of my mind. Over the past two years I've acquired structure, syntax, phonology, vocabulary, and the exciting beginnings of style. But more than anything else in Arabic, my favorite thing to learn is grammar. Because inexplicably--impossibly!--Arabic grammar is in me, too. It's there, and it lives in the same inscrutable soul-place where all the rules of English make their home. I'm beginning to feel case markings, relative clauses, volitional moods, relator pronouns, and intranslatable particles, and it doesn't feel like learning. It feels like awakening. I'm learning that true grammar is deeper than English; grammar is a mystic sense, a universal truth, nonspecific and yet masochistically so, the underlying thread on which every word in every language is strung together and lifted up into carefully shaped eloquence.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


is that fire, a sword, and scales? no wonder these people have a complex.
Three years of parking wherever the heck I want finally catches up with me. It's been a good run, folks. The "motorcycle parking" citation brings back particularly good memories.

[no emphasis added; apparently the gross overuse of bold, underline, and italic character styles lets me know these people mean business]


According to University traffic regulations, your parking and driving privileges on BYU property and road are revoked.

This permanently prohibits you from driving and/or parking any motor vehicle on the BYU campus at any time. Weekends, holidays, Sundays, etc...All are included in the parking ban. This also includes any BYU street or parking lot (see enclosed map).

All parking privileges are hereby suspended indefinitely.

All vehicles you are driving, parking, or in which you receive or have received BYU citations are banned from being parked or driven on BYU campus at any time.

Banned vehicles will be impounded and issued a $300 citation if found on campus.

Your traffic records may be forwarded to the Honor Code Office if you violate the ban.

Your ban is permanent and remains in effect unless the Parking Services Office notifies you otherwise in writing. Do not assume the ban will be automatically lifted at any time.


Parking Services Manager

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Me and this dude? We've got a lot in common.
I mean, obviously I'm not a serial-killing TV star. I'm careful to let spiders out of my house in one piece. But I've always thought I am a borderline sociopath. I never really got the whole "social" thing.

July 2008 (age 17)

Winter 2009 (age 18)

Winter 2009 (age 18)

Fall 2007 (age 16)

Winter 2009 (age 18)

April 2008 (age 18)

March 2008 (age 18)

Fall 2009 (age 19) (I won nearly $1000 for a personal narrative I started like this)

Winter 2009 (age 19)

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Inspired by this blog, here is a dramatic representation of how I feel when I am called on in Arabic class:

Winter semester.

It's that time again!
I think I've religiously linked to this video twice a year ever since I was a freshman, but I don't think I've ever embedded it.

There's a first time for everything. Watch it; I can't be the only '90s kid who grew up on Animaniacs.

First Impressions:

Arabic 202 (Intermediate Arabic, semester 2): I love Arabic because it instills legitimate fear inside my heart. I know I like something scary much when my heart starts pounding and I get this feeling where I want nothing more than to throw things repeatedly against walls. I know what to expect from this class and I'm psyched to do the work (which I know will be all-consuming). There's nothing I find more fulfilling than mastering Arabic grammar (and I am one hundred percent serious). Oh, and my MWF conversation-lab (we have grammar lectures TTh) teacher is an 18-year-old Jordanian kid! That's going to be fun.
Edit: I just found out I ended up "third or fourth" overall in last semester's class! I can deal with that.

Hebrew 132 (First-Year Biblical Hebrew, semester 2): I love my laid-back professor and I love my classmates. This is the reason I get up in the morning (literally; it's at 8 AM). Plus, being a serious Arabic student affords me the luxury of being a seriously lazy Hebrew student, so if I just make a little time to study vocab it's an easy four-credit A. Oh, and remember that final I blitz-studied all through the night for last semester? Despite not being able to stay awake (my test is full of those omg-I'm-sleeping-there-goes-my-pencil-again marks), today I found out that I set the all-section high. Yay!

History 239 (Ancient Near Eastern History from 330 BC-610 AD): I can't decide what to think about this class. The material looks interesting, and I know some of my classmates, but it's hard for me to get a good hold on the professor. He seems nice, but he also seems like he has the potential to be a pedantic jerk. The syllabus is spread out into little bites of constant work (three exams and a final, three 3500-word essays, three response papers, and random quizzes), and I don't know how I feel about that. It's basically TA-graded, as our TA let slip during class (which also bugs me. Reasonable or not, since I am a senior-level TA I feel like I should be viewed as a TA all the time, so I hate having other TAs, especially if they have power). I'm tentative. We'll see.

History 241 (Middle Eastern History since 1800): This'll be fantastic, and I'm so glad I decided to take it (even though it doesn't count for anything). It's taught by my favorite professor, the material looks seriously fascinating, and I have a lot of friends to sit by. Best of all, there's a very open research paper assignment--choose your own topic, make it original, do your own research, and don't worry about annoying sequential-draft deadlines or peer reviews or anything. Just turn it in at the end of the semester and make it good. Really good. Now that's an assignment I can go for.

International/Area Studies 201R (Intro to Tibetan): This class makes me happy! I never thought I'd learn Tibetan. It's a tiny language class that meets just once a week for two hours, and it's taught by an older Tibetan man who's going to try his best to make us conversational. It does look to be a conversation-based class rather than a reading-and-writing one, but I hope there's a little of that thrown in as well (I just couldn't be satisfied if I didn't get to learn grammar!). We did get a handout of the beautiful alphabet (check it out!), so that's promising. And he promised that if we just come to class and participate, every one of us will get "a flying A!" :-)

Also, for your viewing pleasure, here is a comment about me by a friend who tried to recruit me to help coach a mock trial team (I would, but I'm so busy...augh...). I laughed. He nailed it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Year in review.

"New Year's Eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights."
--Hamilton Wright Mabie

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning."
--T.S. Eliot

"A happy New Year! Grant that I
May bring no tear to any eye
When this New Year in time shall end
Let it be said I've played the friend,
Have lived and loved and labored here,
And made of it a happy year."
--Edgar Guest

2010 began with a New Years' Eve dinner party that ended with my friends passed out on couches and me cleaning the house by myself at 4 AM. (For some reason we've never really scored with New Years' plans.) :-)
I hosted Amanda's huge masquerade-themed birthday party and learned about the staples of college life (Macs and Snuggies) with the now-ex-roommates I still adore.
I entered the world of amateur adult figure skating thanks to two inspiring Olympic performances by Johnny Weir and snagged eight stitches in my chin after a shaky one-foot glide turned into a bloody mess.
I applied to biomedical research programs all around the country and was accepted as a (well-paid!) summer intern at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. When I got my acceptance e-mail (during a particularly boring honors program lecture) I was so excited I gasped out loud and squealed to everybody around me.
 I signed my first sublease agreement with a girl I found on Craigslist and flew myself all the way across the country to spend the summer doing stem cell research for Children's Hospital in Boston.
I met lots of friends in Boston and (for the first time) really enjoyed the singles-ward experience. Exploring the city on my own, bit by bit, gave me confidence and honed my itinerary-planning skills. I researched all the best restaurants and destination sites and really took advantage of my time.
I presented the real, important, original research I had worked on all summer in front of some of the world's best stem cell researchers at a Harvard conference. I painstakingly designed that poster all by myself, and I personally produced every piece of data on it (including the statistical analyses, all of which I did by hand). I'd never spoken in such an intimidating setting, and my presentation didn't go very well. Accepting that fact was a learning experience.
I finally made it to New York City and Washington, DC, both of which I loved visiting.
 I started fall semester by moving into a new apartment and meeting the new roommates I now adore. I worked two jobs (web design at Independent Study and semester 3 as Medical Parasitology TA), changed my major from microbiology to linguistics, learned to despise organic chemistry, and made the decision to apply to medical school in 2011...but for the very first time, after much soul searching, I opened my eyes to the possibility that a career in medicine was not my only option. What I loved more than anything was learning Arabic, so I decided that I will attend grad school for Arabic or for linguistics and pursue a career in academia. I dropped my chemistry minor and added one in Ancient Near Eastern Studies.
 I made the decision to serve a mission (I'll put in my papers this May).
We celebrated our first F-ship wedding.
 I got my very first non-straight-A (a B!) and for the first time in my life, my GPA is not a 4.00
(it's a 3.97).
For the first time since 2005, I did not leave the country.
And I closed out the year in the company of some of my very best friends.

2010 was crazier than I ever could have imagined. My goals and my future have changed so much (and, hey, I guess I have too).

Here's my in-summation song for this year. The last stanza's what I'm looking at (it begins at 2:15).

Here's to 2011.

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