مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

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


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


Not me.
(though that class sounds cool and I wish I knew Jeb the Professional Matador) 
(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!)

(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.

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


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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Finished with finals (today: Arabic and Biblical Hebrew back to back on three hours of sleep; I translated Syrian news and 1 Kings 8 within two hours of each other), almost all moved out, and off to St. George for some sunshine and blissful no-responsibility time before spring term.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Dear Miss Inexplicably-Optimistic-OMG-My-Mission-Papers-Are-In-And-There's-Nothing-Else-Worth-Worrying-About,

Stop thinking finals are over. They're not. Your grades in two four-credit language classes are a direct function of your performance on two sequential finals tomorrow, so you cannot afford to blow it. Contrary to your current mindset, you are NOT ready to take these tests and you will NOT suddenly acquire the requisite knowledge without studying. I understand that you have studied almost nonstop for the past few days, and I know you need a break, but you haven't studied for these classes, and if you stop now you will fail. Translate the Hebrew Bible, practice tricky constructions of Arabic grammar, and work on your verb forms in both languages. Now.

Get the picture?

خوفا من الفشل،
Rational Self

Monday, April 18, 2011


After fiftyish hours of no sleep and today’s finals blitz, I was feeling very lonely. I needed some love. So I gave myself the rest of the night off from studying and drove to a very loving place: the bookstore. First I skimmed Requiem for a Dream in a comfy chair at Barnes and Noble, but the dialect bugged me and I didn’t like the plot, so I decided to move on to Borders. 

The first thing I saw when I entered the store was a huge display of brown, fluffy, lovable stuffed bunny rabbits. I was immediately enchanted. I had come to buy a book (a recommendation from a professor), but when the cashier asked me if that would be all for today I looked back at the soft little bunnies and couldn’t help but ask for one of my own. As the cashier rang up my bunny, he asked me if I’d like to buy another to donate to the hospital where they would be delivered on Easter. That was exactly what I wanted to do. 

The cashier smiled and said lots of doctors had come into the store, excited about the boxes and boxes of bunnies for the patients. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “No matter how old you are—no matter if you’re forty years old and think you’re the coolest thing on this planet—if you’re broken, everybody needs a bunny.” I almost started to cry, because he’s right. Tonight I needed a bunny. And I hope the bunny I contributed to the cause helps a lonely person in the hospital know that he or she is loved.


I have to admit, I was doubtful.
Doubtful that after pulling an all-nighter to finish my research paper--one of my all-life favorites, an anthropomorphic biography of the Arabic language under the laws of the repressive Israeli state--that I could stay up another ten or twelve hours to study for a final I'd almost totally neglected. Doubtful that a bottle of B vitamins, ginseng, and caffeine would actually wake me up. Doubtful that the guy at the gas station from whom I bought it knew what he was talking about. Doubtful about how I would feel during and after.

I did the whole thing in a single shot in front of my roommates, and everyone cringed as it went down. It tasted like sour, electrified cranberry juice. Walking out of my apartment, I remained unimpressed. I wasn't feeling anything, and I was still totally exhausted. But just about seven minutes after ingestion, as I drove to find a parking place on campus, I began to grin. All of a sudden, I just had to turn up the music really, really loud. I smiled really big. And for the next five hours I felt fantastic.

I memorized a fourteen-page study guide comprising the history of the Middle East since the Cold War and formulated preliminary arguments for my Blue Book essays, then zoomed into the testing room and knocked out the exam. The only side effect I can observe is the continuous nervous twitching of my foot. I can't help but move it up and down and up and down and up and down. I guess I just have excess energy--which, after close to 40 hours awake, is a freaking miracle.

For a girl who drinks nothing but water, one bottle of 5 Hour Energy Extra Strength after such an important all-nighter is nothing less than a godsend.


Sunday, April 17, 2011



and now I cannot concentrate on anything.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


There's nothing better than a good 100%.

If you know me, you know I'm a brutally obsessive perfectionist. I kill myself to make everything I do flawless all the time. It's an impossibility, and to varying extents something usually goes wrong--a missed case vowel here, a forgotten formula there, an unclear explanation, or a legitimate oversight. But when I do achieve perfection, I feel ultimately, euphorically, fantastically fulfilled.

The last Ancient Near East exam I took came back without a single error. My last Middle Eastern History exam--the first exam for which I've ever had to write on-the-spot essays--earned me not only a perfect score but exclamation points from my professor and an extra credit bonus. And this evening I walked out of the Testing Center from my first final of finals week proper (for the only class I seriously despise) to songs of highest praise from the score screen. Here's hoping the streak holds strong!

Now: Complete 241 study guide, work on essay
Sunday: Speak in church, memorize 241 study guide, perfect essay
Monday: 2:30-5:30 241 final
Tuesday: Cram languages
Wednesday: 11-2 Arabic grammar final; 2:30-4 Biblical Hebrew final; move out of apartment
Thursday: Mini-vacation with family before spring semester begins

Also, yesterday I helped put on an Arabic Language Fair for local high school students. I worked the customs booth, meaning that I got to interview the kids as they came through to earn passport stamps. Some of them spoke almost no Arabic; "اسمك ايه؟" (rephrased, slowly and clearly, as both شو اسمك؟ and ما اسمك؟) provoked a deer-in-the-headlights response or a confused "نعم؟". But we had a few Iraqi kids who knew what was up, and I was psyched to see them understand me. Plus, I got to play with Shami, as that seemed to be the dialect most of the kids were learning. Altogether, it was a confidence boost.

Dear World:
Re: teenage Iraqi kids, I can understand and be understood in Arabic. Sometimes.

Monday, April 11, 2011


My cousin-in-law Haley made delicious chocolate chip cookies tonight. I liked them so much that after five hours of translation I wandered downstairs like an Arabic zombie in search of more cookies. The cookies were all eaten, but I found the extra cookie dough in the fridge, prompting me to think, “Hey, I know. I’ll make my own cookie in the microwave.” So I made a little ball of cookie dough, set it on a paper plate, and set the timer for one minute. Fifty-nine seconds later, I suspected that something might be amiss. I opened the microwave to a torrent of smoke, a scorched “cookie,” and an about-to-combust plate. After throwing open doors and breaking out the Febreze, I tasted the cookie just in case it might be good despite the fact that it looked like a charcoal briquette. It wasn’t. That’s when I realized that I am qualified to take graduate level chemistry. And that’s when I realized that my extensive scientific education is in all likelihood a waste.

Also, Required Arabic 202 Texts in Order of Student Interest (n=1)
1)    زواج الجيل الجديد
2)    ألف ليلة و ليلة
3)    هدى شعروي
4)    مهمة الجامعة
5)    وفاة توفيق الحكيم
6)    بداية الصحافة العربية
7)    قضاية الفصحى و العامية
8)    ابن بطوطة
9)    عادات رمضان
865)    من المؤسسات الاجتماعية من الحضارة العربية

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Come on.

0. Church
1. Arabic texts: AK2 1-10, news 1-26, Awladna (for vocab).
2. Finish grading my students' papers and enter grades on Blackboard
3. Write a 10-page paper on Byzantine Christianity
4. Hebrew vocab. As much as possible.
5. Forget about the fact that instead of doing anything productive (school-wise) yesterday I lay motionless on my couch, fully awake, staring up at the clock for four and a half hours while pretending none of this was happening
6. Forget about the fact that my-family-minus-me is taking off to spend the week in Hawaii
6. Attend book club...maybe (it's not like I had time to read the book)
7. Not be so intimidated about the intensity of this list that I retreat back to my place on the couch

Thursday, April 7, 2011


As it's the middle of Lent, I'm hearing a lot of talk about giving things up. It's never easy to change, and that's why Christians are supposed to participate this month--to make themselves better at something they might not be so good at. [both of those sentences end in prepositions, WHICH I UNDERSTAND TO BE ACCEPTABLE RE: MOST CURRENT STYLE GUIDES, but if you're going to sue me for being a purist you'd better hire some good lawyers because that deposition is going to take years.] Today I was thinking that I'm not so good at being human. Some people know how to connect with others, how to talk without being alienating, and how to present themselves the way they want to be seen. Me? I try to smile and be friendly, but my personality pendulum swings from overbearing to arrogant to reticent to silent to self-conscious to awkward to obnoxious and back to overbearing. I don't have a standardized outward-personality; the way you see me probably depends on how you know me and in what context we see each other.

I almost never volunteer any personal information or talk about my internal self with anyone. I'm perfectly aware that I don't do this, so I become incredibly frustrated when people assume that they know me. I'll bring up a movie or sing a song or quote a TV show or move to music and people go, "Oh my gosh, you know that movie/show/band/dance?" They'll make some judgmental-sounding comment about how weird it is that I said/did/thought that, because it is just so unlike me. Saying this to me when I'm in a particularly unstable mood is one of the few things in life that can provoke me to visible anger. I'm honestly curious: Why on earth do these people think they know me? What basis do they have for forming any conclusions? I haven't given them any information. They know absolutely nothing about me. The mere fact that they've spent time around me gives these people some false sense that they know what I'm all about, like they've been exposed to my inner workings by osmosis. And I must really be giving off the wrong vibe, because what people think I am almost never coincides with what I actually am.

News flash to 99.9% of people with whom I have any sort of social association:
You do not know me,
so stop pretending you're so surprised when you get a glimpse of who I really am.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's all happening.

My worries:
  •  Completing my mission papers (almost there!)
  •  Tomorrow's Arabic speaking final: describing مقالات الانبا in Fusha and اولادنا في لندن in Amiya to a native speaker for a grade; no pressure, right?
  •  Monday's (as yet unwritten) 10-page paper on Byzantine Christianity and the Roman empire
  •  Tuesday's Arabic texts final (be able to translate anything from ten scholarly essays, thirteen news articles, and four narratives)
  •  Wednesday morning's Hebrew final (the Hebrew Bible's basically fair game)
  •  Wednesday afternoon's Arabic vocabulary final (all possible vocabulary from the past two years)
  •  Next week's 10-page research paper on who-knows-what (the fact that I haven't started is killing me)
  •  Finals week (two history finals and one more in Arabic)
  •  The actual second language acquisition research paper I'm writing for actual publication cred, which I keep putting off because of the items listed above
  •  My normal homework load and my three jobs
My plan:
Tonight I will do my regular homework and translate as many Arabic texts as I can handle. Tomorrow I have a packed day and class/work until 7 pm. I'll take an hour off from work and use it to practice for my speaking final, which I'll take at 2:30 pm. After Tibetan class that night I'll do homework, practice Arabic vocabulary, translate more texts, and possibly get a handle on my research paper. By Thursday I will try to finalize my mission stuff (that is, if my passport decides to arrive), set up the lab exam for my parasitology students, do my regular homework, solidify my idea for my history research paper, and hopefully gather all relevant materials (which there shouldn't be a lot of if my idea holds any water). Over the weekend I will write my Byzantine Christianity paper and send it to the TA for feedback. I will cram vocabulary in Arabic and Hebrew, I will translate extensively in both languages, and I will really get working on my history research paper. I will read for/prepare for/contribute to my book club on Sunday night (In Defense of Food). I will also finish grading my students' papers. That way, on Monday I can focus exclusively on making sure I know every Arabic text and on Tuesday I can tackle Hebrew translations/vocab and Arabic vocab (which I'm hoping I won't have to cram Tuesday night, as I'll be cramming Hebrew). Then I'll have reading days, during which I'll perfect/finalize my history research paper and study for both of my history exams, one of which I'll take next Saturday and the other I'll take the following Monday. Arabic will be last; I'll take the grammar exam Wednesday afternoon. I'll move out of my apartment that night and head to St. George with my family and my cousins the next morning for some much needed REST.

oh my goodness.
it's all happening.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


"Everything belonged to her--but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what she belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed her for their own. You can't understand. How could you? I've done enough for her to give me the indisputable right to lay her, if I choose, for an everlasting rest in the dust-bin of progress, amongst all the sweepings, and, figuratively speaking, all the dead cats of civilization. Her very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering. She was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how she had existed, how she had succeeded in getting so far, how she had managed to remain--why she did not instantly disappear. For months--for years--her life hadn't been worth a day's purchase; and there she was, thoughtlessly alive. Whether she knew of this deficiency in herself I can't say. I think the knowledge came to her at last. But her surroundings had found her out early, and had taken on her a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to her things about herself which she did not know, things of which she had no conception until she took counsel with this great solitude--and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within her because she was hollow at the core . . ." 
(adapted from my all-time favorite classic novella, Heart of Darkness)

March 5, 2009
Most of the time, I'm an ascetic paragon of restraint; brutally, I constrain myself to occupy the strict steel frame I build according to the niche it will fill among life's cogs and wheels. Denying everything but the master plan, I sever parts of my personality that don't belong, leaving what in my wildest dreams will be called a machine. Hollow, I proudly classify myself, until, rarely, I spring a leak. Embarrassed, this compels me to remember that there is hot, dark liquid inside: fallibility, jealousy, self-doubt, and an insatiable desire for approval.
The ascetic watches, disgusted, as the emotions she denies flow from the tiny hole in a continuous, radioactive stream. With cold, admirable efficiency, she slides nitrile gloves over her hands, plugs the hole, and attempts to take inventory of the self she has left. The catch is that she doesn't know how much self she had to begin with, so there's no way to determine how much is lost.

March 30, 2009
An inspirational video for finals week.

Friday, April 1, 2011


This is so worth your time. Thanks to Reyna for the tip.

Right now my seventeen-year-old self, her days consumed in stress about what dreams may come after high school graduation, and my twenty-year-old self, similarly consumed about her mission and career, have a lot in common. We're both scared of what happens after I step off the cliff and into thin air--whether or not we'll have anything to come back to, whether or not we're screwing ourselves out of something important, whether or not we'll come to regret these moments forever. I was a more dramatic writer back then, but truth comes out despite my immaturity. Also, the calculus is wrong in my last statement. The limit of a constant as x approaches zero is itself the constant, which I guess still works in context if you want to play abstract games with your mind. In my defense, the omg-i-have-become-such-an-in-demand-calculus-tutor phase didn't hit until my second semester of college.
This is all so...evanescent.

I feel like someone has told me the day I'm going to die, and I'm just helplessly hurtling toward the center of the void.
There's nothing I can do to stop my progress; the inertia's too strong to fight, but still I scream without a sound, dragging my fingernails through the cold, blank space, hoping against hope to clutch something--anything-- to preserve myself from the slashing reality of the terrible unknown.

Lacerating my sanity, one day at a time--
Exponential decay.

Despite my confidence in the ocean, I've been sucked into a riptide. I tear at the inscrutable liquid, gasping for breath in the isolating darkness, but my lungs are filling with salt water, and my eyes are glazing over.
And there's nothing I can do about it.
I'm clutching for a handhold after falling from a cliff, and my bloody fingers scratch at passing rocks in the painful vanity of desperation.
The sick feeling inside knows it was inevitable that I step from the cliff in the first place,
that it really was my choice--
I just didn't expect it to hurt so badly.
The impending pain leaks into every cell, one by one,
metastatic cancer of the thought.

It's coming, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

The limit of a constant as x approaches infinity is zero.
How's that for irony?