A Safe Place Monday, Apr 30 2007 

First things first – I got the GRE out of the way, and I did well enough that I will not be retaking the test.  One thing off my list for good.  Hooray!  Last night, the gang and I had a social event, which was grand – we were all happy to be hanging out, and we got some quality socializing in.  KS(-P) is having a birthday in a couple of weeks, and plans were made for that celebration.  So all in all, a quality Saturday.  Today I’ve been in turbo homework mode, as I have a paper for Modern French lit due early this week.  I do not want a replay of the Ourika disaster, where I did not even have time to proofread.  I’m half-way through the paper, and I know exactly where it is going, so I felt I had time to write a post.

I’ve been feeling discombobulated lately, and I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to figure out what the problem was.  There were so many possible suspects, a lot of background noise; I found it difficult to put my finger on what was getting under my skin.  All of them were getting me down – my slowly healing ankle, the lack of energy I have been having due to the lack of exercise I’ve been getting (due to the slowly healing ankle), the end of the semester (and all the work that entails), the GRE, trying to find a job for the next school year, worrying about all the things that need to be taken care of before I go to France….and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I’ve been feeling hypersensitive lately, which isn’t necessarily unusual, but the degree to which I’ve been feeling hypersensitive has been.  In a nutshell:  I’ve been feeling out of sorts.

Historically speaking, I’ve spent most of my life feeling out of sorts.  But I’ve gotten out of practice.  You see, with the Ex, I stopped feeling disjointed and weird.  I don’t know if that’s a testament to our relationship, or a commentary on how useless my love life has been in the past.  I’m not sure.  The thing was, we were a team, and a damn good one (or at least I thought we were a damn good one – I have no idea if that was mostly in my head now, but that’s for another time).  When we were together, I always felt I had someone who was on my side; not in the way family is, but someone who chose to be in your corner, and I was in his corner, too.  There is something remarkable about that – you never think to yourself, “wow, I always feel like I belong somewhere now.”  You simply are yourself, and that’s the way it should be.  I hesitate making so much out of this, because I’ve always believed that you should be the one you can count on; but as John Donne said…blah blah blah island (yeah, I know the quote, I just don’t see the point of quoting it – you can google it).  So I got used to it, this safe place that was with me all the time, even when he wasn’t.  And now it’s gone, and I didn’t even know I missed it until now.

I just find it ironic – finding a relationship like that can give you that sort of security; to get that, you have to put yourself in harm’s way.  Isn’t that a kick in the ass?

Babbling brook Friday, Apr 27 2007 

Today seemed to have a theme.  As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes I get the distinct feeling that I may be blurting out too much in class discussions, that I can’t seem to keep my pie-hole shut.  After my early French lit class, I stopped by to have the professor (who is also my French adviser) sign a sheet that, in essence, says, “yes, this program is not going to be a waste of time when it comes to major requirements.”  She mentioned that she enjoyed my comments in class.  I thanked her and said that sometimes I feel like I should put a sock in it (a paraphrase, not a direct quote), and she was kind enough to say that I should not put a sock in it (again, a paraphrase).  Which was nice.

Then, I had other classes, and of course, I added to discussion or answered questions.  All well and good.  Then I had my orientation for the Grenoble program.  I talked in that, and I kept having the feeling like I should really just give it a rest (I swear, there was a point where I thought if I said, “when I was in Poland,” one more time, I would kick myself.  I wasn’t trying to monopolize the conversation – just that, having reached this point in my life, I have plenty of life wisdom that students in their early 20s are not going to have.  I tried to keep it to a minimum, but I felt all creepy – as if I didn’t belong there at all.  As if talking was an attempt to fit it, and that I was never going to fit in.  The thing is, I don’t try to be all chummy with my classmates – I’ll engage in idle chitchat before class, but even then there is a limit to my comfort level.  I just feel like there is a limit to how at ease I am going to feel with my fellow students; sometimes it is easier than others, but I always know I’m separated from them.  I don’t really have any real “school” friendships, because it would be weird – for them as well as me.  And with this Grenoble program, it does kind of blur the line:  it is an academic program, but there is also a social component.  I remember that from my last study abroad program.  But this time, I’m not going to be comfortable going out with the other students in the program.  After all, I felt awkward at the meeting, for chrissakes!  And lest you think that this is all in my head:  when you were 20 years old, would you have been comfortable being friends with a 36 year old?  Not really.  And on my part, socializing with these kids (for lack of a better word) is as though I’m regressing, not going forward.  And I’m all about the forward motion.  That’s the thing I find weird and off-putting about being back in school – I love class, I love learning, I even enjoy the homework, I’m so damn nerdy – but even though I’m back in school to push myself, to move ahead, to seek out new horizons; the rest of it gives me this creepy feeling of déjà vu.  I don’t want to relieve my past, I don’t want to reclaim my youth, I don’t want to pretend that I’m 19 and my entire life is ahead of me.  That’s a lie, and a sad, delusional one at that.  I actually don’t have a problem with being 36 – well, sometimes I do, but that’s more of an issue about what I’ve done with the previous 36 years, not the actual time spent on Earth (okay, I also have biological clock issues).

The point I think I’m making is that I suspect that talking draws more attention to me than I really want.  The problem is, I do have a lot to say, and it is nearly always germane to the topic under discussion.  I just wish I could figure out how to contribute without feeling like the factory irregular I know that I am.

The Benefits of Being Right Thursday, Apr 26 2007 

If you’ve been following my blathering, you have maybe gotten the idea that I like having answers.  If I could have all the answers, I would – I do realize that some things are inherently unknowable, I just try to know more about the unknowable than everyone else.  It has gotten to the point where some people no longer want to play Trivial Pursuit with me.  I try not to get all Cliff Clavin or anything, and I do sometimes hold my tongue when I feel like I may have talked too much in class (sometimes I’ll break down and speak again, but usually when I sense that no one else is going to talk – professors hate silence when they’re trying to engage a class – I feel bad for them).  But I’m not oblivious – some people in my class may get tired of hearing my voice – hey, sometimes Iget tired of hearing my voice (note how it doesn’t stop me from blogging nearly every day).  So yes, I realize not everyone is as thrilled with my being right (or right-ish – everyone has an off day, you know) as I am.  But being right in class has advantages; you know you’re on the right track, you learn more because you are able to pick up on nuances, and hey, it doesn’t hurt the grades at all.  In my personal life…being right can be a pain in the ass.  Although I haven’t had a personal life for awhile.  More of an impersonal life.

I am perceptively gifted, so to speak.  I have a good sense of how people are feeling.  It is good and bad, as with anything.   But in the past my desire to be right has battled with my desire to have things turn out the way I want.  It is hard to be optimistic when you think you see the handwriting on the wall. 

This brings me to one of my more truthful, if sad and pathetic, anecdotes.  This happened way back in the 90s, the first time I was in college.  I had an infatuation with a Philosophy major (please, don’t mock me – he was drop dead gorgeous, if a little mumbly), but I knew, on a cellular level, that it just wasn’t going to happen.  We could talk pretentious, rambling nonsense all we wanted, but he wasn’t going to go for anything else.  A friend of mine was trying to give me a pep talk, telling me how fabulous I was, and how maybe I shouldn’t automatically think the worst.  “You actually sound like you want to be right about this,” he said (or something approximating that).  I assured him that while I wanted this Philosophy major to have romantic feelings for me, I could sense that he simply did not have them.  If you want to get all anachronistic and catch-phrasey, no, he was not that into me.  My friend, exasperated, accused me of preferring to be right over having a relationship with this young man.  I said (and this is an exact quote), “Yes, I would rather be right than to get laid,” as if it were some either/or proposition.  I guarantee you, if I had had to jettison accuracy for sex, I would have done so in a minute.  But, unfortunately, wanting something doesn’t make it happen, no matter what some self-help gurus may claim.  I did, in case anyone was wondering, ask the Philosophy major out.  He turned me down, kindly but definitely.  I did not make another first move on a man for the next 9 years (Puppy Mama, I’m only counting sober moves, so don’t call me out on my statistics).  Of course, 9 years later, I did make a first move on a man; I was turned down (again).  As you can imagine, that will be an end to that.  That’s right, in this matter, I turn back on my feminist principles, do you hear?  But I digress.  We could all drag out some 5-cent psychoanalysis, à la Lucy Van Pelt, and theorize that maybe, for lo, these many years, I have sabotaged my love life, because I’d rather be right.  But you know, I’m not that screwed up (I am not!).  I just have dueling impulses – my hopeful side really really wants things to work out, and sees no reason why they can’t; my cynical side would like things to work out too, but has far too much experience to really believe it.  If I may extend this metaphor (perhaps past the breaking point), my hopeful side is the chatty one, the one who wants to prove that she’s right, so she keeps talking.  My cynical side knows no one wants to hear it, and pipes up only when absolutely necessary.

So, what are the benefits of being right?  Um…good grades…and…I was on a game show once (I lost – other people are right too, you know).  Anything else?  I’ll get back to you on that, once I figure it out.

Off the radar Wednesday, Apr 25 2007 

Some days, I shudder at the number of e-mails I get.  Most of them are the typical spam and spam-lite, but there are other e-mails that fall into the category of “oh, I’ll get to that later…”  This is compounded by the shocking increase in e-mail addresses that I have.  I have (drumroll) 5:  one dial-up, one high-speed (my DSL provider lets me keep my old e-mail address), one for work, one for school, and my Yahoo address, which I established to have an e-mail which was not tied to my (very distinctive) last name – which I used to give to men I had not vetted enough to trust.  When the Ex and I started going out, I stopped checking it (for obvious reasons), but recently I started using it again.  I am not to the point where I’m handing out my e-mail to strange men, but I find the Yahoo address useful as a sort of clearinghouse – you need to give an e-mail address, but you don’t want your inbox clogged with “offers from our partners.”  I really only check 2 of the 5 addresses daily, so sometimes e-mails slip through the cracks.  And who am I kidding – sometimes I mean to get back to someone, but their message travels further down the list until it vanishes completely.

I remember a Married With Children episode where Kelly is cramming for something (a game show, I believe) – she manages to memorize every piece of information except one – she simply runs out of room in her brain.  Sometimes I feel that way with my interests – I have plenty of them, but time for only a few – some of them simply have to be put into storage until I have time for them.  Occasionally, I get to revive a former interest – but I fear that most of the time, they just fade away.  You could say that those that don’t get revived are probably of little importance, but I don’t see it like that.  We have limited time and energy and trimming our passions to fit our schedules makes our life a little less interesting.  I wish I had a solution, but I guess we have to make these choices all the time – it is a shame when something we enjoy drops off the radar.

Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday (or so they claim)! Tuesday, Apr 24 2007 

According to the date on the posts, I’m a day late.  But actually, it is still the 23rd, so I am going to celebrate it now.  I was talking to someone about the whole “who Shakespeare really was” controversy.  My feeling is that short of finding actual proof one way or another, who the hell cares?  Does it really, in the larger scheme of things, matter who wrote Hamlet or (insert favorite work here)?  Isn’t enough that it was written?  Actually, I find the crux of the arguments against Shakespeare actually writing the work of Shakespeare to be rooted in elitism.  But that’s a dispute I don’t care to throw myself into.  I have other fish to fry.

Five days until the GRE.

How to build a past (tense) Monday, Apr 23 2007 

Another beautiful day today, although I was bound and determined to get caught up on homework.  I was successful, but it took most of the day.  I might try to work in a little GRE practice (six days left).  Some things I absolutely, positively must do this week:  keep up on Rousseau; finish, by hook or crook, the Lacan essay (which makes Rousseau seem like an issue of People); the syntax homework (which is actually going well – I get it! I get it!); and the first draft of my paper for my modern French lit class, which I believe will be on the characters’ use of mirrors to form a community in Ourika and La Vagabonde, God willing.  And, with the free time I’d like to believe I’ll have left, get some more GRE practice in, do a load of laundry, and keep up with my 20 minutes daily cleaning (which, truth be told, is not happening every day – but I’m not ready to give up yet).  So, it does seem I might be frittering away precious time by writing tonight.  But you know what?  I do not give a rat’s ass.  Sometimes, I need to sort out my thoughts, before they pester me to within an inch of my life.

I did not (thankfully) have a nightmare about Jonestown.  In fact, I did not have a nightmare at all; a weird, confused dream, but nothing disturbing.  Although I’ve had a feeling all weekend that I wish would go away.  It is an acute awareness of my past – the good, the bad and the shameful.  I don’t care for those feelings – after all, the past is the past, and I would rather it stayed there.  Those who forget the past may be doomed to repeat it, but I could stand to forget it a little more.

One of the things I have noticed, being back at school, is that sometimes you get repeats of certain topics.  Obviously, this gets truer the deeper you delve into a subject.  For example, in Sociolinguistics we’ve been studying historical linguistics; which is similar to what we do in my Romance Linguistics, although we’ve been working on non-Romance languages in Sociolinguistics.  Except for the homework I did today – which was the syntactic change of the past tense in Spanish.  What have we been covering in Romance Linguistics?  You’ve got it – the development of certain tenses in the Romance Languages.  So I had a sense of déjà vu (hey! past participle!) as I was doing the assignment.  There are parallels to be made between the formation of the past tense and the formation of a past, but I don’t feel like making them right now.  Suffice it to say that we are always reinventing the past – whether it is a tense or just the crap that happens to us day after day.  And quite frankly, parts of my past are making me cranky.  I think that’s why I’m so anxious to leave the country; maybe most of that junk can stay behind and I can feel freer than I have in months.

The Final Week Sunday, Apr 22 2007 

Yes, we (or rather I) have hit the home stretch – a week from today, I will have completed the GRE (whew).  I had two practice tests left.  I’ve already blown through all the Kaplan ones I got from buying the study guide (courtesy of Christmas gift cards).  I have noticed that the Kaplan tests are harder – or at any rate, I score lower on the Kaplan tests than I have on the ones provided by ETS.  Here’s hoping that it is like strength training – the test won’t be as difficult as the Kaplan practice tests, but since I worked on those, I’ll be in super test shape.  As I have said, I had two practice tests left – one CAT (computer) test, and one paper test.  I figured since the real test would be the CAT, I’d save that for the week of, and take the paper test today.  Since, in theory, the CAT adjusts to your level (the better you do, the harder the questions are), you don’t need to answer as many questions for the test to “judge” your aptitude; the paper tests are twice as long.  So I spent two hours today taking a practice test (I haven’t been working so much on the Analytical Writing exercise, since I write so damn much anyway – but I do intend some last minute practice, just to be on the safe side).  All in all, I did well – my highest scores yet (760 Verbal, 650 Quantitative – showing just how little I use algebra in my everyday life).  The proof will be the actual test, for sure.

While reporting my practice test scores may seem a little like bragging, I have to say that if you’re planning to take the GRE (or any of the standardized entrance tests), it would behoove you to buy a prep guide and get some practice.  As for the classes, I wouldn’t know, I found them prohibitively expensive (in the $400 range) – but for about $40 (I bought the Math practice guide, too), I really made an improvement.  I sucked wind on the pre-test; I heard a rumor that some programs make the first test ridiculously hard, to give you the impression that you desperately need their product, and then later, that you are improving dramatically, but since I took practice tests from two sources, I feel confident that the strides I’ve made are real enough.  A lot of the value of the prep books is to get you drilling on the types of questions you see – standardized tests are a whole different breed, compared to the types of tests you take in college.  I don’t think any one of the (seemingly) dozens of brands of test prep books are markedly different from the others; I looked through a lot of them, and they seemed the same to me.  I do think buying one is worth it – I think the classes are probably only worth the money if you have extreme test anxiety or you know you’re never going to practice on your own, although I doubt that I would have taken a prep class, even if I did have $400 dollars just ready to spend.  The GRE website (and I assume, since they’re all part of the same test machinery, the GMAT, the LSAT, etc.) gives you their prep material for free, and you’d have to be an ass not to use it.  After all, these tests are expensive – while, as they say, great scores won’t get you in, you don’t want to give a school a reason to put your application in the “no” pile.  The first section of this post is clearly of interest only to those about to take a standardized test.  If you’re not, I’m sorry, that must have been tremendously boring.  But I do have thoughts of general interest.

Today’s weather was perfect – clear sky, mid-70s, a nice breeze.  So my mom and I thought we’d like to go to the zoo.  Both of us are suckers for animals, and it would be a pleasant stroll as well.  Except the zoo’s parking lot holds probably 20 cars.  And there’s a city park adjacent.  And we were not the only two people in town thinking that the zoo might be a fun way to spend a beautiful afternoon.  So after trolling for a (non-existent) parking spot, we turned around and went home.  I suppose we could have taken the bus to the zoo, although on weekends the bus passes through our neighborhood only once every hour, which would have given us some logistical issues.  Oh well, the zoo will still be there – we can plan the trip to avoid spending the whole day waiting for Godot’s Bus.

Tonight, I watched a documentary about Jonestown on the History Channel.  I will most likely have nightmares tonight; it was fascinating, albeit in a completely creepy kind of way.  As weird and disturbing as I thought it was before I saw the documentary, double or triple that, and that’s what I thought after.  Just last week, I wrote about how, in general, humanity is amazingly resilient.  It is, at the same time, amazingly fragile.  At the beginning, the documentary showed a lot of the unrest that was happening in this country as The People’s Temple started to gather steam.  I’m too young to remember that (one of the few times that I do feel too young for anything), and it seems almost like another country, in the same way that the 90s feel like a completely different era to me.  Now I know I’ll have nightmares – I feel uncertainty all around.  Sometimes I feel like it is just part of what I’m going through personally – after all, I am going through a lot of changes in my life, and I have no real idea what is going to be on the other side.  But I think that might be obscuring the general sense of uncertainty I would be feeling if I had stayed at my old job and not changed anything about my life.

I can’t imagine how I got so far afield this evening.

8 More Days to the GRE Saturday, Apr 21 2007 

Yes, I’m counting down…

I want to start off with a little observation I made while waiting for the bus, because it has been a while since I’ve shared any of my public transportation-related epiphanies, but mostly because I found it pretty funny.  I was sitting on a bench, waiting for the bus, when I saw an El Camino waiting at the stop light.  And I thought to myself, “The El Camino is like the mullet of automobiles.”  Which seems extra apt, since the odds are pretty good that the driver of an El Camino is sporting a mullet.

I had a touch of the Friday blues, but not so very bad.  On the plus side, I made some small, but certainly forward, steps:  I did the 20 minutes of cleaning I vowed I would start doing, I did a math worksheet to hone my math skills for the test, and I started setting up applications for grad school.  In some instances, it is a little on the early side – I wasn’t planning to fill out the applications, only to suss them out, to see what I would need to pull together.  And, in many instances, I had to set up an electronic application to get a sussing chance.  So while I was there….Nine days from now, I’ll start making a list of what I want to put in my “Personal Statement,” other than “please please please let me come to your school – I’m too nerdy for the outside world.”  Oh, and I suppose I should get cracking on my final three papers due this semester.  I have it written in my schedule to have theses for my two French Lit papers by Sunday, and to have the third book read for my Sociolinguistics paper.  It is supposed to be breathtakingly gorgeous outside; I will try to forget what happened to me the last time I tried to study outside (Splat!) and study outside.

Oh yes, and I plan to take a practice test tonight.

9 Days Until the GRE Friday, Apr 20 2007 

Dang!  I have lost a complete week somewhere.  It’s probably under the couch cushions, along with a handful of pennies and a bobby pin.  I wouldn’t be surprised – when Puppy Mama and I were roommates (back in the paleolithic era known as the 90s), we had a hideous green sleeper sofa that sucked up pennies, popcorn and lord knows what else.

Another thing that has been worrying me is my increase in coasting.  I’m keeping up with everything, and my grades aren’t dropping, but I’m becoming less and less dedicated.  The irony is that last semester, practically every waking minute of my day was spoken for, and I still tackled homework every night.  I have a few less credits, my schedule is a lot more coherent, and yet I feel like I am getting less done.  Maybe that is just my perception.  I’m certainly keeping up, in discussions and in homework.  I’ve been feeling a bit of a slacker, though.  That might just be some sort of guilt.

I’ve made a new changes to my schedule.  I have been historically lax about housework (it is a tool of the devil).  Eventually, it seems overwhelming, and I have to spend days getting back to normal.  Instead of waiting until I have to spend the rest of my natural life keeping up, I am going to spend 20 minutes each day getting a little drudge work out of the way.  No more, no less.  It will take a while before I see progress, but I think it might pay off.  Hopefully, I’ll feel more ambitious about studying as well.

A lot of this feeling sluggish coincided with my ankle injury.  I’m quite a bit better now, though by the end of the day it hurts.  Being laid up like that has made me lethargic.

I think I’ll take this opportunity to do a math worksheet.  Hooray for the GRE!

My Hard Outer Shell Wednesday, Apr 18 2007 

I (not so) jokingly referred to the loss of my hard outer shell many moons ago.  I could do a little research and find which post and link to it, but I don’t think I want to.  The context was, in a nutshell, that I was annoyed that I had shed my hard outer shell to have a better romantic relationship, and once the relationship ended, I felt the loss of my hard outer shell.  Surely the shell prevented me from making connections with some people (I mean general connections, not romantic or sexual connections necessarily), but when you’re alone, you really need that shell.  To say that the shells we construct are useless is simplistic – the world is full of people who do not wish us well, anyone who has received an e-mail from a ousted Nigerian diplomat will tell you that.  There are also people who probably mean well, but are not compatible with our philosophies.  The question is:  are we in as much danger as we believe?

A fair question.  I can’t add any insight to what’s been said in the past couple of days, but the local reaction has stirred up a lot of questions.  I was surprised that our campus sent out an e-mail assuring us that we have an emergency plan, and that we could get any needed support.  I suppose I understand that some people (students, parents) might be concerned that it could happen here.  I’m not saying it couldn’t – I’m saying that by focusing on the possibility of a shocking crime of that nature pulls us away from the things we are better at controlling.  In the past couple of years here, there has been an increase in certain types of crimes.  Our city is changing, and as a collective, we seem to be unprepared for these changes.  What I have noticed about these crimes is that one could say there is an animosity towards the student community – it is hard to say that the perpetrators are looking for students, but I suspect that to some people they make an attractive target.  University students could be a pretty good symbol of the separation of the haves and have-nots.  Students like to claim that they are impoverished, and I know in my case, I took a huge pay cut (I am below the poverty line), but many students are solidly middle class.  Students also live for the future – as a group, we assume that we will go out, get good jobs and acquire all the benefits of a First World economy.  For the most part, we are correct.  So if you aren’t living for the future, if you can’t see past today, and you see someone with everything to live for…I could imagine that the envy could be poisonous.  And this tangent isn’t completely unrelated, at least from my vantage point.  Envy is poisonous, and the gulf between the envier and the envied doesn’t have to be vast; it can exist only in the mind of the envier.  It is so easy to compare ourselves to others and feel that we fall short.  I once had a conversation with an actor friend of mine, and we agreed that comparing yourself with others was a sucker’s game.  After all, if there is always someone better than you, why bother trying?  But if you focus on doing the best you can, being the best person you can be, then you’ll be happier.  And, in my experience, you’re kinder to others – you don’t feel that you need to tear others down to build yourself up.

What I’ve been trying to say, in my rambling fashion, is that while the shell is a necessary part of living among strangers, building the shell as some sort of psychological panic room keeps you forever on the outside.  And while I joked that I lost my hard outer shell in my last relationship, I exaggerate.  I recognized that I was in no real danger, and removed it on my own.  That the relationship ended didn’t do any real damage, feeling crappy but still going on with your life is just part of life.  A line from Guillaume Apollinaire is appropriate here – “La joie venait toujour après la peine” (joy always comes after pain).  In class, we debated whether that line outweighed the more pessimistic sentiments – and, on the whole, I think it does.  And even if Apollinaire was a miserable bastard when he wrote the poem, even if he didn’t believe it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  Otherwise, people would never move on.  And they do.  It may be hard, and some people may not be able to do it, but by and large, we do move on.  I saw a documentary on the Plague on the History Channel (I also blogged about it, but I am not interested in linking that either), and it was noted that after half of Europe died, the other half, once the Plague passed, moved on.  They even made a link between the Reformation and the Renaissance and the Plague.  Even after all that death and destruction, people worked to search for truth, to create.  So we are a pretty hardy species – that’s something to look forward to.

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