December 31, 2009

Alphabet Game

Ever played this alphabet game? "I'm going on a trip, and I'm taking..." The first person says an A-word; the next person repeats the A-word and adds a B-word, and so on...

Well, it just so happens that in one week, I will be taking a trip, and I have a lot of things to take with me! Here's the A to Z of it all:
  • Apprehension: Considering where I'm going, I think this is an understatement.
  • Babytop: A mini laptop to stay connected.
  • Curiosity: It may have killed the cat, but I think it has better things in store for me.
  • Dictionary: for all the words I still don't know (or can't spell...).
  • English: Kind of the main idea of this trip.
  • Flip-flops: No more snow boots!
  • Glasses: After a major ordeal, I have two shiny new pairs--all the better to see you with, my dear!
  • Humor: My most valuable possession.
  • Inoculations: Here's to hoping I avoid major illness.
  • Journals: Duh.
  • Kitty Stickers: A kitty sticker makes anything better.
  • Luxury: From the lap of it, to a lack of it.
  • Magic: Sometimes things just work.
  • Naivety: It's naive to think I'm not bringing a lot of this.
  • Optimism: If I couldn't bring this, I wouldn't go.
  • Plantar Facetious: I just can't outrun this one.
  • Questions: Since I know almost nothing...
  • Resume: A paying gig is the goal.
  • Sunscreen: The equator nears...fair skin beware!
  • Tattoo: One accessory you can't take off.
  • Underwear: More pairs=less laundry
  • Voice: Corny Women's Studies moment.
  • Wanderlust: My favorite German/English word.
  • Xenophobia: Just kidding!
  • Yoga: Perfect mind/body exercise in any country.
  • Zest: Not the soap, but the feeling.
I love this game--The best part is that most of these things don't take up any room in my suitcase!

December 24, 2009

Lincoln, NE

Since graduation I've been pummeled with parties. My parents' annual Christmas party brought its usual fervor to our house the day after I moved in. Ninety-six (count 'em!) adults came to our home seeking the German-inspired cuisine, delicate desserts, and poly-alcoholic drinks served from our bar. Cambodia served me well as a conversation piece, but talking about the bold uncertainty of the next months grew tiresome as the will's, might's, and maybe's began to sound more removed from my real life.

I'm tired of living in the future. I can't help but think of that oft-quoted John Lennon quip, "Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans." Or was it the other Lenin, "one man with a gun can control 100 without"? Either way, I guess we end up dead at the end of it all, and it would be a big mistake to rush through this holiday. In just 12 days, I'll be leaving Lincoln to live in the most present of all present tenses, and besides the scenery change, the change in verb tense will be welcomed.

I like Lincoln. It's a city of refugees. They've come to escape genocide and war in former Yugoslavia and Vietnam, they've come from Mexico and latin America in hopes of a better existance for their family, they've come from out-state Nebraska with dreams of big-city living. It's the generous Bosnians from the tall man's tailor shop (thanks for the socks!), It's the heavily side-burned, slightly broken out banker who greets me with "hey, what's up?", It's the yet-to-come winter storm frenzy in the supermarket. As my hometown, I wouldn't trade Lincoln for anywhere. This city is big enough for traffic, but small enough for friendly service.

We may not have a smooth Jay-Z/Alicia Keys anthem about our town, but New York (or Phnom Penh) has got nothing on good ol' Lincoln.

Merry Christmas, ya'll.

December 19, 2009

Wishful Thinking Achieved!

Sometimes wishful thinking is just that. Wishful. Emphasis on the part where you don't get what you want. Other times, thinking wishfully leads to accomplishment via hard work.

Secretly, ever since Takeshi was the commencement speaker at his graduation, I wondered if I would be the speaker at mine. Wishful thinking, I thought.

Wishful thinking indeed as I was chosen to speak at the Honors Breakfast on Graduation Day. Though initially I felt slightly second-banana to be the Honors Breakfast speaker rather than the main event, I crafted a speech for the occasion that I felt good about. I practiced almost daily for two weeks, and I had the thing memorized by the time I stood in front of the large breakfast-eating crowd this morning.

Hoping to avoid the emotional paralysis of the night before, I allowed the adrenaline to take over behind the podium. Legs a-twitter, knees a-knocking, I delivered the finest speech of my life thus far. I mean, there were no trumpets playing (as I often imagine), but it was far from the shaky-voiced, stumbling spectacle I often put on in front of a crowd.

To tell the truth, I enjoyed my five minutes in the spotlight. I was so glad to have been chosen for this event rather than the commencement because this audience was full of students who hold themselves to the same standards I do. My crowd was intimate and interested, and best of all, I didn't have to wear all the goofy graduation garb while giving my speech. I think my ideas were well-received. Even though I'm sure that such comments are somewhat compulsory, many esteemed faculty congratulated me afterward. The best moment of all was the sincerity with which my grandpa, a long-time public speaker, mimicked taking a crown off his head and placing it on mine to indicate my new post as family speech-giver.

The positive remarks from people who have known me for all of 15 minutes are wonderful, but the appreciation from people who have know me my whole life--those who have watched my varying degrees of success--that kind of congratulation means infinitely more.

Today was a big day, a milestone in my life. To the clinking of the trio of honors medallions around my neck, I made my way across the stage to the Chancellor's handshake to become a graduate. It was very pomp and circumstance, tassel and all.

I'm now an alumnus. I have no job as WC Consultant, no spring class schedule, and no identity as College Student. Dang, I probably shoulda put this one off a little longer!

December 18, 2009

Tears (for Fears)

Today I found out what college is about. Somewhere between bleaching the black part out of my hair and feeling too nauseus to finish my spicy green beans at the Thai restaurant, I felt it. Whatever that thing is that makes life worthwhile--that feeling that is all at once happy, sad, grateful, regretful, wonderful, and horrible. I felt it as I hugged my roommate and constant college companion goodbye. I choked out a few promises to stay in touch, and wished she would just leave so I could bawl without her watching.

I felt it as Collin and I shared our last coffee (iced soy latte and seasonal chilly beverage) and our well-wishes.

But I felt it most as I stood in front of a crowd of people, my family included, and listened to not one, but two of my favorite professors list off my accomplishments and potential. I was being honored as a top senior in my department (well, actually two departments--Sociology and Women's Studies). I knew the water works would soon appear as the keynote speaker found that spot in my heart that always gets me. Damn him. When it was my turn to be publicly praised, I held on to a straight face by a floss-thin nerve. When Dr. Maughan pulled me a little closer, my face burned red-hot as that feeling flooded my already shaking limbs. The stone-faced audience didn't seem impressed, but I guess it wasn't their moment. By the time the second professor got up to talk about me, I was a hot mess. Even after the public praise, talking to a long-time friend and non-traditional student made us both teary. Once I start, it's like a leaky faucet--or maybe like what happens to faucets after you've shut off the water supply to the house. An unpredictable burst of noisy water--What?

Tomorrow morning, I will give a speech about what I thought college meant a month ago. I still stand behind that speech, but the past two weeks have given me a renewed perspective on my education. College is not about the coursework, or at least, that's the bare minimum. College is about finding yourself through other people: friends, mentors, and family. College is about growing up (sucky as it is) and discovering that you can do more than you thought.

As much as I detest crying in front of people, at least I feel something powerful. I care deeply about my relationships, my work, and my future. Any and all of those things deserve my tears, and doggonnit, if I've got to cry in front of a bunch of people, so be it.

Now if I could just find a way to keep my make-up looking stellar while crying...

December 16, 2009

My Desk 10:50pm

My days in college are numbered--two left, to be exact. Today, facing the prospect of a comprehensive final in Advanced German Grammar, I thought, I am going to miss this. I will look back fondly on the hours I spent doing anything but studying, the coffee that washed down many good conversations, and the tests that seemed so important at the time. College was a liberation for my inner Jena. I made peace with my height and awkwardness and found a way to make it work.

The hokey (pokey) speech I wrote for the Honors Breakfast will suffice. It gives the people what they want, and I guess that's enough. Nothing like a bout of early morning public speaking to cap off an undergraduate program.

I feel that I have, in a way, cheated my last semester of college. I was in such a hurry to get as far away from Kearney as possible that I forgot to appreciate some of the things that I value here. Now, in my last week, I am feeling the need to hang onto my friendships, my professors, and even my classes (but the iced-over snow--I won't be missing that!) I've written many thank-you notes, which are important, but I don't know if they do it all justice.

Friends, teachers, mentors, coffee pots, and honorary family members: you have brought so much to my college life. Cambodia had better be something ubergreat because I'm leaving a place full of people I will never be able to replace. This is my big "Thank You" over the blogosphere. I hope you have some type of receiver for that.

December 14, 2009

A Conversation Worth Having

That darn coffee maker. I bought it last year because I thought it would be a nice upgrade. It was, but recently, the snail's pace brewing and thick black coffee have been too much for me. I'm an instant gratification, quick-fix kind of gal who likes to drink many cups of coffee, not just one super strength.

...frighteningly similar to how I feel about relationships. Maybe. I'm still working on that one.

This morning with my semi-solid coffee, I thought seriously about the previous night's viscous conversation with Takeshi. I'm a stubborn lady with a pension for the darker side of things. We flung open the big questions about our current standing, Cambodia, and the possibility of losing each other in the shuffle. It sounds awful, and it was, but we needed to go there.

By the way, I'm in dire need of a kick in the pants to adjust this sad, sad attitude. I'm on the edge of the adventure of a lifetime, I have the best family (biological or otherwise), and the most supportive friends I could ask for.

December 11, 2009

LateNightRamblingsofaWanna-beWorldTraveler or Good Advice

Collin's text typo turned out to be some of the best advice yet.

Keep your head on

It's prolific and appropriate today, a day when I would have taken my head off, had I only the opportunity. Keep your head on, you're going to need it to figure out what to do next.

Perhaps I have yet to grasp that CamTEFL is not an option anymore. My friends seem to think that this is just a fate-thing. One of those cliches that people say when something lousy happens: when one door closes, another opens, or everything happens for a reason. Maybe they are right. My left ankle sports a tatoo about this idea that some things defy all explanation, but somehow it works out.

I don't know, even when I think of magic, finding and getting the paperwork together for a reputable TESOL program among the hundreds in Phnom Penh within three weeks (including graduation, moving, and Christmas) seem like wishful thinking.

Maybe I'm not meant to teach English. Maybe Phnom Penh isn't my destiny. Maybe this is all a sign that I should just stay in Nebraska with my head on, and stop all this nonsense.

No thanks, i'll set off on my adventure, plans or no plans, and I'll take my head with me. I'll need it!

Where's Free Hug Guy when you need him?

Today, in the middle of my second cup of coffee, and one bite into my health food granola bar, I received an e-mail that ruined my day and some (if not all) of my plans in Cambodia. The short message from CamTEFL let me know that the January course--yes the same course that I paid for yesterday--would not be happening due to a shortage of trainers, a lack of students, and a new school. No course. And all that blasphemy at the bank yesterday. And all those plans that I had so carefully laid out. Useless.

It's t-27 days and I'm pretty much back to square one. I can still volunteer teach with CWF, but that doesn't start until late February, what am I going to do until then? And, what will I do after that, as I won't have any TEFL certificate?

Collin offered sincere condolence, but I let out a few disenchanted tears anyway--much to my chagrin. Crying at the workplace should be used only in emergencies, or during your last week, whichever comes first.

It's well-understood by people who know me that I'm a plan person. I thrive on organization, schedules and follow-through. I had been feeling pretty brave lately to think that I had only a four-month plan--and now, well I don't even have that. I've got the rest of this week, and then graduation. After that, my planner shows only one event, Jan 7: fly to Cambodia.

My real friends understand how important this Cambodia thing is to me, and the really close ones understand that it took me a long time to find and settle on CamTEFL as my certification. This turn of events, my friends know, is something of a catastrophe for me and my pride, and they were sympathetic to my disappointment today.

Even hottie from French got in on it today. He happened to stop by the WC this morning as I fell victim to another batch of panic. The combination of holding in screams of frustration, caffeine, and hottie made me shake and tear up even more than usual, but the warm hug I got at the end was so worth the embarrassment! Sometimes a hug is worth a thousand commiserate ears. And this guy is much less creepy than free hug guy.

December 10, 2009

Me vs. The Bank

If you remember the post "Scambodia vs. Intuition"--this is part 2.

Still frantic about the CamTEFL course fee wire transfer, this morning I was doing a little online banking and I noticed that the $1500 was back in my account. Okay, something is amiss. Why is the money back in my account, and why does no record of any wire transfer attempt show on my statement?

So, I angrily dug my car out of the snow embankment, drove slowly (but with purpose!) to Wells Fargo and marched up to the next available banker. A dizzying 20 minutes later, after being shuffled around between bankers, listening to half a phone conversation, and putting up with some of the poorest customer service I have ever seen, I was correcting typos on the second version of the wire transfer. Beyond flustered that a lack of intra-office communication and a possible typo had prevented my uber-organization from working the first time, I hurried out of the bank with the taste of rancid customer service in my mouth.

My mom says that this is exactly why small banks stay in business.

Through my blog, I have wanted to document the steps to going abroad, but this is more like a major vent session. My point is that there is no substitute for customer service, and no excuse for a lack of it. Earning the money to go abroad is the easy part. Getting the moeny where it needs to go is apparently one of the more difficult things.

December 9, 2009

Snow, Wind, and Sentence Fragments

There is something magical about snow days. It's like a little present. Something wished for, yet unexpected.

Deviating from my usual (and very dangerous) snow-bound adventures,today, I laid low. I slept in, drank an extra cup of coffee, and caught up on some administrative things from my to do list. It was a welcome change from the usual routine. I even cleaned the bathroom.

Actually, by mid-afternoon, I was bored and restless. I went outside for ten minutes, just to see the state of affairs around my car--it's buried. The dry, knee-high snow and whipping winds sent me back inside chilled and snowy, but no less restless.

No snow days in Cambodia... Maybe they have monsoon days, or rain days. I think I'll miss the snow. I like the periwinkle haze of a snow-filled night sky, and the little shimmery flakes blowing under the street lamps. I don't love getting snow in my shoes or having my face go numb, but from my cozy recliner, tea in hand, winter is charming.

The wind is really picking up, and if I know Kearney wind, we ain't seen nothin' yet.

December 7, 2009

Light Snow in Kearney

Take a deep breath, I tell myself, it's about to get crazy.

Waving goodbye to the last semblance of normalcy, I begin the hellish last two weeks of school and holiday mayhem chaos. The prospect of the change of schedule for Finals week, the preparation for and presentation of my little speech, and just the thought of moving all my junk out of this apartment is so unappealing at the moment. Not to mention the rigmarole of Christmas. Oh, and moving to Cambodia.

Today I enjoyed the light snowfall, and the Christmas decorations that my roommate put up last week. Babytop is everything I wanted, and fortunately, she arrived just before dinosaurtop bit the dust. I also liked browsing for gifts online, even though I didn't decide on anything. I even liked watching the little wisps of snow slither across a darkened 30th avenue on the way home from the Writing Center. I imagine my Scandinavian ancestors battled many a snowy night, and looked darn good doing it. Blondes are meant to be snow-bound. Except me. I'm looking forward to hot and sticky.

The money transfer to CamTEFL is not for the faint of heart! It's been nearly two weeks and I haven't heard anything. "Seven working days" could mean almost anything though--right? I mean, I transfered the money right before Thanksgiving, so that cuts out a few American working days, I'm not familiar with the Buddhist calendar, but there's perhaps a Cambodian holiday, and maybe even British holidays affect the confirmation e-mail on which I am desperately waiting.

For a gal who likes to plan ahead (and who worked all summer at Target to pay for this), the wait time is disconcerting. I'd like to know where my $1500 went.

November 28, 2009

On Why I'm a Terrible Nebraskan

As I lay there spooning a box of Kleenex, I thought about my options. I could walk back out into the living room, makeup trickling down my face, and interrupt the Husker game to draw attention to my personality disorder. I could sneak out the basement door and do any number of things. Or, I could stumble to the bathroom, reapply the layers of concealer and mascara necessary for public appearance. I chose the last one as my pity party had low attendance because it was a game day.

November 24, 2009

Restaffing the WC

Collin and I made two pots of coffee today. The Writing Center is scavenging for new consultants because as of January, only two of the current consultants will remain on staff. Our director created a hiring-committee of sorts. Collin, Katie and I interview the potential consultants in packs of three. The group interview format is experimental, and I like it. I also like getting to pick my successors--kind of. The ego I have cultivated assumes that my absence will leave a gaping hole in the WC, more than an empty chair and empty coffee pot. I hope that I will be missed. I will certainly miss the WC.

Speaking of gerund phrases...

November 18, 2009

Lunch at Barista's

My soy latte was particularly good today. I had been avoiding soy lattes for a few weeks in favor of something with more flavor (more sugar), but I've returned. Maybe it was the new hottie barista who happens to be one of my partners in French class (Bonjour!), or maybe it was Rachael's good company. Whatever the reason, the nutty soy milk remains a delightful complement to the bitter espresso.

Kinda like me: nutty and bitter.

Right. Speaking of French class, yesterday, we unearthed the real secret of foreign language pedagogy. Activities are designed to make students ask speed-dating questions and create awkward come-ons. Think about it--The first things that you learn in foreign languages are What's your name? How old are you? What do you like to do? What are you doing on the weekend? Would you like to go to the movies with me? Do you want to visit my grandmother in the Alps next week?

As if contorting your mouth into French shapes wasn't humiliating enough...

November 15, 2009

Earth to Jena

I've never been able to keep in touch successfully. Usually, I do well for a month, then I go underwater wherever I am and block out all outside influences. I don't know if it's on purpose, but it just happens. I often blame it on a lack of mutual friends, a lack of free time, or most obnoxiously, just that I simply suck at staying in touch. In the past, I've approached the situation like a chapter book. I don't often reread books, or rewatch movies. They've run their course, I've learned what I can from them, end of story.

That brings me to my plan to fall off the edge of the Earth in Cambodia.

I planned this adventure at a time when I was ready to give up everything. I felt that I had nothing to give up. I foresaw a fresh start, free of ties to Kearney. Now that I've uncovered a new social life and even rediscovered some old friends, I feel obligated to find a way to keep in touch. I've just started these stories, and I can't really take them with me.

I've seen staying in touch as such a burden, but it's really just a way for two people to show that they still think of each other.

November 11, 2009

Claiming the WC for Ourselves

The WC has a new energy. Our director, the always-planning, often-stressed woman in charge of us, was chipper this morning, admiring the graffiti wall we began yesterday on a whim. My little white board with greetings in various languages sparked a spontaneous graffiti session on the wall by the check-in computer. Raquel from Brazil, a woman from Mexico and Yumeko from Japan all happened to be in the WC at that moment. I thought I was dreaming as we came together on the wall, uniting, it felt like, the world. We wrote in our respective languages with thick black sharpie on the blank wall. It was everything I love about the WC crammed into 30 seconds. We were smiling and laughing, speaking a handful of languages, and enjoying our diversity.

Since then, Collin and I have been recruiting everyone to write something on the wall. I took the liberty of writing my favorite Collin quote right above his workspace: "Do you feel closer to the clouds?" There's something wonderful about a slightly off-center, could've-been-better-written string of words on a wall. Every time I look at Collin now, I remember driving on I-90 watching the big sky, and Collin's expressions filling our quote log.

Above my workspace, I took Toni Morrison to the wall. Everytime I look up, she challenges me to write the story I want to read, and every time, I can't wait to be the well-groomed, female version of Anthony Bourdain (check him out on the Travel Channel).

One of my regulars had an appointment today--Ayumi from Japan. She's a Phys Ed. major who is working hard in English Composition. At the end of the consultation, she found out that I was graduating in December. She expressed her disappointment, and told me how much she would miss me. Then she told me how popular I am among the Japanese students and how they talk about me sometimes. It was so satisfying to hear that kind of feedback. Between the graffitti wall and the compliments, I couldn't have been any happier. I think I actually hallucinated for a while.

I should enjoy it while I can. The WC is my home for another month, then I've got to move on.

November 9, 2009

Silent H is for Honesty

Staring down the elephant in the room, I break the standoff silence. Don't you get it? I'm going to Cambodia in 60 days. What do you think is going to happen? Take a look at our record--it isn't great.

I'm working on being honest.

I remind Takeshi of all the times we've broken up. I tell him that by this time, he knows what he's in for. My uncertainty for the coming months articulates itself well in this honest forum. This is my adventure, I say. I make no promises. He gets it (I hope).

Elephants are lucky in some countries. Sacred in others.

November 6, 2009

Hey, that's my wunderkind!

Facing a heavy blow to my academic self-esteem, I concentrate now on a brief moment this afternoon when all seemed well with the world. I felt unburdened and hopeful. I remembered Graz for the first time since stress crumpled those memories into tight wads at the bottom of some figurative trash bin.

All the things that have happened since then have sent me on a maddening trip of introspection and serotonin.

So maybe I'm not a Wunderkind. Most of them are crazy anyway.

And, Free Hug Guy gave me a hug today--awkward, but needed.

I put the H in Wino...

They serve good coffee at University-sponsored banquets. As I admired the way my french-manicured-specially-for-this-occasion-nails gracefully lifted the cup, I prepared myself for the glory of the upcoming paper competition awards ceremony. The Nebraska Undergraduate Sociology Symposium (NUSS) was supposed to be a showcase of my hard work over the past 18 months. The project that nearly stole my soul was intended to baffle the judges with its ingenious topic and bedazzle them with my sophisticated writing style.

I sipped anxiously, heart on vibrate, awaiting the announcement:

Fourth place went to someone I didn't know.

Third place, another unknown person.

Second place, the person I saw as my biggest competition.

Okay good, I thought. It's the perfect set up--I've just edged out my competition. I prepared myself for the onslaught of applause, praise, and

...ugly disappointment?

I hadn't won. In fact, I hadn't even placed. Crushed, but trying to conceal the deflated ego that wrapped around me like a faulty parachute, I tried to act normal. I wanted to hide behind the nasty fake tree in the corner and sneer at the winner for having such a fantastic paper.

I was mad at my mentor who said that I had a great chance of winning. Despite the tremendous effort I put into the paper, the whole thing suddenly felt so stupid and ridiculous because no one gave a hoot. Actually, I was mad at myself for taking this so poorly. I was really mad at the other attendees for still being in the room, impeding any massive meltdown that I might have had otherwise.

No worries, it's just NUSS, I say with good intentions. Yeah, it's just NUSS, a small conference of undergraduates and my paper was unsuccessful. I'm applying as a professional whiner.

November 4, 2009

How many cups of tea?

The one thing about my depressive and anxious moods is that I get an unbelievable muse. I don't even need Imogen Heap blaring from my laptop and a pot of coffee in my grip to let a surge of words exit gracefully onto the page.

However, today I sit happy, content, and completely desperate for an acceptable blog subject.

I've been reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin. My mom wrote a Facebook status update about this book, so I figured it was worth my time. The premise of the book is admirable enough: it's the chronicle of Mortensen's trials as a hippie-climber type who, after a near-death experience climbing in the mountains of Pakistan, literally stumbles into the village that would define his life as a humanitarian.

But, for this review of sorts to be applicable for my blog, there's got to be hot beverage involved. In fact, the book's name doesn't do justice to the tea overload described in the book. In the Himalayan region, (and elsewhere) tea is a way of life. Every meal, break, and business transaction is made over tea. It's hard to believe that they consume so much tea every day. Actually, the book is named for the symbolic power of tea: for the first cup, you are a stranger; the second, you are an honored guest; and for the third, you are a member of the family.

Obviously this book appeals to my wanderlust and my caffeine-seeking tendencies, but the more important message for me is that humanitarian work is not hero work. Mortensen nearly alienates the village by pushing them too hard to finish the school before winter. His local mentor reminded him, "Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time" (p.150).

I've been rolling the uneducated, but not stupid part around in my head since I read it. It's a very humbling statement for a soon-to-be-college-graduate with a growing intellectual ego and humanitarian-leaning career plan. Bulldozing cultures is not my idea of successful NGO work. I wonder about the boundaries of teaching English to Cambodians. Am I contributing to marginalizing a culture?

Having language skills will help Cambodians be more marketable for better jobs, and it will help them integrate into a globalizing world. Not that I think globalization is some godsend, but it is a fact that we have one world, and it is connecting faster than ever. Plus, learning languages is fun and always offers a new vocabulary and perspective.

How's that for rationalizing my participation in something I'm ethically unsure about?

P.S. I broke the coffee pot at the WC. Not good.

October 21, 2009

I could still get Dengue Fever!

Omen or not, I fainted at the Infectious Disease Clinic today. During (or after) the third shot, I felt the blackness racing up my spine. I thought about saying something to the nurse, but nothing came out. Instead, a reckless dream of flashing lights and Cambodian marsh whizzed before my rolled-back eyes as I slumped off the table to the floor. The unconscious bliss was interrupted by the reality of low pile carpet and a rampant sweat. The nurse posed the question Are you okay as though it was normal for people to just fall off things and collapse in a puddle of sweat. When I realized where I was, what had happened, and the horrible feeling all over my body I was so disappointed. I was hoping that the last time I fainted was a fluke, and that this time would be a glorious show of my mind-body control. Not at all.

On the bright side, I got the big three: typhoid, Hep A, and a tetanus booster, out of the way. From the ground, the possibility of yet another shot (the flu shot) made me wish I had hit my head on something on the way down. I lie there, staring up at the ceiling, wishing that unconsciousness had lasted a little longer, for now I was shaking and sweating to a miserable heartbeat as the nurse took my blood pressure. She brought me a root beer to calm my shakes, and brought Takeshi in from the waiting room. The combination of root beer, my boyfriend, and overwhelming embarrassment took me over the edge: I hunched over the blue barf bag and with awesome precision, unloaded my breakfast and the root beer into the little blue bag as Takeshi made awkward small talk with the nurse.

Thoroughly inoculated, though not against influenza, I was wheeled out of the clinic in a rickshaw--I mean--a wheelchair. Rolling past the patient waiting in the lobby, I enjoyed the pure anguish on his face as I feigned another bout of nausea.

I'm going to have to be a little tougher if I want to conquer the Mekong.

October 15, 2009


I am a woman of habit, a creature of routine, a lover of the predictable—and yet, as I spoon three heaping plastic spoonfuls of ground coffee into the filter just as I do every day at the Writing Center, I feel a surge of spontaneity (in a one-way ticket to Cambodia kind of way). I feel the muse bubbling up beneath my fingernails and the imperative need to express some inner revelation of values and life-things in readable form. Because of my schedule commitments (and lack of revelation), I will not quell my desire to hide next to a latte at Barista’s and write until the blisters on my fingers make it an impossibility. I will not use my soon-to-expire frequent flyer miles to jet of to Hawaii for the weekend. I won’t even deviate from my usual hazelnut creamer.
However, I will type like a fiend until my first appointment arrives, or until this unpredictability of sorts fades into the usual, the blasé, the choking normalcy of a fifth year in Kearney.

October 11, 2009

Perkins: Sunday Morning

Thoroughly greased from our Perkins indulgences, Takeshi and I stand up at the same time as the nosy woman across from us. She butts in, "My granddaughter and I were playing a game guessing who people were and what they do," She paused and looked Takeshi over. "You must be college students," she grinned, anticipating a small victory.

Trying to be friendly with her underestimation, I corrected, "Actually, he's a professor."

Embarrassed, but not deterred, she stammered, "Well, you look so young, I mean, I thought you were probably a student, but please forgive me. You must be very smart. You know, I'm married to a recently-retired professor…" She continued rambling about Takeshi and her husband as we clogged the pressurized artery of Sunday morning Perkins. Much to my chagrin, the next phrase I remember was, "And he'll make such a nice husband for you," she said with an unnecessary wink. I thought of my Women's Studies classes, my liberal views on gender roles, and my general disdain for people who can think of nothing better for me to do. "Professors make great husbands." She had no interest in what my life plans were, what I was studying, or even in my relationship with Takeshi. Once we finally made it to the cashier, Takeshi had to explain his whole career and life goals to this obnoxious woman as I stood there, happy wife. "Keep a hold of this one, he's a good catch," she advised me with another wink as we parted ways.

This conversation was archetypal of the rural Nebraskan patriarchy which I have been fighting since arriving at UNK. The traditional gender role assignments to which I have unfairly pinned all Nebraskans, are often pushed onto me as though I'm in school for no reason other than meeting a nice husband. I'd rather die. It's as if by saying (or not saying) those things to me, that woman was exposing a dark secret.

Hey, your Nebraska is showing.

October 9, 2009

Friday Morning Excuses

My life will never be easier than this. As I sit at my laptop, coffee nearby, I watch my roommate's black lab convulse on the floor, rolling back and forth over a tennis ball trapped beneath her back. Her mouth open, legs splayed, she looks possessed. Her white teeth gleam with saliva, and the taut skin around her eyes reveals her inner wild animal. Her name is Beya, and I think we have a lot in common. Our days consist of sleeping, eating and trying to get exercise. Our bathroom time is scheduled, and it's hard to keep anyone paying attention to us.

For us, life is pretty dang easy. Save the language learner's equivalent to water-boarding, absolute use of case, I don't have much to worry about. Yes, once I have memorized the specific and correct (well, correct to someone) usage of no less than 30 German prepositions, each of which belongs to a specific grouping of prepositions, I will be ready to conquer the free world.

Cursing the evil man who composed our German book, I've been thinking a lot about a video we watched in the Writing Center called "Writing Across Borders." Aside from the plethora of helpful hints and strategies for working with ELL students, this video offered the first accurate description of English articles (a/an/the, etc.) that I've ever heard: Articles are simply to show who is a native speaker and who is not. Not only do I believe this whole-heartedly, but I also think that many elements of language are constructed to damn language learners to a hellish study that yields marginal results.

Since the dog and I don't have many responsibilities, I have enough free time to ponder the importance of articles, prepositions and many other seemingly trivial aspects of language. It's amazing how little of a language that you actually have to know to be understood. With my two months worth of French vocabulary, I feel confident that I know enough to get myself in trouble. Unfortunately, an increased knowledge can also be problematic. A practical decade of German studies has shown me that I still don't understand how to use the right adjective ending, nor the correct preposition for colloquialisms (that's an entirely different issue of location, age, and formality…different day, different blog).

Perhaps the irony of all this is that native speakers are guilty of many a language sin, and in fact, these infractions are generally worse than non-native speakers'. So, here's to missing articles, ill-placed commas, sentence fragments and faulty organization. If it weren't for language mistakes, I wouldn't have anything to study, think about, or talk about with students at the Writing Center.

October 6, 2009

Static Electricity

I detest the arid cold of Nebraska in the Fall. I hate waking up like a crunchy leaf and blowing off to class with bloodshot eyes and chapped lips. I can't stand the little scales that peel off my face, leaving vulnerable pink epidermis to fend for itself.

The dry air is, however, the perfect conductor of static electricity. And at five o'clock in the morning, deep under the covers, my fingers become electrodes, sparking mini lightshows. When I pull the micro fleece blanket away from the sheet, a variable electric storm brews, flickering the tiniest lightning bolts and zapping my skin. It doesn't hurt (except when I super charge!), but it feels like a little electric butterfly looking for nectar on my skin. This control I suddenly have--the power to be electric--must be what Benjamin Franklin felt when he tied the key to the kite…wait, is that a real story? Maybe I'm more like Arnold Palmer, golf club outstretched as the cumulonimbus clouds roll in, just waiting for lightning to strike.

That's figurative lightning, right?

To be safe, and to save my membranes from an untimely demise, I bought a humidifier.

October 1, 2009

Wind and Nebraska: a love story

Today I was reminded of perhaps the best thing about Cambodia: 100% humidity with no wind.

In Nebraska, wind doesn’t blow—it howls through even the smallest crack; it harangues innocent bystanders with blustery battery. The big sky of the plains provides no shelter from the violent air movement. Autumn in Kearney is like stepping in front of an industrial fan, a full-throttle jet engine, and a dehumidifier all at once. I’m being pushed, pulled and all together desiccated by the cursed wind gusts that scream down from Canada on a daily basis. The hair I spent the better part of an hour styling is now whipping around my face, sticking to my lipstick, and mostly blinding me as I lean into the wind, trying to get to class. By February, my knuckles are so cracked they are bleeding, and the rest of my skin has the texture of deer jerky, which by the way, is really tasty, and a great winter survival snack!

Wind has always puzzled me because I can’t see it. I can see what it does to other things, and I can feel it’s prickles on my face, but I can’t see it. I suppose there is some metaphor I could make here, about life and challenges, but I’ll let wind stand on its own today. From a meteorological standpoint, I suppose wind is nothing more than air moving towards areas of lower pressure. From a Nebraskan standpoint, the winds usually dictate what’s coming next. A warm southern wind means nice weather, westerly winds usually mean clear skies, north winds mean it’s gonna get real dang cold (“where’s my coat at?”), and easterly winds, well that’s probably a tornado, so you better run outside to see it. Nebraskans are like living farmer’s almanacs, storm chasers, and grammatical magicians all at once. Who else knows when the last October with less than an inch of snow was? Who else thinks the tornado sirens are a perfect soundtrack to Mother Nature’s version of “Twister”? And, who else can hang a preposition off of any sentence and be considered correct?

I love Nebraska, don’t get me wrong. But between the wind and the speech patterns, I’ve gotta move soon. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back someday to find out where my proverbial coat is at.

September 22, 2009

Mid-Morning: New WC

Collin and I christened the new Writing Center space today with a pot of coffee and a continuation of our major-life-decision talk. It turns out that both of us are unsatisfied with our respective chosen majors, but that we both eventually want to pursue higher education. As I often do, I immediately suggested that Collin study abroad to take a break from the dismal world of academia, and he countered with his customary, "but I'm a castle-builder" explanation. He is indeed a castle-builder—that is, one who prefers to create a web of relationships, commitments, and aspirations that center on a single geographic location. He wants to build his castle and enjoy the kingdom. I, on the other hand, am an exemplary wanderer. I'm never satisfied with my current location, and I am inclined to circumnavigate the globe in search of some higher meaning (or at least stories worth telling).

Surprisingly, Collin and I face a very similar dilemma, except I am one year further in the process. I have no advice for Collin, because my solution to the question of graduate school and beyond was about as pigheaded as they come: To heck with it all, I'm going to Cambodia. I need more time, a new space and deep-fried tarantulas to help me figure out my future (although if deep-fried tarantulas are in my future, I might need to rethink this…). I hope Collin doesn't have to go through the misery that was my lamentable fourth year at UNK. Attempting to be an überstudent, I took on far too many extra projects that left me exhausted, not to mention medicated. Sure, academia can be a very rewarding place, but the intense self-pressure to publish material or to create a project that will be satisfying may recklessly eat away at relationships, motivation, and stomachs. I have the holes to prove it!

On second thought, maybe To heck with it all, I'm going to Cambodia isn't such bad advice.

September 20, 2009

Desk Interpretation

My desk is multi-tasking, fabulous and hopelessly international. An old, heavy laptop takes up a good chunk of space, and the digital picture frame I was so excited about sits lifeless among a chaotic mix of the things that stake claim to the precious space. I had high hopes for that frame. I've got a bazillion pictures from Thailand and Austria that I foresaw blinking on my desk day and night, regaling the fond memories of time abroad. Instead, I have had great difficulty getting it to play what I want, and it mostly sits unused, a $170 paperweight. My basket of knick-knacks, or crap, as I prefer, has a wide array of pens, markers, cat stickers, an envelope with a hiragana/katakana chart, an old (probably incriminating) jump drive, some loose change, and an emergency bottle of Tylenol.

My stainless steel water bottle (ever dropped one of those? The noise is incredible), a used Kleenex, stapler, pens, calculator and a bottle of lemongrass essential oil sit atop my desk, exactly where I last left them. My student ID, taken long enough ago that I had short brown hair and six-pack abs, is wrapped with headphones, my motivation to run to the university gym on occasion. A half-burnt incense stick from the weekend, a bottle of perfume, and a necklace that I bought in Bangkok have also made their way onto my desk.

On the slide-out drawer on which most people put a key board, I find a quagmire of papers. Some are from my HIV project: old , useless drafts mostly. I also have a smattering on Khmer lessons, the free kind, printed from the internet. I can already tell that Khmer is going to be hard to learn. The script is, well, it descends from Sanskrit, if that provides any clues. The point is, it's not letters, but symbols, and the sounds associated with said symbols are not similar to the sounds I am accustomed to making. As a by-product of these lessons, I have written some of the Khmer symbols on orange sticky notes, with a pseudo-phonetical transcription that is probably more detrimental than helpful. I look at a character that resembles a 2, except more like a ornate backwards S. Underneath, I see the transcription "Kha"—which is somehow different from the other symbol that says "Ka." For the life of me I can't hear the difference in the internet pronunciation guide. This mystical H, what is it, and how do I say it?

September 16, 2009

"Scambodia" vs. Intuition

So I'm going to Cambodia in January--kind of on a whim. In the midst of a depressing search for life's answers, I decided to try teaching English abroad. It seems like something I would like: traveling, meeting new people, and getting paid to do it. Unfortunately, it seems that a growing number of my peers are considering the same life-path, which is why I'm so glad I picked Cambodia—nobody else is going there! Ha, suckers going to beautiful developed nations, I'm going to a developing nation that is chock-full of landmines.

"Scambodia," as it was often referred to on the internet, is indeed probably full of scams, especially in the ESL/TESOL realm. It's a risk I have to accept, as I learned today at the bank while trying to wire money to Cambodia for my deposit. I sat across from a banker with an inflamed zit by his nose. I told him the plan and he immediately went into dad-mode. Are you sure this is legit? I was almost offended at his question. First, of course I had done all the checking Google would allow, and second, how the hell should I know?

My bubble thoroughly burst, I conceded that I probably should do some more checking, though I already knew that tracking down this type of organization, especially outside the US, was almost totally impossible. As his fatherly spiel continued, some hyper-reality set in. Suddenly I pictured my empty bank account, me crying in a scary hostel in Phnom Penh, and an archetypal Cambodian monkey ridiculing me for being so naïve. Then I thought, those things will probably happen regardless of CamTEFL. Scam or not, I'm in for an adventure.

My invasive internet search began with the BBB, which as predicted, was absolutely no help, and the small goose chase they sent me on was even less fruitful. For the next hour, it was hit an miss searches of IP addresses, domain names, and known scam lists on various websites.

I am prone to trusting my intuition (some people say I'm stubborn—that's just semantics). CamTEFL is the only ESL program that didn't give me a bad feeling. This program is small, based in Cambodia, and is affiliated with several other volunteer agencies with noble aims. If it is a scam, they have gone to such elaborate lengths to cover it that they deserve my money. Something about the Cambodian Rural Development Team just sounds like a life-changing, soul-enhancing, world-peace-inducing organization that I just can't picture being fraudulent.

Call me naïve, call me stubborn, just don't call me Jenna.

I really need coffee—speaking of, I hear Cambodian coffee is a must-try!

September 14, 2009

Barista's 10:15 am

We planned this coffee date last night--long before we had to wake up and stagger in this morning. This was to be a celebratory coffee of the temporary return of two good friends, and the send-off of another to Eastern Europe.

Instead, small groups of us file slowly into the Sunday morning coffee line. We are five strong in the line, but then another finds her way to us. She's twenty minutes late and in the clothes from last night. We all smile in anticipation of the sure-to-be entertaining story. This is almost too college: a group of well-traveled, bright young women, who are always sarcastic, and always, always, always talking about sex.

You can tell a lot about a woman by the coffee drink she orders. After an intense wait in the line, we are gathered around the table drinks in hand. I have a small soy latte and bran muffin, making me the youngest 78-year-old in the world. To my right, a large vanilla latte marks an indulgent choice for a health-nut; next to her sits a small peppermint mocha, the ultimate rebellious drink in the summertime. On the other side of the table, one sits without a drink, she's too hung-over for a sugary, lactose-filled beverage. Next to her, a tame medium vanilla chai compliments the boldness of its drinker. Across from me sits a caramel latte that I gifted because of her perpetual bad luck with stupid men. To my left, the one with the pending story holds a large raspberry hot tea.

We all look at raspberry tea, waiting.

She doesn't disappoint us.

September 11, 2009


Tribeka is the coffeehouse of choice for egotistical exchange students in Graz, Austria. We file into a que (called a “Schlange” in German, or a “line” in boring American), thirsty for the frothy beverage and hot baristas. The girl with the flower tattoo on her elbow is the master of the steamed milk, while the John Mayer-esque barista percolates espresso with salacious hair flicks. I’m not sure whether I want a latte or a make-out, but since I have to order in German, I had better stick to the latte.

I review my rote phrase over and over in my head: ich hätte gerne eine Latte, ich hätte gerne eine Latte. It sounds perfectly Austrian in my head, but when it’s my turn to order, I freeze. An incomprehensible phrase that sounds like Ik hat gurn eine Latte falls sadly out of my mouth and lands on the frustrated ears of tattoo girl, who immediately recognizing my American accent, asks, “Sorry, what?” It’s a crushing blow to my ego, but it happens so often that I’m used to it.

“A latte?” Even my English sounds stupid.

Austrians are a petite crowd, demonstrated by the horrific staircase in Tribeka. The dangers of carrying a steaming glass of bliss up a narrow, winding and unpredictable staircase are plenty. Once upstairs, I feel like a mutant giant because the ceiling is just inches above my head, the tables are tiny, and the prized window chairs are so ill-fitted to my height that I simply give up and sink into the corner--narrowly missing a major collision with the uneven ceiling.

The thing about study abroad is that it is such a distinct and distant time period. I want to write about Amanda and Allie in this blog, but I just can’t anymore. It’s almost like they never existed. They do belong in this story, sitting across from me, having the same size issues while watching the cute little Austrians slip easily into the window seat. We drank a lot of coffee in that place.

In Austria, coffee is life. People are late all the time and they basically excuse themselves by explaining that they were at coffee. Immediately, the rest of the room nods in agreement, that yes, coffee is more important than whatever they are currently doing. Coffee-to-go is not popular for this reason. Why get it to go when no one cares if you are on time?

Besides an excuse for any scenario, coffee is a true art. A Tribeka latte has a swirling Tannenbaum design atop the inch or two of foam. I try to imitate the Austrians by eating the foam with a spoon, but it just never tastes good. Oh, and the size—forget venti (friggin’ huge) size from Starbucks. If you want a latte, you get a small. That’s the only choice. Coffee communism—a remnant of Eastern Bloc influences.

Commie or not, the best thing about Tribeka was the pitcher of water with chunks of mint or fruit shoved in. Nothing like a glass of lukewarm water with floating material on a hot day.

September 10, 2009

Das Leben Ohne Kaffee

I never drank coffee with Takeshi when he came to visit me in Austria. Not exactly sure how that happened, given both of our coffee habits. On the other hand, the pretext of his visit and the unforeseeable events of the trip may explain our lack.

Instead of casually indulging in one of Salzburg's classiest cafes with my international boy-toy, I felt like I was babysitting a grumpy, sick toddler who happened to be presenting some brilliant philosophical stuff at a conference in Austria. Among the various ailments he was suffering from was an unfortunate eye infection that forced him to wear the glasses that show just how poor his vision really is. He also couldn't sleep at night, which meant that I too was awake for three days straight. I just couldn't be nice to him.

I was so frustrated with him and the situation that I broke up with him then and there in my shitty little Austrian apartment. Interestingly, that day was our best day together during that trip. Reconciling our broken relationship with laughs and make-outs was like the funny foam on top of a cappuccino.

Takeshi received the e-mail about his father's sudden death on Tuesday morning—the day after I broke up with him.

We never had coffee in Austria. In fact, it would be a long time before we could have coffee again.

September 2, 2009

2:30 pm Barista's

Barista’s Daily Grind—artsy coffee shop, money-sucking void, and preferred meeting place for Kearney’s intellectual elite. Rachael and I meet once a week for soy lattes, although lately I have been ordering Mexican mochas. My stomach hurts from the ulcer that had been in remission since June. I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast, and my stress level is on the rise. Low rumbles in my stomach and gurgling acid alert me that this is no time for lactose and caffeine, but as the Mexican mocha slides down my throat, I refuse to listen. Rachael samples her soy latte, finds it exceptional, and smiles with coffee-filmed front teeth, characteristic of good coffee.

We don’t like the silence in our booth, so Rachael asks me about the week, and I divulge my favorite story about how I cried at Target. I love the drama of this rather pathetic and story about my anxiety getting the better of me as I stood in red and khaki, humiliated. I pepper the story with hand gestures and exaggerations that elicit sympathetic laughs from my listener. Rachael changes the subject to her family—namely, to her mother, whose recent bouts of paranoia (it’s not paranoia if they are actually out to get you) have been weighing heavily on Rachael’s psyche. I chime in with a quick story (that I draw out for emphasis) about my own mother’s recent confessions.

The thing about Mexican mochas is that they are so dang cinnamon-y. My teeth are coated in an unnervingly thick slime that I’m sure stains my teeth with a rusty sheen. The cinnamon on my lips feels warm as I tell about my weekend escapades, but I am all too aware that everyone who works at Barista’s knows (and loves) my “gentleman caller.” Awareness notwithstanding, I let loose a few intimate details that I’m sure can be heard across the room. Rachael and I are dangerous in that way: we like to talk about sex and gossip about mutual acquaintances in voices that are too loud to be ignored.

Her most recent trials and tribulations with LSAT practice exams (along with a re-cap of this summer’s scores) are starting to bore me, so I ask about her daughter. I am then flooded with information about her daughter’s infatuation with boobs, Jesus, and playing teacher. My beverage is cooled now, but not going down easily because of the strong resistance from my digestive system.

I throw away my cup in a container I’ve always assumed to be a trashcan, though no proof exists outside of an occasional “thank you” from a barista. Rachael and I part ways and reluctantly rejoin the world outside Barista’s.

September 1, 2009

9:45 am UNK Writing Center

Amidst the piles of packed boxes, carts of writing handbooks and general dishevelry, I sip coffee with Collin. Our director, a superwoman of sorts, though wonderfully disorganized, stews in the other room over her own cup of coffee, cursing the company in Wisconsin responsible for our current snarl of an online appointment book. She is the one who brewed this coffee--Shurfine brand from last semester if I'm not mistaken. I've doused mine with off-brand hazelnut creamer until tolerable, and I now turn my attention to the conversation with Collin, my brilliant co-worker.

He drinks the coffee black, an admirable and self-sacrificial task. The way he drinks it fits him: straightforward and untainted by the hazelnuts that have overthrown so many of us. We talk about the pieces of paper that have been thrust onto our desk in a whirl of confusion as our director paces back and forth trying to figure out how to make this writing center functional in its half-way-moved-across-the-library state. She's asked us to write a little blurb about the Writing Center for a University newsletter, but the directions were hazy at best. We sit, cups in hand, staring at a blank screen and several seemingly arbitrary sheets of paper from her desk.

Collin and I are the yin and yang of writing, the decadent and the trim, the functional and the superfluous. Neither of us embodies any of these characteristics consistently, but we are always in opposition. We spew quips and sarcasm, adjectives that would make any English teacher jealous. Our Writing Center is provocative...yes, that's the perfect description.

Our coffee cups are empty, and neither of us dare to enter the director's office, for fear of the next strange and ambiguous busy-work assignment. It's the end of the shift. We leave the cups on an empty shelf.

To get the first one out of the way

Since I only get one draft of my life--unlike my writing projects--I am determined to make this go-'round the best and most interesting possible. I live to converse over steaming beverage and write on anything that will take pen. To do these things in Kearney, Nebraska (my current residence) makes me happy, but to do them elsewhere in the world, now that is what I truly live for.