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.