June 28, 2011

Simply Overpacked

Nothing like a day of packing to make you feel like your whole life boils down to a stack of boxes. And nothing like the growing stack of boxes to make you feel delusional in your plan to "take only what fits" in a Mitsubishi.

I'm packing to move to Flagstaff, Arizona. Every time I move, I hope for a transition to a simpler lifestyle. Fewer things and more adventure. Minimalistic like my Canadian roommate who brought merely a rucksack to Cambodia. To be satisfied with very little. To be content with the basics. As I surveyed the toppling piles of clothing today, I couldn't help but feel guilty. Here I am 23 and again unemployed, standing in front of a stack of cashmere sweaters, silk wool pants, and tailor-made items from Bangkok. You could say I was dealt good cards. You could say I have good taste. You could also say that I'm a spoiled brat. True. True. VERY TRUE.

I hope Flagstaff will encourage me to live simply--though decked out in fabulous clothes. I hope I find my stride on her sidewalks and trails. I hope I learn to slow down a little and multi-task less. I want to enjoy every minute of graduate school.

For now, the 27 boxes loom like a mega-tetras puzzle. Tomorrow I'll rearrange until I reach maximum capacity. Soon enough my boxes and I will hit the open road, ready or not!

June 25, 2011

My first (un)traditional Korean music experience

At my Lincoln Literacy Council lesson today, the tables turned were turned. The Amelia Bedelia books remained on the shelf, the laptop with her essays stayed closed, and my little notebook was nestled in my bag. My student is from Korea. She's a young mother who came to live in America several years ago because of her husband's career. She is an accomplished student of English, a savvy local event attender, and a conscientious mother. But beneath all that--before she moved to America and became a mother--she was a musician.

She would never call herself a musician. Despite my admiration and protest, she wouldn't give in. She explained that even her masters degree in music performance didn't equate to the title. Part of her refusal is modesty, but I also think that she doesn't like the limitations of the label.

But when she played for me today, I knew she was a musician. She grew up playing the Gayageum, a long piece of wood with 12 pluckable strings held by adjustable frets. She played me a contemporary piece, along with the disclaimer that it hardly retained any traditional value, but it was easy on the ears. As she played the instrument the grace and power of her hands surprised me. On this instrument, the strings on the right side of the fret are plucked and the left hand bends the strings on the left side to alter the tone and pitch.  I sensed her confidence and calm during the song, the truest sign of a performer. For the second song, she played her favorite instrument, the Geomungo. This instrument is similar to the first, except there are fewer strings, and it is played with a bamboo stick instead of just plucking. She didn't even read music for the second song, just played from memory.

I enjoyed her performances not only for the music, but also for the musicianship. It is a wonderful thing to see a person do what they love. Instead of my strange explanations of American English and custom, for our last lesson, she gave me a real treat--a glimpse into her real talents. This may be the best reason of all to be a teacher.

June 24, 2011

Smoky Sweet Spot

I have been thinking about Arizona for months. I've been thinking about getting out of Lincoln since at least September. And I've been thinking about becoming a very independent adult for years. Now that my countdown is down to days, not weeks or months, life in Nebraska is pretty good.

I've hit the sweet spot. The time when everyone wants to see you for the last time, and everyone is happy for you, but also sad that you are leaving. Even my coworkers at Home Depot seemed sentimental on my last day. Everything is coming together for me, but it also feels like it's all falling apart.

My boyfriend and I decided to cook lasagna on our last day together in Nebraska. I was worried because lasagna takes over an hour to prepare and bake, and I was really hungry. My patience is limited when it comes to food preparation. While he browned the hamburger, I mixed the cheese and eggs. We assembled the layers and slid it into the oven. I set my phone timer for 60 minutes. We poured glasses of wine and started regaling the good old days. We told study abroad stories, confessed old crushes, and predicted good things for our relationship.

At some point, I got up to check the lasagna and I caught a glimpse of the clock. The lasagna had been cooking for an hour and twenty minutes. My phone had gone off, but I hadn't noticed. We rushed to get the casserole dish out, and checked for damage. Just a little blackened on the bottom.

Although I was disappointed in my time-keeping ability, I was happy that it was enjoyable conversation that distracted me. We weren't talking about anything profound, but we were enjoying it so much that we didn't notice the tummy grumbles. Even with the smokey noodles, I've never tasted better lasagna.

It's time for me to move to Arizona and here I am at the sweet spot, one of life's curious gifts. Everything comes to together just when it's time to start over. We move and change in hopes of reaching an even sweeter spot, and I know things are on the up for me (but I better work on my cooking skills).

June 16, 2011

Don't get too cocky. Customers will break you.

This morning while I unloaded boxes of Miracle-Gro and Bug-Be-Gone onto the orange shelves of Home Depot, I thought: You know, maybe this isn't so bad. Besides building better biceps than I've ever had, I have learned a thing or two from The Home Depot.  I'm pretty good at this job now.

The most useful of the skills I have acquired is quick thinking under pressure. I can deal with an unsatisfied customer, answer a phone call, and orchestrate the bringing down of a grill all at once. I can calm myself enough to read signs and directions during the wrath of an angry customer. I can call upon a growing amount of stored information about garden stuff, or I can remember the phone numbers of other people around the store who might know an answer.

Life is good. I'm good. Too bad it's my last day on Sunday.

I had just finished that thought when all hell broke loose. Suddenly I was the only person in the department and I was in charge of two phones. Immediately, customers rushed over to ask me questions about spruce trees and warming racks for Charbroil Grills. I tried to explain that we were out of spruce trees and that I didn't expect any more in--but then my phone rang. And rang. And rang. As soon as I would answer a question about Mosquito Magnets, I'd have another about retaining wall block, then a cashier would call with a question about a SKU. I was still trying to explain about the spruce trees, but neither the customer nor the bees would leave me in peace with my ringing phone. By the time I was looking for the elusive warming rack, I began to melt down.

Me, after thoroughly checking each shelf: "We don't have it here on the shelf, so we must not carry it. Here is the number of Charbroil customer service. They can help you figure out the model number of your grill and the right warming rack replacement."

Customer, while on cell phone with husband: "But isn't there someone more knowledgeable who could help me find this rack?"

Me, subduing involuntary eye roll: "No, unfortunately I am the only person in the department right now. I would be happy to check online if we carry the part."

Fifteen minutes of computer search later, one of my [male] co-workers, someone who does not work in the Garden Department, suggested that she call Charbroil customer service. She accepted his advice without question and thanked him as she left the store.

I had to refrain from screaming because my phone was ringing again. Could I set up the transfer of a clearance shed? Why not? I've never done that before. I tried my best to sound capable, but somehow the voice on the other end sensed the "I'm in Training" button I am supposed to wear. What's your name? Who is your manager? I heard this as: Okay, who is the dufus I can blame when the shed never arrives?

So I didn't actually melt down, but I doubt that shed will make it to its destination on time. Today I was frustrated that I couldn't manage everything that I was in charge of. My feelings get hurt when customers refuse my suggestions just because they came from me. Maybe I don't have this job as figured out as I thought. Humility sucks. Well, the virtue doesn't, but getting humbled does.

When you think you have it all figured out, get ready for the next lesson. Thanks, Home Depot.

June 8, 2011

0% Contained

The beautifully distorted sunset over Interstate 80 was the result of a wildfire more than 1000 miles away. Instead of its trademark clarity, the Nebraskan sky turned a hazy gray at sundown, leaving only a glowing red ball hanging above the cornfields.

I can't help but think about the coincidence of this particular sunset and my plans to move out-of-state. One of the worst wildfires in Arizona history is 0% contained, and the smoke from this fire has drifted all the way to my favorite hiding place in Kearney, Nebraska. I will be moving to Arizona in a matter of weeks; consequently leaving behind my hometown, my family, and my hiding places.

I can't say a fire is a good omen, but forests and people need a fresh start now and then. I am ready to start a new phase, but it won't be easy to say goodbye to I-80.

June 3, 2011

OMG it's June...

I realized this morning that I am scared of moving to Flagstaff. Not necessarily the packing, the 1200 mile drive, or even the new location worry me as much as the identity change. Although I've been whining about my lack of independence and my desire for adventure, the prospect of starting my adult life in a little over a month  is terrifying. In this "new" life, I expect myself to be a worthy contributor in intellectual discussions, to excel at even the most challenging coursework, and to be an insightful composition teacher. Of course 95% of this is up to me, but the 5% or so that I can't control is the most bothersome. What if I don't fit in? What if I'm not smart enough? What if I'm a terrible teaching assistant? My list of irrational self-doubt goes on.

I'm trying to convince myself that graduate school will be neither all soy lattes and conversations about a better world, nor will it be a doom and gloom world of constant busywork. What I most want from graduate school is exposure to ESL teaching methods, practice teaching, and a clearer vision of what I want to do with my MA. I'm most afraid of coming out of school with an MA-TESL and not knowing what to do with it. I can't control whether I get the job, but at least I am in control of how much I know about the options.

Somehow that doesn't squelch my fears. Did I mention money and boyfriend?

June 2, 2011

Berlin, The Murderous Tuxedo Cat

My cat Berlin is a murderer.

While I've always preferred Tom to Jerry (And Ben and Jerry's above all), I can't help but feel a little sad for Berlin's mouse victims. Each morning, one of her "trophies" has been carefully placed upon the rug in our garage. But this morning she showed us her potential as an exterminator. Not only did she snatch the biggest mouse I've ever seen, but also she killed a smaller second mouse and brought the guts and severed head of a third. The bodies or pieces thereof were laid in a neat row on our cheery welcome mat--now the killing field of a sinister ruler.

Grossed out, but extremely proud of my baby, I collected the mouse bodies on a rusty shovel and tossed them into the tall grasses behind our lot. A mass grave.

I don't know much about the mindset of a house cat, but I like to think that Berlin is trying to provide for our family--she nearly brought a mouse for each of us. Maybe she is just showing off her hunting prowess. Or perhaps she just wants to she us squirm as we forget and step on a pile of still warm mouse parts. Most likely she is an instinctual hunter, but since she is fed daily, eating the kill just isn't necessary. Who wants field mouse when you can have Classic Pate? Whatever the case, Berlin has a talent for the hunt and our neighborhood will be free of small rodents in no time.

Beyond the icky factor of picking up the bodies is the ultimate grossness of seeing what happens when your cat eats the bugs that live on mice. OMG! Berlin, what is that white thing crawling out of your butt? Worms are a common, though still unnerving feline affliction. They look like little moving rice grains. A simple pill from the vet clears your cat up, but you can never erase the image of worms seeing daylight for the first time from underneath a tail.

Did I mention that having a cat is part of the South Beach Diet? No mice or rice allowed! Ben and Jerry's is out too, sorry.