Thursday, November 11, 2010

Images from the Rally to Restore Sanity

Though we couldn't see or hear what was happening on stage for a good half of our time at the Rally to Restore Sanity, we always had plenty to look at, primarily in the form of signs, some of which were serious, some of which were funny, and some of which were nonsensical.

The sign with the dodo bird on it said "Dodo birds feared nothing. Now they're extinct."

If you can't read it: This sing has a word in Arabic, under which it reads "Relax. It just says McDonalds."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity: The Experience

*I'm going to divide my comments on the Rally to Restore Sanity into three posts: one simply detailing the experience, one providing an analysis of it, and one with photos of the signs we saw and perhaps some other nonsense.

It's 6:20 a.m., when we turn over the engine of the Volvo and drive down the quiet Saturday morning streets of Durham, destination Washington D.C. and the Rally to Restore Sanity. For 3.5 hours, we move quickly and steadily down I-85 and then I-95, trees decked in their fall colors brightening our ride. When we approach the D.C. suburbs, traffic grows heavier but continues to move. Our first back-up is at the Franconia-Springfield exit, which takes you to the furthest out Metro stop on the Blue Line. Because it's not yet 10 a.m., we decide to push on to the West Falls Church Metro Station, which is both closer to the city (inside the Beltway) and closer to the home of the friends who we are staying with that night. We don't make it much further before we hit traffic. We watch the arrival time on our GPS push  back minute by minute, but we manage to arrive in the vicinity of the station around 10:15. We grab some food in a nearby shopping center and then turn down the side road to the station. That's when we get the first inkling of how big this rally is going to be.

The surface lot at West Falls Church is full, and the line to get into the garage is long. We join it and creep forward. Our friends, who tried the Vienna Station, which is on the same line as West Falls Church but is further out, call and tell us that it is full. We see a few cars come out of the garage, and I'm convinced there are no more spaces. We enter anyhow, and climb up, up, up through full floors of cars. We take the last spot on the fourth floor. Success.

At least until we get down the stairs and across the street to the actual station entrance. There we are confronted with a line that snakes back and forth and back and forth the entire length of the drop off lane outside the station. There are hundreds of people in this line, if not a thousand. But it is calm, orderly. People laugh, joke. No one pushes. We hop in line, and then I decide to try to pop my head inside the station and see just what is going on. I come running out two minutes later. "Come on," I yell to Jeff. "The line is for buying tickets, not getting on." Though we haven't lived in DC in two years, we still have our Smart Cards, and so we bypass the line, push through the turnstiles, and descend to the platform.

I check the sign. Train in two minutes. We scan the platform and try to guess where to stand to maximize our chances of getting on. We find a regular who says he knows where the doors open, and we stand with him and wait. The train pulls in. Packed. Packed. Packed. It's brake squeal and work hard to stop. It takes longer to stop than normal. The doors are ten feet in front of us. Far too far away for us to have a chance of being among the two or three people that squeeze on. We let it go. Another one will come soon, I think, but when I check the board, it's another 8 minutes. And then another 12. Metro is running its regular lazy Saturday schedule with trains spread far apart and with only six cars on each train instead of rush hour's eight.

Some people switch sides and hop on the train going in the opposite direction, their plan to take the train to the end of the line and get on there where it might not be so full. We decide to try for the next train and reposition ourselves. We chat with the people around us. When the train pulls in, it is again full. Beyond capacity. Beyond my comfort level. But this time a door is in front of us when the train stops, and we push our way in. There is no where to hold on, but there is no need to. I couldn't go anywhere if I wanted to. But still people laugh and joke, remain friendly.

 The train moves slowly, each stop taking forever, as people try to push on, and the doors refuse to close. The conductor asks that when we stop and the doors open we politely tell the people on the platform that there is no room and they should not try to enter. We laugh. When has that ever worked?

At a few minutes before noon, rally start time, our train pulls into Federal Station and we hop off along with all the locals. Out-of-towners continue on to the Smithsonian stop. Though closer, we know it will also be crazier. We walk past the Smithsonian museums and then onto the mall. There are people everywhere. In all the years I lived in DC, I have never seen so many people. Fourth of July looks tame, tame, tame compared to this. We mash our way into the crowd. The crowd is majority white, though there are significant numbers of people of Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern descent in the crowd. African Americans are also present. Hispanics seems to be very underrepresented. The crowd is young, but the crowd is also old. There are families with small children. There are teenagers with their parents. There are people who belonged to the Vietnam protest era. There are grandparents. There are many more people in the 40-70 demographic than most people would have expected.

We hear distant music. The capitol, which is where the stage is located, is far, far ahead of us. 

"Has it started yet?" I ask Jeff.

"I don't know," he says. It's completely unclear what is going on.

"Let's try to get closer," he says.

We push forward, finding passageways here and there. We point out the signs we see. Some are serious. Some are funny. Some resonate. Some are purely silly.

The music ends. We hear words. People begin to chant: Louder, Louder, Louder.

"Who is that?" I ask.

"John Stewart," Jeff says. I can't tell.

The talking stops. Then we hear a mumble that grows louder.

"I think they're singing the national anthem," Jeff says. We stand quietly.

All the while, we try to keep pushing forward. We are still a good ways south of Seventh Street, which had been designated the entrance to the rally, the idea being that everyone would congregate from Seventh east to the capital. Instead, people are packed in almost all the way to 14th Street, near the Washington Monument.

The next thing we hear is the introduction of the Myth Busters. We hear bits and pieces of what they say, mainly that they want us to do the wave. We hear the countdown. We assume it begins. We wait and wait and nothing happens. We assume it dies. And then there's a rumble.

"I hear the wave coming," I say. And it does come, reaching us something like 30 seconds after it began.

From noon to two, most of the event passes us by. All I see are the shoulders of the people around me. Jeff says that he can sometimes see a Jumbotron, but that it is far, far ahead of us. Bits and pieces of soundwaves make their way to us. I catch a few lyrics of Crazy Town. We join a Love Train as it pushes forward. Most of the time we hear only the conversation of the people around us. Most of the time we see nothing but kids trying to climb trees and scale lamp posts for better views. Every once in a while our section erupts into cheers, but it's not for what is happening on stage, but for the kids who manage to scale the trees successfully. "Yes you can. Yes you can," the people around us cheer for the tree climbers. We have no idea what is happening on stage.

By about 2 p.m., we have successfully pushed our way up to Seventh Street. We see the First Aid Tent that was supposed to be at the back of the event, still a fair bit in front of us. Jeff is now able to see the Jumbotron in the far back. I can still only see the people around me, but I can now hear. We hear the Stewart-Colbert debate. We hear Stewart give his final speech. We hear the final group sing-along.

And with that, the Rally to Restore Sanity is over. We have friends we want to meet up with, but there are no phone signals. The lines are jammed. At 3:30 p.m., I receive a text that was sent at 12:30 p.m. We press against a truck as the crowds swarm pass and wait to find our friends. I look up Seventh Street. It is a mass of humanity as far as I can see in both directions. I wonder if the people waiting in line to buy tickets for the Metro ever made it here.

Eventually we meet up with our friends. We don't even want to try the Metro so we set off to find a bar. We walk north and south and east and west. We walk and walk and walk. Everywhere is packed. Eventually we find a seat outside. The wind is brisk, especially now that we are not packed together person to person.

Later we go to another friend's house and have dinner and drinks. At 11:30 p.m., when we board a Metro back to our car, it's still standing room only.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Sunday Wedding Announcements: The South Lives On

Sometimes, for shits and giggles, I read the wedding announcements in our Sunday paper. More than anything else --even the old men at the fair handing out "I'm proud of my Confederate heritage" stickers--the announcements are a reminder to me that I am, without question, living in the south.

Let me explain to you how they do this in five concise points.

1. The photos are of the brides only. Apparently the grooms don't matter.

2. All of the brides' middles names appear to be their mothers' maiden names. 

3. The brides are all wearing pearls. No matter what their dress looks like, no matter how they wear their hair, no matter whether it's a fancy or a slightly-less-fancy event (I don't think Southern weddings are ever casual), the brides are wearing pearls.

4. The announcements are at least eight paragraphs long and list every single member of the wedding party. They also announce how many showers were held and who threw them, where the bridal luncheon was held, and who hosted the bachelor/bachelorette parties. Of course, they also mention who everyone wore.

5. They contain sentences like this: "The bride was presented at the 2005 Terpsichorean Debutante Ball."

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Garden Bounty

When we stepped outside this morning to water the garden, there was a slight chill to the air. Not cold by any means, but not hot like it has been for months, the heat and the humidity present regardless of what the clock read. I realized that fall is on its way, and there won't be many more weeks of watering the garden left. Many of our tomato plants have already begun to shrivel. We're in a losing battle with squash bugs. The overly prolific cucumber plants have only a little left to give. The okra is no longer impossible to keep up with. Our garden--Jeff's garden to be honest--has a few more meals to give us, but then it will be done. I will miss its bounty.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Beautiful Day for a Neighbor

For the four years that Jeff and I lived together in D.C., we lived in a condo building that had eleven units. It wasn't big, but somehow it wasn't small either. Though I recognized the cars in our lot--a green Escort sticks out in my mind--I couldn't have put driver with car. There were only a few people in my building that I could recognize with certainty. I didn't know any of them. In the four years we lived in our unit, we never knew the people with whom we shared a wall. On the day we moved out, as we loaded up the moving truck with our couch and TV, sheets and towels, they introduced themselves to us. I don't know if they thought we were moving in or they were doing that D.C. thing--the thing you do on the Metro when you see someone you know but you avoid making eye contact with them until you're about to get off and then, as you walk toward the door, you stop next to them, say hi, and then exit.

Though there are things about D.C. that I miss, I don't miss that. I don't miss the distance people kept, the preference for not making eye contact and not saying hello, the bubbled existence. When I'm asked how I like living in Durham compared to how I liked living in D.C., this is the difference that most readily pops into my head. Here I have neighbors who are not just people who live next door. Here I have neighbors that I say wave to and stop to say hello to, neighbors whose houses I've had dinner at, neighbors who I've gone to ball games with or walked to Ninth Street with for ice cream.

So this past weekend, in celebration of neighbors and in hopes of meeting more, Jeff and I hosted a block party. About half of the residents on our twenty house block came. They brought homemade pickles and store bought cake, homemade hummus and store bought chicken salad. We set up tables and chairs, lit citronella candles (oh, the mosquitoes here), and grilled hamburgers. Neighbors we knew came, and neighbors we hadn't yet met came. We ranged in age from twenty-five to senior citizen. We were born and raised in this area, and we were from as far away as Honduras. We had moved in last month, and we had lived on this street when the first houses were built here. I met a neighbor who runs a popular local blog, the man to go to when I want to know what they're doing with that empty building downtown or when the new restaurant I heard about it going to open. I met a neighbor with nine-year-old quadruplets (!!!). I met a neighbor who promised to alert me to any and all Greek festivals and to bring me some of any Greek pastries she might make.

We came from different backgrounds and had different interests, but we were united by where we live. Each of us shared a love of older houses and all the character they have, a preference for urban living over suburbia, a desire to live in close proximity to restaurants and bars, the farmers market and Durham Bulls. Our neighbors arrived at 5:30, mixing and mingling over the course of the evening. As it got later, people drifted off, but at 10:30, a group of us were still sitting there, chatting, snacking, finishing off a bottle of wine and a growler of beer.

There's lots of things I've come to like about Durham. I enjoy Durham Bulls baseball games, Saturday mornings at the Farmer's Market, picnics at Duke Gardens. I like the city's diversity and the way it prides itself on being a little bit funky. I like all the local restaurants and the many food trucks. I like the DLC and the library's culture series and finding good talks to go to at Duke. But most of all, I like the people that call Durham home, and I like that I have a really good set of them to call my neighbors.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The School of Life

During the years we lived in D.C., I forgot about the cycle of the school year. The anticipation, in August, of a new year. The joy of getting fresh school supplies, pencils that hadn't yet been used, notebooks that weren't yet marred. The anticipation, again, in May of being set free for a summer. The thrill of the final bell on the last day of school. We didn't live particularly close to a school in D.C. or know people with kids. We rode public transportation almost exclusively, so we didn't get stuck behind school buses. And though it is full of colleges and universities, D.C. is no college town. The influx of students was not noticeable in a city that always seemed pack, and the fact that so many students came to D.C. each summer for internships and summer jobs meant that, really, numbers did not change that much. The bars in Foggy Bottom and the shops in Georgetown were packed regardless of what the calendar read.

But here in Durham, the school year imposes itself on you. In the morning, the brakes of the school bus, which picks up the girl right across the street, act as a sort of time piece. If I look out the window, I see parents walking their kids to our neighborhood school. I love that. That we have a neighborhood school and that kids still walk to it, lunch boxes swinging in their hands, backpacks bouncing with each step. On Monday, Duke freshmen arrived. Their older counterparts will join them next week. The track around the East Campus is full now whenever I drive by, girls with bodies they don't know they should be thankful for and boys wanting people to look at them as they run without shirts now outnumbering moms with jogging strollers. Next week Ninth Street will grow more crowded. It will be harder to get a seat at the Federal or the James Joyce. The line at Chipotle will be long no matter what time of day you go.

I've seen the freshmen already. They're instantly identifiable. They still have their room keys and IDs on the lanyards Duke gave them, and they wear them around their necks or twirl them around their index fingers. They wear Duke t-shirts everywhere. They move in packs, with no idea yet of who their friends will be, who they will still be hanging out with next summer, next year, on graduation day. They look young. But I guess, compared to me, they are. As we walked past a pack of the freshmen last night on our way into the Bulls game, I thought back to my own Orientation Week, when we went to the Astros game, and I realized that it was eleven years ago.

That realization took my breath away. "Eleven years," I said to Jeff, not just once, but twice, three times. Eleven years. More than a third of my lifetime.  It doesn't feel that long ago, not really, and I don't know why. I don't know if it's because that's just the way life is, that we can never quite believe how quickly it passes us by, or because I still sometimes feel like a freshman, it not at college at least at life, uncertain of what it is I want to do or how to get there.

Though technically this school year has nothing to do with me--I'm not taking classes or working at a school--I've decided to embrace it. I've decided to look at those freshmen at Duke, to look at the elementary neighborhood kids on their way to school and to see myself. I've decided to take the time to remember what it is I wanted and hoped for way back when I was starting first grade, six grade, high school, college, and to brush off those goals that I had then that I still care about and to say a resolute goodbye to those that no longer interest me but that I have for whatever reason clung to. I'm going to ask myself what it is I want to learn this year, who it is I want to hang out with this year, in what ways I want to grow this year. Then I'm going to set myself some goals and go after them--even if my pencil has already been worn down to a nub and my notebook is already a good bit full.

Monday, April 05, 2010

"I never met a Kentuckian who wasn't coming home." --Gov. A. B. "Happy" Chandler

Today, I sat on my back porch and ate my lunch, looking out at the beautiful flowers blooming in my backyard. Last night, we had friends over for an Easter dinner, which was a tasty success. On Saturday, we enjoyed a lovely day of biking to the farmers market (which was bustling!) and then biking to the Durham Bulls stadium where we watched the home team take on their major league affiliate Tampa Bay Devil Rays, for whom Jeff's college teammate and roommate Jeff Niemann pitched the first four innings. On Friday evening, we met an old high school friend of Jeff's (who we just found out lives on our street!) for some drinks and conversation at a neighborhood bar. As spring blossoms and the city comes back to life, Durham grows on me. Yet still, even in the moments when I'm enjoying myself and finding positives most places I look, I know that this isn't least not permanently.

You see, today as I sat on my porch eating my lunch, I thought about how I wanted to have my mom come over and help me turn my front yard into something half as nice as my backyard. I thought about how much more fun it would be to cook out and play a few games of cornhole if my brothers could come over and join us. I thought about the Easter cookout at my cousin's new house that I missed and the baby showers for friends and family members that I've been unable to attend. I thought about how my grandpa just turned 85 and instead of being able to wish him a happy birthday in person, I could only send a card.

When I left Kentucky, way back in 1999 at the age of 18, I did so because I thought there weren't enough opportunities for me in the Bluegrass State. The state's universities didn't appeal to me. I couldn't conceive of a job that I wanted to do that I could find at home. I was ready for change. Now, more than ten years later, I've had lots of change. I've lived in three states (Texas, Maryland, and North Carolina). I've lived in two countries (Germany and Greece). I've spent time in dozens of other countries.

And while I've been away, Kentucky has, in some ways, changed. On simply the experiential level, Louisville is definitely a more interesting city than it was when I left. In other ways, Kentucky is still the same. If I wrote down all the characteristics I'd want in an place to live, it probably wouldn't be much of a match. It's much too conservative and much too fundamentalist. Outside a few select fields, it's been slow to attract new companies and new jobs. Its public education system leaves much to be desired. Its international airport is only international if you're willing to go via UPS. It's still poor (46th in per capita personal income with a poverty rate of 17%), falling behind in education (only 17% of Kentuckians have a bachelors degree and only 74% have a high school diploma; compared to 27% and 85% nationally), and overwhelmingly white (87%). But rejecting a place to live based on a set list of characteristics is like rejecting a potential life partner because they don't fulfill every single quality on your dream spouse list. No one and no place is perfect. It's about the total package, the feeling you get when you're with the person/place, not their ability to match 100% with your preconceived notions.

And while the fact that I see Kentucky changing, progressing (even if the facts don't prove it) is important, what's probably more important is the fact that I've changed. As I've lived in different places and held different jobs (some with "wow" factors, some without), I've realized that it's highly unlikely that there's any job in the world that is going to play a truly determining factor in my happiness. There are jobs I will like better than others; but there are no jobs that make everything else irrelevant. I've also come to see that successful people can be successful anywhere. There may not be as many opportunities to do the things you want to do in some places versus others, but there are opportunities (or opportunities waiting to be created), and sometimes it's better to be the big(ger) fish in the small(er) pond. I know lots of smart people in Louisville leading successful lives. Finally, as I mentioned in the credo I published at the beginning of the year, I've learned that when it comes right down to it, people matter most. I can do awesome things and see amazing places, but if the people I love the most aren't around to share it with, how great can it be?

And so, I've decided I'm coming home.* It won't be tomorrow. And it might not even be our next move.** But sooner, rather than too much later, we're coming home. I want my future children to see their grandparents once a week, not a few times year. I want them to learn how to fish from my dad. I want them to be close to their uncles, their cousins, and the family members that they don't even know how to quantify (greats and once-removeds and so on and so forth).***I want them to celebrate birthdays surrounded by people who know the second verse of the Happy Birthday song and to know what it means to give someone down the road, even if that also means they sometimes say "worsh" when they mean "wash," call Detroit "DE-troit," and carry an UM-brell-a instead of an um-BRELL-a. And when eventually, they too leave Kentucky, I want them to go out and experience amazing places and do awesome things, and then, having grown up in the embrace of family and close friends, know that while it's all well and good (and necessary, in my opinion) to see what all is out there, what counts when the day is done is people, pure and simple.

*The good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise.

**We'll be here in Durham for at least three years. In an ideal world, Jeff would then be offered a full-time job (with long term potential). In that case, we'd be looking for that job in Louisville (at U of L most likely, unless anyone knows of anywhere in the city else hiring research scientists). In the realistic world, it's likely that Jeff will end up having to do another post-doc. In that case, we would not be looking at Louisville. It is rare in the science world to take a job at the same place you did a post-doc, and since a job is the long-term goal, we'd want to look elsewhere for the post-doc.

***Yes, I do realize that not all of our future children's grandparents would be in Louisville. But, if we're in Louisville, that means we only have to travel to see one side of the family, not both, meaning we'll have more time to make the trek out West. I also realize that there is no guarantee all, or even any, of my brothers will end up in Louisville. I do know, however, that they, like me, love Louisville. I hope that they will at least be close. I know, for certain, that even if they don't live there, it is someplace they will return to often, meaning I'd still see them more if I'm there than if I'm anywhere else.

****And yes, by "I" I do mean "we." Jeff is aware of and onboard with this plan.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Contest Worth Entering

Part three of my rambling series about figuring out what I want to do with my life is coming soon, but I'm interrupting it to let you know that Epiphanie, the creator of some very cool camera bags, is sponsoring a rather awesome contest. The winner gets to choose between a Canon 5D and a $2,500 Southwest gift card. Think of all the places you could go or photos you could take. Insane!

And though I usually refuse to enter all the contests that require you to do one million and one social networking tasks (argh!), this one was too good to pass up. Plus to get one entry (which is all it takes to win!) you just have to comment on their blog, which isn't so difficult. And I decided that it was such an awesome giveaway that it was worth blogging about too (in the hopes that if you win, you'll come visit me with your Southwest gift cards...they fly to RDU!...or pay for me to come visit you.) Anyhow, the deadline is tomorrow, Wednesday, March 31, so leave a comment on their blog and hope that you (or I) get lucky.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Finding Focus

(Continued. Read Part 1 Here.)

Officially, I am now a writer. That's what I tell people I do when they ask, though a note of hesitancy always slips into my voice. What really qualifies someone to claim to be a writer? Do you have to have a certain number of things published? A business card? A website? Or do you just have to churn out word after word after word with the hopes that some day someone will read it? Writer is what my taxes will say for 2010. It is my only (sometimes) paying job. From the outside it looks like I'm finally doing exactly what I set out to do back when I was young enough to believe that you really can be anything and everything you want to be. But from the inside, things are still confused.

You see, writer, though containing only six letters, is a big word. It has so many meanings. There are newspaper writers and television writers. They are speechwriters, screenwriters, press release writers. There are bloggers and website writers. There are travel writers. There are essayists. There are poets. There are playwrights. There are biographers. There are novelists. Behind every single thing we read--from bestsellers to the back of the cereal box--there are writers.

So trying to sort out just what kind of writer I am, just what kind of writer I want to be, has been difficult. Because as I said before, I'm a rational person, and I can't ever escape the thought that what I do has to make money (and in the here and now, not the somewhere down the road). No matter how many times Jeff tells me that we're fine without a reliable paycheck from me, no matter how many times I smile and nod, I can't let the thought go. And so when I sit down to write, I usually don't find myself lost in a story, but instead find myself pondering what kind of writing I can do to make a buck. I peruse websites that aggregate freelance writing jobs. I consider churning out how-to articles for Demand Studios. I delve into the idea of monetizing my blog. But always, I reject idea after idea. Because when I really take the time to find my voice amidst all the noise, I realize that none of those jobs embody the type of writer I want to be, that if those are my options for writing, I'd honestly rather just take a desk job. Writing what someone else wants me to write has as little appeal to me as entering data all day ... and at least data entry pays better.

And then there's travel writing. The road most of you probably think I want to go down. The road I myself thought I might want to go down. I've had a bit of luck getting some articles published in magazines and newspapers. I'm at work on my second guidebook. I lovingly keep up a blog dedicated solely to travel. But as I said to Jeff while we sat in a plaza in Cartagena and had a drink, "I don't think I want to be a travel writer." You see, I could care less about top hotels, best restaurants, the 10 most romantic spots in the world, or the most fashionable carry-on bags. I don't like interviewing people. I hate querying, following up, and waiting for responses that rarely come. I'm going to cancel my subscription to Budget Travel if I see Italy on the cover one more time. Writing service pieces (where to go, what to eat, where to stay) interests me once in a blue moon. I don't like working (or feeling like I should) while I'm on vacation. I hate social media (the bloodline of writing these days it seems). I prefer paper to online. And I can probably count on one hand, in this world of shortened attention spans and rapidly dying print media, the number of publications I'd actually like to work for.

On the surface travel writing seems like the perfect fit. I love to travel, and I love to write. But it's not. When I travel--as I see new things and meet local people and come to understand once foreign cultures and histories--I take tons of notes. I file away images, both in my mind and on SD card. But when it comes time to sort through them all, what I find myself creating is not articles but stories. I don't want to tell you the facts; I want to tell you the bigger truth. I am not a journalist. I am a storyteller. Fiction is what I love.

(To Be Continued...)

Thursday, March 25, 2010


You know how some kids just know what they want to be when they grow up? They determine at age five they're going to be a doctor and twenty years later are graduating medical school. Or they spend their childhood mimicking the news anchor and then land a broadcasting job after college (after interning in the field all four years). Or they run for class president in second grade and end up a career politician. Well, that wasn't me. Not exactly at least.

There was one thing I've always wanted to be--a writer--but I haven't always been true to that tract.

Through grade school, I remained primarily dedicated to my goal. I excitedly scribbled a Young Authors story and proudly accepted a medal for my writing nearly every year. I worked on the student newspaper. In my eighth grade autobiography, I wrote that I intended to study writing and become a novelist.

But in high school, I lost focus. Though I'd never considered a career in science up to that point, in fact hadn't cared for the subject one bit, I was suddenly finding myself being encouraged to pursue that field. Apparently, I was good at it. The knowledge came easily to me, and my teachers were eager to discuss the possibilities. They didn't mean any harm. They didn't know that I really wanted to be a writer. They were just showing me all the doors that were open to me, doors that led to good jobs with good pay. Come the summer after my junior year, I was studying astronomy at Governor's Scholars rather than creative writing at the Governor's School for the Arts. At senior day for the soccer team, it was announced that I wanted to pursue a degree in engineering. My world had flip-flopped, but that just seemed a part of growing up. Most of us, after all, don't grow up to be the firefighters or astronauts or baseball players we imagine we'll be when we're children.

In college, the conflict came to the fore. As I trudged through biology, chemistry, math, and physics classes, I looked forward only to the lone English or German class on my schedule. Late at night from the floor of my dorm room closet, I'd call home crying about how much I hated physics. When I officially submitted my declaration of major form, changing from bioengineering to English and German, it felt like a failure, but I also felt free.

In the end, owning a piece of paper that declared me to be the holder of degrees in English and German didn't make it any easier to be a writer, or to even dedicate myself to that path. You see, I am a rational person, and being a writer did not seem like a responsible decision. Writing is a path fraught by uncertainty. It is a career that does not come with a guaranteed paycheck. It is a lifestyle marked by failure more than success. And so I meandered. I hemmed and hawed. I tried teaching. I tried research. I tried non-profit work. I tried editing. And while some of those jobs were more palatable than others, it was often again like college. While I made my way through the day, I dreamed about the creative writing class I was taking that evening or worked on the story I planned to present to my writing group. I entered a contest here or there. I won prizes for a few essays and a short story. But writing remained always on the sideline.

Until this year. When faced with a new city and no job, I decided to jump into the cold, murky waters, bottom depth unknown, of writing. Yet still, a few months into this new career, I still don't think I'm where I want to be, doing what I want to do. I still feel like I'm treading water, pondering the descent to where it is I want to be, sticking my mask into the water to see the amazing life that's right there waiting below the surface for me, but holding on to just the slightest little bit of air in my BCD. But you know, I think I'm ready. It's time to orient myself, do one last final check, signal that I'm A-okay, and plunge in.

(To Be Continued...)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Finding My Voice Amidst All This Noise

Sometimes I wish I could move somewhere where being connected required real effort on my part, where I had to make a conscientious decision to check in and see what's going on in the world. I'm not sure such a place exists, however. I've heard cell phones ring on a spit of land in the middle of the Okavango Delta and in the depths of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. I've been approached by beggars sending texts. We're nothing if not connected.

There's a lot of noise out there. And at the risk of sounding old, I'm going to say that it's too much and it's too loud. There's Facebook. And there's Twitter. And there's some new Google Friend program-a-ma-bobby. There's blogs of friends and blogs of family and blogs of people I have never and will never meet. There are iPhones and iPads and iDon'tKnowWhatElses. There's and and And of course there's Wikipedia with its bottomless pit of information.

Without putting any active thought into it, with only the twitch of a muscle, I can find out that a girl I probably never even said one word to in high school is going to have sushi for dinner tonight. I can browse the vacation photos of someone I last saw at my eighth grade graduation. I can learn that Reese Witherspoon is now dating someone new, that Heidi Montag (who the hell is she?) has reached the limit for breast implants, and that some jackass Congressman from Texas yelled "It's a baby killer" not just "baby killer" during the health care reform vote.

Whew. What a lot of useless information. The age of information has made us repositories for junk, turned us into junkies for crap. And I'm (finally) saying enough.

Upon turning 29 nearly two weeks ago, I decided to make this a year of taking stock, of cleaning house, of finding focus. I'm cutting out on the things I don't care about, cutting back on things that suck up my time. I want to spend my time tending a vegetable garden, riding my bike, reading good books, making ice cream. I want to live my own life, not be a voyeur in someone else's.

And so today I'm clearing my cache, cleaning out my bookmarks, letting go of bad Internet habits. You'll still find me on Facebook (but only once or twice a day, not every time my cursor is in the address bar). I'll still be keeping up my blogs and checking in on others (though I'm whittling my visits down to the blogs of friends and families and a very few select others). And I'm sure that every once in a while I'll click on a stupid article. But overall I'm breaking the bond. The Internet and I have been spending way too much time together recently, and I really don't like where the relationship is going. I just have too many things I want to do here in the real world.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Six Things I Like About Durham

Because I love a good challenge, I'm taking on Lisa's assignment from the comments to my post on Six Things I Miss About D.C. So without further ado, my list of Six Things I Like About Durham.

1. Our House
Though it still needs a few pieces of furniture, though we still haven't emptied all the boxes, though some of the walls still beg for decor, I like our house. It's cozy and comfortable. It's got great architecture. It has a nice backyard. It has room for guests. It feels like home.

2. The Durham Literacy Center
In searching for a way to meet people and get involved, I found the Durham Literacy Center, and recently I've started volunteering there as an ESOL teacher. I love it. The center is really well run, with a training program that empowers volunteers to really be effective. The students are amazing--smart, funny, enthusiastic, and hardworking. They work hard all day, yet manage to be eager students in the evening. A combination of refugees from countries such as Iraq and Burma and immigrants from Latin America and Africa, these people came to America for a better life and are working hard to make that happen for themselves. And the other people who volunteer at the center are like-minded individuals who I enjoy working with. I really look forward to the nights I get to teach at the DLC.

3. How Friendly People Are
In D.C., not talking was the norm. It was a rare occasion when you talked to the person sitting next to you, legs practically touching, on the Metro. Passing on the sidewalk was not cause for hello. Heck, half the time you could get on the elevator at work and your co-workers wouldn't even bother with small talk. Here, everyone says hello. Everyone asks how you are. Everyone talks to each other. Sometimes, after all those years in D.C., it's a bit unnerving. I want to swivel my head around to see if there's someone else behind me they're talking to. And sometimes when I really just want to grab a gallon of milk and go, the chatty cashier having long conversations with everyone in front of me makes me impatient. But overall it's nice. Not to mention that we have great neighbors. In D.C., we never knew our neighbors (even though we literally shared a wall). Here, despite the crappy winter that's kept everyone inside, we've already met four sets of neighborhoods, and they all seem great. (Not to mention that the woman across the street is also from Louisville. Small world.)

4. All the Stuff within Walking/Biking Distance
Since we don't have good public transportation here, and since driving involves taking your life into your hands, it's particularly awesome that we live within walking or biking distance of many things. The library, the farmer's market, the Durham Bulls stadium, Duke University (Jeff's work), and a slew of restaurants and shops are all within easy walking and biking distance of our house. Once the weather warms up a bit, we're going to be able to leave the cars in the driveway the majority of the time and explore by foot and bike.

5. Being Able to Grill
In D.C., local ordinance prohibited grilling within 100 feet or something like that of a building, and our condo rules prohibited grilling period. It sucked. No chargrilled burgers. No steaks. No beer can chicken. Our poor grill had to be put in storage. But not anymore. Now it's out on the porch, ready for backyard barbecues and heavy summer use. In fact, last night we grilled up a pair of steaks, and oh my were they good.

6. ......
I'll have to get back to you on number six. I'm at a loss. I'm hopeful that once summer rolls around I'll have many more to add to the list. I really should be prohibited from moving to a new city in winter, because I hate winter, and I find it very, very hard to find good things about a place in the winter. But in summer everything is so much better. And also, I heard that the beach is less than three hours away. If true (and if the beach is good), then my glasses might turn out to be rose-colored after all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Six Things I Miss About D.C.

1. The Metro
Sure, I got frustrated when I was on a train that broke down, and I hated those winter days when I missed the train by just a second and had to wait in the freezing cold for the next one to appear (I got on at an outdoors station), but I'd gladly take the occasional Metro upset over driving any day. With the Metro, you didn't have to worry about traffic, parking, gas, or designated drivers, which is certainly nice. But what I miss most is my reading time. With a 30 minute commute in each direction, my daily Metro rides added up to an hour of guiltless reading time.

2. Eastern Market
Part farmers market, part craft market, part flea market, Eastern Market is a place I never got tired of. There was always something new to discover, always interesting people to watch, always something tasty to try. There was never nothing to do on the weekend, because there was always Eastern Market.

3. Sushi
Okay, Durham has sushi. It's not something that I can't get here. But good sushi, well, that's another story I'm afraid. I've tried different places. I've sampled from all over the menu. And it's not bad; but it's not good either. It's just kind of bland. The fish that is, and since sushi is all about the fish, that's not good news. And also, rather oddly, about 9/10 of the offerings are tuna. I like tuna, but I like variety more. Oh what I'd give for dinner at Raku...

4. The Writer's Center
Tucked away on a side street in downtown Bethesda, you'll find the Writer's Center, home to a plethora of affordable, interesting, and helpful writing classes taught by published writers. I took a class there nearly every semester and loved it. I got valuable feedback. I learned new tricks. I felt motivated and inspired to write. The area where we live now is supposed to be a hotbed for writers, but there's no writer's center or any other similar organization. The best I've been able to find so far is a few writer's groups, but the huge group sizes and very, very broad assortment of skill, interest, and style make them less valuable to me than the Writer's Center.

5. D.C. Drivers
Seriously. I know all you D.C. residents are sitting there slack-jawed wondering if you read that correctly, but you did. Now I'm not saying that D.C. drivers are good (and Lord knows there are way too many of them), but at least, in my opinion, they were bad in a predictable way. Everyone was trying to get ahead. Here, drivers are just freaking oblivious. In the few months we've lived here, I've had way more close calls than I've had in the entire rest of my life. Driving here is downright frightening. (Makes me miss the Metro even more!). Just in the past couple of weeks, we've encountered someone driving the wrong way down a one-way street (and not an alley, but the very large, very busy one-way street parallel to our own one-way street with its own Interstate exit); a person making a U-turn in the middle of the road without looking to see if traffic (aka us) was coming in the way she now wanted to go; a person who pulled out of Wachovia and almost smack into the side of my car because the two lanes nearest her were clear and who actually bothers to look both ways; a person who decided that even though his lane ended and the cars coming entering the Interstate on-ramp from the other direction had the green light he did not need to slow, stop, or merge, and instead tried to plow right into me; and a person making a turn into the wrong lane (aka the one I was in) at about 35 mph in the library parking lot. And honestly, that's no where near a comprehensive list. It's insane...and only proves the point that the driver's test here is worthless.

6. My Friends
I miss chicken salad sandwiches with Jessica, pub quiz night with Jeff's lab, dinner with Lisa, drinks with Tiffany, game night with Phil and Rian. I miss having around me people who know me well, people I can make plans with at the last minute, people I can meet at a cafe for drinks, gossiping, and bitching, people who I can invite over even if the house is a little bit messy and I haven't cooked anything special, people I can ask for a favor, people that make my life more interesting and more fun.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mmmm Bread

Is it possible that there are people on this earth that don't love bread? Who are able to sit down at a table at which there is a loaf of warm, fresh bread and not have any? I don't believe it possible. I believe that any normal human being seated within arm's reach of such a loaf will eat not just one but many, many slices. At some point, they'll realize what they have done and for a moment be dismayed at all the carbs they've consumed, but then they'll reach out and take another slice. Good bread is just impossible to resist.

Which is why we're in big trouble here.

For Christmas, Jeff gave me this book.

In case you can't tell the title is "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day." He'd sampled two loaves made by people who owned the book and was sold. He wanted this kind of bread in his life. And so I got the book for Christmas. That's how boys work in case you didn't know.

And so, one weekend in January, when there wasn't a darn thing to do but sit inside and moan about how darn cold it was outside and how everyone we knew in North Carolina was a liar because they all claimed the winters were mild, so, so, mild, we decided to make our first batch of homemade bread.

I was suspicious of the five minute claim. But churning out the dough turned out to be simple: throw some yeast, warm water, salt, and flour into my mixer and let it go.

A few twists and turns of the dough hook, and we've got dough. Lots of it. The awesome thing about this book and its recipes is that when you make the dough, you make enough for about five loaves. And the dough can be stored in your refrigerator for up to two weeks, meaning all you have to do when you want a fresh loaf is pull out a bit of dough, not start from scratch.

And for all you sourdough fans, the bread gets more sourdoughy over the course of the two weeks without requiring you to maintain a starter or anything difficult or time consuming like that.

Now though the book claims you can have artisan bread in five minutes that's not really true. Though making the dough itself definitely took five minutes or less, you've still got to bake it. This part takes longer. For starters, you've got to heat the oven.

And you've got to shape your loaf and let it rise.

Then comes the very, very, very hardest part. You have to sit and wait while your bread cooks. You have to be patient while your house fills with the smell of warm, delicious bread. You have to continually wipe the drool off your face. It's difficult. But if you can make it the twenty or so minutes it takes for your dough to transform into a loaf of delicious bread, warm and chewy on the inside, nice and crispy on the outside, then you will be rewarded greatly.


We're addicted. Which, I guess, explains the fact that we have a 25 pound bag of flour in our hall closet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Irrelevant Questions from the NC Driver's Test

Question 1: How many points do each of the following traffic violations incur: passing a school bus, reckless driving, littering from a motor vehicle?

Answer I Would Have Given If It Were Write-In and Not Multiple Choice:
Who cares? Before doing any of them, am I going to stop and think, "Oh, passing a school bus, that's 5 points, guess I better not," or "Littering, 1 point, no biggie, I'll just toss this soda cup right out my window." Does it matter how many points each incurs? They're all illegal, and if you get caught doing any of them you're going to be in trouble. Period. End of story.

Question 2: For how long is your driver's license suspended if you're caught driving while impaired?

Answer I Would Have Given If It Were Write-In and Not Multiple Choice:
Probably not long enough. And again, does it matter? You shouldn't operate a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol, because A) it's just plain stupid, and B) it's also illegal. If you're dumb enough to do it anyway, the length of time your license will be suspended probably doesn't figure into your decision. Can we just make this a true/false question stating that your driver's license will be suspended (Period. End of story.) if you drive while impaired? Thanks.

Question 3: What percentage of traffic fatalities are caused by drunk drivers?

Answer I Would Have Given If It Were Write-In and Not Multiple Choice:
I have no freaking idea, but I do know that even one death is too many. Beyond that, numbers are irrelevant. Period. End of story.

My main objection to all three of these questions is that they have absolutely no bearing on your ability to operate a motor vehicle. Because someone knows that reckless driving is going to result in four points on their license doesn't mean they're not going to do it. And it's not a fear of raising the percentage of deaths caused by drunk drivers that's going to stop someone from getting behind the wheel after drinking. These trivia facts may win me a round at pub quiz one of these days, but they're not going to make anyone a better driver.

Why not ask questions that matter? Such as when do you not have to stop for a stopped school bus? (A: When on a divided highway or a four-lane or bigger road with a middle lane). Or who has the right of way when two cars approach a four-way stop at the same time? (A: The car to the right). Or when is it okay to run over pedestrians? (A: Never.) From my experience driving around here, those are the questions that people really need to know the answers to.

But, I guess I shouldn't expect better. When has anyone ever known the DMV to make sense?

(For the curious, the correct answers are: 5 points for passing a school bus, 4 points for reckless driving, 1 point for littering; 1 year; and 38%. Of course, except for the drunken driving fatality statistic, those are the answers just for here in North Carolina. You could be wrong if you provided these answers on another state's test, which I'm sure has some equally irrelevant questions.)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Why Moving Sucks

1. Packing. Loading. Unloading. Unpacking.

2. You have to to take all the furniture and decorations that fit so nicely in and went so well with your last residence and try to find a place for them in your new residence, which is a completely different size and style.

3. You have to get a new license, which means going to the DMV. Which means dealing with people who, if not actually stupid, are trying very hard to convince you that they are.

4. You have to activate all of your utilities, which might mean that you have to go to the actual office of the cable/Internet service where you get to stand in line behind a crapload of people who are there to inquire just how much they have to pay to avoid having their service shut off.

5. You have no idea where the grocery store, or anything else, is.

6. You have to spend all kinds of time and all kinds of money fixing and changing things, no matter how "move-in ready" your house is.

7. You have to make new friends.