Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Just a Tuesday

It started out as a gloomy Tuesday morning. So I compiled a list of things to make the grey morning brighter.

1. These measuring bowls from Anthropologie. No, I don't own them. Would you like to change that?

2. Sweet roommates who share riotous laughter at night over almond bars and soup.

3. This book, the only one by Jane Austen that I haven't read. That is currently being remedied. 

4. Early birthday gifts and a sweet note from my mother to remind me that I am loved.

5. My impending move....just a few more days!

Then the sun came out, literally, and the muggy gloom turned into a brilliant breezy sunny afternoon. 

It was made even brighter by a pre-birthday fro-yo date with this girl. We were roommates during our freshman year in college and now, eight years and many birthdays later, we're still celebrating together.

Finally, I enjoyed the last few lovely hours of this surprisingly perfect day with Mancredible and bowls of corn chowder.

What made your day unexpectedly beautiful?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Friday Linkage

It's not really Friday, but it is the weekend. One of the last weekends of summer, in fact. While you are outside, enjoying the last few blissful days of sunshine and relaxation, enjoy some of the following links.

On reading, writing, and words, here is some writing advice from 99u along with an artistic collage on writing from Steve McCurry.

Here is a list of 50 specific ways to cultivate humility and some interesting commentary on Millennial spending habits.

This U.S. swear-map via Twittter is both hilarious and fascinating.

Finally, take a look at this list of 180 things that make people happy.

Have a wonderful weekend filled of sunshine, rest, joy, and the people that you love.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Of Insecurities and Majoring in the Humanities

I'd love to say that now, seven and a half years after I declared my English major, it all makes sense. That five years and three months after I finished my final research project at 6:30 a.m. on the day that I was scheduled to move out of the dorms, I've found brilliant success, fulfillment, and achievement as a result of choosing to major in the humanities. That immense security in my career choices and my future led me to also get a graduate degree in the same field.

I would be lying. 

The truth of the matter is that I still wake up and wonder what on earth I'm doing. I sit at my family reunion, surrounded by lawyers and law students, doctors and medical students and nurses, and wonder in terror if I'm going to be "that relative", the niece that never held a real job, the stray cousin that shows up and rants about her latest useless research while the rest of the room rolls their eyes, knowing that they are doing the real work of the pragmatic world.

I work in a world of business owners and lawyers and politicians, people who actually produce and shape and change what is going on and I date an engineer who actually builds and moves and fixes things (or something like that). 

And then I agonize in the dark of the night over my final paper, checking for misplaced commas and citation errors and wonder if it's all some distorted joke, some terrible misunderstanding. I wonder if I somehow missed some massive glowing sign on the freeway of life.

And I read this column in Cardus and this commencement speech given to one of the classes of the University of California at Berkely and I'm reminded that at least, if I'm making terrible career choices, I'm in good company.

I remember my freshman literature class, how the professor turned the rambling words, blurry on the page, into stories, stories that were real and alive and meaningful for the biology nerd in the corner and the tense straight-A in the front row and the insecure soccer goalie by the door and the awkward basketball player in the back. 

I remember how somehow he used Homer and Aeschylus and Augustine and Dante to remind us that we were something, something real, something more than hormones and sex and grades and jobs, that our lives were built from more than our failed relationships and our majors and our stupid freshman choices.

Now I open my browser and glance at the morning's headlines and it hits me again. I know them, these stories, the stories of a struggling economy and nervous business owners and successful corporations and failing economic theories and hurting people. 

I have heard before these stories of despair and triumph and fear and courage and loyalty and betrayal. Real life, like college, is ultimately all about stories and the words that make them and the words that make us.

The gunman in that fateful midnight showing of The Dark Knight was playing a role in a bad story, a lie, a tragic plot that claimed he and the people in that theater were something other than eternal beings with innate worth. 

The three men that threw themselves on top of their girlfriends in that same dark theater were part of a timeless heroic tale that claims some things are worth dying for, that the strong have a duty to take care of the weak, that life is not always about simple self-preservation.

The headlines on the main page of any media site tell a story of a battle between corruption and honesty, greed and generosity, truth and deceit. Anyone working in the world of business or politics or technology today is choosing to be an Achilles or a Hector or an Aeneas. (If you don't understand the references, I can only suggest that you drop what you are doing and start your Great Books reading list this minute. Begin with the Iliad and the Aeneid.)

Every day each of us is choosing between ourselves or another, prioritizing our own good or the collective good, our own well-being and comfort or someone else's. 

This is not to say that the solutions to our problems are simple, that we are all just good guys misdirected, that everything will be ok. They aren't. We aren't. It may not be.

But the first step towards solving problems and fixing ourselves and changing our world is understanding. And we cannot understand ourselves and others and our world outside of the larger context of human history. Only the most acute arrogance would claim that we are much different than those who have come before and those who will come after. 

So that is why I, and some of you, have made the strange and irrational decision to major in the humanities, be it history or classics or English or French. It's because you believe these things matter. Emotions and relationships and decisions that saved or destroyed dozens or thousands of lives, no matter what the century, that add up to the massive tidal wave of human civilization matter. 

Today is not simply the by-product of some oozing slime that happened to land us all in this random mess that we call the 21st century.

We are all a part of little stories and all a part of One Big Story and some of us are particularly desperate to understand it, to study it, and then to pass the meaning on to others. That is why late nights of painstaking research and grading papers and commas and citations and piles of books and endless notes in the margins are ok - because we are telling stories and connecting stories and passing stories on and that work matters.

There are going to be days when I wake up and wonder whether my major is useless, whether writing and reading and listening and communicating are all futile and silly. And I will swear off the humanities forever and curse the day I chose something other than pragmatism. 

And then I will step out of my front door and stare into the faces of Hector and Achilles and Helen and Penelope and Odysseus and Telemachus and Aeneas, the faces that fill my workplace and my home and my church and my world. And I will remember that the stories, their stories and our stories, are real and they must be told.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday Linkage

Happy Friday! 

This may be one of the greatest Fridays of my summer.  A wonderful family reunion, an utterly terrible six-week graduate seminar, and a few long weeks of work behind me. 

Ahead? August is Congressional recess and the city slows to a sedate swing. A brief break from school and then my final grad class, one with a professor who has taught me a great deal and over at topic that I enjoy. Also, one of my oldest and dearest friends will be in town this weekend. 

So this weekend will hold all of the good things that summer should hold. While you're enjoying this first weekend of August, enjoy browsing through the following links.

  • Wedding season is in full swing. This article contains some timeless advice in accordance with the season.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bookish Tuesday: #11 - #20 of 30 Day Book Challenge

The 30 Day Book Challenge should probably just be called "The 30 Book Challenge. 

11. Book from your favorite author:

    Persuasion is my favorite book by my favorite author, Jane Austen.

12. Book that is most like your life:

 Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. It's painful to admit, but it's true.

13. Book whose main character is most like you:

This is another one of those awkward questions. Do I pick a book whose main character is like the me I want to be? Or the me I think I am? Or the me people say I am? When I was little, my grandmother always told me that I reminded her of Meg in Little Women. She was an English teacher, so her authority must carry some weight in this discussion. Then again, I was seven years old. So that may be irrelevant. 

14. Book whose main character you want to marry:

This one creeps me out. One can't marry the character in a book. I can't buy into the question. But I suppose Mr. Knightley in Jane Austen's Emma embodies humility, courage, and compassion, traits anyone should value in a spouse. 

15. First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child:

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. 

16. Longest book you’ve read:

Middlemarch by George Eliot is definitely the winner. Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne was required for a class and is definitely longer, but I don't honestly remember reading more than part of it, so it doesn't count.

17. Shortest book you’ve read

Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
18. Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like:

Books are like people and decisions. You might change your mind; you mind move on to new ones; you might make some bad choices, but embarrassment is never a good response. Read wisely and well; treasure the good; toss the trash.

20. Book you’ve read the most number of times:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is probably catching up with Number The Stars. That's what happens when one takes too many English Lit classes.

In case you missed them, here are #1#2, and #3-10 on my list.

What are your answers?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Waffles and Chicken: A Miscellaneous Tale

My mom made chicken and waffles once for Easter. I secretly thought she made up the whole miraculous event. Then, recently, Mancredible discovered them on a menu and we ordered them, mostly because we were incredulous. But they are a real thing. A real and beautiful thing.

Of course we wanted to re-create the masterpiece. Until we encountered An Obstacle. At the ripe age of 24, I own a few earthly possessions. But not a waffle-maker. Neither does he. So Operation Waffles and Chicken was abandoned. 

That would have been the end of the saga...until I remembered that most groceries actually sell an amazing invention, the frozen waffle. Obstacle overcome.

And so, on a sweltering D.C. Sunday afternoon, while smart people were sipping iced tea in very dark cool shady locales, four of us were instead enthusiastically breading chicken and toasting waffles in a hot kitchen. 

Of course I didn't remember to write down the steps to our creation. We used Fluffy Eggo Waffles and combined the chicken recipe in this recipe with the sauce in this one. Except I used a lot of red wine instead sherry. The sauce recipe needs tweaking certainly. It wasn't quite sweet enough and was a little too thick, more like a glaze than a marinade. 

But overall, it was wonderful. And on Waffles and Chicken Round #2, syrup was added to the combination. This improved the dish immensely. All of it was gone within six hours, which says something, I like to think.

What experimental dish have you cooked lately?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Linkage

It's been a wild week on all fronts. I am looking forward to a weekend full of rest and fun and, oh yes, homework.

Here's some weekend reading for your browsing pleasure.

On writing, reading, and blogging:

On life, work, and relationships:

Some miscellany: