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Tongue-Tied

One of the things I love most about going to class is participating in discussions. Since I live alone, there are only so many times I can rehash the same conversations over and over in my head, like why I should or should not sweep the floor today, or if I made the right decision about this or that in my life. So, going to class and participating in discussions is one way to hear other currents of information and contribute words of my own, words that may mean something to someone, or not. I’ve never been called out for lack of participation, and I do my best to keep my thoughts limited and on topic.

It’s rare that I have a moment like I did today.

So there I was, just sitting in class, listening in and taking notes on a discussion about societal values, symbolism, and political ideology. Even though I didn’t quite understand every word of every reading we had to do, hearing them spoken aloud helped me get a better perspective on things. This topic was one I had been unsure about, but a thought came to me as we discussed different levels of societies and the socially constructed methodology.

I raise my hand. (Even though since there are only seven students and one professor, most people just start talking, I still raise my hand, because I guess I like rules, or I’m bad at breaking old habits).

The professor calls on me, and all eyes turn toward me.

My brain says: Where did the carefully crafted thought I just had disappear to? I know it’s somewhere…and yes, it had to do with…

“The values of society can sometimes be as cut-and-dry as visual symbols, like…”

Like what?

“Like…Boy Scouts. And Girl Scouts.”

Okay, Jacob, good, keep going.

::silence::

Come on, you can do it.

“Whenever they complete a task that coalesces with a positive attribute of the fundamentals of their organization, they get a badge, and I guess that these badges are a way of exposing the values behind the organization and society of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.”

Keep going, you’re almost there!

“So, my point is, it can be as simple as a merit badge that shows the values of a society that values ethics, and children.”

Okay, wrap it up.

“They promote their own cause by presenting boys and girls with badges, that they wear across their chest, on their, um, clothing, shirt, vest, that thing, wraps around your neck, shoulder, shirt, vest, thing, so that it can be easily seen and understood by outsiders…”

????

“…the core values of their organization, which causes a sense of pride, validating their sense of community-mindedness, to their community, and their importance within their own society, as well as to outsiders, with the badges they wear, across, their shirts, vest, chest, the thing that wraps around…”

…..

::silence::

What? Where am I? Who am I? What am I saying? What is…what? I should just stop talking, this is dumb…

“I should just stop talking, this is dumb…wait…oh my God, I’m sorry…” ::bites lip awkwardly::

At this point, the professor jumped in, and said something like “oh yes, no, yes, that’s a good example, that proves your point, you did a good job with that…” and we moved on, with me still kind of staring into nowhere.

I think I quietly said something to myself like “ugh, that was terrible, that made no sense…”

At which point the girl next to me overheard me, patted me on the shoulder, and said in a small voice, “No, you’re good, that was good, you’re okay.”

Oy vey. That’s all I have to say.

2

That’s So Random: Myths, Misconceptions, and Mind-Numbing Cold

Quote of the Day:

“So, how about this cold weather?” – Every single newscaster in America.

Seriously. It’s cold. Really cold. Almost every state had record lows today. It was way below zero in Madison, so I’m glad I was in Baltimore, which was…15 degrees, the coldest January 7 since 1994. That’s more than the number of miles I traveled today (about 1, if that) and hot beverages I consumed today (2; 1 coffee at home and a caramel macchiato from Starbucks). I went to the gym yesterday, but the thought of returning just chilled me even more, and not for any sort of dislike of exercise. It’s mind-numbingly cold. It’s just about too cold to think, so I came up with this idea based on a book I found at The Book Thing the other day.

But first, my post about Africa yesterday attracted more hits than ever, and brought readers from two African countries that were new on my blog counter, so welkom to South Africa, and karibu to Kenya. In addition, I also received a visitor from Denmark, so valkommen to you.

Back to the topic of the day. I picked up this book entitled The Book of Myths & Misconceptions. So I’m going to pick a random page, learn something new, write a hundred words or so on the topic, and top it off with a funny animated gif.

So…here we go.

Page 325: “It’s Over There: The Real Battle of Bunker Hill.”

The story: June 1775 – a violent battle occurred in Charlestown, Massachusetts, just across the “dirty water” of the Charles River from Boston.

The misconception: The battle occurred on Bunker Hill, hence the name.

The real facts: The battle did not occur on Bunker Hill. (Go figure.) American soldiers under the direction of Col. William Prescott started out on Bunker Hill, digging into the side of the hill, when Prescott discovered a hill that was easier to defend, so he moved the whole shebang to Breed’s Hill, a slightly lower hill about a half mile away. The next morning, Col. William Howe and his redcoats attacked, and won – but due to bad maps and the tide, lost a thousand British soldiers in the process, more than double the number of American casualties.

My thoughts (pretty much unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness, first-thing-that-comes-to-mind:)

The Revolutionary War. Something I haven’t thought about since probably high school. Seriously. I don’t think I ever took an American history course in college, at any level, and haven’t studied American theatre in that era. There wasn’t that much to speak of, except Aphra Behn’s The Widdow Ranter, the first play written with an American setting. But Aphra Behn was British. I used to live in Massachusetts. I spent a few years going to college there, at UMass Amherst. I love Amherst. I miss Amherst. Our mascot was Sam the Minute Man. Probably no other school is known as the “Minuteman,” which is why UMass is the awesome school that it is. The only thing that annoyed me was when I came home and everyone, my family included, asked me how Boston was. I was like “I don’t know, how is it?” because I did not live there, or anywhere near there. In fact, I’ve been to Boston a grand total of four times in my life: once on my first road trip with Dad, once to visit Boston University, once to catch a plane after my dreadful Brandeis University visit, and finally, for the 2008 APO National Convention. In June, LMDA will be in Boston, so that might warrant my fifth-ever visit. It still makes me cringe when people asked me what going to college in Boston was like, because I actually didn’t do that, unless you count going to the boy scout reservation in Sudbury twice for camping trips, including the first one when my big, Yukie, took us on an “alternative” route through tiny, winding roads that I later learned were along the New Hampshire border. Oh, Massachusetts, you with your deceptively long roads through nowhere. And your boring license plates. Because the spirit of Massachusetts is…

Oh, and here’s a picture:

There you go. Not much fun to be had at such a bloody battle.

This was also where Col. William Howe coined the famous phrase “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” 

Oh, that image search at least yielded a comic strip, so enjoy:

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Oversaid Fines

Here’s a good one.

There is a three-word phrase that you probably say just about every day of your life, whether it’s to yourself or to someone else. It’s not “I love you,” and it’s not “f my life” but to me, it’s just as overstated and meaningless.

What do you typically say to a good friend who is:

  • Struggling with school?
  • Nervous about searching for employment?
  • Scared of dying alone?
  • About to embark on a big trip?
  • Having wedding-day jitters?
  • Undergoing stage fright right before the show’s opening?
  • Has been trying and trying and trying but failing?
  • Has lost faith in himself?
  • Has lost faith in everything?

If you’re like most of the world, the response in your head at this point is something like:

“You’ll be fine.”

BUT WILL I BE?

It seems to be the catch-all answer these days.

I first noticed it being used more frequently last year in Houston, when struggling to complete my coursework and my master’s thesis. My professors used it as a clap-on-the-shoulder, “I have to do something else but I want to end this conversation on a positive note even though it may or may not be true.” My parents have used it in pretty much every conversation about anything I’ve been nervous about over the past year, from moving to a new apartment in a new city, attending a new school, and eating yogurt after its expiration date. I’ve heard it from friends, family members, doctors, teachers, and even acquaintances. Over the past few days, I’ve heard it said to me about a hundred times and have even resorted to using it myself.

But what does it mean? What does “fine” actually mean? Where’s the context?

“Fine” can mean so many different things. It can be used as a brief explanation to someone that you aren’t dying, it can be used to express happiness, it can be used to express disinterest. It can also be used ironically, to show disgust or annoyance. It’s one of those words that if you say it too many times, it loses all meaning. “Fine” can mean physically healthy, emotionally healthy, mentally healthy, safe, having money, or any combination of the above. Once upon a time, saying you’re “fine” meant that everything was going 100% smoothly and well in your life, but now, even if everything is completely out of whack, you can just say it and no one will suspect a thing since our sensibilities can no longer handle transparency anymore.

Here’s the way I see it…

My dad has a client who happens to be a very high-strung woman in her 70s. Let’s call her Doris. Doris is a wife, mother, and grandmother, with a college education, an incredible high-profile career, and so many friends that she can’t fit them all into her apartment for get-togethers. She’s the exact opposite of a cat lady – respected, honored, and leads an active social and professional life that would be envied by most. Plus, she’s friendly, fashionable, and charming. Whenever Doris and my dad talk, she’s usually fretting about something money-related, like her paycheck (from her contracts from which she works, which is hit-and-miss but lucrative when she’s working), her social security (which she hasn’t yet started claiming) or her will (and despite a physical disability, she’s in great shape for her age). And it’s always the same tone with her – at level 10. From the way she talks and how she describes herself, you’d think she’d be a step away from being evicted and that her next meal might come from a dumpster behind a Taco Bell. I, myself, am not privy to details about Doris’ financial situation; needless to say, I think that despite her paranoia she’s got a lot of bases covered to sustain emotionally, physically, and financially for the rest of her life. I don’t know if she chooses to see herself that way, or if she actually does, but either way, her self-perception is completely untrue. And every time my dad talks to her (and about her, outside the office) he says that she’ll be fine. 

That I can go for. That’s what being fine means to me – she’s already lived a full and happy life and continues to live it even as I type this entry when I should be studying. She has the money she needs, friends and family who love her, all her mental and almost all her physical faculties, and finds new things to love every day.

Basically, I dream of having a life like that.

However…that’s not the case with me. I’m a constant worrier, yes, and I do over-analyze a lot, but let’s get real here. I struggle every day in a different way. Most of the time, I am not fine. Big or small, and whether I know it or not, I feel like there’s something that’s always not right. Will I be fine in my life? With God’s blessing and no major catastrophes, yes. Will I be fine this minute? No, not necessarily. I am safe, I’m not even unhappy, yet there’s a falling-quicksand sensation in my brain that not everything is all right.

Will I be fine?

You don’t know. I don’t know. I hope so.

In the future, when someone says then to me, I’ll continue to accept it, given the large amount of possible subtext lying beneath the phrase. As to whether I’ll believe it or not, that depends on how I’m feeling that day. The fact of the matter: sometimes it’s hard to believe it, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. Sometimes it helps to hear, but sometimes it doesn’t. Let your actions speak louder than your words, but don’t let your words slide down.

This was a particularly long and heavy post, so here’s an audiovisual representation of how I usually feel when you say this to me, with a special thanks to Whitney Houston:

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A Rose Is Still A Rose

This past week has been pretty brutal. Some of it caused by me, some by others…well, mostly me. Won’t go into more detail but suffice it to say that due to circumstances, I got very little done.

I usually write about other things in this space. But today I want to write about me. Because I feel that that person needs some serious lovin’.

Over the last several years (well, really, most of my post-high school life), I’ve been actively working on myself in one way or another, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I’ve gone to psychologists, psychiatrists, and art therapists. I’ve had an MRI and an EKG. I’ve attended classes; I’ve read books and articles. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. And inevitably, just when I’ve got it all figured out, something comes tumbling down.

Lately a lot of things have been tumbling down. I’ve been asking myself the big questions, and I’m lonelier than ever. I’ve been pretty good at developing and using coping mechanisms, but it seems like just about every day I face some sort of struggle. When I find there’s something wrong, I try to make it better. But it’s just really hard when solitude kicks in, because that ignites it all. The loneliness. The fear. The paranoia.

Something’s wrong with this picture, and I’m doing it all wrong.

My private college counselor back in Maryland told me that a better way to approach myself is to, instead of looking at what’s wrong about myself, look at what’s right about myself, and use those qualities to build myself up from the bottom rather than knocking myself down from the top.

Most of the time, I like myself. I’m a nice person, or at least I actively try to be, every day. I am helpful and kind. I am loyal, trustworthy, and understanding. I’m a giver, not a taker. I care about people. I am a good friend. If you are my friend, I love you to no end. I go out of my way to help others. I try to keep things light and positive, and help make others feel good about themselves. I rejoice in the fact that I’m alive and I can enjoy such wonderful things every day, some of which being other people who are with me on this planet Earth that I can interact with and can interact with me. I’m always up for a challenge. I’m also always up for lunch, dinner, dessert, coffee, or alcohol in any way, shape, or form. I used to think I was an introvert, but I think that I’m actually an extrovert in disguise: I can strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime. I love to smile and make people laugh. Overall, I’m a good thing to have in my life and if you’re lucky enough to know me personally, then in yours too.

Like a flower, I wake up every morning and put my face towards the sun. I am me. I carry that energy with me all day, and even when I come home at night, even when I’m about to go to bed, I’m still me.

Rose

“’cause a rose is still a rose/baby girl, you’re still a flower/he can’t lead you and then take you/make you and then break you/darlin’ you hold the power.” – Lauryn Hill, “A Rose Is Still A Rose”

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Failure Pie

Today was just one of those days. Things just didn’t go my way. And the worst part of it is, it’s left me tired but not sleepy.

(I just waded through reading something that was unbearably dense, so bear with me.)

It started off pretty well, the sun was shining, and that was about it. I ran to class, got there late, and spent the next almost-two-hours wishing that I were elsewhere. Class ends, and I run home to finish and print a paper, make some soup that I eventually dump down my throat as I go back out the door, and was late for my next meeting, which wasn’t horrible, but left me feeling pretty non-confident about myself. I was on time for the next class (yay) but it was my afternoon three-hour class, and I was sitting there wishing that I was elsewhere. By the end of hour two I’m usually pretty checked out. Then I had about a half-hour to shove a half-sandwich down my throat (Throat to Me: Don’t push it.) and then it was time for rehearsal, which was probably some of the worst hours of my day, then home, where I did some stuff, but mostly felt the need (and still do) to dick around and not do work (which is a bad idea) and stretch my brain to think of more stuff to type in this entry, and tell myself I’ll be in bed by 12:30 only for time to be like “surprise! you bummed around the apartment doing nothing and now it’s 3 AM, or 2:30 if you’re lucky!” And on top of that, now I feel incredibly lonely in this apartment that, while lovely, still doesn’t feel like home with the piles of mess in different places, the white hospital-room walls that nothing in the world will adhere to, and the fact that I still don’t know where half of my stuff is at any given time, yet the time I’d spend looking for a new place is spent in class, running from place to place, and – you guessed it – doing nothing constructive at all. It’s a cycle that kind of needs to end, and fast, because I’m beginning to feel like I’m going through the motions, springing back and forth on a rubber-band-slingshot between my apartment and the Vilas building with a few other stops in between sometimes that take more time than they probably should.

Oh, and my shoulders hurt from exercising yesterday. Um…good for the bones, I guess? Bleh. I don’t know.

What I do know today:

  • I’m so lonely when alone, but when in class, most of the time I just want to get out of there.
  • Saying “you’ll be fine” to me right now would be like…I think I’ll go there in a future entry.
  • The little things accumulate and escalate.
  • Budgeting more travel time is never a bad idea.
  • My computer’s fan is embarrassingly loud.
  • I’m always doing stuff, but I would never call myself “busy.” I don’t know about that. Again, more in a future entry.
  • I should probably go back and read through my posts and follow through on some of those future-entry topics.

All those charts were right, about grad school being a six-slice pie (school, social, sleep, exercise, diet, and extracurriculars, or something like that) when they say “pick four and fail at them all.”

In that case, I have about seven pies worth of failure.

And I’m not even really doing any of those things right now.

…so I guess I just proved the chart right.

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Getting Through Tough Times

For some reason, I’m having a hard time of it these days. In a lot of ways.

Mostly, I’m just not feeling the inspiration to write much. I get these ideas, think they’re good, and then think a little more and think that they’re kind of meh. Then it keeps going downhill from there, and then I’m back to square one.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a better story to tell, but for now, I should probably get started on the paper I have to turn in in like…five minutes. Hope it’ll be fine.

That’s something I haven’t written about yet – thinking about the worst possible consequences/globalizing/making too big of a deal out of things. Sounds like a good topic to build on in the coming days.

Oh great, there’s the conference proposal I have to work on.

Maybe that “what’s the worst that could happen” post will have to wait for a little bit.

But I want to get back to this, so don’t let me forget.

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At The End of The Day, You’re Another Day Older

That pretty much sums up how I feel about my birthday.

Which is tomorrow.

As in less than an hour from now.

Freaking. Out.

Birthdays mean different things to different people. To me, it means that the other 364 days of the year aren’t.

And that bothers me.

It seems like some peoples’ birthdays go on forever, with tons of parties and events…and mine never does. It comes, twenty-four hours pass, and then it’s over, and the only thing that’s changed is my age. Some people count down to their birthdays. I can’t really fathom that. Last year, on my 25th birthday, all anyone could say to me was “wow, you’re a quarter of a century old!” Well, thanks, that makes me feel a lot better about the biological process of aging and the fact that I’m still single, childless, jobless, and pursuing a degree which may or may not help me in life. This also is the beginning of the end of me being in my mid-20s. Soon I’ll transition into my late 20s…not cool, not cool. Well, I mean, cool in the sense that I’ve made it this far in life and many others haven’t, that I’m alive and free and in control of all my faculties, but not cool in reminding me that hey, you’re getting further and further from being able to date a teenager anymore.

Creepy aside. Anyway.

What bugs me the most about birthdays is that they’re so final. Like, you only get one a year. Then you have to wait another year to go through the same experience. And the day after is the worst – it’s like everyone else in the world gets a birthday before it’s your turn again.

And then, there’s the added pressure of how to spend your birthday. Treat it like a normal day? Take the day off, eschew responsibilities, and commit yourself to pure, unadulterated fun? Eat crazy amounts of chocolate and cake and drink copious amounts of alcohol? Spend it largely alone, with your thoughts to keep you focused and sane, or have a big party with as many people as you can?

Looking back on past birthdays is something that I tend to do around this time of year. Most of the time, the memories are disappointing. Like in 7th grade, when I had a huge test on my birthday, or three years ago, when I got into a huge fight with my parents the morning of my birthday that soured my entire day. Some birthdays were relatively successful, like in 5th grade when my teacher gave me a poster of endangered species, or my junior year in college, when I turned 20, saw a Rosanne Cash concert, and ended up at a house party that turned out to be a surprise party for me. Israel was another fun birthday – a group of us went to Maale Film School and watched some short films and met up with the filmmakers, followed by dinner with Dayna and Abbie in Talpiot, and later bowling with Dayna and Anya. My last two years of birthdays, in Houston, were mostly just blah and upsetting.

But enough negative.

I enjoy that feeling of weightlessness when I wake up, and I can say, “Today is mine. No one can take it away from me.” I like the random “happy birthday” greetings from people I meet up with, and blushing when people say, “it’s your birthday, isn’t it?” I like it when people go out of their way to do something nice for me, whether it’s a present, a card, or a hug, but just a greeting and a big smile can make me happy. I like it that even if I stay up tomorrow past midnight, it’ll still be my birthday until I go to sleep (according to some birthday rules).

That’s not a lot of things to like about birthdays.

Now I’m sad again.

But it isn’t yet my birthday, so I can’t do too much worrying about it being a bad one; it’s a blank slate, a mystery, a day of promise.

Just keep yourself in check, Jacob – you’ll get through the day, one way or another.

And hopefully, it’ll be a happy day.

🙂