Friday, December 31, 2010

The good, the bad, and the ugly

In predictable fashion, life has been incredibly unpredictable the past week or so.

On Christmas morning, I took a shower and while combing my hair afterwards, I discovered that I have a small bald spot near the back of my head, close to where I part my hair. I noticed my hair had been looking rather thin back there about two weeks ago, but didn't think all that much about it, chalking it up to my part line affecting the hair growth. Well, now I've got a full blown bald spot. Luckily, I have plenty of hair to cover it up, so it's not noticeable unless I part my hair right over it. I was freaking out about it on Christmas morning in front of my brother and sister in law and, after a few quick searches, we discovered that there are a million different reasons why a 20something girl would have a bald spot. While I was in mid freak out, my sister in law made a great point: stressing out about it will only make my hair fall out more, so chill out and get it looked at. I know I need to go to the doctor and get the mystery solved, but I've been dragging my feet about it (mostly because I know it will require blood work and I absolutely hate needles). I keep telling myself that I'm going to go today once I finish writing this post, eat breakfast, and take a shower. Right? Right. Go already, damn it.

My mother and I did not get into any arguments on Christmas nor at any other time I was home. We actually had some of the most normal conversations we've had in ages. It was a Christmas miracle! My mother has a thyroid disease and I remember she lost a lot of hair right before she went to the doctor and got diagnosed. Female balding can be contributed to thyroid problems, so I asked her if she ever got any bald spots and she said no. She seemed genuinely concerned about my little bald spot. I got my thyroid checked out a year ago or so and everything came back normal, so I'm hoping that my thyroid isn't the problem. Of course, the fact that my mother and I didn't get into an argument means that she didn't try to apologize to me, like my brother asked her to do. She has until tomorrow to meet his deadline and I'm not holding my breath.

So after the ugly news about balding and the bad news about the lack of apology (that is mixed with the good news about my mother and me getting along), what could my completely good news be? Big surprise, it's about a boy.

Early Wednesday night, I texted a friend of mine to see what she was up to the rest of the week. I really like going out with her, she's like a fun older sister to me, and we always have a great time together. She told me she was out at a bar with a mutual guy friend of ours and that I should join them. I jumped at the chance since I've had a crush on this boy for two years or so. He is absolutely gorgeous, hands down the best looking man I've met in real life: blue eyes, perfect hair, tall, thin. He's incredibly intelligent and is in the same grad program as my friend. We met through another mutual friend of ours (who thought we would hit it off and tried to get us to meet for ages) and we've been running into each other ever since. He was in a relationship (boo), but that ended a few months ago (yay). So, I met up with them and discovered that they had been drinking for awhile thanks to happy hour and were well on their way to Hangover City. A few of his friends showed up too and we were a jolly bunch, all talking and having a great time. He and I caught up a bit, talked about school, work, and he sincerely apologized for not being able to come to a party my roommate and I had a few weeks earlier- he really wanted to come (!), but had a family emergency. Our group decided to move on to another bar where I got to sit right next to him, our legs touching for most of the time.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess), karaoke started up a short while later and none of us were interested, so it cut our night out a bit short. Most of his friends left and there were only four of us remaining: him, my friend, one of his friends that was digging on my friend, and me. He asked me if I wanted to hang out with him that night and I said sure with a huge smile. We decided on his place and got a ride from his friend. We sat on his couch with legs touching, trying to decide what to watch and ribbing on each other for our movie and television preferences. This kid makes me nervous as all hell, so I'm sure I sounded like a bumbling idiot who seemed like she never watched a movie her whole life, let alone could carry on an intelligent conversation about why she liked a certain movie. Bumbling idiot or not, he caught me completely off guard with a well placed hand on my jawline and a passionate kiss after I made a dig at a show he likes. If you're lucky, you get to experience the type of kiss that gives you a sense of simultaneous physical and emotional relief, dare I say weightlessness, once in your life. I got to relive that feeling countless times until he dropped me off at my apartment the next morning, kissing me good bye three lingering times. Waking up next to him, I thought I was dreaming. I don't ever get this lucky. Despite the great night I spent with him and the fact that this long crush has actually developed into something, I am trying to keep my feet on the ground and to not get my hopes up. Like my roommate said, even if this doesn't become anything, I can be perfectly content knowing that I was able to be with him for one night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Year in review

After hitting a low this past weekend, over the last week, I've slowly been feeling better about life in general. I've been watching The (American) Office back to back to back on Netflix streaming, I finished reading The Girl Who Played with Fire, I've been listening to my whole Beatles collection on shuffle, and I got to spend time with Lynn. I'm leaving tomorrow for Pennsylvania to see my family for Christmas. I'm looking forward to spending time with my brother, sister in law, grandma, and some old high school friends. Chances are, my mother will corner me on Christmas and talk to me about our past. I'm going to try to keep my emotions in check so that Christmas will not be ruined like it was last year. I will listen to her, but let her know that her actions need to match her words.

I enjoy making lists and keeping track of certain things every year. I have a "101 in 1001" list which is a list of 101 goals you'd like to accomplish in 1001 days. I'm currently on my second such list. Since we're nearing the end of 2010, I figured now would be a good time to post two of the things I keep track of on my 101 in 1001 list: the books I read and the places I traveled. A few months ago, I discovered the website the Day Zero Project that was made for exactly these 101 in 1001 lists. I transferred my list from LiveJournal (haha yes, LiveJournal. I only use it now to hold my 101 in 1001 list and to have a place to publish my yearly book list) and, of course, the Day Zero Project website is down right now, so I'm going to go off of the list I have on LJ that hasn't been updated in a few months.

One of my 101 in 1001 goals is to read at least 30 books a year. Last year, I managed to read a whopping 45 books. This year, I only read a measly 13. I'm fully blaming grad school for my poor performance. If I manage to finish any more books before January, I will update my list. Here are the books I read in 2010:

Getting Things Done by David Allen
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Howards End by E. M. Forster (reread)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Ambient Findability by Peter Morville
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
Benito Cereno by Herman Melville
Awkward and Definition by Ariel Schrag
Potential by Ariel Schrag
Likewise by Ariel Schrag
The Tempest by William Shakespeare (reread)

A few of my 101 in 1001 goals revolve around travel: visit more noteworthy places, increase the number of states I've visited, travel to Europe again. Since this list of traveled places is a few months old and I know I expanded upon it since, I will update it once the website comes back up. I will also update it if I go anywhere else before New Year's. I don't include when I go home to PA since I don't really consider that a travel destination. I'm happy to report that I visited a new state- Tennessee- and a new country- the Czech Republic- in 2010.

Washington, DC- twice
Harrisburg, PA- three times
Williamsburg, VA 
Prague, Brno, and other towns, Czech Republic

Sandbridge (Virginia Beach), VA
Chick's Beach (Virginia Beach), VA
Knoxville, TN 
Asheville, NC
Cowpens and Spartanburg, SC 
Charlotte, NC 
Cumberland County/Bear Creek Lake State Park, VA

Charlottesville, VA
Norfolk, VA

Monday, December 20, 2010

That secret that you know, but don't know how to tell

The perfect music to listen to while walking to and from work on cold, winter days while contemplating life, death, and unhappiness: Bon Iver.

The perfect sounds to listen to while walking home alone from bars and parties in the wee hours of the morning while crying, cursing men, and feeling sick, drunk, exhausted, and unwanted: your own breathing, the pounding of your heels on packed snow, your sniffling, your discontented sighs. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

12 days before Christmas

My mother called me this morning. Let me repeat that for added emphasis: my mother called me this morning. Shortly after 8, my phone rang and I automatically knew that it was bad news. No one calls me that early. Her strained voice further gave her away: something was most definitely wrong. I thought instantly of my grandmother and griped my stomach with my free hand, having felt my heart drop there, in anticipation. It was not my grandmother. My oldest female cousin's husband passed away on Monday night of what appears to be heart failure. He was only in his late 30s - early 40s. He and my cousin had a baby almost a year ago. I wasn't very close to him and have never been especially close to that cousin, mostly because of our age difference and distance, but the news is still shocking and distressing to me. My cousin is incredibly smart and nerdy and found an equally as smart and nerdy companion in her husband. They married about 4 years ago while I was in college. I remember my brother and I sat at their table at another cousin's wedding a few years ago and got to know the both of them better, bantering back and forth about literature and sports. I was surprised when they decided to have a child since she was never one for kids and it sounded like they had decided to abstain shortly after getting married. I guess the ticking clock made them both a little nervous and realize that it was now or never for the baby train. On the way down to Florida to visit his parents this summer, they stopped in Richmond to say hi. I met them at the capitol for a half hour or so and got to see their baby boy for the first time. He was the sweetest, happiest baby and was showered with love from both of his parents. I feel awful for both my cousin and their baby. To have such a short time with someone you love is a tragedy.

It was hard to listen to my mom cry on the phone to me since she so rarely shows her true emotions. Something really moving has to happen in order for her to cry in front of anyone. She got to see them over Thanksgiving (I missed them by one day), so she relayed how happy he had been holding his baby and how she'll always remember him that way. She discussed details and logistics with me, voiced her worries. After apologizing for having to share bad news, telling me she'll keep me updated on the memorial service, wishing me a good day at work, she started to wrap up the conversation. When I realized she was going to say goodbye without telling me what I most needed to hear, I stopped her mid-farewell and told her, "I love you, Mom," with a quivering voice.

She started crying again and choked out, "I love you too, Sarah."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Merry stinkin' Christmas

By kelp1966 from flickr

The Christmas tree stood at the foot of the stairs 365 days a year for the majority of the 10 years I lived with my mother. It was a hand me down artificial tree, probably given to us by someone at the Methodist church we attended for a few years, and was put up in the dining room the first Christmas we lived in the apartment. My brother was still living at my mother's primarily at the time and we decorated the tree with the familiar handmade and antique ornaments. Just like when we had a gigantic, real tree at the old house, the left side of the tree had my brother's ornaments and the right side of the tree had mine. Likewise, my brother's gifts were piled under the left and my gifts got piled on the right on Christmas morning. The middle was reserved for the gifts my brother and I gave to my mother. I thought these strict designations were normal until I visited friends' homes during the holidays and got weird looks when I asked them which side of the tree was theirs.

Somehow, the tree got moved to the landing at the foot of the stairs shortly after that first Christmas when I realized that it was never going to be put away. I got antsy as a preteen and teenager and took to rearranging the furniture on a pretty regular basis, so I'm assuming I moved it there during one of these sweeps in one of my desperate attempts to change my environment. The tree was pretty sad; some of the connecting parts didn't connect so well, leaving wide gaps, and we had no working string of lights to spruce it up with. The years of dust and cobwebs that settled on the fake boughs and numerous ornaments didn't do much to add to its festiveness. Random boxes and gifts we received from my mother's coworkers that we had no use for or interest in remained under the tree for years, making it appear that we always had gifts waiting for us, when in reality, it was just an extension of the clutter surrounding the tree from all sides. The only sign of Christmas cheer came from the thin string of colored lights that hung near the gutter on the front of house, only there because our neighbors that shared the other half of the building decided it would look too weird if they only had lights on their side.

My mother has never been good at time management and usually spent Christmas Eve staying up all night, wrapping gifts. I would yell from the top of the stairs if it was time yet and I would receive nos for hours as she slaved away on the couch, folding and refolding to make the edges crisp and straight and the wrapping perfect. When I was finally allowed to descend the stairs, I sat on the bottom stair to open my gifts, with my mom usually wedged on the landing beside the tree. I respected her hard work and instinctively, from years of experience and being scolded not to rip the wrapping paper, slid my nail under the tape before bending back the paper, preserving as much of the paper as I could so that it could be saved and reused the following year. My stocking would be filled with dollar store finds and off brand candy. My mother usually gave me a few of the gifts I requested, staying strictly within her budget by comparison shopping at every store imaginable, and making sure that my brother received comparable gifts, down to the cent. She would total up the purchases with a pencil on the back of used envelopes or scraps of paper that she shoved in her purse along with the ream of other papers and scraps that became soft and frayed from refolding and became a dingy grey from smeared pencil lead.

Christmas as a child was always calculated and stressful; everything being last minute, equal, and deliberate. There was an order to the gifts opened and very little ground for childlike wonder to be inspired or expressed. The same fake smile was plastered on my mother's face when she opened her received gifts; delicate examination and stock responses in sing songy inflection. These contrived holiday routines have unsurprisingly taken their toll when I approach Christmas as an adult. My holiday spirit is dampened by the thought of dusty Christmas trees and happiness springing from a perfectly unwrapped gift rather than from the gift itself.

I combat it as best as I can by trying to remember helping my grandmother bake cookies and set up her Christmas village instead. My grandma trusted me to decorate the cookies the way I wanted, imperfections and all, and to place the ceramic houses in any arrangement that struck my fancy underneath her short Christmas tree. I put the small, round mirror that doubled as the ice skating rink and the skating figurines where ever I damn well pleased and spread the cotton wads of snow where ever my child's eye deemed it so. The tree ornaments and gifts were jumbled up and shared, creating the proper mosaic of a family instead of the sterile lines that created a permeable guise of a woman who was grasping at an opportunity, any opportunity, to feel a sense of empowering control.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Sally Mann effect

I was finally able to see the Sally Mann exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this afternoon with Rebecca. Do yourself a favor and go as soon as humanly possible. It's haunting, it's eerie, it's touching, it'll change the way you think about photography. Beautiful, beautiful work. I am so glad I got to see it in person.

Her thoughts and approach to death and decay are so honest and real, it's really quite jarring to see a person so comfortable with decomposition. Seeing some of the images, especially the photographs she took while she visited the Body Farm, an area where human bodies decompose out in the open for forensic study, were difficult for me as I am quite the opposite of Mann in that death and dying have always made me uneasy. There was one image in particular that made my skin crawl.

There were a group of 6 smaller, color photographs that made my hair stand on end, but when I got to one that showed a giant cluster of maggots consuming a person's half eaten face, my tongue began to tingle in the back of my throat as if maggots were crawling in my own mouth, my stomach and throat began to retch, and my eyes stung and began to water. I closed my eyes and turned away.

maggots in the toilet, maggots in the toilet
the smell, the god awful smell

It took a minute for me to regain my strength to carry on and open my mind back up to viewing the decay that had hit so close to home.

I've seen cardboard boxes dissolve and become food for fungus. I've seen mold grow on every conceivable item of food. I've seen cat poop turn fuzzy. I've seen the pinks and the greens, the greys and the blacks of fungi. I've breathed in and smelled the simultaneous natural and unnatural smells of the airborne spores of these organisms that inhabited the same space I did for a decade. And yes, I've seen the undulations of maggots feeding off of feces in my toilet.

Just the thought of it all makes me itchy, sink my nails into my scalp and scratch uncontrollably. I want to jump into a scolding hot shower and scrub until my skin is red and inflamed, ensuring I've reached another layer. How did my teenage self endure such trials?

Living with the decay was worse than dying.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Link love

Some entertaining things I stumbled upon on the internets recently:

French Milk- Another awesome looking graphic novel to add to my to read list.

Simon's Cat- A new Simon's Cat just in time for Christmas.

How to Wrap a Cat- Just in case you were wondering how to wrap a very patient cat for the holidays.

Beard Cap- To keep your beard toasty in the winter.

What all women are really thinking- Hehe you tell 'em, sassy female peacock.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jews are sexy

My semester is over, thank all that is holy. I can now focus on my social life and the upcoming holiday season. I have some rough ideas about what I'm getting everyone for Christmas, but I now I need to make the decision and actually buy them all.

I'm probably the last person on Earth who has seen this video (I was up to my eyebrows with school, okay?), but this is awesome and I must share in case you missed it too:

I've got a confession to make: I've had a minor obsession with Jews since I was in high school. I had a phenomenal World Cultures teacher who was Jewish and taught the Judaism section with such enthusiasm that I was inspired to continue to learn more about the religion and culture. I have a secret desire to marry a Jewish guy and be assimilated into Judaism. So, as you can imagine, this video makes my little heart go pitter pat and reinforces my crush tenfold. Maccabeats, you are welcome to serenade me in English or Hebrew any ol' time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Grumpy pants

Of course, after writing a nice upbeat post last time, things went to shit. I've been grumpier than usual these past few days. I'm blaming my mother, headaches, the cold weather, and boys who conveniently forget how to text message. My brother told my mother that she needs to apologize to me before New Year's, so all of the pain from the last 16 years of my life has been weighing on my mind. To top it off, my car wouldn't start this morning. Sigh. I went and saw the new Harry Potter movie with Lynn yesterday and then spent the rest of the day in Carytown with her, which significantly brightened my mood. Fortunately, I have many things to do today, including working on my two finals, so I won't have much time to dwell on my comparatively insignificant problems. I've got good health and the essentials, so get on with the gettin' on, little girl.

Friday, December 3, 2010

One single year

As the year rapidly hurdles towards its completion, I realized that I was single for all of 2010. I can't decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I want to say that because I didn't harp on it obsessively and because it took me until yesterday to even realize that my singledom had comprised of all of 2010, it's a good thing. I think I mostly handled my loveless year well. I've improved myself, I've spent quality time with friends and family, I've become more independent, I've furthered my education, I've been kicking ass at my job. As someone who was starting to follow the path of a serial dater, I'm patting myself on the back for not settling for less than I deserve in a partner.

I have my moments of moping and crying into pillows because logically, if I'm single now in my mid20s, all hope is lost and I'm obviously going to die alone. Sometimes little things like songs and photographs will set me off into a frenzy of self doubt, self deprecation, and wallowing. I can't be like my mother who has never even dated anyone since my parents divorced! Or I also tip the other way into blind anger where every penis is the enemy. No male is worth my time because they are all the same- distant, liars, uncommunicative. Roar, I am single, white female!

Ultimately, though, I settle down and realize that with either the depressed or enraged attitude, no guy would want to talk to me, let alone date me. Self confidence goes a hell of a long way. Sure, I was engaged once, but I broke it off for good reasons. I am better off alone than with someone who would not make me happy in the long run. The same goes for the various guys since then and it's something I try to remember whenever I start feeling all dumpy. I'm mostly having fun doing the casual thing with whomever strikes my fancy and feeling things out before jumping into commitments. It it doesn't work out that early on, then it means I just saved myself a hell of a lot of time and heartache in the long run.

Now, if only I could have that seared into my brain for when I start feeling the pangs of loneliness creep in. Or maybe I should just memorize this lovely video:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I want my pie in the sky

Like most siblings, my brother and I have some silly inside jokes, mostly revolving around experiences we've shared while we were growing up. For about 6 or 7 years when we were younger, my brother, my dad, and I went to West Virginia every summer to visit my dad's side of the family and to rent a cabin or camp at a state park. One summer, we were driving around small town West Virginia, trying to find a decent radio station to listen to. The airwaves are crowded with country and top 40 in that part of the country, neither of which are favorites of ours. While scanning the stations, the dial landed on a station playing an awful song from the 80s that none of us had ever heard before. We were amazed at the dated cheesiness and we turned it up so that we could hear the lyrics clearly. The words alone had us cracking up and we continued to banter back and forth about the song for the rest of the vacation. Over the years, the song has stuck with us and we bring it up from time to time whenever we're in a silly mood. My brother mentioned the song again over Thanksgiving break, instantly bringing us to stitches. I broke down a few years ago and looked up the song online so I could get the artist's name and, of course, I found the gem on YouTube. And so, I share with you "I Want to Be Rich" by Calloway, the song that never fails to make me giggle.