Friday, October 14, 2005

Updates:

1) Hi, Jeremy.
2) The summer at camp was great. Not life-changing. Not quite as profound as it might have been at another time in my life. But great. Really a nice transition from living overseas to living here again.
3) I'm in law school now. I've survived six weeks, and I like it. It's a good place for me right now. I have a feeling that, had I chosen the alternative option (chemical engineering job), I would not be as happy with that right now as I am with this. Reading is fun. Learning is fun. And the people-watching is fascinating.
4) I don't know what I'm going to do with this thing from here. Maybe nothing. It was fun for a few days and I might pick it up again. I haven't decided.
5) Bye, Jeremy. Happy reading. Tell me what you think. Unless what you think is that I'm a terrible writer. In which case, your silence on the matter will be sufficient. :-)

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Speaking of Camp Heartland, if you live in Southeastern Wisconsin and you like food, click here for a list of the restaurants where you should spend a lot of money on June 9. 25% of your bill that day will go to Camp Heartland.

I know no one is reading this, but whatever. I can always hope.

I'm getting really excited about my summer job. Starting on Friday, I will be the waterfront director at Camp Heartland. I can't think of a better way to spend my last summer before law school.

I'm a little concerned about things like humidity and mosquitos though. The last time I spent a whole summer in the midwest it was 1997. I've learned to prefer the desert. Less sticky. Way less bugs.

I'm knitting a sweater. With dark navy blue wool from Norway. My mom insists that it looks black to her, but she's wrong. It's very, very dark blue.

The back is finished, the front about halfway there, and after that I'll just have to do the sleeves and sew the whole thing together. It's exciting. I've done hats before, and a couple of baby sweaters, and an adult cardigan that didn't really come out very well. So this is by far the coolest thing I've ever made. It's Irish knitting, with cables and interlocking diamond patterns.

My mom taught me to knit when I was a kid, and I'm enormously grateful. Nobody my age really knits anymore, which is too bad because it's actually very cool. The process is sort of like what I imagine meditation to be. Once you get the hang of it, you just put your brain on autopilot and cruise up and down the rows. My subconscious mind works out all sorts of stuff when I knit. Like what, you ask? I have no idea; that's why it's called the SUBconscious.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Pains of Readjustment

During my Peace Corps Close of Service conference last year in South Africa, I received a list of quotes from recently returned volunteers. This one stuck in my mind:

"I've discovered that you really cannot discuss America with Americans. They just get so defensive."

Amen. Probably more true at this moment in history than ever before.

It is impossible to discuss politics with my father. Which would make sense if he were an old stick-in-the-mud conservative Republican, with ideas that differed dramatically from my own. But he's not. He's fairly liberal, is deeply concerned about the increasing power of the religious right, and as far as I know has never had any use for any socially conservative polititian. He disapproves heartily of our current administration.

With that in mind, you would think we could politely converse on political topics. Nope. He prefers to lecture at me, even when we agree. He seems to think I'm too young and too idealistic to ever have a firm grasp on reality. And God forbid I should ever express a wish to be back in South Africa, where religious fanatics weren't running the place and things were improving daily, rather than sliding downhill at a rapid pace. He, like most Americans, seems to believe that while our political system is far from perfect, it's the best thing going in the world and we ought to be grateful for that.

I disagree. Despite what every one of us has had brainwashed into us from the moment of our conception, I just don't buy the idea that the U.S.A. is, always has been, and always will be the greatest country on earth. Sure, it's my home. I like it here. And we do have some impressive accomplishments in our history. But with all that's going on these days, I certainly can't take it for granted that we're the best. South Africa isn't the best either, but I still have moments every day when I wish I was back there. Sorry Dad.


Note added at a later date: If there were actually people reading this, I might be worried about the fact that I have just accused them all of being brainwashed. None of the above was terribly well thought-out. This is just standard RPCV complaining--so many people who live overseas have a hard time getting used to the U.S. again. So that's what this is.

Either that, or I was just mad at my dad. It happens.

Letter to Soon-to-be-PCVs

This morning I came across the weblog of a girl who is waiting for her Peace Corps invitation. She'll be headed off to ... somewhere ... early next year. Her posts, as they should be, are bubbling over with enthusiasm and a desire to "find simplicity," and "make a difference."

Admirable notions. I hope she holds on to most of that idealism. Still, I've learned that a successful Peace Corps experience requires a healthy dose of reality to go along with the ever-present optimism. Along those lines, I offer the following open letter to soon-to-be PCVs:


Congratulations on your decision to become a PCV! I'm an RPCV who recently completed a fantastic experience in South Africa, so I can tell you with certainty that you've made a great decision. Just in case you're interested, here are a few words (okay, maybe a lot of words) of unsolicited advice:

1.) Have patience.

Obviously, if you're in the application process, you've already discovered this one. The Peace Corps is an incredible bureaucracy (it is the government, after all!), and they love to test us on this elusive virtue. Keep in mind, though, that the patience required to get from application to arrival in country is NOTHING compared to the patience you will be learning once you actually arrive.

2.) Kill your expectations.

We all have expectations about what Peace Corps service will be like, some that we aren't even aware of having. These expectations, and the process of discovering just how far from reality they can be, is the death of many a potentially wonderful volunteer experience.

Ask yourself some very hard questions.

"What if I get there and give my all, and after (three, six, twelve, eighteen) months, I'm still not sure I've managed to really help anyone? Will that be okay with me?"

"What if I "search for simplicity" and it isn't there, or at least not in the way I imagined? What if everyone in my host country has electricity and a cellphone and an intense desire to own cool clothes? Can I deal with that?"

"What if almost everyone can speak English? Will I be happy with an experience where I don't HAVE to learn a foreign language? Will I manage to learn the local language anyway, if it's important to me?"

There are a million expectations that incoming PCVs have, and a million more questions you could ask yourself. The bottom line is that the happiest and most successful volunteers are the ones who have managed to wipe out as many expectations as possible from the beginning.

When they tell you to be ready for anything, that doesn’t only mean dirt or heat or an old lady scraping the hair off of a goat head. It might also mean soap operas on TV, an eight-year-old who is dying for a new pair of hip-hugger jeans, or deeply entrenched racism. I found all of the above. I was ready for the heat and the goat head, but not for the soap operas.

3.) Do it (mostly) for yourself.

Yup. Be selfish. This might sound crazy, but if you do this mostly for other people, you might end up deeply disappointed. Go for the experience, to have a profound encounter with another culture, and to challenge your perspectives and learn about the world and about yourself.

Do NOT go in order to "Save the World," or some little piece of it. This mentality can end up breaking your heart.

That said, you will most certainly make a difference in people's lives, and your admirable desire to give of yourself will be very important. Still, the differences you make will probably not be the type of differences you imagine at the moment, and that's okay (see number 2).

I hope something in all of that was valuable to you. I have a lot of free time on my hands at the moment, as you can see.

Again, congratulations on your upcoming service. There is a big part of me that wishes I were back in your shoes. I had an amazing experience in South Africa, and I wish the same for you.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sea Legs, the book I just finished.

Last weekend I went to visit a friend from my Peace Corps group. We didn't see each other very often over the past two years, but we definitely have a lot in common and she's staying with her mom this summer, only about 50 miles from me.

We had lunch and talked about predictable things, mostly how strange 'home' seems after two years in which 'home' was a very different place. But that isn't what I meant to write about at the moment.

I meant to write about the book she gave me. Books are in high demand for PCVs, who generally have limited funds and limited access to good libraries and book stores. So we did a lot of swapping, and my friend is continuing the tradition. She gave me a book called Sea Legs: Tales of a Woman Oceanographer, by Kathleen Crane. It's about the author's experiences breaking into an all-male scientific field during the seventies and eighties, and I thought it sounded really interesting.

It was interesting. Unfortunately it was also one of the most poorly written books I've ever read. From the very first paragraph:

"It is a cold spring in Arizona. Dust blows, sculpting the parched landscape. In one glimpse, I can view the volcanic peak of San Francisco and, in the foreground, the pungent sage bending under the desiccating winds. The wide blue sky hovers above. Then my memory peels back to other skies, unfathomable distances, where little evidence of life can be seen."

Come ON. After that opening, I was sure I'd never make it through the whole thing. I did, skimming, and it didn't get much better. It was way overwritten, totally fragmented, and I got no connection whatsoever with the people in the book. Not even the author. She was clearly trying, but never really got over her self-consciousness and ended up totally leaving herself out of her own autobiography. In retrospect I guess that says a lot. She clearly had to give up a lot of herself in order to be accepted in her field. Sad.

Usually I'll give up on a book if it's really bad, but I stuck this one out for the fantastic science. A lot of geophysics and oceanography--plate tectonics and heat transfer and such. If only she'd been able to find a better editor. I hate it when books disappoint me--especially books that come recommended by people I like. Since I've never written a book myself, much less had one published, I feel a little bad about being so critical. Still, I think readers have a right to expect basic competence from writers. I think I could do better.

Short Shorts

I got up this morning, and it looked like a warm day, so I dug out some shorts. An old pair that I used to wear a lot before I left for the Peace Corps--they haven't seen the light of day in nearly three years. I was 22 when I wore them last.

I put them on. Whoa! Short! Very short. I've wandered around the house in them for a while, but I keep going back to the mirror to look, and I'm getting concerned.

They still fit. That isn't the problem. I haven't gained weight or gone really flabby in the thighs or anything. They look pretty good, actually.

The problem is that I keep thinking I'm too old to dress like this. There is some point where people look silly wearing things that teenagers wear. I know this, because I went shopping last week and there was a fifteen-year-old girl in the dressing room with her mom. They were trying on the same clothes, in the JUNIORS department, and the woman had to be 40. She looked ridiculous.

So I know there is a line where women start to look silly in extra short shorts and the like. I just don't know where that line is, or what side of it I'm on. Are these things okay until you're 30? Or until you've got a couple of kids? Or am I already crossing over, even though this stuff still looks okay on me?

Becoming an adult is so strange. Probably it's just me. I think about strange things. At some point I ought to write about something that actually matters. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm going to put on some jeans.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Well, I thought I had it. I messed around with the template code for ages, and had this thing looking perfect on the preview screen. I'll spare you the details (who am I kidding? There is no 'you,' there is only me, sparing myself the details), but the bottom line is, when I republished with my fabulous changes ... it didn't work. Oh, well. At least I'm not afraid of the code anymore.

I went to Walmart today. It is best to avoid Walmart. Too many women with tatooed, jiggling flesh exposed, and way too many kids who seriously need their noses wiped and someone to wash their clothes. My dad calls them the Urchin Children. Political correctness isn't really his thing.

People who hear about my Peace Corps experience always think living in a rural, impoverished African village must have been depressing. Not nearly as depressing as Wal-mart, I can assure you.

I've had a somewhat frustrating two hours playing around with the appearance of this thing. Note to self: figure out this html and css business.

I did mangage to resize columns, but only on a very simple template, without too much in the way of borders and such. It seems my computer literacy has some annoying limits.

I did take a six week college course in C++, a long time ago. It was a fun class. I liked it. I spent way too many hours on it, in order to ignore things like thermodynamics (I was a chemical engineering major). That one little course is doing pretty much nothing for me here, other than making the template code look SLIGHTLY less like total nonsense. Very slightly.

For now, I'm sticking with one of the nicer default templates. Not too bad, although I'd like to simplify it a bit, and widen the main text column. Later. I'll try, anyway. :-/

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

There is a fly in our house. A very large and noisy fly.

Our dog, who was once attacked by bees and has a very long memory, is really freaked out about this.

Other than the fly, the only purpose of this post is to correct the time.

This is my weblog. I don't know what exactly I'm after here, but ready, set, go.

There are a lot of noteworthy things going on in my little world right now, any one of which might make a good post. For example, my brother moved away today. My baby brother, in a big U-Haul with his girlfriend in the passenger seat and his little car rolling along behind, headed for Texas. He graduated from college two weeks ago and now he’s off to do a grown-up job. This is noteworthy. I could write about this. Don’t feel like it, though.

Other things I don’t feel like writing about tonight, but will definitely show up later:
-The past two years of my life, in which I was a brave and noble Peace Corps volunteer, bringing the light of Outcomes Based Education to rural South Africa. Ha. (note: according to that Sargent Shriver fellow, the first director of the Peace Corps back in the 60’s, the word ‘volunteer’ is supposed to be ‘Volunteer’ in this context. I just can’t do it though. First, it’s not a proper noun in any way. Also, the capitalization makes me think of that crazy Jefferson Airplane song. "VOL-un-TEERS of A-MER-ica-ah-ah!" No thanks.

-The next three years of my life, in which I will be a law student.

-The upcoming summer in between, in which I will work at a very cool summer camp.

Rather than documenting any of these interesting and relatively normal things, at the moment I think I’ll write something about … um … body hair. Just one of the random and not-normal things I think about when I’m bored. Which I am. Extremely.

Women have body hair. This is a normal and natural part of life, since we are mammals. Apparently the function of said hair involves pheromones in some way. I don’t know. That’s just what I’ve heard.

Anyway, different cultures respond differently to this body hair, and in our culture, much of it is generally removed. Usually chopped off at skin level using a razor, at alarmingly regular time intervals. Like daily. Highly inconvenient. I prefer waxing, for the following reasons:

1.) When you wax, you really feel like you’re doing something. It’s a bit like ironing a shirt that’s extra wrinkled, or power-washing a very old deck (something I did last week). These are great tasks, because you can see serious results. Frumpy shirt is instantly crisp and professional-looking! Old, moldy wood looks new again! Gross hairy pits are suddenly smooth, sexy “underarms!” Painful, yes. But strangely satisfying too.

2.) It lasts weeks. Lots of weeks.

3.) Eliminates that dark hair “shadow” that non-blondes can have in the underarm region, even when freshly shaven. I am not a blonde. I don’t even pretend to be one.

4.) In between waxings, it is necessary to let hair grow out a bit. This is sometimes inconvenient, depending on what’s going on in my life and what sort of clothing I want to wear. Nonetheless, when it’s convenient (usually winter), I like it. It reminds me of my days as a river guide when being a little bit hairy was in, or at least totally acceptable, and everyone was pretty much enjoying life a lot, all the time.

Well, if my goal here is to tell the world how strange I am, or how much I like things in list form, that ought to suffice. Good thing NO ONE is reading this. :-)