Sunday, April 30, 2006

more than a record of awkward signature signoffs

kat and i aimed to make yesterday night a movie marathon, but we succeeded in only watching one film through to the credits. when erik left, i resigned myself to my room, leaving kat and brian to doze off to season 5 of "friends."

i was tired, but not tired enough to go to bed. so i flipped kat's new mix into my stereo and opened my journal. i intended to write about the day, but the music got to me. i'm not sure if i quite understand what kat was trying to say with her compilation - if anything - but it moved me to high school in a way i haven't been transported in years.

i'll give particular thanks to mariah carey for this (though tlc's creep did lend a hand) . it wasn't the old school "someday ... oooh, oooh, someday, boy you're gonna pay cause baby i'm the one who's keeping score" mariah. nope, it's her new stuff - "we belong together" and "don't forget about us." i wasn't sure how much i'd like it, but wow. kat's right. mariah has defintely made a comeback.

this is not a joke. i love folk music. i really enjoy led zepplin. and wilco is excellent, too. but mariah. man.

i hit repeat.

welcome to the fall of '96 and my crushes.

i let the memories overtake me as i skimmed through my '97 yearbook. i tried to name as many people as i could in my class without looking at names. i probably could have averaged 40%. i flipped through page after page of smiling, awkward teenagers, taking special note of how it always seems that the youngest, gawkiest-looking senior always has his snapshot next to the GQ guy who appears more or less 37. and i read through old yearbook passages, laughing at how weird yearbook signings really are ("i love you! don't lose your spunk!" "have a great summer and please call me!" "you are the light of my life! don't forget to call me!") noting this one from my friend erika in particular:
mary, bon matin. alors, je vais ecrire quoi, tu demandes. alors, donc, alors je vais ecrire pourquoi je t'aime. j'aime how you make so much noise when you walk, j'aime how you hug yourself when you talk about your dog, j'aime how you finish your hot chocolate before i've even finished mine, j'aime your weird t-shirts and your hour and our fleures de cerises movie in the making and i even like your BabyPoopyDog sometimes. Je t'aime parce que to bring out the rebel in me. Alors, je t'adore. Eh, enough. Remember, un bon rire, c'est le soleil dans la maison. love, erika

i don't think i've seen erika since we graduated 8 years ago. we might have spoken a few times on the phone or sent a couple e-mails, but last i heard she had married a former professor and went to law school at stanford. i'd love to see her again.

but i'm digressing.

i guess the thing that struck me most was that i had forgotten those things about the highschool me that erika had considered memorable enough to mention: my little rummage sale t-shirts in bright yellows and blues, my big jeans and sandals that i used to shuffle around in as though gliding through the hallways, my hair i used to wear down and curly, how i used to talk about my dog as though she were the most precious thing on the face of the earth until erika would sigh and roll her eyes.

i'm thankful that our friends see in us things that we don't. i'm glad that there were only a handful of people who wrote about the crushes i'd harbored for months (ok, ok, or years). our friends remember the little things that were projections of what else was going on in our hearts. i look back on high school and remember dances and conversations in the hallways and basketball games and joyriding in the car with newly licensed drivers. i remember my feelings, but i can't remember my specifics; i remember my friends' specifics - shelly's pretty-in-pink sweater, beth drinking the half and half at perkins, kate's man hands, or car dancing with kari to deafening loud music from kdwb while she drove like a maniac back home trying to meet curfew.

i don't want to go back to high school, but i'm so thankful for those experiences. i'm glad i had crushes that crushed, and a best friend who remained my best friend. and i'm glad that we have yearbooks to remind us of where we came from anytime we forget.

alright. time to close my yearbook now, turn up mariah carey, dance with my roommate, and be 16 for a moment.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

lessons of vanity, patience, and how to wear a baseball hat just right

this is the last morning of my sudden 4-day vacation spree. i woke up at 6:45 a.m. to the sound of my roommate grinding coffee beans and then talked myself into imitating sleeping poses for the next 2 hours until i finally had to roll off the couch to turn off my other roommate's alarm clock (she had to step outside to move her car for the street cleaners).

it's gray and rainy here today, so i've elected to shower and then get back into my sweats so i can curl up with a movie later. only the hail on the air conditioning unit reminds me that there's a world outside.

i'm on vacation because i've been stressed out. my boss announced to everyone on monday that i'm resigning my position at the end of june. perhaps that's enough of a stressor, but i think it's really this rash that's aiming to take the best of me.

after i visited with a dermatologist two weeks ago, i was fairly content with his declaration that my "skin allergy" would be easily treated in a few short days by trading in everything i own for more "natural" products. after two weeks of fragrance- and dye-free soaps, detergents, shampoos, lotions, what-have-you, and the combination of two oral antibiotics and a topical cream, i was disappointed (to say the least) that the condition seemed only to get worse.

so i visited dr. memar again. it's not getting any better, is it? he asked. he stared at me dumbfounded, and then told me he'd write me a referral to visit his old professor at UIC.

i don't know if you've ever been looked at so strangely, so quizzically, so objectively, but it sucks. plain and simple. he left me with the nurse, whose sympathy was rather pitiful (when i explained that the rash was not just on my face, but on my shoulders, arms and back as well, she sighed, and said, "oh, and with the weather getting so warm, you won't be able to wear all those cute tank tops." i looked at her blankly. and then stifled my urge to strangle her). once she left me, i made the call over to UIC, and spent half an hour being connected and re-connected and transferred and re-transferred (i hate HMOs. i've said it before, but i'll say it again, i hate HMOs). the appointment ladies told me i could have their earliest may 8th appointment.

so i cried. i cried and i cried. and then the lady told me she'd recheck her schedule, and oh! lo and behold, they have an appointment available for me this thursday.

it doesn't change much to be waiting and waiting for answers you hope that someone will have. i spent my friday afternoon in the office crying every half hour. i haven't felt my real skin in a month. it's kind of like i'm not even looking at me.

i bought a bottle of wine and a pint of ice cream that night. i figured if anyone had a right to it, i did.

i talked to my friend adam that night as well, and explained my situation. i told him all the things i had tried: cheer free detergent, aveeno baby shampoo, cetaphil skin cleanser, neutrogena make-up, dove unscented soap, not drinking coffee, not sleeping in my own bed, you name it. i had even confessed every sin i could possibly think of in hopes that maybe god was just trying to get me to apologize and repent for something.

"if he wants me to learn a lesson on vanity, i've got it!" i told adam. "i've got a freaking rash all over me and i feel like i'm 13 and i'm embarrassed and i STILL HAVE TO LIVE MY LIFE. i've got it. no time for vanity. what else do i need to learn?!?!"

adam didn't know. but he suggested that i keep praying through it, ask god what else he could teach me through this.

i argued.

"no, you do not understand. i GOT vanity." i sighed heavily. "lord, if there's anything else, maybe it's patience."

maybe it's patience.

i don't know if people are afflicted just because god wants to teach a lesson. i mean, why couldn't i be offered an incredible world traveling vacation in the year 2010 and have to learn patience as i wait for that? or if it is vanity, why not a couple zits at the end of my nose? at least there's an end to that, at least there's a known cause and proper treatment. the not knowing is killing me. and the wait, as i go about my life and have to pretend i feel good about myself, is killing me.

and still, life goes on.

yesterday was gorgeous. and even for as awful as i felt, i was determined to take advantage of it. i dug out an old baseball cap from the gap, one that i think i bought in high school because it was in a sale bin for something like $2. i wore it low to sufficiently cover as much of my face as possible. i'm not a baseball cap kind of girl, but i'm getting good at wearing it. i feel like it's losing its original hold and better adjusting to my head.

i sat outside with my neighbor lucas all day long. and then we grilled out with the other neighbors in our apartment. we ate steaks and brats, drank a couple of beers, and talked about cinematography, a recent prairie dog hunting adventure, and why so many of us are leaving chicago.

when i got back in last night, i caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror with my baseball cap snugly fit on my head. i smiled because i looked cute. maybe this is the lesson. i am a baseball cap kind of girl after all.

(but lord, if you're reading this, i'd still like the rash to go away. just in case you thought i'd be fine with wearing baseball caps the rest of my life. really, i'd still like it to go away. thanks)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

madison is not chicago

i've spent the last hour and a half writing reviews on it's ridiculously addictive. i logged in as a madisonian though i think most of my reviews are for chicago-area restaurants. i'm not sure how old is, but i kind of hoped madisonians would have made more of a showing online.

no, i'm not about to start the old debate on whether or not chicago is cooler than madison, or whether madison is just another suburb of the windy city. no, no, none of that. obviously, chicago's got a bigger pool of potential reviewers than madison. but still, 6 reviews is the most that any madison restaurant is getting? people, c'mon!

i started in on my part today, reviewing favorites like cafe continental and harvest. i told jon about all the places i wanted to go - like magnus and l'etoile - and he laughed. so i have expensive taste. i like the flair of it. i like the drama. i like pretending to be something for a night, to be catered to, to own my own time.

i just bought season tickets to the madison symphony orchestra for the upcoming year, and i've got these great dreams of eating long and lavish dinners before climbing into a carriage (yes, my dreams are rather victorian) and being whisked away to a concert in my gorgeous ballgown. chicago's helped me believe that this fantasy can be reality. and i think that's part of the reason i want to leave it.

sure, madison doesn't have the number of ritzy restaurants that chicago does. it doesn't have the money. it doesn't have the $5 million condos on the lake. it doesn't have a magnificent mile (please, don't try to argue for state street). it doesn't have neighborhood after neighborhood of ethnic fare. it doesn't have galas every night of the week or celebrities stopping by to see oprah.

but when i think about moving up there this summer and what i'll do if (and when) i panic about being in a city with only one tapas bar (geez, i sound ridiculous), i want to remember what i do get and why madison appeals to me so much at this point in my life.

i've done the classy restaurant thing. i've been to so many places, spent so much money, had drinks, desserts, entrees, appetizers. you name it. and i've loved it. but i miss slow cooking at home. i miss making dinners with erin and laura. i miss the big farmers markets on the square. i miss looking forward to going out and not taking it for granted.

so i don't think i'm gonna pursue owning a restaurant like i originally thought. i kind of want to buy an old farmhouse now, with an apple orchard out back on acres of land and a big kitchen with sunlight and people constantly streaming in. i probably will never write a book. and i'll probably never be mayor. but ...

oh, who am i to say never?

i think i am going to like madison very much.

Monday, April 17, 2006

even though it's on paul's blog ...

it's too good not to post again.

to phd or not to phd

thought this was interesting ...

"women earned nearly 58% of all degrees in the '02-'03 academic year, while men received slightly more than 42%, according to data compiled by the US Department of Education's national center for education statisitcs.

although women received more than 57% of bachelor's degrees and nearly 59% of master's degrees, men earned almost 53% of doctoral degrees.


for joanna

*the title won't make any sense in this entry, but i'm still crediting joanna. while listening to the postal service over the weekend, she told me about an assignment she had for english class in which she had to analyze the song, "clark gable." i wish i'd had homework like that. and now i can't get the postal service out of my head. and for that, joanna, i'm very grateful.

when i like a song, i really like a song. that's how i feel about the postal service's "the district sleeps alone tonight."

i've heard it said that washington, d.c. is a city of lonely hearts. i don't know whether or not this is true. a song meanings website argues that the postal service believes it to be so.

many years ago, i had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend in d.c. while i was out east for work. i flew into d.c. nervous with anticipation, unsure if he would see i had changed (had i?) or if i'd be disappointed that he hadn't (were we more mature now?).

you can stare at someone for a long time, spend hours on the phone, talk over thousands of meals together, and somehow, it's still possible that you can be a stranger.

i strolled alongside him down the mall, conscious of my walk (i was wearing heels) and my posture (i have a hard time with button-downs). i'm not sure if he was conscious of the fact that i was there with him. we talked as though he were talking right past me. i thought maybe he didn't recognize me in my professional clothing.

when we went to dinner, i excused myself to the bathroom and put my hair up. i thought he'd put off his attitude and talk to me like we used to talk.

it didn't change anything.

sometimes you just cross signals. and then realize you're on totally different tracks.

other times you send mixed signals. i think you know you want to be with someone when, in the midst of being a total ball of confusion and frustration, that person keeps a light on you so you don't derail.

i don't need anyone to tell me i am a sinner. it's clear enough to me everyday, some days more than others.

i listened in church yesterday about the resurrection, but i kept thinking about the cross. my sins all on jesus. every single one.

each time i mess up big, i ask god for forgiveness and then ask him what i should do to let him know that i am really, really, really sorry. i devise all sorts of good punishments, tell him that if i mess up again, he should feel free to strike me dead. or that he should call me to siberia because i deserve to be alone.

i have a rather tragic complex.

it's kind of like i'm stuck in a time warp right before the resurrection.

i KNOW the truth, so i swallow it obediently and graciously, like i did at that ethopian restaurant in d.c. i was told the food was good, so i ate it, but i didn't like it. and while i smiled at my server, all i thought about was the burger and fry joint i'd stop by on the way home.

food or otherwise, i still think i know exactly what i need. and if what i need is a hurtful consequence for my sin, then so be it.

can god be gracious? yes, i think so, but i never act as though i believe it.

"his grace is sufficient," i hear. and i think, "thanks, god, for that. but now how do i know that you've really forgiven me? i don't want you to bring it up later and make me feel even worse. i don't want to be a sinner. i don't want to be afraid of you. so give me a horrible task, i'll complete it, and then let's never talk of my sin again."

i don't want to be a failure! i want a clean record every time. if i mess up, i want to tell god that i'm sorry, ask him to forgive me and then let me sweep it up and pile it in a dark corner of my heart.

i think the hard thing with god is that he'll light up your whole heart so there are no such things as dark corners. so that all my devised punishments look like me pushing dirt around my heart in search of a place he can't see. and then i can rest my broom on the wall of my heart, and tell him i cleaned it up myself, that i fixed it, and doesn't that make him happy now that i've done so well?

he is so gracious with me.

in moments like this, when i've sat down right in the middle of my heart with god's eyes fully on me and written all these possible consequences out for him to choose from, and when i've gotten to work at making amends for all my sins, and when i've carefully brushed all the dirt under a piece of furniture, and i'm holding up my broom saying, oh yes god, your grace is sufficient, that's when i feel god up the wattage in my heart.

i look sheepishly at the dirt i thought i had hidden.

and then i look up at him again. but i hid it, god! i cleaned it up! i did it!

the wattage turns up again. it reveals more.

spots so dirty i could spend my whole life bleaching them and never get them out.

and then he shows me the cross.

i dare to argue.

but what if i've done that same thing twice?! once is understandable. but twice? i want your forgiveness, god, but i want to really make it up to you. i want you to be god, but i want to be enough to cover my own sin!

mixed signals.

the cross lights up and floods light so bright into my heart that i have to shut my eyes.

when i open them again, there is no dirt in my house. not one spot. nothing. totally clean.

but he's left the broom. as a reminder that he hasn't stolen my will.

his grace is sufficient. jesus is enough. his forgiveness is full.

he keeps his light on me. never failing. never growing dim. and i can't make it up to him, can't write him a really sweet card that makes him like me again, can't send him flowers to win his favor. i just let my words be few.

and i bask in his glory. grateful. in awe.

letting god be god is good.

i think if you ever meet anyone who treats you even a little like this, forgiving you when you don't deserve it, you ought to humble yourself and accept it graciously.

i think when you meet someone like this, someone who doesn't run when you wrestle, someone who steadies you when you're a full-blown mess, someone who offers you grace in big measures, you know god must love you. because this person - for some reason - does, too.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

and her hair has turned so gray

while it was r.e.m's "everybody hurts" that inspired my "ode to valerie," it's material issue's "valerie loves me" that's been on repeat in my head since then. and for that, i'd like to thank material issue and their international pop overthrow.

that's all for now.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

ode to valerie

my launch player just tuned into r.e.m's everybody hurts. and i'm magically whisked away to my freshman year of college.

in august of '98, i moved into the lakeshore dorms at the uw with a beautiful, tall, long-haired blonde hippie girl named val who always smelled a little of both sweat and indian food. she refused to shave her legs or her armpits, wore "natural" deoderant, hung up flyers featuring tortured animals to help her stick to her vegan habits, drank wine from big coffee mugs, and kept piles of papers all over our floor.

i loved val.

down the hall, my new friend laura lived with a very different kind of girl. i can't remember the girl's name now, except that she obsessed over her looks constantly, had a wardrobe that barely fit in her room let alone her closet, and wouldn't eat anything that might add an extra calorie or two to her already slim intake. she always smelled good, always glistened (never sweated), and kept her room immaculately clean.

i loved val.

sure, there were times when i couldn't stand coming home to the mess spread all over our rust-color carpeted floor (it was not my color of choice), when the lingering smell of afghani food left in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks absorbed into my day-old macaroni and cheese, when i just wanted her to be normal like everyone else. but the things i learned from val - to love my body (she used to rub her tummy and tell me sit-ups would only cut down on the necessary fat required to keep my ovaries warm), to wear what i like (and embrace or ignore trends depending on what i liked), to always think people are more complex and more similar than they first appear.

val liked music by poi dog pondering (i am still grateful she introduced me to them), phish, and over the rhine (that was the only band we both came to the uw agreeing on, so we played their good dog, bad dog album over and over and over again all year long). before i sold half my cd collection (an overzealous move i made to rid myself of material things ... and yes, i kind of regret it now. i mean, i sold all my ani and counting crows and oasis, and kept dc talk and raze. oh, sad, sad), i had some pretty pop-y stuff - jock jams, r.e.m., stuff that everyone liked ... which kind of embarrassed me. i didn't feel it was cool or indie enough for val, so i rarely listened to it.

and then one spring day, i came home to an empty room and took the opportunity to put my r.e.m. disc in the stereo. val walked in, sat her stuff down, and started her homework. when we got around to "everybody hurts," i heard her sniff a bit and turned to see her silently crying. she and her boyfriend tim were on the outs again, she explained through her tears. i plopped myself down next to her on her bed and put my arm around her. and she cried harder. and then asked me to put "everybody hurts" on repeat, said her mom used to play this song for her when she had had trouble with tim in the past while they were in high school. and then she just kept crying.

i guess i think about that moment as a time i felt val's lessons to me - that i should just be myself and like what i like regardless of what anyone else thinks - were tangible. and that she really believed it. val didn't own any r.e.m. and yes, it was too popular for her taste. but for one moment, me liking something without fear brought comfort to her. and she got to feel safe. and i got to feel safe. when it all boiled down, my likes and her likes could be totally dissimilar but we cared for each other. because above all that other stuff was our appreciation for and love of each other.

i love val. i love being reminded of her. that's a good way to start the day.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

it's just a list

it's how my mind works. random clips, montages taken from the following scenes, and played back here to the soundtrack of kim taylor. i'm thinking about ...

... how much i loved walking up green bay trail in wilmette with jon yesterday. i love getting to know someone so well.
... my conversation with laura this morning about her interest in immigration reform. and just talking on the phone with her. it had been awhile.
... hanging out with erin this afternoon while i cleaned my room. just being in the same room with someone is satisfying, but to be with erin who i love is even more satisfying.
... my dad did my taxes and just sent them to me for my review. it's awesome to have a dad who cares that much that he's still willing to help his 25-year-old daughter do something like this.
... my mom who passed along a resume for a friend i'm just getting to know. little networking things like that mean a big deal to me.
... dinner with jon's brother joel and his girlfriend shannon last week. and dinner with maria and mike on friday. it's fun to be with couples who like people a lot :)
... moving to honduras. or rwanda. or uganda. for a couple years. to get out of what i know and am comfortable with. because there are things beyond the midwest that my heart loves to care for. and i'd like to be there to experience it firsthand.
... the invisible children movie. it left me angry with god, frustrated with the u.s., and upset with my own disgusting consumerist mindset. it also left me hopeful about people, in awe of god's greatness in every way i can only now imagine, and convinced that that was not the end of my relationship with those realities.
... how much i'd like to not be thinking about my skin right now.
... how my life will come to an end just like everyone else's. and that god is way more capable of handling my worry than i will ever be.
... my roommate kat in north carolina.

whenever i write down all i'm thinking, i want to both laugh and cry. doesn't it ever amaze you that god could make beings so complex that they can think a million thoughts and still know so little? it makes me want to laugh that i'm so naive to think i have SO much on my mind of consequence, and it makes me cry that god could still care so much about me when i care so little for him.
i'm sorry it takes me so long, god. but i'm oh-so-happy that you are always waiting for me.

checkout line diagnosis

nearly two months ago, i returned from a long weekend up to madison on a monday night, and settled into work on tuesday morning. two hours into my day, my left cheek went numb and began to itch a bit.

the condition persisted, sending me back to my oral surgeon where i had had my wisdom teeth removed only a month earlier. oh, they told me, it's just a flare up because of that one tooth. here's some medicine. go away.

turns out that wasn't the reason.

so i visited a general practitioner. twice. and twice she looked at me dumbfounded, twice she flipped through her pocket-sized idiot's guide to skin diseases, twice she prescribed medicines for me that did absolutely nothing.

i went to russia like this, desperately trying to ignore the fact that every high school student, suitcases filled with prescription drugs ensuring that they'd never conceive of the reality of even a pimple, seemed to approach me like living neutrogena ads.

i made it through the week, confident that i'd visit a dermatologist soon enough with my doctor's referral and find a cure for whatever it was that had found a home on my face.

but because i have an hmo (hateful medical option), i'm required to jump through a series of hoops and other such obstacles with the agility and time commitment of a suburban teenager without summer employment (which i am not). between waiting for administrators to locate my lost referral and being put on hold while appointment-makers determine whether or not my condition is or is not life-threatening and, then, in fact, deserving of an appointment seven months away, i decided that self-diagnosis would be my best - and perhaps only - option.

it became increasingly more important to find an answer, since, after returning from russia, this "condition" chose to wage war on the rest of my body.

i was quite pleased then, as you might expect, to notice the national enquirer's top story a few weeks back while checking out at the grocery store:

it makes sense! it first came on at work. and it spread the second i started thinking about returning to work! though my symptoms aren't at all the same (freezing all the time - not cold, but blank and unresponsive, with an hourglass-shaped glint in the eye), it still makes sense that perhaps my computer is afflicted with some sort of virus and that i should cover its fans with handkerchiefs. The computing-specialist interviewed in the article maintains "it's not worth the risk. we can treat an infected machine with a little warmth from the motherboard. but if YOU'RE exposed, it's a one-way trip to reboot hill."

fortunately, i was at last able to get in to see a dermatologist on friday (after passive-agressively complaining to an appointment-maker that i'd happily take her earliest may 8th visit, if i didn't die before then. and yes, i did actually tell her that). he immediately recognized my condition as a skin allergy, so i was loaded down again with new medicines and told to go behave like a minimalist so we can figure out what detergent or dry-cleaners or shampoo or boyfriend i'm allergic to.

but that doesn't mean i still don't suspect my computer. after all, if the national enquirer is right that a hoarse throat - and not a wooden horse - was reponsible for the city of troy's downfall, then who i am to question their computer virus findings?