Saturday, March 30, 2013

believe in magic that can set you free

so my brother turned eleven yesterday, and as every harry potter reader knows, eleven is a big birthday. bigger than your first double digit age, bigger than your first year as a teen, bigger even than your first year as an adult. eleven is when you find out where you stand: are you a wizard or a muggle?

as i've already mentioned on here, i got him an owl (stuffed of course) and an acceptance letter and had my sister leave them near his bed as he slept so he'd wake up to them. i also got both of my brothers wands. later in the day, as they were jumping around the living room wizard dueling in that way that only someone who has given up all thoughts of dignity and self-consciousness to be a real, nerdy fangirl (or boy i guess) can do, he kept telling his brother, "you know none of your spells can ever work because you're a muggle." his brother kept reminding him that he, too, lacked any real, magical powers, but it never seemed to stick with him. i'm not sure how much of that was because of birthday excitement and how much was due to the fact that when my brother picked up his wand my dad swore that his stuffed owl blinked (and my brother somehow believed him?) but it made me happy to see that imagination and a belief in magic were not something they were growing out of. i hope they never do.

this year i also started taking the birthday boy out for breakfast. if you grew up with siblings that were always having to do everything together, you may remember how cool it was to be able to go out by yourself. anyway, we go to ihop and he orders an orange juice. when he gets it, he takes a sip and says, "is this fresh squeezed? it tastes like it came out of a carton."

he was also telling me about all of the things that he could do now that he was eleven. apparently he was talking to my dad about the same thing earlier that morning, to which my dad replied that eleven year olds have to start cleaning and he made him clean his room. as he was listing off things, he took a sip of water and said, "their water tastes like paper cups. now that i'm eleven, i can criticize things." i gave him a look and asked when he ever didn't criticize things. "i never criticized things before i was a perfectionist," he said matter-of-factly. "and anyway, i just said that now i'm allowed to criticize, not that i never did before."

so eleven: the year of magic, cleaning, and criticism.

on the agenda today is to clean my apartment before my student gets here (did i mention that i restarted tutoring? i can't remember.), do a little schoolwork, and then bake a butterbeer cake for tomorrow. (i had class last night and didn't want to bake a cake for a day that i wouldn't be able to eat it.)

if you want to do something to celebrate this most magical of birthday years, you can buy my book. i know, i know. do i have no shame? using my youngest brother's special day for my own selfish promotion? obviously not.

*Do You Believe in Magic - The Lovin' Spoonfuls 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

i know it looks like i'm movin, but i'm standin' still

i like to think that i'm busy. all the time. and not because i'm trying to make myself sound important or because i'm pretending to fit in or because i have really bad time management skills... well, maybe that last one a bit, but because i genuinely feel busy a lot. and if not busy, then at least that i have a lot of things that i need to do. so i'll procrastinate and push things till tomorrow and whatnot, but at the end of the day (sometimes week) i feel like i did something.

yesterday in class, though, this girl asked me what i did all day. in those exact words. we were talking about how we did on the midterm and out of nowhere she said, with a slight tilt to her head, "sarah, what do you do all day?" and i just sat there for a minute before lamely saying, "umm... i dunno. stuff? i'm working on a research project with a couple of professors and i TA and um... school things. also, family?" she gave me a look and changed the subject, but honestly, what do i do

it took me all day today to finish my homework assignment because after every few sentences i'd take a break to watch an episode of the lizzie bennet diaries. all day. how can i possibly claim to be busy when that's how i spend my time? i could have been productive. i could have finished that assignment in an hour, taken another hour or so to finish the research for the professors, gotten a huge start on my independent study paper, and then still had most of the day left to do whatever worthwhile human beings do. 

i used to be terrified of never accomplishing anything notable. the thought of not doing something important haunted me. all i wanted was to be remembered. now, i'm starting to fear not just never doing anything important, but never doing anything at all

*Not Dark Yet - Bob Dylan

Monday, March 25, 2013

carelessly growing up and growing old

i'm sitting here in teenage mutant ninja turtle pajama pants and a ben 10 t-shirt eating tater tots and thinking about growing up. it seems a little ironic to me. but there are days when i think to myself, "have i grown up?" sometimes, the answer is a simple no and a belief that i will never grow up, not really. i will hold on to the best parts of childishness forever. but then, isn't being able to distinguish between the best and worst parts of being a child a sign of growing up? other times, the answer is a resounding yes. i am too old and have been through too much to pretend that i haven't grown up.

what exactly makes someone a "grown up" though? is it reaching a specific age? is it checking off enough of life's milestones? because i may have passed the age of childhood, but i still have no "real job." i still sit at home in my pajamas reading young adult fiction and watching nickelodeon and abc family. i still eat peeps for breakfast and sneak spoons of frosting when i'm home alone. that can't be very grown up of me.

what is the point of growing up, anyway? i already think of myself as a pretty responsible person (with a huge procrastination problem) whether i'm grown up or not. maybe you grow up when you decide to just be you and do your own thing, but if that was the case then i'm afraid a lot of the grown ups i know are not really grown ups at all. a lot of days, i'm perfectly content with hiding in fictional words with my fictional friends and being a child forever, but sometimes i wonder if maybe i should try this adulthood stuff out.

and these are the things i think about when i should be working on a project.

*We Intertwined - The Hush Sound

Thursday, March 21, 2013

as we pull up in our brand new used car

[one] when i was younger, i always said that i wanted my first car to be some used piece of crap. i liked to romanticize everything back then (can't say i've really grown out of that, though) and loved the idea for some reason. as i grew older, i changed my mind. i definitely wanted my first car to be a new one. this, however, is a year for younger me's dreams to come true, and so today a bought my first car, and it is used. while not a piece of crap, it is still about a decade old, and so i think it qualifies as fulfillment of the dream. it is a lot older than the car i've gotten used to driving lately (the one i shared with my husband until he decided to grow up and need it for work) and is a bit of an adjustment. but i have a car, and that's pretty awesome. (in case you were wondering, his name is reginald fairfield after the character from boy meets world of the same name. i was reminded of him for some reason.)

[two] i was walking outside in the freezing wind and my hands froze. i've been in my apartment for almost an hour now, and yet i'm still having difficulty typing because my fingers are numb. the heat is on, but i kinda wanna go find my gloves because this is ridiculous. of course, i'm using this as an excuse for not doing the homework i have due tomorrow (but who assigns homework for the class after the midterm? i mean, seriously.) or the research that is not technically due tomorrow but that i stupidly said i'd have in by the end of the week. saturday can be the end of the week, too, though. right?

[three] i also need to decide what to do about my brother's birthday cake. his birthday is next friday, and while that may seem like a million years away i need to go get ingredients and decorations and stuff. problem is, i can't for the life of me decide what it should look like. it's going to be harry potter related to match my presents, and he said he wanted it to be butterbeer flavored so i'm just going to use the recipe i used to make butterbeer cupcakes, but the design? completely clueless. i was originally thinking of just making a giant snitch because that would be super easy, or to do a sheet cake and draw glasses/lightening bolt/wand/etc on it, but then i googled harry potter cakes and some of those things are super amazing. it kind of made me want to try something like that myself, despite the fact that i lack the required skill set.

*Used Cars - Bruce Springsteen

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

i can say it better than you

i reread books a lot. sometimes i go months reading more "old" books than "new" ones. when i was younger, i did not believe in rereading books. i was irrationally against the entire concept and would argue till i was blue in the face about how pointless it was to read something when you already knew what was going to happen. now i could go on about how amazing it is to curl up with characters that you already know and love and to go over your favorite parts, reading something new and learning something more from them every time, but that's not what i came here to say. i have certain books for certain moods, and when i get into a too-stressed-to-function mood -when my mind stops working because it's so overwhelmed and my body's go to reaction for everything is panic and tears - i pick up stephenie meyer. don't ask me why. right now, i'm rereading the host because, not only will i finish it faster than the twilight saga, but i am also being bombarded with images and clips of the movie version which is coming out soon.

maybe it's because of what i've been reading lately, but in this read i am not "learning something new" from the story, instead i find myself editing every sentence of the book. while still enjoying the story, i am thinking that an entire paragraph could have been shortened into a sentence, that we, as readers, are not stupid and can connect some dots on our own, and that that was definitely the wrong word choice. i semi-recently finished another book that i could (and have) rant about for hours (and maybe i will here one of these days) that needed some major editing. there were plot holes that i would have been falling through left and right if the language was not so awkward that it kept me from reading myself into the story. there were inconsistencies and mind numbing repetition and nowhere near enough research done into the time period that the story was written in. actually, forget research, these were just common sense things. i found myself editing the book as i went along, more interested in fixing the promising premise than reading the thing. then, i read (or started. i kinda put it down for a bit) a story that was also poorly written. aside from spelling and grammar errors (which you all know bug me to no end), there was this feeling that the author was trying so hard to be impressive. and nothing is less attractive than someone trying too hard. it was self-important and wannabe mystical and philosophical and just really not engaging. but i have plans to finish it. and then, of course, i've been receiving such great writing from my students. 

so maybe after those my mind is just in a state where it is ready to look for errors? maybe it's gotten used to making prose tighter and stories better and conflict more conflicty? i hope so, and i hope it lasts through the end of the host and the end pf this current bout of stress and procrastination. if i can be in this mindset while tackling my own story, there's no telling what i could do with it. i'd be elated to be half as picky. here's to hoping this pretentious editor in me sticks around for a bit. 

*Every Time I Die - Guitarred and Feathered 

Monday, March 18, 2013

my neighbors (or, i guess my parents' neighbors) - who have known me longer than a lot of my friends - just moved to florida, and it was sad. like, we've had them over for christmases and thanksgivings and family dinners, they've seen me and my sisters go through grade school and college, they saw me in my dress before my school's quasi-prom senior/junior party, we went pumpkin patching with them and their grandson, the husband came to speak at career day when i asked him to... we were pretty close. and now they're just gone. 

my husband started his first day of work today, and though i know we both dragged this whole student thing on way too long, it's still weird to have him enter the real world and leave me sitting here thinking, "well now what?" (after enjoying all of this alone time that the hermit in me craves, of course.)

i have committed to one too many things and am now overwhelmed by everything that i have to do. so of course i completely shut down and do nothing, while letting the responsibilities crowd into the back of my mind, slowly growing into bigger and bigger worries. 

the above were all supposed to be individual blog posts over the past few days, but of course i feel like i have no time to do anything but worry and then procrastinate to keep my mind off of worrying and then worry some more, and, well... you get the picture.

this post is here because i feel like a lot of things are changing around me. for once nothing directly involving me, but at the same time, everything is affecting me. between the bouts of nostalgia and worry, i realized that this moment in time deserved some - even if it is not a very detailed or well written - recognition. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

i'm really feelin' frustrated

dear students that supply the material i grade for my paycheck,

i would like to thank you for opening my eyes to the reason that so many of my professors have dropped writing assignments from the syllabus only after we all submitted them. to be honest, i've been harboring a little petty grudge against quite a few of my professors who had us write reports with promises of comments that would show us the exact way to change our own personal styles of writing into forensic report style only to say two weeks later that the assignment would be dropped from the syllabus and the class would now be graded out of 90 instead of 100. i thought them lazy and irresponsible and a slew of other adjectives that made them unfit to teach. but now i understand that they were just trying to save themselves. like a person escaping an abusive relationship, they were finally willing to say that they had had enough and that they deserve so much better. and i applaud their strength and self-preservation. i'm a little jealous that i cannot do the same.

students, i would like to thank you for cementing in my mind forever the importance of writing. you have shown me that the ability to write well is a gift not to be taken for granted. you taught me that knowledge of basic grammar can not only save my academic and professional careers, but also my life. because i know i, for one, would love nothing more than to strangle both you and myself after getting halfway through some of your papers. i understand that for a lot of you, english is not your first language, so i am willing to overlook the your/you're confusion and the use of the wrong "its" that grates on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. but there are some things that i just cannot and will not overlook. to the student that thought not using the first person in a paper meant to take out all sentence subjects completely, i hope your favorite brand of cereal gets discontinued. to the student that put together a list of random nouns that lasted for two lines and ended it with a period, as if it was some sort of new-age sentence, i hope every time you think you find a parking spot on campus, it turns out that the space is occupied by a car pulled in a little too far. and to the student that refuses to believe in any form of agreement - subject-verb, tense, etc - and puts quotes around half of the paper without actually quoting anything, i hope a monkey claws out your eyes.

but above all, i would like to thank you for teaching me that, no matter how old you get, grad student or not, you are never too old to be completely lazy and moronic and underestimate the intelligence of everyone around you. i confess, i never read the slides of the professor i work with. but that didn't stop me from noticing that nine out seventeen students copied his slides word for word. i'm not sure if it was the fact that every single one of you had the same bullet pointed list, in the same order, with the same typos, and the same extra spaces added in that tipped me off or the fact that you all decided to ignore what the assignment wanted and give me the exact same answers to questions nobody asked, but somehow, i figured it out. and by the way, i don't know how many times the professor and i have to repeat it, but bullet points are not allowed.

and to the students that write papers that flow, that know the difference between their, there, and they're, that answer the questions asked and fill their papers with insightful findings and helpful conclusions, i would like to thank you for being the light in an otherwise dreary existence. you are the voice of reason that keeps me from jumping out of my windows. you are the ones that help me make it through.

your much abused TA

P.S. a lot of you start every sentence with "this examiner," and it took me forever to pinpoint exactly which memory that was tugging at. i finally figured out that it was somehow causing memories of cadet kelly (the disney channel movie) to resurface. this TA now wishes that she could send half of you to some form of literary boot camp where someone will call you a maggot to humiliate you into writing better.

*Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You) - Shania Twain

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

i just don't understand

i love snow. i do. i think that there is no point to winter without a good covering of white. i like how snow looks, i like the crunch of it being compressed under my shoes, i like throwing snowballs and sledding and the bite in the air when it snows. i love the smell of snow. the rare times that we get crazy amounts of snow and are snowed in make me ecstatic.

but today, i do not want snow. i wish this snow had come on saturday. or any time next week. or last week. or the week before or after. but not today.

today i have a midterm, and it is a test that you can't really study for because there is really not much to study besides everything ever written online about macs ever, and that is impossible. but the professor said it wouldn't be hard so i was trying my best not to stress about it. and doing a very fine job at that, too. but now we have snow and school is cancelled so my midterm is cancelled and it is pushed to after spring break which means the week of me sitting around doing nothing is now the week of me sitting around doing nothing and trying not to worry about my midterm. and i just wanted to finish all of my midterms before spring break so that i would only have my independent study to think about. and now that is ruined. thanks a lot, snow.

speaking of snow, why is it that whenever a major storm is threatening to hit, people run out and buy milk? i mean, i get the rest of the groceries, but milk? you know what happens when there's a really bad storm? electricity tends to move on to somewhere less stormy. and milk goes bad without electricity. fast. and very disgustingly. i mean, i can barely tolerate keeping milk on the counter for the three seconds it takes to make chocolate milk. in fact, sometimes i pour the milk in the fridge and then gulp down my chocolate milk as fast as possible because ew unrefrigerated milk turns sour. and i know i am beyond extreme, but i do not understand why you would buy something that gets so gross without electricity the minute people tell you something is going to happen that may leave you electricityless. i mean, can you not go a few days without milk? really?

*I Just Don't Understand - The Beatles

Monday, March 4, 2013

i read this article on procrastination today, and it is seriously the most perfect thing ever. like, really. go read it now. especially if you procrastinate or know people who procrastinate or have ever judged someone as lazy because they procrastinate. it's kinda long for an online article, but totally worth it. i mean it.

if you don't want to read all of it then at least read what he says is the reason for procrastination:

It turns out procrastination is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic as it is often regarded to be. It’s a neurotic self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth. 
You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything. 
But in real life, you can’t avoid doing things. We have to earn a living, do our taxes, have difficult conversations sometimes. Human life requires confronting uncertainty and risk, so pressure mounts. Procrastination gives a person a temporary hit of relief from this pressure of “having to do” things, which is a self-rewarding behavior. So it continues and becomes the normal way to respond to these pressures. 
Particularly prone to serious procrastination problems are children who grew up with unusually high expectations placed on them. Their older siblings may have been high achievers, leaving big shoes to fill, or their parents may have had neurotic and inhuman expectations of their own, or else they exhibited exceptional talents early on, and thereafter “average” performances were met with concern and suspicion from parents and teachers. 
This was the part that made my heart sink when I read it. Not that anybody was trying to make things difficult for me, but I grew up feeling high expectations from the adults in my life and myself. For most of my schooling, I was always in advanced programs, always aced everything, and when I got anything less than an A, people asked me what was wrong. 
I also noticed other kids didn't get this treatment. They were congratulated for getting B’s and even C’s. So from the feedback I got, I learned that a report card (of mine) with five A’s and a B was indicative of a shortcoming somewhere, not success. I've written about this before so I won’t get into it here, but suffice it to say that I learned that the downsides of being imperfect are far greater than the upsides of being perfect.

i think i could need this in my life

i've been staring at this blank page for almost an hour, starting sentences and deleting them, but there's too much to say that i can't say. not yet. and it's getting in the way of everything else. i think that writing in my journal and my ability to blog are somehow connected. around the time that i first started blogging (here), i also started journaling. i'd had a diary when i was younger that i went back to a few times as i was growing up, but i don't think i could ever write anything serious that started with "dear diary" and all of the entries that i remember either started with "dear diary, i've had a bad day" followed by whatever paltry reasons were behind the bad day, or with "dear diary, i have a crush on..." i was obviously not the deepest of rivers. there are only two entries that i think have any kind of realness to them, one mourning my cat that ran away/got left behind and one detailing my feelings about our move across country. but then again, my diary was often read by half of my family - a lot of the times because i would give it to them to read - so i knew that i couldn't ever write anything in it that i wouldn't say out loud to them.

and then i started this blog, and shortly after turned a notebook that was meant for genius stories and poetry that would be snatched up by publishers everywhere because it was just so amazingly great into some kind of safe haven for whining that shouldn't be seen by the public ever, and it all just worked. i didn't write in the journal regularly, but i did it regularly enough that half of the stuff in my head was poured out into a journal and half was poured out in to my blog, and this was about the time that i was starting to take hermitdom really seriously so there was no need to save any for social interactions because i was just not having very many of those. and then a while ago i got journal's block. every time i would go to write in it i would do something else instead until i just didn't go to write in it anymore. not long after that, i stopped writing in my blog regularly. and i think that they may be connected.

and when i don't blog regularly i get out of the practice of writing regularly. and if i don't write regularly then i forget how very badly i want to be a writer. and that is not good. so my new plan is to restart journaling which will hopefully restart regular blogging which will hopefully restart writing which will hopefully help with editing because editing is the hardest thing i have ever had to do. and i know i have said that before, but seriously. how do these people find the motivation to edit?

*If You're Gone - Matchbox 20