Tuesday, March 29, 2011

wait...it's the end of March already??

our prospective MA/PhD open house is this week, and i sit contemplating how a whole year has passed. for one thing, i can't have been a whole year, because it would have to be warm and spring-y for that to be, and it's cold. for another thing…i don't feel ready for it to end. well, part of me does. but i like school. and the whole finding-a-job bit is slightly more elusive. family members have already been inquiring for months now what i'm going to do after i graduate, which has caused me to threaten them considerably.

ok i can't stress about it. i need to get back into a good rhythm of yoga, checklist-making, and bubble baths. tonight i took a break and read a Shopaholic book in the tub with my lavender milk bath bubble soap, so that's a good start. tomorrow morning at least looks like this:
  • 8:00 a.m.: wake up, my breakfast, cats' breakfast, Good Morning America
  • 9:00 a.m.: yoga DVD or running/weightlifting at the JCC
  • 10:30 a.m.: shower
  • 11:15 a.m.: organize/plan all academic projects and begin working on them.
of course, tomorrow might end up looking like this:
  • 10:45 a.m.: wake up, cats pounce on bed
  • 11:00 a.m.: cats force me to get out of bed and feed them
  • 11:04 a.m.: back in bed
we'll see which of these plans comes to fruition.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

what is consent?

we are having an interesting discussion in my global women's writing course about the nature of consent, specifically in relation to the now eradicated practice of Chinese footbinding. this has also made me think about consent in other contexts, however–how do we distinguish between what we do out of pure enjoyment versus out of obligation or coercion. what do you think consent is?

here's the blog post i wrote for class:
i like the distinction between the consent of daughters versus that of mothers. in light of Judith Butler's discussion of the agency of children, it has made me think more closely about the significance of China's move to end footbinding as a symbol of Chinese modernity. in a way, both the action of footbinding and the subsequent banning of footbinding are both movements that are made without consent, either way, from girls. part of me feels sure that the new photographic evidence of the bound foot and its medical dangers played a major part in changing public opinion, both in China and in the rest of the world, about the beauty and ethics of footbinding. and yet...was it primarily a humanitarian move of protection of children's rights–or primarily a political, nationalist power play to give China better PR with the western world?

it seems like Dorothy Ko (author of Cinderella's Sisters) is struggling to untangle these motivations as well, and perhaps it's impossible to separate them. in our own culture–in any culture, really–we can hardly ever claim that the thoughts, decisions and actions we make are ever discrete from the set of ideologies through which we tell the narrative of our lives. i once had a discussion with a friend about the nature of fate versus free will, and he recalled the metaphor of an eastern philosopher who said fate is like an apple rolling on a plate: you can move the apple in any direction, but never beyond the rim of the plate.

maybe consent is also like the apple on a plate. Chinese mothers and daughters are moving within the narrative of Chinese identity, feminine identity, homosocial relations, etc., but they can never make decisions outside of it, just as we can never, say, make decisions outside of a framework of capitalism, since it defines our lives in so many infinite ways. in this sense, consent is always constructed, yet always natural, in that it is the only natural movement we can ever make as human beings living within culture. we want desperately to find a concrete definition of consent that never changes, that fits a legal mold, and yet I suspect that search will always prove elusive. but just as Butler points out that human sexuality refuses to behave in the ways that we want it to, neither does the human mind itself consent to conform to a standard sense of reality, right and wrong. whatever those mean.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

my own national (regional) treasure!

a recent editorial on jezebel.com tells the story of how a 200-year old french love letter was found recently in the arm of an antique chair, in the process of restoration.

the writer ends his letter to his lady with this adieu:
"my dear, i cover you with kisses and caresses until… i need you in this moment of desire. i love you."

have you ever heard of anything sweeter? well, i suppose you have, naturally. but this is pretty good.

i had a similar story this past year when i had my old piano retuned, back when i was living in gettysburg. i had bought this piano in 2008 from the director of athletics at gettysburg college, dave, who i knew fairly well. dave's father was a piano teacher, and could never get him to play as a child, but in an attempt to pass on the musical tradition, the family had bought the piano for their daughters to learn upon. none of them ended up wanting to play either (sad!) so dave was happy to sell this slightly beat up, but decent, little upright console wurlizter from the 70's to me for $100.

so this lovely old man came to do the tuning, and since neither of us knew when it was tuned last, he decided to make a thorough job of it and pulled the baseboards out from underneath. as he pulled off the boards, an aged square of paper fell out onto the carpet. we both paused and looked at it, the curiosity and excitement growing in me like a narrative scene from a nancy drew novel come to life.

he picked up the paper and handed it to me and asked if it was mine. no, i said, looking at it carefully. it was an envelope, yellowed and dusty, but fairly well preserved from having been inside the piano all this time. the seal was already broken, so whoever was the recipient must have already perused the message inside. or had they?

with trembling fingers i pulled out the letter and flipped it open. it was written on a greeting card with a scenic picture from somewhere in upstate new york, and inside the tiny script filled each available side of the paper. the date on the letter read 1974! feeling somewhat guilty, but then too curious to feel all that guilty, i started to read the letter.

it was a message to no one in dave's family that i knew of, but the contents were fairly simple–greetings after a journey home from college, news on the family, etc. fairly uneventful. and yet, if i returned this letter to dave, what would be his reaction? was such a simple transaction to dredge up memories of a long forgotten–or perhaps repressed–family connection, a friendship that had once been so close, but which inopportune circumstances had rendered asunder?

i carefully put the letter and envelope in a ziplock bag and the next day, i emailed dave and told him about what i'd found. his reply gave little away: he was surprised, but interested, and agreed to take a look at it.

then came the big moment to give it to him. i wasn't able to find an opportunity so i gave it to my colleague ryan who said he would be seeing the family later that day. ryan was under strict instructions to give me every last detail of dave's reaction. he promised.

i waited for the news to come. the next day, i eagerly ran down to ryan's office and demanded a recounting of yesterday's events. i could just envision dave's eyes alighting on the letter…then widening with recognition…then filling with bitter, but tender tears. i looked expectantly at ryan.

ryan shrugged. "yeah, he had no idea what that was about. some cousin or something."

dammit. why isn't real life ever like in movies?

Monday, March 21, 2011

three and a half hours of mandolin foolin'

oh boy. so. how does one write about a mandolin orchestra festival?

well here's how. so saturday night i headed over to frank and debbie's, my dad's first cousins, and there we caught a quick drink and i got some pup-petting time with the two most famous border collies, lucky and traveler. then we piled in the car and headed down to the CAPA center in downtown pittsburgh, where frank succeeded in parking the car. no, that came out wrong. he parked the car in a garage next door, not at the center.

i had no idea what to expect, whether a "mandolin festival" comprised of a series of concerts, or a series of mandolin-playing workshops, perhaps with a special demonstration on how to make mandolins. frank didn't know if he was supposed to bring his mandolin or not, and i half-joked that i would bring my uke, disguised as a mandolin. in a beard, hat, and glasses, naturally.

it was a concert it turns out. a three and a half hour concert. don't get me wrong, i really enjoyed it, and our friend gregg was playing in the pittsburgh mandolin orchestra so it was a real treat to see him on the stage. but even operas aren't three and a half hours. and they have costumes.

so each group was great to hear, but perhaps they could have each played about half the number of pieces they chose, to keep things moving. one can only listen to one instrument for so long before needing a break. it's like listening to the bagpipes for three and a half hours straight.

there were three groups: the pittsburgh mandolin orchestra, the dayton, ohio mandolin orchestra, and an international mandolin orchestra, including two young italian guys who took the liberty of goofing off on stage since they could play brilliantly enough to not really pay close attention to what they were doing.

i also enjoyed seeing the range of instruments in the mandolin family; i had no idea that such things existed as mandocellos, and mandobasses, essentially the mandolin equivalents of the various violin family sizes we are used to seeing in a classical orchestra. the mandobass looks like a giant tick, and is totally worth giving you a visual for:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

erin go bragh!

i'm off to the south side in a bit for some guinness-ing fun, but happy saint patrick's day, everyone! today was sunny, warm, and i painted my nails green. tonight, i'll drink guinness with chocolate shots, dance, and be merry.

in honor of this favorite holiday of mine, if you have not seen the films the quiet man and the secret of kells, you are missing two treats! the quiet man stars john wayne as an ex-prize fighter from pittsburgh who comes home to ireland where he meets the fiesty maureen o'hara ("that red hair is no lie!"). the secret of kells is a beautifully animated film that tells the story of how the famous and breathtaking illuminated manuscript, the book of kells, was created. erin go bragh!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

be happy

i have been in a stressful state all week, for various reasons, but one of the biggest, of course, being a general anxiety and misery for the japanese. and yet, they have shown astonishing and admirable patience and humanity in the way they've worked together to help each other.

my dreams have consequently been likewise bizarre and uncomfortable, always too vague to leave me remembering much but a sense of uneasiness; and i keep waking up in the middle of the night, tense with the realization that the world isn't safe.

this afternoon, however, after a day of about 1% of sunlight, i was sitting on the floor of my bedroom with my back to the radiator. my cats were doing likewise, which, by the way, makes it quite crowded around the radiator. but sitting there i looked out my window and happened to see patches of blue sky, straining to break through the racing clouds. it was so small, but i confess my chest actually tightened a bit at the sight. blue sky!

generally i am a cheerful person, singing to myself while walking down the sidewalk, etc. but from habits developed from past experiences, i tend to believe that if i can control enough factors around me by analyzing (or stressing over) them to the tiniest minutiae, then nothing can ever go wrong. of course this isn't true. i remember talking to one of my dear friends about a year ago about a situation that was troubling me, and which i could not stop stressing over. she asked me why i felt the need to be so preoccupied with it, and i said (and i still admit i kind of believe this) that if i at least prepared myself for all possible outcomes of this situation, then it would save me some of the pain of rather having a shock if a negative outcome should occur.

she looked at me kindly and grinned and said "no it won't."

and she's right. it wouldn't save me. you can prepare and prepare for pain, but it's still pain. is that sad-sounding? i've realized that a kind of freedom comes from that thought, though, which is what my friend was getting at: if you can only prepare so much, then what will you do with the rest of your time?

and that answer is always easy: be happy.

so to help you be happy, here's a lovely picture of surely some of the happiest spring flowers, daffodils:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011


oh yes. oh yes. ok seriously one of the best things i've seen in awhile:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

today is a good day

this research on arranged marriage is really intriguing...did you know that over 60% of marriages world-wide are arranged? they seem to have high success rates as well–but of course, we don't know that that necessarily means they are "happy." divorce is much more stigmatized, i believe, in countries where arranged marriage is widely practiced. and there is obviously a whole cultural attitude that goes hand in hand with arranged marriage, namely an expectation of how much effort you are going to put in to make the union work (but maybe this is something we can learn from?).

i am waiting on a book from interlibrary loan (come on library system, i have a first draft due soon!) called first comes marriage, by reva seth, in which she interviews hundreds of women in arranged marriages and assesses the values that they encompass. the book should be really interesting, as it's supposed to not only discuss why many arranged marriages are happy, but how westerners can rethink how they approach marriage and partner compatibility in their own "love matches."

i am also waiting for WARM WEATHER to arrive, but today it should be a high of 52 (yayyyy) and tonight i am going to dinner with my cousins to celebrate cousin doug's girlfriend's birthday. i went to marshalls and old navy yesterday and bought new yoga pants and sweatshirts so after doing some more google searching on arranged marriage, i'm heading outside to take advantage of the first visible signs of spring. so today is going to be a good day.

it's not just for the classroom!