Monday, August 24, 2009

Lagging Behind, Racing Ahead

With the way that transportation works today, changes in location happen suddenly. It took me a grand total of eleven hours to get from Greece back t0 the states, and I didn't even feel the whiplash.

But When I lied down that night to sleep in my own bed, my internal clock hovered uncomfortably somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, abandoned and alone. With not even the faintest idea of where it was. That's why I woke up while it was still dark outside for three nights in a row, and then gave a sigh of relief when I finally slept until seven in the morning. Because it meant that my internal clock had finally found its way back home.

If only briefly, I envied the people who traveled across the Atlantic before there were airplanes. Those who woke up with the sun each morning, never having to ask themselves if the time they knew it was in the back of their minds was incorrect. Since the journey was long, they had time to adjust. Because now, whenever we reach a new destination, we tend to feel like we're still at the last one.

After I arrived home from college in May, my dreams each night still seemed to take place at school. I had packed up and removed all of my belongings from my dorm room, and completed finals in all of my classes. And then, after a short hour and a half drive, I was home. But each night, I was transported back to the same room I had lived in, the same routines, and the same anxieties. Gradually, people I knew from Baltimore, my home town, started to make appearances at college in my dreams. And that's how I knew I was adjusting. . . if only slowly.

My parents' house has, only recently, begun to feel once again like my home. And in a few days, I'll be leaving again to head back to school. I know that the short drive won't give me nearly enough time to get used to the idea that I'm gone from here, and I'm going to live somewhere else now.

But maybe I'm already adjusting. As I walk through the house, gathering up my belongings and placing them in a big pile mentally labeled "to be packed," I think back on what I've done this summer, what my surroundings will look like when I get to school, and the like. I wonder whether this year will be harder or easier than last year, and why, and whether I'll dream about home once I'm there.

So traveling as quickly as modern transportation allows doesn't quite allow for adjustment time. Maybe we've learned to move too fast for our own good. Or maybe, changes have always happened too fast, whether a change means getting on a plane and ending up somewhere else, or stepping off a ship that you've lived on for weeks to finally walk on the ground. Change is jarring . . . for anyone.

But we adjust anyway, and often, we adjust well. So all we can do, while in transition, is remember that half the adventure is in being a little confused and off base, as we race toward our destinations.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Among the Ruins

I spent the past two weeks traveling in Greece with my family, and all in all the vacation was lovely. But the ruins of ancient Greece that we visited captured my thoughts and imagination in a way that made it difficult to look away.

Walls, foundations of houses, and lone columns that once supported enormous temples and palaces adorned the landscape like they had grown there with the rest of nature. After all, they had stood for much longer than the olive trees among them. And each site told a story.

I grew to enjoy finding a place to stand among the ancient stones, often somewhere that may have been a road, or a room, and imagine what someone may have seen here thousands of years ago. Someone who called this place home. I imagined, based on what I've learned before, a very different world: sights, customs, and smells that we just don't experience today. And yet, a human experience that in essence is very much the same.

I had somewhat anticipated that the ruins would be like this: a captivating, somewhat fun portal to the past. But something key, and very obvious had never crossed my mind before the trip: the ruins became ruins when they were destroyed, by one means or another.

Sure, some of the buildings were worn down by wind and rain over the years. And some had collapsed during earth quakes. But for the most part, conflicts between people brought down these walls.

Mycenae, a hilltop fort with breathtaking views in all directions, was likely destroyed by invaders, thousands of years ago. Aside from what was buried in tombs, the foundations of houses make up most of what still stands. But then, what end can be expected for the place where Agamemnon returned as a war hero, only to be murdered upon arrival? The history of this region, like any, is filled with years and years of bloodshed and war.

Olympia, where a sacred truce was called every four years so that the city states would stop fighting and their athletes could compete against one another was ransacked when the Roman Empire embraced Christianity. When we visit today, we cannot see some of the most beautiful statues and architecture, because they were burned, as symbols of paganism. Never mind the many hundreds of years over which all that made up Olympia was built, and the peace and respect for one another as fellow humans that it represented.

I prefer to envision these ancient wars and conflicts through the destruction of art. Because to picture them through the destruction of human life that they must have encompassed would be too ugly to fathom.

It's said that in many ways, ancient Greece is a foundation of our society today. And despite obvious differences, we, like the ancient Greeks, produce art and culture that is incredibly beautiful. And from time to time, we tend to destroy the beauty that we create and are.

As I turned to leave the ruins at Mycenae, the image in my mind of walking these streets while the houses on both sides still stood, became filled with invaders marching up the mountain, terracotta walls in flame. And I knew that somewhere, in the present, that kind of fear was someone's reality.

And then, with a reminder of why we should always strive for peace still fresh in my mind, I pulled my camera out of my bag and took a few more pictures. Because plenty of beauty still remains.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Waiting for July 15th

Tomorrow night at 12:05, I'll be in a crowded movie theater, probably applauding and whispering excitedly to the person sitting next to me as the movie starts. And if you have to ask what movie, you just might have been living in a box without windows, phone, or computer for the past ten or so years.

Okay, so I might be exaggerating.

And when I start to get practical about my obligations and needs, it really doesn't make any sense to go at midnight at all. I have to be at work (which is tiring) at 8:15 the next day. And I'm not the sort of person who can get by on just a few hours of sleep. Besides, the very same movie will be playing throughout the next day. And on Wednesday afternoon, I might even still be able to find people in costume in the movie theater.

But I wouldn't consider skipping the midnight showing. Not now. Because for those of us who grew up as fans of Harry Potter know that perhaps the greatest part of the adrenaline comes from waiting.

With the books, the waiting took one to two years. First, we would finish a book, and start to form theories on what would happen in the next installment. And then gradually, we'd be given small rewards for our patience: the title of the next book. . . a release date. . . interviews with JKR, which gave us clues as to what the next unknown in hard cover may contain.

During each wait, fanfiction and online discussion grew more popular, as did Harry Potter related merchandice. And somehow, the actual books never seemed to disapoint, even after all of the buildup.

And because Harry Potter attained such widespread popularity, none of us had to feel embarrassed by our complete and total obsession. And those of us who did want to seem unique and out-nerd everyone else could just brag about amounts of time spent reading each book, eg: they could say something like, "I finished the Order of the Pheonix in less than 24 hours straight with no sleep. And it was fantastic!"

Reaching the end of the movies, we try to relive the experience of the books, and keep it going for as long as is humanly possible. Because although I've definitely had more significant experiences, I haven't stopped waiting since I was nine years old. And I know that not being able to wait for that familiar series will be one of my reminders that I've really grown up.

So as tomorrow begins and progresses, I will savor every moment. I will wait for the same exact hour on the clock as millions of other people; and we will all form our opinions of this movie at exactly the same time (though sometimes in different timezones). I'll probably arrive early, to get good seats, and as I'll watch the hundreds of other people's excitement build as the minutes disappear.

Yes, I'll experience being outraged or impressed, and enjoying talking about what I've seen. But half of the memory will be formed by the wait before hand. And there are about 26 hours left before the world can start anticipating the seventh movie :).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Shoes for Walking

Before starting college, I purchased a few pairs of shoes more expensive than anything I would have considered buying before. And not fancy shoes either; I had never been one to wear many high heals, and the shoes I needed were comfortable walking shoes for trudging across campus in all weather. Coming from suburbia, I believed that I would need better shoes than I had ever worn before to endure.

I now owned the very shoes that I had resisted buying in high school with strong moral resolve: why buy something that's supposed to be comfortable for an excess of a hundred dollars? And to look exactly the same as everyone else (at least when looking at the feet). I had always seeked uniqueness.

But when moving on to a new stage of my life, in a different town and lifestyle, where walking rather than driving is the norm for transportation, I figured that I might as well try wearing what I never had before, if only for the rationale of comfortable feet that were barely affordable.

And so, there I stood in snow, in rain, and in wind, in my new, though rustic looking, brand name shoes. And gradually, as I walked everywhere that I needed to go, they began to look more rustic. And more so. Until buckles broke. And the soles of boots grew so worn down that I feared that if I wore them for any longer I would find myself walking on the bare soles of my feet.

Now that I'm at home and my expensive shoes, or what's left of them sit in my closet safe from the elements, my worries about shoes just don't come up any more. When driving everywhere, it's very difficult to destroy a pair of shoes. In fact, I think I'd really have to try. Here in the suburbs, we go for "walks," and "jogs," wearing sneakers that are meant to be worn out. But otherwise, it's into the car in the driveway, and back out of the car in the parking lot of wherever we plan on going.

Honestly, I miss being able to walk everywhere I could have possibly wanted to go. When outside, without metal doors and glass windows to place you in your own little world, it's much easier to feel like a part of everything else. And as I walked from place to place, at a steady, relaxed pace, I overheard interesting bits of conversations that took place on a college campus. It was easier to notice when flowers bloomed, and when a rabbit darted through the bushes when I didn't need to look straight ahead to avoid a car crash.

There's something to be said for being exposed to the elements too. When walking though the rain, I, like my shoes got wet, and if my umbrella broke, a certain adrenaline rush came from running as fast as I could for the nearest shelter. When driving, we tend to feel nearly indestructible. But walking from place to place, not immune to the weather, can allow us to feel truly alive and vulnerable. Truly part of the rest of the world.

When I begin my next year of college this August, I'll start over with new shoes. I'll watch them closely as they pick up scrapes and mud, and as they get bent out of shape. They'll serve to remind me that I am not immune to the snow, and the rain, and the unexpected. And that's half the fun in life.


Once again, if you're reading this, please let me know, in one of many ways- comment, follow, or (if you happen to know me) just tell me what you think in person. Thanks to all!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Newspaper Nostalgia

I love coming of age in the 21st century. After all, in what other era could someone young and unpublished so easily reach an audience for her writing? I understand that these years, like any, have their share of problems, and I'm happy to live at a time in which others have paved the way for my generation to take action in response to society's remaining injustices. And I'm beyond thrilled that we've managed to elect an African American president, even many months after the historic election.

But we are undeniably being utterly robbed of one aspect of life by the mere passing of time.

For as long as I can remember, the kitchen counter of the house I grew up in has been host to a pile of freshly printed newspapers. Sometimes the papers were creased in multiple places from being unfolded and refolded again, and usually stacked messily. But they always belonged to the present all the same. We got the Baltimore Sun every day, and the New York Times only on Sundays. And each morning over cereal and coffee, my parents would each read the news.

When I was very young, my parents' obsession with the news mystified me. Somehow adults always wanted to sit in the kitchen, the living room, or their beds, reading monotonous, black and white paragraphs about other adults . . . and then they would talk about what they read with each other, in big words that usually meant the same thing as shorter, prettier words anyway.
But all the same, I always thought that I would end up reading the news every day eventually: after all, I came from a long tradition of news readers.

Gradually, as I grew and became more knowledgeable and interested in world events, I began to read the front page of the Baltimore Sun between soccer practice and starting my homework. The paper was always in the kitchen waiting for me. And knowing that I could gain access to important events across the world just by skimming that front page made me feel grown up and smart.

I made the New York Times my home page on my laptop computer, and that has served me well in college, where no printed newspaper waits for me to wake up. And online news does have its perks. After all, when the internet is your primary source of news, you don't have to wait until tomorrow morning to read about what happened today, and you don't end up with a whole lot of paper cluttering up your living space.

But all the same, when I arrived home for spring break this year, I was shocked to discover that there was no newspaper in the kitchen, or anywhere else in the house for that matter. Not even one. I remember asking my mom casually where the newspaper was, and barely trusting my ears when she told me that we just don't subscribe to the Baltimore Sun anymore.


That was the only way to go, she explained, since the Baltimore Sun had cut out so much content, and fired so much staff, that it was no longer worth reading. It was a parody of what the Sun used to be, an embarrassment.

My reality was altered that day, if only slightly. And the worst part was knowing that I didn't understand why I cared so much.

I learned, after a bit of research, that the Baltimore Sun was not the only newspaper to be forced to downsize. Newspaper subscriptions across the country are declining rapidly. And it's not just because of the current economy: that only helps to speed up the process. Because the internet seems to serve every purpose that newspapers previously held as their own, newspapers are becoming something passe, like having milk delivered to houses in glass bottles every morning with the cream on top.

Somehow, it isn't the worries about what will happen to my online New York times, or what will happen to news reporting and analysis in every form that bothers me most. It's that idea that I will never be an adult who reads the newspaper over breakfast in the morning, or over with a cup of tea in the evening. Neither will anyone else in my generation. At least, not in the same way.

It's not ending quite so quickly. After all, New York Times still comes every Sunday, at least for now. And the world news is much better in it anyway. There is still something startlingly satisfying about reading news stories that can sit tangibly in my hands. The concept that learning about the rest of the world outside of a class doesn't necessarily mean staring at a bright screen with minimal head movement until my eyes go numb. And there's something about seeing a set of words printed on touchable paper, that tells us that they were really written like nothing else can.

And anyway, if coffee spills on a newspaper, one day's news gets ruined, not an entire impossibly expensive piece of electronics.

It's often said that it becomes easier to see the value in something when it's going away. So for now, if only for a short time, I will proudly call myself a person who reads the newspaper.


Thanks everyone for all the great feedback! Please keep it up, and have a happy 4th of July!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Self Discovery Made Easy

When I logged onto facebook this afternoon, I had five new notifications. And four of them were about online personality quizzes.

"What U.S. state do you belong in?: 23 of your friends completed the quiz. Click here to compare results!"

Twelve of my facebook friends had taken the "More Accurate Harry Potter Sorting Hat Quiz," ten had taken "What Drug are You Most Like," and a grand 77 had taken "What Decade Fits Your Personality Best?" But only three of my friends had taken, "What Plastic Army Man Are You?" I wonder why not more. . . And yes, I admit to answering five to fifteen questions per quiz to find out the answers to all of the above, and many more too.

Each of these quizzes has one subject in common: the person who takes the quiz. In fact, the answer of a good online quiz usually has the word "you," in it at least five times.

And our obsession with quizzes that tell us about ourselves doesn't stop with the internet. In fact, it was a much earlier invention. According to the all knowing Wikipedia, an early personality test was created during World War II by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers to help women decide which wartime jobs best fit their personalities. Their basic questionnaire was later developed into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, first published in 1962, and still very popular today.

I for one, have become proud to be an INFP, my personality type according to the Myers-Briggs test, simply because it's description defines me so simply and with such eerie accuracy. After all, the fact that I love trying to understand how people think was never an answer for any of the questions that the test asked, and yet the test . . . guessed it somehow, from nothing but my set of answers. And how do they know that I don't like conflict? That I'm creative? An idealist? I don't understand the science behind their classification, and as a result, I'm a bit amazed and delighted. And besides, I thoroughly enjoy thinking about myself.

So is egotism all that's behind the personality test phenomenon? It's definitely a piece of it. In the way that egotism plays a role in love, or in pursuing success in any career path.

But it certainly can't be all. Because there has to be a functional side to all of this, if it was first invented to help people choose jobs.

An acquaintance told me that every person attending her office retreat was given a Myers-Briggs personality test to complete. After the tests were rightly filed and each member of this particular office was sorted into one of the sixteen personality types, they participated in a number of exercises.

For example, people with similar personality types were grouped together and told to plan a party as a group. Once all of the parties were planned and explained to the retreat, everyone present learned that while some people may see a party as a small dinner gathering of close friends, others would prefer a crowded week long cruise with loud music blasting the entire time. The purpose of these exercises? To teach the participants that different people understand things in different ways, and that better understanding our own personalities and the personalities of others can actually help us learn to get effectively work together, despite our differences.

Whether always functional or not, the story of a quest for self discovery is told again and again in every form of literature, and in scripted tv show. Basically, every character, or real person, who changes over the course of his or her own story goes on that journey in one way or another.

So do personality tests just simplify this quest? Is its draw really the fact that rather than spending a lifetime searching for ourselves we can just click a few times on a computer mouse, look at the screen, and exclaim, "Ah! There I am!!"?

Yes. And of course, also no. People change over time, and every person is too unique to be exactly the same as every other person in one of sixteen, or even a thousand personality types. But when we wonder why we get along with some people better than with others, wonder if there's anyone out there who experiences life similarly to how we experience it, or just want to have some fun being self centered for a bit, the value of personality tests is undeniable.

Now excuse me, while I go find out which Sailor Scout my personality most resembles. . .


Thanks for reading. I'd like to remind everyone that nothing could make me more delighted than you letting me know that you're reading my blog. Whoever you are. So please, if you're reading this, either comment, or become a follower.

And have a nice Monday :)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Reeling in a Turtle

On one particularly hot and sticky work day last week, I experienced for the first time taking a group of ten campers to the pond to go fishing. I had never actually been on any fishing expeditions myself, as I don't come from a family that fishes. But I had been told that I'd only need to be present for safety reasons. And so, I ended up spending an hour of my day out by the pond in the midday blazing sunlight.

Of course, being a forever environmentally conscious camp, we always take the hooks out of the fish and let them swim free: no exceptions. Never mind that the fish are released into the man made pond for the sole purpose of being caught.

We fished from the deck that stretched over the deepest part of the pond. Campers would catch fish after fish, and one by one, sometimes with my help, they would pull the hooks from the fishes' mouths, and drop them back into the water, where some of the fish probably swam back up to look for more food and were re-caught. Sometimes a hook wouldn't come out. On those occasions, we would cut the line and set the fish free, sporting its strange new piercing. If thousands of years from now, someone does an archeological excavation of the site where the pond is today, they'll probably find hundreds of small fishing hooks, long after all of the fish that wore them are gone.

And so the routine went. I had learned it from others, and I would probably explain it to the next counselor who asked what leading fishing involved. And then, one camper, a small boy who brought his expensive fishing rod and tackle from home caught a turtle. And not a small, cute turtle either. It was about a foot in diameter, a geometrical pattern carved into its shell in a faint shade of orange on dark brown.

The boy called me over for help, and I saw it there, legs thrashing about in the gray and brown water, creating small waves. Its head stretched upward with the pull of the fishing line, and then retreated back into its shell, the fishing line following, straining, until the turtle's head was pulled back out, its neck stretched unnaturally.

It hit me, after a few moments of staring, that I was responsible for handling this, and that regardless of rumors that the turtles in this pond were in fact snapping turtles, I wanted this turtle to live. Quite strongly in fact.

"Stop trying to reel it in," I instructed, struggling to keep my voice calm.


I snatched the fishing rod from the hands of the boy, assuring the campers who had now gathered in an audience around me that the turtle would be all right. And then I pulled the turtle by the fishing line to the part of the pond where I could get closest to the water, reached my hand as close to the turtle as I could will myself to go, and cut the line. As the turtle disappeared into the water's darkness, campers asked me if it was dead.

"He's fine," I told them confidently, "the hook will just stay there, like it does in the fish."

The strangest part of walking away was just how close I felt to crying.

It occurred to me, as I told my campers that they should go back to fishing and stop worrying, that maybe when the fish flopped about, gasping for air, they suffered as much as the turtle did. That maybe we should worry.

Don't get me wrong. I eat meat. And the activism that feels the most meaningful to me is for human rights, not for the rights of fish. But I do wonder if our fascination with nature is inevitably nearly as dangerous as our tendency to ignore it. I wonder if I pulled the turtle too quickly into water from which I could release it, and by doing so caused further injury. . . I wonder if what I did may have actually killed it. I wonder if fishing teaches children that hurting something can be fun, as long as we can argue away all moral problems in our minds. As we tell ourselves that the hooks don't really hurt the fish, and that fish have no memory, so they cannot be traumatized by the experience of being deprived of water for minutes at a time.

Maybe we should stop fishing, hunting should be outlawed, and we should consider all animals injured in the name of fun victims of human cruelty. And for the sake of everything living, we need to put a stop to global warming.

Or maybe the opposite is true. Because every time a person steps on a patch of grass, tiny plants die. Nearly invisible insects are flattened, and their worlds go dark. And frankly, the last thing that the moss growing on the trunk of a tree needs, is a great big hug. It is a part of our existence that we alter nature, so perhaps we should instead embrace it, fish as much as we damn well please, and eat the fish too.

Either way, we have an impact, and just by waking up each morning we change the world around us, just as it changes us. I do believe that whichever way we choose to understand nature, we each must recognize that it exists in every aspect of our lives, and that in most cases, we cause the damage that we later try to correct.

And yes, I hope that that turtle is still swimming around in the pond tonight, thick leathery skin around the fishing hook healing and all pain long gone.


I've been reminded to let you know that my fabulous sister is partly responsible for coming up with the title of my blog.

Oh, and for folks who work at camp with me, I mean to tell a story here, not give a complete factual rendition of events :)