Saturday, November 14, 2009


I'm having an awesome trip so far! Let's see, what have I been up to since I last updated...
Well, to start with, the actual work I was sent here to do is going well. I don't write much about my job/schoolwork here and I'm not going to start doing that now, but those of you who know what I do for a living can probably guess where I've been working this week if I tell you, not-all-that-vaguely, "reconstructed building on the South Bank." Everyone there is so friendly. I always have someone to guide me from appointment to appointment, and every time I sit down for more than three seconds someone asks me if I want a cup of tea. I do realize that they're likely trying to impress me as much, if not more so, than I'm trying to impress them--if we go ahead with setting up this study abroad program it means money for them, of course--but I can't get over how accommodating everyone has been. I've also gotten a lot of people to talk to me about my dissertation research, and while I still feel all awkward and stutter-y and fumble-y when I'm conducting interviews, I feel like I'm not making a terrible impression. So that's all good. It's also just fun to do work there every day and see what goes on behind the scenes.
Anyway, I've also had a lot of free sightseeing time, which is wonderful. I went to the Tate Modern yesterday. I have to admit that I'm not fully capable of appreciating modern art. I think some of it is just ridiculous. I justify it to myself by saying, "Sure, I could paint four messy boxes on a piece of canvas and call it "art", but she's an artist and I'm not because she thought to do that and I didn't." I'm sure there is a much more sophisticated way of thinking about it and looking at it, but I have very little art history/appreciation training so I just judge by my own emotional reactions. So I don't like Dali because his images scare me (I know that's sort of the point, but blah), but I like Matisse because his colors please me, and sometimes I like Warhol (what's not to like about a room wallpapered in pink cows?), for example. Apparently the Tate Modern changes all of its exhibits almost completely every couple of years, which is exciting because it means I could go back and see different things next time. This time, my favorite rooms were a room covered from floor to ceiling in Soviet propaganda posters and a room that was a huge sculpture (or maybe I should call it a mobile?) of steamrolled silver pieces suspended from the ceiling and hanging in groups just inches off the floor. Oh, and the coolest thing of all was a room devoted to a table and chairs on a huge scale. I walked in and my eyes were at the level of the chairs' seats. It made me smile. I suppose that's how my Meatball must feel every day, laps at eye level.
Yesterday I also moved into the apartment I'll be staying in for the rest of the time I'm here. This apartment is, to use one of Penn's favorite expressions, "bangin'!" I was expecting it to be a tiny London flat, or maybe like the place I stayed last time I was in London for an extended period of time--perfectly acceptable, but full of cheap rental furniture and all scuffed up from years of use by people who don't take care of it like it's home. This place, though, is awesome. It's in a very modern-looking complex that was apparently only built a couple of years ago. It has a bedroom separate from the kitchen/living room area. I was expecting a dorm kitchen (mini fridge and microwave), but it's a fully-equipped kitchen: full-sized fridge, oven, stove, microwave, tea kettle (of course), dishwasher(!), even a tiny washing machine tucked under the sink! The bathroom is huge by European standards, too, and actually has a full bathtub/shower and not one of those tiny little closets you usually get over here. (Incidentally, I wonder if one of the reasons Americans in general are so much more into shaving their bodies than Europeans are is simply because Europeans don't have room to shave. Every time I try to shave in one of those closet showers I have to become a contortionist). So, anyway, apartment=amazing and relatively inexpensive! If you're coming this way sometime in the near future let me know and I'll give you the name of this place because I can't imagine staying anywhere better for the money.
The location rocks, too. I'm a short walk from the London Bridge tube station, and I can walk to where I'm working and on the way I pass all sorts of interesting things: the Southwark Cathedral, the ruins of Winchester Palace, a replica of Francis Drake's ship floating on the Thames...the history here constantly blows my mind. I get this feeling back home sometimes when I'm just going about my normal business and I happen to walk by a building I used to read about in my US history or government books, this "I can't believe this is my life and I'm really here!" feeling. But I don't know if it's just that the visible history is so many hundreds of years older here, or if it's just because I'm admittedly an Anglophile who has read way too much English historical fiction, but my breath is taken away by my surroundings much more often here.
Today, for example, I had one of those days that happens sometimes on good vacations when you're just going to do something generically touristy but instead you stumble upon something much more interesting. I was planning to go to the British Museum this morning, but when I looked up info on how to get there the transit website had all of these warnings about stations being closed because of the Lord Mayor's Show. So I thought, what is this Lord Mayor's Show? And I googled it and figured it out. Turns out it is a parade celebrating the newly-elected mayor of the City of London, a parade that has been happening annually for 784 years. It sounded interesting, so I went. It was definitely a cool experience. First I watched the parade, an hour of marching bands and horse-drawn carriages and floats from groups like "The Worshipful Order of Butchers" (the old-time guilds still exist to an extent, I guess!). Then it started pouring rain so I hopped on the tube and went to Covent Garden to grab lunch and look around. And then I headed back to the City, where I'd read that tour guides were giving free tours of the square-mile once-walled City of London. I got lucky because I came out of the underground station just in time to see the Lord Mayor arriving back at Mansion House. Since I had come out of a station that had apparently been blocked off until right before I arrived there, I avoided most of the crowds and had a good view of the mayor and the aldermen and the "livery company masters" (I just googled that; I had no idea who they were) doing celebratory toasts and posing for pictures before going inside. They were wearing red robes with fur collars. Fancy. It was cool to watch a ceremony that has gone on for hundreds of years. In fact, here is Samuel Pepys' account of the day in 1663 (yes, someone is typing up Pepys' diary like it's a blog. Some people are even nerdier than me). Anyway, the tour was two hours of nerdy historical fun. We went from Mansion House to the Bank of England (that bank scene used to terrify me in Mary Poppins) to Guildhall, to Postman Park (Closer, anyone?), to the ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars (destroyed in the Blitz during WWII, and Isabella of France, the she-wolf, widow of Edward II is buried there; I learned today that she was buried with her husband's heart!), to Temple Bar and St. Paul's and then down to the Thames and Blackfriars Bridge. There were other stops along the way, but those were the highlights. The guide was really good. I think I'm going to try to do another walking tour somewhere else in the city tomorrow. I can see things by myself, sure, but sometimes it's fun to go with a guide and a group.
Oh, and on my walk home tonight I stopped eat at a Wagamama. I love me some Wagamama.
I wish I could figure out a way to live here for a while. There's just so much exploring to do, and so little time! Anyway, five more days exploring London on my own and then Penn gets here. Hooray!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

London Calling

I'm in a hotel room in London. This feels very surreal. Much like when I went to Russia earlier this year, day-to-day life kept me so busy leading up to this trip that I didn't have much time to mentally prepare. In fact, it didn't really hit me that I was going to be in the UK by myself for nine whole days until yesterday afternoon as I was packing. I've flown and taken long car trips by myself dozens of times before, but I've always been meeting up with friends or family at the end of the journey. Prior to a quick conference trip I went on a couple of weeks ago, I'd never stayed in a hotel room by myself. I think I'm actually going to enjoy being alone until Penn gets here, since I like making my own schedule and not having to wait around for other people. Still, it's a little unnerving to realize that if something goes wrong I'm going to have to figure out how to solve the problem myself without the help of a cell phone (to be honest, that's what made the nerves kick in more than anything else. I HATE being separated from the ability to easily look something up on Google or GPS my location for directions...I really wish it didn't cost a fortune to use my phone here).
So far so good, though. My flight here was uneventful. It took about three hours less to get to London than it took me to get to Seattle a couple of months ago. I note this just because on today's (yesterday's?) trip I was given dinner and breakfast on a six hour flight, but when I spent nine hours flying to Seattle I got absolutely no food other than peanuts. Domestic flights don't get meals anymore, I guess. But come on, airlines! Acknowledge that flying from the east coast to the west coast is more of a hassle than flying to Europe (especially with layovers). Anyway, when I got to London I cleared customs and caught the express train to Paddington and then got on the underground to Waterloo Station, and my nerves dissipated and everything about living in London came back to me. It's not like I'm completely clueless about this city, after all. I spent a large part of summer 2004 living here doing a study abroad program. I was able to do a lot of exploring that summer, and now that I'm starting to get my bearings back I'm feeling confident in my abilities to enjoy my solo week here. I'm going to see some shows, go to some museums, eat some Wagamama...I do have to do the pesky research work the department is paying me to do while I'm here, but I'll get that done, too.
My hotel for the first two nights I'm here is right across the street from Waterloo Station. And I mean RIGHT across the street. A train bridge runs right along the side of this building. There are complimentary earplugs sitting on my bedside table for later, although so far I haven't really noticed any noise other than typical city sounds so I think it will be okay. Of course, even though the hotel is right across the street from the station I came out the wrong exit and had to walk all the way around the city block in the rain to find the hotel. And then I was temporarily confused because I couldn't figure out where to get my room key. Turns out you had to check in at the bar on the ground floor of the hotel. There was a little sign over the cash register that said "Reception," which was the only clue I had that the space was something more than just a pub. That makes it sound like the place should be shady, but it's not at all. It's a tiny hotel room, because it's Europe, but it's comfortable and it has hot water and I finally figured out how to turn the radiators on (for a while I was just assuming I couldn't control my heat and I was wondering if the room was going to stay so dang cold all night).
Once I got settled I went out for a walk. This hotel is within very brief walking distance of the Old Vic, The Young Vic, and the Royal National Theatre, so I went to drool over show posters for a while. After I post this I'm off to google student rush tickets to see what I can get for while I'm in town. I walked down to the Thames and across one of the pedestrian bridges and took a few pictures of St. Paul's in the distance under an extremely gloomy sky. Then I stopped in a cafe and had a pizza and a Magners before walking back to my hotel. Tonight's plan is to make myself an itinerary for the rest of the time I'm here. I didn't do much planning before I left, but I'm realizing that I only have a certain amount of free hours every day and I don't want to waste them trying to decide what to do. I need a plan, even though the plan may change. I definitely want to go to the Tate and back to the British Museum because I love it there, and if I went to the National Gallery last time I was here I have no memory of it so I'd like to go there (I remember the portrait gallery, but not the rest of it). Other than that, I don't know what I'm going to do. I want to branch out from the usual tourist things, though, or at least hit tourist places I've never been before. I'll update on my adventures, I'm sure.
Also, let me state for the record that England is very enthusiastic about Christmas. On the TV show I have on in the background right now the hosts are discussing which artists' album will likely be #1 at Christmas (just like Love, Actually! Who knew the race to have the #1 Christmas hit was real?), all of the restaurants have "Christmas Menus" so that you can book your Christmas parties (we sort of do the company-Christmas-party-at-a-local-restaurant in the states, I guess, but it's not like there are special Christmas menus), and when I was walking earlier I saw a balcony decorated with Christmas lights. And trust me, they were definitely up specifically for Christmas because there was a blow up penguin wearing a Santa hat. Then again, there is no Thanksgiving here, so I can't really hold them to my No Celebrating Christmas Before Thanksgiving standards.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

28 Things to Do Before I Turn 28

(Two other posts under this one. I'm on a roll today!)

Here is my list for this year, since it was so much fun to try this last year:
First, repeats from last year or things I didn't finish:
1. Write a book review and submit it to an academic journal.
2. Find a dentist here and make an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. For real this time!
3. Get caught up with my personal journal project and print and bind the past three years (I'm beginning to think this will always be a work in progress. Every time I get caught up I stop writing for a few days and get behind again. I'm closer to being caught up than I was last year, but I still have dates where I just made a list and now need to go back and fill in details. Maybe instead of catching up my goal should be to get to a mental place where I'm comfortable just listing things some days and not writing an actual entry).
4. Buy a printer (I can't complete #3 until I do this, actually).
5. Go here.
6. Attend at least six live productions, not including concerts (classical music counts, though; I feel bad making this highbrow/lowbrow divide here but the fact is we attend concerts almost monthly but spend much less time going to plays/operas/the symphony).
7. Cross at least one more country off my list.
8. Cross at least one more state off my list (only 17 more to go!).
Now, new things to do:
9. Print the best of the pictures I've taken during the last couple of years and organize them into photo albums (anyone else paranoid about the internet just disappearing one day and taking all your pictures with it?).
10. "The unwillingness to give a hearing to contradictory viewpoints, or to imagine that one might learn anything from an ideological or cultural opponent, represents a departure from the best side of American popular and elite intellectual traditions."-Susan Jacoby. In the spirit of this quote, I'm going to attempt to read--with an open mind--a book I'm inclined to disagree with. And I'm going to try to find at least one piece of the book that I can agree with.
11. Go on a 20+ mile-long bike ride.
12. Finish a Seasonal Reading Challenge on GoodReads.
13. Visit Monticello.
14. Check out this place. (Isn't that cool? The only problem is that we may have to pretend we're planning an event in order to get a tour...of course, I suppose we could wait until we actually are planning an event...;-)).
15. Take advantage of City A's Restaurant Week to try a well-reviewed restaurant I normally wouldn't be able to afford.
16. Go to one of the local historical jazz clubs.
17. Read the Dark Tower series (I joked to Penn that he had to read the Harry Potter series or we couldn't stay together, so he retaliated by insisting I read the Dark Tower series. He's about to finish Harry Potter, so I figure I should humor him and attempt to fulfill his request).
18. Take the Meatball to a local basset hound event (I haven't been to one of these in over a year, and it's always so hilarious to see dozens of basset hounds together).
19. Eat here, here, and here (FYI, that second link plays The Chicken Dance, so you may not want to click on it if your volume is turned up).
20. Watch a Supreme Court hearing.
21. Buy new ski clothes so I can quit wearing the ski pants I've been wearing since the '90s, then ski at least seven times this winter.
22. Take a trip to Pittsburgh and visit Penn's college campus.
23. Go here.
24. Buy a new comforter for the bed.
25. Go to the local fish market.
26. Take a trip to Philadelphia to research a bar for my dad (seriously, he has requested we go to Philly and check out a bar for him since he is thinking of modeling something on it).
27. Take a trip to Vegas with Penn.
28. Make the list of 30 Things to Do Before I'm 30.*

*For the record, I'm well aware that 29 comes after 28. However, as I get older I think it makes more sense to make these lists every few years as opposed to every single year. I mean, can you imagine 62 Things to Do Before I Turn 62?

27 Things to Do Before I Turn 27: Recap

I made this list last year, and I've decided to do it again this year. It was fun to set challenges for myself, and on weekends when Penn and I were trying to think of things to do I'd sometimes look at my list and go, "Oh, I've been wanting to do such-and-such." Instant plans! It kept us from falling into that, "What do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" rut.
Before I post my new list, I wanted to recap all of the things I managed to do from last year's list. So here are the tasks I completed:
1. Get another stamp on my passport. That one was kind of a gimme, since I already knew when I made my list last year that I'd be going to Russia. Still, I did it!
2. Cross at least one more state off my list (only 18 more to go!). I managed that when I went to Seattle, since I'd never been to Washington before.
3. Bake a cake that doesn't come from a box. I made Penn's birthday cake. It was really good, actually. I may even try it again this year.
4. Host a get-together of some sort at my place (although I'm not allowed to call it a "dinner party" since Penn thinks dinner parties are for old people). I hosted people twice this year. We had a small labor day cookout on our balcony, and I had a football party a few weeks ago to celebrate our HUGE new TV and the fact that the Meatball can now deliver beer with his Budweiser tailgate companion vest. The football party had more than a dozen people crammed into my small apartment, but it was really fun.
6. Attend an event celebrating Edgar Allen Poe's 200th birthday. Penn and I went to a reenactment of his funeral last month, and we went to the art museum to see an exhibit on illustrations and paintings based on his work.
7. Eat here, here, and here. Done, done, and done. All three restaurants were delicious. We've actually been back to the burger place twice because it was so good, and I am still thinking about the meal I had at the Cuban restaurant, so even though we're always on a mission to try new things I think we'll be making a repeat visit there soon, too.
8. Teach the Meatball to retrieve beer from the fridge. Okay, so we kind of cheated on this one because he can only deliver beer when he wears his beer caddy vest. Still, I can load him up with beer and he comes when he's called, so I say mission accomplished (plus we realized that it would probably be a very bad idea to teach the hound to open the refrigerator).
1o. Really master standard driving so I feel equally comfortable driving my car or Penn's. Well, this one happened out of necessity when my car died and had to be sold a couple of months ago. I can honestly say that I'm now as comfortable driving Penn's truck as I was driving my own car. I even took it on a road trip to a conference by myself a couple of weeks ago. The only thing I can't do is parallel park it or get it into tight parking spaces, but I was never that great at doing those things in my own car anyway.
11. Attend at least five live productions, not counting contemporary music concerts (it is shameful how rarely I make time to take advantage of all the opportunities to see theatre/opera/dance on campus and in the nearby cities). This was a really fun goal to complete. I saw The Country Wife in City B, Winter's Tale, The Illusion, and the opera Eugene Onegin (all on campus), Beethoven's Concerto No. 4 and Bruckner's Third Symphony (at the symphony hall down the street; Penn surprised me with that outing for our anniversary), Dr. Faustus (a friend's company performed this one on campus), Psycho (we watched the movie while the local symphony orchestra played the soundtrack; it was so fun), and Henry IV Part 1 (at the recreation of Shakespeare's Blackfriars Theatre). Non-locally, I also saw Wagner's Ring Cycle in Seattle (definitely my best theatre experience this year) and Koppelia by the Bolshoi Ballet, Don Quixote by the ballet company at the Mariinsky Theatre, and the opera Prince Igor, all in Russia (and also an amazing experience).
13. Take a beach vacation somewhere that is not New Jersey. Penn and I went to Florida with my family. That was great!
14. Visit a boardwalk on the Delaware or Jersey shore when it's actually summertime. I managed this a few times this summer, actually. That's how my salt water taffy addiction started!
15. Take Penn to my home state. Done! He still hasn't visited my hometown, but he will for Christmas this year.
17. Try at least three types of cuisine that I have never/rarely tried. Russian (the Russian obsession with potato salad was bizarre, but I loved pelminis and am bummed that there's not really any place to get them here), Honduran (there are Honduran taco trucks that park in the lot of the thrift store near our apartment; Honduran food is very similar to Mexican food, which means I love it), and Lebanese (which turned out to be pretty much like Greek food)
18. Read at least two books that made me think, "Oh, that's a classic, I should probably read that," as I was entering Penn's books into our GoodReads library. I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which maybe isn't a "classic", per se, but it's something I felt like everyone in the world but me had read so I had to try it. It was a very fun book, although sci-fi isn't usually my thing. I also finally read 1984 since I had somehow managed to get through a 20 year education without ever having been assigned it.
19. Take a group dance or exercise class. I took a free belly dancing class on campus one weekend.
23. Go here. Well, it decided to pour rain on us the day we went, but it was still a fun day.
24. Go here. This is probably my favorite local discovery. So few tourists visit it, and I think it's one of the best places I've been in the city. I plan to take all guests here from now on.
25. Visit some churches in our neighborhood and try to find one we'd like to attend on a regular basis. Penn and I sort of tried this for awhile at the beginning of the year, but then we lost our momentum. I think there are two issues at work here: it's hard to force ourselves to get up early on Sunday mornings, and we have no idea what type of church I would like to belong to. I was raised Lutheran so we tried that, and we tried a Methodist church. I'm increasingly beginning to believe that the Unitarian church is most compatible with my belief system, but Penn doesn't believe that Unitarianism is a "real" religion (he wasn't raised Baptist but nowadays his immediate family is fundamentalist Baptist, which I think has influenced his views. And yes...that's good for them but is NOT going to work for me and he doesn't want that for us and our family either). Although I do have to admit that Unitarianism seems so liberal and believe-what-you-want that part of me wonders if I should pick a church that would challenge my current belief system. I mean, I don't need a church to be a Unitarian. I can just keep doing what I'm already doing at home! But I'm too rational and logical and I know too much about how histories are written to buy into many of the teachings of the Christian church as God-given fact, and it seems disingenuous to go somewhere every Sunday and go through the motions when I don't truly believe half of what the church teaches and probably never will...To be honest, though, the main reason I'd like a church is for the sense of community. It's sort of forced community, I realize, but it would be nice to have a support network in place for emergencies or celebrations, and I like the idea of having a church community where I can help others. And I think I could find a liberal Protestant church where I could accept enough of the teachings to feel comfortable and not hypocritical being there, and where I could be allowed to question the things I don't believe without being ignored or told something that boils down to, "That's just how it is because God says so." Well, that aside got out of hand! Anyway, suffice it to say that this is sort of on the back burner for now, but since I'd like to be married in a church I imagine we'll have to pick the search back up eventually (see what I mean about believing half of it? I believe in God so I believe it's important to go through the marriage ritual in a church, or at least with a church officiant, so that we will be bound civilly and also in God's eyes).
26. Go to a hockey game. Got this one in right under the wire, but I did it!
27. Make the list of 28 Things to Do Before I Turn 28. Done!

Not bad! I managed to do a lot this year! Especially since I didn't make this list until well after my birthday last year. Some of the things I didn't accomplish I moved to this year's list (which I'll post next) and a couple of them I decided weren't so important after all, so I'm okay that I skipped them. It was a good year.

They Say It's Your Birthday

I celebrated my birthday a couple of days ago. It was a really good day. First of all, I woke myself up laughing! Seriously. I had the most ridiculous dream. I dreamed that it was morning and that the night before Penn had been out drinking with his friends and had come home buzzed. I was lying on the floor complaining to Penn about a friend who was annoying me (sometimes my dreams are incredibly mundane, and pretty much indistinguishable from real life) when Penn came out of the closet and stood over me wearing nothing but a multi-colored beach towel around his waist and an orange and blue owl mask on his face. All I could see through the mask were his puzzled eyes and his mouth, which said, "What in the world possessed me to buy an owl mask?!" And the owl mask was so damn funny that I started laughing. I laughed so hard in the dream that I started laughing in real life, and I woke up to Penn saying, "*A*? *A*? Are you okay? Are you crying?" And then he realized I wasn't crying, I was belly laughing. It was ridiculous. Three days later I'm still laughing every time I think about that owl mask! I even drew a sketch of it, so that Penn could understand why it was so hilarious (unfortunately, the humor of the owl mask really doesn't translate. You sort of had to be there in my head, I guess).
I had intended to just go to campus like normal and do some assistantship work and have a meeting with my friends about a project we're planning, but Penn surprised me by taking the day off from work. Apparently he worked overtime all last week while I was out of town just so he could spend my birthday with me. Isn't that nice?
Since he had taken the day off just for me, I called my friends and rescheduled my meeting so I could have the day off, too. Penn brought me breakfast in bed. Then I opened my birthday gifts from him. We were laughing because the the presents he gave me--all things I had mentioned wanting over the past couple of months--could easily also have been birthday gifts for an eight-year-old: Beautiful Katamari for the XBox, salt water taffy, and a stuffed Domo. (Darn 7-11 and their advertising for 99 cent coffee in a Domo cup. I don't like coffee, but after weeks of seeing Domo on the side of my bus every day I decided I needed a Domo. He's just so cute!) Oh, and I should mention that earlier this week Penn had already given me another birthday present: a hockey jersey, personalized with my favorite number and the imaginary player name "Hotstuff", which I wore that night when he took me to my first pro hockey game (that was really fun, by the way. I'm starting to like watching hockey on TV, but of all the sporting events I've ever watched it was the one that was most notably better live. I think it was something about the sound of the skates and sticks on the ice, and you just can't hear that as well on TV. Plus it's way easier to follow the puck in real life. On TV I always lose it and can only really follow on instant replays). So to everyone who wanted to make sure that Penn was spoiling me on my birthday, rest assured that he definitely did!
Anyway, after I opened all of my awesome presents (My parents and grandparents both sent me some spending money for Europe, and grandma sent me a scarf and hat that she had knit for me, and my parents bought me a photograph of my dog; a professional photographer took it when we were at a party a couple of years ago and she's now selling prints to benefit dog rescue. I think it's pretty cool that my basset is for sale as a print!) Penn and I went out for the day. We took our bikes into the city on the subway and biked to the history museum. Penn had never been there before. I had, but the last time I was there it was the height of tourist season and I'd had to skip half of the exhibits because the rooms were just too crowded. This time I got to see everything I wanted to see. I love museums. It's so soothing, just strolling around looking at interesting things.
After the museum we went to campus, and as we were getting off the subway and locking up our bikes at the rack so we could catch the campus shuttle, we saw a rainbow. I haven't seen a rainbow in a long time. I'm hoping it's a good omen for the coming year!
We were on campus to see Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng, who were giving a talk on What is the What. Penn had read the book last year and was really impressed and affected by it, and I've been meaning to read it ever since but hadn't gotten around to it yet. When Penn found out that Eggers and Deng were going to be talking on campus, I started the book. I didn't manage to finish it before the talk, but I'm almost done with it now. It's well-written, and a very moving story about people and places that are so easily ignored. It's hard to read at times because the subject matter is so disturbing, but it's also hard to put down. It was really interesting to listen to the author and the subject of the book talk about the project and what they are doing now to help the people of Deng's village. Penn and I got really lucky, too. First of all, we almost didn't get into the talk because they had booked the lecture in a room that was too small for the crowd that showed up. Penn and I were almost to the door when they announced that the room was filled and no one else was going to be allowed in. We had stood in line for half an hour to get in, so I was about to get really upset when suddenly a bunch of students came filing out of the room and said, "We were just here to get extra credit. We figure some of you actually want to see the lecture, so we're going to leave." I thought that was really nice that they acknowledged that there were many people in line who were going to be legitimately disappointed at missing the event. People aren't usually that thoughtful! So we ended up getting in and even managed to find seats together. And then, since our seats were at the very front of the lecture hall, as soon as the talk was over Penn was the first person to sprint up to the stage with our copy of the book. So we got to shake their hands and got our book signed by both of them. I have very few signed books because I'm usually too awkward to ask, so I'm glad Penn was with me to ask for the autograph. What a cool birthday present!
We were going to go out to dinner, but we didn't get home from the book talk until after 8:00, so we decided to save dinner for another night later this week. I didn't need to go out to dinner, anyway. It was a perfect day just as it was. Although I have to admit that I think my birthday is a perfect illustration of what a nerd I am. "Hey, it's your birthday. What do you want to do to celebrate?" "Oh, I want to go to a museum and a book lecture! That's my ideal day!" However, we did go over to a friend's house for birthday drinks last night, so rest assured that I'm a semi-normal twentysomething.
It was a happy day, and, what with the rainbow and waking up laughing, an auspicious start to another year of life.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Home Again

I'm home from visiting my former roommate. The trip was hard, as I expected it would be. It was just hard to see her hurting so much, and I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that she had a baby and now she doesn't. I also found out that there is a lot of negative stuff going on in her life that I wasn't aware of (that no one was aware of, actually, even friends that live in the same city as her and see her relatively often). I'm not going to write about it here because, again, it's not my story to tell. That, and I have already written quite a lot about this situation in my personal journal and I just don't have the energy to rehash it here. I'm sorry. The short story is that she has a lot of problems to solve and an uphill journey ahead of her, a journey she was facing even before the death of her son. I'm hopeful for her, though. I hope that this is rock bottom for her and things can only get better from here.
I learned a couple of lessons from all of this. The first is that I need to reach out to her more. I think we all learned that, actually: me, her, other friends that were visiting. None of us are great at keeping in touch on the phone, and we realized that life is too short to neglect friendships you care about. It's hard to find time to talk to one another outside of quick messages on Facebook, but I feel inspired to at least try to make time in my life to make at least a couple of real phone calls to friends every week.
The other lesson that was reiterated to me is that, as a whole, people are good. On the morning the baby died, my friend and her husband were completely alone. Both of their families live out of town, and my friend called a couple of local friends but it was a Tuesday morning so everyone was at work and no one could come over right away. One of the police officers who responded to the 911 call asked if they had anyone he could call to be with them, and they said no. So the policeman called his own pastor. The pastor showed up immediately and stayed with my friend and her husband that entire day. He also recruited members of his church to bring food as my friend's family members and friends slowly started to arrive to grieve. Since then the pastor has called every couple of days to see how they are doing and see if they need any help. The cynical part of me thinks, "Well, that's one way to recruit church members." But mostly I don't want to be cynical about this. I think this pastor and the members of his church are genuinely good people. It made me realize what Penn and I are missing by not having a church family. There are many, many things that I don't like about religion, but I do miss feeling that sense of community that I saw in this congregation reaching out to my friend. In addition to the church community, my friend's neighbors reached out in an amazing way. That first morning my friend was in shock, so she was prescribed valium and all sorts of anti-anxiety medication and sleep meds and who knows what else, just to help her be zoned out enough to somehow get through the initial days of shock and grief. The pastor who had come over to help went to pick up the prescriptions at the drug store. When he came back he said that the woman filling the prescriptions was my friend's next door neighbor. She had seen the address on the prescription and, remembering the ambulance outside her house that morning, she put two and two together and realized something bad had happened to her neighbor. She asked the pastor what had happened and he told her that they had lost their baby. So she got online that night and posted a message on the neighborhood message board asking if anyone wanted to help by delivering food. It has been almost two weeks now, and every night a different neighbor shows up with a meal. When I left they still had food scheduled to be delivered for at least another week. I don't know if that's a testament to the neighborhood or the power of the internet (I think the internet, really, since without the internet I doubt that many neighbors would have known to pitch in), but either way it shows how good most people are.
The other bright side to the whole awful situation is that I got to spend three days with my friend. And although she was sad, she was also herself, and we spent a lot of time reminiscing about our life before boyfriends and husbands and children and careers. It was good for both of us. I just hope that next time I see her it's for a happier occasion, and I hope that she can pull through all of this and end up a stronger person. Hoping and praying is all I can really do at this point.