Archive for January, 2010

Breakfast at the guest house

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m finally home from my trip to Philadelphia.  I have a slamming headache after 28 hours of travel and the breakdown I suffered in the Amtrak parking lot, but I’m still a little too fragile to discuss all that.  Instead, I feel like writing about breakfast in Cambridge.

To start, I loved breakfast in Cambridge.  I loved waking up to the incredible smells of the big English breakfasts Pete made for the workmen on the other side of the house.  I loved going downstairs and sitting at my chair at my table and having Pete greet me with a big good morning.  I loved the routine of gathering my breakfast supplies: cup, saucer, teaspoon, milk, check if there’s butter out already, pour a glass of orange juice.  Pete coming back out of the kitchen, almost always drying his hands, and asking if I wanted a pot of tea.  I liked falling into the rhythms of Pete’s morning.  I could tell when he was busy because he’d ask me about a pot of tea first; on quiet mornings he asked if he could get me something this morning.  I think Pete liked that I drank tea; none of the other girls did and I think that baffled him a bit.  I liked how quickly breakfast came – two pieces of toast, two poached eggs, sometimes a piece of English bacon.  Pete usually brought the tea, then the toast, then the eggs (and sometimes bacon), giving me just enough time to pour my tea, then butter my toast, then eat my full meal.  Many mornings it was just me down at our breakfast table for most – or even all of – the meal.  I learned not to come down so early on Mondays, a morning the workmen weren’t around for breakfast, because Pete wouldn’t be up yet.  If I delayed breakfast by 15 or 20 minutes, I was usually able to eat with one of the other girls, and I enjoyed our breakfast conversations.  Liz would blow into the room, colorful and full of energy, even when it was still dark out.  Abigail would stumble in just out of bed, still in pajamas.  Kaitlin always ate just before she left, almost always turning down the hot breakfast for a bowl of a chocolate cereal. [time]

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Categories: Cambridge, Relationships Tags: ,

I’m a klutz

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Sometime in sixth grade I stopped being able to walk through doorways or around tables without falling into them.  I remember noticing it as it was happening and wondering vaguely about why, but I was a little too busy going through puberty and avoiding sharp edges to worry about it.  I think I assumed that I would regain my balance once I finished growing, but 17 years later I still can’t walk safely.

I currently have a nasty looking purple bruise on the upper side of my knee and a greenish blue circle on my upper arm.  I learned in the state of Virginia’s online child abuse training (to recognize it, not inflict it) that bruises on hard spots – shins, knees, elbows – are pretty common and not usually a cause for alarm, but that regular bruising on soft tissue – arms, stomach, thighs – is often a warning sign that there’s abuse.  Based on this metric, I’ve been abused for most of my post-puberty life.  I feel like I always have at least one shiner somewhere on my body, the result of moving a little too quickly or with a little less than grace.  I got the bruise above my knee when I slammed it into the corner of the bedside table climbing into bed.  I got the bruise on my upper arm while using the restroom last night – I closed the stall door harder than I’d meant to and sent the metal coat hook on it straight into the muscle of my arm.  It’s unusual, though, that I remember how I got these bruises: most of the time my discolored flesh is a mystery to me. I’ll have some vague memory of the initial pain, but the bumping and knocking of my body into surfaces is so common that I rarely note it anymore.

Perhaps the answer is to walk a little more slowly and to move with deliberation rather than speed.  If that’s the solution, though, I think I’d rather have the bruises.  I like moving through my world quickly, even if it sometimes leaves me smarting.  In the end, some oddly colored spots are probably an okay price to pay for living and moving in my own way.

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Categories: Reflection Tags: ,

Learning to write

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I never actually learned to write in school – if anything, my teachers reinforced bad habits (last minute rushing, verbal dexterity over actual thought).  Instead, I learned to write at work.  Based on my experiences in school and work I’ve come up with several ideas on what needs to happen for people to learn to write.

1) Writing needs to happen often.
When I write more often I start doing it better.  Like everything else in life, practice helps.

2) Writing needs to matter.
I write better when I know the quality matters.  I can write any junk that comes out of my fingertips if it’s just about a grade, but if someone else’s money or reputation rests on my words, I pay a lot more attention to what goes down on the paper.

3) Rewriting matters.
We don’t rewrite much in school – the paper is written, turned in, graded, turned back, forgotten.  And the same mistakes are made on the next assignment (and the one after that, and the one after that…).  When writing matters, rewriting matters, because that’s how writing gets good.

4) We all need an editor.
I published over a dozen professional publications without anyone ever editing my writing.  This wasn’t a good thing.  Writers need feedback – even experienced ones.  We all write self-indulgent sentences, or explain things in ways that others don’t quite understand.  A good editor notices the extra word, the misplaced phrase, the confusing thought – and helps to fix it.

5) We write better when there’s an editor in our head.
When we work with an editor we begin to internalize the editing process.  After spending weeks editing her thesis together, my sister said that she was having trouble writing new material because she kept hearing my voice in her head critiquing her word choice.  While we don’t want our inner editors to stifle us, we all need that voice inside our heads asking us if we really needed to add the word really in that sentence.

6) Reading is important.
I’ve talked to my literacy professor and learned that there is research on vocabulary acquisition in children and research on how to teach writing, but no research on the impact of vocabulary acquisition on the quality of writing.  If I ever decide to get a Ph.D. in education, don’t be surprised if I make this my area of specialization. I believe good writing is all about word choice, that word choice comes from having a large vocabulary, and that a large vocabulary comes from reading.

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Categories: Books, Relationships Tags: , ,

My friend’s boyfriend thinks my boss has Aspergers

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I arrived in Philadelphia today and headed straight to my old office for my old company, the one I used to freelance for, then worked full-time for, and now freelance for again.  I’m in town for the company’s annual retreat, an event that I considered not attending, but was afraid to turn down an invitation to for fear of signaling a lack of interest in their future direction.

When I arrived at the office today I was happy to greet former coworkers and gave hugs and waves all around.  Then, I settled in, pulled out my computer, and realized that I didn’t have a plan for talking to my boss.  And then I realized that I didn’t actually know if my boss and I were talking.  Like, in general, not just that afternoon.  We haven’t actually spoken since he blew up in a sudden display of aggrieved emotion in November that was so bad that my other boss called immediately to distance himself from it.  Since then, Boss #2 has done all of the interaction with me – a complete change from my last 4 years with the company.  So given that, I thought it was reasonable to wonder – are Boss #1 and I speaking?

I suppose I got my answer when he came over to speak with me.  He asked if I had business in the office that afternoon, then asked if my semester abroad went well.  I said that it had been wonderful and that I’d been sad to leave.  He cocked his head to the side quizzically. “Sad?  Why?”  I explained that I had to leave a classroom full of kids I loved and a city that I was very happy living in.  “But don’t you like Charlottesville?”  I assured him I did, and that while I was happy to be home I was still sad to leave.  He thanked me for coming and said he was sure I would make valuable contributions to the retreat.  And then he walked away.

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Roommate relationship is to marriage as…

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve come to believe that having a new roommate is a lot like getting married to someone without having ever met them.  With my last two roommates in particular, we’ve gone through this odd settling in phase where we’ve subtly negotiated our roles in the house.  Last summer, through trial and error and the passage of time, my roommate and I took on distinct jobs.  I took out the recycling, he took out the trash.  I hand-washed dishes and loaded and ran the dishwasher, he put the dishes away.  The odd thing is, we never spoke about these roles, but we also rarely varied from them.  It was a lovely kind of magic, really.  Just as I would think “Oh geez, I’m going to have to walk all the way over to the dumpster…and it’s HOT out today,” I’d notice he’d taken out the trash and put in a new bag.  And I’m sure it was a kind of magic to him to have dirty dishes turn into clean ones – perhaps that’s why he was happy to put them away.

In my new place we’re not settling in quite as smoothly.  I told someone today that it feels like we’re a married couple who’s grown distant and doesn’t know how to close the space between them.  We talk politely when we’re in the room together, but most of the time when we’re both home we stay in separate rooms.  If he’s in the kitchen or watching TV in the living room, I tend to stay in my room; he seems to do the same (although I don’t know exactly…I tend to give up the living room when he comes home because I’ve been in it all day and it seems only fair).  I think we’d get along really well if we talked, but what should we talk about?  Does he want to talk?  He’s invited me to watch a movie with him before and I wanted to, but it was depressing and I didn’t feel like being depressed…but now I’m afraid he won’t make more overtures.  I suppose I need to give it time.  After all, we’ve only been living together for 2.5 week.  If we’d been dating we probably would have gone out just 2-3 times by now – we’d barely know each other.  I guess I should give us a little more time to get used to living with each other before I give up on the whole roommate relationship.

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January 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I think I have too many good books around right now.  A big problem, I know.  But somehow because I have so many books, I end up not reading any of them.  Or I pick one up and I start it, but I get distracted wondering if this is the best choice to read right now – with so many books to read and not that much free time, maybe I should be reading a better book instead of this one?  It’s not terribly sensical, but it’s a fact of my life right now.  I’m hoping that I can get around it this weekend by bringing just a few books on the train with me, but I suspect the plan won’t work.  The books are all short and the train rides are long, so if I’m really into the books I’ll need a lot of them to keep me reading.  And if I have a lot of them…I’m unlikely to read any of them.  It’s just how it seems to go with me.  I’m thinking I might need to develop a kind of personal author study to keep me focused and to narrow down the possible books I’m choosing from.  Perhaps it’s time to catch up on Ann M. Martin’s post-BSC work or to read more of Kate DiCamillo.  I did love Because of Winn-Dixie.  The author I seem to be gravitating towards, though, is Madeline L’Engle.  Considering how many times I’ve gone on L’Engle kicks over the years I was stunned to find so many of her books that I’ve never even heard of.  I do love her families, and the realness of her characters’ emotions.  She’s not afraid to let her characters be smart, but neither is she afraid to let them be insecure, petty, and anxious.  In the end, though, it usually turns out all right – the characters’ relationships are stronger than any one person’s flaws and they always come through for each other.  Her books don’t necessarily have happy endings, but they have good endings, and that’s part of what makes me go back to her time and again.  And, again, her families.  In L’Engle’s books, families matter, love matters, but no one has to be perfect to be worthy of love.  It was an incredibly comforting message as a child and remains one as an adult.  Her books say, in essence, I can be me and even when I’m sometimes someone that I don’t like, I will be loved by these people just as I love them.  It’s real, it’s reciprocal, and it’s not sappy sweet.  One can almost feel the rock-solid foundation [time]

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Categories: Books Tags: , ,
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