I awoke with a start at 8:42 this morning, exactly one dozen minutes later than the time by which I am usually walking through the front door of the Communications Office. Classic Monday.
I tossed on some clothes, brushed my teeth, and grabbed a yogurt and a nectarine. I was seated at my desk by 9 o'clock, and that includes the seven-minute walk it takes to get to work. My case of "the Mondays" was quickly cured.
Today I had the task of re-tooling one of the articles I wrote for the Hendrix site, personalizing it to send to a hometown newspaper. "German majors visit Holocaust sites" became "Showing Auschwitz as it is: Local student visits, photographs Holocaust sites." I sent it to Lauren Bartshe's hometown newspapers, which also happen to be my hometown newspapers. That means that if my work gets published in, say, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I will be able to make everyone I know read it.
I also sent out a hometown press release to a California paper, lauding the accomplishments of Lydia Nash. The story on the Hendrix site, "Going Green: Sophomores volunteer for Irish organic farm," pretty convincingly proves that Lydia and her friend Amelia are hard core, butt-kicking, inspiring young women. Which is exactly the kind of people I like to read and write about.
The most satisfying part of my job is noting how many visitors each story gets each day. The number of hits understandably drops as the story lingers on the homepage. But even the stories that are two weeks old are still getting 14 and 16 hits a day. The Holocaust story, which was posted on Friday, received 55 visitors today.
As with my blog, I really don't know who these readers are. My stories don't have my name on them, so I never get any feedback. That is until today, when my friend Joe and I got to talking about our summer jobs on campus.
"You write those stories on the homepage?" he asked when I explained my job duties. "Did you write that one about Mallory in London? Man, I loved that one! And the one about the girls who went to Germany? Oh, man, that one was great!"
I only wish I had had my trusty tape recorder on. That's the kind of thing a girl could listen to over and over. But even without feeling like a minor celebrity, my job is certifiably awesome. I get to live vicariously through dozens of other people. This also entails talking to dozens of kick-ass Hendrix girls who are making their way around the globe to volunteer, research, or just plain learn.
Less frequently, I am assigned to talk to some pretty cute young Hendrix men. Unfortunately, because my main assignment is reporting on summer Odyssey projects, the boys are few and far between.
Only 12 of the 45 students who received Odyssey funding were guys. Of those, more than half will be conducting their projects in late July and August, after I have packed my bags and moved to Mexico. This is my official explanation and apology for the fact that the website is going to be very girl-centered for the next few weeks. (Or maybe it's karma for the past 2000 years. Did I mention I'm reading the book cunt: a declaration of independence? Great book!)
Coming up: stories about Hendrix ladies who ...
- attended photography seminars in preparation for opening a wedding photography business
- volunteered at an urban farm to help rehabilitate people with chemically dependencies and/or mentally illness
- trekked through New Zealand swamps to empty rat carcasses from traps, in an effort to save the local kiwi birds.
Keep an eye out!
A year ago today, I waited on hold for about an hour on the government's National Passport Information Center hotline. I had two days left to get my passport, and no real assurance that it was going to arrive. That was right after it was announced that U.S. citizens would soon need passports for travel to Canada and Mexico, so the passport-granting agency was swamped with requests. Somehow they just didn't understand that my request was more important than everybody else's.
The passport arrived mid-afternoon on June 28 -- less than 24 hours before my flight left for Madrid. I had called the hotline at least half a dozen times. Let me assure yout it is the world's least helpful hotline.
Here's an excerpt of my June 15, 2007 blog post:
On the passport website, I’ve checked the status of my application several times. “Thank you for submitting your passport application! It is currently being processed,” the site cheerily announces.
The site also advises, “If you are traveling within 2 weeks and have not received your passport, please contact the National Passport Information Center with the above locator number. It will enable them to update you on the status of your application.”
So I called today. I spent about an hour on hold at various points during the day, but I was eventually connected to a customer service representative. We spoke for about two minutes, during which time he said, “Alright, your application is being processed. That’s all I can tell you.” No estimate of how much longer it might take. No explanation of why I was told to call the number, if they could only give me the same information as the website. One redeeming factor: the representative let me know that, if I hadn’t received my passport within three days of my departure date, I could call back. Thank you, federal government.
Those were the days before I blogged for Hendrix. For four months, all of my witty sarcasm and fun anecdotes could be found at www.EuropeanOdyssey.wordpress.com. It's actually a pretty good little blog, although the updates were fairly infrequent. It has a bunch of great packing and travel tips on it, if I do say so, and would be a valuable little resource if you're planning to study abroad this year.
I get all nostalgic, looking back at it. This year has been great and all, but 2007 was definitely life-changing. It was when I solidified my best Hendrix friendships, then left them for six months, and found that they still liked me when I came back. It was when I first learned what a blog was, and then started writing for one!
It was when I learned I could read maps and navigate the Metro systems of dozens of different cities. I got remarkably better at mental math and at striking up random conversations with new people. I had Dutch gin and Portuguese ginginha, half a dozen types of cider, and even went for a Guinness once or twice (OK, only once -- and it was a half-pint). And I made out with a guy from Cambridge!
I was miserable for a good portion of the time, especially during the summer, being cold and hungry in the way that only ridiculously frugal backpackers can be. And desperately homesick in a way that is utterly predictable when your first trip across the ocean lasts for half a year.
My favorite homesickness story: on a train ride through Belgium, I talked to a man from France. I pulled out my fold-out map of Europe and asked him to point to where he was from. He was from Nancy. That's my mom's name. I started bawling. Please don't judge me.
There is no Nancy, Mexico, though, thank goodness. Overall, I should be much happier in Mexico, just by dint of being so much more prepared. I have a great Rough Guides guidebook to Mexico, three Harry Potters in Spanish, a memoir called On Mexican Time and a book called Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish. Plus, my brother is sending me three more books to help me review my Spanish and prepare mentally for a new setting. The only problem will be finding the time to read them all, plus the other twelve books I have on my list, before I leave. One month. Twenty-plus books. That's feasible, right?
The easiest, most comforting book I've been reading is called "It's a Dangerous Business ...". It's the photo album I made as a Christmas gift last year, full of the pictures I took in Europe. The title comes from the Lord of the Rings series, where Bilbo says, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."
The book, which is the most beautiful thing I've ever made, reminds me of all the fantastic times I had abroad and the adventures I have to look forward to. Check it out.
I headed off to Hope, Arkansas, last Monday, where I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Mrs. Cook. If she is representative of the rest of the blog readers, y'all are a pretty awesome bunch.
The next morning, Kate Cook, her friend Dalton, and I drove down to Dallas for a Death Cab for Cutie concert. Death Cab has a special place in my heart, because their music reminds me of my high school boyfriend. The first time I saw them play was the summer after graduation, at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, which I attended as a way to get out of my post-break up funk. (I highly recommend breaking off high school relationships before you go to college. But it's also terrible and heartbreaking. So it goes.)
"Summer Skin" and "Photobooth" and "Tiny Vessels" are classic breakup songs. An excerpt from the latter:
This is the moment that you know
That you told her that you loved her but you don't.
You touch her skin and then you think
That she is beautiful but she don't mean a thing to me.
Putting that track on repeat would guarantee a nice little pity party. But the song that brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it is "Transatlanticism." It describes the sudden creation of the Atlantic Ocean:
Those people were overjoyed; they took to their boats.
I thought it less like a lake and more like a moat.
Some personal background: after freshman year, both back in their hometown for the summer, the former couple joyfully reunites. And then the girl goes to Europe for six months. And the boy doesn't call. Or write. Or send carrier pigeons. And the boy starts dating someone else named Katie. Not that I'm bitter. And not that I fell asleep to the song's chorus -- the words "I need you so much closer" repeated eight times -- every night for my first month abroad.
Long story short is that the Dallas concert passed in a flash. Each song brought up old memories, and I got more lost in my thoughts than I ever did in all the foreign cities I visited. The band's encore ended with a stunning, heart-wrenching rendition of "Transatlanticism." All of the videos I can find on YouTube have annoying people screaming and singing along in the background. That might have happened in Dallas. I might have sung along, too. But all I remember is being absolutely transfixed, remembering how alone I felt being across an ocean from my friends and family.
Am I really about to do that to myself again? You bet. This year I'll be on the same continent as my family, in Mexico. I'll even be in the same time zone as both St. Louis and Conway. It's just that most of my friends will be across the Atlantic -- in England, Spain, France, and even Ghana. I'll get back to the United States in early December, and a week later I'll head off to India for two weeks. I'll miss Christmas.
The tickets are all bought. It's official. I leave for Monterrey in a month and two days, which brings me frighteningly close to hyperventilating. I don't know why I do this to myself, except that I know it's good for me to see new places and be put in new situations; it keeps me sharp. And I know deep down that I will have a blast and meet amazing people. But that doesn't stop me from worrying that I'll step off the plane and forget every word but "Hola."
Which brings me to my favorite Death Cab song, "What Sarah Said."
And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to Father Time.
They didn't play that one at their concert, to my great disappointment. But even without that song, and even though I spent half of the concert living in the past instead of relishing the present, I can't think of a better way to spend $40 or a Tuesday night than seeing a soulful concert with a great friend.
I bid you adieu with a link to the music video for the best song for the band's new album: Grapevine Fires.
We watched the plumes paint the sky gray
As she laughed and danced through the field of graves
And there I knew it would be alright
That everything would be alright ...
So far today, 75 visitors have viewed my blog 86 times. That's pretty darn cool, but also a bit of a mystery. The blog is aimed at prospective students, but I'm not quite sure who exactly the audience is. Who are you people, anyway?
I do know that one reader is my friend Kate Cook's mom, a.k.a. Mrs. Cook, whom I will have the pleasure of meeting this evening. "My mom is going to be really happy to meet you," Kate told me last night. "She's really into Hendrix. She totally reads your blog."
Kate and I are driving to Dallas tomorrow for a Death Cab for Cutie concert. Did you know: DCFC is classified as "adult alternative" music? So I officially like adult music. Add that to my list of embarassing characteristics. Soon I'll be tuning my radio to smooth jazz, or soft rock.
You know, I'm really trusting you here. I trust you not to make fun of me to my face about listening to old folks' music. Or the fact that I wear cardigans, or that my leg swelled up for two days after I was stung by a bee. Or the fact that I sometimes put favorite poems in my blog posts. In a less Hendrix-tastic environment, I might not be able to open up like that. I might have to hide my supreme dorkiness. I might have to do something drastic, like -- gasp! -- join a sorority.
Not at Hendrix, my friends.
Two words best sum up my Friday the 13th: flash flooding. We're not having anything like the rain that's happening in Iowa, but Arkansas did get quite the thunderstorm last night. I spent the afternoon and evening in Little Rock with some friends, returning to Conway around 11. Unfortunately, that was exactly the same time that said thunderstorm struck with fury.
The drive was great for awhile, as I headed north on highway 40 watching the storm unfold before me. Dark, imposing clouds. Lightning snaking through the sky. Very beautiful. Until the storm hit us, that is.
Sheets of rain. Eighteen-wheelers shooting past. The whole works. I was terribly relieved to have bought new windshield-wipers last week. That moment of pride faded as my friend Harmony said, "So what happens if we lose control and start spinning? Aren't you supposed to turn your wheel the way you're spinning? Or is it the opposite way?" All I could say was, "Umm ... I hope that doesn't become relevant." It's not entirely my fault -- I never took Driver's Ed! If you have any tips for driving in a massive storm, you might leave a comment and tell me. It seems important.
The rain calmed and we made it back to Conway. Or should I say Swampland. Apparently the city of Conway was built on a drained swamp? (A Little Rock native confirms that hearsay.) So when it rains, it floods. As we drove down an inundated Oak Street, there were times when I thought we wouldn't make it home. I got to Harmony's house and parked safely. And didn't leave.
Other two-word pairs from my weekend thus far:
It's been kind of hard to do my job of writing about the summer Odyssey projects, because most of them haven't happened yet. The summer is still young. But now that the first few have wrapped up, I finally have something to write about! Here are the first two:
I also found out that another of my stories was republished, in full, in the Rockwall Herald-Banner and Conway's Log Cabin Democrat. Basically, I'm slowly conquering the journalistic world.
I'm at work on several more stories, including one about a freshman who has an internship with the state historian. So I got to drive to Little Rock and get the full tour of the capitol building. Just another step in my Arkans-ification.
This afternoon, after confusedly waking up at Harmony's house, I went home. Although there has been a wasp in the kitchen for the past few days, that is not where I got stung. I went to the Hendrix beehives with my friend Kirby. The Hendrix Beekeeping Club, established in 2005, owns a handful of hives on biology professor Dr. Haggard's land. Several of my friends are members and I've never seen the hives, so when Kirby invited me I was excited to see what I've been missing.
I admit I've been missing some cool things. I saw bees hanging onto each other in long, buzzing chains. I saw bees stick their butts in the air and fan their pheromones into the air, to let the other bees know where "home" is. Unfortunately, I also saw my leg swell up after a particularly disgruntled bee stung me on my right knee. I haven't been stung since pre-school, and it's not something I've missed.
The top half of my body, including my head, was covered in a traditional white beekeeping suit. The bottom half of my body was (apparently insufficiently) covered by a pair of jeans. Although the protective measures were definitely necessary, since the bees have been pretty moody lately, the extra layers made it incredibly hot. There's nothing like standing in a forest clearing, surrounded by bees, sweating like crazy, knee swollen, with the bee-tranquilizing smoke making your eyes water, to make you appreciate the hard work that beekeepers do.
I was warned not to shower or wear perfume before attending to the bees, so I wouldn't attract them. After sweating so much, it is pretty much guaranteed that I am currently repelling anything with a sense of smell. So now my two favorite words are: shower time!
I remember how it used to feel to see one of my teachers at the grocery store or out on the street. It was a somewhat of a shock to realize they had real lives outside the school grounds, with husbands and cats and bills to pay. Being at school in the summer is kind of like that: odd, interesting and somewhat uncomfortable.
College viewbooks always show the majesty of the school's grounds with full fall foliage. There are a few pictures, perhaps, of the serenity of the snow-covered campus in winter. Hendrix, in particular, likes to boast about the azaleas that explode all over campus in mid-March and April. But there are no pictures of the school with browning grass, or of Fourth of July fireworks bursting above the biology building, or of fireflies glowing in the trees.
It has therefore been a surprise and mostly a pleasure to watch the school go into summer mode. The campus has emptied, and few of the non-science professors come around, as far as I can tell. The residence halls are vacant. The parking lots are practically bare. I never have to wait for someone else to finish with the leg press machine in the WAC.
Thes students who are still staying on campus are mostly chemistry, physics and biology majors who have stayed on to help their professors with summer research. That introduces an interesting dynamic, since I haven't taken chemistry since sophomore year of high school. That was, ahem, five years ago. So when I say things like, "Gosh, it seems like there used to be more fireflies around at this time last year," they say, "Fireflies are actually dying at alarming rates across the country. So are frogs. It has to do with the pollution of lakes and streams, caused by ... ."
As I typed that, my roommate Leeann just came in and wound up telling me about the history of the treatment of tuberculosis. As a history and chemistry double major, she is considering working either as an epidemiologist or an international patnent lawyer. (You know you're a dork when a friend tells you she's considering going into patent law, and you get truly excited about it. I digress.)
Although the azaleas are long-dead and some of our grass is indeed turning brown, the Hendrix campus is still so beautiful! The Arkansas garden has come into its own, with thousands of flowers in bloom. Even the prickly cactus (which was quite thoughtlessly planted about an inch away from the stone walkway that cuts through the garden) is in bloom. My camera seems to have broken recently, but I have some old photos of the Turtle Pond, which is also in bloom.
There are no turtles in the Turtle Pond, but recently we've gotten several little Koi and quite a few teensy frogs. One of those little frogs was temporarily captured today by a student from the Ridin' Dirty with Science summer camp held on campus.
The students were set free on campus and asked to bring back a cool natural feature of some sort, which they could observe up-close with a dissecting microscope. Most picked some kind of leaf, rock, feather, or stick, but one group brought back a tiny frog in a petrie dish, with an equally diminutive lilly pad and a drizzle of water to keep him comfortable.
Soon the Ridin' Dirty campers, who are in grades 4-7, will be replaced by the 11th-grade Arkansas Governors School participants. Watching other people live on my campus is probably the hardest thing about being here. It's like being asked to share your favorite toy.
I can only imagine coming back as an alumna and realizing I have permanently ceded my school to a bunch of youngins. I'll pinch their cheeks and say, "Why, when I was your age, we had to walk five miles in the snow to get to the WAC -- uphill both ways!"
I went home to St. Louis last week to celebrate my birthday. I left Arkansas as a teenager, and I came back an old woman. I've been very domestic since my return to my apartment, and I think my roommates have noticed. In the three days I've been back, I've washed my clothes, taken out all the trash, washed the dishes piled up in the sink, taken out the recycling, etc.
The birthday itself was just as domestic: my twin sister and I cooked a lovely (and vegan) dinner for our family. It was a Friday night, so after clearing the table we sat on the couch and drank homemade mojitos. Is this what adulthood is? Responsbilitiy, moderation, and simple pleasures? I guess that's not so bad.
The birthday in general wasn't as bad as I had feared. There were moments of panic in the weeks leading up to The Big Day, because I'm not ready to be old yet. But then I realized I'm pretty old already -- and have been old for a long time. For example, much to the amusement of my friends, I pick out the next day's outfit each night before I go to bed. My personal style has been characterized as "librarian-esque" -- by multiple people. I enjoy brussels sprouts and cabbage. I listen to NPR and read the newspaper religiously. These are hard facts to confront, but I share them openly with you.
I even have a favorite poem about birthdays. I don't feel as bad about aging as this poor guy did, I can barely remember turning ten. God. I am old.
On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins
The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.