November 28, 2009

Plan for literary self-improvement

Read the following in English (at least one book by):

Faulkner
Joyce
Tolstoy
Dostoyevski
Wilde
Woolf
Ibsen

Read the following in French (at least one book by):

de Beauvoir
Hugo (bonus for Les Miserables)
Flaubert
Balzac
Dumas
Proust (Du Cote de Chez Swann; only, finish it this time)


This sort of thing makes me feel like Austen's Emma, constantly starting plans for improvement but never following through.  I should have all next summer to read, though...maybe I can make a dent in my (lofty) list.

November 25, 2009

Mal au coeur

This morning, I think I realized exactly what the French call mal au coeur: literally, a pain in the heart but colloquially, a general nausea and malaise (hmm, another French word, unease). 

Symptoms: nausea; stomachache; general uneasiness; a desire to hit snooze or better yet, turn off the alarm; an urge to pull the covers over one's head and not go to class

Proximate causes: lack of sleep, indigestion, lack of breakfast, rainy weather

Ultimate causes: guilt, terror over incomplete homework exposure, guilt, chronic sleep deprivation (extended version of lack of sleep), anxiety over medical school interviews, anxiety over emails and other correspondence from medical schools which have not arrived, stress

Treatment: two courses of action meet standard of care; a) pull covers over head, turn off alarm clock, sleep til 3pm or b) wash face, brush teeth, find marginally clean clothes, attend class, pretend to know answers, try not to cry in your French literature class (when the text is too personal to be discussed objectively), substitute getting ahead on Thanksgiving homework with hours of Bones and House, do laundry, pack, shower, go to bed.

Prognosis: generally curable.  If persistent, may develop into something requiring therapy or antacids.  If Thanksgiving break is not a strong enough dose, wait and try a triple dose (3-4 weeks) of Winter break.

November 22, 2009

La place

My French professor assigned La Place as our last novel of the semester.  I had read Ernaux's Une Femme, and I wasn't sure what La Place would be about but I decided to start.

The first page was deceptively ordinary.  The second page was a sneak attack, a surprise "Gotcha!" that made a headache start to build behind my eyes and around my temples from holding back tears.

"Mon père est mort deux mois après..."

The sentence made my breath catch; it hitched inward and ratcheted into my lungs, stopping for an instant in my throat.

Oh.  This could be hard. 

Even the few pages afterward--all that I have read, so far--the wait beside the body, the careful closing of the eyes, the preparations for the funeral, the condolences of her neighbors--all this is like being transported back in time, three years, six months, five days, to a Tuesday in May that was sunny and mild and terrible.

Already, I imagine myself in class, responding to the novel, and try to prepare myself for what may be inevitable: the knowledge that Ernaux's words are not just crafted well but are a true representation of grief, that her description could be a timeline of my own thoughts, that the numbness that you feel in reading her account is not contrived or there for a purpose but instead the product of shutting off the world so that you can function.  I see myself defending her style, my eyes tearing up and needing to leave the room, my intimate relationship with the subject becoming apparent; the vulnerability of sharing that with people who hardly know me is excruciating, terrifying. 

Then, I imagine myself instead: numb, quiet, not participating, my silence (mis)taken for not having read the book.  Is this better or worse?  I would have insights that hopefully my classmates haven't had.

As always, it seems to be a struggle between being honest and accepting the social niceties that follow ("I'm so sorry."  "I didn't know." and others) with just keeping it quiet, holding back, not sharing so that I don't have to lie ("It's all right.  It was a while ago.  That's okay.  Thanks") or react to sympathy or worse, know that thereafter they could look at me and see this background piece of information like a filter, a special insight into how I respond to things, a clue to my emotions, something that most do not have.

November 21, 2009

Challah

The dough is soft, both times that I knead it: it feels the way I hope it will taste, delicate and gentle, golden and sensuously smooth.  When I divide it up into five pieces, ready for braiding, each little ball gets tugged and shoved and squooshed into pillowy mounds of anticipation.

Division was hard--the first separation was light, beautiful--about the size of an orange.  Two more just like it came off the whole in quick succession, and then, lo and behold, the remaining two were grapefruits.  No matter.  I start to roll each ball into ropes, what my four-year-old self would have called a snake.  But rolling the yeasty, stretchy, elastic dough doesn't work: I have to pick it up, pulling on it like you would for taffy, if you still made taffy by hand, extruding the dough from my hand into the right size.

Finally, five ropy, rough strands are ready.  I pinch the ends together and begin to weave them into a loaf, each strand going over-under-over-under and the loaf so long that it must bake diagonally on the baking sheet.  A thin glaze of egg white and it's into the oven.  When I come back twenty minutes later the loaf has swollen, engorged with heat and released gases and puffy, pale.  Another few minutes and I dare to peek, opening the oven to see a beautiful golden color just completing the Maillard reaction that is so essential to caramelized, browned, perfect baked goods.

A quick, hard tap tells me with its hollow report that the loaf is ready.  I wish I could pick it up and tear into it, right then, but I wait instead.  This is not just for me, but for others: we will eat it together tomorrow night, and the instinct--aroused by the softness of the dough, the anticipation of watching the bronzed loaf through the oven window, the delicate scent that says "someone is baking bread!" and the knowledge that out of flour, water, honey, eggs and yeast come a totally new product much, much greater than the sum of its parts--this instinct to tear off a piece and shove it in my mouth must be averted.  Tomorrow can't come fast enough!

November 15, 2009

On edge

By a miracle, it takes only two swipes of my ID card to unlock the door.  A yank brings the door swinging open, a moment and I am inside.

Scanning the wall of little knobs...to the right....further right...down two, three...there it is.  Crouch down, spin the knob left, then right, then left again....Damn! didn't work.  Again.  Left, right....and left....there--the lock catches just a hair, opening on a rectangular pigeonhole stuffed with papers and oh! envelopes.

I pull them all out at once, a flier catching on the edge as I drag the mail out of the slot.  Ignore the flier, I don't care, it's probably something I won't go to anyway...envelope...from a medical school! but it's just a form from the study I'm participating in.  Another envelope...from the school again! but it's just commencement information.

Everything gets folded hot-dog style around the envelopes and shoved in my bag.  I try not to think about how excited I almost was, how disappointed that the envelope was not from somewhere else, that the envelopes did not contain letters saying "We are pleased to offer you a spot at the School of Medicine..."

"You should hear from us in mid- to late November."

Mail does not get delivered on Sundays.

Today is only the 15th.

November 13, 2009

Poème pour novembre

Tout d’un coup
le monde devient grisâtre.
Les jours ensoleillés de
la semaine dernière sont bien
passés, et les feuilles tombées,
mortes et croustillantes, se reposent
au-dessous des arbres et
partout aux trottoirs.

Il fait froid. Je sens
la fraîcheur
de l’air contre la peau,
mes joues rougissent et
un petit
frisson
me glisse de tête aux pieds.

Même les odeurs ont changé —
il n’y a que
sept jours que le goût
d’été sur le vent
me tourmentait.
Tout perd
son chaleur
son couleur
son odeur
sa vie.

November 5, 2009

Gratitude?

Well, it's easy to see how dedicated I was to the idea of reflecting on gratitude.  I clearly haven't done a very good job of keeping up with my promise to reflect on each day and be grateful. 

But I was reflecting today, while I was in the shower.

Tomorrow, I am to attend a dinner for all the "named scholarship" recipients at my school.  Naturally, being invited to attend such a dinner involves dressing up, meeting your donor, small talk and niceties and an interesting mix of gratitude and shame.

Something in me rebels at the thought of this dinner--I don't know what, exactly.  I feel a sense of shame in needing the scholarship...but where does this come from?  I think it has to do with its anonymity and the fact that it is wholly unearned.  Essentially, I am benefitting from charity. 

Why should I be so ashamed?  My financial status qualifies me for this attention; otherwise, I wouldn't have received the scholarship.  But unlike some of my other financial aid awards, I didn't have to do anything for this one.  In fact, I'm not even sure that I was really selected in any particular way.  At least for other things, I feel like the money is deserved: I wrote an essay, or my grades were exemplary, or some other qualifying condition made me eligible for aid.  But this--with no rhyme or reason?  It makes me feel almost like an orphan made to show up for an orphanage function, a prodigal daughter to be shown off and presented as "look at all the good your money is doing in the world."

Maybe I am just ungrateful.  What's wrong with meeting with my donor, and making her feel like she's making a difference in the world?  Does it matter how I was picked out of the lottery of students in order to be singled out for such attention?  Do I really care that there seems to be no reason in particular for me to receive this scholarship? 

What if there really is a reason for me to receive this scholarship, and all this griping is me being lazy and not wanting to devote my time to saying 'Thank you" for something that's truly just a gift?  What if the reason is something we have in common?   How do I feel about that?

November 1, 2009

Reading from 10-28-09


Reading from 10-28-09

Present/Recent past:The 4 of swords--urgent need for rest; The Sun--celebrations ahead; Queen of swords reversed--mature female unafraid to confront difficult issues has become bitter and hardened.  The center portion of the layout makes me think of the interview itself--My first interviewer was very hardcore, and her style of questions was very difficult to communicate with.  I felt like she was really picking apart at every little thing that I said.  But the Sun suggests a positive outcome.

Temporary state of affairs--3 of cups reversed: false pregnancy or miscarriage.  I never know what this card means in my context, since I've never been pregnant, falsely or otherwise.  I guess in this case it could be that because my first interview seemed so shaky, it seemed like a false start.

Slightly ahead--King of cups reversed: Fair-haired, blue-eyed mature man, family-oriented, married or attached, has become possessive and overbearing and prone to selfishness.  This I read as my second interviewer--we had a good discussion about health care reform, but he tended to talk over me and interrupt to some degree.

Passing influence to come: The High Priestess: a highly intuitive female capable of great psychic power.  I have no idea...sometimes shows up as IO or RB.

Recent past: The Hermit: "seek and ye shall find." I'm not really sure on this one, either...maybe the application process in general?

Near future: Ace of pentacles reversed: money going in one door and out the other.  Definitely true with med school applications and travel; also definitely true of halloween!

State of affairs, near future: The Chariot: a good feeling about having control of your life.  True!  It feels good to have one interview under my belt; if I get in, I'd be happy to go there; if I don't, well, there are other schools...

Others' opinions: Lovers reversed: confusion about the choices in one's love life.  Why is this one here?  Not really sure...med school vs. love life?

Your expectations: 4 of pentacles reversed: I'm becoming a miser; you can't take it with you when you're gone.  Is this really true?  I mean, I'm certainly conscious of how much it costs to not only apply but also just to get to interviews.  CW & I ate at Waffle House after my interview--it wasn't exactly cheap, though--McDonald's is cheaper...hmm.

Outcome: Ace of swords reversed: Poor decisions or reluctance to make an important one proves to be disastrous.  Not sure what to do with this--I don't know that any poor decisions have been made...have I forgotten something?

See, overall the layout seems to do just fine.  Maybe I lost focus on the last few cards--they didn't seem to meld with the idea of the interview at all.  They seemed to be more about the general state of my life than anything.