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PLACES (of the earth & mind)
Thursday
Mar182010

That thing you think you cannot do.

 

Over at the Foster library, there's an exhibit with influential people and their quotes. Closest to the table where I normally do my work, there's a photo of Oprah Winfrey, and the quote "Do the one thing you think you cannot do." I pass by it about 10 times a day, every time I get up to buy a zesty japanese beverage from the vending machine.
The one thing I think I cannot do, but would really like to do, is write a book. Not just for the sake of writing one, but because I have an idea of something I'd really like to say. I fear I cannot do this because I can't possibly imagine that I can create something that would actually be taken seriously. Who am I to be offering my opinion? There will always be someone more qualified to write it. There will always be someone who could write it better. This self-defeating attitude is really sticking in my craw, but I can't seem to shake it.
I have mastered the art of giving a prof what he wants to read. I can dissect a prompt, do adequate research to compile 30 pages of work enough to get a good grade. But even in the best papers I've written, I'm really only sampling the ideas of others. When the topic is "The Israeli/Palestinian conflict" or "the monetary policy of the EU", there is nothing truly original I could claim as my own. It's all been said, by smarter people than I. I'm simply reading all the arguments, deciding which makes the most sense, and then regurgitating it back in some stylized prose. If someone were to say to me "write a book about this particular topic, using these resources, addressing these issues," I could churn it out, no problem. It's the insecurity that I feel from having to own the entire thing - the idea, the execution, the argument. It's the argument I'm afraid of. I'm afraid I'll make an easily defeated argument. Thank god I didn't go to law school. You'd think that I would have more confidence in my own brain after all this freaking schoolwork. I had more confidence before I even started.
I'm fired up by the idea. I come up with thoughts about the project in my dreams. (Usually I'm having these thoughts on the jungle island in LOST, since we've been watching about 3 episodes a night in an effort to catch up to the current season.) I'm terrified that if I don't follow through with this, that I will have caved to my fears, my mediocrity. I will have taken the easy way out. And this is why I'm putting this on the darn blog. Because I need to say it out loud so that the embarrassment of never following through with it will actually force me to do the one thing I think I cannot do.

 

Monday
Mar082010

these rainy days

It's a dark and rainy day on the Sunabe Seawall, I lurve it. Can't wait to get to Spokane where it really knows how to rain!

John has been back in town for almost a month now. He got in amazing shape (belly be gone!) while in the desert and now he's got me dragging my sorry tush to the gym every day. Peer pressure is good in that department. He got the opportunity to be chief of military justice while deployed and also to advocate in three courts martial (trials) so I think the whole deployment really amped up his experience level. The 5 month separation, while lonely, was worth it.
I just finished a class on Islamic Fundamentalism which was equal parts annoying and informative. Annoying because it was taught by a history PhD with a specialty in African-Islamic studies, so while I was expecting to apply all I've learned about realism and rational choice, none of this really applied. It was basically a history class for which I had absolutely zero background.
Although the class was not taught in Arabic it might has well have been, what with all the "urf'", "hadith", "Qutb", "takfir" and other really high-value scrabble words he just assumed we knew because this was a Master's level class.
"This class really should require a prerequisite in Islamic studies" he says. Fantastic, since I've spent the last two years studying the Cuban Missile Crisis. "That's why I've assigned you the Qur'an as one of your text books, to get acquainted with Islam." UGH.
"Any suggestions of things you think should be on the final exam?" He asks the class.
"Yes," I plead. "Can you in some way relate all of this BACK TO POLITICS? - You know the stuff we actually study and understand??"
I will say that the class readings were really interesting, and totally separated out for me the various strains of Islamic Fundamentalists, from Hamas to Al Qaeda, which have little in common. Perhaps it's because of our history with the monolithic Soviet enemy that makes Americans think we're up against one giant Islamic Fundamentalist monster. After taking this class I'd say that's not really the case. The student presentations (each of us had to write on a separate group) were really informative too. In the end, I'm glad I took the class.
Having lunch with a friend from school today and excited to catch up since I haven't seen her since October! Then off to the travel agent to start planning out trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. After having the freedom to jaunt acound India for 2 months, I just don't know how we can squeeze two countries into 10 days, but I'm going to try my best. Quite the spoiled traveler am I.

 

Tuesday
Feb092010

Reunited

 



John got back last night after 5 months in an undisclosed location in southwest Asia. I got to meet him on the flight line. It's funny how I have been used to being completely alone in my home for 5 months and then all of a sudden there's this other person there, which is kind of strange, and yet it feels like he never left. It's great.

It was a hot and sweaty day, odd since last week was chilly with sideways rain. And just as I type this I hear the thunder and pitter patter on the roof. Man, i love weather.
For some reason John's homecoming triggered in me a kind of Julia Child madness and I spent the last 4 hours making (and simultaneously eating) some serious food. No wonder the chef never eats with the table - by the time the food is done they are completely stuffed!
My mom is a great cook, and very frequently we'd come home to a steaming hot bowl of Leek & Watercress Soup, or powdered sugar-crusted Pound Cake, or individual shells with creamy Coquille St. Jacque. Not a pot or pan in the sink - just the end result, ready for our greedy bellies. As we scarfed down the goods, she'd tell us with pride about how the recipe called for such and such, but she thought such and such would taste better, and doesn't it? Can you taste it Jenny? It's easy when all you see is one pot of soup to dismiss the hours that went into making it perfect. She used to do that with other things to. Like hand-scrub the entire white carpet, and "doesn't it look good Jenny? I just used a little bleach and voila! like new!"
"Sure does" I'd mumble, swallowing a slice of pound cake whole. Why she put so much time into hand-scrubbing a carpet, I'd never understand.
But, after spending all day in the kitchen, making the first meal for my husband in 5 months. I finally get it. Every detail is done with love. Every precise measurement and impromptu ingredient swaperoo makes the dish taste that much better. The rug that much whiter. And after using every pot in the house to make one soup, and washing them all before we sit down to dinner, I finally get it. And it was worth every minute.

 

Monday
Feb012010

A Bad Case of Senioritus

This weekend kicked off my final master's class - Islamic Fundamentalism. It was the only class offered this quarter that I had not previously taken. After several hours of mind-boggling dissection of the various Caliphs of early Islam, the professor looked at our blank faces and repeated his admonishment that this was an advanced class that required some previous study of Islam, which sorry to say, I do not have. So, I went to the library and checked out "Islam for Dummies" which I hope to credit with saving my academic tush.

It seems to me that if a master's program offers a course that requires a prerequisite, they should also OFFER that prerequisite, but I am too tired to fight, and so off to the Qur'an I go. (The Qur'an is one of our 4 textbooks, as is "The Al Qaeda Reader") Unfortunately this is not a Middle Eastern politics class (which seems to be the point of a masters in politics, no?) but a religion class. I'm so irritated. I was hoping to read book #7 on the Cuban missile crisis and call it a day.
In college I took a a Greek Mythology class, and after a few classes of countless indecipherable names, jealousies, battles, deaths, rebirths, it occurred to me that I was being forced to memorize someone else's fairytale, which seemed like an incredible waste of brain power. The wave of deja vu is washing over me.
Recently, I started to think that teaching religion in school wouldn't be such a bad thing. I stand by my feeling that creationism needs to steer clear of science class. Things taught in science must be subjected to the scientific method. But in a world where so much of history and current events revolve around the religions of the world, shouldn't we at least be getting as much of an introduction to Islam as we do to Greek Mythology? I mean, here I am, at the tail end of a Master's program in International Relations and I barely can tell the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite. And by barely, I mean that I know that they're spelled differently. For example, I've written entire papers on Hamas from a "how do we deal with them" perspective, but I really know nothing about them or how they came to be.
The information is out there, sure, and any curious person can take the time to find out more. But I also think that a world religion class taught in high school might open up a group of say, Christian Fundamentalists, to see that even though everyone they've ever met is Christian, that a good portion of the rest of the world is not. Might a few of those kids then be encouraged to find out more about those non-Christians instead of thinking of them all as heathens? Maybe not all, but definitely a curious few.
Of course, this can never happen in the public schools - I mean can you imagine development of the curriculum? Activist school boards, trying to skew the way certain religions are presented. Parents, refusing to sign the waiver to let their kids learn about certain religions. The Gubernator, appointing a panel of theologists on the government payroll to come up with a testing scheme? It would be a nightmare. Even if you say that religion is the reason for so many of the world's problems today - that's the best reason to teach about it I think.
Until then, I will continue to lament my public school education and make up for lost time.

 

Tuesday
Jan262010

Tree Necklace

My tree necklace made it in a Travel Channel Commercial! My Seattle penpal tivo-ed it for me. I'm a one-hit wonder with that darn thing. But I guess that's better than no hits at all.
I'm fighting off yet another post-India cold, but mind over matter - I think I'm winning.

 

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