Thursday, January 28, 2010

Family History (In literal Arabic translation)

This week we had to write an essay in Arabic. This is a selectively literal translation of what I wrote:

There is to me a small family. There is to me a maternal uncle, and a maternal aunt, however there is not to them children. Also, my paternal uncle, there is not to him children. There are to me a pair of paternal aunts, * there are to them a pair of daughters and a single son. There is to me a single sister. Her name is Anna. Anna and I** are from the city of Washington because our dad used to be in the army. My dad and my mom used to be from the city of Jacksonville in the state of Florida, and their extended family is in Florida, however my dad joined the army because he specializes in music of the saxophone, and he was in "band" of the army.

Every year, my family and I used to travel to Florida for to visit our extended family.

The mom of my mom was from the region of "Kent" in the Britain that is Great. Her dad was from the city of "Aberdeen" in the Scotland. The dad of my mom is from Florida and the mom of my dad was from Georgia, in the city of Cairo (not from Egypt!)

My pair of grandmothers died before a pair of years. My grandfather lives in Jacksonville with my maternal uncle. They work with the oranges, and the lemons, and the "satsumas" and "the tangerines". My maternal aunt works with the tea. (My family loves the tea because of my grandmother).

My sister and I want to travel to the Britain that is Great.


*Every time I use this construction, it's because I put a noun in the dual form. So instead of saying "two aunts" you'd say "aunt-teyn" meaning "two aunts."

**This turns out to be a pun since "I" sounds similar to "Anna" in Arabic.



Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Math Lessons.

Last semester, I had the bright idea to take an online math course. As bad as I am at math, this actually seemed (at first) to be an ideal setup for me, due to the fact that it was no longer an automatic grade-diminishing catastrophe every time I failed to pay attention. This is key to my success, as when it comes to not paying attention in a math class, I have always excelled fantastically.

Needless to say, I barely scraped my way through it, and vowed that for my next (and, thank god, final) math course, I would not even consider the notion of trying it online.

Now, quite a bit of my near failure stems from the unavoidable fact that the best thing I can say about math is that I despise it. My inability to absorb any of the presented materials for my online class was not entirely due to my total dismissal of the subject, though. In a cruel twist, the woman in the tutorial videos had the most soothing voice, making it impossible to maintain the level of alertness required to really grasp new concepts. (I say "new" despite the fact that I have been taught these simple algebraic methods dozens of times, and they still manage to slip away from me just before an exam) It was soft and mid-pitched, a little timid, and sounded the way a mother speaks upon entering the room of a gravely ill child. She wrote formulas on her sheet and said, kindly, "Now, for this problem, we'll have to use the method known as Completing the Square," and yet all I ever heard was, "How's your head, honey? Would you like some more soup?"

She also had this incredible face, full of creases and folds, with the most expressive reservation I've ever seen. Her expression never drastically changed, but now and again she would look up and to her left, suddenly communicating a depth of uncomfortable hesitation that was deeply fascinating. What made her suddenly so nervous? How was she able to restrict that look to only her eyes, and yet say so much? Before I knew it, I had missed the entire video while concentrating on how best to render the shadows above her eyelids with a ball point pen.

At least with this new setup, I could, theoretically, restart the video if I missed something. That I have never once actually done this is probably a valid point to be made, but the option was there. I could always go back and try again, but I didn't. No, if I failed to grasp something, or failed to hear it at all, my method was to attempt the homework problems blindly, throwing numbers at the screen until I reached a point where the possibility of my moving on to the next equation was gone. At this point, I would emit mewing sounds for help to Dan, who is patient and good at math, and then he would fix my mistakes, explain what I failed to comprehend before, and the cycle began anew.

Fast forward to the second week of my Statistics class. I am riddled with unseemly desires to goof off and tell the subject of Statistics what it can do to itself.

It turns out that in person, the only way to keep my attention on the task at hand is to approach the entire class like an acting course. I furrow my brow and nod, acting as if I were paying attention. It helps. Pretending I'm being watched and scanned for signs of comprehension by a faceless audience makes my nods and head tilts more forced, but it keeps me from actively doing anything else, like drawing pictures or writing a story. The whole thing is a grotesque vaudevillian display of academic life, but what can I say? Fake it 'till you make it, or something equally overused like that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How I Got My Gig Writing A Humor Column

Back before the rag tanked. Shamefully, this was my little literary audition. Lolita it ain't, but it got me my first writing job.

I have a horrible confession.

I love Chips Ahoy! There, I said it. It is my shame. It is my passion.

For one thing, you can eat so many of them. Homemade chocolate chip cookies are divine, but you can only pack in a few wads of dough and about three baked cookies before you want to die. But the fun never ends with Chips Ahoy! Two, even three sleeves go down the hatch easy. It’s a great way to get your calcium if it takes you a half a gallon or more of milk to wash down your sweet, sweet little sirens. I can insist on organic, hormone-free milk from free-range cows, and use it to wash down a hockey puck of refined wheat, sugar, and preservatives without a trace of irony.

I love Chips Ahoy! Their sweet crumbly goodness makes me so happy it’s obscene. I used to sniff that we’d be having naught but Oreos in our house, God-fearing Oreos and God-fearing bakery or homemade deserts. I was totally anti-snax.

All of that ended with my introduction to these crisp, sugary little morsels. Why had I never encountered these little miracles in my sugar-soaked childhood romps through the desert aisle? So many wasted years! My God, you can devour them in one bite! No crumbs! The other day my boyfriend went out of town for a weekend, and God help me, I downed a whole box of them in just two sittings while the saints wept.

These things are a gateway drug that have my eyes combing the grocery aisles for fresh (stale) sugary snack foods. What other childhood treasures passed me by? What other secrets lurk behind those colorful wrappers?

Yes to all of it! Yes to the root beer barrels and the chocolate! Yes to the peanut butter cups, the bags of miniature candy bars and the taffy, the butter cookies, and everything else! Yes to everything processed, refined, pumped with sugars and preservatives whose names I couldn’t pronounce even if I could sit still long enough to try to read the label through my sucrose-induced delirium tremens! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I really should have company around more often. Of course, there are the obvious social benefits, but really I'm referring to the fact that it makes me aware of, and more horrified by, my own filth. It isn't until the final two hour countdown that I really begin to wallow in disgust and start making frantic adjustments in order to present an unrealistic picture to my guest. I wouldn't want anybody to be startled by the mayhem that ensues as soon as I'm left alone to flourish in my natural habitat.

I tend not to be too bothered by my detritus when it's just me, but mostly because my offal reflects fabulous taste. That's not a month-old water bottle you see, it's a month-old Perrier bottle. My foul mugs just reflect that I'm the kind of crackling intellectual who drinks tons of tea and coffee, which supposedly means something if you're a complete asshole who judges people on things like that. My sour laundry is at least comprised of stylish black clothing.

At least my filth isn't in poor taste. Still, I'm deeply ashamed of it when I have someone in my home, picking over piles of clothes and attempting to make a spot for themselves on the couch. Really, though, how well do my closest friends know me if I won't let them see the withered, half-empty teacups, the smattering of useless papers with unfinished naked people drawn on them, the unmade bed with the untraceable stains on the sheets? I'd like to think that those who come around often know me fairly well, as in they are keenly aware of my likes and dislikes, are familiar with my life story, and can read me without effort. Still, now and again I wonder if I wouldn't be more comfortable if I dropped the charade and just once flung open the door, allowing my unfortunate guest to see my offal and debris in its entirety.

“Come in, come in! Move that pile of laundry aside, you'll find a food-encrusted chair underneath it. Oh, come now. You signed up for this. You decided to be my friend, remember? Now pick your way through the paper trail and come into the kitchen. Let's get something to eat, shall we? And let's not bother to put the dishes in the sink, while we're at it. Hey, I'm just being honest with you.”

Still, I hate people who use honesty as a blanket philosophy to excuse cruelty, so I suppose citing truthfulness to excuse filth is just as bad. It would be a lot less stressful, though.

It's probably silly to think that the “real” me lurks in closets and is frantically stuffed into trashcans before an inspection by a friend. Maybe my garbage and rubble is no more unique to me or indicative of my personality than any hidden body function or suppressed catty remark.

They say that through friendships, one becomes a better person. Maybe for me, that just means that the more friends I have, the higher the chances are that I'll get my ass off the couch and take the garbage out once in a while.