Intrepid Girl Reporter


Sunday, 11/15: Ms. IGR eats the GRE
November 15, 2009, 6:14 pm
Filed under: books, Catholicism, life progress

In my ever-expanding quest to make myself the Best Graduate School Applicant I Can Be, I decided (Wednesday) to retake the GRE, as most grad schools take the best scores you get and don’t average them. When you decide to take the GRE and you only have two weeks in which to do it, your options end up being somewhat limited, which is why I ended up taking it today (Sunday). That’s three days of prep, in case you were counting.

Evidently the powers that be had decided that I could use a break from the less than ideal things happening in my life right now, because during the quant part, I lost track of time, guessed on five or six questions, and still managed to a) defeat my old score and b) meet Princeton’s average entry score. HOLLER. I also had a mimosa at noon. Maybe it was the champagne?

I don’t know that this reflects my actual abilities in the arena of math, for the reasons stated above, but I certainly could use this ego boost. Thanks, ETS.

I’m in a Starbucks near Howard U now, but I’m going to a rescheduled JustFaith meeting in a few. Our reading for the past week has come from a really terrific book, Jonathan Kozol’s Amazing Grace, which is not as good as Random Family – probably the ne plus ultra of the genre – but still pretty good. I’m finding JF surprisingly rewarding, and it’s a good way to cap off a day that has gone better than most as of late.



Sunday, 10/12: what we talk about when we talk about love

I have a lot that I want to cover here, but none of it (well, very little) directly relates to anything interesting about me. Sorry for those who know me personally. Also, I would swear that I’ve covered a few of the themes herein before (and referenced similar sources), but either I haven’t or WordPress’s search engine is failing me.

To be addressed in this post:

  • Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
  • The Westing Game
  • the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays
  • Ben Sollee
  • Christopher Walken’s best skit ever
  • marching band competitions

Okay, let’s go.

1. Someone (a real someone) once told me that when people talk about music, especially people of a certain demographic and generation, they’re not actually talking about music at all. (This is one of the things I feel like I’ve covered before, so if I have, apologies.) That idea was the only thing of any use that this someone left for me, but it’s a pretty succinct summation of what I’ve sort of always known, the way we use music (etc.) as a sort of cultural shorthand.*

Which is why I was unsure, going in, about seeing N&N. Everything from the soundtrack to the promotional fonts used suggested that the film’s creators were trying to create a Touchstone, a Cultural Reference Point rather than an authentic story. Another Garden State, if you will, something that guys on dates and girls looking to make friends could reference within the first five minutes of a conversation to assure the other party that they spoke the same language. (Of course, I am guilty of this too, and part of my feelings on the matter stem from my desire to prove that I’m not hopping on any sort of bandwagon. After all, I did sit through the first half of this movie thinking, “I’ve had Bishop Allen on my iPod for TWO YEARS!” and then cursing myself because in those two years, I’ve only listened to them maybe three times, thus making me just as Johnny-come-lately as anyone else. Sorry, end digression.)

Obviously I could go on for a long time about how our tastes should be freed from others’ judgment and yet never are, but what I wanted to talk about was the movie, which is actually very good. I think what made this film for me was the fact that this specific way of life is *not* particularly familiar to me – I was way overprotected and antisocial in the uncool way in high school, and I would never have been allowed to spend a night in NYC in that manner – and yet it felt familiar. The movie really captures the essence of those bizarre endless nights; in fact, it reminded me of nights at My College, which is saying something, because believe me, it is difficult to be further removed from New York than the town where MC resides. But the reason it does is because the movie gets at those feelings of absurdity and exhilaration and being young that exist no matter where you are. Also, Drunk Friend Caroline is amazing and dead-on. Also also, I’m not a huge Michael Cera fan exactly, but I do like that he looks real – when you see guys who are dorky like Zach Braff or (natch) John Krasinski, guys who sort of play into this trend of awkward, you (i.e. I) go, you are not actually awkward, sir, you are just trying to prove you are real. Whereas Michael Cera is NOT good looking (no offense if you read this, sir), and he’s legitimately almost squirmy. (That might be why I’m not a huge fan.) Watching someone like Zach Braff vs. watching Michael Cera is like watching Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed vs. watching Heather Matarazzo in Welcome to the Dollhouse. **

And yes, as much as I hate to admit it, the soundtrack is excellent.

2. This is for you, Brendan and Marie.

3. It’s a pretty well established fact that I’m not from anywhere in particular. That having been said, I still feel a particular affinity with the Floridian mindset and circumstance. Case in point: the Rays making it this far in the baseball season. No one in my family has ever liked, played, or even really watched baseball. Nonetheless, as I read Mr. Marchman’s article, I found myself nodding along in agreement, because I understood everything he was talking about. I remember when the Rays came, how excited everyone was, how willing we all were to overlook the fact that, as the author so kindly points out, they were all wearing “teal jerseys festooned with fish.” We weren’t even overlooking them; it seemed almost logical that if we in the old-people-infested swamplands of America were to be blessed with a real live sports team, we would have to wear something bizarre. Anything else would have seemed like a pose, a half-assed attempt to ape our brethren with deciduous forests.

There is a unique sort of surreal fatalism present on the Gulf Coast and further south. Elmore Leonard and “Maximum Bob” and their ilk are not, to be honest, all that far off; living there I grew accustomed, like everyone else around me, to my lot of extreme weather, ancient foreign intruders and alligators in the drains. Which is probably why I retain a great deal of affection for a place I haven’t lived in in nine years and would never live again, why I commend Slate for recognizing the unique position of the team fighting the underdog, and why I’m rooting for the Rays, even though they dropped the Devil from their name. My city’s still breathing.

(Side note: did you know that the so-called “devil ray” is actually harmless? Yes, our team was named after a powerless animal. Which means we appear to have outwussed even the Minnesota Twins. At least there are two of them.)

4. I just downloaded because he is my age and from Kentucky. I am excited, and I’m trying to figure out where in Lexington he went to high school, because we surely have some mutual friends. Again, I can’t shake off all these places I’ve lived, no matter how much I sometimes wish I could.

5. While the following skit is criminally underrecognized – it beats Cowbell by a mile – one of the underrecognized things WITHIN this underrecognized skit is the way it addresses Florida’s separate mentality. I’m not sure if it was on purpose or not, but “Don’t push your politics on me, buddy” almost feels like a shoutout. Also I wish Tim Meadows would get more credit for his abilities as a straight man.

The video leaves out the last line of the skit, which is a wild shriek, followed by Walken’s frustrated exclamation: “Again? But we just did it an hour ago!”

6. I went to see a marching band competition yesterday. This was my first marching band competition, and quite frankly, I don’t think I have the words to describe the pageantry of these sorts of events. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few photos from Bob Waters Stadium, Western Carolina University (home of the Pride of the Mountains).*** After watching, my mother and I were forced to conclude that when you’re a band director, inspiration is everywhere.

theme: “Taking Flight”/if you look closely, there’s a girl carrying a giant bird on a stick

theme: “War and Peace”/tragedies on display: atom bomb, dead soldiers

graveyard

dueling flutes. This show would obviously take really well to the “On Ice!” treatment.

This show was called “Make Sense.” Which was ironic because it didn’t. (How could it?) I do have to say, though, that I didn’t expect quite this level of abstract installation art from Bourbon County, KY. Note the progression of the lights in the head.

giant flower, natch.

majorettes with eyes on their chests, natch. What are they trying to tell us? WHAT IS THE CODE?

Parents with purple glitter cowboy hats. Natch. Maybe my old Kentucky and old Florida homes aren’t so far apart after all.

*I have swapped iPods with guys as a courting ritual on multiple occasions. More on this later maybe. One guy actually said, half-seriously, “You realize that this is the moment of truth.”

**Of course, I would still rather date Zach Braff, which speaks to the aspirational tendencies in all of us.

***Given the fact that UT’s band, with whom La Sister cheers, is known as The Pride of the Southland, I suggested having a Pride-Off where all the bands who claim to be the pride of their respective areas battle it out for title of Proudest, or alternately, Pride of America. No one else seemed to like this suggestion.



Monday, 9/8: in which IGR tries to determine her evil superpower
September 9, 2008, 4:22 am
Filed under: blogz, books, IGR Recommends, music, poetry

It took being housebound for me to finally start using Google Reader. Despite all the junk food I consume off the internets, I never set up any sort of blog browsing tool, in part because half the blogs I read actually belong to other people I know who don’t know that I read their blog. You heard it here first: IGR is a blog creeper. (Oh, you probably are too.) I suppose that by failing to actually organize these blogs, I allowed myself to deny that I wasted so much time on such things.

Today, however, I have been more or less unable to leave the house. As it turns out, your trusty reporter is more allergic than not to a fairly large class of antibiotics, a fact unknown until, oh, yesterday. When I woke up Sunday morning I mostly looked spotty, but today I resemble a villain in a community-theater production of Batman. Rather than subject others to the sight of me glaring at my arms and willing them to stop itching, I finally learned to stop worrying and love the blogroll. Actually, it seems to save me time, since I’m not constantly trying to remember what I want to read and when I last read it.

All of which leads me to my new favorite blog, This Recording. Note the juxtapositions of verse and baseball! Note the fact that they reminded me that I really wanted to download Cloud Cult (which I inexplicably keep typing as “Cloud Clut”)! Note the breadth of the coverage and the carefully chosen mp3s that go along with each entry! There’s a variety of topics presented here on a regular basis, all interesting and entertaining. A winner.

One last thing: I am still ostensibly on South Beach (ha), but yesterday I received The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook as a gift from Miguk Apa on a trip to the bookstore. (I was also the recipient of a very nice external hard drive. It was a good thing I wasn’t too inflamed to leave the house.) So excited. The cheese bacon grits alone look like they’re worth the price of the book. I wonder if I should even pretend like I’m ever going to diet again.

THE PONDS

Mary Oliver

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.



Monday, 4/7: also, not a recommendation
April 7, 2008, 9:32 am
Filed under: books

The Program kids convened this weekend to “conference.”* We had a sort of informal book swap, where I picked up a copy of the original Sex and the City, Candace Bushnell’s collection of essays that inspired the series.

I have a number of problems with this book.

“Sex and the City,” the television show, was (still is, I suppose) wildly popular among the vast majority of college girls I knew. My personal theory is that this is because it forms a sort of urban fairy tale and feeds a desire for escapism. No one seems to agree with me. Girls say, “I’m just like Samantha/Carrie/Charlotte.” (No one ever seems to want to be Miranda, which, paradoxically, might make her the most realistic.) The book presents the same sort of characters and settings and stories. They’re not bad stories; they weren’t bad in the show, either. They’re entertaining, decently written (in both cases), often funny. But they’re not about me, and they’re not about anyone I know, either.

I think what lies at the heart of my issue with this life Bushnell presents is the fact that these stories are too old for me. There’s a line in the book where a man, taking the unnamed narrator to dinner, says, “I was thinking we could just go to some neighborhood place,” and she looks at him and says, “I don’t think so.” These women go to places that people who live outside of big cities would find “hip” and glamorous – dark bars, loud clubs. They’re terrified of never having babies or getting married, and they can afford to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on shoes and purses.

Do some women, at 22, have that sort of money? Undoubtedly. Do some women really understand the design ethics that go into these expensive goods, what makes the “best” restaurants different, at my age? Again, I am sure. But the characters on the show have lived much longer than we have. They have the background information to spend this money, to make these decisions, to eventually become disillusioned with what they have. We don’t. So we follow these examples in a very shallow, superficial way, aspiring to what – for women who still have a lot of experience to gain and a lot of living to do – is ultimately hollow. What kind of map for women, making their way into what is still a very difficult world, does this provide? Do you REALLY know the difference between a Louboutin and a Blahnik? And, at this point in your life, do you need to?

I like these stories – as fairy tales. I even like them as stories of real people, albeit not the everyday. But what I don’t like is this image of womanhood presented, and embraced, as universal. I don’t know which character I’m most like, and I’m okay with that.

Also, Bushnell got on my bad side almost immediately by referencing Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, claiming that the kept man and the kept woman embrace love at the end. That’s the movie. The movie is fantastic, but it is not the same as the book. In the book, the man isn’t kept, and the woman escapes to Brazil. The book and the movie should be regarded as two separate entities, each with their own merits and flaws, and each telling what amounts to a different story. And, as in the rest of the book, the story she presents – much truer than the ones she tells, I think – isn’t the one that exists.

*complain



Sunday, 2/9: in which the IGR gains a new appreciation
February 10, 2008, 8:43 am
Filed under: books, IGR Recommends, music, Seoul, U S of A

for:

  1. Queen
  2. American breakfast foods
  3. Feist’s “The Reminder”
  4. dryers
  5. salad

I live within Itaewon now, which is disgusting – full of foreigners and knockoffs and garbage. It smells of badly cooked eggs. I am, however, quickly learning to enjoy the rest of Seoul, although I still don’t know it well enough to feel truly oriented or settled. At least not yet.

I have a tendency, anyway, to not appreciate things for their full value at first glance, which means that I’ll probably love Seoul more later, just as I love Queen now more than I ever did as a child, when my father used to play their albums (and air guitar along) for me. I went with a group of Program Kids over to the Seongnam Arts Center, on the far end of the Yellow Line, to see “We Will Rock You” last night – a musical I had specifically advised my family not to see during their time in London, due to poor reviews. The reviewers were wrong. I was wrong. My family is not happy. I never thought a hybrid of “Rent” and “Rocky Horror” set three hundred years in the future could be so very successful.

Other highlights of the past few days: headed over to Butterfinger Pancakes in Apgujeong…twice. Didn’t realize how much I missed pancakes. Also, have clothes that are not stiff and cold. ALSO also, took advantage of the library on base, finished The Emperor of Scent, about Luca Turin, a scientist working to create a new theory on how we smell. Although Soccer points out that “you would think we would have figured it out by now,” the book is well written and a fascinating exploration of both the politics of science and the things we smell every day. It also had the effect, at least for me, of making me want to go to the perfume counter at the nearest department store.  IGR RECOMMENDS, for sure.



Thursday, 12/6
December 6, 2007, 4:11 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, books, ESL, music, skool, students, teaching

ACTUAL SUBTITLED AMERICAN MOVIES MY SCHOOL PURCHASED FOR USE IN MY CLASSROOM

  • “The Deer Hunter”
  • “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”
  • “The Professional”
  • “Cliffhanger”
  • “Rambo”
  • “The Long Kiss Goodnight”
  • “Dances with Wolves” (2)
  • “Highlander”
  • “Apocalypse Naw” (sic)

1G (boys) – movie reviews, part 1

  • louder than usual
  • didn’t get to clip
  • quiz: which of these things are fun/which of these things are funny

1H (boys) – movie reviews, part 1

  • stopped in the middle of the PowerPoint bc they were too noisy and disrespectful
  • at least Min Yoo participated
  • someone spilled perfume (??) and now my classroom smells like cheap jasmine and feet

1F (girls) – movie reviews, part 1

  • not great
  • same material as above
  • again, didn’t get to movie
  • gave SDY copy of A Wrinkle in Time

1E (girls) – movie reviews, part 1

  • again, same material
  • best behaved of all my classes today

2A (girls) – movie reviews, part 1

  • I take that back, these girls were my best today
  • even Crazy Hair and Deer Eyes were participating
  • I’m starting to think this lesson is too teacher-centric?

My eyes and face and body hurt. I’m not down with being sick. I am so, so, so excited about the prospect of discussing books with SDY and Canada. SDY is also one of my best students, although she’s never studied abroad. She looks about eight, has an unexpectedly low voice, and is entirely too serious and sweet. Today I asked her at the beginning of class if the stuff we were doing was boring for her, and she insisted that it was fun. But when I asked her if it was too easy and told her to be honest, she hesitated for a second, looked around, and nodded quickly. SDY is in TBB’s class; it’s not an easy class in which to be a prodigy, and it took SDY about a month to realize that raising her hand for every question was not necessarily a good idea. So anyway she was entirely too nice to admit how dull she found learning stuff she already knows, but I discovered how far ahead she was when she stayed after class. I gave her a copy of AWiT, as previously noted, and she flipped through it with what looked like a bit of hesitation. “Is it too hard, or can you handle it?” I asked her. She looked through it some more, looked up, and asked me, “What happens when I finish it?” I couldn’t help it. I started laughing. And told her that we would cross that bridge when we came to it.

Soccer and I were talking about this tonight and how we have a few students who might actually be backsliding by not learning anything new ever in our classes, so I think we might try to start a book club next semester. The idea of being able to hang out with my kids outside of school, to be with these students that I not only respect but find so adorable I want to put them in my pocket and keep them forever, is awesome, a reminder that even these rough days are better than anything I could have asked for.

Today IGR Recommends: Regina Spektor, because I listened to her today with my Korean friend and I realized that I had forgotten how much fun she is. Scooter says she is adorable, and while I initially took that as an affront, I’m starting to think that maybe he’s right.



we’ll make our homes on the water

Considering the typhoon, it was a surprisingly wonderful Sunday.

Full disclosure, as always:  We brought the storm on ourselves. My friend G’s host sister, J, told her cheerfully that a typhoon was coming Sunday, but given the fact that no one seemed to be evacuating, we all laughed it off as typical Korean hyperbole.* Also, the two weather words all my students seem to know on their own are “fine” and “typhoon.” I thought this was funny.

I was wrong.

It’s been a rough week anyway for pretty much everyone I know – my friend A said that atmospheric changes were afoot, which explained my desire on Friday to personally throttle every single student in my second grade class**, but I don’t know anyone on this island who made it through the week without at least once casting a longing glance back towards American shores. So ending with a Category 4 hurricane isn’t really surprising, I guess. Yesterday was cloudy, a little rainy, but about 75% of the island crew ended up seeing The Bourne Supremacy and/or wandering around looking for entertainment and/or eating Red Mango (finally), eating Indian food, receiving a free coffee mug from the only GNC in the province, and visiting the English bookstore and buying copies of Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim and Paul Auster’s New York trilogy. (Okay, the last part was just me.) Then G and my friend E and I went to the jjimjilbang with my host fam, where we all fell asleep on the floor and didn’t leave until 2 AM. At this point: no evacuations, no alarms, no warnings from the Big Brother-style speaker on my wall from which the superintendent declaims. I hope you don’t think I’m joking on that last part.

We woke up this morning with a promise hanging over our heads: pudding, or “ding-pu,” as Host Brother has taken to calling it. (The first time I made it – out of boredom, on another rainy night – he called the ingredients pudding, but after witnessing its metamorphosis into dessert, decided that the name needed a change as well.) Because it was HB’s birthday party day, E and G and I ventured out into the rain to the supermarket down the street and to Paris Baguette for breakfast. It was a walk that would cost us four umbrellas. I had trouble standing upright. By the time we realized how bad it was, however, we were on a mission. Also so wet that it didn’t really matter if we got any wetter.

So we got our chocolate and our sugar and our croissants and sticky buns and green-tea-cream-cheese-pancakey-thing, and headed home, where the power appeared to be flickering, to no one’s consternation but ours. We made pudding by candlelight. We ate pudding and fried chicken with Host Family and HB’s friends by candlelight. At this point, trees were falling. Then we sat around and talked and read our books, in English, and took a nap, listening to the winds batter the window. When we woke up, the buses weren’t running, so we played Uno with Host Sister.

When we finally made it to the bus station, the streets were flooded, windows were broken, and branches littered the streets. We got E on a bus to Seogwipo and G in her taxi to Hallim, and made it home, where Host Dad, HB, HS and I ate ramen and, because I am forever behind every trend, I read more of the last Harry Potter, again by candlelight. (Side note: I can’t put it down. I wouldn’t call myself a Potter fanatic, but what I love about Rowling is her ability to create a propulsive story – i.e., I always always always want to keep reading.) Then the lights came back on, and I was able to discover that what had actually occurred was Typhoon Nari, with winds somewhere between 131 and 155 miles per hour. Oh.

This is so typical, for us to be here and have no idea that we’re surviving a massive storm.  It’s the grand-scale edition of getting on a bus and hoping it goes our way. Welcome to life in a foreign country. My American mother asked me today if people don’t evacuate, and HS said no; I’m not sure if this was the first typhoon to hit the island, or if it was just the first typhoon in a while, based on what she said (see? SEE?), and I don’t know if people are blase or if they’re actually freaking out and they’re just doing it in Korean. You know? I never imagined that I could experience a storm in this way. But then I never imagined a lot of things.

*There is no typical Korean hyperbole. Mistake Number One.

**Explanation: In Korea, elementary school goes to sixth grade. Once students hit middle school, the grades are started over, so seventh grade = first grade, eighth grade = second grade, ninth grade = third grade. Then the whole thing is started again in high school. Any rhetorical confusion is usually alleviated with the explanation “(grade) (school),” as in “first grade high school,” but since I teach middle school, I think you all can figure it out for yourselves.