Thursday, July 31, 2008

knit love

Despite what it may have sounded like from my most recent post, life is good. Real good. Really, really good, in fact. There are some bumpy spots, but all in all life's a great thing.

Today I got a message on Facebook (yes...I have become One of Those...) telling me that someone was giving away ice cream bars as part of a promo for a bioreagent supply demonstration. Since I wasn't doing anything at all except sipping coffee, I went over and checked it out. As I meandered across the courtyard to the appropriate location, I thought, "Now...this is IT. Simple pleasures. The fact that I can get all excited about the prospect of free ice cream...that's great!" It is. Got to take the blessings and gifts that are given and receive them with thanks.

Another simple pleasure that has been sorely lacking in my life over the past several months is knitting. There has been a little bit here and there, but nothing major. It's sometimes very humiliating for me to read others' knitting blogs and see them whip out socks and sweaters and baby hats and all sorts of stuff. They get more finished objects in one week than I do in a year. I've pondered why exactly I am not knitting as much now. Was I just a fad knitter? I've heard that yarn stores are closing their doors by the hundreds because the interest is just not there anymore.

I think I'm not a fad knitter. I think there are several things that are keeping me from my wool. The first is that I wrote a dissertation, moved, started a new job, and went on a 2-week international journey in the matter of a month and a half to start out the summer. The second is that there are a lot of new demands on my time. The third is that I have only a 5 minute bus ride to work instead of the previous 30 minute one. The fourth is that I am not terribly intrigued by any of the items I currently have on the needles.

What are those items, pray tell, since I never write about them anymore? Well, there's a vest/tank thing made in brioche stitch. I don't actually know where this is located in my apartment at the moment, so it would be kind of hard to do any work on it. There's a pair of socks, but after forgetting to bring the directions for the heel (and it was a new type of heel for me) when I went on a road trip and subsequently knitting a much longer heel flap than anyone would ever need, I have concluded that I am going to rip the whole thing because I was not really liking it that well to begin with and if I'm makings socks for myself I might as well like them. I had pretty much finished a hat (about seven months ago...or more...) but now would rather use the yarn for something else, so that's probably going to get ripped, too. And I had started a sweater with some sweet yarn, but now I have no idea why I ever liked the pattern and think I will rip that out, too. That leaves me with a cabled raglan, which I like quite well actually. I have finished the chest/shoulder part, so now most of it is just stockinette in the round and that goes quite quickly. But then I found out that I had messed up some of the cables very minorly...and I'm not entirely satisfied with the way the increases turned out along the shoulders... Maybe I'll rip that, too, because I don't entirely love the neckline either and believe I could improve it, and I think there's some inter-dye-lot funkiness going on that I did not anticipate. That stinks, because I spent a lot of time on it.

In any relationship there's that "hey, this is cool and new and great!" time...and then that wears off. I think that's where I've gotten with the knitting. Our relationship is not over, it's just lost some of that novelty. ...We are finished with the honeymoon...

I think I need a shot in the arm! Something that's quick and useful and fun to make. ...But what?? I guess that if worse comes to worse, I could try my hand at this. Quick. Fun. ...Useful? Hee hee.

...But I'm open to other suggestions.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Attitude, as I've written before, is a choice. And today I know that I have a choice to be happy or sad or angry...and I am choosing to be angry.

I have admired the work of Alanis Morissette for a while - particularly Jagged Little Pill and Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. One of the songs that has stuck with me for many, many years is "Unsent." It seems like many a blogger has blogged an unsent letter, and here is mine for today...written to the long-lost D in case you wonder... Got some news yesterday that has been confirmed, and it turns out that...well, some of Alanis's lyrics are perfect:

Dear You,
There seems to be a pattern in my life, and I don't think it's entirely my fault. We are all attracted to weird things. "I used to be attracted to boys who would lie to me and think solely about themselves." You happen to fit this definition precisely. I realize that I am to blame for being attracted to that, but you are to blame for lying. That is really, really mean, and it is very, very hurtful. I wish that you would realize that, and I wish that you felt bad about it. But I cannot make either of those things happen. I can, however, make some choices. I choose to forgive myself for being attracted to such weirdness. I choose to forgive you for being so mean, even though you may never be sorry. I hope you have a lovely life with your soon-to-be-wife whom you were seeing while you were flirting with me and making me confused. Wait, that wasn't very sincere. ...I choose to really mean that, now: I do hope that your life is blessed with wonderful things and that you change the world with your intelligence and passions. You're a pretty good person, all in all.
That is it. Signed,

Friday, July 18, 2008

silver and gold

I have been extraordinarily blessed in my move to State College to have met some really great people and to have quickly become good friends with a couple of them. I spend time with one friend or another pretty much every day. Nevertheless, some days are really hard and seem almost lonely, despite my being with other people. The reason is that, even though these folks are "friends," I have only known them for about two months, and that is a far, far cry from the friends in Pittsburgh whom I have known for 6 years. I know that friendships take a long time to develop and mature, but living in the microwave-age, I really dislike that and wish that I could somehow zap deep friendships into being and make six-years-worth of friendship be squooshed into two months and give quick results!

That is why I have to remember my "gold friends" - the ones who have been around for three, six, fourteen years! They know my personality, likes and dislikes, modus operandi, and history. I don't have to give them the back story just to get them to understand the situation at hand. They bring normalcy and familiarity and acceptance, and that means comfort.

At the same time, I'm realizing that gold friends don't become gold friends until they've already been "silver friends." Silver friends have a shininess because they are new! That's exciting! But they need to be polished quite a bit. Polishing is all a part of the process, unfortunately. It's hard, but it's good in the end.

Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
And the other's gold

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

dinner parties

The term "dinner party" seems so grown-up and stuffy to me. But man, oh man - do I enjoy them, as I have recently discovered.

In my move to State College I realized that it was high time I make it a point to build relationships with people. To be fair, I guess I have been doing this for a long time, but now it was time to step it up a level: be hospitable. I've been getting really good at meeting people for coffee...but certainly never in my home. Part of the reason for this is that I am a chronically messy person and my home is rarely in a presentable state. But...with a new place to live and a large bedroom in which to throw all of the clutter when people are going to come over, it is now more possible. ...And maybe, just maybe, I'm learning (through exciting experiences like The Fire...) that cleanliness and organization are important things and worth the effort.

About 10 months ago I drove with a friend to a place in West Virginia, and during our travels I complained about how there was no time for other people even though I wanted to be with them and build friendships. She pointed out that everyone needs to eat and suggested that eating with someone else would be a practical way to spend time with others but not terribly cramp my schedule. ...Very wise. Now, finally, almost a year later, I'm taking her advice!

I still haven't perfected this, because even though it seems easy enough to just eat and split, it seems like eating with another person or two automatically means that the meal will last at least twice as long as normal. I haven't done exact calculations, but the length of the meal-time seems to be directly mathematically correlated to the number of people in the dining party. My best guess is that one additional person makes the meal 2-times as long, and for each additional person I can plan to tack on about 15 minutes. ...So, for a party of 8, a meal that would normally take 45 minutes suddenly becomes a 3 hour ordeal. Fortunately, I only own 6 chairs, so the maximum time for a meal in my apartment will only be 2.5 hours, and that's not nearly so bad...although it still certainly wouldn't work if the goal was to still have a night left afterwards for being productive.

Another part of dinner parties that I have yet to perfect is the fine art of making everything be warm when it gets to the table. What I've read suggests that with a bit of planning one can time the cooking of all dishes in the meal to be done at about the same time and thus all be warm. I like this idea because I love planning and find it an exciting and fun challenge to figure out how I can coordinate all of the cooking steps to beautifully work together. I run into a few problems because my lack of cooking experience means that I often grossly under- or over-estimate how long it will actually take to prepare certain dishes, but I'm getting better as I cook more often. There are a few other tricks I've picked up along the way, including selecting dishes that are fine to sit in a warm oven without shriveling up or that retain their heat nicely. But one thing that foils my plans is the people. As usual, the one aspect I cannot control is the people... Will they arrive on time? Will they dawdle when I call them to the table? Will they "thoughtfully" bring something else to add to the menu that I then need to do final preparations for? Never know.

The funny thing with all of this eating-together that I've done here in State College is that...even though I wanted to have an activity that didn't at all mess up my schedule and dining together takes so much more time than dining solo, I find that I actually still have all the time I need to accomplish everything that is important. And slowly but surely I am able to value the time with the people much, much more than my own agenda.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

mean girls

This past weekend I finally got around to watching the movie Mean Girls. I thought I would like it because Tina Fey wrote the screenplay and I like high school social antics. I enjoyed it. It was a good reminder that there's something in us females that makes us more than just a little bit bonkers sometimes, particularly when it comes to dealing with other people...especially other females.

It all reminded me of a story...

Once upon a time I liked a guy, and the guy liked me. I soon found out, however, that the last girl the guy had dated was now really serious with another guy...and the guy I liked was rather upset by the whole thing. I then found out that the guy I liked was largely upset because the girl had been mean and hurtful and kind of crazy. At least that is what he said. Well, he didn't say she was kind of crazy...I got that on my own based on her reported behavior and words. A mean girl towards guys. And she probably didn't intend it, but it happened. And I understand how a girl can really hurt a guy and yet not really know it, because...girls do that. It's unfair that mean girls can go from hurting one guy to being serious with another one while the victim gets left alone. And that injustice is indeed how the guy I liked felt.

I hadn't ever met this girl. I realized she wasn't an altogether evil troll, but there was a distinct gruffness towards her because of how affected the guy I liked was in the aftermath of her mean-girlness. And then I saw a picture of her. Out of some very ungood part of me came the following thoughts: "Ew. She's not even that pretty. The guy I like would be getting a WAY better deal by being with ME compared with if he got stuck with HER. I hope she sees us some day - I bet she'd feel really stupid that a hot girl like me ended up with the guy she was so trashy to. And I hope all of her friends who she told that the guy I like was so bad will see us too and realize that he can't possibly be so bad if he's got a great girl on his arm. Justice shall be served!!!"

Yes, yes, there's quite a bit of vanity in those thoughts as well as some level of twisted jealousy and judgment and pride. But the point isn't to tell me how yucky I am in my thoughts - I already know that. The point is that I, too, have some mean girl in my heart. And don't we all.

And I also like to believe that I'm not the only one woman who has some inexplicable sliver of desire to be something of a "trophy wife," for better or for worse. Be honest. It is weird, I know, but it is true...

The more ironic part of it all was that after I thought all of those things, I realized that the girl would NOT in fact feel at all embarrassed or guilty for hurting the guy I liked just on account of my pretty face next to his. What she actually would think is, "Wow, what a trashy ho! Flashing her beautiful self all over and seducing that poor, stupid guy. I knew he was a shallow loser."

So...we can't win. When we try to be mean to another girl, the girl is just mean back to us and we're no better off than we were to start with - perhaps, even, we're worse because now we feel even worse.

The trouble is comparison. We girls always want to be better, prettier, smarter, thinner, kinder, cleaner, whatever than the other girl. Why do we DO this? Is it simply insecurity? Does a girl not realize that no matter what she does someone will always be something-er than she is and that somebody else will always be wishing to be something-else-er so to be more like her?

It is a problem, and I haven't figured out any way to fix it other than ignoring all other messages other than what Jesus tells me: He loves me more than anyone ever, ever, ever will and thinks I'm awesome the way I am!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

ugly baby

I am grateful for the internet and the tools it provides to keep in contact with people who are far away. All of these "social utilities" and "networking" websites can get a little crazy, but really...they do have some use and have been especially helpful for me as I move to a new place and as other friends have moved to other places. It's good to keep in contact with people. But the other beauty of the internet is that one is able to keep ENOUGH distance from the semi-uncomfortable situations of friends.

For example...

Lots of people are having babies! An old pal of mine recently had her first child. A bouncing baby girl. Old Pal is obviously very exciting, and since it is the First Child, Old Pal's social-networking-website is suddenly flooded with pictures of the baby. And people post their comments. All of the typical things, "So cute" ... "Beautiful" ... "Looking good."

But, folks, let me just tell you...this baby is NOT cute. Okay, okay, so maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I have no doubt that Old Pal a.k.a. The Mom thinks her newborn is the most precious thing ever. Call me critical and insensitive, but there is no part of me that thinks First Child is cute, sweet, adorable, anything like that. Just...weird-looking.

This is where being in contact only via internet comes in handy, because...I am not obligated to add my comment to the photo gallery. If I were by Old Pal's side and visiting First Child in their home, I would be forced to think of something savvy to speak. "What a unique baby you have!" "She's so special." "I've never seen anyone like her!" Can't lie, you know. And face-to-face it's just not right to say nothing. New moms, I think, feel quite offended when their galfriends don't say anything praiseworthy of their new bundle of joy. But...since all I am doing is viewing photos online in the comfort of my own living room...I don't need to say anything at all.


I do hope that the poor First Child grows out of this weird-looking-baby stage (and soon). Then I supposed I could say, "Wow, she looks even cuter now!"

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


I cannot remember ever being short. I have always been tall. I've stopped growing, and for the past 10+ years I've been 6'0". As I was growing up, I jokingly but semi-seriously said that it was "my goal in life" to be 6-foot. I made it! Unfortunately, what seemed like such a cool thing at one time turned out to be not quite so great once I got there. For example, it's kind of hard to find jeans or other pants that are long enough. And it's not just my legs that are long - so is my torso and my arms, so it's also hard to find shirts that cover my tummy and sleeves that reach down to my wrists. In a lot of ways, I grew up wearing what's in fashion now: cropped pants, 3/4-length sleeves, and midriffs. But...they weren't in fashion then, so it was not really very enjoyable.

Recently, various circumstances have made me feel really uncomfortable about being tall. Being tall sometimes makes me feel like there's something wrong with me...and that I make others feel strange when they're around me and that other people wish I weren't towering over them. I read an article by Zoe Williams in the Guardian, and she described some of that weirdness as "feelings of unfeminine giantitude." Here, here.

This afternoon I left work quite early because I've been feeling dead tired and I needed to just get away and rest. Not sure that I really accomplished that goal, but somewhere along the line as I lay on the couch I realized that sometimes I wish I were not so tall. And that struck me, because it's not so good to not like the way I am, particularly if it's not something I can do anything about.

And so I thought...maybe a big part of my uncomfortableness is simply due to the fact that I am not okay with me being ME, which includes being 6'0". I think there are a lot of times that I try to seem not so tall - a strange, almost unconscious apology for the way I am. I tend to slouch. I lean against things when I am standing up and talking to short people. If there's nothing to lean on, I sit down or step back so as to decrease the angle at which heads need to be bent to make adequate eye contact. These tendencies are especially true when I am around men. I also don't wear heels, but...I don't think they're very good for one's posture, so I'm not sure that this choice really has much to do with my height.

But you know what? Never has anyone ever complained about my being too tall to talk with or play games with or eat with or even dance with. Nobody has ever said, "Hey, could you please sit down, it's scaring me that you're a foot taller than me!" And I would never think to suggest to a short person, "Why don't you stand on this box while we converse, because I can barely see you down there" -- that is just RUDE and also demeans they way that they naturally and uncontrollably ARE.

So...why am I so hard on myself?

I think it's high time I live comfortably in my entire 6 feet. No apologies. I think that just as some women feel ashamed about their natural beauty and thus hide it, I feel ashamed to show my height...which is actually something a lot of women really admire and/or desire. I'm taking little steps to come to grips with my height: a couple weeks ago I even went so far as to actually purchase some cropped pants (as opposed to the full-length pants that only come up to my shins, which is what ended up happening when I was a kid...).

Being comfortable with one's self is often easier if one knows she's in the company of others. So...who else out there is six feet? Well, here's a list of some folks you may know. For better or for worse, they're my height...
  • Lots of actors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, James Van Der Beek, Val Kilmer, Luke Wilson, Shane West, Christan Bale, David Duchovny, Denzel Washington, Jimmy Fallon, Steve Martin, Hank Azaria, Matt Dillon (too bad it's not Matt Damon; he's only 5'10"), Jason Bateman, Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Tom Hanks, Laurence Fishburne, Rowan Atkinson, Bruce Willis, John Stamos, Matthew Perry, and even both Mark Paul Gosselaar AND Dustin Diamond.
  • Superman on t.v.: both Dean Cain and the original - George Reeves!
  • A wide variety of musicians: Josh Groban, Vanilla Ice, Elvis Presley, Boy George, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Neil Young, Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees, Barry Manilow, Frank Zappa, Tim McGraw
  • Presidents (and an interesting combination, at that): John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon
  • Another politician: Tony Blair
  • People you may find humorous: Dave Chappelle, Jeff Foxworthy
  • Movie directors: Oliver Stone and Michael Moore
  • Some of my favorite people ever: Wayne Gretzky and Charles Schultz
And some neat-o women, too!
  • Miss America 1945 Bess Myerson
  • Actresses Allison Janney, Kristen Johnston, Terry Ferrell (Dax on Deep Space 9), Geena Davis, and Brooke Shields.
  • Models like Elle Macpherson (with whom I also happen to share 2 of 3 curve measurements...we'd be identical except that I have a big, huge butt)
  • Cool people like Maya Angelou
  • even Mary Queen of Scots!
Not too bad. I like of like the kindred spirits of the 6-foot persuasion...

I guess it's not so bad, after all!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

how knitting helped me get through grad school

I am always amazed how little things that I don't even think of come into my life and end up making a very positive difference in unexpected ways.

As I was standing in the lobby at work the other day waiting for the elevator, I browsed the job postings stuck on the bulletin board. One advertised a laboratory position with a group I know back in Pittsburgh. The qualifications included general biology competence, but also something that caught me off guard: manual dexterity.

I don't exactly know what "manual dexterity" means in that particular lab group, but it made me think of the work I performed in my doctoral studies. A large part of what I did involved holding delicate tissues with forceps (a.k.a. tweezers) and using teeny tiny scissors to cut out circles of tissue parts that were about 5 millimeters in diameter. I suppose that involved some degree of manual dexterity.

In general, I don't consider myself to be extraordinarily coordinated. I cannot dance to save my life, I drop things rather often, and I typically have at least two cuts or bumps on my body at any one time. But, I CAN knit. And when I knit, I use both of my hands and pretty much all of my fingers, and they all need to work together. I also like to knit socks, and that involves handling very fine yarn and very thin knitting needles. FIVE very thin knitting needles, to be precise.

I sense that my knitting helped to build my "manual dexterity" and improved my ability to cut out minuscule tissue parts. And besides all of that, knitting proved to be great stress relief and a refreshing mental challenge all at the same time. A great recipe for an enjoyable and productive graduate career! Thus, the moral of the story is that every graduate student...ought to knit.