Is this thing on?: of Resurrections and Relocations

I don’t honestly know whether or not anyone still has faith in me, or if my entire blogging readership has decided that I died in a Dalek attack, Doctor Who style.

Nonetheless, and because, like Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory” fame, I don’t have so many readers that I can afford to insult them by pretending they don’t exist, it seems only fair to update you all on my life status. In short: after finishing my PhD and achieving world domination (which naturally kept me from the blogosphere), I have spent much of the past year hunting for academic jobs and endeavoring to launch a career in freelance work. Recently, I decided to resurrect my blog, but with a somewhat more professional look, because, well, I’m v busy and important now, and my Internet address should reflect the fact that I’ve moved up in the world. Maybe not Longbourn to Pemberley moving up in the world, but a modest step up.

for any of you still interested in following my work, feel free to head over to my new site and if enough of you care to know what I’ve been up to, in more detail, since my last post here, ask and ye shall receive, or something.

If you’re reading this, I owe you more than a thousand apologies for abandoning you, and a cookie for having enough faith not to unfollow me.

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Picture Perfect: Seeing Around the Blind Spots

So, apparently I’ve gone on a 2-month hiatus from WordPress; who knew. I’ve been so busy doing absolutely nothing of importance that I never realized how much you all had been anxiously awaiting my return.

Why have I inexplicably disappeared? Truthfully (insert uncomfortable squirming here) in the time that I haven’t been wisely spending teaching, prepping lessons, grading papers, revising my dissertation, drafting articles, or sipping coffee and looking important while I pretend to do any or all of the above, I’ve been extremely busy and important, catching up on innumerable episodes of Season one of CBS’s “Elementary”. (Don’t judge me. Watching Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch have a fierce arm-wrestling match in my mind over which of them will take me to dinner is an endless source of free entertainment). But when being battled over by two British hotties in my brain gets too dull, I’ve been amusing myself with the notion that, thanks to my iPhone and a nifty little app called Tap Tap See, I can abandon my lofty dream of a career in academia and pursue my newfound passion for photography. Basically, the principle of the app is this: a blind person can take a photo of what’s in front of him or her, and voiceover (the iPhone’s onboard screenreader) describes the image. I’m told by the creators of the app that they rely on a combination of computer vision and crowd-sourcing to process and describe the images, but I still suspect that aliens are somehow involved. So, when I feel like I’ve spent too much time flopping on my sofa snuggling with Jonny Lee Miller and fancy a bit of exercise, I promptly grab my phone and proceed to chase my dog around the apartment, endeavoring to capture him on camera.

Aside from the realization that candid shots of moving targets are particularly difficult to obtain, I’ve made a number of enlightening discoveries about my surroundings:

1: The wood-engraving of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy hanging on my bedroom wall is apparently crooked. I can only assume that Colin has been sneaking sips of my sangria when my back is turned; this would certainly account for his lopsided appearance combined with the mysteriously empty wine bottles appearing in my kitchen. My inability to see straight, or the idea that home-decorating projects go well with alcohol are not to blame.

2: My parents have apparently been lying to me about my gender for nearly 30 years; after sharing my discovery of the tap Tap see app with my mother, she requested several pictures, and to satisfy her, I attempted to photograph myself and the dog. This should have been relatively uncomplicated given that I knew the relative positions of the intended subjects of the picture. So, imagine my horror when, upon checking that I’d taken a decent photo, I heard the description, “picture is of man holding yellow dog.” Man? Did you say ‘man’? The resulting gender identity crisis has been rather trying. I might need therapy.

3: In addition to navigating me safely across busy streets and helping me to avoid crashing into trees, my dog has the hitherto unnoticed ability to change color. He is alternately tan, white, or yellow. Whether this is a trick of the light or dependent on the phases of the moon, or only occurs on days that end in ‘y’, I’m still uncertain; more extensive observation is required.

In any case, textual descriptions notwithstanding, the pictures I’ve taken might not be worth a thousand words, but they’re definitely worth a few good laughs.

Note: all kidding aside, I’ve actually found the accuracy of the Tap Tap See app to be highly impressive, and it does take decent pictures. I’ve had a lot of fun with it, sharing pictures I’ve taken with my family and friends, and I’ve even found practical uses for it sorting canned goods in my kitchen. It’s especially useful for identifying colors and distinguishing between items in one’s refrigerator, closet, or pantry without sighted assistance. Visit http://www.taptapseeapp.com to check it out!

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The Sea is my Secret-Keeper: in Honor of National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share this.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had at least one moment in your life in which you were afraid to tell someone something. This is my feeble attempt to put that feeling into words.

Sunset on the beach
When the waves whisper
stories entrusted to their keeping
by overflowing hearts.

The sea swims with secrets.
They play around
our feet like puppies
As we walk along the shore.
Now scampering forward.
Now retreating.
Wanting to share
hesitant to trust.

I watch you toss
up handfuls of sand
Just to see
them dance on the breeze
a little boy
playing catch with the wind.

Your laughter tugs
at my heart
And I feel the words
begin to form
the faintest quickening
in my belly.
Your fingers brush
the back of my hand
like an afterthought
and I roll my tongue
across the words
testing them.
I am a mother
blowing on a baby’s spoon.
I shiver at their taste
Like morcels of baker’s chocolate.

I rest my cheek
against your shoulder
and the words tingle
on the tip of my tongue.
A diver poised to spring.
Do my words have wings?
Can I cradle you in them
and fly over the horizon?
or will I fall
Foolish little Icarus.
So I watch the sun
slip over the horizon
and I blow a kiss
to the wind
that caresses your cheek
and wonder if you can hear the secret
in the whisper of the waves.

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Now you see it, Now you Dont: Blindness and the Nostalgia of Visual Memory

Just the other day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and sipping my coffee, expertly avoiding work, and suddenly I paused on a friend’s tweet describing a perfect sunrise captured in a photo while jogging. I read and reread the tweet, closed my eyes, tried to mentally pull the image into focus, and as I did, I felt a twinge somewhere deep inside; I wanted to see it. I had that fleeting moment—one that comes far more often than I’m generally willing to admit—in which I wished I had a switch that would allow me to turn on my eyes for five minutes, even five seconds a day.

Over the years, I’ve learned to live without my sight, and at the risk of sounding complacent, I think I’ve adapted fairly well. Those who know me can attest to the fact that I’ve embraced my blindness like a quirky personality trait, and I’m generally the first one at a party to dust off the Stevie Wonder jokes. Yet I realized something in that moment the other day, trying to remember just what the sky looks like at sunrise. One of the questions I often get—the one that makes me far more uncomfortable than most—is usually along the lines of: “If you could see anything, anything at all, what would you want to see?” Having been born with partial sight, I find the answer to this question difficult to try to unpack. You would think, wouldn’t you, that I’d want to see all of the things that have come into being since I lost my sight, because I’m aware that the world looks different now: Facetime and webcams, touch screens and HD TV. The truth is, though, that the things I want to see aren’t necessarily the things I’ve never seen before. I’m curious to know how things look; I’d love to be able to appreciate the clarity of watching my favorite film in high definition rather than, as a friend once put it, “all weirdly pixelated”. Yet I don’t feel like my imagination is lacking in filling in the gaps.

What I want to see, what I sometimes wish I could see, are the things I remember seeing—the things in my memory that I haven’t quite forgotten, but that naturally, with time, fade around the edges: sunshine on the water, rainbows, autumn leaves. It’s a kind of…visual nostalgia, I suppose, and I think that as I grow older, and layer upon layer of dust obscures those memories, it’s a longing that is entirely natural. I think that, having had some minimally usable vision, I sometimes inhabit two worlds: the one in which I see, and the one in which I don’t. Sometimes I think I want to return to those memories, take them out, dust them off, look at them again (literally and figuratively) because I have some deep, unspoken longing to reaffirm my experiences as a (partially) sighted person, to confirm that that world I inhabited was real.

I’m no longer sure to what extent my imagination has colored in the blind spots in my visual memory, but maybe that doesn’t matter. We’re all guilty of revising the narratives our memories tell. No memory is entirely accurate. Our memories are a kind of image-text of a literary biography. The basic facts are verifiable, but we’ve colored in the gaps with details that might be true, or might just be stylistic flourishes intended to reinvigorate the memories for ourselves when we relive those moments.

Question: what is your most vivid visual memory?

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Give It Up: One Wayward Catholic’s Journey Across the Desert of Lent

“Attention all hard-core Catholics: note the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day and reconsider giving up chocolate for Lent.” such ran one of my pre-Lenten Facebook observations after realizing just how many Christians—most of them female—would be bemoaning the beginning of the sacrificial season of Lent the day before the biggest Hallmark/Hershey holiday of the year.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” is the hot question on the playground of piety at the moment—and one that, I confess, I’ve looked forward to with increasing trepidation each year. I have very few recollections of the many treks across the desert of denial I’ve taken in my nearly 30 years as a Catholic; the ones I do recall involved some, shall we say, wayward wandering. First, there was the lent that I decided to give up peanut butter, which started out fairly well—well in the sense that I was completely miserable and probably half way to protein-deficient since I’d basically cut my major source of it out of my diet. Then I discovered Nutella. Hmm: maybe this whole giving up business wasn’t such a drag after all, though with every sinfully sweet spoonful, my conscience nagged: Wait just a moment. Nowhere in the catechism is there written anything to the effect that it’s acceptable during Lent to substitute the sacrificed item of choice with one of equal or greater value. IT remains open to question whether or not the five pounds I gained between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday can be attributed to the weight of guilt.

Then there was the time I decided to give up alcohol…during my first year of graduate school. There are about ten different reasons why this was a bad idea, all of which can be compounded in the fact that, well, it was my first year of graduate school. I know what you’re thinking: Wimp. Please. Wimp, shmimp, potato, vodka…call it whatever you like. The only Lenten sacrifice I’ve made in recent memory that was even remotely successful was the year I decided to cut off my hair for Locks of Love. For once in my life, I can honestly say I traded vanity for valor…at least until I stepped outside and a male friend of mine charmingly observed: “Your head. It looks so…small.” Goodbye gesture of self-sacrifice: Hello Louisa May Alcott, Little Women parallel universe.

I recognize the significance of “giving up” during lent—a reminder of the sacrifice that Christ made for us, but if Lent is about sacrifice and repentance, it’s also about reminding ourselves that, for Christians, every step we take on this journey of life should bring us closer to Him. With the possible exception of trading my tresses for 6 months of freaky frizz—because I truly did offer that from the heart—I can’t honestly say that any of my Lenten sacrifices have had the intended spiritual effect. So what, I ask myself as each Ash Wednesday approaches, can I possibly sacrifice that will strengthen my relationship with Jesus? Coffee? Only if I’m guaranteed a fast-pass into the glorious kingdom that cuts through the line in Purgatory, because I’ll probably die somewhere into week one. Chocolate? Well, as my brother likes to put it, “Jesus suffered so we wouldn’t have to.” Amen, bro. Sex? Well, I could, but technically according to the catechism, I’m not even supposed to be engaging in that particular pastime at the moment given my current marital status. Working on the theory that we can’t sacrifice what we don’t have (and we’ll just assume, for the sake of my soul, that I don’t in fact “have” the thing under discussion), I think we can cross this one off the list.

During this past advent season, I decided to start praying the Rosary daily—not just for the four weeks leading up to Christmas, but in the hope of strengthening my prayerful communication with Jesus. During those four weeks, and in the months since, I’ve experienced prayer in the way I think it was meant—not as my way of “talking to God,” but rather as a quiet conversation with Him in my heart. Of late, however, I realized that I haven’t been the best at keeping up my end of the bargain; I’m saying the prayers every day, but something is missing. Then, the other day, while praying about something that was troubling me, I recalled what Jesus tells us in scripture: to pray as if we’ve already received what we’re asking for—not with the assumption that we will “get what we want”; Jesus isn’t Santaclause. Rather, to pray as if we’ve already received what we’ve asked is to pray with the understanding that we will be given an answer. I am slowly coming to find, as I take the time to meditate on this idea, that I have actually received answers; not booming voice, clap-of-thunder, sky-splitting-open answers, but my heart has become a space for a quiet conversation with God—a place I can retreat to at any point in the day when I feel the need, because that door is always open. It always has been, actually, but I don’t think I ever bothered to pass through it until now. I’ve stuck my head in, sure; said Hi at the end of the day, but I don’t think I’ve ever really lingered long enough to have a decent chat. Now that I’ve actually taken that step and walked all the way in, I might find the time to stay.

Question: Where is your Lenten journey taking you this year?

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Step aside, Coffee. This is a job for alcohol: saying goodbye to 2012

The presents have been unwrapped, “Miracle on 34th Street” has been watched, “Happy Birthday Jesus” has been sung, the man in the red suit has done his annual drive-by (or is it fly-by?) under cover of darkness and childhood fantasies, and the last cookie crumb has been carried off by a hopeful house-mouse. That means only one thing: 2012 is officially breathing its last, so grab a hip flask and your favorite alcoholic beverage and settle in for a year-end review. If yours looks anything like mine, you’re going to need a drink or five. So, here goes:

Weight:………Ha! Made ya look. I don’t think so.

Jobs: 1 (hurrah. Am career woman extraordinaire…or impoverished graduate student with delusions of grandeur. It all depends on your point of view).

Status of Dissertation: almost complete (unless you count the fact that all chapters are in draft form and at least 5 pages short of the minimum required length. Re: point of view, positive attitude, glass half-full ETC.)

Boyfriends: 1 (V.G. Definite improvement in life situation).

Number of obsessive thoughts about Mark Darcy/Colin Firth: 16000000 (conservative estimate).

Number of times watched unveiling of Colin Firth’s wax figure on The Ellen Show: 3 (minimal due to irrational waxyfirthophobia).

Number of times watched “Hobbit” trailer to hear Martin Freeman exclaim, “I’m going on an adventure!”: 3054830 (approx. Is natural and just, though, considering adorable factor of Martin Freeman).

Number of books read: 44 (disgusting, illiterate slob. Must improve).

Number of books read from the BBC’s list of 100 books everyone should read: 1 (positively Philistine).

Number of films scene: 4 (serious lack of dedication to supporting the arts. Must really try harder in 2013).

Number of films seen in theater: one (Bad. Clearly have become victim of technology and convenience of Netflix, online streaming, ETC.)

Number of Colin Firth films seen: two (pathetic beyond what words can express. Have resolved to redouble efforts and complete Firth filmography project by end of 2013).

High points of year: My trip to Boston (though not, perhaps, the incident involving a very muddy guidedog and a disgruntled bellhop); discovering that I can, contrary to previous belief, attract decent heterosexual males (*crosses fingers*); Sherlock series 2 (except psychological trauma re: fake suicide and suspense over pending return of supposedly-dead detective)

Low points of year: Discovering that, according to this article in the Daily Mail, Colin Firth actually claims to hate Christmas. Something inside of me has died. All hope and joy have gone from the world. This must be how Dorothy felt when she pulled back the curtain and saw a shriveled old prune of a man instead of a god-like sorcerer type figure in manner of Gandalf or Albus Dumbledore…or how Bridget Jones felt upon discovering that Mark Darcy votes Tory. I’m completely overlooking the fact that the above Article appeared in The Daily Mail and consequently contains about as much truth as a politician’s promise. There’s just no cure for that kind of paradigm-shattering trauma. If you were planning to tell me that the Easter Bunny isn’t real, now might not be the best time; I’m just a bit too fragile at the moment.

2013 Resolutions: Finish dissertation (because, well, this isn’t negotiable), eat healthier, drink less alcohol (except for medicinal purposes…like stress…or watching any movie in which Colin Firth dies), put DVDs back in cases after watching, keep up with laundry, washing up, and other house chores, work out at the gym at least three times a week, work on inner poise.

Question: How has your 2012 been? What are you looking forward to in 2013?

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The Fondness of a Father: a Tribute to Jane Austen and Mr. Bennet

I stood in my closet, hands on hips, tapping my foot as I surveyed my wardrobe. The floor around me was a tangle of jeans, sweaters, and black leggings.
“Woman of substance. Inner poise,” I repeated. “You can do this. It’s just a work holiday party.”
“No, it’s not,” said the small voice of insecurity that generally likes to make its opinions heard when I’m least interested in hearing them. “It’s a holiday party with your new sweetie. The first holiday party you’ve ever attended with a date in your nearly 30 years on this planet.”
“Shut up!” I hissed. “That’s classified information.”
“It’s blog fodder,” said the voice.
“That too,” I conceded. “Now, if you’ve finished lowering my self-esteem, I’ve got a party to go to.”

After much deliberation (and quite possibly the first game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe I’ve played since grade school) I’d selected what I hoped would be the perfect outfit and was debating the merits of comfortable and sensible versus sexy and stylish in the footwear department, when my phone rang.
“So, what are you wearing to the party tonight?” (It was my dad.).
“I don’t know,” I answered, contemplating the potential danger of blind woman and high-heeled shoe versus hard wood floor.
“What? What do you mean you don’t know? You’re going to a holiday party with your new beau. This is an essential detail.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, endeavoring to calm my breathing that had quickened through a combination of nerves, frustration, and tight pants.
“So what are you wearing?” he continued. “You want to look nice. Something that straddles the line between ‘professional’ and ‘slut.'”
“I-what?” Christopher Columbus! I wasn’t having this conversation with my father. I have a very short list of things that I never want to hear in my lifetime; it includes cats caught in a garbage disposal and Colin Firth’s American accent. Now we’ll just add to that any conversation with my father that includes or in any way references the topic of sex or sexuality.
“I, um, Dad, I don’t…want to have this conversation.”
“Well, whatever you wear, just don’t look too sexy, and behave yourself.”
No, not the “Remember-your-catholic-morals” conversation. Please. I mean, if the fact that I’m not dating a catholic already means I’m shopping for a condo in Hell, we might as well just move in together and have done with it.
“Dad, I’m going to be late,” I hissed into the phone.
“OK, but just one more thing.”
I sighed. “Yes?”
“Have a good time. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

With what relatively little experience I’ve had playing the dating game, my father’s involvement can probably be best described as something between Steve Martin (think Father of the Bride here) and the Godfather. The thing is, my dad understands my taste in men about as much as he understands my taste in pineapple pizza. That being said, I have a long-cherished fantasy about the moment when I will some day announce my engagement to my father—a fantasy that is scripted along the lines of this conversation between Lizzie Bennet and her father about Mr. Darcy.

“Lizzie,” said her father, “I have given him my consent…I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzie. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband…Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage…My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Elizabeth, Still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice…and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity and reconcile him to the match.

“Well, my dear,” said he when she had ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

This passage echoed in my mind as, with one deep breath, I checked my purse for emergency cosmetics and headed out the door, and—literary geek that I am—I can’t help noting that I’m typing this on Jane Austen’s birthday; perhaps I’ve somehow managed to channel her spirit. I should try writing a historical novel set during Regency England, though I’ll leave out the zombies and seamonsters, thanks.
I might blame Jane Austen for enabling my romantic notions, but amidst the Darcy dreams, she taught me a valuable lesson: boyfriends come and go, but the fondness of a father is forever.

Happy 237th Birthday, Miss Austen.

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