Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Cleaning

Today, I did something I should have done approximately two weeks ago.

Actually, three weeks ago.

Okay, fine.  The last time I cleaned my room was two weeks after I'd moved in with my current roommates, and that was mid-February.  Fortunately, I have a rather spacious room all to myself, so it takes quite a lot for it to look dreadfully messy.  Unfortunately, the deceptively clean look of it despite random clothes and books scattered around it means I just end up disappointed when it still takes three hours to completely clean and dust it.

On afternoons such as this, I can hear my mom speaking to me as though she's right here: "If you'd clean it every week, it wouldn't take this long."  It's a statement I heard quite often growing up, when I was known to go for months at a time without touching a dust rag or a vacuum, and when I also neglected to clear clutter from the floor.  I'll admit, I clean more often now.  But I still tend to let my own areas get incredibly cluttered before I do anything about them.  (So cluttered, in fact, that when I lived with my last roommate, I actually had a dream wherein she went into my room to borrow a movie, tripped on all of my crap, hit her head on the corner of my desk, and died.)

The funny thing is this: I actually enjoy cleaning.  It gives me a sense of delight and control to see my formerly messy room looking nigh unto spotless, with the correct month and dates written on my whiteboard calendar, my on-loan-from-the-library-books neatly stacked in a corner, and my shoes neatly lined up in my closet.  One of my professors once quoted a writer who said it was easy and more restful to write in a clean place.  And I must admit, it does feel nicer to camp out in my room now.  

Anyway, I was thinking while I was cleaning.  When things get too cluttered in my room, I tend to lose patience with myself and others more often.  When it is insanely messy, I really can't say I much like having a room of my own.  But as soon as I clean, I can feel my spirits lightening as layers of actual, physical grime are removed.  (Side note: I should have thought to clean the blinds on my window when I first moved in, because I am pretty sure the girl who inhabited the room before I did was oblivious to the wonders of those magical things known respectively as dust rag, vacuum, and cleaning wipes.)  I can relax more when I let myself be organized.

What I forget, sometimes, is that I can apply this principle to my life: sometimes I just need to strip away the clutter.  I don't need all of the activities, all of the to-do lists, all of the self-appointed tasks I give myself.  While life is about learning, it's not about going and doing all the time.  I'm sure even Nephi had to stop and allow himself to mellow once in a while.

But in this world, it seems I am something of an anomaly if I am not always preoccupied.  Not always busy.  Not always running to get somewhere or to achieve something.  Sometimes I forget I can achieve more by simply cleaning out my life and letting myself recharge than I can by running around like a crazy woman.  So it's good to deep-clean as I did today, because it's good to remember that sometimes, I'm just allowed to be me.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pausing a Moment to Breathe

I love writing as a medium of communication.  More than I love speaking, and I will tell you why: I have a decided difficulty filtering things I say in a face-to-face conversation.  If it pops into my head, it pops right out of my mouth.  Sometimes this has comedic consequences.  And sometimes it causes me to unwittingly hurt those I interact with, because I haven't considered implications.  (On very rare occasions, I purposefully say very nasty and spiteful things, but then I feel instant guilt and wish I'd held my tongue.)
Anyway, I love writing because I am not expected to react so quickly that I do not have time to mull.  In fact, thinking things over makes for better written communication.  This opportunity to review what I am writing allows me to pause for breath, as it were.  Except that in a fast-paced conversation, pausing for breath doesn't give a person much time to surmise whether they actually want to say that just now.
With writing, I can "pause for breath" for any arbitrary amount of time I choose, and I don't turn blue in the face.  Nobody I'm communicating with this way notices anything.  And this way, I can vent out my rage in a draft.  And then go back and nice it up.  Nobody (except me) is the wiser.
And this way, I'm not yelling at anyone.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Why I Need to Always Return Library Books on Time

Maybe it's just me, but I always feel like the librarian is judging me when I bring back an overdue book.
Actually, I know it's not just me.  My roommate feels the same way if she incurs fines.  It's a guilt issue.
Kenneth Burke could probably have a heyday examining our lives and consciences.  (If he's still alive.)
That said, I ended up actually defending myself to a bemused librarian this Saturday: "I finished this book two weekends ago, but it somehow slid under my bed.  And I know I should clean my room more often, but I just didn't get around to it.  The book, by the way, was excellent.  And I'm really sorry I incurred this fine, and I'm not trying to talk my way out of it, but I know other people have it on hold, and I'm very sorry.  Very, very sorry."
By the way, I didn't breathe at all in that whole discourse.
The librarian, who had taken a breath to (I had assumed) chastise me for my negligence, smiled and asked if I would like to pick up the book they had on hold for me.
I swear I could hear laughter while she retrieved it.  Even though she was straight-faced when she came back.
At least she looked indubitably impressed when I paid the fine on the spot.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Snug as a Bug in a Rug in My Own Little Cookie Carton

Lately, I've been thinking about Twiddlebugs.

Yes, it's true.  I haven't watched Sesame Street since I was eight or so, but I've been thinking about a set of its characters.  This is why.

My mom bought us the complete set of Sesame Street books when we were kids.  The first book I recall reading, all by myself, was the story of the little red hen.  As played by Bert.  And all of the unhelpful people played by other characters.  That particular story was my favorite, and my older sister insisted once that couldn't have been the first book I actually read on my own because I had the story memorized.

Anyway, back to Twiddlebugs.  My older sister had a favorite as well: The Twiddlebugs' Dream House.  It told the story of the four Twiddlebugs moving from their little cookie carton to a dream house indoors.  Only the dream house turned out to be a doll house, and the poor Twiddlebugs would leave for the day only to return home and find that everything had moved.

In the end, the Twiddlebugs return to their original home.  And as they always were before, they are "snug as a bug in a rug in our own little cookie carton."  (Incidentally, and this has nothing at all to do with my point, my 3-year-old nephew loves this story.  He's obviously his mother's child.  And my mom can recite the whole thing to him without the book.  She read it to us that much.)

I bet you're still wondering why I've been thinking about Twiddlebugs, and about this story specifically.

Sometimes I wonder if I don't have a case of what I've termed Twiddlebug syndrome.  The Twiddlebugs saw something they perceived as better than what they had, only to discover it was too good to be true.  In the end, they realized they'd rather stick with the familiar and the comfortable.

I'm not saying the Twiddlebug story makes me think that it's unwise to ever go outside a comfort zone.  Far from it, actually.  The Twiddlebugs had to leave what they knew in order to discover that what they knew was what they actually loved and wanted.  Does that make sense?

Right now, I'm waiting on three more letters from graduate schools.  And I hope I'll be faced with a decision about where to go.  (I hope at least two of them think I'm smart enough for their programs.)  At the moment, my mom wants me to stay in my own little cookie carton (Utah) for reasons she admits are mostly selfish.  

I, on the other hand, want to experience the dream house if and when I get the chance.  That way, I can begin to determine whether I want to keep exploring or whether I want to return to what I will then know is home--to be snug as a bug in a rug in my own little cookie carton.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Political Speeches--Ain't She a Woman?

For much of the race for the presidential nomination, the media have been pointing out that we could potentially have our first African-American (although that doesn't cover half of Barack Obama's nationalities and doesn't do a good job of establishing his multicultural identity, either) president or our first female president.

It's been a big deal. Mitt Romney's religion, while he was in the running for the Republican nomination, was also a big deal. I'd like to presume it's because the American public wants to know about who politicians are as to knowing what politicians say about themselves. But I have a feeling that's probably not the case.

Anyway, Mitt Romney gave a speech addressing the perceived problems posed by his religion. (Although apparently it doesn't faze America to have a Mormon as Senate Majority Leader.)

After some of the comments Reverend Wright, Barack Obama's pastor, made against whites--Obama gave a speech addressing racial issues.

What I would love to see now that I haven't seen at all is for Hillary Clinton to give a speech addressing gender issues. While I recognize being a woman doesn't draw the same amount of attention and criticism garnered to racism (or reverse-racism) or Mormonism, I think the gender divide should be addressed.

Being a woman in politics does not appear to be an easy thing; it appears to be a precarious balancing act, regardless of whether you're a woman in politics because your husband is important politically or because you are campaigning. Someone too feminine gets railroaded into oblivion. Someone too aggressive gets labeled as too power-hungry and ambitious.

One of many reasons I couldn't see myself voting for Hillary is because she's done nothing to convince me she has struck an appropriate balance. As far as I can tell, she ignores the balance issue as much as she can.

Who wants to watch a tightrope walker who makes no effort to balance?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Post for Petra; or, Hey! I Finally Read Cryptonomicon!!

Once upon a time, I attended BYU. (Or, in the language of the city where I now live, "that school down south." When you live a mere four blocks or so from the main campus of the U of U, BYU's name actually becomes an epithet.) For a year, anyway. Then I washed out, which you can surmise if you troll back through the archives of my blog. Or you already know that particular trivia if you know me personally.

Anyhow, I met this great girl there--we shall call her Petra, because that's who she is. (See her link? If not, that's just sad. I can see it, and I'm half-blind--so you should be able to see her link.) Together, we schemed to take over the world. Played Speed Scrabble. And wrote a crazy letter to Del Rey publishers, requesting the reunion scene from The Princess Bride. (Okay, so all of that isn't true. We never schemed to take over the world. But if we ever did, I'm thinking we'd be super-cool dictators. Although she'd probably completely oust me eventually and rule on her own, since she's just that much smarter than I am.)

Both of us are big readers. I mean, we read lots. And lots and lots. She reads faster, but the point still stands--we both read voraciously. Anyway, she incessantly mentioned this Neal Stephenson novel called Cryptonomicon. It's one of her favorites. She'd read it forty-billion times by then (okay, maybe three), and recommended it to me almost any time the word "book" cropped up in our conversations. As you can imagine, this title stuck in my brain.

For five years. That's how long it took me to get around to reading Cryptonomicon. (In my defense, the sucker's 900 pages long! And for someone with a not-very-math-oriented brain, it's not the quickest read!!) I had to wait until a phase of life when I had spare time on my hands. (Spare time: "surreptitious reading of snatches while at work, in addition to normal reading time")

So, ahem. Petra, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that it took this long. I'm sorry that it took me until page 300 to get truly interested in it. I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner, so I could have actually discussed it with you in person--for your sake and mine, because I have a feeling I would like this book sooooo much better if I could just talk to you about it. For a while. Long enough, anyway, for you to clarify the math stuff.

A question to any and all who have read this novel: did I black out somewhere? Do we as readers ever get clued in about the entire Enoch Root situation? (I mean, Bobby Shaftoe sees him dead on a table, but then he's in jail with Randy? How does that work??)

P.S. Also, I'm sorry, Salt Lake City Public Library. My timing was bad. Lucky for you, I'm the type of girl who pays her overdue fines.

Passive-Aggressiveness is Like Smog, or Conflict Sometimes Creates Cleaner Air

I do not understand why this always comes to be, but it seems inevitable: no matter where I work or what I'm doing, I am always faced with at least one passive-aggressive personality. Sometimes more than one, but always at least one.

Unfortunately for me, the resident super-passive-aggressive employee works in the office next to mine. Even more unfortunately, every two offices in this building share thermostats. So guess whose heating/air conditioning ducts are controlled by the same mechanism?

That's right. Mine. And hers.

Fortunately, the thermostat lives a cozy existence in my office, meaning that I have immediate control over the temperature. (Something that, I admit, probably gives me a little more of a power trip than it should)

Anyway, this passive-aggressive girl also happens to be the girl whose position I filled when I joined this company fourteen months ago. Back then, she delighted in making me do things the long way--her way--which was supposedly "smarter and more thorough." (Interpretation of "smarter and more thorough": a colossal waste of my time once I discovered I could do things just as accurately and more quickly, which one might arguer was smarter anyway) I later learned it was her way of asserting dominance; she had, for a long time, been known as one of the brightest minds in the company. When she found a mind brighter than hers (mine), she had to find a way to assert herself. Thus the training. I'm probably not doing a good job of articulating just how passive aggressive the action was, but it was an action most definitely designed to say, "I'm as smart or smarter than you. Don't mess with me."

Now, here is an interesting fact about me: in non-work-related situations, I'm a conflict-avoider. I see a fight coming, and I run. Hightail it to safer ground, conversationally or physically. Or better yet, completely diffuse the situation by saying something completely random and funny--it works like a charm, most of the time, to stop an argument in its tracks. Arguing proves very difficult when laughing. True story.

But at work, I encourage conflict. Mostly because once the conflict is out and over with, the air has cleared. Grievances are understood and addressed. And nobody feels the worse for it when it's handled properly.

Now, the thermostat: it is never--and I mean never--at a temperature this girl is satisfied with. She's straight from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, except that her temperatures are even more extreme than those of Mama Bear and Papa Bear.

And she won't touch the thermostat!! I'll walk past her office and she'll be huddled in her monstrosity of a faux-fur coat. And she'll force her teeth to chatter as I walk by. Or else I'll walk by and she'll wipe her brow or spontaneously remove layers, complaining to her new office mate (who will usually ask me to change the thermostat, or change it herself) about the copious amounts of sweat oozing from her pores. (At which point, said office mate will roll her eyes and just keep working)

This is the point: I don't like passive-aggressive tactics. They are obnoxious, and they are designed to make somebody else change your situation for you. Conflict--taking matters into your own hands and addressing the issues--not only doesn't drive others batty, it gives you control!!

And who doesn't want to have some control over their circumstances?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

On Flirting

Flirting is an art. Like all arts, working at it can only get a girl so far. Either you have it, or you don't. ("It" defined as, in this case, "the ability to make members of the opposite gender fall down at your feet with the right body language and a few well-placed words.")

Yet there is hope. Though flirting is primarily accomplished via a face-to-face medium, other mediums can also be used. Take writing, for example. I'm an absolute rubbish flirt in person. I have no qualms about admitting it. Many close friends of mine can testify that any forays into the realms of in-person flirting on my part end with me being very red and most people nearby, including the attempted flirt-ee, being very amused. Such is my lot in life, and I accept it.

When it comes to writing, however, my fingers are a heck of a lot more bold than my mouth is. Besides, I figure there is a strict divide between written conversations and spoken conversations, even with people you know. I normally don't pick up Facebook conversations with friends when we're talking in person, and I usually don't bring up in-person conversations online. (It's rather like that whole church-and-state divide . . . very distinct theoretically, but slightly more muddled in practice)

Anyway, whether I'm sticking my foot in my mouth in person or sassing it up online, flirting does not mean love. It is prelude to an interest that could evolve to a deeper interest that could result in something. Also, it is a test. If someone can still talk to me after I've embarrassed myself by attempting that whole in-person flirtation thing, they pass. They obviously have enough character for me to ponder if I want this to lead somewhere.

Likewise, if they show the good sense not to be too disappointed at some of my in-person interactions after enjoying my sass online--they, too, shall pass.

But again, flirting is not a commitment. Please repeat this. Make it a mantra. Seriously.

And one more important caveat: talking to a member of the opposite gender is not flirting. Especially if the conversation includes obvious small talk generalities that must be done away with: education, work, hobbies. If it started off with, "Hey, how's school going?" and ended with "Talk to you next time I see you," no bells are ringing. No angels are singing. Neither of the respective parties are contemplating what it would be like to be married to the other.

P.S. Sometimes snarky quibbling is just that--snarky quibbling. It's got nothing to do with sexual tension, hidden liking, blah blah blah. Sometimes it's just fun to get someone else's goat.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Graduate School Update #1

Saturday afternoon, I discovered a voicemail from my dad on the phone. "Hi, Katie. Just thought I'd let you know that when I got the mail this morning, you had a letter from the University of Chicago. All of my attempts to read it through the envelope have failed, so I guess I'll just have to wait for you to open it until tomorrow."

Yesterday I opened it. It was a rejection. My mom was astonished I was okay with being rejected. (Let's just say: I discovered a long time ago that it's much easier to be rejected by establishments than it is to be rejected by people.) She wasn't astonished, however, to know that the letter was a rejection.

She'd been at a Family History conference when the letter came, but promptly found a way of reading it through the envelope on her return home.

As she pointed out, when it comes to such types of snooping, Dad is an amateur. And now I sort of want him to hide away the rest of the letters that come into the house so my mom doesn't know whether I'm accepted or rejected before I do.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Motivations from my Mom

Ever since I started talking of applying to out-of-state graduate schools, my mom has decided to furnish at least one reason for staying in Utah every time I see her.  Sometimes she repeats herself.  (I've heard it pointed out many, many times that my niece and nephew and their future little brother will be here)
But I've decided her latest reason for me to stick around is by far the funniest and she's getting the most laugh-mileage out of it.  And she knows it.  Her latest reason: the Jazz, specifically Kyle Korver.  She was ecstatic when a young attractive man joined the team, figuring it might have a chance of luring me back into watching the Jazz.
Don't get me wrong, I like basketball just fine.  But it's not something I go out of my way to watch and I haven't really liked a Jazz team since Jeff Hornacek left the team.  That's just how it is.  I was a fan of the team that made it so far in the playoffs because the majority of the players were class acts.  They didn't rough up the referees, sport a bazillion tattoos, or badmouth their teammates on national television.  Karl Malone hadn't gone all sour on Utah yet.  And most of them didn't flaunt their fame, instead preferring to keep a low profile.
Anyway, when my mom read about Kyle Korver coming to the Jazz, she had to tell me.  Even though I looked at her blankly with my spoon full of soup halfway to my mouth and said, "Who?"
"You know," she said.  "The basketball player who looks like Ashton Kutcher."
I choked on my soup.  "Do you even know who Ashton Kutcher is?"
"Somebody famous."
"Do you know what he looks like?"
"Well, no.  But the article told me."
"I see."
"Doesn't matter.  I call him Cute Boy, anyway."
More choking.  I don't think he's attractive.  Ashton, either, for that matter.  But ever since he joined the team, my mom has decided I should have a vested interest in him.  (This may, in part, be my fault for telling her I would stay in Utah if a cute boy were involved.   A cute boy who could commit.)
I tried to make it stop by convincing her any intelligent boy would laugh at me for being such an ignoramus about the Jazz.  Any conversation would involve me saying, "Now, let me see who I can remember is on the team.  Kirilenko.  Mehmet Okur.  Darren Williams.  And Cute Boy."  That didn't work.
And now, she has taken it upon herself to make sure I am up to date on Cute Boy's achievements.  Every time I stay overnight, I'm sure to find one randomly placed newspaper clipping picturing Cute Boy when I least expect it.  And it always reappears once after I throw it away.  Sometimes he's lurking under my dinner plate.  Last week, he was in between the towel and wash rag I grabbed from the linen closet before I showered.  He reappeared, in each instance, on my pillow before I went to bed.
When I visited on Sunday, he somehow managed to sneak into the sleeve of my coat and then, when my mom hugged me goodbye, found his way back into my coat pocket.  At this point, my mom does it for the laughs.  I think she's actually attempting subtle subterfuge (I know that's kind of redundant, but just deal) by making me thing I won't find anyone who can make me laugh this much with such a small thing if I move out of state.
Either that, or clippings of Cute Boy will start following me in stamped envelopes . . .

Monday, March 3, 2008

Quite Contrary

I'm going to let all of you in on a secret about how to get outstanding results from me: tell me I can't do something.  And when I say, "tell me I can't do something," I don't mean forbid me from doing something.  Imply that it's impossible.  Tell me it's never been done for.  And I'll do it.  Just to prove you wrong.
The other day, someone asked me what I would consider my most defining characteristics.  I usually tell people my most defining characteristic is my quirkiness, but then I stopped and thought about it; quirkiness is not necessarily and identifier or a unique trait.  A particular brand of quirkiness, perhaps.  But as I pointed out to my mom the other day when we were discussing my parents' neighbor who shovels the snow off his lawn: "Everyone has their neuroses."
I decided I have two defining characteristics: bluntness and a certain defiant contrariness.  Oh, I do love to be contrary.
Why I turned out so contrary is a genetics vs. environment argument: Was it because my brother always argued with everyone, or was it because stubbornness runs deep in my family's gene pool?  (The bluntness comes from my dad, who also has no filter.  If we think it, it comes out of our mouths.  Not so for my mom and the rest of my family members.  Usually)
Anyway, here is an example of just how contrary I get: when I transferred to Weber, I found (much to my dismay) that I was required to take a math class.  The school wanted me to start at algebra-level math and work my way up to the requirement.  I would have none of that; I wanted to take one math class and be done, so I resolve to test into the GE requirement level.  I hoped to test out completely, but alas . . .
At that time, a girl I'd known in high school was a math tutor and told me she'd never heard of anyone testing to the exact level of the GE requirement or above it.  It had simply never been done, and she told me I had no chance of testing into the proper level of math.  My reaction?  "Watch me."  She bet me $10 I couldn't do it.  And then I did.  And then she had the nerve to tell me she didn't owe me any money because it had been a bet, and as good Mormon girls, we weren't supposed to gamble.
I told her it wasn't a gamble, since I'd known I could achieve what she considered impossible.  And while some might argue I had done all of that to prove a point to someone who had--quite frankly--driven me nuts for the entirety of my public education, I really did it because I enjoy being contrary.
In fact, I often believe I would be a much more motivated worker if someone told me about all of the impossible and insurmountable tasks here at the office. 
May I be accepted to some graduate schools soon.  I need something to be contrary about . . .