Friday, January 25, 2013

Week 19 Friday's Face

Spring Semester 2013 has officially begun here in Columbia. The exodus has been reversed, campus is full and thriving, the parking deck is packed, the restaurants and coffee shops busy. Pedestrians again have the run of downtown- you particularly have to look out for those undergrads (at least I have heard professors refer to those who do this as undergrads) who never look when crossing the street. 

Of course the beginning of the semester has not waited for me to announce it- the first week is already over. It is going to be a good, intense, learning-filled semester. I have a bit more going on this time around than I did last semester, and I suspect that every semester that comes around will be a little busier than the last. I don't mind being busy- in fact I typically like it- it is just a matter of getting back into the swing of things.

So this time around I am taking ethnographic methods- to learn and practice the methodology I will be using for the rest of my career (assuming I am successful at it!). I am delving into some archaeological theory to fill my archaeology course requirement and boost my general knowledge in the subfield to prepare for my MA exam. And I am in a seminar in psychological anthropology focusing on inequality and violence (though the first of that class hasn't been held yet- we start on Monday). I am also sitting in on an Indian cinema course Dr. Shenk is teaching which already seems like it is going to be a lot of fun. It includes going to movie screenings every Wednesday, and this week we watched Mother India- which was absolutely fantastic and mind-blowing. It is a fascinating cultural narrative that despite being three hours, really sucks you in. 

I also have some research projects I'm working on- a dowry transition literature review for Dr. Shenk and I am carrying over my TV show project. I hope to turn that into something I can present as a poster at the American Anthropological Association meetings in November. 

Blog posts will probably typically come on Fridays now- especially since I will be too busy watching awesome South Asian films Wednesday nights! Fridays are my favorite day of the week though- so what better day to post? 

This whole blog writing thing is interesting, and I am still not sure what to make of it. When you log on it shows you how many views each one of your posts has gotten. For whatever reason, my post last week was extremely unpopular- I only got about half the views I typically get. I guess my readership doesn't consist of very many pet-lovers...?

It is often hard for me to decide what to include here. There are all sorts of things floating around in my head, lots of things I want to share and discuss. In the past I have wanted to discuss friendship, the value in recognizing different perspectives, pet peeves, and the seemingly unconscious competitive nature of people in their twenties. Now that the semester has started back up I keep thinking about theory, philosophy, projects, and the value of research. But I struggle in deciding what and how much to share here. Perhaps this is largely due to the fact that this isn't a diary, and I am not altogether sure, even after 19 weeks of blogging, why people read what I write and what they expect to find here. 

DISCLAIMER: I am about to go on a bit of a rant, so just a brief warning before I do: what I say is simply my perspective, that has developed from my personal experiences. I have not always thought of things in this way, they morph as time goes by, and therefore they are likely different from yours. Just understand where they are coming from: a twenty-something year old girl just trying to figure out her philosophy and her life in whatever way she can. If you don't want to read my rant: skip to the photos! 

So, I think it is difficult for me to decide what to write here because I suspect that I am a slightly different person- I exhibit a slightly different face- around each person that I know. Dominic is reading the book The Recognitions by William Gaddis, and a few days after I brought up a discussion with him about how many of us act differently around different people, he read a quote to me from it, which was a quote in turn, from Guy de Maupassant: "I mask myself among masked people." 

Most of us do this to an extent. By exhibiting a different face, I do not necessarily mean that I act like a completely different person around different people- I do not think that I do, and I think there is a difference between being that sort of fake person, and the sort of person that, in some ways reflect the person you are with. I find that oftentimes I chose how to act based off of how the person I am with acts. Of course we all act differently around our lovers than we do our grandparents, differently around our professors than around our friends.

Let me try to articulate what I am thinking a little bit better. A good friend recently told me that she thinks that I often have a lot of things in my mind which I do not share. I thought about this for a while after she said it, and I realized that is is probably true. I often do not share what I am truly thinking- she knows this, and thus she often asks me directly how I feel or think about something. Dominic does the same thing. I cannot skirt a direct question, and so she (and he) often gets true answers out of me. However, many other people never ask me that- and thus, unless I am extremely comfortable with them, they will never know. Unless I know you very well, and trust that you will value or appreciate what I have to say- I will likely not tell you what it is that I am actually thinking in regards to what it is you are saying. There are only a handful of people in my life I feel I can state my opinion to directly with no fear of offending them.

I think the main reason I fail to say what I am thinking is that I am convinced that the person I am listening to or talking with will not like what I have to say, and I never like and always want to avoid hurting other people's feelings. I know all too well what it feels like to have have hurt feelings, and I prefer sparing other people of that whenever I can. 

However, anyone who truly knows me knows that I am a person who actually gets annoyed very easily (Amber character flaw #1- I am overly critical of myself, thus I cannot help, at times, but be overly critical of everyone else). If you are someone who I have in any way indicated to you when it is that you are annoying me or when I disagree with you- via either direct comment or tone of voice- then you are someone I value greatly because I trust you to accept me even when I am annoyed or in disagreement with you. 

Oh, the list of things people do that annoy and frustrate me- at times even making my blood boil, and yet I say nothing for fear of hurting feelings or creating conflict or misunderstanding. 

The things that truly bother me involve self-absorption and lack of empathy which you can see on a daily basis in the people you interact with and/or just by watching the news. People who talk constantly about themselves, every time you encounter them. People who participate in cliques and exclude others for no reason other than that they do not fit within the unstated yet predefined characteristics of the clique. People who genuinely think they are better than other people. People who value money and think, in some twisted world, it can lead to happiness. In fact this links to one of the things that annoys me more than absolutely anything else anyone can do- people who complain about something to someone else when they know that the other person has it worse off than they do. The genuine lack of empathy in our society-which I think plays into all these things- absolutely astounds me. Empathy is one of humankind's most valuable and unique traits- and yet so many of us forget that. Watch the news, talk to your many people today have absolutely no empathy for anyone else- or they have somehow forgotten their ability to feel empathy for others. Just a few more specific examples of many: a slim person who complains about being "fat" or eating too many calories to a person who struggles with their weight. People who complain about "not getting any" or being lonely to someone whose never really had "any" or has been alone for years. People who complain about being broke when they spend all sorts of money on clothes, partying, vacationing, etc. to someone who isn't sure, month by month, how they are going to pay the bills...

Okay, I know we all slip up and say things we shouldn't. I understand that and, like everyone else, am guilty of it too. We all say things we shouldn't, we all hurt other people's feelings, and sometimes we can all be stupid and selfish. But I am talking about people who do this habitually- I call them habitual-face-rubbers. Whether they know it or not, they come across as people who apparently enjoy rubbing their successes which still, "oh poor me," aren't quite good enough, in the faces of those who, despite their best efforts, are worse off. To these habitual-face-rubbers: you are short-sighted, lack perspective, fail to think before you speak, and whether it is true or not, you come across to other people as a complete ass. Sometimes people don't have what you have because it is harder for them, because they've been dealt different cards. Perhaps they have had to make sacrifices to better themselves or take care of their family, maybe they have pasts that have been more difficult, maybe they have more internal struggles than you do. But they are stronger people for it. Too bad you can't say the same.

Long story short, then, since I exhibit different faces around different people (this is something I have considered rectifying, but am not altogether certain it is something that needs to or can be rectified, perhaps I am just a person with many heads, as we all are, in some ways) it is difficult for me to decide which face to exhibit here. 

Another quote from one of Dominic's books- Seneca: Letters from a Stoic- which he read to me last night, sums up the person we should all strive to be, or at least I am going to strive to be: "Happy [is] the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts..." (56). I have had people in my life- some of them who are no longer in it- who even when I think of them inspire me to be a better person. If I ever hope to be a person who exhibits a positive influence on others- when I am around and when I am not- perhaps I should more frequently tell people what it is that I am thinking. It is the only way to prove to myself that my thoughts harbor value, and perhaps it is a way to weed out any of those people who may not be worth engaging with in the first place.

So there you go, there is a glimpse of my "true" face.

Here is what everyone else is doing today (because I have to add pictures!!):

Both the boys took a nap after an early morning Home Depot shift- Dominic's head is covered up

Rips is just hanging out, being cute. 

Oh, and a picture of Dominic's Beatle hair cut- A direct birthday request from Yvonne (happy Birthday Yvonne!)!

This pic is a little dark, but Dominic and I both liked it.

Have a good weekend everyone- and for your own and everyone else's sake, practice a little extra empathy this week. I'm gonna work on it too. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Week 18 The Best Friend You Will Ever Have

Happy Thursday everyone! I don't have a lot to write about this week- just getting ready for classes to start, doing a lot of reading, getting my thoughts and mind back in gear. Mothers and Others by Sarah Hrdy has turned out to be a really excellent read, and I recommend it to anyone interested in evolutionary anthropology. I also think it is a must read for expectant mothers (be warned, friends, if I find out you are expecting you are getting this book!). It isn't written as an educational manual for mothers at all, but I think it sheds light on humans, babies, and human relationships that could positively affect the way we raise our children. This is also the first anthropology book I've read with such an evolutionary focus and I have really, really enjoyed it. I'm always wondering why people act the way they do, and Hrdy provides an explanation- granted an incomplete one (will our understanding of humanity ever be complete?)- that makes sense. Dhalgren is amazing and I'm trying not to get obsessed with it like I do with some fiction (as in read it non-stop until it's finished). I'm still enjoying the website Goodreads and hopefully Morgan and I will be starting our own online book club on there soon! Tonight I am going to start reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf for one of the online book clubs I've joined. We are only reading a chapter a week so I think it will be manageable.

Since that is really all the updating I have to do, I have decided to make this post about someone very near and dear to me. I am going to write about my best friend- the one I see every day, the one I go on daily walks with, the one who is always beside herself to see me, the one who always lets me know exactly how she feels and who, in turn, lets me tell her exactly how I feel with absolutely no criticism or judgment, blatant or otherwise. She is never petty, never holds grudges, never offers unwelcome or unsolicited advice and doesn't let anything bother her for too long. She is extremely forgiving. I mean maybe she doesn't always understand exactly what I’m saying, but she always looks like she does.

Perhaps I should say man's best friend, as opposed to my best friend- because that is really what she represents; mankind's best animal friend, for thousands of years. Why yes, yes I am talking about a dog.

There is a wide range of reaction from those who do not understand the relationship between canines and humans when they see you walking your little dog, or taking pictures with her, or talking about her. They think, it’s just a dog. There are people who don’t understand “dog people” and think loving your pet is, well, silly. You can’t be friends with a dog- an animal. Dogs don’t care about you- they just want food!

Well, sure, dogs want food, don’t we all? But they are also amazing in their ability to give and receive love, to be there for you when you are sick or upset, to show emotion- happiness, sadness, playfulness, nervousness, anger.

Homo sapiens are great and all- I mean, who doesn't love a good chat with a friend? A hug after a long time not seeing someone? Laughing over a shared joke?- but sometimes that one on one time with your favorite furry friend is just what you need to make you feel better. When something is bothering you that you just can’t articulate- or you don’t have the energy to articulate- she is there with her puppy dog eyes. She’s willing to cuddle, to walk, to play, to snack….whatever you need. She won't let you be lonely.

Some people think dogs are selfish, but when you really spend time with a dog you begin to realize they are actually less selfish than most humans. They are almost always interested in what you are doing (food or no food!) and are willing to do whatever it is you are up for. Feel like sitting on the couch watching TV? Heck yeah, I can get into that. Want to romp around outside in the snow? Sure. Squeak the toy? Love doing that. I will also watch you getting ready for work, making dinner, and will check out what is in all those bags you brought home from the store…oooh a new scarf, I like it. Can I chew it?

Dogs are actually the ultimate empathetic creatures. They have evolved alongside humans for long enough to know- even if they don’t understand our words- how we feel. There are a ton of studies on this. It has even been said that dogs might be more empathetic than other humans. "Pets can be there for you in ways that people can't."

Many do not understand the wide range of benefits pets can bestow on their owners. Having pets is good for us! Not only can dogs detect illness- from cancer to seizures to a diabetic’s drop in blood sugar- our bodies can be physically healthier when we spend time with our pooches. Their presence can help lower our blood pressure and increase our chances of survival after a heart attack. Pets have also been proven to reduce stress, depression and loneliness, even for those living in retirement homes or those with AIDS. 

This article does a good job discussing the benefits pets have on our emotional well-being: “While we all know the power of talking about your problems with a good friend who’s also a good listener, recent research shows that spending time with a pet may be even better! Recent research shows that, when conducting a task that’s stressful, people actually experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a supportive friend or even their spouse was present! (This may be partially due to the fact that pets don’t judge us; they just love us.)”

Of course, my reasons for why I love Ripley and enjoy spending time with her are not based in scientific proof that dogs feel empathy or that she might let me know when I’m sick. Just like people, pets have their own distinct personality, and I like hers.
Sure, she has her faults, just like any of us. She doesn't get along well with other dogs and she can be strangely neurotic at times. But her passion for walks and her facial expression when she jumps on me to get up in the morning makes up for it.

What’s better than having a happy, furry, excited alarm clock? It’s much easier to get up when you see that face every morning. Plus there is no snooze button on her. And it is always great to come home to squeals of delight. She is great with other people and loves being around them. She likes to dig holes and chase other critters. She loves watching TV. She likes to play fetch but she is particularly fond of squeaking her toy. And she absolutely adores playing with Mr. Kitty.

Sometimes she loses her temper. Every once in a while she will get in bad mood. She hates having her tail touched. She likes to look out the window. And look at her when she was a puppy!

My family dog growing up, Holly, also had a great personality- one of the best. She loved to play and hang out at the river. She could be super cranky when you tried to take something from her but she also loved to run and was a fantastic cuddle buddy. She never minded being held. She loved sweet tea and cigarettes and her favorite toys were always the fuzzy ones. She loved going for rides in the car and sitting on your homework.

Holly’s buddy Tybalt was an interesting little dog with a past that made him stressed out, but he loved my mom more than anything and always wanted to be near here. He liked to play by jumping at your hands and if you snarled at him he would snarl back. He liked sitting in your lap and he loved his girls- Holly and Ripley. He was a ladies' man!

Dominic and I had a dog, Zen, (now a happy boy named Tucker living with my aunt and uncle) who was the happiest fellow you would ever know. He loved running around the yard and breaking the fence to run through the neighborhood. He liked chewing on his bed and playing with Ripley. Passing out on the floor after a hard day of play was the best! He liked to play bite but was always gentle when he did it and he always just looked super happy.

They all have their own personalities, and if you find one that meshes well with yours, then you are in for an amazing friendship- they will be the best friend you have ever had, all day, every day, for as long as they are around. 

Mr. Kitty says "Excuse me...what about cats?"
Kitties are good for you, too ;) 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Week 17 Just the Two of Us

According to Dominic's Home Depot work schedule calendar, the week does not start until Monday, so I am still counting this as Week 17. Plus I have never been able to subscribe to the idea that the week starts on Sunday anyway- that has never felt right. Sundays have always felt like endings, not beginnings.

So now it is back to just the two of us (we can make it if we trryyyy...just the two of and I...How can you not think of that song when you think of the phrase?) for a while again. We are so lucky to have such amazing friends and family- we have been able to spend the past few weeks with family (Dad, Yvonne, Sissy, John), old friends (Mikal and Anna), and new friends (Joe and Jeremy). It was great having house guests and I will say, of course, that I was sorry to see each one of them go.

But now it is high time to get my head back in the academic game, and I'm starting to feel like these long winter breaks make us soft! I start classes again on the 22nd, so it is time to start thinking of somehow paying for books, working out schedules (one of my classes STILL isn't scheduled...this happened last semester too...the department allows some professors to schedule the class themselves, but they tend to wait until the very. last. minute. I am definitely not used to that), and outstanding, ongoing projects.

Of course I have not done as much work as I should have over break, but I have a week to make up for it! Which is good because I need to have a warm-up period before getting back in gear. I really needed some inspiration and I got it yesterday; I had two emails, one from Dr. Shenk asking for bio info for her website (reminding me that, yes, I am in school and yes, there are things I should be doing) and the other was from the CLS program (click here to check out the website!) I applied for. I was super surprised and extremely happy to find out that I am a semi-finalist!!!- that means I am moving forward in the selection process and I stand a higher chance of spending this summer in Bangladesh learning Bangla. As a first year graduate student I did not expect to make it this far (I am thinking the fact that I applied four years ago as an undergrad might have helped, as they can see I've been working towards this for a long time!). Of course the chance of my not going is still really high, but I figure even if I don't make it this summer, the fact that I have made it this far already makes it that much more likely that I will get to go next summer. Fingers still crossed for this year though ;)

I have been making decent progress on my resolutions, but it hasn't been long enough to do anything substantial. It is easy to still be reading fiction because the semester hasn't started, and here I am, blogging! I joined a few online book clubs to play around with (on my new favorite website, Goodreads), and am going to start Orlando by Virginia Woolf for one of them this week. I've written two real letters so far (and had a blast doing it, so I'm confident I can keep that up!).

Last night and this morning Columbia was graced with some very lame snow and some very unpleasant ice- coating everything, including the sidewalk and roads. Walking Ripley this morning I saw people with cups of salt, spreading it in the apartment parking lots, and Ripley and I both did some slippin-and-slidin'. All the more reason to stay in, read, and get some solid project work done!

And Dominic is gradually feeling better. Luckily he has had this weekend and Monday off of work to really lay around and recover. Hopefully by the time he heads back to work on Tuesday he will be right as rain.

I have plenty of pictures to share this week! Dominic and I started the week visiting the Mizzou library...

Then we had dinner (thanks to Groupon!) at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Dominic is drinking green tea.

Of course I can't resist taking pictures from the top of the parking deck...

Anna's visit! (our hair looks like the same color!)

Anna asked this guy to take a picture with her. He was happy to oblige! I took a bunch but this one is by far my favorite...

And Anna and I had a blast with Jeremy and Joe at Lazer Lanes Lazer Tag!

Here is the BRRR snow from last night...

Rips has no problem with the snow and cold ;)

Dominic might though...

Until next time- have a great week, everybody! Stay warm!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Week 16 Big Blog Post for a Big New Year

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a great end to 2012 and an even better beginning to 2013. This blog post, of course, should deal with the new year, but I think, to start, I want to share twelve of my favorite photos from 2012, in general chronological order. Then we can look at 2013 goals or "resolutions" etc. ;) 
1. I like this photo because it has an adorable smile in it (Miss Morgan) and it reminds me of all the great times we had dancing in that room! A lot of dancing happened that night too; it was a surprise birthday party for Lizzy, so of course it was a lot of fun. Plus I love, love, love the arched doorways in that house.

2. Mom is never really into the whole taking pictures thing, but she let me snag this one and it is one of my favorites. She's gorgeous in it and it definitely does make me miss my Mama.

3. I like this picture for three reasons: 1) It has Ripely in it. I'm one of "those" people who really freakin' loves my pets. 2) It was taken spending a summer day on the James River. 3) One of my favorite people took this photo (Anna!). 

4. What's not to love about reading at the river? Lots of great family times have happened here, and I think the lighting can represent warmth and love and happiness.

5. There is a lot to love in this picture. I love the lighting in the summer rain, you can see my flower garden and my favorite tree in the whole world, the pink crape myrtle, and there's my grandma and mom, running in the rain.

6. This was our last father-daughter dinner before moving to Missouri. I really miss those dinners!

7. There is enough greatness in this photo that not much needs to be said. All of my best girlfriends- from elementary through post-college are in this photo. How cool is that?!

8. This was at the going away party Dominic's mom held for us. This picture is just really cool and it was one of our last nights in Richmond. A lot of good times have happened here as well.

9. Favorite photos for 2012 would not be complete without a picture of the two wonderful people who helped us move halfway across the country! Plus this is just a really great photo of both of them. Big smiles!

10. Sissy and John's backyard in Chicago is quite the natural oasis in the middle of the big city. One great thing about the move- being closer to them! The fact that weekend visits to Chicago are possible is sooo super awesome and it really makes me happy.

11. This pup followed me home one day. I still think about this little guy (and can't help but secretly- or not so secretly- wish I could have kept him!). I really, really hope he found a good home. 

12. What's not to love about a cat who loves his Christmas present?

Okay, choosing 12 favorite photos for 2012 was a lot harder than I thought. There are at least three that are missing. One is a beautiful picture I took one sunny afternoon of the outside of the house we lived in on Masonic Lane (where the first picture was taken). Unfortunately, I haven't been able to snag it in the labyrinth of my photos and so maybe I did not take it this year but last. This exercise certainly showed me how time really starts to run together and there are things I was going to post and thought dang, that happened well over a year ago! 

A photo of Mizzou is also missing, along with a photo of Dominic and I. So to make up for it I will post two photos from New Year's Eve. Technically the first one was taken in 2012, but hey, we were prepping for the new year ;) 

He is a big goofy guy and I absolutely love him for it <3

I know the lighting is kind of weird, but I still think it's a neat-o picture, and you can see Dominic getting ready to climb up on one of the columns. And this was one of the first photos taken in 2013 (around 1:30 in the morning)!

Okay, so how does everyone feel about 2013? When I think of how much changed in 2012, it kind of blows my mind, and so I am reluctant to make any predictions about 2013. This time last year I had just finished up my second year of grad school applications, I was still working at VCU but was getting ready to start with a new supervisor on a new project, and I was thinking of life path alternatives, aka, what will I do if I decide not to go to grad school (or don't get in again)? I was volunteering with Cats Cradle and spending everyday Tuesday morning with the kitties. I made some really cool new friends at VCU right as I got ready to leave Richmond. I actually got into more than one school and had to make the really difficult decision between Missouri and Kentucky. I had a whirlwind summer characterized by saying a lot of goodbyes to a lot of people and places I've been around my whole life. I moved halfway across the country, luckily with the love of my life by my side (thankful for that/him everyday!). I started grad school, met a ton of new and interesting people, and Dominic and I are really living on our own for the first time. It is all extraordinarily exciting and absolutely terrifying at the same time. 

So I decided that any "goals" or "resolutions" for the year will be general and relatively easy to accomplish. I have no idea where this year will take me. I am applying to language schools for the summer- I could spend two months in Bangladesh (unlikely but, hey, you never know) or Madison, Wisconsin or ??? Of course, I really want to make a trip home in 2013, but I have no idea when- Spring break, early summer, late summer? This year I will need to pick a thesis/dissertation topic, really start working on my own research, and eventually start studying for my MA exam (*shudder*).

So I'm picking six pretty basic things I really want to try to do in 2013: 

1) Continue reading fiction during the semester. It's good for the mind and the soul. 

2) Submit a research paper for publication. Any journal will do! I need to do something with all this work I've done on my Korean TV show project. 

3) Keep up my weekly blog. And keep it real. I have every intention of being "real" with anyone who reads. By this I mean that I don't want to appear fake or false in my posts- I want to share what's really going on in my life, how I'm really feeling and thinking. Maybe this will lead to a couple of TMI (too much information) moments, but I think that people need to share more than they do and I really think honesty is the best policy. Let's be open and keep it real! 

4) Join and/or start an online or in person book club. I know this is super general but hey, I'm keeping it easy here. Ideally, I would like to join an in person book club for gals in Columbia, but unfortunately I haven't found any. I'm considering starting one, but we will see where I decide to concentrate my time...This can definitely help out with number 1 though.

5) Write letters! 

6) Save $100 a month. Okay, for some of you this may sound ridiculously easy. For me, it's actually a pretty big challenge. Right now I'm making $13,500 a year (keeping it real here- yes, that's how much I roll in per year)'s great and I am SO thankful for it, but it is borderline impossible to save. This is an important goal though because I will have no set income for June and July, especially if I do manage to go to language school, and we are still going to need to do things like, I dunno, eat and pay rent. Dominic's income is obviously a monumental help and he will probably be paying the bulk of the bills in the summer, but neither one of us can do it all alone. So a little savings would be a huge help! 

That's it for me. Let's tackle a new year with open arms, hearts, and minds.