Thursday, March 29, 2012

Forceful Advertising

Come on, Sheetz. You had a clever thing going. There are so many (better) things you could have done with the Force. This one frustrates me a bit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hope Springs

I don't know why, but as I went on my weekly walk this morning, my vision was clearer and more attentive than usual. Maybe it was the sharpness of the air, reminding me that this is March, not June. Perhaps it was the profusion of natural color. (We associate spring with pastels, but these colors are too vivid and saturated to be represented by the watery, simpering colors given that name in paint and clothing.) Then again, maybe it was a scientific result of the endorphins produced by my pituitary gland, and nothing more.

Whatever the reason, I spent an hour and a half noticing things: two little blond sisters racing ahead of me on scooter and on foot, the younger turning to look back and veering, bumper-car style, into the fence bordering the sidewalk before bouncing back unperturbed; a homeless man wearing a university sweatshirt and walking in long serpentine loops through the parking lot to keep moving until the neighborhood bookstore opened its doors; the slight stoop of the shoulders and downward sweep of the eyes that indicated that an approaching passerby was a dog-lover and might stop to say hello; and throughout, the rich hues of the greenery and blossoms that pushed aside winter's husks.

A dripping nose, sleepy eyes, and creaking knees are the payback for these early morning walks, but sometimes even those well-earned discomforts are precisely what I need to start the day.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Everyday Jug

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.

I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.

I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.
--Ranier Maria Rilke,
"I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's Not Over 'Til It's Over

...but it's getting pretty close to over.

Just a few more weeks to go.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Story of Mankind

Only in the twisted world that is graduate school applications does the potential to receive a rejection letter constitute cause for wild celebration.

What a weird world it is.

Also a little frightening.

Over the weekend, I logged on to check the status of my remaining application. When I did, I discovered a secondary financial aid application that I had not completed prior to the December deadline. Instead of waiting to verify that I had in fact ruined my chances of admission, I panicked, choosing to believe the worst.

Receiving a rejection is one thing; sabotaging your own efforts by making a careless mistake is something else entirely. It would be the understatement of the year to say that I handled the "news" badly. In so many ways.

Today, I called to confirm the information, only to find that I was most likely mistaken. According to the individuals with whom I spoke, the financial aid application should not affect the admissions decision. Consequently, although I may receive a rejection letter in the mail today, it should not be the result of my absentmindedness (cover letter typo withstanding).

That knowledge should be tremendously freeing, and in part, it is.

At the same time, the situation forces me to look closely at the kind of person I become when I fail or am disappointed or make mistakes. (Having been privy for fifteen years to my own bad sportsmanship when I lose on the field, I should know already.) Yes, there is a lot at stake in this application process, so perhaps my frustration is understandable. These are my future plans, after all. Then again, is that really an excuse? If nothing else, I think this weekend has been something of a wake-up call about how much of my identity and sense of self-worth I attach to my career plans.

Appropriately, it was a work of literature that captured my feelings particularly well.

I'm currently reading Steinbeck's East of Eden. Somehow I missed it in high school, but I think I'm glad of that fact. I can appreciate its six hundred pages so much more now. Today, I read an exchange about humanity's obsession with two Bible stories: the Fall, and Cain and Abel. Attempting to explain this fascination, Lee says, "No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us. What a great burden of guilt men have! ... We gather our arms full of guilt as though it were precious stuff. It must be that we want it that way."

He goes on, "The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt--and there is the story of mankind."

Ah, yep. Mine too.

To be fair, I haven't finished the book yet, and I suspect, knowing Steinbeck, that it will get even more complicated. Likewise, I know myself well enough to be aware that this momentary epiphany will not "fix" my insecurities in the least.

Having said that, in this particular moment, I am taking some measure of comfort from Lee's subsequent statement: "It isn't simple at all ... It's desperately complicated. But at the end there's light."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Distance Vision

Sometimes, seeing beyond the moment takes a little external prompting.

This worked pretty well.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Waiting and Winded

The grad school application process is winding down. April 15th is barely a month away, but I'm still waiting and trying to figure out how to proceed wisely.

Tonight, I have to take a step back and admit that I'm feeling overwhelmed. I don't really know what comes next. I'm not even sure what I hope will come next. But there you have it: the waiting game. The punchline of a joke that I would make if I were a little less tired. C'est la vie.

Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sour News Coffee Cake

Tonight's recipe brought to you by unplanned futures, anticipated rejection letters, and impending expiration dates.**

Sour News Coffee Cake


  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream

Heat oven to 350F. Grease bottom and side of a 9x5-inch loaf pan. You will need three medium-sized bowls. In one, stir together the filling ingredients. Set aside. In a second, stir together the flour, baking power, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the third, cream together the granulated sugar and butter. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat until smooth and fluffy. (The recipe calls for a mixer, but using a spoon is a much better way to work off frustration.)

In alternating thirds, beat in the flour mixture and the sour cream. When the batter is smooth, pour half of it into the loaf pan. Top with half of the filling, then repeat. (Hint: dropping the batter in evenly-spaced dollops makes it easier to spread.)

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a thin knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Slice warm, or cool for 30 minutes before serving. The recipe recommends a glaze, but I prefer the crusty top.

In retrospect, as the coffee cake turned out a trifle bland, I would swirl on a thin layer of cherry pie filling or berry compote before the second layer of batter.


**Modified from Betty Crocker. The bit about the impending expiration dates is mine.