RLS (Really Lazy Syndication)

I have dragged my feet about using RSS feeds for a long time. "Really simple" indeed - sure, they keep everything in one place, but you need an extra application or web application to do it, which has always felt extraneous to me. (But I am oversensitive to redundancy, I think.) Plus, it strips everything down - it doesn't matter what I've set up my blog to look like if you read it as a feed. So I've just kept the links to blogs I read in my bookmarks bar and clicked through them two or three (or twenty or thirty, depending on my level of procrastination) times a day. I don't read many blogs anyway, so it works. But I just bought a new Macbook (more stuff on that probably coming later, once I've used it for a while) with OS X Leopard, and this version of Mail lets you add RSS feeds in the sidebar with your other folders and alerts you when you have a new article, just like a new email message. OK, so not that revolutionary, I'm sure Google figured this out long ago, etc. - but this is RSS for the really lazy. I don't have to go online at all, I'm in my mailbox all the time anyway, and it's completely automated. I may have just been converted to the RSS way of life.


Dear Math

This abusive relationship needs to stop. For all the time I devote to you, I'm not getting the love and respect I deserve. We've been going steady for a while now - it's time to stop playing hard to get. I can't hold this relationship together by myself. I need some positive feedback from you. You've got me on an emotional roller coaster. Most days I just don't understand you at all; you keep me up at night trying to figure you out. I'm tired of crying over you. I want to quit you, but every time I'm ready to walk away, you remind me how interesting and beautiful you are. I remember how great life is when we're getting along, the exhilaration I feel when I discover something new about you. I want it to work between us, but I can't do it alone. Enough with the enigmas - open up and let me know you love me back!

Love and confusion,



On most days of the year, absolutely nothing happens in Caldwell, Texas. Then there's the second Saturday in September, when the town is flooded with visitors, local and out-of-town vendors, and kolaches for the annual Kolache Festival. It's enough of a happening that it even rates a mention on Wikipedia's kolache page. At this point you might be wondering, what is a kolache? A) It is delicious. B) It is a traditional Czech pastry consisting of a bread roll and filling, usually fruit and/or cream cheese, but sometimes sausage (though apparently these aren't technically kolaches). C) See the picture on the right (those are Caldwellians in Czech costume for the Kolache Festival). Though my town lays claim to the title "Kolache Capital of Texas," there is actually a large Czech community throughout Texas. (If you want to know why, you can check out the Texas Almanac entry on Czech-Texans.) You can listen to radio broadcasts in Czech in parts of central Texas, and the other dance (the one being two-step, of course) that most people where I live know is the polka. But my favorite part of Czech heritage, not being Czech myself, is definitely the kolache. Tasty!


This Is Why I Love Math

Today in calculus, my professor was scribbling definitions and examples on the board in full flow when he hit the end of the board. He jokingly suggested that for his birthday, he wanted a round room with a neverending chalkboard. Somebody in the class called out to ask him when his birthday is. It's sometime in October, but I don't think anybody in the class remembers the date because we were all too busy trying to work how old he'll be. His age will be a product of primes for the third consecutive year, and this is the first time in his life that this has occurred. I love how he already had that worked out and didn't even have to think about it. So, how old will Professor Schmitt be?


Sing Joyfully

Last night I went to the annual United Methodist district hymn sing, and to open one of the pastors read John Wesley's directions for singing (John Wesley is the founder of Methodism). They're printed at the front of the United Methodist Hymnal, but if you're not Methodist you've probably never heard them. Which is a real shame, because nobody says it quite like John Wesley. Therefore I would like to share them with you now:

Wesley's Directions For Singing

I. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

III. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.

IV. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.

V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

VI. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

I'm afraid I have trouble seeing that my heart is not carried away with the sound, but for the most part I find these instructions very apt, and pricelessly phrased. Take heed, all you choral singers!


Nepotism in Action

My parents have been self-employed in the printing and publishing business (The Insite Group) since before I was born, which has meant various things to my family and me over the years. It has its perks, like free printing on anything from birthday invitations to science fair displays, advertising trade accounts with local businesses and restaurants, and the occasional free copy of Adobe Creative Suite. It also means being recruited to help with bulk mailings, sorting archives in the filthy attic, and having a mom who doesn't have time to cook dinner during magazine deadline week. In our photogenic childhoods, my siblings and I would crop up with relative frequency on the cover of Insite. Amusing family stories became fair game for mom's PubDesk column, and even occasionally for the cover story, like the week my family was Amish (in retrospect, I'm not sure why I agreed to that). I've been proofreading and editing magazine stories since high school, but this month is the first time I've gotten to try my hand at writing something of my own (and, even more miraculously, getting paid for it). It's also the first time I've been on the cover since I was about nine. I guess being a college student has its perks too.

Check out this month's issue of Insite - I'm on page 39.



There's still quite a buzz about the new logo, but it seems to have shifted away from the design itself to the issue of lack of student input in the decision-making process. Now, I am honestly not trying to be condescending or inflammatory or what-have-you, and I certainly welcome anyone's opinion who cares to give it, but this whole thing has had me wondering: exactly how much right do we, as students, have to expect that the administration will consult with us before administrating? Not having experienced any college other than Middlebury, I don't have any authority for anything I'm about to say, but it seems to me that it wouldn't be practical anywhere any larger than Middlebury to try to let students have a hand in decision-making processes unless it was something really major. (Yes, you've guessed it, I don't consider a change of logo really major, but that's more or less beside the point.) One of my best friends goes to Texas State, and it continually surprises me how little she has to do with her school. She lives in a dorm and goes to classes, but she and her friends just don't seem as involved in the school - there are plenty of other things to do around town. Maybe it's another effect of our Midd bubble; there's nothing to do other than get involved. And our size does make us better suited to a more collaborative approach. I'm really of two minds about the whole thing. I think it's great that the administration listens to the student body as much as it does; on the other hand, the adminstration's job is to administrate, and I'm not sure they owe it to us to let us help them do their job. We students seem to feel that we have some inalienable right to be involved in the administrative process, but I'm not convinced that's the case. I guess some people might come to Midd for that opportunity, but to be honest that's not something I ever thought about or expected from the college experience. I mean, by all accounts, if we were at university in Europe and tried to get involved in college decisions like this, we'd be laughed at. Big universities don't necessarily even need to care about their students as individuals with opinions - there are plenty more who would be happy to get in. Maybe places like Midd are the way of the future, with education becoming more of a collaborative effort and less of an adult-student hierarchy. Or maybe it's an effect of our generation. I've been reading a lot of magazine articles about Gen Y lately. It's kind of amusing to see myself and my friends generalized like that, but there are some grains of truth. The consensus seems to be that we dislike hierarchy and being told what to do, but value cooperation and getting involved with causes we care about. Oh, and we feel the world does actually owe us something. All those things seem pretty symptomatic of the recent reaction to the logo. Maybe we're misguided and maybe we aren't. I realize I haven't actually concluded anything. If you'd like to conclude something for me, leave a comment.


The Revolution is Coming

The customary forewarning: this post is unlikely to interest those of the male persuasion.

In my first real post on this blog, I ranted about the dearth of knowledge about proper bra fitting and the difficulty of finding proper bras. I noted particularly the abysmal range of bra sizes offered in department stores. I can now quite happily rescind that criticism, at least in part. I walked into Dillard's today to buy shoes, which happened to be just across from the lingerie department. I decided to browse through it, not particularly hopefully, and was extremely suprised to see formerly hard-to-find sizes on the rack, including some quite respectable brands like Le Mystère. There wasn't a lot of selection outside the "normal" (i.e. firmly established) size range, but finding a 32G in a department store is a formerly unheard of phenomenon and is definitely cause for celebration. There's still a ways to go - for example, the sales staff didn't quite know what to do with the new sizes. The "fit specialist" I approached seemed to think the bra alphabet went straight from DDD to G (for future reference, the badly designed and rather ambiguous system goes: AA A B C D DD DDD/E F FF G GG H and so forth). Still, there is undoubtedly progress! "Nonstandard" body types of the world, rejoice!


Academic Snobbery

Since everyone has been weighing in on the new Middlebury logo all day, I'll throw in my two cents' worth. Personally, I think the reaction is silly. I checked Midd's home page out of idle curiosity when I saw a reference to the new logo on Facebook, and I can't say I'm a big fan, but I didn't think about it again until it started cropping up on people's blogs. I laughed out loud when I got an invite to a Facebook group protesting the new logo. Of all the "causes" you could devote your time and energy to, why pick one protesting a mere logo that isn't negatively affecting anyone in any material way?

I understand that a school's logo is in some sense its face to the outside world, but I really think people are overestimating its importance. There are two or three schools whose logos I could immediately identify (UT's Hook'Em and A&M's Gig'Em spring to mind), but they're all within a close radius of my home and are inextricably linked with sports. The academic reputations of schools are linked to their names, not the pictures that appear on their t-shirts. I got piles of mail from colleges when I was applying and I don't remember a single logo, even from the schools that I ultimately visited. My point is, for a college at least, a logo is a fairly meaningless graphic that happens to appear on a lot of college material. It may attract some loyalty in its immediate environs or among its sports fans, but it would take a heck of a campaign to for a college to embed its logo in the national consciousness the way, say, Apple or Nike have. A college and its reputation are identified by the name. If all someone can associate with a college is a picture, what have we gained? To have a high opinion of Midd's academic standing, there are already thoughts involved that have to be expressed in words.

Even allowing a logo to have slightly more importance than I've made out, a change in logos in no way warrants the sort of vociferous reaction it has received. I reiterate: find a new cause. If you have that much hate to spare, take it out on world hunger, disease, war, politics, anything that actually matters outside the Midd bubble. I think we MiddKids are so used to having our opinions matter that we rush to have an opinion on everything and make mountains out of molehills in our self-important opinionatedness. Some things just aren't worth having this violent an opinion about.


The Book Post

Dear Readers,
I am recently returned from vacation, during which I did almost nothing but read (hence the lack of posting activity). In case you are feeling similarly lazy and looking for something to read, here are some recommendations (and anti-recommendations).

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett: Actually a YA book, so a fast read, but part of the Discworld series (of which I am a big fan) and one of the funnier ones at that.

Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire: Interesting concept, mediocre execution. He sets the Snow White fable in Italy and makes Lucretia Borgia her evil stepmother. It all fits together nicely, but somehow fails to be exciting.

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire: Sequel to Wicked. Amazingly boring, especially compared to the first one. It picks up a bit near the end, and leaves plenty of loose plot lines for yet another sequel. Also, I find the title vaguely distasteful and not terribly clever, but maybe that's just me.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: Definitely a girly read, but I am a sucker for reworkings of Biblical/mythical stories.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I only read it because I want to read The Eyre Affair and get the references, but I liked the first few hundred pages. Towards the end it had an unpleasant aftertaste of Wuthering Heights

If you have recommendations of your own, send them my way (and if you've already done so, they're on my list and I'm hitting the library tomorrow).


In Defense of the Diary

Not long after I started this blog, I glanced through a book in B&N called No One Cares What You Had For Lunch, a book of prompts and ideas for blog entries that people will presumably care about. I didn't find the book itself particularly interesting, but its message was clear, and I've more or less stuck to it. I enjoy writing entries for this blog because I give them some thought, and I tend to regard this blog as superior to my Livejournal and its confessional mundanity. All this to say that I know, or at least suspect, there's some snobbery in the blogosphere regarding such "day in the life" online journals. However, as summer vacation really sets in and I start my annual campaign of letters and emails, I notice that they all tend to have a paragraph or two in common. There are, in fact, a handful of people who do care what I had for lunch (or who have kindly humored me for years), and there is a better way to let them know than wearing my hand out writing it six or seven times; namely, my online journal, which I can write once for the whole handful to read. It serves its own purpose, quite distinct from this blog (whose purpose I'm not clear on, but that's for another post). So enough of this arrogance among authors of "real" blogs. You're comparing apples and oranges.


The Cloying Scent of Death

Just in case you, like my mother, didn't already have enough things to be paranoid about, the Environmental Working Group has created Skin Deep, a searchable database of health and beauty products. It lists their ingredients and rates them on their potential harmfulness to humans, the premise being that many perfectly legal substances are possible carcinogens, neurotoxins, etc. Many of their ratings are based on just a few studies, but they always list their "data gap" so you can judge for yourself what you think is worth worrying about. I did a couple of searches on the products sitting around my bathroom - both my shampoo and soap scored a 9/10 for potential hazard. The culprit? Fragrance. One major concern is that "fragrance" essentially tells you nothing about the actual ingredients. Another is that the chemicals and preservatives used in many fragrances have been identified as neurotoxins and immunotoxins. Scary, right? I'll be thinking twice before I buy anything just because it smells good.


Do What You Love

Life is full of pithy but overly simplistic bits of advice like the above. How do you know what it is you love? What if you love too many things? I had more than a few crises as I neared the end of my first year of college (I can't believe I've finished a year of college), but I finally made up my mind to double major in French, which was basically a given (and on the practical end of liberal arts), and math, because I really think it's what I love. I realize many people find math unlovable. I loathed it through middle school, was skeptical through pre-calculus, and only really started to appreciate it when I got to calculus. They don't usually teach you the cool stuff, like linear algebra, in high school. Remember chemistry class when your teacher told you the only way to balance chemical reactions was an educated version of guess-and-check? Actually, there's a simple, foolproof method involving matrix reduction that will give you every possible way to balance an equation every time, including some solutions it would be basically impossible to arrive at by the eyeballing method. Nifty. Well, a lot of subjects have cool tricks up their sleeves. How do I know math is what I want to do for the next three years of my life? It was a small clue when my first meeting with my potential adviser turned into an hour-long lecture on the braid group and I didn't get bored. That evolved into my going to office hours on the (legitimate) pretense of getting homework help, but really just so I could sit and listen to the math professors talk. I heard rants ranging from how the sciences are corrupting pure math, to how math in movies is invariably wrong (and how the professors here invariably know the people hired to be math consultants in said movies), interspersed with mini-lectures about arcane principles of mathematics. As terrifically nerdy as it sounds, those were some of the best conversations I had all semester, and those are the people I want to spend the next three years learning from. I will leave you with a joke that, even if you never find mathematics lovable, you have to admit is pretty hilarious:

Q: What do you get if you cross a mosquito with an elephant?
A: (mosquito)(elephant)(sinθ)

Q: What do you get if you cross a mosquito with a mountain climber?
A: Trick question. You can't cross a vector with a scaler.


Literary Regression

I'll be doing some work in my high school's library later this summer, a revisitation of my senior project, in which I got to play at being a librarian. One of the best parts of the job was buying and cataloging (and often reading) new books, mainly young adult and children's fiction. You wouldn't know it from glancing at a display in the teen section of Barnes & Noble, but there are some really good books still being written for that age group. I'm long past the time when those books were technically at my reading level, but one of the qualities that makes these books good is that I still enjoy reading them for the first time, unaided by nostalgia. I think many authors make the mistake of dumbing down their prose in all the wrong ways, assuming that teens won't understand complex structures or rhetorical devices; basically, writing with any stylistic depth (by depth I don't mean Faulkner; plain good writing is fine by me). Consequently we get a lot of books full of stilted dialogue and simplistic narration. Really, I think teens are capable of understanding the English language as well as the average adult, though maybe with smaller vocabularies (and what better way to broaden them than by reading?). Content-wise, very few things are off-limits in teen fiction these days, and young people are the best audience for fantasy, myths, and generally imaginative stories. My point is, there isn't really a good reason why young adult literature shouldn't be one of the best genres available. Think of Philip Pullman, for example, whose (amazing) His Dark Materials trilogy is just as likely to appeal to adults as children. My other point is, the number of books out there is absolutely staggering. Even in my comparatively tiny high school library of 3000 books, I haven't read an appreciable fraction of them. I missed a lot of great books during the time I was theoretically supposed to read them, but that's not going to stop me from catching up now.

In conclusion, a short list of books I came to late but enjoyed:

You & You & You by Per Nilsson, tr. Tara Chace
The Realm of Possibility by Devid Levithan
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Zigzag by Ellen Wittlinger
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Any favorites of your own? Please share!


Motivation and Justification

Why do we do the things we do? (This isn't an existentially angsty post.) I started thinking about this after our senior week Chamber Singers concert. We chose an ambitious amount of music to learn, worked hard at it, and generally agreed that we pulled it off as well as could be expected. But I think most of us didn't really enjoy giving imperfect performances of songs we could probably have learned nearly flawlessly with more time. Who did it benefit then? The audience? If so, why do we always thank our friends for coming in a slightly apologetic tone of voice? And why does half the audience fall asleep? Maybe it benefited our conductor, then. I know he appreciated all the work and effort we put it, but judging by his repertoire of expressions ranging from anxious to stricken, he was relieved we made it through the concert without any train wrecks. I would bet that the reigning sentiment in that concert hall at the end of the program was relief. So what possible justification did we have for creating an experience that was slightly uncomfortable for everyone involved?

I feel similarly about the new Ayres CD (and the old one, for that matter). Now, I think it's really cool that I'm on a CD, and recording it was a fun if exhausting experience. But it's not like I sit down and listen to it. I would far rather be singing those songs than hearing them. And I have to wonder who actually does listen to our CD. Madrigals have a limited audience anyway, and when you could be listening to the King's Singers, why would you listen to the Middlebury Mountain Ayres? Yes, we're quite good for a college a cappella group, but I'm fully aware that there are better versions of those songs out there in the world. Most of my friends have bought CDs, but I have no expectation that they're going to end up on their iTunes most played lists. Basically, we've created a product of very little actual usefulness to anyone, rather like those little knicknacks that are so cute you just have to have them but end up sitting around collecting dust.

Please don't get me wrong. I love singing in Chambers and recording a CD was a neat opportunity. Sometimes I just have to stop and wonder what purpose all these things have.


Moral Ambiguity

You encounter a lot of new things at college. Middlebury in particular promotes diversity and the value of difference, be it racial, religious, socioeconomic, or simply a difference of opinions. I've run into all these in my nine months at Midd, and for the most part I've appreciated the new perspectives and ideas I got out of such encounters. But a few things have occurred that caused me to stop and wonder: at what point are you allowed to stop appreciating ideas that differ from your own? Do I have to accept a diversity of values and moral standards? Are right and wrong really relative? (If you think I'm going to answer this question in one blog post, you're going to be sadly disappointed.) In theory, I think it's fine for people to have personally defined moral codes. In practice, I hate it when people do things that I consider wrong. It's a different sort of discomfort than when I'm confronted with an opinion that disagrees with my own. Opinions aren't necessarily fundamental; I consider them more thoughts than feelings. My most basic values aren't going anywhere, and I'm not sure I could explain all of them rationally. There are things I do and things I don't do. (Anyone read Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Saga? It plays with that question quite a bit.) So while I'm all for my opinions and ideas being broadened by diversity, I don't consider it necessary or even right for my values to be "broadened" or changed. Does that make me close-minded?


You Don't Always Get What You Pay For

Almost getting stuck in an airport overnight (apparently a common experience) gave me a lot of time to think about the air travel industry. It seems a bit out of place in a capitalist economy: in a market supposedly driven by consumers, travelers are awfully sheeplike. They pay an often inordinate amount of money for a fairly simple product: to be delivered safely to their destination. Yet travel often seems less like a business transaction and more like high-stakes gambling. Flights are delayed or canceled; baggage is lost; passengers, in the euphemistic terms of flight attendants, "misconnect." To me, this seems like receiving a faulty product, yet airlines disclaim almost all responsibility for problems encountered by travelers. And while travelers may protest vehemently when their airline strands them in an unfamiliar city and refuses to pay for a hotel room, in general people simply accept the idea that flying is a hit-or-miss sort of affair. Now, I understand that airlines cannot control the weather. On the other hand, neither can their passengers, but when the weather affects travel plans, passengers are almost always left to shift for themselves. United, for example, will not provide any sort of compensation other than a ticket refund for flights canceled due to weather. Late in the day, with no chance at a standby flight till morning, this leaves passengers stranded in a strange place, forced to locate their own transportation and place to stay at their own expense. Clearly the airline has not delivered the promised product, but consumers are oddly complacent. The problem, I think, is that in this case the supplier has been set up in the role of authority figure. Society has done a good job of teaching us to bow to authority. Since I don't foresee any great uprising against the authoritarian regime of the air travel industry, I guess I'll just have to take my chances with tomorrow's flight.


Girls Only!

Back home in Texas for spring break, it's already warm enough to be summer, which got me thinking of, among other things, swimsuit season. I'd like to give a shoutout to the greatest fashion innovation since the demise of the corset: bra-sized swimwear. Shopping for the perfect swimsuit can be a nightmare: you want something both flattering and comfortable that covers enough (but not too much). In my experience, it's always a problem of proportions. If yours aren't "standard," you might be out of luck. The mix-and-match separates sold in any department store fix half the problem, but if you're still taking issue with the ratio of cloth to string in that cute but miniscule bikini top, shopping by bra size is probably for you.

Many department stores carry cup-size swimsuits in the "normal" range of bra sizes, but for the best selection you should try a specialty lingerie store. Find one near you using this store locator. If you live in the middle[bury] of nowhere, my favorite place to shop online is Figleaves.com. Just select your bra size and you can browse through everything available, from bikinis to one-pieces modest enough for your grandmother.

Remember, when shopping for a swimsuit, the same fitting rules for bras still apply. In case you've forgotten, take the refresher course, or, if you barely got through my rant the first time, the condensed version can be found at the bottom of this page.

Happy shopping: with a great-fitting swimsuit you can hit the beach looking and feeling fabulous! Or, like me, the heated natatorium...


Elvis Is Watching You

Trivia of the day: What do Elvis, Hades, and videos have in common?

According to my Greek professor, who knows more about etymology than ought to be humanly possible, all three words come from the same Indo-European root, wid-, meaning roughly "knowing through seeing." This root came into Latin unchanged (the sound [w] was written as v) in the verb videre, "to see," whence the English word "video." In Greek, the [w] sound was represented by the elusive digamma, which was lost very early on, leaving id-, one of several roots of the verb "to see." With the addition of an alpha privative (the fancy grammatical term for an initial alpha that negates the meaning of the word), we get the adjective aïdes, "unseen," and as a substantive (with the iota turning into an iota subscript somewhere along the way), Hades, "the unseen realm." Now that I've bored you with linguistic details, we get to the good part - how Elvis fits into all of this. If you take his name apart, "vis" is another variant of the root wid-, and "el" is a cognate to the English word "all." So Elvis is "the all-seeing one." Now does it really matter if he's alive or not?

This post was made possible by Etymological Storytime with Pavlos, a daily feature of ancient Greek class.



Greetings, gentle readers. Evidence to the contrary, I do still reside on the face of the earth. Just not in this particular blogosphere of late. If you're reading this, that must mean you've continued checking up on me anyway. Many thanks.

Since St. Patrick's Day was yesterday, I'd like to draw your attention to one of the greatest hymns ever written: St. Patrick's Breastplate. As hymns go, it's pretty epic. With a marathon seven verses, it rates three pages in most hymnals. And how many hymns do you know that have a completely different melody for the sixth verse? Plus, if you've ever read Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet, one of these verses will sound strangely familiar to you...


Offer Good While Supplies Last

We all know them - maybe you're one - those people who do everything. Every club, every academic event, every play, everything. I was one of them in high school, but in my naïveté I thought that was a phenomenon limited to tiny schools (I graduated in a class of nine, to give you a sense of scale). Not so, as I've discovered here at Midd. The group is larger, but correspondingly so is the number of activities they do. I am convinced that passion is a limited resource. With every activity you take up, the amount of energy you commit to it is just a little less. When I graduated from high school, I decided I was done with that. I don't miss being overextended, overcommitted, guilted into doing things simply because there isn't anybody else to do them. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed most things I did in high school, but I don't regret passing on the role of "girl who does everything" to someone else. Here I've been able to pick just a few activities that I'm truly passionate about, and I have plenty of energy to commit to them. But that brings its own set of challenges. Now that I'm not part of the overcommitted set, I get frustrated with them - perhaps unfairly, since I know what they feel like - because they have a smaller fraction of their energy to commit to activities that I care deeply about. I don't know what the solution is. It would be hypocritical of me, formerly one of those people, to tell them to narrow their priorities, but I hate it that doing something I love is becoming more and more stressful because it's being pushed to the bottom of other people's lists. Maybe I should go sign up for a few more activities to distract myself.


No Artistic Ability Required

My latest assignment for Creative Process, reading Drawing on the Artist Within and doing some drawings, has given me some serious food for thought. Let me ask you this: can you draw? If you said no, why is that? Maybe you think you have no artistic talent, but here's the thing - according to the author, that has nothing to do with it! Drawing is not (necessarily) art. It's a skill, like writing, that can be learned by any normally functioning human being. Children are taught to write; we don't expect the skill to spring fully formed from their creative inner nature. We don't worry that teaching them to write will squash their native artistic skills. Writing is a tool. What's so different about drawing? The author's claim is that we think of it differently because drawing is a visual skill, whereas writing is verbal. The process for learning to draw may be different than that of learning to write, but it is no less attainable. I should say that by "drawing" I mean "producing a realistic likeness." Remember, drawing is not art, the same way a middle schooler's essay is not literature. Drawing is the technical skill used to produce art, just as writing is the means to producing literature. It is teachable and learnable. The author's claim is that the only block to your learning to draw is that you can't see correctly - your left brain gets in the way. It doesn't really look at objects; it recognizes and names them. To draw something, you need to really look at it to see the shapes, lines and shadows it is composed of - the right brain's strength. I won't summarize the book for you in this post, but I strongly recommend reading it. Next time you catch yourself saying "I can't draw," remember that you could - you just need to learn!


How to Increase Site Traffic

Thanks to the wonders of Site Meter, I can tell how people get to my blog. Usually it's through Facebook or similarly, but I do get some random and hilarious hits. This post has gotten two hits from people doing a Google search with the phrase "how to become a dictator." Hurrah for the internet - now anyone can learn the fundamentals of dictatorship. But not from my blog, as one irritated reader commented. It seems I haphazardly picked a title with key words that look nice to search engines - one way to increase site traffic, I am told. As you may have guessed, the title of this post is a bit of an experiment...



I turned 18 on Tuesday, and was planning on having a pretty average day - which I was, until my mom walked through my dorm room door. I have never been so surprised in my entire life. Now you might be thinking "How horrible!" - after all, isn't this the scenario college students have nightmares about? I won't pretend it's not a little awkward, having my mom on campus, and it definitely makes me a little self-conscious, but I also won't pretend I don't think it's totally worth it. Those studies that have gotten a lot of attention lately about how college students are more dependent than ever on our parents make me a little angry. There is nothing wrong with having a functional relationship with your parents and missing them when you're away from home. That does not mean I am dependent on them. Once you're capable of living your life independent of your parents, I think you're allowed the luxury of missing them and being happy to see them. Besides, my mom is happy to now be able to envision what I do with my time up here. Good thing I have nothing to hide - sometimes it pays to be a goody two shoes...


The Creative Process

I had my first Creative Process class this morning. It will either be the best experience of my college career or the class I spend all semester hating. This class is all about the things I am most terrified of - public performance, improvisation, sharing my feelings, and general touchy-feely-ness. Our first assignment, due Thursday, is a one-minute musical. We must sing a song of our choice and use it to tell a story, which must have a beginning, middle and end, an identifiable character, and some kind of choreography - all in one minute. If I'm going to get through this class, I have to learn to shut out my inner cynic. The actual class activities today were really fun, though. It was mostly about body and spatial awareness - we did a lot of wandering around the classroom with our eyes closed. I think this is going to be a really good class. If nothing else, I will be getting way outside my comfort zone.


Far From Home

"Oh, I guess nobody told you - I'm in the hospital." That definitely tops the list of words I don't want to hear when I call my dad to thank him for some photos he sent me. He has a staph infection on his face, but he's on IV antibiotics and should be fine. It just made the fact that I'm not at home, that things can happen without my knowledge, a little more real. No matter how often I talk to my family (which is quite often), I'm not exactly in the loop anymore. And I won't ever be again, really, excepting three or four summers. It's an odd mental adjustment to make.



When you go to the gym, most people are sweating and slaving away in their own little bubbles of "don't-look-at-me-don't-talk-to-me-I'm-working-out". But there's one guy whom I see there fairly often who pretty much makes my day - he runs (at what would be, for me, a crushing pace) while lip-syncing, complete with gestures and flamboyant head jerks, to what appears to be some kind of punk rock. His expressions are priceless. No way would I have enough extra breath or energy to do that. Would there were more like him - going to the gym wouldn't be half so monotonous if everybody were doing silent karaoke!


Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

Do you know what a vegetable is, scientifically speaking? Don't worry - neither does anybody else. Apparently it's a purely cultural and culinary distinction. Sadly, that means all the times my siblings and I vied to be the most correct in determing what was a fruit and what was a vegetable were (wait for the bad pun) fruitless - they can be both. I learned a few interesting things about the etymology of the word vegetable though - it comes from the Latin verb vegetare, to animate, and related adjectives vegetus, lively, sprightly and vegetabilis, animating. Pretty ironic that we now use "vegetate" and "veg out" to mean exactly the opposite. That's quite the radical semantic shift.


Fiddle Me This

Music was a pretty big part of my life in high school, but here at Midd I feel like I practically live and breathe it (not the way music majors do though - they're just nuts). J-Term feels so incomplete without music rehearsals nearly every day, but I've been making up for it by going to see some interesting musical performances. A friend from home commented that I've been in Vermont too long when I start getting really into folk music, but I've found a new love - fiddle. It doesn't even have to be particularly good fiddle playing. There's just something about the sound that's really energetic and happy. I love the campus band Dawn's Basement, who play rock music with fiddle, but this weekend I experienced fiddling in its natural habitat - Appalachian folk music, performed by the female duet Mayfly, who are a subset of the folk band Sugarblue. I've never liked the idea of folk music, possibly because I thought it didn't involve good singing. Obviously I'd just never heard good folk music. Mayfly's close harmonies, catchy rhythms, and of course fiddling make for some pretty exuberant songs. Also this weekend, I saw a Slavic-language folk choir, which was the most entertaining concert I've been to in a while. Slavic folk songs have the greatest lyrics, an inordinate number of them involving cabbage. In a sort of bizarre connection between these two concerts, it turns out that members of both of them participated in Village Harmony programs, possibly the coolest music camps I've ever heard of - though I wouldn't go to the one in Republic of Georgia, as the description says it's not for those who require daily hot showers. Singers among you should check it out though.


A Bright Idea

I really, really love this place. So many smart people! At lunch today, a friend told me about Bright Card, a local start-up credit card company with a simple but brilliant plan - instead of the usual airplane mileage or magazine subscription rewards programs linked to credit cards, why not take that money and do something good for the world? Bright Card, it appears, is just a normal credit card, but every purchase you make earns you carbon offsets - about the most painless, effortless step toward carbon neutrality you could take. The card hasn't been launched yet, but you can put your name on the list to hear about it when it's ready. Yet another reason to look forward to my 18th birthday!


Confucius say...

Sophomores are wise fools. No, really - according to my Greek book, σοφος "wise" + μωρος "foolish" = sophomore "wise foolish one." The "official" etymology in my Oxford etymological dictionary gives it as an obsolete form of "sophism" + "-er" = "one who makes sophisms." Personally, I find my Greek book's version both more plausible and a lot more interesting. After all, who doesn't like having an oxymoron for a name? (As an aside, οξυς "sharp" + μωρος "foolish" = oxymoron "a pointedly foolish thing.")

pants Brit. informal rubbish; nonsense.

I admit it - I am a big fan of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. I just read the fourth and last book, however, and was exceptionally disappointed. I wasn't terribly impressed by the story line, and felt that the characters remained fairly static, but that isn't my main complaint. What bothered me was the fact that the characters generally took a moral nosedive. Amid the masses of catty fiction for teenage girls (think of popular series like Gossip Girl, The Clique and It Girl), it's nice to find something that I wouldn't actually mind my younger sister reading. While the first three Sisterhood books weren't all sweetness and light, the characters made choices, faced the consequences of them, and generally learned some important lessons. The books didn't necessarily preach against drinking, premarital sex, etc., but they steered far clear of glorifying them, something I greatly appreciated. You may find my view stuffy or prudish, but I believe kids don't need to be thinking about that sort of thing, and as for the "growing with your audience" argument, do those topics really make the story any more mature? Personally, those aren't my criteria for maturity. But I digress. The fourth Sisterhood book slipped off its moral high ground and left the characters making some fairly suspect choices with less than severe repercussions. The general message I took away was that growing up means losing your inhibitions. In small doses, that's a fine message, but it really ought to come with the caveat that some inhibitions are there for a reason. That's my stand on the matter, anyway. And you ought to read the book, if only to round out the series.

As an aside, no offense meant to anybody who reads catty teen fiction. It's pure brain candy, and I certainly indulge in it myself. It's only a problem when that sort of thing is all that younger girls are reading, without the realization that it's trash. There's no reason not to eat candy, as long as you don't go around thinking it's broccoli (or insert healthy food of your preference here).


Jaw-Dropping, Mind-Numbing Stupidity, a.k.a. MTV

Having lived in a cable-TV-free home for most of my life to this point, I am still surprised at the depths to which popular culture can sink. I'm also fairly surprised to have that revelation in a setting like Midd. You would think that, bright, intellectual students that we are (that was only partially sarcastic), we would want to watch something that might engage our big brains just a tiny bit. Far from it. At the gym today, I caught the end of My Super Sweet 16 and the beginning of Next, both of which left my jaw literally hanging open at the sheer tastelessness of it all. The former was nothing of a revelation, really - seems like a lot of reality shows are about pointless extravangance, cattiness, and girls acting too old for their age. The latter, though, seemed like something that ought to be a SNL parody of a dating show. The whole thing was so badly conceived and executed that I'm amazed they manage to get funding. The premise of the show is that one person has a lineup of dates to choose from, and at any point on the date can reject them for the next in line - the dates receive money for each minute they stay in the running. As a concept it could be a lot worse, but the sick, juvenile, spiteful "humor" was so contrived and over-the-top as to be utterly, unbelievably unfunny. Here's what I remember of one exchange among the prospective dates, some of whom had already been rejected: "What's that on your face?" "She put kabuki on me." "She did a dookie on your face?" "You look like dookie!" - all punctuated by raucous laughter. Painful to read, isn't it? That's the sort of joke third grade boys might find funny. I cannot fathom any girl ever dating one of those guys. And this is the sort of cultural message one of the nations more popular entertainment networks is broadcasting. Drugs are illegal because they make you stupid. Shouldn't shows like this be illegal on the same premise?



I'm pretty sure it happens with all teachers or professors - probably with all people, but most don't have the opportunity to talk to you day after day for hours on end - they have one or two "crutch words" or phrases that they use repeatedly, often without thinking and sometimes apparently without context. My Greek professor, for example, uses the phrase "rough and ready" to refer to the book's translations of vocabulary words or case usages, his point being that Greek is much more subtle and variable than our text makes out.

What actually prompted me to write this post, however, was his use today of the word "copacetic," which was possibly my high school volleyball coach's favorite word ever. She used it as a general sort of positive interjection, e.g. "Is that play clear? Copacetic!" Dictionary.app offers this definition:

copacetic |ˌkōpəˈsetik| (also copasetic)
adjective informal in excellent order.

Interestingly, the word has no known origin (my etymological dictionary doesn't even have an entry for it), so you can use it however you want.


How to Become a Dictator

Step 1: Speak in the Future Most Vivid.
This is possibly the best thing we've learned in Greek so far. It's a form of conditional statement implying a cause and effect that is so because the speaker says so, e.g. "If you don't do what I say, you will surely perish." As another student in my class said today, "It's the first thing we've read in this book with some life in it!"

I don't actually know how to become a dictator - sorry if I got your hopes up. The way Greek class is going though, I may have more thoughts on the matter in the not too distant (and most vivid) future.


For the Record

Yesterday was my first experience with recording a CD (with the Mountain Ayres, Midd's madrigal group). It was alternately nerve-wracking and extremely fun, and I've certainly learned a few things in the process. For example, and in no particular order:

14 hours is a long time to spend working with anyone, even (perhaps especially) people you like quite a lot.

In the time it takes to discuss whether you should record a song again, you could have just recorded the song again. More takes in general give better odds of success.

The songs you think will take the longest will in fact be the most painless. Similarly, the songs you expected to plunge to the utter depths of flatness will mysteriously stay (nearly) on key, or even more bizarrely, go sharp.

Recording is not a time for treading lightly and avoiding hurting people's feelings. I personally would like to know if I am messing up, and would be happy to return the favor. A good track is worth stepping (gently) on a few toes.

Sometimes the song just isn't going to be perfect. Corollary: it is really hard to settle for less than your best.

Altogether, I thought it was a great experience, even if I felt like I'd been beaten over the head with a music stand at the end of the day. It was amazing to spend an entire day singing, and I can't wait to see how it all comes out.


It's All Greek To Me

[I apologize for the title. I couldn't help myself.]

Today marked the first day of J-Term and my first day of ancient Greek class since junior year of high school. I'm back to the beginning, since one semester of high school Greek in no way equates to a full semester of Middlebury Greek. The first day of class is always an interesting experience. It takes a while to figure out the dynamic among the class members and with the professor. I can already see that the position of know-it-all is filled. I don't mean that to be terribly disparaging - it has already led us off on a few fun tangents, like the three different possible meanings of Oedipus (know-foot, swollen-foot, know-where; bonus points if you can figure out why they are ironic in terms of the story), but it can also be irritating when the tangents are pointless. One position the know-it-alls haven't filled is that of correcting the professor when he makes mistakes (and unfortunately he made several today - it is unfortunate when the professor consistently misplaces the accents on words when he is trying to teach the rules of accent). I haven't decided if I want to be the obnoxious person who speaks up when the professor is wrong. It's a useful function, especially when the mistakes are of a basic nature in an introductory course - such mistakes can lead to a lot of confusion. In high school I had no problem doing this because my classes were so small (3 to 10 people, usually) and I knew the teachers very well. Also, they didn't make mistakes that often, so it was more of a challenge. Or if they did make mistakes often, I didn't particularly like the teacher and so felt a rather guilty pleasure in catching them. (Yes, I am a somewhat spiteful person.) So the question is, do I take on the role of error police, or do I simply sit back and ignore the teacher's mistakes insofar as they don't impede my own learning? I will see what transpires as the course progresses.


Global Warming is Scary

Sorry, I couldn't think of anything witty for the title of this article. (I'm sure you're grateful.) I just watched An Inconvenient Truth, and I am scared, but also energized. If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend it. Personally, I'm not in any doubt about the truth of global warming, but if you want to quibble about details, just consider this: isn't it better to overreact and overcorrect now, rather than look back later and regret the things we didn't do? The consequences of not acting could be catastrophic, but the consequences of overacting are simply to make our planet a much cleaner, healthier place.

That said, I think I've found my New Year's resolution. I want to get involved in helping stop global warming, as well as educating people about it. Not that I really know how to go about it. I don't drive (luckily there isn't much need to at Midd), but I can't help flying. I use compact fluorescent bulbs. I recycle. I wash my clothes in cold water. I could stand to take shorter showers, though. The point is, I can think of some individual things to do, but I'm having a hard time envisioning actions with a greater impact. So obviously I googled it. Here are some of the things I found.

Midd's Sunday Night Group: "The Sunday Night Group (SNG) is a regular gathering of environmentally-minded students whose purpose is to launch creative programming that brings the CRI [Carbon Reduction Initiative] to the student body. We are an organization built by students to serve the students."

Stop Global Warming Virtual March: Largely symbolic, but an easy way to spread the word, and it has a good list of things you can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint.

Cool Cities Across America: Is your city a Cool City? Has your mayor signed the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement?

Carbon Offsets: If nothing else, you can write a check (or rather enter a credit card number). The sites listed on this page seem to be well checked out, but you can always do your own research. How it works: "When you buy offsets, you essentially pay someone to reduce or remove global warming pollution in your name."

"Stop Global Warming" Bracelets: A fashion statement and a donation all in one. Plus, they're made from recycled leather. Too bad I didn't find this before Christmas!

For starters, I'll be checking out the SNG and forcing everyone I can to watch An Inconvenient Truth. Hopefully I will have more to blog about soon!