Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Today Merits a Blog Post

An animation of the enlargement of the Europea...
It's obviously been much too long since I last updated this, but I find myself constantly exhausted at the end of each day with never an end in sight to the list of things I need to do, BUT today was a particularly good day, and I'm on a writing role at the moment, so I decided to post an update.

In my Zoology class, we have finally moved past the boring stuff (cell theory, mitosis/meiosis, heredity, etc.) and we're actually learning the names of the different phyla of animals. Fortunately for me, this part is easy because it's all a bunch of big words that no one else has a clue about, but my love of etymology is really paying off there. Today, we learned about Mollusks, which included everything from snails to clams to squid.

After that, in my International Studies class, Dr. Guy Whitten, director of the European Union Center for Excellence, spoke to our class about the mechanics of the EU, something I was woefully uninformed about until today. I accompanied him and Dr. Greenwald to lunch at the little Asian café down the street and further discussed European politics with them.

I was feeling a bit tired from having woken up for my 8 AM class today, so I did something I don't normally do and took a 30 minute power nap before finishing some Russian homework and rewarding myself by sitting out in the beautiful sunlight and breeze simply reading for pleasure for the 45 minutes before my Russian class, something I have not done for far too long.

I've found that when I don't engage in some kind of artistic activity for too long, I just feel out of sorts and constantly anxious or guilty. I guess this is a sign to what part of my particular vocation is, but after Russian class today, I uncharacteristically put off doing my homework until later tonight-- since it has to be done anyway-- and spent an hour and a half continuing to revise another 50 pages of my manuscript. I've been receiving lessons from Holly Lisle's How to Revise Your Novel course since mid January, but despite having lesson 12 waiting for me, I am still working on painstaking lesson 2 because of the many weeks I have not touched it. As tedious as some of the process is, I was feeling particularly inspired after reading some fiction today, and I felt especially accomplished after making a huge leap of progress. If I could keep up that pace of 50 pages per day, I could finish lesson 2 within 5 more days and finally move forward, so we'll see.

Finally, I unexpectedly ran into one of my many wonderful little groups of friends from St. Mary's when I went to  get dinner. When I think about where I was at this time a year ago, it's hard to believe how far I've come, sometimes, and I couldn't imagine transferring somewhere else after having met such great Catholic people my age here. I'll be sad not to see them next year when I live in France, but it has been exciting planning my year stay over there. I just recently got my classes approved, and now I need to research airfare and more about the city of Caen where I'll be living.

I'm about to head to choir practice for Holy Thursday's mass, and on Friday, hopefully I'll be able to meet with Fr. Brian McMaster for spiritual direction/vocation counsel, and then I think I will be home for the Easter weekend.

I'm feeling pretty on top of my work at the moment, it was a beautiful day, and I made some progress on the writing front. It was a good day all around! Winter is gone... spring has finally come!

God bless you as we enter this Holy Week and Easter season. :)
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Friday, January 29, 2010


Stress Reduction Kit
(zdrahvst-voo-its-yeh) Hello!

I apologise for not writing sooner or more often, but I have been overwhelmed with my new schedule. The title up there is one of the few words I now know in Russian, thanks to my Russian 101 class. On top of that, I am also taking Zoology, Texas History, French Composition, and Intro to International Studies. It doesn't look like much when you say it that way, but it's 17 intensive hours, and I've been doing my best to keep up with it all.

Fortunately, these are classes I'm interested in, so at least it isn't like beating my head against the desk like it would be if I was in a math class. Still, I can tell I've definitely got my work cut out for me, what with writing French essays while reading L'Enfant Noir by Guinean author Camara Lye, learning the Cyrillic alphabet along with entirely new pronunciations, vocabulary, and grammar for Russian, sitting through a three-hour long lab each week for Zoology in addition to the hour-and-a-half 8 AM lecture, or staying up to date on international news while compiling my massive 4-inch host country resource book for International Studies.

Speaking of being busy, I'm not sure why I thought it was a good idea to audition for the à capella group Hardchord Dynamix (which I saw perform last semester), but I did on Wednesday night, just to give it a shot and practice the process. The only other time I have had to audition for anything was high school choir, which was hardly intimidating. The people in the group were very nice, but sadly, I did not receive a callback for tonight. Still, it was a learning experience, and it is probably for the best that I was not accepted since I have so much to do as it is. And today, after listening to a girl who asked if she could perform her rendition of The Sister Act's "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" to me while I was playing piano in the chapel on campus, I realize just how good some of the other people are who tried out.
I still miss singing, but unfortunately, living on a college campus affords me pretty much no privacy to practice anything, though at least I'm past being shy about playing and even learning sheet music in all its roughshod-diness on the public piano.

In other news, over the Christmas break, I began following Holly Lisle's How to Revise Your Novel course with my manuscript from National Novel Writing Month of 2006. I have been following Ms. Lisle's site and been a part of the online writing community she founded (called Forward Motion) for nearly four years now (wow, I can't believe it's been that long!), or basically since I set a serious goal of writing and publishing a book. It is excellent, but I have only done one lesson so far, and I haven't had time to push forward of late, although fortunately, I can work at my own pace and read the lessons as I get to them.

Sadly, I came all the way over to the library in the dark and the cold wind to work at a table where I could spread my binders out (as opposed to my woefully cramped room that is supposed to pass as some kind of acceptable living space). To my dismay, the library closes at 9:00 on Friday nights, so it looks like I won't be able to work with some elbow room and ruining my posture hunched on a bed after all.

To end on a slightly more optimistic note: today, while I had a few minutes to kill before dinner, I pulled down the book I received as a graduation gift from my high school teachers (which I have yet to finish), and I read their notes on the inside covers to me. It was wonderfully encouraging and just the pick-me-up I needed after a stressful first two weeks. There have been times I have struggled with my self-esteem and identity, but reading their loving words made me realize how blessed I have been to have such people in my life who appreciated my talents and knew me personally enough to pass on their counsel. When I'm feeling depressed by a lot of (what I perceive to be) spoiled and apathetic people who seem to have a charmed life, it's good to be reminded of the good I have been given and what I want to offer.

So, I will try to keep you updated, as I really do appreciate your interest in my life and especially your prayers! Some people might think college students have an easy life, but while I certainly can't compare to the poor people in Haiti, it's not all a cakewalk either. Thank you for caring.

To quote Holly: "Never give up on your dreams."

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out With The Old, In With the New

The old wisdom tooth, that is. This morning, I woke at the crack of doom to have my only wisdom tooth (upper left) removed at around 8:00.

I'm usually fine going to the dentist, and I was only slightly apprehensive about this procedure, although I was reassured by the many people who had gone before me assuring me that it is quite mild.

I opted to take nitrous oxide (a.k.a. "laughing gas," which, incidentally, happens to be what propels your whipped cream out of its canister and is a leading greenhouse gas) instead of an intravenous anesthesia, and I'm glad I did because it allowed me to remain conscious while feeling no pain.

I thought I would write down my experience of the procedure for my own recollection and for others who have to have their wisdom teeth removed in the future.

The technician showed me into the operating room, which was really no different than many other dentists' offices, and covered me with a nice, warm blanket and sheet (to keep the blood off of course). She then placed a rubber "mask" over my nose and proceeded to administer the nitrous oxide to me before the dental surgeon swabbed some piña colada-flavored numbing gel on my gum in order to inject me with the local anesthesia.

The nitrous oxide was probably the best part of the whole process. It is difficult to explain unless you have experienced it, but I would describe it as simply a warm, pleasant sensation, akin to that which you feel when you're feeling particularly touched or sentimental, which spreads from your chest out to your head, hands, and feet. It was very peaceful, and I briefly wondered if that is what it feels like when you die (morbid me), although I think I described it as a "fugue-like state."

Anyway, they injected me four times I think, and while I could tell that something was poking me, I couldn't feel much of the needle. Then they left me for 10 minutes just breathing oxygen while the local anesthesia took effect, during which time, I contemplated the ceiling, prayed, and made mental notes of the whole procedure because I was fascinated by it.

Ten minutes later, the assistant and surgeon returned, turned the nitrous oxide back on, placed a "mouth prop" between my teeth near my lips to keep my jaw open, and with some calming words to describe what I would feel, began the incision process. I didn't know to what extent the anesthesia actually numbed the pain, but I honestly felt nothing of them cutting my gum, which took probably a minute. Then, the surgeon told me I'd hear some noise-- it reminded me of the polisher they use at your regular dental checkups-- after which I felt "some pressure."

This was probably the worst part of the whole process, but it was hardly painful. It reminded me of when the orthodontist removed my Herbst appliance, which had been cemented to each of my four molars, although at that time, I was not anesthetized at all and I feared he would pull my molar out with the contraption. In this case, I can only describe the sensation as a vague pulling somewhere back in my head, kind of like after you have been hit by a basketball on the side of your head. Then, a slight give that reminded me of when one of your loose teeth finally just kind of floats out of its place after days of pushing it with your tongue.

Finally, I saw the thread they used to stitch my gum back up, of which I felt nothing, of course, and even that part only took about a minute or two. Then, it was over. The entire ordeal took less time than a regular cleaning, and thanks to the nitrous oxide, I was basically in a state of blissful autopilot.

I was fortunate I only had one, and the doctor told me if I'd had four, it would have taken about four times as long. When all is said and done, though, I came back into the waiting room and said, "Well that was fun!"

I asked them if I could keep my wisdom tooth, and I have it wrapped up in an envelope; unfortunately, I left my camera's cable at school, so I will post the picture of it in a couple of weeks when I return.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Let There Be Peace on Earth

Holy Spirit
(Despite the disjointed place this entry takes after such a joyful previous post, I feel the need to reflect and share my thoughts after watching a video about suicide bombing for my Anthropology class.)

I'm wiping away tears as I write this, surprised at the profundity of my experience, and deeply saddened by the tragic reality of the constant conflict in this war-torn region of the world, yet in spite of the seemingly hopeless situation, I feel deeply moved and inspired to do what I can to act as an agent of peace in a world rent by violence.

Recently, I have been learning about the history of the Middle East in my Anthropology class, and I am ashamed to discover that I nearly quite literally knew nothing about the subject until a few weeks ago. It has been an overwhelming amount of information, and long overdue, but better late than never. Still, it shocks and frustrates me to realize how little the rest of the American public knows about the long and complicated history of violence in the Middle East and the motivations for the different factions.

Honestly, even eight years after the pivotal September 11, I still knew little more than 1) Palestinians and Israelis hate each other 2) Osama bin Laden is the head of a terrorist organization taking refuge in Afghanistan and 3) the United States has become embroiled in the never-ending conflicts in an attempt to establish democracy and peace. It was easy to hear reports of yet another car or suicide bombing on the evening news and just pass it out of mind as something to be expected "over there" without ever learning what could drive a human being to commit such an act against his fellow human beings.

On top of learning the histories of the countries in the Middle East, I have just recently also decided to learn Arabic, even if I can't take it as a class next semester, and only tonight I was practicing reading, writing, and pronouncing some of the letters before I watched this documentary.

All of this being said, I may not be sure at the moment, but I feel as if perhaps God might have revealed another glimpse of my vocation to me. I can't think of many other reasons why my curiosity for Islam and this fascinating-- yet terrifyingly difficult-- culture has been aroused in me, but after seeing children watching footage of their father's "martyrdom" and seeing mothers weeping over the sudden and inexplicable death of their sons, after seeing blood- and dust-covered people fleeing and being carried from the flaming ruins of a car bombing in distinctly September 11-esque images and the dismembered remains of a woman suicide bomber amidst the wreckage, after seeing people throwing rocks and flares over walls that divide a city illuminated by explosions at night, I feel that

Something must be done.

And not just "something must be done," but "I must do something, even in what small ways I can, to bring the love of God not just to these people, but to everyone I encounter." Still, I also can't help but feel an increasing tug within myself when I recognize the gifts for language and communication and the ability to think critically and passively apart from emotions along with a natural curiosity that I have been blessed with. And I wonder How can I use these gifts to serve God?

For a while now, I have held the idea-- almost a vague goal-- of obtaining a job where I could serve as a peacemaker, an intermediary where I could use my talents to bridge the gaps between peoples in order to bring them closer as brothers and sisters in respect and peace. I find myself thinking more and more of the Prayer of St. Francis and it is fast becoming my mantra.

I have already embraced the French culture through learning that language, and I feel that it has prepared me to continue to do so, possibly until I can love the entire world and see it more through the eyes of God. In any case, I feel that I at least have a good stepping stone to foray ahead into the exotic and unknown culture of the Middle East. And whether it's my mission to minister to "the eldest daughter of the Church" or my brothers and sisters in Judaism and Islam I cannot say right now, but I can only pray that God graces me with the ability to radiate his love and joy to whomever I am called to serve.

It is a grim world that I find myself entering, and it would be too easy to succumb to the overwhelming darkness that stands before us. But lest I seem too hopeful and naive in my young age, I take comfort in the phrase that appears in the holy scriptures the most often: "Be not afraid!"

I will end with two quotes by a man I wish we still had among us; yet we do not have need for another John Paul II. He faithfully served in his time in this life, and it is with deepest admiration and inspiration that I look to him as my time is at hand:

"It is the duty of all believers, to whichever religion they belong, to proclaim that we can never be happy pitted one against the other, the future of humanity will never be able to be secured by terrorism and by the logic of war."

"Dear young people...Do not wait until you are older in order to set out on the path of holiness! Holiness is always youthful, just as eternal as the youthfulness of God. You are young, and the Pope is old, 82 or 83 years of life is not the same as 22 or 23. But the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope; the young are our hope. Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son."
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