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Bomphiologia,
or The Silly Diary of a Lady Diarist

Gretchen
Date: 2009-06-29 05:55
Subject: Aaaand...we're now down to once a month.
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
We'll say the neglect is due to being super active at site. Ahem. To continue:

1) Hi!

It's been forever. I'm back at home now, but...I'm leaving again in a few days. This time for Turkey. Yes, my friends, Turkey. A friend, Zhenya, and I have planned a very last-minute mini vacation in Istanbul and Antalya. Ferries and the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar for a few days and then two days of lying on the beach on the Mediterranean in Antalya. I'm very excited. I have to do all the research for this trip last-minute in the Peace Corps office hours before we take off, as my internet is running perilously low due to an infuriating McAfee update download goof...but all will be well. I am confident. I managed Budapest and back all on my own. This time there will be two of us. Surely that can only mean twice the competence...

Anyway, this means that I will not really be at site for more than 6 days between now and August 8. Lots will be happening, but...I'm not confident about how diligent I will be at reporting it. I think I said it last year -- summer is busy and beautiful. Less time sitting in front of my computer. Sorry.


2) Quick story from Charlie's recent adventures in Ukraine

Our last day in Kyiv before his flight out, we stored our luggage in the Peace Corps office. It was a weekend and I hadn't gotten permission for him to come in, so I shouldered it all and shuffled inside on my own. All went well with the drop-off. On the pick-up, however, I hit a snag. The luggage room was newly stuffed with bags. The door was heavy. The Peace Corps had recently installed a lock on the door that required me to push a button from the outside to release the catch and open the door. There is no such mechanism on the inside. Yes, my friends. I swung around in the room and knocked the door closed...locking myself in the luggage room. That wouldn't have been so embarrassing, except that I had done the exact same thing a week and a half earlier. On that day, a weekday, I just knocked on the door and a staff member kindly opened it for me. An understanding glance from her, a sheepish grin from me, and problem solved. No such luck on a Saturday. I managed to crack open a window a few inches before it hit the security grate and spent a few ridiculous minutes pathetically calling, "Charlie! Charlie! ...Help?" No luck. The luggage room is a actually just a stairwell, so I went up the stairs and knocked on the door a floor up. Nope. As I'm imagining a full day spent trapped amid duffel bags and smelly socks, I remember that I have newly programmed the Peace Corps's number into my phone. Thank goodness my wallet had been stolen earlier in the trip. Otherwise I would never have programmed business numbers into my second SIM card.

The guard at the front desk answered the call. The same one who let me in five minutes earlier. And I rattled off: "Hi. My name is Gretchen, and I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer, Group 33. I'm...um...locked in the luggage room. Can you come get me out?" He came, of course. Held the door open while I wheeled all the luggage out. And saw me off.

This can't be the first time this has happened! Others must have been trapped by the lock-thingy on the door. Right? ...Guys?!

3) Summer garden update

On a recent day at site, I went over to my host-mother's apartment to make soup. She had asked me a number of times to teach her a specific mushroom soup I made for my birthday and, six months after the party, I thought maybe I should make good on my promise. Katya was at her grandmother's. I had just returned from traveling. This meant that Alla had no food. I had no food. I figured that, both of us being hungry, we should make lunch. The soup turned out okay, not great. Alla got it right, saying that it would be better after a night in the refrigerator. After the late lunch, though, we headed out to the countryside surrounding town to see if there were any white cherries on the tree in her garden.

On the way, we stopped at every single mulberry tree along the side of the path to strip the branches of ripe berries. We hadn't brought anything to carry extra berries in, so just filled our bellies. After a few minutes at each, Alla would call out "should we stay longer or go?" When we went, she would stop a few minutes later at another tree, "just to see if these berries are as sweet as the ones on the last tree." Like little kids, we tore into the ripe berries, unmindful of the meal we had just eaten, eager to enjoy the fleeting fruits of the season. After a few minutes, we were both covered -- mouths, hands, and shirts -- in mulberry juice. As I poked my stained head out of a tree, two students I'd had during my recent drama project passed, smiling heartily at the sight. "Hello!" And my muted reply: "Hello." Nothing like being a respected adult in the community.

After crouching in the high grass to wash our hands and faces in the pond down the lane, we continued onto the garden, a bright blue sky above and the slopes and spikes of field and tree in varied shades of green extending into the distance to the left. At the garden, Alla commanded me to eat the few strawberries left on her plants, and then exclaimed, in surprise, "There are raspberries!" So we ate still more. The raspberries were tiny because there was very little rain this spring, but they were the sweetest I'd ever had. We did finally get to work, though. After we'd shorn all the bottom branches and filled 2/3 of the bucket Alla brought, she hoisted herself into the tree, and I went to eat more raspberries, combining a handful of raspberries with a strawberry or two every few minutes. I kept swearing I couldn't eat any more...and then going back. I told Alla about being a child and over-eating summer fruit. And then eating more. And then being very, very sick. I was hoping to, this time, put the hard-earned wisdom of my 24 years to good use but Alla insisted it was probably all the chemicals in the fruits that made me sick, not their volume. And there would be no fruit left in the winter. Best to eat it all now, stomach-ache be damned. She had a point.

We hitched a ride with a neihbor back to town, too stuffed to walk properly, cradling a bucket and a bag of cherries in our respective laps. When we arrived at her apartment, the sun began to set, Alla began to make white-cherry jam, and I waddled home.

4) Graduation

Graduation was Friday. Most notably, it poured cats and dogs onto the graduates as they paraded through the city center and went through the city-wide ceremony on the steps of the performance center. One teacher said it was because the class studied poorly. But the principal of our school reminded the audience that rain was looked upon as good luck at the start of a new undertaking -- it heralded abundance.

The girls and boys all looked spiffy in their cupcake dresses and white suits. Actually, the trend was short dresses -- fortuitous, considering the rapidly-formed puddles that dominated much of the students' walk to the ceremony. One of my students had a real 18th c. look -- the curls to each side of her face, the mass of her hair pulled back and into a small bouffant at the crown of her head. Plus she had a full-skirted graduation dress, frilled and generously adorned. There were a few dresses I mostly liked this year; I don't know if this year's students are more fashion-conscious or if my tastes are changing (yeesh). The Dolynska student who went to America on an elite exchange program for the school year had returned and, though she has to repeat the 11th grade and will graduate next year, she paraded with her graduating friends, sporting a blue mortarboard and jeans instead of a gown. I appreciated the tribute.

At the city-wide ceremony, where gold and silver medals are awarded for distinguished academic performance (our school had two gold medalists and three silver -- yay Yura, Anya, Anya, Natasha and Maxim!) -- doves were released and one particularly perturbed bird flew directly into the windows of the performance center to escape the rain. When it was thrown back out again, it promptly flew into a second window. Representing some poor graduate who desperately doesn't want to leave home. ...Or maybe the smart graduate who doesn't want to fly with wet wings and sees a chance to stay dry. The bird made an attempt to shield itself from the elements while we all stood gaping in the rain.

At the school's graduation ceremony minutes later, our graduates performed. There were folk songs sung chorally. A solo. A waltz (for me, evidently, because they wore graduation gowns as a nod to American tradition). It was all very heartfelt and sweet. I got flowers. The other teachers got flowers. The students got flowers. The class teachers got flowers galore. There were so many flower exchanges that re-gifting happened almost instantly upon receipt of a bouquet. It was like a game: the one who gets rid of his/her flowers fastest wins; the one with the most flowers at the end of the night loses. The obvious target? The young, inexperienced American. In the middle of the ceremony, my counterpart turned and handed me a bouquet of roses she had just been given with the words, "Because you are a rose like a Shakespearean sonnet." Afterwards, a teacher -- sharp nose, sharp jawline, hair pulled back in a tight twist...a strict one -- I barely knew ran giddily (giddily!) over to me, gave me a quick hug and a giant kiss, and thrust her red roses into my hand with some Ukrainian words incomprehensible to me. Two seconds later, the art teacher, the tall, puppy dog one who taught me about pysanky last year, came and gave me a giant kiss, presenting his recently acquired roses to me with the words "From Ukraine!" I don't know what exactly I did to warrant all of the roses, but I was happy to have them. Add the nine red roses and five pink ones to the lilies my Ukrainian tutor (another class teacher) gave me out of her stack, and I came home with quite a scented haul. And in quite a good mood; flowers always make me feel better. Surefire cure for the blues: brightly-colored gerber daisies, carnations, or tulips.

5) Also, for those of you who were legitimately confused by my last entry a month ago, I have fixed it...if you feel like re-reading. Sorry for my general technological ineptitude. I was so happy to have a working computer that I forgot to use it correctly. Sounds like me, right?


So that's the news. Not much after a month, but it's something. Continue on with your lives. Go!
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-05-29 11:18
Subject: Worst updater ever. But...
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
After mid-June I will be blissfully free for a month, during which I promise to post the things saved on my computer, write more for you all, and, oh yes, frantically do all those real-life things I've put off for far too many months.

In other news, my computer is working! Well! The internet too! I took the laptop to the cell-phone/internet service store in Kirovograd, where the people are super friendly (best customer service in Ukraine) ...and was promptly frustrated. The man did everything I'd ALREADY done and, when it inevitably didn't work, told me to go home and try to log on in an hour and throughout the day. Then, the clincher. When I asked him what to do if it didn't work, he said, "It must work." Cue me: "There's no MUST about this." "It will work." "It's not working now. Why will it work in an hour? What have you done that's different from what I've done over and over for three days? Why will today be different?" "I've entered in all the settings. It must work." Exit me, doubtful and bad-tempered for spending my day off on a bus for nothing. But lo and behold, it works today! I'm ecstatic, but... WHY does it work? I am aware that computers are fickle and temperamental creatures, but why must it make me spend hours finding someone to fix it who does nothing that I do not do? God humbling me, I suppose. It's probably good for me to swallow my pride and go look and sound like an idiot in a Ukrainian store every now and then to keep my hubris in check.

To top everything off, my computer began charging once I got it home! My computer hasn't charged properly for months, but it's back to normal now.

Clearly, the cell phone store man is magic. Also, kudos to him for trying to speak English to me. Always much appreciated.


Also, today was Last Bell. Last official day of school. I asked to present some awards to students who had worked after school on English projects throughout the year, so got to stand on stage with the important administration people. Because the audience was not only students, but teachers, parents and city government officials, I gave my little speech in Ukrainian...complete with a dramatic pause and deep breath after every paragraph, during which my kids cheered me on. It was unnerving. But my Ukrainian tutor was standing just to my right (she was a class teacher {like a don for secondary school kids} for the graduating class this year and so standing up front). I could hear her muttering "Good. Good. Right" throughout, which helped. My goal was to refocus the attention usually directed at me as the strange American teacher onto the students who had displayed extra effort this year and encourage others to participate next year, but somehow the moment made ME the "event" of the ceremony. Students typically bring bouquets for teachers to Last Bell, and as I was thanking the school, students, and teachers, a few kids ran up with bouquets for me, which cued more students...and very soon I was buried under peonies (peonies have just come into bloom and most of the flowers were gathered from the garden). So I stammered out a "thank you, everyone" and went back to my spot, where the bigwig administration guy who came to the ceremony gave me the bouquet students had given him a few minutes earlier. Kids I've never even spoken to wanted photos. (I wish I could get my hands on one to show you all the mountain of flowers. I could barely get my arms around them.) I got thumbs-up and handshakes (handshakes! No-one's shaken my hand for AGES.)

Afterwards, I got to sit around and get tipsy with the other teachers at the celebratory lunch. Which, of course, is nothing exceptional. It seems that after every methodological meeting this year, I sent e-mails to various friends with, "We sat around and ate sandwiches and candy and I drank three glasses of wine...and then went to teach my 3rd period class." What was exceptional was that this time I was really a part of everything. Usually I'm just on the edges of faculty meetings. They even toasted me twice. The principal had me pour his vodka so he could say an American poured him a shot. There were also toasts to the teachers, the graduates, the class teachers, women, love... etc, as per usual during Ukrainian celebrations. No singing this time, though.

One of the English teachers said I had 'studied' Ukrainian -- perfective tense, meaning "studied thoroughly and completely." Of course I haven't. There's no such thing. I think the fact that my Ukrainian is still elementary is proved by the fact that I stood there and conducted myself while I spoke, my hand at my stomach, waving in little circles to propel my voice forward and get the cadences right. They THINK my Ukrainian is better than it actually is because my accent is good. Just because I can say things prettily does not mean that I can say a lot.

I was puzzled a bit by all the attention. Parents moved around to the front of the courtyard to watch me talk. They took pictures of me. I think, when I was planning my presentation and intending to honor students, I overlooked the impact that speaking Ukrainian would have on everyone. My kids either find it exasperating or cute. They are engaged in their own linguistic struggles and empathize with mine. My language difficulties are a point of similarity -- "she's like us." Plus my students and I understand one another. They know me, I know them. They like me. I realize now that it's different for the school community that does not interact with me daily and who are not my students. I usually think that people see me and my struggles to form a complete sentence as something different -- something sort of funny. I usually assume the attention comes from the novelty of it all. I forget that here I am both me and my country. When I stand up and speak in Ukrainian, I am the American who speaks fluent English, the language so many in the world study...and who yet took the time to learn Ukrainian. Not Russian. Ukrainian. I am not just cute. I thank them for helping me learn about their language and way of life when I could have easily stayed in Amercia. I am me, but the "me" I am here is inextricable from my nationality -- from the power and influence of my country. I am interesting not just because I bumble, but because I didn't have to try, and I did. They are gratified that someone from so far away sees the value of who they are and how they live. And are proud of me for doing so.

Or so it seems to me.
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-04-22 08:36
Subject: Spring. Garden Adventures (Part Deux)
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
(Part one is the simile post from last…August, maybe? Just in case anyone was confused.)

The sun began to shine the first week of April. It has not stopped, except to allow us a measure of darkness for sleeping, since. The chestnut trees put out leaves -- Nature's first green is gold and all that -- and the apricot trees began blooming three days ago. We are in a curious stage of vegetable availability, however. I find fewer vegetables in the market precisely because everything is on the verge of becoming locally available. Effie wants outside. When she does manage to evade my attempts to keep her in when I, distracted by my bag and my key and my shoes, walk in the door, she is too frightened to actually go out the building’s door. Happily, I have yet to need to chase her much beyond the landing.

I accidentally volunteered to go work in the garden on an early spring day, when the sun was bright but the winds cold. My host mother was exhausted, her son ill and demands on her time quadrupled for the week. I offered to help her out when she mentioned yet another thing she had to do – go with her friend to plant vegetables – meaning “Is there anything I can do here while you are out,” and actually saying, “May I help you?” The difference was in the verb – an “am I allowed to” vs. “am I able to.” Well, the verb and a few words (like “here”) that I left out. And, as usually happens in Ukraine, a whirl of activity that I seemed to have no control over soon resulted in my work skirt traded for sweat pants, a large blue-and-yellow jacket donned in place of my green one. I am considerably taller than any other woman in the apartment, with correspondingly large feet, so open-toed, flip-flop-type sandals were the only footwear option.

Outside, greetings and expressions of surprise prompted by my unexpected presence all complete, we loaded up a bicycle with rakes, hoes, and a basket of seeds and bulbs, and set off, Max the dog alternately speeding ahead and lagging behind. Alla’s garden lies to the north of town, and Valya’s to the south, where I had never been. The fields are more open to that side of town, the road running straight and flat beside fields stretching into the distance. Still bare soil, the plots look uniform, as though a part of one large, corporate farm. Only when the vegetables and fruits begin to sprout, when the individual crops and layouts are visible – kabachki to the back, strawberries in front, lines of onions filling the right, parsley creating a border between the squash and the fruit – will the fact that the field is actually parceled into half-acre plots become clear.

Reaching Valya’s plot, our first task was to rake up and burn all the dried remnants from last year. Alla set these great, tumble-weed sized balls of snarled twigs aflame, and I finally understood pyromania. My experience with fire has been limited. Crackling hearths in the evening at home, a quick flame to light a burner, the lighter I carry around – just in case (… a really awesome rock concert just springs up in front of me? I don’t know.). I couldn’t properly strike a match until Ukraine. In 2005 I had to ask Carol Pelletier for her lighter during costume design class so I could set fabric aflame with the rest of the class (Ah! That’s what the lighter is for. Emergency fabric identification. Quick, Scotty! Is it cotton?). Anyway… used to small fires for cooking and evening fires for warmth and comfort, the uncontrolled but controllable, destructive but useful, awful and beautiful nature of fire was something I’d never confronted. I sort of just stood, dazed and useless, while the piles burned, thinking “that’s the way for a king to go” and imagining Beowulf and Dido on their pyres. It does signal, like nothing else, definite and irreversible destruction as well as power, beauty and grandeur that is simultaneously terrible. Showy and hypnotizing, as though it could go on burning forever. I think, more than anything, the burning piles seemed Milton’s chaos substantiated. Earth and wood and flame jumbled together. The smoke billowing white, becoming blue, edged in yellow, the air becoming like the sea and then drifting away. No reason, no order. Perpetual destruction. Anti-creation.

My trance broken once the flames did inevitably die – in the real world, unlike my imagination, there are physical laws; materials are consumed, smoke is smoke. We weeded a bit – nothing too difficult, hacking away with hoes here and there at anything green in the soil – and planted a few kabachki. Dig a hole, put in some seeds, cover it. No problem. Then the real work began. Onions. Over 20 lines of onions. That’s a good few hours of bending over the ground, working individual bulbs from the fistful with gloved hands, and pushing each into the soil. Of course, real work to me is almost nothing to everyone else here. It gets hard later, when there is weeding and harvesting to be done. So says Alla. I was only a little sore later, so she’s probably right. And I worked and didn’t complain, so everyone was happy with me. Valya more than once remarked that she would tell others the unbelievable – the American helped her garden. Sometimes people seem to think that we don’t work at all. To be sure, I am much, much more unfamiliar with garden work than just about everyone here. But my parents and grandparents have had gardens. We still peel potatoes. The immense variety of American experience – upper/middle/lower class differences, country and rural life – is understandably difficult to imagine… just as new volunteers expect some similarity of lifestyle here and find it hard to accept the general “it’s hard to say exactly what you will face because every site is so different.”

The hardest part was not the work itself but the cold. As night approached, my fingers became stiff and my toes, only protected by the nylons I initially wore to Alla’s, ached continually, the chill sunk deep into the muscle. As we finished, though, my energy returned – probably spurred by the desire to get up and moving as soon as possible – and we tucked in the last few lines in record time. The walk home seemed faster than the walk out, and we were back in the warm apartment, attempting to keep the dirt to a minimal.

To that end, I ended up in the bathroom in my borrowed coat and underwear, Alla beside me in a similar state of undress. I didn’t even think twice about de-robing in the hallway the second we walked in. Alla washed our dirty socks (my nylons) and I went into the family room for my skirt, where my sick host brother was waiting for our return. Not awkward. Actually. Not much. Earlier that day as I walked to the apartment, when I couldn’t have conceived of the onion adventure that would fill my evening – visits to Alla have always increased the likelihood of an unexpected evening, but I go on expecting normalcy regardless – I recalled, for whatever reason, my first day with my host-family in Beijing. They walked into their apartment, said, “Make yourself at home,” and promptly stripped to their long-underwear. I remember because it was at that precise moment my line came squarely into focus: “I may eventually love you people dearly, but my pants will never, NEVER come off. Ever.” Three years later, line crossed. Line sprinted across, actually – no long-underwear, even.

The rest of the night saw a quick supper with Valya – Alla has decided I am too skinny and insisted I eat a few meat patties – and a very cold run home (the nylons that had kept my legs warm were still drying).

Fin.

(One day I will figure out a less awkward way to end posts.)
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-04-22 08:28
Subject: Dead mouse infestation!
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
And by “infestation,” I mean… there was a dead mouse in my junk closet. How did it get there? More worryingly…where there’s one, mightn’t there be more? It was about this time last year I found a dead mouse in my classroom. Is spring the time for flowers, kittens, AND deceased rodents?

Effie found the dead mouse while I was putting some stuff away. My counterpart’s cat recently died from eating a poisoned mouse, so the frantic mother part of me was not keen on letting Effie have anything to do with the corpse. I shoved her in the bathroom and swept up. I was just going to throw it off the balcony, but there was a babushka gardening below. Now, it’s not very neighborly to send dead mice raining down on an unsuspecting old woman, so I carried it all the way downstairs to the dumpster instead. When I let Effie out of the bathroom, she ran for the closet and started throwing herself against the door. I let her in. She is now very perturbed by its sudden and mysterious disappearance. I know this because for the last few minutes she has been punctuating her sniffing about with a cry up at me in her confused voice. Yes, she does have a confused voice: it is short and rises to a question mark… very cute.

Effie has decided the best way to handle the situation is to slowly stalk about the apartment with dilated pupils and carefully investigate every corner and darkened space. She’s gone all hunter on me. It’s sort of cute and pathetic to watch the fat house cat pretend to be a lion. But then, I pretend that I’m a good dancer and have solo dance parties in my apartment every now and again, so I probably shouldn’t judge. Nothing wrong with a little self-delusion. …I don’t have mice. I don’t have mice. I don’t have mice…


Update: As of this writing, Effie is still not normal. I’m beginning to worry. She’s acting scared, startled by any small noise and running for cover. She even shies at me. She’s always been social and unafraid, free from timidity and the wide-eyed “if I pay very close attention, maybe nothing bad will happen” cautiousness that characterizes so many cats. She flings herself down on the floor and stretches out wherever she feels like, whether on one of her beds or in a stranger’s lap. Her easygoing temperament is one reason I thought taking her back to the US wouldn’t be a problem. Now I worry that the mouse has caused some sort of psychological shock – the realization that something completely outside of her experience and slightly disturbing not only exists, but can find its way into her world. If you think about it, from a sheltered cat’s perspective, this could be a huge event. …I’ve been reading a lot of George Eliot. Specifically, the moment Daniel Deronda first became aware that he might possibly be Sir Hugo‘s son: a few words, a brand-new path for thought, and a suddenly altered worldview. George Eliot has me thinking about the peculiar combination of nature and circumstance that form character. I can’t help but think of my cat as a little, psychologically-complex being with assumptions and expectations and confusions. How deep will this go? …Unless I just actually have mice. And she’s only now realized it. Like a bloodhound. One sniff put her onto the trail.

Therefore, the real question of the moment is: is my cat a person or a dog?
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-04-03 18:00
Subject: Friday Night Narcissism
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
After arriving back in Ukraine after my spring break trip to Budapest (which I will write about soon. Promise promise.), I was a big brave girl and went all by myself to get my first Ukrainian haircut.

Unfortunately, I chose to get my hair cut on a bad language day. I did not realize this fact until I opened my mouth in the hair salon and a string of nonsensical syllables rolled out. I wanted to say “I need a trim. It’s been a long time since I had one. But I want my hair to grow longer, so please only cut off a little.” What I think I managed to say was “Hair long. I want short…er.” I was put in a chair. Then, instead of wetting my hair down, the hairdresser brushed it . I panicked a bit, torn between exclaiming (or, attempting to exclaim) “You can’t brush curly hair! Not when it’s dry!” and “OWW!” When I had a nice halo of frizz, the woman began to cut. My worries about what I was going to look like were not assuaged until I’d gotten myself home, wet my hair down, and checked to see what had actually been done. Now…even though she cut my hair dry, she did a nice job. She really did. I will admit to being doubtful, but I’m happy. However… I haven’t brushed my hair since mid-high. The straight-ish frizzy mess confused me. I lost all perception of what my hair actually looked like. When she showed me how much she was going to take off, it looked fine, but I forgot that when my hair went back to normal it would be much shorter. …As a result, for the first time since freshman year of college, I have shoulder-length hair. Picture.Collapse )

I think maybe it might look better than it did long. Well… perhaps the shorter hair is more becoming, but it is definitely much less striking than the uncontrollable mane of curly hair I boasted for 5 years …and occasionally let loose. This haircut will be a good thing to keep in mind for when I want to be a grown-up. For now, though, I will continue to be young and wild and desire hair to my waist. “Hair: The...Musical” hair.

Also, ALL of my hats look better now. Especially the new hat I bought in Budapest! Best hat ever.Collapse )

By the way, this is the outfit I will wear until it gets too hot for a hat and a scarf. I have lived in my trouser-cut jeans and brown wool sweater since October, and the changing seasons mean it’s time for a new obsession.

Mid-photo shoot, I had a visitor!Collapse )

That's all for tonight. I am, in fact, still in Ukraine and will have Ukrainian/Eastern European things to post soon.
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-03-08 11:11
Subject: Feb 2008-Mar 2009 in books (warning: really, really long)
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
In an attempt to make manageable a year of sprawling, unconnected reading (because you do not want to read the title of every poem and short story and article and half of a book I read), I present you with: things – not magazines – that I read cover to cover since my post-apartment post in February of last year.Collapse )
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-02-14 09:22
Subject: Whee!
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
After the previous post, I’ve decided I’ll use “or” when I title my first book and eschew the catchy title, colon, description of work -convention.

Compare.

After Yan Hui: The Traditional Intellectual in Modern Chinese Fiction

After Yan Hui, or, Scholars, Society and Fiction

Instantly cooler. As cool as Yan Hui gets. …Hooray for nerdy obsessions!

I actually did write that paper, the first one, for my Chinese lit course in Beijing. You know, all of my intellectual work comes back to the same three themes:

1) man’s relation to God and His creation,
2) boundaries and connection, and
3) Yan Hui (and, by extension, all the things that Yan Hui represents – the goals, process
and effectiveness of education, relationships with teachers, etc).

Oh, God. My work is about my life. I like to think that I’m objective about my work and not trapped in this endless cycling, but… I build conclusions filtered by the same preoccupations and concerns, reconfigured to reflect my state of mind at any given moment, unconsciously trying to make sense of the world I experience through the words I read and write. I delight in the abundance and complexity of what I find. I do. At the same time, I am afraid of the hamster-in-his-wheel syndrome, blindly, perpetually re-hashing the same ideas.

All of this has come from my current procrastination activity: I have been going through my papers from college. Doing so, I have found a few “I’ve been up all night, and oh God! What’ll I title this damn paper?!!” doozies. Here, to delight you, I present some of my favorites:Collapse )
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-02-13 11:56
Subject: Christmas,
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
or, Concerts GaloreCollapse )

There is more on its way. Maybe even this weekend. I'm not making any promises. It is the first weekend I've had free since school started, however, and I have grand plans. ...Most of which involve me holed up in my apartment at my computer. Is it bad that the previous sentence does not depress, but excites me? Am I hopeless? Being a hermit is ok as long as I get some work done, right? Right?
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-02-13 11:25
Subject: Yes, I did, in fact, have a birthday. Only seven weeks ago, actually.
Security: Public
Location:Ukraine
I only post about holidays – preferably when the next big-ish celebration is practically upon us. I don’t think I’ll have anything to say about Valentine’s Day, so you don’t have to hold your breaths waiting for an update. I’m sorry. I know you were all so looking forward to the Early 2009 Romantic Report from Ukraine.

How long has it been since my birthday? A month and a half, you say? I…I thought I’d wait until you’d all stopped expecting something December-y and surprise you all with my delightful holiday adventures. Yes. Aren’t surprises fun?!

So. Off we go, then.Collapse )
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Gretchen
Date: 2009-01-19 15:06
Subject: I told you Alice would be back
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Location:Ukraine
Ok. So this isn't exactly what I promised last post. But then, since when do I deliver what I promise? At least it's something. More on its way once I get caught up on correspondence.

I"ve spent the last year Upside Down...Collapse )
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June 2009