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Wednesday, 18 April 2007
Navel gazing now comes with a widget!
Topic: Navel gazing
Read my VisualDNA Get your own VisualDNA™

Via Ampersand Duck

5:43 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Sunday, 11 March 2007
Topic: Navel gazing

I've been living out of my suitcases for two and a half weeks now, which no doubt is contributing to my continuing sense of being itinerant and unsettled.  I still don't quite believe that I'm back and I'm staying.  I'm slowly acquiring things - a mobile phone, a place to stay in Baltimore - that help create some sense of stability, of having connections here, but there's nothing like waking up every morning to the sight of an open suitcase on the floor to make me feel like I'm just passing through.  

One of the unexpected benefits of this feeling is a stunning lack of sentimentality about most of my possessions.  When I've been at my parents' place, I have been ruthlessly culling the stuff I have stored in their basement.  I've gleefully been tossing things I'd held on to for years, suddenly seeing them less as remembrances and more as encumbrances.  I feel as if I'm shedding a skin, scraping off something that no longer fits, that slows me down.  Filling another bag with the detritus of my life and dragging it off to the trash or to Goodwill, I feel lighter and easier, even as my arms and shoulders ache with the effort of hauling awkward burdens up and down stairs.   

It isn't all fun.  As I peel through the layers of my life, I keep stumbling across reminders of my friend, who has been very much on my mind lately, for many reasons.  It was the anniversary of his death earlier this week; I've been back in Baltimore, which is inextricably wrapped up with my memories of him; and I've been seeing friends who need to know how I'm doing, how I'm dealing, what the past year has been like for me.  So on top of these emotional reminders, I am unpacking boxes and finding things - a photograph, a mix tape, a big fuzzy sweater - tangible evidence that when I packed those boxes, he was very much present in my life.  I have not felt his absence this strongly in many months, and it's hard to revisit that loss. Especially when it's a surprise, when I don't have time to brace myself.  I just pull a handful of stuff out of a box, and there it is - some piece of our relationship. 

I know I need to do this.  It feels right to be doing this digging and discarding and remembering.  And overall, the positive effects of going through and getting rid of things far outweigh the negative.  But it does leave me feeling wrung out.  

5:04 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, 4 July 2006
Topic: Navel gazing
Reasons to walk.

Reasons to read.

I strongly recommend doing one or other, if not both, today. And if it's reading you choose, you could start here.

1:06 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Tuesday, 20 June 2006
A year and a day
Topic: Navel gazing
I meant to post yesterday, to take advantage of the symmetry of anniversary dates - I started this blog on 19 June last year, and liked the idea of posting exactly a year later, seeing what's happened, taking stock, and so forth. However, yesterday was cleaning day, and that was a project and a half. I was blowing dust off of stuff that I realize I'd last looked at back in February and wondering what exactly had left each particular resistant-to-removal-even-with-lots-of-scrubbing spot in the kitchen. So yesterday was a long series of 'not proud' moments for me, and the anniversary post slipped my mind. This time last year, I was in many ways at the same point I'm at now - semester done, brain flattened, just relieved to have it over with. This semester, though, I have the added accomplishment of having finished tutoring, and, I think, done a fairly good job of it. And the added chore of trying to figure out where my thesis is and what needs to be done with it. I haven't started that, yet. I'm not quite ready to face it. It's been an interesting year. I've been adopted by The Good Doctors' family, begun to feel at home in Melbourne, stopped hearing most Australian accents as accents at all, and been reminded many times how fortunate I am to have the friends that I do. I've missed a lot of things back home, good and bad, and I've felt my absence much more strongly than I did in Macedonia. I don't know whether that's because I'm older now, or because this is the longest I've gone without visiting home. I'm glad to be here, but somehow I'm still not entirely convinced postgrad was the best way to go. Clearly the passing of a year has not made me any less inclined to second-guess myself. I don't have any better an idea what I'm going to do after this is over, either. Still making this all up on the fly and hoping things will work out for the best. Why fuss with an approach that's worked so far? I've enjoyed having this blog, in no small part because it started me reading other people's blogs, and that has been good for much entertainment and procrastination. I hope I've provided some of the same to you. On to a new year . . .

9:20 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 April 2007 2:58 PM BST
Friday, 3 February 2006
Topic: Navel gazing
Although this is an interesting program that yielded lovely results for Searchie, I found my own results rather prosaic. Accurate, but very much about my external life. Better insight into my internal workings (as I was reminded by a recent post here) can be obtained if one knows who my childhood female role models were.

In fact, I didn't even realize until just now that they're all fictional. Funny. It's not like I wasn't aware of interesting and accomplished real women - I was fascinated by the lives of women like Helen Keller, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Marie Curie, Golda Meir, Elizabeth I, and Emily Dickinson - but somehow they just weren't quite as inspirational to me as my fictional heroines. I suspect that it may mostly be that the real-life ladies suffered by comparison because they didn't come with TV shows or action figures.

12:01 PM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006 12:28 PM GMT
Sunday, 29 January 2006
Topic: Navel gazing
There seems to be a trend on over the past couple weeks of situations, stories, and other blogs sending me all wistful for other times and places.

For instance, last night, I went out with friends to a Mexican restaurant. It was the inauguration of our quest for the best margarita in Melbourne. It was not found last night. They dyed the salt red for some unfathomable reason, used lemon instead of lime juice, and didn't have a choice of on the rocks or frozen. And the food was - well, not worth the wait. When you have a table of seven that runs out of conversation before the food arrives, your service is much too slow.

But it served as a Mexican fix, which reminded me of nights out in Skopje, where a group of us would go for Chinese, or Mexican, knowing that we weren't going to get 'good' Chinese/Mexican/Italian, but having enough of a craving that a reasonable approximation of the cuisine in question was sufficient. I haven't had anything like Mexican for close to year now, and even the mediocre Mexican we had last night was surprisingly satisfying.

Earlier this week, I caught up on Mike Doughty's blog, where he'd posted pictures from his trip to Eritrea. The pictures of older men turned out in suits and hats, congregating in the cafes and on the street corners of Asmara, reminded me very much of similar scenes I saw in cities all over the Balkans. They were fixtures in the parks, in the plazas, and in the quieter cafes and restaurants. Older women were around and about, too, but more often seemed to be stopping for a chat with friends on the way home from the shops, rather than being permanently ensconced at a particular table or on a particular park bench.

I always noticed older people in Balkan cities - first of all, there was the fact that they were visible in substantial numbers. The absence of nursing homes and other elder care facilities can create problems for those people who aren't able to get around. I heard stories from friends and colleagues about family members who hadn't been able to leave their apartments for years because they lived in buildings without lifts, or because they didn't have access to walkers or wheelchairs. But people who enjoyed greater mobility were a visible presence in every day life in the city. It seemed to me that there was less segregation of older people in the Balkans. Although I suppose that it could have been that they were more visible to me because I admired the way they dressed - not fashionably, not flashily, but with care. Jackets hung with the softness of long wearing, and even cuffs and collars could rarely be described as 'crisp'. But even when odd threadbare patches were evident on knees or elbows, the overall effect was one of tidiness and a concern to present the best appearance possible.

Then, while we were at the beach on Thursday, Ro was talking about how the beach always reminds her of a particular summer in France, traveling with a boyfriend who she said she doesn't know if she'll ever truly be 'over'. I can see why, just based on what she described of their summer roadtrip along the coast of France. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion - it's not just about people and places, but about who you were at a certain time, in a certain place, with certain people.

That's why you can 'never go back' to a place, really. Even if the setting has remained unchanged, the people will be different. You will be different. And it's very unlikely that the setting will be unchanged, as I was reminded by this New York Times article by Matt Gross on the increasing popularity of Cambodia, particularly Angkor Wat, as a tourist destination. When I visited Angkor in 2002, the luxury accomodation Gross describes was mostly still under construction, and I suspect I'd hardly recognize Siem Reap these days.

There's a certain sadness that goes with knowing that what magic a place had for you is usually lost when you leave it, but if you can see past your memories, change doesn't have to mean diminishment, and it will hopefully mean that there are new sites to explore and new things to remember.

3:11 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, 18 January 2006
Stuck in my head
Topic: Navel gazing
'Effective professional performance requires that one acquire a deepened awareness of one's own inner self and come to grips with the struggle which confronts all people in the quest to affirm their own human integrity and creativity. The process of self-discovery and self-knowing has an important corollary: having undertaken the journey to discover one's own self leads to acceptance of the parallel journey of others to discover their own true-authentic selves.'

~ Charles Lippy, quoted by Thomas K. Fitzgerald in 'Identity in Ethnography: Limits to Reflective Subjectivity'

11:41 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Friday, 6 January 2006
It's that time of year
Topic: Navel gazing
Time for contemplation, setting goals, taking stock, and general navel gazing. And this year, I have an audience on which to inflict it! Lucky, lucky you.

Scheherazade also thinks that this is an appropriate time for activities of this nature, which is why she pointed out the "signature strengths" survey at authentichappiness.org. We all know I can't keep away from the internet quizzes. Or keep the results to myself. So here's the abbreviated version of what the survey had to say about my "signature strengths":
  1. Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness: You are down to earth and without pretense; you are a "real" person. (And I'm so grateful to the Blue Fairy for making me that way!)
  2. Curiosity and interest in the world: You like exploration and discovery. (If I didn't know that my mom occasionally drops by, comments like this could lead me down some very inappropriate paths)
  3. Love of learning: You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums - anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn. (Say it with me: neeeeerrrrrd!)
  4. Appreciation of beauty and excellence: You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life. (All together now: snoooooooooooooob!)
  5. Capacity to love and be loved: You value close relations with others. (Heh. Heh heh. Yes, I'm twelve. Come on - I get this and #2 and I'm not supposed to snicker?)
I guess it's obvious I have some mixed feelings about 'official' personality tests (despite all the fun I have with ones like 'Which Disney villainess are you?'*). I don't like picking 'the answer that best describes [me]' out of a list of five options. Of course, it doesn't help that my favorite answer to just about any question is 'it depends'. I look at multiple choice questions about my values or my reactions and think 'under what set of circumstances?' Although I'm not trying to discourage anyone from taking tests, just putting too much stock in the results. They can be useful tools, but then, so can astrology.

As tools go, though, I much prefer open-ended exercises like the Proust Questionnaire (this version borrowed from Searchblog):
What is your most marked characteristic?

What is the quality you most like in a man?

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

What do you most value in your friends?
Curiosity, intelligence, wit, passion

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

What is your favorite occupation?
Sitting under a tree on a summer afternoon, reading

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I don't really have one - don't think its possible. The closest I've come, though, has usually been on a long night spent talking and eating with close friends.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

In which country would you like to live?
Croatia or Cambodia

Who are your favorite writers?
Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Sherman Alexie

Who are your favorite poets?
ee cummings, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Mr. Darcy

Who is your favorite heroine of fiction?
Thursday Next

Who are your favorite composers?
Bach and Beethoven

Who are your favorite painters?
Matisse, O'Keefe, Rembrandt, Van Gogh

What are your favorite names?
Michaela (as it's pronounced in German, Me'shellah) and Paul (Pavel, Paolo, etc.)

What is it that you most dislike?
Intentional rudeness

Which talent would you most like to have?
To play the piano well

How would you like to die?
With few regrets

What is your current state of mind?

What is your motto?
'Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.'
-Immanuel Kant

(With all these 'what is...' questions, I rather feel as if I'm facing the Bridgekeeper.)
After all that, all that comes to mind for a conclusion is another classic phrase: 'Pbtha-pbtha-pbthat's all folks!'

*The Evil Queen from Snow White. Stupid test. I'm clearly Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.

3:25 AM GMT | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006 3:24 AM GMT
Saturday, 17 December 2005
Topic: Navel gazing
'Where is your accent from?'
'What are you doing in Australia?'
'What are you studying?'
'What's that, exactly?'
'So, are you going back to America when you're done studying?'

I can't tell you how many times I've had close variations on that conversation since February. It's all pretty easy until we hit Standard Questions #4 and 5. With practice, I've developed a shallow but comprehensible summary of what studying gender and development entails, which has been a great help with Standard Question #4, although dealing with the occasional unfunny attempts to make jokes about studying gender hasn't really gotten any more bearable. But Standard Question #5, that can lead to interesting and thorny places.

Most of the time I just say 'I don't know.' Because I don't. A lot is going to depend on what jobs are available in which locations a year from now. I've got student loans to pay off, so I'm not going to rule out any reasonable jobs. I think I could be happy to stay in Melbourne for a couple more years. I like living here. But if it's a comfortable job in Melbourne vs a challenging job in say, an African or Asian country, all other things being equal, I'm outta here.

That's the bit that people tend to get stuck on. Studying in another country is normal enough. Even working abroad for a few years doesn't raise many eyebrows here. But even though Aussies in general are more cosmopolitan than Americans in that respect, for the most part, the expectation seems to be that people will come home after they've had a few years abroad. So I get some strange looks when I say that ideally, I'd like to work somewhere in Africa or Asia, and don't see a long-term return to the States in my future.

Some people choose to pursue things beyond SQ#5. One of the more interesting follow-up questions I've been asked was 'So what's wrong with America that you don't want to go back?' And it's not that I couldn't provide a laundry list of reasons, but really, they boil down to 'I don't feel like I fit in.' Viewed from that perspective, the question becomes less 'what's wrong with America?' and more 'what's wrong with me?'

It's not that I expect to find some other country where I do 'fit'. It's more that, if I'm not going to fit in, why not have a very obvious reason for being the fish out of water? It makes my difference, my sense of dislocation, more comfortable in some ways. Because its a very awkward sensation. But it's absolutely no reflection on my friends and family in the States, because I know how fortunate I am in the relationships that I have, and I know that I'm missed as much as I miss them. But even being among people who know and love me and understand me as far as one person can understand another is at best a temporary buffer from that sense of nebulous 'not-rightness' I have in the States.

That's not the whole picture, of course. I like to experience life in other places. And that experience actually makes me appreciate things about the States that I never would have before. Living in Skopje made me appreciate the value of orderly lines and respect for pedestrians. Living in Melbourne, I'm seeing how the sheer size of the US means that even the fringiest people can find a community if they look hard enough. A large population makes lots of things possible. So I appreciate certain things more, but that appreciation still isn't enough to lure to me back.

But I'm being forced to think about what it is about development and the expatriate experience that appeals to me because a fair bit of my research this past semester was focused on the ways that development flat-out fails, reinforces unequal power relationships between countries, and generally tends to work every bit as much (if not more) to the advantage of 'Western' countries as it does to 'Third World' ones. And I've had to ask myself if this is something I want to be associated with - do I see benefits that outweigh these problems? I'm still working on that question, and probably will be for a long time to come.

It has unquestionably been valuable to me to begin to examine why I think I want to be involved in development, especially now that the idealism that started out with early in my career has been tempered. This is a field where people on the outside tend to see altruism and idealism at work. And I don't mean to imply that they're absent, but I think it's important to acknowledge that there are plenty of selfish factors in play as well. My sense is that if I ever stop acknowledging that, I'll be setting myself up to make a lot of mistakes out of serious self-delusion. I know I'm bound to make plenty of mistakes for any number of reasons, but I'd really like to limit those that could be caused from a lack of self-awareness.

12:41 PM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 18 December 2005 12:39 PM GMT
Thursday, 8 December 2005
Topic: Navel gazing
Having temp work, but having it involve spending all day on the phone. Some might consider this a reprieve from what I was meant to be doing, which is stuffing envelopes, but I'd rather stuff envelopes for a week than spend a day on the phone. And tomorrow? On the phone again.

Getting a book I've been wanting to read for weeks now out of the library, then leaving it at the tram stop on the way home. (However, I would like to thank whoever found it and returned it to the library for me. I appreciate the effort, anonymous random thoughtful stranger.)

Seeing a guy I had class with last semester and have been hoping to run into again all of this semester after work yesterday, when I looked and felt disgusting from wearing slightly-too-warm clothes because they were all I had that were even remotely appropriate for the office, and when the last thing I wanted to do was talk to anyone after I had spent all day on the phone. Didn't say a word to him. Have no idea if I'll cross paths with him again, since he was in a one-year program. Should've just sucked it up, but was far too cranky.

Missing an H1 in one of my classes by 1 point. It's not so much not getting the higher mark as it is missing it by one lousy point. Feh.

Putting on the pants for which I paid more money than I had intended because they were exactly what I was looking for and they looked fine in the store, and realizing that some key perceptual center in my brain must've not been functioning the day that I bought them because they do not, in fact, look as good as I thought they did, but as they've been washed its too late to take them back.

Wanting to post something to my blog and not being able to think of anything to write except a litany of petty annoyances. Bleh.

11:52 AM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink

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