08 January 2011

Words Cannot Describe.

I have no idea how to even begin to describe what just happened to me.

I wish that I could have been taking notes throughout the last 45 minutes, but I think that would have been socially inappropriate, and in all fairness, there was so much blogging material that even though I will probably only remember, and communicate 10% of this experience, it will be more than enough to provide for a very long blog-entry.

This is actually the perfect way to return to the blog after a month-plus hiatus. I know some of you have said things like "You just have so many funny things to write about" and it is implied that the reason for that is the fact that I live in Oxford, which--let's be realistic--is a 'funny' place with weird archaic traditions and some interesting people. And I have always thought that isn't true, but today that thought was confirmed.

What I am about to describe is hands-down the most unbelievable thing that has happened to me in the past two years and it happened in the good-ole US of A.

I don't even know where to start, so I am just going to launch in. Buckle your seat-belts.

So, I am currently attending a research methods conference at the University of Arizona in Tucson. And this morning, after the first session had ended I came to a coffee/art shop where I could get my new favorite rasperry mocha. As I am standing in line, I hear somebody behind me say/shout "Hey, lady!" (And you should know that it wasn't the "Hey....lady"-I-am-trying-to-get-your-attention version, or the "Hey, lady?"-I-have-a-question-for-you version. It was the "Hey-I-am-using-lady-like-it-is-your-name-and-we-know-each-other-well" version.)

And to confirm, my analysis of the 'version' of "hey lady" that was being used, it was followed by "I know you right?" (Ok....so this reveals that it was context rather than just some great insight or inference into what was meant by "hey lady" that led me to my previous conclusion.)

I responded with...."Um....I am actually just in town for a few days. So no?"

To which she said "Red-headed-lady, don't I know you?" and "What are you in town for?"

Me: "A methods conference." (Don't worry, I won't give you the transcript for the whole conversation...I just have to give you the feel).

Her: "What kind of methods? Educate me."

Me: "Um...statistical methods."

Her: "Oh yeah? What kind, can you explain it more than that?"

Me: "Um....(mumble, mumble) just statistics that you would use with case studies. I don't really understand it well enough to explain it more than that." (Implied meaning--I don't want to talk about this.)

Her: "Oh. So, like, what kind of case studies do you do?"

Me: "I am looking at local education politics."

Her: "OH MY GOSH. **** (insert word of choice here) YEAH.....(to the guy at the register) Let me buy this pretty ladies coffee."

(Translation: I am going to buy your coffee. Then, you will be forced to be polite and talk with me for an indefinite period of time.)

At this point, I try to pay for my own coffee (I am cheap, but I am pretty sure that I will pay a high price for not paying for my own coffee. I am right on some level.) to no avail.

From here, I can't really explain exactly the way the conversation unfolded because the conversation was ALL OVER THE PLACE (and when I say conversation I mean monologue to which I contributed a lot of nodding and polite laughing and questions.). I have never experienced such an unfiltered conversation. Here are the high-points:

I was called "pretty lady" a number of times. This made me kind of uncomfortable.

Speaking of uncomfortable, we 'ting-tinged' (her word-- I would call it 'cheers') our glasses, but had to do it 'Italian-style' (because she has family in Italy, and Mexico, and...who knows where-else), which means that you have to make eye-contact--or else it is bad luck. I thanked her for buying my coffee (this was about five minutes after she had paid for it), but she had forgotten that she paid for it. While we are on the subject of luck, I think she is an authority on these things. For starters, when I told her 'good luck' at getting a position at a bi-lingual school (it seemed like a nice thing to say as a way to try to exit the conversation....rookie mistake), she told me that she didn't need luck because this was a long-time in the making. (I tend to disagree since she doesn't have a teaching certificate....details.) Furthermore, she's a healer (and a masseuse--I was supposed to refer my friends to her. So if anybody needs a masseuse, I'll get her card--which she is printing today. I saw the design, if you're interested). And she knew she was going to meet me today. (She also thought that she already 'knew' me, so I don't know if that calls those premonitions into question at all....but I'll take her word for it.)

In the middle of a sentence about getting a job at the bi-lingual school, she noticed my earrings. She like them and asked to see them. I moved my hair out of the way which allowed her to confirm that she had similar ones. She asked if they were metal. I said I think they were just plastic, but that I am sure they are pretty similar. She asked to see them again. I moved my hair. She asked for me to take one out. I did. (Yes, I don't know why I just went along with this, but I really didn't know what to do, or what my choices were at this point.) She confirmed that hers were different and fisted the earring. At this point, I was pretty sure that I would never get it back and would be leaving the coffee shop with only one earring.

She talked about something else for a little bit....I think how she doesn't live in Tucson but wants to move there (after she gets out of the work she is doing in Los Angeles....and San Diego...and the community college she attends in a third city)...

And then we were back to earrings. She told me that she had a similar pair that were metal that would look really good on me (I can imagine that this was pretty easy to picture since they were almost exactly like the ones that I ACTUALLY had on.) I said that was really ok. She said that she really wanted me to have them. I just said ok. At this point, I was fairly confident that she would forget about it.

And the conversation went on. Basically, all it took was a new word to launch a rabbit trail. A woman on the cover of TIME who was from Burma launched a short monologue about "I should move to Burma. No, I should live in Thailand first...." I was just an observer who wished she had a notepad.

And I was lost (slash trapped) in this conversation for about 25 minutes (that seemed like years). Other highlights include:

  • A two minute discussion about tattoos. Her mom hates them. She is not sure how she feels about them. But she needs to get a few more. (No, I did not explore the relationship between those statements.) She has a 'mom' tattoo. It doesn't exactly say 'mom'. But she got it in Tucson. Her mom asked where. She wouldn't tell her. Her mom basically asked "Who defiled your body?" So she knew better than to answer that question. Then she asked if I wanted to see it? I froze. Thankfully, it was apparently on her ankle (she started to take off her boots). I asked where she was from (for the fourth time, but we still hadn't quite finished that conversation).
  • When she found out that I was a student in England, at Oxford, she said that she knew somebody who attended the really good research school near Oxford. (Huh. I didn't pursue that further.) She also talked about how bad the food is there--aside from fish and chips. Then she said she should start a pastry shop there. So much revelation in this short conversation.
  • She will never forget my name because she has a cousin named Lindsay. We don't look alike, but it would still help her remember because I am "cute" and her cousin is "crazy"--not the good kind of crazy, but ACTUALLY crazy (I believe her). I am not sure how this will help her remember, but I nodded.
  • A peer of mine from the research conference was sitting at a nearby table. I was talking to her while my 'new friend' used the restroom (yes, this would have been a good chance to run....but I felt like it would be rude.). When my 'new friend' came back, she asked my peer to explain what the conference was about. As an example of how the method could be used, my peer said that you could look at "Why some people use drugs" and look at things like family background, mental health, etc. My 'new friend' said that this seemed like a really good idea and that all those things made sense for why people would use drugs. I believed her.
Just think. I got ALL OF THIS and a free cup of raspberry mocha. I think that's what Michael Scott would call a win-win.

Blogging Break Over. Welcome Back.

I have a confession to make.

Over the past few weeks, I think I have been playing around with the idea of discontinuing the blog. I mean, as you loyal readers know all too well, I have a few favorite topics--like public transportation and fashion--that I have pretty much exhausted. British culture is a lot less novel than it used to be, and I recognize that I am saying a lot of the same things and I can imagine how boring this repetition must be to read. Simply put--I have hit an 'artistic rut'. I feel like I have run out of material.

On the other hand, maybe the problem is an abundance of material. The past couple of weeks--including a trip to Israel and my first Christmas away from home--have been completely overwhelming (not in a bad way but just as a statement of fact), and I don't know if I have processed any of those experiences enough to be able to boil them down to digestible anecdotes or punchlines. And...I sense that there might be a line that I don't want to cross in terms of publishing things for all the world to see (potentially--I recognize that my 'world' for this blog is in fact much, much smaller)--like my....interesting....experiences getting into and out of Israel.

So, to convert all of this to a formula.....(because I am at a research methods conference after all)

lack of inspiration + overwhelming amount of complicated experiences to draw from= no blogging

But, the good--or bad, I am not sure--news, is that the blogging break is over.


29 November 2010

Alanis, This one's for you

So, if you are faithful readers of this blog (or have just familiarized yourself with the archives) you will know that I spent some time writing about 'irony' as inspired (and completely obliterated as a term of any meaning, whatsoever) by Alanis Morsette. I will not re-type all of those thoughts here. I will just summarize it briefly as:

What is irony? No, Alanis, that isn't ironic. It's just really bad luck. Is anything in my life ironic?

And uncertainty has hung over each of those questions. But today, by the end of this post, I think that I might be able to say....'maybe'. A more certain degree of uncertainty than I have allowed myself previously.

I am just going to power through this post with a series of thoughts/anecdotes. Some might appear ironic, and not be. Some might be ironic, but not appear to be. And some are not ironic--I just think they are funny.

  1. Today, I saw an adult dressed as Paddington Bear. Bright blue trench coat, red hat. He/she was also wearing a yellow reflective vest, so he/she could have been Paddington Bear goes to work. (And it is even more fitting that he/she is unisex--I don't know if Paddington Bear is a boy or a girl. Also, this fits into that third category.)
  2. The British take great pride in their 'gentlemen sports'. When I played cricket last year they always told us not to talk trash because it was a gentleman (or lady in my case) sport (insert profuse apologies for forgetting to include me, here). Then they would ask when the tea would be served. I don't think this is ironic, but it was certainly a paradox to be sitting in the Liverpool section when Liverpool got beat by Tottenham on Sunday. I know that creativity is part of what it means to be a gentleman (or at least a Renaissance man). And I guess singing in choirs is something that gentlemen do. So I guess there is something gentlemanly about how 'creatively' some of the words that I heard were being used, in one of the largest 'choirs' I have been around. Who knew that four letters could communicate so much? (I think this is just a paradox.)
  3. Today, I got my textbook in the mail for the Spanish class that I will be taking next week. (That's right. I am going to learn the whole language in a week.) I can't find any English in the thing. I am not sure if that is because the whole thing is in Spanish (there is definitely a lot more Spanish than any book I have ever seen before) or because it is a German Spanish book. (Yeah, I'll let you think on that one for a while. And I think this might be ironic. But Alanis has muddled my brain so much that I can't be sure.)

23 November 2010

What are you doing with your life?

I know that some of you are wondering. In my time back in the states this summer, I had several people infer that it was unclear what I actually did with all of my time in Oxford. And...I had a hard time explaining it. That is partly because:

1. I am not always sure.
2. The answer to that question changes from day to day, week to week, term to term.

But, I can give you a pretty clear picture of what I have been doing for the last two months that might help to illuminate that question.

  • I have been managing spreadsheets. Yes, I know this isn't the glamorous life that you were picturing, but it is true. Sometimes I think I am getting a second degree in Excel and GoogleDocs. I spend at least some time every day managing attendance lists for various events that I am helping to coordinate in Oxford, but a spreadsheet has become the central component of my academic work this year as well (more on that in my second bullet-point). I think the best way to summarize this--and good news--is that I am learning how to behave like an organized person without actually being more organized. I have a fundamental personal paradox which is a tension between organization and clutter. On one hand, I recognize that I need to function in a largely organized and systematic way, but I lack the discipline to be as coherent in applying that organization to my life. I am cluttered, my room is perpetually disordered (note that I did not say messy) and I used to lose a lot of things until I developed coping mechanisms (called bags, purses, and big pockets with zippers). Spreadsheets are like a coping mechanism for my brain.
  • I have been developing the fine art of being a pest. I know that for those of you who know me well or who have been around me when I am pursuing something that I am really committed to, this doesn't seem like a new skill. But, I suppose the difference is the degree of systematic pestering. I am talking about a professional level.
Here's what I mean:

My main job this term is essentially to interview 24-30 people in the United States. Due to the restrictions on my research (aka, the 'I can't tell you or I would have to kill you code' that I signed), I am not going to say anything more than that. But these folks are in two different time zones in the United States and none of them really want to talk to me. Sure, some will, but no one is excited when they hear from me. So, I have discovered the science/art of how to get people to do something that they don't really want to do.

This is one of those lose/lose situations, unfortunately. You see, if I am bad at my job, then I don't get the interviews that I need, I can't finish my thesis, and I fail (ok, that's dramatic). If I am good at my job (and I am afraid I have to say, that sometimes I am good at this job), then that means that I am successfully bothering people into submission. I don't know if this is a life-skill or a resume builder that I really want to have.

But this process has taught me, that few people respond to your first e-mail. But lots of people respond to your second one if you send it five days later. And even more people respond if you e-mail them a third time and put some parts in bold font.

So that is what I do everyday. I look at my excel spreadsheet and color-code contacts based on how many e-mails they have received from me, how long it has been since I last heard from them, etc. And then I systematically 'persist' (that is the nicer term for bugging/nagging/relentlessly contacting).

So, yeah, there are times when I do normal and respectable things like read books and write papers. But lately, amidst the dreaming spires....my work hasn't been all that glamorous.

What's up in England...

Not much. Same old, same old. (Which on one hand, is a good excuse for not blogging--nothing to report, and on the other, a terrible excuse--what have I been doing with my life?! More on that later.)

But as I sit in Starbucks having just finished a venti (that's right--the big guy) Peppermint Mocha, I have some news. Christmas music is playing here. And a Christmas tree was erected a few weeks ago on Broad Street (one of the two main thoroughfares--if you can call a street that isn't open for through traffic a thoroughfare). And these two facts (among others--like the fact that 4500 miles from Delhi--not to be confused with 45,000 miles from Dehli, as I would call it--started its Christmas menu on November 15th) has led me to a conclusion.

That my mother would love it here? (Yes, that's true. No, it's not the conclusion that I have come to.)

The conclusion that I have come to--the epiphany that I have had, if you will (After all, epiphanies are a dime a dozen when you drink a venti-anything at Starbucks. But again, more on that later.)--is that without Thanksgiving, England doesn't know when to start celebrating Christmas. (It's ok to gasp with astonishment at the implications of that realization. I understand.)

It's true though. Take it from me. I come from a household where I think there is the equivalent of a New Year's countdown leading up to the dawn of Thanksgiving day (at least in the head of my mother). No, she doesn't love turkey that much. (After all, what is there to love about turkey? In preparation for a Thanksgiving feast for 100 that I am helping to plan today, we concluded that the turkey doesn't even have to be well cooked. In fact, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce are all concessions that the turkey will be dry. And even if it's not--no one can tell, because it is covered in so much stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce.) So, if it isn't the turkey, what is it? Well, my friend. Thanksgiving is the day when it becomes 'acceptable' to listen to Christmas music.

On that third Thursday of the month of November, my mom's step is lighter, her smile is brighter (as if that's possible), and life is just grand because Manheim Steamroller can return. Sandi Patty can grace us with gracious festive music (Ok, that's a joke. My mom doesn't listen to Sandi Patty. Anymore.) Josh Groban is officially the man. (Like there's a time when he's NOT the man?!).

Our family has semi-sporadic Thanksgiving traditions. Sometimes we are home, sometimes we are at one or the other grandmother's/grandparent's houses. But whether we are cooking cornish hens, or riding in the Camry (shout-out dad for being committed to joining the 200,000 mile club), there is one constant--the music of sleigh-bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

And the other constant is probably my bad attitude about it. I really don't dislike Christmas music that much (in fact, I would listen to Mariah Carey sing Christmas music all year round...and do.), but it has almost become part of the Thanksgiving tradition for me to get as far away from the 'away in a manger' music as possible.

So, Christmas is already in full-swing in Oxford. And if I am going to faithfully play my roll, I have to eye-roll and tell you it is a travesty. England needs to throw some tea in the English Channel, declare independence from itself, and come up with a holiday of thanks and over-eating so that they can have a starting point for the Christmas festivities.

There, I have done my duty. I have played my part.

But, if I am to be honest with you, Christmas is here in Oxford and I am loving it. My mother's enthusiasm for the season is pursuing me across the ocean. I will thank of my family (both formal and informal) throughout the season and be thankful. I am thankful to have 24 years of happy Thanksgiving and Christmas memories (with four Thanksgivings with basketball family and one with my Rhodes family).

Thanksgiving will come and go this year and I will probably hardly even recognize it (because I will spend it at a black tie awards dinner). So, do me a favor. If you are reading this on the other side of the Atlantic, next time you see my parents, give them an extra hug for me--and roll your eyes in front of my mom when you hear Christmas music fire up on Thursday. Even if you love it, pretend like you don't.

03 November 2010

Day Trip 1: Bristol

They say a picture's worth a thousand words, right?

Then, let's just call this my longest blog ever.

01 November 2010

A Few Moments When I Wish I Were in Buckle-Country (Part II)

**Spoiler alert--you should read (Part I) first
**Caveat--yes, I did just create these posts back to back; but I thought the story was too long to be one post.
**Disclaimer--ok, maybe it's not really that good of a story.

So, I go into Tesco Metro (because apparently all of the grocery stores cloned themselves six times over the summer and there is some serious food-provider competition going on around Oxford. I fear that the grocery store to person ratio is going to rival the library to person ratio soon), the largest of the two local stores that are located directly next to each other. If you care the advantages of the Tesco Metro is that it sells everything. The disadvantage is that everyone is there....and standing in line. I hate the lines and for this reason, don't love Tesco Metro, but I thought it was my best chance to score some coffee filters.

So, I go downstairs and head to the coffee section. I don't know about you, but if I were playing the 'If I were a coffee filter where would I be?' game, I would answer 'With the coffee!' every-single time. Because of my confidence in where the coffee filters should be, when they weren't there, I immediately decided to get some help. So, I asked one of the stockers where I could find the coffee filters (thinking I had overlooked them in the coffee aisle, etc). His response was, "If we had them, they would be over in aisle 13 with the home appliances." This certainly isn't where I would put them, but it seemed reasonable enough. So, I went to aisle 13. I couldn't find them. But lucky for me, there was another worker in aisle 13. After looking on my own for about 3.5 seconds (because persistence is one of my greatest virtues) I asked him where I could find the coffee filters. He responded "If we have them, they would be over in aisle 7--with the coffee." I was about to tell him they weren't there, but he took the service one step further and walked over to the aisle and confirmed that they were not.

I have to admit that I found the "If we had them" claim to be baffling and incredibly unhelpful. It completely eliminates my ability to be certain whether I have looked in the right place, or whether I should be looking at all. But I thought that maybe the store just hadn't been open very long so some of the employees were still familiarizing themselves with the inventory. And, this is a smaller grocery store, so maybe I shouldn't expect them to carry coffee filters.

So, I walked out a couple of miles to the biggest grocery store. If they didn't have coffee filters than I had discovered the scam of the coffee machine (this was before I discovered the permanent filter, mind you). After looking in the coffee aisle--to no avail--I just found a stocker and asked him where I would find the coffee filters. When he started his sentence off with "If we had them..." I should have just walked out of the store.

For those of you who are wondering what the answer to the question "Where would I find coffee filters?" is, the answer is "In the specialty store in the covered market." But that isn't really a very good punchline to the story. But at least you know what to expect if you ever need help finding something at the grocery store--it's like the song that never ends.