I was just having a chuckle at Stuff White People Like. If you haven't seen that blog yet, you can start here with a list of topics. The comments are worth a perusal, too. Enjoy!

Review in Pictures

My friend J took my mom and me to the snow for some snowshoeing in February. It was beautiful!

It's too bad there's no picture of my feet since I was wearing "old school" snowshoes--the kind that look a little like tennis rackets.

We recently had a visitor from Chicago staying with us. She was amused when I told her that until I moved to NY State, I had thought of snow as a place one visited (as in, "We went up to the snow last weekend"), not so much as something that happens (since we never "went to the snow" if the weather wasn't expected to be great). I expected snow to be sparkling white, the skies to be perfectly blue and there to be no wind. I didn't know about the dirty gray snow that's a couple weeks old, biting wind blowing freezing rain, and low gray clouds that seem to last for months. The first year we lived in Ithaca the first snow fell in early November and the last fell during the second weekend in May! While I was enchanted the first time I saw it actually falling, I soon decided that I prefer snow as a destination rather than as an obstacle to getting to the grocery store.

In early March, for my brother's birthday, he & C and I went for a hike in the park where they'll be getting married in August.

Unabashed Political Cheerleading

Please go to this website (NPR) where you can listen to Barack Obama's speech on race and read the transcript at the same time if you want to. Give yourself time to really listen/read; it isn't sound bites--it is thoughtful and far-ranging and addresses race in the most honest, open and un-spun way I've ever heard, from a politician or not.

I have never before felt even a little inspired to campaign for a candidate. Well, I was pretty impressed by Ralph Nader the first time I heard him, mainly because he was clearly so smart. Barack Obama is smart and thoughtful. Wise. I really hope people take the time to listen to this speech, and talk about it, and reflect, and act. I think that with this speech, Obama is already helping this nation to face ourselves, begin to heal, and move forward together.

If he isn't elected president, maybe he can make a movie, and go on the lecture circuit like Al Gore!

Of Language and Learning

I'm currently reading for the first time Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham. Much to my embarrassment, I found myself surprised at how great it is, how much I'm enjoying it. Why am I constantly surprised to find that the classics are engaging, speak to universals of the human condition, and have modern relevance?! Duh! That's why they're considered classics, but I keep forgetting that. I pick up a book thinking, "This is probably pretty good--it's certainly famous; I should read it," and then am completely delighted. Most recently that happened with Don Quijote, which did take me a long time to read, but I absolutely loved it.

So, one of the sub-themes in OHB is that of learning--both formal education and informal. Since I'm currently taking a class on language (what does it mean to know a language? What does it mean to know or learn or acquire another language as an adult? What are the implications for language teaching?), I've particularly noticed comments about language learning/teaching. So below are a smattering of quotes. The book was published in 1915 and the bits here take place around the beginning of the twentieth century in England.

The orphan Philip begins his education with his guardians:

"He was taught Latin and mathematics by his uncle who knew neither, and French and the piano by his aunt. Of French she was ignorant, but she knew the piano well enough to accompany the old-fashioned songs she had sung for thirty years."

Later, he is sent to a school:

"The masters had no patience with modern ideas of education.... Neither German nor chemistry was taught, and French only by the [regular teachers]; they could keep order better than a foreigner, and, since they knew the grammar as well as any Frenchman, it seemed unimportant that none of them could have got a cup of coffee in the restaurant at Boulogne unless the waiter had known a little English."

As a very young man, Philip takes himself to Germany to learn German, among other things. He boards with the family of a teacher:

"The Frau Professor insisted that nothing but German should be spoken [at the table], so that Philip, even if his bashfulness had permitted him to be talkative, was forced to hold his tongue."

What have your language learning experiences been?

Moving right along

Thanks, everyone, for all the nice words of support! I went up to campus today and met with the professor of the class I'm auditing this semester. He was very encouraging and agreed that I seem like a great candidate for graduate school. He also offered to write me a letter when I reapply next year, and suggested someone in the ed department that I might want to talk to. His confidence in me made me feel especially good because he's a professor and not a flaky one, he's someone who has high standards and is really engaged in both teaching and research.

I wish I had a job lined up for next year, but I am feeling more hopeful about reapplying. My professor also suggested I apply at Stanford because they have a really good program. I like how their program looks, but I just don't know about the commute. Maybe I will apply, though, just so I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket again.

The wisteria on the back porch is just about blooming again. I picked some peas from the plants I put in my containers oh so long ago. They've struggled against their shady conditions, produced some pretty purple flowers and now some peas. Not the sweetest peas I've ever tasted, but not bad.

I'm starting a new term with my English learners tomorrow and they're pretty much always fun, even if the class is unfortunately scheduled (1 class/week for 4 hours--not ideal for language instruction). We're going to look at multiple intelligences, learning styles, memory, and other mind/brain topics, culminating in a visit to the Exploratorium mind exhibit in April.

If anybody has actually taught students about multiple intelligences before (as opposed to just using your knowledge of the diff types to plan lessons), I'd be curious to hear about it.

I've got to say that I'm appreciating daylights savings and the light evenings. Makes a much bigger difference to me than having light in the morning!

Expected Rejection, Unexpected Dejection

I didn't get into graduate school. I already suspected that I wasn't accepted and thought that I was fine with it, so I was surprised to find myself feeling quite bad about it. Before receiving the letter, I had already decided that I need to figure out what I'm doing next year in case I don't get into grad school so I was prepared to have a different plan, but I think what I wasn't prepared for was the realization that "not getting into grad school" means being rejected.

It's funny what a powerful effect rejection has on some of us. In a long-ago conversation about risk-taking, I realized that we do not all evaluate risks the same. Certain types of risks I am not willing to take—while other choices I make do not seem at all risky to me but would to others. The risk of being rejected is one I avoid as much as possible, and as a result I am slow to truly make friends and always anguish over job applications. I knew from the beginning that applying to grad school involved the risk of rejection, but I think I had forgotten what it feels like.

Applying to grad school was a horrendous process for me. I wrote and re-wrote my application essays many times, and I'm not talking about merely revising them—I scrapped essays on their third or fourth draft to begin completely again from scratch more than once. I hated writing those essays because I hated knowing that I was going to be judged by them. It is different even from writing something which you hope to have published because in that case it is the writing rather than the writer that is really being rejected. Of course, it is difficult not to take that kind of rejection to heart as well, since the writing does have an intimate connection to the writer (one of the reasons I rarely submit anything for consideration for publication), but in this case it truly is me that has been rejected!

It's a terrible little letter that begins with the dreaded "I regret to inform you..." and ends with "I am sorry that we do not have a place for you and hope that you will be able to make other arrangements to achieve your academic goals." There is something really awful about that last bit: to make other arrangements to achieve your academic goals. I'm not even sure why I hate it so much, but there's something about "making arrangements" that seems really inappropriate. One makes arrangements to meet someone or to have one's carpets cleaned. One also makes funeral arrangements, flower arrangements, and seating arrangements. Making arrangements makes it sound like something I merely need to make some decisions about, but apparently I don't get to arrange to study education at Berkeley! (Yes, I know I sound bitter. I am feeling bitter, why shouldn't I sound how I feel?)

So now, rather than feeling a weight off my shoulders (well, no more wondering, at least I know for sure), I feel more hesitant about the alternative-to-grad-school plans I was beginning to make, feel once again the burden of the question "What am I doing with my life?" and am thrown right back into existential despair.

And, as if in direct defiance of my mood, completely ignoring the lump in my throat and the tear in my eye, it is lovely lovely lovely lovely springtime outside. The oxalis, the bane of bay area gardeners, is cheekily busting out all over, its bunches of yellow flowers pushing through chainlink fences, covering vacant lots and making great in-roads in many lawns. The fruit trees are scattering their flower petals all over the ground like confetti, and the tiny little birds with the black hoods have returned to the trees outside our windows.