Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In reading for one of my classes, I was reminded why King James Version of 1 Corinithians 13 is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible.

Verses 12-13: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

For purposes of comparison, and if you prefer "love" instead of "charity", here's the NIV version.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

With a score of 73, I'm tied for 28th place in the El Paso Times Bracket Challenge. Not bad considering I know nothing about college basketball.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Now this is exciting

No posts for the next five days, since I'll be going to South Bend, Indiana (home of the Univ. of Notre Dame) and Chicago for the very special occasion of my cousin's wedding. I will try to take as many pictures as possible. Chicago, I can't wait....

Monday, March 19, 2007

My favorite quote from Walk the Line, from the movie's IMDB memorable quotes page:
Sam Phillips: Bring... bring it home? All right, let's bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing *one* song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you're dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin' me that's the song you'd sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it's real, and how you're gonna shout it? Or... would you sing somethin' different. Somethin' real. Somethin' *you* felt. Cause I'm telling you right now, that's the kind of song people want to hear. That's the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain't got nothin to do with believin' in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin' in yourself.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction: If Will Ferrell is so obsessed with brushing his teeth, why doesn't he use Sonicare?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

My Life, Part 3

High School
My claim to fame in school was that I got good grades. I wasn’t “popular”, I didn’t do sports or other activities but I did have one of the Top 10 GPAs in my class. I got good grades, but I didn’t like school. Far from it. To me, high school was something that you got through, like sitting through an overlong baseball game. With a few really annoying people. The thing about high school is that no one really wants to be there. It seemed like all of us--teachers, students, staff--were there because of coercion, day after day.

I did have a few outstanding teachers who helped me understand subjects like Shakespeare and pre-calculus and physics. But for some classes I felt like if you just gave me a book and some time and a test to pass at the end of that time, then I would probably get as much out of it as (or quite possibly more than) going to class five days a week for nine months. I liked studying things, but in high school there’s just so much nonsense that goes along with it. Things I could have done without: the kids who misbehaved in class, the popular kids who ruled the school, a few incompetent teachers, the sleep deprivation, the smell of the cafeteria.

It was the institutionalized life, day after day, year after year. The end finally came and you’d think I’d be ready to get out of there. But it came as a shock to me. Eighteen is a young age to try to decide your whole future. How do I describe that bewildering feeling of having no idea of what you’re going to do? You’ve been doing one thing successfully, if unenthusiastically, for 12 years, and that thing is to sit down, shut up, do what you’re told, do your work and do the best you can at it. And now suddenly you’re a grown-up who is supposed to make this huge decision about what to do with your life? You’d think I’d be dying to get out of high school and start my “real life.” But the end came and I was more confused than excited.

I always thought I’d graduate from high school and go on to have that classic Felicity-esque college experience, you know, the one where you live in a dorm with your crazy friends and go to classes where you talk about the meaning of life. But I found out that there were a few complicating factors.

The first thing I realized was how much it would cost to go away to college. My grades got me a little bit in scholarship money, but it would still cost me and my parents around $10,000 a year to send me to school. I panicked when I realized there was no college fund set up for me and I would have to take out a lot of loans. If I had had really wanted it I could have gone away to a school like UT in Austin. But the reality was 1) the money freaked me out, 2) I didn’t know what I wanted to study, 3) (the biggie) I was afraid to be so far away from my family. I was afraid of being alone and feeling overwhelmed and crying myself to sleep every night. So when UTEP offered me a full-tuition scholarship, I decided to go to school there.

I remember driving into that huge parking lot the first day of class and thinking, whoop-de-do, so this is college. I was not impressed and not at all excited about living at home and commuting every day. I think there will always be a certain amount of regret about not having the full college experience. I know I’ve missed out on certain things. And yet I think I had a good experience overall. I learned, it was fine, and I graduated without a cent of debt.

The class schedule in college was a lot better than the one in high school, of course. I loved that classes didn’t meet every day. And I finally found an escape from the social pecking order. There wasn’t much pretentiousness at UTEP. There were a lot of older students, even some who were my parents’ age, in my classes and also a lot of students from Mexico. And, being in the computer science (CS) department, a lot of geeks.

My classes were interesting for the most part. For me there were two types of classes: the “challenge” classes—-math, physics, computer science--and the fun classes-—psychology, English literature, and my all-time favorite, Jazz to Rock. I didn’t earn as good grades as I did in high school, mostly because of the challenge classes. But I still managed to do OK at the technical classes even though I wasn’t a fantastic math student. The profs took pains to make sure that most of us could pass, so I slid by.

There were a couple of issues that haunted me throughout my years in college. I’ll admit that I was pretty isolated in college. For one, UTEP is not the place that Top 10 students from Franklin High School typically go to. Most of the people I went to high school with, including the few good friends I had, had gone away to other places. And then UTEP is a commuter campus, so people go to class and then they leave. I wasn’t completely anti-social, but I never got to know any of my classmates well enough to where we would get together outside of class.

And there was always the issue of not knowing what I wanted to do. Writing or science or computers, those were the three things I was interested in. Probably writing and science more than computers, but computer programming was the most practical. I didn’t know which one to pick. Honestly, I knew so little about the real world that it all just seemed like a big muddle. I didn’t know any adults who were doing the things I kinda/sorta wanted to do. So I stuck with CS not because I loved studying it but 1) I was already there and changing majors would be a huge hassle and 2) I knew that a CS degree was more marketable than a liberal arts degree or a science degree.

It’s weird how things work out. You pick something for arbitrary reasons, even really stupid, wrong reasons, and you just start doing it and then it’s difficult or impossible to change to something else. You pick a path out of ease or out of fear and stick with it out of inertia and somehow it determines the path of your entire life. And that’s how it was in college. I picked this path I wasn’t super excited about but I just stuck with it because I didn’t know what else to do.

So on went college. I raced through my classes, going to summer school every summer. I had my own apartment for awhile, which was cool. Then I moved back home. Then I graduated, in three and a half years instead of four.

And once again my life was plunged into confusion. I was so busy during my last semester of college that I really didn’t have time for anything but school. I didn’t have time to interview for jobs. I didn’t really even have time to just sit around and contemplate the future of my life. The hasty solution to all this was to go to CS grad school at UTEP. I figured I’d go to grad school, avoid working for two more years, and come out with a marketable degree at the end of it.

Grad school
All of which turned out to be really, really bad reasons for going to grad school. Right away I knew it was a bad decision. The classes were difficult. I felt very outmatched among these serious students with amazing mathematical abilities. Grad school turned out to be a very self-directed type of place, exactly the wrong place for a person who was still unsure of what she wanted to do. I was, in fact, still doubting whether I wanted to be in the field at all.

It was a wrong turn, and I knew it. But I didn’t see any way to get out of it. I didn’t want to get an 8-to-5 software engineering job, which I saw as my only other option. So I persisted. I was miserable, but I just wasn’t able to be completely honest with myself and say, this is not working out, I need to find something else to do. I didn’t know enough to see that there were other options for me out there if I quit, I didn’t have to get that 8-to-5 programming job. And there wasn’t anyone who knew me well enough to shake me out of my stupor and say, “Look at how miserable you are. You should quit.” Maybe if someone had said that to me, I would have felt like I had permission to quit. But no one did. So I looked forward to graduation the way a prisoner might look forward to the end of his term.

The Present
After my third semester of grad school I landed the job I have now as a news assistant. I was looking for something different and this was definitely different. It was a part-time job that had absolutely nothing to do with anything I studied, which I think was the point. Where I felt out of place in grad school, this job just clicked with me. I liked it a lot and I felt like I was reasonably good at it.

So I had my job, but I didn’t quit school. By that time I felt like I was so far in that I had to finish, so I trudged on and graduated at the end of 2005. But after that I spent some time thinking about what I really wanted to do. And I decided that what I really wanted was to learn how to write like a professional. There are jobs out there for those people, aren’t there? I hope. So I’m back in school, this time going for a master’s degree in English.

And the strange thing I’ve discovered in the past eight months or so is that it is amazingly easy to start over. No one cares that I have a background in another field. No one cares that I made a colossal mistake getting a degree that is virtually useless to me at present. No one cares. It was that easy to start over and go in a completely new direction. It was just deciding to flip that switch, and now I’m much happier than I’ve been in the past few years. I get up every day and I like what I’m doing. And I realize that this is how it should be.

I suppose you could look at all this and say I am hopelessly confused, a person who goes blindly from one thing to another. But I think a lot of people end up doing this type of thing, i.e. trying law school, hating it, deciding to drop out. Only I didn’t drop out. You could say I am completely impractical for having two degrees in a subject and not using them and deciding to go in a completely different direction. Which is true. But I think the main point of all this is that I am finally at a point where I have an idea of what I want to do, where before I really, truly did not. I was a person lost in the wilderness not even sure where to go, much less how to get there. Now I’m going to be 25 and I finally have at least a general idea of a destination. It has only taken seven years, lol.

Sometimes I go back and question my decisions and think I should have done things completely differently. I should have gone to a different school or picked a different major or not gone to grad school. But I always come to the same conclusion: If I could go back in time to when I was making those decisions, I probably would make the exact same ones. It seems simple now, but when I start thinking back to those decisions, the situation was always more complicated than I remember it being on first reflection. These decisions weren’t made lightly; based on what I knew of the world at the time, they made sense to me. They weren’t completely illogical. Would I really want to go back in time and this time decide to go to a different school, and be tens of thousands of dollars in debt right now? And instead of going to grad school, would it have been better if I had gotten a full-time job straight out of college? What if I had majored in biology instead of computer science? Would I really be better off if I had done those things? I don’t know. Everything comes with its complications. Maybe it’s a good thing that you can’t go back and change your decisions.

On reflection, I think the biggest thing I’m guilty of is shortchanging myself at times, not wanting to leave a particular path in search of something better for fear of making waves. And maybe not taking the time to think about things enough, not knowing how to go about reaching that elusive goal of contentment. But I think that’s difficult for everyone. Who graduates from high school and knows exactly what they want to do for the rest of their life? I don’t think many people do. Maybe seven years is a relatively short amount of time to start figuring it out.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Things I'm planning to do over spring break

  • Read. I'm currently reading three books simultaneously--Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (which is huge compared to the first three Potter books), The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (almost done with this one), and a short story collection by Alice Munro (I forget the name, but the thing about her writing is that every story seems similar and yet they're all good). I have this internal debate going on: is it better to read books, magazines, newspapers, or things on the Internet (blogs, etc.)? I suppose the answer is a combination of the three. At various times I read one category more than the others. One time a magazine editor spoke in a class I was taking, and she mentioned that she was very caught up on magazines but hardly ever read books. Not surprising, considering her job, but it made me wonder, how does that shape a person's way of processing information? You must start thinking in magazine article prose. Likewise for someone who reads only newspapers, or only books, or only blogs.
  • Cook. Sometimes I feel like I'm eating plastic food because I've eaten the exact same dinner so many times, the same dinner that wasn't even that good the first time. I'm no great cook--all my recipes come from Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals--but I thought I'd try out some new recipes now that I have some time on my hands.
  • Practice piano. Currently stuck on the piano arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon.
  • Watch loads of TV. Bad, bad me. Last night I watched Deal or No Deal.
  • Update the blog. Which I'm doing right now, of course.

Friday, March 09, 2007

So the past two days have been warm. I just love the the first really warm days of the year. Yesterday I was walking down the street and I just started smiling. It's hard to be sad when the weather is so nice.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Changes to the UTEP library in the past couple of years:
1. There is now a fully-functioning coffee shop in the lobby that serves really good cappuccino muffins and sandwiches and caffe mochas. I never thought I'd see the day that would happen. It makes the whole library smell slightly different than before, though not in a bad way.
2. Government documents have moved to the basement and the browsing collection is now on the first floor. Now there's a large open area of sofas and tables next to all the "popular" books. Also the books are now on higher shelves where before they were on these really low shelves that you'd have to lean down uncomfortably to look at. This is a much nicer browsing area than before.
3. I'm writing this from the computer lab on the first floor. The computer lab used to be one room on the second floor, kind of hidden, where you'd have to show your UTEP ID to some bored kid behind the counter. And there were never enough computers. Now the computer lab takes up most of the first floor that's not in the "browsing area" and you can log using your e-mail log-in. Any time I have come here the computer lab is full of students.

Kudos to the UTEP library for making some cool changes. I have this theory that the whole world is transforming into one huge Internet cafe.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I completely agree with this. Why does doing something charitable have to involve buying something?

The Sun magazine

I found out about The Sun magazine from a class presentation. Based on what I can see from the website, it seems like one of the coolest magazines around. The photos alone are amazing, and the articles seem really honest and thoughtful and unusual. Unfortunately, 1) all the online articles are only excerpted, so just when you get into a piece the ending is cut off and 2) a subscription costs $36 a year, which is a little steep (that's what you get for not having advertising). But this might be worth saving up for.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Is it weird that I prefer You've Got Mail to Sleepless in Seattle? Maybe You've Got Mail is the echo of Sleepless but to me it just seems funnier, more surprising, and sweeter in a lot of ways. Or maybe it's the fact that I relate to the whole computer thing.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Critique of recent books on atheism in the NY Times. "It seems that these critics hold several odd ideas, the first being that anyone attacking theology should actually know some."
Sand circles in the Upper Valley turn out to be the work of a local artist, not signs of a UFO, in a bizarre local news story. Bizarre but also very cool. According to the El Paso Times article, "The idea is to do environmentally friendly art that will eventually be reclaimed by wind, water and time. It is also meant to challenge people's concept of what art is. " Interesting--the decomposition process is part of the art.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The dreaded windy season has begun in El Paso. Last night I found what looked like a dried-up Christmas tree that had blown onto the road in front of the house. And my allergies are back because of the dust. Great. I don't remember how long this usually lasts--six weeks or so? I really hate this time of year.