Wednesday, March 31, 2010

winding up and winding down

I am cramming for my comprehensive tests this week. I wish I could say that I'm cramming for my comprehensive tests this month or this quarter, but like most things in my life, I am doing it at the very last minute. This entails going over dozens and dozens of my typed notes and papers, and thinking to myself "wow, this stuff's pretty good. Fascinating, really. I wish I had the FAINTEST IDEA WHAT ANY OF IT MEANS." This is the inherent dilemma with being a student for 20-some odd years. For self-preservation's sake, you master the art of cramming all the info onto a temporary cerebrum loading bay, spilling it all onto a few bluebooks, then purging it immediately upon exiting the classroom that evening. A shot or two of sake always helps clean up the remnants. There's just no other way to do it. The typical brain simply cannot hold that much information - especially when other things, like the lyrics to 'Parent's Just Don't Understand" or every line in the Sound of Music simple REFUSE to dislodge themselves from the grey matter. I'm starting to wonder how useful this method of education really is, and if it has qualified me to do anything but, well, pass a test. I can always retake if I fail. And retake again. Cringe.

John and I are planning what will be the second to last of our Asian-persuasion-vacations. This one to Vietnam and Cambodia. Let's just sit here an reflect on my current situation. I live on the beach in Okinawa where my grandfather fought about 60 years ago, and I'm planning a vacation to a place that only 4 decades ago saw one of the longest wars in American history. I'm not sure what this says about American history or American foreign policy. (Although I probably should...NEED TO STUDY.) It's just amazing how the world can change in a few generations. Can any of you imagine in 25 years planning a spa vacation in Iraq? Or learning to mountain climb in Afghanistan? I said to my mom when telling her about my trip to Vietnam, "I'm so lucky to be able to travel there!" She remarked that she didn't really call that "lucky." No doubt for her generation, Vietnam was a place you tried to stay away from. And the world turns. One of my favorite places in Korea was the demilitarized zone, where you could actually take a tram down into the tunnels dug by the North Koreans. I do like history in my vacations. Even it if it is tragic and relatively recent. I like to walk on the bleeding edge of how the world is changing. Beyond all that, I hear that the Vietnamese people are wonderful and that they really do like Americans.

We are working largely off the itinerary of our friends Lu and Tracey (who just got engaged, yay!). They went to Vietnam a couple years ago and raved about it. Who would have thought our lives would have taken us from a tiny apartment in West LA to traipsing around Asia in only two years?

Our friends the Bowmans introduced us to a man who brews his own beer here on the island. It was scrumptious, and it inspired John to attempt a batch of his own. We purchased all the equipment and now there is a giant vat of honey-cream ale brewing in our dark and temperate bedroom closet. Washington state is apparently the birthplace of Microbrewery, and so we figured we should get a head start learning the process. Will also be a good way to entice new friends once we get there. I'm looking forward to renditions of pumpkin beer in the fall and cranberry ale come the holiday season.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

That thing you think you cannot do.

Over at the Foster library, there's an exhibit with influential people and their quotes. Closest to the table where I normally do my work, there's a photo of Oprah Winfrey, and the quote "Do the one thing you think you cannot do." I pass by it about 10 times a day, every time I get up to buy a zesty japanese beverage from the vending machine.

The one thing I think I cannot do, but would really like to do, is write a book. Not just for the sake of writing one, but because I have an idea of something I'd really like to say. I fear I cannot do this because I can't possibly imagine that I can create something that would actually be taken seriously. Who am I to be offering my opinion? There will always be someone more qualified to write it. There will always be someone who could write it better. This self-defeating attitude is really sticking in my craw, but I can't seem to shake it.

I have mastered the art of giving a prof what he wants to read. I can dissect a prompt, do adequate research to compile 30 pages of work enough to get a good grade. But even in the best papers I've written, I'm really only sampling the ideas of others. When the topic is "The Israeli/Palestinian conflict" or "the monetary policy of the EU", there is nothing truly original I could claim as my own. It's all been said, by smarter people than I. I'm simply reading all the arguments, deciding which makes the most sense, and then regurgitating it back in some stylized prose. If someone were to say to me "write a book about this particular topic, using these resources, addressing these issues," I could churn it out, no problem. It's the insecurity that I feel from having to own the entire thing - the idea, the execution, the argument. It's the argument I'm afraid of. I'm afraid I'll make an easily defeated argument. Thank god I didn't go to law school. You'd think that I would have more confidence in my own brain after all this freaking schoolwork. I had more confidence before I even started.

I'm fired up by the idea. I come up with thoughts about the project in my dreams. (Usually I'm having these thoughts on the jungle island in LOST, since we've been watching about 3 episodes a night in an effort to catch up to the current season.) I'm terrified that if I don't follow through with this, that I will have caved to my fears, my mediocrity. I will have taken the easy way out. And this is why I'm putting this on the darn blog. Because I need to say it out loud so that the embarrassment of never following through with it will actually force me to do the one thing I think I cannot do.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

these rainy days

It's a dark and rainy day on the Sunabe Seawall, I lurve it. Can't wait to get to Spokane where it really knows how to rain!

John has been back in town for almost a month now. He got in amazing shape (belly be gone!) while in the desert and now he's got me dragging my sorry tush to the gym every day. Peer pressure is good in that department. He got the opportunity to be chief of military justice while deployed and also to advocate in three courts martial (trials) so I think the whole deployment really amped up his experience level. The 5 month separation, while lonely, was worth it.

I just finished a class on Islamic Fundamentalism which was equal parts annoying and informative. Annoying because it was taught by a history PhD with a specialty in African-Islamic studies, so while I was expecting to apply all I've learned about realism and rational choice, none of this really applied. It was basically a history class for which I had absolutely zero background.

Although the class was not taught in Arabic it might has well have been, what with all the "urf'", "hadith", "Qutb", "takfir" and other really high-value scrabble words he just assumed we knew because this was a Master's level class.

"This class really should require a prerequisite in Islamic studies" he says. Fantastic, since I've spent the last two years studying the Cuban Missile Crisis. "That's why I've assigned you the Qur'an as one of your text books, to get acquainted with Islam." UGH.

"Any suggestions of things you think should be on the final exam?" He asks the class.

"Yes," I plead. "Can you in some way relate all of this BACK TO POLITICS? - You know the stuff we actually study and understand??"

I will say that the class readings were really interesting, and totally separated out for me the various strains of Islamic Fundamentalists, from Hamas to Al Qaeda, which have little in common. Perhaps it's because of our history with the monolithic Soviet enemy that makes Americans think we're up against one giant Islamic Fundamentalist monster. After taking this class I'd say that's not really the case. The student presentations (each of us had to write on a separate group) were really informative too. In the end, I'm glad I took the class.

Having lunch with a friend from school today and excited to catch up since I haven't seen her since October! Then off to the travel agent to start planning out trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. After having the freedom to jaunt acound India for 2 months, I just don't know how we can squeeze two countries into 10 days, but I'm going to try my best. Quite the spoiled traveler am I.