Movement & Location

I somehow managed to turn twenty. I am not sure how this happened, or who let it happen — but someone has and it did and now I’ve been twenty for almost a week. My birthday has the dubious of honor of falling the week before finals and in the general vicinity of a brutal chem test — which means that while I was writing papers and trying to organize my readings, my girlfriends were poring over problem sets. I’m pretty sure that brownies were the only thing I ate the next day. I’ve reached the point of study zen.

It has been a rough semester. You have seen the news, I am sure, so you know. Everyone is dragging. I am ready to go home to the Hudson Valley, which has its aches and pains but which, at least, is not an open wound.

There has been good news among the illness and the grief. It feels odd to talk about it, especially because it came in the wake of the Rolling Stone article — immediately in the wake of it.  Before my birthday I celebrate some other milestones, including one which heralded the passing of an intensely happy year, and just a couple days before that my poems “Blue Ridge” and “A Pastoral” came out in Town Creek Poetry. Then I went home for Thanksgiving, on a brutally long train ride, where I had to listen to some frat guy from UPenn complain about the crazy ideas being thrown around about fraternities in the wake of the article. Trinity is thinking about going co-ed, y’all — could anything be worse?

I snapped at this stranger, usually something I’d be too afraid to do — but I am 100% done with the way people talk about sexual assault on campuses. I am, frankly, not interested in the fact that some dude from the University of Pennsylvania feels victimized by all this coverage regarding fraternity culture. The fact that some of the facts in the article weren’t perfect means nothing — firstly, because memory is imperfect, especially as memory regards trauma, and I don’t know what Rolling Stone editors were expecting (and, let’s be clear, they are the ones who messed up, not their interview subject; it’s a journalist’s job to fact-check, not a survivor’s) , and more importantly because in the wake of the article, women on grounds and on other campuses across the nation started speaking up about being insulted, belittled, threatened, assaulted. Some guys tried to run me over my first year here. In the past few weeks, I have heard faculty speak up about sexism in their departments. Almost everyone knows a survivor. We have been shouldering this burden — many of us silently. I hope women on campuses do not feel like Rolling Stone’s apology means they have to be silent again. I love the University. I want it to be the crucible in which change happens.

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At Last, October

It rained constantly last weekend, and when it wasn’t raining the wind was tearing through the trees outside my window and the fog gathered so thickly you couldn’t see the mountains. All my roommates had gone home for the weekend, so I had the apartment to myself. I did not go anywhere: I had just come off an awful three week long slog, in which every day was twenty hours long. Sometimes it is the only way I can cram everything I want to do in the day. Sometimes, I am embarrassed to admit, I am so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Stuff I Need to Do that I sit around in my apartment and read. So the first two days of Fall Break — which is not actually Fall Break, but the weekend plus reading days — intermittently studying (read: watching Gilmore Girls) and doing things I wanted to do that were completely separate from school or other people for the first time in since I got here, basically. I hadn’t been writing. At all. I haven’t read a book for myself, though sometimes I’d sneak a poem in here or there. Cooking replaced writing — or, truly, cooking substituted for writing when there was no time or drive to write. It does use my brain in a similarly creative way: when you cook, as when you write, sense is everything. You are trying to accurately render something that you can imagine but your tools are limited, and so is your brain: you don’t remember sights, sounds or tastes completely, so you have to fill in the sketch a bit.

But cooking is not as rigorous. Not the cooking I do, anyway: girl’s only got so much time and kitchen space, you know? I don’t have the budgetary freedom to experiment quite as much as I’d like to, either: I need to find everything I cook edible, so there is not as much room for failure in cooking as there is in poetry. I throw poetry out with a passion. Every time I throw out leftovers that I’ve wilfully forgotten in the back of the fridge I hear my wallet scream.

Writing poetry, especially when writing formal poetry, is like yoga. Yes: I’m making this comparison. Stay with me here. I believe that formal poetry is the best thing to turn to when one is stuck. Specifically, I believe the sonnet is the best thing to turn to. Sonnets are blissfully short. When you write a sonnet, too, you are making an argument. The form doesn’t allow you to write blindly. While often I discover where I’m going/what my point is through the process of writing the sonnet, I never find myself in the situation I used to, in which I had written something, and ended it, and thought, does this really say anything? I am not against the occasional poem whose intention is to convey a mood or tone or a moment or portrait, so long as it does it well. But I like the argumentative nature of the sonnet. Its many requirements, rhetorical and sonic, require me to think in ways I don’t during the day-to-day grind of ordering things by call number, trying to construct German sentences (and failing, alas), and writing academic papers. Thinking sonnets through feels good. It feels like stretching, and it feels like weight training. I can now write a sonnet fairly quickly — or I thought I could! Last night the final couplet tripped me up. Huh. How to bring this together? What does that say about this particular sonnet? I’m trying not to tweak it too much until I have time to sit with it for hours, which is never.

Last week after freaking out about what I was doing with my life (nothing) and whether my education was worth the great financial risk I have taken on (probably not) I’ve decided that certain things in my life are not optional. The things that keep me from falling apart at the seams are not optional, though good high schools and prestigious colleges all have cultures that say otherwise. Get the grade/internship/graduate placement at all costs. I don’t know. Sure, I want to study at Harvard. I want my PhD. I want funding. But I am not the world’s biggest fan of the idea that the things I do that I cannot put on a resume are just — what, time not used? time wasted? nonexistant? Like, if you do something, but you can’t put it on your resume, did you really do it? At my university, everyone is in about five clubs and people tend to go on to startups, Washington, and Wall Street, and all my hyperinvolved friends worry that they “don’t do enough” because sometimes they eat dinner alone or with their friends/significant other or watch TV or sleep. I am a member of one club and I don’t have time to go ever and I can’t afford dues, so I don’t know how they do it. My circle of friends is ever shrinking, and it bugs me, but I don’t even have time to hang out with the friends I live with. I feel guilty all the time. This isn’t a sonnet, there’s no argument here, I’m just saying: it’s terrible.

Career Stuff

There’s chicken, which marinated in yogurt, olive oil and lemon juice ala Budget Bytes, in the oven. It smells great. First time I’ve ever made chicken — I don’t eat a lot of meat and so a small thing of Italian sausages (which can be used in anything, from quiche to pasta to soups and stews, and which add seasoning to things when I don’t have things like onions, garlic, or spices available) usually does the trick. But I’m trying to diversify my meals a little bit, and I cook for my boyfriend, who is much more carnivorous than I, a couple times a week. So it will help to have something like chicken on hand. I almost bought some trout but I resisted. Maybe next week.

Last week, or possibly the week before, the freelance project I was working on during the worst week in August went out into the world. I wrote the feature story of this month’s issue of InTune Monthly, a magazine geared toward music students in secondary school. It’s about the band Spoon, and how they changed things up when they came off hiatus to write and produce their eighth album. I enjoyed writing it — in the past I’ve done some freelance editorial work, and this is the first time that I’ve been on the other side of that equation. I learned a lot. 

This is actually my second publication this summer: my first was a poem, which came out in Rookie this July.

Poetry feels thick and slow. I don’t get much done. I try, of course. But I don’t have much time and the time I do have is devoted to loved ones and tending to my apartment, which sometimes seems like a young green plant in that it needs a surprising amount of upkeep and care. Or my time is spent thinking about food — I am so hungry so much of the time? Sometimes when I confront myself in the mirror I feel disoriented. There’s a (large) part of me that wants to shrink myself down again. I am sure it’s exhausting to listen to someone whose life revolves so tightly right now around her weight, and I’m very grateful for my friends’ infinite patience.

When I feel shrinkable I cook. Never did I expect to love cooking, and sometimes I feel weird about how much I love cooking, because when I am figuring out what I want to eat and when I am cooking for myself I am so happy. It is a happiness perfect in how simple it is. Shouldn’t I want something complicated? Shouldn’t my daily ambition be to make good art, instead of make good food? I don’t know. On a practical level, why not throw myself into doing something, why not be particular about something, why not try to educate myself about something that literally keeps me alive? But let’s not pretend — this is not survival. When I cook for myself, I love myself, in a way that is hungry, tart, ever feeding itself. Sometimes while cooking, but usually while at work, I think about the relationship between my work and food: my work has always been full of fruit. Perhaps in another life I painted bowls of grapes?

Anyway, right now I’ve stolen a break from schoolwork to do market research. Lately I’ve been reading diode, Poecology, and BOXCAR Poetry Review. Highly recommended: check ’em out.

Autumn begins

The train runs below my apartment, six stories and a hill below, and it sounds like breathing. I was worried, at first, about the noise: one summer my sisters and I stayed with my mother in her brother’s house, which was close to freight tracks, and the train shook the whole house and the noise was petrifying. When we first heard it, in the dark hours of the morning, my older sister and I thought the world might be ending. The closest approximation here are the cicadas and crickets, which are deafening, even early in the morning when I go to work. I love them. While I don’t like how little sleep I get — and I am still getting used to New Apartment No. 2, so I really am not sleeping well — I do like being awake very early. I like the quietness and freedom of cooking breakfast alone or mostly alone, because I know I’ll get to eat dinner with people I love, and I like the electricity of the insects and the cold. The leaves have started changing. Already? Already.

What a crazy week. I wish we’d had more time after move in before classes started. There was and is so much to do in the apartment: we have to organize storage, move furniture, come up with chore charts, buy little things to help keep the place neat like jars, canisters, hooks, etc. At least I have had the benefit of living on my own for three weeks beforehand. I am not meeting this apartment with a sense of general bewilderment, but with a vision of What I’m Supposed to Do. I guess if I could thank social conditioning for something, it would be for the familiarity with the odds and ends of housekeeping and at least a vague idea of what a good, well stocked impressive (all things considered) kitchen should have in it. There seems to be a particular type of Modern Woman, the Woman With a Kitchen, and I feel that she and I have a lot in common or that perhaps I am becoming her, but that is a thought for another day. Like tomorrow, when I will have actual food to talk about.

I bought asparagus last week and that’s mostly what I’ve been eating. Because I can’t eat much in one sitting, I make most of dinner — a salad or fruit thing plus rice and lentils has been the name of the game lately — and while I eat I roast asparagus. The oven in Apartment No. 2, unlike the oven in Apartment No. 1 (which got unbearably hot), takes its sweet time, so the asparagus tends to be done by the time I’m hungry again. I personally think asparagus is best when it’s prepared simply: olive oil, salt and pepper are the only things I put on it.

Last week I got my groceries under budget. Imagine! Under budget! This won’t be repeated this week, because I am cooking for many tomorrow. Perhaps I am cooking for too many tomorrow — nothing is set in stone yet (though to be fair, I don’t consider anything set in stone until it is happening before me) but I believe one of these meals will be to impress. Lord knows I love to show off, and it will be nice to cook something that contains ingredients that aren’t spinach and tomato, but…I’m nervous.


What Thoughts I Have of You Tonight

On Mondays I go grocery shopping.

It is a chore I hate, especially when I have to do it alone, which for the most part I do. Today I stopped first in Harris Teeter, which was full of very thin, very serious looking moms. Harris Teeter is dark and the shelves are dauntingly tall. When you think you have come to the end of Harris Teeter, you walk into an unexpected, hidden aisle of more frozen food. The whole store smells like pizza, because there is a pizza station, which I found very odd. Pizzerias exist so you can buy an inexpensive lunch. Harris Teeter exists so you can buy an expensive, organic, imported lunch. I went to Harris Teeter because I thought such a place might have more gluten free options than Kroger. To a certain extent, it did: Kroger does not seem to carry gluten free flours like rice flour, flaxseed flour, buckwheat flour or almond meal, though to its credit it does carry gluten free baking mixes which, I have been told by my older sister, who cooks often and has friends with dietary restrictions similar to mine, can be used like flour. Clearly, I will have to look into this. (Kroger also has easy to find gluten-free brownie mix, which is all a girl can ask for in life.) Harris Teeter has all the specialty flours, and it has an actual selection of gluten free pastas, though, again, they are quite expensive. Sometime in the next two weeks I intend to go to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to see if they carry good gluten-free options that are less prohibitively priced.

I wanted to make macaroni and cheese, because it’s something I can store and take to work for lunch, and it is something I will always want to eat — important, because I’m used to my appetite giving out. And while it’s been pretty consistent since I cut gluten out of my diet, I still want to proceed with caution/the assumption that at any moment I will not want to eat half the things I normally find tasty. So I bought some rice & buckwheat pasta, which tasted a lot like wholegrain pasta, and rice flour. Let me sing the praises of rice flour for a moment. Not only is it tasty — though it is the tastiest — it is also the most affordable non-wheat flour option available; or, at least, it is the most affordable option available in the grocery stores most accessible to me. (It is still pretty expensive though; a pound cost me eight bucks.) It can be substituted for all purpose flour, according to the Joy of Baking, and it seems like a bit goes far.

Once those purchases were made (and I cringed from the bill) I headed down to the Kroger to buy produce. If you have disposable income and feel really strongly about eating organically, then yes, I guess Harris Teeter is the store for you, but the produce there is out of my budget. HT charges $1.69 a pound for Roma tomatoes; they cost about $.70 less at Kroger.

Kroger is a limpid pool of yellow light, and is very big. I don’t like carts on principle, and everything I need to buy fits in a basket anyway, but I am a tiny lady and after you’ve put in some onions, some bananas and some peaches things start to get a little heavy and jumbly. I look hilarious trying to navigate the Kroger while stomping around with a basket full of produce that weighs as much as I do, and I imagine that I look a little wild and desperate while I scan the shelves for GLUTEN FREE labels. Today it was especially gruelling because EVERYONE has flocked back to Charlottesville — at least, the grad students and the upper classmen in greek organizations have, as evidenced by the sheer amount of pastels and khakis I have seen in the past two days — and is buying groceries. It’s going to be EVEN WORSE next week, when all the first years arrive on grounds and their parents take them college shopping. I need cannisters, possibly mason jars (for storing stuff, and yeah, yeah, I know) and oven mitts but the Bed Bath and Beyond is going to be a fresh hell next week. Anyway, I did not enjoy having to dodge through Kroger, which I do not believe should be as full as it was at 2:30 on a Monday afternoon.

Peaches are in season, which I aim to take advantage of at every turn, and it’s the end of the blackberry season. I love blackberries, so I decided that it was worth the money to buy a small thing of them. Good plan. I also picked up bananas, onions, spinach, asparagus, italian sausage, cheese, tomatoes, basil, eggs, yogurt and vanilla extract. It’s an unusually long grocery list for me — a trick I’m trying out to keep costs down is to restrict my list to fifteen items max. I still have some scallions and some rice noodles leftover from last week, which will surely make their way into something this week.

For dinner I made macaroni and cheese with the rice flour and gluten free pasta. The recipe I used is slightly adapted from Brooklyn Supper. Because I did not realize that rice flour is not directly proportional to all purpose flour when I was making the roux, I ended up adding more milk, margarine, and eventually some cream (I only have so much milk) to make the cheese a bit less doughy. Also, I made a crust for the mac and cheese by cutting in some margarine with oats and leftover jack cheese. Then I baked it. I know oats sound like a suspect choice but they were really, really good. They added the right amount of crunch, and are sort of nutty, which went well with the rice flour. On the side, I had a simple salad of baby spinach, a cut up tomato, and blackberries. It seems like an odd combination, but the blackberries aren’t exactly sweet: they are a little bit tart, and so they add an extra dimension to the classic tomato-and-spinach combo.

I ate with my roommate tonight, which was really nice. I enjoyed getting to know her, and I enjoyed having company. While I enjoy cooking alone, and I enjoy having the ability to decide what I am going to eat without having to worry about other people’s preferences, I do miss the ritual of eating together that my family had, and that my friends have when we’re at school. I miss the regular, expectedness of it. I miss the companionship. I miss what it feels like to look after other people a little bit — especially since the first week back in Virginia, my friends had to look after me a lot. Right now I am supposed to be working on a freelance assignment, and I have to wake up early tomorrow, and I miss them. I hope they let me cook for them. At least once.