Monthly Archives of: August 2011

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The Free Dignity Blog Giveaway!

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Hi!  I’m a blogger and I used to be really cool and funny and as a result, I got TONS of traffic.  And, OMG advertisers started e-mailing me, too, which makes me feel really important.  So instead of writing the smart, moving, and beautifully-written content that I got noticed for, I am whoring myself out for a $20 Steak n’ Shake Maker, $100 Knife, or a book that I could have potentially bought by foregoing my weekly latte.  And I really want that Steak n’Shake!  But I also want you to have one so you can leave over 100 comments on my blog and drive up traffic!  Nothing makes my day more than more blog traffic.  Well, except for a Stake n’ Shake.  Or an Anthropologie top.

So, today, to commemorate the fact that I no longer consider myself a writer but more like those people flipping signs off the Rockville Pike, I’m giving away one (1) free (of no value) MY DIGNITY to a commenter picked by a random-number generator that I hold over your head to make me feel important.

To enter the giveaway:

  1. Make sure to leave a comment.  Or, actually, at least two.  Yeah, definitely at least two comments. With your email address. So I can spam you later.
  2. The comment has to be about how much you hate your own dignity by leaving fawning comments on my blog. Do you love my hair today?  Make sure to tell me!  I really need to hear it!  How about the wall color behind me in the picture?  Does my heavily-Photoshopped fantasy life strike your fancy?  Please justify my life choices in the comments!
  3. The person with the saddest comment will receive all of my dignity.  Leave your email address so I can send it to you, along with a 20-cent coupon for Target.
Oh yeah, here are the entry limitations.  Silly FTC!
  • Limit one (1) entry per person, unless you want to leave comments under pseudonyms. That’s totally cool. It boosts my comment count.
  • Giveaway opens and closes whenever I feel like it, because in this little part of the blogosphere with three readers, I am your own personal God. Or Oprah. Whichever you believe in.
  • There will only be one winner. My dignity is really small. Sorry about that.
  • Go! Fight! Win!
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Grad school is hard.

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Grad school is hard. I know this because I just got back from my first class, Microeconomics, and the only thing I understood was the Academic Integrity Policy on the syllabus. Aka, don’t be shady.

Everyone in the class is in the PhD program, unlike me who would slit her wrists if she had to do anymore than two years,  and wears sweatpants and jeans and anime shirts.  I come in straight from work, buttoned up, hair up,  head still spinning with the data my team was presenting to our business client, who then presents the data to Senior VPs and division heads, so it absolutely has to be right. Plus I have the sinkhole problem still going on at home, plus I think today was laundry day, plus my boss is on vacation next week so I need to follow up with him before he leaves,  and my mind is drifting away before the class even started.

I ate dinner on the lawn in the 20 minute mad-dash between work and school, watching the undergrads with skateboards and bikes, laughing.  Life was good as an undergrad.  No work. Nothing to worry about.  Except, I stop myself halfway on the Choo-Choo train to nostalgia-ville because I was really stressed out in undergrad.  Not only was I trying to finish in three years, taking honors classes, leading in Hillel and Vice President of the Economics Association, but I also had boy problems, problems where I was super-lonely and had no friends, and problems where my roommate was half-Palestinian and I’d just gotten back from Birthright Lite. Or my roommate was Jewish and wrote bitchy things about me in a blog I only found out about the day before she moved out.  Or my roommate was Mormon and was terrified of me. Or I was homesick for my parents.  Undergrads don’t have it easy. They do, but the grass is always greener.

Everyone, like 90%, in the class is Chinese and male and super-smart, and I’m Russian but I was raised in American schools, so I’m American-stupid at math.  A girl from Bulgaria sits next to me and we become friends.  “I love math!  I used to do math competitions in high school.  Math is my favorite subject,” she says.  “By the way, I speak Russian, too.  Do you speak Bulgarian?”  I do not, and I HATE math.  Math is everything that is my enemy.  I spent about 40% of my middle and high-school career in my room, bawling because I didn’t understand, and frustrated that my math-oriented Soviet mom with a Math Master’s was frustrated that I didn’t understand.

The only reason I do math is because I can make more money doing it, and because it sharpens my brain away from atrophy.  If I could make money as a writer, I wouldn’t be sitting in this class right now. I’d be sitting in an MFA or Middle Eastern studies. But the people who sit in those classes generally start Tumblrs about their cats and are unemployed in Williamsburg.  Or, they’re, like, Social Media Experts. And yeah, I don’t want to sell my soul,  but it is nice to be able to go to Alma de Cuba whenever I want.

So I persist. I decide I will do all of my homework with the Bulgarian girl, forever.

The professor begins writing, and already my brain turns to mush.  The class is from 5:30-8 and by 6:30 I am already struggling to process what he says as he says it, because he moves fast and his hand is fluid with math symbols that are a foreign language to me.  Except foreign languages are easy. Arabic, Hindi, no problem.  Math symbols are hard.

I focus with laser precision on a thought, understand it, but by the time I do, he’s on to the next one and I figure I’ll just have to read the book for the next class. My mind wanders longingly to Mr. B. I wonder if he’s sitting at home, watching TV.  Like I could be. I feel sad that he’s alone.  But when I’m sitting at home, watching TV, I wonder who’s in grad school and why I’m not there.  I can’t win.

I watch the professor.  Well, almost-professor.  He can’t be making that much post-PhD.  Maybe I make more than him.  So what’s the impetus? Why do people do this to themselves?  Teaching snotty undergrads or us lame first-year grad students forever, scrounging out fellowships, living in the proximity of average universities.  The love of knowledge? The culture?  He could be making three times as much in industry. Also industry is fun, fast-paced, real. I feel the urge to work on his resume and tell him to negotiate a salary. Every time I go on campus, I feel like I’m in Narnia.  But maybe it’s not the campus that’s changed, it’s me.

 

I don’t know.

By the end of the class, I don’t know much of anything.  Legrange, partial derivatives, it’s all a blur, even the second and third time Mr. B explains it patiently in the car. But there is another girl, also in work clothes.  “I’m doing a part-time PhD and I work,” she says, and I, in the words of my dad, man up.  If she can do it, so can I.

But I’m going to need lots of coffee.

 

 

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Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

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My life has been pretty chaotic lately. New job, new school, new house, and, thanks to that whoreicane Irene, now we have a sinkhole situation in our driveway.

However, when I started reading The Magicians last week, I could feel the chaos melting away and I knew right away this book and its sequel, The Magician King, were going on my list of favorite books.

I heard about The Magicians when it first came out, but for some reason I wasn’t drawn too it; I think I thought it was going to be too dark.  It was also billed as an urban fantasy, a ‘grown-up Harry Potter,’ and ‘somewhat snobby.’  All of that pushed me away.

But then I got Kindle for iPad, The Magician King came out, and I thought it was time to give it a shot.

It is so rare for me to love a book that I’ve been in a kind of post-Magicians haze for the past two weeks.  Everything about this book and its sequel are perfect.  The plot is interesting, magical but not overly so, moves quickly, explores college live and the dilemma of the “quarter-life” crisis, but also what it means to want something, and the power of goals and consequences.

As soon as I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.  I love fantasy books.  But they have to be smart fantasy books, not the kind that are churned out by the hundred and have the picture of the fairy with wings on it, and they have to be believable.  Like The Hobbit, or Narnia, or, my favorite books of all time, The Golden Compass, which I’ve reread almost every year since I was 13.  I also loved, loved, loved, loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (another not bad one is Elfland.)

The thing about a good fantasy book is, from the minute you open it, you have to feel like you’re along for an adventure with the characters.  You can smell the strange flowers, understand the constraints of the fantasy world and believe them, and generally feel excited that you’ve discovered a new universe.

Grossman gets you there right away.  You’re trailing Quentin Coldwater, which is a very WASPY and pretentious name for a very WASPY and depressed kid.  You think you’re going to hate him because he’s so mopy and inactive.  It’s Brooklyn in the fall and he loves a girl that doesn’t love him back, but her boyfriend is friends with him.  Quentin is a Huge Nerd and trying to escape Brooklyn.  You just have to know there’s somewhere better for him.  Almost right away, weird things start to happen/  There’s a strange portal in an abandoned Brooklyn garden, and your stomach is in knots: the chase is on.

He ends up in a school for magicians.  Like Hogwarts. Only, it’s unfair to compare The Magicians to Harry Potter because Grossman makes it all seem real, like you could attend.  And magic is not just waving your wand.  It’s intricate hand positions and knowing the phases of the moon and feeling it intuitively.  It takes weeks to work up to your first spell, and Grossman has you believing if you crammed hard enough, you could do it, too.

The thing I really love about Grossman’s descriptions of Quentin’s four years at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is that, if you were a nerd and overachiever as a kid,  you can tell Grossman was a nerd and overachiever as a kid.  You can feel with the way he writes about Quentin’s struggles to get spells right and memorize Old Church Slavonic and Italian for certain chants, about the late nights spent making little marbles move half an inch on their own, that Grossman highly overachieved and stayed up late nights to overachieve.  You know because, as an overachiever, you’ve also put in the hours, going to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning to finish that paper, to get that 96, to be the best.  You know how 2 in the morning when you’re memorizing the periodic table feels.  And everyone at Brakebills is the same.

They’re also all cynical, smart as hell, and funny as hell.  I rarely laugh out loud when I’m reading, but every page of Magicians has a funny turn of phrase that made me highlight. The book is laced with dark humor and undertones and never dull.  You feel yourself going up with Quentin’s every victory, knowing that something greater (and perhaps more frightening) than studying and reciting him awaits at the end.  And in the scary parts, you’re actually scared.  Read the chapter called “The Beast” and tell me you don’t think about it for days afterwards.  It’s so well-written and psychologically creepy.

And once you get to the end, there is a huge payoff.  But then the novel ends.  But that’s ok.  There’s a sequel and all of the magic, the occult, the perfectly-written, humorous and flawed characters are there waiting for you.

What you also notice when reading both this book and its just-as-good sequel is how good of a writer Lev Grossman is.   There’s a rule in writing, I forget who said it, but basically, if you put a trashcan in the first chapter, it has to go in the last as well, about not writing extraneous text.  Everything in The Magicians is pertinent,so pay close attention. And everything is magical.

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Friday Links

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So, this week I’ve been pretty busy with my new job, grad school orientation, surviving earthquakes, and devouring The Magician King (more on that next week).  And this weekend I’m ready to fight for my life.  So you can imagine I don’t have too many links this go around.


Andrea GAAAAAAAALLLEEEEE.

Links:

  1. Going to the minaret of Jam by motorcycle
  2. What explains the remarkable rise of Greek yogurt?
  3. The efforts to get the Israel natural gas project off the ground
  4. Anne Hathaway is a class act
  5. ” The Defense Language Institute is where young men and women learn how to eavesdrop on the nation’s enemies, provided that the enemies speak slowly and limit their conversation to hobbies and the weather.”
  6. Old Russian periodicals online. OMGOMGGEEKTIME>
  7. Love this post a lot.
  8. I studied abroad in Africa tumblr
  9. I do, in fact, major in basket weaving!
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Ways that I did not want to experience adventure in my life

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  • Having a pane of Soviet-grade glass fall on my head when I was 3
  • Getting lost in my neighborhood in the dark when I was 8 and coming home, crying, to have my mom lecture me about rapists. Of course, there is no such thing as sex in Russia, so it wasn’t really rapists, but “Bad People.”
  • Getting into a near-fatal car accident with Mr. B. We were both unharmed, the car was totalled.
  • Working an internship in a country that went to war.  I was at the beach.
  • Same country.  God screws me over.
  • Falling off a horse getting ready to go into a gallop.
  • Going to West Philadelphia.
  • Snowmageddon.
  • Experiencing a 5.8-level earthquake on the second day that I chose to work in a 50-story building, on floor 42. If you’ve never experienced an earthquake that high up, it feels like all your paranoia and Russian pessimism have finally been justified.