Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Boyfriend Likes Noodles and Romantic Comedies

Why is it, I wonder, that as media-consuming humans we watch thousands of films and yet, when we sit down on a city bus and try to name them before arriving at home, we cannot remember a single one?

Deep philosophy going on over here in my neck of Iowa City, guys.

But, really. What is this strange (and oh-my-god-frustrating) phenomenon? Last night Robert and I wanted to watch a movie--because not everyone can survive on watching several episodes of Doctor Who every night. At first we were going to watch something I had never seen before, or that both of us had never seen before. We caught the bus from the mall in Coralville (after being uninspired by The Gap, but getting work done at Panera's) and on that ride, and the ride from downtown Iowa City to my neighborhood on the free shuttle, we tried to name potential films for our viewing pleasure that evening. We did not come up with anything.

But, luckily, there is such a thing as a Netflix queue, and so we decided to look at mine. Unfortunately, all the films available for Instant Watch are dramatic foreign films that appear in my dad's 1000 Movies to See Before You Die book. And while I am sure they are quite good films, and while I am sure that I do want to watch them at some point, they just didn't have the feel for an evening spent on the IKEA futon before bedtime with one's significant other. I feel like they might be more like the kind of films one watches on purpose on a weekend afternoon between homework assignments. I have fairly specific categories for films.

Because I know you are all in suspense, I will tell you what happened next. Robert began to list off various films and then look them up to see if we could watch them "instantly" if I responded favorably.

"What about You've Got Mail?"

I blinked. I grinned.

"Okay. So... I've seen it. BUT. BUT. I LOVE that movie. LOVE it. Can we watch that one? Please? I love that movie!"

When he seemed surprised at my boundless enthusiasm, I sighed. "Come on. It has a dog and bookstores. How could I not love it?"

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is essentially Lauren in a Nutshell.

If that amuses you, you are in good company. Robert laughed, and, long story short, we determined to do whatever was necessary to procure the film for the evening. (Which ended up being quite an adventure, actually, as we ran out to the library before it closed and checked it out very quickly, only to return home and realize that the magnetic strip was still on, and so R had to valiantly run out again--this time in pjs--to get them to pry the strip off five minutes before closing time). Please join me in my utter delight that as we watched the film, it became clear to me that not only has Robert seen the movie a few times and enjoyed it enough to purchase it (he has a copy out in Coralville), but he seems to have it memorized. This is not an exaggeration. And no, lady-friends, you may not have him. Hands off.

In other news, I (we? is it absurd if I start using "we" too often on my own blog?) have decided to eat more at home in order to save money and lose weight (the latter is obviously just me, by the way). On Tuesday night R and I made a delicious meal (at his enthusiastic insistence, and with a bountiful supply of leftovers) of peanut noodles from this recipe which we adapted as follows:

Peanut Noodles
* 16 oz. thick sobe wheat noodles
* 1 recipe peanut sauce
* 1 cucumber, cut into thin 1” strips
* 1 handful cilantro
* 1 package beef stew meat
* 3 generous shakes of red pepper flakes
* ginger to taste

Boil noodles according to package directions. Rinse, drain and return to the pot.
Meanwhile, stir-fry the beef with the red pepper flakes and the ginger. When done, toss with the peanut sauce and the noodles until all noodles are evenly coated.
Serve, garnished with cucumber strips and cilantro.

Peanut Sauce

* 1/4 cup peanut butter
* 6 oz. coconut milk
* 1 small bunch cilantro, cleaned, stems intact
* 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
* 1 small piece ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
* 2 tbsp soy sauce
* juice of one lime
* 1 tbsp rice vinegar
* 2.5 tsp Asian chili sauce
* 1 1/2 tbsps honey


Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Adjust spiciness to taste by adding more or less chili sauce. If the sauce is too thick and needs to be thinned out, add a little hot water.


Robert recommends that anyone who makes this recipe in the future enjoy it with one to three bottles of Heinekin:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Springtime Approaches, and I Want to Buy Clothes

I haven't shopped for clothes in months, with the exception of the blazer I bought in Madison.

Here are a few things I wish I could spend the money to buy online:

"Sugar Work Skirt" from Anthropologie

"Kick Back and Relax Dress" from Mod-Cloth

"Chelsea Crew 'Malibu' Heels" from Ruche

Of course, there is much more. Ruche has a good 20 or so dresses that would be on this list if they hadn't gone out of stock. Urban Outfitters has shoe and skirts that I want, but somewhere in the world is a $100 giftcard from my mother to there that I need to find, and until I do I won't be shopping there.

And now onwards to Hemingway-as-literary-celebrity...
A Writer of "Fictions"

I've been working more and more on a short story that I started last month. I'd like to finally finish one, and revise it, and do something with it. Even if that "do something" is make a zine with some of my poetry or nonfiction memoir essays. I just want that sense of accomplishment, that I did completed something for myself and of my own volition and not for a grade or because it was assigned to me by someone else.

As some of you may know, I used to write a shit-ton of poetry. I had entire composition books full of it. Since I went to London two and a half years ago, I have written progressively less of the stuff. But every now and then when I am reading Adrienne Rich or Muriel Ruckeyser, I get inspired to start again.

This post is just to say, don't be surprised if Pass the Hat starts getting updated again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I have many talents:

I have many talents:

For instance, I can read very quickly whilst multi-tasking. I can put together creative outfits. I tell good stories. I write long letters. I could probably win a breakfast taco eating contest. I make delicious pancakes. I suspect that I might be a pretty good kisser. I look good in hats.

But there are also some negative talents to my name. And let's be honest--we all have these, the tendencies about ourselves for which we are not proud. A particular one of mine is that when I have to speak in front of a great number of people I get very nervous (in case you didn't know, I am actually quite shy), and consequently I talk incessantly and somewhat over-lightly (if that's a word). This past weekend I co-chaired a conference and at its conclusion I had to speak at the awards ceremony and thank the many sponsors. In my nervousness I managed to say, when thanking the bagel supplier: "Incidentally, did anyone manage to have one of the rosemary bagels? Because I had one and it was just about divine. In fact, I had three." And I went on a mini-spiel about these rosemary bagels. Just like that, my face burning with embarrassment.

But there's a darker talent of mine, I'm afraid, of which I feel compelled to confess. I was reminded of this specific "talent" of mine on Saturday night when several of the Jackobsen committee members, their significant others, and myself and my significant other went to George's, a small bar up the street from the IMU where the conference had taken place. In a nutshell? I drank too much, one of my co-chairs drank too much, and he thought it would be permissible to kiss me when were smoking a drunk cigarette outside. Instead of slapping him across the face, I made the mistake of feeling sorry for him, and when we went inside I continued to be nice--and by nice, I mean drunk-Lauren nice--to him. Instead of standing up for myself, I called Zach drunkenly and asked him what it was about me that makes it seem okay for men to take advantage of me in such a manner. I cried, and I drank more.

What's the "talent" here? I simply do not stand up for myself. I convince myself that these things are my fault and that I deserve them. Well, that's just absurd. And, it ends now. This type of self-loathing, this compete lack of self-worth, I can do without. I deserve better from my self.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Duncan Sheik and a Serious Case of the Wednesdays

Duncan Sheik and a Serious Case of the Wednesdays

and there are so many reasons I could give you why I should be down
there's not enough money or time
and my love you're not around

but its a lie it's a lie - don't you believe it
if you're fine then you're fine - it's all how you see it
oh, there never will be no conspiracy of happiness

--from the song 'On a High' by Duncan Sheik

That previous post was so optimistic! But... it's dwindling. This song by Duncan Sheik is just all up in my brain today. I'm feeling that first stanza I've got up there, and trying to convince myself of the second.

This Levinas response paper is not coming along as well as I had initially thought that it might. I'm not sure what my mental block is. I understand the ethics. I understand how I want to show that they are illustrated in Rich's poetry. I like the ethics. I love Rich's poetry. So, what's the problem?

I've been getting up at 6am all week in order to squeeze in an extra 2-3 hours of productivity. Yesterday I managed to type out a page. This morning I went to the gym instead, then returned home and proceeded to spend an hour and a half trying to figure out what to wear whilst eating my morning bagel and peanut butter.

For those of you who are not aware--and that ought to be the majority of you--I sometimes will take an unearthly amount of time to get dressed in the morning. I will just hit these moods where I am convinced I do not look good in anything. This morning I had intended to wear a pair of maroon skinny pants from the H&M in Oxford Street that I got in London 2.5 years ago--but they were pretty tight, and not exactly flattering with the top and the shoes I had planned on pairing with them.


After this my bed became a mess of hopeful tops, skeptical pants, and even wistful cardigans. I tried just about every pair of pants in my closet. Then I tried pairing a top with one of about three skirts. When I finally decided on a dress, it took my 25 minutes to choose which cardigan to wear over it, and whether I wanted the belt on top of it or not.

I suppose I ought to have known then that today was just going to be one of those days. After all, it is a Wednesday. Wednesdays are notoriously difficult, aren't they? Agonizingly close-but-not-close-enough to the weekend for those of us with five-day work weeks. But I have a conference on Saturday to co-chair, and am not even looking particularly forward to my weekend. Usually I like Wednesdays myself, because I don't have class on Fridays, and because I get done with class around noon, and so have a very leisiurely 36 hours to do my reading for the next day.

But it's this bloody response paper that's throwing me off!

Seriously, I can't stand these mini-assignments in the middle of the semester. I much prefer the giant term paper at the end, because at the end I can simply stop doing the reading in my other classes. But not in the middle. Not when I still need to get some participation points.

And besides, the weather was so nice--50s, 60s--for almost a whole week until today. I just about froze walking from the bus stop to class because of the icy wind blowing at all of the layers I thought I was going to be able to put away into my trunk. Not yet. It might snow this weekend. If it snows I will fucking cry.

-It's cold.
-I have run out of money and gone through $450 of my savings. I am broke.
-I haven't had time to work out.
-I want new clothes.
-This conference is a pain in the ass.
-My apartment is a mess. I do not have the time to clean it.
-I am sleepy.

So I'm listening to Antony and the Johnsons and drinking Earl Grey out of my Eeyore mug and wearing wool tights beneath baggy yet too short pj pants with the super-frumpy wool zip-up sweater that Robert loaned me yesterday after he deemed me not layered well enough to walk home from Fair Grounds after the cold front hit. My living room is like one giant self-pity-party at the moment.

Sorry to complain, all, but today I am in one serious funk.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Overcoming Stress and Mental Road Blocks

On Overcoming Stress and Mental Road Blocks

Yesterday I wasn't getting any work done at Fair Grounds, even after disabling the wireless on my laptop. So I walked home in the brisk and breezy mid-50s in my knee-length skirt (no tights--possible mistake) and listened to a playlist I had made several days ago to reflect the feelings of slow change and windy days.

I opened the screen on my door and played my music loudly enough for me to hear out on my mini-porch and changed into some rolled-up jeans and a black spaghetti strap top (which I had to fish around in my boxes of summer clothing for). Then I sat out on the top of my steps and smoked a cigarette with one hand and typed up my paper's introduction with the other. It was incredibly relaxing.

I've generally been fairly suspicious when friends or acquaintances of mine say that they smoke cigarettes to relieve stress. I've also generally been a non-smoker except for the occasional cigarette when drinking with friends; I avoided buying cigarettes of my own until I was spending so much time with J that I felt like I should contribute to his supply of them. So I ended up with half a pack of cigarettes to my name even after we parted ways, and as it turns out, I did feel pretty de-stressed yesterday afternoon as I was smoking one.

When it got too chilly to sit on the porch I retreated indoors to my living room floor and poured myself a glass of leftover red wine from some evening a couple of weeks ago when Robert and I made dinner. I was actually quite productive.

The moral of this story is... well, here I am amidst a very stressful week. I am co-chairing a conference on Saturday and have meeting after meeting this week to get ready for it. I have the regular reading for my classes, as well as this 7 page response paper on Levinas due. I must begin to flesh out term paper ideas in the next two weeks and have a gigantic pile of books from the library to peruse. I also need to make time for the gym and for doing my laundry and cleaning my kitchen floor. I have been dreading this week since last Wednesday when I looked into my Snoopy planner and started to try to plan gym times.

But, you know what? So I wasted almost 4 hours at Fair Grounds. I was weighed down by god-only-knows-what mental blocks. But when I stopped thinking about how much I needed to do and stopped berating myself for my lack of productivity, when I calmed down and drank my wine at a leisurely pace as I went back and forth from the book in my hand to the Word document in front of me, I was able to actually get into a rhythm with the work. By the time Robert came over to help me start making dinner I was in a great mood and ready to enjoy the evening guilt-free. Which, believe me, I did.

And now I have gotten up at six o'clock in the morning, because I feel like it is the responsible thing to do. And I want to be the girl who does that responsible thing. Here's to a productive day of positive thoughts.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tis the Season for Bicycles and Politics

Tis the Season for Bicycles and Politics

Oh, spring! Dost thou truly approach? Today, for the first time since early November,
I brought my bicycle out of my apartment, climbed atop its black saddle, and rode it. I rode a zig-zag route to the library with my father's old, retro mustard shoulder bag draped over my back; I cared not for the traffic on the main street, and in my boots, tights, dress, and cardigan, I listened to an apt playlist with my chartreuse headphones and then cursed the heavens when I found that the library did not in fact open for another hour, at noon. Spring break hours, you know. I then rode up a tremendous hill--huffing and puffing all the way--and arrived at Fair Grounds, the fair-trade and about 85% vegan coffeehouse that I've begun to frequent due to its distinct lack of both undergrads and shoddy wifi.

Here I am reading Adrienne Rich's poetry and inventing ways to dissect it with Levinasian ethics for a 7-page paper due next week.

But it's not really thinking about ethics. I'm thinking instead about politics, and about relationships, and about how I am going to need to become acquainted with the previous in order to maintain the latter.

Yesterday R and I had a very serious conversation about politics and how I don't have any. And I wonder if I actually don't have any, or if it was just always easier to act as if that were the case. After my brief stint as a libertarian in high school, I decided that political discussion just made everybody into complete dicks and that it was against my nature to risk offending anyone anyway. When I dated Austin and he told me that he wouldn't allow me to get an abortion if I ended up pregnant, I realized that there are things that are worth offending people over and battled him over the phone for hours.

Since then, though, politics have only ever come up in obnoxious, self-righteous ways in literary discussions and I had mostly been annoyed by them.

But I'm not an idiot. I know that they're germane to just about everything. Being in Madison really highlighted that for me. I've been telling myself for a little while now that I need to start reading the New York Times again, as we get it for free in both the library and EPB. But after talking with Robert about it, I guess I've decided to finally stop thinking about doing it and just actually doing it. It's true that I call myself a feminist and that I will probably work in public education someday. It's true that I believe in access to efficient public transportation,and the ability to safely walk or ride a bike through a town or city. Having lived in Arkansas and meeting people who were actually taught that condoms don't protect one frome STDs so one just shouldn't have sex at all, I am fiercely set against abstinence-only sex education. Things like this. It turns out that I don't not have politics, I just didn't advertise them.

I even meant to pick up a NYT today, but, as I've already mentioned, the library was closed when I biked there earlier. Now, I leave you with a poem by Adrienne Rich:

Peeling Onions

Only to have a grief
equal to all these tears!

There's not a sob in my chest.
Dry-hearted as Peer Gynt
I pare away, no hero,
merely a cook.

Crying was labor, once
when I'd good cause.
Walking, I felt my eyes like wounds
raw in my head,
so postal-clerks, I thought, must stare.
A dog's look, a cat's, burnt to my brain--
yet all that stayed
stuffed in my lungs like smog.

These old tears in the chopping bowl.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Post-Birthday... Not Quite "Blues"

Super-quick life update:

At the tail-end of January I left a note on the table of a man I had been eyeing for months, off and on, at Java House; it read "I admire your argyle". I was quite pleased with myself, feeling like the heroine in an indie romantic comedy. I'm not sure if I expected it to work or not, honestly. I mean, men that beautiful inevitably already have thin, gorgeous girlfriends who know how to walk in heels and wear eye shadow, right? Men that beautiful are not interested in young-looking curvy girls in cowboy boots... But a couple of days later, he approached me at Java and introduced himself and got my phone number. I mean, what?!? How did that happen? I had to pinch myself. Repeatedly.

We started hanging out every couple of days and talking when we saw each other at Java House, and then we just sort-of progressed into dating from there. So, meet Robert: he is a pharmacy tech at the hospital, though he is and has been looking for a job in urban planning. He was in the Master's program here at Iowa for urban planning, but dropped out because he just didn't mesh with the program itself. An Iowa City native, he lives just outside of town and usually comes in by bus. He lived in Portland for a time several years ago and loved it. He is also into jazz music. We drove up to Madison this past weekend for a mini-break during my spring break, and spent three days reading at coffeehouses, wandering through used bookshops, weaving through protesters, and eating at restaurants. On Sunday night we even heard a Latin jazz band at a bar, which was something new for me and super-exciting for him. (We don't get many jazz bands playing here in Iowa City). I had a great time just being out of Iowa City--despite how much I do love it here--and being with Robert and getting to know him better and holding his hand while walking down unfamiliar streets.

I'm learning some things about myself, as I feel like one inevitably does when one is with someone new. But this feels different, like I'm learning much more and more quickly. Perhaps this is because Robert is older than me--now that I've had my birthday, by 7 years--and already has much about himself figured out. He is into politics, knows what he believes, and is willing to fight for it. He knows what he wants for a career, and what he wants out of the city he will live in. He is very honest with himself, I think, and straightforward about his needs and wants. Naturally, I in turn have begun to sort-of evaluate myself. I feel hopelessly naive and ignorant when he discusses politics and get rather bristly, defensive, due to my engagement with it in the past. I think he is frustrated that I'm not registered to vote, and just last night we had a bit of an argument that ended with his saying that it's just naive for me to try to avoid politics because they are present in every thing and every aspect of life.

I think I know what I want, on some levels. I know that I want to be an English teacher. However, I've been so unhappy academically and intellectually this semester that I am beginning to have my doubts about whether I belong in the PhD or the MA program. If the teaching is what I really want to do, what am I doing discussing Levinasian ethics as applicable to poetry about the Mississippi delta post-Katrina? I want to be teaching Jane Eyre, accompanied by Wide Sargasso Sea. And don't even get me started on my utterly useless American Lit and Mass Culture class; we had to turn in a syllabus for our "dream class" before spring break and I spent a great deal of the week before it was due staring at a blank Word document sputtering, "But... my dream class is in British literature..."

Anyway, I knew a part of grad school was going to be taking classes I didn't care to, in subjects not pertinent to what I want to study and teach, but it just seems that they have all unfortunately fallen in the exact same semester so that at the moment I an not intellectually invested in any of my three classes. This is particularly dangerous as we approach term paper season and I am struggling to give a shit about a paper topic. Sigh.

So, I'm 23 now. And I wanted to update this, my blog, and begin what I hope is a routine of updating it more regularly. I picked up a zine in Madison put together by a young mom, each issue comprised of written accounts of her every-day experiences and it has inspired me to want to keep an account of mine. After all, my life is pretty exciting, right? I'm a pretty engaging writer, yeah? So we'll see how this goes.