Monthly Archives: October 2008

I don’t understand the question

Remember those required school tests for vision and hearing?  Once a year during an English class, we were all herded into the library to look through equipment from the 1970s and answer questions about what direction the “E” was facing using 3 fingers and to raise our hand corresponding to the ear we hear the beep in.  And then there was the part I always dreaded because I failed it EVERY time.  The red ball.  Is it inside the box or outside the box.  Simple, right?  No.  Because I never understood the question.  Up until high school, instead of thinking the question was about if the red ball was within the lines of the square or outside the lines of the square, I thought they were asking if the ball was IN the box or OUT of the box.  Like in 3d space.  So the ball was in the middle of the square and I’d be debating where it was in space.  And they passed me every time.  Probably thinking they’ll pass the dumb girl because obviously something’s not right because she can SEE the ball.

Then in high school chemistry we had to make an edible 3d model of an atom.  I spent hours with my mom at Michael’s craft store perplexed by this.  I didn’t understand why this was so difficult for me to figure out and what were the other students doing?  In the end I showed up to class with orbits of twizzlers suspended with fishing wire from a marshmallow ball nucleus and life saver electrons.  What did everyone else do?  Sheet cakes with a frosted atom design.  This never even phased me.  Because frosting on a sheet cake as 3d?  That makes no sense.

This not understanding the question is a repeated theme in my life.  The smallest request becomes a brain teaser because I can distort questions in my head to mean something entirely different.  And most of these questions involve spatial things.  In high school geometry we had a test question that featured 90 feet long howling coyote-like wiener dogs in the desert.  And, no lie, I asked my english teacher (who was the then wife of the geometry teacher) if she really did see these dogs on her honeymoon.  Why did I ask this?  Because spatially, I had no idea how long 90 feet was.

Yeah.  You say I’m a retard, I say my imagination is spatially challenged.  (but really, I can’t be alone in this.)

So I am having the problem again in chemistry.  And I sit in class with a nuclear chemist of a professor who understands numbers and physics as translates into graphs and orbits and my eyes fill up with tears over and over again because I can’t SEE it.  I have no idea what he is talking about because there is no picture in my head and the numbers and letters of the 3 axes we’re dealing with mean NOTHING to me.  Absolutely NOTHING.

And I come home in near tears, again, with boy trying to fix everything.  But he doesn’t understand.  He just wants to fix it.

So I may or may not have heated up some marshmallows in the oven on some foil (I know, but neither of us has a microwave and we were soaking the burner pans in easy off and I was desperate) and may or may not have dumped roasted marshmallows into a bowl of cookie crisp (I would never buy cookie crisp but boy did because of a 2fer at Target he couldn’t resist.)  And I sat in front of the television eating marshmallow and cookie crisp watching Stealing Beauty explaining to boy that for a girl of 15, this was by far the sexiest most romantic movie EVER.  A girl who writes haikus at the top of old newspaper and looks straight into the camera and turns away to inhale a cigarette before tearing off the haiku and holding above a flame and letting her words burn and then, and THEN!  she loses her virginity to the shy Italian boy who wrote her anonymous love letters!  OMG.  How I wish I was Liv Tyler in that movie.  But instead, I am 27 years old, frustrated with learning the stuff I remember learning in high school, eating a bowl of marshmallow and cookie crisp, with a dog wearing a cone around his neck resting his head on my lap.  So to take the humiliation off of me, I will instead put it on Jack.

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Perfectionism comes in different flavors

I never really thought of myself as a perfectionist.  Mostly because I am only an average student, and aren’t perfectionists supposed to be straight A students?  I have managed to convince myself that being an average student rather than the straight A student will give me an upper hand when applying to medical schools.  I’m trying to think of what my argument to myself was, but it’s sounding pretty lame now.  Maybe my application would get scrutinized more because why the average person would want to go to medical school is less obvious than the straight A student.  Yeah, I know, who am I kidding.

I have trouble identifying why this semester is particularly tough, but it is.  Unlike biology and calculus, I don’t consider physics and chemistry intuitive subjects (I know what you’re thinking with calculus, but seriously, I loved it.  Everything worked out so perfectly.)  I’ve been experiencing 2 types of perfectionism quirks.  And it boggles me how the desire to perform perfectly has resulted in complete opposite reactions.

The first was in chemistry.  Every week I read the chapters, spent a good 2-3 hours on the homework (usually 10 questions.)  I prepared ahead of time and read the chapter we were discussing.  But for the life of me, I COULDN’T get a 10/10 on a quiz.  I was so frustrated after one quiz that I walked out of class in tears right afterward and didn’t stay for the lecture because I knew I understood this stuff, I was just unable to prove it.  So the weekend before the mid term, I studied 3 days straight, taking off the Monday of the quiz to study.  I had my dry erase board where I worked through problem after problem memorizing compounds of ions and acids.  Everytime I left the apartment boy had the stack of flash cards and called them out to me.  It felt good.  I was extremely focused and did well on the mid term.  (I could have done better, but I scored 10pts above the class avg, so I’ll take it.)

Then physics.  I went to class, followed the derivations of equations, thought I knew what was happening.  Then came the homework.  And I would sit in front of one problem for an hour and a half not knowing what was going on and end it in tears.  So I gave up.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a good grade, and if I couldn’t get a good grade I didn’t want to do it.  I would sit in front of my homework and shut down completely.  I kept going to class, but I was too terrified to approach the subject on my own because I couldn’t perform perfectly.

My struggle for perfectionism led me to study my ass off in chemistry and to give up on physics.  I didn’t know that such performance anxiety could solicit such opposite responses.

So I bought 2 physics study guides, sat through student study sessions with tears welling up in my eyes, read through chapters and attempted problem after problem to only get frustrated when I set it up wrong.  And then I sat through a 3.5 hour physics mid term last night and left with a smile on my face.  I know I didn’t get and A.  I may have even gotten a C.  But that’s okay with me.  Because I didn’t totally give up.  I worked through all the problems except for one (because, really, if I know the time it takes for earth to go around the sun, and it takes another planet twice that time, how am I supposed to figure out the distance from the sun to the other planet?  I don’t get it.)  Now if I get a D or lower, I will be upset.  Fingers crossed a solid B.


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random in between the studying

It’s hard core midterm season.  Although so much of it is lost to fret and worry, I can admit that this drive, the marathon studying for 5 hours straight on a Sunday afternoon, this is what keeps me in school.  I like it.  But here are some random thoughts from the moments in between my studying (which is not much.)

  • Is fall proposal season or is this just a mid-20’s symptom?  All over the place I am hearing about so-and-so who just got engaged.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great.  But once a wave of proposals and weddings hits, it pushes me far away from wanting what seems to be the trend.  But I guess everything comes in waves.
  • I like hearing the phrase “first world problem”.  Now I can use it on people when they are describing the difficulty in finding the right pair of work shoes that are comfortable enough to go out in for drinks or the necessity of quality trivets.  It’s a delicate way to let you know I could care less and maybe you should too.
  • I don’t like facebook.  In fact I hate facebook.  Not only do I keep getting constant reminders that I am moving up in ranks as the most athletic of my friends and maintaining my rank as least merry person, I had to delete my friend’s message about my raging hormones disrupting several girls’ cycles because it would be visible to all my colleagues (that was you Mrs. M!!).  My colleagues just wouldn’t be able to handle the notion that my hormones are THAT infectious (b/c, oh, they are.)  I just don’t like facebook.  Please, don’t poke me.
  • Are you satisfied with what you contribute to society now or do you even care?  I know, it’s a loaded question, but I’m not judging you on your answer, just curious.
  • In case you were wondering, the whole brushing the dog’s teeth has gotten much better with patience and perseverance.
  • On another dog note, I was running this morning with Jack on the road (asphalt being softer than concrete) and I heard a ‘thump’.  I looked down to see Jack stumbling out from having run head on into a parked car.  A car didn’t hit my dog, my dog hit a car.  He continued on with his tail and head down ego damaged, but soon after forgot and was bouncing around.  He needs blinders.
  • Lastly, I’ve been working hard to manage my stress level this fall.  It always bites me in the ass during midterms and, in turn, I bite everyone’s head off around me.  So what have I been doing?  Using my personal days as ACTUAL personal days.  And it has been helping a ton.
  • Maybe this will be lastly.  The other stress reliever – the dog park.  And the weird thing about the dog park is when you start to talk to people at the dog park.  Did you know that about 1/3 of the people at the dog park don’t have dogs?  You may think I’m joking, but when you live in such an urban area as Oakland or Berkeley, it’s hard to find a place that accepts pets.  So I imagine this is where people come to get their fill of dog play.  Or stress-relief.  I think it’s nice.


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what separates the girls from the women

When I blow my nose I sound exactly like my mother.  My mother would always walk around the house in the early morning or late evening in her robe (usually the robe one of the kids bought her for the previous mother’s day) with wadded tissues stuffed up the sleeves.  An abandoned wadded tissue sometimes escaped her sleeve and wound up on the floor, somewhere between scuffling in her robe and slippers into the kitchen, probably with rollers in her hair, to get her coffee and bring it back to her vanity so she could sip it while applying her blue eye-liner.  She, like me, has eyes that tear up with just so much as a big smile or a good laugh, and with watery eyes comes a drippy nose, and a constant need for tissues.  And a good nose blow.  Not a honking blow, but a quick blow from each nostril and a crumple of the tissue back up the sleeve until next time.  I sound just like her when I blow my nose.

I don’t mind sounding or looking like my mother – it’s inevitable – but I hate it being pointed out to me.  Especially by my siblings.  I get defensive, like I invented that nose blow, or my smile was there first before my mother had it.  But I don’t mind, it’s nice to be able to look at someone and see yourself.  And it’s nice when you love the person you resemble.  But then there’s that line.  That mother/daughter line.

During my girls weekend this past August, the five of us bobbed in the cold Atlantic water, treading to stay warm, out of breath, having a conversation about our mothers.  I think it began with mother-in-laws, then I mentioned a stubborn refusal to do something simply because my mother does it (I don’t even remember what it was, it could very well have been putting my hair in rollers or wearing blue eye-liner.)  No logic, no reason other than I am not my mother so I will not do that.  Because I may look like my mother, but I am not my mother.

And in a quick, near whisper, one of the girls looked at me and said “Isn’t that what we all do?  Aren’t we all afraid we’ll end up exactly like our mother?”

And I probably couldn’t answer back because I am not the strongest swimmer and I had been treading water for quite a while tyring to keep up with the conversation, but that was the wisest comment I ever heard from someone my own age.  So while I’ll be going through life with a nonsensical stubborn refusal to do certain things because they are an echo of my mother, the girl who made that comment – she’s going to go far in life.


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on taking a dump

A while back I had my first therapy session since college.  I actually wrote a blog post about it that I didn’t publish.  Something along the lines of “today I emotionally vomited all over a therapist.  And she didn’t even flinch.  She’s a keeper.”  But I wanted to wait.  I was kind of wrecked and had other things I needed to focus on.

And now, whenever I go to therapy, I come back on these post-therapy highs.  A feeling similar to locking myself in the bathroom for an hour and walking out with the lightness of having taken a big dump.  So crude, I know, but what happens in therapy is not pretty.  I think boy pities me slightly when I come home.  He hugs me, gives me a cookie, tells me he likes me.  And while I think it’s the pity he feels for seeing me come home afterward very puffy-eyed while also sporting a big grin on my face, it’s also an appreciation that I am now paying someone to take my crazy out on instead of using him.  But either way, I get a cookie.

And somewhere in the first session, where I was nervous as hell, sweating, even a little shaky, something happened.  I said stuff I had never told anyone.  I said stuff aloud that I had never spoken.  And I heard what I was saying.  And in the first 10 minutes of me talking, 9 minutes after the tears broke free from my eyes, I realized every single day I walk around covering up my fears because I don’t want people to see them.  And NO FRICKIN’ WONDER I was feeling a little crazy carrying all that around.

And here’s where my dad would say in full Jungian philosophy “honey, you just think you’re covering up all of your fears when really they’re more obvious to everyone around you than you think.  You’re the only one hiding from them.”  Well Daddy, you’re right.

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apocalypse sandwiches

I don’t care much about food.  I could eat a bowl of popcorn and a bowl of edamame and call it dinner.  But I do love  a good sandwich.  Boy has an appreciation for a good sandwich as well.  He has his list of favorites: Bill Grey’s veggie burger in Rochester, The New Yorker, Ciao Bella’s, and Schlotzky’s in P’cola, SemiFreddi’s, Bella pastry shop, Jimmy Beans and Toy Boat here in bay area.  I like Toy Boat and Jimmy Beans, that swiss and sprouts at a place in P’cola, Putnam Street Deli in Saratoga Springs gets me drooling.

When I was studying abroad in Paris, I did the whole Rome, Florence, Venice train trip that so many people take (b/c it’s super easy.)  I almost bailed on my traveling mates not long into the trip.  I was out of my element and, more importantly, out of my meds I was taking at the time.  I was a ball of nerves and insecurity, about 10 lbs heavier with a cropped boy haircut (what’s popular in the US, not so much in Europe.)  But in the middle of that trip, the full day we spent in Florence wandering, what felt like going in circles, we hit a sandwich shop.  And it was the best sandwich of my life.  I don’t remember the shop, I don’t remember what was on the sandwich, but I do remember sitting on the sidewalk by a mile-long row of parked mopeds and devouring the best sandwich ever.  I remember the courtyard and the sun dried tomatoes and the archway that hid the sandwich shop and I’m convinced that if I ever find myself in Florence again, on the same axis as the sandwich shop, I will be able to find my way back.

So when boy woke up the other morning and said he had a dream about us and the end of the world, I had to ask what we were doing.

“Wandering the demolished streets looking for a restaurant,” he said.

“Well I hope it was a sandwich shop we were looking for.”

“Of course.  What else?”

It makes perfect sense to me.

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