heart of the winter

The shortest day of the cycle. In Germany, that’s today – that is, the 22nd, not the 21st like I’d assumed. So today is the heart of the winter, the longest night of the year, the turning point towards spring and summer.

Winter is usually not a good time for me – every year I have the winter blues. I don’t know if it’s because of the darkness or the cold or another year coming to an end or something else, but I inevitably become restless, sad and unfocused around mid-November. This year was different, insofar that I was so immersed in school work that I didn’t even have the time to get the blues until December. Then I had days of feeling hollow, like something was missing – lonely and unmotivated and anxious. Thankfully those days passed and nowadays I am rested, alert and content.

On Monday I made the vegetable lasagna that I said I would. 20151221_150516

One thing I learned by trying to make ricotta cheese at home: don’t scrimp on white wine vinegar.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, considering that there are 2 kg vegetables in there. But it was quite vegetable-juicy and even a small portion was very filling.

I made quite a mess, and it took me over an hour to clean everything up.

I have this annoying habit of planning all sorts of things I want to do in my free time, and when I actually have some free time, I can never decide on what I want to do, so every activity I’d planned ends up losing its appeal because I’m never sure if this is what I want to do most or if I should rather do that. The truth is, the anticipation in my head is a lot more fun than the actual execution.

I don’t want to make plans; I just want to be faithful to the present.

Happy winter, everyone.

family

They heal you.
They infuriate you, they make you grin like a fool, they let you swim in your love for them.
Some of them use you to satisfy their own needs, but some just love you the way you are.
They think of you, worry about you and cheer you up.
They quietly accept that they can’t change you, nor your circumstances. They know they can’t fight for you, but they will lend you their strength if you ask them.
They make silly faces and tell lame jokes and allow themselves to be sappy around you.
They love you.

reading: another year of retrospection

To give a brief summary of my reading history: I started devouring books on October 4th 2009, when I first picked up Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. I haven’t stopped since.

I’ve come to realize and accept that different books have different functions, and they can be both meaningful.

Books With Impact
I read quite a few books that shifted the way I view things, even if it’s just a little.

Eating AnimalsThe Circle WithinDaring GreatlyCreative VisualizationThe Soul of Money
These books helped me to question what I thought was the “norm” – things that I thought I couldn’t change because that’s how things are, right? Eating Animals basically gave me the final push to become vegetarian. The Circle Within made me question my own set of values and whether I am living up to them; it also gave me food for thought about my religious views. Daring Greatly connects me with people by showing the universal struggle to be vulnerable and the crucial importance of vulnerability. It helps me in my effort to be authentic every day. Creative Visualization, despite its suggestive title, is not just a how-to book. The author also talks about her own philosophy of life. The Soul of Money is a mixture of psychological myth-debunking, promoting fund-raising, and spirituality (that blind leap of faith). It does not have a particularly smooth style, but its messages were very important in me re-setting my own values.

On the Shortness of Life A Day in the Life of a MinimalistA Story of Debt
These three books are more centered around minimalism and living simply, but these two ideas are really tools for living intentionally, or living with awareness. What I really liked about On the Shortness of Life, A Day in the Life of a Minimalist and A Story of Debt were the authors’ personal stories. They are not just sprouting off their personal philosophy like Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Self-Reliance”. Seneca, Joshua Field Millburn and Ashley Riordan write about their philosophies in application, which makes them so much more relatable. (I’m not dissing Emerson – I agree with a lot of what he says, but his writings remain very abstract.)

A Room of One's OwnBad FeministCome As You AreWe Should All Be Feminists
Great books on feminism and female sexuality. I am ashamed to admit that it’s only recently that I’ve come to realize the crippling effects our gendered society has on women and men, and I really, truly appreciate #HeForShe (although I still think it should be WeForUs – like he for he, he for she, she for he, she for she, and it would include genderfluid and agender people as well; but I admit it wouldn’t be as catchy or as thought-provokingly different as in unusual). However, gender inequality on the economic front, double standard, sexism, violence against women because of their gender – all these still exist, and they should be acknowledged and fought against.

Books With Comfort
Regardless of my name (it means ‘contemplating about truth’), I don’t want to be in an existential crisis 24/7. I fell in love with books because they provided me with fun and comfort, because they offered me a temporary escape, and because I could relate to fictional characters in such a way that it lessened my loneliness. All of this still holds true, and here are two series that were my main companions throughout the year.
1. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Its ordinariness is the extraordinary in this series. Humorous, heart-warming, critical without judging, and absolutely relatable.
2. In Death series by J. D. Robb
The only Nora Roberts/J. D. Robb series I still follow. Having finished Obsession in Death today, I am now caught up with all 40 paperback releases and limited to two new releases per year! I steampowered through this series this year (re-read #13 – 18, then read #19 – 40 for the first time). It’s a murder mystery series, of course, but it’s actually the futuristic world and the characters that have their hold on my soft spot.

free time!

I survived!

I even cut my last class to get an earlier start into my two-week holiday, and it’s hard to feel guilty about that, so I won’t. I came home around lunch time, actually cooked a meal after a succession of days sustaining on bread and cheese, then sat around, feeling weird. I picked up a book – after this I am caught up with the In Death series, which is just another surreal thing happening in my life right now – and kept reading without glancing at the clock and feeling guilty.

The last two, three weeks have been stressful to the point of driving me to frenzy. Now all assignments are turned in, all tests taken, and instead of feeling exhausted, I feel downright giddy. I’m full of plans, trying to balance rest, play and study. I already know that I’m going to be cooking like no one’s business – lasagna, spaghetti, maybe even pizza, chilli -, and I’m going to admire Kate Moennig on The L Word watch TV series, animes and/or movies. Books aren’t very high on my priority list, probably because I have a lot of reading to do for my classes*. Which reminds me, I have almost two months’ worth of lecture notes to revise, key texts to read through, and additional materials to cover. I also have another essay due mid-January, but I want to get a jump-start on that because I have two more writing assignments to complete in January and I want to be able to actually sleep and eat next year. All this should be causing me brood and sulk and grow mushrooms in my dark corner. So why am I grinning like an idiot? Huh. Something to ponder before the year is up.

*correction: I want to keep reading A Game of Thrones so that I can continue on with the series. I started to re-read AGoT back in summer and then stopped about halfway through.

gauging the depth

I used to hate any restriction imposed on my writings by schools, be it word limit or a certain format I had to abide to. That’s actually one of the reasons I decided not to study English Literature – initially. As arrogant as it sounds, I wanted to keep the essence of my writing.

Now I see those restrictions more as a challenge than limitation. The word limit keeps me from rambling on and on, and to keep my arguments short and concise. The essay format forces me to structure my arguments and it often reveals opinions that I did not know I had.

The biggest challenge, however, has been to decide how deep I want to go in a given topic. In writing an essay about Emerson’s idea of transcendentalism, I am restricted to about two pages, 1.5-spaced, and there are so many things that I have to leave out because of that. I understand and appreciate the professor wanting to keep the assignment simple (“It’s about coherence and not so much about content, folks”) but it puts me in the awkward position of wanting to display all my thoughts and running the risk of being misunderstood (or simply not understood) because I put too many points in one essay.

Any tips on how you handle this problem? Or is it even a problem for you? Maybe it’s my lack of practice that makes me struggle to find a balance. And now back to the essay!

this is a pipe, not water

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I’ve been posting one post a day for the past four weeks or so. I intend to do this for seven more days (including today) until Yule. I had vaguely planned it to be my creative contribution to the holiday season… because the original plan had been to publish a poem a day.

I had a pile of poems I’d written in October and the first half of November, so those alone gave me almost two weeks’ worth of posts. Then I wrote some more poems in December, until all my scheduled posts were posted and now I usually write an hour away from the deadline. Some days I have a clear idea about what I want to write. Today is definitely not one of those days. Normally I’d rather not write than write just something. I’m writing right now only because of the promise I made to myself and because I’m a competitive person by nature.

However, I’ve got to say that writing regularly has been something like an endurance training so far. At the beginning of the semester, I dreaded writing a free-style academic text in one week. I postponed it because I didn’t feel “ready”. And maybe I wasn’t. But the time eventually came during which I had to produce a text for class for the first time. It was difficult and awkward, and I wasn’t happy with the result. It went much better the second time around – I was more confident and the words came a bit easier. Today I am at my sixth assignment, and I’m not really worried about the writing part anymore. Yes, it’s going to be a bloody, tenacious battle because writing is always like that for me. But I know I can somehow fit the words together to carry my messages across, even if I have to knead and beat them until they stop falling apart.

Sometimes the words flow from me in a smooth rhythm. Other times, I have to break a pipe, and be content with the rusty metallic materials.

you never know

Sunday morning: My French sucks, and there are so many Dutch words I have to memorize! I’m going to fail the tests! (Never mind the fact that they aren’t even being graded.) And I have an essay to write and I don’t even have a thesis! *rolls onto stomach and goes back to sleep*

Sunday afternoon: I’m going to proof-read a friend’s essay instead of studying. Uh-huh, uh-huh. Ah, good point. Huh… what? *an hour later* Oh shoot, I’m going to get my dinner started *dances towards kitchen*

Sunday night: I can’t believe we have to present a French newspaper as a part of the final exam. A frigging newspaper when I can’t even read a children’s book?! What is this?! *sits down at desk* *gets up and starts pacing* *reads a book instead*

Sunday at midnight: Okay, okay, fine, I’ll start revising the French grammar we have to know for the test. Uh-huh, I knew that. Okay, that’s an easy one. Well, duh. Wait, that’s all? Huh. Maybe I should get started on the vocab as well. Yep, yep, lots of reflexive verbs… all those lovey-dovey idioms, got it. I’m done! *goes to bed with a strange expression*

Monday morning: *sits up blearily* It’s already eight? Damn, and I thought I’d do my Dutch homework… now, how do I describe a traditional Korean house with all its trimmings in Dutch?

Monday morning, ten minutes before leaving for university: *fires up laptop* Dikke Van Dale… Here we go! Wait, Acker is really akker? And Mauer is muur? Das Jahr is het jaar? Man, I love Dutch. I really do. Now, I have no idea if the word groetkaart really exists… probably not. But that’s what the teacher is there for.

Monday morning, in French class: This isn’t so bad. I actually understand most things, even if I can’t express my thoughts in French.

Monday midday, in Dutch class: This isn’t so bad. I actually understand 95 % of what is said in the classroom, and I can even express my thoughts in Dutch.

Monday afternoon: *leaves university slightly bewildered*

chickpeas and other musings

Chickpeas. Rinse and drain them.

Tomorrow – the first day of the last week of university in 2015. It’s past six in the evening on Sunday, the day before the first day of the last week of university. I am sitting with a mug of hot water, mixed with lemon juice and two teaspoons of honey. The sun has set a long time ago. It’s only a week away from Yule. My kitchen is a mess, and I’m writing a Dutch test on Wednesday, a French test on Thursday, and an essay is due on Friday.

Chop an onion and fry it in olive oil.

I wrote a lot for school in the past couple of weeks. If you count the words, they are only about 5000 or so, but I put my soul into my writings. They weren’t just assignments, they were also my creations. Filling the white pages with one word after another, carefully chosen and discarded.

Add a sliced tomato. After a few minutes, add one minced garlic and half a teaspoon of smoked pepper (ground) as well.

I’m tired, but not the miserable kind. It’s the warm, fuzzy, sleepy kind after a workout.

Stir in spaghettinis broken in 5 cm lengths. Add 150 ml water, the chickpeas, and some white wine if you have any.

I was lonely, so I tried to fit people into my hole of loneliness. It made me miserable, so I stopped.

Salt and pepper. Wait until the noodles are tender.

I am taking some time for myself again. I sleep in, I cook, I go out with friends, I read. And I write. A lot. For myself. I’m planning my own small Yule celebration, and I finally understand why people get excited about Christmas. My parents are probably exhausted, my sister feels trapped and miserable, and I have my winter blues.

Sprinkle chopped basil or any other herb that you’d like.

I don’t want to burn out. I care about what other people think of me and my writings, but I am more than their thoughts. Sometimes, I have to abandon everything and just follow my inner music. Things are fantastic when I follow my inner music. I am not hungry, and I am warm. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but today I am happy.

Chickpeas. They are left over.

 

*The recipe isn’t mine. I just modified it a bit. It’s from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, edited and assembled by America’s Test Kitchen. It’s a good cookbook if you are willing to be a bit elaborate.

non-choice and choice

Flower names, fruits, vegetables, colors.
Family members, buildings, holidays.
Computer keyboards, sweets, lullabies.
Clothing items, special dishes, TV stations.
Cartoon characters, children’s books, playground games.
Your childhood’s language.

Chemical formula, triangles, grammar rules.
Darwin’s theories, musical notes, basic economics.
Political parties, 20th century history, paintings.
Pop songs’ lyrics, texting, TV shows, bestsellers.
Your high school’s language.

Abstraktionsprinzip, conditio sine qua non, Subsidiarität.
Cranberry morpheme, tetrameter, typology, hartstikke goed.
Intersectionality,  vulnerability, interconnectedness, nonconcordance.
Your profession’s, your interests’ language.

Love. Friendship. Relationship.
Your emotion’s language.

Letters, poems, confessions, apologies.
Your heart’s language.

When did you choose?