Category Archives: Musings

Year in Review: 2013

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr / Guten Rutsch! З Новим Роком!

2013 was a year full of changes and new experiences for me, like moving to a new country/city, getting an English teaching certificate, and starting an MA program (back to university after three years out). My German improved — and my Ukrainian waned. I also joined an amazing running club in my area of London and was able to spend much of the summer at home in the States with my family and F. Overall, 2013 was a really good year. Here are some more fun statistics summing up the year:

2013 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 155
  • books read: 19 for fun, plus >30 for my MA (including some short stories/poetry/essays)
  • visitors hosted in London: ~19
  • miles run: 931.89 (76.71 miles less than in 2012, but I cycled and swam more in 2013 so overall probably racked up more mileage)
  • qualifications received: 1 Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
  • countries been in: England, Belgium, Germany, USA
  • memories made: too many to count

Are you satisfied with your 2013?

Looking back, I am satisfied to have achieved most of my intentions for 2013: learning my way around London, living frugally, cycle-commuting, “me” time, exercise time, healthy eating, starting an MA program, and staying in touch with people . I didn’t take advantage of as many free/inexpensive opportunities as I could have, but we did visit quite a few of London’s free museums and markets with visitors.

Here is my non-exhaustive list of intentions for 2014, in no particular order:

  • Successfully complete my MA degree
  • Expand my skill set in teaching/tutoring, writing, and editing work
  • Keep improving my German
  • Stay healthy and fit:
    • Run a half marathon or two and take part in as many running club events as I can
    • Get more comfortable with road cycling by riding or spinning consistently
  • Keep exploring London via free/inexpensive activities
  • Get a job and work visa after my MA so I can stay in London
  • Stay in better touch with friends/family in all parts of the world (make better use of Skype, WhatsApp, etc.)

What are your intentions for 2014?

Unrest in Ukraine

The protests started when Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s president, announced at the last minute that he wouldn’t sign an association agreement with the EU. There had been build-up to the Vilnius summit for months, and things looked positive for Ukraine’s signing the agreement, which would have granted Ukraine free trade with the EU and done other good political things — until Yanukovych abruptly backpedaled. He claimed that pressure from Russia (i.e., Putin) was too strong and he was afraid that signing the agreement would piss Putin off. Yet as I see it, Ukraine would benefit much more from free trade with the EU, and from the agreement’s implication of moving Ukraine closer toward integration with western Europe.

Apparently many Ukrainians shared my thoughts, because they took to the streets in Kyiv and around the country to protest Yanukovych’s backing down from signing the agreement. At the end of last week, the peaceful protests turned violent when riot police showed up in the middle of the night and started beating protestors. That only made people come out in greater numbers. More than ten days later, the protests are still going on; hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are out in the streets. Protests are still going on in Ukraine and elsewhere — even London.

Media is playing a big role in aiding the protests; tons of stuff is being blasted out via Facebook and online news platforms. The main marker being used for the protest movement is Євромайдан (“Euromaidan”), to represent people gathering in “maidans,” or squares — most largely in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) — to protest in favor of moving closer to Europe.

It’s thrilling to watch the Ukrainian people fight so hard for democracy and freedom that being associated more closely with the EU would represent. Part of me wishes I were there to join in — living and working in western Ukraine for two years during my Peace Corps service definitely turned me into a big supporter of the country and its people. Sniatyn even had their own pro-EU gathering a couple of days ago, which I would’ve loved to attend. I am rooting so hard for the Ukrainians, following the news closely, and hoping that things turn out well.

That’s a very basic summary, but there is a lot of history behind the current movement — most notably the 2004 Orange Revolution, but also going further back to Soviet and pre-Soviet times. If you want to read more about what’s been going on and why, check out some of the articles below; I’ve tried to pull out the most interesting bits, but many of them are worth reading in full.

  • For some backgroundThe New York Times ran a clear, succinct opinion piece near the beginning of the protests, called “Ukraine on the Brink.” I recommend reading that first to understand where all of this comes from in Ukraine’s history. Business Insider‘s “Why 1 Million Ukrainians are Protesting” also gives a relatively non-biased overview, complete with media, of the protests and the history behind them. Forbes published another great overview, “Why Ukraine Matters” (for a lot of reasons!), in neat sections.
  • “Ukraine’s Battle for Europe” focuses on the younger generation of Ukrainians leading the protests and how mass media has aided the movement. The writer of the piece, Oleh Kotsyuba, puts it well:

The protesters have at times called for resignations, impeachments and new elections. But what’s most striking is their association of Europe with a set of values that results in absence of corruption, a strong social safety net, an inclusive health-care system, fair wages, a stable currency and a responsible government that delivers reliable services and treats citizens with respect. For them, these were even more valuable than the tangible benefits of joining the E.U., like the right to work in other European countries and the prospect of big European investments in Ukraine.

What the European Union and other Western nations can do is to start looking into ways to make an “association agreement” with Ukraine less threatening to Russia. It’s worth exploring, for instance, whether Russia itself could be brought more closely into the European fold. Another possibility is to see how freer trade with Europe could be made compatible with Ukraine’s eastern trade ties. Once Ukraine is ready to start looking around, it should not again have to face a brutal either-or choice that Mr. Putin seems determined to impose.

Six months ago, a dozen Ukrainians would have been unlikely to rally for the pro-EU agreement. What changed? Certainly, Friday’s crackdown provided a spark.

For that, Yanukovich may have no one to blame but himself. The president’s own propaganda machine spent months touting the benefits of the EU agreement, raising the hopes of millions of Ukrainians who want to see their country as part of a European, not Russian, frontier. Whether Yanukovich intended to sign the accords or was negotiating with Putin all along is irrelevant now. Dashing the hopes of millions of people is a dangerous game.

[…] When fear of a strongman begins to melt, so does his power. Seeing hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Kiev may have emboldened members of the country’s elite to begin to move against the president. Ukraine’s rapacious [oligarchs] may—for the first time—have found common ground with their increasingly impoverished compatriots in getting rid of a tyrant.

  • Here’s an interesting angle: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s Kyiv Patriarchate, traditionally tied quite closely to the government, is actually supporting the pro-EU protestors. Read about it in “Kiev Protestors See Potent Ally Under a Spire.”
  • Masha Gessen, one of my favorite opinion writers for The New York Times who also happens to be Russian, wrote “A Whiter Shade of Envy” about how the Russian intelligentsia are amazed at — and admire — what the Ukrainians are doing and (hopefully) accomplishing. Gessen’s essays are always worth reading.
  • In “Amid Unrest, Ukrainian President Defends Choice on Accords,” you can read about the lame excuses (lies?) that Yanukovych made up about why he didn’t sign the EU association agreement.
  • “Crackdown in Kiev: Battle for Ukraine” in The Economist focuses on the violence that broke out last weekend, initiated by special riot police at the cowardly hours of early morning.
  • For fear of seeming totally biased in favor of Ukraine (which I am, but still), there was an op-ed published this week in the New York Times taking a more pro-Russia — or at least anti-EU — stance in terms of Ukraine’s position. The author or “How the E.U. Pushed Ukraine East” does make some interesting points about how Russia isn’t totally to blame in Yanukovych’s failure to sign the EU association agreement. Worth a read, if you’re interested in another perspective. Though I don’t agree with all of it, I do see the value of the claim that “Instead of adopting a strategy that would have allowed Ukraine to capitalize on its close cultural, religious and economic ties with Russia, and which could have also served to build deeper ties between Western Europe and Russia, from the outset European negotiators went out of their way to turn Union association into a loyalty test.” 

Things are happening fast and there are tons of news updates every day — way too many for me to follow them all, but I’m trying to stay as up-to-date as I can. Hopefully my overview will give you a better sense of what’s happening and spark your interest to pay more attention to Ukraine, now and in the future.

Living London, Writing London

In mid-October The New York Times published a piece called “Lessons from Living in London,” written by Sarah Lyell, who spent a number of years living in London as a correspondent for the paper. Coincidentally, that same week my MA course‘s “Contexts” seminar covered Henry James’ travel essays on New York (from The American Sceneand London (from English Hours).  James’ “London” is a brilliant little travel piece; though it was written 125 years ago (!), many of James’ points about the city are still relevant today. In the following, I attempt to bring together Lyell’s and James’ essays with my own observations on living in London — though I’ve been here less than a year, I can already relate to a lot. 

One of the first things I noticed after moving to London was how the city seems to be made up of little pockets and neighborhoods that trick you into thinking you’re not living in a city of 8 million. But when you have to go somewhere, you realize how huge it is. Lyell puts it well:

Residents tend to feel more connected to their neighborhoods than to London as a whole, and because it can be an undertaking to travel to another part of town for a social occasion, geography starts to feel like destiny.

This is so true. Our little area of North London feels very neighborhood-y, and everything we need is within a 1.5-mile radius. It would be easy never to venture further afield (a-city?), and indeed it is “an undertaking” if we decide to go somewhere outside of our familiar neighborhood bubble. We have to plan ahead and take travel time and mode — Tube, bus, bike — into account. How late I’ll be coming home determines if I’ll cycle or take public transport. Whether or not I’ll even go depends on how long it would take to get there and back related to how much time I’d be spending at my destination. I never had to think about these things before, in the States or in Ukraine, where everything was within walking or driving distance.

In a similar vein, Lyell and James both touch on a fascinating result of living in London (and in many other big cities, I imagine). James classifies London as “democratic,” by which he means “You may be in it, of course, without being of it…” (16*). Lyell must have read James’ essay, because she essentially paraphrases him when she says “Londoners wear their urban identities…lightly, living in the city but not necessarily of it.” She goes on to note that “In London, people keep themselves to themselves, as the expression goes, and this can feel either liberating or lonely.” I’ve chatted about this phenomenon with a few people recently: how it can be freeing to remain in your head as you move through such a big city, but how it can also be lonely never to smile at or strike up a conversation with any other people. The latter seems to be largely a London (or European city) thing; I’ve been told that in northern England people are very friendly and often chat with strangers. In the States, too, it’s pretty likely that people will at least smile at each other after inadvertently making eye contact.

Of course — I bet you thought I’d never get to it — we can’t talk about London without mentioning the weather; Lyell and James both know this. Lyell approaches London’s weather with a sense of practicality and as the last word in her essay: “Finally, when you leave the house, dress in layers so that you can add and subtract items according to the vicissitudes of the weather.” Layers are definitely key here. The weather is changeable; you may head to work under a clear blue sky, but it isn’t unlikely you’ll be going home in a rain shower. I almost always throw in a rain shell when I cycle to university, just in case. James also notes the weather, most memorably near the beginning of the essay when he writes about “the low, magnificent medium of the sky” and how the weather causes a “strangely undefined hour of the day and season of the year […] the red gleams and blurs that may or may not be of sunset” (7). James hits it on the nose here — the sky often darkens in the afternoon, and I wonder if it’s already evening until I look at my watch and realize it’s still early the middle of the day. Or the low clouds will hang in the sky all day, giving everything a dull grayness which makes it hard to tell how early or late it is.

A cultural quirk that Lyell (and any other foreigners who have lived in London) points out is that “there are as many meanings for the word “sorry” as there are hours in the day.” As far as I understand, “sorry” can mean “excuse me,” “I apologize [for bumping into you],” “What?”, and “Sorry for interrupting.” I’m sure there are plenty of subtler meanings that I haven’t yet picked up on. James seems to take a jab at this tendency when he writes, “It is doubtless a single proof of being a London-lover…that one should undertake an apology for so bungled an attempt at a great public place as Hyde Park Corner” (12). I chuckled at that — I guess “sorry” has been in the mix for quite a while!

There is a lot in the James essay that I would love to delve further into. In my MA course’s seminar on James’ travel writing from London and New York, our professor (we’ll call him PH) noted how the London essay is (was) a new kind of travel writing, a combination of travel essay, memoir, and meditation on the meaning of London. PH also touched on how James’ characterization of London is as an “urban sublime”: it exceeds limitations and expectations, and there’s some kind of ambivalence between the city’s cruelty — “the mighty ogress who devours human flesh” (15) in this “hideous, vicious, cruel” city (4) — and its charm, beauty, and “immeasurable” or “infinite” qualities (18, 20).

I also love the last sentence of James’ “London” essay, which basically disregards the previous 30 pages he’s written:

...out of [London’s] richness and its inexhaustible good humour it belies the next hour any generalisation you may have been so simple as to make about it. (29)

That pretty much sums it up!


Do you or have you ever lived in London or somewhere else as an ex-pat (or native)? I invite you to contribute to the dialogue by leaving a comment below with your own experiences. It would be great to get a conversation going. In fact, my good friend Sam also read these two pieces and was also inspired to write about them, since he’s lived in London and just moved to New York City. Look out for a guest post from him soon!


*page numbers from: Henry James, English Hours (1905), London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2011.

London Running Culture

Since joining a running club in April, I’ve noticed quite a few things about the running culture here in London and how it differs from American running culture as I know it.

1) Clubs. It seems like most semi-serious runners here in London join at least one club, if not two, in order to do group workouts, represent the club in competitions, and just be part of a team/fit community. The clubs are highly organized, and the running club culture means that there are sub-groups actively competing in adult cross-country and track leagues in addition to your standard road races. This is in contrast to the States — and when I say the States I’m largely speaking from my knowledge of the running culture in Rochester, NY; it could be different in other cities — where there are many free training runs offered by shops, so one doesn’t have to pay to join a club. That said, the more elite runners do join clubs to wear the team singlet at races. But most recreational runners just head to free group runs, which in London seem to be few and far between.

I personally love being part of a club here. It has been wonderful to feel like I’m part of a running community. The annual fees for my club are low enough that I don’t feel obligated to attend every single workout in order to get the most out of my investment. The group workouts are awesome, though, and make being part of the club worth it, both for the workouts themselves and the other club members I’ve met. All members are encouraged to race and join in the track and cross-country leagues, but there is no obligation. I feel proud to wear my Heathside vest (singlet) during a race.

2) Hand Timing. It seems archaic, but I ran a 10k a couple weeks ago that was hand-timed. Pretty much every race I’ve run in the States in recent years has been chip-timed. That said, I’ve also run UK races that have been chip-timed, but it’s something small that I noticed.

3) PR/PB. In the US, I grew up saying “PR” — “Personal Record” — for when I ran a personal fastest time. In the UK, I more frequently hear “PB” — “Personal Best.” Not a big difference, as both terms mean the same thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Have you experienced running culture in the UK, US, or somewhere else? Tell us about it by commenting below!


John Legend, “Love in the Future”

Confession: I have a weak spot for R&B, especially sung by a man with a smooth, sexy voice.

John Legend certainly fits that bill. I used to listen to a lot of his music but hadn’t heard his most recent albums.

Until I read this article from Die Zeit; it’s a review of Legend’s newest album, “Love in the Future,” and it gushed enough that I immediately started listening to the album on Spotify.

It’s been hard to turn it off. I fell even more in love when I heard the song “All of Me.” Then I found the video of John Legend singing said song Live on Letterman. Just wow. Watch it yourself and see if you don’t melt:

Yes, Legend has a super sexy voice and isn’t bad looking. But he is also an actual musician — you can’t say that about every artist these days — who plays the piano in addition to singing (Legend’s closest female equivalent would probably be Alicia Keys, who I also admire). Sure, as the Die Zeit review points out, Legend still employs plenty of electronics/computer-generated effects in his tunes, but he has a nice balance of electro-R&B and piano ballads.

On that more electronic side, “Made to Love” is a catchy, futuristic, yet still romantic song (albeit the video is a bit strange):

Conclusion: while R&B can be cheesy and unimaginative, and in recent years has leaned more toward the sounds of pop, John Legend still keeps it real with his genuine musicianship and originality.

What’s your take on R&B?


Quarter Century Birthday Wisdom

Yes, that’s right — today I turn 25. A quarter century! I certainly don’t feel that old.

I spent my previous two birthdays in Ukraine. Two years ago I was actually working at a camp run by a fellow PCV — my “team” gave me a lovely framed picture as a gift, and I believe flowers and cake were also involved. Last year I was at site in Sniatyn and remember having a delicious-as-always pizza lunch at Kapryz with Janira and Natalia; other Natalia gave me a leather wallet from her shop that I’d been eyeing and Ilona gave me a ring/earring/necklace set; it was a Wednesday, so there was English club and my adults gave me some really nice gifts, flowers, and well-wishes.

This year’s birthday finds me in Münster, Germany, where F studied. We’re visiting friends here and, because F’s dad shares my birthday, we’ll go to his parents’ tomorrow for weekend celebrations.

But this post is not to tell you about how I celebrate my birthday; rather, it’s to reflect a bit on the past year and share the traditional birthday wisdom, as I did last year.

this is the most recent photo I have (taken by Anthony) of myself

this is the most recent photo I have of myself (taken by Anthony)

The past year has been one of great changes: I finished my Peace Corps service, having to say goodbye to two years’ worth of accumulated friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and places (not to mention stuff); I moved home to my parents’ for a couple of months, then uprooted again to move to London. Since my last birthday I’ve run one half marathon, a 10k, and a bunch of 5ks (including a PR/PB) — now I’m “aging up” in road racing (darn!), so the competition gets stiffer. I also returned to formal education, earning a CELTA and being accepted to an MA program at University College London beginning this September.

My 25th year has seen lots of new, exciting, and different things. There have been lots of adjustments and adaptations to make. So with that in mind, my birthday wisdom for this year is as follows:

Give yourself time to adapt to change. Don’t be too hard on yourself or expect yourself to immediately feel at home in a new environment or living/working situation. Focus on one thing at a time, living in the moment and addressing each new thing as it arises, and adjustment will eventually come.

I wish you all another year of change and adaptation.

Musings: On Travel & Living Abroad

I last posted a travel-related musing more than two and a half years ago (though, arguably, all my posts during Peace Corps service were travel-related), less than a month before I headed off to Ukraine. That post centered on an Albert Camus quote about fear and travel and how travel takes us back to ourselves. I still agree with that, though after more than two years living in Ukraine and four months living in London (with more to come) I have more perspective on travel and living abroad. On that note, here are some things that recently resonated with me:

My friend Liv posted the following quote on her blog last week:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you- it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
-Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Ukraine and particularly Sniatyn, the town in which I lived and taught English for two years. Maybe because spring is arriving and I loved spring in Sniatyn, when the sun begins to have warmth again, the days get longer, trees gain leaves and flowers come out, and people start digging in their gardens and fields. Maybe also because I’ve been away long enough — almost 5 months — to appreciate how nice a life I had there. That feeling is sometimes magnified by living in a place — London — that is almost the polar opposite of Sniatyn in terms of size, culture, and way of life.

Not that I don’t like living in London; on the contrary, there’s no place I’d rather be, especially since living here means living with F. But the contrast can be stark at times. This is where Bourdain’s above quote comes in. Travel, which I expand to include living abroad, is not always comfortable and sometimes it does hurt. But, like Bourdain says, “that’s okay.” Because most importantly, living abroad really does get under your skin to change you; Sniatyn has certainly left “marks on [my] memory” and “on [my] heart”; the people, the places, my school, daily life… I took so much with me from my experiences in Ukraine and I hope that I left “something good behind.” The same goes for now living in London. Sometimes it’s tough to live in such a big city; it’s interesting how isolating it can feel. But we are changing and adapting with the journey — adventure — of living here and I’m sure London will leave its marks, like Ukraine has.


Another quote that struck a chord with me recently is this:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
-Mark Twain

Gosh that is so true. When living abroad seems hard, all I have to do is think about how much I am gaining in terms of worldview, tolerance, open-mindedness, and more. So whether you travel the world or only have the time and resources to travel to the nearest big city, do it. You’ll be surprised at — if you are open to it — how much your perspective and worldview can grow and expand with just one trip.


Musings, both literary and non

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who has sent me mail! I’ve received some wonderful holiday cards, and even some packages. Keep ’em coming! (Hint, hint.) If you write to me I promise to write you back. You can find my address under the “contact info” tab at the top of the page.

It seems that the world’s weather has gone insane. Huge floods in Australia and Buenos Aires, snow in 49/50 U.S. states… And here, in Ukraine, it’s been above freezing for almost a week, with warm temperatures (35F+) predicted through the weekend. Maybe the world really will end in December 2012…?

I just finished reading Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Published in 1920 (won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize) but set in 1870s New York City. A fascinating and detailed look at NYC society’s rules — spoken and unspoken — and what happens when a “foreigner” appears and disrupts or disregards some of those rules. I could say a lot more about it, but I’ll spare you my literary analysis — email me if you want to chat about it. Now I’m returning to my British literature roots — and possible first authorial love — with Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. I’ve never read it, but I vividly remember spending a week or two in 8th grade English class watching the 5-hour+ BBC miniseries of it (thank you, Mrs. Willard!).

I’m sure some of you followed last week’s debate about the new, censored version of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn that was just published. I was incensed about it, and wrote my own response — with support from various New York Times articles — that I posted in a note on Facebook (unfortunately you have to have a Facebook account to read it, but if you don’t and you’d like me to email it to you I’d be more than happy).

Lastly, I’d like to plug a new website “committed to an earnest, expansive, and rigorous discussion of literature and literary culture.” It’s called Full Stop and it was started by none other than a group of Oberlin grads! (My good friend Amanda also happens to be the Associate Editor.) Articles, interviews, and more are appearing every day, written by even more Oberlin grads. I hope you check it out, because I sure love it.

Censorship isn’t the answer — my thoughts

This post has nothing to do with the Peace Corps, but rather is a set of musings on censored literature.

Some of you may be aware of the new censored version of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn which has just been published — in it, “slave” replaces the 200+ appearances of the word “nigger,” and the word “injun” is replaced with “Indian.” This edition has been published by NewSouth Books with Professor Alan Gribben (Auburn U. @ Montgomery) behind the word changes. According to a New York Times write-up, Gribben “proposed the idea to the publisher because he believes the pervasive use of that word makes it harder for students to read or absorb the book. In an introduction to the new edition, he wrote, ‘even at the level of college and graduate school, students are capable of resenting textual encounters with this racial appellative.'”

But shouldn’t students in college and graduate school be able to separate Twain’s use of this “racial appellative” with its use today? Given its extensive usage in Huck Finn, clearly Twain used the n-word for a certain purpose: perhaps illumination of character, perhaps to give the reader a vivid picture of the time and place. Readers should know what they’re getting into when they pick up a classic piece of literature — not every author or literary era was as prudish or politically correct as today’s (American) society. Look at Shakespeare or the 18th century — sex, bodily fluids, coarse language, and even racism are rampant in those works. Yes, I wouldn’t be comfortable using the n-word in daily speech or writing. But if I read Huck Finn in an English class I would expect to use the word if necessary, and I would expect my professor to address the word’s usage and its connotations then and now.

In The New York Times“Room for Debate,” various authors and professors discuss the censored edition of Huck Finn:

Jill Nelson argues that “There are vast differences between calling a character ‘nigger’ and calling them ‘slave.’ They are not interchangeable. Writers choose their words thoughtfully. Our words create, color, layer and texture and contextalize the stories we tell.” Exactly — if Twain had used “slave” instead, the story and characters would represent totally different morals, textures, and ideas.

Gish Jen makes another good point: “We all wish our literature were less riddled with racism, not to say anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and other less than noble manifestations of the human spirit. In the end, though, it is up to the reader to bring context to the page. The reader’s failure is not remedied by changes to the text; it is remedied by education and its happy result, perspective.” Change all the offensive texts in the world? How about we rather use the texts to try and change the views of the people?

This from Mark Bauerlein: “Political correctness is bad tutelage, validating thin skins and selective inquiries. The more students read sanitized materials in high school, the more they enter college inclined to dispel things they don’t want to hear.” And this from David Matthews: “These books — and others like them — should not be retrofitted to make modern readers comfortable. Modern readers are already too comfortable. Lazy, even. If the word ‘nigger’ keeps one from reading Huck Finn, then one lacks the critical skills to appreciate all the book has to offer.” Books should challenge us to read between the lines, should challenge us to ask questions about language usage, should challenge us to re-frame our views of history and today in the context of what we read.

Timothy Jay represents a similar view: “Cleaning up literature is never a solution. We should inform children and prepare them to make their own decisions about information. Uncomfortable topics like sexuality, racism, harassment and prejudice need to be confronted rather than tucked away.” Michiko Kakutani, in another NYT response, further supports my point: “To censor or redact books on school reading lists is a form of denial: shutting the door on harsh historical realities — whitewashing them or pretending they do not exist.” (Clever use of “whitewashing” in a discussion of Twain.)

Is it better to avoid than to educate? I don’t think so. Think about sex-ed, for example. By not educating people about birth control and STDs, there is no chance that unplanned pregnancies and STD transmission will not happen. If we tell people their options, they can make an informed decision about protecting themselves and those they love. The same with literature: if we expunge offensive words, what are we doing but telling people it’s okay to avoid or deny the existence of difficult information? Those are the conversations we should be having, both on a personal level and an international one.

Stephen Colbert put his own satiric spin on it (watch the clip here). Colbert asks, why stop at censoring those two words? He says, “Who knows what other words it contains…that someday might be offensive? Like the title Huck Finn. That could eventually refer to the deeply offensive pastime of seeing who can throw a Finnish person the farthest.” HA.

I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this.

Notes on food

Yes, I know, another post about food, you’re thinking. Is this girl obsessed with eating? Well, no, but I do love to eat and cook and enjoy delicious cuisine. Like the rest of you, no doubt. And to be fair, I don’t think I’ve written about food since the fall, so I believe another set of musings is due.

On that note.

Here at my site, I am thoroughly enjoying cooking for myself. I do miss my host mom’s delicious borshch and пиришки and каша з гарбусом (delicious rice cooked in milk & baked w/ squash/egg/sugar). But it’s nice to be able to control my fat and meat intake after three months of lots of oil and red meat.

I’m still establishing my food shopping route/routine, but so far this is what I do: I buy vegetables, fruit, beans, eggs, milk, and home-cheese (домашний сир, so tasty) at the bazaar in town that bustles with shoppers every morning but Sunday. For water, oatmeal, hard cheese, chicken, bread, and other packaged products I shop at the “gastronomia” (гастрономія) and other specialty shops. It’s fun to stroll through town and go into different shops depending on what I want/need to buy. And talking to the salespeople is good Ukrainian practice.

Even though it’s winter, such vegetables as carrots, beets, onions, and cabbage are still very much available. So I’m experimenting with different ways to prepare these tasty winter vegetables. Little mandarin oranges (мандарини) are also in abundance and cheap to buy.

So life stays tasty (смачний), as it should be. I hope yours is the same. Happy holidays!



Musings on Traveling

I had a small freak-out yesterday, along the lines of “oh-my-goodness-I-am-leaving-the-country-for-more-than-two-years-what-was-I-thinking?! I’m not ready for this!” But who ever is ready for what may be the adventure of a lifetime? All I can do is have an open mind and heart and plunge right in. Two things helped me reverse my freak-out mode this morning: (1) My friend Christina has been in Indonesia for less than a week — she’s starting a Fulbright ETA year — and is already blogging about all her amazing adventures. (2) My friend Ryan has been in Fiji all summer and recorded an inspiring set of reflections on his blog, about “do” versus “doing.” Here’s an excerpt from his entry:

My involvement in these projects has largely been the byproduct of my insatiable desire of DOING, which is an activity that will help me find something to DO.  With each passing experience, I am getting closer and closer to devoting my entire life to a cause,  be it education, sustainability, or solving large social inequities – or all three.   To move forward is to rely on faith and a dash of fear.  So fill up my cup, and here I go. (Ryan King, “Reflections – Part 1,” Sometimes Sun, Sometimes Rain)

Thank you, Ryan, for those wise words — my 27 months in the Peace Corps will be a lot of doing, in part to help me discover what I want to do. Ryan also posted this quotation at the bottom of that same entry, which put my fears in perspective (and even made me realize that my fears and anxieties may, in fact, be what make my embarkation and service more valuable): 

“What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from [home], we are seized by an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits. At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being. This is why we should not say we travel for pleasure…Pleasure takes us away from ourselves — Travel, which is like a greater and graver science, brings us back to ourselves.” (Albert Camus)

Camus’ statement really resonated with me, and maybe it does with any of you travelers out there. I try to remember my 8-day trip to Kenya (Jan 2009) and tell myself that I will have many similar feelings in Ukraine, though the time period will be longer.

There may be days when we sleep on little more than a mattress in a town with no electricity or running water:

But there will also be plenty of beautiful sunrises and sunsets:

Though I haven’t left my comfortable home yet, I begin to be more and more excited about what my fears may reveal about others and about myself. 

[23 days until Staging!]