Ok life, go and mess up my perfect plans. If anyone's wondering why I'm up after 4 am, that would be the reason. Let me preface:

After much debate and agony I had at last settled on a plan for the next 1-2 years of my life. I was (assuming that I got accepted) going to go to California and learn to be a translator/interpreter. I would finally conquer Russian and live happily ever after. End of story.

I've spent the last week scrambling around getting transcripts sent, arranging recommendations, and filling out applications, only to be hit with last-minute doubts. As it turns out, these doubts were not unfounded. I was under the impression that the Monterey Language Institute, being an affiliate of what is in my opinion the best undergraduate language school, would have upper-level Russian as a component of the translation/interpretation program. Wrong. You're supposed to go into the program already having native or near-native fluency in your target language, and the program isn't designed to necessarily improve your language skills. Tough break! Can't someone just lock me away in the Defense Language Institute for a year and then set me free without having to join the military?

I know that a lot of people would argue with me and say that my language level is high enough already, and perhaps (ok, undoubtedly) I'm overcritical of myself when it comes to my Russian, but the truth is that I'm not quite ready to jump into translating without any support. I'd need at least another year or two in country focusing on the language before I could do something like that. I'm pretty good at Russian, and I certainly know enough to get by and talk to people (and even read Anna Karenina), but if someone were to throw me into the middle of a political debate or hand me a legal document I'd probably be a pretty lousy translator. 

So...new plan.

This summer has already been dedicated to travel with Kendra. It's unfortunate that gas prices are rising steadily right as I'm planning to drive up the West Coast and up to Alaska (and back..but through the more boring states), but so it goes. I expect that in the long run prices will just continue to rise, and this may be one of the only times that I'm in a position to take such an extended joy ride.

However, when I'm not doing that I need to apply more seriously to grad schools. I let myself take it easy while I was in Russia because I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, but I'm starting to have some idea now. It's too late to make it into the fall semester anywhere, but there's still some hope for the spring. A lot of the programs that I'd be interested in don't allow you to start in the spring though, so I may have to delay things until next year. I don't really like that idea, but it's my own fault. I guess I mostly just don't like the idea of being 2 years older than everyone else (I'd be 24 by the time I started! Practically senile!). It would also really feel like taking a step backwards...but, if the program was good and the school was somewhere that I really wanted to go, then it would be better to wait a few more months and start late than to dedicate multiple years to a program that I was only half-heartedly enthusiastic about.

If I had to wait a year though, then what would I do with my time? I can't allow myself to simply stay home on the couch and wait it out. My main goal in life at the moment is to get my Russian to an incredibly high level, so the logical answer would be to go back to Russia. But....since I've just spent a year in Russia and need a little time to recuperate, I think maybe just half a year in Russia would do it. This part of the plan is still fuzzy, but what I would probably do would be to find a study abroad program for the spring semester and just take as many Russian classes as possible and do an internship and anything else that I can as a sort of last hurrah for Russian so that I can спокойно move on to another subject. Believe it or not I do have other interests besides Russian..I'm just incredible one-tracked and a perfectionist sometimes, and I won't be happy until I can convince myself that I'm fluent in Russian.

Until that point...well, I'm not sure. I guess that I have a lot of things that I'd like to improve. I have a lot of books that I want to read, a lot of American food that I want to eat, I wouldn't mind finding a community orchestra to join or taking violin lessons, and perhaps there'd be the possibility of some light translating work. I also wouldn't mind starting another language. Maybe I'd even dabble in a "real job." Or, most likely, at the last minute I'd find something interesting to do and run away to another state or country for a while.

Sigh. I did like my old plan though.

Oh well. In other news I read Lolita the other day. I've been avoiding this book for a while because I thought that it was going to be pretty disturbing. It was, but only for the first 10 chapters or so. For being a book about a pedophile, I actually liked it quite a bit. Nabokov can get rather wordy, and sometimes it was obnoxious, but overall the style worked for him. The plot was also more complex than I had expected. I guess that there's a reason that Lolita always shows up on the "Most Important Books" lists. I did end up having a dream about going on a long road trip with an older man after finishing, but luckily I was not 12, and neither of us tried to seduce the other.

Next up on my list of books to read are: Peeling the Onion (Gunter Grass) and A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemmingway). A library that I've recently started going to is now providing for all of my classic literature needs.

I drew this because this is how I felt after a presentation that I gave to teachers today.

Those are my superstar glasses.

I just woke up from some crazy dreams. I have to write them down before I forget. I'm not sure how many dreams I had last night (I remember at least 3 distinct dreams), but they were all incredibly vivid. I usually have pretty in-depth dreams, but these just had really extreme details. The last one made me so tired that I felt like I needed a nap when I woke up.

In one dream segment I was walking through a fair in Russia. They were reading papers that children had written, and I realized that I understood everything perfectly..even the mistakes. Then I realized that they were in English. I thought that it was strange that someone would have gone through the effort to translate a children's essay, but then I noticed that I understood everything everywhere. Everything was in English...but they were speaking other languages. That's when I realized that something was translating my life.

In the last dream I was walking with a friend of mine. We'd heard that there were some fires, and we wanted to go see if it was true or not. As we walk down the road, we see that a building is on fire, but it's still small. My friend runs into the building to try to get people's attention, while I start screaming "Пожар!" as loud as I can. The neighboring building is also on fire, so after screaming hysterically I decide to see if the buildings beyond that are on fire too. The next building is a church, and it's on fire. I open the door and yell "Пожар!!" After a little while a group of teenage girls come running out in cheerleading outfits (from a sign I can see that they have a practice room in the basement). I ask them in Russian if anyone else is in there, and they nod. I open the door again and scream in a mix of English and Russian that people need to get out now. As the minutes go by I become more and more frantic because the fire is getting bigger. At one point 2 old women try to go inside, but I scream at them and hold them back.

Finally I see a side door, and I dash inside. In a separate room I can see a middle-aged woman in a white track suit and several teenagers rehearsing. I yell at them and tell them to get outside right now. They ignore me. Finally I resort to insults to lure the woman outside. I tell her that she is a stupid white whale and that she's fat (in English and Russian). This works, but when I get outside I'm perplexed to see that the fire is gone. I look dumbfounded, and the lady smiles and tells me about the church. It's called the Church of the Ashes and it's a miracle church. It's famous for catching on fire but not burning, although she admits that this is a rare phenomenon.

The other buildings really did burn down though.

I haven't had a dream that's made me so emotionally agitated in quite a while. Although, that's not so say that this isn't a common occurrence. I have a lot of dreams involving me trying to stop some sort of disaster and being ignored by the people that I'm trying to save. The result is that I end up getting angry and frustrated and panicked and run around everywhere trying to help. I'm sure that'd be a lovely project for some psychiatrist out there.

I read this today, and it really reminded me of 8:30 am classes:


Just replace the word "reading" with "lecture" every time you see it and you have me. One time I got cocky and planned for 6 people and only 3 came...put a serious kink in my game plans. My sentiments were also pretty similar to the author's the time that only 1 person came. He received a very individualized hour-long lecture on football (American! I refuse to start calling soccer "football". I don't care how logical it is!). Luckily I only average 1 8:30 class a week.

Today was a long, but good, day. I left the house at 8 am, and got home at about 9:45 pm. My first class had a strong turnout of 6 people (almost the whole class!), and we talked a fair amount about technology..particularly cell phones. I tried to subliminally (or blatantly) implant the message in their heads that cell phone addiction is bad, and that they shouldn't use them in class. I don't think that the idea took, but one can dream.

My second class was supposed to be about US history. It's a perfectly fine subject, but I'll admit that I was dreading it a little. I made this presentation last semester, and I've used it a fair amount of times since then, so I find that it gets a bit boring for me. Sometimes keeping people's attention for a span of 15,000 years can be a challenge. At least my masterful whiteboard illustrations seem to keep them perky most of the time. Back to the story:  the schedule said that it was in room 716, so I dutifully went to the room and waited around for a few minutes. However, no one was to be found. I suspected that something was amiss, so I decided to call the teacher. When her phone didn't work, the only thing left to do was roam the hallways and scout out the teacher's lounge. My initial hallway search failed to bring about any results, so that meant that she must be in the lounge. When I opened the door I was surprised to see all of the teachers gathered around a table filled with fruit, bread, sausage, cake, and candy. Before I could say a word I found myself seated at the table, fork and teacup in hand, facing a massive slice of cake (in reality it was 2 slices). This is a pretty common position to find oneself in when living in Russia. Whenever I made the mistake of talking too long between bites, I was immediately scolded and asked "Amanda! Why aren't you eating?!" The feast, it turns out, was in honor of students taking their finals. I've also become the hero of the department, since this week I got introduced to a middle-aged SINGLE American man who just moved to Tolyatti, and I've promised to bring him by the office.

Skipping ahead a few hours, two girls from Chat Hour invited me to go see a concert in honor of the university's 60th anniversary. They asked me last Monday, but in the span of a week I'd managed to completely forget about it, so it was a little bit of a surprise. Luckily I hadn't made any other plans though, so it wasn't a problem. It turned out to be pretty cool. It was a little long (3+ hours), and when I drank a bottle of water with lunch I hadn't had a concert in mind, so I was getting a little anxious toward the end, but luckily all emergency situations managed to be avoided. Russians are particularly fond of dancing and skits, so that was what the majority of the event was. My favorite involved a soccer team's ritual pre-game dance (based on the haka dance), but then with a reenactment of the Titanic bow scene to show their soft side (immediately followed by Jack putting Rose in a headlock to show that they're still manly). There was also a really amazing group of boys who did lots of crazy flips. Russians are incredibly athletic..it seems like even the non-athletic people still have 6-packs (girls included). This only applies to the younger generations though, once you pass middle age it's pretty much instant babushka/dedushka status. Kinda reminds me of this picture.

What followed that was a windy walk home. I suspect that a storm is coming, so it's nice to be back in my pjs out of the wind and dust.

One thing that I've noticed in Russia is how terrible most popular pop music is. I miss the days when lyrics involved  more than crude sexual references and partying. A few weeks ago I visited a school, and one girl eagerly asked me: "What kind of music do you like?? Britney Spears? Rhianna?? Lady Gaga???" She was completely shocked when I said that I couldn't stand any of them. I was surprised myself at how offended I was that she'd even suggest them. Then I had to think to myself "what DO I like?" Usually when I get asked about my favorite music, books, or movies, my mind instantly goes blank. I have favorites, but there are so many that I've liked that usually I just can't evaluate all of them instantly. Lately I've started writing a list just to make things easier on myself (since these are  questions that I get asked on a daily basis). I was going to write out my top 3 choices, but then I couldn't decide on just three...because they're all favorites, some are just a little more favorite. If you don't know what that's a reference to, go watch this now!! Then go and watch everything else that he's ever done.

So...after some agonizing decisions, here are my choices (in no particular order):
Вдох Выдох - T9
Летний Дождь - Бумбокс
Rise - Flobots
Dust in the Wind - Kansas
Remember the Name - Fort Minor
Make You Feel That Way - Blackalicious
Drive - Incubus
Paganini 5 - Edvin Marton
Hurt Feelings - Flight of the Conchords

As for books, well...that's a lot harder (and still a work in progress).

Do you know what are crazy? People. Yesterday was a rather underwhelming day as far as productivity went, so the majority of it was spent making/consuming muffins and watching BBC Human Planet episodes.

One episode really caught my attention. I remember reading about this in the news last year, so it's nothing new, but I still find it just as fascinating now as I did then. The idea that groups of people can still exist in the world who have never had any outside contact just blows my mind. I suppose as a sort of world traveler, the size of the world has seemed to shrink in my mind over the last few years; I've always found it comforting that home, if I need it, is only a flight away. However, there are still some places out there that remain unreachable. Maybe that's one reason that I like Siberia so much -- it's one of those places that you can still get lost in. I recommend this book if you'd like to read about one such example. I read it last year for a paper that I was writing, and while it didn't help me very much, I did really enjoy it.

Can you imagine what those poor people felt when the plane flew overhead? Sometimes when I'm having a hard day I like to imagine how much worse their day was. I think that it would be about the equivalent of seeing a 500ft dragon-shark-bear fly by. That would definitely make me unsettled. I hope that there's not a massive colony somewhere in the universe that we don't know about yet.

In other news, I bought my ticket home on Friday. I hadn't planned to, but during a random conversation with Kendra I decided to see what the prices were like right now. I stumbled upon a $1000 ticket to Tucson with all American companies (since I'm here on a government program, I'm required to use American companies), and pounced on it. It sounds like a lot of money, but for a 1-way ticket to a small airport on American companies it's about as good as it's going to get. It's still obnoxious that it costs about the same for a 1-way ticket as it does for round-trip (sometimes 1-way is even more expensive!). I fail to see the logic in that.

Having a ticket in hand (/inbox) really makes the end feel closer. Sometimes it just feels like I'll be here forever. Sometimes it feels like April will last forever (Seriously! I wish this month would end already. May has fun plans. I even changed my calendar to May because I couldn't look at the depressing foggy melty snow  picture anymore). I think that my wanderlust is definitely starting to kick in though. I haven't quite figured out what I'll do next, but I'm looking forward to it (ideally starting grad school sometime in the next year). I do know, however, that the summer is scheduled to be awesome.

Last night I had a really beautiful dream. I can't describe it very well (nor will I try), but it involved sitting outside in Alaska on a cold clear wintry night. In one direction I could look up past the trees and see the stars, and in the other I could faintly see the sun setting. It was incredibly peaceful. It seems like a lot of people either don't dream very much, or can't remember them, but I dream almost every night and usually remember. I like that about myself.

p.s. - I thought about it, and if I had to decide, even knowing all the details, I'd have gotten braces again.

Here's just an amusing snippet from life today:

My return from some substantial grocery shopping coincided with that of an elderly man who lives on the 4th floor. As I strain to lift my hand high enough to press the elevator button, he looks me up and down and says: "Now there's a Russian woman! A bag in each hand and one on the shoulder!" He chuckles to himself and says "That's Russia" a few times. I didn't have the heart to tell him I'm American.

What do I do here? Well, it's sort of a strange mix, but luckily one of my students has taken a few pictures/videos of my lessons and was kind enough to share them with me yesterday. These are all from what's called "Chat Hour." This is an open class on Mondays where we do whatever I want us to do. I am omnipotent.

This first clip I was surprised to know existed. While maybe not my finest explanation, it was one that people have remembered....I'm not sure if I'm pleased or embarrassed to know that it will now survive the ages in video form. Let me give you some background:

We played this game quite a while ago, and the way that it starts is we sit in a circle and play "Never Have I Ever." Hopefully all of you Americans out there are familiar with it, since it's a camp staple. If you're not, then you go around the circle and every person has to say something that they have never done. If you have done this, then you put up a finger (or put one down, whichever you want). The first person to reach the appointed number of fingers loses. The catch for my game is that as soon as you lose, you have to go to the slang dictionary and pick anything that you'd like for me to explain and write it on the board. I have a full honesty policy, so I will explain anything (with a straight face) that they'd like. Even the "PMS Monster." And I did. Anyway, in this clip I'm explaining "spaceship ethic." Here goes:

CLICK HERE Blogger is dumb and kills my internet whenever I try to upload videos.

Yes, all you Trekkies out there, I know that Spock and Captain Picard are from different series. I just like Captain Picard better than Captain Kirk.

HERE's another clip from a game that I don't have a name for. I learned it over the summer, and it was really fun. The way it works is that each person gets a number of papers (I use 6). On the first paper you write a sentence, then you pass your stack of papers to the person next to you, they read the sentence, and draw a picture. They hide the original sentence, and the next person writes a sentence based on the picture. You keep alternating until you're out of paper. Spaceships seem to be a reoccurring theme.

I didn't really have any grand expectations for yesterday, but things turned out pretty cool. I got up, messed around for a while, went to my Russian lessons, gave a talk about April Fool's Day, and then had about 30 minutes to kill before Movie Time. I got my daily juice, and retired to the teacher's lounge to read the news (and get on facebook?). At 3:50 I went to go unlock the room that we always use. This room happens to have 2 doors, but one of them is almost never used. The lights were off, and the door was locked, so I unlocked it, and then was surprised to see a large quantity of balloons and decorations in the room...and even more surprised to see teachers and students having a formal photo session in the back. I didn't know what else to do, so I locked the door again and went back to the computer. It turns out that Friday was what's called "The Last Bell" for seniors. This is their last day of classes...they still have state exams to take, but it's the last day that they had to go to formal classes, and so they spent the morning giving presentations, and the afternoon celebrating. In the US we usually only celebrated after exams, but I like the Russian version better of celebrating before and after.

I spent about 5 weeks meeting with this particular group of seniors, so we'd gotten to know each other pretty well. They very enthusiastically invited me to their party, so I spent the next 2 hours running back and forth between the party and the movie. They're a really good group of kids, and they're all about my age too. Then I got invited to go back with them to one of the girl's apartment for a post-party party. I learned that there are pretty interesting dynamics within groups of students, but that's to be expected when you've been with the same people for 5 years. Think about all the drama that goes on in band (if you've been in band you know what I mean), and then imagine what it's like with only 10 people. Once they got tipsy they also forgot to be shy around me at all, so it was really nice just hanging out with people. I got a really interesting compliment too -- one of the girls said that I had beautiful hands. She swore it wasn't just the alcohol talking.

Today I haven't really done anything, and it's nice. Sometimes I do wonder about how logical I am though. I found out that my bread was moldy (bread gets moldy SO fast! I just bought it like 4 or 5 days ago), and I was feeling lazy and didn't want to go to the store. Do you know what I decided to do? Instead of getting dressed and taking 10 minutes to run to the small grocery store around the corner, I did the "lazy" thing and made my own. Or am in the process of making it..it's in the oven. That's how my mind works I guess. Rather than getting dressed and going out in the cold, I'd rather just spend 2 hours making the fool thing. At least it's probably healthier and better tasting..and maybe it won't go bad as fast. You never can tell how long things have been sitting on the shelves here.

Also guess what? It's supposed to be in the 40s this week! Yaaaaay!

About this blog

Good news: no more required disclaimer!
Bad news: I'm really lazy about posting when I'm not in Russia