Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Return to Baltimore (part 1)

This post is a little late, as I've been back in Baltimore City for a week now, but unfortunately I fell victim to some kind of respiratory virus, which I just finally seem to be recovering from now. I think I've slept as much as I've been awake in the last six days, and the mental fog I've been in while awake really makes me grateful for how well my brain works when it IS in top shape (and also how delicate a balance life has to be in for it to reach that ideal mode of operation).

Perhaps my illness has made the transition back to Baltimore from abroad an easier one; it prevented me from immediately diving completely back into my routine (though I did start class the day after I returned, thanks to a scheduling issue with UB) and even without illness, my body would have appreciated the rest. My trip from Paris to Baltimore was about as perfect as possible; all trains and flights arrived and departed on time, my layover was just enough time to make it through comfortably without getting too bored waiting on my next flight, and customs was a breeze. U.S. Airways even gave us a free glass of wine with lunch!

But, let me back up a few days. I left La Muse on Thursday and took a train to Carcassonne. By this point I was nervous about all my travel, but John helped me buy my ticket to Montpellier and got me where I needed to be on the platform, which was an immense relief. Once in Montpellier I got a little lost trying to find my hotel from the train station but managed to make my way thanks to a couple of screen shots I'd taken with my phone of Google Maps. (Despite paying for the roaming data on my Verizon phone, it was very finicky about the connection and thus usually of little use.) Upon checking in, I was humbled to discover that the desk clerk spoke better English than I did French, though most of our conversations thereafter were some mix of the two. He gave me a train map and explained to me how to get to the beach via the public transit, and I decided to try that first.

I have to say, going to the beach alone is weird. Going alone to a beach where nearly no one speaks your language is even weirder. I didn't see anyone else there alone, and I didn't particularly feel like people were noticing that I was alone, but I didn't end up staying all that long. I waded into the water (the Mediterranean Sea!) and floated around for awhile, picked up a couple of shells at water's edge then sat long enough to (mostly) dry off before heading back to the city. The transport system they've set up is quite nice; they have a light rail which stops at the southern end of the city, and from there you use your train ticket to access a shuttle bus to the beach.
The Mediterranean Sea from Montpellier

Back at the hotel, I soon learned just how ideally situated I was, despite being wedged down a cramped little side street: one block away was the Place de la Comedie, Montpellier's big open square and the edge of a several-block-radius of shops, cafes, and restaurants. I spent my evening wandering around, feeling much less conspicuous as a loner. I bought a couple of French-language books to practice with at a multi-floor bookstore and had dinner outside at a cheap little place called Sucre Sale. There were various musicians and street performers throughout the evening, including like an 8-piece brass band at one point and a group of carousel-music type musicians (what's that music called? Ragtime?) at another. The lights and the energy and the atmosphere were all lovely, and it was nice to be in a place so alive into the evening and night. People were out shopping, or just walking, and it wasn't too crowded or touristy.

And the next day, I went to Paris.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Leaving La Muse

I've reached the point in which my journey is 3/4 over, and my time at La Muse ends tomorrow morning. I am, of course, a little sad to be going, but I'm also in the mindset now that I'm eager (and a little anxious) to complete the next leg(s) of my journey: a night in Montpellier, then four nights in Paris, with a day trip to London on Monday before flying home on Tuesday morning. I've made all the arrangements, so here's hoping the bad luck I had on my way here is long gone.

The last week or so has included quite a bit of reading, writing, and walking, spending time outside on various trails and terraces. We went back to Carcassonne, to see La Cite this time, which is the old fortified part of the town (and quite a tourist trap, admittedly, though we found a good restaurant with a really nice outdoor terrace).
The entrance to La Cite

Sunday involved climbing another mountain to see the ruins of Les Chateaux at Lastours.

Here are three of the four castles; the fourth is behind and off to the right.
Monday was Jenny's birthday, so a group of five of us went to La Fenial in Roquefare for dinner and wine. Roquefare is the neighboring village, as I think I've mentioned, and it's quite lovely. A couple days prior, Helena and I walked a trail that led into the village and gave us some great views from above.

Roquefare from the mountain
In this past week we also had a group "farewell" pizza dinner put on by La Muse and a reading at which to share the writing we've been doing. Kate and I went to the village rummage sale Sunday morning, were I found a few kids' books in French to practice with and a couple of other funny little souvenirs (both for myself and others). Hopefully no one makes fun of me if I decide to (try to) read them on the trains.

So that, briefly, is what my last week has been like.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

France: A Progress Report

Well, I've reached what is approximately the halfway point in my trip (and a little beyond halfway through my stay at La Muse) and overall, I'm pretty satisfied with my progress. Being in a setting where I have little else to worry about besides what I'm reading and writing for the day has really allowed me to focus (as would be expected, I guess) -- particularly once I got out of my own way.

In some regard, when I first got here, I was putting a little too much pressure on myself. Some of it was the expected "performance anxiety," but more than that I think I was expecting some kind of revelation, if you will, which would allow me to pursue a completely new and inspired path of writing.

That's not how it seems to work.

I have had revelations of other sorts, it's true: I now know what it's like to be on the outside of the language barrier, and what it's like to struggle to communicate with someone else on a basic level. For a few days I was actually a little afraid to run into the other villagers on my walks, for fear that they might say something more than "bonjour" or "bon soir" and I wouldn't understand what it was (this has happened, for the record, and I handled it just fine, if a bit awkwardly. The villagers are used to non-French speakers wandering through regularly, thanks to La Muse).

But perhaps my biggest revelation was, that's not how my writing works. I'm a processor; things take awhile to root and develop in my head. However, it's completely reasonable (and now, in hindsight, obvious) that I should work on the things I've brought with me -- both the actual words I'd already written and some of the more abstract things I'd been mulling over in my head before making the trip. In fact, there's a half-full notebook that I left at home to make room for empty ones; I wish I'd brought it to give myself more places to start from. On the other hand, I did print out a couple dozen poems and several stories in anticipation of revising them, and I have done some work with many of those drafts.

I've also managed to write. I've added 24 (handwritten) pages to a story I started in Baltimore (which I'm not yet acknowledging as the start of a novel for fear of being overwhelmed), added a few pages to another half a story I brought with me, and have filled up roughly one third of my poetry notebook (though some of the pieces are more like musings with line breaks than actual poems). I've also been reading, journaling, blogging, and studying French (I have a phone app for the latter called Duolingo; the randomly-generated sentences which are put before me to translate have been quite the source of amusement for my fellow retreaters. Examples include "Why is the cat dead?", "The horse is eating the roses," "Your boy is ugly," and "The man is naked." Finding practical applications for these sentences has been... a little difficult, as one might imagine).

I haven't put forth specific goals for myself in terms of production; I'd love to leave the retreat with all three of my notebooks full and my journal nearly so (a few of the pages will be reserved for the travelling I do after La Muse) but I'm not going to beat myself up about it if they're not. Everything I write here, whether it's crap or not, could prove a source of inspiration later on. In fact, I think I revise better when I let something sit for a long time before returning to it.

The village, of course, is still wonderful. For a couple of days last week I was feeling a little stir-crazy, but a trip to Carcassonne on Thursday helped with that, as did a trip to the cafe in the neighboring village, Roquefare, on Saturday evening with Helena and Jenny, two of my housemates. And on Sunday, Helena and I climbed a mountain (I'm still a little sore from the trip). Yesterday I had a bit of trouble getting started, so I walked down to the river (which I did finally find two different paths to, thanks to the help of another housemate) and sat for a couple of hours with a book and a notebook. I think all the possible changes of scenery within walking distance of La Muse will be strongly missed when I return home.

But so, without further ado, pictures:

Carcassonne. To the right is the city square, where the Market was just closing down for the day. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses.

The Cross at the top of Le Roque, an easier sort of half mountain, if you will.

The view from the mountain Helena and I climbed, near Roquefare. In the distance is Carcassonne, and beyond that, the Pyrenees Mountains.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Getting to Work (soon)

Day Four is coming to a close (though it's only been my third full day here) and, aside from a few sort of sloppy poems written yesterday, I haven't done much yet in the way of being productive. However, the Quiet Hours signs do say that we have Saturdays and Sundays "off," so that's what I considered it. I've taken a couple of walks since our brief tour of the village on Friday morning; there are so many winding roads and trails that make it seem as though it'd be easy to get lost, but really most of them only lead one place, and so you can just turn around and go back where you came from. I just can't get over the beauty and the peacefulness of it all. The plants are different; there are wild flowers and butterflies everywhere. Yesterday morning I leaned out my window and watched a hummingbird feasting on a flowering bush outside. And the weather has been absolutely perfect, with lots of sun and highs ranging in the 80's and the lows in the mid to upper 60's (though we've got some rain in the forecast in the next few days -- I'm actually looking forward to that).

I've spent a fair bit of time in conversation with my fellow retreaters, too -- there are seven of us staying in the Inn currently, and our schedules all seem to cross paths at different times, but I usually run into someone during each meal, and it's happened that most of us have eaten dinner together (or at least a glass of wine) each night thus far. I really, really enjoy the process of getting to know people from other parts of the world, even if their daily life isn't all that different from mine in the U.S. (or even if they're just from other parts of the U.S.).  It seems that the kind of people who sign up for this retreat are the types who live very rich lives (and I hope the same applies to me, though I feel like I'm just getting started).

One good conversation I had was because I started reading a book today called Sarah's Key -- there's a synopsis on this Amazon page but basically it takes place in two different time periods in France, the earlier being 1942 and the "Vel' d'Hiv'," or the round-up of much of the Jewish population in occupied northern France (the second timeline is a journalist revisiting the event 60 years later). The Frenchman who is also staying here at the Inn (I don't know if I should call him "the Frenchman," since he's lived in England for several years now) noticed me reading the book and asked about it later on, so I told him the premise and asked him about the actual Vel'd'Hiv' (which I hadn't even known about before starting the book). He told me how the whole situation had been kind of unspoken of for many years, in part because those involved had agreed to keep quiet but also because the country was ashamed of their role in it. He also told me more about the historic event and the Resistance movement in Southern France particularly; apparently there's a trail near the Inn called the Resistance Trail (well, except in French) and that there's a monument along the way where a battle between the Germans and the French Resistance took place. It was interesting for me to realize that I was on ground where WWII was actually fought. It definitely adds a richness to the experience of reading the book (and now I want to find the trail).

I have found and wandered a few other trails (though for the life of me I can't seem to find the one that takes me down to the river) which passed by/over little streams and what are becoming waterfalls. I also got a few pictures of the village on Friday night, on our way to and from a clarinet concert at the village church (which was apparently quite the affair -- the whole sanctuary was full. The four musicians were quite good though, and I don't even especially care for the clarinet).

Walking away from La Muse (though the road leads to it)

Inside the church where the concert took place.

One of the gorgeous views down into the valley from another section of the village.

This is, for sake of ease in explaining, roughly the building next door to La Muse.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Bonjour de France

On Tuesday July 30, I flew out of Baltimore to Philadelphia, which was supposed to be flight one of three. On the plane to Brussels, I was seated next to a pair of American siblings, Andrew and Emily, who were on their way to Belgium for a week, and decided that they wouldn't be such bad companions for the long trip over (though on my way to Dublin last year I had the privilege of sitting next to an Irish man who had some fantastic stories). But, we never made it to Brussels; in fact, we never made it out of Philadelphia. After two false starts (where we were literally taxiing down the runway for take-off both times before the pilot hit the brakes and took us back to the gate) and 1.5 hours of sitting on the plane in between, we de-boarded the plane and our flight was cancelled.

Thus began a pretty torturous 36 hours, which involved waiting almost three hours for a shuttle to a hotel (until about 130am); having to change my connecting flight three different times (due to the cancelled flight and U.S. Airways error), getting no chance to sleep for almost 30 hours, and having to buy 3 different train tickets to Carcassonne because Rail Europe, the company I bought them through online/by phone, was absolutely no help (a word to the wise: don't bother buying train tickets to anywhere in Europe until you're already there. In my limited experience, both train and bus tickets can be had easily even minutes before departure, and for much cheaper than U.S. travel on, say, the Amtrak). It was literally like one of those nightmares in which you're trying really hard to get somewhere you have to be and can't seem to make it. I dread to think what my next Verizon phone bill is going to look like, at $1.29 per minute for calls made from Europe (though I should be, and really am, glad that I made the choice and had the ability to bring it with me).

Ultimately, I ended up flying from Philadelphia to Frankfurt, from there to Munich, and finally from there to Toulouse (where I had to take a shuttle to the train station and board the train to Carcassonne). I had a few minutes to kind of collect myself there before John from La Muse came to pick me up, and Carcassonne seems like quite a lively place (I'm sorry I missed my first night there, though we're going to take a couple of day trips as part of our "ride package"). I got the chance to shop at a French supermarket for the first time; between that and the train station I got to see both how much French I've actually learned ("Je voudrais un billet a Carcassonne pour dix-sept heures, s'il vous plait") and how painfully far I still have to go. (I brought study materials).

The others staying at La Muse currently all speak English, though for a few it's not their first language (we have one Dutch woman who lives with her family in Dublin, a Frenchman, and a Korean woman who's lived in America for most of her life). The Inn provided dinner for us and while we ate, we got better acquainted; most of the others have amazing histories of living or travelling throughout America, Europe, and Africa. Most were fluent in at least two languages (though the Dutch woman speaks five, because, as she said, "no one speaks Dutch") though I'm not the only one who doesn't speak (much) French.

This morning we had a crepe breakfast and a bit more formal of an introduction, and then John gave us a tour of the little village we're in. It's been so soothing already, being here. There are fruit trees (cherries and figs) and walnut trees, and a little spring with delicious cold water. Various paths and roads wind up the mountains, and you can hear birds, crickets and locusts almost non-stop (in addition to the church bell, which has a lovely, unobtrusive ring). In other words, not even 24 hours here have relieved much of the stress of my ridiculous journey.

I plan to take a walk later this afternoon/evening to get some photos of the village, but in the meantime, here are a few shots I took out my room's window this morning.

The view straight out my window, into the valley.

To the right, the very edge of the La Muse building and a continuation of the village (and someone else's table)

And the view to the left -- La Muse's terrace (and the table where we had dinner)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Between Two Trips

I don't know how it's July already. It seems like time goes by faster as I get older and I don't know if I like it.

I went home to Michigan for a couple weeks in early/mid June. It was really good to see all my family and friends, and I was somewhat intrigued to find how both "in the loop" and "out of the loop" I felt. I suppose that's the way I'll always feel when I go home now; kind of teetering on the edge of immersion and alienation. It's still weird to see a place -- in this case, Saginaw -- where, for awhile, I spent nearly every moment of my time (sleeping or waking), and how it's continuing on without me, sometimes even becoming unfamiliar. It's also odd to see my friends' lives go in directions that I'm not involved in... but I guess I'm doing the same thing. (Though so far only one of them has actually been out to visit me... but I'll curb my whining about that for now.) The point is, I wonder what will happen as my path strays further from my point of origin.

I think in some way, it makes me feel like I really do have to accomplish great things, to make my self-imposed exodus worthwhile. But even when I was in Michigan I always felt like I should be somewhere else. Except for maybe my last summer there, when I knew I was moving and therefore made the best of the time I had left. Anyway, it makes me happy to see my friends getting married and having babies and starting families and careers and being (or at least appearing) fulfilled, and I wonder what it is about me that makes me not want that life, at least not now.

I really do hope something great comes out of all this.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

all this wasted ambition

I started my summer break thinking I'd keep the productive momentum of the semester going by working on a few writing/book projects: I have a scrapbook project (my most memorable places in Saginaw) that I figured I'd finally try to finish, and a blank book I started making which was inspired by a chapbook for poetry class entitled "Letters from Other Versions of Me." And I've got a possible thematic idea for my thesis this fall that I want to explore.

Then, of course, I started watching seasons of Dr. Who on Netflix and that lazy "it's summer, time for a break" mentality took over.

It was somewhat exacerbated by a back injury I had last week. Any number of seemingly-insignificant factors could have contributed, but the result was a spasm in my lower back as I was getting ready for work on Tuesday morning that resulted in me heading back home after two hours, because it hurt too much to sit or stand. So I laid on the heating pad for awhile, got back up around 3:30 to meet with the new Editor-in-Chief of the UB Post (that torch has officially been passed, which is a load off my mind) then went back to the couch for the rest of the evening.

I got up Wednesday long enough to shower and get dressed before deciding that work was out of the question again. So it was back to the couch and the heating pad, where I did a fair bit of reading and wasting time online before turning on the TV. By evening, I was determined to go back to work on Thursday simply because laying around the house is just not for me. Even though my lower back was sore, the rest of my body was restless from being in one place for so long and I started to get a headache from being immobile.

Why do we (or at least I) feel that a day of "doing nothing" is a waste? And are we ever really doing nothing?

My attendance at work is otherwise very good and my boss never even hinted any kind of disapproval for missing the time I did. (In fact, she responded sympathetically to my "I'm not coming in today" email and suggested I try alternating the heating pad with some ice, which helped immensely). Perhaps it's just a personal characteristic/flaw that makes me feel like I always need to be working on or toward something, even on a small level. Maybe I need to find a better way to organize or document my time so I can see that I have been working on things, even if many of them remain unfinished.

I do plan to continue watching Dr. Who though, if only on the grounds that it has roundaboutly inspired a couple of story ideas.

It's funny, I can't really imagine a life in which this "summer mentality" goes on indefinitely -- specifically in terms of the absence of school, and with no deadlines hanging over my head. I don't know if I should try it more, after my MFA, or dive back in to something else.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

An open letter

to the clearly unemployed alumnus who graduated nearly 20 years ago and still spends as many as eight hours nearly every single day on one of the student computers in the library watching YouTube music videos and doing who knows what else:

We are not friends. Just because I have to log you in as a guest on the computer every time I work and once engaged in an exasperated debate with you about why not every single site on the web should be accessible only by paid subscription, does not mean I am interested in getting to know you better or sharing any of the details of my own life with you. I'm not even interested in small talk. Pretentious as it may sound, I really don't see what I might have in common with someone at least 25 years my senior who has no hobbies other than the internet and doesn't seek to make friends with people his own age--particularly when most of the opinions he expresses are in opposition to mine or at the very least clearly misinformed.

I don't feel threatened by you so much as a little creeped out. Pleasantries are one thing; I have no problem with politeness, but approaching me as you did today (while I wasn't even on the clock) and ask if it's "okay to talk" to me is a little weird. Continuing the conversation by saying that you have four sisters and have "dated a lot of women" and that, as a result, you're good at intuiting a woman's attitude/energy/whatever, does not help your case. In fact, it serves as further evidence that you've overestimated the intimacy of our acquaintence.

At least you were able to (accurately) determine that, in previous encounters, I did not, in fact, wish to talk to you. Though I tend to believe that even the densest of people -- men or women -- would get the hint about unwelcome conversation when the targeted conversant is purposely giving one word answers and/or looking for an excuse to exit the conversation/geographic location.

Furthermore, I can only hope that your expressed belief in every woman having a website to answer whatever "frequently-asked questions" she receives  (since you understand that "women get a lot of questions") is merely the result of a bizarre and poorly-thought-out attempt at conversation, and not  the creepy and intrusive display of sexism that it actually was (even if, as you suggest, the answer to those FAQs is "none of your business"). I didn't have the desire or the time to further discuss the idea with you, so perhaps I'll never know.

Your intelligence is clearly at least adequate enough to allow you to graduate from college; why not take more classes and come to campus as a student? Why not take up a research project (you know, where you take notes or at least carry a notebook, since you don't have access to our printers as a non-student) or some hobby that gets you up and moving around (particularly away from campus)? Why not use your extroversion to get involved with, say, a volunteer organization or some kind of PR instead of wasting it trying to befriend clearly-uninterested library student employees or luring in the less innocuous companions you occasionally bring to the library with you? At the very least, you could go upstairs and look at the actual books or newspapers on occasion.

It's true that  I don't know a lot about you, but things that I do know make me pretty certain that I'd like to keep it that way. I'm never going to hang out with you, or even go for coffee, and I'd like to make sure you "intuit" that it will never even be an option. Thus, I see no reason to further develop our acquaintance. I think a simple "Hi, how's it going?" is the most indepth conversation we really need to have.



Thursday, April 25, 2013

New Year's Eve adventure

I promised this story months ago, and most of the excitement has long since worn off, but here it is.

I have to preface by saying that on the drive to Michigan from Maryland, we had some trouble with the tires. Jake's car has needed some work done for months (he tried to get to it before he moved, but didn't finish) and so our 500-mile drive from Baltimore to Ypsilante wore the insides of the cheap Sears tires down to the metal belts. In Ypsilante at about 2am on Christmas Eve, we decided, in the parking lot of a gas station, that we'd have better luck calling someone to rescue us from the highway during the day than in the middle of the night (plus it was quite cold). We found a hotel nearby (hooray for Google Maps) and checked in.

Christmas Eve morning we promptly located a Discount Tire which was thankfully open til 1pm and had them replace the worn-out tires.

The Michigan visit was, I'm sure, much less fun for Jake, who spent many hours of it under the front end of his car, replacing a broken sway bar link, then the shocks (one of the springs broke -- rusted through -- while he was working) then a few other things that he didn't know were worn out in the first place. We finally got everything together on New Year's Eve and left early enough that morning to get back to Baltimore in time for celebrations that night.

Except somewhere in Pennsylvania that evening, after a fairly stressful day of driving in snow while listening to what sounded like a bad wheel bearing (after everything else) the car made a decidedly unsettling clunk, shuddered, and lost some speed. We pulled over and checked the suspected wheel; it was fine. We continued on. The check engine light came on. Then it started blinking. We lost nearly all acceleration power and began, as would be expected, to freak out a little bit. In our extraordinary favor though, the next exit ramp in view had a Firestone sign sticking up into the sky.

There was, of course, no way they were fixing the problem that night. We sat for awhile in the waiting area while they diagnosed the issue (bad vaccuum tube in the engine) then ventured out into the snow to find a hotel (of which, fortunately, there were several within view -- it was a pretty busy area). We settled into our room (in Mars, it turned out) then ate dinner at a steakhouse next door. Our celebrations were decidedly anti-climactic; we bought some Yuengling in cans and watched Star Wars Episode VI on TV (with a 10-minute break around midnight to watch the ball drop).

Firestone got to the car first thing in the morning, and Jake went to pick it up while I packed up our hotel room. Then he called to tell me that he'd barely gotten out of the parking lot before something else went wrong -- the coil pack, which was another hour (and more money).

But no, it STILL doesn't end there. Once that was taken care of, we pulled away from the Firestone and back onto the freeway, wary because the car wasn't shifting properly. Up at high speeds, it wasn't shifting at all. We'd had about enough at that point, and were expecting the worst. Fortunately, my dad is brilliant, and when we called him to describe the problem, he suggested that we check under the hood for a particular plug. The next rest area was nearby, so we pulled off and opened the hood. This is what we saw:

Really, Firestone?
Of course, reattaching said plug remedied the problem immediately and we made it home without further incident. Regardless, we've been very wary about taking the old Focus on any long-distance trips since then... though it sounds like Jake is debating trying again for our Michigan trip in June. After he does "some work" to it, of course.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Annual Survey

I skipped out on this last year, but decided not to skip it again. I have revamped it a bit for this year though. Here's my year in review: 

1.What did you do in 2012 that you'd never done before? Flew across the Atlantic Ocean; spent a month in a foreign country; studied abroad! Also, worked three jobs (four if you count the campus newspaper).

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make more for next year? I never remember my resolutions. I have a few vague ideas for this year but none that I've pinned down or committed to.

3. What countries did you visit? Ireland! The republic and the north.

4. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012? There is one thing which I wasn't ready for in 2012, but am ready for now. I don't wish to spell out in detail yet, but rumor has it that I'll get it "soon."

5. What was the most memorable moment of 2012? I have to say most of my month in Ireland, but particularly the weekends in Belfast, Derry, and Dublin. A less happy moment was the shudder of Jake's car's engine breaking down on the Pennsylvania freeway on NYE, which forced us to spend the night in Mars while waiting for repairs (there will be a separate post about this).

6. What were your biggest achievements of the year? I had a few: Paying off all my credit cards, acquiring an assistantship at OTS and then the theater; studying abroad in Ireland. Also, publication of my poems in Welter, on and upcoming in The Light Ekphrastic.

7. What was your biggest failure? Not making my 60-book reading goal on Goodreads or my 25,000-word goal for NaNoWriMo.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury? Nope, nothing serious. I've been blessed with a fantastic immune system (and at least a little bit of grace).

9. Whose behavior merited celebration? Jacob's, for taking the leap and moving to Baltimore with me (finally!)

10. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? The people who used assault weapons in movie theaters and elementary schools. Also, most of the politicians on the national stage. No one I know personally.

11. Where did most of your money go? To my Ireland trip.

12. What song will always remind you of 2012? There are a few. Alex Clare's "Too Close," Jack White's "Freedom at 21," and Ellie Goulding's "Lights" among others.

13. Compared to last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier. I was in a weird place last year, emotionally speaking. The stress of a long-distance relationship was taking its toll. Thankfully, that's not something I have to worry about anymore.
ii. thinner or fatter? I've gained a few pounds that have managed to stick around since my Ireland trip.
iii. richer or poorer? Richer (it's great when hard work pays off).

14. What do you wish you'd done more of?  Spending time with my Baltimore friends and keeping in touch with my Michigan friends.

15. What do you wish you'd done less of? Playing games on facebook or wasting time online. It's amazing how much time you can pass doing nothing.

16. How did you spend Christmas? in Michigan with family -- Jake's and mine. Saw a couple friends that night and in the days after as well.

17.  What was your favorite TV program? Glee. I'm still hooked. It's the only TV show I follow, since I don't actually get any TV channels.

18. What was the best book you read? Hm, that's tough. "Imagine" by Jonah Lehrer was really thought-provoking and inspiring (though I'm really disappointed to hear that the author made up the Bob Dylan quotes and thus the book has since been pulled by the publisher). I read "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury for the first time, too, and the more I reflect on it, the more I realize how good its philosophy (if that's the right word) was.

19. What was your greatest musical discovery of 2012? Possibly dub-step, much as I hate to admit it. Or maybe not straight dub-step, but songs which feature elements of dub-step. Also, Song Pop on facebook -- does that count? (I'm in need of some new music.)

20. What did you want and get? Jake moving to MD, my job at OTS, a trip to Ireland, and tickets to the Black Keys concert at the Merriweather Pavillion.

21. What did you want and not get? Dance classes, and a yard/balcony (I probably won't get the latter this year either, as we have no real plans to move from our current apartment).

22. What was your favorite film of this year? Hm... I really liked the ballet documentary First Position. I'm having a hard time recalling many of the other movies I saw this year. The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Argo, Breaking Dawn part II, Anna Karenina. I don't know that those would all be "favorites."

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 26; spent the day with my friend Jon in D.C. exploring the Crime and Punishment Museum and a couple bookstores before coming back to Baltimore, meeting a couple more friends for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, then a few more friends to go dancing at the 13th Floor.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? A quick, dependable form of public transit in Baltimore City/County.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012? More professional, maybe (or at least business casual). I'm trying to update my wardrobe slowly from my undergrad/Old Navy concept to something a little more sophisticated/mature. I also bought a lot of boots.

26. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? I didn't really follow any celebrities or public figures this year, unless you count the election candidates, but I certainly didn't "fancy" any of those people. 

27. Who was the best new person you met? Oh, I have a few: my OTS boss Stacey, my Ireland classmates and mentors, my friend Mike from my fall fiction workshop, etc.

28. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012: That it's possible to go through life at a pace too fast for others to keep up with, and that sometimes you do have to say "no" to certain opportunities in order to take advantage of others (in other words: you can't do it all).