A thing that I made!

February 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

You guys, I made this thing!

http://www.blairthornburgh.com

It’s still getting its bearings, but do check it out. More is coming, like always.

And yes, this means that dear little Vitae Curriculum has been subsumed into my new site. I have nothing but tender feelings for this wonky bloglet, but it’s time for bigger and brighter things.

So! Come on over, I’m making pickles.

All You Need Is Overanalysis

February 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

It’s Valentine’s Day and I feel that it is incumbent on me to write something about love. Well, okay. But I can’t organize it into any kind of beautiful essay or snarky send-up because I don’t really feel that strongly about the holiday per se, except that I view it, like most holidays, as an excuse for baked goods.

Nevertheless, here are a few thoughts.

1. Can we stop making this one day so black and white? Quit taking it so goddamned seriously! Or, for that matter, quit giving it any significance whatsoever! People who think Valentine’s Day means anything are like the kind of people who actually thought their junior prom was going to be romantic. It’s a dumb idea and you need to divest yourself of it right now. Because, look. it’s not like people in relationships are actually really happy today and it’s not like single people are actually drowning in sorrows and/or cheap scotch. I mean, maybe some are, but if they are, it’s because they want to feel really happy or really sad and the day just gives them a reason.

2. If you know there is love in your life–and there probably is, somewhere–be grateful. Reciprocate. Full stop, end story. Any display of affection on today is just a brass ring. Real love is millions of mundane micromoments* that you need to take time to notice. When your sister lets you sob on the phone to her from New York or your boyfriend calls you four times in a row at 7:15 to make sure your new medication didn’t make you sleep through work or your friends help you tie your hair back so you can throw up vodka and brownies into a dorm room sink, this is love. Boring! Embarrassing! Messy! Not involving anything red or heart-shaped! It mingles in every part of your life, from giving you the biggest steak to climbing in your lap to lending you bus fare, and if you keep waiting for the Grand Moment, it will not come, and then, at the risk of sounding dire, you are going to die thinking you missed something. You didn’t. It was there, fragmented and stretched across every day.

3. When I was in kindergarten I kept the valentine the boy I liked gave me on the bottom shelf of my bookcase. I got in the habit of kissing the part where he had signed his name so much that it turned into an unreadable smear of marker. I think there’s a metaphor there.

4. The primacy of love is ingrained in Western culture going back a long, long time. I’m going to take a rather hubristic guess and assert that the 12th century and the invention of courtly love** has a lot to do with this. People like to think that “romance novels”*** as such came about around the time of Jane Austen, but really, the romances of the 1100s were doing a lot of the same things. They were written for young women as a way to explain what this strange concept of love was and should be. They thought that love was the only thing keeping human civilization going, but it needed to be the right kind of love. The kind that didn’t make people abandon everything else they were doing, but still had them making just enough babies to keep the species from dying out. So? Rules. The romances took the extensive codification of scholarly treatises on love and enacted them with characters in stories that women would hear, enjoy, and learn from, maybe without even realizing it. Love had to be procreative but restrained. Hence: courtly love. All these ideas of love-as-pain, playing-hard-to-get, literal knights-in-shining-armor? Old. Very old. The good news is, that means you can ignore them. The human race isn’t in danger of dying out, you don’t need to suffer, and no one has to win at a tournament to marry you.

5. For the love of Christ, it’s Valentines. The only one allowed to call it Valentimes is me. Ironically. And you have to laugh.

*Say that ten times fast. Or don’t.
**What do you mean, am I writing a thesis on this?
***What do you mean, have I spent a significant portion of my young life writing in this genre?

Mistakes were made

February 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Lately, I’ve been screwing up like it’s going out of style. Things as inconsequential as skipping choir practice all the way up to almost losing my financial aid and extinguishing any hope of graduating, however faint. I am procrastinating, sleeping in, overspending, slacking off. I haven’t run in a week (blame my knees!), I keep forgetting to invoice things at work, I’m behind on car payments, and I’m not drinking enough water.

Also, let’s just agree that $3.75 for a cocktail is a dangerous bargain. I may never be able to look the bouncer at the Cove Cocktail Lounge in the eye again.

Is it just the typical midquarter slump? Has all my vim and vigor just up and run out of steam, leaving me with 12 pages about Dido and Lavinia to patchwork together into a BA* and a sinkful of dishes I will leave to get crusty and gross? I hate to be one of those whiny nascent adults (though I fear that ship has sailed) who blames the nebulous difficultness of being 22 for leaving their dreams unachieved, as if there’s some external factor playing Sisyphus and continually setting us back. I like to think that I’m always game to dust myself off and get back to kicking life in the teeth. I can make plans and spreadsheets and shopping lists and flash cards and will not take no for an answer!

But, you know, sometimes this part of life is hard. Sometimes you slip. And then the next thing you know you’re jetlagged and groggy and behind on everything and sobbing on the phone to the bursar’s office. The thing is, though, sometimes every part of life is hard, right? Like, eventually I will may get a handle on paying rent and matching my socks and not sleeping til 3, but then I will have things like mortgages and health insurance and early-onset-osteoarthritis to worry about. It keeps on coming.

So. I haven’t had it too hard, really, and I’ll recover, and I’ll navigate other things, and no one will care that I didn’t study enough for my Old English midterm or that I took a little longer to write my fifth novel. I will post little whingeing essays to a little blog in the great void of the internet, take a nap, eat extra dessert, and things will not completely crack into fragments.

In conclusion, go read Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” and know that if I, of all people, am posting poetry, that I am serious about it.

*or BS, amirite

The Latest in a Series of Bodily Awareness Posts

January 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

So now that I’m lifting all those weights and doing all that running and still being conscious of my psoas, you all just knew that it was a matter of time before something in my body broke down and had a tantrum. Well, guess what? Something has gone amiss!

It’s my knee. I think after doing all those mighty squats combined with the unfortunate wintry necessity of the hamster-wheel atmosphere that is the treadmill, something popped or locked and now it hurts to sit or run unless I cushion my patella with a half-frozen bag of Trader Joe’s Petite Peas. Now, I am not going to whine, particularly because HELLO, it could be so much worse (see: my dear Aunt E. who recently broke her own knee and is now laid up watching people murder each other through her rear window. Also Jason Street, the poor guy*), but I will allow myself to indulge in admitting that in some sick, masochistic way, it’s affirming. When I asked Shannon (my default consult in terms of anything running-related, and also a smart person), she said I should probably RICE it and cut back on my mileage. Which, of course, is great advice, but all I heard was MILEAGE! Because I have MILEAGE! As in PLURAL MILES THAT I RUN!

Is this sick? This is sick. My body is snapping into pieces like an old-school Polly Pocket and all I can do is grin stupidly because it sure beats dying of muscle atrophy? I’m neither an osteopath nor a behavioral psychologist, but that seems unhealthy on both counts. And the bottom line (I can’t run) is also shitty, which is bizarre in and of itself. Since when would I consider lying on the couch, not sweating, breathing easily missing out? That should be the best time!

But it’s okay, really. I will take a little break from my less-than-strenuous 5K training, give all those tendons a chance to snap back into place, and pray that time does heal all wounds, and hopefully with minimal scar tissue.

*Oh my God you guys Friday Night LIGHTS! Am I right?!

Weights, weights, don’t kill me

January 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve never attended a school where physical activity was a big thing. My ultra-liberal Quaker high school didn’t have a football team and let me pretend to take yoga once a week to pass out of actual gym. My ultra-intellectual college once built a library on top of the playing fields and banned all sports teams. Needless to say, I’m pretty okay with this. I never got what tackling other people had to do with learning critical thinking skills.

But somewhere along the way UChicago seems to have gotten the idea that their student body shouldn’t be made up of pasty, asthmatic slobs. No longer is it content with merely inflicting a robust and challenging system of academic distribution requirements on its hapless undergraduates. These days, everyone has to line up during orientation week and wheeze their flabby way through a series of draconian fitness tests. When it was my turn, I tried to game it as best I could (avoiding caffeine to keep my  heart rate down, shaving 20 pounds off my stated body weight to get a lighter bench press), but as a stiff and sedentary 18-year-old, the only test I didn’t flunk miserably was “grip strength.” (What use this has, I couldn’t tell you, but I will crush you one-handed if you make fun of it)

Having attended grades K-12 in an environment when you could pretty much Cher-Horowitz yourself out of any distribution requirement, I did not think this meant I would actually have to take gym. O me of little faith! My academic advisor practically made me drop and give her fifty when I attempted to blow it off. And yes, even though I do actually move my body more than I did at the beginning of first year (I run now! Lots-ish!), apparently that is NOT ENOUGH. And so, however improbably, I have found myself in the gym, twice a week, taking Introduction to Free Weights.

With my noodly arms and low tolerance for pain, I am not a great study at this. Also, most of the people in the class are 1. male and 2. even noodlier than I am, which makes for a hilarious tableau of us pencil-necked geeks in chess tournament t-shirts balancing bars on our shoulders and squatting as our instructor yells out encouragement to us. Also also, 9 AM is far from the best time of day to pick up and put down things that are heavy. And, sneakily, there is thinking involved! You have to do all this addition and division to figure out how much to load up on to your bench press bar: If Blair has a 25-pound bar, two 5-pound weights, and four 10-pound weights, how long will it taker her to realize she’s put the weight clip on backwards? 

I’m being dramatic. It’s really not so bad, except for the next-day throbbing in my quads or ceps or whatever. It’s probably a good way to make sure my muscles don’t atrophy from too much sitting on the couch by the kitchen waiting for my toast to be done. And who knows, it might even give me a more practical way of defending myself than gripping things to death!

Rooms Of My Own

January 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

  • The dining room table: Okay. I am going to start working on my BA in exactly 3 minutes. 4 PM sharp. Oh, shit. I should probably have my books. And a pen. And I guess a notebook. Okay, push back to 4:05. If I start writing then, and I can write 500 words an hour, I’ll have five pages in…never mind. Let’s just focus on getting some reading done. Look at the Latin. Lavinia is boring. Literally all she does in the Aeneid is catch on fire! And why does Old-French Aeneas give her dad Dido’s ring? Like, “Hey, I’m destined to marry your daughter, so here’s some crap my dead ex-girlfriend gave me. By the way, I’m not gay!”*
  • The couch: Cue perfect soundtrack for YA romance. Katy Perry or Kelly Clarkson? Neither. Wait, ooh, Vanessa Carlton! Do you remember her, even? Or Michelle Branch. She’s got lots of feelings. All right. Close Facebook. Close Reddit. Try to write a convincing love story. Why do I always make my heroines so tall? And their best friends drive minivans and are super-smart? And their parents are always college professors? That’s two-thirds me and one-third aspiration. I should just marry off all my characters to John Cusack and be done with it.
  • The bed: I can totally watch a paper and write Parks and Recreation at the same time. I mean…shit.
  • The library bookstacks: Foucault was right. There is literally no difference between this place and a prison cell. The academic Panopticon! Ha. That guy in the alcove looks like he’s asleep or dead. Jesus. I’m going to finish this paragraph extra fast and never come back here again. I don’t care if it means I have to make up definitions for Old French words because I can’t get to the big Dictionnaire Greimas. I am actually losing my mind.
  • The coffee shop: Is that guy looking at my screen? Is that guy looking at my screen? Wait, maybe he’s just getting up to get soy milk or something. If I cover the screen it will be obvious I am hiding something. Oh my God, they can all totally tell I’m not writing something academic. They are judging me. Dammit! I just had to be working on the climactic scene where the spurned high-school heroine makes out with the witty college student on the dock of her friend’s lake house. I wouldn’t even take me seriously around here.
  • The coffee table: Okay, I am going to start working on my BA in exactly six minutes. Or once this episode of Parks and Rec is over.

*For some reason everyone in Old France thinks he is

The Year We Make Contact

January 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I may have lied about my tendency not to make New Year’s resolutions…sort of. If I could lump together all the half-plans and semi-goals that I’ve amassed and kicked off on January 1, I’d put them in the category of “Get Shit Done”. This means doing things when I have the time to do them, like getting reading for class on the weekend or sneaking in bits of fiction writing in dull moments or roasting a weeks’ worth of vegetables on a Saturday or, I don’t know, training for a 5k*.

So, I decided the lull of the first week of classes would be the perfect time to achieve my goal of no longer looking like an anemic, female Where’s Waldo and finally get contacts for my astimagt-eyes. Contrary to what I had believed, there is no long waiting period or creepy pupil dilation necessary: you can just walk in to your appointment and walk out half an hour later, enlensed.

Here is the thing about eyes, though: they are biologically engineered to keep foreign objects out. I spent a good forty-five minutes  tugging maniacally at my eyelids and knuckling myself in the cornea as a patient eye-assistant-man looked on. I used my left hand, then my right, then a combination, until my fingers were gray with cheap mascara and little tears of despair were trailing down my cheeks. From what I could blearily make out of his unfazed expression, I surmised that the eye-man had probably seen worse.

“Do you think those things from A Clockwork Orange are real?” I asked him, attempting to be jocular.

“What?” he said.

“They hold your eye open. Um, never mind,” I retreated, chiding myself for being so weird to a complete stranger. He was just trying to help me get comfortable with the intimate act of touching myself on the eyeball, and I was bringing up Stanley Kubrick flicks.

Eventually, of course, I got the damn things in, and it feels pretty much like having a slim thickness of plastic in your eye. Taking them out is a terrifying process marked by an unsuppressable fear that I am ripping out some vital membrane instead of the lens, but it’s doable. Hopefully the old adage that “wearing contacts is like riding a bike” is true, despite being illogical.

And in the end, of course, it’s all worth it. At last, people will stop mistaking me for Stephen Colbert. They’ll think I’m Rachel Maddow instead.

*This is not a joke

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