28 December 2013


There are two places where I find it impossible to speak French: in cafés and in the home I live in.

The first, cafés, just becomes a series of bumbling interactions but luckily it's not necessary to have a well developed conversation in order to eat food at a restaurant. Be aware that cafés or brasseries are all around confusing. A stereotype of France is that the service is terrible and while it's true, this is a country where the customer is not always right, I generally don't have a large problem with the service I meet with. After all, living in a tiny town in a rural place where all you have are small shops that are often run by seemingly (though not always truly) taciturn folk or staffed by upstart high schoolers you don't expect to be charmed every time you need to purchase something. In cafés though I am always at a loss. I step inside and shift from one foot to the other trying to decide if I'm supposed to wait to be seated or sit where I want, then the host often waves me to pick where I'd like to sit but then tells me I've picked the wrong spot so I move and then once my meal is over and I turn down dessert and coffee they do not bring your bill. You've made it clear you want no more of their food or drink and they do not bring your bill you have to ask for it. It's like they don't care if you take up space in their restaurant and have lengthy, enjoyable conversations with your dining partners! What a novel idea! But still I don't like having to catch the waiter's attention to ask for my bill because they never seem pleased to acknowledge you at that point. I've been learning that I need to memorize phrases and practice saying them charmingly so that I feel less like I've sunk into a quagmire of language vulnerability when these situations arrive.

In the second area, this home, it is half not a problem that I'm at a frenchy loss. I'm paid to speak English. Though when they have guests over and I'm supposed to keep up the work of making myself at home and being like a member of the family things start slipping and I can't keep my verbs and pronouns straight and all sense of vocabulary is fleeing down the rain soaked street.

But when strangers stop me on the street, like the old man yesterday in bright red Crocs ("Bonjour ma jolie princess!"), or when people from church invite me over for lunch and then keep me until nightfall, spending the day with their family playing games and talking and going for lovely walks, all is well. That is not to say my French comes flawlessly and fluidly pouring out of my mouth. There are still stumbles but I can get back up.

I suppose it has something to do with the social arrangement of these situations. In the successful operations, people are choosing to speak with me and give me their attention. In the former failful experiences, I am a member of a rapidly speaking group and therfore have to run, jump, and speak very loudly in order to take part in the conversation. As that's a thing I'm no great shakes at in English, small wonder it's a struggle in France. And here, so very far from things familiar like chunky peanut butter and oatmeal, this is what I have to learn: to speak up or I will never be heard.

26 December 2013

quick notes

Everyone needs to watch Muppet Christmas Carol at Christmastime, this is what makes the world work. You know what happened when I brought this up with C, the 14 year old? He told me the Muppets are too much like Teletubbies, he doesn't like them.

"Did you just compare the Muppets to Teletubbies?!?!?!!!!!"

"Yes. I did. I know this is horrifying to you."

"They are nothing like Teletubbies!!!!!!!"

We then discovered that I still know the names of all the Teletubbies. So many horrors. 

Another Christmas highlight is that time I went running for an hour and was greeted by beautiful French men upon my return to the house. Do you know what happens in France when you greet people? Cheek kissing, even when you're really really sweaty. This was probably all kinds of gross for them but they were very gracious.    

21 December 2013

I am 87 years old and refuse to admit I'm an anglophile

Tuesday I ended up at Gare du Nord too late to make it to class at a decent time no matter the combination of metro or bus I tried. It is from Gare du Nord the Eurostar departs to chunnel you over to London and how extremely tempting it was to run away. I've barely spent 50 hours in London but I've fallen in love. England in general is just a delight. Why didn't I study English?

Oh wait...

This week I finally finished the Oedipus trilogy and, in doing so, found an inspiring quote:

"Thou hast a fiery soul for numbing work"
so says Ismene to Antigone

If that doesn't save you from Thoreau's quiet lives of desperation, I don't know what will. It's what I've been telling myself when I'm about to dread another day of scrubbing sinks. "Self! Thou art a documentarian! Thou has a fiery soul for numbing work!" Works wonders, I tell you. Try it sometime.

Also, if I were ever to open a night club (hahahaha) I'd name it Box of Night after the literal translation of the French for night club, boîte de nuit. The place would be full of cushy arm chairs, books, maps, there'd be a tea room, and every night would be a different mix of Cole Porter, the Hollies, Bach, Otis Redding, TLC...you get the idea. At least once a week there'd be a competition for the best riddle and another night for puns. OH! And a "dress up as your favorite David Bowie era" night. Yeah, that would be fun.

If you had a night club, what would you name it? Do you know any good riddles? How do you feel about my new inspiring quote? Are you a closet anglophile too? What makes you want to run away? Where would you go? What books are you reading? What are your thoughts on the differences between Sophocles' Antigone and the version by Jean Anouilh? Have you read Shakespeare's Coriolanus? What movies are you dying to see right now?

18 December 2013

A note about showing up somewhere else

Surprised I was a couple of weeks ago when an old, dear friend emailed to ask me if I would agree to be interviewed for her blog. I'm a normal person guys, I don't really get asked to do interviews.

I grew up with Holly and can't remember not knowing her. We moved to North Dakota around the same time and went to church together. I've loved Holly for always, she's one of those people with whom I often identify but still find wonderfully perplexing as I try to get to know her. Now she lives in Minneapolis with her husband and she's started this great blog called Embracing Vanilla. Here's a bit of the reasoning behind the blog name:

I have had some good opportunities and experiences, and I have seen friends and acquaintances acquire even better ones. Instead of being afraid or insecure of others' successes we (I) should learn from them. This idea is a little terrifying since I'd much rather flash a weak, congratulatory smile and go wallow in my 'woe is me' thoughts than have an actual conversation with this person, but whether someone's a doctor, a marketing VP, a teacher or a taxi cab driver, I think everyone has simple vanilla days and triple chocolate mint brownie days, and we could all learn a little something from one another. People are probably more willing than we (I) think to help others out if we (I) can get over the fear of asking.

I've found it to be really heartening to read her blog posts and take the encouragement to be more satisfied with my own life and to be more satisfied with others. One of the regular features of her blog is to interview professionals at all different levels. Which brings us back to when she asked if I would mind answering some of her questions. I'm at the strangest level of professional if ever I was one. But I was honored to be asked and it was good to reflect upon her questions. So you should check out her blog and maybe even the part where I show up. There are some recent pictures of me and that never happens! I'm like a yeti! Except not. OK, thanks guys for being my friends. I love you all dearly.

P.S. Would you rather be a daring explorer, a poltergeist, a spy, or a blacksmith? 

07 December 2013

close your eyes

woman with bandages and black lenses taped over her eyes

the beggars sing a tuneless song, "s'il vous plaît mesdames et messieurs"

homeless man with decorated shopping bag and trolley

It doesn't get easier to see. I walk past with eyes averted as if they're not human beings, as if they're not worthy of my notice and I hate that this is the only thing I know how to do. 

I can't give you money, I'm sorry. If I look at you, you'll ask me and I have nothing for you. You deserve to be greeted, to hear a friendly hello, to be smiled at, respected. But since this is the unbreakable situation of time, since there are many beggars at every turn, since none of us can give you what you really need because none of us know what that is––what would you have me do?

06 December 2013

hiking and humanity

This not being the time of year when I generally enjoy hiking in glorious mountains like THE ALPS, I've taken up hiking in the metro. There are sometimes a lot of stairs. There are also sometimes men in the metro car playing amazing accordion music that makes me want to tango even after 10 minutes of the same song being played over and over. I thought the boy standing next to me was equally into it and for a second dreamed that everyone would break out of normal behavior and we really would start dancing then I realized he had earbuds in and was bobbing his head to his own personal soundtrack. Then the doors opened and Accordion Man saw metro officials about to get on so he beat it. I spent the rest of my ride quietly watching the faces of everybody around me, just like normal.

Last week or the week before I was riding on line 2, a line I adore because for several sections it goes above ground. Above ground! With sky and things to look at and large windows! Isn't everybody so happy and smiling just to emerge from the grubby, sketchy mole tunnel? No. Just me. OK. 

Line two has newer trains with large windows and cars that are connected for the length of the train. On this particular day a woman walked through my car and as she passed me I saw she had toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. "!!!!" I thought, "I've never seen that in real life!" Then I began wondering if I should draw her attention to it, the midwesterner in me was very concerned about the situation. She was clipping along though and too far away, I'd have had to chase her down. No other passenger was saying anything to her as she passed, I could see her for a while until I lost her around a bend. I hope she has a moment to notice and discretely lose the TP.

At the next stop a Hasidic Jewish man got on at the same time as two trendy 20 something women. They caught my attention because despite the incongruity of their appearances the three had obviously just finished conversing in a friendly manner and were now taking their respective places aboard the car. Also, the man along with his black hat, forelocks twisted around his ears, black suit, and prayer shawl, had a Holiday Inn traveler's bag. I voted him favorite person of the day even though it was only 10:30am.

The man and I both got off at Stalingrad and I noticed that as he descended he said "au revoir!" to the two young women (Courtesy lives!! I thought) and further down the platform I saw TP woman get off as well with no more toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Humanity had won many small victories that morning.

03 December 2013

a fall December

This week I haven't noticed as many charming people in the metro which reminds me I haven't yet finished my sketch from last week to share with you. I ended up at Cimitière Montmartre today because that sort of thing happens... I was in the area because The Honest Pint, my poetry subscription suggested that while they were specially sending my monthly poetry related mail to France I might like to take some pictures of an Honest Pint with famous French landmarks like the Moulin Rouge.

It's more difficult than you would think to take a picture of some paper with a building in the background. Next time I will require the assistance of another person. Volunteers? Quel qu'un ? Personne ?

People here are convinced it's cold and I'm certain it's still fall. Regarde the trees lining my street on Sunday morning:

Not much has changed since then. I walk to the train through a bed of leaves every day, which is part charming, part dangerous as everybody has a dog and hardly anybody cleans up their dog's poop.

The Marché du Noël is up on the Champs-Elysée, though, and lights abound. I spent the afternoon at the Louvre on Sunday and then walked through the market in the evening on my way to a train stop. Here are more pictures as promised:

Then I got tired of taking pictures, the end.

01 December 2013

a type of list

A list like this is because I just love imagining all of the characters involved in the above films/movies/podcasts/websites/books at a dinner party with me. Oedipus would sit next to Gogol and Sophocles next to Fred Weesley. Stephen Fry and Emily Graslie I'm sure would be great friends.

Since they're blurry, going from Top Left to Bottom Right: 
Oedipus Rex (I got really into reading it this time and almost stayed up past my bedtime on Friday to finish it, isn't that wild?)
Stephen Fry reading Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Best Russian Short Stories as available in iBooks and recommended by my Dad (listening to Stephen Fry reading Eugene Onegin has resparked my love of Russian lit)
The Artist (2011) (imdb) (trailer)
The Hunger Games: l'embrasement (2013) (yes, twas at the cinema and twas in French)
Space Oddity covered by Chris Hadfield on the space station
Various LDS General Conference talks
The Brain Scoop my favorite YouTube channel ever
Harry Potter et les reliques de la mort (reading is so much easier than watching a movie)

Louvre 1 Decembre 2013

click on the picture in order to see the whole thing--it's a panorama. This is also why there are some halfway dematerialized people.

30 November 2013

rule #531: stop questioning self

I sometimes dream of being a construction worker or a plumber or a gardener. When I was younger it was a car mechanic. I have also at times dreamed of being a potter with one of those fire pit earth kilns, living abroad, and a farming ant or elf. This could explain how I'm 26, with a bachelor's degree, scrubbing toilets in France. Part of me feels I should have amounted to more by now. Shouldn't I have a full time, salaried, benefited job by now? Or be finished with my master's and have published several papers? And let's not even talk about the making documentaries thing. Nobody knows what's going on with that one, least of all me.

The 26 part might be the real rub. While I adore getting older because all of my life I've dreamed of being an eccentric 78 year old woman there's a problem. You see at 26 you cross a magic line where society expects you to be able to pay 10 times more for everything suddenly and while I don't believe I deserve a free ride, it just serves as a slap in the face that I'm still managing the budget of a child or a severely impoverished adult.

But I'm in France. I generally have no clue what's going on but I'm living abroad with the possibility of much European and Scandinavian exploring to be done in the next year and the plebeian in me is rather pleased to have some menial tasks to do. However the documentarian/artist in me is connected to the plebeian and now I'm realizing how much of my brain I need to spill forth to (1) get everything out of my brain and (2) to feel a sense of balance. I even feel incredibly inclined to pick up my camera and film people and then share those videos. Have I already told you about how blocked I've been about that for the past several years?

I keep returning to what I'd tell people at the beginning of my introduction into the film program, "I want to make movies that no one will see." And by that I meant I'd make them for me and put them out for public viewing with the expectation that there might never be an audience yet not giving a darn. That is a thing that will carry me through the next few years, I have a feeling.

So maybe (I can't even believe I'm sharing this idea with people), just maybe I'll rediscover the joy of being behind a camera and asking people questions.

What questions do you like to ask people? Do you have horrible quandries about doing things you love?

25 November 2013

Christmas of abandoned beasts

Exact translations are always fun as seen by the above title. The billboard is really about some kind of event for people to adopt rescued animals in the spirit of Christmas but I find this translation to be oddly compelling like the Island of Misfit Toys gone more savage and helpless.

I like to watch people walk. In fact, I cannot help but study the way people walk as it falls under the category of the way things look and my brain is a video camera always on to avidly devour my surroundings. I see how everything is composed as if the whole world were a photograph or a painting, a film I am walking through. It's something I can't turn off and can't ignore, so I have chosen to study and appreciate it all. The overwhelming thing is then I feel full of images of beauty, fit to burst for lack of finding my way to communicate this for fear of boring the world.

I saw a man crossing through a parking lot on crutches today. One leg appeared to be quite weak for being the strong one, the other he would swing limply left and forward as if it had no bones. I've seen legs with prosthesis, bowed legs, injured legs, uneven legs, legs that end in duck feet but this was none of those––well, it was uneven. It seemed to be several inches longer and made of rubber. Why, I wonder. Is it exhausting for him to walk anywhere? Is he in pain? Is it temporary or is this his life? Has it always been this way or was he injured? Does he have people to love him? Where does he live? Does he eat fresh fruits and vegetables? Does he have to walk up and down many stairs?

There is a lot of walking to be done in Paris and the banlieue (surrounding suburbs). The streets are twisty turny, I'm forever wandering around aimlessly as I never can keep straight which direction is north––for a while I would always check the compass app on my phone as I left a metro station but I've given that up. With the onset of cold, the sky is generally grey giving me no glimpse of sun to guide me, the trees have not collected directional moss, and the streets will likely curve around to send you to unexpected locations. I generally don't get lost unless I'm looking for falafel and then I wander all around the neighborhood where I know I've been to good falafel pita restaurants but I never find the right street and end up right back at the metro where I started. I have to use google maps every time.  

Are you as concerned as I am about what direction you're facing? How many banana nutella crêpes do you think you could eat in one day? What are some of your favorite walks? Are you a people watcher?

PS. Apparently compass directions may go haywire soon anyway: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2013/11/are-the-earths-poles-about-the-flip.html?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=pbsofficial&utm_campaign=newshour

PPS. This is a really great list: http://brbl-archive.library.yale.edu/exhibitions/utopia/utoplit.html

17 November 2013

A work in progress

07 November 2013

llamas, baguettes, and jeune fille au pairs

At 7:30 am I did not want to wake up. I was wide awake but feeling sad, weighted down by the doldrums of routine and the worries and stresses of a job that has a tendency to feel like waiting for Godot by myself. I live in this job, by the way––I'm a jeune fille au pair, or in other words, a nanny.

I had an argument with myself about wanting to stay in bed, to skip my French class and recover from not being able to fall asleep last night (so instead I ate a baguette while reading Harry Potter et le prince de sang mélé at 1:30am) but French class always cheers me up so in the end, I made it there almost an hour late. We talked about guillotines and burning people at the stake.

This afternoon I was listening to President Thomast S. Monson's October 2013 General Conference talk True Shepherds" while scrubbing the drains in the children's sinks when I realized one of my problems might be that I'm the slightly heartless sheep herder egging the kids on rather than a shepherd who really loves their sheep. I want to be a shepherd! Maybe it will be easier if I imagine them as sheep! I thought. But do I love sheep? No, I love llamas! Remember that time my roommates rented llamas and I immediately wanted to nurture and protect them? Llamas, yeah, that's it. When I struggle I'll think about how loveable llamas are.

I'll let you know how that works out.

Listen, if you have a nanny who sometimes secretly pretends you're a llama, don't take it as an insult. She or he is just trying to remember that you're a wonderful living being that she or he wants to care for tenderly and patiently. Sometimes she/he probably feels overwhelmed that the job is far from what she/he was expecting as far as pay/hours/and duties. And she/he probably never had a nanny her/himself so she/he finds it bizarre that nobody else expects you to hang up your own coat. 

Luckily for you they are pretending you're a llama, it means they want to love you and not judge you.

Have any of you ever pretended children or people were animals? What do you like to eat at 1:30 in the morning? 

11 June 2013


Hello again and welcome to the strange things I do with fabric. Today we will not be covering the topic of Sorry Sari: How I wrap myself in a [real] sari [from Indonesia] because I don't have a bathrobe only I do a very poor job of it because it's the middle of the night and I just need to go to the bathroom. Today's topic is:

::::::::::::: DAD PANTS!!!! :::::::::::::

Or as you may have learned to call it: CORDUROY. 

I have this cousin Laquina who [is a tiny bit older than me and therefore theoretically more mature] decided when I was 18 that after weekly family dinner, instead of chatting over tea she should teach me how to wrestle. Without warning me. She also gave me the sage dating advice to stop assuming I don't have a chance with a guy just because he's already got a girlfriend, after all, "He's not dead yet." And if you are wondering where I learned that provocative phrase in Russian.... And she is also the classiest lady you may ever meet.

Several years ago I was happily sporting a new pair of corduroy pants when Laquina turned to me and said, "Those are dad pants! It's just like you're dad, he's always wearing corduroy pants." And it turns out, this was a very astute observation. Once I showed up at family dinner and my uncle, my dad, and I were all wearing matching corduroy pants. The name has really stuck around, "corduroy" went out the window, and now my family and some people who have been around me too long prefer to use the term "dadpants." 

While I was away at college one year my mom sent me some pumpkin orange, large-wale dadpants fabric. I could never decide what to do with it. Frequently it was used as a picnic blanket, for a while I baste-stitched it into a large cushion cover. However, I've finally struck on the idea of making it into a very simple quilt by backing it with a grey micro-fleece blanket and hand-quilting it with large stitches (while watching Campion and baking oatmeal).

The only thing that remains is the binding. And it still remains seven months later. I just can't find the right binding to put on this quilt! After a while of pondering and perusing the local fabric store I decided to just run headlong into it like I do with everything else. I sewed a patchwork binding tape, all properly ironed and folded and had it half sewn on before I had to admit I hated it. After diligently and carefully unpicking that mess and several more months of thought and searching I thought: 

::::::::::::: "DENIM!" :::::::::::::
What goes better with dadpants than denim?!

I bought a light-weight denim jumper from the thrift store, washed it, unpicked all the seams. I UNPICKED YARDS OF FLATFELLED SEAMS, PEOPLE!!! But I wanted to do this the right way. Methodically.

Is this getting long? Well this project has been dragging on and on and on with long periods of no action so you must suffer, too.

I asked my mom for advice on the best way to make binding tape from the denim. She got out her hold notebook from college and measured and studied the bias before deciding we should just cut and sew straight in order to get the most out of the fabric. I ironed, sewed, and ironed some more before I carefully began pinning the tape in place. I was so close! I could've been done that night!

But I hated it, again.

So now I'm looking again.

At least this time I only had to unpin it.

01 June 2013

the beginning of project: TEXTILE

I've got dreams in my brain of things I want to make with textiles. The simple, wholesome, reassuring weaves of linen and muslin call to me from their bolts, they need to be freed from Joanne's and taken home but I resist. I need to learn the *how to* of everything I want to do before I accumulate any more stuff.

In some ways I'm a brilliant student--I'm pleasant and my spelling and grammar are OK. In other ways I'm attrocious--I want to be free to wander, snack, ask multitudes of questions, and do things my own way, following after my own ridiculous notions. For something like learning how to sew, I don't think one person should bear the brunt of my eccentricities. But teaching myself how to do things is sometimes a really cathartic, messy process. It reworks my innards, my patience, and grows my world. 

I'm about to purposely embark in teaching myself to sew--to sew well, like I want to. I've been wading into this water for a while now--I'm on crazy quilt #2, though I'm not sure if I learn from it, I'm just growing more comfortable. But now I've crawled into the good ship Textile. This blog will now serve as the place where I'll write the guide I want to have and document this (possibly backwards) adventure.

Do you have any sewing books, patterns, or blogs you'd like to recommend to a beginner like me?

03 February 2013

01 February 2013

26 January 2013

last year on this day

19 January 2013

Run away!

I finally saw Moonrise Kingdom! Who wants to run away with me? I can't do any islands on the east coast but I think Shovel Point, Minnesota would be an ideal location. It's my goal to go there this year. You can fly into Minneapolis, it's much more reasonably priced than flying to Fargo. And I have family there we can stay with before we run away to the northern wilds.

So it's settled then. I'll see you soon!
(Is it ok If I don't wear copious amounts of eye makeup? Ok, good.)

Until then, enjoy this (our bobble-head dog Oedipus Rex):

15 January 2013

Next up: plesiosaur

Outline done thanks to my magical overhead projector. Probably the crowning achievement of my life.... Except for being an aunt. Remember, this is the most stable mammoth ever. And is now the property of my favorite sister.

Look out for more prehistoric animals with the possible addition of India ink dyed fabrics.

13 January 2013

07 January 2013

Sometimes I can't sleep because I can't remember Terry Jones' name

That will not be a problem tonight.

I got an iPhone over Christmas, mostly compelled by the thought of how much better I'll be able to see the pictures my sister texts me of my nephew. Siri has already gotten really sassy with me.

The university I work for is small enough they don't support wifi for our phones. At first I found this ridiculous, but it's started me thinking more about what has been referred to as our entitlement culture. I didn't really think I was a card carrying member of that society but lately I've realized that's just what some of my issues with small town life are.

I get confused every time I go through the produce section of the grocery store. "This is it? Where are the packages of fresh tarragon?"

Shopping local isn't really an option, that's generally the ONLY option. Yesterday my supervisor and I were trying to decide which little shop she could go to for an ice pack. It takes some thinking to sort out inventory when they don't all come in one big box of a market like Walmart or Target.

But it's frequently enjoyable to frequent local establishments. I had to get some high heels repaired last fall and the shoe repair shop is a strangely crowded madhouse where you're bound to run into someone you know. I tried to draw a picture of it.