Recipe: “Do I Like My Job?” Brownies

pot-brownies-baldwin-county-district-attorney

Not my brownies.

Two days ago I was craving something chocolate and cakey, so after cursorily scrolling through some brownie recipes on my phone in the aisles of my neighborhood Gristedes, I picked up some “special dark” cocoa powder, milk chocolate Hersheys minis, and semisweet chocolate chunks. Last night I had time to make them and ended up changing around the original recipe I was working off so much that I’m going to just write down my own version. I brought these brownies into work to share and they’re so good that they made me wonder, “Do I actually like my job and the people around me?!”

Here’s what I used:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of salted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup special dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9″x9″ pan with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter. In a large bowl, combine butter, eggs, and sugar. Whisk after each addition until fluffy.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine flour and cocoa powder.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the butter and egg mixture with a spatula, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Once fully combined, fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Spread the batter evenly into the pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Guaranteed to please your coworkers and make you question whether working in an office isn’t so bad after all, or if you have simply capitulated to the crushing force of capitalism.

Enjoy!

 

Good Salads Part 3: Dollar Store Swiss Chard

The promised land

Today, on my mission to find the cheapest possible elements of my Halloween costume (TBA), I hit up the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Jack’s 99 Cent Store. While at Jack’s, where in fact––spoiler alert––not everything is 99 cents, I noticed that along with various hair accessories, chips, and cleaning supplies, they also sell frozen food. Perhaps you’ve read my past two Good Salads posts and have noticed this already, but I truly believe that frozen vegetables are the key to a low-cost, high-nutrient, high-satisfaction diet. At the same time, I felt the stigma of buying produce at a dollar bearing down on me like the store’s fluorescent lights. …Am I poor? I asked myself. Should I tweet about buying groceries at the dollar store so people would maybe think I was poor but also know I was being ironic about it? Is it in poor taste to tweet about that, since I’m pretty sure hundreds of thousands of people buy their groceries at dollar stores around the country and it’s not actually a big deal but I think it is because I’m kind of insecure and kind of a snob? I decided “yes” to the last question and took a closer look at the frozen vegetables.

I had been craving collard greens all day and was searching for those, but in Jack’s limited selection I could only find frozen corn (already have it), spinach (meh), buttered spinach (no), broccoli (have), potatoes (have fresh), and organic swiss chard. I like Swiss chard, and it’s sort of like collard greens, I thought, plus it was ~organic~. I checked the expiration date (26 December 2015, close but who cares) and grabbed one bag for about $1.69. Here’s how I made it:

Ingredients:

  • Swiss chard
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Butter & olive oil
  • Sweat peas (frozen)
  • Lemon
  • Chicken Better than Bouillon or stock
  • Salt, pepper, cayenne
  • Honey
  • Optional: whatever fun seasonings you have in your fridge, sausage
  1. In a medium pot or pan over medium heat, melt about a tablespoon or less of butter with an amount of olive oil that you think is normal and you are comfortable with. Dice the onion and add to the pot, stirring until onion pieces soften and turn a bit translucent. Add minced garlic and about a teaspoon of Better than Bouillon. Once this starts to smell amazing, add the frozen chard. This should make everything a little more watery, which is good.
  2. Squeeze half a lemon over the pot, being careful not to include any of the seeds. Add a dash of cayenne if you like, pepper, and salt which should make the combo even waterier. This is ok. Let go of your apprehensions. Add a little more Better than Bouillon if that will make you feel better.
  3. Add in the frozen sweet peas. I debated whether or not to add these because as I was tasting the chard I thought it was pretty good on its own, but then I thought, what the hell, and I added the sweet peas. I don’t regret it in the slightest. If you have any additional spices you want to add, by all means, go ahead now. For me it was this leftover spicy green chutney I got when I had kathi rolls last week. Upon googling it appears that it’s hari chutney and it’s spicy AF, but my chard needed a little of that. Also add about half a tablespoon of honey to balance out the acidity/spiciness.
  4. If you decide to add sausage, let the chard continue to cook while you prep. I used a pork sausage that my mom made and brought for me last weekend. I have about 10 links of homemade dried sausage in my fridge that I think is going to last me into the new year. I only used about 1/3 of one sausage and cut it into tiny little chunks. You know why? Because the World Health Organization told me that cured meat was going to give me cancer, and after reading that I didn’t want to eat too much of it (I had truffle sausage for lunch yesterday). But you know what I realized? Fuck that. I would rather run the risk of getting cancer than live a life without cured meats. I’m not scared of anyone and we’re all going to die somehow at some point.
  5. So anyways, once you’ve cut the sausage into small chunks and stirred the chard around a bit, just sprinkle the sausage over the chard, cover the pot, and let it all cook over low heat for a few minutes. And that’s about it!

I ate my chard over rice and it was fucking amazing. I saved some for lunch tomorrow––hell yeah. If at any point you were wondering, “that’s not a Good Salad,” actually, I declare that sautéed vegetables are basically salad’s older, wise sister. Sautéed chard is Daria. Salad is Quinn. “Huh?” You say. Google it, you goddamn millennial.

I know you probably came here for some epic post-recipe wisdom, and I won’t disappoint you. On my way home, various thrift store finds in hand and vague fecal odor drifting through the subway car as per usual, I looked up to see this ad:

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Fuck you Seamless

Basically, this ad insults two of the things on this earth that I love the most: home cooked meals and the great state of New Jersey. “Cooking is so JERSEY” says the ad in the played-out nouveau kitsch style of irreverent-yet-personable-yet-still-quirky startup design, the Seamless logo, then their apparent slogan, “HOW NEW YORK EATS.” Don’t try to convince me that my membership in what you’ve deemed the New York City Club is dependent on my ordering delivery food from you by pitting me against my own identity and glorious home state! Who are they trying to target with this ad? Recent transplants who brag about how they’ve never used the kitchen in their apartment and (wo)mansplain NYC geography unsolicited? If you don’t like cooking and simply prefer take-out, that’s fine, it’s your preference. But don’t go trying to start some sort of border/class war about it like Seamless is.

I bring up that subway ad because it basically sums up the thought process behind what was wrong with my first impression of buying groceries at the dollar store. I was driven by my perceptions of one form of consumerism (i.e. Grocery store / Ordering food) to judge another form of consumerism (i.e. Dollar store / Cooking your own food), all while giving a third party (i.e. Seamless) the opportunity to benefit from my insecurity and desire to prove my belonging to a certain group. How many times have you done that without realizing?

LIFE LESSON FROM THIS EDITION OF “GOOD SALADS”: Before you jump to judgment, remember that cheap things aren’t necessarily less valuable just because they’re inexpensive. Eat what you want when you want to.

Good Salads Part 2: Dope as fuck panzanella I made for about $5

I just made a tasty as fuck panzanella (“bread salad” for the uninitiated), and as I was eating it out of a tupperware with my hands at 12:25 AM in my unlit kitchen, I realized that I must share the recipe with you for the following reasons:

  1. As previously mentioned, it’s tasty as fuck
  2. It’s super cheap and easy to make
  3. It also happens to be vegan

My friend at work is being vegan this week, which is why the vegan element came to mind. I thought while I was eating the salad that maybe veganism wouldn’t be too bad with food like this, because the bread in this salad is so savory and gets to be almost a meaty texture. Not saying I am going vegan, but I could totally live a fulfilling life for about a week, tops.

Here’s what you’ll need for this particular recipe, along with respective prices that I paid and some background on each ingredient:

  • Sourdough bread
    • $2 for a loaf (I used two slices, which was about 1/4 of the whole thing). Purchased at Butterfield Market for half price when they were about to close. Some sourdough recipes use milk or butter so you’d have to check, but your basic recipe only uses flour, sourdough starter, and salt.
  • Broccoli
    • $2 for a bigass frozen bag at Fairway. I used about 1/3 of the bag.
  • Corn
    • $1.50 for a mediumass frozen bag at Fairway. I used about 1/4 of the bag.
  • Grape tomatoes (duh)
    • $2 for one pint at Fairway. I used 1/2 the pint.
  • Onion
    • $3 for a bag of 6 at Fairway, I used half an onion.
  • Parsley
    • Free. Grown on my windowsill.
  • Oregano
    • $ unknown, probably around $3.50 for a small jar.
  • Garlic
    • $ unknown, probably around $2 for 3 heads, I used one clove.
  • Olive oil
    • $20 for 3 liters at Fairway
  • Lemon
    • $0.25 each at fruit stand. I used juice of one slice
  • White wine vinegar
    • $6? I don’t know.
  • Salt, pepper, sugar
    • Basic seasonings get in for free.

Obviously if you add up all the prices to acquire all these ingredients, you’d get something around $35, but considering the small proportion of the retail size of each ingredient I used for this particular recipe, I would price the cost of this recipe (which will actually work as two meals, serving-wise) around $5 or less.

Here’s how you make it:

  1. Slice two thick pieces of bread. Cut into squares. Mince garlic. Heat up olive oil in medium pan on medium heat, add garlic. Add oregano. It should smell extremely good. Add bread right away, stir around a bit to coat with oil.
  2. Transfer pan contents to a large bowl. Add more olive oil to coat the bread, plus salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking tray and broil in toaster oven or regular oven until golden brown, flipping the bread squares once.
  3. While the bread is broiling, blanche the broccoli. If you don’t know how to blanche, Google it. You basically just boil it in salted water, strain, then shock it in ice water. After blanching, quickly stir fry the broccoli in some olive oil over high heat until it’s at a texture that you like.
  4. As you wait for the broccoli to cool down, prep your onions, corn, and tomatoes. Dice half the onion, then put it in a small bowl with about 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Add about a half tablespoon of granulated sugar, stir. This both brings out the flavor of the onions and makes them less onion-y. It is character building for the onion. If you are using frozen corn, which I recommend you always keep in your freezer, defrost in hot water and strain. Slice grape tomatoes lengthwise, and if you wish, give about half of them a good squeeze over a sink or garbage can so their juices and seeds don’t make the salad too watery.
  5. By now your bread and broccoli should have cooled down. In the big bowl, give your broccoli a spritz of lemon, then throw in the bread, tomatoes, onions, corn, a few sprigs of parsley if you have it, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well.

Most panzanella recipes recommend serving immediately, but I was making this for lunch the next day. I still wanted to taste it, though, so I put some in a bowl and added some white wine vinaigrette that I keep in the fridge (you can find the recipe in my previous salad post). It was pretty delicious. I put the rest of the undressed salad in a tupperware and planned on tossing a lunch portion with dressing in the morning before leaving for work. But the interesting thing is, when I went back to eat more of the undressed salad at midnight, it tasted so much better than it did right after prep, even without dressing. Obviously, the salad had had more time to soak in and distribute all its flavors, and the bread was this great juicy, chewy, crunchy texture. I’ll have to try it again in the morning to see if it even needs the dressing.

LIFE LESSON FROM THIS EDITION OF “GOOD SALADS”: We can always live with less, and sometimes we can even enjoy it.

Good Salads

I’ve been making some dank salads lately for lunch. It’s both cost effective (a big ass 1 lb. box of spring mix is like $8 at Fairway and has lasted me the week), healthy, and when I make them, super fucking tasty. Today I had a particularly delicious salad. Despite having finished it about two hours ago, I can’t stop thinking about it, and it has moved me to share my recipes with you. I also discovered a Spotify playlist today called “Bootylicious & Sleazy Hits,” that has inspired me to write this. It is epic, energy-boosting, and almost as good as my salads. Here are my recipes as well as my thoughts.

Southwestern Salad

The most confident fruit

The most confident fruit

What qualifies a salad to be Southwestern? I feel like if there’s ever avocado, tomato, and corn in anything, it’s Southwestern. Whatever. I had been making this salad for lunch and dinner for a couple days this week because of the ease of its ingredients. The corn is frozen and you just have to throw it in some boiling water. Same goes for the egg. Haha. I get the eggs from my chickens at home and the  avocados from the fruit stand guy on my block. Recently I’ve noticed that they’ve been super watery. Why’s that? Also have you ever considered how disgusting we would find avocados if we evaluated them alongside other berry fruits? Yes indeed, the avocado is a berry. Look it up if you don’t believe me. Can you imagine comparing its taste, texture, and ease of use to those of, say, a strawberry, raspberry, or a blueberry? There’s no contest. Honestly, you have to respect the avocado for carving out a niche for itself and excelling in the face of adversity. If you ever feel down because you’re not cute, rounder on the bottom, and have bumpy skin and relatively bland taste, just remember America’s Sweetheart, the avocado, and you’ll feel better.

Ingredients:

  • Spring mix
  • Avocado
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Corn
  • Grape tomatoes sliced lengthwise
  • Lime vinaigrette:
    • Garlic
    • Salt
    • Pepper
    • Granulated sugar
    • Dijon mustard
    • Fresh lime juice
    • Red wine vinegar
    • Olive oil

I’m not going to put quantities or prep instructions for a salad because, listen, it’s a salad. If you fuck it up, that’s on you. And experimentation is part of the fun.

Fuck-Yes-It’s-Fall Salad:

Call them basic if you dare

Call them basic if you dare

People who disdain other people (read: women) for liking fall probably also resent Kim Kardashian for “being famous for nothing,” scoff at Miley Cyrus for coming in like a wrecking ball, and call people “basic” for finding earnest, hedonistic joy in things like puffy vests, mason jars, and–here it comes–pumpkin spice lattes. Where to begin on how useless this is? I’m not even going to try to explain how Kim Kardashian’s being and staying famous for “nothing” (people forget the sex tape, duh) is actually a pretty big accomplishment, because if you don’t get it, you don’t get it. It’s like how only Hufflepuffs understand how Hufflepuff is the best house. I can see why “basic” is an insult–it means you’re unoriginal, superficial, frivolous, naïve, and kind of annoying because you enjoy “basic” things. But at least if you’re basic, you’re enjoying it. People who shit on fall don’t seem to derive the same degree of happiness. Why go through all this effort to distance yourself from a set of cultural interests when all you get out of it is the smug satisfaction that you’re not basic? Is that not the most frivolous, annoying behavior of all? Anyway, here’s my recipe for a bomb ass fall-themed salad:

  • Spring (Ha ha. Get it?) mix
  • Seasoned roasted butternut squash
    • Frozen cubed butternut squash
    • “Amor Masala” spice rub from my sister’s friend’s Indian-Cuban wedding (think coffee, cumin, curry, brown sugar, etc. Total gamechanger)
  • Grape tomatoes sliced lengthwise
  • Toasted pecans
  • Hardboiled egg
  • Balsamic vinaigrette
    • Garlic
    • Salt
    • Pepper
    • Granulated sugar
    • Dijon mustard
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Olive oil
  • Optional: Corn would be good on this too but I was all corned-out this week from my Southwestern salads

Stay tuned for salads and thoughts to come.

RACISM!

I wrote this complaint to Public Safety after the incident I described in it. Read on…

I went to the Public Safety headquarters for a replacement prox at approximately 11:30 AM this past Saturday because I had left mine in my eating club. A friend had picked it up for me, but I couldn’t meet with her at the time but needed to get back into my room.

Judging by the photos in your staff directory, I believe I was helped by Jo-Ann Tanderpitt* when I arrived at the Dispatcher office window. I gave her my name, spelled out, as well as my room number when submitting my request. Jo-Ann had trouble finding me in the system, so I repeated and spelled out my name again at least twice. By this point, I would estimate five minutes had elapsed. I did not say anything to Jo-Ann aside from answering the questions she asked me, which as I remember were, in this order, “where did you leave it?” (to which I responded, “an eating club”) “is it in your room?” (“No, it’s in an eating club, but I couldn’t find it when I checked”).

I presume that the question Jo-Ann asked me next was not intended to offend. It is possible that Jo-Ann was simply ignorant of how racist and offensive she was being. It is also possible that she was fully aware and simply didn’t care or perhaps slipped up because she was growing impatient at her inability to find my name in the system–and it was strongly suggested by her exasperated tone of voice and redundant questions that this was a factor. We may simply never know. But the reason I am writing to you with my complaint is that Jo-Ann asked me if Elizabeth was my “English name.” I’m not sure who is reading this, but it really doesn’t matter. Anyone–not only a non-white person who has experienced racial discrimination countless times before–with the faintest idea of how the world works should be able to see why this is question is completely unacceptable. I responded, “That’s my name.” A name is a name, and I was not only insulted by the implication that because I’m Asian I would have an implied “real Asian name” and take on a “English name,” but also the implication that even if that were the case, which is a personal choice that I don’t feel one way or another about, that I wouldn’t know enough to tell her my “real name” that would be in the system. This made me feel marginalized and angry enough to write to you today.

Jo-Ann’s behavior–not only her question, but also her brusque demeanor throughout our whole ten-minute interaction–made me lose a lot of respect for your department. I’ve taken informative and fun RAD classes with several of your officers. I’ve been helped by other wonderfully kind and friendly Dispatch employees before. I even worked for your department during Reunions. I know that the way Jo-Ann represented your department on Saturday is not representative of your department as a whole. This is why I would not like to be contacted to gather more information and simply want to be done with this once I submit this complaint. But if I were someone else without my past experience and Jo-Ann had behaved this way to me, I wouldn’t be able to give your department the benefit of the doubt. I trust that whoever is in the position to rectify this situation will know the best course of action, but I will suggest that Jo-Ann be briefed on sensitivity and customer service or suspended from interacting with patrons so as to avoid another embarrassing incident where a student is made to feel marginalized and the Department of Public Safety and Princeton University as a whole are made to look incompetent, tactless, and uneducated.

*Name has been changed to protect the guilty.

UPDATE: This is the response I received from the Associate Director of Support Services:

Hello Ms Lian,

I will respect your wishes, to the best of my ability, regarding not contacting you about your unfortunate and negative experience with a Public Safety staff member. I write to let you know that we take complaints seriously and I will conduct a full investigation into your concern. I wish to apologize in advance for you feeling marginalized and disrespected during your service interaction with DPS. Community caretaking is our number one priority and we will make sure that all of our officers uphold that standard. Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you wish.

 

Why I’m Still Over Twitter

I went a week without checking Twitter at all, but today I got so incredibly bored with the same four websites I go on (Reddit, Tumblr, Facebook, TheDailyBeast) that I checked it–speaking of which, can someone PLEASE recommend to me some entertaining websites where I can read/browse things of interest but not have to pay attention that closely? I have Thought Catalog open on a browser tab on an article called “23 Bizarre Suicides From Around The World,” which is literally just copy/pasted blurbs from news articles and Wikipedia entries about various peoples’ suicides. There was also a post called “The 9 Best Things About Men,” including “When you see them doing adult things” such as “cleaning” or “making eggs” (since when is that something an adult human should be lauded for? Isn’t that the most basic expectation? It’s like saying “goldfish are the best when they do fish things like breathing under water!” No fucking shit. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Don’t give them a medal for that.) and “How much they love my opinion,” in which the author describes glimpsing a man’s vulnerability when he asks her if she likes how he decorated “his pad” as a “treat.” This website sucks and I hate it. Anyway, I checked Twitter and I still wasn’t into it. I mean, I scrolled maybe three page lengths, probably chuckled at some tweets, favorited a couple, but mostly glossed over a 85% of my feed without reading it. I purposefully went to several friends’ feeds to see if they had tweeted anything side-splitting in my oh so long seven-day hiatus, and happily, most had.

Then I felt like I had to tweet something. So I wrote, “watching louis ck standup as a square of chocolate melts on my tongue.” Only just now did I realize that not only was that incredibly inane and self-involved, it was a complete lie. At no point today, no less the moment I claimed to be doing so, did I perform that combined action. At the time, I was indeed snacking on a square of chocolate, and had decided that I wanted to watch a Louis CK standup special later tonight, but I completely fabricated that admission. It was the first time I ever did that, and I realized that it was weird of me, so I deleted it. But this anomalous behavior begged the question, why

I’ll tell you why. Two reasons: 1) Twitter makes you feel like things that don’t matter do matter and 2) I think I’m using it wrong.

Twitter, as much as I loved it/will probably love it again in the future, deceives us into thinking that other people give a fuck what we think on a daily basis–not even a daily basis, a momentary basis–when actually, no one cares. I don’t mean this in an angsty, teenage, “UGH, no one cares about me or understands me!” way. I just mean that literally no one cares, and no one should be made to care, because whether or not I am eating a piece of chocolate, or you are out drinking, or your mom sent you a weird text message and here’s the screenshot!, or you thought of a pun, or a middle-tier comedian made a joke about babies being born this summer, is pointless, fatuous, frivolous, inane–whatever you want to call it.

I know that Twitter as a platform can be used as an innovative and progressive tool. It can spark revolutions, incubate creativity, and serve as a journal of sorts, but clearly that’s not how I’m using it because I feel like it detracts, rather than adds, to my daily life. I’m also in a bit of a rut creativity and productivity-wise, and reading different variations of the same Twitter material like a robot doesn’t seem like it would help. Additionally, I feel like the angle I’ve been taking is less “I’m gonna express myself and not care what anyone thinks because these are my thoughts and finally I have a platform on which I can express them and have them out in the open no matter how weird or lame or mean they are,” which is how I initially started tweeting three years ago and it was fun and liberating, and more “I’m going to try to make whatever mildly interesting activity I’m doing into a snarky comment or weird joke or cowardly mean jab to see if my 150 internet friends laugh!” which is probably why unconsciously I fabricated that tweet. And that is fucking lame because life is for the living, not for getting the approval of the internet. Didn’t SmarterChild teach you anything?

EDIT: I actually started watching that Louis CK special, and whaddaya know, he and I agree:

TTFN, Twitter!

As some of you may know, I recently (and accidentally) got Facebook back after disabling my account for over a year. I deactivated my account last February after feeling like I was wasting too much of my time Facebook stalking people and caring too much about what I learned from my newsfeed. When seeing photos from a girl you went to middle school with’s birthday party makes you feel like a loser because it makes it seem like everyone else is out partying and you’re there, sitting at your desk on Facebook, it’s time to quit, because that is bullshit. So quit I did, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent memory. No longer did I debate whether or not to friend someone I’m not necessarily friends with in real life. No longer did I have to dodge Facebook messages from people I didn’t want to talk to. I had more time to actually enjoy experiences and time spent with others when I wasn’t thinking about whether or not I should take a photo so I could post it on Facebook later. Ugh. I never thought about how many people “liked” one of my posts; that abstracted form of social validation no longer applied to me. I feel like I’ve matured a lot since then, but still, it comes back every now and then.

Nothing much has changed about Facebook since I got it back, but I’m no longer as reliant on it for my digital entertainment as I used to be. Now, though, there’s a different beast: Twitter.

Yesterday I found myself feeling the same way about Twitter as I did about Facebook right before I quit. Here is the state of my life, and maybe you can relate:

Any time I’m bored during the day, I scroll through Twitter and Instagram. When I wake up in the morning, I check my texts, emails, Snapchats, Twitter, and Instagram, all before getting out of bed. It has gotten to the point where I go onto Twitter, see that there is nothing new on my feed, then tap the “Me” tab and read my own tweets. I realize I am familiar with them already (since I WROTE them), then check my Favorites, which I am also familiar with for obviously reasons. Of course there would be no new ones, because I haven’t favorited anything new. I don’t know if anyone else shares this social media behavior or if I have an addictive personality for these things, but I recognized this as completely unhealthy and a waste of my time. I get a lot of news from Twitter and follow a lot of funny and entertaining people, but checking it so much overwhelmed me. It’s gotten to a point where yesterday I found myself beginning to feel annoyed with people I hadn’t seen in weeks–months, even–just because I was so consistently aware of their presence from their tweets. And it wasn’t their problem, it was mine.

SO. I deleted my Twitter, Instagram, and Vine apps from my phone. Twitter and Instagram were in the bottom right corner of my first page of apps, and in their place are now MyFitnessPal (I really wanna lose three pounds!) and a blank space, respectively. I’m not going to go on Twitter until I feel like it’s no longer a perfunctory part of my daily routine that actually makes me miserable and, rather, a beneficial, fun tool. (If you’re reading this because you saw a link on my Twitter, I’ve set it up so that WordPress automatically publishes my posts to Twitter.) Instead, I’ll do things that will still assuage my boredom, but hopefully educate me more than Twitter will–or, at least, provide me with some sort of novel form of entertainment that isn’t under 140 characters long and written for others’ approval. And deleting these apps made room in my phone to download last week’s New Yorker and take more pictures. Winning all around!

Most tweets out there

For the first couple days at the monastery when I was getting my bearings, I would think of something “clever but devastating” and save it in my Drafts folder. Then I got over the need to send something out to impress ~150 people on the Internet because I was doing something better and more enriching in real life. So even though I’m hanging out at home and not with Greek Orthodox nuns in the mountains of Serres, I’m still going to try to stop wasting my time online and start being more present in what I’m actually doing and with whoever I’m with. And, at the very least, diversify how I waste my time. 

Second Thoughts At The Monastery

Second thoughts as in…after the first ones. Not necessarily as in I’m “having second thoughts.” Although if I think about that for a bit maybe, I am having second thoughts. Not in that I’m doubting or regretting my decision to come here–not at all. My understanding is just evolving.

At first I came here with the attitude that I wasn’t here to make friends. I just wanted to make the most of this really unique opportunity and learn a lot. I didn’t know anyone coming into this, and to be honest I was pretty aloof the first few days. With several summer programs and one or two-week school trips under my belt, I consider myself a veteran of group travel. And group travel pretty much always sucks requires a lot of patience and cooperation. When I got here, it was pretty much the same deal over again, but with more independent travel and arrangements required of us. That, compounded with the totally awkward first impressions that everyone tends to make when they’re shoved into a strange and new social situation. Whereas I tend to become reticent and withdrawn when I’m around new people, observing before I interact, others do the opposite and put what they think are their most distinctive features out in the open–too open, if you ask me. And you also have to consider how the individuals who would decide to come to a rural Greek monastery just for kicks in the middle of the summer would probably not be the most normal. So put my type and the other type of these abnormal folks together, and it’s quite the social experiment. For example, someone might consider a story about how she once had 20 cats until her neighbor’s python gradually ate 18 of them to be a great icebreaker (true story), and I’ll be sitting there thinking, “whatthefuckwhatthefuckwhatthefuck?!”

Basically, I observed my peers and decided we had nothing in common and that I wouldn’t like them. What I’m trying to say is that I formed opinions about my colleagues pretty quickly and that they’re changing as I get to know them better. This is hard for me to say, because by doing so I have to admit that I was (am?) quick to judge and closed off. But like the sisters say, humility is the trait towards which we all ought to strive for, so I am striving to be humble by acknowledging this about myself. 

One of the participants here just finished her doctorate in Anthropology. She’s from Bulgaria, and her accent makes everything she says sound worldly. She’s been to 76 countries, so everything she says actually is worldly. She’s the president of a non-profit that starts up bread-baking houses all over the world as therapy and as a way to facilitate communication and conflict resolution between different peoples. Her non-profit works from everyone from Bethlehem to Princeton, from refugees to victims of domestic abuse. When we were talking about humility with the Abbess she said to me,

“You need to learn humility to really love. You might love someone without being humble, but that is for selfish reasons; you love them because you want to love you.” 

LET THAT SOAK IN FOR A SECOND. Do you know what frisson is? Basically, it’s the feeling of getting the chills, and that’s what I felt when she said that. It’s so incredibly true and, well, humbling. In order to love someone, you have to accept them for who they are, no matter what they’re like or what they’ve done, will do, or won’t do. And you can only do that if you have the humility to acknowledge and accept the flaws in yourself and to look upon other people with respect as equals, not from above with disdain. 

I won’t get into detail about how my relationship with every participant on this trip has changed since I first met them, but each and everyone has. But for example, I thought the girl with 20 cats (may the vast majority of them rest in peace) was totally from outer space and would stand too close to me. Actually, both these things are kind of still true. But she’s also asks the most hilariously straightforward and insightful questions and the best deadpan answers. I can’t think of one verbatim. Even if I could, I think you’d have to take in her whole persona to appreciate it and laugh about it.  I wish I were a kind and understanding enough person to have seen them for their best traits when I first met them. But hey, at least now I’ve gained that much more humility to know that although I might not have been this time, maybe next time I will. 

Other bullet pointed thoughts:

  • I never thought I’d think standing for a two hour liturgy would be fun, but it actually was. The physical challenge of standing was rewarding and meditative. 
  • It’s great to be here because people care. The sisters are passionate about their faith. We all care about gaining knowledge and understanding. The worst people are those who just don’t have a passion, who don’t care.

UNTIL NEXT TIME.

First Thoughts At The Monastery

Yesterday around 5 PM we arrived at the Sacred Monastery of Timios Prodromos on Mt. Menoikeion. We took taxis from our hotel in Thessaloniki to the Makedonia bus depot. From there we had an hour and a half bus ride to Serres, during which I drew a small pen portrait of Kanye, don’t ask me why, I’ll post a pic later. Then we had about a 20 minute cab ride from the Serres bus station to the monastery. Cab ride to a monastery? If you’re surprised by that, so was I, but despite being tucked away up in these really remarkably beautiful green mountains, the monastery really isn’t that far out of the way of “civilization.” Honestly, I expected to be roughing it way more, but these are some really luxurious digs. I won’t go into detail now because it’s almost 1 AM and we have to be up for breakfast at 8 then optional liturgy. Also, the five other ladies I’m sharing a large room (normally used for sewing) with are all trying to sleep and I’m a really aggressive typist.

But here are my initial impressions in my first 24 hours here (I made it over 24 hours without internet but I really wanted to write a blog post–though I have not and will not check Twitter).

  • Monastic life is kind of like summer camp–everyone has to do their part to keep the grounds in top shape; you eat together in a dining hall for all three meals; there are strict rules, a daily schedule, and rituals. I should probably say that summer camp is kind of like a monastery since the latter obviously came first. And I guess it’s also the same with military life. I suppose the order imposed by these lifestyles breeds personal growth and discipline.
  • It’s so clean. It might be the cleanest place I’ve ever been.
  • Rich Americans would pay thousands of dollars per week to do what we’re doing and call it a “retreat.”
  • I can’t get Kanye’s voice saying “I am a god” out of my head and I’m pretty sure that’s very sacrilegious.
  • There are no mirrors here. Which is refreshing. But I caught my reflection in a window a couple times.
  • I feel oppressed…in that I feel like there are a lot of rules that I don’t know about so I’m constantly anxious I’m breaking them. Is this how it feels to be religious?
  • People in any culture use the weather as small talk when the conversation falls flat.

I really wanted to write these all down now because a group of us just chatted with the Abbess and at first I was super intimidated/anxious because I didn’t know what would be appropriate to ask and she only speaks Greek, but what she said was so universally understandable that I began to feel more comfortable very quickly, and I anticipate my thoughts on the monastery to change and grow by the end of our week here. Here are some things the Abbess said (translated, and then paraphrased) tonight that I think will resonate with a lot of us :

  • Everyone has their own struggle. We all have the same magnitude of struggle, just towards different goals. The nuns’ struggle is spiritual.
  • If they kept everyone who came to the monastery wanting to be a nun, they would have over 500 (they have ~30). It’s similar to getting into university. The candidates have to be of sound mind and spirit. They can’t have any mental issues or be on any mental illness-related drugs.
  • The details such as what language a candidate speaks (there are two sisters here who came not knowing any Greek. One is from Texas), are superficial. What matters is the soundness of their spirit, and they more seasoned nuns can just tell.
  • Humility is the most important quality they look for in a candidate and for potential leaders

I really want to find out one of the sisters’ life stories and write about it. Would you buy that book? But like how do you just dive in like that? I guess you don’t. I actually found myself wishing I had already taken my ethnography class for Anthro. Will update later!

REPORT: White Man Not Thrown Off Airplane For Suspicious Behavior

LONDON, U.K.–A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Ltd. confirmed this morning that a white man who was acting suspiciously during transatlantic Flight 10 from John F. Kennedy Airport to London Heathrow Airport was not escorted off the Airbus 330 red-eye.

Eyewitnesses report that the man, whose identity was not disclosed, began acting erratically soon after he boarded the aircraft. “He started slapping his hands on his thighs really fast and loudly while he was listening to music from the in-flight entertainment system before the plane took off,” said Tamara Atkins, a native New Yorker who was traveling to London on business. “When I saw that I thought, maybe I should say something about it to one of the crew.” When questioned further, Ms. Atkins said that she watched The Sessions on her seat-back TV and slept instead, but she was nervous the whole time.

“It was really bizarre,” confirmed a college student who said she sat across the aisle two rows behind the man. She also reported that exchanging quizzical glances and nervous laughter in response to the passenger’s strange behavior helped break the ice between her and the stoic eastern European woman sitting in the window seat next to her.

The man, whom passengers described as 5’10, very thin, pale, and with long brown hair and a scraggly beard, reportedly unbuckled his seatbelt while the fasten seatbelt sign was still on and made an alarming gesture while listening to a Bob Marley album on the in-flight entertainment system shortly after taking off.

“He raised both his hands and looked up, as if gesturing to some sort of god,” said Phil Watson, who was seated behind the man. Mr. Watson, who was returning home to London after attending his cousin’s wedding in the Hamptons, stated that he made an effort to ensure his and his fellow passengers’ safety by craning his neck to stare intently at the man from his seat as the suspicious passenger walked at an alarming clip up and down the aisle several times over the course of the seven-hour flight. Mr. Watson said that he took extra precaution by tapping the shoulder of his friend seated across the aisle from him while the strangely behaved man was out of his seat and stating solemnly, “We should at least mention it to [the flight attendants].”

While no Virgin Atlantic flight attendants responded to requests for comment, other concerned passengers seated in the vicinity said that Mr. Watson did not take such action.

Other passengers reported feeling nervous as they watched the man take his jacket off and put it back on at least four times during the flight and leap out of his seat and walk alarmingly fast to the front of the plane as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign turned off after landing at London Heathrow.

Passengers’ conjectures on who the man was differed. “I thought he might have been, you know, special needs,” said Phyllis Hawthorne in a lowered voice, who sat in the center aisle with her young grandson and the strange passenger. Others credited the man’s atypical behavior and thin figure to possible drug use. All passengers interviewed, however, agreed that if the man’s complexion had been about four shades darker, the airplane would have made an emergency landing almost immediately.