Archive for January, 2011

30 January, 2011

I Have Weird Dreams: The One with the Runaway Russian Goldfish

I’m smack in the middle of a pile of work that won’t go away, and while I have no less than four posts in progress, I simply don’t have time to finish any of them today. In lieu of posting anything useful, I give to you yet another tale from the bizarre world of my dreams.

Clearly, something about my Russian class just screams “Weird Dream Material.” They tend to feature prominently. Not all of them. The quiet ones in the back clearly have the good sense to stay out of my head. But Sam, Kolya, Molly, Rhiannon, and all of the other talkers…

As if I didn’t see you all enough during my waking hours.

It started out in the swimming pool – where all good Russian classes should start. Not just any swimming pool, but the one that used to be in my backyard in North Carolina. A round number, with a rope that went all the way around the edge. Naturally, we practiced our Russian all while hanging onto this rope.

It should be noted that Dr. Garza was not with us in the pool. He was attired in his usual jacket and tie, sitting on a deck chair, asking us questions in Russian. None of us found this the least bit odd.

After several rounds of questions – all done in Russian (which I find encouraging. I wish I were as fluent in real-life as I apparently am in Dream Universe) – Lucy arrived to class, and announced to all of us that she would be dropping out because she’d been accepted to Brown.

I have no idea whether or not Lucy has any desire to go to Brown.

But by golly, that’s where she was going. Dr. Garza left us there in the pool to talk to her, I think to try to talk her into staying in our class, and that’s when things got interesting.

Did you know that, in Dream Universe, my Russian classmates are all VERY fond of one another? There are apparently relationships galore. On the off chance that any of them are reading this, I’ll spare them the embarrassment of describing exactly who was making out with whom – suffice to say that one of the boys was dating one of the girls, who decided that she wanted to leave him for another one of the girls, and then he ended up with me.

It all made perfect sense at the time. After all, what foreign language class doesn’t have a few broken hearts in it?


All of this free-love hippie making out, however, was interrupted when Sam’s goldfish escaped.

It didn’t occur to me at the time to ask Sam WHY he had a goldfish in my swimming pool during Russian class. He just did. I remember thinking that the goldfish was likely to be killed by the chlorine. At least that much logic was there. But before the goldfish could die, we had to find it. And the little bastard had escaped.

(Now, in Real-Life to Dream-Universe translation, this goldfish does, actually, make PERFECT sense. We spent the last three weeks of Russian class talking about a goldfish that played prominently into the storyline of our instructional video.)

Thus began the frantic search for the Runaway Russian Goldfish. Sam was – I’m sorry Sam – distraught. He was. Really. Apparently, Sam is quite attached to his goldfish. His золотая рыбка, I should say, because this whole sequence took place in Russian. (That’s Za-la-tie-ya Ruib-ka)

Sam was afraid that his goldfish might be stepped on. Or that it might have already been stepped on. I was afraid that the goldfish would be sucked into the pool return filter. The others… weren’t afraid of much. They were still busy engaging in 60s Hippie free love.

Then, to make matters worse, Sam’s family showed up.

Now, when I say this, I mean the people who Sam claimed as his family. Because in Dream Universe, Sam’s family is a group of about 7 Chinese people.

Sam is a white Jewish boy.

I think I actually pointed this out in the dream, but I was so busy trying to find the missing goldfish that I didn’t get the full explanation. Something to do with exchange programs.

Sam kept making people pick up their feet to ensure that the goldfish hadn’t been stomped. As we never saw any floating goldfish guts, I can only assume that it was not, in fact, squished in the throng of Hippie Love.

But at this point, I noticed another problem. There was a hole in the deck.

Not just a hole really, but a puzzle. A gap in the wood decking, with 25 pieces of wood that all had to be fit back in, before it would magically close up. By the time, Dr. Garza had returned, unsuccessful in his mission to keep Lucy from leaving us for Brown.

He, too, was very concerned about the hole in the deck. So we spent a good fifteen minutes trying to get all of the pieces to fit in. In the background, Sam and his Chinese family were still searching for the missing goldfish. It was all really quite chaotic.

And when the two of us FINALLY got the last piece of the deck-hole puzzle to fit back in… four feet away, another hole magically appeared.

It ended like this – Dr. Garza and I running from hole to hole on the deck, Sam searching madly for his missing goldfish, seven Chinese people standing on the edge of the pool watching, and some of the others blissfully ignorant.

Don’t worry. No Hanky-Panky actually occurred.

Probably because we don’t have the Russian words for hanky-panky yet.

No goldfish were harmed in the making of this dream.



26 January, 2011

Social Commentary on Marriage as Demonstrated by Russian Students

This is a post about something that happened in Russian class yesterday – but it is not a post about Russian. In fact, I think that this speaks to a global phenomenon. One that, despite what those of us who identify as feminists will tell you, hasn’t really changed very much in the last fifty years.

So, as it happens, we are learning about marriage and weddings in Russian class. Important things for second-year Russian students to learn. After all, we’ve now had just enough Russian to accidentally wind up with a mail-order Russian spouse. I can just hear someone trying to make that explanation. In Russian.

“But… Dr. Garza… I only wanted to buy a book!”

Come to think of it, that would be one hell of a portfolio activity.

At any rate, we are learning about marriage, and how to say the all-important, “I’m not married.” (Equally important for INS, when they come to question you about your mail-order Russian spouse.) In class yesterday, we practiced saying this phrase, which is different for men and women. Our format was simple and one that we all knew well. Dr. Garza says a phrase, we repeat it.

The boys in class eagerly repeated their phrase. Robustly, even. With full voices.

And then came the girls’ turn.

Dr. Garza said our phrase and was met with…


As if we had all got together and decided before hand that we weren’t going to admit to being unattached. As if it was some big secret that we didn’t want anyone to know. I felt myself looking out of the corners of my eyes, seeing if anyone would speak, before the nervous laughter started twittering through the room.

This was made even funnier later, when the question was put to us: Who wants to be married? I found myself, ALONE, in the front row, with my hand raised. Once again, looking around – but this time, in one of those bad dreams where you realize that you’ve just volunteered yourself to do a math problem in front of the class, only you haven’t read the book. And you’re naked.

It wasn’t so bad. I tend to volunteer for exercises anyway. And at least I was being honest. Of course I’d like to get married. Wasn’t I just one of the girls who hesitated before admitting to my unattached status? Weren’t the rest of them? (Except, for perhaps, Identifies-As-An-Anarchist Molly, who doesn’t believe in the institution of marriage.)

So, what gives? Women who don’t want to utter the phrase “I’m not married,” but who also don’t want to admit that they want to be married? What does that mean?

My thought: Women just don’t like being thought of as “single.” It’s okay to BE single, but to be thought of that way? Well, girls are catty. And teenage girls are mean. And we learn early not to give anyone a reason to pick on us. As we get older, it moves from cattiness and pettiness into the Look of Pity. The “Awwwwww” look. The phenomenon of “You’ll find someone soon, don’t worry.”

Our parents meet us with questions of whom we’re dating and when we’ll produce them grandchildren. Mine aren’t too bad about this particular thing, but I know freshmen girls whose parents are hounding them about when they’re going to have children. For my older friends, of course, this is much worse. My friends who are grad students? They don’t even want to hear the word “grandchild” anymore, let alone produce one.

For whatever reason, the “are you married” question strikes a chord, and apparently, it does so across age, gender, and race lines. Not a single girl in our class blindly leapt into saying “I’m not married,” even though none of us are considering marriage as an option right now. (Me? Future. Distant future.) Not like the men, for whom being single isn’t a mark of shame.

What does this say about how far women have come? If we’ve really come very far at all, or if we’re doing the same old things with different words.

Beats me.

I just found it interesting.

While I’m at it, I would like to point out that the Russian for a man getting married translates into “I’m marrying myself onto my wife.” For a woman, it translates into “I’m going behind my husband.”

At last, English grammar gives me something that I can really say I prefer over Russian. God knows, I’m not much of a follower.


24 January, 2011

What Did I Get Myself Into?

At night, it has been quiet in my head.

This should come as a major breakthrough, following the Winter Break’s saga of “Can’t Sleep, Brain Won’t Shut Up.” And it does. It is extraordinarily satisfying to lie down in bed and not be thinking about twelve things simultaneously. It means that I’m actually getting sleep.

And sleep, folks, is wonderful.

Of course, the reason that my brain is quiet has less to do with some kind of miracle of modern science than it does with this:

“This” being my new schedule for the semester. That’s right. The quiet in my head can’t be attributed to meditation, prayer, pharmaceutical help, alien invasion, monsters, vampires, zombies, lobotomy, or brain death. No – it can only be attributed to sheer end-of-the-day exhaustion. I simply don’t have the energy to think.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. In fact, I think it’s wonderful.

My OCD doesn’t DO idle time well. As much as I looked forward to my month-long winter break, I was kind of done with it after the first week. I missed class. I missed assignments. I missed interaction with other human beings that didn’t consist of:

“What’d you do today?”
“Me neither.”

And as you all witnessed here, by the end of the break, I was driving myself absolutely batty. I started translating Dr. Seuss into Russian. For fun. (The fact that this exercise will look nice in my portfolio this semester is purely coincidental.) The backlash of a winter break full of boredom, however, is another tendency of mine – overscheduling.

I do it every semester. I book myself solid, and then swear I’ll never do it again. Until the next semester rolls around, and I’m itching for something to do. This time, my excuse is legitimate. Now that I’ve switched majors, I have to play catch-up with the introductory courses I would have taken last year. I have a vast array of now-completely-worthless Social Work courses to my name, and a deficit in Linguistics. Not to mention those nasty little things called ‘Core Requirements,’ that say I’m required to take so much Math, Science, and Government – probably the school’s idea of “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Oh, and by the way… biopsychology isn’t a science. Nor is neurolinguistics. Despite the fact that both of them focus extensively on the brain and how it works. Because THAT isn’t scientific.

So, I’m taking 18 hours. Yes. 18. And none of them are slacker hours.

I usually manage at least once class full of slacker hours per semester. Heck, I’ve been in Social Work – so really, I’ve been taking two “slacker hours” courses per semester, considering that I didn’t ever have to crack open a book in Social Work in order to make As in the classes. Last semester, I had Theatre. And I still felt like throwing myself into oncoming traffic by the end of the semester.

So obviously, signing up for 18 hard-core hours this semester was the bright thing to do.

You know. If something seems too hard, you have to make it harder to make it easier.




The big orange blocks are classes. The big grey blogs are office hours. (I love office hours. Professors love students who love office hours.) And those little orange blocks across the top? THOSE are my assignments. The things that are due each day. Did I mention that this is the schedule for the first full week of school? Go about four weeks deeper and those assignment blocks start stacking up. Mixed with exam blocks.

I was clearly delusional when I decided to do this.

The good news is that so far, all of the classes are pretty awesome. With the exception of Statistics, which is, well… math.

Russian is fabulous. Russian Youth Culture equally fabulous. Intro Linguistics is…well, the reading is actually interesting, which makes it easier to get through, but thus far, there isn’t much participation in class. That’s a downer for me. Still, I love the material. And Psycholinguistics will be fascinating, I think, once we really get moving in it. I can’t wait to share with you all some garden path sentences.

Because I know you’re so interested.

For now, I need to head over to the chemical engineering building so that I can learn about bar graphs and pie charts. I may, quite possibly, be bored to tears.

I suppose I could always start translating “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Then make a pie chart showing the distribution of the fish. Then I’ll turn it all in, in Russian, and see what happens.

Or, you know. I’ll go, pay attention, and try to be a good student.

First option sounds like much more fun.


22 January, 2011

Academic Accommodations (But You Look Normal…)

The beginning of the school year brings a lot of things. Excitement. Joy. Copious amounts of Russian homework. High gas bills for those of us who commute. Crisp new books and pencils.

I love the beginning of the school year. Mostly.

There’s one part that I hate – passing out academic accommodation letters.

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I have and use academic accommodations – concessions made by the school that allow me to do things like take double time on exams, test outside of the classroom, leave in the middle of a lecture, use a laptop for note taking even in laptop-forbidden classes, and circle my answers instead of using Scantron sheets. Why do I have and use these accommodations?

Because I have a disability.

There. I said it. The big, scary D word. Disability. I have one. Yes, really.

I think that it’s hard for some people to wrap their minds around the fact that not all disabilities are visible. Or maybe they assume that intelligent people can’t be disabled. Or maybe they look at me at think that I just don’t look and act “crazy” enough to warrant accommodations.

(Those in the last category clearly haven’t spent enough time with me.) (If I met their criteria for “acceptably crazy,” I wouldn’t be able to function at all.)

Every semester, after registering for my classes, I have to go to Services for Students with Disabilities and pick up a shiny, new stack of accommodation letters – letters written to my professors, by SSD, telling them that they’re required to accommodate me under the law. The Americans With Disabilities Act says so. Most of my professors are good about this. Some are fantastic.

And then there are the others. They’re the ones who act as if scheduling extended test time for me is a massive inconvenience. They never come right out and say anything, but they bestow the look. The one that clearly says “You look normal enough. Who’d you have to bribe to get these? You must be milking the system.” Oh, how I despise that look. On a list of top ten things that I can’t stand to hear, “But you look normal” would be very near the top.

Of course I look normal. I don’t have a third eye in the middle of my forehead. There’s no glowing neon sign over my head that reads “disabled.” But that doesn’t make my issues any less real. If it did, Services for Students with Disabilities wouldn’t have accepted my paperwork. This seems like the logical assumption. Unfortunately, it isn’t the one I always get.

OCD, anxiety, and panic attacks can make functioning in school downright impossible. Here are a few of the “invisible” problems I have – the ones that, to some people, don’t count as “real” enough to require accommodations.

  • Math is painfully slow – not because I’m not capable of doing it, but because I have to check my answers over and over again to feel confident that I didn’t make a mistake. Drawing charts and graphs by hand takes me three times longer than it does other people because crooked lines don’t feel “right.” And while it is good for those of us with OCD to fight our compulsions, doing so in the middle of an exam isn’t exactly time for it. Fighting compulsions can trigger panic attacks. And those are bad.
  • Speaking of which – have you ever tried to concentrate while having a panic attack? Let alone respond in a timely and appropriate manner? I’m lucky if I can get out a coherent word or remain in my seat (the urge to flee nearly always wins, necessitating the “permission to leave class” accommodation), let alone write an intelligent answer about the events leading up to the Civil War.
  • I can’t use Scantron sheets. Well… I can. And I’ll have perfectly filled in answer bubbles. But I won’t be nearly through the exam when time is called. My Freshman year, I took a math placement exam. I hadn’t, at the time, sought academic accommodations at UT. It was a Scantron exam. A MATH Scantron exam. I answered about 32 of the 50 questions, and only managed to place out of Math 305G because, of the questions I answered, I didn’t miss any. It was at that point that I realized I’d have to do something about the OCD issues. Half-completed tests – even correctly done half-completed tests – are failures to most professors.
  • Then there’s testing in a room with other people. Every cough, every sneeze – it’s fodder for the OCD Badger in my head to start an endless loop of “what if…” Think that isn’t a problem? Put the words “you’re going to die” on a tape recorder sometime, and set it to repeat. Then try to take an exam while you’re pumping it into your ears. Can you finish the test? Can you finish a thought?
  • Reading textbooks can take an inordinate amount of time, because I’ll read a paragraph six or seven times to make sure I’ve completely understood what I’m reading. This isn’t just a good study habit. No – twice would be a good study habit. Re-reading and re-reading to make the gnawing anxiety in my chest go away, to the point that I don’t FINISH the chapter because I’ve spent too much time on the first three paragraphs – that’s obsessive-compulsive.
  • Ditto writing papers. The fear that I “might have done something wrong” trumps my common sense, and “good enough” is just never “good enough.” I am absolutely incapable of writing drafts – each paragraph must feel “right” before I move onto the next one. Which means that a paragraph can take HOURS. And it just gets worse the closer to deadline I get. The “what if I don’t finish” dialogue takes over.

The people who know me best understand these things. I’ve had three professors, THREE, ladies and gentlemen, who have been extraordinarily good at working with me. The ones who’ve taken the time through the semester to check in with me and see where I am. The ones who work with me on deadlines, and who understand that I’m not just a procrastinator or somehow irresponsible. Don’t get me wrong – most of my professors are good. The great ones, though, are rare.

My peers are often worse. Phrases like, “It must be nice to get all that extra time,” make me want to show them just how “crazy” I can be – preferably with a baseball bat of sone kind. And then there are the ones who think I’m some kind of teacher’s-pet-wannabe, because I’m a perfectionist and I always sit in the front and answer questions. They seem to think that, because I do well, everything comes easily to me.

It pisses me off.

I’m a perfectionist because the anxiety mandates it in me. I will literally worry myself sick over the quality of my work. And since it never feels “good enough,” I often do more than required. Just to be sure.

But believe me – sometimes I think it’d be REALLY nice to have my time back. A paper that takes you three hours to write might take me twenty. (I clocked it once. Twenty-one is the longest I’ve spent to date. The paper was only ten pages. Double spaced.)

I sit in the front because I learn better if I’m in the front. If there’s less for me to see, there’s less for me to obsess over. In the back of the room, where I’m under less scrutiny, I’m much more likely to start counting ceiling tiles. Also, in the event of in-class panic attacks, which happen at least a few times a semester, it’s usually easier to get out of the room if I’m in the front. It’s just that simple.

And as for my participation? Chances are, I didn’t finish the reading. The majority of my information comes from what’s discussed in class. So I make sure I know what’s going on.

Yes. I do well. But no one hands it to me – I work at it. And accommodations? They don’t give me an advantage. They level the playing field. They try to eliminate the disadvantages that are already in place.


And this is why I hate accommodation letters. See, most of the time, I just take all of this with a grain of salt. I’m just as capable as anyone else of doing well –  OCD and anxiety be damned. I mean, I don’t enjoy having to work around these neuroses in my head, but I still love school. I love to learn. The OCD and anxiety… they’re annoyances to be handled. But when I pass out these letters, I am inevitably reminded of all the things that make me angry about people’s assumptions. I catch myself looking at people and thinking “You really have no idea, do you?”

I got a message on Facebook last night from a woman I know, whose sons live with invisible disabilities. “Looking normal and thinking differently,” is how she termed it – and I think that’s really perfect.

A day in my head – that’s all anyone would need. Of course, it’s dark and scary in there, and the other voices might not be very friendly. But it would eliminate all this mumbo-jumbo about normalcy. And since I can’t shove everyone ignorant of life with invisible disabilities into my head (and wouldn’t want them there anyway) the only thing left to do is to keep talking about what it’s really like to live with OCD.

Maybe someone will listen.

/rant over

/commence Russian homework.

(There’s a lot of it.)

(But I’m LOVING it.)

(Not a McDonald’s reference.)