Sunday, December 26, 2010

There Are So Many Cake Shows

Jack: Lemon, that’s the smartest thing you’ve ever said.
Lemon: Really? What about 3 years ago when I said there should be more TV shows about cake?

This was the conversation I just watched on On-Demand “30 Rock”. I started clapping. Hey America, why are there so many shows about cake now? I admit they are hypnotically fascinating, but still, it's absurd how many hours of American television are devoted to baking and assembling elaborate cakes. In the three weeks since I’ve been back, I’ve learned that straws inserted into lower cake tiers are used for weight displacement whereas dowels are used to hold cakes in place. A Comcast guide search reveals the following shows: Ace of Cakes, Amazing Wedding Cakes, Cake Boss, Cake Boss: Next Great Baker, (many many episodes of) Food Network Challenge, and Ultimate Cake Off. I’m overwhelmed.

It’s a weird overwhelmed though. I don’t feel hit over the head; I don’t feel the weight of cake shows crashing down on me. It’s a more subconscious phenomenon where, for example, yesterday I watched hours of cake shows for no other reason other than my brain seems extra susceptible to bizarre meaningless American television programming. My brain has spent the last 2 years taking it slow, and now even a lukewarmly stimulating TV show is enough to captivate my brain for hours.

But it’s not just TV. Christmas shopping was insanely difficult this year. Browsing the shelves at Borders one night last week, I walked around the store for an hour and a half. It was a strange feeling though, because even though it physically felt like boredom-fueled aimless wandering, I wasn’t bored at all; in fact, I was enthralled. It was as though something caught my eye, and then I was distracted by a shiny object, and then another shiny object would catch my eye, and then another and another. After shopping for a while, I ran into some friends of mine. I told them quite earnestly, “This store is so big!” They found this hysterical.

People keep asking me about how I’ve been dealing with the cold. But the truth is the cold isn’t all that big of a factor—it’s been freezing, but it’s such an easy thing to remedy, I haven’t minded it too much. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes into play, and the things at the bottom of the pyramid, while most pertinent, have been the easiest to resolve. It’s the more ethereal, more subconscious stuff near the top that’s been most difficult to address. I can get myself a sweatshirt or a blanket to deal with the cold, but it’s difficult to even realize how overstimulated I’ve been, let alone try to alleviate the issue.

So I’ve mostly been taking life slow, trying not to overwhelm my brain with unnecessary thought processes. I’ve been enormously unproductive since I got home. Blogging has been out of the question. Sorry about that, but it was a low priority anyway, and assembling 500 words of coherent thought was out of the question.

But now things are settling down a little, and maybe life is getting back on track. I could elaborate, but there’s a cake show on TLC right now, and my attention’s divided.

I hope you’re well. Pictures soon.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I'm Back

There was a moment in the long car ride home last night when conversation with my parents got around to tragic things that happened to people we know so peripherally that it wasn’t important enough to share internationally but now that I’m home I may as well know. “This person’s aunt died” and “The mom of the boy you might remember from little league is in the early stages of dementia” and “That little girl from church who’s at least 8 years younger than you is taller than you.” Most of the ride was cool, but this conversation made me a little tense.

To draw an embarrassing literary parallel, it reminded me a little of the scene from Dan Brown’s latest, “The Lost Symbol”, in which Robert Langdon is drowned in a vat of amniotic fluid. Brown claims it’s a form of torture in the sense that when you come out of your natal relapse, reality is nearly too much to bear.

The Peace Corps provides geographic isolation, and with that comes a certain amount of emotional detachment. There’s also a relief in returning home after the Peace Corps where it feels like something difficult has finished and I felt a small sense of invincibility. And then reality punched me in the face.

It wasn’t just that conversation, of course. Living in the developing world, one occasionally idealizes America, and returning home can definitely bring one back to Earth. America is cold and dry and busy and expensive and not quite the haven of efficiency and convenience I remember.

When Phil and I sat down in the waiting area at the shipping agent yesterday as the lady behind the desk took care of Scout’s paperwork, Phil and I reveled in the fact that we’d just been assured that this seemingly bureaucratic process that might take forever in Samoa would be taken care of in 10 minutes.

The process took 2.5 hours. Taumafai atili pea, America.

The other analog that comes to mind is one Jim used to lay on us after youth ministry retreats in high school: After the Transfiguration, Jesus looks at Peter, James, and John and essentially says, “You can’t tell anyone about this because no one’s really gonna understand.” It’s kinda like Jesus’ version of the “What happens in Vegas...” tagline.

But the Peace Corps experience is all about that. Even with the blog, even with modern technology and text messaging and Skype and somewhat frequent access to Facebook, no one besides the people who were there know what really happened. We can tell you stories and we can paint a damn good picture, we can show hundreds of photos and perhaps some of you actually came to visit. But even then, you can’t really know what it was like.

I was chatting with a friend from CNET on GChat this morning, and I asked her what I missed during the last two years. She gave me a 20-word response, which was surely informative, but I can’t really say I know what happened. Only the people directly involved can really know.

And that’s a lonely feeling for a returned volunteer: I’m surrounded by people who don’t know. And now it’s the people who do know who I’m texting and Skyping and looking for on Facebook.

Sorry if this is on big downer. Honestly coming home has been very exciting and joyful, and even the 4 hours that it took to get the cat through Customs wasn’t all that bad. My parents setup my bedroom, the cat has adjusted surprisingly fast (save for getting along with the dogs), and the Facebook message board has been all warm and friendly. I swear I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to paint a picture of the experience.

I’m also sorry I’ve been away for the last couple days. I’ll catch you up on the stuff you missed tomorrow.

Finally, if I gave you a business card with my phone number on it, be advised that number doesn’t work. My cellular carrier, who assured me 26 months ago that they’d keep my account on hold until my return, instead decided to cancel my account without informing me (by their admission). I don’t want to say who it is, but I will say that the name rhymes with “Kay Tee and Tee”.

I hope you’re well. Pictures will be posted tomorrow.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Last Supper

We're getting ready to head over to Italiano Pizza for Phil's and my last meal in country. I've run into all sorts of obstacles all day. Maybe I'll tell you all about them someday. In the Resource Room right now is Jenny S. 82, Kaelin, Supy, and Joey. Phil is in the Peace Corps office's shower. I figured I'd use my remaining Internet time to post.

There is a big debate over whether our flight will leave at 11:59 p.m. or 12:59 a.m. tomorrow. Either way, the shipping agent wants the cat at the airport at 8:00 p.m.; the likelihood of us making it there by that time is dubious. And anyway, I don't want the cat stuck in a box for so long.

The training group was in town today. Danny helped me unload the car this morning. I got to say goodbye to Nancy and Jenny and Rob.

There's still a lot that's not packed at my house. And honestly, I don't think the rest of it will get packed. This list includes:
  • Bed sheets and pillowcases;
  • Dish soap and dish drainer;
  • Mop;
  • Etc.
We are going to Y-Not for pre-pizza drinks now. Next post from America.

I hope you're well.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Hard Day's Night

Moving out is exhausting. When did I acquire so much stuff?

Less than 24 hours left in Samoa.

I could blog, but I can barely keep my eyes open. Going to sleep now.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Final Push

I’m late constantly. Senior year of high school I was late to second-period English nearly every day. At eCivis, where management operated like time Nazis, I was often admonished for showing up to work 4 or 5 minutes after the 7:30 a.m. call time. In the training village, every morning was a contest between me, Supy, and Sara to see who would show up last. I have no moral problem with lateness, but I still felt pangs of guilt as I was running late for today’s PTA Luncheon.

I was supposed to be at school at noon, but this morning was busy and by 12:20 I arrived at my house by cross-town taxi, and scrambled to feed the cat and make myself presentable for lunch. And as I nearly rushed out the door, I looked around at my messy house which has only become more chaotic as my days have grown increasingly busy and things have fallen more into a state of neglect.

So I dropped everything and washed the dishes.

It’s difficult to think of the last time life was so busy and stressful. It’s a pitiful moment when you have to test the bounds of acceptable tardiness because there are menial-but-essential household chores to be done. If it’s not a sign that life is out of control, I don’t know what is.

And, as far as I can tell, life will only continue at this frenetic pace until I board the plane Monday night. There are lots of administrative things I still have to do: close my bank account, close my landline, close my dial-up Internet account, write up my official Description of Service, take the cat for her final vet appointment, take me to my final doctor appointment, get all the necessary cat paperwork to the shipping agent.

Then there are the social obligations, which are arguably less essential, but still obligatory, and definitely more time consuming. Rotaract is celebrating my going-away tonight, Staff Dinner tomorrow night, Host Family Friday night.

And normal responsibilities still carry on. The unflushable blog is breathing down my neck, tomorrow morning I’ll be helping Kaelin edit the co-teaching video, I need to make a CD with all of the files—grade calculating spreadsheet, vector-based logo, letterhead, etc.—I’ve developed for school over the past 2 years.

And between all of this, there’s all the normal trappings of moving out: purging (most) of my possessions, packing up the things I’m keeping, picking up souvenirs for the family back home, etc.

At this point, it’s all a blur.

So maybe doing the dishes this afternoon wasn’t menial or pitiful. Maybe it was just a nice way of taking a break from the warp-speed pace of leaving. Washing dishes made things feel normal, if only for a moment.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

I treated my Year 13s to McDonald's breakfast this morning before we headed to the Internet cafe.

At the Internet cafe.

My pule dancing at today's PTA Luncheon. I forgot to mention above that the PTA Luncheon didn't actually get started until around 1:15. I had no problem showing up 45 minutes late.