Author Archives: Tori Rowe

Desired Chronicles from the Kitchen & Other Aspirations

Post-thunderstorm rainbow from the porch.

Post-thunderstorm rainbow from the porch.

I stopped writing.

It wasn’t so much that I was trying to get away or that I was too busy.  Had a lot more to do with being creeped out by who actually reads this and realization that the commentary that’s been running in my head as of late wasn’t appropriate for a public audience.  And since I didn’t know how to filter, I stopped.

But I also know that these posts are the best records I have of the best (and worst) memories.  I know that I’ve gone back to refer to them when something doesn’t make sense months, even years after the fact, and I’ve found that my old words hold a lot of truth in facts and stories that have had the been preserved without the filter of ex-post facto analysis.  Furthermore, I know that if I try writing them just for myself, as in unpublished, I simply won’t.

And so, curled on my bed last week, gripping my stomach over a very poorly prepared dinner, I thought about all my other bad cooking experiences, many of which are chronicled here.

This domestic failure (to clarify–it was really three failures, Monday’s dinner, Tuesday’s dinner, and Wednesday’s leftovers) mattered, and it mattered more than most.  It was the first time that I made a serious attempt at cooking and couldn’t, which was quite offensive because I’ve decided that now is the time to learn to excel in care taking.

In the last year, I’ve committed many Saturdays to grad school research.  I wasn’t usually making plans as much was I was filled to brim with hope and possibility and desperately looking for a direction to set my sails.  Of late, it’s occurred to me that a consequence of my incredible task-orientated behaviors (uhhrrmmm, extreme planning) is a little bit like Mario Kart.  In the game, when you hit the question mark box and get a red mushroom, you launch the power boost strategically, like when you’re neck-and-neck with Bowser and need just a little kick; I have to know where I’m going so I know when to peak, and this has repercussions for just about every area of my life.  It’s also why I plan.

So, I look back to that mid-fall day when I lived at Whaley’s house and stumbled across something intriguing on St. Andrew’s website and the moment it felt like a real possibility.  I remember discussing it in the car with Julie on the way to New London and everything that happened in the weeks afterward.

Come spring, I was pacing my new house with a bubbling idea in my stomach, caught in a frenzied prayer and with twenty fellowship/grant/scholarship tabs open on my Macbook.  They were all for American students pursuing postgraduate research degrees in the UK.  It was like planning classes, career, family, finances, and life purpose in a single simultaneous thought that’s so exciting I have to put it on hold for twenty minutes or so while I walk in circles.  I do this just so I can savor the synergy and excitement enough to focus on what it all means.

It was beautiful moment, but the St. Andrews day is not today, neither is teaching, blogging that is actually read, or publishing anything that is printed on real paper.  For now, those are just dreams, but they are all really just matured iterations of  things I care about and do now.

I’ll peak when the time’s right, and it will be glorious. But,in the meantime, I’m crossing my X’s, saving my dollars, and more importantly, drinking very deeply of the many lessons around me.  I mind the hows, whens, and wheres of communication, authority, and leadership.  I’m assessing the delegation and use of influence, and I like it.

It’s also why I’m learning to cook now.

Now, when I have no one to care for except myself and a roommate who never squabbles if the dishes are left in the sink a little longer than they should be.

Now, when no one will complain if I lose track of time and get home from work a little later than I should and when the relationships in my life are relatively simple and only as time-consuming as I let them be.

Because if I can’t learn to do it now, I’m not sure I ever will.


The Start Button

I microwaved ramen for dinner.

I am so way too old for this.  Freshman year of college, I watched my roommate crush her noodles, dump water on them, and hit the three minute button.  I thought it was genius.  We had no stovetop,  no oven, and only a tiny fridge.  Microwaved noodles were the closest I could get to late-night gourmet.

Now, I have a gas stove that boils water faster than I’ve ever known a liquid to vaporize, but I still used the microwave.  It’s actually almost a little ironic being that I didn’t even own a microwave for most of my senior year and fell out of the habit of using it.

But here I am: post-college house #2 and microwaved noodles are still in tow.  My bed frame arrives tomorrow, and it will be all up to me to put it together.  No doubt, it will involve at least one trip to the Home Depot, as my tool collection spans no further than three screwdrivers.  Although, I have made several advances in the homemaking department that are both noble and noteworthy.

My home has enough lamps to ensure a walk from one room to another without tripping, the walls are covered in the colors of my choosing, and I pinned an old world map in a shadow box and marked off the places that I’ve lived.  That’s homey.  I can cook now too (see herehere, and here for testimonies as to why this is significant)

Having said all of that, it probably says a lot about me that all my books were thematically arranged before my suitcase was unpacked.  For nearly a week, my outfit was whatever was at the top of my suitcase that morning.

This last move was #13 and the first that was completely of my own choosing.  It was the right thing to do, and I’m glad I’m here, very thankful actually.

Pumpkin spiced everything is starting to be replaced with wintery chocolate treats, and soon enough, Bing Crosby will croon over the Starbucks sound system again.   There are still variables to sort out. I’ve been on a few disastrous dates recently, and they’ll be some 750 miles between myself and the rest of my family on Thanksgiving.  But in both cases, I trust that alternative plans will come together yet.

I’m really tired.  I have been all week.  But, I’m also coiled up in a warm (new) bed (that I actually own now), and I can still see the sky from my pillow. I think that all counts for something important; at least it does to me.


Ambition’s Shadow

When I was in high school, I wore my MIT sweatshirt on the day of important exams– SATs, ACTs, APs, and Honors Physics.

I considered it the academic equivalent of the guys who do pushups every time the football team scores and the girls with their boyfriends’ numbers painted on their tank tops and faces.

On one hand, for nerds like myself, I suppose this is terribly arrogant behavior.  Wearing the MIT sweatshirt on the steps outside Southside High School meant something.   Clustered among a small group of overachievers, all of us nervously clutching our graphing calculators and car keys, the sweatshirt served as nonverbal intimidation– to the SAT, to my friends, but mostly to myself, as it was a willful proclamation that I was good enough for that kind of school.

Because everything rode on getting into that kind of school.

It really did help though.  Not in some crazy good luck charm kinda way, but in a real way.  It was a visual way of saying what I believed I was capable of.  That’s a mindset shift, and while the intimidation end of it might have been a little intense, the starting premise was good.

Yesterday, I read about a girl who, as an entry-level analyst, courted a major new client for Merrill Lynch when she was 22.  By the time she was 25, she was COO of an industry revolutionizing activewear company in Sweden.   Suddenly, I felt like such a major underachiever, but not in a green-headed jealous kind of way.

I kept reading and nearly every story I came across, I was like “Shoot, I could do that,” “I’d make that decision,” or “OOhhh, for the opportunity.”  In some cases, I was like, “I’ve done that already.” 

Yesterday, I wore a pair of pointed-toe, bright red, patent leather stilettos.  I’d literally been searching for this particular pair of shoes for seven years, and I finally found them about a month ago.

Granted, I went by myself and no where important, but the shoes still fit a little bit like my old MIT sweatshirt.

The only difference between then in now is that there’s no admissions counselor standing in the way.  I’ve “arrived” and am free to do whatever I like; I just need a platform to do it.


The Annotated Nightstand

When I moved out of Wesleyan, I salvaged my old $12 particle board nightstand from Walmart and bought a pack of 30 sharpies.

Now, on this nightstand, between the short stack of books I flip through at night, is the careful calligraphy of a girl who grew up in the digital age (read: well-intentioned, scribbly cursive).  Sprawled across its white surface are colorful quotations from my favorite books, graphical renditions of my prayers and dreams, and what is pretty much the only surviving record of any attempt at poetry that I’ve ever made.

While my personal library rivals that of my two roommates combined, the stack of books on my nightstand occupy a coveted and elect space.  They’re the only ones within arms reach of my bed and thereby serve as the books I’m most likely to actually read on a quiet night.

One’s on entrepreneurship, another on deception and morality.  The others include a short how-to on leadership training from the perspective of a former Russian communist and a healthy collection of thinking theological texts.

Sometimes I go to the grocery store, and I become overwhelmed by capitalism.  The possibilities are practically endless, and yet, I just ate crackers and cheese for dinner.  Worse yet, it was the third time I’ve done that this week.

Something similar happens when I read.  Overwhelmed by how much I don’t know and understand, I read five chapters of everything and change books.  It’s like saying I’ve put munster, gouda, and cheddar cheese on my crackers this week, but still haven’t figured out that if you add deli meat, two slices of bread, and a pan you get a panini.  It’s also why my nightstand collection includes communist commentary, pop non-fiction, and Oswald Chambers.

This can be really bad.

I almost always did almost all of the reading for class.  One particular week in a post-imperial history tutorial, I got a paper back, one in which I had called a certain unnamed political transition “peaceable” in the introduction.  The professor circled the word and wrote, “Millions of people died.”

Yep, I’d missed an entire genocide.

That’s really terrible.

I say all this to say–I really miss my thesis research.  It provided focus, scope, and perspective on everything I read.  It also provided an insanely small nano-universe in which I was the so-called “expert” and served as the primary argument-maker.

My annotated nightstand speaks nothing about my research, but it says everything about a will to articulate, understand, and a life that meters progress by months and years instead of semesters.


Spanish, Service & Switching Places

301645_10150425046621215_890517333_nA few years ago, when I lived in Spain, I went on a weekend trip to Extremadura, which is basically a lot of desert and a few Roman ruins.  It was a school-sponsored trip, so our accommodations were classed-up considerably from the cheapest (safe) hostel we could find online, which is what we usually went for, to a formal hotel.

I don’t remember the exact problem or what caused it, but I had some kind of trouble with my room key.  Because of it, I couldn’t get in my room.  Exhasperated, tired, and hungry, I complained to the guys from my school who were hanging out in the hallway.  One of them cut me off and impatiently told me to go down to the front desk, “You’re not shy, and you speak Spanish fine.  What’s the problem?”

could speak Spanish, but I only liked to use it around people I knew well.  I knew I didn’t speak it flawlessly, and I was afraid of sounding stupid–especially at the concierge’s desk in a fancy hotel.  I hated that I couldn’t get my thoughts and ideas out exactly right, so most of the time, I didn’t even try.

I’ve barely used the language at all since I returned to the US in the winter of 2011.

But Spanish has been on my mind lately.  I’ve taken to reading el mundo at lunch and started mentally walking through what a phone conversation would be like if a Spanish-speaking person called the church.

To that end, I’ve been waiting, hoping, thinking, planning, praying, but only sortof expecting to use it.

Today, I was talking to a woman at a big, annual church work day in apartment complex that needs some love.  I walked up to her because she was alone, and I like helping people feel part of the group.

We had a comfortable back-and-forth conversation, and eventually she told me about how she usually doesn’t like speaking in English.  She’s afraid she’ll mess up.  I thanked her for her willingness to converse with me, even though it was hard for her.

Then BOOM.  No fear.  No nerves.  No hesitancy.

I started talking to her in Spanish.

My new friend and I talked a little more about our families, and then we went our ways.  But while I was walking away, I realized that what had just happened was really, really good.  I’d voluntarily swapped places with someone who was uncomfortable by putting myself in the vulnerable position.

It was a discovery that became my MO for the rest of the day.  I asked a group of shy, little girls who would barely talk to me to help me with my Spanish, and by the end of the day, I had a long shadow that followed me everywhere.  All we talked about was Disney princesses and jump rope, but sometimes what you talk about matters a lot less than the time you spend together.

I grew-up doing the work day thing.  I know how to get work done, start a party with a bunch of kids, introduce myself to their parents, help make people feel comfortable, and seek Kingdom breakthrough with people who think that God would never do anything here.  It was awesome today, just like it always is.

But doing it in Spanish–woah, that’s new.

As an added appendice to this story–I so seriously should have gotten in an accident on the way home.  I didn’t see past Shirley’s head in the passenger seat and attempted turn directly into an oncoming car, but even though I was still pushing the gas pedal, the car didn’t get any faster.  In that split-second moment of “what just happened?,” I looked down at my dashboard.  The car had slipped into neutral (??!??); major, major accident averted.

Yeah, awesome day.


Ink Blots and Achievements

20130609_183613A good half-dozen partial posts are sitting in my draft box.

Each begins with some creative quip or funny experience, but invariably they drop-off in quality at the part that I tie the opening paragraphs to the section that actually matters.

While it would be difficult to argue that my life has in any way significantly slowed since the pre-April 12th days (aka the days before my thesis was due), I am spending considerably less time undisturbed in a research cave.  Lack of human interaction encourages use of other outlets to process life…like blogging.  Hence the plethora of thesis-complaining posts and absence of anything since then.

But more importantly, I think there’s been less to record.  Despite finishing school, moving, and settling into what will be my life for as long as the immediately foreseeable future holds, everything simply is, and I’ve been waiting for it. 

I finished school sometime at the end of May, but my thesis eclipsed all other schoolwork in importance sometime in early October.  After thesis, none of it mattered any more.

By the spring, I started experiencing some kind of mental whiplash for attempting to fully live in the worlds that were work and school, knowing that I couldn’t fully commit to either.  I could remember everything on the church calendar for the next three weeks, but I’d consistently double-book my own schedule because school and work never merged in my head.   I willfully chose to try to make the most of what was left of school, but my friends were as aware as I was that my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

I’ve been teased for my lack of sentimentality, which is probably fair.  One of the last times I spoke with Prof. Elphick, I went to great lengths to assure him that I didn’t regret my Wesleyan education.  Near-complete lack of resources for anything I really cared to study is unfortunate, but learning how to ceaselessly defend and protect myself has got to count for something.

But the truth is, I love a challenge.  Sometimes, I love a challenge so much, I bypass the transitions, because what’s next or could be is always more exciting.

This doesn’t deny the importance of the present.  In fact, it elevates the importance of the present, because it articulates dreams that are still too splotchy to yet fully-explain as challenges instead of directionless aspiration.  It frames the present in the realistic context of what could be.

Some of what I’m working toward are very old dreams, some are clearer than they once were, and some I finally just know how to pursue; and while I’m still drawing the plans, there’s no doubt that it’s a beautiful place to be.


After Thesis

It’s all over next Friday.  And when it is, I will:

Dinner for champions.

Wesshop dinner for champions.

1. Eat normal meals at normal hours.

2. Play basketball.

3. Go shopping.

4. Sleep.*

5. Read a novel.

6. Read on Foss.

7. See a movie.

8. Go out.

9. Host a party.

10. Go to class.

11. Actually do the reading for class.

12. Listen while I’m there.

13. Call my parents.

14. Cook.

15. Attend neglected friendships.

16. Work normal hours.

17. Do laundry.*

18. Talk about stuff other than my thesis.

 

*Actually might need to do before next Friday.

 

 

 

 


Flatbread Crackers & Cheese

DSC00988One time last semester, life was falling in pieces, or at least I thought it was.  I really can’t remember why I was upset.  I just know that I was in my spot on the Dennison steps, legs dangling a few feet above the heads of students walking below.   Judy came along behind me, and speaking the universal code that is I wish I could help but really can’t, she gave me food.  Flatbread crackers, tomato sauce, and shredded cheese has been my thing ever since.

I work on deadlines.  I always have.  Pretty sure the over-achiever, ambitious timelines I set fall in rhythm with my own heartbeat.  Supposing this connection were true, it would explain why not meeting deadlines of any kind, include my own, sets my pulse racing.

Watching an idea larger than I can properly explain come together has been the achievement of my academic life.  Admittedly, there are things far more important.  Likewise, a few dozen mostly coherent pages doesn’t really count for anything truly “academic.”  While its stolen my life, interests, time, relationships, sleep, and is about to get away with my sanity, a thesis is an exercise, not book.  If I’m a lucky, a dozen people will actually read it, and half of them will be either paid to do so or share my bloodline.

And yet, it’s all I want tonight, because it still matters.  The sophomoric (literally, cause I was a sophomore) Thursday night stomachache of fear and tension and not actually being fully convinced of my ability to make my deadline is setting on with prodigious force.

I spent most of the day camping out in the CSS library, a location with the unique advantage of being unoccupied, large enough to pace, and far enough away from anything that matters to yell at my computer without disturbing anyone.  The introduction I wanted to complete on Thursday is finally written and the rewrite of Part I is at last underweight, but the gaps, unwritten conclusion, edits, and eight days I have until I need a complete draft rise on my shallow breaths.

I’ve never run a marathon before, but I’m pretty sure this is the intellectual equivalent, and I’m doing it on flatbread crackers and cheese.


Glimpses

20130221_193011 Some things, being so much worth celebrating, so much more than what you had been hoping for, and yet, so much a part of a much larger story, are near impossible to communicate.

Should a casual onlooker have dropped by my apartment on a recent morning, he or she would have noticed a few things.  Among them–three sets of shoes thrown about and a disorderly pile of clothes and books.  If Waldo had been hiding in the corner, he’d of never been found.  Yet, I remain a perpetually organizing, color-coding, stressed-when-a-room-is-cluttered neat freak.

All that’s to say, there is an inverse relationship between time I have to breathe each day and the cleanliness of my room.  Less time begets a a bigger mess.

The routine of the semester has comfortably set in and the predictions I made about how I would spend my time are proving to be accurate.  I recently met a paper deadline for a seminar class with about six hours of work, including all reading time.  By contrast, I’ll usually spend about six hours just preparing to do thesis writing every Saturday.

So with a skilled mental division of labor, I chose not to think about how this week’s Veritas Forum would upset my schedule.  Veritas seeks to engage the larger campus community with “life’s hardest questions” and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of it.  Academics who lead the forums include pretty much all the vocal Christian intellectuals who you’d think would be into this kind of thing, the scholars who like to tell them that they are wrong, and the most popular professors on each campus that hosts an event.

I knew Veritas was going to be good.  The marketing team killed it, the topic was provoking (science and faith), the guest speaker a genius, and it all felt right.  Last year, 100 people turned out for the first-time event.  This year, I fully expected 120-150 students and  great discussion.

I showed up during the hour between final tech preparations and when people were expected to start arriving, just because I wanted some time to sit and pray in the room.

But it didn’t work.  People started coming—super early.  That never happens on a college campus.  By the time the forum was underweight, 225 students had piled into the largest lecture hall on campus.  It was standing room only.

veritasThey came from everywhere–grad students, humanities majors, science majors, social science majors, community members, and professors.  They came with questions and objections.  From my seat in the middle of the very back row of the stadium hall, I saw everything, and it was extraordinary.

During lecture, an open computer screen in front of me wasn’t on facebook.  The kid was googling something the speaker said.  He pulled out a notecard and wrote down his question for the Q & A.  Friends kept quiet, running commentaries with each other during the presentation.  A Buddhist student’s forum-related facebook status made me laugh out loud.  Afterward, the biggest complaint I heard was that people had a questions Prof. Hutchinson didn’t have time to answer.

Crowds discussed the lecture at a reception afterward, and for all I know the cupcakes multiplied, because, for the first time in my life, the good food at a campus event didn’t run out.

Toward the end of the night, Abraham ran up to me with a stack of survey cards.  It was so tall, I thought it included blank cards, but it didn’t.  The survey asked the faith you grew up with, the faith you have now, and the biggest question the forum made you think about.

20130223_210917

Survey cards.

Despite having barely started a paper due the next morning, I poured through all 180 surveys, amazed at the responses.  People from all kinds of faith backgrounds showed up, and, based on the questions they wrote down, they were walking away wondering about the most basic questions.  What is truth?  Where does it come from?  How and why would Christianity fit into it?  For a lot of people, it was personal.

Needless to say, I’ve never been so excited about data entry.  Follow-up plans are already underweight and buzz from the event is still in conversation.

I wish I could say more.  I wish I could explain how much this meant to me and how long I had waited for it to come together.  I wish I could explain how that one single night fits into a hundred more and why it all matters.

Instead, I just have a messy bedroom.


A few words

Fixed a widget to my desktop as a constant reminder to go back to writing.

Somewhere between (still) staring at the first two pages of chapter three and trying to force myself to focus, I made a declaration to that little crevasse of my heart that had somehow not given up on the possibility of one day working in academia.  Research after graduate school and the unspoken dream of book writing were simply never going to happen.  Ever.

Funny that my writing had never been so relevant to anyone as it was yesterday.

Late last night, sheltered away from Nemo’s wrath and tucked underneath every single blanket I own, a friend came in and sat on the edge of my bed.  I had just gotten warm, so I didn’t even sit up.  She proceeded to talk to me about her summer plans, applications, and all the other questions that don’t leave your mind when you’re in college and don’t know where you are going next. Eventually, she asked me a very serious and direct question about decision-making.

Sadly, I don’t actually remember the exact question, which might speak to poor listening skills, but I’m pretty sure I can’t remember it just because I was so overwhelmed with the answer.

20130209_133357

Nemo from the inside of Exley

I had recently spent many hours untangling books, blogs, histories, videos, lectures, conversations, and ideas on the topic of her inquiry.  The only thing I had to show for it were those two pathetic pages in front of me.  But last night, instead of being a lamentably short introduction, those two pages were the clearest, most concise answer to my friend’s question.

Instead of adding to a muddled mess of thoughts, they helped.

Now, it is not lost on me that the realization that my words could matter for something came after I had an opportunity to share them with someone.  Discussing ideas always makes the good ones better and the bad ones obvious, but it was because I had driven myself mad writing them all down that I could offer a thoughtful, coherent answer to my friend.

All to say, as far as motivation to keep writing and belief that I can actually finish this in 61 days goes, last night was good.