More Than Ships Passing In the Night

Month: May, 2014

Let’s get this ball rolling

Well, guys. It’s official. I just registered for the GRE.

I. Registered. For. The. G.R.E.

The Graduate Record Examination.

The crazy expensive, mindgames-galore test that is going to make me doubt everything I thought I knew about myself and my supposed intellect.

D-Day: September 20th. At 8 am.

That is, Eight O’Clock Ante-Meridian. As in, before the meridian. As in, before noon. As in, get there an hour early so I have time to get lost and then figure out where I’m supposed to be and get oriented and use the bathroom five(+) times. As in, 8 am = 7 am.

I didn’t really have a choice: it was the only time available on that date, and that date happened to be my best option. C’est la vie.

Test duration: 4 hours and 30 minutes.

Excuse me, I have to go throw up now. And then cry. And then throw up some more. And then cry some more.

Other grad school-related things that I have done today:

  • Contacted two potential references (fingers crossed – hopefully they still like me! Hopefully they still remember me…)
  • Figured out the transcript submission process
  • Investigated the auditing process at my community college for auditing music theory classes in the fall (to prep for my diagnostic entrance exams. Cue more tears & vomiting)
  • Started drafting an e-mail to the graduate admissions guru at UT Austin with some preliminary questions about the application process.

It’s on, grad school. It’s SO on.

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Sueños Españoles

My dance studio started a ballroom dance class about six months before my last showcase. In that class, we learned salsa, swing, cha-cha, merengue, rumba… I remember that merengue was the most difficult because it involved shifting your weight in a way that was counter-intuitive to which foot was stepping and which knee was bending. I still get confused when I think about it.

For our showcase dance, we did a salsa number.

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The instructor auditioned all of us for spots in a small group of dancers that would open the dance. Normally, I’m not a fan of auditions. I can’t handle the pressure and inevitably mess up. Of course, it occurs to me that this is the whole point of an audition, because performing in front of a live audience just magnifies that pressure exponentially. It’s like the purpose of the audition isn’t so much to prove that you’re “good enough” but rather to prove that you can handle the pressure. Hm. I literally just got that right now as I was writing.

ANYWAY.

So, we all had to audition for this opening group. The instructor told us she was looking for a lot of expression – that we needed to be interesting to watch. She may have used the word “sassy.” I can’t remember. I don’t know what clicked for me, but I channeled all of the inner fuego that my conservative homeschooled Protestant Caucasian self could muster and threw myself into that routine as though I had been dancing salsa since before I could walk.

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It worked.

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I landed a spot in the opening group of dancers and got to salsa my heart out, in all of my red dress, feather boa, fishnet stocking glory.

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Save the last dance

I did hip-hop dancing for about three years during my stint as a dancer. Prior to that, I was the kid who got laughed at during birthday parties because I didn’t really know how to dance to pop music. I loved the idea of dancing but, as I mentioned in my previous post, I didn’t instinctively know how to move my body – it wasn’t something that came naturally to me. The self-consciousness that came when my peers made fun of me just added to my inhibition. So, when the dance studio started a beginning hip-hop class, I joined. I wanted to prove a point.

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I don’t know that taking hip-hop really did much to enhance my dancing skills in a social context. Learning choreographed dances, even to pop music, isn’t necessarily conducive to being able to hold one’s own on the dance floor at a party. It was a good experience for me, but the moves never felt natural, and I was often dissatisfied with how I looked doing the moves. You’ll notice there are only a few pictures in this post. In part, that is because I did more ballet dances than hip-hop dances, but it’s also because it was hard to find pictures where I didn’t look super awkward. Also, it goes without saying, but just for the record: I had absolutely no say in or control over the outfits we had to wear for these dances!

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Toward the end of high school, I quit my hip-hop class. I had developed an inflamed trapezius muscle during my junior year, which limited my neck mobility and sent me to a few physical therapy sessions. I concluded that the sharp, jerky movements that came with hip-hop dancing were, if not the cause of the inflammation, at least not helping the situation. Plus, to be honest, I really never got truly comfortable being a hip-hop dancer – the movements just never looked quite right when I did them!

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It wasn’t until much later, when I discovered the power of liquid courage at wedding receptions, that I learned how to enjoy social dancing.

Regardless, one thing I have learned is that even if you’re doing a dance move that looks absolutely ridiculous, it’s better to go all out with it than to do it half-heartedly because you’re self-conscious. You will look less ridiculous if you’re totally into it.

Nothing matters when we’re dancing

Before I was an opera singer, I was a dancer.

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A friend and I were recently discussing our respective experiences in dancing during our younger years. She asked me which role I had in the Nutcracker, and I tried to explain the annual showcases that my dance studio put on in lieu of more traditional ballets.

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Dance has been on my mind a lot lately, what with my recent obsession with Dancing With the Stars. So, I found the photos from my dancing days and decided to do a little tribute to my time as a dancer. This is mainly for my own personal benefit and enjoyment, but also for anyone who has ever been surprised to learn that I used to dance, or had trouble picturing me as a dancer. It’s also for those of you who like to stereotype me as the quiet, shy, reticent little girl who needs to “get out more.” You know who you are.

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I started in one ballet class when I was in 8th grade. By the time I graduated from high school, I was dancing on pointe, and had branched out into hip-hop, latin ballroom, and jazz.

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All of the dances pictured in this post are ballet dances. I’ll post the hip-hop and latin ballroom photos separately.

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I was never as good at dancing as I wanted to be in my mind. My instructor shared this paradoxical principle of dancing: “If it feels comfortable, you’re probably not doing it correctly.” It was hard learning to distinguish between technique that felt comfortable and technique that felt correct. In spite of dancing and also participating in gymnastics prior to that, I’ve never actually been particularly flexible. I’ve also perpetually struggled with shoulder and neck tension, and a weak lower back. Consequently, I had trouble achieving lines that were long and beautiful – it was like I couldn’t extend my body quite enough. Even when I knew the choreography, it often didn’t look quite “right.”

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Some dancers are gifted with bodies that effortlessly look beautiful when they dance. They have a natural grace that enhances their movements, adding an extra aesthetic touch. I was not one of those dancers. I didn’t instinctively know how to move my body and would often discover, when looking at pictures or watching video footage of our dances, that movements which I thought were graceful and lovely were actually just awkward.

It was a great learning tool. Nothing gets the message home better than actually seeing what you look like when you think what you’re doing looks good and it actually does not. It helped to highlight specific skills that needed work. On the flip side, it was also encouraging to see pictures and video footage where I actually looked okay. Every performer needs a little positive affirmation that something is working. 113F0362_exposure

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And when I actually worked hard at what I was learning, and spent time outside of my classes practicing, I saw a noticeable improvement in my abilities.

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One thing that I was good at was falling. I don’t mean that as a joke, either! Our dances often involved choreographed “falls” that required us to slide to the floor from a standing or even a leaping position. Surprisingly enough, I was actually able to allow myself to “fall” well, so that it looked natural and graceful. For whatever reason, I wasn’t afraid of the gravitational pull, but instead managed to embrace it and harness gravity to help me accomplish what I wanted.

Or maybe it was just because I’m 5’2″, so I didn’t have as far to fall.

Anyway, I loved dancing. It occupied the greater part of my afternoons and evenings during the week. It was my P.E. throughout high school, and also one of my primary social outlets. I have great memories of my time in the dance studio, and even if I was always a little bit on the self-consciously mediocre side, I still loved trying new dance styles and stepping out of my comfort zone in order to learn more. I’m so thankful that I had that opportunity.

I’VE BEEN UP SINCE 5:30 AM….!!!! :D :D :D

WOOO!!!

It is 10:38 am as I’m writing this and I feel GREAT!

I volunteered to help out with the law school graduation this morning, which meant getting here at 7 am. I have a pretty lousy commute during the week, but at 6:30 on a Saturday morning… man, I just flew down that freeway! I so wish I was a morning person. The early morning sunlight is gorgeous, and everything is so hushed… it’s glorious. The entire day is unfolding before you, and there’s this sense that you’re about to go out and conquer the world, or at least get a lot of stuff done.

Too bad I hate waking up early.

The morning has been busy: putting out programs on all of the chairs, pretending to be a law student during our “run-through,” helping the law grads with their attire, and now I’m camped out in the moot court room, guarding everyone’s stuff while the actual graduation happens. I definitely got the sweet end of this volunteering deal – hanging out by myself, indoors, for a few hours. The perfect time to catch up on blogging, or reading, or shows, or whatever. It’s pretty great. When the graduation is over, all the VIPs (judges, faculty, “dignitaries,” etc.) come back to the moot court room to return their borrowed robes, and I help receive their robes, hoods, and hats. This should be fun!

In the meantime, I’ve been watching YouTube videos of my favorite dances from Dancing With the Stars. I was a hardcore Meryl and Maks fan from the beginning, because Meryl is awesome and I basically just want to be her. She is an incredible dancer, she has incredible muscle definition, and she seems incredibly sweet. I love watching her dance because there is an aesthetic, graceful quality to her movements and her line that is inherently beautiful.

I think the moment when I really got hooked on Dancing With the Stars was when I watched Meryl and Maks’ dance during the week 3 “Best Year of My Life” dances. In fact, it was a particular moment in that dance: when Maks dips Meryl using just the crook of his arm. I don’t know why I was so mesmerized by it, but something about that two-second piece of choreography caught my attention and the image was fixed in my mind. That was also when I started to fall in love with the song “All of Me” by John Legend. Yeah, it’s totally over-played on the radio right now, but it nevertheless has become a top contender for my First Dance song, if I ever get married.

Anyway, you have to watch their dance. The moment that I’m talking about happens around 1:11 in the video below. It is exquisite. I get chills just thinking about it.

During the season finale, Meryl and Maks did a freestyle dance to the song “Latch” by Disclosure/Sam Smith. Again, I was mesmerized by it. I was mesmerized by their opening pose. I was mesmerized by Meryl’s effortless back-bend (1:00 in the video below), I was mesmerized by the way the choreography supported the lyrics (1:24-30, for example).

And I loved that Meryl dipped Maks (at 0:35) – it was like they were mirroring the choreography from week 3.

So, I thought this post was going to be a reflection on the bitter-sweetness of graduations and graduation season. But it was more fun to talk about Meryl and Maks, because their dances brought joy to my life over the past few months. Watching them dance inspires me the way true beauty is supposed to inspire us. It is amazing.

The Life Operatic

I’m on a sort of stream-of-consciousness kick right now with blogging. I actually have been feeling rather uninspired lately, hence resorting to highly random posts such as yesterday’s photo series. This got me thinking about what other random photo series I could post. And then I remembered about these gems of pictures that I’ve had in my possession for several years but never shared, and for no good reason.

These pictures are special because they constitute pretty much the only photographic evidence of my very brief explorations in opera. During my junior year at the conservatory, I participated in two Puccini opera scenes: one from “Suor Angelica” and the other from “Gianni Schicchi.” I was a lay sister in the first and La Ciesca in the second.

I was recruited to be in “Suor Angelica” at the last minute, as an “extra”. This turned into being a lay sister, and for some reason, the director targeted me for several random, attention-grabbing moments. I had to break down crying and run off stage at one point. Later, from off-stage, I had to scream bloody murder and run across the stage and off again, covering my face, to imply that I had been stung by bees.

I used to love acting when I was a kid – I was actually quite theatrical once upon a time. But I’ve always preferred comedy over tragedy, so fake crying on stage and hysterical screams aren’t really my forte. I suppose it was a good learning experience, but I would have been just as happy if someone else had to do it. However, I did get very good at emitting bloodcurdling screams on cue.

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My fellow lay sister and I fake talking.

Who knows what we’re actually saying to each other.

Probably something along the lines of “I am so tired right now.” “Me too. I have so much homework to do.”

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We were late for morning prayers. Got busted!

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So then we sang a pretty duet and all was right in the world.

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Plot twist: the tourieres have arrived with supplies – and news!

I had a sort of complicated relationship with the opera program that year. I auditioned, then backed out right before the results were posted, then changed my mind. It’s a long side-story and I still have mixed feelings about how it all played out. The bottom line is that the director ended up needing someone to fill the role of La Ciesca in “Gianni Schicchi,” so she was still able to give me a part – albeit not the role for which I had originally been cast. Then, a little while later, she recruited me to be a Lay Sister as well. So, in the end, I was still plenty involved.

“Gianni Schicchi” was the dark horse opera scene. It started out pretty rocky with the usual woes of vocalists: people not knowing their music, difficult rhythms, confusing entrances, etc., etc., etc. I remember an afternoon in a practice room, working with a fellow cast member who was also a violist and had very solid rhythm, drilling some of the difficult spots. I couldn’t imagine how the scene was going to come together and not be a disaster. In the end, it was one of two comedy scenes interspersed in a largely tragically-themed program. I might be biased, but based on audience response, it was one of the most well-received scenes. As we got comfortable with the music and the blocking, we were able to ham it up and play up the comedic aspect of the scene. It ended up being my favorite memory of my entire opera experience.

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There is a moment in the libretto when Betto is spreading the rumor that the recently-deceased Buoso has left everything in his will to the monastery.

What “Betto” actually whispered in my ear was usually incomprehensible and often inappropriate.

But I never broke character.

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The rumor has been circulated! Now we must ransack the dead man’s room for his will.

After all, as his greedy relatives, we want to make sure that he has remembered us. 

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The hunt is on!

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Rinuccio has found the will!

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Everyone’s expressions are hilarious. And I look super creepy.

Rinuccio is waxing romantic about marrying his sweetheart.

So naive. 

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We’re getting impatient, Rinuccio!

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Scheming about what I’ll do with my share of the money

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The rumors are true! He left everything to the monastery! 

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We are not pleased.

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“Must we see the money that he collected released to a pack of good-for-nothing friars?”

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The reading of the will. This is one of my favorite pictures: it totally captures the scene. 

Opera Scenes: crazy, stupid fun. Totally exhausting, sometimes traumatic, absolutely worth it.

Nothing in particular (just because)

This is a magic trick that my co-worker does:

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This is a painting I made earlier this month. I think this was my first time painting on a real canvas. It was very therapeutic. I’m going to hang it up in my cubicle.

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This is a selfie that I took on accident while hyped up on more shots of espresso than I care to count compounded by a caramel hot chocolate sugar high. I was trying to figure out how my phone worked so I could take a picture with a friend.

No, I am not flipping off the camera.

Yes, that is my tongue.

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This is Sasquatch. He wanted to cuddle. Crazy cat.

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The art of fake studying

Yesterday, I started writing this post:

I have a final for one of my classes tonight. It’s all multiple choice and short answer.

I stopped reading the textbook at the beginning of April.

I’ve been doing lots of “fake studying” this weekend. Fake studying is when you have the textbook open next to you while you check facebook, or your e-mail, or you write a blog post.

I’m actually fake studying right now.

Don’t worry – I pulled it together enough to finish preparing my page of handwritten notes that we were allowed to use for reference during the test. Incidentally, that page represented 8+ pages of typed notes condensed into 1 page. I meant to take a picture but I forgot, and we turned in the notes with the final.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so unprepared going into a final before. And yet, amazingly enough, it wasn’t that bad. I finished early, went home, and watched the season finale of Dancing With the Stars. Then I had to get up this morning to go to school for a fake final. That is, we weren’t having an exam, but we still had to show up during the final time slot to check in, turn in any last-minute assignments, and find out our grades for the semester. There was an accident on the freeway that I take to school, which I found out about as I was getting on the on-ramp to said freeway. So, I sat in traffic for an hour, showed up twenty minutes late to the “final,” waited for about 15 minutes before it was my turn to check in, and then I was out of there.

I’m done. I survived the semester. There was nothing glamorous or impressive about it, especially toward the end, but I made it to the end. It felt a lot like I was dragging myself through the dust to the finish line, but I still crossed the finish line, nevertheless. Even the end itself was unimpressive. After spending sixteen weeks with the same group of people, it’s funny how everyone just sort of disperses on their own, without fanfare or good-bye. I always disliked finals week because it marked the destruction of whatever rhythm and routine I had gotten into that semester. With where I’m at in life now, I don’t really care because I wasn’t socially invested in these classes and I really just wanted this semester to be over. But as I left the classroom and walked out to my car this morning, it was like a flashback to many previous finals weeks: that anti-climactic and vaguely lonely sense of feeling slightly displaced. It’s almost like an emptiness.

I mean, not really. I have new plans and goals that I can start working on now. I know exactly what I want to do next and there is plenty to be done! But change and transitions are not something that I handle gracefully. It usually takes me a little while to adjust to an idea before I can fully embrace it. I’m usually pretty good about adapting – I just need a little bit of time to come to terms with a new situation.

So, I made it. I’m not where I thought I would end up by the time the semester finished out, but I’m here nonetheless.

I choose happy

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and what it means to be happy and how it affects those around us when we are happy. In the past couple of days, I’ve hit upon what seems like a really obvious truth: most people like happy people. I think this is because happy people – truly happy people, not hedonistic people – tend to be more outward-focused. They are happy because they are appreciating what is around them. Their perspective enables them to look around and focus on the good in life, the good in people. They are happy because they are grateful for the good things.

Gretchen Rubin talks about the happiness effect (or paradox?) in her book “The Happiness Project“:

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”

It’s circular brilliance and it is 100% true. For example, on a very small scale: when I am walking somewhere and make a point of smiling at people as I walk by them, often they smile back or even say hello in passing. A smile communicates friendliness and people generally respond positively to being acknowledged in a friendly way. Their acknowledgment in turn makes me feel good. And really, how much personal effort does it take just to make eye contact with someone and smile in passing?

It’s funny though, because I often find that I want people to know when I’m unhappy. Even total strangers. When I’m going through a rough time and I feel like my internal pain is just radiating out from me, I want people to see it and take note. To wonder about it. To feel sorry for me. I want to keep my eyes on the ground, pensive and melancholy, too lost in my thoughts to see what is going on around me. I don’t want to grin and bear it, because I want people to look at me and shake their heads sympathetically: “Wow, she must really be going through something right now.”

HOW RIDICULOUS IS THAT?!?!?!?!

Totally ridiculous.

Yes, we all go through hard times and there are times when it feels like all of our energies are spent just on getting through each minute. It doesn’t leave a lot of extra strength even to muster a smile at the world around us.

But, and I am speaking purely of myself here, I know that I am prone to get into a rut of unhappiness. To let the trauma or hardship that I am experiencing take over my life, rather than actively working through it, processing the experience, and seeking to come out better for it. I let myself exist as a wistful shell of a person, distancing myself from the world around me because the idea of trying to be happy just seems like mockery to the pain I feel.

I don’t want that anymore.

When I was 13, I resolved to live a “Carpe diem” life and engage my life with the assumption that it was going to be good. I still remember that year as one of the best years of my life to date. Then I turned 14, started high school, and it was all downhill from there. But during that year of being 13, life was good. Did I make it good because I chose to believe that it was good? Or was it easy to see it as good because it just happened to be particularly good that year? Does it matter?

My family has been watching this season of Dancing With The Stars and we’re hooked on it. Although he is not necessarily my favorite dancer, one of the competitors who has been the most inspirational to me is Charlie White, the Olympic gold medalist in ice dancing. He is always happy, often to the point of goofiness, but nevertheless, unshakeable in his positive outlook on everything. What really inspires me is that there is substance behind his happiness – it’s not just a facade but it is rooted in gratefulness for the opportunities that he has been given. Choosing to focus on the good. Choosing to be grateful.

There was one week where the theme of the dances was “the most important year of my life,” for each star. Charlie celebrated this year of winning the gold medal with his ice dancing partner Meryl Davis, and this is the dance he did:

 

Confession time: Pharell Williams’ song “Happy,” which was nominated for an Oscar, has not been one of my favorites. But ever since that DWTS week when Charlie White danced to it, the song has been exponentially growing on me. When I hear it on the radio, it is like an automatic reminder to choose happiness, to choose gratefulness, to look outside myself and beyond the pain of whatever I’m dealing with right now.

It reminds me of another principal from Gretchen Rubin:

“Act the way I want to feel.”

I’m going to hypothesize that the above mantra really only works if you are telling it to yourself. When someone else tells me to just make an effort to be happy, it usually has the opposite effect. But it is true that when I choose to act like a happy, friendly person, I usually feel happier and friendlier as a result, and that just makes it easier to be happier and friendlier.

When it comes down to it, my motivation for choosing happy is both selfish and altruistic: I want people to like me (selfish) and I want to make a positive impact on other people (altruistic).

I don’t know if it’s possible to claim altruism without totally negating it. Is that like the “My humility is my best quality” paradox?

Oh well.

Choosing to be happy is a lot like choosing to exercise. It’s rare for someone to come away from the gym saying, “Man, I regret my decision to work out today.” Unless, maybe, if you injure yourself. But that’s beside the point. The point is, it’s equally rare for someone to choose to be happy and then come away from that saying, “Yeah, my decision to be happy? Not my best choice ever.”

Happiness fuels itself. Put forth that miniscule bit of energy to smile at someone in passing, and it boosts your “happiness energy.” Each tiny choice to have a positive outlook on life builds on the choice before it, so that it becomes increasingly easier and more natural rather than draining to look at life with happiness, positivity, and gratitude.

So I choose happy. Because it is the way I want others to see me. Because it is the way I want to feel.

Geography lessons

I don’t even know how these things happen. I think it started when we were walking back from our Annual Friday Starbucks trip (JSWAC, Annual Friday = Weekly Friday in laymen’s terms. And ‘JSWAC’ = Just So We Are Clear… these are Faculty Support Office-isms. Totes normal.) and we somehow got into a discussion about geography. ‘We’ being my co-workers. I was a passive participant in this discussion because I’m terrible at geography. Next to math, it’s probably my weakest subject. We (they) were specifically talking about U.S. geography and this somehow turned into the idea that when we got back to the main office, we would print off blank diagrams of the U.S. and have a contest to see who could label the most states correctly.

I was not a fan of this idea. But I’ve also recently resolved to be more lighthearted and less stick-in-the-mud-ish, as well as to embrace the reality that I don’t know everything, so far be it from me to be the odd man out.

This is the map we used:

 

One of my co-workers actually got a perfect score.

I did not get a perfect score.

I got this score:

56% (28 states out of 50)

JSWAC – I completely failed to identify the state where my brother and sister-in-law live. Talk about feeling dumb.

I also swapped the state where my grandmother lives with the state right next to it. Did I mention geography is not my forte?

A little while later, my co-worker made me review by having me take an online test that asked me to identify a given state using a blank map for reference, and gave me three tries to get it right.

I got this score:

90% (136/150)

(The scoring method: 3 points on 1st try, 2 points on 2nd, 1 point on 3rd try, 0 points if you don’t get the answer at all)

Yay…!…(?)

Meanwhile, my mom is teaching the United States song (or a [an?] United States song, because there are more than one) to her music class of elementary school-age kids. So, I really have no excuse.