To go for it or not to go for it, that’s the question

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I promise I will not begin each post this year with a reference to my resolutions for the year, but bear with me as I drag you through another.

See, as so many people, I have decided to start exercising more. Actually, my GP has decided I could to with a bit more endorphines but still: this girl goes fitnessing. And I don’t mean ‘I’ve bought a membership card and some shiny work out clothes which will now serve as nest material for moths and the invisible mice I’m secretly convinced I share the apartment with’ (because there is no way -I repeat, NO way- that I ate that whole pack of Tucs by myself yesterday. no way, I say!). Oh no, I will not come near shiny clothes unless dressing up is involved and anyways, I’ve had the gym membership card since October . No, now I actually gó to the gym. Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ve been at it for a week and a half by now, so you could say I’m a regular (unlike my attempt at doing capoeira which ended… prematurely. let’s say I don’t think anybody remembers me there.).

Now, I absolutely loathe exercising. Not because it’s exhausting, or gets you sweaty, but because I find it completely and utterly boring.

Take the treadmill. I go to a University gym, which is cheap, but also basic (read: no tv or any of that fancy technology some fitness centers spend your membership money on). As a result, the ten treadmills they have are neatly aligned, right in front of the mirror wall. That’s right: as you run, you have the luck, nay, the privilege, to watch yourself get progressively more red in the face. I can assure you, it hardly makes for a captivating sight. Granted, you get to watch everyone else work out as well but still – that red blob hopping up and down in front of you will be terribly distracting. Just sayin’. And don’t even think about thinking of that blog post you wanted to write because all it takes is one second of distraction and you end up on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Which is a bad enough thought in and of itself, but becomes truly terrifying when you realize those are broadcast in Europe as well. Ten years later. When all your kids want to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon is watch old America’s Funniest Home Videos.

My point exactly.

Of course, I could take an mp3-player with me to relieve the boredom at least a little bit, but this has its own limitations – first of all, I would need to remember to charge the damn thing, and second of all my tinnitus doesn’t allow the volume levels required to be able to hear my music over that from the gym.

So, what does one do to keep their resolution and work úp the energy to work oút?

One finds a partner, obviously.

In this case, technically, he found me. ‘He’, indeed. A cute ‘he’, I might add. A cute Spanish ‘he’. A cute, Spanish ‘he’ with a cute Spanish accent who frequents the gym on a daily basis (Lin: think A&F sweatpants. yeah…) and who likes me. And who has only increased his attempts at flirting with me since learning about T and my break up.

Now of course, I’m a decent girl. I’m well educated, and I don’t do stupid things – not on purpose, at least. And I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my not-so-slim chances of getting back together with T, let alone jump into (on to?) other people so soon after a break up. I wouldn’t, for example, consider the possibility of exploring just how much Spanish guy likes me. I wouldn’t take the risk, since said guy is an integral part of my social life here and I do not wish to screw that up. I wouldn’t feel the need, either, since I have spent the last three years in a loving relationship which was satisfying on all levels and gave me everything I needed. Except… you know… it starts with a c. Or a d. Or a p. I bet there’s probably a synonym for it with each and every letter of the alphabet, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

Oh conscience, how I loathe thee.

But it doés get me to the gym twice a week, so there!

I just want to be who I’m not

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Sometimes, you just know. So when I saw Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd last year, with Her Royal Highness Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, I knew: this would be my Halloween costume.

My inspiration. Costume-wise, obviously.

Why yes, whilst everyone is still wishing each other a Happy New Year and desperately trying to hold on to resolutions they know they will not keep (case in point: my resolution to start writing again), I will write about a costume I made almost three months ago. What of it?

True to my increasing obsession with lowering my carbon footprint, I decided to haunt some thrift shops for the right clothes. The only problem with this plan was the fact that I did not know of any thrift shops here in Lund. A Facebook status and some helpful Swedish friends later, however, I had an address. And an e-mail from my dad, offering financial support since apparently I was short on cash if I needed to resort to… thát… . There’s a thin line between sweet concern and annoying mingling, and I’m still not sure on which side said e-mail belongs, but I have learned one thing: make sure you give enough information or people will draw unexpected conclusions.

A purple skirt, green t-shirt, and some textile dye later, my kitchen looked more or less like this:

You're not supposed to do this in food pans. It is not supposed to boil over, either.

 I have since made copious amounts of soup in that pot and I am still alive, so I’m guessing it wasn’t that bad after all, although I do think next time I try to dye something I will try to use the washing machine… .

It took me a massive amount of time to sow everything by hand (not aided in the slightest by my too-late realization that, while your wrist might fit when the end of the sleeve has a circumference of 14 cm, there is no way your fist will) and some help from above when I found a friend willing to lend me his corset (and no, I’m not mistaking pronouns here) to make everything come together. And even though my sleeve still ripped at the seem within half an hour and the likeness to the original is debatable, I still looked smashing, if I may say so myself.

I kind of got into the whole girly skirts/dresses thing after that, so although I was briefly tempted to cross-dress when the next costume party was announced (“Hollywood”), I decided to keep it classy, stylish and feminine. My high school prom dress was slightly taken in (which I’m only mentioning because it sounds nice, but in all honesty the thing was already baggy back when), and an hour and a half of YouTube tutorials and many frustrations later, this is how I turned out…

Guess who? (click for a hint)

Quote on a Sungday

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What if a demon were to creep after you one night, in your loneliest loneliness, and say, ‘This life which you live must be lived by you once again and innumerable times more; and every pain and joy and thought and sigh must come again to you, all in the same sequence. The eternal hourglass will again and again be turned and you with it, dust of the dust!’ Would you throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse that demon? Or would you answer, ‘Never have I heard anything more divine’?

– Friedrich Nietzsche

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There’s no denying it anymore

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It was only a few weeks ago that a friend of mine posted something on Facebook: “Just made jam from the plums in my garden, gotta love the fruits of the autumn!” (or something along those lines, my Swedish is still a bit shaky). I immediately replied, of course: “As long as the trees are still green, it is summer, I don’t care how cold it’s getting or how much fruit/mushrooms/nuts you collect!” (again, that was the intended message, whether the Swedish I threw together meant the same remains an open question).

But then autumn-themed posts appeared in my feed. And the trees actually started changing color (well… the leafs did). And I knew… there’s no denying it any longer.

Lund University Library in autumn. Photo by JanneM via Flickr.

It’s not like I have anything against autumn in particular. I don’t. I don’t have anything against any season. I don’t really have anything for any season either though, to be honest – the concept of a ‘favorite season’ is kind of alien to me. No – what I like most about seasons is the mere fact that they’re there. I would hate to live in a country which has summer all year round, or even only two seasons. It’s the changing of the seasons, the continuous dynamic of that vicious circle that keeps things interesting. I love the freshness of the green in spring, I love the abundance and smells of summer, I love the colors and tastes of autumn, and I love the serenity and quiet of winter. Granted, I generally long for one season when another one is still going on, but I’m working on that.

Still, this year, I’m not exactly looking forward to the changing of seasons. Autumn is not too bad, I guess, although a few extra degrees would never hurt, but the really bad part about autumn is that it is so, so close to winter. And I just. don’t. feel. like. winter.

Don’t get me wrong – wrapped in a fleece blanket, hot chocolate, coziness by the fire place, snow walks (I REALLY need to lose my snow angel-virginity this year), skiing: I get it, it’s great, it’s wonderful. But winter also means: dark. And here in Sweden, even though I can’t really complain as I’m as southern as it gets, there’s an awful lot of dark: at the winter solstice, the shortest day is around 7 hours long – or short, as you prefer – with the sun setting around 14h40. Last year I minimized the effects of this: objectively, Ghent only gets half an hour of daylight more, so that’s not too big of a deal, is it? But, since Ghent is not only located more south, but also more west, this translates in a Ghent sunset over a full hour later. And last year that mere hour of difference induced a full-on winter depression for me.

So no, I’m not really thrilled about the leafs falling and the temperatures dropping, the nights getting darker and the birds moving south. I know (better) what I’m up against this year, so I know what signs to look out for but still… I’m not looking forward to it.

 

The joys and quirks of language (or not)

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I’ve talked about my absolute love of languages on this blog before, so I’m sure the regular readers don’t need to be reminded of that. But just in case: I love language(s).

I love how the same word can mean something different entirely to different people. I love how it allows you to be creative – to make stories, jokes, connections. I adore how connotations and denotations can completely mess up a conversation. I find it absolutely fascinating that what seems absolute jibber jabber to one makes absolute sense to another, and I love the thrill of that moment where you succeed in expressing yourself with words you didn’t even know existed before.

Still, there is a part of me that clashes with that love sometimes. A perfectionist part.

See, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about learning languages, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to speak. Yes, you’ll make mistakes, and yes, you’ll be misunderstood on occasion, but that’s part of the deal, and the satisfaction of hearing yourself make less and less mistakes as you speak more and more, is one of the best things about learning a language – or anything, for that matter. But while I advocate that philosophy with a passion, I find that not only do I not put it into practice myself (I flee into English faster than you can say ‘jibber jabber’ when I’m supposed to talk Swedish), I don’t exactly encourage it in others, either. Strangely enough, this happens most often for English.

Exhibit A: today, one of our master students came to me with a ‘question’.

Yes, so, do you know centrifuge, because, I have LBG, yes, that is, 5000 g, but, unfortunately, centrifuge is booked until three, but still, I cannot use it, so I don’t know.

For the confused reader, this meant: I need a centrifuge at 5000g to spin down my LBG. The one I normally use was booked until three, but despite the fact that it is way after three, it is still in use, so I can’t use it. Do you know where I can find another centrifuge?

Frankly -and with all due respect-, it is exhausting.

If this would have been in Dutch, I would have probably given him a big smile because Dutch is not an easy language, and at least he’s trying, right? Now that it is in English though, I can’t help but shout in my head – How long have you been studying English for? There’s something called grammar, use it! Make a sentence! How am I supposed to know what you mean with keywords only? And although I am well aware that a) not everyone is gifted for languages and b) English is so much easier for me simply because my mother tongue is in the same language group, I cringe and shiver and shudder whenever certain people talk to me because their definition of ‘a sentence’ seems miles away from mine.

It makes me feel like a bitch, because I know I have no right to judge them in the first place. So when I saw the following animation of (a part of) an article by Stephen Fry on language, I couldn’t help but smile (the text is quite long, but absolutely worth the read if you have the time!). Because maybe, just maybe, their “wrong” use of the English language is simple creativity, a re-invention of rules and words. And when I really, truly love language and everything you can do with it, I should be thrilled, not annoyed, when people explore other ways to convey their story, right?

Just another evening among scientists

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One of the things I love about my life in Sweden, is the fact that I’m surrounded by academics almost 24/7. This by all means doesn’t imply that my friends and family back home are stupid, but there is just something about scientists and their sense of humor that makes a conversation that little bit more challenging. So yesterday, during the post-symposium free pizza-bar, I wrote down some of the jewels that made us crack up, but might have had any non-scientist in the company frown their eye-brows.

  • One of the PhD-students wanted another piece of pizza and although she preferred a Napolitana pizza that was on the next table, she settled for a Margarita that sat on our table because “the distance-to-taste ratio was more favorable” for the latter.
  • Another PhD student is Serbian, and we were joking on how former Yugoslavia seemed to keep falling apart, with new countries separating every year: “the half-life of Serbia is shorter than that of beryllium-8″.
    (in reference to radio-active decay) 
  • Our oldest professor has volunteered to be a mammalian cell-donor to anyone who finds him should he drop dead in the lab. One condition: he is to be second author on the paper when any results coming from his cells are published.
    (a number of groups in our lab use mammalian cells for experimentations. everyone who has contributed to a scientific discovery, gets a mention as an ‘author’ when the discovery is published – the higher in the author ranking, the higher the contribution was)
Rattler Wooden Puzzle

Image by dump9x via Flickr

  • We have a series of these little wooden brain teasers in our coffee rooms. When one of the guys finally managed to put one together, he exclaimed: “I conquered entropy!”.
    (entropy, in its simplest explanation, is a measure for the degree of chaos and solving a puzzle creates order from chaos.)
  • One student was talking about a former teacher of his, who was apparently very… curvy… . They had determined an estimation of her actual weight, not by putting her on a scale, but by studying the bending of the light caused by her body.
    (Einstein predicted that objects of large enough mass can bend light – this is used in astronomy to calculate masses for planets etc.)

The light-bending effects of a black hole.