Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: a retrospective

Another year has come and gone, which means that it is prime time for reflection. This past year has been full of ups and downs (what year isn't though?) - but looking back here are my top five memories of 2014!

  • graduating with a Master's degree from the University of Chicago: how can this not stay at the top of my list? Not only was my time at UChicago an amazing academic experience (which forced me to grow as a scholar), but I also had the opportunity to explore the amazing sights of Chicago during my academic down-time. I have so many great memories exploring down town Chicago with two amazing girls that I became very close to during my program. One of the most iconic sights was the Bean - or Cloudgate as it is officially called, but who calls it that anyway? - and I found myself returning to it multiple times along my commute to work.
  • attending a Natsume Soseki conference: I took a PhD seminar course on fascism and Japanese culture which covered political and literary texts from the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa eras. The professor teaching the course was presenting at a Soseki conference at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor so my friend (who also was in the seminar) and I attended the conference. I absolutely love academic conferences in general because I really enjoy seeing scholars and students present on topics that they are passionate about. Although the focus of the conference was on the works of Soseki, the presenters took their papers in so many varied directions from specific texts (「心」["Kokoro"] was a particularly popular text, as was 満韓ところどころ ["Manchuria and Korea, Here and There"]) to more general social or historical issues. That particular period of world history is part of what I focus on in my own studies so although this was a conference that was technically outside of my discipline, it was fascinating to see how these papers intersected with my own work.
  • working with Trio Upward Bound: during the summer of 2014 I taught English literature to a group of high schoolers who come from low socio-economic backgrounds and who are on track to becoming the first members of their families to attend college - which is such an amazing accomplishment! My boyfriend (who actually has a teaching license) has been a lead teacher in the program for three summers now and since he knew I needed a transitional job he suggested I join the team as well. Education in general, and literacy skills specifically, is a huge passion of mine so I jumped at the opportunity. I have taught elementary school children in the past, but high schoolers are a type of student that I tended to shy away from for some reason. However, these kids were phenomenal. Not only were they always eager to learn and participate in class, they were just all around solid, good kids. It was such a moving experience to work with them and I am hoping to return this coming summer.
  • summer trip up north: another fun event of the summer was tagging along up north with my boyfriend and his family. We were able to spend a lot of time hiking, seeing the sights, and (in my case) taking a lot of gorgeous pictures. It's easy to forget how beautiful and calming nature can be, especially if you tend to stay in urban or suburban areas.
  • attending a music theory conference: I guess that this was the year that I attended conferences outside of my discipline - although I will admit that this particular conference was really, really outside of what I do. I decided to tag along with my friend from undergrad, who is currently finishing up her MA in Music Theory, because my boyfriend and another mutual friend of ours was going to be attending the conference as well. Though I have done a lot of music for the majority of my life (I have played the viola since I was 10 and was in a touring orchestra for four years), I definitely do not do music academically. Hell, my undergraduate viola professor would often try to ask me easy "theory" questions about intervals and I struggled to answer - much to his dismay. Thankfully, my musical background kept me from being wholly lost, but a lot of the talks went right over my head! That being said, it was so much fun to spend time with friends that I hadn't seen for two years.

Overall, 2014 was a great year for me and now I'm eagerly awaiting 2015 and all that it has to offer! Hope everyone has a safe and fun New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

merry christmas from this sojourner!

For those of you who celebrate Christmas today, I hope you have a fantastic day - and for those of you who do not celebrate Christmas, I hope your holiday season has been wonderful so far! Thank you for visiting my little corner of the internet and I will see you in the new year :)

Happy and safe holidays to you and your loved ones!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

from the bookshelf #2

A long time ago I wrote about some of my favorite books and since it has been so long (and because I have so many favorite books) I decided to put together another handful of books that had a strong affective effect on me for one reason or another. Please take a peek at my first book post, because those are some of my all time favorites - including my favorite book of all time - and all of those books are worth a look! There really is no rhyme or reason for this particular grouping, really I'm just sharing books that got some sort of deep, emotional response out of me - which are my favorite types of books.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
I think Margaret Atwood is a phenomenal writer over all and I honestly love every single one of her novels. I have found that most people know The Handmaid's Tale or even her MaddAddam books (i.e. Oryx and Crake and so on), but few people have read The Blind Assassin. She definitely deviates from her "signature" dystopian/speculative fiction in this novel, but I find the way she plays with narrative construction to be so brilliant and the writing itself to be so evocative that I like to push this one on other people.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Pardon my language - but @#$* this book. @#$* this book so much. You might wonder why I say that when I clearly listed it in a 'favorite book' post. The truth of the matter is that this book is so phenomenally well written and the subject matter is so gut-wrenching that it made me bawl like mad when I read it. I could also just be the biggest baby in the world, who knows. Regardless, it is one of the most deeply-stirring novels I have ever read and is one that is written from a narrative perspective that I find really unique, especially considering the novels that are being written currently. If you like WWII era novels (these are my jam) and if you feel like having your heart slowly ripped out, then please read this book.

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
Natsume Soseki is Japan's most beloved authors and, in my opinion, probably the best. Kokoro is considered his masterpiece, while also being touted as the defining image of Japanese culture as it struggled to make sense of dramatic cultural and societal changes at the end of the Meiji era. In both English and Japanese it is exceedingly beautiful - anyone who wants to dabble into "world literature" (which everyone should do!) or more specifically Japanese literature outside of current pop writers, I highly recommend this book.

The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai
If I had to pick one favorite Japanese novel, without a doubt I would say it was 斜陽 (The Setting Sun). Dazai is a particularly interesting figure for me because his writing comes out of the psychological turmoil of WWII Japan. The Setting Sun is considered by many to be his masterpiece and although he has other novels that are equally famous (人間失格 -"No Longer Human" for example), this is the novel that moved me the most. It was one of those novels that really made you feel the sorrow and confusion of the characters right in your chest - and I love that about this book.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This is the most psychologically intense, insane, terrifying book I have ever read - I refuse to give any background on it but I highly recommend that you read it and immerse yourself in that world totally, because if you do it totally pays off. It's seriously an amazing book!

The Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism
This one is a bit of an oddball, but let me explain. This was the anthology that first led me to understand what it is about literature that I am fascinated by. I learned to see how philosophy, semiotics, linguistics, culture, history, everything is tied to literary analysis and I learned by reading the works of thinkers who came before me. It's fantastic because it gives you a great run-down of all the greats of literary theory but none of it is watered down, so you are getting Althusser straight-up, as it were. Or if you are not interested in one area of theory, just skip it for another day! Before reading up on theory, I had no idea how to frame my questions, nor did I even know whether or not my questions were even worth pursuing. Even after years of study - including graduate focus - I still return to this big tome and each time it gives me more insight. 

Please share your favorites with me, too, I'm always looking for new reads :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

weekend fun: going up north!

Things may have seemed a bit quiet around here lately and that is because I just came back from a brief trip to Northern Minnesota along Lake Superior. I was able to go with my boyfriend and his family and had an amazing time - I am always amazed by how beautiful the Midwest actually is! Needless to say, I took quite a few snapshots but culled through a majority of them and picked out my favorites (as an obvious warning, this will be a really picture-heavy post).

The cabin we stayed in was right on Lake Superior so on the first day we took a walk down to the beach and I couldn't get enough of the colors there - so pretty!

Another shot by the beach and, once again, there were so many gorgeous colors to see.

A shot from a scenic overlook on the Oberg hike.

Daisies outside the tent = a great way to wake up

Lovely beach at Grand Marais

On our last day we decided to do an impromptu hike on the Devil's Trail and although we were unexpectedly confronted with 200+ steep stairs at one point, the scenic points of the trail was well worth the hike, especially with what lay at the end of the trek: the Devil's Kettle!

The Devil's Kettle is a double waterfall that has a pretty neat mystery to it; one of the two falls leads into a deep hole and no one knows where it goes!

Not only was there plenty of hiking and touristy things to do in the five days I was there, but it turns out there's still a lot I missed! One thing I'm dying to do is go moose viewing :) I also had the chance to read by the lake, which was so relaxing! It was a wonderful trip and I was glad to see the beautiful area around Lake Superior - definitely keeping this area on my "places to revisit" list. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

japan: more snapshots

Here's a little something different to break up all the makeup posts: a continuation of my photos from Japan, this time with a little more focus on Osaka and Kyoto, where a great deal of my family lives!

Cute dog from when I visited my family in Osaka

Kyoto nature shots - such a beautiful place
祇園祭 - the famous Gion Festival
Pretty flowers from an arboretum in Nagoya

Monday, May 12, 2014

some real talk

We'll start this post off with a nice little pep-talk that I got last night from my Yogi Tea bag as it was steeping and as dumb as it sounds, it was nice to read because I really needed to hear it. Interestingly, the inspo-tea (as it were) wasn't telling me that life has to be amazing every single moment of every single day - instead it says to enjoy every moment. A moment doesn't become enjoyable necessarily because something great is happening, you can find ways to make yourself shift your perspective in order to find a way to enjoy a moment...even if they are not great.

I'm just about done with my Master's degree and while I am so glad that I was able to have the opportunity (not only to go to graduate school but also to go to such an amazing institution) I will be real with you and say that a good chunk of this year - especially the last two terms - have sucked.The program is great, but what they attempt to make us do in a year is insane especially at the level of the University of Chicago where you (as a MA student) have to do more work than the PhD students. To put it in perspective, PhD students take 5 classes per year and are fully funded + given a stipend for the first 5 years. Thus, the majority of the PhDs I spoke to here do not do teaching nor do they have a significant job on the side. Plus, they can put off their term papers indefinitely, so I know a few PhD students who still have papers left over from there first year here. 

On the flip side, the people in my program take 9 classes per year, while writing their thesis on top of their usual class load (most courses in English lit have 20 page papers due at the end of each term so 20pgs x 3 classes per term + your 30+ page thesis + 100+ pages of readings per week = a lot of stuff) and most of us have a job in order to make ends meet, because we have zero funding.

All that was to say that it has been rigorous and although I do not regret coming here at all, I now know that there is no way I could ever do a PhD here - mostly because the average PhD takes 7+ years to complete at UChicago. Imagining being in this environment for 7+ years makes me cringe. But if I hadn't done this program, I would never know what type of environment I would like or need to survive, I wouldn't know for sure if I even wanted to go to grad school, and I wouldn't have the language through which to talk about my field in a way that makes me sound like I actually know stuff. That is how I'm forcing myself to enjoy my last moments here, even though I have literally been counting down the days until I graduate. 

Another amazing blessing that came out of this program, on a non-academic level, are three phenomenal girls who became some of my best friends. If I hadn't done this I would never have met them and I honestly can't imagine not having them in my life (how did I survive before??). They have been there for me when I needed to gripe about how ridiculous the systems are at UChicago but they also were there to celebrate how beautiful Chicago is (FRIDAY FUNDAYS!).

So at the end of the day, it's really about perspective and I have been noticing myself inching more towards being a downer, which is something I'm not usually. So I got a nice slap in the face from my Yogi Tea and decided to change my act.

This post was not sponsored by Yogi Tea ;P

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

what's in my: mini makeup bag

Like I said in my travel makeup bag post, I really enjoy these types of "what's in my" posts for some reason - maybe because I'm secretly really nosy? - so I decided to make another quick one with what I keep with me everyday. I use the same little makeup bag (it's actually a pencil case but I use it for makeup) everyday and move it between bags depending on what I'm doing.

The bag I currently use is a little Rilakkuma case that I bought a few years ago when I was back in Japan. I really like this character because a) relaxing is something I forget to do, b) it's a cute little bear!, and c) the motifs are usually somewhat subdued so you can get away with being mid-twenties and having a cute little bear bag with fewer people judging you ;) 

Here's a little peek inside - the bag has sweet little phrases and such on the lining and as you can see, it has quite a bit of long as you don't over pack! And also, another Rilakkuma item.

Here is everything laid out neatly. This is all I ever bring with me for the day unless I think I might need something extra for some reason or other.

-Refresh Contacts contact solution: I wear contacts and they tend to get dry and itchy after about 9 hrs so I bring this along to make sure I won't be caught with scary red eyes.

-Burt's Bees Lip Balm: everyone needs some Burt's Bees!

-Rilakkuma mirror: my mother bought me this as a gift one year when she was back in Japan - she said she didn't want to buy worthless cute things but she would buy cute useful things :) She'll be happy to know that this little guy has come in handy both for myself and for some of my friends.

-Bobby pins

-Julep Lipgloss in Charming: looks more magenta in this light but it's actually a nice pinky-nude color that is easy to toss on when you're in a hurry but still want to seem like you are really put-together.

-Real Purity Lipstick in Passion: my daily color - I'll be doing a post on this brand because the only lipsticks I own (three!) are from them and I have been really happy with the product. Plus it's organic!

-Bird Pill Box: for medicine on the go.

-Bandaid sleeve: because I always get blisters on my feet!

Not too many exciting things, but this is what I always have with me when I'm out and about. I like to keep it simple so I am able to move this little pouch from my big work/school bag to a small going-out bag without having to take anything out or anything, it's really convenient!

Monday, May 5, 2014

weekend fun: natsume soseki 夏目漱石 conference

A few weeks ago a friend and I made a split decision to attend a conference on Natsume Soseki - we both wanted to go really badly but for some reason the bus/train tickets for that particular weekend were so expensive! There was no way I was paying $80 for a bus ride that was only 4 hours. However, my boyfriend saw how disappointed I was that I couldn't go so he offered to pick my friend and I up and drive us back with him to the conference (which was luckily being held where he is studying). So thankful for such a sweet boyfriend! Entirely because of that single act of sweetness, my friend and I could attend the conference.

Alan Tansman of UC Berkley in the corner!

The conference itself was only over a single weekend but they managed to pack in so many panels during that time. It was a great learning experience because a lot of the big names in Japan studies were present, but also because there were a few panels that included graduate students. It was interesting to see how they structured their talks and to see what they are researching. The key themes over this weekend was a huge focus on 「心」(Kokoro) - which I wasn't too surprised about - but also on his more journalistic writing, especially 「満韓ところどころ」(Mankan tokorodokoro). I wasn't expecting there to be as much of a focus on the second piece but I believe that much of Japanese literature studies (focusing around the time of Soseki and through WWII) have to acknowledge Manchuria/Manchyuko, so a lot of scholarship is being done on that.

Another highlight of the conference was having Yoko Tawada (多和田葉子) as one of the keynote speakers - her talk was titled漱石ってどんな石?自分ではないものになる方法」and it was an amazing talk. She is such a talented speaker and although I think some of her fiction writing is a little too surreal for me, I love her poetry. So glad I was able to hear her speak! Another speaker-highlight was of course seeing one of my very own professors present a paper and I continue to be amazed at how amazingly intelligent some people are in this world.

Otherwise, I was able to spend quite a bit of time with my friend and we had a few great heart-to-hearts :) I'm so glad I could attend the conference, even though I wasn't able to spend much time with my boyfriend since he was busy finishing up his work for graduation (which happened a few days ago!) and I was at the conference. 


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