Thursday, June 23, 2011

The last of Summer is Delight--/Deterred by Retrospect.

Going from one of the most stressful times in my life (my first year of teaching at LMU and my last year of graduate school) to one of the least (a lazy summer of, so-far, not working) has been a disorienting experience.  At first, after such an exhaustive semester, I was exceedingly grateful for the time off.  It was blissful.  Rhapsodic even.  I cooked and cleaned and wrote and read (for pleasure, which I discovered is still a thing) and got caught up on all of the trashy t.v. shows that my hectic schedule had denied me.  But after about the second week of this so-called “vacation,” I began to feel a familiar stirring within me—the very same one that so often sabotages my leisurely Sunday afternoons, that kept me working long and awkward hours as a waitress during undergrad, and that would have probably made me a terrible 18th century aristocrat (or a modern day Real Housewife of Blank).  I just have this undeniable urge to work, to be productive, to DO something of value.

But to say that I can’t relax is unfair.  I have done it before and had mixed feelings about it. 

And contrary to popular belief, I am not a workaholic.  I don’t know as though I even particularly enjoy working.  I just feel compelled to do it.  I know for certain that I could never be one of those individuals, like small business owners or company executives, who live for their job and sleep cradling their blackberries.  I just wouldn’t be able to make the necessary sacrifices—to miss birthdays and anniversaries and holidays—I would get too resentful.  In fact, early on in my waitressing career, before I had acquired the better sense to request major holidays off, I was scheduled to work on Christmas night.  So, at our family dinner, I was forced to limit my wine in-take (despite my polish grandfather’s peer pressure) and to reluctantly leave my grandparents’ house early to make the cold and lonely trek down the hill to the restaurant.  I also had the added bitterness from missing out on Moses’ birthday celebration (since Moses is a Christmas baby).  As I'm sure you can imagine, I was a total pill that night.  I bitched and moaned the entire time and the other waitstaff (quite understandably) were so annoyed with me that they sent me home early just so they wouldn’t have to listen to me (suckas!).  I knew right then and there that I didn’t have what it takes to be a true workaholic.  Because as hard as I work and as much of myself as I give to any job that I have—which is arguably too much—I am just too much of a brat (or reasonable person?  I can never remember which...) to allow work to infringe on my personal life.

I think that the majority of my working-related neuroses is genetic and am fairly certain that it can be traced along paternal lines.  My father’s parents, in true immigrant fashion, worked unceasingly.  My grandfather held numerous jobs and so did my grandmother, who had the added task of also caring for her two children.  But that's not to say that my maternal grandparents didn't work hard, they did.  My grandfather owned and ran a dairy farm in upstate New York—but my mother’s side is much better at knowing how to relax.  

My maternal grandfather’s daily routine would go something like this: he would wake at dawn, work in the fields and barn all day, come home, eat dinner, and spend the rest of the night lounging in his blue easy chair while watching “Green Acres” (or some such stereotypical 60’s t.v. show).   

My paternal grandfather daily routine was somewhat similar (with a few notable differences): he would wake at dawn, work all day as a butcher, come home, eat dinner, and build a shed (without blue prints or any discernible plan).  Then he would leave to work the night shift as a security guard.

Just for fun, here is a picture of me and my sister with our paternal grandparents

And here I am with my maternal grandparents (and I apologize for my appearance, I was in the midst of my "ugly phase")

I am a bizarre hybrid of my two grandfathers.  I wake not at dawn, but usually around 9ish or so, work all day, come home, make dinner, and feel like I should build a shed but instead, I lounge on our day bed (courtesy of Moses’ lovely aunt Linda) and watch “Green Acres” (while secretly feeling wracked with guilt for not building any sheds).  It’s complicated.

So, as you can see, this whole “taking the summer off” has been a bit of a challenge for me but I am trying to learn to appreciate my abundance of free time.  At least, that’s what my mother keeps encouraging me to do.  In the meantime, I will continue to write this blog, to edit and rewrite old poems I wrote as a teenager, play with my friend Kate’s baby (well, it’s an infant so mostly I just hold him while he sleeps), and cook for people (because I have turned into my polish grandmother).  I’m sure that by the time fall semester rolls around and I begin applying to PhD programs, I will look back on this languid summer fondly.  And in my true deluded fashion, I will have edited out all the boredom and panic attacks and my time draped across our sofa online shopping while a marathon of “America’s Next Top Model" plays in the background, and it will resemble something out of Jane Austen novel.  Minus Willoughby and the ill-fated trip to London.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In brightest day, in blackest night

In honor of Father’s day, I would like to dedicate this post to my dad, Deacon George Kozak.

Here we are: our little family of four in the mid-80's (now we have doubled in size)

One of my favorite pictures of my Dad and my sister (I couldn't figure out how keep the nose on so I had to hold it)
Dad's Birthday some years ago.  And yes, the cat's out of the bag, I was born a blond and retained my blond hair from 1984-1989

And more recently....

The entire family, plus Grandpa Kozak and minus little Isaiah
It probably goes without saying that I have a wonderful father.   Because of him I will never be a drug addict, you will never see me in an episode of “The Bad Girls Club” and/or “Girls Gone Wild,” and you will never spot me in a children’s beauty pageant.  I also owe him my creativity, my musicality, my wit and subsequent tolerance for teasing (which is helpful to Moses who teases me endlessly), my inability to keep secrets[1], and my incredible work ethic.  My father smiles at strangers, offers you his sandwich if somehow yours ended up with mayo on it when you specifically asked for none, and is probably the only member of the clergy that you will ever meet who quotes Mel Brooks movies in his homilies.
My father cultivated in all of his children a love of a particular kind of culture.  His culture: the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, movie serials from the 1930s and 40’s (ever heard of Spy Smasher?  What’s that?  You haven’t?  I’m not surprised, no one has), sci-fi/fantasy/adventure novels, Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Muppets, and of course, comic books.  

None of this struck any of us as especially unusual until we ventured from the Kozak household.  My sister and I face constant reminders of our idiosyncratic/unorthodox upbringing.  We come across people who have never even heard of the Marx Brothers, who don’t share the same outrage that they casted Jim Carey as Curly in the motion picture version of the Three Stooges.  I will never forget the absolute shock (and horror) I felt when I discovered that Moses didn’t know who Doc Savage was.  I remember staring at him in utter disbelief and in my stunned-state, launching into a bumbling interrogation that may well have been something out of a Woody Allen movie: what do you mean that you don’t know who Doc Savage is?  The man of bronze? Really? Really?  No, really? I just-I can’t-I-I-I.  You get the picture.  And that wasn’t the first time.  One Christmas, Moses heard me listening (and singing along) to Christmas music and wanted to know what it was.  I said that it was John Denver and the Muppets, from the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Special.  If you have not heard of this, don’t feel bad.  As far as we can tell, it has never been released on VHS or DVD.  Our copy was taped off of T.V. in 1982 (the year my sister was born) and my father recently copied it over to DVD.  But it’s such a long standing Kozak Family tradition, and was something that during its time was popular enough to launch the John Denver’s variety show, that I just assumed everybody knew about it.  But clearly, this is not and was not the case.  Not every family watches this obscure 1980’s T.V. special every Christmas Eve after having all sung Christmas Carols together by candle light.  I’m not joking.  That’s what we actually do every Christmas Eve.

And I love it.  I love the fact that our father shared his interests with his children—that he fostered such an eclectic taste within each of us.  I love that we all like the same bizarre things that no one else knows about.  It's like we’re in this exclusive club (and us Kozaks secretly like exclusivity).

So a very happy father’s day to you, Dad.  Thanks for teaching us about comic books and the Three Stooges and for making us watch Jeremiah Johnson (even though I still think it’s boring).  Thanks for helping us to all become the unique (even slightly neurotic) individuals that we are today.  And thanks, above all, for being such a great Dad. I love you.

[1] Case in point: the first time my sister and I ever watched Star Wars, my Dad was so excited about the twist—that Darth Vadar is Luke Skywaker’s father and that Leia is Luke’s sister—that he couldn’t contain himself and told us after we had finished “A New Hope.”  But for those of you who are young enough to have seen the series from the beginning (meaning Episode One onward), the series itself pretty much ruins that surprise for you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

and yes I said yes I will Yes.

So today is June 16th, which all of you literature nerds (like myself) know as Bloomsday.  But for those of you non-English majors, who chose to pursue “real” degrees in “science” (but hey, remember alchemy?  That was all you guys), Bloomsday is the celebration of James Joyce’s magnificent novel Ulysses, which takes place on June 16th, 1904. 

I’ve had a pretty healthy obsession with Joyce since I first read Dubliner’s my sophomore year of college.  But it wasn’t until my senior year that I finally read Ulysses.  There was this glorious Ulysses seminar at Cornell, where you would work through the novel slowly over the course of a semester, spending hour-long classes analyzing only a few lines.  Well, I didn’t take that.  Instead, I opted for a graduate seminar on British Modernism where I had to read Ulysses in about a week, which, needless to say, was less than pleasant.  In retrospect, I really made some questionable decisions during my undergraduate career...just look at Moses.  Just kidding there, Tiger.  Oh whatever, he won't read this.  But for those of you who have read Ulysses, just pause for a moment and appreciate how difficult it would be to wade through the Penelope section on a Friday night, smelling of curry and poo-nim sauce (because you had to wait tables earlier that evening), while your boyfriend played flip-cup with his buddies in the next room.  Yeah.  I can't say as though I would recommend it.

It wasn’t until last summer that I read Ulysses for the second time.  Although this experience was certainly less rushed, it was not without its stress.  Ulysses was one of the books on my graduate program’s comprehensive exam—so retaining important quotes and having a fairly sound understanding of the sequence of events (which is harder than it sounds) was crucial.  I had also volunteered to make a handout for our Ulysses study session.  The handout ended up being about twelve pages.  You’re welcome, cohort.

And tonight, in our usual decadent fashion, Moses and I are attending a Bloomsday soiree at the Hammer Museum.  Normally, one would have to wait in line for such tickets, which are handed out on a first come first serve basis, but we know people.  Actually, we know his aunt Linda who knows people.  But nevertheless, I plan to spend my evening leisurely sipping wine in the Hammer courtyard and, for the very first time, experiencing the words and nuances of Ulysses without the undercurrent of stress, fatigue, or anxiety.  As you can tell, I am really looking forward to it.

I would like to end this post with a cute but somewhat tragic anecdote tangentially related to the topic at hand.  Since I was about twelve, I have been working with this particular storyline.  It’s seen many variations and incarnations but the basic plotline is this: there are three sisters who are dealing with their father's suicide.  Depressing, I know.  Apparently, I was a morbid twelve year old.  Anyways, when I was sixteen I had what I thought was a truly revolutionary idea: to interweave the lives of these characters with Greek myth.  And so, each sister was given a particular myth that shaped her narrative.  One chapter was entitled “The Lotus Eater,” which centered on the oldest sister who struggled to cope with her life, emotions, and father’s death and who subsequently chose to suppress/"forget" things (thus the connection with the lotus).  Another chapter was called "The Beekeeper" and focused on the memories of the youngest sister who kept a beehive and who tried but ultimately failed to help their father (her narrative was meant to correspond with the myths of Melissa, the nymph).  Quite clever for someone who had only just recently acquired her learner’s permit.   

Me at sixteen (for interested parties).
With this new direction I entitled my story Thanatopsis, which in Greek means: meditations on death (I was, quite understandably, REALLY impressed with myself for coming up with that).  This was going to be it, my crowning achievement as a writer.  My Mrs. Dalloway.  And up until I was twenty-four, I would annually revisit my “Thanatopsis” word document and write and rewrite its various sections.  It wasn’t until last summer when I reread Ulysses that I came to a startling revelation: Holy shit, it’s the same thing.  My brilliant idea, my groundbreaking work was essentially just a rip-off of a similar idea that James Joyce had had nearly a century before: mixing myth and modernity and stream of consciousness narrative.  And so, with a heavy heart, I quietly and sadly abandoned the Thanatopsis project.

Damn you, James Joyce.  Damn you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

And so it begins...

Motivated by a lack of nothing better to do and encouraged by my darling mother (who is probably sick of me complaining about my lethargy and listlessness), I have decided to write a blog.  About what, you ask?  Good question.  I like where your head’s at.  I have absolutely no idea but I’m generally pretty self-obsessed and reality television programming has taught me that that’s all I need to be interesting to other people, so here we are.

I am assuming that if you are reading this blog, you probably already know me, so introductions are relatively pointless.  But if not and you somehow stumbled upon this blog by googling “sweet awesomeness,”  “the chick from the new Transformers movie,” well then: hello there.  I am Wendy.  I am 26 years old and I moved from Ithaca New York to Los Angeles California about three years ago to pursue my life-long passion for high stress/low paying jobs.  I am currently livin’ that dream as an adjunct composition professor at Loyola Marymount University where I also recently received my MA in English.  But school’s out for the summer; thus, the reason for writing this blog.  Also, because Moses says that we cannot get a puppy.  Moses, of course, is my lovely boyfriend of nearly seven years who is a PhD student at UCLA.  He’s kind of a big deal.  His advisor is one of the inventors of the PET scan.  Do you even know anyone who invented the PET scan?  I didn’t think so.  Naturally, with our combined lucrative salaries as graduate students, we live the sort of glamorous lifestyle you typically associate with Los Angeles: subsidized housing, a 2001 Honda civic with worn bearings and perpetually covered in bird shit (courtesy of the charming swallows that live in our garage), and basic cable.  You should be jealous.

Most of my friends who write blogs, which aren’t many (and by that I mean that I don’t have many friends, not that I have only a few blog-writing friends), typically have some grander narrative: wedding planning, cooking, babies, celebrities, bomb-making (kidding).  And these are the topics one typically associates with blogs.  And shouldn’t blogs serve some greater purpose?  Shouldn’t they be for the greater good?  Shouldn’t they provide helpful advice on parenting or boast useful instructions on how to best cut ginger or dispense some sort of wisdom like what to do when you come across Gary Busey (as it turns out, like a T. rex, he can only detect motion)?  Well, apparently not and mine certainly won’t so if you’re looking for how to lose those extra 10 lbs. for bathing suit season, look elsewhere.  I only have sarcasm and adorably misguided opinions to offer.  So stay tuned kiddos, this should be a highly illuminating (if not entirely life-altering) blog.

I think I will end this post with a little hint of what’s to come.  So here are three things that I am currently obsessed with that probably nobody else would and/or does care about:

1.      Ghost Adventures: it’s a show on the travel channel that is also on Netflix Watch Instantly (which is, by the way, the equivalent of crack-cocaine for a T.V. addict like myself).  Joel McHale (Community/The Soup), referred to it once as “Frat boys yelling at air,” which, I think, is a pretty accurate description.  As the name implies, the show follows three guys investigating paranormal activity.  They are “locked-down” in haunted locations and document what they find…which, unsurprisingly, is a whole lot of nothing.  They mostly just taunt in the darkness (ex. “I heard that you were a serial puppy kicker, well, why don’t you come and kick ME!?), shush each other when they think they hear noises (ironically the shushing often mutes what would have been there “evidence”) and showcase their bro-ness.  And it’s all beautifully captured in the soft green glow of night vision.  In short, it’s about one of the funniest shows on television—it just doesn’t know that it’s a comedy.

2.      Sweet and deliciously vapid Bravo T.V. programming (most of my fixations, as I am sure you’ve cleverly deduced, are media-related):  Bravo T.V. was designed for people just like me: too clever for shows like “The Bachelorette” yet too shallow for anything of real substance.  I love Bravo T.V. and now that I am done with graduate school (for the time being) and out of a job for the summer, I watch it endlessly.  I pretend that my motives for liking it are ethnographically and/or psychologically based.  And that’s partially true.  I find human behavior fascinating and although most reality shows aren’t real, it’s still interesting to see how and why people act the way they do.  And even if it is staged, which almost all reality shows are, why would these people agree to go on them?  Why would they open themselves and their families up to these imposed narratives?  Are they just attention whores or is there something more here?  What do these shows really reveal about our culture?  But mostly, I watch them because they’re fluff—fluff that distracts me from how stressful or awful I may feel like my life is at any given point in time.  Because really, as poor as I may be or as stressed as I may get, I will never be that trashy and/or plastic and/or despicable and/or idiotic.  And that’s a good thing.  Thanks Bravo T.V. for subtly validating my lifestyle, without actually validating my lifestyle.  That’s how I like it. 

3.      Absurd Nicholas Cage action movies: I don’t know what it is about Nick Cage.  Those poorly disguised hair plugs?  That luscious monotone voice?  The fact that his face carries no expression whatsoever?   Or the fact that each character he plays is an expert in everything ever? Because, really, nothing at all about this man is appealing, yet I find my heart flutter with excitement whenever I come across National Treasure on the USA network.  Make no mistake, Nicholas Cage movies are not what one would consider “good” by any stretch of the imagination but they are high-octane, adrenaline fueled, unadulterated nonsense that make Arnold Schwarzenegger movies look about as sensitive and Oscar worthy as Schindler’s List.  Mostly, I associate Nicholas Cage movies with summer which is probably why I find them so endlessly fun and entertaining (because apparently I have lowered expectations for what constitutes as “fun” and “entertaining” in the summer months).  Regardless, I feel like Nick Cage is similar to one of those crappy Starbucks Frappuccino’s that I always find myself craving around this time of year: satisfying yet in no way good for me and associated with a company that I in no way approve of.

And with that clever little analogy, I think I will conclude this first post, which, in true Wendy fashion, is longer and wordier than originally intended.  So was that sentence.  But honestly reader, you need to accept me for who I am if this whole blog thing is going to work.  And I promise that, in return, I will not to let you down by forgetting about this and/or neglecting it and/or making each post about Nick Cage.  Just kidding, I can’t promise that…