Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A thought and a memory

Today is Lenin's birthday.  Growing up in Russia (then USSR) Lenin's birthday was the day everyone gathered outside to clean up the neighborhood: picked up trash, painted benches and planted flowers.  To be more accurate this didn't always happen exactly on Lenin's birthday, but on a Saturday close to it, and was called Subbotnik.  I always liked this day because I liked seeing people come together and do something for mutual benefit. I had no idea then, that elsewhere this day was called Earth day and in celebration of which people did very similar things.  Nowadays Lenin's birthday is no longer celebrated, but luckily Earth day related activities that raise awareness about environmental issues and ways to resolve them, are becoming more popular on an international level.

Learn more about Subbotnik


Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Beginner Blogger's dilemma

I started a blog for several reasons. Mainly because I get many ideas about interesting topics that I want to write about/record/reflect upon and I felt ready to move out of the private confines of a diary/my HD into the public forum of the internet.  However, I started this blog almost three weeks ago and I've only made one post.  Meanwhile the list of blog ideas keeps piling up in a folder I carry with me to and from work and add to on an almost daily basis.  What then, is the obstacle that prevents the materialization of my ideas on the world wide web?  It is what I imagine to be the beginner blogger's dilemma: the desire to publish perfectly polished posts and and  lack the time to get them past draft stage. I have ideas in roughly written paragraphs, but not very much time to revise and edit them to perfection prior to public exposure.  And so they sit in my folder and on my HD waiting for the day when I'll have more time to shape them up.  However I get the feeling that if I keep waiting for perfection, these posts will never see the light, and this blog will get stuck in one-entry-maybe-once-a-month mode.  Which is counterproductive to say the least.  And so I've decided today that I'm going to post my ideas as they come, maybe even daily, in whatever form they happen to be in.

This week I have been thinking a lot about a career in editing.  I love editing, more than writing even.  So why am I struggling through my 6th year of grad school instead of working?  Because I never seriously considered making a career as an editor.  I might complain about grad school sometimes, but I am glad that I embarked on this path because although I have no publications to my name I feel like I figured out who I was during my time in grad school, and maybe that is more important. Especially since I don't think I will pursue basic research as a career upon completion of my PHD.  And so Editing!  How does one get a job as an editor, what should I be doing in the meantime to gain relevant experience?  Stay tuned for exciting developments as I explore this new path towards my future...


Sunday, April 6, 2008

What is the measure of fluency in a foreign language?

When I moved with my family to the US at the age of 10 I did not speak English.  It would be inaccurate to say that I didn't know English because I studied it for almost two years in school in Russia and knew some words and expressions.  However this was the first time I had to speak English with native speakers.  Having to live in South Carolina added an another challenge, though I was not aware of it at the time.

I remember asking my dad to translate songs that were playing on the radio in the car.  Everytime he would listen for a few seconds and then answer - its about love.  I thought it was strange that all songs would be about the same thing and decided that he was just being lazy and didn't want to explain what they were really about.  So it became my goal to understand the words in songs.  

My sister and I would record songs from cartoons and Disney movies by holding a tape player set to record up to the TV speaker and then listen to these songs repeatedly to figure out the words.  Of course we wanted to be able to sing along, and we did, with the words we thought be heard.  Nowadays I always find it amusing when I hear some of these songs and realize that we were way off in some parts, although the words we used did make sense in the context of the song. It was a couple of years before I could understand the songs on the radio.

For a long time I considered that fluency in a language is reached when words in songs could be freely understood. Why am I rambling about this? Because right now I am learning Japanese. Well, I have only just begun, and I am wondering how long it will take me to become fluent. I became interested in the language after getting somewhat addicted to anime. I love listening to Japanese speech; it sounds so lovely and resonant.

"Learning a foreign language as an adult is difficult." People say this to me all the time. However I have enough arrogance, or self-confidence in my brain power, not to get discouraged. Even when I am faced with the overwhelming reality of the amount of information that needs to be assimilated in order to achieve any kind of respectable fluency of speech and proficiency in reading/writing. I look forward to the day when I can sing along to the anime opening and closing theme songs!

Curious about anime? Check out animeviewer.net!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

~It starts with a narrative...~

On this day, seventeen years ago my mom, sister, brother and I traveled from Moscow, Russia to join my father, already living in the US.  I was almost ten.  I remember being excited to see a new foreign land, especially one which received so much negative propaganda in Russia, and to see my father again, after a two year separation.  I was also apprehensive about both because I wasn't sure what to expect.
When I tell people that I've lived in the US for seventeen years, they usually say "Oh, you grew up here, you probably don't remember much of Russia"  That's not true.  As far as I'm concerned a lot of my "growing up" happened in Russia, and I remember many things.  Our trip over, although patchy and somewhat faded is still firmly imprinted in my mind.

I remember getting up at two in the morning to get to the airport, sleepily waiting for hours in a crowded waiting area, waiting in the long customs line with anxious anticipation, watching as the customs officer told my mom to unpack our suitcase for inspection, finally getting on the plane (my first time).  The plane seemed so huge with two isles and many, many seats, the fight was long and my mother got upset when my brother (three and a half at the time) threw up on his new clothes.  I remember finally getting to NY, not understanding what people were saying to us, having the oranges we got on the plane get taken away in customs.  Worrying that I wouldn't recognize my father, and the relief when I did; surprise at how different yet familiar he looked. Traveling through NYC by subway, by taxi, looking out the taxi window and being in awe of the fact that stores were filled with goods; a sharp contrast to the barren wasteland found at that time in russian stores.  We met up with my dad's friend who took us to his house for the night.  Both he and his wive were very kind, but I remember my dad having to translate what they said to us.  They gave my brother a plastic dinosaur, which I immediately wanted.  I tried for years afterward to get it from him, he finally gave it to me a few years back, I still have it somewhere at my parents house.  In the morning they fed us breakfast.  I don't remember everything, but I remember that there was bacon.  It was the first time I ate such food, I remember liking the salty crunchy taste.  I remember the long drive to South Carolina.

I love to write. There are thoughts twirling around my head always and setting them down on paper lessens the chaos inside my head.  Sometimes it is even interesting to read these thoughts afterwards, as words flow out in surprising combinations.  It is particularly satisfying when subsequent re-reading makes me think "Wow, I wrote that?"  Today I can't seem to get started with work.  My mind drifts to the past, recounting the journey I made to get to where I am today and wondering how things will progress in the future.  Recent events in my life made me remember my love for writing.  Increasingly, I feel dissatisfied with the ambiguity that is inherent in scientific research.  I can't even get excited about the results of my own experiments.  I keep thinking that the life of a bench scientist is not for me.  My ideal career would be in scientific editing, but what is comes down to is that I've spent many years doing research and not much time writing in any kind of organized way.  I need to do something now.  Write more, maybe get published.  I need to know that I can write something that other people want to read and that they can trust me to edit their work.  Now is the time to stop thinking (something I do way too much of) and start doing.  This blog is the first step in an attempt to turn my passion into something tangible and present it to the world.  Today, 17 years later, another journey begins.