Wednesday, October 28, 2009

PREFACE: it was my intent to write a blog about the balance between nature and city-night-life-culture here in Brighton, but this (although perhaps slightly too closely related to the previous post) is what my stubborn finger insisted on typing. I figure maybe if I listen to them (or in this case, slave obediently to their needs) I can move on to the things I wanted to write about in the first place. END OF PREFACE.

Kelly-Cognition #2
I am currently hunched over a bowl of spicy channa dal, mingling in and out of theories about channel conductance, African Pentecostalism, and Johns Hopkins graduate program prerequisites (all of which are tabs on FireFox at the moment, besides the dal of course, which is currently in my mouth), and I find myself suddenly moved to write a bit about it all of these noise-making things in my mind. Darn. I will get on to more tangible, reality-based narrations again someday. I promise!

Sitting here, stepping back at the chaotic fusion of culture, interests, music, and things that constantly cake my life (usually silently, but sometimes blatantly- as is the current case), I a little bit worried. Although it is good to have a lot of diversity in one's existence,sometimes it complicates things.

Example #1 (and the only example at that):
I am starting to think a lot about my future goals, as insinuated in previous blogs (and as is evident by the respective tabs currently open), and what kind of real life decision I have to make in the coming days. I wrote last time about what kind of person I am morphing into, and in comparison, the current question (what kind of things will that person do?) is much more difficult to answer. I don't know what it is about being here in England that is making my desperately soul search (something I, probably ignorantly, assumed wouldn't be a product of a westernized-American-esque country), but it is definitely a process under way. Maybe it is something about Sussex, the international academic expectations, that are contributing to these cognitions. I am not sure.

Regardless of the cause, I think the problems is I have FAR too many obscure passions, none of which I want to commitment to(typical girl, no?). The incapacity to stay in places for long periods of time, puddle jumping from the sciences to language, and flustered bloggage are all exemplary of this problem. But the thing is, I don't want to force myself into restriction. If I am suddenly impassioned by particle theory (which I have had several recent episodes of) why not pursue it?

It's just the idea that in 1 year I will be applying to a graduate program, and by then I need to have at least SOME of an idea about what I want to study in a more permanent context. Yeah, it is pretty clear to me right now Cognitive Neuroscience is always going to play a major role, but there are SO many routes that my academic tush can trod down. Here is a list, that took me a seriously disgusting amount of time to narrow down, of the things I could foresee myself studying in relation to cognitive science:

3. Meditation and prayer (i.e. attentional acuity)
4. Rewiring

Not having an idea how to thread something substantial through all of these niches is the current predicament. Actually, it is more of a an impossibility, than a predicament.

I have no resolution. I am swimming confusedly right now without much success. It is getting to a point where I am going up to my professors after class to ask them about their opinions about what kind of work the world needs in this realm of study, as well as keeping a notepad full of facts I find exceptionally moving, in hopes I will find a trend. Sounds scientific? desperate? That's because it is. Hah. But hopefully with at least a dollop of eventual success.

What else is a lass to do?

I know Ghana will only complicate things, probably igniting some kind of inner passion about aboriginal political structures or something equally obscure and unemployable.But, there is not much else I can rationalize to do than to follow my heart (albeit a little bit erratic at times).

Little nudges from wiser men than myself are always welcome. :)

p.s. watch this:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Kelly-Cognition #1:
This is the first time I’ve lived alone. I have a room to myself, a single bed, and some pots and pans to cook as my heart (although sometimes monetarily restricted) desires. There is something big about it though. I find it really very self exposing. A little bit of voyeurism upon the bits of myself that are often hidden between the layers of others coexisting around me. When you strip those layers away, plop yourself down in a single room and are asked to nourish yourself appropriately for the first time, there is a lot to learn about who you are…and also about who you will become.
Some things I’ve discovered:

1.It was not just an inkling. Currently I have 7 oranges lined up in a row on my window sill, two pomegranates, 1 ½ limes, a massive ginger root, ½ a clove of garlic, a clump of dried mint from last week’s farmer’s market and an apple in a wooden fruit bowl on my desk. Not to mention the rosemary and lavender I have gathered from the woods over the past two months and the procession of dried leaves I’ve been pressing in catalogs as autumn descends. I am OFFICIALLY obsessed with living with fresh things.

2.Neatness. All my life I’ve always been notorious of, as I am sure my mom will readily assure you, leaving random tidbits nilly willy. But no. For some reason when alone, I feel the need to have things clean. I blame my Positive Psychology teacher for corrupting my view of living spaces and how they affect the mental.

3.I am a rabbit, as has been asserted by several people sharing my kitchen. Arugula, lentils, avocados comprise like 60% of my diet. The rest is basically honey oatmeal and chili dark chocolate, with possibly tea speckled in between. It is really funny to observe yourself second hand and see what kind of things you’ll eat when no one cares anymore. I have a feeling down the road, I will be the psycho lady with a massive garden in her backyard teaching the different plant species to my grandchildren while a pot of beet root is boiling on the stove. Bhahaha. At least I can laugh at myself.

4.I am also going to be one of those old ladies who saves all of the cards and letters and random things she gets as gifts for decades. I have all of my birthday cards, a champagne cork, maps of the mountains we went to in Switzerland, a picture of my friends here pretending to be Charlie Angels, a beaded necklace said to bring safe travels, some balloons stolen for me from a seaside café, and a painting my Dad gave me from his South Pacific wanderings. A full fledged pack rat.

5.Fresh air, sunshine, and loving people make or break my happiness on a daily basis. The fusion of the three make me able to deal with just about anything life throws at me.

I feel like I am starting to get to a point of maturation (if such a thing even exists) where it is becoming clear who I want to be and who I do not. What kind of life I want to live, and the kind I would prefer to avoid. I think that one of the important parts of being my age, floating about without much tethering to a job, family, or significant other, is solidifying self. It is like sharpening your sword, as my Dad would say. You need to know who you are before you can achieve much else.

Right now, I pretty sure I am partaking in such a sharpening process, with living alone for the first time being a good example. And I think that all of the travels yet to come/significant uprooting,it is even more important. Sometimes I feel a little blown about in the winds of change, that it is easy to lose footing, feel displaced, be pummeled by existential crises and the likes, so working on strengthening a sense of self provides a solidarity no matter the external.

I am grateful for this challenge.

Monday, October 19, 2009

In light of the fact I don’t get to travel again for a few more weeks, which seems like decades after all this vagabond-hood, I would take the opportunity in the next few blog entries to write a little bit about daily musings.

Although probably not as exotic for the average reader, I feel like this will be good for me to have for self-satisfying reflection purposes. One of the most important parts of generating knowledge from an experience is the cognitions that form the backbone along the way. Although I love detailing grand road maps of people and places and the glories of transiency, sometimes I feel like it teeters on the edge of being a little too factual, and a little less ‘human’. Basically, I am looking for some more personalized insights. The question of: “who am I?” is morphing so quickly these days (at a terrifying rate actually), so putting it down alongside the daily encounters that support it might be beneficial. So hopefully the next few weeks I will be able to first, find time to jot down some my thoughts, and second, allow some semi-coherent ideas to bubble up from the daily jumble of homework and endless European chaos.

So: the point is, sorry if these next few entries are not portals to faraway places as you might expect, rather, portals to slightly less exotic, but equally unpredictable, Kelly-cognitions. I promise the other entries will resurface in due time. (Approximately 6 weeks from now, when I’ll have the pleasure of reuniting with a long lost friend on his way back home from Mongolia in the wonderful land of croissants and massive, skeletal, phallic symbols…i.e. France. And shortly thereafter be en route to the U.S. for Christmas, stopping in Durango and Arizona, and then on my way to the West Africa until summer).

Annnnnd. Now that I have said all of that, I am going to completely contradict myself by writing about my recent trip to London. SURPRISE! Haha. I adore irony. Last week a group of me and 7 other lovely girls (ranging from Germans, to French, to Canadian, to basically every corner of the world)decided to take a weekend jaunt to London, the lovely English nucleus one hour north. Being my second time in London, I was shocked to find myself even more in love with it than before. It is amazing that 3 pounds, a train station and a leisurely cup of tea can take you from beach-like Brighton to one of the major cultural centers of the world.

Being typical girls, we decided to go to the Portobello Market, which for those of you who don't know, is basically shopping utopia. Hundreds (literally) of open air vendors speckled with musicians, artists, jugglers, tourists, and cuisine from every obscure country known to man. It was almost too much sensory overload for me, especially with all of the prime people watching Saturday afternoon streets entailed. Saris, antique clocks, fresh falafel, accordions and peddlers whizzed by in a giant orgy of color and noise. I felt a little bit like I was back in an Indian shopping district with all of the simultaneous action undulating around me. Almost comforting in a sense. :)

The rest of the day we walked around Hyde Park, cracking open chestnuts and visiting random churches, making our way to the infamous "Harrods." I will spare you of my venomous rant concerning this place, not even deserving of even an unbiased introduction. If you don't know about Harrods and you have a soul, consider yourself lucky. Live in bliss without having this horrid place taint your perspective of humanity (sorry, the rant just trickled in, I couldn't control it. Really). Harrods disgusted me, if that is not already evident. I just found it exemplary in every way of the parts of mankind I like to passively overlook: greed, consumerism, image, and an uncontrollable capitalistic blind-sheep mentality.

Okay...I could go on, but I will spare you. My deep disgust will not change anything, only creates ripples of unnecessary negativity. The point is: if you are in London, no it is NOT cool to go and buy a Harrods bag, even if it is from the gift store, just to say you did. 1. it supports something that is fundamentally flawed and 2. you simply look foolish. Spending gobs of money on useless items is not something worthy of pride.

Right. Sorry.

On to something a little less vindictive.....
I HAD MY FIRST GHANAIAN EXPERIENCE! *little skip of glee* On one of our random wanderings, I found a small street stand where two Ghanaian men where busily stirring massive pots of beautifully colored food. It was awesome. Although I was not necessarily hungry, I decided to approach the stand and start talking to them. I told them I was interested in the food they were cooking, because I was going to be in Ghana studying come January, and was wondering if they would tell me something about the dishes. Their response, and totally hilarious sense of humor, made me beyond excited for the journeys to come. At the end, I found myself walking away with a massive sampler of all of the food, including peanut chicken, rice, beef and vegetables, cauliflower and melon seeds and fried plantains, while waving and totally butchering Twi phrases. Success. I just signed up for classes for Ghana, one of them being Introduction to Seamanship and another Introduction to Traditional African Dance. :)

This week was Diwali, and I am happy to say that for the first time in 3 years I've been in a place where not only people know what it is, but also where it was widely celebrated. On campus there is a significant Indian population, so of course, I dragged all of my friends to the festivities. It was hilarious, because it was as typically Indian as you can get. The food was an hour later, the sound system was horrible, there was massive amounts of dancing, tons of awkwardly placed plastic chairs, and salwaars out the wazoo. It was funny to see the faces of my Brazilian and Basque friends at their first try of Indian cuisine, and my French and Canadian friends faces in response to the total disorganization of the affair. There is so much cultural twisting going on in my life right now, I am eternally confused, but constantly happy.

Okay...I will stop procrastinating doing my overly chemistry oriented homework (ugh. soooo painful) and end this entry. I hope to be doing shorter and more frequent updates in order to fill my humanization goal mentioned above.

Love to all.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Alas, I am putting away my severe procrastination, to finally sit down and write a bit. I am currently sitting in a shell shape religious center in the heart of campus. It is nice, because the University has study sections in it, so one can bask in incense and stained glass while flirting with the game of knowledge acquisition. The quietness is also welcome, considering the constant bustle of hundreds of new people and faces on campus, dorm life, dances and all that is cliché in terms of college life. Sometimes it is nice to hide away in a nook and soak in a healthy dose of good energy.

So… the bulk of this blog will be centered around my recent trip to Switzerland, considering it is by far the most salient of events. I find it difficult, however, because I feel like the more moved I am by a situation, the less willing I am (or capable) to put it down in words. Maybe that is why blogs are starting to become more difficult to write- the mere fact I feel like words can’t encompass the magnitude or importance. For that purpose, I will put a bunch of pictures (since, as the age old saying goes, pictures are worth 1,000 words). Besides that, I will try my best to at least do some of Switzerland justice.

But first, I need to clarify three things:

1.Some stereotypes are blatantly inaccurate, but occasionally some stereotypes are rooted in total, untainted truth. This is one of those cases. Yes, it is no lie: the Swiss LOVE chocolate!!!!! Dear lord, I consumed more of this sticky sweet brown substance birthed from heavenly Swiss cows than is rationally conceivable.

2.The movie Heidi is totally legit.

3.NEVER insult Swiss cheese or bread…and NEVER EVER assert a). bagels or b). muffins rival baked bread. Trust me…..

Now that I have that cleared up…I can begin:
I was fortunate enough to have met Silvana in the Sussex in September program, being my neighbor and an equally rambunctious blonde lass. Luckily, I was invited to tag along with her for the week long break we had between the SIS program and real classes. She lives in Zurich (which, mind you, is NOT the capital of Switzerland despite common misconception). We flew into Zurich, after an incredible flight over much of France (where I saw Paris from above and the Eiffel Tower) and went directly to a VIP party in one of the most popular clubs in Switzerland. Silvana knows the security of the club personally, so we all we had to do was walk breezily by the massive cue, wave a hand, and be let in with no cover charge. I’m not going to lie, I felt pretty cool. It was an electronic dance party, and definitely a first of a kind for me. I can’t really say it is my favorite type of dancing situation, but it was indubitably an experience well received. After about 4 hours of only slightly varied beats, smoke machines, and lights, it was almost a meditative experience. I could not help but correlate the experience of over stimulation and constant rhythm in the brain, and how one could easily slip into a Shaman like trance. Kelly’s next PhD dissertation: Shamanic Ritualization of Zurich Clubs. Haha.

The next day Silvana and I took some bikes out on the town, and rode around the historic and ethnic region of the city. It was incredible. Sizzling foods from all earthly corners, music, specialty shops, and people bustling in and out. There was also an environmental fair going on downtown, which was focused on biking as an alternative to other transportation. Sound familiar? Haha. There are sooooo many bikes all around Switzerland (as well as Brighton!), it is really inspiring. Being overly excited for the upcoming Ghana experience, I wanted to try and find some African (specifically West African) food. Unfortunately we did not run into any weaving in and out of the streets, but we did find an Indian store where I bought Tamilian toothpaste, a chickoo (which is a fruit I have not had the pleasure of eating for 4 years) and soan papadi (basically the best Indian sweet ever). I was delighted beyond belief. We also illegally rode our bikes through the coble stone district of the city, where I climbed the massive church tower (186 stairs straight up) the Grossmunster. Silvana and I sneaked down into the basement region where tradition has it that the saints of the city of Zurich, Felix and Regula, walked up from the lake carrying their heads from battle and took eternal rest. It was pretty eerie.

That night I wanted to return the delicious dinner of (get ready): irish meat, fennel, Italian rissoto, bread, mushrooms, salad, wine, chocolate, ice cream, pears and peaches (they are half Italian=EAT A LOT!) her parents cooked me the night before. I cooked a Mexican dinner of fajitas, guacamole, tacos, salsa and beans (proving to be quite the accomplishment considering the great lack of anything Mexican in the food stores). Food is such an intimate part of one’s culture, so it was really nice to take part in the cross cultural exchange.
And here is where it really begins for me…
The next day we woke up at 8:00 (which is incredibly early there) to test darling Silvana’s driving skills and set sail towards the Swiss Alps, first stopping in Bern to see Einstein’s house and have a sunny Swiss lunch. Silvana’s mom is originally from a little ski town called Murren, hanging haphazardly on the very edge of a massive cliff, jutting over a valley between the tallest mountains in Europe. It is accessed by cable car, and from above truly appears to defy gravity, not slipping off the grassy slope when the rain falls too heavy. Luckily for me, her grandma owned a quaint hotel there, and I was not only blessed with free accommodation (my own room with a view few are able to see in their lives and a symphony of cow bells grazing below), but also 5 star food from their home style restaurant. I am so grateful to them. It was an experience of traditional Swiss life, including evening cups of hot wine, thick cheese slices, and fresh bread.

The next few days we spent (or should I say I spent subjecting Silvana to) hiking around steep trails and peering over cliffs. The Alps…are by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, probably will see, or can be seen, in my opinion. They are simply just so magnificent they seemed unearthly to me, as if someone took the most dramatic of peaks protruding from the Rockies, shoveled 10 times the snow on to them, stuffed them with steroids and a full Thanksgiving dinner, and sprinkled a bit of magic on for good measure. They were massive. They were humbling. They were challenging. I was brought close to tears so many times, and spoke primarily in superlatives while there. :) Little cottages, milk farms, decorated cows, cheese makers, green pastures, electrifyingly white snow caps, blue flowers, and total purity. The Alps have a mystic I cannot express. I really am considering take a year of my life to stay there, either for meditative progression or (hopefully) writing an overly academic book in my professorial years. Haha. One can dream….

Our last day in Murren, after absurd amounts of climbing cliff faces and ridges the previous days, we ended it in the most extravagant of ways: Shilthorn. If the Alps were not already unworldly enough, I found myself suspended on a slick black edge, overlooking an ocean of clouds whipping and undulating below my feet. I felt like I was in an airplane, since that was the only time I had ever felt the feeling of being above cloudline. It was dizzying (possibly due to the altitude, but more probably due to my flabbergasted-ness). At the top they also had a rotating restaurant (which did not help the dizziness), where we met Silvana’s grandma for a breakfast of champagne, cheese, bread, fruit, muesli, and hot chocolate (of course). It was truly the crowning jewel (as well as the location for a James Bond movie in the 70’s) of the whole experience and one that I will hold on to dearly.

Like I’ve said in previous posts, I find myself continually and increasingly taken aback with how kind this universe can be. Frequently I find myself heavy with gratitude, not knowing how to return the kindness that I have encountered both by people and circumstance. I know there must be a way, since this world works in cyclic patterns, but I just don’t know how yet. I am not going to pretend that everything is all peachy peachy all the time. I still have many a problems, concerns, fears, heartbreak, and all that silly negative stuff….but sometimes it is so easy to see the positive. And it seems the more you pick apart the posatives you have been presented, the more they seem to multiply. Maybe there is really a brain-physics-reality relation that can be altered by intentionality (you know, all that consciousness and electron stuff they talk about). Who knows? What I do know is, it is inspiring and reminds me to remain humble. Moral of the story: do the next loving thing and life will respond. Or at least that is where I’m at.