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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Portland Impressions

You know when you break up with someone, and at first you know it's the right thing, but the further away from the relationship you get, the more you begin to forget about all the bad things that made the break-up right, and instead you only remember the good things, thinking back nostalgically, sometimes even wishing for a relapse?

Well, that's kind of what I think is happening when people gush themselves over how amazing Portland is. It's cool, don't get me wrong, but I'm not going to gush about it. I like the city, but I can't say I fell in love. And that's because I went there not just to try on, but to consider buying. So I looked at the city as if examining an expensive piece of clothing for loose threads and missing buttons. In other words, I was not blind to the bad.

Having said that, I did have a good time on my trip, was impressed by Lewis & Clark law school and many things about the city, and I think Ian and I would be able to move there and be happy. It would take some adjustment, as it would moving to any place, but my impression is that Portland would fit us better than Salt Lake. I just think love is something that will need to develop over time.

There are several things that really impressed me about Portland. For instance, everything is SO green. Not just environmentally speaking, but there are lots of trees and moss growing everywhere.

The air has a remarkably fresh and clean quality that I remember experiencing in Salt Lake when I was a child, but rarely since. Salt Lake's air quality is truly terrible much of the time. It hardly rains there, everyone drives cars, and there are several oil refineries gunking up the air. It is refreshing to go outside and really be able to breathe in Portland.

It is also also refreshing to be able to go to an adult bar and have an adult drink without having to play the private club game. My newly found friend and I went to the Urban Farmer, a completely gorgeous little bar on the 8th floor of The Nines hotel.
Here we had some Moonshine. Yes, real Moonshine. It was kind of like a white whiskey with a sweet edge. I enjoyed it very much. The bartenders were incredibly friendly, even offering us a small shot of Moonshine before we committed to the drink.

That's another thing that impressed me about Portland: people are very friendly. It's not the creepy kind of midwest friendly where random people say hi to you on the street, but when you are actually interacting with someone at a restaurant, convenience store, bookstore, hotel, bar -- wherever -- the people are very friendly, and don't give you the impression that they hate their jobs or that serving you is an inconvenience for them. Even more, they ask you how your day is going or what brings you to Portland, and I can tell that they really care to know and aren't just humoring you. I know, cause I have a bullshit small talk filter built into my social sensibilities.
By the way, that picture up there is Powell's famous City of Books bookstore. It is aptly named, as there is room for at least 5 bookstores inside. It's hard to tell from the outside, but it is possible to get lost in there. I found myself so overwhelmed with the number of choices that I was completely unable to shop for a book, and I did try on two separate occasions. Ultimately, I bought a book at a Powell's mini-store in the Portland airport. Sometimes choices are easier when options are fewer.

Lewis & Clark reminds me of Utah's Snowbird ski resort during the springtime. It has that ski lodge type of feel externally, with the cement buildings like those at snowbird, and it's completely surrounded by trees. In fact, the law school sits on the edge of the Tryon Park, a huge forest replete with hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. The students say this is a great place to go blow off some steam when you're stressed during the semester.

While the buildings look a little dark and depressing on the outside, they are actually quite lovely inside. They are light, airy, woody, and updated. The faculty seem very approachable and caring. The professor who taught my mock course on the subject of valuation in the area of tax law seemed funny and unintimidating, in contrast to the scary mean professors of The Paper Chase and Legally Blonde.

One cool thing is that the law school is equipped with showers and dryers, so if you ride your bike to school in the rain, you can throw your clothes in the dryer and have a shower before heading to class.

One downside to Portland: It's quite closed-in compared to Salt Lake (though it's not as bad as Seattle). You can't really climb on top of something and be able to look out on the whole city like you can in Salt Lake. There are too many hills and trees for that.

But the public transportation is great in Portland, whereas it's practically useless in Salt Lake. Portland's city blocks are also smaller than Salt Lake's, so the city is very walkable. I think I should be able to get by in Portland without having to use my car much. And if I do, I will never have to pump my own gas again, since it's illegal to do so in Oregon.

Portland's Farmer's Markets also put Salt Lake's to shame, and there is no sales tax in Oregon. Huzzah! You can go in a store and know that the sticker price is what you pay; no more mentally figuring 6-7%.

Two things happened in Portland that I took as signs that moving to Portland would be a good choice:

1) The Portland Timbers have just been announced as officially earning a Major League Soccer franchise, effective 2011. Ian and I have been fans of MLS since the Real Salt Lake entered the scene, and we were a little bummed out to be moving to a town without a team. The Timbers were minor league soccer, so we told ourselves that would be ok, but it seems with this announcement the heathen gods are telling us we should choose Portland. The only problem will be who to cheer for when RSL comes to town to play Portland. Red RSL sweaters and green Portland scarves, perhaps?

2) I had a conversation with a local Portlander in a delightful coffee shop near the Saturday Market (it was the only good cup of coffee I had in Portland, which was a relief, and it was the only conversation I had with a Portlander who didn't completely gush about the city). During the conversation, he said he had spent some time living in Turkey, and I said I had spent some time living in Germany, and that I really loved Doener Kababs (the Turkish version of gyros; if you ever go to Europe, please try these, they are incomparable). Then he told me a Doener shop just opened downtown, and I said that sealed the deal, I should come to Portland just for that. And I'm almost completely serious when I say that.

So I guess I did end up gushing about Portland after all. Ok, so, yeah, it's really great. I'm about 85% sure we will be going there for law school. I'm visiting Sacramento and UC Davis in 2 weeks, and will know for sure after that. Stay tuned.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009


I'm trying to post directly to my blog from email using my iPod, which
is why this post will likely suck.

I'm in Portland checking out the town and the Lewis & Clark law
school. Tonight I went to an alumni reception, which was as stuffy as
it sounds (but as hip as such a reception could be). Tomorrow I see
the school itself, take a tour, have a mock class and so on.

Portland seems very nice so far. It is quite clean for an urban
environment. The river mesmerizes me, since there is really precious
little water in Utah, and all our "rivers" (or "cricks" if you're an
authentic local) are 100th the width of the Portland rivers. That's
cool. The air is moist accordingly, which makes my desert skin feel
flooded. But the climate, even on this overcast day, seems quite

I fortuitously met a friend already. I was having a slice in a pizza
joint and looking at my map when she approached me on account of her
being lost and my having a map. Turns out we were both here for the
same reason and we have a lot of similarities besides. For instance,
we are both non religious and both met our boyfriends on myspace.
Among many other little things. She seems cool and down to earth.
Neither of us is sure we will go here, but if we both do, I will have
a friend and that's great!

I should sleep now. I've had many beers and this law preview tomorrow
is early. Ungodly so. Sadists.

Good night.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Big Love holds no hatred for Mormons

The LDS church is not happy with the writers of HBO's Big Love, a fictitious show about a family of polygamists living in Utah. Apparently an episode of the current 3rd season features scenes in which the family's first wife, Barb, flashes back to memories of her days as a member of the Mormon church going through the temple rituals. Read the story about the controversial episode here.

I'm an avid fan of Big Love, because it's just good television. The characters and stories are deep and intriguing and rife with symbolism and cultural relevance. For a most excellent literary analysis of the show, check out B.R.'s free podcast over at Heteronormativity and Performativity. She does a much better job of talking up the virtues of the show than I ever could, and she's spot on. (And if you enjoy that podcast, make sure to subscribe to the Gendering the Media series, which is updated weekly.)

But one thing I want to say is that Big Love is most definitely not a negative portrayal of Mormonism, and it does not blur the lines between the LDS and FLDS churches. On the contrary, Mormons and the LDS church are portrayed in a rather favorable and respectful light, and the differences between mainstream and fundamentalist Mormonism are consistently impressed upon the viewer. Additionally, as a former Mormon and lifelong Utah resident, I can attest that the portrayals of Mormon belief and tradition in the show are pretty accurate. Every now and then there's something that's a little off, but you'd only really notice that if you had inside familiarity with the church.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the show, and one of the biggest draws, is that it is not a negative portrayal of polygamy, either. Instead, the show juxtaposes two different takes on the practice -- the extreme fundamentalist polygamists complete with prophet, pioneer style clothing, and 14 year old brides, versus the "mainstream" polygamists embodied by the Hendrickson family, a family of 3 wives, one husband, and many, many children that is just trying to eke out a living like the rest of us. Instead of painting a portrait of polygamy and Mormonism in black and white, the show is full of many shades of gray and color, and very little moral judgment is cast upon either the Hendrickson take on the practice of polygamy or on the belief system of the LDS church.

I wish the church could recognize that this show paints it very favorably. Besides, the temple ceremony has been all over the internet for years. I understand the desire to keep your beliefs sacred, but secret and sacred are not the same thing.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Working Hard or Hardly Working, Part 1: The Scholarship

I didn't begin working my first real job until my second year of college. And when I say "real job", I'm also including gigs like McDonald's or Old Navy. It's not that I didn't attempt to get a real job while I was in high school. I remember applying to places like Blimpie and Borders and Bed Bath and Beyond (apparently I was drawn to businesses beginning with B), but nobody would have me. It's hard to get that first job when you don't have any experience. I suppose most people get their first job through some sort of social connection, but as an introverted do-it-myself-and-lean-on-nobody kind of person, those types of connections never availed themselves of me. Of course, I wasn't too concerned about getting that real job in high school, because my real real job was getting good grades so I could get a scholarship to pay for college. And I succeeded in that, which is better than $5.50 an hour slicing deli meats and cheeses could have ever gotten me. I was offered an Honors at Entrance Scholarship to the University of Utah, which afforded full tuition for 4 years of study provided that I maintain a 3.7 GPA throughout. That's an A- average, to keep things in perspective. (I believe these days students have to maintain a 3.9 for the same scholarship. Ouch!)

Because I won that scholarship, I was able to use my humble college fund to live in the student dorms my first year of college, and that ended up being an important middle step between childhood dependence and adult independence. I'm glad I had the chance to experience it. With the roof and meal plan taken care of, I didn't really see much purpose in having a job that year either, and once again I made my job getting good grades to keep my scholarship. My first semester I slacked off a little bit. It turns out scheduling Ordinary Differential Equations at 8:30 was not playing to my weakness as being a total night owl. (I quickly learned never to schedule a class before 9:45.) Plus, my instructor was basically useless at explaining the concepts of the class, so I ended up having to mostly teach myself. Through my half-hearted sleep-deprived self-instruction I pulled a measely B- in ODEs.

Additionally, on the day of September 11, 2001, I ended up skipping out on most of my classes after learning about the World Trade Center incident, and in so doing, I missed an important assignment that was given out in my German 2010 class. I did not make an effort to make up for this assignment, even though my instructor offered me extra credit, and so I ended up pulling a B in this class. I must admit this was entirely my fault, but I can't say I expected one assignment in a beginning language course to be the difference between an A and a B, so I did feel a little bit blindsided on that one. Altogether, my first semester GPA was a few points below the 3.7 I needed to keep my scholarship. Luckily, I had one more semester to pull my average back up before the day of reckoning.

So over Winter break, I sat down with my calculator and my math skills, which had not yet been totally blunted by the ODEs, and I calculated what GPA I needed to pull in the second semester in order to save my scholarship. I had already registered for about 15 credits worth of second semester classes, and according to my calculations, which I repeated over and over again because I was not happy with the answer, I would have to get a straight 4.0 without dropping any credits in order to save my GPA. So in my second semester, my real job really was going to be getting good grades, otherwise I might not have the money to continue my education the following year.

Much to my chagrin, I had registered for yet another math class, this time Multivariable Calculus, which I arguably should have taken before ODEs, and once again my math teacher was completely useless. So this time I buckled down and read each chapter of my math book, studied the example problems, and got help in the tutoring center on my homework. This time with a more vigorous effort, I was able to pull an A in that course through self study.

None of my other classes seemed to give me much trouble, and I was anxiously confident that I would make my 4.0. But after finals, when grades were posted, I was dismayed to see one little minus sign next to my A in World Religions. Oh no. If I was going to lose my scholarship, it wasn't going to be on account of Jesus, Vishnu, Buddha, or any other god-like figure. Hell no. Luckily, despite the fact that this class had been a large lecture class of over a hundred people, my World Religions study group had earlier made the fortuitous decision to invite our professor to a private study session, so my professor actually knew who I was, and I fully intended to use this acquaintance to my advantage. In short, I went to my professor's office and shamelessly begged him to reconsider my grade, reminding him how invested I was in the course in light of our study session together. Of course, I brought my final exam answers and class papers and presented my case logically, but then I appealed to his mercy because of the desperate way in which my scholarship was teetering on the edge of a cliff held only by a thin strand of rope in the form of a minus sign. He agreed to grab hold of the minus sign and pull it back up. (Thank you, Prof. Dean K!)

The great thing about GPAs is that the more credits you have, the less each credit counts toward your total GPA, so after the first year, it was much easier to keep my 3.7, and I ended up remaining fully tuitioned throughout my undergraduate career. And that's what I call a job well done.

Next time: Sra struggles in the job search, but serendipitously lands a real job.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Pisses me off

I ranted a long time ago about how I got locked out of my online car insurance account because out of the blue I had to answer my security questions which I had created months earlier, and could not come up with the proper form of the answers. The worst part was that I spent a long time on hold trying to get the service people to help me with it, and then when I gave up holding, they refused to help me via email.

So I decided, fuck it, I don't need this online account. I will directly transfer the approximate amount I owe every month to my insurance company from my credit union, and that will be that. Worked great for awhile. But then that little fire incident happened at my apartment complex, and I decided to add renter's insurance to my account. So now I don't know what my monthly payment is anymore, so I figured I'd call up the service line again and get my account re-enabled.

Did that. Answered the security questions over the phone, was given a new password, logged in. Then I faced the dreaded security questions again. And I failed them. Three Times. So I'm locked out again.

Fucking piece of shit hell!

This pisses me so off. Aaaeerrrgh!!!!!!!!!!

First of all, I'm irritated that I had to go through the security questions again online after answering them on the phone. Second of all, I hate my security questions, because the answers to them are complicated. I didn't think about that when I set them up. I didn't think I would have to deal with all this bullshit, though, because I always store my logins on my computers and never have to enter anything.

The question that is giving me the most difficulty is along the lines of "What was the name of the place you had your first job?" The answer is, technically, "G. Eric Nielsen & Associates". But then I always called it Eric Nielsen & Associates, sans G. And, of course, you could write G. Eric Nielsen and Associates, instead of going all fancy ampersandy.

As if this question weren't bad enough, another question is "What is the city your mom was born in?" And the answer to this is "Salt Lake City". But then, of course, sometimes I call it "Salt Lake" or "SLC".

And then I don't know if the answers are case sensitive, and if they are, did I capitalize parts or all of the original answers? I don't fucking remember. Really the possible variations of the answers are too many for me to get this all right in 3 tries.

This is a big waste of my fucking time. But I will call the service line again later, when I've calmed down somewhat, and I will make them tell me the proper format of my answers, and I will have them stay on the phone with me while I log in, and as soon as I do log in, I am changing those god-damned security questions, dammit!

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Incongruous Friendship

I went to a baby shower for my childhood friend, Ji, this weekend. It was a little bit awkward for me, because most of Ji's friends are very much unlike me. They are the skinny, popular, cheerleader type crowd from high school. I am the quiet, normal-sized, invisible nerdish band geek type from high school. We did not mingle in high school. I knew who they were because everyone knew who they were.

Ji and I were neighbors growing up. There were 5 of us girls all the same age plus or minus a year on my street. We were known in the neighborhood as the Belle Meadows Babes. Except I suppose I would have been the token chubbier homelier nerdier friend, and not really a babe at all.

I remember once sometime in junior high or high school, I was sitting with the other BMBs engaging in some scintillating girl talk when I posed this question to the group: "Based on our personalities, do you guys think we would have been friends had we not grown up together on the same street?"

Ji answered directly, "Honestly? No."

She meant her and I wouldn't have been friends. She might have been friends with the other BMBs, but I was different, and we all knew it.

But that's one thing I always admired about Ji, she never was ashamed to be honest. She never had a problem telling someone no if they asked her to do something she didn't want to do. She turned down many a church calling growing up because she wasn't interested in the responsibility. Most people feel like they can't say no, lest they disappoint someone, but not Ji. I always liked that about her. And I concurred with her assessment of the nature of our friendship.

When we were kids, our conflicting personalities didn't seem to pose much of a problem for Ji and I. When we played at my house, we would play with Legos, Star Wars and GI Joe figures, and occasionally Care Bears. We played school with my little chalk board, and my stuffed animals as students. We created art projects. At her house, we played with troll dolls, Barbies and 90210 dolls, baby dolls that cried and pooped and needed to be burped. We played house. We played card games. These worlds melded together seemingly seamlessly then.

In junior high things started to become different. Ji became interested in boys, and they became interested in her. That really wasn't my scene. I still hung out with the crowd, but I fit in even less than I ever did. In high school, things became even more disparate, and we all really branched out into our own friendship circles. I became friends with some of my fellow band geeks, and Ji and the other BMBs became friends with their own respective groups. Their groups seemed to overlap some; mine did not mix at all. We were oil and water. But I still maintained affection for my childhood friends.

Ji went through a period of teenage wildness, the outcome of which could have been anyone's guess. Things like that have a way of beginning innocently and progressing gradually until eventually you are left with a Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears. But, though Ji wasn't particularly book smart, I knew that she was very street smart, and I suspected that she would end up outgrowing her wild phase into a mature and successful adulthood.

And she did. She eventually married a very stable, intelligent man of whom I very highly approve. Her wedding ceremony in the White Chapel near the Utah Capital Building was one of my favorite wedding ceremonies yet. Maybe that's because it was an actual wedding ceremony, and not your standard Temple ceremony followed by a reception. But for me, I suppose it was a moment of pride. Aside from our differences and the fact that we wouldn't have been friends had we not grown up together, we have always truly liked one another. I was happy to see my childhood friend happy.

And so I suppose it is the same sentiment that sent me to the bridal shower willingly like a blind sheep into a den of hungry wolves. Not that it ended up being so bad, actually. Girls like that have a way of taming down as they age; whereas they might have mocked you ruthlessly to your face as a teenager, they would at least wait until you left the party before unleashing their claws as an adult.

Even so, there was one moment at the shower that belied our ever-extant incongruities. While dishing about various high school alums, the girls threw out the name of a rather prominent nerd from high school. He was as renowned as the popular people on account of his ubernerdom. I knew who he was because everyone knew who he was. But I don't think we ever had a class together or spoke to each other. Still, when his name came up, I noticed a few of the girls shifting their glances in my direction, as if weighing whether or not I cared that this nerdy guy was being dished about. As if, since I belonged in the same nerdy category as he, the two of us must have been the best of friends.

And I smiled to myself. Sometimes the best of friends are really nothing alike.

I raise my glass to you, Ji, on the birth of your first child. May she find a good childhood friend for herself like you were for me.

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