how to survive the library

Since I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in the library stacks of Avery, I thought I’d offer some tips on how to survive the experience. Also, I’m procrastinating. Can’t you tell?

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1. Beware overhead objects. Make note of them, but do not get distracted by the exposed pipes and/or wiring. When you are losing interest in your research material, letting your eyes wander to the fascinating aspects of the ceiling can be disastrous. Do not let your concentration shift upwards. Or sideways. Or any direction other than the next page.

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2. Put some muscle into it. Who said academics were all weaklings in ivory towers? There’s some real force required to shift some of the movable stacks, so throw your shoulder into it and get those gears cranking. Turning them bit by bit only reduces the momentum and prolongs your stay. If there are multiple stacks bunched together, you’re going to have to move each one individually, so just get it over with.

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3. Kick to save your life. If caught between electronically-moving stacks, kick the red/white strip running along the base to avoid being crushed. If you’re caught between hand-cranked stacks, for goodness’s sake, YELL. When you have safely escaped from the enclosing wall of books, smack the person who didn’t check the aisle before moving the stack and feel free to glare at them evilly any time you see him/her in the future.

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4. Don’t get lost. One of the worst things is to go down a row and forget the specific call number, volume number, or issue number of whatever it is you are looking for. That many books in a small area can be disorienting – arm yourself with a list and a game plan. If you have multiple books on your list, make note of which stacks are already open and then work out the best order to retrieve them before you go around shifting stacks. Be prepared for the onslaught of books!

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5. Accept assistance when needed. If you are short, own it. The stacks can go up pretty high and this isn’t the stretching Olympics, so don’t risk throwing out your back, pulling a muscle, or having a book fall on your head. Save your strength for flipping all those pages and grab a step stool. Plus, if there’s a step stool in the aisle with you, you can’t get crushed to death.

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6. Check the clock, at least occasionally. Or you will be in here forever. This is the only exception to #1. When there’s no window and you’re all by yourself, it can be hard to gauge how much time has gone by. If you don’t occasionally glance up at the clock, time will run recklessly wild. You will skip lunch, skip dinner, and before you know it the library is closing and some guy is telling you to pack up your stuff and leave. And then you will look up at him with tears in your eyes muttering about how you’re not done. Avoid that.

Happy researching!

palm sunday service at the cathedral

I’m going to start off by saying that I am by no means a devout Christian … heck, I ain’t even baptized. But I like going to church and I like the ritual/history of it all. For those reasons I usually end up attending Catholic mass, but today for Palm Sunday I went to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, which is an Episcopalian church – a beautiful one at that.

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I’ve been inside the cathedral before for their exhibits, but this was my first time attending service there. I’ve been to Protestant youth groups, but never a full on church service other than Catholic mass. This was similar enough, but thankfully they handed out little booklets with all the hymns and prayers so I could follow along.

There was no Latin like I’m accustomed to and there was more singing than I expected, but there was still a whole lot of standing and coughing (from the incense). I was also somewhat surprised to see that there were quite a few people apart from myself who did not partake in Communion. Maybe that’s how it is with Episcopalians or maybe because the congregation is more religiously diverse in New York, but in Texas I always felt SUPER AWKWARD sitting alone while everyone else queued up.

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The cathedral itself is beautiful and historic so it gets a lot of tourists. It was built (or started construction) in 1892 and as cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, it’s the seat of the bishop. For the service I sat closer to the front where there were real chairs and beyond the threshold of “No Pictures Please” signs, so it wasn’t until service ended and I started leaving did I realize there were a whole bunch of people taking pictures in the back.

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They handed out palm leaves (it is Palm Sunday after all) and after the service and a snack at the Hungarian Pastry Shop across the street, I tied them into crosses. The whole thing was such a relaxing experience; one that I really needed. I realize it is really, really weird for a non-religious person to attend church, but it’s one of those things where churches just make me happy. They’re safe, calming … centering places. And even though I’m super busy with thesis, when I’m this stressed out, two hours of church is more helpful than not. Although I have no idea what I’m going to do with these palm crosses now.

eight treasures = rice pudding = ba bao fan

I really don’t think it’s fair to call this most yummy of desserts ‘rice pudding’, which I associate with nasty gooey white stuff, but that’s what it says on the can. In Chinese it’s called bā bǎo fàn (八宝饭), which literally translates to ‘eight treasures rice’ … but I think most direct translations sound weird. For instance, no one wants to eat ‘saliva chicken’ (I saw that as a menu option once). Instead I tend to use Chinese or Chinglish or a made-up translation that I prefer. I simply call this dish ‘ba bao fan’ because the relative translation is weird too. Because this dish ain’t gloopy. It ain’t pudding.

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It’s sticky rice with red bean paste inside, and eight types of dried fruit/seeds/nuts on top. And it’s yummy. Although I’m mostly familiar with ba bao fan from the can. Food connoisseur I am not. But seriously, it sounds like a lot of effort to make, whereas with the canned version, you cut open the top, cut open the bottom, push the thing out onto a plate (or bowl), nuke it in the microwave for four minutes, and voila. Chinese grocery stores don’t always stock it, so when I find it I usually buy a few.

limca, how i miss thee

I don’t drink much soda. Well, that’s sort of a lie. I drink my fair share of Mountain Dew (but only when it’s necessary! … and it’s been necessary a lot lately). But I don’t drink dark-colored sodas like Coke or Pepsi at all and rarely drink clearish sodas like Sprite or 7-up. However, I really miss Limca. It’s only sold in India and it’s crisp and refreshing, kind of like Sprite or 7-up … but better. Maybe because it’s in India? I first had it in Delhi when I was there in 2011 (everyone in my tour group fell in love with Limca), and then I had it again this January when I was in Mumbai … and it’s just good stuff.

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sweet leaf sweet tea – austin iced tea

Sweetness. Sweet tea. Love the stuff. How can you not? Sweet Leaf is a brand of iced teas, and the company is based in Austin! Ah, fond memories. Since Sweet Leaf uses cane sugar and black tea and its ingredients list is super short, even though it’s in a can, it’s much, much better than Nestea or Brisk or Snapple because Sweet Leaf actually tastes like sweet tea rather than canned/bottled iced tea.

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My favorite flavor is the peach sweet tea, although the original is pretty yummy too. The vending machine on campus has an array of Sweet Leaf options, which is great (and fairly uncommon for New York) … but a bad thing for my coin purse. I’ve been on campus A LOT lately working on thesis stuff, and the Sweet Leaf is only two flights of stairs and $1.25 away … so yes, there has been A LOT of Sweet Leaf consumed lately.

feeling a tad trampled on

And … I am once again feeling overwhelmed. What an uncomfortable yet familiar feeling. Ah thesis, how you torment me. How you so insistently crush my soul!

The statue is from the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Basically I stood under the statue and took a picture up at the horses hanging over me. Heh.

Oh, and today is St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone is supposedly Irish. It’s spring break. Am I out drinking and having fun? No. I did laundry. I went to school. I went to the library. I worked in studio. The end.

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all by myself

The other night I went to Lincoln Center and saw a show at Alice Tully Hall. It was great. Except … I was all by myself. Then again, it wasn’t a bad experience being by myself. And to think of it, I do end up going to a lot of ‘cultured’ events (museums, galleries, foreign films) by myself … because no want wants to go with me.

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The performance the other night was by the Manhattan Concert Chorale and a bunch of other choirs, and the main highlight was Poulenc’s “Gloria”. I had gone ahead and boughten three tickets because a friend said she definitely wanted to go and two others were wavering. Well, they all backed out and I was left with two spare tickets. That bites.

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When I was in China I didn’t have many friends and the ones I did have didn’t live nearby, so I ended up going to a lot of things by myself and even got pretty comfortable eating alone at restaurants. In a way it’s kind of nice because then I can wander the galleries at my own pace or fully enjoy a performance without feeling compelled to chat. But the silence that precedes the start of a concert/film does get quite awkward. The only thing I won’t do is go to a bar by myself. Because that’s just stupid and not right.

remember nemo?

It has been about a month since Nemo hit. Remember that? The storm was called Nemo, and I have no idea why. It didn’t really need a name. It was a snowstorm! They don’t get names! Plus, if they really, really wanted to give it a name, Nemo was a bad choice. First of all because it’s the name of that cute little fish and secondly because it continues to ignore that great movie from the my childhood that was based on a comic strip from the early 1900s. Oh and also because THERE WERE TWO STORMS, not just one. But I suppose my main quibble is that apparently my sister and I were the only ones to ever watch “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.”

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The storm itself was kind of overblown in terms of New York. Apparently there was about a foot of snowfall, but … it really didn’t seem like it. Quite pretty and not a big deal considering that the morning after, even without all the sidewalks salted, it wasn’t too bad except for crossing Morningside Park (which hadn’t had its stairs shoveled at that point). But everyone was sledding and the kids were having so much fun. It was funny to see because it’s New York City! Sometimes I forget there are so many kids around here.

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[NOTE: Image is the “Little Nemo in Slumberland” comic published on March 11, 1906, and retrieved from the Comic Strip Library.]

The name Nemo is Latin for “nobody” … but no one really cares about dead languages, right? I didn’t even know the stupid storm was named Nemo until way after the storm had already started (ah, life without cable) but when I eventually heard the name Nemo being tossed around, I immediately thought of Little Nemo, whereas I’m sure most people thought of the fish. Sigh … on the other hand, Google knows of my Nemo (the comic at least) so that’s gotta be worth something!

the mul-t-lock keys

I got a new key! It’s another Mul-T-Lock key, and I gotta say … they’re kinda cool. Yes, it’s just a key, but before I came to New York I’d never seen keys with dimples before. And now I have two! It’s kinda cool. They’re supposed to be good for security and they can’t be easily copied, which I guess is good. Unfortunately that makes it a bit annoying because when I have guests, I can’t give them a spare set of keys … because I can’t make a spare set of keys.

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all wrapped up: the phase box

I was in the library the other day looking at some old books, and I went off in search of Diderot’s Encyclopédie. And when I found the row of volumes, the books were all wrapped up and tied with bows. It was adorable.

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I had seen books in archival phase boxes before, but usually the boxes are fairly new, constructed of mounting board or some such, and the closures are Velcro. These boxes however, were … um, not really boxes. Only the front cover, spine, and back cover had hard surfaces, and the flaps that go around the pages’ exposed three edges were a flexible sort of textile. Not exactly archival.

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Oh, and I got really nervous at one point when the corner of the page CRUMBLED AT MY TOUCH. Woah. I wonder how long those books sat there before I messed with them. Pretty neat to see books that are super old, but at the same time, it’s kinda nasty thinking about how many people have touched the pages before you, and as you’re flipping through the pages, you’re basically breathing in dust particles that have been trapped for YEARS.