Friday, August 21, 2009

Advice for the College Bound

My little cousin isn't quite so little anymore, and yesterday he moved into the dorm for his first year of college. Seems like only yesterday he was chasing my grandparents' dog around in his walker. *sniffle* Anyway, I'm offering a few lessons I've learned in my, well, many years spent in higher education to him and all the freshmen out there.

  • What to bring. Those lists you get at Target or Bed Bath & Beyond are intended to get you to by more of the stores' products. Take inspiration from them, but use common sense, and know your school's regulations.
  • Computers. If you don't buy a Mac, by the third Blue Screen of Death in a week, you'll wish you had. And anyway, no matter what the Windows commercial says, Apple offers most colleges way better deals than PCs do.
  • Quarters. They are the most valuable piece of currency you will have in your pocket for the next four years. Use them for parking meters, bus fare, vending machine snacks, and, above all, laundry!
  • Laundry. I know what your moms told you about sorting colors, but most clothes are ok mixed together if you wash them on cold. It's cheaper (no tiny load of whites wasting your precious quarters), keeps your colors brighter, and is better for the environment. There are even detergents specially designed for cold wash use. At the laundromat, sometimes it's cheaper to shove everything in the triple-loader. Finally, ladies, most commercial washers don't have a delicate cycle, so get yourself a bucket and some Woolite to wash you unmentionables.
  • Cafeteria food. It's disgusting. But it usually comes in all you can eat format, so be wary. Sure, the meatloaf could probably get up and walk around the room, but it's so easy to add to it a side of french fries, pasta, soup, salad, pie, ice cream, cookies... hey, where did those extra 15 pounds come from?? Self control is a must, as is keeping an eye out for healthy options. Other on-campus eateries often offer more palatable fair, but watch out--it might not be on your meal plan. (Susquehanna students: Beware the Encore fries.)
  • Snacks. I like the little individual packs of cookies and chips like you'd put in a kid's lunch box. Sure, technically it's cheaper to buy the big bags, but it's easier to control your portions this way. You'd be surprised how fast that can of Pringles goes. Again, consider healthy options like those little cups of applesauce or fruit cocktail. And for those times when for one reason or another you can't be bothered to leave your room to go eat, Ramen noodles, Easy Mac, and those little microwavable cups of soup or Spaghetti-Os are your new best friends. Also, find out who delivers to campus.
  • Beverages (the boring kind). Avoid those energy drinks. They keep you up, but not focused. Stick to good old fashioned coffee, tea, or soft drinks. Be sure to drink lots of water, and juices high in vitamin C, especially in cold and flu season.
  • Beverages (the fun kind). Get completely wasted once. This will help you know what your limit is, and will also hopefully make you never want to do it again. Also, drink wisely. If you're under 21, don't get drunk. It'll be much easier to convince the cops that you've just come from Communion... uh, I mean, Don't drink at all! It's illegal! Shame on you! If you're over 21, it's ok to get drunk occasionally, but do it safely. Keep an eye on your friends to make sure they're not getting taken advantage of or being an ass. Paying cash at the bar means you have a set limit on how much you'll drink. Obey B.Y.O.B. or else you'll be drinking nasty keg beer. Drink water to avoid a nasty hangover, and KEEP AN EYE ON WHAT'S GOING INTO YOUR DRINK!
  • Hangovers. Here's my cure: 1) Wake up as late as possible. 2) Turn on football, lay on bed or couch, barely paying attention to the game. 3) When you feel you can keep something down, take 3 ibuprofen with a bottle/large glass of water. 4) When you can move around, make Ramen noodles and consume with sufficiently caffeinated beverage. 5) Continue watching TV until you're feeling better. (Note: This works best on Saturday and Sunday. Contrary to popular belief, the weekend does not start on Thursday.)
  • Roommates. You will hate them. And they will hate you. If you're lucky, you can draw a line in chalk down the middle of the room, but chances are you'll be living on top of each other. To survive the year, you both need to be considerate, but sometimes you get stuck with someone who just doesn't get it. The only ways to really get along with your roommate is to a) never EVER be in the room at the same time, or b) get drunk and/or high together.
  • Classes. Don't just take things to fulfill a requirement. Always try to take classes you're interested in. You'll do much better in them. And don't be afraid to challenge yourself or take something way outside your major. One of the best classes I took was taught by a chemical physicist.
  • Studying. Find the place to do so that's right for you. Some people need absolute quiet, some need to study with the TV on. Do all the readings on time, pay attention (and TAKE NOTES) in lecture, and ask questions, and you will do better on the test. Form study groups with other students.
  • Papers. Don't write them the night before. (I know, I'm the last person you'd expect to hear that from, but the only way that works is when it's the paper you've been dying to write for ages.) Do research well in advance. Take advantage of your professors/TAs and talk over your ideas or show them some paragraphs. Make an outline, if only on a napkin. AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD USE A THESIS STATEMENT!!!
  • TAs. Remember, they're students, too, and probably have a full course load in addition to their teaching duties. There's a lot you can do to make their job easier, which will benefit you in the long run. Do the reading on time, pay attention in lecture (and TAKE NOTES), and participate in class. If their method isn't working for you, tell them what you need. And if you don't understand something ASK QUESTIONS!
  • Professors. If you go to a large university, chances are you won't interact with one for about the first two years. If you got to a smaller university or college, you'll more than likely get them straight off the bat. Either way, you need to make them know who you are. The obvious way is to do well in the class. Suck up, but do it sincerely. Don't tell them you loved their book when you haven't even read it. But, if you found something in the class interesting, ask them if there's anything else you can read on it. Let them know if you found a connection between what you're doing in their class and something you learned in another. (Interdisciplinary stuff is hot right now, and profs are always looking for new article ideas.) And if you actually did read their book, ask them questions about it. Professors love talking about their work.
  • Work. The best jobs are the ones that let you play Minesweeper, um, I mean , study while you work, so look for something at the library, in an office, or at a reception desk.
  • Advice. Your parents are good at the general life stuff, but, remember, when they were at college, they had card catalogs. So take what they say with a grain of 20-year-old salt. Good sources of advice: older siblings or cousins, professors, TAs, RAs, upperclassmen, councilors, etc.
  • Activities. Don't spread yourself too thin, but get involved. Your life will be so much better if you do something you enjoy to get your mind off classes and other crap. Most colleges have something for everyone, and if there's nothing you're interested in, it's usually pretty easy to start a club.
  • Travel. Whether for spring break or a whole year, waste no opportunity to go abroad. Don't know where to go for Spring Break? Here's a hint: the cool people might go to Florida or Mexico, but the interesting ones go to Poland.
  • Free Time. At colleges in a big city like New York or Boston, it's not hard to find something to do. And most big universities are in college towns, which, despite their rural local, usually have a vibrant and varied social life. But if you go to a small college in Podunk, U.S.A., your campus may be the only hot spot around. Now, your college will probably provide you with things to do (i.e. other than consuming copious amounts of alcohol), but you may find yourself some Saturday night having to choose between IM-ing your friend in the room next door while watching SNL and going to a frat party and getting drunk with horny Greeks. But fear not! You and your friends can always get creative and make your own fun (see below).

Feel free to add your own advice or anecdotes of what not to do in the comments!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Stuff and Other Stuff

My grandmother will be selling her house in the near-to-distant future, so she's begun to give away her stuff. Now, it's always a little scary when an old person close to you starts thinking they're not going to need there possessions anymore, but it's also kind of annoying when they force said stuff on you. I mean, what on earth am I going to use Christmas trivets for? I kept telling her I don't have room for half the stuff she was trying to give me, but she kept saying, "But you'll need it for when you have your own apartment*!"

Which kind of got me thinking about the future. Where could I picture myself living once my life is supposedly in order? Boston, London, or Paris if I can swing it, but any kind of funky yet not dangerous neighborhood in a city will suffice. And, whether apartment or townhouse, I know I don't want anything that fits the suburban definition of a yard. And as for the inside, I'm thinking something boho vintage with a fun side. (So my aunt's childhood make-up table is definitely out. Especially since my grandmother spray-painted it white.) But there's one room in my future home that I've had planned out meticulously for a very long time, the way some women plan their dream weddings when they're little girls: My Study.

Why is my study so important? For one thing, if I end up doing what I really want to do, I'll do most of my work at home, so I'll need a workspace separate from bathing space, eating space, vegging in front of the TV space, etc. For another, if I end up doing My Second Choice: The Fail Safe Option, I'll have an office at work, but there will be stuff I need to do at home--like grading papers, blech. Furthermore, if I'm not living alone with my 20 cats and end up with a significant other/husband and, God forbid, children, I will need a safe-haven from the outside world, a place to call my own.

My Ideal Study/Library/Home Office


  • Floor. Hardwood, of course. What else would you find in a funky-yet-not-dangerous neighborhood? Plus, carpet and allergies really don't mix.
  • Rug. Need not match anything else in the room, but should be reasonably soft for getting down on my hands and knees to race R2-D2 and K-9. Uh, I mean, for rug rats to play on while I work. Yeah... *coughs*
  • Window. With a view of a Boston/London/Paris street. Unless the neighbors are interesting, that is.
  • Door. Locks.
  • Wall. Covered with fanish posters, including the ones I have now, Rolling Stone covers, and funny pictures cut out of magazines. So basically, like every dorm room I've every had.
  • Couch. Comfortable and old, though not smelly. To be covered with a tapestry, so ugly is OK. If space does not permit, then may be substituted by a papasan chair.
  • End table. To hold a lamp and glasses/pop cans/beer bottles.
  • Beanbag chair. Preferably tye-dyed. For playing video games or listening to music with headphones.
  • Desk. Has a hutch, on which will be stored reference books, binders, data backup, software, and old journals. There will be drawers to hold office stuff in a not-to-orderly fashion. On top of the desk will be my Mac, one of those printer/scanner/fax machine combo thingies, and various nicknack's to play with while I'm bored.
  • Desk chair. One of those ergonomic things.
  • Lamp. I thought that corner needed something.
And now the fun stuff:
  • CD rack. For all my Cds, so it will be very large.
  • Entertainment unit. Will hold a reasonably sized TV, gaming system that plays Blue Ray, region-free DVD/VCR combo, stereo (turntable, CD player, cassette, and iPod dock), and has storage space for games, TV shows, movies, and LPs and cassettes.
  • Bookshelf 1. Floor to ceiling. This one holds all my sci-fi/fantasy stuff. I even have plans for how I want it all set up. I'm keeping fandoms together, and they will be in alpha order (with one exception). For example: Buffy--DVDs then the Season 8 comics, Harry Potter--books then movies, X-Files--TV with the movies thrown in at chronologically correct places. After all that will be misc. sci-fi books. Finally, all the Doctor Who (and related spin-offs) will be at the bottom since there's a lot of it. I'll probably organize it by media (Doctor Who episodes in order, then SJA, then Torchwood, then audio adventures by number, then books by series and number), though it would be tempting to try to put everything in order of the Doctor's personal chronology.... Finally, most of my action figures will be displayed on this shelf.
  • Bookshelf 2. Floor to ceiling. For literature. To be organized by Dewey Decimal, but I probably won't divide by nationality. Children's lit and comic books not on Bookshelf 1 will be on the bottom where little brats (mine or otherwise--hopefully otherwise) can reach them. Also, will display literary/historical action figures.
  • Bookshelf 3. Floor to ceiling. Non-fiction. Overflow of grown-up books from the other shelf, books on writing, literary theory, film books, and then everything else by subject. Will display things that don't fit either the category or space of other surfaces.
So, how does your ideal study stack up? Do you have other aspects of your "grown up" abode planned out already? And, yes, I suppose you can describe that wedding you've been planning since you were three. Discussion is always welcome.


*Let it be said that I actually have my own apartment now. What she means is when I have a "real" apartment payed for by salary from a "real" job. As if the 12+ course hours a semester, 10-20 hours a week of work, and the studying isn't difficult at all.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

British Actor of the Month--Mystery! Edition

This month's British actor is Nathaniel Parker. You may recognize him from the movie version of Neil Gaiman's Stardust or costume dramas like Vanity Fair and Bleak House. But loyal PBS watchers know him best from Masterpiece Mystery!'s Inspector Lynley series, which is based on the novels by Elizabeth George. (Sadly, they've run out, so no further episodes are being made at this time.) Parker stars as D.I. Thomas Lynley, who gets all the credit for the work his partner, Sgt. Havers, does. But hey, at least he looks good doing it! So, in honor of the late summer season of quality British programming on American public television, I give you:


Just ignore Havers on the right there. Everyone else does.