"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Friday, October 5, 2012

September Things

1. Cooking

Since I moved into my share house at my new 'uni,' as they say here, I've been trying to balance grabbing quick meals at the cafeteria with lots of cooking time. For the first time in many years, I've moved out of the dorms and into a real person house, with a real person kitchen that I can keep my food in and that I only share with a few other people.

This makes me so happy, because walking downstairs and spending a half-hour stirring and chopping and tasting is one of the absolute best study breaks, especially when you've just moved to a cold place and going outside for a walk involves lots of clothes and cold hands. (That said, I do want to go explore the area more on foot. But that might wait til I get a good winter coat.)

But cooking in this particular house involves particular challenges. First, our fridge is very small. I marked out my fridge territory early, but it only consists of half-a shelf. One of my housemates calls putting away the groceries 'fridge tetris.' So I am developing mad skills not only in fitting lots of odd-shaped food objects into a compact space, but also in buying items that will either be used up quickly or be useful for a variety of different dishes. I really dislike eating the same thing every day, so I'm having to get very clever about how many different ways I can use carrot sticks or a tub of ricotta cheese.

Second, an English shop does not equal an American grocery store. I've had trouble finding something as basic (at least to me) as cornmeal in Marks & Spencer. There are really nice things about shopping there, though, like the fact that they prep your veggies for you so that you can buy a little bag of chopped butternut squash instead of having to wage war with an entire one when you get home.

Adjustments and annoyances aside, I'm having a lot of fun cooking. It's like a little game I'm playing with puzzles that occupy my mind during the walk home and, of course, delicious rewards when I solve the puzzle correctly.

Well that was long. Moving on.

2. Collared shirts and sweaters.

I've finally understood the brilliance of the fashion trend that has everyone buttoning up their collared shirts to the neck and pulling a sweater over it. Not only does it keep your neck warmer, it also makes it possible to vary your outfits in cold weather where no matter what cute t-shirt you put on, you also have to put sweaters and jackets over it. I do kind of like wearing nice things just for myself, knowing that I'm wearing a bright red t-shirt when all others see is my grey sweater. But it's also fun to let people know that you do actually change your clothes every day, and a cute little shirt collar peeking out of your sweater is a fun way to do that.

3. Conversation skills

If nothing else, the last two weeks have taught me that developing superior conversation skills is something I really want to do. When I say 'superior,' I don't mean I want to be better than everyone I'm talking to. In fact, if everyone wants to join me in making better conversation, that would make me really happy. What I mean is that I want to get beyond the inane and repetitive conversation that I've encountered so much recently.

First I was really just annoyed at how my conversations kept revolving around the same topics (where are you from, what are you studying, why did you choose this school, etc, etc, etc). And then at some point I realized that I'm half the problem. When people ask me those questions, I respond in kind instead of coming up with something more interesting or unusual to ask or comment on.

Yesterday I had an extremely annoying conversation about whether or not English food is good or bad. Here's a piece of advice. Don't have that conversation. It's boring. If the two parties disagree, you just end up arguing over it. If you agree, then there's not much to discuss, is there? Afterwards, I felt silly for not asking this person a good question, something specific that would get them talking about their course or about anything, really, that wasn't what was in front of us on our plates.

Realistically, of course, some people just aren't willing to talk about things that would interest me, because they find them boring. This particular person seems, from what I've heard so far not to enjoy learning, for example. There's not much I can do with that, because I love learning - and what is a good conversation if not a chance to learn something new about yourself or your interlocutor? But nonetheless, the experience resolved me to try harder to draw people out and be a more interesting person myself.

So, this has been a post about things beginning with C. You can now picture me holding conversations while cooking and wearing collared shirts.


  1. I like this post a lot :) Next time you start a conversation you should point out the humor in how all the conversations are the same, then jokingly suggest that you change it up by asking each other those funny name game questions instead. Like, "what is your name and what type of animal would you like to be?" Or "what is your name and what are you a connoisseur of?" Your answers would probably be 'a cat' and 'films,' knowing you, and mine would be 'a albatross' and 'cheese,' and I think that says a lot about both of us and would steer any conversation in a much more interesting direction :)

  2. I would love to have more conversations about cats, films, albatrosses, and cheese :) So I will try out your technique next time I have a chance!