Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Five Questions

Wow, I hope Barbara Walters doesn't perceive Sonja as a threat and have her eliminated, because these were great interview questions. For those of you who don't read Sonja's blog, I responded to a challenge (or offer, depending on how you choose to look at such things-- I, obviously, am of the "double dog dare" school of thought) she issued.

1. Where does your screen name come from? (Do you purrrrrrr?)

Well. It’s like this:

I have a cat. I speak German to this cat, sometimes all the time, sometimes just some of the time. Somewhere along the line, her name morphed from “Jenna” to “Jenna Katze”, which in turn became a convenient screen name that I occasionally used on message boards and such. At the same time, Katze became one of the few German words that most of my friends knew. Somewhere along the line, Finbar’s family started calling me [My Real Name] Katze. It stuck, and in fact, my old primary email address was [My Real Name]katze. So, when I started the blog, it was a natural choice for my blogger name.

2. Fill in the blank: My morning would be absolutely ruined if my _______________ was missing/kaputt/wet/replaced with a smaller one.

Coffee. I must have it. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story on the blog, but that’s one of the things that Luneray and I bonded over. Having learned from my experience living in student housing in Germany back during my undergrad days, I packed those little Folgers single serve coffee bags (like tea bags, only filled with coffee), lest I find myself unable to make coffee in the morning for the duration. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get coffee in Germany, or that I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get coffee in Sweden, it was that I didn’t have access to a coffee maker in the dorms in Offenburg, and was concerned that I would be similarly deprived in the Uppsala dorms or student housing or wherever I’d end up staying*. I had also packed quite a bit of portable food, on the advice of my Iceland travel guide. Although the guide was 100% correct that food prices were outrageous in Iceland, I did not end up eating all of the stuff I had packed, especially since I discovered a small grocery during my wandering stroll through Reykjavík and took full advantage of the youth hostel’s breakfast buffet. So I unpacked these things and placed them in one of the kitchen cabinets in the apartment I was to share with my yet-unarrived roommate.

Luneray arrived later and set about unpacking. She wandered into the kitchen with a few things and I heard her start to laugh. Turns out that Luneray had brought along a french press and a bag of Peet’s Coffee, similarly concerned about access to coffee and quality thereof.**

In fact, allow me to offer a second example from that same summer to further illustrate. We were set to take part in a day trip to Dalarna as part of the course, and the bus was going to leave the main dorms at a ridiculously early hour. Luneray and I did not live in the dorms, we lived in a “real” apartment some distance from the dorms, and so we’d have to leave at an even more ridiculous hour to ensure that we didn’t miss the bus and the trip. I knew that I’d never be able to get up early enough to make and drink coffee and still leave by whatever up-with-the-birds hour*** we needed to be out the door of our apartment. Had I been back home in Our Fair City, that would have been no problem at all. I would have merely used a plastic travel mug to carry the coffee along. Unfortunately for me, all my coffee-related foresight had apparently been utterly used up by my purchase and subsequent transport of the aforementioned Folgers****. I had not, however, exhausted my supply of creativity and as such, I applied my formidable coffee-seeking skill to the task at hand and came up with this:

There is a McDonald’s in Uppsala.

McDonald’s serves coffee in little cups with lids.

I could wash out a cup and re-use it in the morning.

Et voilà, coffee for the trip!

So I stopped at McDonald’s on my way home from classes, bought a coffee, drank it, washed out the cup very carefully, and set it out for the next morning. Shortly before our departure, I brewed a cup of coffee and poured it into the cup. Luneray and I put on our jackets, picked up our backpacks, and walked out the door. In the common entry way, I stopped to lock the door behind us and in that moment, I lost my grip on the cup. It slipped from my fingers, hit the floor, and splashed, defying the laws of gravity and conservation of mass, all across the walls, the floor, and even the ceiling. Truly, it was astounding. I’m told that my expression at that moment was the very definition of “crestfallen”. What I remember is that in that moment, I was trying desperately to think of a way to FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT (MY COFFEE!!!), but my rational brain caught up—pretty quickly, too, considering that my coffee was coating the entry hall and not coursing through my veins—and I realized that not only did I not have time to make another cup of coffee, but we didn’t even really have time to clean up the mess. I grabbed something and mopped up the worst of the coffee on the floor and left the rest for the next day, when Luneray was kind enough to help me scrub coffee stains from the white walls and ceiling. The whole way to the bus, I was angry with myself, and all was not right until we stopped for a little food at a café in Dalarna before continuing on to Carl Larsson’s house , and I was able to get a lovely, strong coffee.

3. What was your backup career plan in case the lawyering thingy hadn't worked out?

What is this “backup career plan” thing? That question assumes that I had a career plan in place to begin with. I’d originally planned to do my PhD in German, but a series of events waylaid me, and then September 11th happened and I found that not only was the job market in the field—never all that robust to begin with—basically dead, but I was really, really pissed off at the things I saw happening. I wanted to change things and I wanted to have a job while doing it. So I entered law school with this vague idea of getting into some sort of advocacy work, maybe with an NGO or something, and another, competing idea that I might like to try something in the area of EU law, maybe working for a government agency or a multi-national corporation*****.

Sometimes I still wonder if I made the right choice, ditching my PhD program. I was very, very good at it, and it was intuitive for me. But in the end, I felt that quality of life was more than quality of career (not to say that career doesn’t enter into it), and that I wanted to choose where I get to live, to be able to get married and not have the nearly inevitable clash of career strictures, and even though I don’t really need to be rich, I wanted more financial stability than I could forsee from a future in academia.

4. If you had the choice, would you rather live in the city, the suburbs, or out in the boonies? Explain.

It would depend on which city, but I’m going with suburb. A close suburb of a biggish city. For example, I was quite happy with living in Rockville. Close enough to DC to go in any time without major hassle, far enough out to escape most of the major hassles of city life. I like that kind of balance and would seek that out, given a choice.

5. If you had unlimited resources (money, connections, etc.), what would you do to change the world?

Holy crap. I honestly don’t know where to start. How do you end war and poverty and ignorance and injustice and disease and all of the other things that constitute the spectrum of human misery? Honestly, I don’t know that all the resources in the world can do that. Perhaps that means that I have a very dim view of human nature. Still, I do believe that the world can be improved upon, so maybe I could find a few ways to alleviate specific problems.

I’d fix our healthcare system—make it affordable and accessible for everyone. I’d include treatment for mental illness in that mandate. Don’t ask me how that would be accomplished. I guess I’d use some of those unlimited resources to hire people who could make that happen, absent the constraints of limited money and political will (use those connections, right?)

I’d make higher education a privilege earned based on hard work and skill. No one with the ability and the drive would be turned away, and no one would be able to buy their way in, whether by way of money, or connections. Once in, you’d have to continually earn your place, but hard work would be balanced with grades.

I want to say that I’d make sure that every child has a safe and loving home, but I don’t know how that would be possible without denying the free will and choices of the parents. And yet, I want to trample the holy hell out of the free will and choices of the abusive or negligent parents who damage their children physically and mentally. There will always be children who are unwanted by their parents, parents who find themselves unable to fulfill their roles properly, families that implode or explode due to failings such as drug or alcohol abuse, inability to cope with stress, mental illness, or any of a myriad of other things. I think maybe the best approach might be to make resources and help available for the parents who want to do right by their kids and don’t know how or can’t do it without a hand or just get overwhelmed. And I’d make birth control of varying forms widely available and free, and a cursory education on what it is and how to use it would be compulsory, no matter what your religious beliefs, so that far fewer children will be born into homes unprepared for their arrival, raised by people who didn’t want them and resent their presence. Those on the religious right can feel free to tell their kids that birth control is evil at home, but I firmly believe that the benefit of reaching every child, even if only in a cursory manner, with simple, true information about preventing pregnancy and responsible behavior far outweighs the detriment to the religious freedoms of a small part of the population.

I’d fix the foster care system so that kids don’t just “age out” the day they turn 18 and get booted to the street with no home, no financial assistance, no guidance, and no one to go to when they need help learning to be adults or just a shoulder to cry on. No one expects the average high school kid to move out of his parents’ home on his 18th birthday and fend for himself, so why do we as a society expect this very thing from some of our more vulnerable young adults?

So that concludes our interview for the night. Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking questions, Sonja! You can totally come and hang with me anytime.

*In fact, I wasn’t even sure where I’d be living, since I’d not received any sort of housing confirmation whatsoever from the program. I figured they’d have to find somewhere to put me, so I didn’t sweat it too much.

** I, obviously, had decided to sacrifice quality for ease of transportation. Plus I didn’t know how to use a french press—a skill that Luneray made sure to teach me.

*** In my mind, it seems like it was around 6:30 a.m., but that’s solely based on my memory of how the light was and how the air felt, and as this was Sweden in late June, there was scant difference between the light at 4:30 and the light at 7:30, especially on the grey, drizzly mornings such as the one on which this story takes place.

**** Man, that last bit almost sounded like a lawyer wrote it or something.

***** Come to find out, EU law is so boring, it could make you check your own pulse, just to make sure that you didn’t die while thinking about it.



At 4:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm happy you didn't have a swine instead of that cat. Swineze.

At 2:33 PM , Blogger pacatrue said...

I learned a lot.

At 8:55 PM , Blogger Sonja said...

My goodness, your answers are very thorough! I like it!
My answer to the last question was "End hunger in Africa" - not even a complete sentence. Hehehe.


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