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Friday, December 31, 2004

Welcoming 2005...

...with a good night's sleep. I think, rather than stay up to see the old year out, I'll hit the hay early. I've been driving most of the day, it feels like--two hours to my grandparents' house in middle GA, then back after midafternoon coffee. Then out on an unexpected evening jaunt with my mother and brother, which put the kibosh on my plans to attend the church's watch night service at seven, or the singles get-together that was planned afterwards. But I'll see the friend with whom I was planning to hang out tonight when she comes over tomorrow. Much safer than me being on the road now, what with all the bottle rockets, squibs and firecrackers being set off (and yes, they are illegal in GA, but it's one of those unenforcible laws).

I think I'll make a resolution this year! If I finish all my classwork successfully by the end of June, I'm going to buy myself a ring. A diamond ring. A solitaire. I know precisely the one I want at the jewelers where I used to work. It fits me perfectly. A thin carved yellow gold band, with a rectangular prong-set diamond, about 3/4 of a carat (or a bit more). It's not princess cut, nor emerald cut--the stone really is rectangular. And firey as all get-out. It's so lovely--and this from me, who really prefers channel-set rings! Of course, someone may have bought it--it arrived at the store two years ago, and since many of their pieces are handmade, I doubt there's another one like it. But if it's still there, and I've satisfied my own requirement, I shall get it. I would love to have a wonderful guy present it to me on bended knee...but we know how bloody likely that is to happen (if you'll pardon the language, and understanding that Divine Providence does not operate by probability tables). So, I shall [odds are] have to do it for myself! And maybe I'll take myself out to a nice dinner, too! Buying myself roses, though, might be going overboard. :-)

Have a wonderful, blessed 2005. To God Alone be Glory.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Shock and Paws

Disturbing discovery thanks to a random "met a person from church" chat moment...one of the children I used to babysit for is engaged. Well, he's an adult now, and employed as an assistant pastor of a small church up near Charlotte, NC, no less, but this is still a bit much. I mean, am I really that superannuated, that a child I was paid three bucks an hour to make grilled cheese for while his mother was out is old enough not only to be finished with college, and seminary, but to get married!?

Catnip is pot for cats. My father persuaded Mums they should go to the pet store Monday night and get Data toys. One of the things they picked out was a catnip mouse, which Data promptly went nuts over, chewing, rubbing his face on it. His eyes got all dilated and he obviously started seeing pink elephants or something when he was completely spaced out. Whether it had the marajuana effect of giving him the munchies we couldn't tell, because he ALWAYS has the munchies. My father, pushing drugs on an impressionable kitty. Oh, and he got Data a new bag of treats, too. The cat is definitely not going to want to leave when my brother and sister-in-law get back from Ireland.

On a much more serious note, I recommend MAP International, a Christian medical aid society, as a good vehicle for your donations to help the folks in south Asia affected by the tsunami. I think their website is www.map.org, but you can double-check using Google.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas Summary

Our "loaner" cat, Data, is mewed and mewing in the laundry room, where we're penning him every night at bedtime--last person downstairs has to "put up the cat." My brother and his wife (as of last Tuesday) are leaving him here to be cared for until they return from Ireland the second week in January. My father is besotted with Data--he coos at it, tells it what a good kitty it is, and so forth. It is very furry, very soft, with a tail like a raccoon's, and it purrs violently every time it is petted or stroked. It's a very sweet and potentially very porky little beast. It eats like a horse. But it meows so pitifully when its bowl is empty that my mother succumbs and gives it "just a little bit" more, which it wolfs down immediately. It's going to be wider than it is tall. My brother has been calling every night to make sure that his "baby" is alright. And, my other brother suggests, to make sure we haven't turned Data into a mitten. A VERY VERY LARGE mitten.

Christmas was wonderful. No presents were exchanged. Since we didn't have a tree, or even a wreath on the front door, this was par for the course, really. Last year our only decoration was a tinfoil star my brother made and put on top of a clear plastic rod and stuck in the middle of a large potted plant. This year we didn't even make that effort. I woke up at 1:30 PM, and then at around 5 PM we four members of the family who are actually in town (the newly-married brother and the married-since-June sister spent the holiday at their respective in-laws') drove over to the house of some old friends, where we ate a huge meal with them and another family. The more the merrier, I say. I much prefer this "method" of Christmas celebration to others. The first year we didn't exchange presents it was a bit hard, but since Mums and Daddy have decided to go the "large annual check route" I think everyone's more than happy with the change (pun inadvertent). I still like opening packages, though--hence an explanation for my eBay addiction.

Friday night we went to a carol service at my parent's little PCA church, which was fun, despite somebody's idea of passing out unlit candles to the congregation (including small children), which were then to light said candles from the advent wreath in front of the pulpit. I was convinced some of the smaller people--especially those whose mothers were on the worship team and hence not within grabbing distance, whose fathers were standing next to them obliviously--were going to set themselves and their chairs on fire. Happily, this did not happen, although there were several near misses. The pastor's homily was good--he's not what you'd call a great speaker, but a solid one--you know, of the Paulinian type, not out to win people with "wise and pursuasive words" but with the Spirit and with power.

I still haven't finished my papers. Aack!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

In GA

Have driven all the way down to GA, despite three papers hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles. Stopped off in NC last night, but so late that I didn't even get to see my dear hostess, as she was already in bed when I got into town, and at work when I emerged from slumber and returned to the road. Hope to retify this, and make up for my not getting to see DC friends, in 2005. Am deeply grateful to all of you--for the cards, the CDs (hooray, now I have something good to listen to on the 10 hour trip back!!), and the telephone calls. Hopefully, I'll be much less brain dead in the next couple of days and able to call you!

Blessings on your Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

To Russia with Love

I slept the latter half of the afternoon away on a butter-soft leather couch in the sixth-floor lobby outside the history department. Most of the undergraduates having left for the holidays, foot-traffic was low, and the only continuous noise was swish of wind through the three elevator shafts which service the front of the building.

When I woke up and returned my shoes and glasses to their accustomed positions, it was dark outside, and my computer, purse and so forth were still undisturbed in the conference room where I'd locked them. A middle-aged, querulous-voiced fellow history student named Renee offered to fix me a cup of tea, and minutes after I'd transfered myself and my baggage into the department I was sipping on a steaming mug and thinking about how to tackle my Russian Literature term paper.

Then Ben appeared.

"I thought you were in Russia."

"I'm leaving tomorrow," he explained. [He'll spend Christmas there with his wife. She doesn't have a US green card yet, and she's finishing up the equivalent of our MA degree, but they hope she'll be able to come over in the next few months.]

He noticed a half-covered bowl of flatbread on a coffee table: "Boy, am I hungry!"

Renee volunteered that there was lots more food in the refrigerator, leftovers from the departmental Christmas party on Thursday.

There was wine, too. Nine whole bottles of it.

A search was launched for a corkscrew.

No luck.

I darted to the front of the department and was contemplating rummaging in the secretary's desk when I noticed a passerby in the hall outside, whom I accosted: "Excuse me, miss, this may sound odd, but do you have a pocket knife?"

She looked startled.

I elaborated. "We need a corkscrew."

"I think there's one in the government department cabinet," she said, keying open a nearby office. Twenty seconds later, I was in possession of the appropriate implement.

Ben opened a bottle, and poured four full glasses. He disappeared momentarily to present one to the girl who'd lent us the corkscrew.

We toasted in Russian. "Za zdarovie."

"Not na zdarovie?"

"It's not good for you," Ben explained, gesturing with his cup. "The 'na' means 'for,' the 'za' 'to.' People always confuse them."

"Sounds like a good way to catch spies."

This sent him off into memories of Russian jokes, including one about an American spy named "Number 3" and 2 vodka drinkers, and another about a hedgehog swimming through a field of cannabis. Bizarrely funny.

I poured half my chardonnay into Ben's cup--I needed to get work done. But if they'd wait an hour or so for me to finish a draft of my paper, I'd take them home. Cheerful assent.

When the second bottle was produced, the government girl was long gone, and the corkscrew thus inaccessible. Though it had therefore to be opened less elegantly--with the stopper being pushed in rather than pulled out--this did not affect its charms. Ben started to sing snatches from "An American Tail" ("There are no cats in America, and the streets are paved with cheese..."), Renee to rant shrilly about sexism and to prophecy that "we would have slavery in the U.S. within the next fifty years." I printed out my paper.

When the three of us emerged at midnight, it was bitterly cold outside. My little jacket didn't adequately compensate for my short-sleeved sweater, and as I shivered across Red Square uncomfortable memories returned of last week: bicycling home across the Key Bridge wearing a knee-length skirt and no hose. Brrr.

"It's just like Russia!" caroled Ben.

A little snow eddied on the bricks, and stiff gusts of wind froze us before we got to the car. But the streets were clear, and within a few minutes I'd gotten everyone safely to his or her house. Thank God for functional heat pumps. And for tea. How would I achieve coherent sobriety without it?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

An Un-Googlable Ex-Sweetie

It's compulsive, yes, but I'm in good company--for weeks after they broke up, Marianne kept checking the email of her ex-boyfriend (he's never bothered to change his password, which he'd told her, so she figured she was in the clear, ethics-wise), just to see what he was up to--and I haven't done this in years, literally...but I Googled my grad-school ex-boyfriend this evening.

It was highly frustrating.

You see, I dumped him (and have never regreted this, although I do wish I had been able to do so more painlessly), and not more than two years later (after spending a Fulbright year abroad doing research for his dissertation) he married a very sweet, bright girl who'd been in one of my classes.

I wasn't bummed by this--she loved him, I didn't.

But I do wish that he and I could have remained friends--he was a doctoral student in a similar field, and one of the most intelligent, and kind, people I have ever known. And if you know anything about doctoral students, or anyone in the upper echelons of academia, you know that kindness coupled with brains is not common.

I searched for him tonight because I wanted to see if I could find out whether he and his wife had any children yet--they've been married five years, which is a reasonable time in which to begin a family. They were both working at a small college in Georgia the last I heard. But tonight I found him teaching at an equally small school in New York state! He hated cold weather when I knew him. No mention of either spouse or offspring on his faculty page. Hope that all is well. I certainly shall not email him directly to ask!

Speaking of kindness, I need to think up something nice to do for my professors this term--they've been incredibly sweet and patient. Even Silverman, with whom I had a tremendous argument about Creationism v. Evolution the other day. We always battle it out on the big subjects, he and I.

Un Autre Livre Superb

Several years ago, British actor Peter O'Toole was awarded a special Oscar, in honor of his many fine cinematic performances. At the ceremony, he stepped neatly onto the stage from the wings, and walked carefully to the center front as if he were made of thinnest crystal, and a false move might shatter him completely. Then he spoke, in thanks, for not more than four minutes, a beautiful, cleverly-worded soliloquy which soared far above any of the scripted or unscripted dialogue produced by his fellow actors and actresses during the evening. I was enchanted. Physically, the man has not aged well--a lifetime of cigarettes and gin has mottled his skin and stretched it in odd places, so that he now reminds one more of a weatherbeaten scarecrow than a Brooks-Brothers-clad suitor for the hand of an Audrey Hepburn character. But mentally, skillfully, he was and is at the peak of his powers.

As O'Toole turned, and "toddled" (his words) back into the darkness of the wings, I decided that I must find whether he'd published anything--I was sure it would be worth reading. And last night, I finished Loitering With Intent: The Child, the first volume of his memoirs. The time was entirely well spent--both his in writing it, and mine in reading it. If you like John Dos Passos, Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, theology, gambling and/or histories of World War II, I recommend purchasing a copy. You shan't regret it.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Shame of Slavery

It’s midnight. I’m going to bed soon, although I have not yet finished the paper I had said I would have done by today. A regular schedule must be resumed, or my brain will dissolve completely.

I am so ashamed of complaining in the last entry. Here I am, a member of the tiny stratum of the most educated people on the planet, wailing that I haven’t had enough sleep, while most of the rest of the world toils dawn to dusk to get enough food to eat, not able even to think about the possibility of enjoying literature, traveling abroad, or participating in other pleasant intellectual activities.

Two books I’ve read since Wednesday afternoon have been particularly useful in the condemnation of my unwarranted selfishness and the imposition of appropriate humility: the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, and Slave, by Mende Nazer (co-written by Damien Lewis). I encourage folks to read both Douglass and Nazer. Douglass expresses himself with a facility far above most of us—the man was impressive not just for what he endured as an American slave, and the effort he poured into bettering his own lot and that of others, but also the tremendous energy he expended in self-education. We should all be so inexhaustible in working to use our God-given talents and in demanding that all people be allowed to enjoy their God-given human rights.

Douglass is an intellectual treat as well as a pivotal U.S. historical figure. Nazer’s work, though about events in Sudan, and produced in juvenile, journalistic prose, affected me with greater power. Mende is a Muslim woman from the Nuba people of northern Sudan. She was kidnapped at about age twelve along with many other children from her village by Arab raiders during the 1990s. She was sold into slavery in Khartoum, where she spent about eight years virtually confined to a single house, cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children of her abusive mistress. She was beaten often, once so brutally that she had to be hospitalized. Eventually, her mistress decided to "loan" her to the wife of a Sudanese diplomat living in London. Mende was dispatched to London, and eventually made contact with a Nuba there who helped her escape. In 2000. She was granted asylum in Britain just two years ago. Today, thousands more like her are still in slavery back in Sudan.

These personal accounts were the last reading two assignments for my independent study on Modern World Slavery, but I expect they are among the first of many books I’ll be reading in the next few years about this growing problem. People in the West need to get a clue—slavery may have “gone into remission” during the latter part of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, but it has come back with full force in our new millennium, and in forms far more brutal than in the past. This is a situation we CAN mitigate: beginning by knowing about it (modern slavery thrives in concealment and silence), then by bringing those great tools of democracy—negative publicity and financial sanctions—to bear on the perpetrators (both individuals and corporations).

Please, guys, start looking for opportunities to learn more about modern slavery—it’s not pleasant to discuss, but it does exist, and we who relish freedom (physical and spiritual) have a responsibility to do what we can to destroy bondage. Read Douglass, if you need encouragement--his book is all about the radical positive changes that a handful of folks can bring about. Another group of similar radicals "turned the world upside down" a couple of millennia ago. What are we waiting for?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Doing Poorly

I'm shaky. Profoundly tired--like there's a weight inside the middle of my chest, a plumbline hanging from the tip of my sternum and puncturing my diaphragm. Have two major assignments due tomorrow and haven't been able to finish them--panicked, in an abstract sort of way, with nobody to talk to. Lonely. Presentation on Monday went OK, but I'm close to physical collapse, and continue to be in tears at the drop of a hat. Finger is bleeding--Thank God, only one. Having weird dreams in my irregular sleep, and don't trust myself to drive right now, though I need to go to the library for a book tonight. I need a hug. Gosh, this is miserable. Feeling vague and repetively doing unnecessary things and depressed and worthless. And my parents are ticked because I've been spending too much money lately. Maybe if I cry some I'll be calmer and able to concentrate--either that or I'll fall asleep right here on my keyboard and sleep like the dead! But I still don't see how that's going to get me to GA by Tuesday for my brother's wedding. I'm so sick of missing out on fun because of fatigue--the story of my life lately. OCD sucks. But this much better than things could be--nowhere near as bad as my worst episodes, and yes, I have been getting work done and taking my medication faithfully. It's just that time doesn't seem to be cooperating. I'm getting really too tired to think. I'm going to go curl up in a corner now and read an autobiography of a woman who only recently was freed from slavery in north Africa. Oh, joy.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Prayer Requests

To my Wayfollower readers:

Please pray for me as I struggle to finish this semester. I have a major presentation later today (Monday), for which I am less-than-adequately prepared, plus final assignments for two other classes that are due within the week. I've worked hard all term, but find myself out of energy and time just when I need it the most.

Of course, the roommate problems you've been reading about haven't helped matters much, either.

But I need to finish well. Particularly in my classes with hostile and indifferent professors--it's easy for me to make an effort for profs I know genuinely like me, but for the others...well, it's just not quite the same when they seem to sap your energy just by being in the same room. And the presentation is for an actively hostile fellow. So, I'd appreciate your talking to our father about this situation. I sure have been!

Also, as many of you know, I have a chronic illness which has been flaring up of late, so if you'd pray for a return to remission, too, I'd really appreciate it.

Blessings to all during this wonderful preparation-season for Christ's advent--both past and future!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Cameo Appearance

Evil roommate unlocked front door while I was typing that last entry. Came in dressed like a hip-hopper robbed of his chains. Marched over to the bulletin board without a word, thumb-tacked a few greenbacks to it. Turned around, walked out, not even looking at me. Locked the front door and I heard a car drive away seconds later.

At least she’s alive—as I told my father, there’s no love lost in our relationship, but I would prefer her not to end up (a-la-Levy) rotting in the bushes of some DC park.

I was considering her this afternoon—while unplugging the drain. She’s more like Uriah Heep than Becky Sharp (my initial impression). Becky was direct—ol’
“’umility” was manipulative, and dangerous.

But we have some money to pay the bills now, even if it was provided with poor grace.

Plumbing

Ok, now I know why plumbers are paid so much. It’s not necessarily their mad skills or expertise…it’s their willingness to endure the most repulsive smells this side of civilization.

Our toilet handle broke again. I went to the small hardware store down the street to get a replacement—three bucks. Asked the dough-faced fellow behind the counter if I could use my credit card (gotta scrounge to get every cent out of that 1% cash back). “On purchases over five dollars.” So, given that the tub drain was stopped up and the plumber I called last week hadn’t shown, I asked if they had metal
“snakes.” “Sure, all sizes.” They were only a few bucks—I got a twelve-foot one for six, and was soon on my way.

I replaced the toilet handle before the party last night—so simple.

I decided to “snake” the tub early this afternoon—not so simple.

Gahh-ha-ha-ly. Whatastench. Four people sharing one bathroom, and three of those people being (fairly) long-haired girls? That pipe was plugged with the nastiest wad of wet, filthy, matted hair I’ve had the wretched misfortune to deal with.

But at least we saved our landlord seventy-five bucks for the plumber.

And I have added yet another item to my Jill-of-all-trades repertoire. There’s little that can compare with having one’s own tools and being able to use them! Not that I'm volunteering for regular plumbing duty, mind you.

Party

Marianne’s head was resting in the nape of the handsome fellow’s neck, one of his jeans-clad legs was looped over her bare leg, and his muscular left arm was around her shoulders, the picture of affection and comfort. He was talking about his lovers: “I like older men—forty-two is about my range…so delicious.” Marianne, her head still snuggled under his jaw, suggested he would be perfect for a “hot” male coworker of hers at the Pottery Barn. He agreed that this person sounded "delicious."

Only two other guests were left at 1:30 AM, both slightly dazed and full of references to others’ illicit affairs. I’d been cleaning up beer cans, bottles, greasy paper plates and crumpled napkins for most of the last three hours, so the four of them looked particularly disheveled amidst comparative neatness.

I met my new roommate last night—who’s to move in at the end of December when Marianne moves out. Nate. A sufficiently pleasant guy, I suppose, Slavic face, straight teeth, on a solid medium-sized physique. He’s from Baltimore. Showed up at the party and stood for a long time in our tiny kitchen talking to Kevin—joking about various types of inexpensive alcohol, and various drunken episodes—while I dodged around them filling the dishwasher and emptying the trash. If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d be a spinster at thirty, living with two, and possibly three unrelated twenty-something guys…

Happily, some folks from Intervarsity showed up among the more than fifty people who crowded our downstairs—turned out that a fellow named Ben was in graduate school with Marianne, and he brought two guests—one guy I knew, and one girl I didn’t. Joey, a tall, thin man with rimless glasses, has joined the navy, and is due to report to OCS just a few weeks after my submariner brother. The fun and wacky redhead Emily and I hit it off almost immediately. She was a drama person in college, and yes, she still is a drama person at heart. Her sister was married in Siberia two years ago to one of those rarest of creatures, a decent Russian man. The entire family went over to Irkutsk for the wedding. It was her mother’s first time abroad, and a good time was had by all—they were “adopted” by her sister’s host “grandparents” (the dedushka was a retired Aeroflot pilot who loved to feed them sweets, the babushka was a former home-ec teacher at a local high school), mugged by a street child, went camping in the forest, bathed in Lake Baikal, and relaxed at a Edenic-gardened dacha. And the wedding was a traditional village affair, complete with food-laden tables, dancing and lots of toasts. I look forward to hearing more of Emily’s stories tonight—at the Intervarsity party over on Capitol Hill.

I doubt the language at the IV get-together will deteriorate to the repetitions of “fuck it” that were being shouted after midnight at our house party. By that time, I had removed myself upstairs to write: I spent a good half-hour typing impressions of the party guests (a mixture of State Department people—yes, folks, these are our nation’s diplomats—Pottery Barn people and random ex-classmates of Marianne’s), hit the “send” key, and the whole account disappeared entirely. At which point I went downstairs for consolation milk and cookies and was party to the sexually-precocious ruminations aforementioned.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Eviler and Eviler

Landlord finally sent "Notice to Vacate Tenancy" or somesuch to Alissa via registered mail. We thought our troubles were at an end. Not so. One of her paramours, apparently, is a lawyer, and she is resisting her expulsion. This is a grand mess. If the girl weren't already loathsome enough (no, she has not yet paid bills for this month), her ungraciousness in introducing a bloodsucking ambulance-chaser to the mix would have decided the question. [Apologies to the B.A.C.s out there who don't consort with manipulative beauty queens]. What crust!

Friday, December 03, 2004

How'd they lose that?

To my left loomed an elderly wall with bits of lichen crumbling the mortar between the large grey stones. To my right, the curbside ribbon of short winter-ready grass had been swept free of leaves. And just ahead, a white brassiere was hanging eight or nine feet up on a twig in one of the naked trees. The presence of this item near the Georgetown campus is more explicable than the pair of abandoned men’s jeans my friends and I spotted lying in a ditch at the corner of the parking lot behind a Chapel Hill Cracker Barrel. They were crumpled like someone shucked them off and crawled into the culvert that went underneath an adjacent property, only the concrete pipe was too small to admit even a completely unclothed man of his size. Has anyone else run across really odd lost objects “in the wild” like this? I know employees of airports and malls find everything from false teeth to wedding rings in a day’s work, but how about you “normal” people?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

It's About Time. And CAN READERS HELP?

My sister called a few minutes ago and said she would no longer be reading this blog, as I had been "thirty for a week" and haven't updated. Apologies tendered, reformation sworn. I assure you, dear readers, as I told her, I've been up to my eyeballs in work--academic and extra-curricular.

Yesterday and today, my friend Hannah and I put on a jewelry and pottery show as a fundraiser for a nonprofit campus society, which was to get 30% of the gross. We pulled in over $1600 total. Serious rejoicing. The club should be tickled with its several-hundred-dollar cut, and we can afford to pay bills this next month. As part of the "event," I wore an antebellum gown all day today, an outfit complete with heavily-boned corset and huge crinolined hoopskirt. Lots of compliments and attention. Guess I'm just a showoff at heart! Guys in my department were kidding me about my hourglass figure. Fun!

Last two weeks of class/exams are upon me, and I haven’t a hope of finishing things without miraculous intervention. Have been in tears a lot, unable to sleep, and highly tempted to chuck it all. But I won’t—this is where I’m supposed to be. At least for now.

I’m reading a Stephen King book. No, not one of his fiction terror tales—I avoid them like the plague. I’m moving through his autobiographical complement to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, On Writing. I got the audiobook so’s to be able to absorb it in the car, and listened to half of it on the way back from NC Monday. Great stuff. King himself does the recording, and—do you guys remember that cartoon many years ago? The one where some children are begging their mom, “Please DON’T let dad read us a bedtime story,” and the caption under the picture says “Stephen King’s Kids”?—well, I love hearing him read, and I’m sure, situational humor aside, he was a great bedtime story reader—he mimics voices eerily well, and has an obvious sense of fun. The language is often raw, but the story sails on deep reservoir of practicality, and the person who wants to improve his or her literary efforts will find this spicy dish nourishing and encouraging.

***READER HELP NEEDED*** Would like to hear readers’ responses to the following questions (this is for a term paper due Monday): 1. When I think of Cracker Barrel, I think…. 2. Why do I go to (or avoid) Cracker Barrel? 3. If I were to describe a Cracker Barrel to a person who’d never heard about it, how would I? 4. Any other stories about Cracker Barrel, or other similar establishments, would be gratefully received. Like I said, I’m writing a term paper on this, believe it or not, so any and all help would be lovely!! Thanks!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Big 3-0

Happy Birthday to me!
Happy Birthday to me!
Happy Birthday dear C-E-P...
Happy Birthday to me!

An altogether satisfactory one, I might add.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Music Mission Kiev

Roger and Diane McMurrin live in a building behind the Opera House in Kiev, where he is the founding director of the Kiev Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. I met them in 2002, and was tremendously impressed by their energy (they're in their mid-sixties and definitely not resting on their laurels) and their selflessness. They moved to Kiev eleven years ago, and have been phenomenally busy ever since.

To keep their supporters apprised of their many efforts, Diane writes a newsletter every few weeks, usually full of the doings of the local church, their outreach to orphans, and their support of over 400 widows/widowers (who, as pensioners in a poor post-Soviet economy, do not receive a sufficient income from the government to feed, clothe, and house themselves). The McMurrins have even gone so far as to adopt three boys from the streets, sweeping them up into the embrace of their ever-expanding family. Talk about practicing what you preach!

I'd been waiting for the latest installment of the TWINK newsletter since the Opera House is just a few blocks from Independence Square, where the largest of the country's many orange-clad rallies are being held. So the McMurrins are right in the thick of things. But let Diane tell you what's going on in her own words: check out the latest issue of TWINK: www.musicmissionkiev.org. Look under the heading "Latest News" for the title "Trouble in Kiev."

Oh, and if you want to sponsor a pensioner, you can find out more details on that same website. Both full sponsorships ($40 per month), and shared ($20 a month) options are available. Believe me, no money goes into "overhead"--it all is used to directly benefit the helpless. This is worth doing--just think of it as your foregoing two single-person restaurant dinners per month. I've already signed up to sponsor one pensioner, and may add a second soon--many of these people have already lived through WWII, various Soviet terrors, and though they've worked their entire lives, they are now faced in their old age with the uncertainty of literally not knowing whence their next meal is coming. Share your blessings starting this Thanksgiving!

Pray for Ukraine--and for Russia!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Contact!

Landlord finally phoned back last night, earnestly intent on persuading me to stay and assuring me that he will make every effort to expel Alissa. Apparently my frantic message on his answering machine did the trick--particularly the detail about her ruining the carpet. He went out to an office supply store and picked up one of those generic "Notice to Vacate" forms, and says he'll send it registered mail by the end of the week. His first plan was to mail it to me and have me present it to her in person. As if! I told him our previous chats had not gone so well, and a more direct route would be preferable. He assures me that the locks will be changed once she is gone. I felt light and free the moment he told me she was "out." Of course, nothing material has yet changed, but to know there's an end in sight...

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

More on Ukraine

Well, notwithstanding CNN and inferences which might be drawn from my previous blog-entry, it appears that Yushchenko is not perceived as necessarily a "Westernizer" by Ukrainians themselves, or his opponent a "Slavophile" per se, but that the former is understood to be a pretty honest guy, and the latter a crook. Of course, these days, as the Mafia and oligarchs have such a firm foothold in Russia, assigning these characteristics geographical orientations is not wholly invalid. You can check out Yushchenko's tri-lingual website yourself, if you'd like to know what is going on in Kiev and why you ought to wear the one color-which-is-unflattering-to-everybody: orange.

Confrontation II

Points of confrontation continue on several fronts, one domestic, the other international.

At home, another unpleasant faceoff with Alissa. Followed by phone call to landlord--the fifth futile attempt to reach him in 24 hours. Left message on his machine detailing the situation, including the potentially action-galvanizing tidbit that she was getting stains on the new carpet. Oh, she is loathsome! But there is another wrinkle in this already confused situation which undercuts many of the recent suggestions my dear readers gave about how to deal with her: we don't have a lease. The homeowner is renting to us "under the table" (which explains, in part, why the rent is so low), and so he hasn't a clue about what legal leverage he can use to expel her. Such are the hazards of attempting to enjoy tax-free income.

Not to sound like a certain irritating Canadian-born anchorman opining about the possible effects of the US caucuses of 2000, or some other such political Chicken Little, but Ukraine could well descend into anarchy this week. The presidential election results in that country of 48+ million are in dispute, and many observers and participants consider the process to have been seriously flawed (when I say "seriously flawed" here, I'm not talking Florida but more on the lines of the stereotypical banana republic). The Western-leaning candidate is alleged to have been more or less robbed of his victory by a candidate obviously backed by, if not directly connected to, the Kremlin. Two hundred thousand people are on the streets of Kiev, protesting in favor of Yushchenko, the Westernizer. Standoffs are reported in other cities as well. This is a sticky situation--and not just because I've been there and know people who live in the capital and outside. Ukraine is a strategic state, actually the largest country in Europe, which borders East and West and Middle East (via the Black Sea). It contains the old Rus' heartland (to which Russians trace their cultural and linguistic beginnings), and has embraced more modern alliances, like NATO, for instance. There are Ukrainian soldiers with our troops in Iraq. It bore much of the devastation wrought by collectivization during the 1930s under Stalin, and in the 1940s it was overrun by the Nazis on their way to Stalingrad. It's only been officially independent since January 1992, and still labors under many problems inherited from the Soviet Union--poverty, homelessness, a wavering economy (its coal mines are famously rich and notoriously dangerous). Too, remember Chernobyl? It's in Ukraine, which was once considered Russia's "bread basket." So, those Wayfollowers out there might be praying for Ukraine over the next few days...

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Confrontaton

Got home around 11 PM from a good and productive day of writing and hanging out with friends. The house phone bill, which is in my name, was on the top of the mail stack. Opened it. Entire last month's amount overdue. Alissa waltzed up the walk five minutes later. I met her at the door with the bill.

"I mailed it on Thursday--just cross off that overdue amount." She went upstairs.

I sat down for some quick calculation. Last bill was due the twelfth...hmm. Today's the 20th, which makes Thursday the 18th. Wait a second... I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts. I climbed the stairs, and knocked on her door. "Are you going to be home Monday?"

"What?" Apparently she was chattering on her cell phone.

"Are you going to be home Monday?"

"Why?" She opened the door, phone at her ear, and regarded me with fashion-model wariness.

"Because I want to put the phone bill in your name."

"Well, uh, I don't think that's a good idea, because I may move out soon."

"I can only hope!" I thought, but stayed expressionless. "The bill was overdue."

"I told you I mailed it."

"You took the bill off the board a week and a half ago and you just mailed it Thursday--it was late."

"I'm sorry," she said, prefunctorily.

I clarified: "I told you when you moved in four months ago that it couldn't be late."

"I said I was sorry," petulantly.

"That won't help my credit rating."

"Can I call you back?" she spoke into her cell phone. To me: "Don't talk to me like a child."

"How do you think you're acting?" I responded, honestly.

"Goodnight," she said, and closed the door.

"Goodnight," I said to the door, and turning, went downstairs.

Oh, please, please, please, let her move out soon!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Digits and Mustaches

Ruskaia Pravda (Rus’ Justice), a document issued in the eleventh century, establishes monetary penalties for various civil offenses. Article 6 reads: “And if a finger is cut off, three grivnas for the offense.” And Article 7 says: “For the mustache twelve grivnas; and for the beard twelve grivnas.”

In other words, losing a finger to an enemy was only a quarter as awful as losing one’s facial hair to him. “No, man, not the sidewhiskers! Here, take my pinkie instead.”

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Sheets II

Alissa came home drunk an hour ago. With an entirely different guy. They disappeared into her room. I expect he'll leave before morning.

Sheets

You remember Alissa. The slob roommate who, in the four months since she's moved in upstairs has slept on a bare, filthy mattress under a grungy blanket bequeathed her by some long-gone former resident? Whose floor is constantly covered with rotten food, dirty towels, and discarded Chanel suits and Blahnik shoes? The one with the brand-new Coach luggage who, when her hairdryer flips a major circuit breaker doesn't bother to check to see whether a major appliance--like the refrigerator--is affected, and never attempts to apologize for the ill effects that follow (like over a hundred dollars' worth of spoiled groceries)? Yes, her. She finally bought sheets for her bed this last weekend.

Why this seemingly major change of heart? Her latest lover, who came over last night after dinner and stayed up in her room with her until after midnight, is a tailored fiftyish businessman--maybe a Congressman. Whereas, unlike the multiple young men she has previously entertained who haven't seemed to mind the squalor, this distinguished gentleman might be more sensitive. I guess she wanted to suit the client's taste. But her floor is once again covered with garbage.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Romance Deferred

Unrequited affection is potentially as potent a theme in American life and literature today as it was in Europe one and two hundred years ago. Though the circumstances which make it a legitimate condition are much rarer nowadays, it does occur. Take the situation of my friend Helene, for instance. She’s a Southerner like me, almost thirty, has dated one or two people over the years during and after college, not many. She’s slender, with light brown hair and pale skin. She’s not unattractive, although she does have a firm chin, and she wears wire-framed glasses—which I guess guarantees that “guys don’t make passes”! She’s a graduate student in my department, has a MA in some International Relations-related field, and is also working on her doctorate in Russian History. A born-again Christian—doesn’t froth at the mouth, but does know what and in whom she believes. A kindred spirit, generally cheerful.

Anyway, one of her professors is an observant Jew, a kind and soft-spoken thirtyish man whom she admires greatly. He’s single, probably because he didn’t have time to court anybody as he was proceeding through his own graduate studies so quickly—he earned his Ph.D. before he left his twenties behind. The fact that he’s so good-looking is a bonus, but she’s really smitten with his character. She doesn’t have any indication that he feels anything beyond professional courtesy towards her, but she broke down this afternoon saying that she was just miserable at his “perfection” and her knowledge that this is a situation with several insuperable barriers. Uh, yeah.

First, there’s the professor-student relationship. It’s blatantly unethical for the line between faculty and student to be crossed on a personal level, and she would never attempt to bridge it, and she knows that he wouldn’t, either, even if he shared her feelings. Two, faith-wise, they are totally divorced from one another. They could be brought into agreement if he were to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but she is wholly pessimistic about this, and of course she wouldn’t date or marry anybody who wasn’t a believer. Furthermore, even if he were a Messianic Jew, she’s still a Gentile, and this would probably mean ethnically-oriented irreconcilability re: his family. Oh, and there’s the whole Northerner/Southerner thing—he’s a Yankee. In the meantime, she’s unhappy when she sees him simply because she’s so happy when she sees him. So, pray for them both. I think she’s looking forward to teaching at a school in St. Petersburg, Russia, next year simply so she can get away from his proximity—in effect, a real-life re-working of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette: she’ll be effectively “lost at sea” even if he continues hale and hearty. This plan doesn’t assure that her affection towards him will be requited, but I think it does mean that she’ll have material for a good depressing novel!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Southern Girl Makes Good

Obviously, I am happy that the president has nominated Condileeza Rice to be the next Secretary of State. She's an inspiration (albeit a somewhat intimidating one) to all of us single girls, especially to us Southern ones--born in Alabama, in college in her mid-teens, got her doctorate at age 26, speaks Russian and 2 other foreign languages, served as Stanford University Provost, etc. Just turned 50 last Sunday, and still looks great. She's definitely a smart lady. So smart, in fact, that the people in my department, whose usual knee-jerk reaction to anyone with principles achieving prominence is to call them "stupid," had to lament her appointment today by terming her "crazy." I guess this is a compliment, of sorts.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Iraq Casualty List

Take a look at the American & Allies casualty list posted on CNN for the Iraq war. It has photos, names, ages, divisions, hometowns, and cause of death for each guy (and the occasional gal) who’s died over there.

I scrolling through the list, I noticed two interesting things: first, for a country that supposedly wasn’t supporting terrorism, the so-called “insurgents” therein have used an awful lot of “improvised explosive devices” to kill our troops. Scan down the list yourself—tell me, am I overestimating, or are approximately half of the fatalities due to what in any other situation even “doves” would have to admit are “terrorist tactics”? The other thing I spotted: a fair number of people have died from just plain accidents—their vehicles running into canals, or swerving to avoid a civilian car and flipping over, or machinery malfunctions, that sort of thing—and regular illnesses. This, of course, doesn’t make them any less dead. But both the terrorism causes and the could-happen-anywhere causes do—well, let me use a PC term here—nuance the list somewhat. And it confirms several things: war is terrible, death is awful, but evil has to be confronted, and sometimes it shows its truest, deadliest colors when the “peace” is just steps away.

Pray for the people in Iraq. The folks who live there, and the folks who are temporarily there. Pray for everybody’s safety, that good will triumph over evil, and that the country will enjoy safety and genuine freedom in spirit and in truth.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Intimacy and the American Soul

I miss the delicate and delightful task of composing a personal letter, however long, to a dear friend. Although the blog and my personal diary (irregularly kept, yet full of sensational details...) are outlets for creative composition, they are drafted from a narcissistic viewpoint, always designed to titillate my own senses, if not anonymous readers'. A letter, however, is an individual treat, a dish wafting metaphoric aromas designed to appeal to a particular recipient, not some mass-produced screed which can be accessed and consumed by just anybody--not that my handful of loyal readers are "just anybody." Of late I have had the pleasure to receive several handwritten notes from friends--real, tangible evidences of relationship, carefully assembled paper, ink and adhesive dispatched through the mail to my doorstep. I am looking forward to having time to return this favor--and it will take time to do a good, thorough job, even if the effort comprises just one or two paragraphs.

The National Museum of the American Indian was a colossal, architecturally-impressive, monolith of sandstone-hewn disappointment. Audrey [a several-decades-close friend who now lives on the West Coast. She was in town for the weekend, and happily our schedules coincided this afternoon] and I spent several hours there today, and I think that both of us, having gone in with little idea of what we might expect, still left with something like disappointment. There were thousands of eyecatching artifacts, all a-jumble, assembled in an artistic fashion along the many curving gallery walls. There were photographs, videos, beaded clothing, weaponry, jewelry, religious materials and modern paintings and sculpture. There were thousands upon thousands of people crowding up the staircases, clustered in front of vitrines, wandering aimlessly past anonymous doubloons, untagged pottery, nameless cases of seeds and unexplained tools. There was no apparent story being told, no narrative in the galleries on the top two floors, and a two-level giftshop was the primary occupant of the bottom two. It was like a Cracker Barrel Restaurant and Store--"genuine artifacts" everywhere, but no attempt to explain when, how, and by whom they were used, which individuals were involved, or how a particular custom or implement came into being (or how it might have been superceded by another). It was like looking at items in a stranger's desk drawer, and although the stranger might be able to relate the objects to one another in a novel way which revealed himself and his past, we didn't have such a person with us, and could only admire the occasional neat thing on its superficial merits.

If the new Indian museum gave one a feeling of mental fracture, the Museum of American History was determined to create a few concrete impressions about American identity. In the main hall, A high-school-age group of Revolutionary War uniformed musicians was demonstrating period instruments in front of the scarred Stars and Stripes recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Elsewhere, in front of a (reportedly "controversial") exhibit called "The Price of Freedom," three patient American Legion members armed with large Energizer batteries were teaching fascinated gaggles of children the Morse code. Audrey and I were not alone in heading for the "American First Ladies" gallery, where some lovely, and unlaunderable, inaugural ballgowns were worn by un-catwalk-ready mannequins. All were afforded lengthy captions, pointing out the construction of the clothing itself, and the identity and era of the woman who once wore it. Impressive.

Back home, I found the house deserted and the front door unlocked. My laptop, with Marianne's and a weekend houseguest's, were all sitting in plain view on the kitchen table. I could scream. Plus, I've just learned that Tania, the nice Turkish girl who was to move in when Marianne moves out in December, has decided not to take the room, just the furniture. This is problematic. I hope I shan't end up with another unkempt prima donna housemate like the one who currently occupies the other room on the second floor, who I guarantee was responsible not only for the large stain I discovered on the new carpet outside her room this morning, but also for the unlocked front door this afternoon. So, I emailed a notice to my fellow history grad students this evening announcing one vacancy, "and possibly two." Pray that someone decent will want the spot, and that the other room will come available for let, too.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Weevils and Hummingbirds

Readers who believe that hummingbirds have no legs (but rock gently on their little curved bases when resting) are encouraged to read the article "WSU Scientists to Help Local Farmers" on the Get Fuzzy-esque Proboscis blog.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Hook-ups, Alcohol and Other Roommate Foibles

"There will be no condoms involved," Marianne assured me.

Gosh, I'm so relieved.

I do not understand the concept of the "rebound hook-up," which was the subject of the previous comment. Marianne just parted ways with her boyfriend of a month, and was determined to get over him, and so decided to expend her sexual energy in company with a Republican member of her FSO class. She's a Democrat, but since he'd recently broken up with his girlfriend and was likeminded re: the curative effects of a "hook-up" [besides being attractive physically], he came over for a couple of intimate hours and a glass of rum on the rocks.

They may not have had sex proper--or should I say improper?--this evening, but the previous relationships for both undoubtedly involved such activity. Marianne is concerned enough about discovering that her "ex" told her casual lies about his family that she has set up an appointment for blood tests at her doctor's.

Tom Wolfe just issued a new novel, this one about college students, wherein he reportedly "rants" about the random and ridiculous sexual relationships that this younger subset of the population pursues. I don't even know the title of the book, but I'd be willing to wager that Wolfe's critique isn't just a white-suited geriatric's tut-tutting about the follisome frolics of "kids today." Anyone who's moderately aware of how quickly complete strangers--even those of the "nice" yuppie sort--hop into bed together could add their own laments, and wonder audibly why AIDS (and other less lethal, but perennially problematic STDS) hasn't affected a greater percentage of the population. How is one supposed to form a lifelong attachment to a single person when one has so quickly exploited, and allowed oneself to be exploited by a series of fleeting paramours?

This makes me very sad. I really like Marianne, and neither the problem she cultivated, nor the "cure" she and her colleague celebrated, are designed to provide any real satisfaction--physical, psychological, or spiritual--over the long haul. I don't know how to demonstrate the reality of Christ clearly to her, or to others of the many upwardly-mobile wanderers I know, other than by continuing to walk along the path which led me here. All I think of right now is..."and Jeremiah sank into the mud...," so I would appreciate Sibling prayers!

A Red-Blue State "Peace Process" Roadmap

All my readers--on both sides of the political divide--should appreciate this article from Calev Ben-David of the Jerusalem Post. Please note that you must sign up with the Post--to do so is free--in order to view the column (I tried to set it up so this wouldn't be necessary a day or so ago, but it seems this didn't work). Enjoy!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Anthropology Class Today

“Well, at least gay people can still marry and you can still have an abortion!” said the sweet English girl next to me in a bright and hopeful voice.

Others did not choose to focus on this positive. “Stupid”--said with a sneer of damning scorn--was the kindest description they had of the opposition, whom they ridiculed as senseless, sheep-like dupes, fanatics of religious conformism.

Ever been in a situation where all the people in the room are breathing fire and hatred against you and yours, and you feel like if you identified yourself you would be nailed to the wall?

I kept my head down. It was the second time in a week with these people. I’ve rarely heard such vitriol except in newsreel clips from the Klan against Civil Rights marchers, or in television shots of the modern Middle East. No exaggeration. I didn’t think modern Americans were capable of such focused hatred, but they are.

“I felt so comfortable going home to Massachusetts,” a pleasant redhead remarked. “It was a state of mourning, but at least…”

“Bush!” hissed a Caribbean guy, in a tone previously reserved for Hitler.

The professor was even more adamant. “I was down in Colombia, and I didn’t want to come back.” The chorus of students swelled at her words.

“I have a question about the book,” said I, successfully and obviously changing the subject. We had some 85 minutes of anthropology-related discussion, then a break. Then, the student talk wasn’t on politics, temporarily, but religion.

“They wanted to dunk me in a pool!” giggled an attractive Hispanic girl. “They were among the nicest people I’ve met, but they were, well, evan-GEL-lical.”

The redhead responded, amused. “Like living with your grandparents all the time.”

“But weird. Not that there’s anything uh—wrong—about being a Christian.”

“Thank you.” I said, sotto voce.

Another forty-five minutes of anthropology and class concluded. Politics were back to the fore. “So,” asked a fellow history graduate student, “What did people in Colombia think about the election?”

The professor began keening invective as I wrapped my scarf around my throat and strode out into the darkness.

Two More Quick Bourne Thoughts

Obsessive, I know, but there were two other, tinier, "off" points that I noticed in the Moscow "section" of the movie last night--first, the door to the assassinated Russian politican's daughter's apartment was Soviet-era. Most people have since invested in heavier wood or steel-plate doors in order to defend themselves against home invasions--rare is the door, too, that doesn't have a heavy lock which requires some curious ritual to open. This despite the domy having buzzer systems at each stairwell--nothing like a second line of defense. The second wee "off" point: as the Bourne character walks away into the dusk from his confession to the daughter (re: her parents' killing), the lights in both stairwells of the domy beyond him are all lit. I would be quite surprised to find all fixtures working in one stairwell--much less two--in one of these Brezhnev-constructed highrises.

Incidentally, the black Mercedes shown crazily racing around the streets of Moscow are accurate. As are the little Lada police cars. And yes, outside metro stations there are "cynepmapket" stores with armed guards. Hey, it's Russia.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Unmusical Modernization

“Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping houses, and the blessèd sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-colored taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous as to demand the time of day.” Shakespeare, Henry IV Part I, Act I, Scene 2

You know, updating Shakespeare to contemporary language just robs his words of their poetry…

“Unless hours were cans of beer, and minutes hamburgers, and clocks standup comics, and dials the signs of strip-clubs, and the sun itself a twentysomething Sports Illustrated swimsuit model in a thong bikini, I see no reason why you should be so all-fired anxious to know what time it is.” [CEP, Collected Works of Shakepeare: The 21st Century Edition]

Bourne Again

Ok, ok, I apologize for the headline, but I've just gotten home from seeing the Bourne Supremacy. It was my reward to myself for studying all weekend, and plus, it was free--the "for the students" feature in the Intercultural Center Auditorium. Gosh, what a good flick. I hate Ben Affleck. He wasn't in the film, but Matt Damon stars, and so the contrast is inevitable. I've admired Damon's work since I saw Good Will Hunting--three times in the theater--and I'm glad that he's quietly living up to the standard he set then. He's utterly convincing (and yes, I know that's another stock phrase, but I've got to get back to studying ASAP and so I haven't time to be exceptionally eloquent) in the roles he assumes, whether it be a troubled college-age "Southie" resident, or a murderous amoral mimic, or an amnesiac ex-assasin. I didn't bother to see the blasphemous Dogma (Alanis Morissette as God? You must be nuts.), but he probably did as well as one can expect with the material.

Plus, Damon's flair for accents is good for the Bourne character, who is required to speak several languages. His German was clean, and his Russian was clear. The scriptwriter(s) only made two tiny errors in the Russian section of the movie--unless there's been a dramatic improvement in the last year, the Moscow telephone directory is still not as comprehensive as one would like (and I'd be willing to bet one can't find a fresh copy at the train terminal) and Russian taxi drivers prefer Euros over dollars, and they do in fact like rubles--the currency's pretty steady these days. Otherwise, everything was pitch-perfect, on location--I know, I've been there! I've never seen Russia captured so exactly by a Western director. Even the initially-dizzying handheld camerawork pays off thematically.

So...must add two more "necessaries" to my Amazon wishlist...Bourne the first and Bourne again.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Twenty-three

Twenty-three...days until I turn 30. I'm ready to be an adult. This may have already occurred, unbeknownst to me.

I passed a major maturity landmark this evening--rented my first vehicle, a Uhaul van. It cost a ridiculous amount, but Aaron and Lena were giving me four bookcases and there was no way to get them from their house to mine without something larger than our little Hondas.

I'm assembling furniture, I have almost all my "wedding" china (it's a pattern I decided on when I was 11 or 12 and first collecting antiques, but a girl just can't wait for an illusive engagement to begin to assemble a set of dishes in a design which Wedgwood quit making almost 40 years ago--she has to buy them when she sees them. And, boy, have I bought them!), I own over 500 books, and now I've rented a van. I'm practically independent!

Twenty-three...years ago when I started first grade. And I'm still in school! But my official "being taught" days are nearing their end, and, LW, I'll ascend to professorhood in the near future. I'd better--the increasing number of grey hairs which will look authoritative on a faculty member are starting to seem a bit odd springing from the head of a mere student.

On a less frivolous note, there were two deaths on Monday night: my grandfather's best friend/shipmate (from WWII), and the leukemia-stricken father of a delightful woman professor in my department. Please pray for both my granddaddy and this professor. The people in question were believers, as are their families, but their loss is still heavy to bear for those who love them. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Commenting

Several readers have expressed curiosity to me in person about how they can leave comments on this blog. Just click on the word "Comments" beneath the post to which you'd like to respond, and a little form will pop up. Please note that you cannot edit your comments after you submit them, so make sure you've got it right before you hit the "submit" button! Happy reading--and responding.

Election-Night Notes

When Dan Rather started quoting Scripture around 4 AM, and definitive results of the election were still not available, I decided to call it a night. Aaron and Lena, old school friends of mine, had let me stay down in front of their TV when they trotted off to bed around 1 AM, saying I could crash for the night if I wanted to, but I decided to head home to my own air mattress, knowing I needed to study today.

Relieved upon waking up early this afternoon to find that we do in fact know whom the next President is to be, and I am spared going down to the GA-FL border with a shovel and digging a trench extending the Okeefenokee east and west. And excavating a moat around Ohio would have been a bit more difficult.

If Dan Rather is still at CBS next election, I am going to sponsor a "Ratherisms" game--I wouldn't recommend turning it into a drinking game because you'd be sloshed in half an hour. Some of the expressions he came up with were on the far side of bizarre, and Aaron, who voted for Kerry, was just about ready to strangle the Memo Man, while his wife and I, both "W" supporters, agreed that this silencing should be a bipartisan effort. I think it was the reference to "walking through a furnace in a gasoline suit" that finally put me over the edge.

Actually, so little was going on, and the networks were being so (wisely!) cautious about "giving" one state or another to either candidate, that the three of us watched The Three Musketeers on video, pausing the DVD every twenty-thirty minutes to see what was happening in the world of modern, real-world political intrigue. It was a great way to relieve tension--Tim Curry is an excellent bad guy, and Oliver Platt has a perfect sense of comic timing. And really quotable dialogue, as opposed to the verbal mumbletypeg that the network anchors were playing with their aged acolytes.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

All's Un-Hallowed

A sloppy girl with battered black tulle wings and a torn skirt. A twenty-year-old man in a makeshift diaper. A sexless creature in a gorilla suit smoking a cigarette on a dark street corner. Gaggles of ghouls, a flapper in white fringe and sequins, two guys wearing enormous afro wigs. All drunk and shouting expletives, stumbling into the street while bored police officers looked on, unmoved and unmoving. Halloween in Georgetown—happy it was not.

I could smell beer fumes stealing through my car grill the moment I stopped at the light on the DC side of the Key Bridge. Loud music was echoing off the brick sidewalks and storefronts—it was ten minutes to midnight and the roads were thronged with partiers apparently fearless of the midnight pumpkin transformation. I sat in traffic and muttered imprecations. Returning library books and getting needed printouts at this hour, and having to dodge inebriated students to boot.

We sang “A Mighty Fortress” this morning—Reformation Sunday, you know. Good sermon, great Sunday school (we’re going through Hebrews). Made it despite detour forced by the Marine Corps Marathon—they blocked off Lee Highway and a section of the GW Parkway (I think), so I was forced to take back roads. Only a few minutes late. Weather was perfect. Trees have just peaked, and sky was robin’s egg blue, air temperate and light.

Didn’t take the usual “Shabbas” nap, but plunged directly into my Slavery on the Black Sea paper. Except for phone calls, worked straight for eight hours plus. I had hoped to finish altogether, but there are continuity problems and one remaining gap towards the end. Hence my needing to go to campus to print the thing, plus reviews for the several books I’m supposed to have read by tomorrow but haven’t time to.

I got to school and discovered I couldn’t get into the building where the history dept. is—university card doesn’t work, neither does key. I waited for security for over 30 minutes, sitting with my back to the glass doors, watching undergrads in odd outfits cross “Red Square,” staggering, talking too loudly, kissing in the interrogating fluorescent light and insulting each other, unconscious of the Jesuit cemetery close by.

I’ve got enough candy left over to rot every tooth in the neighborhood. Probably twenty trick-or-treaters total rang the bell between seven and nine—not the hordes I had optimistically expected. Any suggestions of how to use it? I don’t want to waste it on the ungrateful wretches in my department, and I certainly don’t need to eat it myself—it may not go to “waist” then, but it will most definitely go to hips!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

An "Editorial" I Composed in August

August 2, 2004

For Americans to ask, “Why does the rest of the world hate us?” is for us to engage in a tradition of mournful self-examination peculiar to the United States. This national navel-gazing is a tradition which simultaneously exposes the fibers and flaws of our national character, and the seat of its faith.

We Americans want to be liked, we expect to be liked, and we are tremendously disappointed and distressed when we are not liked. The spoken assumption in our wail “why do they hate us?” is symptomatic of our own intemperate spirit—a spirit which was once expressed, for good or ill, towards conquering frontiers—of wilderness, of space, of previously insuperable physical and psychological barriers. This questing spirit now, rather than absorbing a measured understanding of its occasional fallibility, has allowed its periodic errors (some great indeed, but not all damning) to severely undermine its self-confidence, to the point that the loudest—if not necessarily the most widespread—external judgments about its capabilities and culpability are received as definitive.

The shrewd non-friends of the United States recognize this new American insecurity, our faltering adolescent bravado and our growing anxiety to be approved by older, “cultured” countries. The few who truly dislike what were broadly understood in the past to be particularly American values (a desire for justice, an effort for equality, an admiration for people who refuse to accept bad beginnings as reasons for succumbing to defeat) sense that we as a people no longer believe in ourselves, that “In God We Trust” no longer rings true, that a general understanding of the benefits we’ve received as citizens of a country which aspires to principles of all people having been endowed with “inalienable rights” has fallen by the wayside. And these enemies strike at those modern symbols on which we have misplaced our national faith: our technology, our wealth. And we are afraid.

An American President once admonished his initially bedraggled and pessimistic generation, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” and they surged forward to become what we now call the “greatest generation.” Roosevelt’s words are considerably more applicable to our time than his. In Whom do we trust? In what do we hope? Are we looking to the bright lights of Silicon Valley for our future stability? To the magnificent cathedral spires of the proposed rebuilt World Trade Center complex for a reconstitution of our country’s pride? Are we fatally bruised by our past national sins, or are we drawing inspiration from those brilliant successes we have experienced and the bright leaders who have caused us to travel onward and upward in our individual and corporate life? Will we continue to wallow in doubt, or will we resolve to act decisively and well, in concert with our quiet friends, in defiance of that cliquish Continental clamor which has so recently rejoiced at its power to abash Americans?

Friday, October 29, 2004

JPost Article

Guys, I just found a good article in the Jerusalem Post on the upcoming U.S. elections (to read, you'll have to paste the following 3 lines into your browser--as one line with no spaces. Sorry the address is so long!):

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/
Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/
ShowFull&cid=1098937091816&p=1006953079897

Dreams, Nightmares and Conspicuous Consumption

11:30 PM. Marianne was puffing on her hooka, hauling on the gurgling pipe and exhaling exotic whiffs of apple tobacco over my laptop, where I was struggling to finish my book review paper for Zimmer.

I met with him in the sitting area outside his office today--Georgetown is one of the few upper-tier schools where profs have to double- or triple-up on office-space, and the fellow with whom he shares his was working on the computer. Zimmer and I were wearing almost identical outfits, except my shoes didn't look like they'd been beaten to death, and he had on faded socks that didn't match. The man needs a wife.

Anyway, he was sweet as usual, and I was exhausted. Collapsed after I came home, and had nightmares during restless afternoon sleep--all about people being drowned in a large murky indoor pool, and George Bush and John Kerry vacationing together with their wives nearby and bickering, and a combination of my father and Ronald Reagan doing what they could to save the drowning people, but just not being able to get to all of them. Oh, and then there was this scene in a chapel underneath the pool which had windows into the water, where the body of some guy who hadn't been rescued could be seen rotting down to bones. And I didn't even stay to watch Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola version) last night!

Silverman's Dracula lecture at the history honor society party before the movie was terrific, although he hemmed and hawed about my introducing him. He read the earliest extant Dracula story, which he'd recently translated from Church Slavonic--it dates from just a couple of years after Vlad Tepes died. Fresh off the press, you might say, except that it predated mechanical printing. That man was one bad dude. It was hilarious, though first only in a sick way--one account after another about Tepes impaling men, women and children, and inflicting other horrific tortures besides (we in the audience couldn't help laughing at the sheer accumulation of gruesome details, safely removed from them by five and a half centuries), and then the author claims that Tepes goes over to "his namesake, the Devil," only when he converts from Orthodoxy to Catholicism. Um, it's just me, but I think his spiritual condition had scant to do with his denominational affiliation. After Silverman finished reading the tale, he went over the documented history of Tepes, and then briefly discussed the ways his myth has been used since--I didn't know this, but in 1989, Czech president Vaclav Havel called Romanian dictator Nikolai Ceaucescu that country's modern Dracula. Shortly thereafter, like the original brutal leader, Ceaucescu was killed by his countrymen--I still remember seeing the pictures of his televised shooting, Christmas Day.

Speaking of heartless destruction, the squirrels have eaten an entire half of one of our pumpkins--the face is completely gone--and the other has a a newly-chewed ear and a cleft pallet which has obliterated its nose and reaches into one eye. It's grotesque.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Curses!

Howls of the damned (or just un-damned, in this case) on the streets again at 11:30 tonight. The Red Sox won the World Series, there is joy in Mudville, and the Curse of the Bambino is broken. Whether that early-in-the-season Boston-popped baseball's hitting the boy in the stands who lives in the Babe's childhood home had anything significant to do with this will probably be debated by fans for years. Just so long as Boston doesn't sweep politically, too, I'll be amused by this superstitious speculation.

Pudgy Squirrels

"Have you ever seen a squirrel as wide as it is tall?" I asked my mother this evening.

"Only the flat ones," she said.

We have ones that are fully in the round, in the broadest sense of the phrase. The pudgy squirrel phenomenon is a result of Kevin and his girlfriend's festive seasonal gesture of pumpkin-carving. Three or four days ago, they went grocery shopping and brought home two middle-sized pumpkins, into which they carved cheerful expressions prior to setting them out at the bottom of the front steps. By midday yesterday, the pumpkins could have stood watch at a haunted mansion--they'd been progressively cannibalized, the edges of their neatly-cut eyes, noses and mouths chewed away as with leprosy. And the furry little guilty parties kept coming back for more.
This afternoon I spotted one just a few feet from the scene of the crime, with its tiny grey paws crossed on its chest above a positively portly white abdomen, obviously freshly stuffed with raw pumpkin, too sated to move. They'd better sleep well this winter, the little blighters. They're certainly fat enough.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Mea culpa...or just messed up

Ok, you'd think after a person's watched well over fifteen hundred movies she would have a bit more finesse, critique-wise, but I didn't in my last blog-entry re: Eternal Sunshine. Apparently the section that I missed at the beginning of the film was essential to comprehending the plot, as a Rummynation reader pointed out yesterday--he said at the outset a few more of the loose ends were sewn up, although I'm not sure that all were. As memory-loss movies go, though, I vastly prefer Memento, which is a test of one's own recall as well as a display of the confusion of the characters'--and no futuristic technology or time-space-continuum-porthole was required as a plot device. Oh, and I still don't like Being John Malkovich, and I saw every minute of that one!

Mindbending movies titillate the average person who does not think to fear losing the reins of sanity, but for those of us who deal with--or who have friends or family members who deal with--mental disorders on an irregular basis, the possibilities are particularly intriguing, and frightening. When the brain doesn't seem capable of processing incoming stimuli, when letters merge on the page and--although visually legible--are incomprehensible, when memory vanishes and family and friends seem like distant figures in a dark and dizzying landscape, disorientation is profound, and fear sometimes overwhelming. Makes one grateful for the "ordinary" ability to remember, understand, reason and react, to walk steadily, laugh sincerely, and speak clearly. If any of these movies encourage more folks to be thankful for these taken-for-granted skills, then I'll think better of them than I do at present.

Oh, a film (and book!) recommendation in this line...The Manchurian Candidate (the original, black and white version with Frank Sinatra) and the book of the same name (on which the movie was based), authored by Richard Condon.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Tired, Downright Unchurched

I didn't make it to church this morning. The second "gathering yourselves together" in a row that I've forsaken. Horribly bummed as a result. The first incident--missing Wednesday Bible Study--had a thoroughly legit excuse, but this sure didn't--just sleeping! Please pray that I'll have some Wayfollower fellowship this week-am in serious need of it!

Have an apparent spider-bite under my right eye--cheek horribly swollen, so much that it's interfering with my vision--but better than it was earlier today, or last night. Guess it's a spider-bite because I was lying in bed last night after my shower, reading a book on slavery, when this giant spider walks around the right shoulder of my nightgown. My cheek was already swollen, so my vision was somewhat obscured on that side, but I saw a distinct movement and my neck instantly grew abt three inches as I observed the thing--it was about two inches in diameter, although most of that was legs--the sand-colored body itself was fairly small, about twice the size of a daddy long legs. Not making a sound, I brushed it off hurriedly, and put my book down on it. Getting a piece of toilet paper, I lifted the book and snatched the spider into the tissue, simultaneously ending its creepy-crawly existence and keeping my newly-laundered coverlet from being covered with spider entrails. The ol' heartrate didn't even go up that much, but it set me to thinking--how many of the spots that I've just been assuming were freakish zits on my bespeckled anatomy have actually been caused by spiders? I'd laundered all my bedclothes, as I said, even before I saw the spider, but gosh! it makes me worry. Not that worry kept me from dropping off to sleep, or staying zonked this morning...

Friend Ellen and her husband Ed (short for Eduardo--he's from Bolivia) had me over this afternoon. She'd graciously volunteered to help me with this bloody Black Sea Slavery paper--that's what? six months overdue?--that I definitely need to get finished. But ye olde writer's block had me stalled at 26 single-spaced pages, mush, really, of notes and brief sallies into interpretation. I was over there for over six hours. So helpful. The paper's still not done, but the light is definitely visible at the end of the pipe (forget tunnel; I feel like the main character in the Shawshank Redemption, slithering through filth on my way to freedom). Speaking of movies, the last hour over at Ellen's (while we ate a late dinner of pizza) we spent watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It's one of those very-well-acted, all-star-cast, well-scripted, elegantly-photographed timewaster-pieces-o'-crap that I wouldn't recommend to anybody. Totally unredeeming.

Must go study a bit more, then hit the sack. Hopefully a bug/arachnid-free sack. And dream with an unspeckled mind of the warm happiness of having all my work done.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Academics and Similar "Intellectuals"

“Study is like the heaven’s glorious sun,
That will not be deep-searched with saucy looks;
Small have continual plodders ever won,
Save base authority from other’s books.
These earthly godfathers of heaven’s lights
That give a name to every fixèd star,
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what they are.”
Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act I, Scene 1

My Loquacious, Studious Self

“Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.” (Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act III, Scene 1)

She hath fed of the dainties that are bred of a book, she hath eat paper, as it were, she hath drunk ink. (With apologies to Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, Scene 2)

The eBayer

“A snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 2)

The Bard on the Bostonian

William S. about John K.:
"He wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat."
(Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene 1)

Users of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and other Extract-Anthologies

“—They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.
—O! they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.”
(Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V, Scene 1)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Foreign Travel on the Mind

For much of this week, the sky has been obscured by an indefinite colorlessness, a vague moist firmament floating just above the earth, only handsbreadths beyond the wet housetops and brightly colored trees. A chill creeps indoors, and people hunch their shoulders against the depressing atmosphere. I have been curled up like a modern-day Bob Cratchet in front of my laptop, and huddled in a turtleneck and wool scarf, my teeth rattling, as I read the Russian tale “The Magpie-Thief.” Russian tales are not, on the whole, very cheerful: the main difference between comedies and tragedies is that in the former someone dies at the beginning, rather than at the end—the rest of the characters have longer to reconcile themselves to their bereavement, which makes for good cheer when the author finally leaves them in peace. Auntie Mame once remarked, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” To which a Russian might respond, “Yes, we are, aren’t we? Let us muse upon this cosmic woe…”

Speaking of Auntie Mame, who (in her non-Lucille Ball version—oh, that was dreadful!) has long been a model of sorts for me, I’ve recently had the pleasure of getting to know a couple of other older single ladies (besides those dynamic individuals in my Bible Study) who are inspiring examples of the “banqueting” group. They are both in my “Women in Russian Literature” class (for which I was translating “The Magpie-Thief”). Marie is a trim, attractive lady her early forties, Lisa is a neat, studious 39. Actually, I met Marie last year, when we were both in Kohl’s two-semester Soviet History seminar—she was the sole “non-traditional” student in the class, working fulltime for a government agency and taking courses in the afternoons. Besides discovering that we had complementary temperaments and interests, I liked her enthusiasm and her focus on South Russian issues, which encouraged me to widen my previously narrow European-Russia perspective. Also, she liked my jewelry! At first, when I met Lisa, I thought she was a settled matron—she mentioned she taught Greek and Latin at a high school, and I guess I just superimposed on her my mental image of the married schoolmarm mid-30s mom with two or three middle and high-school aged children and a rather dull paper-pushing husband. How wrong I was!

Both Marie and I started talking with Lisa after the Literature class a few weeks ago, and it turns out she is a Catholic canon lawyer, single, speaks Italian fluently—in addition to the Latin and Greek (in which she tutors privately, having quit her high school teaching job from five-year burnout)—and worked for a member of Congress for several years after she finished college in the mid-1980s (she cashed out her retirement savings from this government job to pay for her legal education). Today, she, Marie and I were chatting with our instructor about Vienna, Austria—which came up as a topic because Marie is leaving tonight for a job-related week in Armenia and has a stopover in Vienna on the way back. The professor said she’d been to Vienna, too—she flew there as a refugee from the USSR in 1979. I said I’d stopped there twice, once when coming back from Poland. Lisa said she’d gone too, also from Poland, when she was living near Oswiecim (Auschwitz) and Krakow, teaching English. “Holy cow!” I said. “When was this?”

Lisa had lived in Poland in 1991, and the reason she went to Vienna was that she and a couple of companions had heard there was a Mexican restaurant there—and they REALLY wanted some good food after all the lousy grocery products then available in Eastern Europe. The cuisine, and the nightlife, had improved remarkably by 1996, I told her—Krakow was great! She said that when she was there, capitalism had not quite caught on—she and her friends went into one of the few private nightclubs near the Sukinice (the Cloth Hall) in Krakow’s town square, and discovered a band singing “Feelings” in heavily-accented English. The musicians decided they wanted to go home around 10, so the bar owners kicked out all the patrons and closed for the night. I assured her entertainment options were much improved in the years since then. She then told me that she is thinking about going to Rome, to get her doctorate in Canon Law. I haven’t been to Rome since 1993, and I sure would like to re-visit Poland and Ukraine. I think it’s about time for this single girl to start planning another little trip…

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Cries in the Night

When whooping erupted in the distance in the direction of Courthouse Square at 12:30 AM, I didn't flinch. I knew panic had not seeped into the streets, but celebration obviously had. The Red Sox are in. I don't really care, but it's obvious a lot of folks do. I could hear Marianne through the wall cursing at the TV for hours while her boyfriend (yes, belay that previous entry about her not bringing home men--this guy has slept over the last 2 nights) lay on her bed and laughed at her. She also kept calling friends on her cellphone to talk about the score, so I knew Boston was up by seven without having to leave off translating Herzen.

Had wonderful chats with two heart's-friends this evening: she of the NC nephew-natality and my dear former roommate Susanna in South Carolina. Hadn't talked to Susanna in a week at least, possibly two, which is inexcusable considering she's still recovering from major spinal surgery. She's a raconteure extraordinaire, and one sign of her increasing health is the return of her providential good humor, even about the toughest of situations. Saying "she's been through a lot" is like saying "Job had it rough"--a trite assessment of what have been trials approaching apocalyptic proportions. Yet, as often happens when Way-followers relate these episodes, the wisdom gained supercedes the misery endured, and leaves the hearer definitely encouraged. Very wierd, but true!

Susanna is a social worker in a SC piedmont elementary school. Almost two years ago now, she was attacked by one of her clients, a seven-year-old, who kicked her with such force that he ruptured several disks in her back. A second episode with a similarly uncontrolled female child added to the damage. In pain, but too overworked and underpaid to do more than accept a local physician's blithe diagnosis of back strain, Susanna struggled on with her emotionally and physically taxing job for another eighteen months. Finally, this past summer, when the pain worsened and she began to experience numbness in her legs and feet, she insisted on seeing a specialist. This doctor was horrified at her condition, and sent her promptly into surgery, where the pieces of destroyed disk were removed and a titanium rod and four screws were permanently installed. He told her afterward that she was literally within a filament's-breadth of being paralyzed from the waist down.

Since the surgery, which left her largely incapacitated (unable to wash or dress herself without assistance, and dependent on a walker), she has stayed with her parents except for several weeks she spent with her married sister and nieces. The nieces, all of whom are under seven, learned a lot about caring for and being sensitive to people with disabilities thanks to her experience. The smaller ones kept an eye on "Aunt Susanna," making sure she didn't lean over to pick something up, or take other hazardous chances. These miniature nurses took their role very seriously: Susanna joked with the three-year-old that she was a "rag doll" and pointed to her pocket, saying "that's where the batteries go," and was believed. "Who knows," she told me, "what they've told their friends about me."
I assured her it couldn't be worse than what one of my little brothers announced to his class about me when I was in the hospital (at the beginning of my seventh grade year) for an appendectomy: "My sister just had a hysterectomy!"

Oh, Susanna's life lately has been a series of bizarre Southern Gothic episodes, from the deaf little old lady neighbor who waylaid her on the street to shout about her "accident," to her apartment's being infested with a swarm of yellowjackets (and the nutty country bugman who showed up to attempt to deal with the insect problem) to random doctors' offices repeatedly confusing her appointment times, dates, and procedures. And that's not even mentioning the grandmother of still another elementary-school-age-client who's been practically stalking her and the sister-in-law's brother's law partner who's theoretically handling her workman's-comp case (although they've never met). She ought to write a book. She did say she's been jotting down notes. Believe me, there's plenty of material there for a whole series!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

And About the Cat...

An anonymous reader has inquired about the current state of "the cat." I suppose, not knowing exactly which cat is being asked after, I should report on the condition of all cats of my acquaintance:

--Data, my brother's cat, recently met my parents for the first time and was pronounced "beautiful" and "into everything." Cat and brother were in North Georgia for brother's fiancee's wedding shower. Unknown whether cat was formally invited to the party, or simply gatecrashed. He did bring along some unwelcome companions--hundreds of fleas, whose presence was discovered only AFTER he'd wandered around the future in-laws' whole house, associating with their pets. Upon discovery of these interlopers, poor Data was immediately subjected to two successive sink baths in chemical solution, which temporarily traumatized him. But he became a much happier kitty once dry.

--Petkya and Katya, the "elder siblings" of the North Carolina infant, seem to be coping well and reveling in what attention is left over from visitors come to see the small person.

--Kofi Annan, my Chicago friend Ivy's small female Sphinx, has given her stamp of approval to a handsome Brazilian ophthomologist recently come to woo her human.

--Moppet and Missy, the calico belles of Vienna, VA, will have to get used to being out of the limelight when a little Baker pops out of the proverbial oven in the spring.

--Assorted members of multi-cat households in Connecticut, Maryland, Georgia and North Carolina are all reported to be doing well at last bulletin.

The pardon of all felines whom I have inadvertently left out of this list is humbly requested. Thank you.

Note on Comments

Dear Irrascible Readers,

I have changed the settings on this blog so that you DON'T have to be a "blogger" subscriber to leave comments--anyone with a valid email can type a note.

Unfortunately (and I am not at all pleased about this, but can't figure out how to reverse the damage done) the few comments that were already posted were deleted by the infusion of the new code. I don't suppose anyone has a good comment which can help me recover the old data?

Look forward to reading your responses!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Shower Thoughts

Standing under the warm sprinkle of the shower last night, I found myself yodeling, “…when I was a young carbuncle…” and thinking, irrelevantly, of my undergrad days.

My college was one of those seemingly innumerable liberal arts institutions scattered across the Commonwealth of Virginia that hail the Father of Our Country as a necessary early benefactor. Its American loyalties had been diverted during the 1860s, but having officially rejoined the Union it boasted the usual contingent of notable graduates on its publicity literature: a minor Supreme Court justice, a handful of congressmen and senators, two major television personalities, and a solitary Great Author. The GA’s name, if not his person, was brought out, dusted off, and paraded before the assembled multitude and their cameras on any and all auspicious occasions.

The red brick pavement of the main campus bore up under the weight of tradition, and the heft of perspiring good ol’ boys with burgeoning beer bellies. Although the male graduates had opined it would crumble to dust under their dainty feet, the brick withstood the hurrying steps of reluctantly-admitted coeds and the conscientious tread of a few African-American students bent on acing their exams and studiously ignoring the tiny Confederate battle flags fluttering in the grass beside otherwise unremarkable stone monuments.

Shower done, I stepped into the hall wrapped in my bathrobe and paused. I hadn’t known it was possible to whine and bellow in the same breath, but my roommate Alissa was managing this: “It’s 50 degrees up here and I don’t have any winter clothes!” She must have been “talking” to her mother on her cell phone; I could hear her clearly through her closed bedroom door. Succumbing to sudden temptation, I vainly attempted to invoke the spirits of Alexander I, or even Stalin—who saw the invaders retreat in disorder when they encountered winter chill for which they were not prepared. But Alissa is no Napoleon (nor, I think, would even Marianne, who loathes her, make the Hitler comparison)—I can expect no ignominious acknowledgement of her defeat by foul weather, only a strategic influx of stuffed shopping bags from expensive Washington-area boutiques. She’ll be suited up in appropriate clothing in short order; good thing the little Franco-German "emperors" weren't so logistically capable. But really, what would they have done with Russia had they "won" it?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Feline Fetish

Petkya looked up at me with the embarrassed indignity of a teenager whose parents have just walked in on him smoking pot. I'd surprised him dragging around a felt blanket in his teeth, moaning like he'd lost all hope, and his glance told me he resented my intrusion into his nightly ritual. He and his fellow feline Katya take turns licking and moving this fur-strewn polyester rag through the house--I would guestimate it travels the length and breadth of the floor from upstairs to downstairs and back at least twice a week. It's the cats' sensual fetish--a kitten, a mate, and a symbol of security all knitted into one. It probably smells terrible, being doused with cat-spittle and hauled over the carpet and around litterboxes all the time, but I can't bring myself to touch it, much less to sniff it. When it ended up on my bed last night, Petkya chewing on a mouthful with all the serious concentration he applies to a matted spot on his ankle, I let both cat and felt lie undisturbed and took a Zyrtec in self-defense. When I awoke this morning, the allergen-impregnated blanket had vanished and Petkya was purring under my fingers. Cats. So dirty one moment and so delightful the next--much like children!

Friday, October 15, 2004

My newly-minted "nephew"

Drove down to North Carolina this afternoon to visit friends and my newly-minted "nephew," their son. Good to get out of DC and away from my convalescing roommate (Kevin was not a happy camper--the surgical incision crosses his neck just above the collar bone, and he was in severe pain for days) and another, less savory roomie who's having YET ANOTHER boy over this weekend. Would rather hear small nephew crying than the unmistakable sounds of roommate's intimate activity with her paramour as I am having my pre-sleep "quiet time." Talk about unholy thoughts!

Marianne (my FSO roommate) confirmed this morning--while I was eating leftover chocolate cake for breakfast--that she is being posted to Germany in December. I told her I expect to visit, but will miss her being around. Her only vice is occasional inebriation (a requirement, it seems, for working at the State Department, where the in-joke is that you have to "donate your liver" to the job), not dragging home strange men at odd hours. Thankfully, she said that Tania, a delightful Turkish girl who stayed at the house for a couple of weeks a while back, is interested in taking her place. Tania is in law school, and keeps the same crazy hours I do, besides being cheerful and chatty.

My "nephew" is handsome sort (with his mother's nose and his father's chin), the first of a large crop of honorary relatives which are scheduled to appear in the next six or seven months. He fits nicely into my arms, a surprisingly light and strong little wriggling creature, smaller than the two cats who were previously the favored "children" of my doting friends. The cats are curled on my bed as I type, while the tiny human who supplanted them is lying between his parents upstairs--the only place he'll actually stay asleep through the night. All is blissfully quiet. Come to think of it, why am I still up?! I think I'll go to bed and dream about Dr. Zimmer...who I just found out is single and only 34!! :-P

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Towards a Better Story

I spent a bit of my time (what time? I had TIME?) this last weekend reading Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, the subject of much glowing review. Deceptively glowing review. Oh, it was OK, but Washington Post writer Michael Dirda, for example, made it and its two sequels sound so much better--or perhaps simply raised my expectations to such an extent--that I was downright disappointed when I actually had a chance to read it. I wished I'd stuck with salivating over Dirda's delicious wording and let my imagination do its duty alone. But nooo, I had to go ahead and fill in the blanks, so to speak, with the "real thing."

Dirda and Daddy both have the storytelling alchemist's touch, the former with books, the latter with movies. Daddy can "tell" a movie in such a way that it's superfluous to actually see the film in question--just the right details are magnified: the drama is intense, the dialogue succinct, and the humor or tragedy clear. On more than one occasion, I've decided that his edited version of the story was preferable to the director's cut. Just goes to show that the most vivid pictures are those made by the mind.

I aim to achieve this sort of inspirational effect in my writing, saying just enough, not overembellishing. The trick is learning exactly how much detail to provide in order to give readers an adequate understanding of a character or situation. Thus, this blog is a learning experience for me--and the feedback will help me hone my skills.