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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Just Snows to Go...

that even the cleverest forecasters, with all their Super, Mega-, High-Definition, Double, Triple and Even Quadruple Doppler Radar are still just weather bookies with "hot tips." It's snowing. Large theatrical flakes. It's been snowing steadily since I woke up a little after 7 AM. As of 2 AM this morning, shortly before I went to bed, setting my alarm so I wouldn't miss church, the Weather Channel not only did not forecast any precipitation today, it said that it would be sunny, with the thermometer rising to the stratospheric level of 36, prelude to a week's warming trend, capped by a practically balmy 52 on Friday. Well. Of course, I just checked weather.com again, and the forecast is entirely different: suddenly, it's supposed to precipitate freezing or frozen matter all day, and maybe a wee bit tonight, too. I checked the church website, confident that the pastors will have seen the "light snow" and done the sensible thing and cancelled services, but noooo. Both the 9:15 and the 11 o'clock are still on, and Sunday School, too. Phooey. I'm not going. If I lived within walking distance (which for me would be up to three miles away--I don't mind trekking), or the church was reachable by public transportation, I'd go. But driving in this I do not want to hazard. Yes, I know, I'm a wuss.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Contemporary Tolstoi

Jim Tonkowich, the managing editor of Breakpoint, was our speaker for the Intervarsity Graduate Student dessert this evening. He talked about developing a Christian mind, not just a passive "Christian world view," but learning to apply our faith in Jesus and his redemptive work to every facet of our lives, particularly to the intellectual realm, which is so often neglected in American evangelical circles. He opened his talk with an example of adultery, where a Christian homeschooling mom and the father of another similarly "ideal" family ended up moving in together. He referenced the philosophy of The Hours (one of whose heroines articulates the lauded selfish theme "Don't I have a right to be happy?" even when it means the destruction of her family), and talked about how even those people who one would think "safe" from this brand of conventional modern social thinking have absorbed it.

I was immediately struck by how this mentality is in no way new; Tolstoi described exactly the same self-aggrandizing mentality in Anna Karenina. At the beginning of the book, Oblonski, Anna's brother, is cheating on his wife, and when she finds out, all the servants are tacitly on his side--obviously, they consider his behavior "normal" and his wife's being upset insupportable. "God is merciful," says one, invoking platitudes in a situation where the master of the house feels no guilt, and therefore no need to repent. In fact, change the clothing in Anna Karenina to today's, and the characters in this novel are disturbingly contemporary. People like Oblonski are thoroughly nice. They are well-liked, and consider themselves open-minded. They just see nothing amiss with indulging their appetites when it suits them. Christians can easily adopt this way of thinking. Anna is recommended reading, really, although with a caveat: Tolstoi does not understand redemption. His adulteresses are irretrievably lost, and his "moral" characters achieve contentment through a species of almost mystical self-enlightenment. God is active in the real world--Anna would have been an even better novel than it is had His reality and the possibility of his radical intervention in individual lives been even subtly apparent therein.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Mine Education in Wodehouse

Paul, and then Lenise, found a Wodehouse random quote generator days ago, which I have almost worn out since. As I am slogging though Anna Karenina in both Russian and English this term (actually, I am really enjoying it this time around--perhaps I hadn't experienced sufficient personal misery when I read it before, a decade back), I was delighted to find a Tolstovan reference among the shimmerings of Jeeves and the toddlings of Wooster:

Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoi's Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day's work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city's reservoir, he turns to the cupboard, only to find the vodka bottle empty.
Jill the Reckless (1921)

And given that the one language exam I have passed to date (the other is February 4--please pray!) was in the froggy tongue, I also took a particular fancy to the following:

``...He's got... what is it that Frenchmen have?''
``Beards?''
``No, not beards, something else. Begins with a journey. Ha!'' said Mr Clutterbuck, memory returning to its throne,``Journey say quar.''

That is about the way I would pronounce it, too!

Ukraine's Re-Beginning

Viktor Yushchenko was inaugurated as president of Ukraine yesterday, and Yulia Tymoshenko was named acting Prime Minister prior to his departure for Russia to meet an exceedingly uncomfortable Vladimir Putin today. This can be the beginning of a new start for Ukraine. Much like the United States, which staggered along under the Articles of Confederation for years after the Revolution against Britain was formally over, Ukraine has staggered along as a "free" country since its formal independence from the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s. But corruption has been rife, and the economy has moved in fits and starts, without either real accountability nor honesty among the leadership (elected or appointed). People got fed up in the best possible way. When the last president and his cronies obviously violated extant laws to hold onto power, Ukrainians didn't start throwing rocks, or shooting people, but assembled in a mass civil demonstration to demand legitimate elections. Yushchenko, with Tymoshenko, has emerged as the practical head of this "orange revolution," and he has the opportunity to establish a noble precedent of leadership for his country. Please pray that he does in fact do so, that he will act worthily and wisely, so that Kiev, which is a city on a hill, may fill that symbolic role as well in the decades to come.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Brief Update re: Self, New Roommate

I'm oscillating, psychologically. Schoolwork is beginning to pile up, as is the snow, though not quite in the blizzard proportions it was forecast. Had a pleasant weekend at a Bible Study friend's, putting together jigsaw puzzles and drinking tea. Have found that new roommate is a reader, much to my pleasure--he read The Importance of Being Earnest this afternoon and decided that Oscar Wilde was definitely not in his line. He actually did read Lolita on his own (he's a scientist in a medical research lab, so this was not part of any regular curriculum), and came to the same conclusion about Nabokov. I suggested other N. works, as Lolita is most salacious. But not bad for a guy who's taking a physics course in the evenings "just for fun." He wants to go to vet school, and become a large animal vet--this after spending a summer on his grandmother's farm in New York state. Yes, he does like James Herriot, and was impressed that I have autographed copies of a couple of his books. Good talker. My only complaint thus far is that he ALWAYS leaves the seat up on the toilet in the bathroom. But I guess that is a small price to pay for sharing a house with someone who's quiet and pays the bills on time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Additions to Blogroll

David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards are bloggers, too. I commend the people who realized that their journals would make perfect blogs! What an encouragement to be joined in journaling by men of their caliber.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Not Invited

Nate came home with polished formal shoes this evening. He’s going to the Constitution Ball! Yes, that Nate: my new roommate, whose brother, it turns out, works at the Justice Department and thereby “knows somebody,” who was able to get him tickets. Nate’s going to be dancing the night away Inauguration evening at an official event—he’s squiring his younger sister, while his brother takes a date.

I am really almost indescribably envious.

I feel like Cinderella, only without the fairy godmother, having to wave a lucky acquaintance off to THE dazzling party of a lifetime, with no hope of following him except in my imagination. Only yesterday, I dreamed that I’d been invited to eat dinner on the lawn of the White House, only I hadn’t anything appropriate to wear, so when I at last I got properly togged, the meal was already over, and I was forced retreat inside to eat leftovers while sitting on a tall stool in the kitchen with a bunch of servants.

It was really OK, not getting to attend when I didn’t know anybody who was going. But now to know an ordinary someone who has a ticket and still not get to go!

It makes my stomach twist up inside.

The local papers have been advertising ballgowns for months, and I haven’t been to a formal event in two or three years. And here, unlike my high school prom, my college fancy-dress party, or my Singles Sunday School Christmas formal, I can’t just go by myself, or recruit a friend to go with me—I have to be invited. And I do love to dress up, to look truly beautiful every now and then, with jewelry in my hair and on my ears, a flattering gown falling from my shoulders, caressing my waist, and delicate, feminine shoes on my feet, to feel magical. It’s been so long.

A few hours of feeling lovely will hold me for months, through the indignities of stained sweatshirts, uncombed hair, acne, tennis shoes, halitosis, and all the other facets of ordinary life, so since I was twelve I have deliberately sought out excuses to dress up. Especially as the silver threads proliferate in my brown tresses, and my skin incrementally loses its tone, I would like to have an occasion to take pains with my appearance, to feel like a princess among other princesses. And I guess I had really, subconsciously, hoped that I would get the chance January 20. There’s still time, I guess. A miracle could happen. Like Nate’s sister could come down with the flu…

A Sampling

of the more entertaining entries submitted to Bibliomania’s list of Movie Hybrids (yes, you can submit more, if you so desire):

"The Sixth Sense and Sensibility"
In this period melodrama, Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) struggles to hold her family together while seeking husbands for herself and her younger sister Marianne (Kate Winslet). In an unexpected twist, Marianne begins receiving visits from otherworldly figures at the most inopportune times. In a hilarious take on the comedy of manners, Elinor tries to conceal her sister's increasingly erratic behaviour from the dashing Willoughby (Bruce Willis). The surprise ending will have viewers talking for days.

"The Breakfast Fight Club"
Molly Ringwald and Ed Norton have a bare fistfight during Saturday morning detention, while dressed in hideously outdated '80s clothes. In the final moments Helena Bonham Carter gets a makeover and becomes a goth, and a number of buildings blow up for no obvious reason while "Don't You Forget About Me" plays in the background.

"My Left Footloose"
Despite his disability, Kevin Bacon is determined to win the local dance-off and the girl of his dreams. Using the only limb he can move, his left foot, he perfects a routine which he believes can do both. The staid traditionalists of his hometown are not happy with his innovation, believing that he is encouraging loose values amongst the town's teenagers. So, they send him to Ireland.

"It's a Wonderful Life is Beautiful"
Jimmy Stewart realises that whatever troubles life may throw at him, it's still better than being rounded up by the Nazis.

"The Empire Strikes Back to The Future"
Luke learns the awful truth that Marty McFly is his father.

"The Fox And The Hound Of The Baskervilles"
A heart-warming animated story of how a fox is befriended by a dog which, under a full moon, turns into a crazed demon of the night and rips said fox to pieces.

The Wasteland

Eliot's long poem, his address to the intellectuals of his time, contains a passage where a woman is hand-delivering a horoscope to a client, since "one must be so careful these days." A blind guide, she, nervous about being mugged in a dark street.

Fortune-tellers are ubiquitous here. In Columbia, SC, the common vice was strip-joints. Of course, there are quite a few leather-and-lace vendors here, too, interspersed in Georgetown with chic boutiques, restaurants and antique shops. But the original sin--craving for universal knowledge in defiance of decree--is particularly Washingtonian, whereas the more rudimentary sins of the flesh are indulged in other places.

Irrespective of the spiritual complications, I've always felt that having one's fortune (Sister/Mother/Rev./Mrs. Somesuch reveals Past! Present! Future!) told was somewhat silly--I mean, I know my past, I'm living my present, and I'll eventually experience my future. From a purely economic point of view, shelling out money for this information seems ridiculous.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Garlic Fumes and Society

Daddy’s plan to rid me of the reek of garlic hit a major snag after church today, when we went in search of a good restaurant for lunch and found the Lebanese Taverna, a DC-area chain. Whereas Saturday’s servings—at The Cheesecake Factory in Arlington, and a Vietnamese place in Georgetown—were fine, they didn’t approach the savory flavors of the shawerma I consumed with puffy pita bread (fresh-baked and yeasty) this afternoon. We in my family tend to map our travels by the memorable meals we have eaten, and this pretty much inscribed Tyson’s Corner in the chronicles.

I hate spiders. As Daddy has quoted the Garfield cartoon, “It’s practically impossible to bite ‘em back.” While chatting with a friend of mine in Sunday School this morning, he recalled one camping trip with my mother wherein they took a night’s shelter in a wooden lean-to during a rainstorm. They had a tarp underneath their sleeping bags and over them, and when they awoke the next morning, they found they were sharing every square inch of the space with thousands upon thousands of wood spiders. The spiders were in the packs, in the sleeping bags, everywhere. Daddy said that during the night he and Mums had felt them skittering across their faces. Like I said, I hate spiders—it must be an inherited trait. And I got to watch the extended edition of the third section of The Lord of the Rings over at friends’ this evening, and remember the most frightening section of that movie? Yes, it involves a gigantic spider. Thematically, the day fit together beautifully. Like a web.

I was fairly social this past week. Shocking, I know. I went out to the department’s so-called happy hour at The Tombs on Friday with an assortment of fellow historians, and managed to finagle a spinach salad (richly laced with garlicky vinaigrette) on the tab. I figured, if the rest of the group was swilling beer, which I don’t drink, I might as well get my money’s worth, too. Mark C. and his girlfriend Kelsey were there. Mark’s a fellow Russianist, and though I’d met Kelsey at the department Christmas party, I hadn’t gotten a chance to have any sort of real conversation with her. We ended up talking for a good three hours. She’s a social worker, like my dear friend Susanna, and a fellow APO brother, I discovered. I was sufficiently oiled with garlic and Diet Coke to be downright chatty (well, frankly, I’m so wordy today I’m sure the ears of my friends Leah and Aaron were positively worn out by the time I left after the movie), and talked all about my research and assured her she’d do fine with Russia, since she knows how to navigate New York City (where she and Mark spent New Years’) without trouble.

In some areas there is considerable contrast between Russia and the U.S., as I recalled Saturday when I drove Daddy downtown to look at the sights. We parked on an almost-deserted street near the Old Executive Office Building and walked over to the newly-reopened Pennsylvania Avenue block in front of the White House. They’re getting everything ready for the Inauguration on Thursday and had the bulletproof-glassed viewing grandstand for the post-ceremony parade already in place, although a few things obviously were still not done—the presidential seal was covered in plastic, and somebody’d left a half-empty bottle of water and a glove on the official dias, which was still occupied by scaffolding. But the White House fence behind it, on the street, runs within two hundred yards of the official residence itself, and people like us can and did go up to the gates and stare in at the golden-lit white columns. Less than eighty years ago, the public could go right up and look in the windows (which I am sure annoyed the heck out of the occupants). In contrast to the visual “openness” of our House, the Kremlin (Krem’l in Russian) is a fortress—which is the meaning of the word. You have to go through security even to get into the huge complex—those giant red brick walls surround a “campus” of many buildings, including ancient churches which have survived war and dictatorships—and then you have to keep within a rigidly-patrolled set of walkways, far from any official dwellings, which are not popularly identified, as the White House is. I do resent the necessity of the new barricades and bag-checks all over here in DC (one expects such in Russia), but I am glad that we can still admire the lovely democratic architectural symbols up (fairly) close, despite security concerns.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Shadow

Madness has a desperate intangibility to it. The victim sits working silently at a desk in a solitary room, or stands over a prosaic boiling pot in a cramped downstairs kitchen, and turns her head, sure a dark shadow crossed the edge of the bookcase or just ran down the drain in the sink. Starting up stairs, she pauses—is there someone in the dining room, who stepped out of sight before she could recognize him? Was that a spider skittering on the wall in the bathroom? A mouse that dashed under the dresser? At the edges of her consciousness, a heaviness sits, just beyond view, a feeling that she is being watched, and her mind turns round and round, wondering at this strange company, why it or he will not come boldly out to meet her, to introduce itself—himself—directly, rather than lurking in corners, sliding away as quickly as a thought, and returning persistently as a foul smell. The darkness flickers, deepens. The shadow looms around her shoulders, bowing her head and weighing her spirits. It becomes a constant companion, which follows her out of doors and stalks her in her dreams. Only a steady sun, warming her inmost soul, will absorb the shadow and drive the dark away.

Kiev (Kviv) Opera

Tulipgirl and her husband Le Sabot-Post Moderne went to see La Boheme the other evening and they have pictures--one of them with Roger and Diane McMurrin! Even with the consumptive understudy, the staging sounds much better than my own Metropolitan experience of the same opera a couple of years ago. The Met is huge, so huge that you need sniper binoculars to distinguish the faces of the performers...and believe me, we weren't in cheap seats! Too, I didn't get to meet the orchestra conductor...and the McMurrins are definitely much more exciting than whoever's helming the Met's string-twangers.

Incidentally, I got a picture of "my" Ukrainian widow from the McMurrins while I was staying at my parents. Don't forget the folks over there in Eastern Europe in these post-Christmas, post-election days (Mrs. McMurrin was one of the international observers on Dec. 26). It's a heck of a lot colder in Ukraine and Russia than it is in DC right now--it's balmy, short-sleeve weather here, and people don't know what to do with themselves. We'll probably have a blizzard during the inauguration, just to balance things out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Farewell to a Purry Beast

We were sad to let our fuzzy guest go, but his “parents” showed up to claim him (was it only Monday evening?—and so we loaded him into his new carrier, assembled all his new toys (jingle balls, catnip mice, etc.), his hand-me-down pillow and basket, his litterbox, food, treats and so forth, and packed everything into their truck. Some things didn’t fit in the cab, and had to be secured in the bed—I’ll bet Data’s one of the few furry creatures who ends up collecting more holiday gifts than all the humans in his family combined. Earlier, Daddy’d been listening to public radio’s “Calling All Pets” program, and informed us that cats can take months to get over the loss of a companion. The reason that Data’d adjusted so quickly to us must have been that he thought HE’D died and gone to heaven—we were spoiling him rotten. Mums hypothesized he’d have more trouble readjusting to being a “normal” kitty when my brother and new sister-in-law took him back home. But there are ways cats cope with their grief…Serena called from Atlanta last night to say that Data was burying his separation anxieties by consuming a bowlful of kitty kibble. This afternoon, I flew back to DC, to the rental house where I’m not permitted pets. I think I’ll bury my own separation anxieties in Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Classes start tomorrow.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Mixed News

I have a sometimes-incapacitating chronic illness which has been with me since adolescence, and after I went on a new medication a few years ago, I thought I was done with major flare-ups. Perhaps I am still. But the last few days I have experienced a medium-level turn away from remission. Folks, it's been terrible, though no where near as bad as some of the worst episodes in the past. Dealing with this situation means I probably won't be driving back to DC, but may be flying mid-week. I'd appreciate prayer--this is not good footing on which to start my last graduate semester.

Another point of concern is the status of my academic record. I completed all the work for an "incomplete" I had to take at the end of Spring semester last year, and submitted the major paper to the respective professors before Thanksgiving. As of today, I have not yet received a grade in the class. Normally, this would not bother me in the least--they can take as long to grade my work as I did to get it to them!--but three days ago I had to take another incomplete...from Silverman for the Medieval Russia class last term (because of the growing problems with my health and my simple inability to be in two places at once to do research). Here's the wrinkle: I was looking through the history department graduate requirements today, and they say that a person who has two incompletes becomes ineligible for financial aid. Now, I have a Federal grant this year, but part of the money is "matched" by the department to pay for my tuition. So, things could get a bit sticky. Again, prayer appreciated!

I'm not looking forward to living with two nonChristian guys and a gal (Alissa's there at least until the end of the month) this term--nobody really to talk to, you know! I'd SO love to have my own house and a likeminded companion with which to share it! That's my final request--a home and a friend who would know how to cope, wisely and compassionately, with me even when I'm very ill. Sometimes, it's nice just to sit silently in the sun and know that a kindred spirit is nearby, not judging you, not telling you how you can be improved, not reminding you how you have repeatedly fallen short, just loving you for who you are. My parents have been in this role for the past few days, but what a gift to have a buddy who would step in when I'm in my own place!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Early-Morning Musings

4 AM - Bip! my eyelids popped open and didn’t want to close. So I went downstairs to eat my leftover Mexican(ish) food, listen to the cat complain because I wouldn’t let him sample any, and then shut him away again with his unappealing food bowl.

4:10 AM - A train howled in the distance—sounded like it was headed into town. One of these days I’d like to cross the country in the cab of a freight-pulling locomotive—what an interesting perspective that would offer! Just think about all the tiny two-lane roads that have a track running next to them that suddenly snakes off into the woods, or disappears over a sideless bridge. Where do they go? What does a train yard look like at 4:30 AM? How do train people talk? Is there a card game with smoke lingering over the table going on in a tiny room off the yard, or is everyone sober and businesslike?

4:20 AM – How does a person know he or she is called to singleness? Christians should accept that either marriage or non-marriage is a state to which one is called, and since everybody starts off single, how does a person desire marriage without displaying discontent in present circumstances? And how does one embrace singleness without “writing off” everybody of the opposite sex, particularly if one thinks there are some really goodlooking specimens out there?

Monday, January 03, 2005

A More Sensible Alternative

My sister suggests, through my mother, that I invest my money in my Roth IRA rather than a ring. The way the dollar has been heading lately, though, I wonder whether diamonds aren't a better investment.

After all the pyrotechnics Friday night, one of our neighbors decided to welcome the new year with a trumpet. At 12:15 AM, someone who wasn't Dizzy Gillespie began blaring a halting, slightly off-key version of taps (or some other equally unwelcome fanfare) from his back porch. This hair-raising serenade lasted about fifteen minutes--until the player ran out of oxygen or some good Samaritan called animal control.