Monday, August 27, 2007

TAship and Tiaras

I am no longer secretary of the History Department. I do get to still sit at the desk, do the desk copy ordering when that time rolls around, and use the computer with impunity. And keep my tea and munchies in the locked drawer for which I retain the key. However, my title has changed--I've been detailed to be the Graduate Assistant to the Department Undergraduate Advisor.

The Graduate Advisor has an assistant, so the powers that be decided that to be fair, the Undergraduate Advisor ought to have one too. The only thing is, he doesn't want any help. He told me this straight away. He likes the way he does things, and doesn't want to delegate. Furthermore, he's not entirely enthused by the great plans the department chair has for my position, pointing out that one in particular was impractical, and expressing little interest in the others. The only thing that he wants me to make any effort on whatsoever is the creation of the department's class schedule for next term, a task with which I already assisted him last fall, and know it doesn't take more than a handful of hours. Total.

So I guess I'm just going to get paid for being decorative.

That's fine with me. I've got comps to study for!

Isn't God gracious to me?!

As to another aspect of crowning happiness, I'm going to start making bridal tiaras. I've been sketching out designs the last couple of weeks, ever since a friend of mine, who is getting married in October, asked me to make a wide pearl headband for her, to which she plans to attach her veil. I plan to braid or twist sterling wire with seed pearls to form a frame for this bandeau. Moving to make my ideas reality, on Friday I purchased a couple of spools of different sizes of sterling, as well as some copper (which I intend to use in some more modern headpieces that I'll show at the market).

I love the art nouveau movement, and have been wondering whether a leaf motif in sterling and copper would work well for fall. Openwork maple leaves, in an alternating pattern of copper and silver, would be particularly attractive for an autumn wedding, I believe. Even on eBay, women pay out the nose for handmade bridal jewelry, and around this town there are all sorts of formal events, besides weddings, to which a well-dressed lady might want to wear a tiara, coronet, or fascinator. The copper wasn't expensive, the silver I'll use for other things if not this, so I think it's worth a go. And yes, I'll post pictures when I have something worthwhile assembled!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Smoke and Windows

Why do people who smoke in their cars tend to hold the burning tobacco-wand out the window, and blow the smoke towards the outside? I’ve been particularly curious of late about the several people I’ve seen who’ve been holding their cigarette out their sunroofs, like some sort of mobile salute to emphysema.

Speaking of peculiar practices, the last day and night—when not broiling in 100-degree heat (plus 60% humidity) at the market for five hours this morning (two sales—one of $5!)—I have occupied myself reading the account of Charles de Mertens, a French physician appointed to the management of the Moscow Foundling Hospital by Catherine the Great, of the bubonic plague which struck the old Russian capital in 1771.

It is frightening to realize that in many ways I know more about the preservation and restoration of human health than this distinguished and influential doctor. A lot of medicine of the eighteenth century seemed to consist of mixing potions that made people puke or poop, popping pestilential pustules, and commenting on the quality of the ill person’s urine. And those were the “efficacious” practices—there was considerable debate about what exactly transmitted such fearsome diseases as the plague—“effluvia” were widely considered to blame—and de Mertens mentions two preventives which people swore by [though he only endorsed the second]: inhaling burning tobacco and rubbing the entire body with olive oil. I was amused by the image of the slippery cigar smoker, wrapped in an impervious aromatic cloud in the middle of a Moscow summer.

There was one prescription of de Mertens which delighted me even more, however: “Nothing answers better for raising the drooping spirits and recruiting the strength of the weak and convalescent, than well fermented malt liquor, or wine and water.” When was the last time your internist recommended you knock back a couple of shots of Jim Beam to make your recovery complete?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dija Ever Notice...

That just when you are beginning to feel like the lessons God's been teaching you are Really Taking Effect, that you are entering a new area of spiritual, social and emotional maturity, that you then put your foot in it up to the kneecap? I'm not talking about pride going before a fall, just a growing notion of "Hey, that's what that means!" then encountering some thoroughly rotten circumstances that make you want to yell, "Lord, enough already! I got the point!"

So it's been with me the past week.

Whether it was a reinstitution of the lesson about not choosing the dramatic "grand gesture" over faithful, diligent service, or the Lord's reminder to me about the basis for personal purpose and contentment, I've been ending up with my face in the mud with an almost comical frequency. It would be amusing, that is, except that the mud has had a tendency to splatter onto innocent bystanders, too.

I've had to apologize to several folks who've been affected by my errors lately. It gives me a decidedly uncomfortable sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach to realize how badly I've almost or actually screwed up. Not a happy feeling. Hopefully all will be resolved soon and I will be able to return to stressing about my upcoming comps without other issues intruding.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Test Scheduled

My History of International Public Health written comprehensive examination is scheduled for Sept. 21. I would appreciate prayer for discipline, and that I would remember what I've read. I tend to be a slow reader, and do not have a photographic memory. But I knew that if I didn't go ahead and commit to a date for the test, I would put it off (and procrastinate) forever.

My Russian Soviet History written comp is going to be around Thanksgiving (and my 33rd birthday--I need to think of something Hobbit-themed), and my orals in mid-December.

So by the New Year I should know where I stand vis-a-vis my Ph.D. And in the spring I plan to take silversmithing classes. And maybe Chemistry. And go to Russia for at least a couple of weeks.

Friday, August 17, 2007

UnBecoming to Jane, or to Jack and Jill

Susan and I went to see Becoming Jane this evening. I was pretty disappointed. I like Anne Hathaway (the sweet Princess Diaries movies are wonderful, innocent chick-flicks), and I thought the premise was interesting: that Jane Austen might well have experienced some of the romance she so ably depicted in her books. But the filmmakers took what could have been an opportunity for exquisite exploration of the emotional development of an acute mind and produced what was little better than a silly sexual-innuendo-spoiled romp.

Austen, as she is depicted in this movie, is no better than the fools she skewered in her novels—a careless girl falling for a pretty face (with whom she has nothing in common—frankly, it is an unsolvable mystery as to what she sees in the male lead, since they share nothing other than a few salacious sarcasms before they are kissing in a dark garden and then staring tearfully into each other’s eyes when their marriage hopes are quashed), someone who puts herself and her own uncontrollable wants before her family’s feelings and her own long-term good, a petulant post-modernist in an age which is depicted as bleak, brutal, and demeaning to women. Oh, and have I mentioned the nude swimming scene? Pul-leeze.

The real Jane Austen captured what is so appealing about virtuous sexual relationships—that delicious, piquant tension between sense and sensibility, between desire and restraint, passion and prudence. This makes her books continuously popular almost two hundred years after they were written. I doubt very much if she was ever a stuffy little slouch who needed to read Tom Jones (yes, I’ve skimmed it—where were STDs in the eighteenth century when they were needed???) before being able to appreciate the real attractions of the opposite sex, as Becoming Jane suggests. That was not an age wherein people were ignorant about the so-called “facts of life”—a genteel education of the pre-Victorian period did not preclude understanding of reproductive issues, which would have intruded on everyday life in the country anyway. And it was an age when people were probably better capable than in our own of appreciating the financial matters which would affect short- and long-term well-being.

For all its flaws—and in fact by means of them—this movie was useful in pointing out the shortcomings of our own society. Precious little deep affection can prosper in conditions where there is no consciousness of personal and familial responsibility, where there is no standard of propriety against which to measure oneself, where “what feels good” can be done, and at any time. Dreams deferred can make the heart sick, but dreams savored, mulled over, considered and weighed before they are fulfilled, can—by God’s grace—yield a perfect contentment that can and should last a lifetime.

The General Was A Kitty

Notwithstanding the antipathy of some of my friends to creatures of the furry persuasion, I like cats. We are not permitted to have indoor pets in our apartment, though, and I would be suffering from lack of feline lovin' but for the fact that there is a white and orange moggie who is fed by the resident manager and spends its days sleeping on the sun-warmed sidewalks and stairs outside the three red-brick buildings of the complex. It is a very old kitty. The NPV thinks it, being a cat, is of the devil. If so, it's a very geriatric and sanguine devil. The tip of one top fang was long ago broken off, but given the soft tinned food that it is given morning and night by admirers, it could thrive if toothless. The kitty is also rather deaf. An entire flock of vocal sparrows had landed in the bushes and on the patio railings where she was stretched out yesterday, and she didn't twitch a whisker. I walked up and petted her this morning, and nearly gave her a heart attack, because she hadn't heard me approach--but being old, she didn't jump up and run away, just flung up her head and shoulders. Once she had identified me, however, she emitted a rusty meow and relaxed back onto the concrete. It's a sweet old thing--likes having its tummy rubbed. The only problem is when it decides to sleep in the middle of the road. Although our street's a dead end, there are apartments and condos all down the hill, and the requisite number of associated cars, which are always coming and going. And the cat does not like to relocate once it's settled in for a nap, be it in the direct path of pedestrians or autos. I've had to brake my car and sound my horn to persuade it to peel itself up from the pavement and walk to the side of the street so that I could drive through. It's only a matter of time, I fear, until the cat, semi-fanged or not, bites it under the wheels of a driver less old-cat-savvy than I.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tired, Again

For my History of International Public Health comps (next month!), I'm reading a book by the famous historian father of one of the better known historians in my department--the fellow, in fact, who is administering the comprehensive exam in question. The first 40 pages or so of this particular monograph are all about the prehistoric evolution of humans, human society and practices, and diseases which affect them. It's a bunch of hooey. Even if you buy into the evolutionary premise, it seems very skewed with regard to the interpretation of social development in a male-centric way. It was originally published in 1976, but given its radical premise (the author was the first to clue into the fact that the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs was not due to the "white men as gods" idea, but pivoted upon the ravages of a smallpox epidemic among the native population) it is peculiar that the book reproduces the old standard stories about nomadic hunter/gatherers preceding (for eons, he would have us believe) settled human populations. Women just aren't generally like that. Even supposedly nomadic groups such as the Bedouin spend lengthy periods of time in certain places, and it isn't always the whole family that moves with the herds. Why agriculture and hunting couldn't have developed concurrently, with one sex driving forward the innovations in one area and vice versa, doesn't seem to be even thought of. It doesn't take more than a few weeks for seeds to sprout in many cases, and our ancestors could put two and two together, no matter how "primitive" they might have been. Most women like to put down roots (no pun intended), and we also like variety. I doubt this trait is an innovation of the last several thousand years. Men may be content to eat the same thing day after day after day, but no woman who has the capacity to change this would fail to do so. And make sure that the men for whom she was cooking were eating decently too.

I'm tired. I've also been down the last few days. Besides Friday's bad breaks, I dropped my computer on the concrete sidewalk yesterday on the way to school (my bag, which I had made sure was secure before I left, came unzipped while I was jogging down a hill, and Wham!), and my car brakes are making a nasty squealing noise. Just wrap me up in cotton and put me to bed.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

One Reason No Way I'm Changing My Residency

Those who know me personally know that I never deliberately speed. I used to, fifteen years ago. I remember two memorable occasions when I achieved dizzing rates of travel: getting from Lexington, VA, to Augusta, GA, in 5 hours 45 minutes. It is usually an 8-9 hour journey. And there was the night that I drove from Lexington to Washington, DC, in a little over 2 1/2 hours. It takes 4 hours for the law-abiding. But like I said, these were the sins of my youth.

Now, I rarely exceed five miles over the limit, which is the grace-difference most communities allow for the inexactitude of car spedometers.

There are brief occasions, however, where I will necessarily get up to 25 miles over the limit, and feel no shame: when I'm merging into Beltway traffic at rush hour. When your car is coming in from the left on one of the odder merge lanes, it would be suicide to go slower: you are dropping into the fastest lane to begin with, and the people in between you are attempting to insinuate yourself are traveling upwards of 65 to 70 en masse.

And a VA state policeman could well pull me over at such a moment, which would be financially devastating. The taxes and attempted penalties lodged by the GA Department of Revenue are paltry by comparison. I am a Georgian, and will remain so.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Reading Job or Being Job?

My Old Testament Bible reading of late has been chapters from the Book of Job. If I were a Hellenistic fatalist instead of a Christian with Greek antecedents, I would say that this is poetically just, given yesterday and today. Maybe it still is, from a Calvinist perspective.

What happened? Not only did I nearly kill someone last night and find out both my watch and my glasses were dead this morning, not five minutes after I hit the "publish post" button on the last entry did my mother call to tell me that the GA Department of Revenue had finally sent me something about my 2006 taxes.

A "Notice of Proposed Assessment" saying that I not only owed them the $1372 that I'd told them about, I also owed an additional $157.78 late-payment penalty and $68.60 in interest.

Damn it, they wouldn't have known I owed precisely $1372 unless they'd seen a copy of my tax return, which was mailed either with the check for the full amount, or with a copy of that check after I'd discovered it hadn't cleared and something was amiss. So they KNOW I've been trying to pay them, and pay them the full amount I owe, since two weeks before the April deadline. This really steams my veggies.

So I called them up immediately and bawled while I sat on hold, and then I cried to the person who (miracle of miracles!) answered the phone--at 10 minutes til 5 on a Friday afternoon. He was nice, but had the IQ of a goldfish, so it took a while to explain that the fault was theirs, not mine. I'm still not sure he got it. He said he'd recommend an "abatement" (tax-speak for "we may not screw you as badly as we wanted to") of the penalty and interest. I told him I'm going to send in another check for $1372 today. Thank God, the Merrifield post office is open until midnight. But I am really torqued about this whole thing--it's like they are punishing me for honesty! A very Job-esque situation, come to think of it, although I doubt very much that God's announced to Satan, "Have you considered my servant CEP," thus precipitating a showdown with the fallen angel over whether I'd buckle under pressure and curse the Almighty. (Note that I haven't.)

Besides sending them another check, I'm also composing an irate letter to the Department of Revenue people. It's two-pages single-spaced thus far. Maybe Susan will consent to help me lean it out a bit when she gets home from dinner. Or maybe I should spare her feelings. Mine feel better since I've gotten things down in writing. Both there and here.

Crashes, Cracks, Splits

I ran into a cyclist yesterday. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that she ran into me. I was driving to pick up the last major load of books in DC yesterday afternoon. It was raining, and I was coming off a roundabout. I curse the memory of Pierre L'Enfant almost every time I go through one of those stupid things. She didn't look to see if anyone were coming before she crossed the intersection, and I glimpsed her out of the corner of my right eye and slammed on my brakes just as she put on hers. We both skidded on the wet pavement. She hit the side of my car, but had her hand outstretched to stop herself, so she didn't do any damage. Hiro, who was riding in the passenger seat, hopped out to see if she was hurt, but after a moment she said she wasn't. I think both of us were pretty shaken up by the whole thing--Hiro and I drove on after making sure she was OK. She's probably going to have a sore wrist tomorrow from hitting the back side window, if she doesn't already today. Two seconds difference and I could have killed her.

This morning, I awoke early after an unsettled night. Very early, I thought, looking down at my watch, which read 6:34. I went into the kitchen for breakfast, and the digital dial on the microwave said it was 7:30. Then I noticed that the crystal on my watch was missing. Sometime, either during the night or yesterday as Lee and Hiro and I were shifting books, the crystal had broken and disappeared.

I returned to my room to leave my watch in a safe spot, and put on my glasses. They felt wrong, one side higher than the other. I took them off and discovered that the left arm on this brand new, extremely expensive set of wire frames was cracked where the screw held it onto the frontspiece. For crying out loud.

I called my optometrist down in GA, and told a very blond receptionist the trouble. She passed my case onto someone else, and that person said that the warranty would probably cover it, but they'd get back to me. Two hours later, I phoned again, and spoke this time to the doctor's spacey son, who couldn't spell "Arlington." I spelled it for him. Not long after reciting my name and address to this fellow, I heard back from the woman at the office, and was told that I need to mail them the broken frames so they can install the lenses in the new frames the company is going to send them, and then they'll return the fresh pair to me. She then confirmed my mailing address. It turned out, that although I carefully spelled it for him, the doctor's myopically-minded son had still managed to misspell "Arlington." Gack.

I have my own intellectual difficulties, one of them being my wholesale inability to understand the bureaucratese on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's application for employment system. An FBI agent came into the department this afternoon doing a background check on a former student who's in line for a security clearance, and we fell to talking. He asked me if I'd considered working for them, and I told him that I would be delighted to, but that I couldn't for the life of me figure out what to answer on their silly electronic system. Well, there it is. I gave him one of my jewelry business cards. If they don't recruit me, maybe he'll contact me to make a necklace and earrings set for his wife. If you can't join 'em, sell pretties to 'em.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Smoke, Whooping Cough and Seals

Yesterday mid-afternoon I returned from one of my bi-hourly treks to move my car around the block (the parking enforcement people lurk, vulture-like, in little white cars emblazoned with the District of Columbia logo, waiting for a vehicle to remain just a minute over the two-hour maximum, so they can pounce on the windshield with a ticket--I've occasionally seen them leaping away from the scene like guilty rabbits) to find flourescent-vested members of the Georgetown emergency preparedness squad shooing people out of the Intercultural Center. The fire alarm strobe lights could be glimpsed through the windows. It was 97 degrees outside on the brick quadrangle, seventy percent humidity. Thank God I had on my hat. The CSCM and I ended up sitting in the shade and sharing cold-weather stories.

On his honeymoon some fifteen years ago, he and his bride found a pristine white sand beach in British Columbia, where tide-pools had formed, full of large crabs just waiting to be caught. Which he did, building a fire and cooking dinner for the two of them, while she went into the ocean, quickly finding herself swimming with a throng of seals. After these delights, they returned to the hotel, where they mentioned the seal-sighting to the concierge, not specifying that Marie had actually swum with them. The hotel manager told them that the spot was one of the prime Great White feeding grounds, as the aggressive sharks traveled hundreds of miles to feast on the seals. He'd never go in the water around there, he told them. Furthermore, the CSCM belatedly realized that the area was most likely a national park, so catching those alluring crabs and eating them was patently illegal. Ah well, it was a beautiful memory, that perfect day.

My little niece had a close run-in with some sharks herself at St. Simon's Island, GA, a couple of days ago. She, my sister and brother-in-law were down visiting my parents the last couple of weeks, and as a last-hurrah of sorts they all went on a mini-vacation together at the end of the trip. Sunday morning, their final day, the tide was out, and a distant sandbar meant that the sea was a still as a pond. Because the waves weren't crashing in, the little fish which dart around in the water close to the beach were visible. So were the things which like to eat them. First some small sand-sharks cruised past the spot where my mother and my brother-in-law were knee-deep in the water, Rita waist-deep between them and the shore. Then a five-foot hammerhead swam by, eyeing them from either end of its peculiarly-shaped head. At that point they decided to leave the water. Neither of the adults wanted to see whether the hammerhead was inclined to have bits of them, or all of Rita, as his lunchtime entree.

Rita is her mother's daughter. Her mother has a history of attracting sharks, too.

We are back in the ICC today. The thing did not burn to the ground yesterday. In fact, when we re-entered the building yesterday, some half an hour after everyone had been evacuated, I couldn't help but burst out, "It smells like my granddaddy's old tractor!" Which prompted the CSCM to tell me that I was a redneck.

My friend Teresa, a fellow History grad student who is recently back from a year's research in Mexico (where she and her fiance decided to go ahead and get married six weeks ago, thus winnowing their guest-list, and the costs of the event, considerably) is helping at the front desk for a few weeks. She told me that a friend of hers, with whom she'd been staying in New Jersey, had just been diagnosed with whooping cough. The friend's father is an infectious disease specialist, and he was tickled, filled with absurd joy in having one of the 300 (average) annual cases of the cough in his state for his very own. People are odd.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Weary, But Hopeful

It got up to 97F yesterday, all of us vendors (only about half the usual number, given the blistering forecast) cooking briskly underneath our tents pitched on the asphalt. Heat does not usually bother me much, especially if I have enough water to drink, but yesterday it really got to me. Maybe it was the accumulated effects of being so social the last couple of weeks. Maybe it was that I had only gotten a few hours of sleep Friday night, as I worked on comprehensive exam preparation and pricing earrings. Whatever the cause, I was so tired as to be physically nauseated by two, and so I went home as soon after as possible.

Needless to say, my sales were abysmal.

I continue to meet fascinating people in my book-collection rounds--a Czech Harvard-educated historian-cum-MBA-cum-artist, and a former Georgetown dean who had served as a special assistant to President Reagan, both of whom were more than willing to chat with yours truly. I sent out a "please no more book donations until the days of the sale, as we are overrun" message through the Provost's office on Friday, with an additional appeal for volunteers. I plan to pick up another twenty boxfuls with the help of my friends Hiro and Lee on Thursday of this week, but after that there should be no more major moving until the beginning of September.

I'm limping around like a Crimean War veteran due to "cryosurgery" on my right foot last Monday to remove a viral growth, which made me fit right in with the geriatric members of my Sunday School class this morning.

Things are looking up, though--the swelling should go down soon, my friend Leah and I are scheduled to go see the new Bourne Ultimatum movie in a few minutes, and then the evening is open for studying. If I can just finish going through all the book reviews my friend Susanna downloaded for me, and finish revising the upteenth version of the Chapter 4 translation of "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands", the week will be off to a great start. It already promises to be good, as my dear roommate Susan, now returned from France, should be driving in from Ohio tomorrow afternoon. I have missed her a lot this summer!