Sunday, September 30, 2007

Growing a Backbone

I survived comprehensive exams, but by Thursday afternoon (I didn't get the questions until 4:30 Monday, and so I had until the corresponding time 3 days later), I was getting a little nuts. And more spineless than usual. I felt like a fillet of sole. Or talapia. That I was the fish, rather than in the mood to eat it. I had gone out Sunday and stocked up on provisions, including 2 vacuum-sealed packs of wild salmon (brain food), but I really didn't eat that much for the duration.

Ended up with 27 pages, rather than 40. Emailed everything in 30 minutes prior to the deadline--I was fried, and there was no point messing about with minutia when I either had it already or didn't. The professor acknowledged receipt with the words "Got it. Get some rest. And some exercise." I have no idea when I'll hear about the results, but on the presumption of passage I'm going ahead and starting cramming for the second round, in mid-November. This'll be the biggie--on late imperial and Soviet Russian history, rather than disease. Of course, disease is a part of it--cholera epidemics, bubonic plague outbreaks and other lovely things affected that country periodically in the 18-20th centuries. In fact, a smallpox outbreak amongst the Swedish troops confronting Peter I may have been the key factor in enabling him to capture the land whereon he later built St. Petersburg.

But I digress.

I had less than 48 hours to get ready my jewelry stocks ready for Clarendon Day, which was yesterday. I didn't do as well as last year, but still well enough that it was entirely worth it. Didn't get home until almost 8 PM. I was not in an entirely happy mood. I was angry at myself, primarily. Like I said, financially the day had been pretty good, and besides, I'd re-contected with Carrie, the sweet Jewish girl I'd met at that lively housewarming party back in July. But as one of my dear (non-Christian) friends had said to me, "Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but you are ridiculous." My lack of guts, of mistaking masochism for meekness, and knuckling under with niceness when I ought to say (more in actions than in words), "No!" is galling.

The sermon this morning was on the beatitudes, particularly the one "Blessed are the meek..." Biblical meekness is not the "use me for a doormat, please" mentality in which I have long indulged. It is realizing that one's value comes from Jesus, and operating from that position of humble strength.

I have a large jewelry home-show scheduled for October 25, which is the week after I'm supposed to go to a Rennaisance "faire" up in MD. I have been assembling the necessary accouterments for a good outfit. Next weekend, Susan and I and two girlfriends are going to the beach. In New Jersey. I didn't realize that New Jersey had beaches, much less that they were sufficiently attractive to draw out-of-staters, but live and learn. The following weekend I'm the wedding coordinator for Desert Rose's nuptials, and then the weekend after that... Wait, is there a conference at the church the same weekend as the Renn faire? Say it ain't so!

As to my book project, I have news: Thursday, my friend emailed me that she'd given "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" manuscript to the "Zvezda" publishing house to have the calculation of the publication cost made. Publishing in Russia, of anything other than a popular foreign-language pulp fiction novel translation (for which job hapless semi-starving translators are paid a small contract fee), is at least partly self-financed at the outset. But this is a step. "Zvezda" is one of the best-known publishers in the country, so if they accept it, even under the circumstances, we are on our way! American publishers are much more likely to pick up translations of published books than they are of mere manuscripts...

Monday, September 24, 2007

On the Cusp, or Long in the Bicuspid

Actually, I don't think that bicuspids are the ones that keep growing in some animals, leading to the standard "long in the tooth" meaning. Incisors, I believe, are the teeth in question. Argh! Yet another bit of health-related trivia I don't know.

It's a quarter after noon and my comps questions have not yet arrived via email. I'm sitting here at home, my insides in turmoil, waiting for the blade to drop the gun to go off, and it's overdue. I've cleaned up bits of the kitchen and bathroom, gone to the post office, and picked up a vegetable "griddle" at the Silver Diner in Clarendon as a special brain-food treat, and now I'm just waiting.

Eighteen minutes after the hour and still nothing.


I think I'm going to go barf up my breakfast.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Panicky Preparations

I haven't gotten to all the books on my reading list. I'm so slow. My mind is racing and I can't remember what I need to be looking for in the texts I am slogging through. Two French ones yesterday. I remember the name of the author. Not much else. How I am going to stretch my little knowledge into 40 pages of brilliant prose betwixt this Monday noon and Thursday noon, I haven't any idea. It's really going to take a miracle for me to pass this.

I have decided on my epigrams, however: two quotes from Genesis, one from William McNeill's Plagues and Peoples, and another from The Matrix. Agent Smith's "human beings are a disease" soliloquy is just too appropriate not to use. Even desperate efforts need good epigrams.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pearls of Wisdom

3:05 AM. Dang, I hope I’m conscious enough to make it to church in a few hours. I’ve spent the last six re-learning the peculiar art of pearl-stringing. I was reminded that there was a good reason jewelry stores (at least 5 years ago) charged $3 per inch for such services. This was not, however it may appear, an idle fancy, whim, or obsessive urge.

My friend Susan is getting married on Saturday next.

Not the Susan I live with, the one with whom I have been friends since third grade.

We’ve drifted apart over the last several years. Still, when I heard she was engaged, I started to think what lovely thing I could give her as an appropriate “send off” for a relationship just shy of 25 years (this is truly one of those relationships where marriage spells "the end"). Then she emailed me and asked me how much it would cost for me to create a pearl necklace and earrings set for the occasion. So I responded that this would be my gift.

It’s taken me months to get the right pearls (she likes large rounds), find the right clasp (white gold with a sprinkling of diamonds) and the appropriately simple coordinating posts with pearl drops. I didn’t want to get freshwater pearls, because those tend to be less lustrous, and don’t hold their value the way that saltwater gems do. On the other hand, I had a budget (I may be a jewelry snob, but I'm also a graduate student). I knew, too, I would have to string them on silk myself (something I hadn’t done since working at the jewelry store all those years ago) because Susan told me she wanted a choker, and most companies who pre-string render a standard 16”, 18” or longer.

You have to string on a single, unbroken strand, with knots between each pearl so they won’t abrade the lovely luminescent finish on their neighbors. Plus they have to be snug, so the pearls won’t slide between the knots. For hours, I struggled with silk that kept breaking after just five to seven pearls, over and over again. I was at my wit’s end. And then I realized that I was using silk that was too thin. Thank God I have a selection. Thicker thread, a gentler touch, and everything came together beautifully. At 2:45 AM. I’d actually gotten quite good at the technique by that point.

Yes, I continue to study for my comps. I got some reading done at the market this morning (gale-force winds, but I made money). I just had to finish this project today so it would be ready to mail tomorrow and arrive in time for the wedding. Which is less than a week away now. I won’t be going. I’ve got the exam instead. Oh, joy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I am under a great deal of strain these days, primarily due to my less-than-complete preparation for comps. I have just over a week until the first one begins. It will be either a 48-hour or a 72-hour take-home. The professor has already told me that I will be writing on two questions, which I will select from a list of four. One will be a broad, general history, and the other will be a historiographical essay. I looked "historiographical" up in the OED just to make sure I had it straight what he was talking about--I thought I knew, but all my readers know my first impressions are not always correct. It didn't illumine things substantially. I will have to write about twenty heavily-footnoted pages of response to each question. Please pray. I've gotten through about a fifth of the stuff I need to have read. I'm a very slow reader, and panic is further slowing me down. This feels very much like my experience preparing for the final in first-year Russian. I tried to cram and didn't do so well. Severe case of nerves, plus free-floating worry. My skin is a mess, and I'm not sleeping well.

At least I met a nice elderly former instructor from the CIA's Russia-education program at the library today. He retired in 1994, after over thirty years' of teaching young intelligence professionals about a country he visited for the first and only time for a month in 1990. By that time, he'd forgotten almost all his Russian from underuse, as he studied the language for only a year at the Monterrey Institute in California--said he was there when Stalin died. That was 1953. I imagine you'd get a bit rusty after half a century and no on-the-ground experience to speak of. I gotta go back soon!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Signs and Sights Around Town

On the hand-printed corrugated cardboard sign held by a dirty panhandler on the Key Bridge this morning:
At least I'm honest"

On the bumper of an newish car in Georgetown Saturday morning:
"Republicans for Voldemort"

A professionally-clad woman riding a scooter into work this morning--in those slip-on shoes called "mules". How on earth she was keeping them on I have no idea.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Full Week

My readers will please excuse me for not posting the last week--I have been too busy and too tired to think straight, much less to sit down to compose what I hope will be an interesting, if heavily abridged, summary of the events of the last ten days.

Several good blog-post titles suggested themselves to me in the course of my adventures, but I don't have time even now to take full artistic advantage of the themes.

The Serengeti Bunny Lamp: As a gesture of appreciation (and technical farewell, given my new non-secretarial History department job), at the "we welcome ourselves to another academic year" party last Thursday, the coordinator presented me with a gift certificate to a posh little flowers/gifts shop in Georgetown, one into which I'd never ventured before in all my years here because I knew I'd see things I liked but couldn't afford. I wanted a lamp, and I got one. It was on sale, but still quite pricey. The gift certificate cut the cost almost in half for me, though. The saleslady wanted to talk, meanwhile: she spent over an hour telling me about her youth in Serbia, meeting her husband (a Canadian chef from British Columbia) while both were working on a cruise ship, and how the Muslims in her country blew up twelfth-century cathedrals during the recent unpleasantness in the former Yugoslavia. She also held forth concerning the poor quality of American food and the high cost of picture frames. An interesting girl, probably in her late twenties or early thirties.

Haulage: It took a total of four cars and as many trips Sunday afternoon to transfer all the book-boxes stored off campus to the History Department, where they formed a mountainous mass in the middle of the main room.

Wee Hours: I loathe getting up while the sun is not. I did this three days in a row, arising at 5:40 and getting to the local Dunkin Donuts at opening time (6 AM) to pick up boxes of two dozen and a carton of "Joe to Go" for volunteers who turned out to be thin on the ground. We never exceeded five, despite some 10-15 telling me they'd be happy to help. I've got to figure out some good method of pinning people down and getting them to show up when they say they will.

Antsy: The second day of the three-day book sale, I was sitting on the low wall that circles a large tree in the middle of the Red Square quadrangle. I suddenly felt sharp stings on several places on my right pants-clad leg. I looked down and realized that I was being attacked by ants, who had already discovered the donuts, which were in a box next to me. I removed myself and the sweets to less accessible ground. And danced around in what I hoped was a jovial manner, attempting to dislodge any further ants from my clothes.

Love: I love when people are in love--even those of us who aren't directly involved can profit by the association. A friendly fellow who lives in the building next to mine and works at Georgetown had agreed to come with me, to get the donuts and retrieve the books--which from being stored in the History Department over Labor Day went to being kept in a conference room over the mid-sale nights--both Tuesday and Wednesday. After setup Wednesday, he was flat from fatigue, and told me honestly that he didn't think he could make it the final morning. I understood. If I hadn't been running the show, there was no way I would have been there three days in a row. But nonetheless, on my way out the door with Susan (who was dropping me by Dunkin on her pre-dawn drive to work), I voiced my hope that he would be waiting for us--I didn't see how I was going to manage without him. And just a few seconds later, he was there, full of pep, if anything more energetic than he had been on Tuesday. Why the change? On Wednesday night, he'd talked on the phone to the lady with whom he is in love, and she had reciprocated his feelings. He practically glowed, he was so happy.

The Bonfire of the Humanities: Thursday, at the end of the day, we were still overrun with book-boxes. Probably 100 of them, though I hadn't the energy or curiousity to count the lot. This despite my lowering the paperback and the hardback price to "buy one, get one free", and bellowing like a carnival sideshow tout every few minutes things like "Last day! Get your cheesy romance novels here! Hardbacks are 2 bucks, paperbacks are 1 buck!" I had suggested that people haul away boxfuls of old academic journals to use for gutting fish and winter kindling, but that didn't help much. My father came up with the Wolf-esque title for the whole effort.

The Grand Total: We raised, as a combined three-day total, $4760.30.

I'm whipped.

Saturday, September 01, 2007