Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Review/The Year in Preview

Anno Domini Two Thousand Eight has ended, and it is time for a brief retrospective of the past year and then an equally short prospective of the coming one.

This last has been a rough year, in many respects, but even in the difficulties I have, by God's grace, been able to seen "up sides". For instance, I managed to get my heart broken for the second time in my life, and although it was thoroughly unpleasant, it may not take me ten years to recover from this particular setback. I'm a bit tougher, my faith is stronger, and I didn't have a mental breakdown. For this I am grateful. Another example: early in the year, my little niece was diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), but intensive therapy since has worked wonders, and she has come out of her shell, talking up a storm and interacting with company which formerly would have rendered her silent and withdrawn.

God healed my little nephew's kidneys, which prenatal sonograms had indicated would be impaired. He enabled me to pass my comprehensive exams in the spring and to finish the "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" translation in the summer (two "wild ambitions" on the 2008 list), and he gave me a good job for the fall. He spared the lives of my uncle and of my brother's fiance, who were both in serious car accidents in the last month. My dear boss was able to return to work full-time, feeling healthy, after completing chemotherapy for breast cancer in October. I have a dissertation topic. My niece healed after infections almost took her life (and required two surgeries). I have a group of excellent Christian friends (particularly I am grateful for my terrific roommate!), and several delightful non-Christian buddies. I am blessed.

Nonetheless, onward and upward! Here is my fourth blog list of ambitions for this coming annum...

1. See the "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" manuscript accepted by a major American/British publisher to be produced for the English-speaking market.

2. Submit my formal dissertation proposal to the Georgetown University Graduate School by the end of Spring Term and apply successfully for dissertation research-grants by the end of the year. Go to Russia to visit friends and archives.

3. Go to Arkansas and dig for diamonds. Maybe, find a monster one that will pay for room, board, and dissertation-completion!

4. Learn to solder and cast silver. Learn to throw pottery.

5. Sell at least three pieces of my artwork at a gallery.

6. Write a short story or essay and get it published in a subscription magazine.

7. Learn to speak French at least as well as I can read it and write it; become really fluent in Russian.

8. Become trim and muscular--actually use that gym membership I bought over a month ago!

9. Learn to dance. Better. Didn’t happen last year, or the previous year, or the year before that--maybe this one! Hope, if not coordination, I have plenty of.

9. Visit Ireland, Canada, and the Czech Republic--or three other countries to which I've never been before.

10. Buy a house (hey, if prices go low enough, and I find a big enough diamond...).

These possible improbabilities are all dependent on me, insofar as anything can be--the whole romance/marriage/motherhood thing, or meeting a famous person, to which I have aspired in the past, really haven't been anything but vain hopes. Especially given my realized ambitions of last year, I've decided to list more things that I'd really like to accomplish in this one (OK, buying the house is rather a long shot), rather than purely idealistic fluff. I look forward to seeing how many things I can tick off as "done" at the end of 2009, Lord willing!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Third Day of Christmas

S Dawg and her family finally arrived here in GA after midnight last night--I met them in the airport in Columbia, SC, at 10:30 (they were supposed to arrive at 6:30, yet as was to be expected, the usual holiday travel woes beset them), but it took a full hour to arrange delivery of the baggage which had not arrived (despite steep surcharges to assure its carriage) and to arrange the two carseats in my mother's vehicle.

My little nephew was snoring loudly within minutes of our leaving the airport. My niece stayed awake the whole hour's drive home, and was downright sprightly at 1 AM, when we ate a quick and late evening meal. We were all in bed by 2 AM, and I was the latest riser this morning, at 9:30. When I came downstairs for breakfast, Brad was busy smearing banana on the table and floor, and Rita was cheerfully scattering cake crumbs hither and yon, having carefully decorated a slice of her grandmommy's pumpkin bread with a thin layer of applesauce, but leaving both bread and sauce otherwise unmolested.

The children, my mother and sister are off on a shopping excursion at present. The remaining three adults, including me, are indulging in separate silences, each in a different room and engaged in solitary pastimes, from Internet surfing to reading.

Christmas Day my parents and I spent briskly baby-proofing, my father installing gates at the top of the stairs, I blocking off electrical outlets and power cords, and my mother figuring out sleeping arrangements. She also cooked and baked all Thursday and Friday: the aforementioned pumpkin bread, sweet potato pies, a Mexican chocolate cake (it has cinnamon in it), kale and cabbage soup, assorted casseroles, dozens of meatballs, a pot roast, and the applesauce, among other things. We're not going to starve while the pipsqueaks are here, that's for certain.

Wednesday and Friday Mums and I spent hours at the gym, me mostly treadmilling, and she on some sort of climbing machine, then pumping iron. She's lost a scary amount of weight being ill the past six weeks, but is still more buff than most of humanity.
After both gym excursions, we made stops at a nearby grocery store to pick up provisions and her steroid meds. Both times we saw a woman who we'd rather avoid.

Not that she isn't a pleasant person, but she's classically middle-class Southern to the tips of her flower-fancier-society-leading fingertips, and we've not seen eye-to-eye on many things over the years. I was a bridesmaid in her daughter's wedding almost a decade ago--she made all the dresses. They were perfect. Her four children are married, all gainfully employed, all in the area. The men hunt or golf. The daughters have two children each, the sons four. They attend a very proper, very upright and very uptight church. They never laugh at our jokes. There's always been an implication floating in the air in our interaction that we are not quite good enough, though they have always been too polite to say so outright.

So, we managed to avoid being noticed by this lady on our Wednesday grocery trip--we saw her in the store before she saw us, and were able to duck down an aisle unobserved. Yesterday, her minivan pulled up in the parking lot right next to ours as we were stepping onto the pavement, and there was no escape. Mums and I made the best of it. "How are you!" my mother said in her best intensely jovial manner. "Did you have a good Christmas?!" Mrs. N responded that she had, that the grandchildren had all been there. She then fixed her eyes on me, "What are you doing now?" Painfully aware that I'd sweated off all the makeup I'd put on that morning, and that my gym clothes looked like crap, I responded briefly and (I hoped) devastatingly. "I'm working on my dissertation." "Where?" she asked. "At Georgetown." She fell back on another tactic: "X and Y (two sisters whom S Dawg and I have known since early childhood, but from whom we have gradually grown apart--they have both made delightful marriages to impressively wealthy men--Mrs. N's daughter was also a friend, and the three of them have kept in touch) are in town. Y is pregnant." Golly, the woman knows how to pour salt on a wound. Thank the Lord I was able to respond that I had seen Y in Baltimore a couple of months earlier and so had known that she and her husband were hoping to start their family soon. My lack of surprise seemed to take the wind out of Mrs. N's sails.

The three of us parted ways at the entrance to the store--Mums and I went off to the pharmacy, and Mrs. N went toward the deli, no doubt to pick up some ingredient for some perfect family dinner. If I were more mature, perhaps I would not be so annoyed by this sort of person, operating in her comfortable sphere of correct behavior and predictable outcomes, whose family does not indulge in the literary and thespian drama of mine. Her relatives all have safe, dull jobs in a familiar place, and they never seem to struggle with fears and tears and curiosity. Notwithstanding all these features that render them entirely dissimilar to me and mine, the fact that they don't even find us amusing is to my mind the most damning characteristic, and the one thing I find most difficult to forgive.

I shall now mutter snide remarks, chuckle madly to myself, and go down for a nap.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lucky Shamrock (The Stones are Real!)

Congratulations to my Atlanta brother and his girlfriend, who got engaged on Saturday, while they were celebrating my Granddaddy's birthday in Dublin, GA. Nate and Laura were out in the backyard searching for quatrefoil clovers, when she found the ring in the patch of green. Irish eyes were smiling and crying all at the same time!

Back in GA for Chri'mas

I got here at 7:30, and am plumb tuckered. Stopped twice for gas and twice for bathroom breaks, and listened to yet another Christopher Buckley novel on CD (this one was Boomsday, which I didn't like as much as I had Thank you for Smoking, Florence of Arabia, or No Way to Treat a First Lady, though it did have its merits--Buckley has an Ecclesiastical view of the world, such as King Solomon would have portrayed it had he been profane and less lyrical--Buckley's writing embodies a keen sense of blackly humorous exaggeration of those elements which typify the lives of power-haves and -wannahaves and the wealthy and/or witty of the American politico-cultural hubs of DC, New York and Hollywood). Sadly, I ran out of Buckley before I ran out of road, and so the last hour and a half were spent radio-surfing, which is frustrating at all times of the year, but especially so at Christmas, when one is subjected to one secular carol after another, including various bastardizations of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

My first load of laundry is on "rinse and spin" in the machine downstairs, and I am sitting here at my parents' desktop contemplating what tasks I can conceivably accomplish before the arrival of the Chaos Squad (my sister, her husband, and their 2 small fry) on Boxing Day. Primarily, I am looking forward to catching up with the friends (both here and in DC) that I've missed over the last couple of weeks: Leah (whose two phone calls this morning were lost due to weak cell tower signals), Kara (a think-tank member in DC who has left two messages on my phone, neither of which I have gotten around to answering), and my South Carolina buddy Susanna (who has left two blog notes here, but with whom I have not spoken directly in a while). And then there's my other South Carolina friend and former roommate, from whom I received a nice birthday card saying that she missed me and that she'd just had to have her fourth back surgery in as many years--all due to having 2 vertebrae in her back ruptured in attacks by elementary school students whom she was attempting to help as a social worker. Some children are poisonous little swine. Thank God my small relatives are sweet, and carefully disciplined--though I expect they'll be a handful when they get down here to their grandparents and great-grandparents' houses!

Besides the social re-connection, I need to do my year-end business taxes (oh, joy!) and further clean out my room. And maybe I'll procrastinate a bit and read a couple of the novels I checked out of the library this morning on my way out of town... There'll be no grown-up reading when the pipsqueaks arrive, I suspect!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy 92nd Birthday!

Today is my dear Granddaddy's 92nd birthday!!! He has been a great blessing to me and the rest of my family for many years, and I hope he continues happy and healthy for a long, long time to come.

(He and Grandmommy are supposed to see their little great-grandson, my nephew Brad, for the first time in person at the end of this month, when he, his big sister, S-Dawg and her husband all fly down on the day after Christmas for a week-long visit.)

Bleh, And Other Schultzian Scroogishness

The atmosphere is the color of an old dishrag outside, and just as wet and yucky.

I got to work at an unheard-of 7:55 this morning, with the expectation that the department's new Xerox machines would be delivered sometime twixt 8 and 4.

But then the Secret Service intervened.

The people who were to have brought in our magnificent upgrades (these Xerox monsters are supposed to do everything, including document scanning and remote faxing, so rumor has it) had an earlier delivery to make at Boling Air Force Base, and somehow the proper clearances had not been obtained...

So, my poor sweet boss, who had expected to be able to stay home to decorate her house on Tuesday next, will have to drive all the way in from Maryland to hope they don't run into other unexpected delays.

Meantime, I plan to be driving to GA, or having already arrived.

Oh, today while I was helping him with photocopying, a young adjunct professor from Africa asked me what I was doing January 20. I told him I planned to go to the beach. He said that he'd like to ask me to one of the inaugural balls. I think he's a thoroughly nice person, but I confess I a bit concerned about the "date-like" qualities of the invitation, as I haven't any personal attraction to the man. That was, I was concerned about his intentions until just seconds ago...when he emailed me the invitation, which mentioned that the tickets were $40 a pop! A girl doesn't pay her own way to a ball, even if it means sitting at home in the cinders while the handsome prince dances the night away with other girls!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

There's Gotta Be a Punchline in Here, Somewhere

This morning, as I was waddling workward and mentally looking back over the events of the past semester, the old joke about the optimist and pessimist children came to mind.

There were two little brothers, one an optimist and the other a pessimist. Trying to bring some balance to their children's perspectives (and totally ignoring local, national and international laws concerning child abuse and general sanitation), their parents decided to see what would happen if the pessimist were presented with a room full of horse manure, and the optimist with a room full of the best toys money could buy.

To their surprise--and the eternal confirmation of their children's warped psychology--their little pessimist burst into inconsolable tears when introduced into the toy room. When asked why he was crying, he sobbed, "I'm afraid they'll all get broken..." Meanwhile, the optimist was happily rooting through his horse poop--"With all this manure, there's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

This has been a semester best described as "challenging". The latest: my brother Nate and his girlfriend both lost their jobs last Friday morning, my great-aunt died last Wednesday, and my uncle was in a severe car accident over the weekend. And in the minor irritation corner: I got a parking ticket two nights ago, and last night, whilst attempting to shift it from a high shelf, I dropped a boxful of summer clothes on my head (further evidence that room cleanup is dangerous to the health!), making my neck sore today.


Which is not to say that there hasn't been silver lining. My mother is channeling her post-hospitalization 'roid rage into housecleaning, and my little niece offered to share her chocolate (which she gets as a reward for putting up with her twice-daily blood-thinner shots) with her little brother (a generous gesture which S-Dawg and I agreed neither of us would have made, being in the same circumstances).

And there have been several lovely moments thanks to and in the company of friends: Last Wednesday night, as a much-anticipated belated birthday gift, my friend Paul took me and Susan to see Cirque du Soliel's Kooza show at Washington Harbor. It was excellent--I felt like a little kid, awed at the sights and sounds of the impeccable performances of classic circus acts--the high-wire troop, the woman on the flying trapeze, the juggler and the acrobats, all swathed in gorgeous costumes, and interpolated with clowning and live music. Le Cirque is in the Russian style--no elephants or tigers competing for attention in multiple rings, just successive examples of human dexterity appearing on a single central stage--but with an exquisite artistic sensibility, high Western technology electronic and safety systems managing a show choreographed down to infinitesimal detail, so a humorous or thematic distraction occupies the attention of the crowd during scene changes. For a detail-oriented person like myself, even deliberately watching the seamless movement of the show's literal and metaphysical machinery was a joy.

The next evening, I went to a "cocktail party" (no cocktails, just wine and desserts) over on Capital Hill in the basement flat of a girlfriend. It was fun talking to old acquaintances and meeting some interesting government-related folks, and chatting with a well-traveled recent college grad who was looking for a cushy DC job. The Wiggle, the NPV and I had all been invited, but as the first was out of town, I carpooled over with the second, charging him with the job of designated driving (in the possible, but ultimately unrealized case that I had more than half a glass of wine over the course of the evening). But feeling mellowed by the society, if not by alcohol, I decided to let the NPV drive home as planned. I now know that vampires are absurdly conservative drivers--it was like riding shotgun with my 91-year-old grandfather, although we generally stayed in the correct lanes. Generally. We crawled through DC at a rip-roaring 25 miles an hour, tops. Terrifyingly, we approached stoplights at this same deliberate, inexorable pace, without any sign of braking, which made me panic on a couple of occasions that he didn't see the red, and was going to plow right on through, crushing the late-night pedestrians on each corner which seemed poised to leap into the roadway. Meantime, he told me how he'd gotten pulled over by the cops on the highway when coming back from home after Thanksgiving...for going too slow. I am SO not surprised.

Friday evening Susan and I went out to get a tree. It was below freezing outdoors, so our shopping was necessarily curtailed. The branches are somewhat thin, but serviceable. We scrounged up a few ornaments, and festooned it with white lights; I still need to make a star out of wire and crystal for a topper.

Saturday evening Susan, her former roommate Sparkle, a Chilean Presbyterian named Alejandro and I drove up to Annapolis to hear the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club sing Handel's Messiah. The music, the municipality's unfortunate decision to release a barrage of holiday fireworks during the tenor soloist's soulful intoning of the words "...that her warfare is ended..." (that prompted the little boy in the pew ahead of ours to whisper loudly to his grandmother, "Gramma--are we under attack!?"), and my enormous Russian fur hat all contrived to make it a memorable evening.

And the reason that I got the parking ticket this Tuesday was that I was out at a late-lunch-turned-early-supper for the History Department front office people at a nice restaurant in central Georgetown called Papa Razzi. There's two-hour street parking, and we dined for almost three. But at least I had had an appetizer (mozzarella patties and a few nibbles of calamari), the steak tenderloin entree, and a dessert (tiramisu), so I was essentially "paying" for a meal (the food having been courtesy of the department, but the $30 ticket being my responsibility) that had been worth it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Perfect Storm(s)

I am not quite up to snuff, health-wise. Went to work for several hours this morning and just couldn't concentrate, felt dizzy, weak and disconnected. As they were overstaffed, I took the opportunity to return home, take a hot lunch and a hot shower, and go to bed. To which inviting spot I shall shortly be returning.

I suspect that this physical totteriness is due to the incredible effort I expended last week, and the simultaneous distress I felt at learning of several family members' more fundamental health concerns. My immune and psychological systems have taken a blow, and I figure it will be a few days before I am back to my usual bounciness.

Last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday was the Phi Alpha Theta Arts and Crafts Holiday Sale at Georgetown. Despite my efforts to outsource such tasks as flyer-posting, this work fell entirely to my lot, and after an hour's worth of moving material into the History Department Sunday afternoon (in the rain), Monday evening's hour's worth of moving more saleable material into the department was followed by another two of flyer-posting on bulletin boards in classroom buildings around campus. I wasn't home until almost 11 PM.

Tuesday morning's setup was a mess. It took about three times as long as I had thought it would. Then customers didn't start trickling in for hours. Huge anxiety: What if they don't come?! We eventually had a decent day, and I got home about 9.

Wednesday, I was up earlier, and setup was a breeze. The day was spectacular, sales-wise. I was calmer, we were more organized, and adrenalin had kicked in. It still took a while to pack up, and I wasn't home until after nine.

Thursday I drove in (the previous two days, I'd walked, but this time I needed to be able to pack the car with the leftovers), arriving about 7:45. Setup was proceeding reasonably well--though I was having to do all the hauling--when I got the news via my sister that both my Grandmommy and my mother were on the way to hospitals in their respective towns, each with serious symptoms. I was pretty exhausted already, stressed out from 48 hours of pleasantries to strangers, little sleep and much heavy lifting, and concern for the health of these two dear women almost did me in. To keep from thinking about that which I could not change, I threw myself fully into the sale, but by pack-up time I was in tears. Which precipitated problems with my two non-Christian friends, who attempted to cheer me up by teasing me, "Are you going to curse now?" Argh.

Friday I was flat, and further depressed by the news that my small niece had developed a 103 fever. Again. I called the NPV to tell him that I was going to occupy the couch in his common room for at least a few hours--I desperately needed to be in the vicinity of a friend--and in a fit of culinary gallantry he fed me strange sausages and delicious homemade bliny (he was aiming for standard American pancakes, but they turned Russian on him). Thus gastronomically cheered, I toddled home to brush teeth and nap.

I had another jewelry show on Saturday, at Washington-Lee High School, and it was horrible. The one good thing was we were indoors, but everybody at the so-called "Winter Bazaar" was selling jewelry. We're talking some five dozen vendors. Even the honey-sellers were plumping earrings. Some of the stuff was lovely, but most was crap, and it was priced cheaply. And unlike at Georgetown, at W-L, people were in the mood for cheap. Anita's and my sales were abysmal. And she wasn't happy with me because I'd cried instead of being cheered by the cursing comment the previous day. So I felt awful, like I was a lousy witness of my faith, as well. Plus, there was no cell-phone reception at the school--it was like being in a bunker--and so I couldn't check on my mom to see how she was doing.

I re-packed everything at the end of this depressing event and went home to refresh before going out to a party I was obligated to attend. Susan went with me, and did the driving. It turned out to be a lot of fun--superficial, but innocent--and I was vastly relieved that I hadn't sat home and felt sorry for myself, but had made the effort to be sociable.

Hiro, my Japanese friend from Georgetown, and his roommate Mark were the hosts of the "sushi soiree," as they termed it. Hiro created a "make your own sushi" bar, which included a stack of purple seaweed squares, a pot of sticky white rice, a bowl of bright orange roe, another of slimy green pickled seaweed, plates of rosy raw fish and raw filleted shrimp, a tube of wasabi sauce (which he'd bought at the farm back in Japan, so he knew it didn't have any of the Western horseradish additives) and a few other garnishes, including cooked eel and raw cucumber.

It was delicious--I made myself four such Asian "tacos" and Susan ate her fill of sushi with the anachronistic accompaniment of hot chicken wings, which were basted and cooked by a guy there who looked and sounded like an American good-ol-boy--he's from the Midwest, and works for a Republican group here in town--but has a Turkish name and turned out to be a non-observant Muslim (who intends to convert to Presbyterianism because he's heard they rarely go to church, and he wants to run for public office some day and doesn't think someone with a Muslim background can get elected--all this he volunteered in conversation with a tall skinny Muslim guy from Somalia who asked him if he were fasting these days).

In one of those "it's a small world" moments, the man who found my lost cell phone in a snowdrift a couple of years ago (and who turned out to be a fellow Russian-speaker) came to the party, too--he's a friend of Hiro's Russian-speaking roommate! [We didn't get a chance to talk to one other, but as he was leaving the party he remarked that if I found a lost cell phone anywhere, it was probably his.... I guess this'll hold true the next time I'm in Moscow, as that's where he's been of late, working for one of the major Russian banks]. Susan and I were engrossed in talking with a historian of US foreign policy and a friend of his who is in Georgetown's International Security Program. The friend, a Slavic-looking Italian guy with a feminine name, was a perfect foil for the foreign policy expert's pontifications, making hilarious remarks and flirting with me in seductively-accented English. It's nice to be treated as a good-looking woman by a witty and attractive man every now and then, and particularly after a trying week! I doubt we'll cross paths again, but it was a pleasant diversion for a relaxing evening.

And best of all, Susan and I were home by 10:15 and in bed a quarter of an hour later. Frequently, the best experiences are those that are not overindulgences, but selected savories, like the food which frequently accompanies them.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beautiful Dull Day

You know it's one of those days when you come home from the market (having made no money--not a single sale--I actually took a 1 1/2 hour nap in the back seat of my car while Anita sat in hers and smoked and read, keeping an occasional eye out for our absent customers) to discover that a housefly has died on your toothbrush.

Needless to say, I flushed the fly and tossed the brush.

My birthday was yesterday. I drove back to DC from GA and managed to string two necklaces prior to falling asleep. Susan doesn't get home until tomorrow, and both the NPV and Merry, his roommate, were gone, so I watched a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie, drank a small glass of "light" non-alcoholic eggnog, and that was it.

I'm feeling pretty perky, despite the market, the fly and the lack of company, but I certainly hope that this next week the Georgetown students have not lost their desire to shop! And I am looking forward to having friends around again--if only to admire the tiara I'm wire-wrapping!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Does Desperation Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

I usually allude to my romantic life, such as it is, only in the most general and oblique terms (mostly complaints about datelessness, rather than details about dates--because no man with the courage to ask me out should have to fear being blogged about!), but I'm going to rant a bit now about the reappearance of that one suitor who was so very enthusiastic about me that until a week or so ago he had called just once--about six months after the day we met--in the two years since our ill-fated "arranged marriage" family dinner.

For eighteen months I have not heard a word, and then "Joy to the World" (my year-round-cell-phone-ring), he calls again. Twice tonight alone, in fact. I was upstairs working on the transcription of my grandfather's World War II memoirs, and didn't hear the first call, and forbore to race downstairs to attempt to answer the second. <"Surely, it can't be him AGAIN," I thought.>

My father confirms that the foreign physician in question has indeed just gotten back from the old country, where his mother actually did spend considerable time nagging him about his unmarried state.

So (as my sister shrewdly put it) he returns to the U.S., "consults his little black book," and apparently mine is the one name in it--not a one he found for himself, I should point out, but the one that his matchmaking brother virtually forced him to pencil in. And then, having not heard back from me after leaving two messages on my voicemail, he resolutely refuses to get the hint that after twenty-four months of almost unbroken silence from his side, I have better things to do with my time than to return his unsolicited calls. The fact that he has not stopped trying to contact me the last fortnight implies not--as a couple of charitably-minded girlfriends of mine would optimistically like to interpret it--that he is interested in me, but that he is desperate, and that I am the only woman of marriageable quality he knows.

Somehow, I fail to be flattered, because it is just when the culturally-induced fear of his parents' displeasure is on him that he finds me sufficiently interesting to pursue. It's not KYP he wants, it's any decent woman as a wife, but he hasn't the real motivation to get to know any others of his own volition. And on behalf of my many unmarried Christian female friends and acquaintances, I challenge the intimation that decent women are in short supply, or hard for serious-minded men to approach!

I want to be wanted for myself, not just because "I'll do" to get out of a singleness crisis.

How will I get out of being on the receiving end of this desperation? Given that a day or so after our collective familial meal 2 years back, the man called my father to thank him for introducing us, tonight I asked Daddy to speak to him on my behalf, to tell him I was no longer interested.

"You are 34!" my mother protested, "You ought to talk to him yourself." Then, she paused: "But be nice."

This last may not be within my power to do. I explained to her that my father--who knows the man's brother far, far better than I know the man--would probably contrive a much more diplomatic end to this situation than I. I would be sorely tempted to cross the line between firmness and rudeness, from, "While I am deeply flattered [not!] by the sudden resumption of your attentions toward me..." to "What kind of freak are you? Calling me NOW?! You've had my number all this time and haven't rung. I'm horribly insulted by your presumption that I would be just twiddling my thumbs for two years--that I would desperately jump at the chance of marrying you, after you haven't bothered to try to establish even the underpinnings of ordinary friendship in the meantime! ..." Yup, best to let Daddy do the talking.

Of course, at dinner tonight Daddy was plumping the virtues of his friend the 50ish divorced-with-three-teenaged-sons colo-rectal surgeon who would like to get to know me. I admit, said surgeon's attraction-level ranks far above the importunate immigrant's, but why oh why can't an American fellow (not an irritating, but an attractive one) of my own age, or even a bit younger come a-courting? I've gotten over some of my height-phobia, so he wouldn't even have to be short!

In the meantime, despite my strong desire for children and a home of my own, I'm really relishing not having to deal with an unwelcome beau! Even if I am becoming a thirty-four-year-old single the day after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Bush

I embarked on a heroic struggle this afternoon, and eventually triumphed. All it took was two hours, a branch-cutter, two shovels, and a crowbar.

My parents' 20-year-old landscaping has visibly aged. While some things, like the maple trees in the front yard, have grown into beautiful fullness, others, like the shrubs by the fence and the foundation, have become twiggy and gnarled, with more wood than leaf showing. Instead of flattering the house, the latter are are eyesores. The worst offender in the ugly category was one of a pair of giant red-tip bushes that flanked the front stoop. The one on the east side died long ago, and because my parents only use the front door when they go to and from the mailbox, it had been allowed to sit undisturbed, the complex grey skeleton looking like an anatomical diagram of its fully-fleshed counterpart on the west. Frankly, it was hideous, and when I visited GA a few weeks ago, I was determined to dig it up, but I hadn't time.

It was still in place when I arrived here two days ago. I knew tearing it out was going to be a real job, and that furthermore there are always unforeseen complications, just to keep things lively. I had the good sense to put on long sleeves and pants and leather work gloves before I attacked the monster, which was between three feet deep and four feet wide, and four feet tall, kept trimmed into a sort of box shape. I gleefully kicked and broke off most of the small branches, and hacked off ones that were about on inch in diameter, which itself took a while straining over the trimmers. Eventually, I was left with a core of trunk and supporting limbs, all swollen to massive size over two decades.

And I found the inevitable complication: a 6-inch diameter PVC pipe with a loose lid on it at the base of the bush. Eighteen inches down inside the pipe was a water valve. The valve was connected either to the sprinkler system or to the house, and interfering with either was not to be thought of. And just to spite me in death, the bush while living had wound large, stubborn roots around the pipe, roots which needed to be dug out before the woody carcass could be prised from the earth.

Besides worrying about the risk of breaking the pipe, the valve, or the water system to which it was connected with my shovels, I had to be careful not to get dirt in the pipe, which would also block the valve.

It was getting dark by the time I finished, and what a trip to my mother's gym Monday evening had not managed to do--make me sore--my struggle with the shrubbery did. Of course, I had been a total wimp at the gym--my mom was curling 35-lb dumbbells, and I chose to do the same exercise with 10-lbs--whereas I had no choice today but to tackle the bush as it stood.

So now the remains of the bush are lying in the front yard--a huge jumbled pile of twigs, branches and muddy roots (about twice the size of the plant they once constituted) that my mother says will probably stay where it is--half blocking the front sidewalk--until the fellow who cuts the grass and trims the remaining shrubbery arrives to haul it away. Such are the perils and pitfalls of suburbia--even when you have to do it yourself, you can't complete the job without recourse to a "professional".

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Lure of the Great Indoors

Sheesh, it was cold Saturday morning--below freezing (the TV said 27) and the wind bustling along at 10-20 MPH. I bundled up in two pairs of longjohns underneath my jeans and shirt, a heavy overcoat (buttoned) and two big wool scarves, plus two pairs of socks, but I was still so cold that I kept retreating into Anita's car, where the two of us huddled and hoped (in vain) that customers would be as foolish as we had been to brave the weather and come shopping. No, as it turned out, our would-be clientele was wiser than we, and stayed indoors. We left at noon. Four and a half hours of time wasted, time that I could have spent making jewelry for the Georgetown show.

Speaking of which, I was contacted by a professional jewelry vendor about the Phi Alpha Theta craft sale--she wanted to participate. Leaving aside the fact that Anita would have disowned me if I had agreed to this last-minute inclusion, my reason for turning her down was entirely legitimate--we just don't have room in the Leavey Center vestibule, what with five people (2 jewelers, 2 potters, and a vintage linens vendor) already on board. Next year, I'll reserve a room, or more tables than just 2 in the foyer, and ask this lady and other crafters to join us--turn it into a real fair. In the meantime, I passed pictures of her (lovely) work and her contact information along to a girl in the GU Breast Cancer Awareness Society, with whom I've been attempting to set up a pre-Valentines February fundraiser. The more the merrier, really. I'm just grateful the sale is inside, where it's warm, and out of the wind.

Yesterday noon, I was so frazzled from the wind and my hair scrunched up over and under my ear warmer that I looked like a drugged-out member of a 1980s "hair" band. And I was sufficiently exhausted from shivering that my best-laid plans of working at school on some independent grant project fell by the wayside--I went home to brush my hair and defrost my toes, and before I knew it I had peeled off my outer layers and me and my socks and two pairs of longjohns were tucked up in bed without kerchief or cap for that wonderfully lyrical "long winter's nap."

I woke up in time to log on for an hour's work before getting showered and spruced for a birthday party out in Fairfax. Susan and the Merry Marshwiggle and I had been bidden come for an "evening of poetic revelry... After all, as youth is gone [the organizers were] holding on to beauty by any means possible!" And beauty there was--I loved the Wiggle's recitation of a poem about Conan the Barbarian, but to me the artistic highpoint of the evening was James Butterflower's dramatic reading of the "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot. The man (Butterflower--whom I met at a housewarming, July a year ago) can read with such delectable expression--I could have listened for hours. Susan remarked you could tell which were the poetry lovers in the room--some people's eyes were glazing over as others (me included) hazarded selections from Donne and Coleridge.

Besides Butterflower, who always adds a theatrical element to any gathering, there were an eclectic assortment of other youthful, or just-post-youthful Presbyterians. One I found most engrossing was a fellow with a comfortable soft voice and a brutally neat military haircut, who turned out to be a guard at the Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns. I discovered that the alleged promise such people make to not "drink, smoke or chew" during their tenure at the tomb is just a rumor, at least the drinking part--they are allowed to have alcohol (he was drinking tea while I was sipped wine, which was how we got started on this subject), just not to excess. He's on 25-hour shifts, with 23-hour breaks between them, so he can get to church only every other Sunday. He says the post gets very cold in wintertime, especially as they keep their white gloves spritzed with water (and the guard doesn't change but once every two hours at night), but that the sunrise view over Washington is stunningly lovely. Since the guards are silent as they pace in front of the tomb (and all the spectators are to be respectfully mute as well), this was for me a unique moment to get to talk to one.

Sunday, I skipped church myself to load my car and run to school to finish the last-minute tasks of pulling library books for my mentor professor before leaving town for Thanksgiving. On the road by 11 AM, I stopped a couple of times to try to get catnaps, and twice more for gas ($1.759 in Richmond and in rural South Carolina--thank God it's gone down!), but still arrived by 8PM--without speeding. I was glad it didn't take longer--I was getting pretty sleepy on the final stretch between Columbia and Augusta. And, boy, did those flannel sheets feel good when I crawled into bed after supper!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Literature and Small Relatives

Last night was the National Press Club's annual book fair. Susan and I went as guests of the organizer, who ushered us past the lines and the ticket-checkers with the announcement, "Oh, they're with me!" (the first, and possibly last time this has happened to me). Roger Mudd (he of History Channel fame) and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were to be there, but both apparently had run out of books to autograph and had departed by the time we arrived. There were other known names in attendance, including former White House Press Corps grande dame Helen Thomas (much more wizened than when I met her 15 years ago), and Flight of the Intruder author Stephen Coonts, whom I had had the pleasure of meeting at Georgetown earlier yesterday (our publications coordinator had persuaded him to come speak to a small group of faculty and graduate students, and I was one of twelve people who came to munch the free lunch and listen to him talk about how he got into writing and how the publications industry has changed over the past 20+ years).

Susan and I bought several autographed books and schmoozed with a couple of lesser-known writers who'd done up their booths (and in one case, herself) in eye-catching ways--and were offering potables (one or two other booths had baskets of what looked like leftover Halloween candy--anything to attract potential readers). Elsewhere, I met the wife of the former US ambassador to Russia, and Susan was pleased to make the acquaintance of the author of the environmental awareness text she's been planning to use in her high school classes next quarter.

It was interesting how many aspects of my jewelry-selling career at the Arlington Market parallel the Book Fair--all the tables with people behind them displaying a range of engagement in plumping their wares, some with elaborate displays, others with lonely stacks of books (some with sexy or eye-catching titles, other grimly matter-of-fact), some authors standing, smiling, actively greeting browsers, others sitting, bored, looking as if having to talk to one more reader asking the same insipid question for the umpteenth time would send them straight to the bar, once they'd clocked the offender with a hardback.

We did have to go through the bar to the registers to pay for the books. Judging from the number of empty glasses accumulating on the tray by the door, quite a few people had been indulging. At literary events, they drink. At the Arlington Market, we binge on Cookie Lady cookies.

Both Susan and I bought Christmas children's books for our respective nieces. I expect my little nephew won't leave Rita's volume in its present pristine state for long--he just started walking last week, about the time that his big sister returned to preschool (much to her joy). I'm not sure what to get for the little guy himself, yet. But I have a new, furry, nephew that'll be quite easy to buy for. My Atlanta brother, Nate, and his girlfriend recently acquired a "small cat-like creature" named Rigsby.

Rigsby is living with Diane and her dog, but my brother has parental visitation rights--during which time he obviously lets little Rigsby perch on his head!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Shakespeare 'n' Stuff

I hate blogging with dialup--it takes so long to get on from home that once I've been able to pull up the Blogspot website, I've got little enthusiasm left for writing. Besides, I've been spending almost every spare minute the last week making jewelry--I've got a show hosted by my boss this Thursday evening, then Thanksgiving (during which time nothing will get done--I've got to drive 19+ hours roundtrip to GA, not to mention another 4 going to and from my grandparents', and I won't feel like hunching over needle-nose pliers after hunching over a steering wheel for that long), then comes the monster 3-day Phi Alpha Theta Fundraising Sale at Georgetown, and then a Holiday Bazaar the following Saturday at a local high school. Absolute insanity. But hopefully insanely profitable, too!

Adding to my current addlepatedness has been receiving unsought and not particularly welcome attentions from two men--one a Democrat lawyer who used to live with a couple of jewelry vendors who have the booth across from mine and Anita's, and the other the odd immigrant physician who was briefly the subject of an arranged marriage plan perpetrated by his brother against me two Christmases ago. At least the local lawyer knows me somewhat and chats pleasantly a-Saturdays. The last time the doctor called was 1 1/2 years ago, after he'd spent 6 weeks with his elderly parents in the old country, and was thereafter briefly moved to contact the one single female he knew, which unfortunately was me. He has no ability to conduct himself cordially on the phone, and during our one dinner together two years ago--to which my parents and his brother and sister-in-law also came--he spent as much time talking to his relatives in Arabic as he did asking me curt questions in English. I was not impressed.

But these are but flies hovering around the working lunch that is my life. In the last ten days, not only did I get a full 10 inches whacked off the length of my hair (my new look) and acquire my first blow dryer/curler, I also joined a gym. At least superficially, I am blending in to the DC yuppie culture. But I refuse to start wearing a bluetooth or a pair of earbuds connected to an ipod. And heaven help me if I begin carrying an blackberry.

On Friday, Susan and I went to the Folger Theater for a performance of Henry VI, Part I. Worth every penny of the ticket price. I've always had a soft spot for Henry "Hotspur" Percy (to me, he and Falstaff rank way above Prince Hal in this history piece--Hal doesn't win me over completely until Henry V, by which time he's adopted many of Percy's better characteristics), and the fellow who embodied the role was just superb, his speech fluid and natural, absent that deplorable "rote line" quality which bedevils so many Shakespearean actors. It's a pity it's taken this long for us to get around to attending a play at the Folger--the last time I went was to Romeo and myself, three or four years ago. They are putting on The Winter's Tale in a few months, and I simply must see that one. I hope Susan will want to go!

I had managed to avoid a stilted conversation with the middle-aged physician (who, as my sister pointed out, is the sort of not-likely-to-be-married man who calls a woman once every one or two years, when the vague notion strikes him that she might be good wife-material--one such man we know, also a physician, had the amusing--to us--experience of thinking of and phoning such a lady only to discover that in the interim since his last phone call she'd married someone else and had a baby) on Thursday night, as I was eating with friends, and told him to call Saturday afternoon. As it happened, my former mentor, a sweet lady who is now an assistant provost at the University of South Carolina, was in town, and the Arlington market having been cancelled due to weather, we had the opportunity to meet on Saturday to discuss my work on the "Two Motherlands" manuscript, which she has agreed to read in its entirety--despite her already-stuffed schedule. So I had the delightfully legitimate excuse of not having heard the phone ring when the fellow called back. He left a brusque message. I shan't respond, and maybe the next time the mood strikes him to phone me, I'll be contentedly married to another. Bwahaahaa.

Finally, a happy belated birthday to Leah of Cathy Plus One! Her bonne anniversaire was on Friday, and I was too preoccupied to call her, but wish her many happy returns nonetheless!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Traveling on Borrowed Wheels

On the way from North Carolina to Georgia on Monday, it started raining, and I switched on my windshield wipers. I noticed that the driver's side one seemed to be a little out of sync, and this was confirmed in dramatic fashion a few minutes later when it flung itself bodily off the left side of the window and came to rest on the rear view mirror, quivering slightly. Thankfully, the rain wasn't bucketing down at that point, and so I was able to see enough to keep driving until I came to an inhabited exit. (At the moment this happened, I was in boondocks South Carolina, and I didn't read Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" for nothing, thank you.)

Eventually, I saw a McDonald's sign through the blurred glass, and made it off the interstate and into the parking lot without running into anything. The bolt was pretty stripped, but I tightened the nut down as well as I could with my fingers and the wiper--arm, blade and all--managed to stay on the window for the rest of the journey to Augusta. But it needs to be replaced before I embark on another trip.

Turns out, none of the local Honda dealers stock the part I need. They can reportedly get it overnight, but I have to head back to DC tomorrow (can't miss market on Saturday--I have both Anita's and my displays), so that doesn't do me any good (it was only last night that we figured out what exactly we needed to replace, and today my mother and I took her SUV down to visit my grandparents in middle GA). What to do? My parents are sweetly letting me borrow my mother's vehicle for the next two weeks--I'll return it at Thanksgiving.

The different wheels are just a temporary accessory to my radical New Look, I suppose.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Turtle Migration

Actually, given it's Georgia, it is more properly tarrapin migration season. Mums and I went on a six-mile walk around the neighborhood this morning and saw not one, not two, but three terrapins crossing (or having just crossed) the road. Presumably they were just looking to get to the other side, and I picked up the last one, that hadn't yet made the curb and was thus in danger of being smushed, and placed it carefully in the yard toward which it was crawling. The dogs nearby went absolutely crazy at this sight, but since they were safely fenced in, neither the terrapin nor I paid them any mind.

The weather was gorgeous today, and the air blissfully clear--particularly of all the political blather that has darkened my days for months now. I am glad the election's over (except for our district's senatorial race, which was effectively hung by the Libertarian, which means there'll be a run-off between the incumbent Republican and the challenging Democrat in a month--we expect the President-elect to come down to stump personally for the latter, and I shall enjoy expressing my decided preference for the former by absentee ballot) and that so many people turned out to vote. What's the use of democracy, or more properly, democratic-republicanism, if people don't go to the polls? Broad participation is a good thing--I just wish it had been a little less personally worshipful and idealistic in this case. But Sandmonkey had predicted this national outcome half a year ago, and I suspect that his prognosis for Mr. Obama's term may be accurate as well. I hope, however, that the new President will show wisdom beyond his platform and experience, and though we may have reason to complain (don't we always!) at home to each other, we'll not be toadying to powers abroad either by policy or necessity.

Personal appearance-wise, I have decided "it's time for a change." Dazzling details to follow.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

I Forgot My Anniversary

Typical, typical for women in my family--it's the men who remember the special dates and the women who forget them. My fourth anniversary of blogging passed on the first of October without my notice, though to be fair to myself I did have more pressing issues (my little niece's health, for instance) distracting my attention.

One anniversary I wish I could forget but which is looming over me the way no other has done before is my birthday, which arrives in just over three weeks. As a rule, I love birthdays, though have rarely gotten to celebrate them--last year being the delightful exception--but the thirty-fourness of this one is bugging me in a way that the thirtyness of thirty and the thirty-threeness of thirty-three didn't. One conceivable reason is that my youngest brother, Bob the naval officer, was born when my mother was 34. When I was eight. I remember my parents very well at this age--they were completing their family at an age when I don't have even the chance to begin one. It's quite sobering, and thoroughly disheartening when I dwell on it, which I am trying not to do.

I do have another serious issue drawing my attention from my personal concerns these days--another health crisis in my family. Eschewing the details, let's just say that it provided some dark humor on Halloween when a member of our clan emailed a friend of hers to say that the urban legend about a person waking up in an ice-filled bathtub with a note pinned to her chest saying "Seek medical help immediately, your organs are missing" could come true. Hopefully, a transplant won't be necessary, but major surgery may be in the offing. Provided there isn't an emergency over the next month, I'll conduct the pre-Christmas jewelry shows as planned and then probably return south (where I am now headed--I left DC this afternoon and am spending the night in NC) and stay down in GA for the duration.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Painted Sepulchres

The Georgetown district of Washington, DC, is oh-so-very conscious of its historicity in a way that is peculiarly American. Thus, cobblestone streets are left with long-unused tram-tracks rusting in situ, the metal rails jutting sometimes a foot above the unkempt pavement, which has sunk haphazardly over the years (a configuration that plays merry hell with automobile-wheel alignment as you try to steer a fine crooked course between rails, drops and cobbles, axles groaning at every jolt) and 100 to 200-year-old shacks that would be pulled down without a qualm in Europe are relentlessly maintained, though (and this is true for almost all that aren’t brick) they have developed a distinct list to one side or the other.

Given wood siding, the aforementioned dwellings must be repainted on a regular basis—I sometimes think it is the accumulated layers of paint alone that keep many of them standing. As I walked out the university’s front gate yesterday evening, I noticed one that was freshly colored a particularly pungent pumpkin shade. Galileo could have successfully tested his mass/weight/gravity theories from atop the western side of this brightly-tinted rhomboid. As I sauntered on, mentally remarking on the fa├žade’s seasonal brilliance, I passed another lopsided house—painted pink. Apparently I was not the only person to be struck by the color—in the downstairs window, there was a hand-lettered sign: “It’s SALMON.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another Quick Post

Yesterday was my best day at the market since last Christmas. I was praying, "Thank you, Lord!" the better part of my stay--at one point Anita and I were rushed by customers, and were attempting to handle three transactions at once. Sweet. This more than made up for the Saturday I spent in Rhode Island and last week's being in Pennsylvania. Coral necklaces are apparently The Thing this season.

Susan and I spent this evening processing a peck of the bushel-and-a-peck of apples we picked at the Masonic Reserve orchard in PA this past weekend. We already froze a bunch of peeled and cut pieces earlier this week, but these we want to cook and whip into apple butter.

I made a huge pot of lentil soup (more like stew, given its consistency) last night, which we enjoyed for lunch today without making much of a dent in the quantity. We'll be freezing a lot of that, too. It'll be nice on cold winter days.

I am looking forward to going home at the end of this month (my boss should be back from her chemotherapy, and I'll be able to escape for a while). I hope I'll be able to spend a little while in North Carolina in November, too. I've got a major jewelry show in DC mid-month, and then two huge ones taking up a total of 4 days the first week in December, but other than that, odd-jobs at the History Department, the occasional grant-work for my mentor, dissertation-planning (there'll be no Fulbright or NSF grant applications for me this year--I just don't have time, and both are due November 3/4) and a possible diamond-digging trip to Arkansas, my schedule's open.

Susan and I thought about roadtripping this afternoon over to my alma mater in the Shenandoah Valley (this is a lovely time of year to go), but decided to stay home and go on a short walk instead. There was a time in my life that I could make the distance in 2 1/2 hours, but I'm more law-abiding these days, and so the round trip would comprise some 7 hours, too much time in the car for an afternoon excursion. Maybe it would be nice for a day--if someone else were doing the driving, and I could nap on the way...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This'll Be Quick

...As Blogger is supposed to go down in just a few minutes for a "scheduled outage." My old laptop, which I've been using for 10 months past its expiration date, as originally thought, is about to give up the ghost in earnest (the screen has gone dark several times, which I suspect is associated somehow with the cracks in the hinge area) and so I'm copying the hard drive contents onto a 4 GB flash drive preparatory to moving all my regular business over to the new laptop that's been gathering dust in a corner of my room since last December. This is taking a long time. I have a lot of pictures saved on this thing.

Rita is supposed to come home from the hospital for good tomorrow. She seems considerably more chipper than she has in a month, and although the swelling in her optic nerves has not yet gone down, it is expected to do so in the coming weeks.

I have a dissertation topic. At last. My mentor came into the department with the words, "I need to talk to you, do you have a few minutes?" this morning, and I followed him back to his office. He handed me a 3x5 index card with a title penned on one side. "This is a book I think you need," he said. "Does that title excite you?" "Who wrote it?" I asked, flipping over the card. There was my name. "You will," my mentor responded. "What do you think?"

It took me several hours to get over my shock, but I think this is what I'll do for my research. It's on the World War I and Russian Civil War era, public-health related, and potentially quite interesting. Plus, there are resources here in DC I can consult, and a main Russian archive dealing with the subject is in St. Petersburg, where I have friends. Beats the heck out of going to Siberia to research gold mining.

Now if I can just cobble together a Fulbright proposal in the next two weeks...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tuesday Afternoon Post

The train is gliding quietly southward along the warm rails, past seaside views of marshes filled with golden reeds and stretches of open blue water dotted with sailboats. On land, the leaves are beginning to turn. The edges of clumps of green trees and bushes show rims of red and ocher. Elsewhere, ancient rocks sit silently on embankments, waiting for cold to petrify everything around them. In a few months, the colors of autumn will be just warm memories as the winter paints the world a stony palette of grey and black. But now, the sun shines, still high enough at 4 PM to glaze my computer screen with impenetrable patches of glare, slowing my typing and sending my gaze out the window, at the steel-wired rail yard where we are pausing for passengers.

I little thought that I would be on this comfortable journey today when two nights ago I was in the emergency room of Rhode Island’s Hasbro Hospital, holding my tubby and energetic seven-month-old nephew, who was still awake, curious, and cheerful at midnight, and waiting with my worried sister and brother-in-law to hear the professional medical verdict on my niece, who had only just been discharged from that hospital Sunday afternoon, some five hours before we brought her back.

When her father carried Rita through the rain into the house on Sunday, I was surprised to see that she had grown—she is several inches taller than when I saw her last, a month ago. But thin, painfully thin. And her olive skin had paled to the point where she looked positively green against her dark hair and blood-colored lips. In fact, with her long, tapered fingers and fine features, she looked like nothing so much as a miniature version of the classic Victorian maiden, wasting away from some hopeless undiagnosed condition. Or like a Victorian witch—two weeks of lying in a hospital bed had teased her hair into an electric-shock halo of tangles, and made it stand out in wild rats-nests all over her head. Rita, however weak, has a straightforward personality, and her first question to me was “Where is Grandmommy?” (Aunt Kyp obviously being a poor substitute in her eyes). She also noticed immediately that we’d taken down the pictures that were hanging on the walls—so they wouldn’t be knocked down by the siding-installers banging on the outside of the house, I explained. She was pleased, however, with the colorful apron I’d bought for her, and insisted on putting on the “dress” for her nap and leaving it on for eating ice cream afterwards.

She was tucking into a small scoop of ice cream while sitting in her booster seat at the kitchen table when the pupil of her left eye rolled inward towards her nose, and she vomited up everything she’d eaten all day, saying piteously, “I’m making a big mess.” Something was obviously badly wrong—people’s eyes don’t misbehave like that without some cause. And in a three-year-old who has spent almost two weeks in the hospital, who is on multiple medicines—including blood thinners—and has a monster clot in a sinus vein, vomiting and eye-disjunction can be signs of something truly dangerous. We changed her soiled clothes, my sister (who’d been downstairs running on the treadmill) rushed up to telephone her pediatrician, and within ten minutes we were out the door—my nephew was packed into the car along with his still-hungry sister, who was begging piteously for chicken nuggets—and we were on our way to the ER in Providence. We made a quick run through the local Wendy’s drive-thru for chicken nuggets and chocolate milk for Rita (and a bacon cheeseburger and Frosty for me), and then were racing towards the hospital.

Rita ate 4 chicken nuggets (with mayonnaise) and drank half the bottle of milk before we got to Hasbro. They all stayed down. Her eye was still drifting noseward, but less dramatically than earlier. We all piled out at the ER (the valet people whisked away the station wagon after we unloaded ourselves and Brad’s stroller) and after a preliminary exam by nurses who (unfortunately) recognized the family from their latest ER trip, Rita was taken back into the inner sanctum of the ER.

They put on a heart-rate monitor—a bright red-lighted band taped to her big toe—and her daddy helped her change from her jeans and pull-over into thin cotton hospital pajamas printed with cartoon pictures and the phrase “tired little tiger” all over them. Rita put her head on her daddy’s knee and cried herself to sleep, her lips looking almost black in her peaked face. He set gently to work on her wild hair with a comb my sister dug out of her purse. An hour or so after we arrived, he’d worked out the tangles, and a nurse came in with an interesting little instrument on a rolling stand and stroked it softly over Rita’s forehead and around her ear. She had a fever of 102.6. At home, it’d been only a little past 99.

Throughout this time, nurses had been taking case histories, her not-so-old hospital chart had been pulled up on the computer, and my sister talking with the medical staff. I was bouncing Brad, who was interested by the whole procedure, all the new people and things there were to see, and anxious to get down to explore, which I wouldn’t let him do.

We’d arrived at the hospital about 6-6:30. By 10 pm, they’d arranged for a CT scan—not my sister’s first choice, as Rita had already had one and a collection of x-rays just last week, and the radiation exposure was starting to accumulate. After considerable waiting, we all rushed over to CT, the gurney rolling through the halls of the almost-empty hospital at a tremendous clip, pushed by an energetic red-haired, cleft-chinned Adonis of a pediatric intern and a new nurse (who gave me a shock when we finally paused in the imaging room—Rita’s eyes had been getting more out of kilter at times, but this nurse’s were permanently off). My sister and I looked at each other surreptitiously—were we both going crazy from worry and fatigue, or were everybody’s eyes wonky?

They were just about to slide her into the CT scanner—Rita was weeping, begging for her daddy to hold her, and we were trying to distract her by getting her to spell her name, sing the alphabet song, and asking her questions about who was whom—when the RCA (red/cleft/Adonis) got a call from MRI—they could work her in there, she wouldn’t have to go through the CT after all. We were all relieved—my brother-in-law patted his distraught daughter’s hand and said, “Don’t worry, sweetie, the governor called.” And we all returned to the ER, where we had to wait yet another hour—until Rita had been food/drink free for 4 hours, and they could safely sedate her. I felt so sorry for all of them—Rita was begging piteously for a juice box—which we couldn’t give her—her father smoothed her hair and assured her that we’d get her a juice “after we go to the other room”—and my sister, dressed in a black gym suit, wore an expression I’d previously seen only on the face of the Madonna in Michelango’s Pieta: superficially calm, but drawn, tired, full of indefinable, lingering sorrow. “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” she confided later, “And it’s not even me that’s sick.”

Merry ol’ Brad, meanwhile, was breaking out in hives. The RCA was so concerned (“How old is he? My wife and I have a nine-month-old.” Talking to Brad: “You’re a big, guy, aren’t you?!” Then again to his parents: “I know he’s not the patient, but let me check his breathing.”) that he stethoscoped him, but found Brad’s respiration was not affected by the white-red blotches which besmirched his round baby cheeks. [A pediatrician’s visit the next day eventually confirmed that Brad “may just be a hivey baby” but that his mother should avoid eating peanut products just in case and keep some Benadryl on hand—half a teaspoon the prescribed dose.] My sister looked miserable: “My kids are both falling apart,” she told the RCA, who offered sympathy.

Brad did not cry at all throughout the whole ordeal—the ER nurses were amazed and said as much. Given his phenomenal cuteness—a Betty Boop-style face on a baby Buddha body—he was constantly being admired by passersby, which certainly contributed to my good humor, even if he didn’t agree to grin at these complimentary strangers. He kept busy: when not trying to escape, he gummed my chin, my shirt, the knee of my pants, my knuckles. I was absolutely covered in slime. He occasionally consented to nurse (the reason my sister had decided to bring him along—she hopes to be able to breastfeed him until he is one), but was mostly too engrossed by his surroundings to think about eating. Or sleeping. He didn’t doze off until 12:25, while I was rocking him in the hall near the ER nurse’s station, waiting for the on-call neurologist and the blood-drawing nurses to be finished harassing my small miserable niece, who would cry, “Nee-no-nee-no-nee-no” when they prodded her awake for yet another examination.

At 2 AM, they finally decided to admit her to the hospital itself. They hadn’t been able to document the eye-problem, the MRI “looked the same as it had,” but the fever was worrisome. By this time, she was sleeping with her spidery little arms and legs wrapped around her father, a half-empty bottle of apple juice nearby (he’d gotten her juice as promised after the MRI). I kissed her thin flour-colored cheek, patted her father’s shoulder, and went out into the cool night with my sister. Thank God we made it home in one piece—there was a speeding 18-wheeler on the highway that unnerved us both, and we were too tired to think coherently, much less practice appropriate defensive driving.

When we got home, there was some good news: my mother had already bought tickets to fly up to Providence, to arrive at what was already then “later today.” My sister, nephew and I were unable to sleep well, but when the sun was up, S Dawg and I took my him to his pediatrician to find out about the hives. Then, she went off to the hospital, leaving me to resume babysitting and waiting for news of my niece’s condition. It actually came with my mother at 7 pm, as my sister was too preoccupied to call me, but was regularly on the phone with my doctor father. Rita had gotten worse, both eyes crossed dramatically, obvious to the neurologists who had been unable to see the problem the previous evening.

S Dawg and I had prayed Sunday, before we went to the ER, that whatever was causing the problem would be detected, and while the MRI hadn’t and the neurological exams hadn’t, the fever had kept her at Hasbro until the ophthalmological symptoms were too clear to be overlooked. She did have pressure on her brain, as my sister had feared—if the eyes were affected and it went untreated, she could go blind. She did need more surgery, as my father had suspected: a mastoidectomy, to “powerwash” the cavity in the bone behind her right ear, where the infection which felled her two weeks ago was still raging. And a lumbar puncture to temporarily relieve some of the pressure in her skull.

So, this morning, beginning at about 10, my mom, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Brad, and I went to the hospital (my sister had gone before 7). Rita was just being anesthetized for surgery—I didn’t see her, but her father said she objected mightily (after all her discomfort, I imagine she just wants all these doctors to leave her alone). At 1:25, a genial surgeon came out to us in the waiting room and said everything had proceeded smoothly. She hadn’t bled overmuch. They hadn’t had to take apart her ear bones, but the right mastoid had indeed been completely infected and they’d done a thorough job of scrubbing it. “Her hearing should be good in just a couple of days,” he assured us. Hopefully, her eyesight will return to normal too. We don’t know how long she’ll be in the hospital this time, but we are praying that when she comes home she’ll be there to get completely well. The blood clot is still there, lurking in her jugular. I want her to be happy and wholly healthy again, able to climb the monkey bars to her heart’s content.

Perhaps a Victorian rest-cure would be just the thing for the whole family: a month or two at a warm-weather seaside resort—if only we could afford it (in the Victorian period, given the strength of the British pound, going abroad was always less expensive than staying at home)—Rita needs some sunshine after all this literal and metaphorical rain! And I don’t think getting rest and a tan would do either of her parents any harm, either.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Suddenly, In Rhode Island

My sister called me late Thursday, about 11 pm, to say that Rita was being re-admitted to the hospital. Her temperature had climbed again, and another infection was suspected. She needed me on a train as early as possible in the AM to take care of Brad.

The NPV, despite severe fatigue, gamely volunteered to drive me to Union Station, and I made the 7:25 train with ten minutes to spare. By 2:45, I was in Providence, and my brother-in-law dropped me and his son off at Hasbro hospital with directions on how to get to the surgery center. He went to park the car, and once my niece was sedated my sister joined the three of us in the post-op waiting room.

They can't extract the clot--it reaches into her jugular vein--but they did decide to go ahead and put tubes in her ears. A good thing, as there was more infection and fluid build-up behind her little eardrum, and this relieved the pressure. The surgery was smooth, and by yesterday evening Rita was sitting up in bed demanding spaghetti and meatballs, which she consumed with gusto (and two chicken McNuggets and a sip of milkshake) and did not regurgitate.

I haven't seen her yet--I've been at home with Brad, who, when he's awake, has been intensely interested in the construction going on the outside of the house. The old deteriorated shakes are being removed preparatory to installing vinyl siding. Pictures hanging on the walls were literally bounding off their nails this morning from all the pounding outside, but Brad slept like a rock--two hours for his nap. He's such a cheerful little soul, with giant liquid brown eyes, long thick dark lashes, and big ears that droop over slightly. My mother says he reminds her of a basset hound--always damp beneath the chin. So cuddly, too, with a "rawr" of happy excitement that makes him sound like a lion cub.

Rita should be home from the hospital (again!) tomorrow. My sister and I stocked the fridge with her favorite foods today (we got her blood-thinner and syringes last night). I've got a ticket to leave for DC on Tuesday, arriving just after 9 PM. It's been a nuts two weeks. I am looking forward to Columbus Day weekend--Susan and I are supposed to go to Pennsylvania this coming Friday.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Pipsqueak is Home

My little niece came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon. The clot will continue to be treated with blood-thinning injections, twice daily and not fun, but at least the medical technology is there.

Rita is ravenous. Apparently she ate almost an entire grapefruit yesterday evening, and this morning has been begging for any and all foods she ever found palatable. She's still too weak to climb the stairs, but hopefully, given a good appetite and continued convalescence, she will gain weight and strength.

Thanks to everyone for praying!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Plucky Wee Lass

Despite complications having a PICC line put in yesterday (primarily because she’s on blood thinners to help dissolve the blood clot in her central sinus vein, which drains the blood from the brain—it’s a big problem if that sucker clogs up), Rita has been maintaining her usual sweetness and perceptiveness. Yesterday morning, when her fever peaked at 105, she was sitting up in bed watching "Dora the Explorer" and singing along. When they sedated her later, telling her they were going “to take a picture” (an x-ray), the last word she managed before slipping into unconsciousness was a weak, “Cheese!” And when one of those intolerably jovial pediatric physicians left her room after talking to her worried parents, she turned to them and announced, matter-of-factly, “He wasn’t funny.” She’ll be in intensive care at least another week. She’s a very sick little individual. Please pray that the blood clot dissolves and they don’t have to remove it surgically (a very risky procedure).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


My sweet little niece is very ill. They took her to the hospital yesterday, and the doctors said then she'd have to stay for at least a week--she has a blood clot in her sinuses, an ear infection (one of her eardrums has already burst) and possibly bronchitis or pneumonia. This morning she looked worse: a high fever, and streptococcus bacteria in her blood. She is only three years old, and small for her age--a week ago, she only weighed 26 lbs. Please pray for her. My mother is flying up to Rhode Island this morning to be with my sister and her family. We are all extremely concerned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Pho, Pho Better Thing

Susan and I have been on a major pho kick lately--twice this last week. It's a Vietnamese rice-noodle soup, served almost at boiling temperature with pieces of freshly sliced flank rapidly cooking in the broth. On the side bean sprouts, sliced green chilies, mint leaves and lime wedges are provided for seasoning, along with a bottle of viscous puce hot sauce. I generally eat my pho without any of the additives, while Susan stirs in chilies and a swirl of sauce. It's wonderfully filling without being fattening.

There are two places we like for this soup. One is a communist-style dining room where the soup is the only thing on the menu. The chopsticks and the traditional Asian spoons are plastic (no forks or any Western impliments are offered), the tables are communal, and the one waiter is a disgruntled-looking middle-aged man who pushes a metal cart around the room and sullenly sets soup in front of the patrons when he's not busing tables. But the soup is delicious, and it's cheap. Cash only, though.

The other pho place is a proper sit-down restaurant with an entire wall-full of framed 8x10 color photographs of high-ranking American military officers, each personally inscribed to the owner. There's one picture of him with John McCain. But the largest picture is of him with Bill Clinton--this one faces the front door, and is the first thing that greets the eyes when you enter, besides the obligatory large bronze Buddha. They take credit cards, and are open much later than the communist place, which closes at 8. The service is good, there are forks (although I still prefer to hazard with chopsticks) and the atmosphere is conducive to conversation. Susan and I took our friend Kate, who works for a broadcaster in Prague, there for a late supper the other evening. It was packed at almost 9 PM--on a weeknight. We had to wait for a table. With tip, the meal was only about $12 per person, which in DC is phenomenal. Pricier than the communist place, but hardly exploiting the dining-out worker.

This morning, when the Georgetown University server temporarily went down and we were forced to find some other way of filling the time, one of the professors in my department who served as the chair for a time (well before mine) came up to the front desk and shared with me one of the "dirty little secrets" of academic hiring. It seems that there is a three-tier system for history doctoral programs, and where you get your degree truly does determine--with almost iron certainty--where you have opportunity to gain employment. And it's a really incestuous system. There are eight schools in the top tier--the four "old Ivies" (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Princeton) and four younger, well-respected schools (University of Chicago, Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins) and about ten in the second. Georgetown is in the second tier, along with University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, three Ivies (Cornell, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania) and handful of other schools.

If you are a graduate of the top tier, the professor told me, "you are almost guaranteed to be in the top five" for any major university history department's job search. If you are in the second, "you will probably be in the top twenty." But, for instance, if you graduated from the University of Maryland [his choice for an example--this school is ranked by US News and World Report in the top 25 nationwide for history graduate programs] with a history Ph.D., you don't have the proverbial snowball's chance of teaching at the top tier. The rare exceptions are for peculiar specializations, but those are exceptional indeed. With a conventional university doctoral degree, "You will probably end up teaching at a small college in South Dakota." "Can you imagine what would happen to most history programs if this got out?" he remarked, closing the this year's edition of the AHA Directory of History Departments, Historical Organizations and Historians, which he had been citing for emphasis, running his finger down the lists of faculty at the best-known schools, where each professor's name flanked by the name of his or her alma mater.

I was again reminded of the traji-comic sign held by a job-seeker at the last AHA annual convention: "Will teach American History for food." It'd better be pho.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

One of the Reasons...

...yesterday was such a blissful relief after a decidedly tough week, despite high humidity at the market and low sales, was that I didn't hear anyone--not a blessed soul--mention politics. I am so very sick of hearing people go on and on about the evils of Sarah Palin and the messianic qualities of Obama. It's like a choking miasma that permeates all of Washington these days. And (having had an unpleasant confrontation with a member of the John Birch Society some ten years ago) I have now realized that the "far right" has no monopoly on crazy conspiracy theories--the lunatic fringe on the left (which category encompasses so many of the intellectuals in this town) is equally convinced that a Republican victory in November will lead to the end of civilization as we know it, from the shuttering of the Library of Congress to the mandatory teaching of Creationism in schools.

Both as a Christian and an anti-conspiracy-theorist, I had a particularly uncomfortable week. First of all, Monday or Tuesday, Silverman went stomping around the department loudly declaiming, "I don't believe it! I just don't believe it!" Coming around behind my desk, he continued this vocal agnosticism. I deliberately ignored him. Having failed to goad indirectly me into responding to him, he addressed me personally, telling me that he didn't believe that the smallest Palin child was the Republican VP nominee's own. I said (as there was nothing else to say) that I believed he was. Then, Silverman launched into commentary on my unwillingness to investigate and know "the truth." (Oh no, I don't suppose it was because I had actual WORK to do at the front desk!) I said, shortly, "Look, Prof. Silverman, I don't feel like discussing politics with you right now." Whereupon he stomped off muttering audibly about me, my stubbornness, close-mindedness, etc. And, of course, he mentioned this exchange to me, several times, in a passive-aggressive mode, in further conversations during the week.

Good grief, what is the woman supposed to have done? Craigs-Listed a request for a disabled child? Stolen him? And at a time when she was already governor of Alaska, with no notion that she'd ever be in the running for Vice President. Good grief. And how, even if this were true, would the cause of revealing this peculiar subterfuge to the public be served by my discussing it during working hours at the department?

Then, Thursday, the department hosted our "welcome-back" party. The graduate essay competition prize-winner was announced. The winning paper was on American evangelicals' gradual turn against Naziism in the 1930s, from initially approving the "law and order" stance of Hitler to quickly associating him with the Anti-Christ and his murder of Jews, and Christian dissidents, with the terrors of the Apocalypse. The author of this paper was particularly praised for his respectful treatment of his sources in light of the fact that most scholars would consider them (Book of Revelation situations associated with Nazi atrocities) to be "bizarre." All the assembly tittered. ("Those Christian fundamentalists, how can they believe this stuff!")

Friday, I was at the Library of Congress, meeting with a couple of librarians there about my dissertation research topic and the feasibility thereof. One of the men with whom I chatted was a Russianist, the head of the newly-relocated European Reading Room (yes, they did downsize and move it after all), who invited me to tea, an end-of-week tradition for ERR denizens. A Russian sweet was being provided by a couple of other Georgetown Russianists who'd just gotten back from Moscow.

The first half-hour or so of the tea (in a conference room amidst a double-decker construction of office cubicles) was thoroughly pleasant. All but one of the scholars who'd gathered were Russian specialists, and so conversations went on half in English and half in Russian. I talked about my book-translation with an independent scholar who, it turned out, was reviewing a new British-published book that incorporated at least part of the material I'd hoped to approach for my dissertation. Unfortunate to hear that someone had at least partly "done" the subject, but useful to my investigation.

Then, somehow, the talk at the table turned to politics. One of the more outlandish pronunciations was about Palin's purported enforcement of Creationism in science classes. Instead of being silent as usual, I countered with the information that I'd looked on CNN and found this wasn't true--she only endorsed the co-teaching of alternatives to evolution. Shock across the table. "It's the same thing!" ejaculated the independent scholar, with the two other graduate students chiming in. "Well, I don't think including it is a problem; evolution has its problems, too," I responded mildly. You would have thought I'd stated that the pope was Satan's mouthpiece at a meeting of the College of Cardinals. An almost hysterical religious fervor was present in the voice and manner of the independent scholar as he dismissed my words, my person, and my intellectual capability in a sneering gesture, "Well, I can see there's no use discussing this with you!"

I changed the subject, but the damage was done--I was obviously an idiot who'd been allowed into the gathering by mistake, no further coherent conversation was possible with me.

Gosh, I was so hurt. As all people do, I hate being thought an idiot. It hurts even more when I know I was one of the few, if not the only one in the whole room, who actually has had scientific training. True, it was but a few classes, but if the Biohazards program taught me anything, it is how comparatively little science truly does know about biological processes that it CAN observe. And so to theorize about the processes that are not observed is an exercise in untestable hypothesis. What galled me even further was that I was surrounded by historians, people who themselves cannot agree on what happened at moments thirty years ago, much less "millions and billions" of years ago. Real history research is painstaking and the best of its results is entitled "A History," with the understanding that some major piece of evidence may come to light that will nuance, or even--in some rare cases--entirely rearrange our understanding of the recounted events.

The brightest people are those who, with their knowledge, get understanding--fundamental to that understanding is the appreciation of the vastness of one's ignorance, and the ignorance of humanity in general. To me, it is the height of presumption to insist on a scientific dogma that is--unlike the "Law" of gravity--neither observable, reproducible, nor in fact directly relevant to daily life. Or, I should say, its only relevance seems to have been to devalue the humanity of those who are weak and imperfect, and to give an inflated sense of self-importance to people who believe their own intellectual gifts make them better than their fellows.

I prayed a good deal Friday afternoon. It is so often not comfortable doing the godly thing. Those New Testament verses about how God has used the weak and the foolish to shame the worldly-wise came to mind. I am so tempted so frequently to take the easy way out, not to bring down on myself ridicule from my peers. I hope that God will give me grace to know when to speak up, grace to bear up when my faith, and the logic that issues therefrom, is maligned. That I would be meek, but not weak. And, in so doing, that I--as a Christian feminist--wouldn't let condescending atheist men walk over me just because I'm a "religious" girl! I may not be capable of snappy conversational rejoinders, but my brain works just fine, thank you, and acknowledging the possibility of the supernatural, particularly a deeply logical, if un-fully-knowable, Supernatural is in no way antithetical to superior scholarship.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Better Day(s)

I am delighted to report that Wednesday was considerably better than Tuesday. I was not subjected to political rants, and I started my required new-employee-of-Georgetown [somehow, now I'm "official", whereas for the last three years I've fallen under some sort of student dispensation] harassment training--not how to, but how not to--wherein I discovered that I can request such discussions to be conducted out of my hearing, lest they disturb my work.

Not that I'll be rude about it. I think something along the lines of a gracious smile and a kindly-voiced "I'm so sorry, I'm trying to complete this task, and could you talk elsewhere--I'm getting distracted!" will work wonders and keep everybody happy.

The harassment training is all on-line, and takes about two hours to complete. Thankfully, one can log on and do a bit, and then log off, and you don't have to start over and over again. It's very professional, with clear policies and practical situational examples (in video), but deliberately redundant, and thus could be tiresome if I weren't permitted to do individual sections at a time, when the activity at the front desk is low. My student assistants have found the whole process hilarious--they peek over my shoulder and make snide comments.

Wednesday and Thursday were 13-hour days for me: eight hours at the office and then 5 at the library, doing more slide-scanning. Wednesday, Paul picked me up at the university at just past 10--he was leaving off his housekeys and a great high-speed Internet cell-phone-tower enabled laptop with me and Susan prior to rushing off to England for two weeks, and I decided to ask for chauffeur service--which meant I got home precisely on time to watch the Sarah Palin speech at the RNC from start to finish. I thought she acquitted herself admirably, and the repeated shots of her small daughter wetting down her baby brother's hair with a licked palm were priceless. Then, to "decompress", I watched Nim's Island, a children's movie Susan and I had borrowed from the video store. It was pleasant, but I was up until 2 AM. So Thursday I was tired from start to finish. The NPV retrieved me at 10:45, just after I'd burned the second of two jpg-full CDs for the professor and packed them and all the pagefuls of slides into her department mailbox. After a nice chat, he left, and I was showered and in bed by midnight, but not before I'd taken the unusual step of dialing 911 for the first time in my life.

When I emerged from the shower, I heard a shrill noise. "Hmm, that sounds like an alarm," I thought, disoriented by fatigue. It went on and on, as I slowly dressed for bed. Finally, I put on slippers and went to the front door, to find the deafening shrill coming from upstairs. I didn't see or smell smoke. But one does not take midnight apartment building fire alarms lightly. So I called emergency and explained to the sleepy, bored-sounding fellow on duty what was going on. Of course, the minute I dialed, the alarm shut off. But I didn't want to hang up without explanation--I could just see the cavalry roaring up, lights flashing, as a precautionary measure. So all was well. After I talked to the 911 guy and had re-cradled the phone, I heard thumping from upstairs, cheerful voices, and few re-setting alarm beeps. I suspect it was the neighbors smoking pot again.

I went to bed and slept like the dead.

Tonight is our apartment complex's official celebration of Peach Week, hosted by a Mormon friend in the building next door. I don't think peach flambe is on the menu, given that it requires alcohol. Further fire alarms might result, anyway.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

One Post Short of the Damned

This is my 665th post. The next one will probably be dull and conventional. Today has been stressful and hectic. I have a feeling I will be asking Susan to pat my head gently while I curl up on the couch or the rug in a fetal position once I'm home.

I HATE when intellectually arrogant people, who are so willing to excuse their own imperfections, stand around the front of the department making fun of the weaknesses of conservatives. My stomach twists, I can't get work done, and I long to run out into the hall and scream. It's so unpardonably proud, this liberal opining. And exponentially more obnoxious when it involves several gay male professors who are bad-mouthing a female Republican, or her pregnant teenage daughter. I've no great emotional involvement in the candidate in question--although she sounds pretty solid, from what I've read of her--but to have such practicioners of unproductive, narcissistic sex make fun of those who have--for whatever reason--engaged in the productive variety makes me angry.

Instead of shrieking, "Shut up!" I turned the audio up slightly on my headphones--and the reassuring sound of my Granddaddy's (younger) voice drowned out the chauvinistic pontificating. I try to use all my minutes at work, and those that are not filled with phone-answering, photo-copying, and bureacracy-nativigating, besides the regular tasks of directing departmental visitors to the appropriate destinations and molifying frustrated or frantic professors, I've been continuing to transcribe the fifth of seven tapes of my sweet Granddaddy's memoirs. The potential tedium of "downtime" at work is thus broken, and progress is made on a project far more emotionally and intellectually satisfying. It keeps me from wasting time surfing the Internet, too.

Lastly, I was prevented from pounding my fist, Khrushchev-style, on my desk by the fact that I had pounded my left hand with a hammer yesterday while metal-smithing. I was outside, cheerfully punching out circles of 16-gauge copper and brass sheet when my aim shifted, and I brought the hammer down with a mighty blow on the thumbside flesh near the knuckle, breaking the skin and making a huge and painful knuckle-to-palm bruise, but thankfully breaking no bones. Susan brought me an ice pack and an large glass of hard cider and sat nearby and read me the last several chapters of Forster's A Room With a View. I think it was during "Lying to George" that I managed to mash the outside of the same hand with the hammer; although not impressed with the same enthusiasm that I had the first, the pinch was still severe enough to make me yelp inarticulate all-consonant vulgarities (Srnwd! Qptb! Lrgh!) and punch the hammer uselessly into the dirt.

Home calls.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New Academic Year

The first day of the semester. The faculty Xerox machine is gummed up, but thank goodness we have a backup in the rear of the department. I am single-handedly managing the front desk and thus far today have trained in all three of the new Student Assistants (yes, it was an Oskar Schindler moment: "but they're all so qualified!"--I hired all three of the undergraduates who applied, and I think they'll all be good fits). I'm a wee bit hoarse--being relentlessly vivacious and charming is exhausting.

My mentor had initially agreed to read the Two Motherlands manuscript, but he just about keeled over (definitely not the reaction I'd wanted--he needs to survive at least until I've defended my dissertation) when he saw the print-out of the first nine chapters. In double-spaced Times New Roman with 1 1/2" margins (for notes), the English translation alone is 600 pages (including endnotes for foreign readers) and the Russian original (which I'd figured he'd want to glance at) is another 500 pages. Really, enough to quell the faint-hearted.

So he said he couldn't do it. He was sorry, but he didn't have time. Perhaps he felt guilty because I'd agreed to be his grant assistant, though... So when I asked for $20 an hour for that effort, he emailed to say that he was upping it to $25. And he said he'd read one chapter of my choosing from the manuscript. The grant work's only about four hours a week, but $100 over and above my front desk work salary is nice.

I bought some more metal-working tools. I'd borrowed a disc-cutting set from Anita (while she has been in Armenia; incidentally, my friend Ira got back safely from Georgia, and thanked me for putting them in touch--she said a lot of foreigners ended up getting out through Armenia and Azerbaijan, but she was eventually able to leave via a Georgian airport), and figured out to use it on the sheet copper and brass I'd bought, and decided to buy my own cutting set. It's actually a lot like one of those FisherPrice "tool bench" toys, where you hammer pegs through one side of a footed "board" and then turn it over and hammer them back the other way, only here you end up with neat little metal discs in the process, which you can use as necklace, bracelet or earring components. It's a great stress-reliever, too--taking a heavy hammer to a steel peg and beating the heck out of it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Post-Olympics Reflection on Athletic Humiliation Past

I attended ninth grade at a northeast Georgia parochial school that at the time was short on money for nonessential items, including physical education equipment. The coach for our class of thirty boys and girls was still determined, however, to teach us the basic rules of all major American sports. We had balls and orange traffic cones, so we played soccer, baseball and football outdoors, and then moved indoors for volleyball. Then it was time for gymnastics, a sport that proved disastrous for me.

Coach had managed to acquire a springboard—it was ancient, but still serviceable. All we needed, then, was something to vault. Coach found a piano case, as a wooden crate about three and a half feet high and some four feet wide. Its flat top was about a foot deep, and its sides sloped to form a base about two feet deep. I’m still not quite sure what part of a piano fit into it. Coach draped it with a vinyl tumbling mat, and spread two similar mats, one on top of the other, on one side. He put the springboard on the other.

We were each to run, jump on the springboard—which was about four feet from the piano case—and sail gracefully over the case to the other side, landing on the mats. We could touch the piano case with our hands, or simply leap over it in a single bound.

We lined up. The first few folks (mostly boys) made the vault easily. The only problem was that the stacked mats kept sliding away from the case when people landed on them. A boy named Roger, who already had his turn, sat down to hold the mats in place. Then, it was my turn. I took off my glasses and squinted at the springboard. “OK, KYP,” I told myself, “You can do this.” I sprinted up to the board, and leaped.


One hundred twelve pounds of airborne adolescent hit the front of the piano case. Actually, I was high enough that my legs alone took the initial impact. The rest of my body, unobstructed, continued over. My torso did a one hundred eighty degree turn and my pelvis and stomach hit the backside of the case, while my chest and face smashed into the landing mats. My sweatpants-clad legs flipped up and stuck straight up in the air. I made a perfect letter “J.”

For a second, there was dead silence. Roger sat in shock, staring at me.
“Are you OK?” he blurted. The expression on his face said, “That has got to hurt!”
I rolled out of my alphabetically inverted position and curled on the mat. I ached all over. Tearful myopia meant I could see my other classmates only indistinctly, but I could tell that some were literally doubled over, and I could hear unchecked laughter rebounding off the gym rafters.

My pride—and my back—were badly bruised. Both recovered, eventually. Roger remembers this event to this day. Whether it played a role in his ultimate decision to become a chiropractor is a matter for others to determine.