Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Men Can Be So Incredibly Clueless

I'm transcribing my Granddaddy's taped memoirs. This has been an ongoing project (I'm sure my readers have figured out by now that I have a lot of epic efforts underway at all times...). He taped them almost twenty years ago, and then informed us members of the family that we weren't going to get to listen to them until he was dead. Argh. Add this postponement of satisfaction to the irritating fact that though I had diligently supplied him with new cassettes, he--being cheap--insisted on using recycled old ones, which meant that the tapes in question were in poor trim to begin with, and I knew they'd only deteriorate further while they sat around waiting for his demise, which I hoped would not be any time in the near future.

So, about eight years ago, with Grandmommy's connivance, on visit after visit, I started sneaking into his desk and secretly retrieving and copying the recordings onto new cassettes. While Granddaddy was out working in the yard, or just before we sat down to one of Grandmommy's legendarily yummy dinners, I would start the copying process, and then afterwards, with equal stealth, return the originals to their place in his desk drawer. No one was the wiser, except I remember one almost-disaster, when my ever well-meaning uncle, who is one of those people who insists on being helpful even when you'd very much rather not have help (he's Baptist, which may be a reason--we Presbyterians tend to be more standoffish, "just call me when you need me" types) told me brightly at one such family dinner that he'd "noticed [I] left the tape recorder running in the Blue Bedroom, and I shut it off for you!" Curses. It took me a while to get that mess straightened out.

The first two tapes were transcribed--purely out of the goodness of her heart--by my friend Susanna, who lives in Aiken, SC. She's a much faster typist than I, and so I just presumptuously asked her to do the job--I didn't account for Granddaddy's Alabama accent and the reference to many Pacific ports and battle locales, or the amount of material that is on each cassette. I only had a weird, semi-superstitious idea that I didn't want to listen to the tapes (per Granddaddy's dictum), but I desperately wanted to find out what was on them, and reading them would be OK. Yes, it's silly. I've gotten over this.

So after I saw that I'd be forever in debt to Susanna for just the two tapes' worth of typing, I started working on transcribing the last five tapes (there are a total of seven) myself. Obviously, the translating of the "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" manuscript ended up getting in the way in recent years, but every once and a while I would sit down to listen to a bit. The pace sped up from this past August, and now I am sprinting down the homestretch.

I'm in the part where Granddaddy talks about getting out of the Navy in 1947 (after 11 years of active duty) and returning home to rural Alabama.

"After I’d been there a few days, I had a cousin that came by to see—and my mother’d told her that I was coming home—and she came by to see me and she was a—also knew this young lady that I had took home a year before named Nona Jefferson. And she told me that I should go to see her. And I told her I wasn’t too happy about going to see her, that I’d wrote her a letter while I was in Manila and I’d never got an answer, and I figured that she was not interested, and I didn’t think I would be going by to see her."

Nona Jefferson is Grandmommy. Granddaddy had met her while at home on leave in 1946, and clearly, I find out now, if it weren't for his cousin's hounding him, he would never have sought her out again! Because he had the addlepated idea she wasn't interested. I *know* how this story turns out--they will have been married for 62 years this Mother's Day--and here I am, completely boggled at how close it came to not happening. Because men are totally clueless sometimes. I guess I am relieved, though, to find out that it was a issue with guys more than half a century ago, and is not a problem peculiar to the species nowadays. And so it must also be true that happy endings are still possible!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Children of Prosperity

You know, I’ve only ever even kissed one guy in my entire life (and that shockingly long ago!), and yet if there is one thing that would urge me to forego pre-marital abstinence and make me want to rush out and get knocked up by the first willing male who came along, it is today’s news that that wizened old witch Nancy Pelosi is promoting birth control as a panacea for America's economic ills.

I think I can legitimately (heh, heh) say “Hell with it!” to such a notion. Especially since Nancy’s version of “birth control” includes vacuuming the brains out of partly-born fully-developed babies. But perhaps, like Peggy Sanger before her, she *merely* endorses this for poor minorities. After all, Madam Speaker did have five kids herself. Still, whoever the audience for Pelosi’s remarks, I am reminded of that old Michael Card song which contains the lines, “Every age has heard it, that voice which speaks from hell:/”Sacrifice your children, and for you it will be well…”.

How is it that many powerful women, and also our first Black president, endorse this slavery to convenience on an individual and governmental level, and pervert moral resolve in their preference for amoral economic “choice”? We Americans are addicted to personal comfort, to the idea that somehow we are supposed to be immune from hardship, that the path of our pursuit of happiness must always been strewn with roses. Even while our society visits daily death on fetuses, the subject of our own mortality is avoided, its reality fatally postponed, and in padding our socio-economic nests we exploit the downtrodden and support those who seek our downfall.

A couple of years ago, in responding to a question about what choosing to follow Jesus Christ offers that other religions and creeds do not, my mother wisely observed that it is “a chance to suffer.” Not suffering for its own sake—I’ve met those (primarily Russians!) who revel in schadenfreude, and it is just as bizarre in its own way as our American “freudenfreude”—but the embrace of present suffering in light of the hope set before us—that, for all who choose his counter-intuitive “economic calculation,” a real death 2000-odd years ago as a result of torture afflicted on an innocent man (who was also God) bought the only escape from real, deserved eternal suffering. Only in giving our lives, which we cannot keep, will we gain a life we can never, ever, lose. As my 74-year-old associate pastor frequently says, “How un-American!”

So, with due respect towards the aforementioned Congresswoman, I say ignore her anti-posterity pontificating and embrace marriage and child-rearing. The latter of which, as anyone who has ever been around the little (and larger) creatures knows, always involves an incredible amount of irritation, untidiness, self-sacrifice, and reward. Children are frequently pains in the proverbial fanny, and yet they are described as gifts from God himself. Just another example of the quirkiness of the perpetually-vibrant economy of Heaven.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Good Jewelry News, Etc.

I had put "get jewelry into stores" on my to-do list, and I have settled pieces in two stores thus far (one in Baltimore and the other in Alexandria), and am supposed to meet with the manager of a third (in Bethesda) this Thursday evening to discuss consignment. This third is actually a surprise, because I didn't do the initiating of the contact--the woman emailed me out of the blue this past Friday and told me that she was planning to have a special open house for Valentine's Day, and she had heard from a friend that I made jewelry and would I like to display my work? Heck, yeah! I called Anita and told her about the gig, and she and I are both bringing pieces to submit. This means that when I'm not doing the fifty zillion other things, academic and otherwise, that crave my attention, I'm frantically making jewelry, particularly my signature "Expressions" necklaces.

Yesterday, I heard from the jewelry-supplies company to which I'd sent all the silver and gold scrap I'd accumulated over the last four or five years--turns out, I mis-measured the value of the material I'd sent in to cash out, and it's worth about twice what I had estimated--they'd assayed it. So they'll be sending me a nice-sized check, and I'll be able to pay my rent this month. Susan (to whom I pay said rent, given the apartment lease is in her name) will be thrilled. Not that I've ever *not* paid her the rent, but I was getting a bit concerned about where the cash was going to come from this time around. I'm beginning to feel George Mullerish, what with all these just-in-time provisions of the needful.

So, besides the show up in Bethesda February 9, Anita and I have a fundraising sale for the Breast Cancer Awareness Society at Georgetown later that same week. The undergraduate girl who is putting the arrangements together for us is a doll--she's so sweet and enthusiastic. I love to do triple good with sales--not only give people the opportunity to acquire pretty, unique, handmade things at reasonable prices, and to make money for myself, but also raise money for a worthy charitable cause. I hope the sale comes off well for both my and Anita's sake and the sake of Darla, who has worked so hard to set up the event. It's in a kind of out-of-the-way location, and on a weekend, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up too far, though.

The week after the sales (and I hope I make a lot of them!), I plan to drive home to Georgia for some fresh air and sunshine. And to meet with one of the "Two Motherlands" readers, who is now a provost at a major university down thataway.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes We Did! (Go to the Inauguration, I Mean!)

Perhaps the two things I'll remember most were the general cordiality of the crowd (except for the booing of George W. Bush) and the port-o-potties. There were scores of hundreds of the latter, rows upon rows, from the Capitol Building down both sides of the National Mall, and even around the Tidal Basin downstream the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial. I was perhaps more impressed by the number of port-o-johns than I was by the joie de vivre of the assembled masses. And there were truly masses on the Mall, though not the Capital to Lincoln Memorial elbow-to-elbow sea of shining faces that I'd subconsciously expected.

Sure, the steps of the Lincoln M. were packed, as was an area around a giant closed-circuit television screen about halfway down the Reflecting Pool (Susan and I walked down the bike path from our apartment in Arlington and came across the Memorial Bridge--the Potomac was covered with roughly re-frozen broken sheets of ice, bright and cold in the morning sun--as we got closer to the Mall, the numbers of people on the path swelled, and when we emerged from the thicket of trees setting off the George Washington Parkway from the helicopter landing circle on the cemetery side of the bridge, we joined throngs walking from the metro toward the Memorial, all carefully watched and guided by dozens of young soldiers in insulated desert fatigues), and another huge crowd at the World War II Memorial (two television screens), but the next large concentration wasn't until the White House side of the Washington Monument, where I had seen another large television screen being erected on Saturday, when I was driving down to the Library of Congress.

Susan wanted to see the crowds between the Washington Monument and the bunting-draped dais at the Capital, and we crested the rise to gape with others (a stranger at my elbow said, "Holy Crap!" when they saw) at the multitudes. It was like seeing a picture of the crowd at St. Peter's in Rome when the college of cardinals was convened to elect a new pope. Over a million people, many waving tiny American flags. I told Susan I wanted a flag, but we didn't see anyone selling them. In fact, souvenir commerce was nil--we'd seen one hawker of t-shirts in Rosslyn, near the Key Bridge, but none on the Mall. Lots of cheerful volunteers, though--the Boy and Girl Scouts were out in force, wearing identifying red aprons.

The two of us girls curled around toward the White House and settled in a good standing spot squinting at the TV screen. We watched the dignitaries file in, the known and the not-so-well-known, protocol officers directing every step. I was surprised to see how vigorous Jimmy Carter looked (warm GA weather and building Habitat houses will keep you healthy, I guess) and that George H.W. Bush was using a cane. And Dick Cheney was in a wheelchair. Marilyn Quayle has aged gracefully. And is it against judicial rules for Supreme Court Justices to wear hats? It was below freezing outside, and the wind was blowing. I had on five layers on (including two pairs of silk long johns), a scarf, and Russian sheepskin mittens. For the most part, I was cozy, and being short in a crowd means that one is sheltered from the wind. But those VIPs on the platform on the Hill were exposed to the elements.

Rick Warren gave a pretty good invocation, I thought. I was surprised how few of the people around me joined in on the Lord's Prayer at the end--not that I regard ours as a "Christian nation" in any real sense, but in a rote cultural knowledge sense, it seemed it would have been a natural visceral response, particularly given the oft-mentioned influence of the Black church. Aretha Franklin did an awesome rendition of the national anthem. And then Biden was sworn in. A "wedding"-type string interlude followed, but given that Yo-Yo Ma was the cellist and Yitzak Perlman was the violinist, there was little room for complaint (though, to my ear, a a string quartet over city-size loudspeakers gave about the same effect as a harpsichord in a gymnasium--the venue sucked the beauty and vigor out of the music and left the mechanical tinny sounds intact). Then Mr. Obama was sworn in as President of the United States by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The new President's speech was good, "let's pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps" sort of stuff which provided several "cheers and applause" (the closed-captioning on the closed-circuit TV feed was specific on these points, even though the sound and the picture on our particular screen were about one half-second off) moments. As a Soviet History specialist, I know what good things and economic progress can be made fueled by enthusiasm--and what humanitarian catastrophes are prone to accompany such public-works projects in the wrong hands. Given that we have had a fully-industrialized system, and do have leadership which stressed the importance of "old virtue" one can hope and expect that the baby will not be thrown out with the bathwater in our particular national "revolution". I was surprised and pleased how brief the whole ceremony was--including the speech. Some poor souls had camped out on the Mall overnight, and others had begun coming off the metro just after 4 AM, and within an hour (including the announcements of the arrivals of various who's-who folks, which took up the bulk of the time), we had new national executives and were dispersing towards what we hoped were exits to home and warmth.

Susan let me lead off, and I made the mistake of "going with the flow". And before we knew it, we were stuck in a standing crowd bottle-necked between control-fences and the back of a rank of thankfully-un-rank port-o-johns. Some younger people (late teens, early 20s) who clambered up on the roofs of these receptacles reported that there was no movement up ahead, that a few people were being let through a tiny gate up ahead, but there were tens of thousands trying to get out. Happily, there was very little shoving, most people were in a happy frame of mind and not overly anxious--"We'll get home eventually" and "At least we're warm!" seemed to be the sentiments most shared. Sure, there were a few calls for knocking down a section of fence, but I wasn't the only one to discourage this (this leads to people getting crushed), and before we'd gotten too restive, about 15 minutes after an official voice on a bullhorn announced where exactly functional exits could be found, the crowd moved beyond the port-o-john and fence narrows and began spreading out to other directions.

While we were standing in the crowd, Susan ate her peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I found a flag which someone had dropped. We walked back across the Memorial Bridge, but decided to go to Arlington Cemetery, rather than back along the riverside bike path. There weren't many people going through the cemetery, and so I made a little detour to put my flag on Omar Bradley's grave. His fellow generals had wreaths left over from Christmas, but he had nothing, and I've always had a soft spot for the old fellow ever since I saw Karl Malden portray him in the film "Patton."

How curiously interwound in our lives are theatricality and reality.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So, How's the Dissertation Going?

Most of the History Department faculty didn't realize that I was not going to be on-site this term. You should have heard some hanging crepe when they found out that this past Friday was my last day at the front desk, that officially I was going to be dedicating myself entirely to researching and writing my dissertation. I suppose it was better to be lamented than to have my departure be the cause of rejoicing, but to test their sincerity (and to plug the hole in my rapidly-emptying pocketbook) I did give them a tangible way they could assuage their grief over my loss--by hiring me on as a temporary assistant to help them with odd jobs. Given that every tenure-track faculty member is given a grand a year to spend at their discretion on "research" (for at least one fellow, this includes the buying of antique books), I know that they can afford to pay for my demonstrably superior (without sounding snotty about it) help. And as they are not allowed by graduate school policy to make their regular TAs do anything so mundane as fetching books from the library, there's an "in" for me, should any care to take advantage of it. I've had a couple of nibbles, and am supposed to meet with a potential employer tomorrow.

In the meantime, the four-million-dollar question is, How is the dissertation coming along? Well, the kitchen is spotless--I scrubbed the floor on hands and knees today--the Christmas tree has been removed, and the needles it left behind swept up, and I have done a good deal of legwork on my VA and DC business taxes (both of which are due by next Tuesday, so this isn't precisely procrastination).

I have brainstormed on questions to research under my topic, so I haven't been a total wastrel. I really haven't wasted much time at all, really. It just hasn't been spent on dissertationing. Yet. I get this preliminary stuff out of the way this week, and there'll be no more excuses.

I got my jewelry into the Women's Industrial Exchange in downtown Baltimore this past Saturday, and hopefully will get other pieces into a store here locally by the end of the week. Once the taxes are off to the states, and I've contacted my long-silent readers of the "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" manuscript-translation, I'll feel like I will have done that which I can about the ongoing concerns of income and publication and can go to the Library of Congress without feeling as if there were a sword hanging over my head. This is my personal version of a pre-writing ritual, the metaphysical equivalent of clearing my desk, putting my pens in order, sharpening my pencils and obtaining a stack of unmarked paper.

And, I'll finally be sleeping in proper (read: eccentric) nightwear: my friend DesertRose has finished the nightgowns she was making for me--my sister calls the type "Miss Havisham", as the garments in question are long-sleeved ankle-length Victorian affairs comprised of half a dozen yards of fabric, each. They are laughably modest and extraordinarily comfortable--and perfect for wearing when one is sleeping over at friends' on a couch in a frequently-traversed room. I love it when practicality and oddity mix: I can always rationalize my weirdness by thinking, "But, it's so useful!" And in this case, kind of pre-Raphaelite romantic, too.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Sexy and Monied, Too!

Money from Heaven: I came back to DC to find that my mentor, for whom I am working as a grant-paid step-and-fetch-it sort of research assistant, had left a nice bonus check in my department mailbox. And then on Saturday, as I was strolling across town to the Library of Congress, a five-dollar bill wafted out of the clear blue in a puff of wind and settled at my feet (it was beside a busy road, so there was no sense in trying to track down the owner). These two things made it possible for me to pay one looming bill. I have hope (having just sent out an announcement to this effect to the History department faculty) that lucrative short-term employment will be forthcoming so that I can pay off other debts.

I Made a "Sexiest" List: Well, my Administrative Assistant job did. I think this list was scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel. I mean, university professors made number 10, for crying out loud.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Seventh Attempt

I've tried posting these pictures (that go with the preceeding post) upteen times, but here goes again. Dial-up can be a pain in the whatsit. This time, I'm using a friend's cable.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Tiny and Cute

I went on a walk today, just a short one, a stroll, quite unlike the walk my friend Paul and I took to Alexandria yesterday afternoon (that one was eight to ten miles, and fast, with good company and conversation, whereas this one was a solitary ramble, some of it indoors, as I browsed the post-Christmas sales in Clarendon). On the way back to the apartment, I happened along a residential sidewalk covered with a crunchy layer of what turned out to be miniature pinecones. I brought one home to show Susan, who has been nursing a bad cold and unable to stir out of doors. It's baby-sized, and my little nephew would probably try to taste it, if he were here to see it.

Speaking of my small relative, it was highly amusing to see such a diminutive individual toddling around while I was at home over Christmas. He's saying a few words: "Bump" (his big sister's always forecasting, "He's going to bump his head!"), "Up" (accompanied by a tiny pointing finger) and "Go" (he travels quickly on his fat little bowlegs). While he was momentarily standing still, I measured him with a handy yardstick, and found he is 2 feet, 3 inches high. As the family's luggage was 24 hours later arriving than the human travelers (26 to be precise--it was delivered at 2 AM Sunday morning, my sister and her husband and children having arrived at midnight Friday), the second night we had to scrounge around for nightwear. So it came about that after his evening bath, little Brad was decked out in one of my petite mother's short-sleeved t-shirts. It reached all the way to his toes. We pinned the neck with a diaper pin, so it wouldn't slide off his shoulders. To me, he looked like Wee Willy Winky in his makeshift nightgown. He was so adorable, I couldn't resist taking multiple snapshots and squeezing him repeatedly. Everybody should have so cute an individual wearing a "I love my Submariner" shirt around the house.