Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I am a Puddle

So, I've slept 6 hours in the past 48, as far as my muddled brain can recall. Two all-nighters, with a nap in between. Wait, I had a three-hour nap in the midafternoon yesterday, so I've actually had 9 hours of sleep in all. I feel sick to my stomach, which only happens when I'm profoundly exhausted. Susan's coming to pick me up at school, because I had to come in to do some work for two professors. The dissertation proposal draft I submitted at 11 AM. I hope it was moderately coherent. I'll feel so relieved once that thing is approved and I've got funding for the fulfillment.

A friend texted me this morning to say that she'd given birth at 1:15 AM to her first child. Another honorary nephew! And a whopper--almost 9 lbs already.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Twelve Hours

In my characteristic night-owlish fashion, I am working forward from midnight (when I got up), and I will probably turn into a pumpkin at noon today. I told my advisor that I would have my dissertation proposal in to him by the end of the month, and though I have been working on the thing for what seems like eternity, I haven't yet finished. There are a lot of thoughts down on digital paper, and rough drafts of literally half a dozen half-baked proposal ideas for that many Russo-Soviet health-related subjects, but it hasn't come together yet.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tax Time

I am sitting here on the carpeted floor of her basement office while my CPA-wizard of a friend Leah is doing my taxes. I know I am in capable hands, but my stomach is in knots—how much will I owe? Will obsessive-compulsive record keeping not be enough, or conversely, will it be too much? How could I have made any money in the previous year, with my current bank-balance so low?

I am unceasingly grateful for Leah’s oversight—a couple of years ago, having spent some 15 frustrated hours trying to figure out how Box 23c could possibly relate at all to the sum in Box 52f, much less to Schedule 63z, I threw myself on her mercy. There’s still a lot of prep-work (totting up the revenue and expenses from my little sideline enterprises takes a lot of time), but at least now I know how to find the numbers she will ask for.

Argh! She's done with round one. I owe money to the Feds. A whopping amount, actually, because I didn’t have any out-of-pocket school expenses last year—apparently those education credits had been really standing me in good stead. I guess I should look on the bright side of the whole tax-owing agony—this means I once had cash. Finding enough to pay the present bill (I am somewhat tempted to write the check directly to AIG or the Big Three automakers, rather than the US Treasury Department—but I won’t) may be a bit more challenging.

See, this would be the nice thing about abolishing the federal income tax in favor of a national sales tax—I’d already have paid in what I owe, which would have been relatively painless given the probable invisibility of the expropriation (like the taxes and fees on gasoline).

My (and, I suspect, many others’ of all political persuasions) ideal of government is for it to be like Wodehouse’s inimitable Jeeves, shimmering in and out of one’s life unobtrusively, protecting fools from foibles and rewarding the good, always efficient, always deferential. Perhaps it should be a just a bit class-aware, but it should not be snobbish. One thinks one would be happy to support such a system. And then you realize that you would be inevitably be in the role of Bertie Wooster, and that you are not quite that dim. Nor is the government as a whole quite the admirable brilliant butler type. This is one reason I can be classed as a conservative--because I recognize the unreality (frankly, ludicrousness) of the sweet, happy, stupid ideal. Competent adults deserve competent, adult government.

I hope my subsequent behavior assures me a participatory role in the realization of this mature American ideal.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Boom! Hollywood Returns to Georgetown

Sometimes, life more than just seems like a movie...

[The following is from a general email sent to the Georgetown University community]

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has advised that on Wednesday, March 25, between 9:30 a.m. and Noon there will be a simulated explosion near the Key Bridge as part of the filming of a television program. The explosion will produce a 20- to 30-foot fireball. This event may be visible and/or audible on and around campus.

This event has been coordinated with federal and local law enforcement and the Washington Airports Authority.

A year or so ago, I was shooed off my usual upstream side of the same bridge by a Hollywood flunky because George Clooney was running around on it (or nearby) and they didn't want plebes like me in the background, mucking up the shot.

I wonder how I'm going to get to campus this time around...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to Square Odin

...that's not "Odin" in the Norse god sense, but a transliteration of the Russian word "один" which means "one." Actually, to say it properly, it would be "Вернилась к первому квадрату" (if I'm remembering my declensions), "I have returned to the first square." This is in regards to my dissertation topic.

I spent four hours at Georgetown Library this afternoon, pouring over all the available bound copies of Russian History/Histoire Russe, a journal that is not apparently available in a digital format, or at least its archived volumes are not. I found a nine-year-old article on the availability of abortion, of all things, to Russian women in the late Stalinist period (it was generally criminalized, but this did not deter thousands of women from obtaining them, since the popular view in contemporary Soviet society--as it is generally in Russia today--that it was an acceptable form of birth control (contraceptives being essentially non-existent, and of legendarily poor quality when available in the USSR), and the punishment for being caught was what amounted to a slap on the wrist, if the person were in fact convicted, which she frequently was not, given that the popular view of the "procedure" was shared by doctors and prosecutors.

Recognizing this de facto situation, the medical authorities broadened the list of conditions in which women could qualify for a legal abortion in 1951. The list itself was not reproduced in the article I read, and so I decided to contact the author to see if physical disability (blindness, deafness, loss of limbs) were among the extenuating circumstances the Soviet physicians approved.

Thanks to the Internet, finding an email for the Canadian author was a matter of seconds, and I promptly typed up a note explaining what I wanted to research--the problem of Soviet ex-military invalids--along with my specific questions about the Moscow archival document he'd cited in the relevant footnote. I heard back from him within a few hours, a cordial response saying he'd poke around and look for the relevant information in his files. He assumed I knew that a professor at so-and-so American university and a graduate student at such-and-such British college were also writing about the same subject. Er, hadn't heard this. Huh. What to do?

I emailed the American professor in question and a faculty member at the British school who is probably the mentor of the relevant graduate student (or who will know the person who is). I don't want to tread on exactly the same intellectual territory as two other scholars, particularly the same ground as another graduate student--mentioning some of the same data as she or he does is fine, but I have to be approaching it from a different angle.

In the meantime, this evening I went on the Russian version of Google and searched for the term (in Russian) "hospital trains," which was the original topic suggested to me by my mentor, before I got distracted by the subject of veteran medical care, having found not a mention of the trains in the English-language literature--surely someone would have alluded to them if they were so important, I told myself (a couple of people have written about doctors and nurses, but they've behaved as is there's naught to note about these truly quite mobile army surgical hospitals, if the impressive silence I've encountered thus far is representative). But, lo and behold, the Russian sources look abundant (77 thousand plus Google hits!).

Just from three hours of reading Russian-language virtual documents on the subject, I've learned that the first ones were ordered by the emperor himself after he heard reports of American hospital trains' being used during our Civil War. Whaddaya know? I didn't think we had them (I'm going to double-check this--I have a vision of men's maimed legs being sawn off as the train rolls along and the detached appendage being tossed out the window to land next to the tracks like so much garbage). I discovered that the Russians still do have hospital trains--to this very day. I guess if you've had repeated, major wars on your national territory with mass casualties in relatively uninhabited areas where there are rapidly-shifting front lines, airlifting wounded to grounded hospitals is not logistically appealing--why not stick with a working model that's been in place for almost 150 years?

So that's the somewhat random connection between an decade-old essay on pre-natal child-killing and my return to the dissertation topic of how railroads facilitated wartime lifesaving. The huge blank in the English-language literature about the medical trains is obviously waiting for me to fill it, just as my mentor originally claimed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thank God for Charity Fundraisers

Today, the market was cold, cold, cold, and drizzly to boot. Just yucky. Hard to imagine that last Saturday was so beautiful, and profitable. Anita wasn't there this week because she was taking a sample of our wares to a Montessori school silent auction fundraiser, so it was just me, and about a dozen other hardy (or foolhardy) souls standing out on the chilly pavement and waiting for customers to come.

They didn't. I sold 2 pairs of earrings at a discount to two of the three regulars I saw (the other left a repair--that's a little money that'll be coming in), and one of Anita's necklaces. Oh, and I did a $3 quick repair. That was it. Pitiful. Allowing for refreshment and the booth fee, I cleared $3 an hour.

But you just never know how it's going to go, and the weather isn't even an accurate forecast of sales--I've had great days when it rained and lousy ones when the atmosphere was perfect.

The happy side to this tale of woe is that the silent auction this evening went beautifully (we artists had a reserve on our stuff, so nothing went for a pittance), and I got rid of a couple of albatrosses--not that they weren't lovely pieces, but I was just sick of looking at them week after week, listening to browser after browser gush about their attractiveness and then walk away without buying.

So the school was happy, the bidders were happy, and I'm happy. I was actually pretty cheerful before, despite this morning's dismal return on creative effort, but this was a great finish to the week--which was begun well financially by the fact that my Georgetown student employment paperwork finally was straightened out, and I got my paycheck! ...Which simply means that I can pay rent for next month, and one of a couple of outstanding debts (non-interest-accruing, thank God!). Solvency is a wonderful thing!

Oh, I'm officially moving to Virginia come May, provided my dissertation proposal gets approved (if it doesn't, I haven't a clue what I'm going to do--move to Charleston, SC, maybe, or St. Augustine, FL--I've always wanted to live in the latter little town, but the former city's closer to the ol' home place and probably has better job opportunities, and like St. Augustine, it's coastal, warm and historic). I've been a Georgian for almost three decades, but I want to settle down, join the church up here, etc. (my GA church sent me a notice today that they will shortly be expunging me from the membership rolls because I'm out of state and no longer regularly attending, so my time of fulltime-student status-enabled procrastination vis a vis the location of my permanent residency is over).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Gremlins Return

For the first time in three nights I am awake at 3:30 AM not because I am still up, but because I have woken up after five hours of sleep. I’ve read a bit from the Nimitz biography, watched a MASH episode, and am now preoccupied by the problem of gremlins, which appeared around the same time as the onset of my insomnia, four days ago.

Not only have I just discovered that one of the pieces of glass on the edge of my Tiffany-style floor lamp is broken (was it always cracked, and the change in the weather caused it to shatter, or has someone been knocking about my room unbeknownst to me?), and that a swirl on a top curve of my beautiful iron bed was incorrectly cast, leaving a rough spot I had to file off (which defensive action also took off the lovely patina finish), my hairbrush is missing. As are every single one of my combs.

I’ve looked in all the usual places (the laundry hampers, among my jewelry supplies, even in the bag with my dissertation notes) seeking my hairbrush, but to no avail. Even unusual places, like my shelf in the bathroom, have yielded nothing. Nor have choruses of a certain VeggieTales song. Much to my chagrin—lest my hair continue to look like it has been scrambled with a fork—it seems I shall have to go out and purchase new grooming equipment.

Obviously, I have gremlins. Extremely well-coiffured furniture-mangling gremlins.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In the Cosmos

Yesterday at noon I was picked up at home by an octogenarian professor, a wizened little bearded man who is one of the premier specialists on the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He was dressed in a neat dark suit and floral silk tie, and had invited me to be his guest for lunch at the Cosmos Club, where he is an emeritus member. I had heard of the Cosmos Club—in fact, I had applied (unsuccessfully) for one of their Foundation's graduate research scholarships a couple of years ago—but hadn’t any other information about its character, other than a vague awareness of its location, and that it was terribly exclusive. So, I dressed appropriately. I am not a Southern girl for nothing.

The weather was lovely, the sky clear, the sun warm, and just a touch of late-winter coolness in the air. There was a parking spot in the small lot adjacent to the building, for which I was grateful, as the good professor is fairly delicate (he had some trouble with the stairs at our apartment complex). We were buzzed in a modest side entrance. The unlit room before us lacked the artificial shine of a so-called “luxury” hotel or other superficial bourgeois decoration. In fact, it could have been thought slightly down-at-heel by a casual observer. But then to the left, in a plexiglass vitrine, was an original Frederick Hart sculpture, and the carpet on the floor was beautifully hand-knotted. In the small hallway to the left, a tiny plaque underneath framed philately noted these were “members pictured on foreign stamps.” We were shown to a table by the large garden-view bay window in the dining room. Perhaps twelve other people were there, in assorted couples and quartets, talking to their companions in modulated tones over white china and white tablecloths.

After we had consulted our menus (no prices were listed, but the fare was generally simple), the professor carefully filled out a paper chit (so labeled at its top) with our choices and signed it. And we talked. The food, like the atmosphere, was quietly excellent—no overlarge or scant portions, neither bland nor spicy, just enough for satisfaction and so that a dessert would be a pleasant postscript. After the leisurely meal, the professor showed me around the premises. A large hall had framed 8x10 photographs lining either wall. As we entered from the dining room, I noticed that a small sign on the right hand wall identified that group of pictures as of “members who have won Nobel Prizes.” On the left, first were members who had received the annual Cosmos Club award, and then “members who have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.” The Professor showed me a photograph of his former mentor, whom he described as tough to get along with, but a “brilliant scholar.” The picture of the irascible, now long-deceased, academic was in a nook behind the Nobel Prize winners, but I did not get to confirm the collective designation of it and its fellows (Pulitzer Prize, perhaps?), as two young men, one in Air Force uniform, the other in a suit, were sitting on a bench within (acolytes waiting for their senior to finish lunch, I guessed, as I had been the youngest in the dining room by at least a decade).

Then we ascended the main stairs (he carefully clutching the banister over the ornate iron railing), which curved past a magnificent and enormous Renaissance tapestry up to drawing rooms dating from the belle époque. Apparently the house where the club is now established had belonged to a wealthy couple not unknown to the Vanderbilt clan and their circle at the turn of the previous century, and their decorative legacy still survives. The library was my dream—high carved ceilings, a giant stone fireplace (obviously late medieval, torn from its European castle and re-installed in the New World), leather armchairs, tall windows flanked with burgundy silk curtains through which the warm light streamed onto the antique oriental rug and brightened the mahogany paneling and bookcases—oh my, I practically salivated. There was at least one whole bookcase with the latest works by club members—mostly political or historical, a few intimidating treatises on scientific subjects. And there was a whole table display devoted to Shakespeare and Shakespeare-performance. The professor showed me the stone stairs leading to the garden (opposite that we’d come through into the house) where his son had gotten married, and the interior dining room where the reception had been held.

He and his daughter are going to Belgium this week—he to a conference, she to sightsee in a place she hasn’t visited since she was living there with her family as a girl. I asked him if the two of them were going to stay in a reciprocal club in Belgium—apparently the Cosmos is modeled after the old English Pall Mall clubs down to the private rooms that members can maintain permanently or stay in overnight periodically, and it has a reciprocal relationship with such similiarly-ordered social institutions in Europe, both in the United Kingdom and on the continent—but he said that he had a favorite hotel in Brussels that he much preferred.

We were back out in the sunshine in the parking lot before the subject of my administering a test to his undergraduate students was mentioned—one does not discuss business in the club, he said. He’s supposed to be in Germany when this particular midterm is scheduled—he will be coming back from Belgium this weekend—and so needed a substitute. I’m it. I’m glad that the pre-emptive recompense for my assistance included such an exceptional cultural experience as visiting the Cosmos Club.

If it weren’t already obvious, club members are the intellectual elite, or those that are considered so by their peers. As far as I can determine, one does not apply for membership, but is recommended and elected—this is rather like the procedure of the Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the Masters Golf Tournament. Seemingly, in either case, to express overt interest in membership is the most sure method of assuring that one will never be invited to become a part of the organization.

Visiting the place having had little sleep the night before was perhaps the ideal condition in which to do so—it numbed me to the overabundance of secular accomplishment recorded by the august members, as well as to the insanely sophisticated surroundings. Thus, I was able to dine in the vicinity of living personal greatness (none of which bearers I recognized) and stroll past rare artistic works without discomfort, dispassionately recording the details without being psychologically overwhelmed by them. And then when I got home, I had to frantically finish formatting the footnotes of translation I’d done from Russian into English (this for Alyosha, a fellow graduate student, whom I charged $25 an hour for the service) and run over to campus to deliver it to him. Just as it has been remarked that the necessity of doing laundry regularly can keep one from going mad from the pressures of motherhood, I think that the necessity of my attending to picayune academic responsibilities kept me from dwelling overmuch on others’ excessive accomplishments.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


My sister told me that one can research and write a dissertation in 30 minutes a day--use the bits of time you have and you'll get it done.

Well, in the past 36 hours, I have caught up on about a month's worth of time-snippets, and I am zonked (And a bit sore, because Susan and I went to a "Body Pump" weight training class at the gym yesterday). But I now know what the Russian-language Internet has to offer on the subject of the USSR's Health and Labor Expert Commission (which did repeated obnoxious evaluations of even permanent disability--"So comrade, we see that your leg has not grown back. We'll check on this again in the future"--and it is still around in the Russian Federation today, though it has a slightly different name, and a more politically-correct function), and I've searched the catalogue of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, and read through the listings of everything they have on Soviet medicine. That took a while.

Figuring out which Russian archives house the materials I need is going to be a mite more tricky. I figure I'll plow through forty years' worth of microfilmed Izvestia and Pravda (both the Moscow and the Leningrad editions), to see what they say about the subject of debilitated veterans, and go about finding out if more of the modern prosthesis factories or distributors that I've located thus far in Russia which have websites (one specializes in pediatric prosthetics these days, but it dates back to the late 1930s, according to its "history of the factory" page) have earlier origins, and if so, whether they've held on to old patient/client records.

I found a great diagram of land-mine injuries to the lower extremities which would be useful to include in my manuscript, if the International Red Cross Committee will give me the permission.

Now, all I have to do is finish my review of the literature and discussion of how my research will revolutionize/contribute to the field (somehow compressing all this into just 500 words!) and turn my list of more than 800 sources (mostly secondary, and largely in Russian) which I plan to consult into a neat annotated bibliography (the Georgetown Graduate School wants a sample of 20 primary sources on my proposal). And then I will try to convince my advisor that I am far more excited about the prospects afforded by this topic than by the one he gave me (well, they aren't dissimilar, and I'll be talking about what he wanted me to research about Red Army MASH units in this one, too). Frankly, I think that I've come up with a more marketable project, what with all the battle- and IED-wounded veterans that are coming back from the Middle East. Writing on this subject should also give me more flexibility in job-searching, fitting me for sociology and anthropology department work, in addition to that of history. Once I identify and close with the professors I'd like to be on my dissertation committee and turn the proposal paperwork in to the Grad School, it's grant-writing time! Whoo-hoo!