Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Real Page-Turner

I went to the LOC yesterday to scan a book they'd unearthed for me: N.I. Pirogoff's [sic] Rapport médical d’un voyage au Caucase: contenant la statistique comparative des amputations, des recherches expérimentales sur les blessures d’armes à feu, ainsi que l’exposition détaillée des résultats de l’anesthésiation, obtenus sur le champ de bataille et dans différents hôpitaux de Russie (it comforts me somewhat to reflect that titles of books in the olden days were even longer than those of most academic publications now), published in St. Petersburg in 1849. I scanned the lengthy introduction, then pages 1-9. I turned over p. p. 12. The pages were still uncut. In other words, in the 161 years since the book was issued, no one had read beyond p. 9. I took it to the librarians, and they told me that this happens often enough that someone had actually donated a real page-cutting tool to them. Fetched from an envelope on some unseen shelf, this wood-handled steel instrument turned out to be shaped like an icing knife, bore the patina of at least a century, and cut through the folds smoothly. The librarian (who was fluent in French) said she'd put the book back on my reading shelf when she'd done as much as she could by closing time (I may have to bring it back for further surgery if she didn't get through the whole book). Obviously, even available Pirogov materials have been imperfectly accessed if this is a typical phenomenon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Library Research and the State of the Dissertation

In the last week, I have requested more than 60 books or articles via Interlibrary Loan at Georgetown for my dissertation. I am on a first-name basis with the ILL staff. I love WorldCat (doing research without it would have been well-nigh impossible--I've located items in France and Germany that I didn't know existed) and the fact that for the last 6 months it has been possible to order books remotely at the LOC (they finally went online with the request forms!) to be sent to my study shelf. The UK's Wellcome Library, however, is EVIL. They refuse to lend out books (or so the ILL people have led me to believe) and have a policy against reproducing periodical articles (hey, I'm willing to settle for digital delivery), though they have one of the largest (if not THE largest--I haven't asked the National Library of Medicine folks for their viewpoint) collections of medical literature on the planet. I think this is all a plot to get people to have to go to London and spend hundreds of pounds at the Wellcome library's photocopying machines. I was (lazily) hoping that the NLM would lend books to Georgetown, but it turns out that they charge a sliding-scale fee to the school--the rarer the book, the higher the ILL transfer cost. So I'm going to toddle up to Bethesda (6 miles--oh, the pain, the pain) with my scanner (I haven't checked yet to see if they allow scanners--I may have to take a truckload of quarters instead) and request them on-site.

Pirogov stuff is scattered all around Europe and North America. There was a centralized museum of his memorabilia in St. Petersburg, but the Soviets closed it in the 1930s (why, I need to discover, particularly considering there was a flurry of Pirogovomania in the USSR in 1960, surrounding the sequicentennial of his birth, with a bunch of biographies being issued and even a commemorative postage stamp), and the (rare) copies of publications by and about him are scattered hither and yon. Add to that the fact that he read and wrote professionally in at least 4 languages--Russian, German, French and Latin, and studied in Dorpat and Berlin. I know that he learned Ukrainian as a sign of respect to the place of his (astoundingly active) retirement, and he may well have had some English, as a small crop of American doctors went over to assist him and his fellows in the field hospitals of the Crimean War. And he also is beloved in Bulgaria (where he helped oversee Red Cross relief during the Franco-Prussian war) and in Poland (where is name is on at least on hospital), so the languages of those countries might also have lengthened what is already an impressive list. Thank God, I have studied Russian, German, French, and Polish, and that my little brother (Bob, this means you!) perfect-scored on the National Latin Exam (I hope he remembers some of it 10 years on), and that I have missionary acquaintances in Bulgaria who can direct me to linguistic assistance. Maybe the latter can also provide a bed if I get the chance to visit the battlefield sites there...

So, in other words, I'm revving up to get all possible stateside dissertation research done by the end of this spring term. Susan and Steven are sure I will get the IREX grant for research abroad, but I won't know for a fact about that until April. If I do (and I do hope and pray that this is the case!), I'm probably going to move my stuff back to GA in June, abandoning the apartment here in VA around the same time that Susan and Steven get married, as there's no point in paying almost $1500 a month for what will essentially be an uninhabited warehouse. I'd leave for Ukraine in September, and barring incident, accident or unscheduled home-leave holidays, I'd not return until the beginning of May 2011. I write quickly, so I hope to be finished with the dissertation by the end of Summer 2011. My goal is to defend by August 18, 2011, my parents' 63rd birthday, which will also leave me available for the 2011 academic hiring season, which begins in the fall.

I am of two minds whether I should ask Anita if she wants to buy all my jewelry supplies (I'm keeping my tools!), or if I should just store them (it's not like they're perishable in the short term) if I am gone for almost a year.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In the Dark of the Night

It's really, really dark in Rhode Island at 5:30 in January, not just in the morning, but I'm up with a sore throat (probably derived from repeatedly wiping a certain small boy's tiny runny nose, or maybe just from repeatedly picking him up and squeezing him!) and Thinking Serious Thoughts, like about the fact that my eyebrows are going gray.

Rita and I made dresses for her Cinderella doll out of construction paper yesterday, and a Christmas tree. And I read her an Olivia book twice--Daddy and Mommy read it several more times (I'd wager they can recite it in their sleep). She's obsessed with Disney princesses and signs all her drawings "Cinderella Rita" (her "C" is frequently backwards, but her printing is neat). She's sounding out words, and told me matter-of-factly, "I don't like silent 'T's." They are often bothersome, yes. Rite has an incredible memory--when I arrived, she asked me why my hair was so short, though it's been a year and a half since it was cut, and there are no pictures of me with really long hair on display in the house. While S Dawg was preparing supper, I pretended to be a tiger and chased her and Brad up and down the hall, which produced fits of giggles from both.

Brad is an extremely verbal short creature. He's also very polite, which I find highly amusing, saying "Please," "Thank you" and "Excuse me" as needed, when not asking questions, declaring "I don't know" to someone else's, or making serious pronouncements about his play: "Cinderella's going to the ball" or, "I love Gus and Jaq" (he's been influenced by his sister's Disney obsession). "I need a tissue," he announced periodically yesterday, looking up at me with big brown spaniel eyes, waiting solemnly until I fetched a bit of toilet paper to gently pinch his wee drippy nose. He'll be two February 12. He loves to help ("I can help!" he offers, or, "I can do it by myself!"), and stood next to the dryer while I pulled my clean laundry from the washer, carefully putting each of the wet items I gave him into the front-loading tumbler. He does have a nightly meltdown, and cried for almost 2 hours at bedtime last night, a constant stream of "I want Mommy"s, which paused when I sent him (back) to bed while S Dawg was in the shower, but then resumed in full keening force once she was dried off and glimpsed in the hall. 'Mommy' (Daddy, too) was on her last nerve by the time he finally wore himself out and went to sleep. When he's sweet, he's very, very sweet, but when he's bad, he's a P-I-L-L (things she doesn't want the pipsqueaks to understand, my sister spells at me at a machine-gun pace--I can handle the short words, but the multisyllabic ones tend to throw me for a couple of seconds; the efficacy of this secret communications technique is not going to last much longer, because Rita is quick on the uptake, unlike her aunt).

Had a bad (but blessedly short-lived) cluster headache yesterday afternoon, which led Brad to inquire why I was lying down. His chin is about on level with the couch cushions. I couldn't help smiling to hear grammatical, comprehensible speech from such a diminutive individual, but some things are not explicable to one so young.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

The ex-Mr. Madonna's Sherlock Holmes movie was pretty good, except (as is common to all Ritchie movies), probably a quarter of the dialogue was completely indecipherable, being said in a quick, low tone, and under a torrent of other noises. That the theater's sound system was not the best didn't help, but it probably hadn't been updated since the early 1980s (whence the Pepsi logos impressed on the plastic armrests also dated). I was drinking a plastic cup of nameless dark plonk and sitting with Leah (who was sipping a Swiss Miss chocolate), and trying to keep track of the plot between the mumbling and the explosions onscreen. As I said, I did like it (having read almost all of Doyle's stories, I didn't feel that Downey was exactly the fastidious incarnation of the original character, but his quick observation and a short segment that showed a nigh miraculous on-the-fly disguise-adoption was perfect), but the theater (an old one on Alexandria's King Street, that required patrons to buy at least one item to eat or drink in addition to what is--for the DC area--a low ticket price) was a cultural experience in and of itself. Up front, there was a bar--not in use, but its brass beer-dispensers glimmered in the red light from the wall-sconces. On one side was a old plastic cash-register, and on the other side a lovely tall hour-glass, the sand all fallen to the bottom bulb (used to measure intermissions, perhaps). The upper balcony had been turned into another screening room, and in lulls in the Holmes action, you could hear muffled shrieks and booms from the other movie.

Before the movie, Leah and I ate at a lovely little creperie on Royal Street--she had dinner, I had dessert (having just had lunch two hours earlier, and in no wise hungry for another major caloric intake), and I discovered they had the world's best cider. French, that actually tasted like apples (lest my readers think that I am a lush, I didn't finish the plonk later, and besides, I spread my consumption of less than 2 glassfuls over more than 3 hours): Duche de Longeville.

I'd had my (very late) lunch in Baltimore, MD, where Anita and I had driven to deliver our quarterly lot of jewelry for consignment at the Women's Industrial Exchange. I turned off the Beltway both too late and too early--between the two major roads leading up to the city, and found myself tootling along through the used-tire store and failed mattress outlet mecca of Laurel, MD. I hope Route 1 is not typical of the settlement, because Laurel (notwithstanding the attractive name) looked like nothing so much as a run-down shantytown, dirty and uninviting. We made it to Baltimore with 15 minutes to spare before the Exchange closed.

Have seconds to go before my web session runs out. Must run!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cake Selected

Steven and Susan and I held a cake-tasting at his apartment this evening. Generous slices of vanilla cake with three different fillings (plain, raspberry, and strawberry) had been provided by a caterer, and it was our solemn task to determine which was to be the wedding cake. I voted for lemon, but raspberry won--it does have more visual appeal. I thought it was fine, flavor-wise, but the lemon was delicious. Perhaps if I ever have a wedding cake of my own, I'll get lemon. But then again, I love chocolate, so I might just have a chocolate cake with chocolate icing, tradition be damned.

My train leaves for Rhode Island at 3 AM Monday morning, which is hours after the metro stops running, so I'll need to get to Union Station embarassingly early or shell out for a cab, as I've vowed not to telephone any (male) night-owlish friends who own cars. I am looking forward to seeing the pipsqueaks, as Brad (nearly 2) is now talking in complete compound sentences and Rita (almost 5) is into Barbie dolls. And I need to do my laundry.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Only Lack Earmuffs

My multiple layers have kept me toasty while running around DC today, inhaling lungfuls of airborne salt (and whatever other granular substances with which they've coated the freezing roads), and my only chilly bits have been my cheeks and ears, which are subjected to merciless cold every time I venture outdoors.

Sunday afternoon I lay down for a nap at 1:30, woke up at 9:30, drank a glass of milk and took my medicine, then went immediately back to sleep until 10:30 Monday morning. Happily, I didn't have to be at work until noon. I knew I was over-tired, but that 20 hours of unconsciousness were required to make up the difference was sobering.

I revisited the subject of Pirogov for the first time in a month and am completely re-enthused. Lots of points for investigation. I can and will get a wonderful dissertation and first (?--I devoutly hope that there will be others beforehand, but this is a worthwhile first, if that's what it ends up being) book of his biography.

I bought train tickets to go to Rhode Island next week, picked up the appropriate DC tax forms for submitting my 2009 sales taxes, and am warming my toes at the Georgetown Law Center waiting for the shuttle bus to take me back to main campus. I am looking forward to "girl time" this weekend--Anita and I are supposed to go up to Baltimore to switch out our remaining jewelry at the Women's Industrial Exchange, and Leah and I are planning dinner and a movie.

I see very little of Susan these days, since she and Steven are in the midst of wedding plans. Frankly, most of their preparations are already done--they have the bridal party (there are no "colors," and Susan's the ultimate non-bridezilla, so they've decided the groomsmen will simply wear suits and the bridesmaids can wear any nice dress they like) together, the reception site rented, the church reserved, the cake and catering already arranged, and rooms reserved at a local hotel. Susan found her wedding dress four days after she got engaged, and they bought the wedding rings this past Saturday. And a friend is doing the photography at the ceremony, and Steven is putting together the wedding website. And the wedding is not until June. They're practically done planning. But they have dinner together or go on a walk or sit around and chat about their future (btw, they've already rented their newlywed apartment--Steven moves in at the end of the month, and Susan will start gradually transferring over her things thereafter) practically everyday, and I'm by myself. It's rough being alone--I just hope I will be able to keep this feeling in mind and turn it around, recognizing the aloneness of others and being what company and friendship I can, rather than turning inward, into a little solitary lump of self-pitying misery, resentful of other people's happy relationships!

Prayer in that regard appreciated.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Sabbath Rest

I was miserable for much of yesterday, and until now today I have been about as unhappy, though I do not have to work this afternoon, thank God. Susan and Steven have stopped at the library on the way home from church, so I have an unexpected few minutes to update this blog before collapsing into bed for a long afternoon nap.

I am really lonely. I feel like curling up in a ball and hibernating for the rest of the winter, though I expect that this inclination is not uncommon, given the frigid temperatures in the DC area of late. My room is a wreck, and my job has turned highly political, with this or that colleague whispering to me that I shouldn't tell another a given detail, less social toes get squished. It's quite stressful (my boss fussed at me yesterday for rolling up a rug before it was sold, and people kept belaboring the point, a la Office Space's TPS reports), and I have twinged my back a couple of times moving furniture. It's not all roses, but at least it's a paycheck.

If I could get a well-paying job in Charleston, SC, or St. Augustine, FL, I think I'd leave for the South in a heartbeat! I just need a long-time companion. Anna, my former USC roommate, left me a phonemail last Sunday that she's game for reuniting (like me, she has no marital prospects), so there's one option. If only I could take my church with me...

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I've worked, or been incredibly busy running errands, and not getting good or sufficient sleep, for a full week now, and I'm supposed to work an estate sale tomorrow afternoon, after church, and then five hours on Monday. I am tired and crabby and need to go to the gym. Bleh. I am grateful to have any employment, though I do need to pace myself better.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Year in Review/The Year in Preview

And I thought 2008 was tough! But 2009 put a new spin on the whole “circling the drain” feeling, at least during the doldrums of September and October, after I started having a flare-up of my OCD—regular readers have heard my tales of woe before, so I won’t reiterate them here. Nonetheless, despite my Churchillian "black dog", there was much to be thankful for—particularly the faithfulness of friends. Ending the year with a job was definitely a plus, too, after eleven months of general unemployment.

Furthermore, upon reviewing my list of ambitions that I blogged at the beginning of 2009, I found to my surprise that I actually accomplished many of them!

I didn’t see the "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" manuscript accepted by a major American/British publisher to be produced for the English-speaking market, but I did finish the Russian to English translation, and the Russian edition is due to come out in just a few weeks. I did submit my (first) formal dissertation proposal to the Georgetown University Graduate School by the end of Spring Term and applied successfully for at least one dissertation research-grant, which allowed me to go to Russia to visit friends and archives this summer. I did go to Arkansas and dig for diamonds, though I didn’t find any. Although I did not learn to solder and cast silver, my friend Heidi did teach me how to throw pottery. I did sell at least three pieces of my artwork (all jewelry) at galleries around the DC area. I didn’t get a short story published, but I did write a couple of children’s book manuscripts and submit them to a literary agent. I didn’t improve my French in the least, but I did have a bit of real-world Russian practice, though fluency continues to elude me. And, lastly, I did become more trim and muscular, as a consequence of regularly using my Gold’s gym membership.

So, I did all or part of seven of the ten things I hoped I’d be able to do in 2009, which is an amazing grace!

Therefore, I am encouraged to construct this year’s list of ambitions (a couple are holdovers from last year):

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

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

3. Buy a house (hey, if prices go low enough, and my children’s stories are accepted for publication...).

4. Get three pieces of my non-jewelry artwork sold in a gallery.

5. Learn to solder and cast silver, gold, and base metals.

6. Finish my stateside dissertation research and go abroad to Ukraine and Russia for on-site primary-source examination.

7. Get a book proposal accepted by a reputable English-language publisher.

8. Improve my French and my Russian, and learn basic Ukrainian (i.e. how it differs from Russian).

9. Pay off at least half of my debt to my parents (I may have to borrow a bit more to finance this semester, despite long hours spent at my two part-time jobs.)

10. Continue my personal physical fitness training and run a 10-mile course in less than 1 hour 30 minutes.

I wonder which, if any, of these dreams will come true in 2010?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Happy New Year!

I've been too busy to blog of late, but I will get around to posting my brief review of 2009 and my aspirations for 2010 soon--maybe tomorrow afternoon. Susan is engaged, and I am to be a bridesmaid. Maybe this time I won't get bloodied by "catching" the bridal bouquet above my eyebrow. The wedding is set for June 19.