Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hitler Is Paying My Way Through Grad School

Unfortunately for 900-some-odd years of intermittently admirable German history and culture, the evil done between 1933 and 1945 and the perpetrators thereof continue to fascinate the reading public to the exclusion of any other topic about the country. Anything with "Nazi" (or the name of one of those racist bastards) in the title sells. Millions of individuals were killed and maimed by the National Socialists (who, as my mentor likes to point out, were neither truly national nor really socialist), and almost 3/4 of a century later, selling books detailing and decrying these crimes is helping me make ends meet. [I have a friend who is on the editorial board of a German literature and history journal, and when she's done with the volumes that various publishers send her gratis (they are hoping for a favorable review), she passes them on to me, and I list them online.]

As my blog readers (those few souls who have not succumbed entirely to the siren song of the evil Facebook) know, cash has been tight for me since January 2009, when my full, but doubtless cushy job in the History Department ended. The part-time job up in Bethesda has helped a little over the last couple of months, but wasn't enough to cover this month's rent (much less next month's, which is due in a week...). Susan has been sweet and not deposited the February check, but she can't hold on to it forever, not with March roaring in so soon. Thank God my bank account is linked to a credit card, or the overdraft fees alone would have had me selling my plasma. So, I'm ever so grateful for online book sales--they've not entirely staunched the hemorrhaging, but they have given me hope that I can (eventually) get out of the financial pit into which I am now sunk armpit-deep. Particularly as even if other employment were available, I'm spending so much time dissertation-researching that my colleagues in the History Department actually thought I was abroad, and commented that I'd been missing for months when I emerged during daylight yesterday to commune with the copy machine.

I'm supposed to take the Foreign Service Exam in less than a week. If they ask me about World War II American foreign policy, I'm golden. In the meantime, I will eat gruel, watch my pennies, and continue collecting Pirogov-data.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Russian Addiction

God’s patience with us human beings is phenomenal. We sin deliberately time and time again—sit there, listen to wise counsel, and then go out and are pigheaded and stupid and ignore it, even when we know that what we’ve been told to do is right, and what we are doing is harmful to us—but it feels so damned good (and I use the word advisedly) to be bad…at least for a little while, until we sober up and realize the consequences.

I am not in a holy mood right now as I write this—not all aglow from coming off a solid “quiet time” or wholesomely refreshed from extended prayer. In fact, I’m at school doing dissertation photocopying and trying not to think about the graphic sex scenes in a mystery novel I just read. I am just fundamentally amazed at how totally screwed up we are but for the grace of the Almighty.

What’s been drumming this home of late are my interactions with Olga, the pregnant Russian girl who’s been calling me, telling me her woes. Right now, she’s staying with a devout Muslim classmate and the classmate’s less-than-devout Muslim husband, whose sex-themed jokes make Olga decidedly uncomfortable. But the room is free for the time being, which given her impecunious state is necessary.

But Olga actually went to dinner and a movie with her ex-fiance this Sunday, spending the night over at his place "for Valentine's" before returning to the DC “safe-house” Monday morning. He tried to talk her into having an abortion again, saying, “Then I’ll take you back.” She’s being an idiot—all he wants her for is sex, no strings attached. I just feel like shaking her, screaming, “Wake up!” Keeping in contact with him is her decision to make, though, not mine. I’ve been calm, rational, reasonable, but something has to click inside her silly little brain, where she realizes, “Hey, I’m worth more than this!” And nobody can make that “click” happen without grace, whether it’s recognized as such or not.

Ironically, as a 35-year-old virgin, I can sympathize a lot with her situation—I was in a severely psychologically abusive relationship from 18-21, and it took four months of “emotional detox” in Russia and a subsequent nervous breakdown to make me realize that God loved me, but that jerk didn’t. But for three years, I had kept going back for more abuse, because I was devoted to the guy. Who knows, I might have found myself in a position similar to Olga's had the guy (like me, at the time) not been a Pharisee who valued intellectual closeness to the exclusion of any physical intimacy. She’s young, she’s foolish, she’s shallow—she still wants to set me up with various men she meets just because they are cute and superficially nice. She’s so street-smart in some ways, and so incredibly na├»ve in others: she asks serious questions about lawyers and so forth, then goes off and cozies back up to someone who wants to get rid of their baby and continue to use her.

So, I’m praying for her, and I’m listening to her when she calls, and I'll go to church with her as she's asked, but other than giving her names and telephone numbers of people and organizations that might help her, I am not “taking ownership” of any part of this problem. She has to do the legwork, she has to make the decision to cut ties with this guy once and for all. I’d be far more sympathetic to her plight if she’d come to the sober realization that—no matter how difficult it is emotionally—she’s got to cut him completely out of her life. But as with all sort of addictions, including the general, natural human inclination to sin, this is easier said than done—it takes the supernatural intervention of God Himself. And sometimes he uses our being 1/3 around the globe from the focus of our addiction, having a nervous breakdown, or some combination of the two.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

You Don’t Say…

So, I car-jacked this middle-aged Asian guy using his own rear windshield wiper. I broke it off, then threatened to stab him with it. There were decomposing bodies all over the streets of Georgetown, so I was inured to violence, I suppose.

…that was just one, concluding part of an immensely complicated dream I had three nights ago, a somnolent soap-opera involving natural disaster, autopsies, stolen wallets, shyster jewelers, and the complexities of persuading university department secretarial staff to let me use their telephones.

Sunday night, I got hit on by a fiftyish guy in the valentine candy aisle at CVS. We met over Peeps. He introduced himself, and his octogenarian father. They were going to a nursing home afterwards, and he was searching for general-appeal boxed valentines, the sort you can hand out to all of your classmates in elementary school. Given a choice between Dora the Explorer and Transformers themes, I recommended others with stick-on temporary tattoos. They left with two packets of miscellaneous 1960s peace-signs in tie-dye colors. I didn’t get his phone number—though I was kind of charmed. Susan says I’m fascinated by quirky.

Susan and I got two bags of candy and a box of iced cookies. After drinking half a gallon of milk and eating all the cookies, we sipped through a champagne bottle’s worth of mimosas, and consumed over half the Hershey’s Peanut M&Ms (in seasonally appropriate pastel colors) while watching My Favorite Wife (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne). No guys (though Susan exchanged texts with Steven throughout, and telephoned him afterwards), cinematic 1940s romance, milk, chocolate, orange juice and champagne—the perfect Valentine’s Day.

In real car news, I replaced my battery all by myself. I know guys who have rebuilt engines in their classic cars would scoff at my truly elementary mechanical skills, but I am quite proud of the accomplishment.

Area pictures from the “no, duh” category:

If the three-foot high mound of snow doesn't convince you, maybe our sign will.

Slippery, too, judging from the icicles.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bye Snow, Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho

So, it's back to work for me today, thank God. If I don't work, I don't eat. I've gotten a lot of dissertation drudgery done this past week, but am looking forward to retailing today and tomorrow. We've spent a full week at Steven's, which has been grand, but I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own burrow tonight.

Happiness is not having to hear the grate of steel snow-plows against stone cold asphalt. The screech and scrape and the back-up-beepings of heavy machinery didn't bother me at first, but the incessant noise, with the thrumming chug of the diesel engines day after day after day, is removing the protective layers from my nerves as steadily as it indicates the shoveling of the snow. I'm grateful, truly, for the work the VA road crews have done in clearing the pavements--they've shifted hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of cubit feet of frozen water from the highways (though not the byways, yet) of the Commonwealth--but it would be lovely to enjoy quiet. As quiet as a city gets.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Snowfall II

We're still at Steven's, Susan and I--we've been going to the gym downstairs, but didn't venture back out in the car to Calvert Street until this afternoon, to get a few more necessaries and dig out at least part of my car before the next storm hits us tonight. After digging for half an hour, we exposed my driver's side door, and I got in to retrieve my sunglasses (snow glare is really brutal). Getting out, I hit the power lock button and discovered that the car battery had totally died (no, I had NOT left any lights on). So not only is my car going to be re-buried overnight (we dug it out partially today so I'd have to deal with only ten inches, not a grand total of 30+!), I'm going to have to call AAA to get it just cranked. As I am in no great need of individual transportation this week, this is happily not a pressing issue. Susan has a pile of snow over 6' high dumped in her parking spot, so she'll be parking on the street with me when we finally return home.

It's been awesome having Internet access all the time, I must say. Tonight, Steven is making lasagna from scratch, and we'll knock back a loaf's worth of garlic bread and a bottle of malbec and watch another cheesy movie (Susan chose the hilarious Steven Seagal vehicle Under Seige for us the night before last).

Some before and after pictures of this last, 20" snowstorm, a birdseye view from the 13th floor:

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Snow Fun!

My camera battery's died, so I can't upload any pictures right now, but we went out yesterday evening when the snowfall had stopped and the sky cleared to a pale baby blue edging into sunset pink and enjoyed the snow. It measured 18" in our immediate area (not in drifts), and so came up to my knees. Susan and Steven and I each free-fell backwards into unspoiled patches and had to be hauled out by our laughing fellows. I fell into other spots unintentionally and wallowed like a water buffalo, which all found highly amusing. When the sun went down and the lights came on, the landscape became even more magical, twinkling and silent and soft, the trees covered with blankets of white, something a Disney set decorator would kill for. We went indoors and had hot chocolate and homemade enchiladas, then watched the third installment of Lord of the Rings. We watched the whole trilogy this weekend.

In a few minutes, we're heading out for brunch with Matt and Claire, a couple of friends of ours, and then we'll come back to retire to our separate corners to devote ourselves to work that we've avoided in part this weekend (I've gotten more work done than the other two, but I've not been doing the cooking). It's a beautiful day outside--the sky is bright blue, the snow is a brilliant white, and I am so, so grateful for central heating and longjohns.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Rhode Island Snaps

Little Mr. Charm.

Siblings being silly.

Let It Snow!

Susan and I are spending the weekend over at Steven's new apartment, where there is Internet access and an in-building gym. Not to mention a washing machine and dryer in the guest bathroom. The weather monkeys are forecasting up to two feet of snow. It's been falling for about an hour, and they say this will continue through tomorrow night, with winds picking up. We've lots of provisions, and plan a monster breakfast tomorrow, with bacon, scrambled eggs and apple pancakes.

We were out of baking powder and a couple of other culinary necessities, and so I went to the grocery store before I went to the gym last night. I managed to find a parking space (no small feat) and walked into the store, took one glance at the lines at the registers, turned around and walked back out. I spent 2 hours at the gym, then went back to the store on the way home. Still had to hunt for a space to park, but knew if I didn't get what I needed, there would be no getting got.

The apocalypse is clearly at hand, and everyone will be eating eggs, shredded cheese and pre-washed salad. There were none of these items left, not a single broken egg or burst salad bag on the shelves--and this was a huge grocery store. Fruit, refrigerated juice, popcorn, and bread were also in short supply. Ironically, there were still a goodly number of canned goods available, though everything in the store was picked over. One guy said, "It's like 2012 already!" It took me a second to remember the disaster movie, but yeah. I was thinking it looked like an ordinary Soviet day, but I'm more backward-thinking, example-wise.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

On the Russian Front

The book formerly known as Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands is coming out in print (in Russian) this month! The official book launch is going to be at the Anna Akhmatova house museum (very cool), with the editor-in-chief of Zvezda hosting.

My young Russian acquaintance who was engaged to the controlling divorced guy twice her age is now abandoned and pregnant. The #@%! locked her out of the house Tuesday night and I thought I was going to have to drive to Rockville to get her, but she managed to persuade him to give her her clothes and her paperwork before going to a hotel. She and I went to the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center today to get some outside advice. Her situation is complicated by the fact that she's here on a student visa and can't work, though the visa is good until after the baby is born. Thank God one of her classmates has agreed to put her up for the short term.

Dissertation research continues steady, somewhat complicated by the fact that my laptop screen is getting dimmer and dimmer. This seems to be a hardware problem. Whether it can be fixed is a question.