Friday, December 27, 2013

First-World Domestic Likes and Dislikes

There are two things that I don’t like about my new digs.  The lesser of the minor: the kitchen cabinets don’t go all the way to the ceiling, but stop about 10 inches below.  Who ever thought this was a good idea?  It’s a safe haven for dust bunnies, a total waste of useful space.  This is not my mom’s fault (she believes in comprehensive cabinetry) but the contractors who built the place.  The major of the minor: I actually have enough stuff to fill up the whole house.  No kidding.  I cannot believe I shoehorned all this crap into a tiny apartment.  I am up to my eyeballs in art supplies (many of which I plan to list on eBay once I get in-house internet access), and blessed with books.  Most of the latter are irreplaceable, and not the sorts of things one can get on Kindle.  And yes, I do read them.  It is a pleasure being able to have a lot of them out on shelves again, though one of my large bookcases committed suicide on the trip to Georgia (my mother hopefully suggested gluing it back together, but closer inspection has proven it unglueable).  I put all my children’s books in their own bookcase, and have enjoyed flipping through them—proving that yes, I do retain the aesthetic, intellectual and emotional maturity of a six-year-old.

My favorite things about my new house (it is so plush! My brother observed, “This is the most well-appointed house for any unemployed person on the planet.”): being able to sit on the bathroom counters with my feet in the sink (the bliss of observing one’s facial pores close-up, and the horror of scrutinizing the grey in one’s hair and one’s unfeminine profusion of chin-whiskers from just an inch away), and having space for all my art supplies (be they ever so numerous).  I am five minutes from four grocery stores, five consignment shops (including one exclusively for jewelry) and a Post Office with a 24-hour automatic postal center.  And, also, just five minutes from a 24-hour gym with wi-fi. 

Now to find a job.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sherlocked By Migraine, Mugglywumpiness

The BBC gods executed revenge in my migraine-addled mind last night—600 mg of ibuprofen hadn’t touched the pain, and I was curled up and crying next to the toilet, whereinto I had spit up half my just-consumed dinner, nausea being a chief accompaniment to my cerebral discomfort—and so I popped 1000mg of acetaminophen and crawled miserably into bed, praying that the Almighty would make the skull-splitting agony subside and let me sleep.  I slept, and slept well (14 hours) but had a long and peculiar dream about Benedict Cumberbatch (or someone strongly resembling him) rescuing a small child who was floating down a river.  It was very odd.  This is no doubt a subconscious rebuke for my having insulted the actor's physique in front of other nerd-girls (if it is appropriate for an almost 40-year-old woman to include herself in that category—my trivia team members are considerably younger and thus qualify).  Several weeks ago, at what turned out to be my last night at trivia, we were exulting between rounds over the return of Sherlock (and talking about the Peter Jackson Hobbit trilogy, wherein Cumberbatch voices two characters and Martin Freeman, aka Dr. Watson, plays the title role of Bilbo Baggins), and one of my friends remarked, apropos of nothing, that Benedict Cumberbatch “Has the body of Michelangelo’s David”. Which I thought was insane, and hilarious, and retorted vigorously: “What are you talking about?! He’s so thin his chest is practically concave!”  The interchange highly amused our fellow fangirls, who convulsed over their beer and french-fries.  My teammates from That’s What She Said/No Man’s Cupcake—all three were a delight to see every week, and between Caroline’s hysterical stories about her old colleagues at the Russian radio station, to Jamie’s travels to ComiCon and elsewhere, and Tessa’s tales of food and family, there was always a drama unfolding, or a creative element achieved, and I will miss them sorely.  I saw Catching Fire with Tessa last Tuesday night, and attended Jamie’s and Caroline’s annual Christmas Ornament Exchange on Wednesday—where I met a girl who’s learning Mandarin, because her boyfriend is Chinese.  She and Caroline had become friends while both were over in the former CIS as Peace Corps volunteers.

Though laid low by the severe migraine, I haven’t been struck to a great extent by the realization that I’m here in Augusta for the duration, not just for Christmas.  I left town when many others of my friends were leaving town to visit family, so the fact that I’m not returning to DC once the holiday is over isn’t really “real” to me yet.  My brother told me, “You’re too damn old for dental school” when I mentioned it, and I hate realizing that I’m already middle-aged, and what I wanted to be when I grew up may be what I am, which is nothing, really.  I’m highly educated, curious about international cultures, better informed about history than most of my contemporaries, and yet I am unemployed, and frustrated with my lot.  My new house is so spacious and comfortable it is actually frightening, because I worry I’ll never, ever be able to pay for it, and apart from wanting to be a recognized and published author, I haven’t any inspiring dreams.  I want to think BIG, rather than settling for sorting through minutiae, which is my fundamental distraction in life.  But right now, the great-grandson of last night’s migraine is shifting in my brain, shoving its beak and claws into the pockets in my cranium, and I feel helpless.  And hungry—all I’ve had today (it’s almost 4:30) is a banana, but I fear that the minute I eat I’ll become nauseated again.  Blast!  A pox upon migraines and all their brethren.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Finally Down South

Traffic wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated on Friday: it only took me twelve hours to drive from Rockville, MD, to Augusta, GA, with three brief stops in Alexandria, VA, to drop off and pick up dribs and drabs that I’d either forgotten or had procrastinated about until the last minute.  Then, I and the very last bits of my worldly goods were on their way south.

I arrived home at 4 AM, having listened to all of Argo, by Antonio Mendez and a facilitator, a book which lacked all the sizzle of the movie adaptation.  This was not just due to the fact that the screenwriter juiced up the tension by creating more suspense-inducing scenarios at the airport and on the streets than actually happened, but to the issue that is often endemic in co-written memoirs: the voice of the author is reduced to a featureless monotone, and what was a great tale into a bland porridge of irrelevant details and senseless omissions.  Perhaps this is because Mendez, as a former CIA employee, had to have his work vetted for content by an agency committee for fear something vital would be let slip—could he or they have chosen more bland pseudonyms for people he couldn’t name?  You’d think he’d have used the opportunity to be a little amusing!-- but I would hesitate to blame that group, no matter how bureaucratic, for the overall narcotic effect.  A much better true story of sneaking out of enemy territory is Escape from Camp 14, wherein its journalist author discusses his interactions with, and misgivings about, his subject, how their relationship developed over time, and how he was able to validate details and use external information to flesh out the story.  It’s really disappointing that agency-awarded Mendez, as a self-described artist and painter, would have stuck to the ignominious role of the dull, grey-man good guy, when bureaucratic discontents like Gus Avrakatos make for much more fascinating and compelling reading. 

I did note that one fellow mentioned in Argo, a senior CIA member (the director of Near-Eastern Affairs, I think was his formal title), was one and the same as mentioned in Charlie Wilson’s War, and so had his finger in the pies of responding to the Iranian hostage crisis and that of the response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  It would be fascinating to read the old KGB files on these people, mainly men, who were pushing levers and pulling strings in a series of efforts to manipulate events so many thousands of miles away.  I wonder, too, to what degree the FSB is “outsourcing” its R&D nowadays, a habit that Mendez asserts was always a strength of our foreign intelligence service, and a weakness of the Soviet system’s.  Without any information on the subject, I can only assume that given natural inertia and the nature of institutional finances, the Russians are likely doing more with contractors, and we are doing much less.

Today was Mums’ and John’s first anniversary.  I went over for pizza and cookies this evening on my way to Walmart to return some bookcase pins that were too large.  I didn’t make it to church this morning—my excuse was that I’d lost my cell phone charger and the battery was kaput, or nearly so, and I hadn’t set my alarm.  So, before the Christian shoppers rush after services and lunch, I hit the Walmart for shelf pins and charge cords—the pins didn’t work, but thank God the cords did. 

Today we’ve been overlain by a thick blanket of tropical rain clouds, that have cast thick darkness over the daylight hours and appeared smoky, resting just above the pine trees at night.  Every few hours torrential rain has poured down, taking a few degrees of steaming temperature with it, so tonight I may not have to turn on the air conditioning, which was a necessity for me to sleep last night.  I may have difficulty over the short term adjusting to the temperature difference between here and DC, though I realize this heat is unusual in Georgia in December, too.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole

I'd never been much of an O'Toole fancier until I watched and heard his elegant honorary Oscar acceptance speech at the 2003 Academy Awards. I was so enchanted by its graceful, eloquent brevity that I immediately went on ABEbooks and purchased both volumes of Loitering With Intent, his autobiography.  What a wonderful tale-teller he was! And what a miracle he lived as long as he did, given his astounding promiscuity, and mind-blowing alcohol and cigarette consumption!  He was a stunningly beautiful youth--a "flower boy" before the garden of these gods became crowded with surgically-enhanced lovelies--who aged with gut-wrenching rapidity due to his profligate lifestyle. But his acting ability remained exceptionally vital, even as his external appearance verged on cadaverous.

My two favorite O'Toole films are on either end of his vast thematic and stylistic range: the lighthearted modern romantic comedy (with the ever-chic Audrey Hepburn) How to Steal a Million, and that searing historical portrait of a severely dysfunctional late medieval family (with grande dame Katherine Hepburn) The Lion in Winter.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Headaches, Errands

I hate it when the hamster in my head gets bored on its wheel and decides to amuse itself by gnawing on the wiring behind one of my eyeballs.  Or so it feels when I am developing a migraine.  I went over to Susan and Steven’s this afternoon at 2:45 to help with Christmas party setup, and lasted about 20 minutes before I felt the unmistakable twinges of a major headache developing on the right side of my head.  So I took two extra-strength Tylenol and retreated to my old room in the basement, where I slept for three hours in total darkness.  And as a result was no use whatever to party setup (I attempted to redeem myself with cleanup assistance afterwards), but at least my headache was gone in time for the festivities.

Traffic in DC over the last three days has just about given me an ulcer, if not a headache.  It took me more than an hour to go less than four miles on the beltway yesterday, and Wednesday morning’s trip to Falls Church for my final teameet with Rachel was a 75-minute crawl in gridlock.  This morning, I drove to Georgetown to drop off the check for the History Honor Society fundraiser proceeds, and pick up a load of books from my German professor friend (titles like “Was Hitler Darwinian?” promise to be hot sellers…), and I sat amongst fellow frustrated midday drivers in a construction-addled mess below the university on Canal Road for 25 minutes, a stretch that should have taken between three and five minutes to negotiate.  I will most certainly not miss spending so much time in the car when I move back to Georgia—I’ve burnt half a tank of gas in the last two days!

I don’t think I’d ever been so grateful for nasty weather as I was on Sunday.  It was the ending day of the huge Potomac sale, and we’d been slammed Friday (100 people—we counted—waiting in line in the rain at 10 AM) and astoundingly busy Saturday.  Sunday promised to be a nightmare, as the heathen hoards rushed in, tossing things hither and thither in their mad scramble for deals.  But we had snow and freezing rain from the morning.  Still, people came out in droves; we could only imagine how bad the crush of customers would have been had the weather not been awful!  It was a lucrative sale, just an overwhelming one. 

This week, I’ve been mainly running errands.  I dropped off a consignment of jewelry at the store where I’ve been selling my wares for years in Alexandria, I picked up an item from my postbox that I’d bought online (one of the few things among all that I’ve purchased over the years that proved on receipt to be totally unlike its description—I contacted the seller and told them I was MOST unhappy and that I was going to return it, so they’d better give me a full refund!), I took the leftover Polish pottery from the Georgetown sale back to my friend in Manassas (who had her baby girl on Tuesday), along with her money from the event.  I’ve gotten the oil changed in my mother’s car (the detailing will have to wait until I get back to GA—the salt on the roads here makes any washing instantly obsolete), and a bunch of other smaller tasks done, including one trip to the gym for a long-needed workout and my first visits to a Tuesday Morning and to a Habitat for Humanity thrift store, both of which were successful (lamp parts!).

Tomorrow, Amy and Larry and little Faith leave for a week at Disney World, and I’ll cat-sit for their remaining quintet of middle-aged felines.  One week--and many activities and miles--to go before I leave DC for good.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Sky Daddy & The World Of Tomorrow (& Yesterday)

This week is the Georgetown show that Anita and I have been conducting for what seems like forever, but what is in fact almost a decade.  It so happens that it is also the final prep/sale week for our largest estate sale of the year, one that has attracted a flood of emails and telephone calls from people who have seen pictures of the Bigelow Lucite tables, Venetian glass mirrors, David Yurman jewelry, and so forth, asking for further details and even begging to buy things before the sale opens (which we don't do for advertised items--everyone has to come to the sale to get that which is pictured online..."bait and switch" is not our style). 

So...I am pulled by two loyalties, and the last three days I've left the house at 7:30 AM and spent until 7:30 PM dedicated to the Georgetown show, setting up, selling, talking and then taking down and schlepping everything back to my mother's car (which Anita is THRILLED to have this year in place of my Honda, because we can pack so much more into it!), and two nights running now I've gone to Maryland to help with pricing and table setup for the estate sale afterwards.  I didn't get home until 1 AM last night, and then I had to get up again at 6:55.  I am really tired!  But this is the last push to make much coin before the holidays and my relocation to Georgia, so I'm dealing.  And learning much about 19th century German composer Richard Wagner during my commutes (I borrowed 24 lecture CDs on Wagner from Merry more than two years ago, and determined I'd better listen to them before they had to be returned next week!).

I have had a couple of volunteers from the History Honor Society to assist me with unpacking yesterday and the day before, and one was a young man who aspires to be an archeologist.  He is also one of the tentative recipients of financial aid from the sale, as he is one of four students planning to present papers at the national Phi Alpha Theta conference in Albuquerque.  He went on a dig this past summer in the country of Georgia, shoveling and brushing down through Byzantine and Greek layers of a burial site until finally arriving at the pre-human-civilization level.   I told him about my interest in Pirogov, and expressed in my outline of his life that I had been mildly disappointed that given his great achievements in humanitarian care, the man hadn't apparently been motivated by any religious bent.

To which my young assistant said, "Oh, that's more admirable, because he didn't believe some 'sky daddy' was going to reward him after death for doing good."  Not being quick-witted, I just laughed in response, and said that was an interesting perspective.  Further conversation revealed that this guy, who is doing a post-baccalaureate year at Georgetown, taking ancient Greek and re-taking Latin, is presenting a paper talking about the evolution of the Mediterranean monastic view of black Africans into symbols of lust and evil.  That certain monastics developed such ideas is a matter of historical record, but the relish with which this post-Bac student enlarged upon the topic, and his aforementioned derisive reference to belief in a "sky daddy" suggested to me that he had a peculiar antipathy for religious faith in general and Christianity in particular.  And his first remark about the admirable nature of non-religiously-motivated positive humanism had made me wonder: is it?  From an impartial perspective, is it better to be spurred to good deeds one behalf of your fellow man without belief in an eternal reward?

Upon reflection, I consider this may be an inaccurate construct of human motivations and behavior from the outset.  First, is there any selfless self-sacrifice on strangers' behalf, any genuine charity, apart from a culture once or presently influenced by a religion (any) that teaches such deeds as pleasing to God or gods?  Thus, would it not follow that demonstrating love for one's fellow man without adhering to the particular dominant religion, but recognizing the positive nature of its inculcated virtues is to act well, but derivatively?  In other words, amoral positive humanism is only possible within the context of a society which has as its basis a promise of supernatural reward for doing good.  But given this context, is it still true that people who don't believe in any eternal benefit earned in caring for other people, who are yet exceptionally dedicated to bettering the conditions of others, are thus disinterested purists who have somehow morally surpassed those benighted souls who have a religious motivation for their actions? 

Hmm, perhaps practical examples should be used to test this hypothesis.  At least in the Western context, all the individual secular philanthropists I can think of have--whether consciously or not--sought to establish their names in the popular consciousness, if not in stone, to perpetuate a legacy.  And what is memory but the human approximation of eternal life?  Fame, notoriety, and popularity are a means by which people try to keep themselves from dying, even in defiance of corporal mortality.  Carnegie built libraries, Duke and Thomas Jefferson planned universities, Bill and Melinda Gates and other billionaires give millions of dollars to world charities.  All of these things did and can accomplish tremendous good, and these acts are justly remembered as admirable.  Even within religious contexts, individuals and families often give money with the understanding that their names will be associated with the gift.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but anonymous benefactors are certainly the exception.

As to groups, Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders physicians do phenomenal work, with an established secular philosophy, but it was born out of the Western Judeo-Christian tradition of care for the sick, and I wonder if (even prior to its recognition with the Nobel Peace Prize) it is not association with the organization itself, and its international acceptance, like the Red Cross/Red Crescent (look at the name!), as a public good, that gives its non-religious members a sense of ongoing purpose, that even if they themselves vanish, the organization will continue to make its positive impact felt from generation to generation?

And of course, from a holistic perspective, the alleged superiority of the secular philanthropist over the religious can only be entertained if, in fact, the divinity does not exist, and the fact that God's existence or non-existence is in no way affected by the presence or absence of belief of human beings in that fact is a totally foreign concept to most people these days.  For instance, at the Georgetown show, Anita had given me a stack of copper cuff bracelets to sell, and a woman came by and asked if they were good for the bones.  I answered, somewhat impoliticly, "I suppose they are, if you believe in that kind of hooey."  She responded, "Well, I don't want to buy one from someone who thinks it's nonsense," and walked away (BTW, she came back this afternoon and bought a couple).  All I could think of was: 1) I really put my foot in it, retail-wise, and 2) if it actually works, why does what I think about it matter? 

The sale has not been as dazzlingly lucrative as in previous years, partly, I suspect, due to the fact that our faculty sponsor decided not to send out an announcement on the campus faculty listserv because she had received what amounted to hate mail from some people about last year's announcement--something to the effect that the subject was not "academic" (despite the clear information that the sale directly benefits students).  I told her, "Just goes to show there are stinkers in every bunch."  The undergraduate volunteers had also fallen down on the job as far as putting up the posters she'd printed off.  Our faculty adviser is a sweetheart, and she'd done her best to exhort the members and spread the word herself, but one person can only accomplish so much.

Anita and I plan to have celebratory sushi tonight, while we're running the numbers.  Tomorrow and Sunday I'll be behind another jewelry counter, beating off the savage hordes at the estate sale.  My art dealer boss invited me to his annual Hanukkah party Saturday night, and there's a gift exchange, so I've got to come up with something clever or interesting, if not both, for the event.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Hermione is reading and Charles and I are playing Scrabble on his iPad while we all half-watch the Georgia-Georgia Tech football game on the grainy room TV and wait for my aunt and Grandmommy to emerge from the inner sanctum of the emergency roon, where her leg is being checked. The swelling and discoloration were worse today, and when we emailed "glamour shots" of Grandmommy's injured gam to John, he recommended she not wait until Monday, but go ahead to the hospital this afternoon.

We've been here for two hours and Charles shellacked me the first game: I lost by 190 points. Ouch.  At least the Yellow Jackets are winning thus far (17-0).

UPDATE: Tech lost in double overtime. Grandmommy was sent home after almost three hours with a clean bill of health and instructions to desist taking her daily aspirin tablet, so that the knee, and with it, the ankle, could heal (as all tests were clear, the doctor figured she'd just not healed yet from the heck of a bruising she got falling off her bed onto her knee six weeks ago, and that the ankle swelling was related--probably working out in the yard yesterday for more than eight hours, schlepping 50+ lb loads via wheelbarrow every half hour may have irritated things a bit). She's to keep doing what she's been doing and keep an eye on things.  Charles and I quit in the middle of our second game as I needed to be off to Augusta, but he was beginning to trounce me a second time.  I am bummed that actor Paul Walker of the Fast and Furious movies has died--his was always a cheerful presence onscreen, amongst an entire cast that just seemed to be enjoying the sheer escapist silliness of the series.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Birthday/Thanksgiving Review

Grandmommy had baked me a cake. When I levered myself out of bed Thursday morning and shuffled to the kitchen for breakfast, it was waiting on the table, along with a nice card.

My reception of birthday greetings had begun an hour earlier, when I woke at six and checked my email. It was a great way to start the day.

Grandmommy and I drove to Augusta, bringing the cake and a bagful of yeast rolls. En route, Grandmommy told jokes and commented on the cotton fields, white for harvest--even the ones the picking machines had rolled through had "a good pickin' left". She said that when she was little, her daddy let the children keep the bolls they could find in the field after the harvest--they'd run to pick them up and then sell as many as they accumulated, "and that was our Christmas money."  Now, the machines don't bind the white fluff into square bales, but push it into giant plastic wrapped short cylinders at the edges of the fields. These are twice as large as the similarly-shaped hay bales, and must weigh thousands of pounds apiece.

Rita and Brad called me just as we arrived in Augusta to say Happy Birthday.

We had enough food to feed a brigade. Mums had cooked the biggest turkey I'd ever seen, plus dressing, assorted other vegetables and sides, and desserts. And then her in-laws artived, all carrying as much again in tfoodstuffs. It was really incredible. We could have satiated fifty, and there were less than 15 total there. A good time sermed to be had by all, and between dinner and dessert John led the assembly in a chorus of "Happy Birthday" while my 13 candles spelling the same sentiment atop the cake burned. ("One for every three years," Grandmommy proclaimed.)

My boss phoned, and after Grandmommy and I had made it safely back to her house and played a couple of games of Scrabble I retired to email with another nice birthday greeting to bookend the day from my LDC.

Grandmommy is tougher, and has more stamina than a twenty-something. She raked over an acre's worth of leaves and pine straw today, bagged it and trundled it on a wherlbarrow to the storage shed in the back yard.  I helped for several hours and was flat afterwards, while she kept bouncing along like the Energizer bunny. This despite a bag knee (she injured it six weeks ago, and it's puffy and purple again--she's promised to make a long-avoided doctor's appointment to see about it Monday).  Grandmommy is always so cheerful, yet she's been talking a lot about "when I'm gone" lately.  We are both too aware of the reality of death to wave it off, so I just nod and listen.  It's not made me sad, exactly, talking about this, and Daddy and Granddaddy, mostly wistful.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


My small second cousin recently told my aunt, "Grandma, now that I am four, I have to be careful because Minnie (his baby sister) wants to do everything I do. So I have to be careful to set a good example."  I don't know that I will be struck by the same noble impulse towards my younger siblings when I turn 39 in a few hours, but I will do my best.

Grandmommy and I played Scrabble this evening. I won in the end, though Grandmommy had led for a while when she sprinted ahead with 48 points for one triple-word score.  I told her about being asked out by the married guy, and she said the same thing had happened to her in Birmingham, AL, during the war--it makes you thoroughly disgusted, even when your own behavior has been strictly aboveboard, and you innocently accepted the invitation to go out without suspecting the other's background.  God has really protected the both of us relationally and otherwise.

My late afternoon drive through Georgia today was illuminated by a fiery setting sun that seemed to grow larger as it reached the horizon.  The cotton fields (more planted this year than I remember since I was a child--environmental disasters in other parts of the world have made this Old South crop profitable again) glowed orange, and red flames elsewhere along the roadside proved more than metaphorical. There were several red trucks on the blackened verge hosing down small fires in the grass. These must have been intentionally set, since it rained all day yesterday, and there were no other causes that I could guess at.

The Christmas wreaths are already up on the light poles around the old courthouses in the towns I drove through.  It was dark by the time I arrived at Grandmommy's, and she had a hot supper ("only" seven dishes--2 meats, 5 vegetables) waiting. Several of her outside lights aren't working--I need to get one or both of my mechanically savvy brothers to come fix them.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Documentation

Perhaps it would have been more complex if I had changed my name or my vehicle, but it took a total of an hour and ten minutes for me to get my new license and registration in Georgia--including time in transit between the two offices and the waits indoors to be called to the teller windows. And both ladies who helped me were so nice, and we had relaxed chats while they made sure my paperwork was in order.  Gosh, it's good to be home--and they both welcomed me back warmly.

I have yet to make a single piece of jewelry for next week's Georgetown show, but I've been sleeping wonderfully, and getting many things unpacked and arranged around the house. My mother had left a few items she didn't need, and combined with those I brought, I have determined that we are ready for an apocalypse, provided the three main shortages are: 1) can openers, 2) disposable bendy straws, and 3) bed pillows. Clearly, we subconsciously foresee universal shortages in these areas, and we are more than prepared!

Tomorrow, I plan to drive to middle Georgia to spend the night with Grandmommy, so I can bring her back up here for Thanksgiving dinner at John and Mums'. Once we've come out of our turkey comas, I intend to take her back home and spend the night again, then return to Augusta, officially a year older.  I hope it doesn't keep pouring rain like it did today (probably a contributing reason for the low lines at the DMV and tag bureaus, though when I remarked on this the lady at the tag office said it wasn't the weather but the day of the week that accounted for the low crowd volume--"Oh, rain doesn't stop them!" she responded. "It's because it's Tuesday.")

Incidentally, Georgia lets you smile for your license picture, so I'll no longer look funereal in my ID photo, though I sighed a bit when the lady was over-typing my older stats (from when I was 16--they never changed my weight and height on my GA licenses when they were renewed before, and I was still in the system!)...I gained an inch in height and 24 lbs. in weight.  And to think I believed 112 lbs. was heavy in high school.  But, on the bright side, I've more than 200,000 miles of driving experience since then, having navigated from Washington state's Olympic Peninsula to the endmost Florida Key, from Columbia, SC, to the Twin Cities of Minnesota, and up and down the Eastern Seaboard more times than I can count.  I hope my little Honda will hold up for another 200,000!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Where The Old Oak Used To Stand

I was joking just this morning with my mother that the both of us tend to navigate by landmarks, not names and numbers. Moreover, some of the landmarks we use don't exist anymore--we turn at the corner where an old shopping center no longer stands, we go to places which sit next to a vanished church building, and when we refer to places by names, they are oftentimes names which have been officially replaced for twenty or more years. "The lake," for example, will always be Clarks Hill, though the South Carolinians managed to rechristen it Lake Thurmond when I was in high school.

I thought this sort of navigation was a mainly feminine characteristic, but I think it may instead be generally Southern.  Having dug up my car title at long last from the boxed heaps of papers upstairs and downstairs in my new house, I toddled (or waddled--more on that in a bit) off to where I thought the licensing bureau was to get new credentials. Unfortunately, it turns out there are two offices one must visit in succession, and the driver's license bureau (which is closed Mondays), at which I must needs call first, is now located away from the vehicle registration bureau, where I must go second.  I asked for directions to the former from a very cordial man at the tax office, and he told me it was next door "to where Omni Fitness used to be".  Thank God, before they built their own sanctuary, my parents' old church used to meet nearby, so I knew where that was!

I am the porkiest I've ever been.  I went to Gold's with Mums yesterday and she shimmied up the knotless rope hung from the 30' ceiling a couple of times, did weights while I was wiggling on the elliptical trainer, and then beckoned me over for ab work. It's really sad what a total marshmallow I am. I did go up to the next jean size--there was no help for it, as I vouldn't button the others.  I don't think I would feel so intolerably heavy if I had had the excuse of childbearing, but I haven't, and I do.  I really hope Mums will whip me back into shape once I'm here for good and all--right now, I am lamentably voluptuous, to use a charitable term.  I want a flat tummy and a less bubbly butt, 'cause right now I possess the physique of a weeble-wobble (one of those weighted-bottom childhood toys that rights itself when it gets knocked over).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Autumn Dog Brows

Sometimes the best therapy for mental distress is manual labor, so this afternoon I decided to rake Amy and Larry's yard.  The wind had calmed from yesterday, so I didn't have to worry about my efforts being destroyed by stiff breezes, but I did have to work uphill at the beginning because there's only one gateway out of their fenced backyard, and the enclosed hill that slopes down on both sides of the house was covered with bushels of dead leaves.  It felt wonderful to be out in the fresh air, using my long-disused muscles, hauling crunchy cartfuls of delicate tree-scraps around to the growing pile at the curb. 

Two hours in to my raking, I was stacking dried bamboo and fallen limbs next to the chain link fence when I suddenly realized I was being watched.

On the neighbor's patio next door stood an ancient black Labrador.  Not only was its muzzle white with age, the tips of its paws had greyed too.  Its calm eyes were turned toward me, and its eyebrows were dancing up and down inquisitively as it gently sniffed the air.  I could tell that it was "seeing" me with its nose, and curiously considering my activities, as one eyebrow went up, then the other, indicative of a mute canine internal dialogue.  

I returned to my raking when the dog began staring at its owners' back door expectantly.  A moment later there was a unusual sound, like the honk of one of those old jalopy squeeze-bulb horns.  Just the dog, reminding its owners that the shadows were starting to lengthen outside, and it wanted to come into the warm.

Larry told me tonight that the neighbors work for the State Department, and the dog has been with them for years living in Europe and elsewhere in the United States.  Truly a venerable beast in its autumn years.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bossy Non-Boss

I was so upset this afternoon that I was physically shaking.  I immediately walked off the jobsite, phoning my boss and telling her that I would not work in the same house with Bitsy ever again.

One of the things, if not the one thing I detest and resent most in the world is being talked down to.  Being treated like an idiot or run roughshod over verbally by anyone--but particularly by someone who hasn't legitimate moral or social superiority to do so--feels like a cheese grater is being rubbed on my soul.

Bitsy is a relatively new colleague who has been with us for six or eight months.  She's a hard worker, with a good eye for "staging" (arranging items for sale in an attractive, eye-catching and organized way), and the fact that she's a morning person and I'm a night owl has been complementary in making sure that a lot of work gets done throughout the day--I'm coming in fresh as she's slowing.

Bitsy's talkative.  Extremely so.  She never says one word when five will do.  She frequently apologizes for going on and on, but her loquaciousness doesn't bother me--I just treat the word stream as background noise, and the nervous giggling which punctuates it as its own laugh track.  She is some twenty years older than me, the adoptive mother of an adolescent girl with various learning and social challenges, about which I know she is under stress.  These things were not the source of the friction between us.

To a certain extent, all of us are Type-A personalities--that we are conscientious estate sale workers in the DC area virtually guarantees this.  But I started noticing just a couple of months after she joined us that Bitsy was not just opinionated, she was downright bossy and unconscious of stepping on others' toes, and I occasionally had to step in to smooth ruffled feathers when she said something particularly bullying to one of our other colleagues.  Frequently, I would volunteer to work near her in place of someone else, so that her constant talking wouldn't drive them crazy.

One weekend this fall, both my boss and I (traditionally her second in command, because the others deferred to my four years' experience) were out of town, and Bitsy was given the management of a sale.  The power must have gone to her head, because ever since, I felt her presume primacy, speaking several times a day as our boss's official mouthpiece, and using her early keyed access to several locations as a sort of carte blanche for running the show, rather than behaving as if it were the team effort it must be.  I let this run off my shoulders, deciding to live in peace, but quickly becoming more and more grateful that I was leaving the business soon.

A couple of days ago, my boss said, "You're going to miss us when you're down in Georgia, aren't you?" And I smiled, and laughed.  She said, "That laugh sounded a little too hearty." I replied, carefully, "I am going to miss you, a lot.  But Bitsy is driving me insane."  "Why?" my boss said, surprised.  "She is bossy when she doesn't need to be bossy," is all I would say.

And then today, the straw that broke the camel's back.  I was working with another, much younger, colleague, and had encouraged her to do some pricing she was well-equipped to handle (which I told her, honestly, I didn't know beans about).  And Bitsy came in, announced in a grand fashion (like Moses handing down the tablets) that our boss had told her what she wanted done, and that I shouldn't have anything to say about it, and imperiously ordered the young colleague (herself a mother of a disabled child) away from her task, interrupting me.  I was appalled.

I can't express myself verbally when I am excited, and all I could think was, "I've put up with this enough--I am not being paid so poorly to be treated like a doormat by someone who's not even my senior!"  So, I left.

Ironically, as the young reassigned colleague in question later texted me, further along in the afternoon Bitsy made her finish the task from which she'd suddenly taken her, as there was no one else to do it, so no gross progress was made. 

My sweet boss, who got to the worksite house an hour later (having put me to work at her own house tagging and pricing jewelry--a task that was to take until almost midnight), failed to address the root of the problem, which was Bitsy's ongoing usurpation of authority and unwarranted bossiness, and so two hours after the incident I got a insincere apology via text from Bitsy for her "apparently" "snapping" at me, along with a longwinded excuse to the effect that she has "a lot going on."  Big whoop.  Who doesn't?  I told my boss later (trying to translate the situation into her vernacular) that it was like someone had kicked the boss's beloved dog and then sent her a half-hearted apology for "seeming to" have drunk one of her Cokes, with the excuse that he'd been really thirsty. 

When I left this evening, my boss begged me repeatedly to come to work tomorrow: "I really need you!"  But I reiterated that I won't when Bitsy's there.  I don't trust her.  And, thank God, I don't have to put up with the situation, even if my dear boss doesn't have the backbone to rectify it.  I am concerned, though, that I'm not the only one being driven crazy (I don't *think* I'm merely superimposing my feeling of personal insult onto the whole)--my other coworkers, being less inhibited than I, will probably eventually either just quit entirely or royally ream Bitsy out, neither of which is good for the company or for team spirit.  It's not my business (or my business), I have to remind myself.  But I do hate to see a good crew destroyed from within.  Argh.  Lesson in humility.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cinema Paradiso a heavenly film.  I know I am a cinephile with more than 1000 full-length theater-release movies on my IMDB "Have Watched" list, and so it is conceivable that I might have eventually gotten around to watching it on my own, but what ultimately encouraged me to look it up on Amazon (free streaming with my Prime membership) was that my LDC recommended it, saying that not only was the film itself wonderful, the soundtrack was outstanding. 

To me, there were elements of Tom Sawyer in the film, which is not as full of hilarity as the famous Mark Twain novel, but captures the same kindness towards its youthful and elderly characters, without the bitter edge that came to color the author's later works.  It's sad in many places, funny in others, and manages to leave a pleasant taste in the mouth after your eyes fill with tears.  The musical score was truly lovely, and gentle.  It's neither too fast nor too slow, and would be a perfect lazy date-night movie for slow kissing between little sips of wine and larger bites of rich chocolate. 

Since I watched it alone, I limited myself to a 32-oz glass of skim milk.

My LCD's other movie recommendation was Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, which I told him was on the other end of the spectrum from Cinema Paradiso, but I'd give it a go.  Since it's a stoner comedy, I may consume a complementary plateful of munchies with my milk.


Otto von Bismarck was giving me fashion advice and street directions in my dream yesterday.  The hundredth anniversary of the traditionally-recognized outbreak of World War I is just months away, and as to shots heard 'round the world, those fired by Gavrilo Princip have had perhaps more effect on the structure of world power today than those loosed at Lexington and Concord.

I am up again before dawn, dark circles under my eyes and phlegm in my throat, unable to sleep. I have observed three friends' birthdays since Thursday, and am frankly dreading mine in less than two weeks, because everyone will overlook it.  It's on Thanksgiving Day this year, as it was when I was born, and what with the travel and the trouble of the traditional dinner I expect all will forget what I've jokingly called "my first 39th birthday".  It's six months since I realized I must relinquish my apartment and retrench, and thus far my financial condition has not improved,  and the personal goals I set to achieve by age 40 seem further off than ever.  I really hope and pray that once I shake the DC dust from my feet in late December, there will be a significant uptick in my morale and motivation, not to mention my bank balance.

My boss has taken another sale for the second week in December, so after the Potomac mansion we'll have been preparing for a month (it's easily 7000 square feet and full), we'll have just four days to turn around that one.  I dearly hope that we do well at both, and finish the year on a strong note. The owner of the last house we did was so delighted with our efforts that he wrote a glowing unsolicited recommendation of us which he sent to several local realtors. He was a gem to work for--the night before the sale he cooked us dinner and brought it over, and on the last day of the sale he went to Costco and bought a party plate of sandwiches for our hurried consumption.  Would that all of our clients were so gracious. We do excellent work for everyone, but when we are treated well, and the quality of our toil is recognized, we are inspired to surpass ourselves.  Curiously, it is often those with poor-quality possessions, who have not taken care of what they have, who are the least grateful for our amazing ability to make silk purses out of sows' ears, who hover and complain.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Road Kill Concession?

The woods and landscaped shrubberies of the DC area, from the GW Parkway through the I-270 corridor between Potomac and Rockville, MD, are infested with deer.  They are pretty, dainty-stepping creatures when eating apples in the garden (we watched one doe devour several behind the house where we're working, piggily ignoring us watching her from just twenty feet away), and a royal bloody mess on the roadways when they encounter the equally numerous automobiles.  Not a day goes by that I don't see one glassy-eyed brown-furred corpse on the side of a road, its neck or feet contorted at an unnatural angle.  At least the cold weather means that the bodies don't bloat as fast as they do when it's warmer--then, you see the trunk ballooning with decomposition while the thin legs poke out like sticks a child has thrust into a dirty snowman. 

A couple of weeks ago, I passed a middle-aged man getting out of his small pickup, pulling on gloves, and walking towards the body of a deer by the side of the road.  He already had two in the back of his truck, and I wondered how many he would accumulate over the next few miles, and what he intended to do with them.  It seems to me that provided the animal hasn't been dragged by the car that hit it, the meat would remain edible, and that even its coat might be salvageable for leather.  Are the carcasses butchered and the meat donated?  Or are the bodies just chucked into a landfill?  It seems kind of a waste to throw them away without salvaging something; especially given the volume of dead animals hereabouts, you'd think there'd be a dedicated abattoir somewhere close by.  If so, where would it be?  Was the pickup man a county employee, a peculiar volunteer, or had he bid on a contract?  Is there some sort of formal reporting system for roadside deer death, enabling him to find the expired creatures easily, or does he have to cruise around each day, looking and sniffing for likely spots?  What happens if someone runs into a stag with a particularly nice they get to keep it?

Monday, November 11, 2013


I'd sent Grant a quick thank-you note for dinner the other evening, mentioning that if he was ever interested in attending church with me, he was always welcome.  He responded this morning in a polite but decisive negative, saying that he did not want to attempt to understand any religion, and he was really looking for a woman he could spend time with and take to bed.  Well, that concluded that particular social interaction.  I replied immediately with thanks for his clarity, and that while I was also seeking someone with whom to spend time and take to bed, I wanted this to be in a marital context and that my spouse be a fellow believer. 

Then, I went off in a corner and cried for 10 minutes. 

However, again I have reached a new stage in relationship management.  Given similar disappointments in the past, I would have prayed to ask God to send me a good, godly guy as quickly as possible to mend my bruised heart.  Now, I just pray that I'll heal, that even without a legitimate outlet to this sexual frustration, I'll have the guts to go on and be happy alone.

I've begun to think that there is huge misreading of the Paulinian admonition "it is better to marry than to burn", to the effect that most people assume one *can* marry rather than stew in one's own juices, when as we know this is not always the case.  Is it not a false doctrine to assume that refraining from indulgence in a particular sin necessarily means participation in a mainstream lifestyle (thus, the frequently erring notion among some evangelicals of "curing" homosexuals by converting them into married heterosexuals)?  Sometimes, you just have to deal.  You can't always find a way to respond actively to certain temptations, you just have to simmer silently, seeking to distract yourself constructively elsewhere.  Celibacy is a benign calling for some, and a burdensome chore for others, but for all people at different times in their lives it is a necessity.  We aren't promised physical or emotional satisfaction in the things of this world when we decide to follow Jesus.  In fact, the suffering that attends us is often misunderstood not only by the world (celibacy is such a quaint anachronism to most these days), but also by fellow Christians, who seem unable to cognitively process the idea that even "legitimate" sensual and otherwise fulfillment is and will continue to be lacking in someone's life.

Once again, I am grateful to the Almighty for my friends.  I may be poor and severely underemployed, single and silly, but I have been welcomed into house after house by sweet couples who assure me that I am loved, that they like having me around, and that they've even gone out of their way to gear up for my arrival with gallons of skim milk! After all, who really could dream of more?!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I asked my date to choose from the menu for me, as I did not know what was good or what was typical Sichuan cuisine, which he promised the restaurant offered. Traditional Chinese food does not much resemble its popular Americanized version, from the bacon-cuts of pork stewed like crockpot roast lying on beds of spinach to the fish swimming in thin red broth speckled with viciously biting peppers.  I made a good meal, though, and was grateful for the hot tea to restore my equilibrium after a fleck of pepper lodged between my vocal cords and sent me into a paroxysm of teary croaking.  For the most part, I managed to use my chopsticks properly (I really didn't want to seem like an uncultured fork-wielding barbarian in a place full of people eating gracefully with the ubiquitous Asian utensils), but I really couldn't manage to get a large piece of potato-derived ginger-spiced gelatin off my plate towards the end of the meal, and so Grant asked the waiter to bring a set of Western ware for me. I am not a big fan of gelatinous substances, but took this in as a part of the interesting cultural experience the evening proved to be.

I am so grateful to be moving South soon. I could very easily fall in love with Grant, who is short (only a few inches taller than me--perfect!) and smart (a bespectacled 47-year-old Ivy League grad fluent in English and Mandarin) and collects Chinese decorative art (mainly imperial ceramics, but some lovely rosewood furniture, too).  But not a Christian.  He suggested, "Next time, let's go to a movie"--at some indefinite time, since neither of our schedules are standard. He works for a professional association, and is frequently out of town at meetings.

I kept myself from doing something stupid, like kissing him over tea and millennium-old pottery in his apartment, by announcing (truthfully)  at the end of our meal that I couldn't spend much more time that evening as I had a friend's 50th birthday party to attend.  I drove across town to my friend Inga's, where there was a generous supply of catered sweets, wine, and spirited academic conversation, and spent several more happy hours socializing before I pitched in with the quick cleanup and climbed upstairs to drop, exhausted, on the air mattress she kindly proffered in her guest room.

This morning, I raided the fridge for leftovers, and breakfasted with Inga and my sweet former polyester roommate at the vast marble table in her dining room, while a quizzical sparrow eyed us through the window over the front door.  I had planned to move to Amy's after church, but instead I came home to Susan and Steven's to nap for the rest of the day. Most of my things are out of the closet and dresser now, and shoved into my borrowed SUV for the temporary relocation to Rockville, but tonight I'm sleeping in Alexandria one final time.  And trying not to imagine romantic interludes with a certain Chinese man. Damn hormones. I am almost looking forward to menopause.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Trifold Curses!

I am tremendously discouraged.

The woman whom I had hoped would offer me a job in my hometown told me that the employment opportunities there are nil, and was I moving there to get married?  That was the reason she'd come down from Manhatten after 8 years at Sotheby's. I caught myself before I responded, bluntly, "Hell, no!" And softened it a whit. Maybe she just thought I'd had to cough or something. Anita almost choked--she's never heard me swear.

I just feel like I an getting pounded, morale-wise. My LDC wrote that he doesn't agree with the New Testament mandate to marry a Christian (I'd brought up my objections to "missionary dating" in a previous email)--I've never even met the man in person and felt like kicking him vigorously in the shins. I took off work the past several days for this jewelry show at the conference, and my sales thus far don't begin to offset the expenses I've meantime incurred, much less the lost income from my regular job.  The left side of my head STILL aches three weeks after I pounded it on the corner of that brick wall when I fell. ObamaCare screwed up my old insurance (I don't need prenatal and obstetrical coverage!!!) and I had to shift to a plan costing $1000 more! I am sick and tired of having to present my academic and professional qualifications to strangers and their organizations ad nauseum, ad infinitum, in the waning hope that someone, somewhere, at last, will publish the Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands translation and/or give me a decent job.

I've always worked hard. I'm not a complete moron. When I'm being useful, I'm cheerful. But this aching idleness is driving me almost to despair, despite all the self-reminders of episodes from my own history when I was really frighteningly far down and God set me on a new adventure...

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Funerals, Foreignness

Senior-level hospitality workers remind me a lot of undertakers. They dress in somber, unobtrusive suits, move silently and inconspicuously around the periphery of the action, making sure events happen naturally, calmly, without undue interruption. Ideally, their machinations are visible only by a single, perfect result, while the unsightly process which produced it remains undisclosed.

For example, I set up last night at a well-known local hotel, famous for clandestine meetings of the Carl Bernstein sort, where Anita and I were invited to show our jewelry. There's an international meeting there over the next four days, and those being our people, the grapevine brought our name to the attention of the organizers.  I arrived yesterday afternoon to find our designated table positioned halfway down the long corridor alongside the ballroom, a central spot but unfortunately right next to the men's room.  I plunked down my bagfuls of jewelry and necks and began to arrange my display area to the tune of toilets flushing, when I spotted an alarming creature exiting the men's: the biggest roach I've encountered outside of South Carolina. It dashed for cover under my baggage, which I snatched out of the way with astonishing agility, and stomped the beast firmly, grinding it into the carpet with a decisive twist of my shoe.  Ick, ick, ick!  I hate roaches.

After cleaning up the insect remains and putting the finishing touches on the display, I strolled down the hall to look at the other exhibitors' tables.  And immediately was seduced by a book with a South Korean flag on the front, entitled Learning to Think Korean: A Guide to Living and Working in Korea, by L. Robert Kohls. So, before having made a penny, I'd parted with 2450 of them and was several dozen pages into a careful examination of South Korean twentieth-century culture.  And the picture was not particularly encouraging: Kohls (who held great affection for the country--"He's dead now," one of the conference attendees--attended the same Quaker meeting as the author and his family when he was a child-- told me) describes a place where "face" predominates over honesty, and birthright determines status.  In other words, a place sharing many of the more irritating (and yet simultaneously reassuring, for those of us born into the system) cultural characteristics of the traditional American South.  The "who's your Daddy/where ya from" attitude that I acknowledge as an ever-more deterministic force as I grow older (and return to my hometown, where I certainly hope these relationships will stand me in good stead in the quest for employment and community) is-- or was at the end of the 1990s--an indelible aspect of Korean culture.  But as the book was issued in 2001, before the Internet revolution had suffused from Seoul to the countryside, I wonder how much of this is still true?  Is there still the severe "in-group/out-group" demarcation that leaves so many foreigners feeling brutally excluded? Does South Korea still have the unenviable record of severe domestic violence that it once bore?

Kohls repeatedly describes the Koreans as being publicly calm, subconsciously following the Confucian and Taoist ideals of arranging oneself in concert with nature, unruffled by circumstance, only displaying emotion when dealing with extreme subordinates.  Whereas I can see this behavior might be demonstrated by the older generations, I wonder very much whether people under age 45 exhibit such self-restraint.  Likewise, Kohls talks about the hierarchy of society and language, the historic discrimination against under-60 women--all of which has some parallel with the Southern example, and I wonder how these lines may have become blurred.  Altogether, I despair of ever "thinking Korean"--for me, it is so much easier to think (and look) Russian.

What it ultimately comes to is: am I willing to be a minority in an unfamiliar society? It can be a freeing, and a limiting experience. Freeing because minorities may not be expected to conform to social norms, yet limiting because if a minority does not operate within the norms, his or her ability to be accepted, to live peacefully, will be affected.  Learning new habits is hard enough when you physically resemble the dominant ethnicity, when you don't, you feel like you are under a permanent spotlight.

I wonder, too, how radically the Christianization of the Korean peninsula has changed what was traditional culture?  What values have been retained, and even deepened, and what behaviors have disappeared?  From a purely superficial viewpoint, and returning to the subject of funerals, Kohls says that mourning clothes are white in Korea, which I know was in fact the case, traditionally.  However, insofar as Korean television drama depictions can be expected to reflect reality (about as far as American sitcoms, I'd guess), funerary clothes in urban areas are now all Western black.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Motherwise Clarification

My friend Amy, with whom I will be spending the next two weeks--Susan and Steven have sweetly put up with me for five months, and I know they need a break, plus the sale we are setting up right now is much closer to Amy in Rockville than to Alexandria--phoned this morning in perplexity about my last post: will I be living with my mother or not when I return to Georgia?  The confusion arises because I will be staying in my mother's townhouse, which she mostly vacated after she married and moved in with John last year. The utilities will be in my name, and I will start paying her rent once I am employed, but the house remains her property, and given that we are mother and daughter rather than landlord and tenant, she retains her keys and passage-privileges.  Specifically, if she's been to the gym and needs to wash up before heading back to husband territory, or off to shopping in my neck of the woods, she'll just use the facilities at my place. Which is her old place.  And right now, there are a large number of her potted plants and other miscellany scattered around my future digs, so she's regularly roaming the rooms.  Not only was my last week's trip meant for me to get a jump on the process of settling in, it was also intended to make it possible for her to move through the house without fear of becoming disoriented among the labyrinth of boxes.  So, I will be living at Mums' house, but not with her under the same roof.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Welcome To The Big Leagues

When I was a teen and twenty-something, I thought my ideal match would be a military doctor, like my father was when I was little.  I enjoyed moving when I was a child, and had not been bothered by it to that point. Well, as a "forty year old woman" (channeling Daddy there--he always rounded up his age, much to Mums' irritation, because they shared exactly the same birthdate) I have concluded the following: MOVING SUCKS!!!  I'd never had "real" furniture before, or books, or a kitchen full of dishes.  It is such a colossal pain in the buns to get a household's worth of belongings taken safely from one state to another.  It's done, now. My belongings are still in boxes, but mainly in the rooms they will eventually occupy. But I still have to get trash and water in my name, switch my car tags, and send out my new address to my friends and acquaintances. The tougher part of the job is done, and I will be sooo very relieved when I can finally say, "I'm home," and have my cat waiting for treats when he hears my car pull up in the driveway.

My short trip to Georgia (Wednesday-Friday) to get the 1200+ lbs. of books out of the garage and the floors cleaned and covered with rugs went well. My mother can now walk through the house without worrying about bruising her extremities (though now she says she is suffering a case of rug envy--I do have a nice assortment!). On Thursday, with the help of her "all purpose teenager" Bill, we got my cast iron bed together and my extraordinarily heavy wooden clothes cabinet upstairs.  I made the error of selecting the Gary Shteyngart book The Russian Debutante's Handbook as my audiobook for the trip--I knew he was a great, funny writer, one of those people whose neat, brief observations of the telling oddities of humanity make you laugh and nod knowingly, "Exactly--I've seen someone do that very thing!" And you can't but admire the lucid beauty of his prose. But reading the RDH turned out to be a lot like visiting an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe's more controversial photographs; while you couldn't help but admire the mastery of technique, the content was almost viscerally repulsive, and after a dozen or so perfectly-worded chapters describing sexual encounters and the wet dreams of a pitiable intercultural misfit, I couldn't stomach anymore and turned to the almost as frustrating challenge of seeking a decent radio station. Nine hundred miles of the "seek" function, and the same dreck blaring out of the speakers mile after mile after mile.

I don't know that when I was younger if I would have been able to cope comfortably with my sudden popularity among the male set over the last eight days. In that interval, I have been asked out by three men, all of whom are pleasant and none of whom are eligible in any real sense--two because they aren't believers, and the third because he is a smoker.  I have accepted invitations from the former two for the reason that they have been diverting, and because with my impending departure I will be in no way tempted to prolong a relationship.  For instance, today I went to the Washington Redskins-San Diego Chargers football game at FedEx Field, the first NFL game I've ever attended.  The 'skins managed to eke out a win in overtime. I gracefully and firmly squelched the flirty invitation of my date to sleep with him (Sheesh!)--despite teasing of this nature, if was a pleasant afternoon, if only for the people-watching opportunities, starting with the rabid blonde in an RG III jersey next to me, who spent half the time swearing at the team's incompetence, and the other half clutching her hand to her heart, in agony (along with much of the hometown crowd) that they were going to let yet another win slip from their grasp.  There were pennants and burgers and beer in the parking lot, where tailgaters were dancing in the driving lanes, and an ambulance poised on the sidewalk with the discouraging notice "not in service" permanently stenciled on its side door.  Merry and his wife, with whom I sat in church this morning, were just two sections over from us, in the sunnyside nosebleed section.  My small purse was deemed too large to be admitted to the stadium, so I had to make do with the few items I could stuff in my pockets. Altogether, it was a seven-hour event, and afterwards I was too tired to go to dinner, begging off to get home to rest.

Maybe my curious attractiveness of late to members of the opposite sex will extend overseas, and my LDC will actually agree to Skype with me...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Happy National Cat Day!

Well, I am one step closer to getting a cat. The second and final load of my household goods was loaded into the mover's trailer tonight, and my 12.5 x 15' storage locker is now empty.

The rug guy had delivered all seven of my cleaned carpets and their pads to the storage warehouse after lunch, and somehow the good ol' boys I'd hired to haul my stuff managed to get them into the already packed trailer along with the chairs and bookcases.

They dropped off the first load in Augusta this morning, and were back here by 7:30 pm to get the rest.  They say they'll have it to my house in Georgia by dawn tomorrow.  I swear, those guys keep going on coffee and nicotine.  The older one is a New Hampshire hillbilly with only half a mouthful of teeth and a great gift of gab, and his young assistant (whose girlfriend rents his boss's Florida house) is a pleasant guy who eats donuts and loves his pit bull, which sleeps with him in the cab of the truck they drive (it whines piteously for attention while his master--who consistently addressed me as "ma'am"--moves other peoples' stuff).  In the last four days, the guys have driven up and down the East Coast several times, and ventured into the Tennessee mountains and even briefly down into Alabama.  It's a mobile life, but they are their own masters, and the wages are good--not only does the older guy have a rental property in Florida, he paid cash outright for his four-bedroom New Hampshire house ("My granddaddy always tol' me, you don't borrow money for nothin'--never had a credit card in my life.").

The LolCats people are celebrating National Cat Day today. One of the few randomly dedicated days Congress has not expensively recognized.

Hmm, highlights of the last week: Going to the urgent care center and thence immediately to a cardiologist after I had a spell of arrhythmia (turned out to be due to insomnia and stress--the cardiologist prescribed a cup of hot chocolate as treatment for future episodes); getting asked out to a Redskins game and dinner by a long-time estate sale customer (I'll get to see my first NFL game on Sunday! Since the guy isn't a Christian, this will just be another of those one-time "interesting cultural experiences"); working fifty or so hours despite the day lost to health checkups; more letters exchanged with my LDC; falling down the stairs and ending up with a badly bruised left arm (I wouldn't be me without at least one dramatic episode of accidental self-injury per week); locking my keys in my car (I thought I'd dropped them down the elevator shaft at the storage unit, and ended up looking like a grease monkey, with sand and gravel in my hair, from crawling underneath the car searching in vain for a spare key lockbox that Daddy allegedly put underneath for just such an emergency).

I want to have my books on their shelves, and my rugs on the floor, ASAP. To that end, I intend to drive a load of smalls to Georgia tomorrow, spend Thursday unpacking (and handing out candy to trick or treaters), and then return to DC Friday night.  Next week, I am staffing Anita's booth at a national conference here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bro's Blog

The literary incarnation of my Atlanta brother, Nate, has decided to venture into the blogosphere.  He tells me that the theme for the short term will be letters charting the course of love and heartbreak, and though I cannot attest to the content (not having yet visited the site due to an insane and adventurous schedule over the last week), I can wholeheartedly recommend the quality of the writing, as Nate is a superb story-teller, and I've been after him to pen a book for years.  The title (which I will eventually figure out to insert into my sidebar) is The Icarus Project. Note that in the official address the laces are together, as in the States of America, rather than apart, as in the frequent pedestrian self-endangerment.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Extremist Language

As befits countries that have superpower identifications, both America and Russia are cultures of bombast, where superlatives rule in everyday speech, and yes/да and no/нет are seldom considered sufficient to express answers, just as crudities pepper colloquial language.  I didn’t realize this until graduate school, when I was taking classes at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, and was poking through the library there one afternoon and found a book on international communication.  The book, whose title I wish I could remember, spent a page or two on each world culture, from Australia to Zimbabwe, describing concepts of time, standard polite gestures and others to be avoided, and general patterns of speech.  For example, bowing and proffering one’s business card was standard upon meeting in Japan, in Saudi Arabia one should never ask after a man’s wife, in Ukraine money shouldn’t be handed directly to cashiers (but placed on a handy tray instead), and so forth. Some places it was customary to arrive before the scheduled time, in other places fashionably late.  Some people shook their heads up and down negatively and side to side affirmatively.  Some required small-talk before a business matter was addressed, others got straight to the point.  It was a fascinating look at practical ethno-cultural profiling, and I curiously flipped to the “American” section, where I discovered that the authors had felt it necessary to explain that we frequently use overly dramatic words and concepts to express ourselves: “Our boss is going to blow his top”, “So-and-so’s going to kill me”, etc., for the boss simply not agreeing with something, or someone being put out with us.  I realized that I do this all the time—my phone doesn’t merely lose charge, it “dies”, my computer “crashes”, I “starve” when I’m hungry, and I’m sure there are many other examples.  For Americans in general, this tendency perhaps accounts for the proliferation of the “f” word in everyday speech over the last couple of decades, because most Americans feel the need to ratchet up their expressive intensity without having to actually expand their vocabularies.  It’s sad.


My niece called me yesterday evening and talked for 40 minutes, detailing the entire history of the Trojan War, from prior to the Judgment of Paris to the killing of the hero Hector's wife and child as the defeated city burned. Thank God, just this past Monday I received the next installment of Eric Shanower's epic graphic novel in the Age of Bronze series on that very ancient Near Eastern conflict, and so had recently refreshed my familiarity with it, and was able to respond to here with appropriate leading questions.  Rita is going to be the goddess Athena for Halloween. She's going to wear a white flowing dress, wear a helmet of her own making, and carry a small stuffed owl.  I told her it was too bad Brad couldn't be the owl--that would be very cute.

Saturday afternoon, I went to the Corcoran Gallery with Grant, a Chinese environmental engineer I'd met at a recent estate sale. Really interesting conversation as we walked through the small but strong collection.  One of the few pieces of literature and film that the Chinese had about the US immediately after the Cultural Revolution was Gone With The Wind!  Grant told me he's seen the movie multiple times, though he's only read excerpts from the book.  Ironically, though he's been in the US for eight years, he hasn't been too many places except where he's been sent for work, because he's never learned to drive, and our country is not exactly accessible to those without that ability.  I was surprised to learn that like me, he is the oldest of four--his youngest brother was born just before the draconian one-child policy went into effect (1973, I think).  It was a pleasant and informative afternoon, though as I expected he is not a Christian (nor the possessor of any other belief, he said, except in himself--I responded mildly that I'd always thought myself a rather weak reed on which to lean, and then changed the subject), and so that makes any prospects for a romantic relationship out of the question.  At the same time, I may have terrified my LDC, who is a believer, into never writing me again, since in my last letter I mainly dismissed the notion (Well, I said I would be willing to try it, but if it didn't work, I'd immediately revert to standard American pills) of using a homeopathic treatment for migraines, and also discoursed at length over possible points of conflict between me and his traditionally patriarchal home culture.

I am having insomnia again. I look like someone's given me a pair of black eyes.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Out With A Fizzle

"Oh, you're leaving DC?! We're really going to miss you!"

My wry response to these comments: "It's much nicer to hear people say they'll miss me than say 'Whew! Thank goodness SHE'S gone!'"

I wonder if I won't actually see my friends here more frequently once I've moved to Georgia than I do here?  The last several months I have been so preoccupied by the deplorable state of my finances, planning my impending departure, work, a bad cold and a worse stretch of insomnia (that has returned to haunt me tonight) that I haven't seen Leah and Aaron, or little Grace and her parents, in months!

If I had any further doubts that leaving DC were the best course, my income of late has shrunk to a level where it is not covering a third of my expenses. It's really incredible.

Incredible in the best way was the fact that yesterday was Grandmommy's real 91st birthday, and she celebrated by going on a three mile walk.  Bob, who turned 31 yesterday, moved house (smaller digs, but much closer to campus.

I seem to be having some cardiac arrhythmia when I am resting. Once they finally iron out the major kinks in the Obamacare insurance exchange signup, I am going to enroll and see if I can't get my ticker checked out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What A Tangled Web!

Reading Charlie Wilson's War is a disorienting experience, for though it is only one side of the 1980s covert story [for instance, explicitly depicting all conservatives as froth-mouthed ideologues with extraordinary foreign relations niavete at the same time that it rejoices in Congressman Wilson's singleminded focus on arming the anti-Soviet "freedom fighters", the mujihadeen (I hoped I spelled it approximately right this time around!)], what new facts it does present about back-alley American alliances with all sorts of other nasty characters makes me wonder how we've remained solvent, and sovereign, for so long!

For example, the United States really bolstered the communist Chinese military hardware business during the 1980s, pitting them in supply bidding wars against the Egyptians. The Swiss and the Israelis were also making deals to arm this decade-long jihad, despite the former (at least on a governmental level) being ostensibly neutral and the latter being in a theorectical position of perpetual war with most of the Arab world. Meantime, the Saudis were providing hundreds of millions of dollars in matching grants to bankroll the whole enterprise.

I kept thinking about Igor (for all you non-Russian speakers, that's pronounced "eager") every time the protagonists in CWW cheerfully discussed the many ways they were plotting to kill Russians.  Igor was a bit older than the traditional undergrad at the small liberal arts college I attended in the early 1990s--originally from Moscow, he wore cowboy boots and bluejeans all the time, and talked with a Western drawl, because he had learned to speak English mainly from watching old John Wayne movies. He also frequently used a cane, because his back had been injured when he'd been serving a mandatory tour as a young recruit in Afghanistan.  So, although the hell around Kandahar was of the Politburo's making, I have a nasty sensation in my gut when I read about the American-supplied mullahs repeatedly sodomizing captured Russian troops and then killing them in imaginatively cruel ways.  Hating communism, I get. Wanting to bankrupt the Soviet war machine and block its seemingly inexorable march, I understand. Wanting revenge for the black eye the Soviets had given the American military by proxy in Vietnam, with this I can sympathize. But did even those practical realpolitik souls who recognized the Afghans for the radical Islamic tribalists they were, who sought to distance themselves from the convoluted trading scheme that was Iran-Contra, not think that they might not be sowing dragon's teeth (pun inadvertent, but appropriate, given the Beijing connection) by kissing up to the non-democratic Saudis, dealing with the dictator-led Pakistanis, schmoozing with the Egyptians and the Israelis, and providing a vibrant market for Swiss and Chinese weapons manufacturers?

I am well aware of Bismark's remark about politics and sausages--frequently, it seems, our government staffers--both elected and unelected--must choose to make decisions in international relations that involve choosing the lesser of two evils. They, and by federal principles, we frequently support this or that distateful character because he seems more favorably disposed to us than the prospective alternative.  Often, this is little less than a diplomatic good ol' boys network, where like personalities and social backgrounds appeal to each other's love of luxury, rather than caring about the real conditions of people (frequently women and the poor) on the ground. I am also reading a book on economics, and the puzzle of how things are valued.  It seems to me that instead of pure monetary value, there must needs be a moral value for human rights; but the problem is determining the exchange rate between the two valuation systems...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Battle of the Bulge, Christian Marriage & Fruit

There are worse ways to spend an evening, watching the Rex Harrison-Kay Kendall-Sandra Dee vehicle "The Reluctant Debutante", sipping selzered apple juice laced with spiced rum and eating bittersweet Ghirardelli baking chips directly out of the bag…  For tonight, I’m ignoring the fact that I am now the fattest I’ve ever been (though slim compared to the average porcine American) and am having to work down to fit into my regular jeans (I refuse to concede to the next size—there are Rubicons which cannot in all conscience be crossed).  I went to the gym this afternoon with my muscular mother and couldn’t keep up with her on sit-ups. She has already arranged for me to be on her membership at Anytime Fitness, so I won’t have any excuses for avoiding exercise—the facility is less than 2 miles from my future residence, and open 24/7.

I went to morning and evening church at my home congregation in Augusta, where I was confirmed and baptized, and where my membership still rests (provided they haven’t expunged me from the rolls for non-attendance over the last decade).  The pastor is preaching through Hosea in the mornings, and 1 Corinthians in the evenings, and so both services dealt with adultery, in a way—the morning focused on our unfaithfulness to God, and his great mercy, and the evening was a discussion of the ways in which Christians married to other Christians need to handle divisive marital issues (not unfaithfulness exclusively) in the context of their relationships with the Almighty and the church.  I wanted to ask the pastor (to whom I re-introduced myself after the 11 AM service—he remembered me, and my parents, but didn’t know that Daddy had died) several marriage-related questions, and thus may email him: How do those of us who do hold marriage in esteem, who are afraid of messing up by choosing the wrong partner, or simply by proving to be wrong ourselves, actually screw up the courage to take the leap? (Having written this, I see the answer already—realize that God’s got to be the center, and the central support—asking for council from those wiser before marriage and in it to discern that both you and your spouse, insofar as you can know yourselves and be known by others, are doing the same.)  The second is stickier—should you, as an ex-in-law of an unfaithful spouse, also cut off relations with them?  Surely to keep praying for them is not unacceptable, but deliberately attempting to re-establish direct contact would be inadvisable, or so I think.  I hate divorce, and all the reasons that it is needful. 

A week or so ago, I was discussing the issue of international romantic relationships with an ex-missionary friend of mine, who is fluent in German and will be teaching at Georgetown in the spring.  She’s a wise lady, my former polyester roommate, direct and unflinching in ways that I wish I were (I told her that the stereotype of the inscrutable Oriental has nothing on a Southern woman beating verbally about the bush), and she told me that some former MKs she knows, long and happily married, once said that the best test for seeing if an international romance will work is by having both potential spouses each spend six months in each other’s culture.  That way, not only will you know your love better, you will understand the context from which he or she is coming—can you endure that environment, how it shaped the person of whom you are fond? Do you understand to what models of behavior he or she may revert, based on the cultural background?  I think this is shrewd counsel, particularly if you meet while living in a third culture.  It is also good to become acquainted with the other’s family, if possible.  Frankly, sometimes I wonder that people ever manage to get married at all, much less stay in that condition, given all the potential obstacles!  But as my stepdad says, if God wills it to happen, it will happen. 

Before our midday meal blessing on Saturday, Grandmommy read a short paragraph that has meant a lot to her over the years, about how God doesn’t leave us, but asks us to walk by faith, even when we cannot see the road ahead, or where it leads us in this life.  I know she misses Granddaddy and Daddy badly (as do we), though cheer predominated at her birthday celebration.  I know for my own part, I wonder whether I will be married any time in the future, whether it will be soon enough for me to able to have my own genetic children (a mixed issue—even should they escape the defects frequent in babies born to older mothers, they’ll almost certainly be neurotic in one respect or another!), what I should do for employment (and any additional education or training that might involve—gack!), where I should settle once the need for staying at my mother’s home disappears (I hope! This largely depends on my finding decent employment)….there really are many uncertainties even in my immediate future.  Will I continue to be relatively healthy, or will every disk in my spine collapse, leaving me short, stiff and uncomfortable?  None of this can I do a thing about by worrying, but somehow I rationalize it!

My uncle and his step-grandson and I picked pears in Grandmommy’s back yard after lunch yesterday.  We ended up with two construction-buckets overflowing with fat gold-green fruit.  Her scuppernong vines were absolutely loaded—if I were of a fermenting (rather than just lightly fermented) frame of mind I could have easily had enough for two barrelfuls of sticky dark liquid.  Instead, we just stood next to the bushes and ate one scuppernong after the next, spitting out the skins and seeds and swallowing the sweet juice.  Grandmommy said that she’d stood in one place the other day and eaten 152 before she’d quit counting.  A key reason she’s lived so long and healthily because of all this Edenic fruit in her back yard, I think.  I have decided that I am going to plant blueberry bushes and an apple tree (or two—I have to see if cross-germination is necessary) in my new back garden.  I like ornamental plants (Mums has already landscaped with these), but my favorites are those which produce edibles.  My aunt assured me on Saturday that I can have several decent-sized blueberry bushes from my grandparents’ farm (which she and my uncle bought—it’s a 25-acre version of Grandmommy’s back yard), but I know I’ll have to buy the apple tree, since I don’t want to start one from a seed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Aches & Pains

I feel like a boxer who's been repeatedly battered about the face and head. On Tuesday, I was picking up some breakables at a consigners's house and slipped on the stairs, sitting down rather abruptly on my left bum-cheek and knocking my left temple into the edge of the brick wall. I didn't break the plates I was carrying, nor did I lose consciousness, but I immediately developed some really impressive bruises on my backside and saw constellations around the edges of my vision.  I asked a colleague to check if my pupils were the same size, and didn't feel any more dizzy than I did already (thanks to the lingering cold), but my head has ached dully ever since that tumble. I don't bounce back from injuries the way I used to.

Right now, I'm sitting in a doctor's office waiting for my mom to reemerge from a checkup. She's texted me that's she's sitting bored and abandoned in an examining room, and is wondering hungrily if the doctors and their staff have all taken off for lunch. When she mentioned that she was considering taking the pillow off the exam table, I thought she was threatening to start chewing on it, but it turned out she was weighing the odds of taking a nap in earnest.

They have an Orwellian telescreen at one end of the waiting room, which is controlled by a building-wide timer, so individual offices don't have the power to turn it off. At least they have the ability to mute it, so the only ambient noise I am subjected to is the creak of other patients shifting in their chairs, the flipping of magazine pages, and the conversations as some folks attempted to fill out the medical information sheets: "Your mother jest died of old age. I think your daddy had some sort of heart problem..."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Charlie Wilson & The Decisive Moment

I spent the 9.5 hour drive down to Georgia in grey drizzle listening to the first half of an unabridged audio version of Charlie Wilson's War. Wilson was very much of the Bill Clinton mold, a hard-drinking, womanizing, thoroughly likeable bon vivant who combined a shrewd grasp of political gamesmanship with a Southern good ol' boy liberalism and charm that made him able to steamroll over opponents and win over unlikely allies, all to the end of arming the Afghani jihadists who were fanatically opposing the Soviet invasion.  Thus far, it's a great read, and I find myself oddly attracted to the Greek-American covert operative who proved Wilson's offbeat sidekick in the mostly-patrician CIA--an attraction more due, I suspect, to the latter's hatred for the blue-blooded, Ivy League-educated "cake eaters" which have historically predominated in that organization than for any co-ethnic sympathy.

What would it take, I wonder, for my Long Distance Correspondent and I to determine that we must meet in person?  We continue our pleasant exchange of emails, respectfully inquiring as to the other's health and activities (he is writing a political science paper about the Hart-Devlin debate, I am in Georgia to celebrate Grandmommy's 91st birthday), and this is admittedly a comfortable and non-stressful relationship in letters.  But it seems to me that one must needs have a possibility of meeting in person, and/or a considerable desire to have this happen, to shift a relationship from the simple, superficial realm of penpaldom.  However, finances and the ocean between us seem determined to prevent this. I wish in some ways that I were the sort of woman in print that a man would move mountains (or at least scale them) to come to see, and to woo ("KYP's grammar is a thing of beauty! I must make her mine!") but I am un-Helenic as well as mostly un-Hellenic, and so have to be satisfied with solitude on the American mainland for the time being.

Curious other-ethnic sights of recent travel: a trio of Hasidic Jews that I initially mistook for a motorcycle club in North Carolina, and a small gold dashboard-mounted statuette of what looked like Boba Fett in the lotus position that I later determined to be an elephant-headed Indian deity.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Ninth Anniversary, Seven Days Late!

Hmm, on what can I blame this latest episode of premature senility?  I cannot think of a thing.  I just forgot that October 1 was the ninth anniversary of this blog's launch.  It has only been a bit over a month, however, that my readership has blossomed from immediate members of my family and close friends to (curiously) international.  Doubtless, this is a fluke and the status quo will soon reassert itself.

I can legitimately claim to have been preoccupied lately with the problem of logistics--the one mover on which I was waiting for an estimate quoted the absolutely obscene sum of $7500 for the job.  I cannot begin to speculate what sort of white-glove specialty service I should expect for that amount--truly, it must have been a case of not wanting the work at all.  Unless something remarkable happens, I will be loading a truck myself next week and sending my belongings down South via a hired rig.  The driver told me he may have to take my library down in two loads, since otherwise it may be overweight and subject him to additional transportation assessments!