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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.

Homeric

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!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Germs & Street Festival

I know this is not the first time that I have commented that young children are like mobile petri dishes, gestating and broadcasting germs to surrounding adults. I have recently been infected with a cold by the cute and squeezable Theo, who by nature must be cuddled by his admirers, including me, allowing him to inoculate me with the illness he'd contracted from one of his nursery mates. He'd exhibited only a mild runny nose lasting less than 24 hours; I've been sneezing and growling in a throaty baritone for three days now, while my friends and colleagues cross warding fingers against the plague and wave me to a safe uncontagious distance.

Despite my lingering congestion, I went to the annual Art on the Avenue festival in Alexandria today to help Anita with her booth.  We met at eight AM, and it was not until after 2:30 that she actually recouped the table fee. But then, as the unseasonable heat waned, the real customers (as opposed to compliment-bestowing browsers) increased, and by 6 PM, when we were formally closed, she had amassed a tidy profit.  In all, it was a good day, if a long one.  I haven't seen so many pregnant women, and so many families with young children, in a long, long time.  It was fecundity central.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Tom Clancy Dead; Government Shutdown

Tom Clancy was one of my favorite authors back when I was in junior high and early high school—I devoured The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games, and stayed up all night the night of August 17, 1991, reading The Cardinal of the Kremlin, only to stumble downstairs to breakfast in the dawnlight to hear on the radio that Clancy’s story of a putsch in the upper echelons of the Russian government seemed to be taking place in reality!  He was my introduction to techno-thrillers, and doubtless a contributing factor to my nascent fascination with the then-mysterious Soviet Union.  In fact, I shouldn’t wonder that his daring-do stories with their uncomplicated characters influenced a lot of people’s views in the late Cold War—Russian translations of his works were early contraband, as I recall, and Soviet readers got to see that Americans had about as simplistic a view of them as the reverse!  Some of his books aged better than others—I re-read Hunt a year or so ago, and it was still good, but Patriot and others hadn’t stood the test of time so well, and so I thinned my Clancy collection accordingly.  He wasn’t a great writer, but he was a good and fun one, and he was awfully prescient about possibilities for human-generated disaster, including the use of fully-fueled hijacked aircraft flown by suicide bombers into major government buildings.  He was really young—my parents’ age.  Which means he penned Red October when he was younger than I am now!  I feel totally inadequate as a writer...

The federal government has been shut down for two days.  Half my Bible Study is on unpaid leave.  The news media has been interviewing disgruntled vacationing retirees turned away from closed national parks (talk about a “first world” problem!), and others who moan theatrically about (for the short term, at least) superficial inconveniences.  Certainly, there will be long-term repercussions.  One wishes it would instill fiscal prudence, but it won’t.  The major impact thus far on my immediate social circle (as judged in terms of friends’ comments) has been the switching off of the panda cam at the National Zoo (two people have mentioned it specifically).  I don’t see how that particular electronic closure saves money—it’s not like they are going to stop feeding the animals.  But this whole situation is full of such silliness.  I shan’t be unhappy to leave it behind. (Nor shall I miss the traffic, which continues unabated.)

I switched the electricity at my mother’s townhouse into my name yesterday, and will change over the water and trash tomorrow.  I still haven’t found a mover.  I was going to do it myself, but it’s going to cost upwards of $1400 if I pack the truck and trailer my own car, which seems ridiculous.  I am still waiting on a quote from one moving company I contacted last week (I will call them tomorrow, as well).  I’d love to get everything down south as quickly as possible, even if I, personally, have to stay up here a while longer to tie up all the loose ends (I have three upcoming jewelry shows, including the annual one at Georgetown, in the next two months, and a full slate of estate sales).

My boss suggested I start my own estate sale company down in Georgia—she said she’d tell me everything she knows (information on all the legal and technical matters, for instance).  I haven’t ruled out the idea (in fact, it is the first that has filled me with some measure of hope and enthusiasm about my employment prospects down south), so I would want to do it right from the get-go, with a LLC organized, tax ID, liability insurance, and proper, clear accounting from the start.  A small, good, hard-working and relentlessly honest team is essential.  I have all the mental framework, four years of full-time experience, and know exactly what tools are needed.  I’ll pray about it, and if the components come together, I’ll go for it.  It suits me—it’s a necessary service which suits my personality, and managed correctly I would be able to make a living at it and have time for artistic and social pursuits.