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...