Friday, September 19, 2014

Interview, Toilets and Allergies

I interviewed for another part time (29 hours a week) secretarial position on Tuesday. I had had three hours of sleep the night before, and was grateful the interviewing supervisor did most of the talking, telling me about the history of the organization and things I might deal with should I be hired. Really nice folks, doing practical science instruction within the community.  I was the first person interviewed, and arrived absurdly early (half an hour) because I knew given my lack of sleep I shouldn't be rushed.  Somehow (God's grace), I remained conscious and after the interview managed to get several errands run.

Most of the last week I've averaged about four hours of sleep a night. Just last night, when I'd gotten totally jittery (I am not a person who does well on so little rest), I managed to eke out nine hours--did a world of good.  Hope I can repeat the feat!

For some reason, I spent the earlier part of the week thinking about how to teach an English lesson to speakers of other languages on the subject of bathrooms, and some confusing vocabulary associated with them.  I attribute this peculiar interest to my lack of sleep, the fact that I need to replace the lightbulb in my master WC, and the amusing anachronism of everyone in "historical" Asian dramas being neatly washed, with good teeth and living in cities with no sanitation issues.  Also, the book I am reading about the Korean War emphasizes how dirty the country was, how the whole place stank of sewage, as human waste was collected and used as agricultural fertilizer.  The author points out that Americans of the early nineteenth century could have handled the experience more easily than those of the mid-twentieth, who were used to standard indoor plumbing.

In Korean, the word (피)"pee" means rain, or blood. For us Americans, the word is a cleaned-up derivation of the old word "piss" (deriving all the way from the vulgar Latin).  In American English, "to piss" is a somewhat rude way of saying "to urinate," but if we say someone "is pissed", we are not referring to their private toilet activities, but saying they are angry (PO'd being the short form of "pissed off").  In British English, however, "getting or being pissed" refers to becoming intoxicated with alcohol.  Slang is a funny thing.

So are euphemisms.  The British use the term WC to refer to the toilet. This is an acronym for "water closet", which was a name for the indoor plumbing which replaced traditional outhouses and chamber pots.  They also use the word "loo", whose origins are mysterious (the most plausible theory being it derives from the name of an early toilet manufacturer).

We Americans are often unnecessarily squeamish about the word "toilet", which for us refers to the flushable appliance alone, not the room which houses it.  As guests in someone's house, we usually ask for the location of the "restroom," or the "bathroom," or even the "powder room," though we do not intend to rest, bathe, or refresh our makeup in the place.  Part of this is the influence of our standard architecture--in American houses, it is normal for the toilet and the tub to occupy the same space, along with a sink (in public, dropping the place noun entirely, we will often inquire as to where one can find the "ladies'", or the "men's", as usually there have been separate facilities for each sex).  This is not true elsewhere.  It took me over a year of studying Russian to realize that they used no euphemism, and asking for the "bathroom" would get me the room with the tub in it, which was usually apart from the room with the toilet in it. "Toilet" was "toilet", there was no getting around it.

Of course, historically, before the invention of indoor plumbing, the classic outhouse and chamber pot were the only means of personal waste disposal, and the French word "toilette" referred to a lady's personal preparations for the day--brushing her hair, powdering, choosing her jewelry, and applying perfume (a costly necessity for the wealthy in those noxious times), a dilute version of which is still called "eau de toilette" or "toilet water"--which isn't the gross stuff a person learning modern English would necessarily think of, reading the bottle!  Another seemingly rude but entirely innocent term is the American use of "being pooped" to talk about being tired--it doesn't have anything to do with "poop", a polite, if juvenile word for excrement.

Also confusing for English learners are the prepositions used with "toilet": If one says a person is "on the toilet" it means they are sitting on top of the appliance, relieving themselves (so this is not said in polite society).  If you say a person is "in the toilet" it means they have either accidentally fallen into the water-filled bowl, or, in J.K. Rowling's world, have stepped into it deliberately, preparatory to flushing themselves into the Ministry of Magic (so, again, not said often).  If a person has gone to use the toilet, in the US you say "she went to the bathroom" or "he's in the restroom" or something similar, usually avoiding the word "toilet." We're weird that way.  Of course, in moments of emergency, looking pained and merely saying the word "toilet", though non-standard, can get both an American and a non-native English speaker where they need to go!

On to cleaner topics...  I thought about entitling this post "Allergies: Because Breathing Is Overrated," as for weeks I have been having increasing trouble with my lungs, and have only been able to sleep with a generic antihistamine.  Now, I know why.  The colony of dust bunnies beneath my bed had formed an independent state, with its own constitution, courts and caste system, and had dispatched colonies of its own to the periphery of my bedroom. Now that I am no longer away from home 70 hours a week, I have gathered enough energy to tackle the Dust Bunny Insurgency, and since Tuesday have vacuumed, dusted and vacuumed again. Already, I can breathe easier, and the weight which felt like it was sitting on top of my chest has gotten lighter.  I've stripped all the linens off my mattress, and while I'd like to get a good night's sleep again tonight, I may be up to the wee hours doing laundry.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Search Continues...

I turned in the application for the job at the karate studio.  The questions they asked were kind of unusual--about whether I'd had childhood chores, and how they were rewarded.  It's been a while...

I have an interview with an agency in a neighboring county on Tuesday morning--the job is agriculture-oriented, so I would be learning and disseminated useful information, so I wouldn't feel guilty about getting a taxpayer-funded salary (which isn't much, anyway).

While Susan read to Theo in the background (he can already count to "8" by himself--he's getting so big!), Steven called me this afternoon to say that he'd found a few museum management jobs in DC that I might qualify for, and he was sending me the links.  It took three hours (NOT creating everything from scratch, just plugging in information) to get together applications for two, but they're in!  I am not sure I want to subject myself to DC traffic again, though--I was rejoicing on the way home after the gym today at rush hour that it was a whole lot nicer than Northern VA and Georgetown--people were waving other drivers in, not frothing with fury and honking their horns.  My blood pressure remains low.

Tomorrow, I am supposed to spend all day at the consignment store where some forty vendors, including me, have booths--it's an anniversary event (today was a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting--I think the pictures are going to be in the local paper), and we are supposed to ply customers with sugar candy and tempt them with cool merchandise and discounts.  I was originally planning to bring Ghirardelli brownies, thinking they'd have a refreshments table set up, but the ladies there told me this morning that we should have our sweets in our booths, and I don't want chocolate crumbs everywhere.  A pilgrimage to the corner Walgreen's must happen come sunrise--in all good conscience, I can't offer customers last year's leftover Halloween sweets that I am still snacking my way through...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

This Kind Of War

For months, T.R. Fehrenbach's "classic Korean War history" This Kind of War has been gathering dust and the odd crumb and broken piece of jewelry at the opposite end of my kitchen table.  Today, I decided to distract myself from my smartphone for a bit (10 AM: How many have read my last blogpost? 10:05 AM: How many have read it NOW?) by diving in.

Setting aside the periodic racist term or description (the book was published in 1963, but the short form of "Japanese"--common to veterans of World War II--is used, and, for example, the North Korean infantrymen which poured over the parallel early in the morning of 25 June 1950 are said to have been "hordes of shrieking small men in yellow-brown shirts" (p. 9), an image which, while vivid, wouldn't pass mustard--er, muster--in today's politically-sensitive publishing world), I see some commonalities between the South Korean situations in 1905 and at midcentury last, and the Ukrainian situation today.

In both later cases, the United States had long promised aid to the invaded country, but was far too nervous about sending an aggressive signal to the Russians to add teeth to the once-subjugated but now newborn democracy.  In the first, the wavering last king of the Joseon/Chosun dynasty was brushed aside, and his terrified cabinet forced to accede to Japanese control of the peninsula prior to the arrival of a ship-borne Korean plea for help in Washington (T. Roosevelt had agreed that Japan had "significant interests" on the then-poor peninsula in the Portsmouth Treaty with Russia, so whether we would have honored this is in question), and then, some 45 years later, the South Korean army was bolstered by little more than "attaboy" remarks from the resident American representatives of the State Department, not actual materiel (as heaven forbid they have the weapons to attack the North!).  Ukraine is similarly bereft, being assured of our good offices in its behalf in thanks for giving up its nuclear weapons stockpile in the immediate post-Soviet era.  Now, it, too, discovers that American words are gossamer, as its eastern provinces are chewed away, bit by bit, by the awakening bear to the north.  The American public, its government and media are too enthralled by the admittedly horrifying spectacle of an "unstoppable" Islamic wannabe caliphate with its crucifixions, beheadings, and so forth, to pay attention to what is happening on the other side of the Black Sea.

To "degrade and destroy ISIS" is certainly a laudable goal, but is it feasible?  I wonder that few people that I heard or have read about have cited Samuel Huntington's much-poo-pooed Clash of Civilizations as a framework for understanding what the United States faces in its Middle East foreign policy.  As evil as that Iraqi-Syrian cancer is, how can we treat it without recognizing that historically, we come from an entirely different cultural mindset, and that a few air sorties and even "boots on the ground" are not going to solve the underlying problems?  On the other hand, we CAN do something about Ukraine.  The very lack of international drama which has accompanied the incremental devouring of what was and can be a blossoming democratic state is appalling.  There are thousands of refugees who were leading normal, ordinary lives with work and apartments and children in school who have now been forced to flee westward to Kiev and beyond.  There are reports of religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, being persecuted and even killed in Moscow-oriented areas (in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea), but because these are quietly done (Katyn Forest-style--quiet disappearances are the mark of the "civilized" state), rather than loudly trumpeted (internet jihad is so gauche), they have not drawn American attention.

I love Russia--its language is beautiful, its people are great, its culture is inspiring.  Its leadership, however, has been decidedly mixed, and its current government has made no great secret of its ambitions.  Why are we ignoring these?  Ukraine should not be obliterated by the power-hungry; it should not remain a place forever "on the border", but be "homeland" (the two disputed etymologies of the name).  What I saw on my two visits to Odessa and Kiev and their suburbs showed a country that was full of hope's seedlings, just as its calendar months take their names from the blooms and fruit of the season.  Why should these be lost?  Why are we "advising" in a sandstorm and turning away from the green fields that are being sown with explosives from the east?  Are we excited by and only capable of well-meaning rhetoric and not real action, or only when active to bloody ourselves without end, like someone punching a rock?

I suspect as I read more of Fehrenbach I will be further frustrated with our national inability to learn good lessons from past errors.  I am sure I will find faults in his short-term assessments, but it will be fascinating to at last have some understanding of what took place north and south of Seoul 65 years ago, and left us Americans with little cultural memory save an exceptionally hideous set of sculptures on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Last Night

Last night, my mom was tired, but didn't get to bed until 11. She had finally dozed off when the doorbell rang, loudly, at midnight. No one was there, and the lights which automatically switch on when someone approaches were off.  She went back to bed, thinking, "What could have caused this?" And she remembered that she had seen the sprinkler system in the backyard hit the doorbell.  John was sweetly asleep in the blissful quiet of a mostly deaf person without hearing aids, when, a while later, the doorbell launched boisterously into its entire repertoire of party tunes, from "Hail, Hail, The Gangs All Here," then "Rock Around the Block", and finishing with a wake-the-dead rendition of "Happy Birthday". John slept on, but Mums decided enough was enough, went out into the hall, climbed a ladder, and physically ripped the blasting box off the wall.  I'll bet John was a bit puzzled when he saw the path of wrath this morning.

For me, it was my last night at the tractor factory.  At the opening meeting, we were informed that we'd be working Sunday, and so I talked to the staffing coordinator and told him Saturday would be my last shift.  I knew my body was wearing out, and I'd said from the beginning I wouldn't work Sundays (not that that's helped me church attendance-wise--I have been so tired the last month that I've made it to services once, maybe twice).  Because of last week's occupational assessment regarding the stress to my hands and arms, my boss had switched me from my substation to one on the line, and that went ok for a while (and I had a good time learning a new area), but eight hours into the evening, my right wrist really started to burn.  My line leader brought me ice, and then my fingers started to burn and numb.  "Hmm, I thought, "I'm not going to last til Saturday."

I asked God to give me wisdom, and for grace in the eyes of the staffing representative, and when I told him about my condition, he amazingly volunteered to backdate my resignation request so I could call it quits that night without prejudicing my future hiring possibilities with the company.  So, I picked up my stuff, and my ice pack, clocked out, turned in my badge and departed just minutes before everyone else poured out into the parking lot, scattering used earplugs and oily gloves in their haste for home.

Today, my wrist has emphasized the wisdom of last night's decision. I hope it recovers fully, and that the recuperation doesn't take longer than the five weeks it took to damage it. The fingers on both hands feel a little swollen, so it's like typing in gloves, clumsy on the keyboard.

I had hoped to be able to work through the end of the month; I had planned to work through the end of November, when this particular production line was to shut down.  But when you start having physical issues, and know that the crazy schedule is to blame, and then are told that not only will the workload increase, the hours will, too, you know it's time to get out.  Still, I was encouraged when both my brothers texted me to assure me that I wasn't just chickening out when the "going got tough", that I had in fact given the job reasonable time, and it would be unreasonable given the pay and lack of benefits to continue.

I've picked up an application for a customer service position at the karate studio where both my brothers trained decades ago.  It's relocated and expanded, and there were bunches of small children dressed in gis coming out when I went over this afternoon, their parents--heads cocked to one side like curious birds--ushering them through traffic in the parking lot while listening to their offspring chatter excitedly.

Tomorrow Mums and I plan to drive down to Dublin to visit Grandmommy.  We'll be taking my car, and I've done some rudimentary dredging to make the passenger and back seats usable.  I dearly hope I do not--as a radio station reported a Swiss research company had found--look like the car I own (white, unwashed, dented, stuffed with random unnecessaries, and showing its age), but it's probably true...

Sunday, September 07, 2014

I Miss Sunshine!

Joseph didn't excel at networking, either.  Falsely accused of attempted sexual assault, he'd been stuck in prison for about fifteen years when he thought he'd found his golden ticket out--Pharoah's cupbearer. Just a word in the monarch's ear, and he'd be out on parole. But the guy forgot about him for a couple of years, and it wasn't until the monarch had troublesome dreams that demanded explanation did the wine-taster recall, "Oh gee, that's right, there was this guy in prison who had this amazing interpretation ability..."

I've been thinking a lot about Moses and Joseph lately (and Monty Python sketches and excerpts from the Princess Bride and what the French word for "fear" is, but that's neither here nor there). It's a whole lot easier to marvel at Almighty Providence when you are strolling the Georgetown campus on a sunny afternoon, being greeted by professors and fellow students, than when you are trudging from your workstation to the time-clock at the factory at 4 AM along with your fellow weary workmates.  I wonder what Moses thought, after growing up in wealth and getting the Ivy League plus education of his day, forced to run for his life into the wilderness and there to find only work herding sheep--for 40 years.  Joseph, too, had been the golden child on whom his father's favor rested.  He'd even landed on his feet in Egypt, or so he thought, when after he'd been sold as a slave by his jealous brothers, his new master had appointed him chief steward. But then the master's wife took a shine to him, and when he didn't reciprocate, she cried "rape" and young Joe was packed off to the pokey to wile away his youth--for 17 years.  Moses was my age when his life took its first abrupt turn.  Joseph was likely much younger. There were subsequent dramatic turns in store for them, in God's time, and with a much broader purpose than either could have dreamt.

Obviously, I haven't a capital crime hanging over my head, nor do I expect to be called forth from the assembly line to preserve a nation, so the Old Testament patriarch examples don't translate exactly, but it is true that I've got a lot of pride that needs breaking down.  I thought I glimpsed an old nemesis one night this week, and was quickly ashamed of how ashamed I was of what I was doing.  True, you really want to present an image of dazzling success to the demons of your past, and I was dirty, sore, and laboring in a factory, not a distinguished and successful author, nattily dressed, being chatted up by an interviewer about her latest bestseller.  My life heretofore conditioned me to be subconsciously embarrassed by menial labor--to be able to do it as an avocation was to one's credit, but to be forced to do it as a vocation was demeaning, particularly if one had the privilege of education and the possibilities for expertise in a purely intellectual field as I had. But there is nothing wrong with the job I do--it's making good things for worthy purposes. Some people would truly not be able to eat if I weren't to do my work well.

Yes, it is hard on my body (though by lugging parts my arms have toned so I no longer have the beginning of that bane of female middle age, the underarm skin sag!).  So much so that I asked for an occupational movement specialist to come observe me at my station, and she and the union shop leader determined that I needed to change stations regularly in order not to injure myself through repetitive motion. So from Monday I will be spending every other day at another station, which I hope will lessen the discomfort in my hands and back. The specialist gave me a pair of whittled-down cushioning gloves to wear over my regular pair, and they did help, though now suiting up for work involves enough layers that I feel like I am readying for a spacewalk.  And I understand why astronauts wear diapers--because peeling off all those gloves, and the wrist brace, on the way to the toilet is a pain!

I've met several interesting ladies the last week, two new to the shift. One is barely twenty, the mother of two little boys (ages 1 & 2), sired by a boyfriend with whom she has lived since taking her parents' car for an illegal joyride at age 17. She and the boyfriend are no longer "together", but they and his mother share the responsibility for the toddlers.  She said she took the job because she wanted to prove to them that she could support herself. Since the children wake her at 8 AM, and the other two adults are gone from the house all day, she is making do on less than 4 hours' sleep a night.  The other is a woman who announced proudly in the cafeteria on Friday that she was soon going to be a grandmother.  Like the waitress in the country song, she is missing a front tooth, but not unattractive for all that, and I couldn't believe that she was old enough to be a grandmother, and told her so.  She said, "I'm 38."  Younger than me.  And her anticipated grandmotherhood is a product of her own youthful marriage (at 18) and a middle daughter's more youthful indiscretion (at 17--the power was off for almost a week during February's ice storm, and she and her boyfriend "snuggled up," in her mother's words).  She was recently divorced, and the nighttime factory work is the best job she could find, after being a homemaker for a score of years.  She wants her two daughters and younger son to finish high school and get some college, which she never had.  Both of these women's worlds are much apart from mine--at least three of my friends didn't marry and consider having children until after age 40, and few even married before their late 20s.  Everyone in my DC social circle had a college degree, and many had further academic or professional training.

All I knew there had been abroad multiple times, and interstate jaunts are a matter of casual routine.  A third pretty woman I met this week was wearing a "Texas" t-shirt yesterday, so I asked her if she were from there.  "No, I've never been," she told me.  "It's nice--you ought to see San Antonio," I said, limply.  She's only been to states contiguous to Georgia, and North Carolina, I overheard her tell a coworker.

One thing I have found common cause with my coworkers was in opposition to the announcement that the staffing agency was going to have us pay for being fitted for, and then to rent, uniforms.  These are by and large poor people--shelling out three hours' wages per person for fitting, then another hour's a week to rent uniforms which we must wash, and for which the replacement costs are exorbitant (over $100 for the jacket alone) is a major hardship, one which the staffing agency employees do not seem to comprehend.  I had to sign that I agreed to this (signatures were being collected from everyone, I didn't see that I could refuse), but I immediately (during the next work break) sent off a letter of protest.  Turns out, essentially no one else protested, even though they were sorely aggrieved, because they didn't know to whom they should protest, or how to get in touch with them.  And many shared the attitude of the slightly embittered fellow I work with, when I urged him to write or call: "It won't do any good unless everybody does it."  So, he wouldn't do anything.  "No," I told him, "It only takes one. You shouldn't think cosmically, but individually." He looked at me with sad incomprehension.  I can appreciate the frustration of nineteenth-century reformers working with the Russian peasantry.

The early part of the week, I was quite depressed.  I'm only getting a few minutes of sunlight (in the car, on the way to work) a day, and though it always has made me sleepy, I miss it.  As I've mentioned, my hands, wrists, and now my back hurts, and I was standing at my station for hours, wondering, "Why am I here?!  All my education is going to waste!"  And I haven't gotten any gym exercise, which is a stress reliever.  Then, on Thursday, Claude the jolly forklift man insisted a share his large cheese-and-sausage pizza, and I swallowed fully two-thirds of it.  This massive onboarding of carb-calories improved my mood considerably, and I resolved to eat more of my healthy selections in future.  I want to be trim, but I also want to be healthy, and cheerful, as I learn to understand the characters with whom I am sharing this new cultural experience.

Monday, September 01, 2014

I Am Grateful, But Oh! So Tired!

Truly, I am grateful to have a job. I am grateful to have pleasant coworkers, and not constant excessive stress.  I am grateful for a clean working environment, and for paychecks that arrive on time.  I am grateful that self-injuries have been minimal, and that I have only lost my temper once and my composure twice.  But I do wonder how much longer I can continue keeping up the working hours--I have spent more than 30 hours of my two-day holiday sleeping, I am so tired!--and as arthritis, of all things, is appearing in my hands, how much longer I can manage the physical demands of the job.

I know, given history--secular, Biblical and personal--that I must be in this job to learn something that will benefit me, or others through me, in the future, but I can't help but feel stranded in an intellectual desert of sorts, wondering what on earth was the point of all that beautiful education, those carefully-crafted papers, the hours spent puzzling over this or that literary topic when I am stuck under fluorescent lights in a role that requires a minimum GED qualification? True, there is a certain "coolness factor" to tractor-construction even among the intelligentsia, as for most academics anything involving sweat and machine oil is terra incognita, and I've had at least one friend ask in wonder exactly where I acquired the ability to use power tools, and others exclaim "wow" that I was able to handle the job.

My tool skills evidence incidental knowledge being more important at times than deliberately-acquired primary knowledge.  Daddy was always remodeling or building things--from rooms in the various houses where we lived to boats--and so I became familiar with tools and their uses pretty much from birth (that he built a wooden boat from scratch in the apartment living room and fiberglassed it while I was in utero I blame for some of my mental deficiencies).  Minoring in Theater Tech while I was at the state Governor's Honors Program in high school gave me the chance to construct simple platforms on my own.  I may also have used a power tool or two on volunteer service projects (I certainly used plenty of hand tools, and no respiratory protection, chipping away lead paint from peeling wood structures!) at home and abroad, and then of course my making lamps and applying both my Dremel and my Makita drills to a variety of surfaces in other creative endeavors all helped.  I almost forgot my ratchet set (a present from Daddy when I went off to grad school)!--using it to assemble furniture and replace my car battery and for other little tasks like that seemed fairly intuitive.  I've installed hinges on doors, done trench-digging and spackling and used both electric and hand-saws, painted and tiled and cut glass and punched out metal.  Partly, this is the typical American "do it yourself" culture, partly the example of Daddy and Granddaddy, who did everything from plumbing to wiring.  I think a person can do a lot of things simply when no one ever tells her or him that it is odd or unexpected to do them.  [For example, I remember being surprised that others were surprised that I was regularly driving from DC to GA and back by myself.  Why wouldn't I?  And why is it odd to be able to put on lipstick without a mirror?  I mean, one's lips are where you leave them, aren't they?]  Most of this is not exactly rocket science, just practice.

What is sad is that I have no energy, creative or otherwise, left to me when I get off work.  How did Arnold Toynbee (I think it was Toynbee, but maybe it was Anthony Trollope--I could Google it, but I just don't care to) handle the Post Office gig and write, too?  Perhaps, like banker T.S. Eliot, he had limited daylight working hours and free weekends.

Not the arthritis, nor the long shifts will be what eventually drives me to resign, but the noise.  The rattling, banging, beeping, roaring and so forth continues incessant, fearsome, and obnoxious in the background, despite the best earplugs I have.  The best description I can give of the clamor in the factory is if a person were to stand on a busy big-city street corner, where not only does constant horn-happy traffic whiz by, part of the intersection is being torn up by jackhammers and backhoes, while a skyscraper is being built across the street (dump trucks and cement mixers rumble in and back out, men weld rebar and nail forms together, and throw debris into a metal dumpster).  Add a talentless but determined street musician competing with this bedlam (to account for the musical trolleys on the assembly line) and you have a rough approximation of what I am enduring for 10 hours a day--including the grime and occasional diesel fumes.

I need to take an antihistamine and a shower and go to bed.  I am due to leave for work in 14.5 hours.  And my house is still a disaster area, and I've made no jewelry for this coming Sunday's show.  One month down, perhaps three to go!