Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Disappointments & Joys

The Japanese never emailed me, and it is certainly past the end of September in the land of the Rising Sun. I can only conclude that this means my application to teach English there was not sufficiently enticing for them to ask me to an interview.

Barring sudden employment, as my professional fallback strategy I had planned to enroll this coming January at the local branch of the University of Georgia for a Masters in Teaching (MAT) program (which is apparently the only means by which a person with my liberal arts education, no matter how extensive, can gain a teaching certificate in my home state--I had looked for other ways of obtaining certification and come up empty handed). So, a week and a half ago, I went online and began assembling the documentation I would need for my THIRD Masters degree application (Gack!). I tried to submit the paperwork online, but there was a glitch somewhere, and so I was forced to print out and hand write in the required information (very old-fashioned!). Given that the computer system had already proven unreliable, and knowing the importance of the personal touch even in this digital age, I decided to deliver the hard copy to the program's director of admissions myself – I already had a list of questions I wanted to ask him about specifics that didn't seem to be covered on the website.

At our brief meeting last Tuesday,  I gave the young man the application and several supporting documents, and he mentioned that I needed to take the GACE test in either English or history prior to enrollment in the program--online, this requirement wasn't clearly specified as needed before admission, and in fact seemed only possible once one had enrolled, but he said I must go ahead and take it. Registering for the GACE test was a multi-step process--apparently the Georgia Department of Education does not allow everyone to take it; without official permission, obtained by filling out a bureaucratic form on a state website, one cannot actually register to sit for the test. Which is a phenomenally stupid requirement. Anyone who wants to pay for and take an achievement test, no matter how specialized, ought to be able to do so without restriction. Who would be harmed by this? Be that as it may, after I obtained the official go-ahead to sit for the test, I went on the testing company website to register for it, and not until I was halfway through a 50 page PDF file giving a description of the registration and testing procedure (no wristwatches allowed, etc.) that I found that the test was not offered all year round (as one would expect), but was only administered during discrete windows at random times during the year. And the next window did not open until mid-November, almost 2 weeks after the application to the MAT program was due. I emailed the director of admissions, and asked him if it was possible to be provisionally accepted and take the test prior to matriculation. No, it was not. As I had already paid the nonrefundable $50 admission fee, plus $12 (?!) to the University of South Carolina to have a paper copy of my transcript from my first Masters program shipped to him, I was very glad when he agreed to change the prospective admission date on my application from January to summer of this coming year. But I felt like I had been kicked when I was down--here was even my backup plan derailed!

Since last Thursday, I've applied to three more jobs. One is with a local banking investment firm, and two are English teaching positions. The hiring manager at the investment firm seemed very enthusiastic about my candidacy, but I've been met with enthusiasm before, and the establishments in question ended up hiring someone else internally. I will be very surprised if I hear anymore from them.

I was pretty depressed--in fact, I'd become so stressed out that I was starting to have memory issues, losing common items around my house and forgetting basic information. I talked to my aunt on the phone and kind of vented my miseries – I've kept pretty good cheer in the 21 months I've been looking for work, but I felt like my emotional fabric was frayed down to my last nerve. Later, on Saturday night, I went to an event at the consignment store where I have a booth, and met a female Army veteran who shares my name and who is fluent in Russian And yet now in retail because she can't find work using her linguistic skills. It was kind of a relief – knowing that I was not the only one with some small accomplishment in international relations and communications who was stuck spinning her wheels. And church was phenomenally encouraging Sunday morning and evening; I am not alone, and this is not the end of ends.

It also occurred to me what a blessing it has been to be able to hang out with my almost 93-year old maternal grandmother during this time of underemployment. I've been able to take her to doctors' visits, help her with grocery store runs, pick scads of blueberries and scuppernongs out of her Edenic backyard, enjoy her delicious cooking, assist her with housecleaning, and perform other little tasks and revel in her delightful company, all of which I would have missed out on had I been so-called "gainfully employed". This is just a huge gift from God. And I do have random friends who call me and tell me they are praying for me. I think I am being prayed for more than many missionaries, a circumstance that is simultaneously heartening and horrifying!

So, in other words, my situation is not an enviable one in some respects, but in others it is highly desirable. My only issues are:  How am are  going to pay my credit card bill? And how am I going to pay the bills ( still staggering after insurance) for my recent medical checkups that declared  me "ridiculously healthy" as Grandmommy would say (and as her own cardiologist determined she is just this morning)?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Just as one shouldn't choose the hairdresser with the best coiffure to do your hair, one shouldn't get a mammogram from a technician who claims that as a subject she's never been negatively affected by the (mercifully short) procedure.

I had my first mammogram today, per protocol for women over 40. All the way to the scan I was mentally reviewing reports of those who compared (without any means of testing this assertion) the sensation to a man's having his nuts pinched in a vise, and I dismissed those ladies as wimps, the sort who holler when their legs are waxed and shriek at the sight of mice. Then, I got to the center, where women of all ages from 40 on were pulsing through as on an assembly line, and at my turn this well-upholstered technician led me back to the scanning room and mashed my tiny breasts, one after the other, between a metal plate and a hydraulic-powered piece of lucite. If she'd had testicles, I would cheerfully have kicked them. Maybe more than once.

Perhaps if a woman is more chesty than I am, her boobs just flatten out, like amoebas, and if she's got little in the way of muscle across her ribcage, there's no need to yank things about. But I do try to stay in shape, blast it. And I don't have udders like a Holstein. I am going to find out who did the technician's scan, and see if that person won't do mine next year--at any rate, to me it's better to have someone tell me something's going to hurt but will be over quickly than to inflict pain on you in the calm assurance that, given the impossibility of their scanning themselves, they are safe from their own heavy-footed (yes, the hydraulic lucite plate was foot-powered, like a dentist's drill!) ministrations.

Oh, and the even lovelier bit about this scan? The results won't be available for a fortnight, and given that this was my first, they may need a second mammogram to establish a normal baseline. Crap. I swear, if I am ever so unfortunate as to require a mastectomy, I'm having the little suckers cut off and not reconstructed. Much less bother.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


What was our local public community college--known for almost 100 years by the normal and decent name of Augusta College--expanded and was upgraded to a university some two decades ago. It took the name Augusta State University. Nothing too weird. People got used to that without trouble, although "why bother?" was a common response.

The Medical College of GA, also local (for two centuries) and also a part of the statewide UGA system, grew even faster over the last 20 years, gobbling up property between the private for-profit University Hospital (it is my understanding that prior to the school's having its own hospital, there was a training affiliation, but that's long gone) and the downtown branch of the Veterans Administration hospital, creating a kilometer square campus. Then, some nameless administrator decided MCG ought to be renamed Georgia Health Sciences University, yielding an acronym that resembled a sneeze. This was highly irritating to many, not because of the "unprogressive" cultural environment of the surrounding area (as prejudiced non-Southerners might automatically assume) but because it really didn't do anything useful--it did cost a good deal of time and money to change all the signs, the stationery, and so forth, though! But again, most people just sighed in resignation and locals continued to refer to MCG as a shorthand for the metastasizing medical district.

Then GHSU's president, an ambitious import good at glad-handing multimillionaire research donors, but who cared little for local opinion, somehow persuaded the state Board of Regents, an anonymous Atlanta-centered cabal of good ol' boys (regardless of superficial race or gender identity) to not only fuse the medical school and the former community college into a single entity under one administration, with him at the head, but also to call this Frankenstein's monster after themselves! Thus, Georgia Regents University, GRU, was born.

Hilariously, the French-animated movie Despicable Me was released around that time, which prompted many jokes (one Halloween, all the hospital nurses dressed up as minions). Also, local wags noted that the acronym for the health sciences section should now appropriately be GRUSOM (Georgia Regents University School of Medicine). But mostly people were just pissed off – there had been no consultation of the alumni about the merger or the name change, and the fact that "Augusta" was entirely lost in transition led to a forest of yard signs reading "Save the A". There were plenty of volunteers to kick the ass of Dr. T, the wheeling and dealing administrator who had masterminded the whole fiasco that subsumed the former ASU administration beneath that of the medical mucketymucks (if you think academic organizations are generally byzantine, try adding healthcare bureaucracy!).

Several years after the GRU merger, much of the liberal arts curriculum that had been a staple of ASU was gone, and communication issues between civilians and scientists at GRU continued to flourish. There was even talk that Dr. T wanted to move the medical center to Athens, leaving Augusta wholly bereft. If his goal was to be universally loathed, he'd accomplished it. He spoke briefly at the community-wide Martin Luther King Memorial service in January, and was distinguished as the the dignitary who received only a smattering of perfunctory applause, falling far behind the enthusiasm for figures who (given their politics and paleness) might have been presumed to be much less popular with the mostly African-American audience.

Then, only a few months ago, Dr. T left. I don't remember if he simply retired or if he found another seat of power in another state that paid better, but the general consensus was, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." And just yesterday, out of the blue, the Georgia Board of Regents announced that they were changing the name of GRU to Augusta University. I don't know if the membership of the board has changed, or if they got so much mail protesting their self-aggrandizement that they repented, but I think it is the right decision. However, it is unclear whether the medical school and the mostly undergraduate college will continue to operate together, or if they will again be independent institutions.. One way or another, it will take some time to sort out the mess that this one person promulgated. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Not Yum, Yuck!

I haven't eaten anything in 24 hours. And I won't get to eat anything for another 14 at least, given that I have to be on clear liquids until 9 AM, then without anything by mouth until after I come out of anesthesia around 4 PM. At which point, of course, I expect the only thing I'll want to do is go to bed. If this doesn't restore my youthful figure, nothing will! I just hope my insides get a clean bill of health after all this self-deprivation. A legacy of digestive issues is not a happy inheritance.

The CELTA certificates are finally on their way. A classmate of mine has been diligent in contacting the school, and they assured her that they were being mailed out yesterday. I think they made the paper and ink themselves, given the time it took for the documents to be issued. Gosh, I hope the school I applied to in Japan thinks it worthwhile to hire me. I am so tired of the ongoing job application process, which reminds me uncomfortably of dating (at which I have achieved even less success than in procuring employment). In both dating and hiring, I am at a disadvantage because of my age. Everybody wants unwrinkled young beauties, drat it. I would drown my sorrows in ice cream, but dairy is forbidden right now!

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Bad & Better Jewelry

I love jewelry. When I was a little girl, and there were still tangible newspapers stuffed with glossy paper advertising sections, I would cut out the rings and necklaces from the weekend jewelry circulars to use in pretend. I've always had a very good eye for quality (an eye which is gradually deteriorating as those so-called age-related changes that afflict one's vision around age 40 begin to take hold, but one which can still spot a tiny 925 or 14k on clasps and ear posts), and love learning about what and how pieces have been crafted since people began draping garlands around their necks and poking little holes in their earlobes to hang things from.

Being unemployed, and away from the estate sale jewelry counter has curtailed my collecting somewhat. I still enjoy scrolling through eBay to see what treasures are available, and occasionally find things priced less than melt--I just flipped one this evening, as a matter of fact. Aside from the aforementioned coups, I observe that, as it has for millennia, jewelry continues to reflect faith, superstition, values and ignorance. Here are a few designs I regularly encounter:

The figa. Meaning "fist" in Italian, this is an odd elbow to thumb representation of the forearm with the hand clenched and the thumb thrust between two of the fingers. Whereas in the United States this has the entirely innocent connotation of telling gullible children "got your nose", in several countries in Europe, including the one where it originated, this gesture is equivalent to giving someone "the bird". And yet this crude symbol has not been worn traditionally by tough men looking for trouble, but by little children whose parents hoped they would avoid it. Essentially, the figa served as a 24/7 "F-you" to ill fate. Often carved out of coral (a substance thought lucky), they are also found in gold, ivory, and ebony. They are a popular addition to refined ladies' charm bracelets; not mine.

The evil eye. I've always been amused by those little eyeballs, usually blue, that stare out at the world from beads, tiles and amulets, but for many living around the Mediterranean basin, these are thought serious wards against evil. In an area where looking at someone in an odd way can be interpreted as casting ill fortune on them, these token tiny eyes stare down what bad luck could come your way.  I don't know why they're usually made blue, since most people who wear them have dark eyes, but I find it tragic some think you must rely on such charms to ensure happiness. I do like eyeballs, however, so I found a brown one that reminded me of my late father's gaze and keep it for sentimental purposes.

The Mizpah. Ah, misquoted Scripture, how perversely amusing it can be! Usually made as a set of breakaway pendants (to be split so that one friend can wear one part of the quote and the other can wear the remainder), this is a short selection from the book of Genesis: "The Lord watch between thee and me when we are apart from one another." In context, this is a pact between estranged men Jacob and his father-in-law Laban, who had at least superficially reconciled after the former had fled with the latter's two daughters and grandchildren; in my opinion, it is not a double blessing to be shared between best friends. Essentially, the grandson of Abraham and his maternal uncle were stating that one should not plot against the other in secret, or abuse the other's people, that God would be watching each to ensure this. Mizpah sharing should really be between frenemies, not besties.

Angels. Everyone in North America probably recognizes that pair of particularly overdone-in-reproduction cherubs, chins on hands, gazing skyward. Again, from a biblical standpoint,  cherubim are terrifying creatures, not cutesy babies with bird wings – every time angels appeared in the Old and New Testaments, they had to preface their messages with commands not to fear, because to be freaked out beyond measure was the natural response of any who saw them. Be that as it may, Americans in particular--even people who do not consider themselves religious--are addicted to the notion of the cute angel, these being two of the cutest. What most of the people who wear an image of one of these little contemplatives don't realize is that the image comes from Raphael's 1512 Sistine Madonna (fat winged babies were the Internet cats of the Renaissance period, and their appeal lingers to this day). The painting now is in the collection of Dresden's Alte Meister museum, having been one of the many "trophy art" pieces carried off to Moscow by the Soviets in the concluding days of World War II. Since my masters thesis was on the subject of such expropriated art, I have an etched charm of the one-winged fellow on the bottom lefthand side of this masterpiece.

Much jewelry nowadays is not masterfully done. Sure, gold is expensive, but using metal as thin as paper to stamp out thousands of identical charms is just tacky, and most advertised as "diamond cut" ought to be run over by a steamroller. Just because something is in the vicinity of a diamond-dusted Dremel bit doesn't enhance its value--the slices actually serve to further decrease the metal content and increase the reflection abilities of cheap pieces of junk. And what's with all the hideously deformed cats? Why does almost every cat figure rendered in gold, even though accompanied by gemstones, look considerably more canine than feline? Truly, cats are not that challenging to model--they know how to pose. In sum, there are some truly terrible jewelry makers out there, at all points of the price spectrum. But then again, if some fool is willing to pay for something that took little time, few materials, and less skill to manufacture, what's to keep the makers from producing such schlock?

Finally, if trolling eBay's jewelry section teaches you anything, it is that the markup on precious metals and stones in the retail market is astounding, particularly for bulk-manufactured items. Most sellers online know that they have to list the weight of items, as this is certainly one of several factors that influences its ultimate selling price. Whereas most buyers are willing to pay 1.5 to 2 times the value of the components for something that doesn't bear a famous namethis is a considerable reduction from the prices charged in brick-and-mortar stores. Even those pieces embossed with marks of makers like Tiffany, John Hardy, David Yurman, and so forth often fetch far less than retail buyers might have led themselves to believe they would be able to realize in the second sale market. If you know your subject, know the prices of your components, and make sure (from looking at feedback and asking questions) that you are buying from a reputable source, you can slowly improve your jewelry collection at a fraction of retail cost.