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Monday, March 14, 2016

Mathematical Ignorance On Pi Day

In my previous post, I took courage from the example of Ann Radcliffe, whom I deduced had begun both her matrimonial and writing career in middle age. Today, I read through her biography again, and discovered that I had miscalculated, somehow subtracting six from eight and getting four. Not only was she just over half my age when she wed, she was only a quarter century when she was initially published. And she was socially well-connected, being the niece of Josiah Wedgwood's business partner. Phooey. Not that I have any intention of writing Gothic romance novels!

I've learned in the past week that two of my girl friends are moving abroad, both for educational reasons. One will be in Canada, and the other in South Korea. I shall simply be forced to go visit them.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Though Glasses, Confusedly

For two weeks now, I have felt as if I were gazing through a fishbowl. Going down the steep flight of stairs at work has been a daredevil exercise, as I discovered from the outset of wearing my new glasses that I could not actually see where I was placing my feet. Given that I am capable of tripping on a flat and uncluttered surface, this did not bode well. My lopsided ears were to blame. I went back to the optician today, and the fitting ladies pointed out that the frames were askew--and hence I was looking at the world through both near and far elements at the same time. They messed about with the orientation, and now I'm appreciating a clearer perspective. I'm still not used to craning my head around like an owl every time I want to focus on a new object, however. And short of bending double, I cannot focus on my toes! I told a friend that it would be nice to have a kind of checkerboard pattern of farsighted and nearsighted lenses, so you could see things clearly at every point of the compass, like a housefly.

My misery with my third severe cold in as many months kept me at home Friday week, so I teleworked for the first time, and got a lot done, despite having to get one of my coworkers to send individual files to me, as at the time my computer wasn't set up for remotely accessing the central database. This challenge has since been overcome. My new-to-me computer only has work stuff on it for now; all recovered files from my old machine are on a portable drive. Having a clean slate is a refreshing feeling. Before I start on my umpteenth book idea (the example of Ann Radcliffe gives me hope--she didn't marry until 43 or produce her first book until 45), I want to get my first desktop in twenty some odd years and several big monitors to attach side by side. I've really gotten spoilt with two monitors at work--being able to have two full working windows is so convenient! I met with my accountant this morning and immediately succumbed to intense monitor envy--he has five. Four are mounted in a floating square--I half expected to see a subset of the Brady Bunch pop up on the screens--and the largest sits alone off to the side, the lord of the files. I'm getting a tax refund from last year. He warned me that I shouldn't expect one for this year, since I will make money, provided I am not summarily sacked.

 I do like my work colleagues, though it's a bit like being back in grade school, not only because of the exposure to many germs: they talk about poop and sex what seems like all the time, so in some ways it echoes a junior high boys locker room...or a 1950s longshoremens union office, only without the smoking and high pay, and everyone's pale and soft around the middle. I have decided that given the informality of the atmosphere, I can be comfortable, and so I spend many hours either sitting on my stocking feet or with them propped on top of my desk as I lean back in my chair with my keyboard in my lap. so far no one's complained of the smell. All I need is a cigar, a large lead pencil behind one ear and a green eyeshade, and I'd look the classic editorial part. Instead, I have ordered a pair of kitty slippers from South Korea that I intend to wear at work. I started out being formal and proper and adult, and within two months my inner nerdslob has reasserted itself. Maybe if we left the light on in the office and my roommates were not constantly cursing their recalcitrant computers, I would be less prone to feel at home, but it's a collegial environment, and my boss only ventures upstairs biweekly to deliver our pay stubs in person.

 My cousins, God bless them, are still putting me up, and putting up with me, two nights a week. I'm tremendously blessed. They have a huge black Labrador that tries to climb into my lap when I park in the driveway, and an elderly red spaniel that barks mournfully to announce my arrival, warning the herds of deer and packs of coyotes that live in the woods around to keep their distance. The frogs which sang so lustily during the warm spells in January are quieter now, and the crickets and cicadas haven't reached full summer voice. It's lovely out in the country--you can look up between the trees and all the constellations are bright in the dark sky, and the river is gurgling down at the bottom of the hill, on the other side of a muddy cornfield, where last year's stalks are dry and broken. Two weeks ago, I hiked down to see the river at dusk, and my cousin told me about camping down there when he was a boy, using leaky discarded boats to cross to the uninhabited island with his friends. They eventually sank all the boats in the river during their adventures, emerging muddy but unscathed. Every kid should have such a Tom Sawyer childhood.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Colds, Addictions, Transvestites and Consorts

I had no idea whether the long-refrigerated liquid I was drinking out of the merlot bottle were still wine, or had already turned to vinegar. The green glass was cold in my hand, and the paper label rough against my fingers, and I could feel the liquid sloshing over my tongue, but there was no taste. It could have been nectar, it could have been lighter fluid--I wouldn't have known the difference.

The carpet around my bed looks like the aftermath of bridal shower where bridesmaids force one another to create "wedding gowns" out of toilet tissue--there are wads of the white stuff all over the rug, over the power cords and among the clean socks. It's like a bloodless trauma ward. Empty tea cups, grungy ear plugs, unread novels, odd pieces of jewelry. And a pair of brand new progressive lenses in fuchsia frames. I attempt to inhale, sneeze and cough phlegm into a wad of toilet paper, then toss it on the floor with a groan.

Colds suck.

 Of course, what I'd like to do is inhale without having to open my mouth like a fish, to breathe smoothly in through my nostrils. Hah! Cough, cough. Even harder to say than to do, since my voice has gone along with my senses of taste and smell on some long term excursion, leaving no forwarding address or prospective time of return. I am, faintly, pleased that my throat doesn't pain me the way that it did yesternight, but even the most advanced voice recognition technology that Apple has to offer cannot puzzle out my choked and scratchy whispers, so dictation, my favorite feature on my iPhone, is lost to me for the time being.

 On Monday, my skin felt young and clean and ticklish, the windy day gloriously sunny, the sort of day when you wish you could sprout butterfly wings from your shoulder blades and be whipped away into the air, spiraling free above the treetops in the fresh breeze. I could breathe through my nose. Those were happy times.

I have observed that it is never a good idea to ask how roundly one is being cursed, but sometimes you are irresistibly tempted to do so. You rarely hear yourself praised when you listen from behind doors and through keyholes....

We discuss food a lot in the office, from the deliciousness of kimchi and other spicy concoctions to the common appeal of the grilled cheese sandwich. The other day we were talking about duck, which I usually avoid because of the fat. "Oh, duck isn't greasy," returned my colleague. "Duck is unctuous." And she wriggled a bit in ecstasy at the thought.

Who was it that said, "'Write drunk. Edit sober'?" When you are loopy on cold medicine or whiskey or what have you, your lips burning from pouring alcohol over the chapped creases, maybe you are willing to let more spill on the page uninhibited that you are when properly attired, when politely seated with a clean, steaming cup of expensive coffee at your wrist. If I put any cup of liquid "at my elbow"--which seems to have been the received table arrangement for centuries--it would be knocked on the floor or all over my lap or my neighbor's before a pimp could thumb his way through his cash roll. 

Sometimes you just want to feel something. In fact, isn't that the motive behind most behaviors--that we want to feel something? It's only the happy giving behaviors of creating an opportunity for others to feel joy that we ourselves feel peace, however. We run around frantically seeking diversions, feeding the need for sex, for violence, for power, for control, for money, and they suck us dry, these diuretics of emotion. Instead of satisfying the need, they feed the cravings. Diminishing returns on each and every hard-sought win. Physical drugs, in what they do to the body, only offer a picture of what the emotional drugs--those acceptable, common obsessions that so many share--actually do to the heart.

Without Jesus, we are messed up. Man, are we messed up.

I found out more about the huge transvestite at the auction house. S/he is actually a Marine veteran of the first Gulf War, decorated several times, and while a young man participated in a football training camp alongside Dan Marino (which Ace Ventura fans will doubtless find amusing). After leaving the military s/he became homeless, and clawed up out of that situation by means of selling a bagful of blue jeans. Apparently s/he asked out a similarly large coworker of mine who is a divorced father of two and was not happy about being rebuffed.

Speaking of large men and larger men, my cousin, who is a good six feet tall, 235lbs, told me about a former employee of his this morning, who was "as strong as an ox." He was the size and had the intellect of an ox, too. He'd been arrested for multiple DUIs, yet somehow had a drivers license. The subject came up because the TV news was featuring two local government officials being arrested recently, in separate incidents, for driving while intoxicated. Camden told me that this fellow could rip out a tile bathroom in under three hours--he was a beast. "He broke three of my ribs!" Camden said. Camden had been stiff after work and casually mentioned to this fellow that he needed someone to crack his back, and before he knew it, this guy had picked him up behind the arms and was shaking him like a rag doll. My cousin had only enough breath left to squeeze out, "Man, what the hell you doing?!" And upon being dropped, "Hell, man, you broke my damn ribs!" Like Harry Houdini, he'd not had time to brace himself, and it was his undoing. That didn't lead to the guy being fired. The reason that Camden fired him was that one day they were working for a missionary who risked her life repeatedly to smuggle Bibles into a closed country. A really nice lady. And this guy needed a ride (it must have been one of those times when his license was temporarily revoked) and he agreed to meet someone who could give him a ride at a local strip club. And he asked the lady where the strip club was. That was the last straw, in Camden's book.

Last week, I'd sold a DVD collection on eBay and had to go to the post office during lunch to mail it, since those blame postal machines won't permit Media Mail packages. Outside rain was dripping off the Kennedy Center-style metal awnings (incongruous with the traditional Greek key-embossed bronze post-box doors inside). I had been standing in an unmoving queue for 20 minutes, chatting with the dumpy little white woman next to me, one place ahead. There was no new movement. The two clerks at the five possible windows were operating at a glacial speed, not only as if they were stuck in molasses, but as if a film of their movements had been slowed down for frame by frame analysis. The voluble round woman beside me told me she was from a tiny town, where the post office at just one employee and they knew you by sight--she never usually had to wait like this. Then she spotted a woman she knew further up in the line, caught her attention and started chitchatting about the church that either they had both worked for, or both volunteered at, or something, and the other woman mentioned that it was children's musical week. Immediately the woman standing next to me reminisced about being dressed up for one of the past musicals "as a Sodomite, or something," I don't think sodomite was what she meant.

Then SC governor Nikki Haley's husband showed up. I didn't know him from Adam, but the dumpling poked me in the ribs and indicated him: "That's the governor's husband--and that's his bodyguard with him!" I noted that the bodyguard was cleanshaven ethnic fellow who looked like he had little sense of humor. They quietly got in line behind the rest of us. And suddenly, postal employees materialized on several fronts anxious to help the customers. It was magic. The little old lady behind me clutching an envelope with tax returns in it was shocked. Within five minutes, everyone's business had been seen to. Miraculous.

There's a unspoken pecking order in the publishing house, too, I have found, and editors are at the top of this silent hierarchy. The senior male editors don't really speak with the lower staff members, or when they do, it's with an air (probably unintended) of descending into the realm of mortals from on high. I had wondered why everyone was treating me with such deference, asking my opinion about silly little details when they clearly knew more about what was preferable than I did, and suddenly, all is clear. However, I am glad to report that while they are in their little silent all-male enclave next door, I am in a majority female office where I can talk and be talked to (and ridiculed cheerfully, when the occasion arises). So the minute my feet start to leave the floor, I'll be pulled back to earth and slapped until I come to my senses.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

My First Sick Day

Unless some miracle happens in the next eight hours, I will be taking my first sick day at my new job tomorrow, although I have yet to be fully vested with leave, being still in the probationary period. I'm really bad off, though, and I have worked ahead to the extent that the process shouldn't be slowed by my absence for a day. And it may be possible for me to work from home, even in my infirm state. My throat hurts, my ears hurt, my voice sounds and feels like I am gargling an irritated hedgehog, and my nose keeps clogging up. I'm coughing and tired. And yes, I felt like this all day and still put in a solid length of work, but I am exhausted, and I know I need to rest.

I did screw up spectacularly today, sending my boss a project that was a shambles. I hope that the several I dispatched that were better managed to rescue my reputation from the dustbin, but I felt like an idiot after he called me out on some stupid mistakes I'd made. There were a couple of things wrong that I really hadn't been told how to identify and fix, but there were lots of points at which I could have done better and just didn't, being careless. I must make myself a list of items to check before I submit sections to the higher-up for inspection.

Gosh, I feel rotten. It's like I'm making up for several years' worth of germs in a several month span. You don't realize how convenient it is to breathe through your nose until you can't.