Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It Pressed Out Clear

...or such was the pithy assessment that the radiologist gave of my second mammogram in three weeks on the morning of my 42nd birthday, Monday. Pressed, mashed--if you flatten something sufficiently, it does become translucent. I wasn't concerned by the need for a second test, as if they had found something truly to worry about, surely they would have scheduled it much sooner (though I did find it just a wee bit tacky that they picked that particular day). However, the bill for this visit is to be paid out of my own shallow pocket, and that has driven me into the bosom of one last estate sale before the end of the year.

My uncle and I weren't planning to do another estate sale in 2016, but before we finished the last one, he got called by a former client, whom he has known for many years. Her sister died suddenly in September, and the family needs to liquidate the estate as soon as possible-- the house is still mortgaged and payments are having to come out of the surviving siblings' pockets. And I need to do the sale prior to the holidays because of my lurking medical bills and the prospect of being in Korea penniless for two months before my first teaching paycheck comes through.

I haven't had my visa interview yet--my documents are all in a packet on their way to Jeju, but thus far all systems are "go" for my beginning my contract there on January 2. My one friend who worked at the school assured me that barring some catastrophe, it is highly likely that I will be moving over there in just four weeks--"if they want you, they'll get you there," OCD or not. In fact, Mona, my friend currently at the school, called me this evening at work to tell me that the school director was possessed of the notion that I would be over there for the last week of December! No can do, I told her, and emailed him that I was subscribed to my current employer through the end of the year (which I had mentioned before...). I certainly won't have time to pack or turn around properly until that final week of this year--although I have heard that usually my boss releases everyone for the week between Christmas and New Year's, it is by no means required of him, and I don't have any other time to get my powers of attorney together, or house clean, or my consignment booth emptied, much less see Grandmommy. Particularly if my next three Saturdays are dedicated to organizing and running an estate sale!

Time is getting short. I have arranged, at least in theory, to be a part-time contract editor for my current employer. My boss said we would try it out to see how it worked. One of my two editor sunbaes (seniors) and I sat down this afternoon and divvied up the literary criticism entries for next year, so my assignments are neatly laid out for me. The stack of items I must take to Korea is already overflowing one of the armchairs in my living room. I have cleaned out my guest room so that Bella, who will be housesitting for me and caring for Trixie (for whom I just purchased another 9 catnip mice as an early Christmas present), can move in her own furniture. I have winnowed a handful of items from my closet, but I'm aghast at how many clothes there still are. What should I pack? I bought a stack of Korean vocabulary cards, a shower curtain and a duvet cover, a reflective vest and a clothesline. And a kick scooter. It's collapsible. I think it won't strain my neck like a bicycle, since I don't have to lean over. I need a new pair of tennis shoes. And allergy medication. And powdered peanut butter. And new unmentionables. Gosh.

Nothing like a time crunch to encourage efficiency!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Hot News

The end of November and I just put my air conditioning on because it is too warm to sleep, and not cool enough outdoors to make opening the windows useful. And no, I am not having a hot flash.

My background check came back apostilled from the State Department today. Tomorrow my documents shall be sent to the hagwon in Jeju. I am nervous and excited at the possibilities of the next month. Il is peculiar to think that I could be settling overseas in five weeks, just casually tossing items into a couple of bags and moving to the other side of the world. But because of South Korea's amenities, it's not like I have to pack a safari trunk. If I forget something, I will just go to a store and buy it. I shan't be beating my laundry on rocks in a stream, as my former art teacher had to do when she visited the country back in the early 1970s.

Yesterday, my paternal extended family's Thanksgiving celebration was in North Carolina. With me being the sole representative from my immediate family, were 30 people there, only two of whom weren't relatives, including a delightful young lady from Russia, the best friend of one of my cousins. I understood 90-95% of what she said in Russian, but my tongue was like lead, and I just couldn't make the words come out in response. Her English was as good as mine, and I awkwardly responded to her Russian remarks in English. She's a good cook--she added shchi and baked apples to the smorgasbord we assembled. Daddy would have loved it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Getting Rid Of Bots

For 24 hours now, I have restricted access to my blog to my eyes only, in hopes that the automatic systems crawling about the web will cease to visit if they are repeatedly stymied. Allegedly, I had 3000 visits in the last month, a pitiful amount for a truly popular website, but an impossibly astronomical one for a personal blog written by an obscure person without any famous contacts.

If I did have strings to pull in influential places, I wouldn't still be waiting on my paperwork to return from DC. But I don't, and I am.

I'm reading Edith Wharton's short stories for the first time. The plot of Ethan Frome always put me off, and though I was able to make it a good portion of the way through The House of Mirth, it could hardly be considered cheerful, easy reading. I have long liked Wharton's style, but the remoteness of cold New England misery and even colder New England aristocracy meant that I failed to engage with characters in her novels. Her short stories are much more entertaining, passionate and personal, even if her linguistic skill and subject matter tacitly reminds me that I shall never attain the intellectual acuity or elevated class standing which would qualify me to appear in Wharton's presence comfortably, were she still alive. I have shared the experiences of several of her characters, though, particularly that of the art expert called upon to assess a painting the owner thinks is a masterpiece. Well I know the conundrum of being caught between politeness and honesty when it comes to letting people know that their cherished treasures are commercially worthless.

The estate sale this past weekend went well. We didn't have a single stinker, and traffic was high the whole two days. Surprisingly, both furniture and clothing sold well, and we ended up making a third again as much as we thought the event would bring. I had really bad arm pain on Friday, but Saturday I was comfortable, which was a blessing given I was in front of my laptop with few breaks from 8 AM open until twenty minutes before closing time at 4 PM. I was surprised at how much jewelry was left over; my uncle and I had thought that it would be the backbone of the weekend. It just goes to show that there is absolutely no way to tell how a given sale will perform.

I may have a house sitter if I do go to Korea in January – a friend of mine has told me that she's theoretically willing to take up residence in my guest bedroom and take care of my cat, which would be wonderful on several counts: Trixie wouldn't have to move to Virginia, I would get regular updates on her, and I would know that somebody obsessively tidy was enjoying the stuff I have accumulated. I hate having things effectively stored that someone could be using meantime. My mother likes the idea too.

Monday, November 14, 2016


A week ago, I got one of those telephone calls that one doesn't like to get. Specifically, it was a call from my OB/GYN's office saying that my most recent mammogram was inconclusive and they needed to do another one. They had already scheduled an appointment for me, on the morning of my birthday. What a lovely way to mark the end of one's forty-second year. My insurance won't pay for this one – they said that they would pay for the first one, but the second is mine to afford. Of course, one does not just opt to forego tests like these, even though odds are decidedly that the first was merely misread, not a real problem. If there's an issue, I would rather catch it sooner than later.

Two weeks on, and I still haven't gotten back my apostilled background check from the State Department. Argh.  It's the Ides of November tomorrow, and I still need to send all the paperwork off to South Korea to see if it gets stuck in their bureaucracy, and for how long. I did email the school director  to let him know what was going on.

I ended up eating consecrated bread last night after communion. Historically, they just toss the loaf that the pastor breaks up at the table, but one of the elders decided this was wasteful and insisted that my friend and I take it home. I don't think it had any salt in it. I actually did a lot of soul-searching before I decided to go ahead and chow down – you have that example of the fellow in the Old Testament who reached out a hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant when the oxen pulling the cart it was on stumbled, and was struck dead on the spot for his irreverent practicality, and then on the other hand you have the Reformed understanding that the bread isn't transsubstantiated. Still, it's consecrated--but the elder pointed out that given that I'd already taken communion, I had already eaten some of it. And I considered that it was given to me by an elder, I hadn't spontaneously decided to take it; I figured if anything it would be good for me.

I also was anointed with a small vial of oil after the service, as I asked another trio of elders to pray that my neck and arm would be healed. I have had good days and I have had bad days, but the pain during the latter has left me absolutely miserable and unable to work effectively. Physical Therapy has not yielded any miracles. It's such a blessing to be pain-free.

I have a cold. I've been swilling hot tea all day, and eating large quantities of carbs. I'm not sure that carbs are a standard form of cold treatment, but Trixie gets quite distressed when I eat chicken, because she's not allowed to have any. I wish I could spend the next three days in bed, but I have work to do. Outside, there's a haze of smoke from the not-too-distant wildfires. Today I spent shivering in a sweater and swaddled in a scarf, researching Karl Marx. Of his three legitimate children who survived childhood (out of seven born) one died of cancer before the age of 40, and the other two committed suicide. Good grief. Later this week, I get to tackle Edith Wharton. I could really use some lighthearted humor after all of this real and imagined misery. I think I will sit in a sunbeam during tomorrow's 90-minute conference call.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


I didn't watch the election results come in last night. I forebore to check the news or Facebook, both of which have been full of vitriol and largely unsubstantiated rumor for weeks now. Given that I had voted for a write-in candidate for the primary office, I knew there was not even a snowball's chance of that person winning, so I ate dinner, took a shower, watched a K-drama, and went to sleep. And my Internet connection this morning was gummed up, and CNN wouldn't refresh, so it looked like the vote counting was still going on… Until I got into the kitchen and sat down for breakfast, and the website updated. And then I shook for ten minutes in shock. Holy cow. I knew it was close. But the (mostly liberal) intellectuals seem to have deluded themselves with their polling. It's our version of Brexit. Or a national recapitulation of Jesse Ventura's election as governor of Minnesota.

I hope our president-elect will do a better job than I expect. When circus impressario P.T. Barnum, notorious for his exploitation of the gullible and the grotesque, served on the state legislature, he was an ardent civil rights advocate. I will continue to pray. The VP seems like a genuinely good egg. The criticisms that I have heard of him make him sound like he has made all the right enemies, which does signal some hope for the new administration.

About a month ago I was assigned to edit an entry on Shakespeare's three Henry VI plays. In the second, there is a peasant uprising. The rhetoric sounded quite familiar. Human nature fascinates me--and Shakespeare had a divinely imparted gift for capturing it.

We truly have no idea what will happen after January 20. This campaign has been so fraught with personal and legal scandals that I don't recall a single substantive promise made by the triumphant candidate aside from the southern border wall. I mistrust the man's wisdom and sincerity, never mind his morals, but there's no telling but that he may be a Thomas Beckett for our time. Here's hoping!

Friday, November 04, 2016

Attack Of The Web Crawlers

Over the last several days the traffic to my blog has ballooned, according to one set of metrics, but given that all my recent posts are getting exactly the same number of hits, at improbably regular intervals, and the referring sites are minimal, I suspect a bot is to blame. It's very annoying. It would be one thing if people--actual flesh and blood human beings!--were reading, but on the blog itself I've only gotten spam comments – some obscene--and this sudden superfluity of alleged pageviews. And I haven't said anything particularly controversial of late.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Source Checks Necessary

I have friends of all political stripes, spots, and blotches. I urge them: Please, folks, check your sources. Reference one or more major news outlets, no matter whether you consider them skewed to the right or the left, to see if and how they are reporting the story. Check Snopes. If it seems too good to be true, or conversely too bad to be false, it may well be unsubstantiated.

If it is a quotation--no matter how pithy or seemingly apt--from one of your favorite or least favorite people, please check to see if they actually said it, and in what context. I speak as one has been caught out herself before, reposting something that I did not check, and ending up with egg on my face. I know ours is the age of the soundbite, but the context in which someone said something is central to understanding what they said. Are these the words of a bad character in one of their novels? Or are they quoting someone else? Were they being sarcastic or sincere?

Don't be a rumormonger. Your opinions are valuable. I may not agree with them, but I want to know that you have good reasons for having them. When any of us posts fake news, we can lose the credibility that all of us earnestly seek. Beware of flashy, click bait headlines. Yes, as an historian and editor I can assure you the truth is frequently stranger than fiction, but why succumb to the medicine show allure of what is essentially the digital version of the supermarket tabloid?

Get a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Go directly to the works of the particular author whose silhouette is emblazoned behind the words that your itching ears so long to hear. Why should you be guilty of bearing false witness, of spreading misinformation? Just because a person you like put it on their Facebook wall doesn't mean that you must. If you find out it is misattributed or outright fabricated, you can send a kindly worded, private message to the person to tell them what you discovered. Or you can simply not pass on what you now know isn't true.

If you stand up for truth, however seemingly insignificant, you are supporting your own dignity and that of other people.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Upwards, Onwards

I may be only nine weeks away from moving to South Korea. Today, I mailed my FBI background check to the DC State Department to be apostilled, and once that returns, I will send the packet of documents to Jeju-do. After that point, I wait.

A friend's mother died Sunday. He was in my high school class, and his mother was two years younger than mine. A heart attack. I know how something like this shakes you to your core. He's a good guy, with a wife and four children, and his mother was taking care of his ailing father. I went to the visitation, gave him a big hug, and told him we are praying for him. I know from personal experience that God is near to the brokenhearted.

Ovid advised, "Call no one happy until he is dead," with the implication that no matter how good someone has had it for most of their life, the other shoe could always drop. (This is the same guy who recommended his married male readers have more than one mistress, who advised women to fake orgasms and to giggle and simper instead of laughing out loud, and who spent the entire last part of his magnum opus brown-nosing Augustus Caesar. I think this helps to put his opinions in perspective: Great poet, lousy life coach). How about, rather than warning of potential sorrows, anticipating future joys?

On Sunday mornings, we are reading through Exodus, focusing on the life of Moses. The common practice is to divide the prophet's life into sections, with the education and experiences he accumulated during the first two contributing to his successful leadership in the third. Our pastor made three points (not the presumptively alliterative ones on the outline) in this last weekend's sermon which struck me deeply:

One: we become the gods we worship. The biblical example is the Israelites' choice of the golden calf at Mount Sinai, at which point they were behaving in a beastly manner themselves. But there are infinite ancient and contemporary examples--mostly idols, desires, and habits that tend to undermine our humanity and compassion for others.

Two: Moses's story culminated on Mount Horeb, not at the parting of the sea. His whole life was preparing him to die well, pointing forward to the Promised Land even as he took his last breath. This was a good reminder to me of what I should be pressing toward, even as I want to laze about, telling myself the untruth that I don't need to keep striving.

Three: Only go and do if God is with you. Don't decide the direction your life should take and then retroactively ask the Almighty to sprinkle holy water on it. On the other hand, follow God's direction and leading. The number of times I haven't asked for God's leadership and ended up flat on my face is astounding, as are the number of times that I have sat on my tail and done nothing when I most certainly was called to act.

Violette Leduc (1907-1972), French autobiographer and novelist, was an excellent (horrible) example of how not to live. Not so much because of her bisexuality as because of her poisonous narcissism--oddly, because she was convinced she was hideous and unlovable. And yet there were people who loved her, people who cared for her--most of whom she relentlessly drove away. She was a miserable human being, always tormenting herself and others, a black hole of emotional need who wrote books that repetitively recited her felt traumas and laid bare her past misdeeds. She didn't look up, out, or forward. Her affections were tiring and frustrated, and she felt lonely from childhood until death. Nowadays she is read only by handful of lesbian scholars and by researchers interested not in her but in her patroness Simone de Beauvoir.

Blogs are peculiar real-time memoirs. Intended for the public, or at least a public (of selected readers), there is a temptation on the part of the writer to present herself in the best possible light. Trying to be honest, she deliberately records some of her known misdeeds. But both her virtues and her sins aren't necessarily obvious to her at the time. Maintaining this effort for over a decade (it was twelve--or was it thirteen?--years last month) has shown me in many emotional states and fits of intellectual activity and lethargy. Recently, I've reread a scattering of old posts and been struck by how naïve I was at particular points in time (and how unconsciously ridiculous I sounded), and at others wondered how I managed to come up with such a good turn of phrase, since I don't think I am so capable now. One thing I do hope is that not only I but other readers will be able to see my maturation, however gradual, in this chronicle. And a growing sense of humor and gratitude. I want to finish well, whenever that day comes. Further up and further in, fellow Narnians!