Thursday, February 28, 2008


This is just a little note in case I don't post anything for a little while.

I'm just kind of tired. Nothing's wrong, it's just the typical mid-semester feeling of being pulled in eight different directions and everyone needing me for everything, and me getting no downtime whatsoever.

I also have a scratchy throat. And, save for the fact that I have an experiment that would FAIL if I couldn't come in every day to monitor it, I have to admit that at this point I'd almost welcome a sick day or two - not really badly sick, but sick enough to stay home and lie on the couch and watch old movies and drink hot chocolate.

But that's just the fantasy sick day, because I've only ever taken a sick day when I was throwing up frequently enough to make concentrating on a movie impossible, or when I had a migraine so bad that any kind of sensory stimulation is impossible.

So I'm just kind of tired out and running on empty more than usual and getting really fed up with my fellow humans (the other day I read an essay about how a lot of people who leave the church don't leave because of any doctrinal or belief reason; they leave because of the PEOPLE they have to deal with, and I can kind of understand that. Not that I have too many difficult people at church but it seems like every corner of my life right now has at least a couple of people who are the sort of people that Sartre must have had in mind when he famously said, "Hell is other people")

So I think I need to recharge for a little and try to find some funnier happier things to write about.

I'll still probably comment places, and show up on the FFOT this week; it's just I'm feeling spectacularly uncreative right now and so anything I wrote would either be a totally trival whine or...well, totally trivial.

Two (contrasting) things

1. Thank you for all the birthday wishes. Fortunately I did not get ambushed with some tacky death-themed over-the-hill party, and hopefully I can avoid the same next year. (One of the good things about looking young for your age - and being fairly closed-lipped about personal matters IRL - is that there are probably quite a few people who know me who aren't quite aware of how old I actually am).

Also, our secretary - who is usually the instigator of such things - had to take a personal day yesterday (one of her kids had knee surgery and she had to look after her). (Not that she's ever done one of those horrific parties but she's the person who reminds people about birthdays.)

And then there's the second, not so happy item:

2. I would call this, were I writing the post only about this, Big Giant FAIL.

Last night did not go well. One of the kids in the youth group is 13 and is having those horrible adolescent defiance issues (which, in my experience, seem to be worst in the youngest kid of a family, which this guy is). He would do nothing I or my co-leader - who happens to be his grandmother - asked him to. He wouldn't take his ballcap off indoors (which is kind of a rule we have. Well, he did take it off for the blessing before dinner, so at least he still respects God). He wanted to go and pick something up from a friend's house near the church and when we told him no, he needed to wait, we were going to do the lesson, he refused and wouldn't come up to the youth room. So finally his grandmother called her husband (his granddad) to come pick him up, that she would deal with him later.

He wound up begging to stay but then wouldn't play the game that everyone else was happily joining in on, after the lesson.

So he just wanted to be miserable and the unfortunate result was that it made everyone else miserable around him - I could tell several of the other kids were uncomfortable, they were looking around like, "What's up with that guy?"

The other problem is that kids from another family - a boy and two younger girls - just went through a divorce. So they were acting out, at least until the boy fell asleep during the lesson (I'm guessing, because he's the oldest, he's being charged with looking after his younger siblings, so I forgive him for sleeping). One of the little girls got so upset over something she got physically ill, and one of the other adults that was there (helping with the dinner) had to drive her home...

And again, I kind of understand why the kids are all messed up, why they're acting out. But it doesn't make it any EASIER. I kind of lost my composure last night when Kid #1 was refusing to do anything as part of the group, and Kid from Broken Family was arguing with his sisters and yelling at Kid #1. At one point I just looked at my co-leader and said, "I'm going home. Let's cancel the lesson and games. I cannot deal with this right now."

Well, after that people kind of calmed down, but it wasn't a very good lesson. (Well, maybe the lesson I prepared wasn't very good, I don't know).

But it frustrates me. Part of it is, I think, these kids deserve someone who can be more devoted to the program - not someone who's coming in after a full, full day of work (and a full day of dealing with difficult students and colleagues and computer malfunctions and all of that). They need someone who's fresh and who isn't almost used-up by the day, like I am. (And my co-leader is in the same boat; she is caring for very aged parents, one of whom has dementia).

The thing is, every time I bring this issue up -that maybe we should HIRE a college-student intern to do this, or at least get someone who isn't so busy, everyone immediately jumps to say what a terrific job we are doing, how important it is, etc.,etc.

That is not exactly answering the question.

What I am saying is NOT that I think we're not doing a good job (although some weeks I wonder about myself); it's that the kids deserve better - someone younger, someone with more enthusiasm, someone who's not already tired. Someone who's not doing it as an add-on to an already busy life.

I think they also need someone who's maybe a little more resilient than I am. Someone who's less prone to look at all the brokenness (and learning about the divorce of Kid #2's parents doesn't help) around me and just want to crawl in a hole and avoid people. Someone who can either tolerate or, better, squash the defiance of someone like Kid #1 instead of standing there and ineffectually saying, "PLEASE take off your ballcap; your grandmother asked you four times to do it"

And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Moses stuttered and Peter was impulsive. That still doesn't make me feel like there isn't someone who could do this better than I, it's just that no one seems to want to step up or even investigate getting someone else. (I suppose because we've had problems keeping employees in the Mother's Day Out program, there's reluctance to have to go through the whole interview/background check/hiring process for a youth leader who might only stay a couple months)

So anyway. I'm glad it's over for the week. I hope next week will be better.

Part of it is there's also just a lot of "drama" - real and manufactured - floating around. People with broken relationships (real drama), people getting needlessly upset over stupid things that happen and then wanting to spend hours "discussing" how bad they feel about the stupid things and how it's an insult to them to have to deal with them - and they want to do this "discussing" with someone who's already swamped with work and is sending off subtle "go away and leave me alone" signals.

I don't know. If this particular person tries to suck me into his Vortex of Gloom today I think I'm just going to look at him and go, "I have friends who just divorced, friends who may be divorcing, and other friends who are moving away. I can't deal with any more bad mood making stuff right now" and just cut him right off there.

And I'm really glad now I made plans to visit family over spring break, sometimes when I start getting that burned-out-I-want-to-run-screaming-from-this-place feeling going to see my family (who are SANE, who are calm, who are loving, who don't have unnecessary bad drama) helps a lot.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Well, tomorrow I turn 39.

I'm really hoping no one - if they're doing anything - is planning one of those "over the hill" parties (Technically, I suppose I'm not at risk of one of those until next year).

I hate those things with a passion. I hate them when they happen to other people and I will hate it if it happens to me. I'd actually rather people ignored my birthday totally. And yeah, I realize I'm being kind of humorless about it, and I probably just need to relax a little, but when I see those things, I see sort of a bottled-up hostility coming out: either "ha ha you're old and we're not yet" or "One of us! One of us! HAHhahahahaha you're closer to the grave now!" depending on the age of the people giving the party.

And all the black crepe, and the cemetery-themed stuff, and the gag gifts of walkers and wrinkle cream and even once (as God is my witness) adult diapers, that I've seen at those parties - they don't seem all that funny to me.

(They especially don't seem all that funny when you have a close relative who USES a walker, and a more-distant relative who has to use adult diapers. And I hope to God that no person who every actually HAS to use adult diapers, and is able to disguise that fact, winds up being the recipient of them as a gag gift, because that's just unintentionally cruel.)

So I'm starting to twitch a little, anticipatorily. I know, I know, people feel they have the "right" to do this - to, as I see it, humiliate one of their friends in this way. But I don't like it. It's uncomfortable and the person being subjected to it just has to smile and eat it because you can't look like an old grouch at a birthday party designed to, well, remind you of how OLD you are.

Why do people do stuff like that to each other in the name of "you're my friend"? I just see it as hostility. I'm totally not programmed to get the whole "I am going to tease you and humiliate you within an inch of your life and it's because I love you" thing - it seems like an awfully dysfunctional relationship to me.

It's kind of like the people who harass pregnant women by feeling up their bellies in public places, or who bother newlyweds, by making all kinds of broad jokes about how much sex they're having. Stuff like that. I can kind of understand it (maybe) in families where that's the mode of relating, but it irks me when relative strangers think they can get so personal. Because in my family? Not so much. You didn't make jokes about how old someone was or about a woman's pregnancy or about couples or anything like that. You related in a different way and it's hard for me to wrap my head around what I interpret as slightly-cloaked hostility having to be accepted as friendly gestures.

And honestly? I feel no need to mourn my "lost youth." There was a lot of crap I experienced in my 20s and even early 30s that I am glad I will never have to revisit. It's not like all of a sudden a switch has been turned off and I'm no longer attractive - I never was, that much, or at least not in the way that had men falling at my feet, so there's no loss-of-looks to mourn. (And you know? I think aging is a lot easier on a woman when her personality and brains are her stronger suits; personality often improves with age, and brains can too, if you keep learning)

And it's not like I'm weaker or sicker than I was - if anything, I'm physically stronger, and I'm as healthy as I ever was. So not only do I find the concept of the party annoying, I find the underlying premise - that one should be sad because one is approaching middle age - sort of baffling. It's one of those things society tells me I "should" feel (just like I "should" be miserable because I'm not married or "shacked up") that make me want to wave my hands around like I'm swatting flies and go "Society, go eff yourself"

And I don't like the societal implication that I have somehow become useless now that I hit this age - that the purpose of women is to be baubles or vessels-for-the-next-generation, neither of which being a role I have taken on. (Not that I have anything against women who choose either of those roles, it's just I wish that the arm-candy/earth-mother dichotomy wasn't, well, a dichotomy).

Do men get this kind of crap? (Well, except Ken, who seems to unfortunately be a magnet for it, maybe he even encourages it). I don't remember there EVER being an over-the-hill party for men of my acquaintance but I've been to several for women. So again, it's the whole "you're useful as a bauble or a breeder; other than that, we don't know how to pigeonhole you, so we're going to presume that you wished you were one of those two" attitude.

Also, tomorrow is my busiest day. So if people are going to hassle me about being old - when I'm doing twice as much work as a lot of people younger than I am - they better get out of the way, because my head might explode.

I'd be happier if my birthday were on a Saturday where I could actually go out and do something fun. I know, I could go out this coming Saturday but it's not the same...

shamelessly stolen...

..from Cute Overload, but this picture made me laugh out loud:

That is totally the essence of "oh crap, what do I do now?"

Tracey did it...

So I'm doing it too:

Name Five Traits About Others That Drive You Crazy:

(just five?)

Okay, so here goes:

1. Ingratitude when someone's doing something you won't do, or more specifically, the tendency to complain about the way other people are doing something without lifting a finger to help out. I suspect that most people who do some form of volunteer work deal with this on a regular basis. And it drives me CRAZY. Youth group: "The kids are too noisy" (how would you know? You're never down here on Wednesday nights). "They left shoe-marks on the tiled floor; can you please ask them not to wear tennis shoes in the fellowship hall?" (Um...some of these kids may have but one pair of shoes to their names; I will NOT micromanage to that degree. Would you rather see smudges on the tiled floor or a clean, pristine, perfect floor that no one ever walks on, because no one comes to church?). "Can't you CONTROL them better?" (There are two adults with a dozen or more teenagers. I don't see anyone else coming down to help CONTROL them. I am not Wonder Woman; I have no bracelets of power.)

Also, garden-variety ingratitude gets my goat. The people who put a worker in a shop to a lot of trouble for something and don't thank them. The people who treat the people serving them like dirt. (And yes, I do think that's a sort of ingratitude). The people who, when they're served a free meal, complain that the portions aren't big enough or that they really don't like the brand of ranch dressing served.

I also consider rudeness to waiters and shop assistants and people at the post office and checker-outers to be a form of ingratitude.

2. Intellectual laziness. I'm not talking about the occasional "I'm really beat so I'm going to sit down and watch SpongeBob SquarePants instead of reading Hegel" attitude. I'm not even talking about the "I'd rather laugh at SpongeBob SquarePants than cry over Hegel, so I'm not going to read him because I don't have to" attitude. I'm talking about people who are lazy in their jobs or at school. For example, students who, when given a month to write a paper on the current status and biology of a well-known endangered species, they wait until the day before it's due and then consult Wikipedia and some hunting magazine and consider that good enough.

And my attitude is: if you hate what you're majoring in enough to put that minimal an effort on a paper - especially when the prof has specifically outlined what he or she wants and suggested suitable sources to look in, you should consider another career. College is training for the job you're going to do. It's practice. It's also a chance to form good habits of thinking and research. If you're unwilling to put in the effort in college, do you really want to spend the next 40 years doing something similar?

Also: it is not HARD to find good resources. We have a library. We have all kinds of online journal databases with good information. I've offered to help students find stuff if they come to my office hours. I regard all of that as leading the horse to water. If it chooses not to drink, it's not my problem any more.

I select the assignments I give in my majors' classes fairly carefully so as to reflect what people might be doing in a career in the field. So if you can't see that - or if it's not important to you to "practice" what you're going to be doing in your career, find some other career.

And no, I don't buy the "This is my last four years to play!" attitude. You've had almost 20 years to play. Grow up and recognize that there's more to life than "play." Like, for example, the satisfaction of doing something well.

And besides - if you're doing it right, your career should feel like play at least some of the time.

3. People who take every random thing that happens as evidence that the world's out to get them and to thwart their happiness. People like this EXHAUST me. One thing I've learned is that 90% of the time when stupid random crap happens - like there's some directive from a micromanaging administrator which is going to turn out to make us do extra work - it is not because they want us to be unhappy, or they're punishing us, or something - it's just that someone made a stupid decision somewhere. Sometimes campus administrators don't have enough occupying their time and they think everyone is equally free, and so it should be no effort at all to, I don't know, ask us to move our offices so we are all in alphabetical order along the hall or something. There's this disconnect from what people who are actually "in the trenches" are doing every day, and sometimes that leads to things that look like they're being sent down to punish us. There's a great old saying: "Never attribute to malice what stupidity can explain." I use that one a lot. Because sometimes you just have to look at one of those "WTF were they thinking?" directives, and kind of shrug and grit your teeth and comply with it, but accept that it is not directed at you.

4. People who think they are the Most Important Person in the world. This includes the folks who have loud cell phone conversations in otherwise quiet restaurants, people who park straddling two parking places because they don't want their shiny new car to get dinged, people who park in the fire lane because they're "just going to be in the store a minute," people who decide they want to go on vacation so they call their professors up and tell them they have to offer them make-up exams because they're going to be off skiing or something during the scheduled exam. And also the people who think it's perfectly OK to drive their boom cars through the neighborhood at 1 am, waking up every person who actually has a responsible, taxpaying-type job.

The world's a big place and it has a lot of people in it. Things don't work if everyone expects that they always get their way 100% and that other people's desires or even rights don't matter.

5. Needy people. This is probably because I recognize "needy" tendencies in myself, but I tend to squash them down pretty hard, because I know how unattractive that trait is. But I have a really hard time with the student who 'adopts' me as her personal counselor (sorry, dear, but I'm not qualified and it's actually illegal for me to be offering advice on your personal problems). People who need to share all of their pain with everyone else around them - effectively turning the other people into their own personal trouble trees.

There comes a point where so many people are sharing their pain with me that I cannot bear it any more. I walk out of my door in the morning and all I can see are couples that have separated, children estranged from their parents, young adults who have hooked up with characters that aren't good for them, people in trouble with the law, and on, and on. And it makes me want to step back in my house, lock the door, and go and hide in my sewing room for a couple of weeks.

It also may be - and I realize this says something not very attractive about me - that I look at these people who are going around with this seemingly constant need for others to listen to them, to approve of them, to give them comfort, and I go, "No one cares about MY problems so I don't share them [well, except here on the blog, and you're reading this because you choose to]. No one is feeding me constant approval, no one is serving as my Linus Blanket. I'm making it all on my own and I am really no tougher than you. Either "man up" or find someone to give me the good stuff you're getting." Yes, it's a little jealousy. Jealousy because I come home at the end of the day, and if I've had a crap day, I just kind of have to shake it off and prepare for tomorrow - I don't have anyone (well, anyone in the sense of a physically present person) who can pat my head and go "poor sweet baby" and try to make me feel better.

And you know? Sometimes I kind of resent that. So I get frustrated by people who go around looking for random semi-strangers to pat them on the head and go "poor sweet baby."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stuff that makes me happy

It's not good to be alone (as on a Sunday afternoon) after getting difficult-to-digest news; it's too easy to brood. So I did a bunch of stuff to make me not-brood and to forget the news I had heard. Some of it made me happy just because it makes me happy; some of it made me happy because it was accomplishing something useful.

1. Wrote an exam for one of my classes. I don't GIVE this exam for just over a week and I may have to tweak it a bit if I don't cover all the material I think I'll get to cover. But it's good to have it done. I have another exam to write for a week from this coming Friday but I can do that during the week.

2. Made black bean soup. From scratch. Using my mother's recipe. It makes a LOT but I like cooking stuff on the weekend that makes decent leftovers - that way, when I get home at 6 pm during the week and am STARVING, I am less likely to turn to something less healthful or to do the "screw it, I'm just eating cereal for dinner" way of operating.

3. Also made a fruit cocktail cake. (Yes, cake. I've kind of gone back to the old "life is short and I'm going to eat healthfully but to the devil with this calorie-counting crap" attitude). It's a very simple cake - as fast to make as a mix - but it's surprisingly good. It's more like a coffee cake than a cake-cake, which means you don't need to frost it. Which is good, because I don't particularly like making frosting, and I'm not crazy about a lot of frostings. (Yes, I'm the person who sometimes scrapes the frosting off the birthday cake at work. I know it drives people nuts but sometimes frosting is too too sweet for me).

4. Watched a bunch of the Dirty Jobs marathon on Discovery. I love marathons of programs I like - love being able to tune in and tune out as I'm going about my business (in this case, exam writing and cooking and cleaning). I love Mike Rowe, too. I love his sort of put-upon humor and his general attitude of not putting-down the people who do the dirty jobs. Because honestly? When you need someone to clean the sewage out of a pipe for you, you should be damn happy that there's someone willing to come and do it, and not look down on them for that.

And Mike Rowe has those kind of piercing blue eyes that make me get a little pang in my solar plexus.

5. Cleaned up house a little bit. Did away with some accumulated junk mail, swept, put some stuff away. I like having a clean house; I can't work comfortably in one that's dusty or overly cluttered or dirty in some way.

6. Looked at the new Victoria magazine that came the other day. I love the "castle" in Vancouver they featured. If I ever get transported to an alternate universe where I happen to have buckets and buckets of money (and a reasonably secure expectation of continuing to make buckets and buckets of money), I'd like to hire craftsmen to build me a castle. And gardeners to maintain formal gardens. And aqua-culture experts to make fishponds and things on the property. And a good stonemason to build a giant fence around the whole thing so I could go in when the world starts to p*ss me off and lock the gate and walk around in my garden and dangle my toes in the fishpond and sit in my nice big quiet castle-house and escape.

Oh, I'd let people in, too. I might offer tours or do charity teas or something. Or have a library on the grounds that's open to the public. Or a museum. Or something. I just like having the option of locking up the gates when the world gets to be too much for me. Which it often does.

7. Read some in Pickwick Papers. I never realized before starting it what a FUNNY book this is - I mean, it might not be "funny" if your standards are South Park or the Farrelly brothers - but it's the kind of thing I find amusing, these sort of pompous but foolish figures going about their lives, and nothing too terrible seems to happen to them. They're almost comic heroes in the Aristotelean sense (I'm thinking back to Great Books...we had a guest lecturer about one of the books, maybe it was the Aristophanes play we read? All I remember is his talking about the concept of the comic hero and how he is a person who always lands on his feet...I particularly remember (and I guess this is how pop culture has corrupted me) his mentioning Bugs Bunny as a modern example.) They do stupid things, they claim to be more knowledgeable about stuff than they are, one character ALMOST gets in a duel because of a misunderstanding - and yet, everything resolves at the end and they head off on their next adventure. The resilience of it soothes me in a strange, even though there's bad stuff going on around me, maybe somehow everything can rebound and be fixed and be right again.

It seems to me - and maybe I've not read enough Dickens to make a fair assessment of this - but Pickwick Papers is one of his "sunnier" works, where there really aren't downtrodden poor or people with strange psychological problems (that weren't recognized as such in that day). Oh, true, there's "fat Joe," the narcoleptic boy, but he's not really a figure of pity the way some of Dickens' characters are.

8. Put on some crazy bombastic music and sang along. Bobby Darin is good for this. I also dug out my box set of Sammy Davis, Jr. CDs, because I hadn't listened to them in a while and there's some good stuff on there. That's actually near the top of my list of cheer-myself-up strategies and it has been for years.

9. Am contemplating doing something, either on one of my "free" afternoons this coming week, or better yet, on Saturday, to celebrate my birthday. A number of new stores have opened here in town - one that bills itself as an upscale-gift type store, and another that's kind of a big mix (they call themselves a "variety" store but they feature a lot of antiques). I could go to those. Or I could take a whole day and go to the nice, boutique-filled area about an hour south of me and spend the whole day going to antique stores. I haven't decided yet for sure but I feel like I want to do SOMETHING. Part of my malaise, I think, is that I get into these cycles of doing things for so many other people - so much volunteer work - and although I know it's important and I mostly enjoy it and supposedly a former prof of mine claimed I'd get "gold stars in my crown" for it, still, there comes a point where you feel like it's too much. Isn't there a saying that goes something like "too much sacrifice makes a heart a stone"? I kind of feel that way when I sacrifice too much of my free time for the good of others; I begin to get a little resentful and then begin to feel like, "They damn better well THANK me for this," which isn't the point and is a signal to me that I need to draw back a little.

10. Made plans for my spring break. I was originally going to stay in town and set up an experiment but I realized that the phenology of the plant I'm using is such that it won't be ready for me to set up the experiment that early. So rather than sit in town for a week and SAY I'm going to work on papers (but then probably not because I never work well on what I think is supposed to be my 'vacation'), I made arrangements to go visit my parents over the break.

Now, I know some of you with more challenging family situations might not think that would be much fun or a very pleasant spring break. But I LOVE my parents a whole lot, I get along with them well, and I miss having them nearby, and also, they're in their 70s and they've both had some minor medical scares over the past couple I'm well aware (too aware, sometimes, when I wake up at 3 am and all the things that torture me when my mind's not occupied come to visit me) that they won't be here forever, so I'm going to visit them when I can. (It's harder for them to travel - my father's knees are in very poor shape and sitting for long periods is hard on him, and also they have a couple of extremely geriatric cats who have to receive medication daily). So it's a lot easier for me to travel than it would be for them.

I called them to tell them and they seemed very happy, my dad in particular. He started talking about this new fancy restaurant that has opened up up there and how he wants to take me to it when I visit (I guess his low-salt diet is flexible enough to allow restaurant food sometimes). And they even offered to pay for my tickets up there, which I'm not sure I am going to take them up on....part of me is like "Whoo-hoo, free money!" and part of me is like, "But they're RETIRED..."

The only bad thing is I miss my dad's birthday by just a couple days - if spring break were a little earlier this year, I could be there for it. But oh well, it's only a couple of days.

broken world

I found out two pieces of not-happy-making news today.

First, a couple of good friends of mine are moving. Now, they have good reasons - they are moving to be close to an adult daughter who is having some serious problems and will probably need prolonged help and care. But still, they are moving AWAY, and will leave holes, not just in my life, but in several volunteer groups they worked with.

That's the less-bad of the bad news. Because although I'm sad they're leaving, I understand and respect their reasons.

The other piece of news - well, I can't really share it, even with people who probably don't know the people involved, because I've been asked not to. But it's the sort of complicated, interpersonal, problematic, messy, sad-making stuff. It's going to have a lot of bad repercussions beyond even the people who are involved. And there is - as so often the case - literally nothing I can do to help the situation but pray.

The other difficult side of the situation is that when the situation becomes public, those of us who know the people involved will probably be encouraged (by people outside the situation) to take sides. I DO NOT WANT TO TAKE SIDES. I am sad enough about the situation without feeling the need to inject myself in it. It will also probably be a gossip generating situation and that kind of thing makes me want to smack my forehead against the wall. (And my S.O.P. is going to apply here: anyone who wants to try to pump me for gossip is going to hit a big wall of obfuscation, subject changing, and attempts to subtly shame the person into feeling bad about trying to pump me for information.)

I honestly do not understand the people who want to create drama - who stir the shit, to use a vulgar expression. The ones who figuratively throw rocks at hornet's nests to see what comes out. Because I find there's enough sadness to go around without my looking to cause any myself. I also don't understand the felt need of some people to put themselves closer to a sad situation - as I said before, to inject themselves into it. Just being a bystander is more than enough for me.

So I don't know. I have a feeling I'm going to be even less tolerant this week of the "Poor Me! Woe is me!" plaints of a particular person I know - when the woe-causing things are things I can look at and go, "it's stupid but not fatal to my happiness" and move on.

I also turn a year older this week. Whoopee. Another year close to being completely and totally invisible. And it happens on a day when I'm going to be too busy to even go out to lunch, so I'm not even going to really celebrate at all.

I think it's time for me to stop watching the news for a while, because I can tell this is the kind of week where I'll start screaming at my tv if I do.

I know, according to theology, that I shouldn't be surprised at the "brokenness" of the world, but it still kind of blindsides me sometimes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"it's for SCIENCE"

I thought I wasn't going to have any inspiration to post about today (trying to talk about happy positive things rather than go into the Slough of Despond that some people about me seem to be doing).

Then I started writing what promised to be a hugacious comment on Ken's Mythbusters post, so I moved it over here.

Ken was talking about the MacGuyver episode of Mythbusters. My particular favorite out of that episode was the sodium bomb. I was thinking about that and I just had an intro-college-chem flashback. The prof we had (well, for that four weeks of the class - I hate team-taught classes with a passion, always have, always will) was the most awesome guy. I had the biggest teacher-crush on him ever. He was not a very big guy, blond, kind of unassuming looking (not unlike Peter Davison - from "All Creatures Great and Small" and he was also one of the iterations of Dr. Who).

But this quiet, unassuming guy was nuts for blowing stuff up. One day he walked into class (it was one of those big lecture halls with high ceilings and a bit of distance between prof and students) with a balloon and a long stick with a splint on one end. He let the balloon go, it floated up to the ceiling above him. He talked a bit about lighter-than-air gases, about helium and hydrogen and all that.

Then he lit the splint.

Taking the long stick in his hands, he lifted the burning splint up to the balloon.

LOUD explosion, considering it was just a small balloon. He had filled it with hydrogen and was showing us the explosive power of H2. He talked about how blimps are no longer filled with hydrogen. He talked about what the reaction was that had just taken place and why it happened.

He smiled out at us (he had certainly awakened all the football players in the back row) and said, quietly, "Any day I can blow something up for science is a good day."

He also did the sodium reaction with water. He came in with small jars of lithium and sodium, put on rubber gloves, carefully (under mineral oil) cut off a chunk of each, and (separately) placed each in water. The lithium fizzed and sparked a little; the sodium skated on the surface of the water and made a nice little orange flame.

"I'd like to show you potassium, too," he said regretfully, "But they won't let me have it."

Okay, maybe he was a little crazy. But I totally had the teacher-love for him - because he was so funny and self-effacing and because he went to the effort to bring in all this crazy crap to show us.

I know there were other demonstrations - I think he did the so-called "clock" or "Halloween" reaction, where a solution changes between black and orange in regular cycles. (I want to say there was also one that changed between blue and yellow, which were the school colors, but maybe I dreamed that.)

I can't even remember the guy's name (It's 20 years ago, now, and I don't think he got tenure - he was gone the next year, may have just been a one-year fill in), but I loved that class with him, loved going to class to see what I was going to learn that day (and to see what he was going to blow up). And I was sad when he finished up and was replaced by a (seriously) nearly senile guy who read from crumbling yellow notes (that were probably older than I was) and spent an entire class period talking about how he found a book in Russian on the periodic table while he was in Russia. (I remember particularly him talking about how "Hess" was transliterated in Cyrillic. Of course, I can't remember who the "Hess" was he was talking about....)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On books, and book-like objects

As most of you know, I own a lot of books.

Probably more than I will read in what remains to me of my lifetime, even given that women in my family are extraordinarily long-lived.

I like books. I enjoy having them around. I enjoy arranging them on shelves, pulling one off here and there and opening it up to read a bit of it. I like having the books I've already read around, to refer to, to look up quotations in, to re-read particularly heartwarming or instructive or funny or just plain good passages out of.

I think books are a good technology. You can use them anywhere, provided you have sufficient light to read by - out on a trail in the middle of the forest, in your own bathtub at home, in a car going down the highway (ONLY, I hasten to add, if you are a passenger!), curled up in bed, at the park while your children play on the monkey-bars, in the doctor's waiting room. Even by the side of the road while waiting on the tow truck after your car broke down. (Not that I would probably be in a frame of mind to read in that case, but a person COULD.)

I've seen the various new "readers" - basically a computerized "book" that has files on it that you can read through by scrolling, rather like on a computer screen. I have to admit that although I like the idea of a "book" that you could fit the contents of 15 or 20 actual, physical books on (or more; I have no idea of the storage power of the newer models of these items), I have to admit they leave me a little cold. If you like them, fine, more power to you: they're just not something I can get into.

I like books because, well, they're BOOKS. Every one is a little different. Some of them have their own particular scents. Some creak a certain way (especially the older ones) when you open them. The covers differ - some paperbacks are slick and shiny, some have a slightly pebbly feel, some have a nice satiny finish to the cover. The paper differs - the cheap, now-self-destructing paper of 1940s pulp novels, the lovely cream-laid paper of some of the more expensive scientific books I have, the thin tissue-y paper in my Bibles. (every Bible I own, every translation - and I have three or four - is like that. I suppose it's to make it more compact).

I think part of my disappointment with the e-readers is that although the material you're reading is different, the aesthetic experience is the same every time. And you know, that's kind of important to me. The aesthetic experience with a book.

I also love used books. I don't have as ready access to them as I once did; the nearest decent used-book store is 1/2 hour away. One of the things I love most about used books is how sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll open one and something, some missive from the past, will fall out - a pressed four-leaf clover. A newspaper clipping. A letter. A recipe someone wrote out quickly on the back of an envelope. These things are wonderful and mysterious - why did the book I buy have a partial account of Miss Debra Castleberry's cotillion pressed in it? Why is there a flattened, yellowed carnation in the middle of this old cookbook? Is "Aunt Hitt's reciept" for rice timbales any good? Why did someone save the radio programming listings for May 8, 1949?

I like that feeling of wondering connection - the realization that someone, maybe many years before me, held that same book in their hands. Owned it. Read it. Maybe, if it is a pattern-book or a cookbook, made something described in it. (I can often tell with cookbooks; the pages with paprika stuck to them or with spots from grease or fruit juice). It, oddly enough, makes me feel a little less alone. (I like used books and will usually buy the used one over the new one if given a choice).

I also like seeing how other people deal with there books - I have two big volumes about this. One is called "At home with books" and the other is called, I think "decorating with books."

I enjoyed browsing through the writer's rooms that Sheila linked to a while back, especially the darkish ones lined with bookshelves. (Even though I can't write well in a messy room, I like the messy ones too.)

(And I admit - looking at some of the rooms that make me happy, if they belong to a writer I've never read, like Beryl Bainbridge, it makes me want to read them, just to see if their writing somehow carries a little sense of that room in it).

And I love the staircase that Brian Micklethwait posted about the other day. (Alas, I live in a one-story house or I'd be trying to figure out if someone could build one of those for me.)

I am a member of the Folio Society. For me, it is a kind of expensive affectation but I do like the books - big, heavy, hardbound, with good paper and actual illustrations in them. (I maintain that adults should get illustrated books just as children do - maybe not as many illustrations, certainly, there needs to be enough room for all the words - but I do like the occasional illustration). I tend to order books every fall that are slated to come out at different times. So it's always kind of exciting when I get a package-slip indicating I have a Folio Society box waiting for me at the post office - I never remember what I ordered, what I'm still waiting to come. So it's a little bit like Christmas.

One of the ways I sometimes soothe myself a little when I'm having a bad week is promising myself that as soon as I can find time to make the (hour's round-trip) drive to the nearest bookstore, I'll go. Even if I just browse without buying anything (though that is rare). Or I'll tell myself I can order something from Amazon - last spring I went for that Prime shipping, and it's been worth it to me - being able to get an in-stock book in 2 days (sometimes it's only one!) is wonderful.

Every evening ends for me with my reading a bit before bed. If I have a meeting that runs late or I have to be out somewhere and get home and it's so late I go to bed without reading, I don't sleep as well.

I always travel with books, even if it's just a day-trip somewhere (you never know - you never know when your car might break down. Or when the bridge you have to cross to get back home might collapse. Or something might happen that traps you away from home, and if you don't have a book, you have nothing to DO). I take several books when I travel for longer than overnight. It is partly a "security blanket" thing and I openly admit that - for me, books are totems of home. Home and comfort. They are also an escape. I often travel with at least one scholarly book, because if I wind up sitting next to some kind of strongly opinionated chatterbox (the worst kind) or boor, I can pull it out, smile apologetically, and make some kind of half-truth about "having" to read the book for my career. And in waiting rooms, in concourses waiting for meetings to begin, anywhere - a book is a good way of closing yourself off from the world if you don't want to interact just then. (I'm really not that antisocial or unfriendly; it's just that I get overwhelmed easily in crowds, and the book becomes an item of defense. A way of protecting my brain from the "too much" out there, but also a way of sending a signal, "Hey! Friendly person who wants to talk to me about what Obama can do for me! Not now! Thank you."

They are probably my favorite object of everything around me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

not angry

I haven't lately talked about politics much on here. I think it's because I'm coming to such a strong distaste for political discourse that I'd rather escape and talk about other stuff.

I was reminded of this this afternoon. In the building where I work, all our offices are down one long hall. You can hear what other people are saying in their offices, if they are talking at all loudly if they have their doors open.

And a couple of my colleagues were talking. About how bad off the country was, how the wal-mart-ization of our nation was proceeding apace, how soon there'd be limitations on what you could say or write, how the economy was screwed and everyone was gonna die, etc., etc.

And you know? Not really my experience. Sure, we have some problems. Every nation does. A lot of people are having money problems right now and I sympathize with them - especially with those who got there through no fault of their own (job losses or whatever). Hell, I even sympathize with the people who spent like fools and are now in serious debt. I'm not gonna help 'em out, but I feel for them.

But you know? I'm not doing badly at all. I have a good job. I get an easily-live-on-able paycheck at the end of each month. Granted, I'm frugal, I don't go on fancy vacations or eat out very much or drive a very new car or have an iPod or an iPhone. I don't spend much on clothes - it's an unusual month I spend $100 on stuff to wear. But I do okay. And I'm happy. I have enough money to put some away for the future, enough to buy my spinach and Laughing Cow Lite! cheese and tomato soup and canned beans. I have enough to buy a book if I see one that I want. I don't feel too pinched by my digital cable and home internet subscription.

So I can't really feel anger on my own behalf at how the economy's going. I can't feel - and think it would be wrong to feel - that I am somehow being personally cheated in all of this. I'm grateful for my career - as I said, it pays well. And moreover, it's interesting. I do something a little different every day. And I have a certain level of security - tenure means that something would have to go seriously wrong for me to be let go, and that seriously-wrong would almost certainly be something I'd see coming far down the road. (And even if it weren't? I have some savings. And if worse came to worse, my parents would take me back in. Or my brother and sister in law would take me in. People have got my back even if my back doesn't need getting right now).

So for me, feeling angry about what's going on...well, it seems kind of wasteful. Like I'd be getting my blood pressure up for no good reason. One thing I think I need to work on, considering that my dad has an arrhythmia and high blood pressure, and my younger brother was briefly on blood pressure meds before he quit a job he hated, is to limit things that unnecessarily stress or upset me, that screw with my heart and vascular system. I need to work on NOT screaming "*sshole! *sshole! *sshole!" in my car at the guy who is taking too long to park at the wal-mart. I need to work on letting go, on shrugging and saying, "So I'll be 5 minutes later getting home, big whoop."

Anger can be a useful emotion but only when it motivates you to fix something that's wrong or to correct some injustice. Getting angry because one of the teachers at your kids' school is unfair and being a jerk to your kid, so you then go have a conference with the teacher and iron things out - that's useful. Getting angry because you see someone mistreating horses in your neighborhood and calling Animal Welfare on them and getting the horses moved to a better place to live - that's useful.

But it seems to me sitting around bitching about the state of the nation - when you're not going to actually do anything (and I'd say there's little we can do, concretely, about the state of the nation) is kind of useless. I'd rather go out and pick up trash in my neighborhood because at least I can drive down the street the next day and feel good because I made the street cleaner than it was.

I think that's maybe fundamentally it for me: I'd rather feel good than feel bad. I'd rather do something, even something small, than talk about what's wrong. I'd rather feel like I can do something, anything, to make things better - even if it's a tiny little thing like picking up trash on my street. The big bad stuff I can't really do much about (other than, you know, pray) I just generally don't let affect me. (I really honestly don't worry that much about Iran getting the bomb. There's nothing I can do other than voting for the person I think is most likely to be tough with them and not let them bully their neighbors).

Maybe I'm being stupid. I don't know. I do know it seems that some of my friends are going around awfully beaten down, awfully angry, awfully upset over things they have little control over. And it makes me not want to associate with them when they're in that mood, because it rubs off on me. I don't like walking around feeling paranoid. Feeling like "they're out to get me." Feeling like nothing I can do ever will improve anything because everything is so screwed up so hopelessly that it will never be RIGHT again.

Another, very campus-specific form of this pessimism I hear is this: "The students we get are lazy/unprepared/stupid and it's only getting worse. Woe is us! In five years they won't even be able to read any more!" I don't THINK that's true. And even if it is, there's not a heck of a lot I can do about it. I'd rather focus on the funny kind smart students I have, teach to them, and tell myself "Ever since Aristotle people have been complaining about the up and coming generation being the end of civilization and it's not happened yet; it probably won't happen this generation."

Maybe I'm being delusional but it gets me through the day. I'd rather look for the bright side than always be in DOOOM and GLOOOOM mode.

So maybe I do kind of withdraw a little. I'd rather spend my time laughing at the peregrinations of the Pickwick Club, or flipping through my quilting books going "I want to make that one next! No, I want to make THAT one next!" or working on my garden or writing a research paper or trying to come up with some new way to make what I'm teaching interesting to the students.

Friday, February 15, 2008

at the restaurant

I went out to lunch today. I had some errands to run, so since I was in the next town over (bigger than where I live), I decided to go to one of the tex-mex places there.

This is a chain - I hadn't heard of it before I moved here - it kind of bills itself as a "family cantina." The food at this particular franchise is fairly good, and it's a friendly enough restaurant for the solo diner. (There is a restaurant or two I won't eat at here, after having bad experiences - like sitting for 10-15 minutes before a server came over at a time when the restaurant was NOT at all busy, and having her say, "Oh...I thought you were waiting for someone" after I had specifically told the person seating me I was alone. And there is another one where I get this subtle feeling of the stink-eye, so I just avoid them. Anyway.).

I was sitting in a booth, across from me was a table with a mom, her 3 to 4 year old daughter, the mom's mom, and another woman who was either an aunt of the girl or a friend of the mom.

The mom had given her daughter her cell phone (turned off) to occupy her while they were waiting for their food. The little girl said, "OK, I'm gonna call my boyfriend." She then proceeded to make a "call" and started talking in this crazy loud complainy voice. Just like some teenaged and 20 something girls DO to their boyfriends.

Her mom was going, "Jessica! Inside voice! Inside voice! Don't make me take you out to the car!" I happened to look over as Jessica started doing it (she was kind of loud) and happened to catch her grandma's eye.

And we both just busted out laughing.

Because, in a way, it was kind of terrible - she's SO YOUNG to have picked up that attitude. But on the other hand, it was hilariously funny - this tiny little kid perfectly aping a spoiled 19-year-old girl.

It almost reminded me a bit of those "Pearl" videos that Will Ferrell did. (Except without the swears).

Little kids are really funny sometimes.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thoughts and prayers

There's been another school shooting. This time it's Northern Illinois University, a school I know a little about - I did a summer course up there, I know (slightly) a few people in the Biology department. I have a basic familiarity with the campus (But cannot remember which building Cole Hall was - what department).

This kind of thing makes me sad. While I guess I understand on an intellectual level someone being messed up enough that they want to do a "Top 'o' the World, Ma!" type exit, emotionally....emotionally I just have a certain revulsion, a sense of "what a giant effing waste."

I don't know what's screwed up in people - or if we're just hearing it more because it makes for sexy news. (Kind of necrophiliac-sexy news, when you think of it). Maybe people always did this. I don't know.

I do know I'd like for it to stop. For the people who are depressed or angry or upset or desperate or whatever to go and get meds, get counseling, get religion, whatever it takes, so they don't do these things. Or if they're bent on taking themselves out, that they do it solo. Even that's a bad solution (speaking as someone who is a relative of a suicide).

But my main feeling now is for the families. I hope all the kids who were in that vicinity and are OK (well, physically OK. It will probably take a while for them to be emotionally OK after that) called their families or friends right away to check in. And I hope no one else dies, that the folks in hospital get better and are able to go back to school.

I can't even really work up a lot of anger towards the kid who did this. I'm mostly kind of sad - sad that someone thought that was the only solution to the problems in their life.

One thing I can say about getting older - it may suck in certain ways (more aches and pains, gray hair, can't eat the way I used to) - you do gain the benefit of perspective, and come to realize that almost anything that looks life-changingly horrible one evening will look not quite so horrible the next morning. And less horrible the day after that. And even if it doesn't look less horrible, there are people out there who can help you do what can be done to fix it.

(Update: oh shit, it was a geology course. I wonder if my dad knew the prof involved (I guess the prof is OK?). Makes me shudder to think of the situation.)

Happy Valentine's Day

From (of course) I Corinthians, chapter 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and angels,
but have not love,
I have become sounding brass or a tinkling symbol.

And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing.

And if I dole out all my goods, and
if I deliver my body that I may boast
but have not love, nothing I am profited.

Love is long suffering,
love is kind,
it is not jealous,
love does not boast,
it is not inflated.

It is not discourteous,
it is not selfish,
it is not irritable,
it does not enumerate the evil.
It does not rejoice over the wrong, but rejoices in the truth

It covers all things,
it has faith for all things,
it hopes in all things,
it endures in all things.


And you know, that kind of sums up my dissatisfaction with what Valentine's Day has become.

Nowhere in there does it say "Love buys diamonds for its beloved."
Nowhere does it say "If you spend enough money, you get a 'free pass.'"

No. It makes the much harder requirement. (And before I go any further: the "love" being referenced is, of course, not merely romantic love, but rather the love we are all expected to have for our fellow humans. Even the ones who make themselves unlovable. Perhaps, especially, the ones who make themselves unlovable).

Love wants what's best for the other person. It's not kind of holding back, kind of going, "I'll do this but there better be something in it for me." It doesn't keep score - "Well, he screwed up in this way and that way and that way last week, so I'll just remember those and hold them over his head when he wants something from me."

It doesn't boast. It doesn't force itself on others.

It's really hard, I openly admit it, for me to have that kind of love for my fellow human. (I must confess: the other day, when I wrote about going to the wal-mart at 4 pm - when I encountered the first Special Snowflake, I was sitting in my car, shouting "*sshole! *sshole! *sshole!" at him. No, he couldn't hear me, of course. But I was still agitated and angry and I still could not love him at that moment).

I don't think any of us can have that kind of constant and abiding love for our fellow human for all the time. That doesn't mean we shouldn't work on it. But it's a hard task.

Sometimes I wonder - thinking, as I do, of the Fall as more allegorical explanation for characteristics ingrained in human nature than as a literal account of "this is how it really happened," if the real Fall of humanity happened when the first man committed the first malicious act against another man. I'm not talking about simple predation or competition like animals do; I'm talking about the first premeditated act, done not out of a need to survive or to get food or any of those basic survival needs, but the first act done to wound the feelings of another - and done specifically for that purpose. I wonder if that's when our eyes were maybe "opened," and we became like God in the sense that we now had the power to either comfort or wound. (But we have not God's wisdom to make us want to AVOID wounding)

I think a lot of - if not all - of the things that we think of as sin (at least, those of us who still use the concept of sin) can be traced back to that fundamental selfishness, that desire to have your own, and the heck with the other. Traced back to not loving one's fellow man.

I don't know. I do know it makes me sad to think of some people using Valentine's Day as a way to try to buy the love or forgiveness of the other person in their life. If you really do have love for that other person, if you are kind and loving most of the time (no one is all of the time), a card or some kind of silly inexpensive gift should suffice. Because you're showing the person love - you're doing love - the whole year through.

It also makes me sad to think that Valentine's Day, at least when you're an adult, is aimed at one type and one type only of love - romantic love. For those of us who don't have it in our lives (or don't have it at this moment), it makes the day a tiny bit bitter. It makes it just a little harder to think of the love we DO have - be it love of parents, or of God, or of good friends, or of children - and be grateful for it. Because some folks, it seems, see those other kinds of love (which frankly, in my life, have been far more faithful and far more abiding than romantic love) as somewhat of a "second prize." You know, it's the single "losers" who talk about how much they love their friends. Or how they're happy they have a close relationship with family.

And that just is sad. Because I've found that when the guy left me, when he started dating another woman without telling me when we had earlier made a sort of "exclusivity" pact, when he claimed that "following his bliss" meant his going somewhere he knew I couldn't follow - the ones who were there to console me, to tell me, "He doesn't deserve you, and he proved it by doing THAT," who said, "It doesn't matter anyway; you're a strong person and you don't need a man to depend on" or "You do not deserve to be treated like that" were my friends and my family.

It's too bad, really, we don't have a day - or that we don't take back Valentine's Day - to celebrate THAT kind of love. (Well, OK, there's Mother's Day and Father's Day but that doesn't cover a lot of the people who love me)

I may have fewer than 10 people in my life I can count on that way - people that, no matter what happened, no matter what awful thing I had to phone them up about, would still listen to me, still commiserate with me, still LOVE me (even if they were telling me they were going to "kick my ass" for me being stupid and getting into whatever problematic situation it was). They're the ones I'd want to sent a Valentine to, to thank them for their loyalty and their love.

I can't even believe this.

"911, Can you hold?"

it's this news story.

A woman in Bucks County, PA, died in a fire. She was disabled and could not get out of the house on her own. It's possible the 911 delay contributed to her death - it is said the phone rang 7 times before someone picked up, and then she was placed on hold.

"911, can you please hold?"

I'm sorry, but absent a disaster/event on the scale of September 11, 2001, those are words you should never hear. I'm not big on the entitlement mentality - as you are all well aware - but I do think the ONE government service we should be able to trust will help us is the 911/fire/police/EMTs.

Apparently there were 10 dispatchers on duty. They were not all busy. Apparently there was some "handing off" of the woman's case, causing further delay.

Once the firefighters WERE dispatched, it took them 5 minutes to arrive at the woman's house. Which is why I say the delay only possibly contributed to her death - 5 minutes, in a house fire, is easily long enough for a person to die. But still. Can you imagine the agonizing last minutes, wondering if anyone cared enough to help you. I mean, the people your tax dollars pay for.

And I realize I'm reading this through a very particular set of lenses: I live alone. If there were a major emergency and I needed help, it would be horrifying to be told to wait, to hold, and then have to listen to the balls-up as people try to figure out where I am.

Granted, I'm not disabled, so in many cases I'd be able to take care of things myself. But if I were, say, bleeding to death, I'd really hope that someone would be competent enough to dispatch the ambulance to where I was.

And yeah, I have some prior history with seeing the ineptitude or uncaringness of dispatchers: a woman I know who used to live here, one evening, saw one of her neighbors chasing his adult son up and down the street with a shotgun, cursing at him and threatening to shoot. This was while her children were playing outside. After getting the children in, she called 911. The operator first didn't believe her (???) and then said that it didn't seem like a major problem to her. (Yeah, right: a possibly-drunk, angry man, running through a residential area waving a gun and threatening to shoot it.)

And a couple years ago, when we had a minor fire in my classroom building, the dispatcher sent the firefighters to the wrong building on campus. Because, you know? "Biology Building" and "Science Building" just HAVE to be the same thing.

(The campus safety-guru was pretty pissed about that and I understand he gave that dispatcher a piece of his mind. We had even told the woman the address of our building. And I know, because I was the one who made the 911 call. And I was CALM. I was articulate. I said where the fire was, what the address was, even what the two nearest cross streets were. I verified a second time the building name. And they sent the firefighters to the wrong building!)

So anyway. I have real issues with the idea that when you need help, when it might be a matter of life and death, you can't depend on the people whose job it is to help you. And no, I'm not expecting the paramedics to come out for every little splinter or scrape - I drove myself to the ER the one time when I was concerned I was having a medical problem large enough to merit it (allergic reaction to fire ant bites). But I hope that if I ever wake up some morning and realize that I'm having a stroke, or if some lunatic breaks into my house and rapes and injures me seriously, that I can call 911 and NOT be told "hold, please."

The real kicker? The operators who told her to hold, who basically dropped the ball, are getting "disciplinary letters" in their files, and that's it.

Now, I understand: 911 and the paramedics won't save people in every case. There may be situations where time is just too short for the person for them to be saved. But they should at least make a damn effort!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

spammity spam spam

I just gone one entitled:

"Great Valentine's Day advice from Hillary!"

Oh, man, the jokes just write themselves...

funny ad

OK, OK, I've talked before about how much I hate most of the "buy buy buy spend yourself into debt or else they won't LOVE you!!!!" ads, or the "if you wanna get a little somethin' somethin' from your honey, you better buy her stuff, preferably stuff that will remind her of sex" Valentine's Day ads.

But I saw one last night that made me laugh because it was just silly and wonderful.

It was for Hallmark - apparently they have cards now that will play at least a snippet of a song (and not the little doodle-doo MIDI versions that they had a few years ago; it's the actual recording by the actual artist)

Anyway. A middle-aged man and woman, conservatively dressed, are sitting together in a car. The woman turns to the man and says, "It's Valentine's day again. I got you something." and hands him a card. He opens it, and it begins to play (IIRC), "Can't Fight this Feeling Anymore"

Flashback time! (except without the Wayne's World wavy lines)

It's the 80s. Guy is in a metal band - the big hair, the Spandex, everything. They're playing a gig. He looks out over the audience. There's this girl. Big 80s hair. Studded dog-collar. Those little lace fingerless gloves that I secretly still think are kind of cool. Instant love (or maybe she's his girlfriend already, not entirely clear). He beckons to her, reaches out his hand to help her up on stage.

Back to 2008!

Man and woman are back in the car, back in their conservative suits.

Guy looks at woman, they remember their past, and then they're necking.

I don't know, I thought it was kind of funny because it was (a) unexpected and (b) it didn't seem to show the implied greed that a lot of ads have - she got him a card that reminded him of "back in the day" and that's all it takes to make them realize why they fell in love in the first place.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fair Warning

This is going to be one of those "People disappoint me in so many ways" posts.

I went to the Wal-mart after work. I had no choice - I realized this morning while packing my little lunch that I was, after I packed it, out of several necessary components. And taking a lunch tomorrow is not negotiable, because it's my busy teaching day, and I don't have time to go home. (And getting something out is out of the question - except for Subway, which I kind of loathe, most of the restaurants that take less than an hour to eat at all serve deep fried greaseballs).

So I had to go.

It was 4 pm when I got there. Worst. Time. Ever.

First of all - at my local wal-mart, several of the 'aisles' in the parking lot are narrow and are designated one-way. No biggie, I can deal with that. I pulled into one that was known for having places even when the store was busy (as I know it would be).

And I wound up behind this guy. Guy in a big pickup. Just sitting there. Blocking the aisle.

Now, people do this a lot and I admit it's something that infuriates me - they vulture over a space that MIGHT come open in the next 10 minutes, where the person's unloading their cart, strapping kids in car seats, stuff like that. I don't have a problem with it if you're pulling in a lane and you see someone's backing-lights come on - that's fine and good. I do that myself. My problem comes when it would be FASTER for you to stop blocking traffic and take that space that is open some 30 feet down the aisle.

Look: If you are impaired physically to the point where walking an extra 30 feet is a hardship, apply for a handicapped permit. There are always approximately 82 empty handicapped spaces at the wal-mart, no matter how full the lot is otherwise. Get the tag, park in the handicapped space, and leave the aisles open for the rest of us preparing to drive out to Siberia to find a spot to park in.

Otherwise - suck it up and walk the extra 30 feet. It will not kill you, I can assure you of that.

Anyway, this special snowflake had to sit, blocking the aisle, waiting on a space - but I could not see any space that was apparently forthcoming. No guy with 10 bags of Ol' Roy he was shuffling into the back of his pickup, no mom hustling to get her three kids belted or car-seated so she could go home and cook dinner.

No, special snowflake was just sittin' there.

I don't THINK his truck had broken down; it was idling and the hazard lights were not on (but hell, no one uses their turn signals around here, so probably people haven't even heard of hazard lights).

I sat there for several minutes, stewing (I have a LIFE to live. Or some semblance of a life. Or, if you want to believe that woman writing that thing in the Atlantic about single women needing to "settle" on the first XY creature that is demonstrably human, I have my pathetic uncoupled existence to return to so I can cry myself to sleep over having made the wrong choice with my life.) Anyway. Mr. Special Snowflake (and seriously, that woman writing in the Atlantic? I'd like her to come here and look at some segments of the dating pool. I think she'd retract her comment about "just settle.") continued to sit there.

So finally, fed up, wanting to just get my damn skim milk and my damn plain yogurt and my damn bag of navel oranges, I decided to attempt a stupid and risky maneuver that I know would make me curse at the person doing it if I saw someone attempt it in front of me: I backed up out of the lane, and VERY CAREFULLY pulled back into the main strip of the parking lot to try another aisle.

(Special Snowflake was still sitting there).

And I nearly got hit by a person coming up the wrong way, yakking on a cell phone.

And I got behind yet another Special Snowflake waiting on his Extra Special Spot.

But I finally got to a place - a goodly distance from the store - and started hiking up.

I finally got there, grabbed a cart, and set off for the dairy section.

And a woman pushing a cart and talking on one of those perishing Bluetooth devices nearly ran me over. Hey, lady, I exist, okay? Shut up with your invisible friend long enough to see the people you're running into.

And then I had the experience of waiting while a woman parked her cart right in front of the glass door I needed to open for my half-gallon of skim, while she stood and read every single stinking milk carton.

Okay, I get comparison shopping. But there are big shelf-tags that you can read from 5 feet away. And yeah, maybe the different brands differ. But the time to do a detailed comparison of the merits of Borden vs. Wal-Mart-reprocessed-milk vs. Springdale is NOT at 4 pm when half of the town is out trying to buy food for dinner. Come at 7 am on a Saturday and do it, please, then pick a brand and stick with it.

Finally got my milk, my yogurt, my fruit, a couple other things I needed, some frozen blueberries (I'm getting very sick of the fresh fruit choices; this is not a good time of year to be trying to eat healthfully). Got in line. Got behind a guy who was buying his month's food supply. I don't have a problem with that. I don't even have too much of a problem with the fact that he basically grunted at the cashier. I do have a problem that he threw his money at her. She's a human being, too. It's not HER fault food prices have gone up.

I did have to stare at a creepy, Children-of-the-Corn-like photo of the Olson twins on one of those checkout rags. And I had to stare at a sad-making photo of Britney Spears (seriously? As much as she irks me, if she's really mentally unwell, I hope she gets the help she needs and gets some semblance of peace in her life) on Us magazine.

And of course, there were the Valentineurs. The men slumping around trying to decide what would make the woman in their life happy, the women bitching with their Invisible Friends on the Bluetooth about "Why do *I* have to buy *him* something, anyway?" Moms griping about the price of those darn little cheap-paper Spiderman valentines that their son has to buy enough for EVERYONE in his class of.

You know, my standard comment applies here: If it is so much of a drag for you to celebrate a holiday, just don't. Just give it up. Just don't buy the cheap paper valentines if it's such a pain and a hassle. Just don't give your man anything from the wal-mart. Sure, there will be disappointment and sadness but is it really better for you to put on a smiley face but resent what you're doing deep down?

It is not unAmerican not to celebrate Valentine's Day because it bugs you to be forced to buy stuff for the people you love, I promise it isn't.

(I sent my parents a box of Aplets and Cotlets. [my dad is on a salt-restricted diet and those are one of the few low-sodium candies that's very special]. It did not take long at all to order. I was happy to be able to do it.)

Anyway. I finally paid for my supplies and (and this is my last gripe) had to walk halfway across the lot to find a "cart corral" (Seriously - there are fifteen of them within the closest 20 feet to the store, and NONE out in the back 40 where a lot of us wind up having to park. That is Not Right.)

But at least I'm home now, and I have the ingredients for my sorry little lunches for the rest of the week.

(I really wish some place locally sold the Greek "Fage" yogurt. It's expensive but the whey crap is drained off of it already. And that whey really creeps me out.)

If I ever say "I hate Wal-Mart," it is not for their corporate policies, or how they treat their workers, or any of that. It is for how people believe once they get there.

I try to be nice, I try to be polite. I make an effort to put aside my belief - which we all have, really - that I am a Special Snowflake deserving of better treatment than everyone else. But I would like to be able to negotiate the parking lot or the store without taking my life into my hands.


One of the "Carmen" suites was just on the internet radio station I listen to.

They swung into the Toreador song - I was only half listening, as I was reading at the time, and all of a sudden I started laughing.

Why? Because it reminded me of the silly Weird Al song I posted months back.

Normally I hate it when a pop song "overwrites" my memory of a classical piece, but I don't mind in this case.

Oh, and

I feel like I should apologize to Sheila. I said no one tagged me for the book meme, and she had....but I forgot, I guess the tag came at a time when I was crazy busy and couldn't do it, and it just slipped my mind.

(What do you expect? I'm almost 39. By a lot of people's standards and ideas, that seems to mean I should be in a "home" by now.)

So anyway...Sheila DID tag me for the book meme, and now I'm glad I did it.

Freaking spam!!!

So, this morning I have received spam e-mails with the subject lines:

"My Heart"

"My Love"

"You're My Valentine"

and "I love you!!!!"

None of them being from e-mail addresses I even remotely recognize (most of them have a .uk address), I assume without opening them that they are spam.

And you know what? I have to say that kind of angers me.

Here are spammers playing on people's desire to be loved - hell, on the fact that some people might be a little lonely and sad because it's Valentine's Day coming up, and they're all alone, and all the ads they're hearing are the damn love love love buy diamonds love love love get her pajamas and you'll get a little somethin' somethin' Vermont Teddy Bear dinner out for two with "special" menu...

There should be a special place in hell for people who try to exploit others like that. (Well, there should be a special place in hell for the Pajamagram advertising writers too, but that's a different matter).

You know? When I was a little younger, a little more innocent, a little less accepting of the fact that I'm destined to be a lifetime single, I just might have opened those e-mails, thinking, I don't know, maybe someone who was a friend of a friend actually knew someone in the UK and suggested he start emailing me because we could have hit it off. And I would have been disappointed and made sad by it (and when I was still in my early 20s, I might have cried a little bit even).

I don't know if it's better to get an e-mail message claiming I am someone's "Heart" and roll my eyes and go "damnable spammers" and delete it unopened, or to maybe for just a second or two, believe it, and then be disappointed. Neither one is a very good choice.

But, dangit, spammers? Are you going to start sending women messages on Mother's day saying "From your Daughter" or "your Son loves you"? I wouldn't put it past you, you scummy sleazy scummy sleazebags. (And your moms, unless they're spammers too, are probably Very Disappointed in you.)

Edited to Add: But really, who cares? Joel and his family are doing lots better! And hearing that makes me feel as happy as if I had actually gotten a Valentine.

Monday, February 11, 2008


The missing lab equipment has been found!

My super-fantastic, wonderful TA (to whom I only have to make vague noises and gesture in the direction of what needs to be done and she does it - which is a huge change from some TAs I've had, where I had to practically stand and breathe down their necks while they were working - which really, isn't the point, and really, if I need to tell them detailed instructions every 15 seconds, it's just easier to do it myself) found them.

We were cleaning up after class today and I happened to mention to her, "If you happen to run across a piece of equipment like this [the last remaining one of a number I had had], would you mind putting them here [designating the spot where they SHOULD be stored]?"

And she said, "Oh, when I was putting stuff away the other day for Dr. X, I saw some of those."

And she walked over to a drawer, opened it, and there, tucked in the back, were my missing things!

I'm not even going to kick Dr. X's ass (because I assume he's the one who put them there) for it. Even though I asked him if he'd seen them and he said no. (And no, I don't suspect he did it as a mind**** or he denied having moved them to mess with me; I think he just genuinely forgot he did that; he's like that.) I'm that happy to have the stuff back. (And that happy to know I'm NOT losing my mind, that the things did not grow legs and "migrate" from the place I had put them.)

I've said it before, I'll say it again:

God BLESS the man who invented Excedrin Migraine.

We're supposed to get huge storms here. I'm writing this exam, kind of half-monitoring my afternoon lab (it's one they can do on their own, with advice from the TA), I have an evening meeting tonight...and in the middle of it, started to feel like crud. The old barometer-head thing.

So I took an Excedrin Migraine.

While the headache isn't 100% gone, at least I'm not having cold chills and that impending feeling of doom that I know means I'd be having a date with Ralph, the Porcelain God* tonight.

(*You might not know it - if you're not a migraineur - but vomiting is very frequently the end-stage of a migraine.)

(ETA: The headache is GONE! Whoo-hoo!)

Book meme

No one officially tagged me but I'm in my office trying to write an exam (which is NOT writing itself, I tell you), so I'm going to do this thing.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Pretty much any book that hints that lots of bad crap happens to the protagonists, and they basically wallow in the bad crap. Or that it's crap they brought on themselves. (One thing that frustrated me about a particular novel my book club read? The female lead started sleeping with her boyfriend's best friend and was all "Nothing bad can come of this, la la la."

Well, I've never even BEEN in a position where I had a boyfriend with a sleep-with-able best friend, but I know that nothing good can come of that situation. And the nothing good DID come of it, and the next 75 pages or so were the heroine wondering why her life was so mucked up.

I'm sorry, but any book that makes me want to go Dr. Laura on the characters of, I don't want to read.

Oh, and Danielle Steele. It's an irrational prejudice but I will not read Danielle Steele.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

Okay, I'm going to assume I get to interact with them, and I get to set the thing in the time and place I want.

So I'm going to indulge my deep and abiding love of Golden Age Mystery here and say I'd bring to life Hercule Poirot (to talk about stuff with, and perhaps play chess with - did Poirot play chess?) and Albert Campion (even though that's not his real name, and even though he does put on that affable-idiot pose a lot of the time, I still have a bit of a schoolgirl crush on him. He'd be the one who'd get to take my arm when we all went in to dinner.) And Archie Goodwin. Because as much as I love Poirot and Campion, if someone was really going to try to HARM me, Archie'd be the one most likely to be able to kick their ass.

Oh, and the setting? Some kind of upper-middle-class Edwardian British thing. A tea-dance or something, or maybe a weekend in one of those immense country houses where the host and hostess invite all their friends and relatives.

I'd like to be able to swan about in high-society 30s-era clothing.

Yes, I just made that question all about me.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

I know there are people who will be horrified at me for saying this, but: it would have to be something by Ayn Rand. Perhaps The Fountainhead. I tried reading it and my brain just started going Do. Not. Want.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

Man, that's hard to think of one like that. I'm more likely to hint at familiarity with movies I've not actually seen.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

No, can't think of any, but in a similar vein, one of the things that annoys me? The fact that publishers, sometimes, when they re-issue books, will give them new titles. The re-issuers of Golden Age mystery novels are particularly bad for this. And I can't always remember from the catalog blurb which ones I've read and which ones I've not, so I have more than one copy of a couple of them.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

This is kind of tough. Since the person's not a "big" reader, it would have to be a book that's fairly arresting and not "boring." (I am well known for selecting books other people find "boring.").

I might consider "The Strange Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" which fascinated me because it was a peep at the way someone who thinks very differently from us (a boy with autism) has an inner monologue, it's fairly short, it's suspenseful in places (well, if you have enough empathy to feel for the main character), and you do feel a bit like you understand human nature better at the end. And it's not a book that "breaks bad" like some of the novels I referred to in the first question.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Oh, man, that's tough.

I'd probably choose New Testament Greek so I could read the New Testament in the original.

Or maybe Japanese so I could read some of the poetry. I'm sure it comes through very differently in translation. (Bonus with knowing Japanese would be that I could read manga without having to refer to translations)

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

I'd probably pick something like C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce." It's not overly long, it's deep enough that multiple re-readings would reveal something new, and it's well enough written that I'd be less likely to get sick of it.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

Hmmm...I've learned a bit more about "steampunk" (even the sheer fact that it's a genre) from reading around on blogs.

I've also purchased the occasional book because someone referred to it and wrote a review of it that made me think I'd like to read it.

Oh, and I bought a Philip Yancey book (which I haven't read yet, yipes) because Tracey talked about him.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

Oh my goodness. How much time do you have?

It would be a large room, perhaps octagonal. Two or three of the walls would boast leaded-glass, diamond-paned windows that look out over a large lawn that slopes down to a forest (and I would own all the land so no one could ever come and build condos on it). One window would probably face west so I could watch sunsets (I'm usually at work up until sunset). The room would be paneled in sort of a medium cherry or oak - not too dark but not that blonde wood that smacks of 1950s Danish Modern, either. All of the non-window walls would have bookcases on them. (One of the windows would have a small desk below it - not a "work" desk but a place to write letters or sit and read).

There'd be a deciduous tree outside the window so there'd be shade in the summer, but not too much of the view would be blocked.

There'd be a good carpet - either Aubusson or some kind of older Persian rug - in the middle of the wood floor, and arranged on that would be two good comfortable armchairs and a sofa. There'd be a coffee table and a small side table between the chairs, because one needs a place to put one's teacup while reading. The sofa would also have enough loose pillows to make a comfortable backrest for reading while stretched out. There'd also be an ottoman big enough to serve both armchairs if both were occupied.

The sofa would be a good glove leather but the armchairs would be a subtle brocade.

There'd be good light - the ceiling would be vaulted but not too high and would have down-lights in it, and there'd be good lamps near each reading spot (including one on the desk). It would be possible to make the room as bright or as dim as desired, especially to dim down the ceiling lights at night and just rely on the single pool of light from a reading lamp.

The books would be mostly hardbound, lots of vintage books, lots of books with illustrations in them (I tend to think adults are as deserving of illustrated books as children). There might be some paperbacks if that's the best way to compile sets - some of the old orange-bound Penguins, some of the sets of re-issues of detective novels all from the same publisher so they're identical. (I have a big thing about wanting all books that I own by a particular author to be as similar in binding and style as possible.) The shelves would go nearly to the ceiling and there'd be one of those rolling ladders to gain access to the books higher up.

The topics of the books would be anything and everything that interested me. I'd have a wall of mysteries, a wall of history books (focusing heavily on the ancient world, my current historical interest), a wall of classics with full sets of works by people like Dickens and Austen, a wall of books about quantum mechanics and math, etc., etc.

I'd also have a knitting basket next to my armchair - either for times when I didn't feel like reading, or for times when I want to knit on something simple AND read at the same time (I guess I'd also need a bookstand to hold up my book in that case).

And there'd be a good radio in there, with the ability to pick up quiet classical and jazz stations, maybe even more than one of each (this is an issue in my part of the world, where the music choices tend to be Top 40, Top 40 Country, and Top 40 "oldies" which are actually from the 70s and 80s.)

Just outside the door of the library, there'd be a sort of mini-kitchen with a set up for making tea, and perhaps a couple of canisters of good crackers or "biscuits". A filtered-water tap, a single burner for heating the kettle on, some canisters of tea, sugar, a small refrigerator for milk and lemons, a sink for washing-up, and a cabinet with mugs in it.

President's quiz

Ken and others did this, so I figured I would, too.

I tend to get Washington on these things. (There was another, different, presidential quiz out there). I'm not sure what that means - either I come from a more aristocratic background than I think of myself coming from, or it's the fact that I only accept responsibility/power because people tell me I will do a good job at it, and not because I want it so much.

Or maybe it's those wooden teeth.

Which Great US President Are You Most Like?
created with
You scored as George Washington

1st President, in office from 1789-1797
Born: 1732 Died: 1799

George Washington


Dwight Eisenhower


Abraham Lincoln


Ronald Reagan


John Kennedy


Harry Truman


Theodore Roosevelt


Franklin Roosevelt


Thomas Jefferson


Lyndon Johnson


Woodrow Wilson


Sunday, February 10, 2008

sorry, but you get moar kittehs....

Because this made me laugh, and also, I have to offer up a confession:

Humorous Pictures
moar funny pictures

If my parent's cats weren't 19, one of them rather fragile, and the other a little tank (and so, I'd have been afraid of dropping her)? I would TOTALLY have done that the last time I was up visiting my folks.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Once again: thank you all so much for the cards, the good thoughts, the messages during my crap week. It helped tremendously to know that people "had my back," at least emotionally speaking.

One thing that kind of sucks about being single is that there's no one else at home so when you've had a crap day, you either have to figure out some way of forgetting it, or you wind up dwelling on it, because there's no one else there that you can tell it to, who will say, "Well, yeah, that's stupid that they did that" and who will make you a cup of hot chocolate or tell you a pirate joke or something to make you feel better.

(And yes, I realize I'm idealizing here, but lots of the folks I know who are married have someone who is like that).

One of the things that I have come to realize is a blind spot of some coupled people - this happened when all the Youth Group stuff hit the fan back in August, after the grape-fight and after I had the "double secret probation meeting" that I wasn't warned about in advance - I was sitting there at the table sobbing, feeling like a complete and total waste of flesh, and the minister looked at me and said, "I just realized that you have no one to go home and talk this out with."

And fortunately I was sobbing hard at that point or I would have snarled "YA THINK?!?!?" at him...because I was kind of angry at him at that point. (I've long since forgiven him and just chalked the whole bad-communication mess up to blind spots piling up on blind spots).

Anyway. To make an overlong comment shorter: it helped a whole lot, what you all did, so thanks.

And now I see that there are two folks out among the bloggers I read who need prayers and good thoughts, both for similar reasons - Tracey and Joel.

You guys are in my prayers. I hope it works out for you. I hope you can have some peace and not too many sleepless nights during this process.

I'm thinking of you, for what it's worth.

It's funny, how a lot of pundits talk about how "isolating" the Internet is, how it leads people to be ruder and less caring than they would otherwise be, how it allows isolated people to persist in the "pathology" of being isolated. (As a lone-wolf type, I dislike the pathologization of those who prefer to go it alone most of the time. We're not all serial killers in the making, I promise).

At any rate - one thing I've found at least in the tiny corners of blogland I inhabit (here, and the little circle of blogs I visit here, and also the craft blogs where I hang out) there's an awful lot of caring and support. Someone has something really bad happen, and people are there offering prayers (even folks you would not expect to offer prayers). Offering good thoughts. Offering, in some cases, real concrete help. When people have something tremendously good happen (as in Wunderkraut's "gotcha day" for Mei), people are there ready to celebrate. Even when people are having problems that really aren't problems in the wider cosmic scheme of things (like my little meltdown of last week which really WASN'T that big a deal except I was in a place where it was hard to see my way out of the pile of things...kind of like being in a room full of manure, shoveling like heck, but still seeing no sign of that pony), people will offer support and caring instead of an "Oh, get over yourself already." (Although perhaps in some cases, with my "stuff," a firm "Ricki, get over yourself" might be what I actually need to hear).

But anyway...I don't know where I'm really going with this and I don't have any punchy way to wrap it up in a neat package, but I have to say I'm glad the Internet exists. And not just because I can order yarn and books and fabric and tea and have them delivered to my door, and not just because I can look up information on any movie I might have seen on tv and been asking "who was that guy and was he also in that other movie?" I'm glad the internet exists because there are a lot of caring people out there who are on it and who share the goodness of their hearts, and their humor, and their expertise and advice with other people WHOM THEY HAVE NEVER MET.

It's kind of a mindboggling thing when you think of it.