I've been thinking a little about brokenness. I'm somewhat broken myself at the moment (Today's symptom: coughing stuff up. Made erging this morning a bit trickier) but it's minor and mostly easily ignored now, and though it seems to have been hanging on forever (for values of "forever equalling 3.5 weeks) I know it will go away relatively soon. I've been lucky enough so far to have only health issues that are trivial, or at least easily cured when caught soon enough.
Melissa wrote recently about a more powerful and far more permanent brokenness. I'd say that she broke open like an eggshell in bringing new life to the world, but that's not an appropriate image. We throw broken eggshells away. The best metaphor I can think of is a powerful rock, broken open when a spring breaks through it. Even though it's cleft by the strem, the rock itself is just as strong as it was before, though it and the stream will continue to shape each other over time. And most people would say that a rock with a spring coming from it is more beautiful and sustaining than the unbroken rock ever was.
There's also someone I've recently encountered online for whom one of the first words that comes to mind is "broken". I won't link to her for fear my words could be taken as an isult. They're not meant to be. In this case it's her mind and spirit that are broken, and the damage is either endemic to her or comes from early in her life. I call her "broken" because a lot of things that are routine or easy for most people are difficult for her; there seems to be a disconnect between her and the world that makes it difficult for her to understand other people or even herself. I don't think the brokenness is her fault or anything she can easily fix, and I've come to admire her for her struggles to deal with the world in spite of it. From what I've seen, I think she's been remarkably successful, more so that I think she realizes. She has love in her life, and productive work, and a good sense of her own problems, which is more than a lot of people dealt better hands can say.
There's an old saying that scar tissue is stronger than undamaged tissue. I don't know whether it's literally true, but figuratively, I think it is.
Still a bit swollen in the throat, still coughing a bit more than usual. Nothing hurts, at least. I had thought my energy levels were up to normal, but I went rowing this morning, my first time in the single since Regionals (a.k.a. since the first day I had this crud), and I can tell they're not. I did manage an easy 8500 meters, though. Also, did I mention that WE WON in the double Saturday? (I did? Oh, sorry.)
Book clubs have a lot to answer for. At least, they're my best guess as to the proximate cause of a disturbing trend. Why is it that so many people are incapable of discussing books these days? I don't mean people who simply don't read books, though Lord knows there are too many of those. I don't mean people who read books but don't particularly want to talk about them, either. I mean people who read books and then go to a club on- or off-line to discuss them. What seems to be happening a lot is that said people end up discussing themselves instead.
There's a quote from Eleanore Rooselvelt: "Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people." As it happens, I don't agree with her. I happen to think people are endlessly fascinating (after all, who had all those great ideas?) in their variety, and I don't mind someone talking about themselves, as long as they can do it interestingly. (Else I'd probably not be reading or writing blogs.) However, it does get old when people talk only about themselves, especially when they do so while pretending to talk about something else. (People falling in love and sending each other veiled messages are exempt from this, but only while talking to each other.) I get annoyed when I see a list of questions for book discussion (and in editions expected to be used for book clubs, they're often printed right there at the end of the book!) that go something like,
1. At one point in this book, [Secondary character] tells [protagonist] [something meant to be profound]. Do you agree? Why or why not? 2. Have you ever been in a situation like [protagonist's]? What did you do? 3. Which character in this book are you most like? Which would you want to have as a friend?
and so on. That is not book discussion. Or at least, it is not all book discussion ought to be, though it may be a useful technique for teaching beginning readers how to "put themselves in the story". (I'm not sure whether that can be taught, but then I haven't taught people to read, either, and don't really have the experience to judge.) Book discussion is when you analyze the book, trying to figure why its characters acted as they did or why an event occurred. It can involve comparisons to other books or real-life situations, speculation as to what the author was thinking or how his or her life or times influenced the work, or, certainly, discussions of the reader's reaction to the book. But at some point, it really ought to circle back to the book.
It could be claimed that really a book can only be discussed in terms of the reader's reaction, that the experience of the book is unique for each reader. That may be true, but there have to be commonalities too; otherwise we wouldn't even have the shared vocabulary to make discussion possible. Besides, a book ought to bring something from the outside to a reader; we may see each book though a glass tinted by our own experience, but if everything we read is nothing but a mirrored view of ourselves, why bother? Mirrors aren't that expensive, and you only have to buy one.
Of course, that's all just a pet peeve of mine. Really, there's nothing wrong with applying a book to the reader's own life. I just think something's lacking when that's all that happens in a book discussion.
First, check out the pictures below. (Scroll to the previous entry.)
I tried erging this morning. I just did a very light 2K, but it wasn't really an unqualified success. I ended up coughing a bit more crap up, can't take a very deep breath without coughing, and never really got going. I'm not sure if this means I should avoid exercise a while longer, or just that I need to build back up, but I suspect the latter.
The other day, I got lambasted a little bit (politely), in this discussion. It seemed to be trending toward a general consensus that anyone who would drive a Hummer must be a Bad Person or a Victim of Advertising. (Admittedly, the Hummer commricals do foster those viewpoints, positioning the vehicle as a way to prove one's own importance or put someone else down.) So I jumped in where angels fear to tread to point out that Rudder actually bought one for a utilitarian purpose. As it happens, there are very few vehicles that can transport several boats with attendant parts as well as 2-4 people long distances to regattas. The only one one I've seen do it with more than one boat is Old Salt's cargo van, and its gas economy is only a gallor or so better. Most people put their boats on a trailer pulled by a large truck, and again the MPG is as bad or worse.
"Lambasting" is probably too strong a word. The person who was disagreeing with me pointed out that taking one's boats to a rowing regatta is by no means comparable to her own quest to find a cheap way to transport her weelchair. I agreed, but reiterated that it is still a use. Her point was that our use of the H2 is for luxury purposes rtaher than needful ones. I agreed and said so in so many words, but pointed out that luxury or not, we had the vehicle for our own uses and comfort, not in order to make ourselvesfeel more powerful or to compensate for our insecurities. I understand her argument, I think, but I don't think she was willing to understand mine, or she couldn't accept that I was defending a privilege not avaioable to everyone. (Of course, it's also possible that I was coming across as a spoiled brat, though I was trying not to.) She became a bit upset and elected (again, politely) to discontinue the discussion, so I didn't pursue it but am still turning it over in my head (and now on this screen).
The problem I have is that if I take her words to a logical conclusion, then we ought not to have this luxury beat, even though we use it for something for which it is relatively efficient, even though we mostly try to take a more efficient vehicle for errands where we don't need the Hummer's space. (Rudder does drive it to work, but he's got a very short commute and my 1996 pickup, our spare vehicle, is old enough that we don't want to put the wear and tear of daily short trips on it.) So the question is, is it irresponsible to have more than one needs, or to pursue a pastime (rowing competitively) that puts unnecessary wear and tear on the environment? We could row without doing these long trips, but except for a couple of small local regattas (that are not all that competitive) the nearest regattas are 6 hours away or more. Most local rowers don't compete all that much, so there usually aren't trailers going that we could put our boats on, and again, a big dualie towing a trailer isn't too gas-efficient either - and we'd still need to get ourselves there, either by driving or flying.
(And of course the person with whom I had the original discussion didn't know anything about me other than what my husband drives, whether I had lived in the depths of poverty or been a trust-fund baby, whether I live now like Mother Teresa or like Donald Trump, which made her objections a little harder to swallow.)
Will Shetterly has discussed the issue several times. He concludes that it is irresponsible to live with a bigger footprint than necessary. I respect his view all the more since he seems to live up to his beliefs as much as practical in this society, but it's a bit too ideal for me. I leased my current car, the Mozzie, specifically because I had a very long commute and wanted something more fuel-efficient than my pickup. I try not to waste too much extra gas, to recycle where I can, to give some of my disposable income to charity. I don't do as well in any of those things as I probably ought to, and worse, I use the true but not excusing justification that my wasted money or contributions to pollution are insignificant compared to what's going on in the world.
On the other hand, at this point in my life I live in a pleasant, quiet house with a person I love, with a minimum of drama. II have a fairly healthy body. (Well, not this minute, but usually.) I drive a vehicle I enjoy, and if I want books or clothes or yarn or beads, I can generally afford to buy them, as long as I don't start wanting rare first editions or designer clothes (or am willing to cut back in other places to buy one wonderful thing.) I know a lot of it is luck and not anything I deserve. I know that though I've taken opportunities and worked for them, that not everyone has those opportunities in the first place. I know a lot of people are not so fortunate and that though a lot are, the second lot is statistically much smaller than the first lot. Still, I think, as long as I don't use my powers for evil, as long as I remain conscious of how much I don't deserve and don't treat my luck as a reason to look down on other people, and long as I realize that I do still have a responsibility to respect and help those who aren't as lucky, then I think failing to enjoy the good gifts I have would be irresponsible in another way. Not all of the joys of living are to be bought with money, and some of the most important aren't. But is it immoral of me to enjoy those that have been bought as well as those that haven't?
It's the question of Bill Gates, on a lesser scale. I don't approve of some of the ways in which he made all those billions, but I respect him for giving them all away. He may do more good for aggregating the money and then putting it where the economies of scale mean it has a great effect, than if he'd stayed more and let the money stay in its original hands, or even if he gave it away as fast as he made it. I do'nt think he's giving it away to enhance his own image, because if he were, he'd find sexier charities. And even if he were, he'd still be bringing a lot of benefit to those who need it.
I don't think Bill Gates is immoral for amassing his millions before beginning to distribute them. I don't think I, on my smaller scale, am immoral for enjoying my luxuries and the chance to pursue my sport in comfort, even though I don't pretend that those things are among the necessities of life. But I think it's one of those things where each person has to set her own boundaries.
Edited to add: I wrote the above before reading the very relevant post at Making Light. the commentary there is, as usual, interesting. I wouldn't say there's a consensus, but a lot of it seems to agree with my own conclusion: it's not evil to enjoy luxuries, especially if you're willing to work for them, only to view them as necessities or entitlements. And it's generally better to give something back.
I was contacted by one of my oldest friends recently (since 2nd or 3rd grade, but I didn't have her most current address) and through her found that our old camp has a couple of YahooGroups, one from its all girl days (including when we were campers, me for two years, her for longer) and one from its coed days, when we were counselors, aged 16. My mother and grandmother went there too. (In the process I also learned Mom is not only on the YGroup but has a new email address she'd forgotten to tell me about. Mothers.)
One thing that all has me thinking about is weight. That summer we were counselors, between the indifferent food and all the extra activity, I got down to 95 pounds, the lowest I've been at my current height. During the course of the summer, I got sick at least three times: once from dehydration, once from a staph infection (but no one else who'd drunk from the same bottle as the girl who originally had it got staph - or else they all fought it off) and once from a stomach virus. Even at my normal 100 - 105* I got sick a few times a year back then. By the end of college or my early working days my weight got up to 110, and up to 115 in Houston when I began playing Ultimate Frisbee and then stayed around 110-115 when I began then rowing. A hundred ten seems to be a switch for me; at anything above that weight I get sick much less often. (When I moved in with Rudder, he got me taking a multivitamin daily, which probably also helps.) A few years after we moved out here, the lake opened, and we began rowing much more seriously and lifting weights. My weight went up to 120-123*, and I hardly ever got sick. Also, after I couple years of rowing, I noticed that the IBS was bothering me a lot less. In the last two years, when I was working on my instrument rating, I was lifting heavy and rowing less, and my weight went up to 130. I'm trying to keep it a bit lower, because of wanting to row lightweight, and right now it's at 127*, or at least anywhere from 125-130 depending on time of cycle, time of day, how recently I've gone to the bathroom, and so on. When I tried to give blood a few months ago, I wasn't reject for low blood iron, as I usually was about 4/5 times in the past. Two months ago, I got a physical and asked to have my ferretin levels checked, on the advice of a rowing coach who says blood iron is often low in rowers but it may not show in standard tests. My levels were very good. Yesterday, I gave blood again, and the droplet they took to test sank right to the bottom of the vial, heavy with iron.
In other words, in my experience, the heavier I get, the healthier I am. I don't intend to test this by continuing to gain weight - at least, the only way I can imagine doing that would be if I got much more seriously into weightlifting. I surmise there would be a point of diminishing returns, and eventually one at which continued weight gain would decrease my health. On the other hand, my BMI right now is 23 - within the normal range, but toward the higher end of it.
For another, when I turned 16 I was wearing preteen and student sizes. I was very happy, toward the end of high school (aged 17) to finally be able to wear junior size 1 or 3. In college I was wearing junior 3-5 or a misses 2 or 4. In recent years, I've gotten a little curvier and more muscular; I can't fit into as many juniors sizes, which seem to assume twiglike arms and legs. I mostly wear a misses 4, occasionally a 6 if something is cut small or I want it to fit more loosely. Now there are a couple contributing factors; there may have been some upward creep in manufacturers sizing and the current lower wiasts fit my body shape much better, since I've always had a very straight waist and hence not a small one. Still, even at 5'2"*, I doubt many people would consider someone who wears US size 4 to be overweight. My resting heart rate is 57. My blood pressure is generally something like 118 over 70 or 80. (Granted, it was higher yesterday: at work, right after walking about two city blocks to the vampires' mobile unit, right before donating blood. I'm not afraid of needles, but I don't think anyone really likes them. So I don't think that BP counts.) My cholesterol is good. My bodyfat percentage is at the lower end of the normal range.
What I'm saying here, is that maybe someone ought to rethink the weight charts. Maybe they ought to chart immune system function against weight, as well as things like heart rate and BP and cholesterol. Maybe medical professionals ought to make it clearer that thinner isn't always better. I'm willing to believe that obesity (in the technical medical definition) may be unhealthy, because beyond a certain point it's demonstrably harder for epople to get around (that is, people who weigh 500 lbs seem to have a harder time walking). On the other hand, body builders can easily get into the range medically considered obese, and more commonly, so can people who may have a little extra fat but also a lot of muscle (including some very healthy rower friends of mine). Maybe there are better ways to assess health, and better recommendations we should be making.
I was reading Lene's comments about using heirlooms earlier, and mostly I agree with her. I do believe that I put too much work in a knitted item for it not to be used - of course, the flip side to that is that if I expect someone to use the things I make, I'd better put in the effort to - oh, dear, my professional side is coming out here, I want to say to "validate" the item and make sure it's fit for its intended use. Or in knitting terms, to make sure it fits, and that it isn't going to fall apart when used.
I'm a little worried right now, in fact. I'm making a gift for my mom for Mother's Day consisting of a matching knitted kipah and socks, because Mom is learning to read Torah and at her synagogue women wear kipot to do so, and because my mother is just the kind of person to get a kick out of the matching socks. The worrying partis that I've just finished one of the socks, and in retrospect, it would have been better on smaller needles. It's a bit looser and more loosely knitted than I'd like - Mom's feet are a size bigger than mine, which should take care of that first problem. This is one reason I prefer toe-up socks, which are less likely to come out too big. I wanted to try this pattern this time, though, and it was fun to knit: just enough like lace to be interesting, not so much that I had to concentrate Every SECOND AND OMG A MISTAKE WHAT WILL I DOOOOOOO??? Since the yarn's not fuzzy and every other row is plain knit, you can see where you are and what you're supposed to do next and can rip out mistakes with little trauma (or no more than ripping back usually produces, anyway).
Back to heirlooms, I agree that they should be used. I also agree that they should be saved for special occasions. I just don't believe that "special" needs to mean "so special that it never happens", like an old-time parlor no one is allowed to walk through. I think "special" can mean, "because I cooked an especially good dinner tonight" or "because it's Friday" as well as "because it's passover" or "becaue we have company over". I believe in special occasions, just not so special that they never do occasion.
There is also a problem with having too many heirlooms. I have three strands of pearls, for instance, two from my grandmother and one from my husband when we got engaged. That's two more than anyone really needs. I do try to wear them all at least occasionally, to honor my grandmother and because it's good for pearls to wear them, though I confess I wear the one from Rudder most because of the sentiment. If my brother ever marries someone I really like, I may pass one strand on to her. (Though possibly not, if he doesn't get a little better at things like birthday presents. Hmph.) Similarly, I have a set of good china from Rudder's grandparents, given to us when they moved into a smaller place. I'd be happy to use it, except that I have the good china we chose ourselves, that we've received as wedding and then as anniversary presents over the years. Unfortunately, the two don't coordinate well enough to use together. I should really give a tea party some time; I have a couple of my grandmother's flower-shaped tea cups, a couple from Rudder's great-grandmother's collection, some from both sets of china, of course, some Rudder brought back from Taiwan, and a small jadeware tea set we bought in Korea. I keep trying to serve people tea when we have them over to dinner, but I never feed enough people to use more than a couple of cups. At least those look nice in our china cabinet. Someday, perhaps, I'll have a tea party just so I can use all those pretty cups. Just don't expect me to bake petit-fours.
One thing I've been realizing lately is that sometimes in reading an online journal, you get almost a reverse view of the writer. For instance, I've often seen people who would characterize themselves as "nurturing", for whom that's a central part of their self-image, writing about how they needed to focus on themselves, or how they need to take case of themselves, or braggng about how they'd been pampering themselves. I'd concluded that for some people that nurturing image may actually be a fiction they maintain, like the mother whose overbearing devotion actually smothers her children and keeps them at her service forever.
I knew that wasn't true everywhere though, if only because of the demonstrable fact that other people around some of those nurterers clearly do feel nurtured.
Yesterday I had the epiphany that maybe it's because people talk about what they have trouble with. You will not, for instance, ever see me write about needing to be nicer to myself, or treat myself to wonderful things, or allow time for myself. Frankly, I do just fine for myself. I buy myself clothes or books or good food all the time and I do make the time I need to read quietly. What you will hear about from me is bragging about something nice I did for someone else or talking about a piece of tact I've managed. Those are things I have to work on.
So paradoxically I'm not as nice a person as I may sometimes sound in here, while people who often write about needing to focus on themselves may be much nicer than I am.
(Caveat:I'm thinking about a number of people here, and of course they vary. Some really are much nicer than I am, and some really are soul-suckers. If you're reading this and we've corresponded, or you know I read you, you're not one of the soul-suckers or I wouldn't bother.)
Apparently I'm having a Mardi Gras party this year. Anyone likely to be in the area?
It occurred to me that everything I wrote about yesterday is a negative reaction to someone else's position. That's no way to build a cosmogony, a life, or a set of principles. (Or a political platform, as certain people in this country for whom I would like to vote if only they'd ever be for something ought to realize. But I digress.) And in the spirit of ecumenism, my brethren, I take my text today from the Sermon on the Mount: "By their fruits shall ye know them."
This morning while I was thinking about what I'd written, I was driving to work under a sunrise sky, some of it seen through the canopies of trees along the road. I saw a glint of silver as a jet plane climbed out of the city's airport. And I thought, all of those things are not only beautiful in their own right, but they're even more so if I know a little about them, what makes them that way and what is behind them. The plane flies because the air under its wings exerts more pressure than the faster-moving air on top of it's wings. The unmatchable pinks and peaches of the sunrise, so delicate and ineffable that those color-names seem to crude to describe them, come from unimaginably fast particles emitted by an incredibly hot, incredibly huge blazing furnace, viewed through particles of water vapor so tiny and light that they actually float in air, and what I'm seeing is just a part of a whole rainbow spectrum of colors contained in that light. And the tree - those graceful leaves aren't just pretty. Those delicate leaves make enough food to support the whole living tree, and over time to have built the thick sturdy trunk and branches. And even more, it's part of a whole system that co-evolved into a beautiful and complex codependent web of life that's powered by that same blazing furnace we orbit around, moving unbelievably fast on this whole planet that feels like it's anchored for all time. And out, so far we see them as mere pinpricks, are billions and billions of other infernos, some so vast they make our sun look like a dust most. Others are expanding or collapsing, pulsing, or so ridiculously dense that they contain the mass of our solar system in a body that's smaller across than the distance I drive to work each day. And these bodies are arranged in the most beautiful whorls and spirals, and our attempts to understand all of this complexity, little as we know to date, has let us see the beauty in those spirals, and in crystal patterns as small as the spirals are large, and to comprehend just a tiny bit of the relationships between all of these things......
Well. I get giddy if I think about it too long. And then on top of all that, there is love between people, and the warmth of friendships, the softness of a kitten snuggled against your cheek, the cozy domestic heat of a fire and the opposing coldness on your back beckoning you to adventure, your body and mind and the way they get stronger and smarter to deal with the challenges you give them, and a hundred million other everyday miracles.
There's a common belief that learning more about anything will somehow spoil it, that somehow scientists don't appreciate what's there once they begin to dissect it. I find just the opposite - more knowledge adds a whole new dimension of appreciation in addition to the simple pleasure in a beautiful object. I don't really feel a need to know more about God than that S/He is the spirit within that universe and in this life. I don't need to know if S/He created it or somehow grew within it all. My responsibility to live up to all these good gifts is to learn as much about them as I can, to enable me to appreciate them, if not as much as they deserve, than as much as my little mind can compass, and to try to live so that my life improves the parts of the world I touch or at the very least does as little harm as I can manage.
I was just reading, in a blog I read regularly, someone's explaination about why she is absolutely, unutterably sure she's going to Heaven. I'm writing my response over here instead of in a comment and am not linking to her on purpose, because I have no desire at all to question or shake anyone else's faith; I just want to delve into why the whole idea seems so bizarre to me.
To start with, not only can I not imagine it, but I have no desire to be that sure. I like the idea that "The Universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." I can understand the idea of debating what happens after death because it's the biggest puzzle we have and so why wouldn't you want to think about it? I can understand trusting in a benevolent Creator* that if you do your best to live a good life things will all work out; I can't see wanting to spoil the grandest adventure by knowing all the details ahead of time. (Which doesn't make a ton of sense for someone who often peeks at the endings of books, but there you have it.)
*My use of the word Creator does not in any way imply belief in a literal six day creation. I suppose it would be possible to create a universe with all the clues to its history ready planted, but 1) Why bother? 2) It seems natural to assume that even if such were the case, said Creator would have placed those clues there to be followed.
Second, one facet of her reasoning was that the way to get to Heaven was to believe in Jesus because God said so.. That theorem derives logically from the postulate that the Gospels are the literal truth. Problem is, I don't see why I should accept that postulate. We don't have independent historical records of Jesus words or even of his life (though we do of some of the milieu in which he existed). If he did exist and did speak truth, there's no way to know it was captured in the Gospels - there doesn't seem to be a solid agreement on their dates, but current guesses put them all from decades to a century after Jesus's death. And then there are all the possibilities of change from early to later versions of the books, either from deliberate theological differences or errors in copying, and the even likelier chance of erros in translation.
There are a couple of other ways to look at it that don't depend on historical record. One is to believe because so many others are sure of the truth of those words - the obvious problems with that is that there are so many people equally sure of the teachings of Mohammed or Buddha or the Rabbis or the Vedas. Even among Christians there are equally fervent believers in the primacy of good works versus faith, or in both. Another is to believe because of the internal proof of truth - C.S. Lewis's point in Mere Christianity. When I read that book, I found his argument for the existence of God compelling, for Jesus specifically not so much. Since those were exactly the prejudices with which I went into the book, I concluded none of the arguments could be trusted. (Disclaimer: I actually listened to an audiobook version from the library, and a few parts were garbled. I really ought to reread the book, in fairness.)
There's also the case that one ought to believe in the teachings of Jesus because many of them coincide with the teachings of other great leaders or with the innate sense of good Lewis postulated in us. That makes sense to me, but I can do that without believing in the divinity of Jesus. Lewis's argument against that was that to believe some of his words but not others is to believe Jesus was a liar, but I disagree. If he was a mortal man, he was prone to error like the rest of us. Or his words could have been misunderstood or mistranslated (I often wonder if "I am the Son of God" was really meant to mean "I am the only son of God.").
These things I do believe: it is worth living the best life you can given the definition of "good" as you understand it; at a minimum you will know you have lived up to your own standards and done good work with the tools you were issued, and at a maximum you may please Someone Else. And if there is an afterlife run by a truly benevolent and merciful God, as some people claim, S/He will not say, "Well, you did your best but you picked the wrong set of books. I hope you like things hot!" because that would betray those very qualities.
Of course if things turn out to be run by Loki or Murphy, all bets are off. But in those cases there's no safe way to bet anyhow, so you may as well not plan for them.
I hope it's clear in all of the above that I am not trying to attack or discredit anyone else's faith, just explainng why some things don't work for me. Feel free to comment politely in either agreement or disagreement. Don't bother telling me I'm going to Hell unless you can prove that one of my points is false, and I mean a real proof with actual logic.
Yay for a day spent telecommuting! I didn't want to use a vacation day, if I wasn't going to visit family or go to synagogue. I had a lot to get done, but most of it was in the form of teleconferences, so I asked if I could work at home today. Yes, I played the religion card; in fact, when one of my managers was giving me grief about having an easy day, I asked him how often he'd called into the office on Christmas or Easter.
Maybe New Year's Day would have been a better analogy. Problem is, there's no such thing as a serious major holiday celebrated by most generic/secular Christian Americans (you know: doesn't go to church but part of the heavily Christian-influenced American culture). Christmas and Easter are joyful holidays for both secular and religious types, Thansgiving's happy for everyone, July 4 is about fireworks, and the more somber and reflective holidays like Veteran's Day or Memorial Day aren't that big a deal. So it all takes a little explaining: yes, it is a big deal, no, it's not a fun holiday. Add in the fact that all I'm doing with my day home other than working is baking brisket (and brownies!) and that it will be just the two of us for dinner and explanations get even more difficult; on the other hand, none of that last bit is really the business of anyone at the office anyhow.
Even when it's just me or just me and Rudder, even the year when my Passover Seder was a bowl of matzo ball soup in a casino on a business trip to Las Vegas, I do feel somehow better when I do something, no matter how small, to mark the major Jewish holidays. I feel more connected not only to my ancestors but to myself and my own past, and as if I have not been assimilated out of all recognition. I don't suppose an Orthodox Jew would recognize what I'm doign as observance of the holiday, but it feels lilke it to me.
I've been writing this entry in my head since Friday afternoon and somehow it hasn't wanted to come out and play on screen. Maybe that's because the whole thing boils bown to four words: interested people are interesting. And its corollary, bored people are boring.
Friday evening, with Rudder away, I went out to a very nice bar with a coworker and a bunch of her friends. Let me put it this way: I enjoyed the drive home more than the time at the bar. I did get to have a nice glass of red wine, and some minutes pleasant conversation with the oldest woman in the group, an English woman who told me about the other countries she'd lived in and how much she had enjoyed it. Otherwise, though, no one seemed much interested in talking to me about anything, and though they were talking to each other, that didn't seem to be about anything much, either. On the way home, I listened to Alice Cooper on the radio, talking about how many rock riffs have been sampled into hip-hop, and how that works easily because of the 4-beat hip-hop uses (I think that's what he said). I don't care much about hip-hop or music sampling, but Alice does, and he knows a bit about it and it was interesting to hear him on the subject.
In contrast, last night some friends had us over for dinner, and had also invited a friendly acquaintance (that is, someone I've always liked a lot, but we've never quite advanced as far as friendship for whatever reason) and her boyfriend, whom we hadn't met. We talked about rowing, our common thread, even though three of the other four had stopped for various reasons and the fourth canoes instead. We talked about raising children, though only three of the six of us there have any. We joked a lot. We talked about friends, and our various jobs, and we talked a lot about our assorted travels. I wasn't bored for a second. (As a bonus, there were excellent food and adorable though shy toddlers.)
I've noticed that I can be interested in almost any subject, if the person who's talking about it has a passion for it. This applied in college, where I was bored out of my skull in Stress of Materials class and fascinated in Advanced Mechanics (gears and four-bar mechanisms): they were taught by the same professor, but the latter was his subject of interest. I've never been terribly fond of the Romantic Poets, but they were much better when taught by a professor who loved them. In more casual conversation, I've been enthralled by discourses on topics from the chemical behavioral cues of ants to when and why dams should be removed, because the people who were discoursing cared about those things.
Tell me about your hobby, your child, your thesis subject, your job (or even how you hate your job): if you have a passion for what you're speaking of, I'm probably going to be happy to hear about it, for at least a moderate length of time. I realize I'm spoiled. I'm a rower and a pilot. I spend a good bit of time talking to other people who are one or the other. Offline and online, the people with whom I hang out have a passion for something; it may not be any of the things I care about myself, but I talk about the things I care about, and they listen; they talk about the things they care about, and I listen. And everyone is entertained and educated.
I. Have you ever noticed that the refrain of Harry Nilsson's Everybody's Talkin' has nearly the same tune as the chorus of Creedence's Have You Ever Seen the Rain? Yeah, me neither, and I have no idea why that hit me just now when I haven't heard either song for years.
II. Oh, yes, now I remember what happens this time of year. This is when you look up fine day in September or Ocotber and realize you're scheduled for every freaking weekend through the end of the year. No, it hasn't happened yet, but given that I've got to fit an audit, an erg marathon, and an IFR checkride in the next week or two it's only a matter of time.
What do you know: apparently it's fall. It took me by surprise. I knew it was coming, because my mailbox has been stuffed full of catalogs for a week or so and the freeqays are more crowded in the mornings, but today took me by surprise. The number on the thermometer at 7AM began with a 6, instead of a 7, 8, or even 9. I dropped Rudder off to catch a flight out and then went to work on my boat, since the lake is right near the airport. It was only then I realized that it would have been much smarter to pack my rowing gear (socks, seat pad, StrokeCoach) to take advantage of the weather, instead of touching up the paint and then going home to erg indoors. At 3:30 in the afternoon, the temperature was still in two digits, and is predicted to stay there for the next week. I've been wearing a T-shirt all day, instead of a little camisole top.
After my half-marathon on the erg, I had to go to food-shopping anyway, and while I was there impulsively decided to celebrate the change of weather by making a batch of chicken soup - the kind where you start with water and a chicken, instead of a can. Rudder's away, so this is just for me - I don't think chicken soup is the sort of comfort food for him that it is for me anyway. I experimented a little, adding some extras here and altering the timing a little there, but it was essentially the same soup as always. Jewish Penicillin, good for what ails you.
Maybe I needed the comfrt and continuity because so many appalling stories on the news that I almost wished I was Catholic, so I could invoked someone else to pray for our poor sorry species. Maybe it's because making staple you've eaten all your life and your great-grandparents before you, one for which you don't need to consult a recipe, is a practical way of bringing something good into the world. I associate soup with this time of year anyway because my family always began our holiday dinners with chicken soup: Rosh Hashanah, and then ten days later the dinner to break the Yom Kippur fast. This year the holidays are unusually late, not until October, but soup and turning seasons still go together for me.
I did it up right: matzo balls and mandlen, carrots and celery, onion, garlic, tiny noodles. I have no idea whether I'll be able to finish the whole pot of it, but I feel a little better about the world now. What else is comfort food for?
I've been mulling over youth and age, spurred on by The Once and Future King, Cat Stevens, a few very young LiveJournalers, a couple of older Diarylanders, Studs Terkel, my own aging, and a sense that too many people, of any age, keep their passions wrapped in cotton wool or let them sleep entirely.
T.H. White wrote about the seventh sense that comes in middle age, the sense of balance. That's not how I'd describe it, but I think I know what he means. His characters in their midlives have had to make compromises. The ones who were pure achieved the Grail and left the world, too perfect to stay in it. Those who were left had to fit their ideals in among their reality, and could only do their best with what tools they had. They had lost their idealism, yet still held to their ideals.
There are a couple of journals I read, where the thing that keeps striking me is how young the writers are. I don't mean by that that they're not bright, not educated, or not thoughtful; if any of those things were true I wouldn't be reading them. It's something about the intensity of each experience, and about the way they never forget to wonder or care, as older people sometimes do. There are other people I read because they're members of an LJ community Im in, who also keep reminding me of their youth by the black-and-white harshness of their judgements. I once started a poll about people's ages just to check my hypothesis that some of the most frequent posters there were in their late teens and early twenties (I didn't say that's why I was polling) and found that my guess was right.
I should say here that youth and age, at least in this essay, are not strictly defined by chronological age. I can think of a certain middle-aged U.S. President who shows all the harshness of youth's unblunted opinions, if none of its generosity or idealism.
The canonical picture of the difference between youth and age is the one Cat Stevens wrote, in Father and Son. A couple of representative verses:
All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it.
If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them you know not me.
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.
I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy,
To be calm when you've found something going on.
But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you've got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.
Stevens was young when he wrote that. I don't know if he just couldn't see the other side, or if he didn't have any good older people around, just those who were too tired or disillusioned to care. But that's a horrible thing to tell a young person: "You will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not." Age doesn't have to mean abandonment of dreams. Studs Terkel's book, Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who've Lived It makes that clear. The old people he interviewed who once lived and fought for a dream still burned with that fire: old unionists, old gay rights activists, old workers and lovers and people of passions. They were a lot like T.H. White's Arthurian characters, actually: some burned out early, some died young, some gave up, and some kept on struggling. (One of them I remember could have been the original of the 'fairy' on Fire Island in Peg Kerr's The Wild Swans.) They came to their accomodations with the world and tried to build their dreams within the bounds of its possiblities. I picture one of them telling Cat Stevens' young man, "You will still be here tomorrow - and so will your dreams, if you don't do anything too stupid today."
Aging, it seems to me, is a matter of coming to grips with your limitations and those of the world - and, if you don't become jaded, of the possibilities of transcending them, and the knowledge that it can happen, just not easily or often. It's realizing that other people are colored in shades of gray, not all one way or all the other. It's also realizing you may be wrong. I don't think some people ever get there. I think some just become ossified and give up or forget they ever did care - in some cases, very early on. Some have their dreams snuffed out early and become bitter. Some just forget, or never find their passions in the first place. Either way, not caring becomes a cocoon. A few people finally leave that hibernating phase and break out of it though not many. The best ones keep caring and keep fighting, balancing priorities and picking their battles, and if sometimes they have to bend a little, they stay unbroken to fight another day.
Being proud of being strange, as Mrissa's comments reminded me today, is another characteristically young thing. I think the aged version of that is being proud to be part of a community (which may be out of the mainstream) or being proud to have held to values that matter to one, even when they're not popular ones, rather than taking pride in strangeness for its own sake. (Again, "age" and "youth" here aren't strictly bounded by years. I remember a 50-year-old coworker who always talked about what a rebel he was, when as far as I could tell, the only rebellious thing he ever did was to wear black a lot.)
Anyway, that's how it looks to me today. I'm only 38. I have no intention of either dying or of becoming encased in amber anytime soon, so there may be further phases I don't know about yet. I think there are. I see hints of one in White's Book of Merlyn or in Denver Doug's writings, which seems to be about looking at the world, backwards and forwards, and letting it be what it will. I may not be understanding that one entirely. There may be others. I don't know - but I hope to live and grow long enough to find out.
Today I am wearing black trousers, a fitted white button-down shirt, and a black and white houndstooth plaid vest. A coworker (the same one) commented that it was the most professional outfit she'd seen me in. It's certainly not the most professional outfit I've worn here, but then again she doesn't see me every day. (It hasn't escaped my notice that she'd get quite offended if I made the same sort of comments to her that she makes to me, but luckily I find her amusing.)
My wardrobe is best described as "eclectic"; the outfit I think of as most quintessentially me is probably a plain fitted jersey T-shirt and jeans, but I also enjoy wearing wide flowing skirts, short straight skirts, silk blouses, plaid flannel shirts, sweaters of all descriptions, fuzzy fleece pullovers.... I don't like wearing the same look every day; I get bored. So I strive for a basic level of professionalism and wear what I like. (Though I may have to give up the denim skirt I wore Friday. That front slit is unexceptional when I stand, but rises higher than is comfortable for work when I sit down.)
The coworker's comment is interesting, because the more I talk to her, the more orthogonal I think our views of the world are. Her clothes are professional enough, but I find them boring. They're not the sort worn by someone who doesn't care at all about clothing, or I probably wouldn't notice them at all; they want to be looked at but they're the sort of suit that sacrifices quality to achieve a dressy look with cheap fabrics. (They are, in fact, the sort of clothes that are one reason I don't wear suits or suit separates much, because when I go looking in department stores for suit-ish clothes I get disgusted with the sleazy fabrics. I'd rather wear honest cotton or wool, so I do, but seem to end up with less dressy clothes.)
It goes far beyond clothes, though. She's on a no-carb diet; if I were to diet I'd still want to eat what I liked, but less of it, and I don't believe in limiting the variety I eat. She's always looking to meet men; maybe I would be if I were still single, but when I was I tended to prefer to live my life and just meet whoever came along into it, instead of looking for them. I've always preferred to become friends before getting romantically involved, though when I met Rudder, everything sort of happened so fast that we did both at the same time. She's a political animal, work-wise; I understand the importance of the politics that are inevitable in every group of humans, but tend to avoid them when possible out of both lack of interest and a feeling that I wouldn't be good at it anyway.
She works out, but from her comments, I think she may be the sort of woman Marn talks about, who gets on the cardio equipment and says, "Well, time to burn off that doughnut!".
Most notably, recently we were discussing weight, and I proudly told her about Old Salt's comment, "My God, you're buff!" She said, "And you took that as a compliment? See, I'd be insulted by that."
I can't even get my mind around that. Also, you know those women on the front of muscle magazines that so many women are afraid of looking like? That doesn't happen by accident. Really. (In fact, I don't think it happens at all, save through better living through chemistry.)
She does read, some, or at least I've seen a book in her car (French Women Don't Get Fat) but I don't think she really understands about books, or why anyone would want to live with a nose in one. I'd be surprised if she walked into my house and didn't immediately ask, "Have you really read all of these? And why?"
She's nice enough, and I like her well enough as a work-buddy, but somehow, well ... I think Miss Cornelia Bryant would say she's " of the race that knoweth not Joseph". Which is ironic, because in many ways, Miss Cornelia might approve more of her than she would of me.
Why is my body so binary? That is, why can it go from feeling crappy to starving, or from starving to feeling overfilled and crappy so quickly? (In the latter case, it took about 8 peanut-butter-filled pretzel nuggets today.) It doesn't happen all the time, and in fact much less often than it used to, but I still don't know why and can't predict it well. My best theory is that either aging or exercise has greatly helped the IBS. But why?
Why does the local hippie-granola Co-Op still sell Chai Tea Luna bars? Or rather more importantly, why doesn't everyone else? Back before the supermarkets stopped carrying them, it seemed like every Luna-bar-eater I talked to agreed with me that Chai Tea was the best flavor. So if Luna is still making them, why did most outlets quit selling that flavor? And why do they still sell the yucky Toasted Nut and Cranberry ones? The only excuse I can think of for the latter is to market to people who believe that food must taste awful to be good for them.
Why do companies assume that body part sizes are predictable? No, not that one - well actually, come to think of it, that one too. For another example, I recently tried an off-the-shelf mouth guard. I knew I needed small, given that every dentist who works on my mouth comments on how small it is and pulls out the child-sized implements, but for some reason the packaging tells you which size to get based on your height. I am a small person with a small mouth, but it has not been my observation that these factors are generally related. (Maybe they should go by hat size or number of fingers you can cram in your mouth?) Similarly I was at the afore-mentioned co-op buying a small-sized Diva Cup, because I can feel pressure when the other one is in place and it's sometimes uncormfortable. I had originally bought the larger size becuase it said women over 30 should, even if they hadn't had kids - maybe I should have known to get the small one, but the problem with being a straight women (with decently reticent friends) is that there's very little opportunity to assess comparative sizes. I'm hoping this one will be more comfortable, not to mention easier to get in and out of place.
How could I have had one person say, "My God, you're buff!" and another ask, "Are you pregnant?" within two weeks of each other, even given the difference between work and workout clothing?
Why are plumbing chores always ten times harder than expected? (Rudder just replaced our reverse osmosis system - I'm not fussy, but it's unversally agreed that the local tap water is undrinkable, at least in terms of taste. It took him three days.)
Why do office jobs have to be so sedentary?
Why, even with my current shorter commute, does working out more still have to mean sleeping less? Somehow, I still think I should be able to exercise, work a full day, have dinner and a little time to relax, and then be able to get as much sleep as my body needs, even if that's more than 8 hours.
Why are RVs never designed with bookshelves?
How am I supposed to finish my IFR when yet another instructor is moving on? I'm glad when they get jobs with the airlines, but I'm getting tired of breaking in new ones. Having finished the required of instruction, I'd consider just flying with RUdder until I was ready to take the test, but he doesn't know enough about using the GPS and autopilot. (He did his IFR before those were common on small planes.) And anyway, learning from him is difficult for me, at least if I want to stay married to him.
Why don't I have a copy of The Sword in the Stone? (Other than as part of The Once and Future King.) How can I have missed on getting that?
I could probably sit here and ask questions all day.
This morning a rainbow kept me company most of the way to work, a good long one with about forty degrees showing I don't think I ever saw a rainbow, or not more than a tiny sliver of one, until I grew up. The city I was born, raised and educated in is not a good place for them, because of weather patterns, topology, architecture, and vegetation. I think there probably are fewer of them to begin with, because there are hills but no tall mountains to snag clouds, and so the weather patterns are a wider-spread and more uniform. Showers in one part of the sky and sun in another are not unknown, but they're notable. Here, on the other hand, rainstorms can be watched coming in and going away, and more often than not there is sun in part of the sky except while the storm is right overhead. Also, in my birth city, rowhouses crowd in, not tall but close together, and the streets between them are lined with tees, so that a much smaller sliver of the sky can be seen. Walking in the city feels more like being in a canyon lidded with an angle of sky, than as here, being on a plain roofed with as bowl of sky. If there was a rainbow in the area there, I had less chance of being able to see it.
As a result, when I see rainbows, I pay attention to them. Even though they're not rare here, they seem to be less common in the morning than in the afternoon. I put on a CD of Irish music to go with it, not because we saw any rainboaws there but because music from that misty climate seemed appropriate. (And after all, where do leprechauns keep their gold?) For a moment there was even a double arc. Eventually I went through some heavier traffic and had to concentrate, and when I came out the rainbow had faded. But the song that was playing then put me in mind of the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher, which had me thinking of the ocean in general. I miss living by water, and the ocean is the best water, because it was waves as well as the relfections all water has, and maybe a little just because of its salt. After all, our most distant ancestors came from the sea, and we retain its echo flowing in our veins. (Never tell me there's no poetry in science.)
A small sliver of the other end of the rainbow peeked out at the end of my drive, then hid behind the buliding. As I walked in the door, I asked another woman walking in if she'd seen the rainbow. She said, "Oh, no. Was there a rainbow? I don't notice anything in the morning." I am not known as an observant person, but there are some things that really ought not to be missed.
I've been watching Disney Playhouse while I erg (because it's about the most intellectual stimulation I can handle at 5AM and while on the erg) and have realized a trend: it seems like a lot of the old standby kids' shows have added characters since my time, and they nearly all seem to be modeled on small childnre. (You can tell they're small children because they have high squeaky choices, though in my experience even toddlers are not uniformly squeaky in real life.) I'm a first generation Sesame Street kid, for example; I remember when Mr. Hooper was alive, Snuffleopagus was a mystery, and Oscar was orange (he turned green a few seasons in). Occasionally, Buffy St. Marie came on and sang folk songs. Back then, the focal Muppets, if I can call them that, were Kermit, Ernie, and Bert, with frequent appearances from Cookie Monster and Grover and occasional ones from Herry and other monsters. Those were still the main characters when my brother was watching the show, around the time Cookie Monster was wearing gold chains and singing "Disco Toothbrush. By the time I was old enough to babysit, Cookie Monster was doing rap, and Elmo had been added with a full range of toys for sale. Now I think they've added a new even squeakier girl Muppet. Similarly, I had both original and Disney versions of Pooh, but the latter were still based mostly on the former.
Now, on both the puppet and cartoon versions of Winnie the Pooh, they've added a squeaky little bluebird named Kessie - on an episde that must have been her first introduction, Rabbit adopted her as a baby bird who could barely talk. Now she has a full vocabulary and speaks in an infinitesimally lower register, but is still plainly a small child. (The cartoon Pooh, which is less uniformly cheery than the puppet version, also has a very funny grumpy old gopher gaffer who wears a miner's lamp and some annoying Heffalumps with Bronx accents who seem to have strayed over from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.) I dfon't really see why Kessie is needed; if children want a Very Small and timid animal to identify with, there's always Piglet - but they've lost the whole point that the Hundred-Aker Wood and its inhabitants are all in Christopher Robin's imagination. Who needs more to identify with than that?
Reputedly, Barbie was invented when a female Mattel exec realized that her own daughter preferred playing with older dolls, instead of babys. (Yes, I know, she was then based on the German Lili dolls, but those were for adults.) I think maybe the producers of kids' shows need to learn the Barbie lesson again. Kids like playing grown-up, or rather kid-appropriate versions thereof - pirates and princesses, parents and pioneers. That's how they learn. I'm not convinced they need a squeaky-voiced little-kid character in order to be able to identify with a story.
Scalzi began a discussion thread with, "Why are there so many songs about rainbows?" Actually, I'm not convinced there are. I can think of three, offhand: The Rainbow Connection, obviously; Somewhere Over the Rainbow; and Look to the Rainbow, from Finian's R.
But the real question, to my mind, should be, "Why are there so few songs about flying?" I 've never actually sailed anything bigger than a Sunfish (been on a few others were sailing, though), but I can sing you songs about sailing until you beg for mercy. (Granted, for most people, that happens in about five minutes.) There are hundreds of them, and not all the sailing songs date back to the days when people actually did sing attheir work. Yet there are hardly any songs about actually being off the ground, chasing clouds and rainbows. Not that you can get near a rainbow, but I have now flown through clouds. There are a few that are only tangential and don't really count, like Leaving on a Jet Plane or Early Morning Rain, but as far as actual flying songs, all I can think of are Archie Fisher's song Bill Hosie (about a man who built a replican Supermarine S-5 and Bill Staines' Tingmissartoq (about the plane Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh took up tot eh Arctic) and both of those are fairly obscure. Note: both can be found on Staines' album Looking for the Wind, should you want to hear them - but even that album, titled about his first landing at the controls, contains only those two and Early Morning Rain for flying songs.)
There are a few songs about flying without airplanes: Iron Maiden, Ani DiFranco, Reilly & Maloney and Richard Berman have all sung about Icaurs, though only the first and third of those really dwell on the flying experience, and there's I'm Flying! from the Peter Pan musical.
There's the Indigo Girls' song Airplane, but that's mostly about wishing you were back on the ground. John Denver once put the poem High Flight to music, but I've never found a recording. (He was hosting a special about NASA -I'd love a video of the whole thing.) There are a couple of songs about space flight, though I think of that as a different animal (an even more exciting one, in my opinion), but both Space Oddity and its remake Major Tom end with the astronaut's death. Elton John's Rocketman is about the dreary planetside part of the job. His Rocket Man is a trucker who just happens to drive a spaceship.
With the amount of time humanity has spent on dreaming of flight and on trying to get off the ground, you'd think we'd sing about it a little more.
Yesterday, on the way to work, I heard a news story about labor camps in Florida that are disturbingly like indentured service, like the old mining towns ("St. Peter don't you call me cause I can't go / I owe my soul to the company store.") and another story on the London bombings. As I got out of the car, I thought, "What a hell of a world," and looked around for a spot of beauty to pull me away from despair. The problem is that I work in a complex of industrial buildings right next to Skthe back side of the city airport. Except for a few small scattered bits of landscaping in our parking lot, there is nothing but asphalt, cement, and manufactured products (cars, airliners, ugly buildings) to be seen. No planes were taking off on the nearby runway to lift my heart with their flight. I tried lifting my eyes to the hills, but that didn't work either. I can see Camelback and South Mountain from our lot, but while both can be beautiful to hike on, from a distance in July they are brown and bald and desolate, like the personification of despair in a Dantean landscape.
I pushed it all out of my mind as I entered the building for another long slow day in my windowless office. (I expect to be very busy soon, as the reorg takes hold, but right now things are very quiet. ) Later that afternoon, though, I went to make popcorn. As I stood by the microwave in a nearby office, I leaned on the window and looked out, as I always do, and I realized what I had forgotten in the morning. I looked out at the asphalt and the cement and the cars, but then I looked up, at the blue sky and the white clouds. I remembered something Richard Bach once wrote, in Illusions: Confessions of a Reluctant Messiah: "Is it a perfect sky? It's always a perfect sky," and something else he'd said in one of his essays on flying, that no matter where a pilot is, no matter how hemmed in city-ness and cement, at least she can always look up and see a free and unbound sky and know that her true home is right there. I'm not at the point in flying where I feel that the sky is my true home, but I've always loved to look at it. I don't believe there is anything more beautiful than the shapes and shading of clouds, unless it's galaxies; I don't have a very detailed faith, in the sense of believing I know exactly what God is and what She wants from me, but they keep me believing in a Great Artist behind the design of the universe.
This morning, the last thing I heard on my drive to work before I shut down my engine was a beautiful story from StoryCorps, from a bus driver who had gone out of his way to help a confused older lady find the friends she was to meet. He went into every restaurant on the block to look for them. When he had found them, he held his hand out to help her down. "I wanted to make her feel special, like it was a limousine or something. It's just a bus, you know?" He still remembered the feel of her hand and her comment that she was dying of cancer, but that he had made it the best day of her life so far. What struck me were the tears in his voice, as he said "I'll never forget her." He was the one who had done the kind deed, yet he was the one most affected by it. I'll wager she remembers the kind driver, if she is still alive, but he was the one who was so affected by the mitzvah he'd done that he had to tell the story to preserve it in an archive. And as I got out of the car and walked across the ugly parking lot, I instinctively looked up to marvel. Despite the pollution of the city, the blue was luminous, with a few white clouds to remind me of the monsoons that will be gathering in the next few weeks. It was another perfect sky.
I am one of those people who often figures things out as I speak or write. The drawbacks to this system are obvious; it can have me looking as if I don't know what I'm talking about because my first answer is still in a larval stage. I need to be careful not to do it around my boss, because when I do he will often interrupt with, "No, that's not right," leaving me wanting to respond, "Wait, I wasn't finished with that idea yet!" The advantage to the process is that I sometimes end up figuring out things I didn't know I knew, especially when I'm responding to a provocative idea of someone else's. That's what happened in commentary following Rebecca's explanation of why she believes that the Adam ad Eve story in Genesis must be literally true. I felt free to ask questions and posit ideas because I've known her tangentially for years, through blogs and a few different book discussion groups, and knew I could trust her intellectual honesty - meaning, if she believes something she has a reason for doing so, and it's not just because someone told her to. Also, she's mature and secure in her faith; somehow I wouldn't want to risk shaking the belief of someone young and inexperienced even if I thought their beliefs were wrong, unless of course those beliefs were likely to lead them to hurt others. I don't know why; maybe it's a fear of responsibility, or just the realization that I myself may always be wrong.
At any rate, while responding to a comment on her post, I did figure out something for myself. I'm going to take the liberty of posting the snippet of the previous column I had been responding to.
Just a note to Paula... the idea of theistic evolution has been around for quite a while. One argument against it is that some of the events in the 6 days of creation are different than the order which evolutionists say life evolved.
My response was:
Shawn: True, and obviously important to those who believe the Bible literally. On the other hand, if you take it as metaphor, I'm not sure the order matters. The beginning of Genesis (those words sound really silly if you think of the book as Bereshit rather than Genesis, because they would then be "The beginning of 'In the Beginning'". But anyway) would reduce more or less to "God created the world in all its glory and complexity. Humans were given free will, which they have sometimes used in ways that bring them further from the All-Good". Which is a reading I can believe. It's obviously not what Rachel and presumably you believe (or rather, not all of it; those words are not incompatible with a literal Adam and Eve) but I'd argue that it's far from unimportant or meaningless, nonetheless. A problem for you, I'm guessing (not trying to put words in your mouth) is that my reading would not create a need for redemption beynond the choices each individual can make and thus Jesus would not be required, as he is by a literal Fall. Come to think of it, I think I've just explained why Jews (I am a more or less secular one) don't feel a need for Jesus, in case you ever wondered.
I would really love to see a non-literalist Christan weigh into that discussion now; I'd be curious to read a discussion of sin and the consequent need for redemption therefrom for those who don't start from a literal Fall of Adam and Eve.
In his quite wonderful book Downtown: My Mahattan, Pete Hamill says, speaking of the early 1960s, "It seemed possible, as Camus once said, that you could love your country and justice too."
I almost cried when I read that.
Two of my lists are reading books about or influenced by World War I the war that may have changed the world more thoroughly than any other in the last couple hundred years: LordPeter is discussing Dorothy L. Sayers' first book, Whose Body, and the True Kindreds are talkng about L. M. Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside.
That's why, when I saw in the list of books newly online that a book of Mary Roberts Rinehart's called Kings, Queens, and Pawns: An American Woman at the Front, from 1915, had been published, I clicked over to look at it. Here's the thing: this book is not fiction. Apparently Rineharts actually crossed over to England (through submarine-infested seas), then got permission to go to France (more subs) and on up to the actual warfront by virtue of her membership in the American Red Cross. Her mission was to tell Americans what the situation was actually like and what things were needed by the Belgians, especially. At that time, of course America was not in the war but had been sending supplies to her English, French, and Belgian allies. Two-thirds of Belgium's army was gone, and most of the country was under German occupation; when Belgian soldiers fired at the enemy, they were shooting at their own towns, having no idea whether their families were still there or still alive at all. The capital was moved to the small town of La Panne, where the King, Queen, and Crown Prince remained despite the dangers of shelling not far off and German planes flying overhead daily. Rinehart was received by King Albert, and was much impressed with his bravery, love and care for his men.
Here's an excerpt, from toward the end of the book. I have to repeat again, this is not fiction.
The day after the declaration of war the Belgian scouts were mobilised, by order of the minister of war--five thousand boys, then, ranging in age from twelve to eighteen, an army of children. What a sight they must have been! How many grown-ups can think of it with dry eyes? What a terrible emergency was this, which must call the children into battle!
They were placed at the service of the military authorities, to do any and every kind of work. Some, with ordinary bicycles or motorcyles, were made dispatch riders. The senior scouts were enlisted in the regular army, armed, and they joined the soldiers in barracks. The younger boys, between thirteen and sixteen, were letter-carriers, messengers in the different ministries, or orderlies in the hospitals that were immediately organised. Those who could drive automobiles were given that to do.
Others of the older boys, having been well trained in scouting, were set to watch points of importance, or given carbines and attached to the civic guard. During the siege of Liege between forty and fifty boy scouts were constantly employed carrying food and ammunition to the beleaguered troops.
The Germans finally realised that every boy scout was a potential spy, working for his country. The uniform itself then became a menace, since boys wearing it were frequently shot. The boys abandoned it, the older ones assuming the Belgian uniform and the younger ones returning to civilian dress. But although, in the chaos that followed the invasion and particularly the fall of Liege, they were virtually disbanded, they continued their work as spies, as dispatch riders, as stretcher-bearers.
There are still nine boy scouts with the famous Ninth Regiment, which has been decorated by the king.
One boy scout captured, single-handed, two German officers. Somewhere or other he had got a revolver, and with it was patrolling a road. The officers were lost and searching for their regiments. As they stepped out of a wood the boy confronted them, with his revolver levelled. This happened near Liege.
Trust a boy to use his wits in emergency! Here is another lad, aged fifteen, who found himself in Liege after its surrender, and who wanted to get back to the Belgian Army. He offered his services as stretcher-bearer in the German Army, and was given a German Red Cross pass. Armed with this pass he left Liege, passed successfully many sentries, and at last got to Antwerp by a circuitous route. On the way he found a dead German and, being only a small boy after all, he took off the dead man's stained uniform and bore it in his arms into
There is no use explaining about that uniform. If you do not know boys you will never understand. If you do, it requires no explanation.
Here is a fourteen-year-old lad, intrusted with a message of the utmost importance for military headquarters in Antwerp. He left Brussels in civilian clothing, but he had neglected to take off his boy scout shirt--boy-fashion! The Germans captured him and stripped him, and they burned the boy scout shirt. Then they locked him up, but they did not find his message.
All day he lay in duress, and part of the night. Perhaps he shed a few tears. He was very young, and things looked black for him. Boy scouts were being shot, remember! But it never occurred to him to destroy the message that meant his death if discovered.
He was clever with locks and such things, after the manner of boys, and for most of the night he worked with the window and shutter lock. Perhaps he had a nail in his pocket, or some wire. Most boys have. And just before dawn he got window and shutter opened, and dropped, a long drop, to the ground. He lay there for a while, getting his breath and listening. Then, on his stomach, he slid away into the darkest hour that is just before the dawn.
Later on that day a footsore and weary but triumphant youngster presented himself at the headquarters of the Belgian Army in Antwerp and insisted on seeing the minister of war. Being at last admitted, he turned up a very travel-stained and weary little boy's foot and proceeded to strip a piece of adhesive plaster from the sole.
Underneath the plaster was the message!
There's been a lot of serendipity in things I've been reading on the web lately. Sometimes things reinforce each other, sometimes they contradict. It's easy to see the connections, a lot harder to come to any useful conclusions. But here's what I've seen today.
An article in USA Today tells of a program designed for Girl Scouts to improve self-esteem of 8 to 14-year olds, in which the girls create a "Me-O-Meter" for each to show how "awesome" she is. I do see a small problem with the Girl Scouts' program, in that most other studies I've seen say that it's after puberty that girls, especially, tend to begin to think worse of themselves. I haven't seen evidence one way or the other about whether gains in self-esteem in childhood persist through adolescence and into adulthood. Still, it's the younger girls they get to work with, and you have to start somewhere.
A larger problem is whether the program will do any good. The article goes on to quote a study in Scientific American ("Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth.") The authors found pretty much no correlation between self-esteem and success academically, on the job, or in love. They also found no connection between the hgher self-opinions of people with higher self-esteem and objective rankings. (That is, people with higher self-esteem are more likely to describe themselves as attractive or popular, neither of which correlate with objective reality. They conclude,
"We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today's children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise."
It's easy enough to find anecdotal evidence that there really is a lack of self-esteem in adults. When a large number of people find it difficult to think of a mere three positive things to say about their own bodies, it's hard not to think something is wrong. Also, the authors of that study did find one correlation: people with higher self-esteem tend to be happier.
It's "indiscriminate promoting of self-esteem" the Scientific American article decries. Helping people who actually have a problem isn't indiscriminate. Neither is wanting to help your friends think as much of themselves as you do of them - and maybe come a little closer to happiness in the process.
Come to think of it, I like Mr. Rogers's approach too. I think he might have liked blogs, with their capability to show that other people have some of the same doubts and oddities you thought only you did.
Please don't think it's funny, when you want an extra kiss, There are lots and lots of people who sometimes feel like this.
Maybe it's something in the air, or the heat of summer, or the swirling divisions in this country, but I've read three posts (the third one is friends-locked) on different but related subjects just this morning: cynicism, depression, bipolar depression, attitudes, and the result on all those of choosing attitudes, prayer, and medication. For me, Matociquala's approach of "choosing joy" is the one that resonates, the one that applies in daily life. I realize, though, that in cases where depression is checmially caused (hormones, mental illness) that there's a lot more than a simple choice involved. I've seen cases where medication was indubitably required. But I do think choosing joy has to come first, even to allow the decision to seek medical or other help.
There's enough evidence that the world is going to hell to convince anyone. But there's evidence of hope as well, and the two balance so nearly and both are so subjective that this is a decision that can't be a mechanical matter of sifting data. Madeleine L'Engle once wrote that she didn't know for sure whether God existed, but found that she had to live as though He did, for her own peace. It's like that for me; I can't say for sure that the cynics aren't right that the good is draining from the world, but I choose hope and joy as the way I want to live, and I will until and unless forced to do otherwise.
Later note: in her comment to this entry, Rachel mentions Jack Gilbert's A Brief for the Defense, which enumerates the reasons for joy far better than I could. And he even mentions the faint sounds of oars!
I was listening to songs from Fiddler on the Roof again this morning. My favorite song from the musical has always been Far From the Home I Love. I've always figured that's because I was a soppy sentimentalist at heart, and maybe that was the first reason, but this morning I realized that maybe it's because I identify a little with Hodel in her rebellion. Tzeitl marries Motel, and while she goes against the usual matchmaking system, still, he was her childhood playmate and they settle not far from her parents. Chava, it's true, rebels most drastically in marrying a non-Jew, as I did, but she doesn't have any reason for it other than falling in love with this particular man. (Also, she doesn't get a song.) Hodel is the only one who leaves her home (before everyone is expelled at the end), and while she leaves it specifically for a man, she also seems to share something of Pertchik's dreams. They are the only two who have dreams of something outside the little town of Anatevka.
As I did. I left my city after college and moved 1500 miles away. Now I live even farther. (Unlike Hodel, I met my man along the way - but I wouldn't have met him at all if I hadn't left home.) I can't say I love the neighborhood where I grew up as she loved Anatevka, but I do miss some of the people I grew up among, and I do love the greater city of Philadelphia still. But I left looking for a bigger, more open life than I'd have been able to live there - that's the best I can put it. No wonder I identify with Hodel.
There are only a few stories where I think I know what happened to the characters after the end, and this is one. Tevye and his family sailed to New York. His brother helped them get started; Tevye and Golde worked in whatever jobs they could find, maybe she in the garment factories and he delivering milk. They learned some English but always spoke with thick accents. Their children were fluent in both Yiddish and English, and had better jobs, maybe in retail or working in a government office. And their grandchildren were... well, me, and my brother and all of our cousins and the Jewish kids like us. Tzeitl and Motel worked in the factories too, but got to advance up the ladder as they aged. They were a bridge between the older generation and their own children, as well as Tzeitl's younger sisters. Chava and her husband left Russia. They went to Germany or England and their children assimilated. Pertchik was released or escaped from Siberia. He and Hodel went first to the US, where there was a joyous reunion with her family, but they couldn't stay put. He got involved with the workingman's associations and the Socialist groups, which led to involvement with the Zionists. They fled to Palestine, where they joined a kibbutz and worked hard to build the land, planting trees and irrigating farms - backbreaking labor, but leavened by the belief that what they did mattered. Maybe they lived long enough to see the State of Israel established, and died happy.
It's sort of like when you're buying a gift for someone and you find something that's perfect, even though it's not something you'd want for yourself. Their dreams aren't mine, but I can see where they led and feel their power.
I'm still jonesing after a trip to a yarn shop, even though I probably won't finish my sweater this weekend (though it is possible). I get these odd episodes of product lust, for yarn or books or shoes, which probably account for the bingeing nature of my spending patterns. Even when I've been relatively poor, I haven't stopped splurging; it's just that the splurges were much smaller, $6 worth of beads instead of $150 on clothes. I don't spend more than I can afford to, so it's not really a problem, but it is true that I'd have more freedom in some ways if I were better at saving money. To clarify, I do save 15% of my pay to my 401(k) plus another sum automatically transferred weekly to a savings account. I'm not fiscally irresponsible, but it would be possible to save more. For the last few months I've had a balance on my credit card, too, due to the flying lessons; once those are done I intend to go back to paying it off monthly, as I had done for several years. Spending less, or planning better would be a good thing, but it would also remove some excitement from my life.
Of the things I splurge on, books are the easiest to justify. Once the excitement of New Stuff! wears off, there's the acquisitive pleasure of cataloging it and the promise of pleasure in reading and rereading it. Yarn has its virtue too: there is the sensual joy of handling it and being surrounded by it in the store, the process of choosing what to buy, the enjoyment of knitting it, and finally either the pleasure of giving a present or the getting to use or wear the finished article. That only applies if I don't buy much more than I can knot, however, which restraint I understand is rare among knitters. I am coming to the end of the project I've been working on, and could finish it if I spend a large chunk of this weekend on it. On the other hand, since I bought books last week (some of which are due to arrive today via UPS, though the rest got shipped by the ^&%(*& Post Orifice) I ought to have enough entertainment value without buying yarn this week. The yarn-buying is complicated by the fact that we're planning to visit the property this Saturday, the only day local yarn stores are open this weekend.
Clearly what I need is more days off. And more money. Don't we all?
I have a fascination with the way other people live, especially when they're ways of life that are very different than mine. I'm always interested in hearing about how other people make their living, what their houses are like and so on. Part of this is because I have an itch for change; eventhe things I like doing best, I don't like doing for very long, with the two exceptions of reading and marriage. (And even there, I usually have a couple of books going at once. Only one husband, though.) Part of it is because while most aspects of my life are good enough, few of them couldn't stand a change for the better.
A more ideal life for me would involve the same spouse, the same friends but more of them and more time with them, a house that is not necessarily fancier but bigger and more rambly (and my house is already more big and rambly than it is fancy), a job with more people-contact and a little more variety, the ability to work at home sometimes, a cooler climate, a little more travel (and not just to regattas). Most of those are surprisingly small changes, so maybe I'm even happier than I thought. The one major change would be that I'd like more disposable time, both in small chunks during each day to knit and read or even do errands, and in large chunks of several days, to go traveling or do projects or relax.
This morning I was thinking about some of the more intriguing alternate lives I've heard of. When we went to Antarctica at the end of 2003, the boat was staffed with a cruise staff with varying jobs: coordinating our itinerary, taking us out in Zodiacs, coaching us in kayaks, explaining what we were seeing, giving us photography tips, and keeping people happy and entertained - sort of a cross between professors, wilderness guides, and resort staff, with some jobs leaning more one way and some the other. They all live on the boat all (Northern hemispere) winter, from November through February or March, with only a couple hours' break in town to do laundry and send email between trips. Some of them work on cruises to Alaska in summer. One guy was telling us about his cottage somewhere in the backcountry of Ontario that he lives in during his two or three months off a year. It's demanding, but it sounds wonderful in some ways; their work is a part of their lives rather than a separate thing, they're in beautiful scenery, and they get large chunks of time completely off.
On the other hand, I realized, even if I were prepared to deal with no time off during the working months, I simply couldn't do that job. All of the cruise staff took us out in Zodiacs at one time or another, and the outings were always for a couple of hours right after breakfast or lunch. No breaks, no bathrooms. A couple of times, I asked to be taken back to the ship early, but the staff doesn't have that option. I couldn't do it. I couldn't be a flight instructor easily, either - at least, I could, but it would be difficult. Those guys fly all day, for a couple of hours at a time, with only short breaks between students. Often they don't get time to eat during the day, or just grab something from a vending machine, and (since our tap water isn't drinkable out here) they only have cans of soda to drink. IBS has had more impact on my life choices than I'd like to think; I like to believe I'm an adventurous person but I work in an office, with clean bathrooms and air conditioning and the ability to eat or drink whenever I want. I think it would be easier to be more adventurous if all my choices weren't bounded by the limits of my body, or if those limits were wider. On the other hand, what I think of as "normal people" - those who almost never have to consider issues of eating or digestion - too often have other physical limits. My IBS isn't bad at all these days; it rarely keeps me from doing what I want to do and when it does, it's usually my own fault for eating something I knew would be a problem. On the other hand, I have working arms and legs, heart, lungs, eyes and ears. I don't have to worry about falling asleep at inopportune times or going into insulin shock or disabling depressions. My limits are really not all that bad.
Damn it, it's hard to complain when your brain insists on looking at the big picture on every issue. It's extremely annoying having your own built-in Pollyanna.
It feels strange to be traveling for pleasure without Rudder. I can understand why he didn't want to go (a whole weekend of hanging out with someone else's coworkers? He knows a lot of them, but still...) I do wish he were going, though, partly because weekends are the time we get to spend together and partly because I'm not thrilled to be driving a strange car late at night in a city I no longer know well. At least I'm not scared to be driving at all, as I was when I first drove in Houston.
This is unknown in this part of the country, but I didn't get my drivers' license until I was 22. Never needed one in Philadelphia, and couldn't afford the insurance. I got my license a week before I moved. Maybe some of you were confident drivers when you first learned how; I wasn't, not for a long time, and Houston is a hard city to drive in anyway. (Not as bad as LA or Boston or New York, all of which I've driven in since.) For my first month there I managed without a car, a thing for which Houston is *not* designed. I was only able to get to the car dealers through the kindness of coworkers - I had moved there not knowing anyone. Just to make it more of a challenge, I bought a stick shift. I'd driven one a few times, thanks to my boyfriend at the time, but anyone who's ridden with a new driver will know it takes more than a few times to learn stick. (Last I heard, he still had the car, so apparently I didn't do too much damage.)
I wasn't fit to be on the roads yet, so I actually got the saleswoman at the car dealer to drive the car home for me, with my coworker giving her a ride back. Then I spent the next morning doing doughnuts in a nearby empty parking lot. Work waws only a couple of blocks away, so I didn't need to drive to commute. I used to take the car out for a spin in the evenings, toward the edge of town, just to get used to driving in a setting where it might be a little fun. I never did get comfortable driving into Houston's downtown, where the traffic is always horrible. (I almost never had to go farther than the nearby airport, so I didn't practice it much.) Ten years and a lot of commuting miles later, it's going to feel odd driving around town tonight and this weekend. It will feel even odder doing it without being nervous.
In other news, I just did something I've never done before, right after I did something I haven't done for years and years. Yes, it's legal and moral. No, I'm not telling.
I should probably clarify: I am not a slave to fashion, as anyone who's met me more than once can attest. There are fads I'll wear because I like them and they're in, like, say, ponchos, and then there are things I'll wear whether or not they're in because they're me. Swirly skirts, especially with plain T-shirts or tank tops, are in this category.
I still think of a plain un-logoed T-shirt and jeans as my basic outfit, even though I don't actually wear the two together that often. It's not dressy enough for work (though I can wear jeans on Firdays and plain jersey T's anytime, with a skirt or trousers) and it's too hot here to wear long pants half the year, outside the office.
There have been some fashion-driven changes over the years, though they've percolated into my wardrobe slowly and it's taken me a while to realize them. In high school, I often wore a loose top or tunic over tight jeans or pants. Now my general silhouette is a little different (so is everyone else's). With a few exceptions for long loose tops or sweaters, most of my shirts are more fitted now. I hardly ever wear my unisex T-shirts because they just don't look good on me now. The few logo-ed shirts I do wear are cut for girls (either literally (I can still buy from the girls dept, if the shoulders are loose enough ) or figuratively ("baby Ts" for women)). My jeans have been low-waisted ever since that fashion became mainstream enough for me to notice how much more comfortable it was. I don't wear the low low ones because I have no desire to show off my underwear a la Lewinsky, but lower waists mean my pants aren't attempting to impose a topological feature not present in the region of my rib cage, which is where so-called "natural" waistlines usually hit me. I wear my jeans either straight down or boot-cut usually; this may change with long-term fashion trends but I will never again wear the tight unstretchy jeans popular when I was in high school. one of the wonderfully liberating things about adulthood is not needing to impress anyone that much, along with the ability to look critically and realize that anything that tight isn't even flattering on most teenagers.
(Did anyone else who was around for the 1980s ever notice how many girls/women in those tight jeans had sharp corners where the wide butt ended and the skinny legs began? Not a good look, I thought even then.)
I've come to realize over the years that the thing to do with fashion is to take advantage of it: when something you like is in, or the jeans are a good cut that year, buy. If you don't, you'll be kicking yourself two years later when you can't find it.
For some reason I started coming up with this list of "rules" after a particularly noticeable exercise by Rudder of Rule #1. (He avoided volunteering me to race a double with someone in May, even though she's pretty good, just in case I didn't want to race.) It started me thinking of the other rules we follow. SOme of these came naturally to us, some we had to learn.
I'm sure I'm forgetting something critical here.
As a tribute to Deniz Sarikaya, because the writings I liked most of hers were responses to this meme, here's my Anonymeme.
Anonymous commenting is on for a short while. (I don't know how to trace IP addresses and promise faithfully not to learn on these comments.) I want you to post anything that you want.
A story, a secret, a confession, a fear, a love - anything. Be sure to post anonymously and honestly. Post as many times as you'd like.
Then, put this in your journal to see what your friends (and perhaps others who you don't even realize read your journal) have to say.
Feel free to keep an eye on the comment page, as I might reply to what you have to say...
Incidentally, I never knew Deniz or even read her LJ before today, incidentally. The post below explains why I wanted to do this - to find out more about the people I know or don't know or could know, while there's time, in a way that lets them write anything safely.
You know what really sucks? What really sucks is when, out of idle curiosity, you follow a link from one blog to another, and find that the writer of the second one is wise, compassionate and interesting. Well, OK, that part doesn't suck. The sucky thing is when the whole reason the link was posted was to note that the writer of the second blog has died, and there will never be any more conversation to be had there.
This isn't the first time I've learned how how much I would have liked someone online, only when it's too late. Sometimes, it's been someone who touched so many lives they're mentioned in numerous blogs all over the net. Somehow it bothers me more than finding out a favorite author is dead. Maybe that's because I don't usually find out so more immediately - more often, the author died long before I ever heard his or her name - but I think it's more a matter of expectation. I expect to converse with an author mainly through his or her books, and I expect that conversation to be about the characters and only peripherally about the author. (Maybe that even applies to autobiographies. I don't know.) In a journal, though, it's a real life - or a part of one - that I'm reading, so when it's ended it's much more of a shock. (Clearly, authors I've met in real life fall into the latter class.)
By any reasonable measure short of great advances in geriatrics, I'm past the first third of my life now, but I confess to still being young enough that death doesn't still feel real to me. I've seen a few dead and dying bodies and heard the final thud of earth falling on people I love, but I still have a hard time with the concept of a person ceasing to be. I don't know if that's cause or effect for the fact that I still feel my grandparents, the ones I've lost that I was closest too, near around me whenever I think of them. By definition, since you can never really know anyone else from inside, I suppose in a real way they are around me whenever I think of them, just as I interacted with my images of them rather than themselves when they were alive. The difference is that I can't learn anything new about them now, except through other people.
Maybe that's why it hurts to learn about a new person only after they've died. After all, I had all the love and more time to spend with my grandparents than most people get. When I was born, there were seven of them when I was born and the first of the four I was closest to didn't die until I was in college. (It occurs to me now that my brother, four years younger, was comparatively gypped.) But with a new person, one I haven't met before, when I begin to learn about them, like what I see and want to know more, if they've died there will never be any chances to learn and like them better.
Current jewelry, aside from the watch and engagement ring, which doesn't really count, is made only of glass, silver, and wood. Somehow I like the basicness of that. I also like that each thing has a story.
I don't really count the watch and ring because I wear them every day but there are things to say about both. The watch has a solar battery, with the charging panel as its face. Because of this I'm always pushing up long sleeves a bit so it doesn't sit in the dark all day and go dead on me; though it must charge quickly because this has never happened, no matter how long and thick my sleeves. The ring is the engagement ring only; the jeweler made it 1/4 size small and the wedding ring 1/2 size too small so they wouldn't fall off, and at the time I never considered that I'd actually want to take them off for rowing. My wedding ring is thin and it's absolutely plain, in the Jewish tradition, so it can be worn with the engagement ring. However, I have short stubby fingers and don't like the look of two rings together unless they're made to look like one, so between that and the fact that it's hard to get on and off, I rarely wear my wedding ring. The engagement ring is so pretty that people are always noticing it for the first time, thinking they couldn't possibly have missed noticing it before (apparently they could have) and asking if I've just gotten engaged. This has happened quite a few times, when I've changed jobs or for whatever reason been spending time with a new group of people.
The earrings are blue and turquoise glass surrounded by silver. I wear them often, because they go well with so many clothes. I bought them in Portsmouth, NH, during that long awful of 2001 that I spent away from Rudder in (very) snowy Worcester, MA. There were a few high points to that winter, though: proper wintery weather, starting this journal (at its original Diaryland site) and getting to pay a couple of visits to my friend SWooP up in Maine, and to meet her husband and her remarkable daughter. That was when we visited Portsmouth, which is full of little galleries selling nifty bits of glass, and when I bought the earrings, so they remind me of a good day with people I like.
The necklace has bits of silver chain interspersed with tiny blue and tinier yellow beads, and I made it myself. It's always a good feeling to wear something you've made, especially if it's well done enough that it's not completely obvious you've made it.
My hair is up in a twist. In it is a stick, pencil-sized but with four sides. It's made of a reddish wood and on one side at the top an artist has inlaid tiny bits of turquise and agate. It is the only thing keeping all of my hair up, and it's holding just fine. I love the basicness of the wood, and of an entire hairstyle based on one plain stick.
I do have some fancier jewelry: some rubies Rudder gave me, pearls, an emerald pendant, a small sapphire ring. I tend to wear my simplest things most often. What I really love in my possessions, though, in jewelry as well as other things, is when they have a story or a memory attached.
I was just reading a fascinating article on Evangelical Christians and how they do just about as much drinkin' and wenchin' and just about as little helpin' and givin' as the rest of us. (Referred by someone else's journal but her entry is locked so I won't refer back.) The reason it was fascinating is that it appeared in Christianity Today and was written by an Evangelical as a desperate plea to his fellows to live by their own beliefs to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, rather than as a sneering piece by a heathen like me. Disclaimer: I do know a few Xtians who can be determined by their attempts to live by Jesus' words. Not too many, though.
What I would have liked is to have seen similar statistics, rigorously analyzed, on the behavior of Jews, Muslims, pagans, and so on. I suspect Muslims owuld have outdone most of the rest of us in time spent reading the Koran, adherence to its laws, and in donation to the poor. (My only quarrel with the extreme fundies there is in their interpretation of the laws they're following and in their apparent belief that nonbelievers are subhuman. But talk to a nonradical but observant Muslim for a lesson in living within a faith.) Personal experience has suggested that even less observant Jews are much more likely than Christians to donate to causes they believe in, and that both pagans and Christians in more liberal denominations (e.g. UUs, though of course referring to them as Christians is a whole 'nother debate) are more likely to be working within their community to help others.
The one thing I think is especially funny is the concern at the rate of adultery and divorce among Xtians. Here's the thing: marriage (or equivalent lifetime committed relationship) is hard. At least it is if it's done right. On second thought, that's the wrong word. It's not hard, in the sense of being difficult. It does require constant work and attention, like a garden, but like a garden (if you're a gardener - I'm going by hearsay here) it's mostly rewarding and pleasant work. The thing people rarely mention is that once you've got that part going, monogamy is surprisingly easy.
No, really. Of course I have to insert a disclaimer here, that this is based only on my own experience, but I do have 14.5 years of that to draw on. There are only two prerequisites, both of which I seem to have achieved, though possibly more by luck than by virtue or good planning. You have have married the person you'd rather sleep with than just about anyone else, at least in the long term, and you have to have enough of a sense of consequences to not want to do anything that would cause more pain than pleasure, at least on important issues. Clearly the second of those isn't universal or there would be no petty criminals. As for the first, since I've met Rudder I haven't met anyone else with whom I would rather be in a relationship - a few people with whom I'd otherwise have enjoyed being friends-with-benefits or a few dates, yes, but no one who didn't have big gaping flaws, comparatively, for anything longer. At this point, I find it highly unlikely I'd meet someone better; I could conceivably meet someone equivalent but then it would be the equivalent person with whom I have the 15-year history versus the one without - so not really equivalent after all.
If I did meet someone like that I would still stay faithful because I vowed, and I keep my promises; what I'm saying, though, is in a decade and a half that I haven't even been more than fleetingly tempted.
This almost demands a digression on polyamory, before someone else brings it up. None of the above is about it at all, really. I don't think polyamory is particularly wrong. For me it comes down to vows and promises kept: if all involved agree on the parameters, then I think it's fine. In most cases I've seen, it does look more considerably difficult; there are just more resources and constraints to track and juggle, and more responsibility for each person to make sure they're getting what they need and being fair to all others concerned. Whether it yields concomitantly more joy is something I haven't yet seen enough to judge on; I suspect, as with most human things, that in some cases it does and for some people it doesn't. At any rate, I see a huge difference between having agreed-on multiple partners vs just sleeping around on your spouse: the former is an alternate arrangement, while the latter breaks vows.
But yeah, once you have the marriage in place, and if you work just a little to maintain it, then the monogamy is easy. Maybe that's why the fundamentalist types make such a big deal of it, or rather why their Bible does. (I believe there's a lot of wisdom in the Bible, though not always in those who follow it blindly - I love that I come from a tradition that encourages study, question, and interpretation of everything.) I can imagine it being easy to slip once, say if you're apart for a long time, but I would think anything bigger than that is a sign that you're either not married to the right person or not working to be the right person. And that is serious. If you're not attached, that's one thing; if you are in a committed relationship, it's liable to be the biggest factor in your life, and so part of the glass through which you view the rest of the world. If that gets distorted, how can you see anything clearly? And to get back the article that started this line of thought, why would anyone else trucst your moral view?
L'Empress left me an interesting comment the other day: You're in the process of resetting your priorities, whether you realize it or not." I'm not sure she's right, but I'm not sure she's not, either.
I am definitely trying to set my priorities in regard to rowing, at any rate. One thing that's just occurred to me is that no matter what I decide about training and competing, I'm going to need to do at least some rowing, because I need to be on the water every so often. I don't know that I need to row, specifically, but I need to be in or on the element of water. (I don't care what Mendeleev said, in my psyche there are the four classic elements, and of those I respond to fire and water most. Then air. I don't have as much affinity with earth, which is probably why I've got no interest in gardening.)
One of the times I'd repeat from 2004, if I could, was being on the boat to Antarctica. We were with about 150 other people who were adventurous enough to either want to go there or want to crew on an adventure voyage, and I enjoyed that, but the part that touched the deepest chord was seeing water all around me, whether being down in it in a kayak or zodiac or just being rocked to sleep in two dimensions with spray flying outside the window.
The other memory I'd revisit was the trip to Natchitoches, and it is probably not coincidental that that one involved travel and water as well - five and a half hours on Cane River Lake, once part of the Red River and connecting to the Mississippi, and the whole weekend beside and in view of the water.
Anyhow, I've figured one way to reconnect with the Antarctic trip. I've finally found a copy of the movie they showed on board, about a tall shiop sailing around Cape Horn in the last days of sailing. I've finally found it online and have just bought the DVD from the Mystic River Seaport Museum. I'm looking forward to seeing the video; you can practically feel the spray and smell salt water.
I say it again: thank goodness for 24-hour plumbing services. The leak does seem to be fixed - there is no water more dripping off the roof. However, the floor and wall still still have wet spots in our bedroom, and there are wet patches in the ceiling in the bedroom next door and downstair in the family room under the wet floor. With a modicum of luck, the wet parts won't collapse, will dry out (this is a desert climate) and we can mend them at our (hypothetical) leisure.
Just to liven things up a bit I had two more small catastrophes yesterday. I'd stayed late for a telecon with Singapore and right around 5:30 I realized all the memos on my Palm had vanished. I keep from fairly important information in there, anything from the phone number I use for work telecons to poems to my old addresses. I knew what had happened: I sync with Outlook and they have the latter configured here to delete anything more than a couple of months old. I'd thought I'd exempted the memos from syncing, but apparently not. Fortunately, I did have a slightly older version of the memos on both work and home computers and was able to get them back. What I really need the Palm to do is to sync calendars and contacts with Outlook and other things like memos with the Palm desktop, but I don't think it will do that.
Also, less critically, while waiting for the plumber I noticed that all but the first couple of strings of lights on my tree were out. I jiggled the plug and they went back on but were off again in an hour or so. It's probably just a bad plug on one string; fortunately, I'd taken advice from Real Simple magazine and strung the lights up and down instead of around and around, so it should be easy enough to strip out and replace one string.
Plans for tonight and tomorrow are to finish knitting the dishrag and start the hat, fix the tree lights, finish my cards and maybe wrap some gifts, and to row 10K tomorrow morning. On Saturday and Sunday, I hope to fly, finish the Holiday Challenge (yay!) with 10K Saturday and a half-marathon on Sunday, wrap more gifts, pick up Rudder, finish the hat, finish decorating the tree and clean up all the ornament-storage stuff that's in the living room, decide what we're having for Christmas dinner and at least some of the other meals while Rudder's family are visiting, and shop for said ingredients. And maybe bake a batch of cookies. That doesn't sound too impossibly much for a weekend, does it? I'm tempted to go to the local Stitch'n'Bitch tonight, which is in a bookstore I like only a few miles away. If I do, I won't get any wrapping or cards done but should be able to finish the dishrag and start knitting the hat. The only argument against going is that after last night's drama and considering that I only erged 6K this morning and would like to do 10K tomorrow, I really should get to bed early.
The difficulties of the season for me are more organizational and intellectual/spiritual. First, of course, there's the simple pressure of so many things to get done for the holidays. Generally either we're having company or we're going somewhere and there are just so many things to get done before the holiday and I never have enough vacation left to take time off just to work on it. Second, there's the conflict for me of celebrating this holiday at all. It may be paradoxical to be intermarried and yet try to resist assimilation, but that's where I am. I'm Jewish. I'm not particularly observant but my outlook and values are greatly shaped by the tradition in which I was raised. I'm not sure whether Jesus ever existed and I certainly don't believe in his divinity, at least no more so than that of any other mortal. I have no interest in celebrating his birth. On the other hand, I really like Christmas. I love having a live tree in my house so the air smells like pine and there are lights and shiny things in that corner. I love red and gold and shiny things at the darkest time of year; the dark is richer and the shine is brighter because of their juxtaposition. I love the rich tradition of holiday music (though not some of its less traditional manifestations, and I won't be upset at all if I never hear Jingle Bell Rock again.) I love any feast that brings a family together (and that purely is my Jewish tradition speaking, since that's how we celebrated Passover and Rush Hashanah and so on). I love getting and giving presents. I love seeing my in-laws. I love having a festive season to end the year; I would like it even better if we in America celebrated for all 12 days. And I love that one part of the holiday is that even in its most secular manifestation it's a holiday about peace, love, merriment and joy. Even the most blatant commercials pay lip service to that ideal. I really do love Christmas and I can't honestly pretend we celebrate it only because of Rudder.
On the other hand, I'm intellectual historian enough that I can't pretend that it's only a secular holiday, because a big part of it is firmly rooted in Christianity. Chistmas=Christ's Mass. I suppose I could celebrate Yule, but I'm not a pagan either and it takes too much explaining. Maybe the best way to look at it is as a blend of traditions, pulling the most from Christianity but also from a host of pagan traditions (the tree, the time of year, the idea of light in darkness), pure material secularism (duh), humanism (check out the messages in Rudolph and the Grinch), and even a touch of Judaism (Irving Berlin, after all). I'm a little more comfortable with that.
Thankful that: I do have such great in-laws.
Holiday Challenge:35800 meters to go - I hope to finish this weekend.
In the list of the Seven Deadly Sins, I never understood why Despair was included*. It just didn't make sense to include a mood as a sin; I thought of those as mutually exclusive categories.
Maybe that concept was clearer to most people at the time it was formulated, when for the most wretched serfs only the hope of Heaven provided relief from a life of drudgery. For me, what explained the concept was what I saw in this last US Presidential election and the reaction to it from those on the losing side. Most people who were upset at the results of that election have since moved on, I hope, and either learned to deal with it or gone to work to change and reclaim their future. Immediately after the election, though, a lot of the responses I saw looked a lot like despair, and that was when I realized why it was counted as a deadly sin: it's because despair paralyzes. Despair is like clinical depression, without the brain-chemistry issues; depressives turn inward instead of outward, do not try to impact the outside world, and can go into a death-spiral. If you believe that everything is horrible and we're all doomed and it will never get any better, then there's no point in having hope, thus no faith in God or in a better world to come.
To switch from a Catholic concept to a more Jewish view, if there is no hope then there is no point in working to heal the world. I think that may be a central lesson of Chanukah: not to despair. That kindling a light in darkness does matter, that fighting against ridiculous odds sometimes does result in victory, that (almost hardest of all) when near-victory has nearly collapsed into moral defeat, as when only enough oil for one day was found, a miracle is still not impossible. (Ask any Red Sox fan.) That's a lesson that can be learned from much of Jewish history, because there were so many near-defeats and near-extinctions, but it is particularly central to Chanukah. It goes with both the particular history of the Maccabees and the miralcle of the holy oil and the general ideas of solstice holidays, when the sun dies and is reborn. It's why the image of light in darkness is so vivid to those holidays. From Rachel's Chanukah ritual:
Let us remember our duty to seek freedom for all, because we remember oppression. Let us dedicate ourselves to tikkun olam, the healing of the world, as our holy sanctuary was once re-dedicated at this season. Let us carry Divine Light into the world in this season of darkness.
*Note: Dame Nora commented to say that despair is not one of the Deadly Sins, so I check and found this list at the University of Leicester's Art Historysite:
That's the list as defined by Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604). I think it's fair to define Tristia as Despair rather than Sadness. Later, the list was changed to its current form by THomas Aquinas, and Despair has been replaced with ‘Accidia’, or Sloth. So Nora and I are both right.
(I like the earlier version, being better at combatting Despair than Sloth, myself.)
Sometimes I think my head's just a radian or so out of phase with the rest of the world. The things I know that delight me most are mostly not the things anyone else wants to know. I wonder if the converse is true and other people have little bits of knowledge they treasure that no one else knows about. I suspect it is for some values of "other people". So here's my proposal for a non-sheep-like meme: Answer the questions below. (I will be shocked if anyone gets more than one, unless you go look things up - ref. not the things anyone wants to know, above.) Then in my comments or your own journal, pose questions about the bits of information or trivia that delight you. I'll post my answers in a day or two, if anyone wants to play.
The other symptom of out-of-phase-ness is that my head is full of all these old catchphrases, only there's no one else around who knows them. I don't mean the ones that everyone everywhere said and then forgot, like "Where's the Beef?" I mean more specific things like "Keh" and "What a ripoff!" from my fifth-grade class, or "Doy!" (similar to Homer Simpson's "D'oh!" only not) from fourth grade, or "They've gone to Betson's!" which was from an old furniture store commercial, and used to be quoted during Philadelphgia showings of Rocky Horror. And there are all the songs some of my friends wrote in late grade school / early junior high, usually making fun of someone - I still know all the words. There just has to be a more productive use of neurons than that. Only I suspect this happens to enough of the rest of you that I'm not really out of phase, just full of a lot of odd bits of sawdust, tacks, and bran, like the Scarecrow's Brains that the Wizard gave him.
Who in hell makes Caesar salad with pineapples? I mean, who other than the cafeteria here? Even though I got mine made without them (as did the guy in line before me) they toss it in the same bowl, so my salad still had a disturbing bit of sweetness. That just ain't right.
On the way to work this morning, I was considering superpowers. I came to the surprising realization that most of the ones in comic books wouldn't actually do me much good, in this life I've evolved. Take it hero by hero:
1) The Fantastic Four: It's fairly clear that setting things on fire or looking like a bunch of rocks wouldn't be much good to me. Sue Storm's and Mr. Fantastic's powers sound more useful at first gasp, but what good would they really do? At work it's usually better for me to be seen than to be invisible. I could sneak around and watch Rudder, but I'm fairly sure he doesn't do anything incriminating when I'm not there. There have been a couple of bosses where I'd have liked to find out what exactly they did in the office, but that's minor. As for Mr. Fantastic, I can just see it: I'm in a meeting, and realize I've left my tea in my office. I casually stretch my hand down under the table, along the floor, out of the room, down the hall, and into my office .... where I proceed, since I can't see, to knock over my monitor and spill the tea onto my keyboard. I'd get myself in trouble with that one. The one thing that would help: I could stretch my legs and torso until I'm about 6'3", which should help my rowing speed a lot. But then they probably wouldn't let me compete with all the non-stretchies.
2) Spiderman: There's a reason he lives in New York. Out here, buildings are widely spaced and not many are over two stories. He'd be going Swing! - thud. Swing! - thud. Spider-strngth? t might help in rowing, but then again, that wouldn't be fair in competition. Otherwise, the heaviest thing I generally lift is the bottle on a water cooler, and I can manage that now. It might be nice with the odd stubborn bottle cap, but it's usually easy enough to find help with those if I need it. The spidey-sense might be nice, though, when sitting at a computer with my back to the door - but reorganizxing my office this morning worked just as well.
3) Superman: As for super-strength, see above. X-ray vision? Might be useful if I were a mechanic or doctor. Heat vision might be good for cooking, but stoves work pretty well, too. Flying would be nice, I admit, and if I could fly faster than a car (Superman can; he can fly faster than the Earth's rotational speed) it would shorten my commute, so that would be valuable. I bet I'd get cold, though. If I could dress warmly enough, it would make getting to regattas easier: "Don't worry about the boat - I'll just fly it out there."
4) Batman: Now, here's a man with some useful attributes: filthy rich, motivated, wildly inventive. Only, of course, those aren't the superpowers he got from being Batman but rather the things that let him make himself into Batman. Those would all be useful to me, but they're not exactly superpowers. It might be almost as much fun to be Richard Branson ... except I bet his vehicle's not as cool as the Batmobile. No, wait, it is.
I just read an entry in a journal I enjoy that's got me thinking. It's written by someone I respect a lot and disagree with on most issues. The writer is a Christian, a religious one who would probably use that as one of the first three nouns in describing herself. She's just back from a retreat and feels her life has changed, that her memories will forever after be divided into Before and After. I'm sure she's right; she knows herself more directly and frankly than most anyone I've met and tend to be very sure about her choices for herself. At the same time, it felt too sudden for fickle humanity. I have never yet come across a person who's changed all at once and forever. Even people who have made a real change (and it does happen) usually wobble in their direction a bit, especially at first. Sometimes there's real backsliding, but even that doesn't mean a change hasn't been made, as long as each step backward is matched by one or more steps forward.
I may not be reading what she intended to write and it's probable she never intended to imply she thought the change would be instant and total. She was trying to use limited words to explain something not entirely explainable and so the words might have oversimplified something not meant to be simple. Yes, I'm hedging here. I'm trying to say that the rest of this is about what her words made me think, not necessarily a comment (and certainly not a criticism!) on what she was actually saying.
Anyhow, it got me thinking about compasses. Most airplanes have at least two compasses, a magetic one and a gyroscopic one. The gyrocompass is easier to use while flying; it has less of a lag and it turns the same way as the aircraft, only mapped vertically instead of horizontally. (I mean, the aircraft's nomarlly-horizontal yaw axis, the one that swings north, east, south, or west, is shown on the vertical instrument panel.) However, the gyrocompass in a light aircraft doesn't have any permanent reference point. It just responds to the resistance of a turn against its own spin. A mag compass, on the other hand, has a bit of a lag before it responds to a turn, and it turns the opposite way to he aircraft (same axis but when I go clockwise from North to East), it goes widdershins to get from the N to the E) so it's a little harder to use. On the other hand, it has the Earth's magnetic field as a permanent reference, so it always knows where magnetic North is. That means that I use the gyrocompass for normal operations, but occasionally when I'm flying, itwill precess and I have to reset it to match the magnetic compass.
I think people are like that. In normal operations we use our own sense of what feels right as a guide. Sometimes, though, a moral compass may precess and you need to reset it to match true North, whether you do that from the Torah or the Koran, the U.S. Constitution or the Ethical Humanist Manifesto, from talking to an advisor or just thinking about your own ethical poles for a while. I think that's the best explanation I've come up with in words for why, in each of the last several years, I've felt a need to spend some time at the High Holidays just thinking and what I've done and thought and what I should do. I'm resetting my compass.
In a comment to someone who had written a beautiful essay remembering a Jewish friend, I told her about the Jewish custom of naming a child after someone you love who has died. It's not a strict custom; often the child is given a different name that begins with the same letter or has the same meaning, or is converted to the appropriate gender. My mother Marsha was named after her uncle Morris, and my brother was named after our grandmother Fanny. Her Hebrew name is Tzipporah, which means a bird, so in Hebrew he's Aleksandr Tzippor. (His first name is just one my mother liked.) It's a way of perpetuating a loving memory, to live on for another generation.
As I was writing, I realized somethign I should have thought about long since. My first and middle names are Paula Kay, after my great-grandmother Pauline and a Great-Aunt Kate (no one seems to be sure if Kate was short for Katherine and anyway her original name was probably in Yiddish). My Hebrew -- actually Yiddish -- names are theirs as well, Pesha Koppel. (That's a phonetic spelling, as Yiddish is properly written in Hebrew characters.) What I had never thought about before is that it's an old tradition. Pauline and Kate would have been named for their relatives, who would have been named for theirs and so on back, most probably for centuries. In all the upheaval that has accompanied the last two centuries of Jewish history, that will prevent me from ever knowing my family history over centuries the way some genealogists of some other ethnicities can, this is a strand that ties me to my history. I like that thought.
"Retro" tends to be popular in about a twenty-year cycle. So when I was a kid, the Fifties are in and we watched Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley on TV. When I was in college in the 1980s, the late 1960s / very early 1970s were in, and we wore tie-dyed T-shirts to parties where we played or listened to Hendrix, Led Zep, and the Who. Today I was talking to our summer intern, a talented and articulate person who doesn't remember the time before e-mail existed. He was born around the year I was joining my first newsgroups on the Internet, in the days before it was synonymous with the World Wide Web.
Back then, the Sixties music we listened to seemed current and relevant, but the times it went with, times of protests and love-beads and psychedelia, were historic. We could remember the tail end of that time (I remember sitting by a speaker as tall as I was, listening to "Let It Be" on the radio) but it was the sort of thing you hear your parents reminiscing about -- tales of a previous generation.
I've been realizing lately that the 1980s are as far back now as the 1960s were then, and by extension that in the 1980s the 1960s must have seemed like a recent memory to my mother and some of my older friends. Another way to look at it is that Jimi Hendrix is as far back in history now as big band music was when I was a kid. "Layla" is as far back as Oklahoma! was when I was in grade school. And yet Jimi is still cool. Eric Clapton is still playing.
That may imply that, though the pace of technological and social change has accelerated in the past century we haven't had any upheavals to rival the Sixties since. It's as if the magnetic poles flipped then and we've been adapting to it ever since. Or it may just imply that I'm getting old.