Tuesday, December 30, 2003


That was the most dumb-assed thing I've ever done, and I'm not even going to write about it because then everyone will send me e-mail saying, "Susan, that is the most dumb-assed thing you've ever done." And they'd mean it.


Did I say I don't like short stories? What I meant to say was, "I don't like short stories that aren't written by Flannery O'Connor."

Faith-based Prison

When I was over at Talk Left: The Politics of Crime today, I came across a short discussion of Jeb Bush's faith-based prison initiative. There's a more in-depth discussion at Punishment Theory, but you'll probably have to wade through the entry at Legal Theory, too, if you want to make sense of it.

True or false?


Monday, December 29, 2003

Stories I Stole.

I realize I was predisposed to like Wendell Steavenson's book. Sometimes when I'm reading, I remind myself of Will Farrell in Elf: "Santa!!! I *KNOW* him!!" I get so excited that someone else has shared my life experiences that I forget to look for anything else in the text. So, when Ms. Steavenson opened up her book with a description of her visit to the private Stalin shrine outside of Tbilisi, I was hooked.

The first time I was in the Soviet Union, going to school at LGU, we took a late summer tour to the Ukraine and Soviet Georgia. I hated Georgia for reasons that don't need to be described here, but it was also the place of the most unforgettable--and afterward indescribable--events of the entire summer. And most indescribable was our unscheduled visit to the house of one Temuri (Timor) Kunelauri. Mr. Kunelauri had turned his home into a monument to the life and career of Stalin. Actually, it wasn't just his home, it was his yard, as well. The yard was fenced, but the fence was covered so densely with vines you'd never know there was even a support system underneath. The vines also stretched overhead, turning the garden into something of an interior space--very Mediterranean. Mixed in with the vines was all the Stalin memorabilia you could ever hope to find--statues, photos, paintings... I'm about to break copyright law and post some photos below, because really, I can't describe it.

Stalinist Georgia really defies description, at least by me. I was there still during the Cold War--Stalin had fallen out of favor throughout the USSR, his monument removed from the Kremlin walls in Moscow, cities had changed their names back from Stalingrad, Stalin Village, etc. to still-Soviet-but-less-Stalinesque names. Then you find yourself in Stalin's homeland, and you forget what a sly little man he really was. It wasn't even that people were whispering about him admiringly behind their hands. It was more like, "Hey, that Dzhugashvili kid! Home town boy made good!"

Okay, I'm reading this, and thinking, so what? It's definitely one of those "you had to be there" kind of things. And that's probably why I'm liking Stories I Stole, because they do a better job of making you feel like you were there than I ever could. I also just like the concept of stealing stories, since that's what my anecdotes about my two summers in the Soviet Union still feel like. I take bits and pieces of the lives of the people still living there and turn them into narratives to entertain my friends. Some of my stories--like the one about getting treated (or not) for bronchitis--still bring people to an astounded halt. Others--like the one about hitchhiking back to our hotel in Tbilisi w/a police office--make no impression on anyone who has not dealt with Soviet law enforcement techniques. Wendell Steavenson could probably do a better job of telling both tales.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

More reading.

That's right. I forgot. I don't like historical fiction, and Alice in Exile is reminding me why. If an author knows her (or his, in this case) history, and keeps the book true to it, it can turn into an all too predictable read for another historian. I don't need to read a ficitious story about pre-Great War landed gentry because I already know too much about them already, and I can pretty much guess what a character who hopes to be returned as the Conseravtive MP from Knapley is going to do. Then again, if the author strays from written history and has a character making original or novel decisions, then it turns into an exercise in exasperation for the readers, because they know no real person could have behaved that way in that place and time. So, a choice between tedium and disbelief--not a good place for me to be as a reader.

It's not that it's a poorly written book (although I should point out that Rettenburg's valet should be called "Pyotr" *not* "Pytor"). I'm just discovering that I'd rather read an actual history book about pre-WWI Russia/England than a fictional account of the same.

In other reading news, it is a mistake to pick up a book just because the author looks like a cutie in her dust jacket photo. Quite honestly, Maile Meloy's Liars and Saints felt more like an outline for a novel than a novel itself. Nothing about this book, none of the characters, was fully realized or developed. The plot was there, but nothing was built on top of it.

She's still hot, though.


If you absolutely cannot wait for Joanna Trollope's next AGA saga, try reading Madeleine Wickham. I'd be hard-pressed to prove that The Tennis Party and A Desirable Residence were not written by Trollope. I read them both Thursday, and of the two, I liked The Tennis Party better. A Desirable Residence just seem too fractured and uneven. I can't quite recall what I thought about Swimming Pool Sunday, but presumably I liked it well enough that I wasn't frightened off from reading a second and then a third Wickham title.

I'm not sure who in the U.K. reads these books. They're not exactly demanding--it only takes two hours to read one--and they're never very original. But I think I like their coziness. Ostensibly, Trollope and Wickham are both writing about the hidden stresses of family life, as well as the very real British class system that makes ordinary decisions more worrisome. But still, the books are always quite soft and warm in the end. Yes, trying to get junior into a public school might drive a couple to divorce, but they're going to break up with a cup of tea in their hands, dammit. At least one of the protagonists will end up okay when all is said and done, and that's more than can be said for real life, so perhaps that's why they sell so many copies.

Spending money.

Catherine's parents sent us a check for Christmas. A lot of it is being spent on necessary--or at least practical--stuff. For instance, our printer has been giving us the "low on ink" sign for weeks, and today we finally went out and spent 33.00 on an ink cartridge. Some of the money went to buy a Christmas present for Marianne in Sweden. Some of it will go to mail out our last two Christmas presents out. Some of it will definitely go for groceries tomorrow, thank god.

But we decided to do some things with the money that will improve our mental health, too. It feels dangerous to spend money on things that aren't absolutely necessary, but on the other hand...we're both tired of being depressed and worried, and we just wanted to escape reality for a bit. So, we went out to lunch today, and then bought lunch to take over to Erika and Henry, since they're down with the flu. Neither were necessities, but they made us feel better. So did the coffee we had later.

We spent $20 on art supplies for me--paper, a couple new brushes, some drafting tape. Absolutely not necessary, but then again, it's getting to the point where it's essential to keep me occupied after work, otherwise there's no telling what kind of trouble I'll get us all into. We both felt a lot better today after Catherine ran down the list of my Christmas presents and pointed out how many of them will keep me off the streets, yet still not require any sort of mobility. Usually I exercise my stress off, but I can't even go running anymore. My shoulder just can't take it, so I'm more or less housebound after I get home from work.

So, for Christmas Catherine bought me a model of a Ford street rod to put together. That will take me awhile, and I can keep relatively still while I'm doing it. It is very, very cool. She also bought me an Atari emulator, so I can sit in the bedroom and barely move at all for hours on end. She bought me a couple of new CDs to give me something else to do besides turn on the television after work (people get jobs so they don't have to listen to daytime TV). And now her parents have paid for some watercolor bits and pieces, and I can do that while I'm waiting for the model glue to dry. I can't spend all my time reading library books, so I'm hoping I'll be happier now that I have some other things to keep me busy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Thank god.

I spent a good chunk of yesterday worrying about how I was going to pay the tuition for my last two classes. I'm supposed to get $300 for an article I wrote for a newspaper, but it's not payable until after the publication date, which is January 4, much too late to pay my tuition. Catherine has 500 Euros coming to her for an article she wrote for Marval , but it will take 6 weeks for the French check to clear, so we're not getting that until February. In this day of electronic banking, why does it take 6 weeks to cash a check--oh, excuse me, un cheque--from France?

Anyway, the good news is today I got a letter from the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association informing me that I had been awarded a scholarship to cover the tuition costs for two classes. This is probably the first time that being poor and living on the wrong side of the tracks has actually helped me out. I know me. If I had to stop taking classes, I probably just wouldn't finish, and I'm guessing it would probably be a good thing to actually have the degree on my resume, even if it's just an A.A.S. So, thank you, HAND and BUEA, this is a pretty good Christmas present.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003


I'm not sure why Karen Novak's Innocence wasn't grouped with the new Detective/Mystery novels at the public library. I'm glad it wasn't, because I never would have picked it up it it had been shelved over there, and that would have been a shame. I liked it so much that about half way through it I forced myself to stop reading and tidy up the living room so the book would last longer. And then about 50 pages later, I got up and did another set of meaningless tasks. I really wanted to get to the denouement, but I was enjoying the prose enough that I was willing to wait awhile on it.

Partly, I just liked the structure of the book. I thought the counterclockwise chapters were well used, and after I was done, I went back and read them in the clockwise direction. I also liked that the entire book wasn't in the first person. If there is never a single book written again in the first person, that would still be one too many for me.

About twenty pages into it, I came to the realization that I have absolutely normalized the concept of mental illness in my life. I think I was supposed to be thinking about ghosts and otherworldly apparitions whenever the main character started seeing imaginary people, but I actually heard myself thinking, "Well, that's perfectly normal behavior for a schizophrenic under stress, why wouldn't she see these girls?" Too much quality time spent with the DSM-IV, I guess.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Well, it *feels* like it's my fault.

There have been a few moments where I thought everything was going to be okay, but there have been a lot more moments when I've realized that it's not. I don't know, what do you do when you've brought home a combined income of $1800 for the most expensive month of the year, and $750 goes to the mortgage, and the rest doesn't even cover your bills, and you've got to somehow also cover the holiday costs, and then you come home from work to find men on your roof doing an emergency repair that costs $497? You do the math, because I'm damn sick of it. It can't all be taken care of, at least not by me.

And it's not that we haven't been broke before, we've probably been more impoverished. But poverty in grad school doesn't feel this way. At least when you're in school you can tell yourself it's temporary, that you'll finish up one day and get a job and everything will be just fine. It feels like a choice when you're still in school. What happens when you're done with grad school and there's no longer any sort of choice involved? I'll tell you what happens--the suckiness that is my life.

I'm can't get in my car for fear that I'll drive off and never come home. Or possibly more likely, that I'll put both it and me on the bottom of Lake Monroe. I can't stay home, because I just sit here and relive every bad decision I've made in the last two years, which makes me want more and more to really find a way to be at the bottom Lake Monroe. Can't go, can't stay. Can't do anything, and it's driving me fucking insane.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

A Seattle Lexicon.

According to my bookmarks list, I added the one for the Seattle Lexicon on 4/5/1999. I cannot explain why this website makes me happy. When I have writer's block or when I'm homesick or when I'm just plain bored, I read the lexicon and say to myself, "Hey! I know that!" and it cheers me up.


I swear. I really do. Someone needs to tell me why, WHY, women insist on being stupid. Yeah, in an ideal world, women would be able to walk around, completely oblivious to their surroundings and never be harmed. Yeah, women shouldn't be blamed for the violence done against them, ever. But my god, women have to take some responsibility for their own safety, they really must. You can't avoid all dangerous situations, but you really shouldn't go out looking for them.

It's really hard to sit and listen to not one, but *two*, highly intelligent, highly educated women blithely talk about running through the most dangerous part of town by themselves. "Yeah, I often go running at 3 a.m. Oh, yeah, I go through the switchyards on the the way to the Rail to Trail. Yeah, I know it's dangerous, but I figure I can outrun anyone who tries to grab me." Ever outrun a bullet? Not going to happen.

Even in the light of day, no one should ever be spending time alone in the railway switchyards. Even taking away the main danger--the groups of men and boys that hang out in the switchyards drinking and doing drugs--it's an incredibly stupid idea to run along the tracks there. There is no way out except by reaching the other end of the yard, the tracks run through a valley that you can't realistically climb out of. If you sprain your ankle, the only thing you can do is turn around and hobble back or go forward to the opening at the other end. Have fun dragging your broken leg a mile, okay?

It's just not a smart idea. I'm not sure it's always incredibly smart to run by yourself on the Rail to Trail, it's not unheard of for women to be assaulted along there. But at least there are houses nearby, at least other people come by fairly frequently. If you have a heart attack, someone will (eventually) find you. In the switchyards? Kiss yourself goodbye, baby. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And these women know that, and they still do it, and that makes them vastly more stupid in my book.

Friday, December 19, 2003

More reading.

I suspect if Brian Morton's Window Across the River had been written by a woman, it would have been lost to the romance market. It would be so easy to turn this into a book about the relationship between Nora and Isaac, as the dust jacket suggests. That would be too bad, because the book was really about writing, being a writer. The relationship just provides a structure to hold up the real pieces of the story.

It's hard to write about a main character who is also a writer, it's hard not to project your own writing habits and beliefs onto that character, and maybe that's why Morton made Nora the writer instead of Isaac; at least he can distance himself from the main character via gender.

It's a small book (the person @ Amazon who compared it to Anna Karenina was on crack in so many ways--you could kill a small child w/Tolstoy's book, I'm not even sure this one could kill a spider) and I wish it had been longer (oh, if Anna Karenina had only been 700 pages shorter). I would have liked to watch Nora destroy a few more friendships, in fact. Those were the best parts of the books, watching her writing consume her relationships in small bites. Nora does the kind of writing I can't do. She examines the people around her, comprehends them, then writes about the possibilities of their lives. I don't see the people around me for the most part, so I have to make everything up. Nora's a better writer than I'll ever be.


The short story format is not for me. I don't particularly like to write short stories--although I'd be a better writer if I did it more often--and I don't really like to read them. When I sit down to read, I want to read for a good long time. With a collection of short stories, I have to stop after twenty minutes because I've come to the end of a story. If I keep reading and finish four or five of them, I just get a bunch of ideas knocking against each other and everything ends up murky and muddled and not at all rewarding. So, the only time I read short stories is in the car when I'm waiting for the wife to show up. She's usually late, so I can usually get in a good 15 or 20 minutes of reading, usually enough to finish one story, but not enough time to read two.

This week's car companion was Sheila Kohler's Stories from Another World. Her writing has a nice flow, I think, and she does a good job of evoking the atmosphere of difference and distance that envelopes your life when you're living somewhere other than your native country. I think her imagination--or maybe her life experiences--are darker than mine. Her stories aren't quite brutal, they're too whispery and secretive for that, but she does seem so focused on betrayal and violence. I think I'm supposed to be shocked by the disasters brought about by adultery (her favorite subject) and desire, but mostly I find myself squinting at the page, wondering where these people all live because they don't much resemble anyone I know.

Sometimes I find literature about South Africa to be completely opaque. I read it, and have a feeling that there's something there I'm just not getting, some nuance or suggestion that I can't detect because I'm not familiar enough with the history or culture. I'm freshly reminded of everything I don't know about the world. I do have a basic knowledge of the imperialist timeline in Africa, but my history education stops right there. We're so far removed, sitting here in the U.S., looking eastward (Why not westward? Why can't I look west from Washington and see Africa? Why do I still instinctively look to the east?) that South Africa looks like a story of black and white. Well, black v. white. But whenever I pick up something about the place, I have to re-remind myself that white isn't necessarily white, for one, that British isn't Dutch isn't German, and it matters. And black isn't black, of course. It's just an optical illusion, looking at it from so far away.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Bee keeping.

My mom's dad was a beekeeper, and thus my mom and my aunts tend to collect things that have to do with bees. Back in the day, it was really hard to find bees on anything. Now, it seems, the bee is very, very fashionable. Still, I think my mom has enough bee stuff, or at least, enough store-bought bee stuff. Instead of going out and buying her a bee-themed something this year, I made her a bee-themed something. It was surprisingly difficult, and I'm never doing it again.

Same cat, same behavior.

After a year, this is exactly what Luna has learned: nothing. Still doing the same damn thing, day in and day out.

A year ago:

Luna on the laundry rack

Luna on the laundry rack

Luna on the laundry rack

Luna on the laundry rack

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Today is my mom's birthday.

So, happy birthday, Mom, not that you read this, but still.

Last night was our last concert of the season, so I am free to be as lazy as I want in the evenings between now and January 12th. No more outside obligations, no more places I have to be no matter how lousy I feel, nothing between me and my recliner for the next three weeks. And once I get the rest of my Christmas packages sent on Thursday, I can come home from work and just sleep until I have to go to work the next day. Mmm..maybe I'll wake up around the 23rd and write some Christmas cards, hard to tell.

Courtesy of Alex: The Picture of Everything

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Caught up with me.

I've been congested for weeks, feeling like I was fighting off a cold. But everyone at work is the same way, especially the dough makers, from breathing in so much flour. I don't get quite as much as they do, but I'm next in line for flour inhalation problems. After work, you just go home and try to blow out your nose and wish for clear lungs, then go back and start over again the next day. I've had a slow nosebleed for at least two weeks now, and I guess I'm blaming that on the job, too.

Anyway, I think the common cold is finally taking over. Surely flour can't make your ears itch or glands swell. Lucky for me, it's the weekend. I earned several spousal points today by dragging myself out into the cold to take Catherine to the Institute because the climate control alarm was going off. Probably I would have only earned one or two on an ordinary day, but since I'm obviously sick, I think I kicked it up to ten or eleven, so it's all good.

I'm not shoveling snow, though.

Friday, December 12, 2003


We had a nice time last night. Catherine turned in her last paper of graduate school yesterday, a day early. This is the first time in her entire life that she has ever finished a paper early--a lot of early tension in our relationship could be traced to her absolutely annoying habit of finishing research papers at 4 a.m. on the day they were due--and caught me by surprise. I had to run out and get the cake and champagne a day before I expected to need it.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

934 W. Sixth Street.

We finally finished the house on Sixth Street, and held an open house last Sunday. This was the first house I started working on with BRI, and I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. Hopefully the houses on Seventh Street will start moving a little more quickly now.

The photos don't do the contractor's work justice, but at least they give a sense of the scope of the restoration project.

The house before/during restoration.
The house after restoration.

Who am I?

I took a long drive out in the county this morning because I do my best thinking--well, okay, crying--while I'm driving. It didn't seem to help much, though. The only thing I can really say is that I need a different job. I do not like the person I become when I'm at work. It's not the job itself, and it's not *exactly* the people. I like most of them well enough. It's just that I can't thrive in an environment in which conflicts are resolved (or not) by determining who can yell the loudest and use the most profanity. That's me, in case anyone was wondering. I can rationalize my short temper all I want--there are a lot of other things weighing on me right now: finances, money, education, family, general holiday stress, so of course I might blow my top when deliberately provoked. But I really don't think I'm the kind of person who just spontaneously combusts, and it worries me that I've done so twice since September. Not at home, either, but at work, where it just shouldn't happen.

And you know, it doesn't matter in terms of my job, because this is exactly the level of maturity on which everyone there operates. I threaten to kick Mike's ass to hell and back, and my boss shrugs because hey, he can totally understand wanting to beat someone's head in. So I don't have anyone reining me in, not that I should need anyone to do that, because I should be able to control my own temper. It's just kitchen work, for godsakes, it's not like I'm working in a nuclear power plant where everything needs to go exactly the right way.

So, I apologize to all those other people driving out in the county this morning, I know I was probably annoying as hell, not paying any attention to my speed or my direction of travel. If I almost ran you off the road while I was ranting and raving to myself, I'm sorry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


If you don't want to experience the fiery hell of the blast furnace that is my rage, stay away. Come too close, and you'll be scorched beyond all recognition, and that will be your own damn fault.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The long pause.

Last night I dreamed that I was mauled by feral dogs. If my subconscious is trying to send me a message, I don’t want to know what it is.

1. When we first decided to move to Indiana, all of our friends told us we were crazy. One friend told us that he was glad to leave the Midwest. He didn’t like the people; he said that Midwesterners didn’t really live, they merely existed. After work, they go home, sit on their couches and watch television; they have no interest in anything cultural or educational.

I can’t help but hear this as some sort of classist statement. The opportunity to “broaden the mind” is definitely linked to economics. Who wants to think about anything after putting in an eight-hour day of manual labor? Seriously, by the time I sit down in my chair at night, I can’t even pick up a rock-climbing magazine to read, much less something a little more challenging. I have spent the last two weeks letting cable TV numb every last little receptor in my brain, and even that seems like it requires too much energy.

2. Do Americans ever get tired of having a president who can’t formulate a whole sentence without getting confused? Don’t get me wrong, I think some of the UK’s social and economic problems are all but unsolvable (and I hate them for backing the U.S. all the time, grow a backbone already!), but wouldn’t it be nice if we had a leader like Tony Blair? He can not only finish a sentence, he can spit out an entire paragraph without taking a breath. I may not always agree with him, but at least I can tell he knows the difference between a noun and a verb.

The only thing I ever watch on C-SPAN is the Prime Minister’s Questions, and after watching the sparring between the PM and the head of the opposition party, I just want to shoot myself out of embarrassment for our incredibly sorry Head of State. If Bush ever had to square off with someone right across the table throwing questions at him, his head would probably explode, even if he was given a list of the questions ahead of time.

3. I wish we would move out of town so I would have a solid excuse for quitting band. I like the role we play in the community, I think people get a kick out of seeing us on the town square and all that, and I like that we take the time to play at the local nursing homes twice a season, but god, I hate rehearsals. Partly, I’m just not very coachable. I hate being told what to do. Form your command as a suggestion, and I’ll do it right away, but directly order me to do something, and I’ll refuse. I know it’s the director’s job to tell me what to do, but I also think he needs to realize that we have two—sometimes three, but often two—percussionists covering anywhere from three to seven parts. I’m doing everything I can, and no, I can not play the cymbals, the bells, the bass drum and the wood block simultaneously, so bite me.

4. Who knew making Christmas presents was so labor intensive? I’m making a grand total of four this year, and you know what? I don’t like anyone enough to do this again. My mom will like hers, but she probably would have liked it just as well if I had gone out and bought something bright and shiny for her. So what was I thinking? I don’t know, but my hands are covered in glue and as far as I’m concerned, that’s not really a good thing.

5. I wish it would fucking snow already.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Luna is exactly the kind of unfortunate kitten that would end up tumbling around in a dryer: a lot of curiosity and very little common sense. And Jack is just smart enough and angry enough to lure her into that trap.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

"It was the most natural thing in the world, the body. It was there, carrying out its functions, even if you didn't give it a single thought. It was a harmonious conjunction of mobile and rigid elements, of fluid and solid, mucus and enamel; it seemed to be a cleverly, even skilfully designed composite of parts which, viewed separately, might appear ridiculous or in certain instances even repulsive. But the sum total, the body as a structured, complex contraption, deserved both respect and admiration; in fact you could even imagine that it was permanently in need of such respect and admiration. It had no counterpart, it was completely unique in the whole world. As a species, it had relatives, of course, but as an individual, as a particular body, it was totally alone, left to its fate and exposed to outside forces. So it made its most profound and crucial bonds and connections inwards into itself, combinations and lines of communication that the body's lord and master would as a general rule only perceive in the form of confused behavior patterns or, at worst, disturbing manifestations of illness."

--Torgny Lindgren, Sweetness

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I have candy. Get in my car.

My job is kicking my butt.

Monday, December 01, 2003


A couple of days ago, la malinchista pointed out that a number of "thoughtful, progressive political blogs" have taken up residence on the web. And, of course, she's right, and I'm glad she keeps track of them because I pretty much lack focus when it comes to current events. I am so not interested in being a U.S. citizen that I tend to forget to keep track of what other Americans are doing. It's good that there are people reminding me to pay attention every now and again.

But what I was thinking as I was poking through some left-ish news site this weekend was that I don't really need to read any more progressive political blogs. What I really want to read is a well-written right-leaning blog/journal. It's nice to read the writing of people who are of the same general political orientation as I am--safety in numbers and all that--but on the other hand, it would be nice to be challenged by an opposing view that actually required me to work intellectually. It is child's play to poke logical holes in the center-to-right-leaning blogs I've found. I know the Limbaugh-esque drivel I've seen isn't the only way to represent conservativism, so where is the good stuff?

I really want to know. I'm not so confident in my own political opinions that I'm not willing to reconsider them (well, some of them, anyway). I'm always willing to mix and match if I think it works. But I need material with which to work, and I'm not seeing it in any of the right-wing rhetoric I'm being forced to endure. I'm definitely open to suggestions, so feel free to send me some.


Whenever someone dies, especially someone young, the newspaper is full of quotes about a promising life cut short. The young man who died was the best kid ever, always smiling, always kind to his grandmother. The young woman who died had a brilliant future, volunteered at the local hospital, was going to be a doctor. And so on. Tons of quotes about these wonderful people, and how the world is a worse place for having lost them.

Mostly this seems to be the case, but sometimes I wonder what people are really thinking when they hear that their classmate/co-worker/cousin/whoever has died. Does everyone always think it's a terrible thing? I don't think so.

When I was in 8th grade, a kid in my school died in a very awful accident. I really didn't like this boy, and although he probably would have grown up into a decent human being, he was mean and awful when we were 13. When I heard he died, the first thing I thought was, "Good!" And then I burst into tears because I felt so guilty for not feeling bad. I was sick the rest of the day because everyone thought I was crying because I missed him, when I was really crying out of guilt and relief.

So, I've been thinking about this for a long time, and a story in today's paper finally prompted me to mention it to Catherine. Turns out she has a similar story. Once upon a time, a kid in her high school died, and she thought it was kind of a relief sincehe was the kind of kid who went around and shot people's cats for fun. You feel bad in a general sense, and definitely I felt sad for P.J.'s parents, but at the same time, it's hard to stifle your initial emotional response.

I don't know. I wouldn't have made a very good humanist, because it turns out I don't value the human life all that much. Well, I value specific lives, but not life in general, and definitely not my own. I do hope when I die some people say, "That's too bad, eh?" but I'm guessing the mourning contigent will be balanced by people secretly thinking, "Thank god," and maybe that's okay.

Not my idea.

Who is in charge of product design at Campbell/Franco-American, hm? I'm sorry, I'm sure they're working very hard, but they're &$*#! daft. I'm sure they thought the new pull-top can was a breathtaking innovation in soup tin design, but I'm here to tell you, it's a bad, bad idea. Maybe you like pull-top cans, maybe your neighbor likes pull-top cans, but let me tell you, no one with sore hands likes pull-top cans. Have arthritis? Too bad, no soup for you. Carpal tunnel? Sucker, no soup for you, either. And you can't even turn the damn can over and pop it in the electric can opener, because the brightest of the bright soup makers rounded off the rim.

Fuck Campbell's Soup.

Sunday, November 30, 2003


Garett and I got together again today intending to finish our last song, but we got distracted by a new guitar rhythm he was working on. So, now we have the makings of a new song, if only (once again) we could get some lyrics laid down. I'm not sure what this song is going to be called, but so far we've all thought it reminded us of the beach, sort of the last day of summer before all the fun ends.

This song is notable because it is full of screw-ups On our first two songs, even though they were still rough drafts, we edited out all the sketchy-sounding parts. This is the first time I sat down and played the entire song through instead of relying on loops that I liked. I only edited the last three or four bars, then over-dubbed a couple of the crash cymbals, otherwise, the drums in this one are recorded in one sitting. That means the drums are kind of crazy in places. There's a spot where Garett pretty much forgets he's playing the guitar, but I like that it sounds real. No keyboards yet, so the only thing I'm doing on this one is playing the drums, the bass and rhythm guitars are Garett.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Were your clothes made in a sweatshop?

The Seattle P-I ran a good series of articles (with sidebars) on sweatshops in American Samoa in this week's paper.

Learn more.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

On the other hand...

...I'm also the one who married a woman who can make a chocolate cake without eggs, so I must not be *too* big of an idiot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Well, no wonder.

I've been reluctant to do the math, but this morning in the shower (and again this afternoon in the shower, because I can't add when I'm so sleepy), I finally tallied up my income for the year 2003. What a depressing--yet revealing--moment.

I have taken home less than $9000 this year. With my next three paychecks, it will add up to something like $8700. No wonder we're having financial problems. I took home more than that in four months at my old job. What kind of idiot walks away from that kind of paycheck? This kind of idiot, I guess. I.am.a.moron.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Crossing the line.

Over the past couple weeks, I've come to recognize that there is a difference between being sexually explicit and being sexually harassing at the work place.

I work with a bunch of boys. A couple of them are older than me, but they're essentially all boys, and they're essentially all obsessed with their penises: where they've been, where they're going, what kind of talk they need to have with them to make them stay out of trouble. I could probably draw an accurate picture of all their various organs, I've heard them described so many times. And I can't count the number of times I hear the phrase "makin' with the humpin'" in a day, I really can't.

But the surprising thing is--I can't say it really bothers me. Every once in awhile I find myself pulled into a (good-natured) argument about stupid things they say, and wow, I really wish the intellectual level of the kitchen conversation could be pulled a little higher sometimes, but mostly, the punk rock boys really entertain me. I think my friends would be shocked at some of the things I laugh at. Even I didn't know it was so difficult to offend me.

Over the past couple of weeks, though, some of the talk around me has set my teeth on edge. One of the guys has been specifically teasing me, presumably because I'm the only woman there. I know he's not really serious when he's hitting on me, but I've told him to knock it off several times, and he just won't. If I get mad when he starts talking about how much he wants me, he just laughs. It particularly pisses me off when he starts saying sexual things to me in Spanish, because I'm the only one who understands them and he can be a lot more free with his propositions. It got bad enough yesterday--I got mad enough--that one of the punk rock dough boys told him to shut up, but that only worked for about two minutes, and he was back making suggestions about how we could get sweaty together.

I'm not quite sure what the difference is--yeah, I told two of the guys to shut up today because they were comparing penis sizes and I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW, but it didn't upset me. Five minutes with this other guy, and I want to quit my job because there doesn't seem to be any recognition on his part that he's crossed some sort of invisible line from funny to threatening. Today he came in with a broken hand and maybe a broken arm, and I found myself thinking, "Good!" That's a bad sign, I think, being happy that a co-worker is suffering. I'm not really sure what to do about the situation, except get another job.

I wish.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Coin toss.

Who's going to crack up first? Catherine is a more natural optimist, and better at living in denial, but she's been pushed to a point of desperation. Susan lives on the edge of sanity as it is, and doesn't need much of an excuse to dive into the deep, dark waters of depression. Susan's more likely to explode, Catherine's more likely to weep quietly. Susan's more likely to withdraw and quit trying altogether, Catherine's more likely to pretend everything's okay until it's too late. Susan's tired of dealing with the pressure of being the household income savior, Catherine's overwhelmed by her job and her school and her half-crazy wife. Who's going to win the race to hopelessness? It's a 50-50 proposition right now, and it could go either way.

The cruelest of things.

If I was a writer, if I had the words and the skill, I would describe the torment of that waking moment, the moment at which you realize you will never, ever be okay. You will live a lifetime before your eyes open, and another lifetime in the second afterward, and both of them will be spent in hell. Your nightmares will become real, and your reality will be the nightmare. You will never be happy. You will never experience joy. Everything is, and always will be, pain. You will spend your entire life in a state of yearning, forever deprived of sweetness and grace. You will never, ever escape the anguish of exhaustion and all its attendant demons. Between you and respite sits that single waking moment, so unforgiving in its cruelty as it forces you into the desolation of daylight.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

What I think is, it's a mistake to portray yourself as invincible. I know it's required in a lot of careers. You have to look good, sound good. You need to make people think you're competent. More than that, you need them to think that you're the best, that you've got a lot of potential and you're going to reach its maximum. You've got your act together, you're going places, you're dependable, you're intelligent, you know what you're doing.

The trouble is, you learn this behavior so well, that it bleeds over into your social relationships, too. Maybe the bleed is obligatory--if you're dedicated to your job, chances are good it forms the basis of social life. Your friends are also your co-workers and colleagues. At work, you've got them believing you can accomplish anything. At play, won't they have those same expectations?

But what happens if you're not invincible away from the office, when you don't have the answers, when something gives way in your personal life? Who is going to help you? All those co-workers who think you're dialed in? Are they going to believe that you've got problems? Are they going to hear what you're saying and take action, or will they just brush it off, figuring you can handle it as well as you handle the pressures of work?

Don't act invincible, because you're not. Someday you're going to need someone to believe in your pain, and if you've spent your entire life convincing people it doesn't exist, you're going to look like the boy who cried wolf. Trust me. You're not doing yourself any favors by letting people preserve the illusion of your perfection. You're going to need their help, so try not to play the game so well they won't be able to offer it.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Not as smart as I hoped I was.

I finally finished Alan Rifkin's Signal Hill. It falls roughly into the genre I consider "guys' books," written by a man for other men, I think, focusing on the male experience (adolescent and adult). I feel like I spent quite a bit of time with the book but...I just don't get it. I hate to admit it, it makes me feel stupid, because surely there's something I'm supposed to be taking away from these stories. I'm not, though. They're not even really lingering in my mind for future contemplation. I hate it when I feel like I'm missing something that everyone else intuitively grasps. Even after reading the few reviews I could find on the book, I can't figure out what it is that is supposed to be so riveting about this collection. Someone please enlighten me.

Hey, Mikey! He *likes* it!

It's a hard task, getting me to go to a movie. Usually the wife will say, "I'd like to see [insert movie here]" and I'll say, "Yeah, I'd see that," and it never goes any farther than that. I'm a little more likely to go if the movie is at the drive-in (at least I can bring my own food and sleep if I don't like the show) or the College Mall theater (at least if I hate the movie, it only cost me a buck). But mostly I don't go to movies.

I definitely won't go to any movie that might have even a little violence in it. No horror flicks, no action flicks, no war movies, nothing that might have bloodshed. What this means is I'm a real lightweight when it does come to violence, since I haven't been properly conditioned/numbed to it as any patriotic, god-fearing American citizen should be. My eyes get big even during animated violence. Finding Nemo? 3/4 of the movie went by with my jaw hanging open--literally. Sharks! Jellyfish! No, fishes! Don't do it! Don't do it!

Anyway, today we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean and I was--again, literally--on the edge of my seat the entire time. I must have remembered to breathe because I'm alive and typing this, but I'm pretty sure I forgot to blink during most of the action scenes. Turns out, I really like pirate movies. Who knew? The last pirate movie I saw was Muppet Treasure Island, and really, that's about my speed when it comes to cinema. I had no idea I would be enraptured by ghost pirates running amok and killing people in red coats. I even though Johnny Depp was funny. And pirate music? Love it. Even the creepy monkey didn't freak me out too badly, although I could have lived without the final monkey scene (after the credits). I sat still for *143 minutes*. That is absolutely unheard of in my world.

I could have paid full price for the movie and not felt at all ripped off, and I'd definitely see it again. I heard myself saying to Catherine at the end, "I hope they do a sequel!" What is this strange force that has taken over my body?

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The pharmaceutical moment.

On Thursday, we went to hear Leonore Tiefer speak on "The McDonaldization of Sex." The idea of "McDonaldization" isn't really new, and probably doesn't need to be explained, and the tenets of fast food production--conformity, control, accountability, etc.--have been applied to so many industries that people are probably more surprised when they're missing from a business than when they're present.

At any rate, Dr. Tiefer's talk was really about sexual health care, and how its streamlining is affecting women. At the base of this standardized medicine--bring the patient in, diagnose her in ten seconds, hand her a perscription--is, of course, the pharmaceutical industry. The producers of pharmaceutical products have a lot invested in keeping people interested in their medications. Dr. Tiefer talked a bit about the Viagra trend, how men are being taught that "occasional erectile difficulties" must be medicated (as if not being able to get it up on demand 100% of the time is some sort of disease), and how dangerous it is to just hand out Viagra for a problem that could be caused by other illnesses (diabetes, for example). Tiefer explored some of the social anxieties dealing with sex, and how the drug companies can play off those to make a buck.

Anyway, the main point of her talk was that since the Viagra market was so strong, the drug industry got the bright idea of exploiting the female market with a similar kind of drug. The problem was, there was no "erectile disease" to treat, so the industry is essentially making up a disease, "female sexual dysfunction" and offering up drugs to cure it. Dr. Tiefer has started an activist group, FSD Alert to try and counteract this movement to make women think their bodies and sex lives are inadequate and in need of medical treatment. The press page alone is worth a visit.

Dr. Tiefer's theory is that we're on the cusp of a pharmaceutical "revolution," that medical treatment for sexual "problems" is about to take a huge turn for the worse, and it's time to stop watching and start preventing.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Boris Grebenshikov.

Yesterday I stumbled across a Naxos CD at the library of Boris Grebenshikov. Grebenshikov (w/Akvarium [in english]) and Victor Tsoi (w/Kino, esp. Gruppa Krovi [in english]) almost singlehandedly taught me how to speak Russian, and I was just happy to see him again. When I was in school, it was all Vysotsky, Vysotsky, Okudjava, Vysotksy! And I was there for the birth of the next school of Russian folk music. How cool is that?

Addendum: Oh my. The liner notes give thanks and credit to Miki Pohl. She was my next door neighbor when we were in Leningrad in 1988. We operated in different social circles--we were in different grammar and conversation classes at LGU--but one thing we had in common was our interest in dissident rock. It is so neat that she took the topic and ran with it.

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me...

...And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head,
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

Well, I could type out the rest of the poem, my mom made me memorize it when I was a child, but poetry is exactly not the point here.

I'm reading Roberto Casati's The Shadow Club: The Greatest Mystery in the Universe--Shadows--and the Thinkers Who Unlocked Their Secrets. What an awkward subtitle. I've started the book a couple of times, but I've never gotten past page 14 or 15 because every time I read them, I need to take a break and think, "Wow," for awhile. Then I have to start the book over.

Casati is making a very basic point, that shadows and light play a large role in the history of modern science. He runs through the history of the lightbulb pretty quickly, Edison's incandescent bulb, etc. But I'm always blown away by the implications of his next point--that with the introduction of the filament lightbulb, not only did concept of light change, so did the concept of shadows. For the first time in history, both light and shadows were *stable*. That seems kind of obvious, but imagine how much the average person's worldview must have changed. Always before, even with gas lamps, shadows moved. They flickered if caused by artificial light, and they moved across the ground w/time if caused by natural light. Suddenly we have the capability of producing shadows that don't move.

Modern shadows are completely different than ancient shadows, and that is very cool. I can't believe I hadn't noticed it before this.

Actually, I guess poetry is the point, because Robert Louis Stevenson captured the essence of change when describing his childhood companion.

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow--
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there's none of him at all.

He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he's a coward you can see;
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Beginner's luck.

So. I just sold my first travel article to a major metro newspaper. I'm a little stunned (but not quite speechless, of course).

A few weeks ago I took a travel writing class through the city Parks and Rec department. We met for three two-hour classes, and I think it cost me $21 or something like that. It was mostly a nuts and bolts class, how to choose a topic, how to find a market, how to write an article, how to take care of legal matters, etc. As part of the class I had to write a query letter for practice. After the class was over, I came home and sent the query letter out to 7 or 8 metro newspapers in the midwest (pulling editor's names and e-mail addresses off the web). Mostly I expected to be ignored, and I was, but I got one "maybe, but probably not" followed by a "I'd like to read the full article, and then we'll see."

Anyway, I cranked out a 900-1000 word article on the topic I suggested, and sent it off to that editor. That was last week. Today, I got an e-mail from the editor saying she'd like to run the piece, and if I agreed with the amount of money and terms the paper would offer, she would send me a contract. That is beginner's luck, big time.

I'm not sure where to go from here, but the beginning seems like a nice place to be, so maybe I'll just hang out here for awhile and enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Who knew?

Today I found out that one of the dough makers at work actually knows how to write a complete sentence. I don't know why I'm so surprised, other than the fact that most of our dialogue consists of me saying things like, "I'm going to kick your ass," and him saying, "You have to catch me first." Not a lot of depth in the dough room.

Before this kid started working in the production kitchen, he repaired lawn mowers. He went to a local high school, and as far as I know, never once considered going to college. He doesn't read (not a bad thing, he's going to loan me a couple of DVDs) and doesn't seem all that interested in the world outside his line of vision. He's a really sweet guy, but just not a heavy thinker. I mean, my god, he bet a co-worker that the Browns would beat the Chiefs on Sunday--that is just plain stupidity in action. Who bets on the Browns?

Today he was talking about his "professional hobby," writing poetry, and mentioned a poem he wrote to his ex-girlfriend (he wanted to call it "Die, Bitch" but ended up changing it to "Rain"--good decision). I thought he was joking, but it turns out not--he really does write poetry in his spare time. Then he told me I could read his latest poem because it was posted online. He probably didn't think I'd actually look them up, but I did.

Okay, his poetry isn't great, full of romantic cliches, but it's better than I ever would have thought it would be. He actually used adjectives and adverbs. He can write a complete sentence. He used the word "vibrant" (correctly) and before ten minutes ago I would have confidently bet ten dollars that he didn't even know what it meant. He really and truly writes better than more than 75% of my freshman history students ever did.

Now I want to know--what were his grades like in high school? Why didn't he go to college? Did anyone encourage him to? He went to school out in the county, and I'm guessing that he's like every other first generation college student I've met here, with a family not interested in education, no support, no vision of what life could be like. It's too bad, really, because I'd really like to see what he could do in a different environment.

Almost relevant.

And speaking of "why I left graduate school" (sort of), I thought this was kind of wild. Some of it parallels my experience, a lot of it doesn't, but it still made for interesting reading.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Jack of all trades.

What a weird week. All these people from the old life are suddenly re-appearing, and now I'm in the middle of a mini identity crisis. Trying to fit back into the spot they all had carved out for me in their minds, trying to be who I was ten years ago without letting go of who I am now, trying to keep up and realizing I'm not so sure I want to. Who are these people, and what do they want from me?

A little bit I feel guilty. I'm standing among friends, and I think that the one friend I'd really like to have a face-to-face conversation with right now isn't in the room. So I feel bad, as if I'm looking over everyone's shoulders, hoping for someone else to appear. What, these friends aren't good enough? So a little guilt, and it makes me shift in discomfort too many times in a single evening, I think.

Mostly, though, I'm just recognizing that the way my life has unfolded over the past 6 years isn't how anyone expected it to, and although I've moved on, everyone else only has the old mental picture of me. So instead of falling back on familiar topics and old patterns of conversing, everyone has to do a little bit of adjusting, and maybe it's not going that well, I don't know.

My mind works differently now. I'm listening to people talk around me, and I'm discovering that I've left the world of ideas for the world of skills. It's not that I've become less intelligent (although I have to admit I don't engage in the critical thinking process like I used to) but more that I've just directed it elsewhere. It's not that I don't read, I just read differently and for different purposes now. I've no longer got the mind of a specialist; instead, I'm a generalist.

For the past several years, my knowledge has been expanding in terms of practical skill--the physical rather than the cerebral. I cranked up my information technology skills. I stopped thinking about architecture and started thinking about building. I draft, I construct. I've discovered I have a favorite power tool. I took music lessons and I joined a band. Learned how to skate, and then to play hockey. I learned a new language (well, sort of). Took up the martial arts. Learned how to properly slice tomatoes. I suppose I was thinking during all these things, but it's not the same as living on campus, speaking the language of the academy and thinking academic thoughts.

For once, I'm fine with that. I like working with affordable housing programs (even if it doesn't pay the bills). I like being able to go to the library and pick up any damn book I please w/out having to work it into my current research topic. I like being able to change my mind without getting written approval from my advisor.

Somehow I've got to figure out how to convey that to everyone around me, that while of course I'm interested in what they're researching and what they're writing about and what it means for the future of humankind, it's not what I do anymore, and it's not what I'll do in the future. Everyone needs to stop expecting that I'll recognize the names they're dropping and the scholars they're reading.

What I'd really like to say to them, except it sounds like I'm criticizing them and I don't really want to, is that it would do them all good to give up their career paths for awhile and hang out with the rest of us. Have some conversations that aren't so narrowly focused, and that aren't fed by guest lecturers and course material and current research. Maybe they should find some people who don't share their same career goals and go camping or something, anything to broaden their horizons. Read some poetry instead of the New York Times with breakfast. Maybe even watch some TV. Listen to something that isn't NPR.

Well, I guess that is a criticism, isn't it? But about the fifth time someone expected me to recognize the author of an article they were reading, I really wanted to say, "Look, do you know how to put insulation in your crawl space?" It's just that when I realized all these people were coming to town, I thought it would make me sad about everything I gave up. Instead, it's made me heavy with this feeling that my friends are missing out because their professions demand absolute focus and dedication. I don't know. Life is short and it seems a very bad thing to spend the entire thing trapped in the archives squinting under artificial light.

Whatever. Whomever.

S: I don't understand women and I don't understand men.
C: That doesn't leave you much. Just cats.
S: Well, I don't understand them, either.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Cowlick Ricky.

Apparently I've inherited his hairstyle.

When I was in second grade, I stole a book of fairy tales illustrated by Adrienne Segur from the school library. Some of the stories, like "Thumbkin," I can repeat forward and backwards and forwards again (anything with Thousand League Boots and ogresses is worth re-reading). Some of them, like the "The Royal Ram," I only read once. That particular story made me cry for hours the first and only time I read it, and my mom told me never to read it again. She'd be glad to hear I've still never re-read it. "Green Snake"? Got it memorized. "Bright, Deardeer and Kit"? Didn't find it all that awful, but there's a librarian's note at the front of my book recommending that children not be allowed to read it.

Anyway, I couldn't tell you the story behind Cowlick Ricky, other than he was probably ugly on the outside but had luminous, golden beauty on the inside; I haven't read it in years. I do, however, recognize his hairstyle when I see it staring back at me in the mirror. It's a good thing we're required to wear ballcaps at work, I'm telling you.

Bands of America.


Northmont H.S., Ohio.

Center Grove H.S., Indiana.

Bellbrook H.S., Ohio.

The separation between church and interstate.

I haven't seen it, but apparently there's a huge cross on a hill next to the freeway somewhere between here and Kansas. I'll look for it next time I go that way.

Went over to E&H's for dinner last night, one last chance to see David before he goes home. Great to see him twice in one week, wish Jen could have come with him. Also great to have a conversation with adults for a change. No punk rock music, no methamphetamines, no sex in the dough room.

It's funny, though, hanging out last night, I ended up feeling out of my element in the opposite direction. At work, I'm definitely intellectually slumming, I can't even pretend I'm not. With former grad school friends, though, I always feel one step from being revealed as an imposter. I knew I was in over my head when I sat down on the couch and started looking at the bookshelf. On the top shelf was a matched set of the Iliad and the Odyssey. And next to that set was a second set. And next to that set was a third set. When I asked Henry about them, he said he liked having three editions, so he could compare the translations, etc. I thought I was doing well having read them each once. Comparing translations? And it's not even his field, he's a Byzantine specialist.

Still, good to see friends twice in one week, even if I almost fell asleep in my dessert dish. Our social life completely tanked the day Jen and David left town, it really just ground to a halt. Sort of a relief to discover their's did, too. As he was leaving, David said it was good to feel like he had friends again, and we could relate. I wish they would relocate back here.

Friday, November 07, 2003

I'm supposed to be vacuuming.

I had to take my drum set over to Diane and Garett's last night, and I haven't set it back up because this is a perfect opportunity to vacuum a corner that hasn't been cleaned in five years. It's amazing how much dust can accumulate over such a length of time. It's kind of bribe--do the vacuuming, and you can drum some more!

I'd like to drum, Bobby lent me a new book, "The Art of Boogaloo" because he noticed two of the exercises play off my favorite drum pattern. It should be cool. He's good for my ego, yes, he is. Today he told me that I seriously sell myself short as a drummer, that I'm really better than I represent myself to be. Part of me thinks he's just trying to make me feel good, part of me wants to believe him. Whichever, I usually come back from seeing him all ready to drum again.

Catch up.

I was so tired last night, I forgot to even point out--that's just 1/2 a song, the background, and it hasn't been mixed, so the trumpets are way too loud. Garett is working on lyrics, and once we get those laid down, we'll make it sound a lot better.

I am so far into sleep deficit, I'm never going to get out.


Once again, we started out making a rockabilly song, and ended up with something totally different. Our new song, affectionately known as "rough draft" is a cross between Van Morrison and some dead ska band.

We've renamed the band, it's now called Bicoastal.

Thursday, November 06, 2003


I promised myself about ten years ago to stop teasing Catherine about her poor memory. Soon after Michael died, I made a joking reference to her inability to remember anything I said, and she burst into tears. It turns out that she was afraid she wouldn't be able to remember Michael after awhile, that she was already forgetting John and Robert and every time I teased her about her poor memory, it was like I was reminding her that she would forget Michael, too. That was one of those moments when you realize how much damage words can do, and I never want to do that to someone again. I've carried a bit of Catherine's fear and despair around with me ever since, and try to remember things for her so she won't have to worry anymore.

But now I seem to have my own problems with memory, which is probably normal. The older you get, the more things you have to remember, the more things you have to forget. But, still, I've been having these ten second panic attacks, the kind that make you want to pick up the phone and call your friends just to make sure you still recognize their voices. Lately I've been having a difficult time remembering the important things--what my friends look like, for instance. I frequently find myself looking at the photos of my parents in my office and the living room because I can't seem to recall what they look like, either. It's starting to freak me about a little bit, this inability to remember faces and voices. If I can't remember what people look like now, how am I ever going to remember what they look like when I can't see them or hear them anymore?

But as I was sitting at dinner this evening, I realized that--at least for now--I can share the burden of remembering with other people. We had dinner with David and Erika and Henry, and at various times, we fell into the "have you heard from so and so lately?" or "do you remember when we did such and such?" And as we were talking, and trying to work our way through some kind of hazy memories from our early grad school days, it occurred to me that the real value of long-lasting relationships may revolve around the notion of communal memory. I couldn't quite remember who it was who didn't pass their oral exams at USC, but David eventually pulled the name out of his memory banks for me. A dozen similar exchanges occurred between various members of our dinner party throughout the evening, and I ended up feeling a little relieved that there were people around to help me remember my life when I couldn't.

That's mostly reassuring, I think. Not entirely, because what if you out live all your friends and family and then lose your memories of them, too? That's the kind of worry that keeps me up at night. But mostly I was a little more optimistic after dinner. As long as you keep adding people to your life, and hold on to them once you have them, you'll have help when things get hazy. And maybe that's the kind of comforting thought that I need to hold on to right now.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

You know what?

I'm just too tired to write. 2,437.5 pounds of bread and pizza dough this morning. My elbows are killing me, I keep looking down to make sure there's not a bone sticking through the skin.

There's a major disconnect right now with my ability to think and my ability to communicate, a disconnect that I'm sure could be solved by several hours of uninterrupted sleep, but I'm not getting that done right now. I've been reading tons of stuff about which I should be writing, before I forget what it was about them that grabbed my attention in the first place. For instance, I finished Edith Wharton's House of Mirth last night, I'm in the middle of one book of science essays, one book on shadows, one book on being a female oceanographer, one book on being Iranian-American, and another book of short stories based in L.A. And I'm sure I'll be happy to tell everyone about them. Later. Really. I will.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Slow learner.

C: Is your arm bleeding?
S: [Looking at arm] Oh...maybe. I think I bumped it on the drill again today. Where?
C: [Pointing to wound] It *is* bleeding.
S: Yeah, I guess so. Isn't that where I cut it the last time I bumped the drill?
C: [Pointing to a nearby scar] No, that's this one.
S: Oh. Well...almost.

Because my wife told me to.

We've been semi-madly cleaning house. It would be the spring cleaning if it was actually spring instead of a freakishly warm November. Anyway, it's the once or twice a year big clean. We have a friend coming into town on Wednesday to defend his dissertation, then another friend coming into town next week to give a talk, so it seemed like a good time to pretend we actually care about appearances. We finished the painting in our kitchen--mostly stuff the flaky contractor neglected to do--and Catherine scrubbed the kitchen floor. (Before anyone sends me e-mail about what a lousy house husband I am, I'd like to point out that painting the wall really freaked out my AC joint and there was no way I could clean the floor. But I would of.)

My task today was to tidy up the office. And I've done a reasonably good job, given that my deadline doesn't actually pass until tomorrow night some time. I even picked up my homework (fucking statics) off the stamp table. Yeah, but next time I do that particular task, I'm going to make sure the shade is pulled or that I'm fully dressed. Hopefully it was just the birds at the feeder that got a good look at me in my baggy shorts and bra, stuffing books and papers into my briefcase. I'm pretty sure the kids across the street don't need to see the old lady with no shirt doing housework.

My Mother, the Scientist.

Joan Feynman

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Unseasonably warm.

Fantastic weather, well into the 70s, so after we put a second coat of paint on the kitchen wall, we went for a drive. BRI was having an open house for a newly completed project, so we drove out to Stinesville to see it. Neat little house, the contractor did a good job.

Stinesville house, before restoration

Stinesville house, after restoration

Saturday, November 01, 2003

My 16th apology.

More like my 30th or 40th. Even after I stood up from in back of the dryer and announced that I didn't know why I was saying I was sorry, since it wasn't my fault, I kept apologizing. What tedious behavior. I was fixing the problem, not creating it, so why say I'm sorry?

It's a boring story, and I won't type it out, but we discovered that the guy who did our floor--a year and half ago--didn't hook the vent hose up to the dryer when he put it back in place. End result: we've been building a lint collection behind the dryer ever since. It's a damn good thing Catherine has beaten it into my head that you don't leave the house with the dryer running. If the lint had caught fire, at least we would have been there to put it out. Of course, we would have had to reach into the flames to get the fire extinguisher, since we keep it behind the washing machine. Still, it's a good principle. Dryers are fire hazards, even when properly connected, so don't run them un-supervised.

Anyway, the hose was damaged, and I can see why the guy didn't hook it back up, but I wish he would have said something to us. Two trips to Lowe's later, I've replaced the hose and the exterior vent since for some mysterious reason it had fallen apart.

What I was thinking about today while I was painting the back wall of the kitchen: it's not so much that men need to be taught to do more housework, it's that women need to be taught to do less. Women really could do themselves a favor by adapting to the "it's good enough" strategy of cleaning.

I'm not saying that we should accept men's standards for a clean bathroom, nor am I saying we should turn our homes into breeding grounds for infectious diseases, but I will say that a few of my friends could just dial it back and clean a little less often. I swear to god I have never lost a friend over the fact that I only dust my venetian blinds once a year or so. Really, and if I did, it wouldn't be a friend I would have wanted to keep anyway. I just wonder why all my female friends add even more stress to their already full and busy lives by forcing themselves to keep a spotless house on top of everything else. Let it slide, I say. No one's ever died from a few over-sized dust bunnies under the futon, I promise.

Friday, October 31, 2003


Ha, I was right. I told Catherine that ladybug was biting me, but she didn't believe me. They do too bite. There's even photographic proof.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Not your mother's music.

Not my music, either.

I promised Bobby I'd bring him a list of my CDs so he could pick out some music for me to practice with. I promised him the list three weeks ago, and I finally started writing it up tonight. At first, I just listed out the pop/rock CDs, but then I thought I should add the jazz/big band stuff, just in case, and maybe the country and swing stuff, also just in case. I ended up writing them all down, all twelve pages of them (the key lesson here is "don't listen to Susan when she whines about being busy, because she always finds time to do stupid, pointless tasks"). It turned out to be a rather revealing exercise.

One thing I promised myself when I got involved with Catherine was that I would not let her govern my taste in music. My previous girlfriend's taste dominated the relationship, and when we broke up, I realized I had no idea what I was supposed to listen to--all the music was hers. So, for the first couple of years with Catherine, I very determinedly held to my own aesthetic principles. Maybe it was more like the first couple of weeks, 'cause I'm looking at this list and seeing very little of myself in it. I see a lot of stuff we bought together, but the majority of it isn't mine. I guess that's okay, but it's kind of strange, since I'm supposed to be the musician of the family. Some of the albums are obviously mine--the Korean ones, for instance--but I think even my closest friends would have a hard time figuring out what other ones would go with me if this relationship ended.

Yet one more thing to add to the "when I get a job list": buy more of my own music.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003


  • move door/window schedules to paper space
  • check site plan, make sure water/sewer lines = plumbing plan
  • check site plan, make sure electric lines = electric plan
  • site plan -> service panel, laundry door
  • remove kitchen wall all plans
  • porch + 4'


Fuck. I was pushing the clutter around on my desk so I could move my desk lamp to a more advantageous position, and I knocked over a picture frame. It landed flat on my three model ships, which were relegated to my desk from the living room because we were afraid the cats would wreck them. I managed to do in a half second what the cats couldn't have done in a month.

The drydock has re-opened, I guess.

My project holds promise, if nothing else.

"If a sponsoring editor decides that your project holds promise for our list, he or she will seek, at a minimum, two outside reviews for scholarly projects and one for trade books. To allow for careful consideration of a project, we give our readers six to eight weeks, on average, to complete their evaluation. The review process typically takes three to four months, depending on, among other things, the nature of the project and the availability of reviewers. "

So, now I sit and wait another three or four months. Lovely.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Note the time.

I cannot believe I dragged myself out of bed on a Monday morning to get myself to work on time, only to have them send me home because there wasn't any work to be done. That should be illegal.


On Friday, we bought a cake for no particular reason other than we wanted dessert. We ate some, then boxed it up and left it in the refrigerator. I thought about eating a piece of it this weekend, but decided to wait until Catherine got home so we could share it. If I'd known she'd tucked a note inside the box for me, I would have eaten me a piece the moment she left.


Sunday, October 26, 2003

My rough estimate would be "a lot."

It's difficult to guess how much life can be improved by good friendships.

It was a dark and stormy night.

Preceded by a dark and stormy day. Catherine picked a good weekend to leave town. It was the perfect day to curl up in bed with the cats and read Dante, so that's what I did all afternoon.

Eventually I got out of bed and made good on the promise I made to Garett two years ago, which was to go over to his place and play some music with him. It's really quite amazing. In just a couple hours, we managed to lay down this completely New Age song that we made up on the spot. I definitely didn't expect to turn out something so weird when I started out today, but that's what happens when you wing it. I played all the percussion and the keyboard, Garett played the rhythm and bass guitar. First I laid down a standard clave rhythm on the upbeats, then added the ashiko, then the dumbek, and then the scraper. At that point, it sounded like we had some neo-West African beat going on, but once we added the bass guitar, it completely changed. And since my keyboard playing is almost non-existent, we had to take what we could get, which was a simplistic rendition of a chord, played with one finger. Garett's rhythm guitar almost sounds like a piano playing. Really, really odd, but still, kind of neat that two people can just pick up some noise makers and record a song, just like that.

We're going to take our New Age band, the Ethereal Soundscape, on the road, man.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

E-mail down.

Well, that's the second person in two days that has said to me, "Didn't you get my e-mail?" I'm not even getting spam, which means something is seriously broken.

I arrived at the library a few minutes ago to discover that it had been re-arranged. Not just a bookshelf or two, but the entire library has been changed around. The disoriented feeling was so severe I actually swayed with panic--am I in the right building, the right town? The man behind the new reference desk called out and asked if he could help me find anything. "No...just the library..." He laughed and assured me I had found it. I don't know if he was telling me the truth or not.

I suppose.

I guess if Catherine can let me go off for a wild night in Palo Alto by myself, I can let her go to Chicago without me. I don't have to be happy about it, though. How immature is it that I'm about to spend the next 48 hours fretting about this? I'm sure Garry and Amanda are perfectly safe drivers, and I'm sure they'll all come home just fine on Sunday. I'm sure. I am.

Catherine and I have been having parallel anxiety dreams. She dreams that she's being forced to marry some guy she's never even met. She doesn't want to, and when she gets to the altar, all these men are standing there and she doesn't even know which one she has to marry. When she wakes up, all she wants to do is hold on to me. I dream that I've somehow been offered up to someone else for the weekend, and I don't want to be there. I want to go home, but I can't because there's an electrical storm and it's raining and then the cats get out and are running back and forth across the street in the traffic and I don't want to see them get run over and I have to get home but I can't. And I wake up, and all I want to do is hold on to Catherine.

Damn. I hate having to go to sleep.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Political Compass.

So, I just spent a few minutes taking the Political Compass test, and I'm thinking the results can't be right. For one thing, there were several questions where Strongly Agree/Agree/Disagree/Strongly Disagree didn't offer the choice I wanted which was "neutral" or "can't decide" or "could you rephrase that in the form of a question?" Anyway, I ended up with:

Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: -7.50
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.46

There's no way that can be correct. The chances of me being farther to the left than Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama, and Ghandi are pretty damn slim. Or pretty damn fat, whichever way you want to look at it. I think if the questions had been written a little differently, I would have come out more authoritarian than libertarian, without question.

Although the test does try to add depth by considering a "social dimension," my general criticism is that too much emphasis is put on the left-to-right economic spectrum. Okay, it's not the test's fault that we live in an economically unimaginative world, but really, why must my choices be based on an antiquated (okay, 19th century) model of economics? This is 2003, for chrissakes. Why are we incapable of thinking outside the paradigm offered by Marx and Engels? Is it really true we can only be capitalists, communists, or socialists (or somewhere in between these three positions)? Surely we can think of a fourth option.

Not a fourth option, a new option. There must be other systems of economy--based on trading and bartering? I'm not sure--not derived from Marx's interpretation of the collection of the British Library. I mean, the very fact that his system was based on an extensive yet culturally limited set of source material should make us pause and wonder about the validity of his conclusions. Marx describes what he thinks he sees, predicts what he thinks might develop, and suddenly we're totally wed to the idea. And you can't point to the fact that examples of his economic systems exist as proof that he was right. Marx was the master of the self-fulfilling prophecy, a Field of Dreams kind of guy if I ever saw one.

Well, don't even get me started on that Adam Smith, we'll be here all day.



I don't remember accepting this mission.

  • figure out A-COMP-R
  • schedules for floor plans
  • finish roof plan
  • start foundation plan (10/31)
  • chap. 26 questions asap
  • look at chap. 28 again?
  • chap. 31, 32 (10/31)
  • statics
  • call to change appt.
  • query letter (10/27)
  • list of newspapers (10/27)
  • e-mail Steve
  • check locks Kirkwood
  • bin from garage
  • boxes to garage
  • progress meeting? ask Steve
  • balance checkbook
  • shirt for Dad
  • library books 10/24
  • office
  • Garett and Diane
  • 2 doorknobs, rim lock, strike plate
  • receipt to Steve
  • list of hardware to Steve
  • bathroom
  • hair cut

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Right hand.

Not broken.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Mind the gap.

I like this article, if only because I've tripped on that bloody step in Gay's the Word so many times I've lost count. Not the main point of the narrative, I know, but it's reassuring to know that not every gay and lesbian bookstore in the world has gone under.

I just had to buy her that DVD player...

As part of my Be A Better Spouse campaign, I've decided to watch more movies. Catherine loves movies, but we hardly ever go to the theater because I can't be bothered to sit still that long. When we rent movies, I tend to watch about ten minutes of any given flick, then leave the room. Or, if I stay in the room, I read and miss most of the movie, anyway. So, I'm trying to force myself to watch movies, because I know that it would be more fun for Catherine if she had someone with whom she could discuss them. So, I've just finished my fourth movie of the weekend. Ouch.

I'm not sure the first movie, Matilda, counts, since it was on WTBS when we finally dragged ourselves out of bed. Plus, I'd seen about half of it already. It's a pretty decent kid's film. Dark, but dark in an children's way, not in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre way. I think it got mixed reviews when it came out in the mid-1990s, but it really does a good job of capturing that secret desire of every over-punished kid to develop magic powers and teach those grown-ups a lesson. It was based on a Roald Dahl book (wow, am I ever disillusioned by the fact that he has an official website), which explains everything about it, I think. Very much in the James and the Giant Peach sort of way. Catherine loved the library scenes.

We rented A Shot At Glory because I'd read that it was a good soccer film. I suppose it wasn't an incredibly fantastic film--I didn't really get too pulled into the family drama that formed the subplot--but it had some excellent footie scenes. And I actually shed not one, but *two* sports tears. That makes it a good movie in my book. I wish I had thought to turn on the subtitles before watching it, though. I'll have to do that before we turn it back in to the rental store.

I really expected to like Down With Love. Not love, but like. It was supposed to be a Rock Hudson/Doris Day kind of remake, and I was expecting a light romantic comedy with a bite. Unfortunately, it was a poorly done parody. I know it was supposed to be a farce, but it was an overacted farce, and I couldn't even bear to watch it through to the end. Catherine told me it got better after the (one) plot twist was revealed, but I'm thinking I'm glad I spent my time looking at pictures of skyscrapers instead of watching the movie.

Fourth Film: A Mighty Wind. Anyone who liked Best in Show will like this one. This was Catherine's pick, and I didn't really want to watch it, but it was worth the 4 buck rental fee and 90-minute commitment. Eugene Levy creeps me out on a regular basis, but other than that, I liked it. I really like the trio, and enjoyed watching them pick up different instruments every time they rehearsed. Also, the "neuf-tet" cracked me up, especially the two lead singers who looked like evangelists one step out of prison for tax evasion. Catherine is watching the supplemental material on the DVD right now. I hate DVDs, they take a usually too-long movie and just double it in length.

I've just got to make it through two more DVDs, and I can go back to being bad husband sleeping in the recliner.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

But I expected the old Frank Gehry.

Exit the front door of my building, turn left, and start walking. Walk through downtown, across Wilshire, up up and up the hill, past the Museum of Contemporary Art, past the Wells Fargo building. If you hit the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or the Mark Taper Forum, you've gone too far. Chances are you won't get that far, though. How could you just walk by Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall without pausing to look at it?

I spent way too many hours hanging off the chain link fence across the street from the future concert hall, watching the construction of the concert hall parking garage. In fact, I spent one particularly chill, still Thanksgiving morning on that fence, toes wedged in the gaps, freezing fingers wrapped around the links, trying to figure out what was going to happen (not really knowing that it was just the parking garage taking shape at that point, that the concert hall would be across the street). I think I was the only person breathing in downtown L.A. that day, with the exception of the guy who tried to panhandle me (excuse me, but do you think I'd be standing here out in the cold on Thanksgiving morning if I had any spare change? No, I'd be drinking coffee somewhere warm.) The concert hall was still just a rumor back then, absolutely unimaginable by even the best educated and most knowledgeabe architectural historian. Because in 1988, Frank Gehry was still the architect of found objects, of eclectic residential structures and novelty public buildings. Sure, he was awarded the Pritzker in 1989 (1990?), but I don't think anyone realized that he was about to create a museum typology so recognizable that his early work would be consumed by it, and museum and art culture would be dominated by it.

So, the great concert hall is finished, and if anything it's an anti-climax. So controversial in the late 1980s, its path to completion was paved by Bilbao and the EMP. Even Cleveland has it's own version of Gehry's signature design by now. A concert hall that was simply inconceivable 10 years ago is now common place. We didn't have the visual language to describe Gehry's (future) building back then, but now he's offered so many examples, we can simply shrug and say, "Well, it looks like a Gehry, of course." It's so familiar it's almost banal. It's difficult to convey how amazing that is, that a building that had no blantantly obvious predecessors (although I can sure see it in the architectonic forms of the Vitra Design Museum) could not only contrive to get itself built, but manage to make itself common. What other architecture firm has managed this?

I'm not someone to go around spouting about Great Architects. But reading an article on the completion of the Disney concert hall made me pause, remembering the time I spent on the fence, unable to fill in the hole in the ground in front of me with any sort of structure. And now, I'm unable to not fill it in, unable to not imagine what a Gehry building looks like. It's only been ten years, but my visual vocabulary has entirely changed in that decade. And that in itself is a great thing.


No, it won't become iconic, it's won't represent L.A. to the world. Maybe it will prove to the world that L.A. isn't a cultural "backwater" (not my description), but it won't be a symbol of the city. It's too international of a style, it's too familiar already, it's already located in too many places. If L.A. had built it back when it was commissioned, maybe they would displace Bilbao in the public's mind, but it's too late for that. Nice building, built by a local boy, but it will never belong to Los Angeles exclusively or even primarily.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Amazingly proud.

The kids at USC have come a long way in the past decade. They're planning on holding a mock same-sex wedding to protest Bush's stupidity. That's amazing, because when I was there, the kids in the campus GLBT group (it was called GLASS back then) expended more energy trying not to get caught talking to another queer in public than they did doing their school work. Hold hands on campus? Wouldn't risk it. Ever. Lesbian editor of the campus newspaper? Run homophobic articles unchallenged so you don't give your queerness away. As I recall, the big crisis of the during the 1991-92 academic school year was that the student director of GLASS wasn't even out of the closet (and I still feel guilty for not being more vocal in my defense of her. I should have excoriated a few self-righteous queens instead of just getting up and walking out). So, although I have no real lingering school spirit for the Trojans, no affection at all, really, I am happy to see the queer kids are doing better and getting braver.

Buy the bag.

What I really need is a canvas book bag to take to the public library. I've been saying this forever, and I've finally started using the book bag that has been stashed in our closet for the past year or so. It's a great bag, nice and sturdy, flat-bottomed, with strong handles. The problem is, Catherine got it as a free gift at a museum opening she went to in New York last year. Yes, that would be the Museum of Sex, and while I think the bag and all the stuff that was in it was a nice gesture, it also has a URL and graphic from a website that specializes in selling sex toys and related accessories. Not that I have any particular hang-ups about that kind of thing, but I just feel uncomfortable inviting speculation on my sex life while walking through the public library. So, I spend the entire two hours I'm there making sure that only the blank side of the bag can be seen by other patrons. That is a freaking waste of energy. Two solutions: get over myself, and educate the world on the purchasing possibilities of the web; or, buy a new bag.

Pretty sure I'll buy the new bag.