Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Conference

I don’t know why, I just have to post this.

I was twenty when this happened.

Way back in the distant eighties I was in Africa. I was living in a place called Umtata, an outpost capital of a South African homeland known as Transkei. Transkei is where the Apartheid system of the National Party sequestered the members of the Xhosa people in a semi-arid overly-farmed corner of southern Africa. People were poor. I was a volunteer at a school run by the South African Catholic Archdiocese that gave poor disabled children an opportunity for an education. I taught English, music, and art, but more importantly, I drove the van.

The regular school driver was unreliable. No stones shall be cast in this glass house, but let us just say that at eight in the morning he wasn’t at the top of his form, more like he was at the bottom of a bottle. I was awakened more than once to find someone knocking at my door before daybreak claiming that I needed to get my things right away because I would be driving to East London that day. Driver was drunk again. He had a name, but we all knew him as Driver.

I took many trips south to East London where a relatively modern prosthetic clinic was located. Many times I was fortunate to go north, to Durban, but this was usually for more administrative purposes. Often I would be carrying an assortment of passengers: students, nuns, adults with disabilities, and occasionally a low-ranking government official. It was on just such a journey to Durban where this story takes place.

The school charged me with taking two of their most prominent nuns to an ecclesiastical conference of Christian religions from all over South Africa. I want to speculate that this was an ecumenical meeting, but I doubt it is that easily defined. The conference was three days, and at the reception I witnessed a different, more multi-cultural Africa, but one with more trappings than I felt comfortable experiencing. I remember spending hours in the guest room of the conference-center reading Donald Morris’ The Washing of the Spears.

On the first night was a reception, followed by a dinner at the host minister’s house. It seems that only a few of us were invited to the dinner, because the number of participants declined noticeably by the time we entered the man’s main parlor. An African served some sort of preliminary drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and I began talking to the minister’s wife. I’m not sure of the denomination of this particular man-of-the-cloth, but I will just claim him as Anglican which is broad enough for me not to feel as if I’m offending anyone.

The wife succeeded in making me feel quite comfortable in this unfamiliar environment. She did what always eases my apprehension, she asked me about myself. Her questions were polite and she listened with an attentive ear. As the minister invited us over to the dining-room table, we continued our conversation.

The minister’s wife sat opposite me. The preliminaries of the meal required a few prayers from each representative of faith, and as the final prayer was being amen-ed, I felt a prodding on my lower leg. It was a gentle brush at first, and I ignored it as something unexplainable but insignificant. I followed the polite conversation and spoke when spoken to, but, in a moment, I found that the prodding had come back. I couldn’t quite verify it, but there was a general feeling that someone was rubbing my leg with their foot.

I looked to my left and realized that the gigantic and forbidding nun who I had driven to the conference was the least likely candidate to be rubbing my leg with her foot. On my right was a man, and though it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, I scratched him off the list. Only one person was left—the minister's wife.

I took a quick glance at her. She was listening attentively to the conversation, but there was no mistaking it, she contained a coy twinkle in her eye. I could tell that she wasn’t listening fully, that it was just a ruse and that her attention was on my ankle and my ankle only. A crises of faith swept over me. A married woman? And a ministers wife at that? No way was I going to take that double lightening bolt. But then again, I was twenty-years-old.

The dinner continued and the rubbing of my leg persisted. At one point, when I was required to give my much practiced speech about my plans for the future, the rubbing got more intense and I could barely concentrate on the part about how I planned to become a journalist and everything. I wondered what would happen now. How was I to handle this? This was way beyond my area of expertise, hell, at that age, everything was way beyond my area of expertise.

When the meal ended and we stood up I was in severe crises. I did not know how to comprehend the situation, much less react to it. I did what I always seem to do given mental stress, I waited.

As we bowed our heads for the final prayer—there was so much praying going on at this conference—I quickly looked up at the minister’s wife and she made brief, reassuring eye-contact. I must have shown my confusion, but at the same time I may have decided just to follow her lead. As the minister launched into a lengthy prayer thanking the host for the divine gift of fellowship and nourishment, I happened to open my eyes and look at the place where the table cloth met the floor. From beneath the table appeared a cat. It started rubbing up against my leg.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fun with Cut and Paste

It seems that books are a recurring theme on the blogs I visit, so in the spirit of recent postings of personal bookcases and favorite bookstores, here is my office bookcase in all its chaotic glory.

Now that I have the capability to post photos, this blog is going to be overloaded with arbitrary stuff that is my material fish tank. Check out this picture of my dog, Booker.

Okay, this is too fun, what else can we post? Hmmm, I know.

Okay, I didn't take this picture,and I've used it before, but I think the maxim "a picture speaks a thousand words" is very relevant in this case.

I call this one" "GRE Hell."

Stay tuned for more engrossing photos.

Note: Tried to get a movie of Booker catching a Frisbee to upload but it took almost two hours for a ten second spot. Seems my laptop and blogspot were having some issues. I'm going to keep working on it though.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Taking a Break

I'm taking a break from blogging for several days because this week has shown me how busy the semester is going to be. I have taken on a lot, and I need some time to get things in place before I can commit to a good post. I hope to be back early next week when the dust settles.

Patio update: Hand made paving stones have gone into production. Hard work, but they look fantastic.

Booker update: Booker got two new frisbies on Sunday, and he has been walking on a cloud ever since. I'm teaching him to play goalie.

School? One regular tough class, one two credit I.S. that will require a great deal of self-starting, and the math--which the jury is still out on.

Work: New position in the library in the special collections.

Personal: Don't ask, not too bad, but don't ask.

GW Bush? @#$!@#%$# ^%$#@ %$!@#$ %^$##@

Back Soon.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Okay, I'm Going to Stop Doing These Quizes Now

I got this from Archie.

You're The Grapes of Wrath!

by John Steinbeck

You're mired in a deep depression that encompasses you and everyone you know. You're trying to get out of the depression, but your idea of help is, in itself, pretty sad. While some are convinced that this all has a deeper meaning, you're really just dull and tedious. And utterly obsessed with dust. You really need to focus on something other than dust. Your best moments center around turtles.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Reading Meme

School has started once again, and I'm all set for my last semester. Wish me luck. It took me twenty years but I'm on the back stretch now. {Please don't let this come back to haunt me later as one of those things I did to tempt fate, and actually I find out that I'll never be able to graduate because I didn't learn how to add fractions in third grade}.

I got this meme from the indefatigable Emily. It was welcome because I was having trouble coming up with a topic, as nothing really embarrassing has happened to me in the past week. (More tempting fate).

What are you reading right now?
Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy: Dmitri Volkoganov
Being There: Jerzy Kozinski
The Fortune of War: Patrick O’Brian
In the Garden of the North American Martyrs: Tobias Wolff
The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
Hmmm, that list might be too long to name. I have a big stack of European history books that my dad gave me sitting between the dining room and the living room. They all look tempting. I also have the seventh in the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian which is a probability. I want to check out the new translation of War and Peace when it comes out in October. Steinbeck always beckons as well. Knowing me, it will be totally random. I started reading Being There because I was practicing drums (a friend left a drum set in my house) and I saw the book sticking out of the bookcase. I’m glad I did. I love it!

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?
People and The New Yorker

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?
Sons and Lovers in high school senior English class. I found this to be incredibly depressing and I barely even read enough to take the exam. I want to give it another try, but maybe I should trust my seventeen-year-old-self and leave it alone. Tess of the D’Urbervilles comes in a close second.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
Surprise, surprise Old School by Tobias Wolff. I could go into why I like this book so much, but the main reason is because I identified with the main character so much. Read it everyone.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?
Yep, and what’s worse, I’m one of them. I work part time in the library and people ‘round here know me. But…..librarians are shedding their conservative persona. Your modern librarian is no longer the horned-rimmed, hair-in-a-bun type who says “shhhhhh” all the time. We are making reading sexy again. The hormones in this place are practically palpable and you should check out miss ------- in circulation. I told a young woman the other day that I was a librarian and she practically ripped my clothes off, it’s true! Actually, she did say, “that’s kinda hot.” So get ready for the 21st century library geek, the new pop star of the future.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?
I reluctantly recommended I am Charlotte Simmons to a couple of people, suspecting that this book would upset, disgust, or just plain bore them. I was right in most cases. I’ve never decided if I liked the book even, but I know it is on my “books that made an impact” list.

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving?
While I bathe: I have, but its awkward to keep your hands dry while you’re in the shower. While I watch movies or TV: Not with movies, but I read during the commercials on TV by muting the sound. Listening to music: I can do it with classical, but if there are any vocals I can’t do it. I even find it hard with Jazz instrumentals. On the computer: only when I’m writing a paper and I haven’t read the text, in other words, when I’m behind. While I’m having sex: No, but I can tell you, reading The Brothers Karamazov one time right after sex caused one of the first pouty arguments I’d ever had with a girlfriend. Imagine, someone being jealous of Dostoevsky. Now, watching TV and sex, that’s another subject, especially during playoffs. While I’m driving: only directions, maps, syllabi's, assignment sheets, schedules, rough drafts, CD cases, the back of video game boxes, but never, never fiction. What is more dangerous than me reading a draft on the way to class is shuffling around to find the draft on the floor of my truck while doing 70!

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?
Yea, probably. I would always bring really morbid books to school that would show soldiers with their arms shot off, or novels about cows that have gone berserk and have started to eat people. This would get me off the hook somewhat because the kids liked that stuff--well most of them. Also, when I was playing with neighborhood kids, I would excuse myself early to partake in my favorite pastime, eating Marathon bars and reading comic books.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
Patrick O’Brian. This isn’t necessarily true, because I fell asleep way before half the night came along, but I would have finished the book if I could have stayed awake. He just leads you from one fascinating situation to the next, and, for me, totally captures every piece of my imagination. I would have read Being There in one sitting last night, but (knock on wood) insomnia is not one of my troubles right now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm Demotic

Apparently I'm some sort of crazy offshoot of hieroglyphics--and one letter away from being demonic! Yow.

Your Score: Demotic

You scored

You are Demotic, the degenerate wild child of Hieroglyphics. At least, that's what Hieroglyphics used to say. Quicker, nimbler but a definite trouble-maker in the family.

Link: The Which Ancient Language Are You Test written by on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Portrait of an Artist as a Seven-Year-Old

Lindsay gave me permission ( I think she did..didn't you Lindsay? oh well, I'm going to anyway) to post some of her earliest artwork. I think she was around seven when she wrote this book of poems for my grandmother. It shows how already she had a way with imagery and poetics. Especially the one about the squirrel. ;)

The Jam that Went
Once ‘twas a girl named Ann
Who loved to fry chicken in a pan
She was tempted to get in the jam
While frying a leg of lamb
Ann was naughty and ate
All the jam that was on the plate
Ann’s mother came home and found
Where all the jam was bound
Ann got quite a spank
And lost all the money in her bank
For paying for all that jam
And the very, very burnt lamb
Ann got very sick
For all the jam she did lick
And now she’s got a pain
Of never eating jam again


Look at the size of that jam jar! I happen to think that this is autobiographical.

Walking stalking, running
Tired, energetic

Tall, small
Talking, sleeping, eating
Unhappy, glad

Early attempts at anatomy and portraiture. Love the guy in the bottom left corner.

Good or Bad?
Am I good?
Or am I bad?
I’ll have to stop and think
I’m sometimes good, I’m sometimes bad
Oh bother! Let’s have a drink

Upside Down
I’m standing upside down
It’s fun, fun, fun!
I’m acting like a clown
It’s fun, fun, fun!

"Good or Bad?" was my grandmother's favorite. I think it was the part about having a drink that she liked.

Squirrel, Squirrel, squirrel
Why do you twirl and twirl?
You twirl all day
And never play
Oh why do you twirl and twirl?

Knock, knock, knock,knock
Who is knocking at my door?
Pitter patter, pitter patter
I walk across the floor
Creak, creak, creak, creak
I slowly open my door
Who’s there? Who’s there?
Only my uncle Ned
Pitter patter, pitter patter
Slowly back to bed

Uncle Ned sounds kind of creepy to me.

The Fight
A fight
I think it was last night
One boy hit the other
The other insulted his brother
Finally they were pulled apart very scratched and mad at heart
But soon they made friends again
And they forgot about all their pain

I'm glad this one has a happy ending. They look a little like they're dancing, not fighting.

So long! Farewell! Good-by!
Ireally must be going!
Oh really time does fly
But our friendship is still glowing!

Sorry if this is embarrassing Lindsay, but you know its a younger brother's job to embarrass his sisters.

Friday, August 10, 2007


A bit more self-degradation before I turn to humor again. Because the world of blogging is so compelling and thought-provoking, I have found myself hastily typing comments on blogs ranging from accordion aficionados to learned dons. I have one fault which is about to drive me to distraction unless I am able to fix it. I am premature (not in that way, well…that’s a subject for another post) but I mean I jump-the-gun-half-cocked to mix metaphors and euphemisms simultaneously. Today I posted a comment on the always insightful loosebaggymonster thanking her for recommending Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Only I didn’t write The Master and Margarita, I wrote The Master and the Margarita. Small mistake maybe, but to me it seems that a simple three letter word changes the meaning from a central character in the novel, to a refreshing umbrella-drink containing tequila and salt. Did I expect the novel to be about how the oppressed Russians were saved by a pitcher of Margaritas? Maybe that’s what I was hoping, deep down. Hey, it’s helped me before.

I’m starting to remind myself of the character Horshack from the 70’s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter. The clueless inner-city high school student would raise his hand at the most inappropriate moment and gesture frantically while making a sound akin to a gorilla luring a mate—“ooh, ooh, ohh”—or something like that. The ever patient Mister Kotter (the teacher) would call on Horshack eventually and Horshack would blurt out some inanity. Mister Kotter was usually able to turn it into a gentle joke or use it to strengthen the point he was making. This would satiate Horshack and class would resume.

When I read a post I often start formulating my comment while only halfway through. The problem is that many post give me so much to think about, and so much to relate to, that I don’t stick around for the main point of the post. This is something I’ve learned to check myself on when I’m doing something for school, but when I’m rushing to read blogs before having to get started on daily tasks sometimes I become careless. If I could only take a moment and consider the whole post, I might not have to spend half-an-hour writing long disclaimers such as this.

Last night the Democratic candidates held the first televised debate regarding gay rights in American history. The debate was held on the Logo channel, a gay and lesbian cable network. Most of the candidates bonded well with the two-hundred plus audience members. The only gaff came from Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who didn’t seem to grasp the offensiveness of the idea of homosexuality being a “choice” for gay and lesbians and therefore one that can be “corrected.” He wore his confusion markedly on his sleeve, and today his campaign headquarters issued a statement explaining his position more clearly.

I identify with Richardson, not for his views on gays and lesbians—whatever they might be—but for not being informed enough to make a stand one way or the other. This lack of preparedness is what I intend to work on, to correct, as well as general carelessness that has plagued me since kindergarten.

I had every intention of finding out a bit more about Bulgakov this morning, but instead I went to loosebaggymonster to tell her the news that I had started her recommendation. My haste led me to make Bulgakov’s book about a cocktail instead of a woman. It was only afterwards, when wikipedia of all things set me straight, that I realized that the novel was not about a frosty tequila, triple sec, and lime drink. Oh well, it's still a very good book.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


So I'm going to take a few moments to look at the laundry list I made at the beginning of the summer and see if I got anything accomplished. We still have another month-and-a-half of summer (a fact made very apparent by the sweltering heat-wave the south is experiencing) so there is still time, but a couple of things just have to be put on the back-burner, as I didn't know how involved this studying for the GRE business would be. I can live with the fact that some things don't always come to fruition, and these are things that I may have time to do later in life.

The Shakespeare Challenge: Just can't get it off the ground. I gave myself a break and decided, because someone suggested that Shakespeare is best experienced by watching a good production, that I could watch film versions of his plays. I got halfway through The Royal Shakespeare Company's 70's version of Macbeth for the BBC, but I haven't come back to it--which is too telling. I didn't like it as much as I tried to tell myself I did. Shakespeare will ( hark,is that a pun, me thinks 'tis) have to wait.

The Patio: I haven't stopped this project, I've just put it on hold. The area is dug out and ready to be leveled and paved, I even have the method of paving picked out. But lately I have been experiencing lower-back pain which is either a result of, or aggravated by, the war of the roots. I desperately want to return to this project for many reasons. One is that Booker is transferring much of the dug-up dirt onto the living room carpet. Another is that my across-the-street neighbors just moved out, and as a parting gift they left a gigantic pile of accumulated junk in their yard to view when I sit on my front-porch. Having a secluded space to enjoy the outdoors in the back-yard is what I'm dreaming of. This one is still simmering on the back corner of the stove.

Reading something by Jane Austen. I'm going to paraphrase a rejection notice I got from The New Yorker once: "despite its evident merit, this just isn't for us." I found the prose of North Anger Abbey compelling, sophisticated, and transcendent, too bad there wasn't anything in it to which I could relate. Hard to admit about my mother's favorite author.

The woman writer's challenge. Another one that is on hold, but this is a little distressing because I have only one more book to go before completing it. For some reason, for the last three years, I have picked up a great big involved history related tome when the dog-days of summer hit. Because this year I have allowed myself to follow any reading whim that came around, I was led to Dmitri Volkogorov's biography of Stalin. It is dominating my realm in such a dictatorial way that reading another book at the same time doesn't seem possible. But if I stay on the history kick I might return to the old stand-by, Barbara Tuchman, and re-read The Proud Tower to complete the challenge.

Writing decent songs. Summer just isn't a good time to write songs. Neither is winter. Muses arrive on a crisp fall day or a sparkling day in spring. I'm going through a break-up right now, and I was presumptuous enough one Sunday morning to think I could write a song about it. I couldn't, but I went through with it anyway. The song is the worst song I've ever written. This is not self-flagellation folks, it is really bad (think emo meets Styx, but not even that good). I've done some lousy stuff before, but this is the pinnacle. Although it might just be something I had to go through.

So, whew, I needed to give myself those passes on a couple of things. I've made obligations to certain people recently that won't be so easy to go back on, but I'm okay with breaking some promises to myself, as long as the major goals, or the goal making, is still around. Still, that Shakespeare thing is needling me...never read Hamlet....never read Hamlet.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Funny Post From Forsyth

Ever wonder where Emily (my sister) and I got our sense of humor? It may have started here, with our oldest sister Forsyth.Check out this post that will make you double over.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Vive la Ratatouille (did I mangle that?)

Director: Brad Bird
Patton Oswald as the voice of Remy
Peter O'Toole as the voice of Anton Ego
Disney/Pixar 2007

I went to see Ratatouille yesterday. I was putting off this post because I knew it would be hard for me to spell Ratatouille correctly for an entire post. But here we go (it’s r a t a t o u i, double l, e.)

Anthony Bourdain claims that this is the best movie about food ever made. I don’t agree, (that honor goes to Tampopo, Babette’s Feast finishing a close second, oh, and then there’s Big Night) but it is still very, very good. I suspect that Bourdain’s claim stems from the fact that he consulted on the film in its development stage. Boudain is a master of self-promotion and anything with his name on it has to be the best, that’s why the Travel Channel sends him all over the world to partake in the local moonshine and calf-testicles of places like Hinjut and Sjorndaggherland.

Ratatouille is a triumph on many levels. To bring the world of a restaurant kitchen to life with computer animation in a way that impresses real chefs (a persistently critical and easily distracted bunch) is equal to creating a menu that Gordon Ramsay would fawn over. The Pixar animators construct a kitchen atmosphere with scarily accurate details. The light and space of the often confining and crowded environment is oddly believable given the medium, and anyone who is curious about the workings of a classical French kitchen could do worse than going to see this film. We have to remember that it is a cartoon, a cartoon where a rat controls the motions a hapless chef by pulling on his hair as if he is controlling a marionette, but beyond the fantasy, and exaggerations, this film gets so much about a working kitchen right.

Actually, the fairy tale aspect also works remarkably well. This is Disney’s primary domain, and they fashion a story that distils the most basic Cinderella concepts into an intricate and convincing plot line. Rats, the absolute pariah of the restaurant business (forget about cockroaches, they don’t even come close) are the heroes of the film, and a scene where hundreds of rats are working a busy dinner service is perversely fascinating. The idea that Disney and Pixar can make a hero out of the antithesis of kitchen sanitation proves that the modern fairy tale has either been fully resuscitated or was never very far from our rushing, literal world.

Pixar doesn’t just score points for the kitchen scenes; the filmmakers produce an environment that is an apparent tribute to France and the French. Some Francophiles may locate stereotypes in Disney’s portrayal of Parisians, but it has been a while since I’ve seen a film about another country that made me want sell my house and move there immediately. The animators show a sparkling, beautiful Moulin Rouge inspired Paris; the coloring is transcendent, and lush atmospheres, such as a country house or the underground lairs of the rats, confirm that computer animation has come a long way since the days of Pong and Space-Invaders.

The plot, unfortunately, bogs down as the screenwriters try to tie up all of the misunderstandings and falling-outs experienced by the variety of characters. More than a simple boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl story, Ratatouille is more rat-meets-boy, boy-meets- hot chef de commis, rat-meets-imaginary-diceased-chef, rat-loses-boy, or is it boy-loses-rat…well, you see what I mean. Disney, it seems, never waivers in their instruction as to how we should conduct our relationships, but the frenetic make-up speeches at least drive the film and prevent any long periods of stagnation.

There is one point of accuracy that Anthony Bourdain must have missed. Linguini, the talent-less young chef, claims that sweetbreads are veal stomach when in fact they are either the thymus gland or pancreas of any less-than-one-year-old lamb or calf. Never-the-less, Remi, the rat hero, creates an amazing special order using the product, one that looks as if it involves a small poached egg, (possibly a partridge egg?) and a carmelized orange sauce. The people at Pixar had me salivating over a computer produced image of food. They are very good.

There are many reasons to see this film, but the main one is that it is fun. It is ride through a fantasy Paris, and a humorous send-up of chefs and their culture. It is also an example of how the animated feature film, a genre that constantly wants to stay fresh but often falls short, has a shelf-life that, with new treatment (dare I say additives? I dare not.), is far from turning stale.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Thanks to Archie

I'm stealing shamelessly from Archie again. This was too funny to pass up.