Here is a quick recap of last week’s events. Things are moving along with lots of choices and things to do, and, meanwhile, spring has sprung!
I found out yesterday that I’ve been accepted to George Mason for the masters in history. This poses an interesting dilemma, but I’m kind of having fun trying to figure it out. I’ve already accepted UNCG’s offer, but George Mason, to me, has the more appealing program. GMU is in Fairfax, Virginia which means renting my house and relocating, but they offer research fellowships at the freakin’ Library of Congress which houses my great-grandfather’s papers. He was Washington architect and a great subject for a research project. On the other hand UNCG is an excellent program with a strong tie to their English department which has an amazing creative-writing degree (I’m thinking hard about another cross-disciplinary scholastic experience) and it’s practically in my back-yard. No moving, I keep my jobs, I keep playing music with the guys, and I continue to nurture new and old friendships alike. Hmmm… a tough one. I’ve given myself a week to think it over.
I broke two necessary household appliances in a matter of two hours. First was the washing machine. I loaded an extremely large comforter (seriously, this thing is too large for a king-sized bed—do they make emperor-sized beds?) into the ancient old Maytag that I inherited when I moved into the house fourteen years ago, and after a while I smelled a burning electrical odor. I had toasted the washing-machine’s motor. I gave it a day to cool down and tried it again, but to no avail. The worst part is it burned out when it was full of water. So now I have a soaking wet giant comforter to deal with and I’ll have to bail out the washing machine. I figure I can wash cloths by hand for a while—the dryer still works—until I can get the washer fixed or afford a new one. I’m trying to fit this into the ecochallenge somehow, using less electricity for the sake of the environment.
The second appliance I destroyed was a borrowed lawn-mower. I had just started it, but I couldn’t figure out how to lower the blade. I turned it off and investigated the under-side and then tried to start it up again. But it wouldn’t start! I tried several times and finally gave the pull cord one enthusiastic yank which caused the cord to break off. No lawn-mowing for me. It distressed me because my friend Ryoko was coming over and I wanted to impress her with a kempt yard. She didn’t seem to mind though. If the lawn mower was mine I would get it fixed, but now I just have to pay to get it fixed and return it to the owner. But I’ll work this into the ecochallenge as well. I’ve always wanted one of those rotary mowers without the motor, and now I have an excuse to buy one. No gas, and no noise pollution.
I read two very powerful graphic novels/comics this week. The first two volumes of the Barefoot Gen series by Keiji Nakazawa. The works are Nakazawa's autobiographical story of the bombing of Hiroshima. His life was spared because he was standing with his back to a concrete wall, but his brother, sister and father were all killed. These books are some of the most disturbing I’ve ever read, even more so because of their form. The Manga-like caricatures of life in Japan during the war do little to prepare the reader for the descriptive images of the atomic bomb’s aftermath. I found supreme irony in the fact that the cartoons borrow heavily from early Disney drawings—especially the eyes. I’ve been thinking long and hard about my county’s choice to use the bomb on Japan and am finding little to nothing to justify it in my mind. All those innocent citizens!
I continue to transcribe letters to the Meetings for Sufferings of the Society of Friends. The letters tell of the plans for removal of African Americans to Haiti and Liberia in the 1820’s. I really enjoy this assignment; it’s giving me a broad concept of the efforts toward colonization by Quakers. I try to withhold judgment from my safe-haven in the 21st century, but the whole colonization movement seems more-and-more like forced exile under the guise of freedom. Much to think about.
The library job is going well so far. Librarians are amazingly committed. They’re also really nice. So different from the kitchen world.
In keeping with the theme of war and atrocity in comic form, I bought both volumes of Maus by Art Spiegelman. It was a gift for myself for getting an offer from GMU. I probably don’t have to describe this one, but most know that this was the 1992 Pulitzer Prize winning story of the Holocaust. Another moving and distressing graphic work which doesn’t give one much confidence in the benevolent nature of man. This story should never be forgotten.
Ryoko turned me on to Edward Said. I’ve been curious about the literary theory of Orientalism; we didn’t get into it in my English courses. She gave me Representations of the Intellectual and signed my name using Chinese characters on the first page. A cherished gift.
Well, I think that’s about it. I just heard thunder, and if we get a storm I want to be out on the porch reading Maus.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The second is from the irrepressible Emily. Get ready to show your commitment. Emily is in charge of the environment now :I
Remember, green is the new blue.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
I just had a twenty-ounce cup of black coffee and a bear-claw, which was way two sweet, so I’m feeling slightly nauseous. I hope it wears off soon because it’s Sunday and I don’t want to spend the-day-before-Monday feeling sickly and unmotivated. I was productive yesterday, cleaning the back-porch, kitchen, living room and fixing the screen-door. My friend Kevin came by last night and we worked on three new cover-songs “Under my Thumb,” Dwight Yoakum’s “I’ll be Gone,” and the unplugged version of “Layla.” It was encouraging to be playing well through the P.A., and the two of us became quite enthusiastic. We’re trying to bring ourselves back up to gig-readiness. But I feel I’m stalling here…
So, without further adieu, are the Seven Weird Facts about Me.
1) I have a phobia about the number 13. I’ve mentioned this in posts before but maybe I can go into some depth here. A couple of years ago I started realizing/imagining that every time I looked at the clock it would be 13 minutes past-the-hour. (seeing the number written in this post is actually starting to freak me out a little.) For a while it seemed that I would only happen to glance at the clock when this was so. The 13 would predict a bad day, and this was at a time when I was having a string of bad, if not self-inflicted, days. So the number still causes anxiety, but for some reason the occurrences of it appearing on the clock have diminished—let’s hope forever. My rational side thinks this is all about my body-clock, which is conditioned to prompt my brain to check the time based on years of scheduled patterns, if that makes any sense. This is what I tell myself when it happens several times a day. I also tell myself that in some cultures the number 13 is extremely lucky. I need to go join those cultures.
2) Numbers divisible by 7 are my heroes. Okay, here’s where it gets really weird. (“You mean it gets weirder?”) If I look at the clock and it is, say, 7:21, I feel relieved and encouraged. If it says 7:14 I feel doubly so because I was born on the 14th. For some reason I really like it to be 28 minutes past-the-hour. And who says I’m no good at math? You just need to bring irrational fear into the picture and I’m a whiz. (Boy am I glad that this meme is seven weird things and not thirteen!)
3) I’m extremely un-photogenic. When someone pulls out a camera I turn into the Wicked Witch of the West—the part where she’s melting! I don’t consider myself a bad looking guy, I’ve seen myself on video and I don’t come off too repulsively, but when someone takes a snapshot of me my teeth are out, my eyes are closed and young children start to scatter. I think it’s because I hate to have my picture taken, and this shows in my expression. It’s a catch twenty-two because the more terrible pictures taken of me the more I hate having my picture taken and the more it shows in the next picture. Or maybe I’m getting paid back somehow for all those family pictures I ruined by making funny-faces. I’m thinking of posting a few of my worse portraits, but I seriously don’t want to remain single the rest of my life. I really need to embrace amateur photography.
4) I’m Zen Buddhist about killing flying insects. Okay, this one might get me labeled as the mayor of Flake-ville but I try not to kill bees, wasps, yellow-jackets etc. that are unfortunate enough to fly indoors. I try to scoop them up with a towel and let them outside. Flies don’t count—any insect that craps every time it lands on you is not participating in my idea of the cycle-of-life. Mosquitoes as well, I like my blood and want to keep it in my body.
5) I don’t own a cell-phone. This is becoming more-and-more of an inconvenience. I was on the phone with a customer-service-representative the other day and she was practically appalled to find out that I had no cell-phone number. I calmed her down and tried to convince her that I was part of the living and not some throw-back ghost or time-traveler lost in the future. She told me she didn’t even have a land-line. I plan to get a cell, but I’m not much of a phone talker and I’m still prejudiced against the ruder aspects of the device. Having a date check her text messages during dinner is enough to keep me away for a little while longer.
6) I used to love watching cricket. I believe it is known as the most boring sport on the planet, but I got hooked while watching one-day-test-matches in South Africa. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten any rules I grasped at that time, I just remember the Pakistanis being the team to beat. Their bowlers were comparable to the Atlanta Braves pitching staff during the 1995 season (subfact: I’m a slight baseball geek). They don’t show cricket in America, at least in my neck of the woods, but on the tennis courts down from my house I’ve seen East-Indians practicing their bowling recently. I’m anxious to find out if they have a league.
7) I’m not really all that weird. Does this count as a weird fact? I’m often silent, or boring even, but extreme weirdness eludes me. I grew up in a fairly normal home, I was a lazy, slightly dyslexic student, who worked hard later to redeem himself, and I continue to work in fits-and-starts to maintain the life I lead and possibly improve it. I love my family and friends; I get justifiably pissed sometimes but try to keep it in check, and I halfway buy into the American dream. I hate injustice though, and narrow-minded arrogant people get my blood up. For all this, I think I’m pretty normal.
So those are the Seven Weird Facts about Me. Not exactly a concise list, but one I can live with. Weirdness is a good thing in my opinion as long as it doesn’t infringe on other’s rights to be weird in their own way. Think of all the great artists who were and are weird. Without them, life would be boring and, well, pretty Republican. Now no one in their right mind would want that!
No tagging…just do it.
Emily: REM post in the next day or so.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Since consistency appears to have left me temporarily (damn ye Facebook) I will try, I mean really try, to post bullets on Sunday to list developments and such. We'll see how long it lasts.
- I'm accepted at UNCG for the master's in history. I'm debating whether to defer for a year (if they'll let me) because...
- I've been granted funds by Guilford to go to Africa in the next year. Starting grad school and planning a trip to Africa while working full time seems like it might make my head explode say, sometime around early November. Deferment seems practical. The only misgiving I have is that I'm ready to keep moving on this degree-earning-path so I can start making the big bucks;) No seriously, I'm not getting any younger and I feel I need to keep plugging to make up for lost time. But I in no way want to jeopardize this opportunity to return to Africa after 21 years. My proposal is to research and write fund-raising material for our friends' medical mission in the Eastern Cape. An online travel-log is also planned. These things will take a certain amount of preliminary planning and follow-up and juggling them with school and work, for someone who is a hopeless procrastinator, seems a little tough. Wow, that was a really long bullet point.
- I'm two weeks into my job at the public library. I can cautiously say I love it. I'm sent to all nine branches, which relieves tedium and gets me familiar with the county, and I've rediscovered that libraries are well-springs of positive energy. Except one incident with a shredder--pretty bad but it got resolved (never try to put more than four pieces of paper in at a time)--and the fact that telling a date you work at the library has the ability to shut down conversation permanently, I'm enjoying the job. But I'm only two weeks in...so stay tuned.
- Booker's breath has become unbearable, but other than that he's still catching frisbees and tennis balls and can still distinguish a cheese rapper from any other food wrapper that I open. He wants me to walk him more though.
- The archive job is great. I'm transcribing letters regarding the manumission of slaves by Quakers--this is right up my alley, the period and topic of my historical interest. The medium--correspondence of the Friends Meeting for Sufferings--appeals to me because stories, to me, unfold through letters better than any primary source.
- I haven't finished a book in a month or two. I've got three going, The Peculiar Institution, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, and I've just started Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler. I'm dying to read Animal Vegetable Mineral but four books at the same time might be too much. If I could just curb my curiosity for a while and stick to one topic.
- The Office is back finally. Phew.
- I downloaded the new REM and believe it is their best work since Life's Rich Pageant. I plan to post on it soon.
- That's all I can think of right now. I sincerely hope this will be a regular event, but looking at my track-record of late I'm just happy to be posting something today.
- One last one. Blogspot is such shite that bullets don't come out correctly. I can't figure out how to put spaces between points.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
The dream starts somewhere in the basement of the house I grew up in. It is the normal arrangement I remember as a kid—short green shag carpet, cinderblocks painted white, a record player playing “Mama Told me not to Come” by Three Dog Night. In the back corner is the furnace and water-heater, and beyond that a little wooden door that leads to the crawlspace. There was an actual tombstone that we discovered as children under our house toward the dark shadows of this dirt and plastic cave, and as if in a strange nightmare already, we would take expeditions with nervous childhood friends to view it and ponder why it was there.
The dream guides me to this door, behind it anxiety and adventure, and the sensation is one of running away and escape. Someone, my sister Emily probably, is urging me on, and this prodding leads me to discover a trap-door just above the door to the crawlspace. I push through loose bricks and mortar and crawl up into a tunnel which quickly turns into a rickety flight of stairs. Following the stairs I am presented with a cavernous high-ceiling attic, also like the one in our house growing up except a number of times bigger with large windows on either end that channel in ample light.
The attic is full of crates and boxes, steamer trunks, furniture, standing-floor globes, mirrors, portraits and bookcases. Whoever was with me in the basement is no longer there, and I eventually open one of the trunks to examine its contents. In it are nautical charts, diaries and personal effects of an unknown ancestor. As I rifle through the artifacts I realize that all of the boxes and crates are full of such things—all there for my perusal. As my excitement builds I, annoyingly, wake up.
I’m almost convinced I dreamed this dream as a child and have kept it with me for the three decades since. If this is not the case, and how in the world will I ever know, I’m positive that it was many many years ago since I dreamed it last. I remember having similar dreams in my youth, ones that had to do with bottomless boxes of matchbox-cars or a daily allowance of a hundred bucks, but those dreams rarely connect to my point of view as an adult male going kicking-and-screaming into middle-age. This particular dream endures because it keeps recurring, not as I sleep, but while I’m wide-awake, as the strangest sensation of deja-vu that I know.
I started working at my college’s archives last August. The first order of business on that first day was a tour of the collection. At the end of the tour we ended up in the rare-books room, a locked-down receptacle of leather-bound volumes, minutes from forgotten meetings, portraits of prominent dignitaries and much of the things I feel comfortable around—namely, old stuff.
As we walked up the stairs and into the rare-books room the attic-dream swamped my recall. Here in the organized stacks of a southern collection of historical artifacts was my dream coming true, albeit in not as romantic terms as the reverie from my past. This isn’t the type of collection that contains buckets of musket balls or Great Uncle Wilson’s wooden leg, but the idea of things that people used, wrote, held all kept carefully in one place prompted a consideration of the prophetic nature of the attic-dream. It was a reversal of the sensation of deja-vu which says "I feel this has happened before but don’t know why." Instead, this sensation was saying, "I knew this was going to happen, the dream predicted it, and here it is."
Admittedly, many of the details between the dream and the experience in the rare-books room are divergent at best. The room has no windows. It has a low ceiling and things aren’t strewn around in dusty chaos like they are in the dream. It is a stretch to believe the dream to be a pinpoint prediction of a future moment in time, but rather a prediction of an eventual course in life, a discovery of a trapdoor perhaps.
Last weekend I was visiting my parents and had the chance to carefully examine the contents of my Grandfather’s steamer trunk. The trunk, lead-lined to prevent damage from moisture, is a record of a life from a very young man who fought in the trenches in France, Turkey and Palestine during the First World War through his career in the British Foreign Office and ending with a note to his daughter expressing his wishes that the contents be preserved for the posterity of the family only. His wishes were that the trunk would act as evidence, to tell a story in the way he would have told it had he the chance. There are important documents and certificates of merit, speeches and maps concerning world-events, and I feel I am doing no injustice to his wishes by relating these items only in the broadest of terms.
But below all of the evidence of permission into the halls of foreign-policy is a small notebook not 4” by 3” large. In it, written in pencil in neat sure hand, is his journal of the last year of the war. Everyday is represented, and the entries are short but telling. He had endured France (there is a map showing the stale-mate of the Western Front in all its bloody rigidness) and was now in Turkey. Casualties recorded time-saving brevity, the death of a fellow officer explained with no urgency but perhaps a heavier script, and details such as a tedious Christmas at the officer’s club or long marches with little water somehow reveal the character of this man I was never privileged to know.
While digging into his personal effects the attic-dream was definitely present. The steamer trunk was, as in the dream, full of maps influenced by the military movements of men. But another sensation prevailed over the first, one where my grandfather peered over my shoulder.
My grandfather was, to some acquaintances' recollection, a tempestuous bully at times. I can’t say—I never had the chance to experience this. Since my mother probably knew him best I can be sure, according to her accounts, he often betrayed an impatient nature, dressing down a young officer for returning his daughter home five minutes past her ten o’clock curfew. So as I carefully removed items from the trunk, it wasn’t necessarily as if a kindly old gent leaned forward to experience his grandson’s discoveries from a benevolent ethereal perch, but rather a red-faced product of the Empire leaning over my shoulder and shouting “for God’s sake, be careful you bloody fool!”
So this is why I like digging around in dead people’s things. Old photographs of people I never knew peering back at me lead me into the dangerous but fascinating practice of trying to identify their character. The diaries and letters certainly aid in this, and a trunkfull of personal effects is like having that person over without having to offer them a glass of wine or a snack. Thinking about it now, the attic-dream probably just reinforced my desire, made me realize what I enjoyed. Many people, and I know plenty of students who feel this way, would consider being trapped in an attic with dusty old “stuff” the worst nightmare imaginable. Not me, this is where I thrive.