Saturday, February 06, 2016

Eschewing Surplussage

One to 2 nights a week, I've been enjoying the overnight hospitality of my cousins Mary and Camden in Irmo, SC, which has the effect of not only giving me a pleasant social outlet for an evening, but also shortening my commute to 25 minutes each way. They feed me wonderfully and proffer me a very comfortable bed in one of their several guest rooms (now that all their children are grown, every bedroom but the master is available for visitors). Mary has an MBA and is a computer whiz extraordinaire, and is helping me find a replacement for my suddenly defunct laptop. Camden owns his own business and is a fantastic cook – a week or so ago, he insisted on fixing me an omelette filled with mushrooms, spinach, cheese, and one or two other delicious fillings before I drove to work.

Our chats have been fascinating. One curious factoid I learned from Mary is that both of her grandfathers were born in the 19th century--she's only a few years older than me, and of course I knew that the Granddaddy we shared had been born in 1890, but her father's father was born in 1875! Her grandmother was his much younger second wife.  Of course, there was about 35 years' difference in age between our mutual grandparents as well. Which subject got me to thinking… I cannot see myself marrying someone who is 76! Or, conversely, waiting until I am in my mid-fifties to wed a twenty-year-old. Eww. But we owe our existence to such February-December marriages.

Camden and I were talking about American wastefulness (he's a recovering packrat like me), and he mentioned that he thinks we human beings are a lot like Oscar fish--whatever house we have, we grow to fill. If we only have a small space, we somehow manage to curb our possessions, but the bigger space we have, the more stuff we stuff into it. I agree with him–part of the appeal of the tiny house movement is the attraction of limiting yourself to only the necessities, of prioritizing people over things.

I'm responsible for assuring the accuracy and simplicity of the language in the biographical and critical entries in the reference books my employer produces. This has proven challenging in unexpected ways, as so many so-called reliable sources aren't properly footnoted, and many disagree with one another–perpetual frustrations for a historian! And academics love verbiage--I swear, if I had encountered the verb "foregrounded" again on Friday, I would have become apoplectic. I love learning more about so many writers, though.

One of the things I appreciate about my officemates is that they laugh at my jokes. And it's really nice to be around fellow Southern-accented people who are well-traveled and well-read and movie-savvy. Now if they wouldn't say "Oh, Jesus!" multiple times a day... It's more than a little ironic that this name is a chosen profanity for a Buddhist. But this is also the same young person who considers it inconceivable that Planned Parenthood would sell fetal organs, since that's somehow wrong. As if abortion were perfectly reasonable but profitably disposing of the medical waste that results were evil. I don't follow, but I have repeatedly observed this sort of "I knew you were a hard man, so I buried the talent" mental process in nonWayfollwers before. Useless to debate.

I had planned to start paying my mother rent as soon as I got my first paycheck – but, of course, then large unexpected expenses appeared! I got ANOTHER several hundred dollar bill associated with last year's colonoscopy, there were other household bills that came due (I've not been home, and I've been keeping the heat set in the 60' can my electric bill possibly be that much?!), and then my computer died. Thank God, I was able to get all the material copied onto an external hard drive (that itself wasn't cheap), and complete my second book review for TWIROB before my laptop absolutely refused to turn back on, but even with Mary's expert assistance I'm likely to spend some heavy coin replacing this essential equipment. Forking out an average of $10 per day for gasoline isn't particularly enjoyable, either, but the twice-a-week ESOL and history tutoring I've been engaged to do offsets that. Maybe my expenses are like Oscar fish, too...

Sunday, January 31, 2016

It's Been A Month

…And I’ve put several thousand miles on my car. I drive into the sun morning and evening, east up I-20 in the dawnlight, and west into the sunset (or the last vestiges of it, depending on how late I’m getting off work).

My first day commuting, it was weird being up so early, in a pack of other half-awake workers, all clutching their steering wheels and squinting up at the stoplights from under their sun visors. Now, it’s routine, but I still see things with curious clarity, hyper-aware of details in the new daylight. Primarily, these are unattractive urban details, like the many telephone wires swooping along the roads, trash scattered on the highway, rust on the train bridge over the river. Weed sprouts in the concrete median turf of cigarette-butts. Anxious hunch-shouldered office drones clutching coffee cups in one hand and shouldering laptop bags. Tar drizzles on the asphalt are an electrocardiogram from hell. A faded flag flapping on top of a fast food joint, where a line of cars curls the building, getting bagged breakfasts at the window. Retail store parking lots, cracked, dark and empty. The bass rumble in the jeep ahead that’s so loud that the rear windshield wiper vibrates. And, finally, my parking spot next to the fire escape. An overturned trashcan in the muddy alley behind the office. The slam of the metal door to the worn-carpeted back hall, then quiet. And hot tea.

There is a lot of peculiar and some outright violent vocabulary in the publishing industry, perhaps in keeping with the notion that the pen is mightier that the sword. We “kill” things regularly, slashing them through with a red marks, clicking away on our computers like so many locusts eating through piles of prose. I wear headphones to keep out extra noise. The headband on them is disintegrating, peppering my hair and shoulders with black plastic specks.

In the evening, I gather my coat and purse and pull back into rush hour traffic. I’m weirdly sad, driving past a boarded-up restaurant where 20 years ago, I had one of my final dates with my one and only boyfriend. The wind is kicking. Brown-tinged sulfurous clouds are hanging just a hundred feet above the ground. An occasional break in the cover shows blue sky above, and off in the distance are friendlier lavender clouds, like big rolls of purple wool. Even at 70 miles an hour you can see the trees vigorously tossing—the wind is truly ferocious. The clouds boil overhead, rolling swiftly. It’s kind of ideal tornado weather, a fluffy soup of blue and gold and white. It's weird to see the clouds moving so fast as you are moving so fast--it's as if everything is turning and nothing is stable. The clouds rise steadily, now perhaps a thousand feet up, lifting, thinning and more golden, with bright fiery bursts of white sunlight and blue sky like a Baroque painting of heaven. Missing are garlands of flowers, fat cherubs, and a lovely gaggle of Muses playing instruments and smiling down benignly. And suddenly, the clouds are lower again and dark and close and the trees are bare and the wind is high, and the scene shifts from summery pastoral to the stark, wintry background of a Helga painting by Andrew Wyeth.

A gust of wind almost tears the steering wheel out of my hand and I refocus on the road. I see the wet black trunks of the pine trees on either side and hear the muffled shriek of a cargo truck pulsing past me in the left lane. My own tires churn towards the promised light, where the clouds disappear into a bright horizon. As the sun is sinking lower, it turns the underbelly of the remaining clouds white gold. Across the Savannah River. And home.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

At Work: Initial Impressions

A fortnight ago, people were asking me how my first week of work had gone (now that I've completed three, they don't bother--it's really extraordinary how the miseries of two years' job seeking can so quickly be forgot). My boilerplate response: "They haven't fired me yet!" I later emended this to "No one's become apoplectic with rage/begun screaming incoherently, and fired me yet!" On the other hand, it is rather hard to tell how I am doing, both relative to expectations and to the other editors, since my training hasn't been linear, nor has feedback been regular, but snippets gleaned at rare less-than-feverishly-busy moments. There is much I still don't know, that I am finding out by error--"You wouldn't have known this, but..." discoveries by means of screwing up. Still, everyone's been patient and complimentary, and I think I'm keeping my head above water, having been tossed unceremoniously into the sea.

De Klerk Publishing occupies a two-story building in downtown Columbia, SC. The facilities are not grand, but they are comfortable. Inside is a creaky composite of corridors and rooms with previous lives still printed in their shapes and contents. A long un-vacuumed industrial carpet stained with decades of coffee and ink covers the irregular floor. The walls are hung with an eclectic assortment of sketches, orientalist paintings, original World War II posters, newspaper clippings and holographs of famous authors' work. Bookshelves line walls in every room downstairs and are stacked with hardbacks, loose paper in ragged piles, and other flotsam of composition and consumption (ancient bottles of soda, plastic flatware and plates). The furniture consists of mismatched chairs, tables and desks, staffed with mismatched intellectuals, mostly frustrated former academics rocking prayerfully in front of pairs of computer screens. With few exceptions, the female staff are either rather large or extremely thin, and the men are pale intellectuals. Almost everyone can be described as bookish, given to spouting odd literary and movie quotes. I have already discovered at least one K-drama addict, one of the two girls and the three people with whom I share an office.

I am the only one of the four editors that does not sport a full beard, as apparently facial hair denotes gravitas, the ability both to talk in measured serious tone about obscure authors and to use 15 syllable words appropriately and without sounding like a snob. I like the guys, even if I'm not a hirsute sage. We meet with De Klerk himself, a fierce, white-maned sexagenarian whose desk is respectably cluttered, every morning promptly at ten, reporting the latest developments and what we plan to accomplish during the day. He's always succinct, and such formal assemblies rarely last longer than 10 minutes. 

The only male of my officemates is a fellow editor--the two women in the room are from different divisions of the publishing process. I am surrounded by people for whom grammar, gambling, sex, trichotillomania, philology, and  dialectal materialism are all part of ordinary conversation. They type furiously and silently for hours, hum, curse, and burst into gales of laughter over the peculiar passages they are manipulating on their computers.

I am at an oak table just inside the door. Behind me sits a half-Korean girl in her early 20s, whose desk is decorated with Hello Kitty themed items, tiny model chickens, and a retro Japanese geisha bobble head. She hand-painted a poster of an anime panda for her wall, and displays the September page of a wildcat calendar...that features a donkey. She contends that the name of the donkey must be "Tiger". She talks daily about the tastiness of kimchi and the mental limitedness of her cat.

The other editor and the other woman sit at desks facing one another next to the window. On a table between them is a small Christmas tree decorated with Charlotte Panthers ribbons and blue candy canes and topped with a large ski glove (for high-fiving--daintily, lest the tree fall over--when the team wins). There is a football poster with a fellow clutching the ball in a peculiarly foreshortened arm on the wall behind the guy's desk. The woman is a former English graduate student with a mild adenoidal voice that maintains a pitiful affect even when she is swearing vigorously at her computer, which happens multiple times a day. I knew I'd like her when she described going to a concert and being battered by "pointy little elbows" when she found herself in a scrum of sorority chicks. Also, when we were talking about movies, she remarked, "John Malkevich has such scary eyes." I laughed and said that the guy I'd liked in college looked like a young John Malkevich, and he had scary eyes, too. "Was he a murderer?" she asked. "Not an active one," I replied, though it occurred to me that destroying someone's self-confidence was akin to homicide.

The second workweek, the day I received my first paycheck (joy!), we had a potluck in the breakroom. In lieu of a blessing (ours being a religiously secular establishment), a twiggy septuagenarian Scotswoman read the Burns poem "To a Haggis." She had prepared vegetarian and meat versions. I was relieved to see that the traditional sheep's guts encasing said entree had been replaced by plastic. They weren't bad, just a wee bit bland. Over lunch, I talked with the other editors and found that apparently there is a lot of afterhours drinking associated with editing, either as a result of the indescribably convoluted sentences with which academics present us or as part of the whole traditional "alcoholic writer" subculture. The grimness I'd attributed to some error on my part earlier in the week was in fact the result of a hangover.

My probationary period lasts through mid-April.

Nor Of Fitness Fondly Dream...

I was at the gym other night, robustly sweating on the exercise bike while watching one of the many flatscreen TVs out of the corner of my eye, when one of those ubiquitous New Year's resolution-oriented weight loss snake oil ads came on. And my silhouette was the "before use" illustration. Heck, I didn't think I was that bad off. Of course, every time I work out, I manage to rationalize consumption of a large piece of baklava. I finished off the second of two batches last was a bit stale, but still yummy.

I like the style of dress I wore to the University of South Carolina banquet so much, that I went on 1stDibs one recent evening and found this cute little short vintage (1960s) dress with fox fur trim that I thought looked perfect. [I don't wear any furs that aren't vintage--I want the animals' descendants to have been reasonably dead of natural causes for years in order to justify my wearing of their predecessors' pelts.] Not that I can afford to add the dress to my collection, but it's nice to window shop, even virtually. The note on the listing said that it fit a size medium to large. I checked the specifics and the measurements didn't seem all that huge to me: a 37" bust, 31" waist and 39" hips. So I hauled out a tape measure and checked how my figure compared: 37", 29", 41". With a good pair of control top pantyhose, I could fit in the dress. On the other hand, I have always thought of myself as being a relatively small person (except for my posterior), and being classed "medium to large" was a bit of a shock--I suppose there's no escaping the middle-age spread. I was amused to think that in order to have a perfect hourglass figure with my rib cage, I would have to have a "G" cup bra size! Which is alarming any way you consider it. A woman with a bosom that enormous desperately needs reduction mammoplasty surgery (for perspective, the legendarily well-endowed Dolly Parton only has DD boobs). Instead, I'm definitely a pear shape, "all about that bass", whether I like it or not.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Welcome 2016!

My Десятка [a (group of) 10: Russia being on the metric system, they don't have dozens, which is rather a pity] goals for last year included some outright impossibilities (or rather, high improbabilities), including the translation of all the materials I'd gathered so far for what would have been my dissertation, and the flipping of a freshly-discovered Picasso into not just solvency but wealth. I am delighted to report, however, that there were a few entries on the list which were not only possible, but which were achieved! Successes: I am to begin a new job--a full-time job!--this coming Monday. Several chapters of the book I painstakingly co-translated are in the possession of a literary agent who agreed to read them prior to the Christmas break. I may not have sold three dozen of my lamps (I didn't keep a strict tally), but I sold quite a few, and more of other things that hadn't even occurred to me as available and sellable at the beginning of the past year. While I'm not sure that my blog following has expanded to the degree and to the acclaim that I would not-so-secretly wish, I have received good verbal feedback that assures me of a strong core of regular readers. I WAS able to go abroad this year (with a practical educational purpose) thanks to the generosity of relatives and friends who contributed to the cost of my air ticket to Prague. I am so grateful! And, finally, I was fairly diligent about getting to the gym; though I am still unable to accomplish a single pull-up, and I certainly would never pose for a swimsuit publicity shot, I feel good.

Goals and/or dreams for 2016, in no particular order:

1. A nice cat to whom I am not allergic will identify and adopt me.

2. The literary agent will like the book, agree to represent it, and find the perfect publisher to issue it.

3. I will finish drafting at least one novel.

4. I will attend a K-pop concert (totally entertaining!).

5. I will get to act as an extra on a film set.

6. I will love my new job, my employer and coworkers will like me, and I will get a raise at the end of the year!

7.  At least one of my atheist/agnostic friends will become a Christian.

8. I will get to go abroad again, do something useful, and have a great and bloggable adventure.

9. Regular gym workouts and quiet times will lead to real observable physical and spiritual fitness.

10. I will somehow manage to save enough money to replace my car (which should approach, if not surpass, 250,000 miles on the odometer by the end of the year).

Only 364 days left!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Iron Suicide, Cow Migration, Death Notices

What I had initially thought was a dramatic attempt on the part of my iron to attract my long -absent attention turned out to be its final fatal gesture of defiance. It committed suicide by jumping off the top of my washing machine onto the tile laundry room floor. I heard a crash, and discovered it lying on the ground. I did not, however, determine the extent of its injuries until this evening, when I picked it up from the ironing board preparatory to doing several years' worth of postponed pressing, and found that it had split in two. I'm glad I discovered this before plugging it in or attempting to fill it with water, as either or both actions might have yielded disastrous if not deadly results.  I hate ironing. I think this unfortunate appliance sensed my distaste and decided it could no longer bear the situation.

 I drove down to Dublin and back today to fetch Grandmommy up for Christmas. I had originally been slated to drive downyesterday afternoon, but thank God I procrastinated a bit, because an horrific  thunderstorm broke an hour after my schedule departure time, and I would've found myself driving in darkness and downpour. This morning and early afternoon we experienced a blessed--if temporary--respite from the rain, and though there were puddles everywhere (and all the cows in all the fields I passed on my outbound trip were clustered in demoralized clumps in the sodden pastures), I didn't have to turn on my car windshield wipers, though I did have to turn on the air-conditioning! On the way back, just north of Bartow, Grandmommy's and my northward travel was briefly delayed by a large herd of milk cows migrating from one fenced field to another. Four and five abreast, more than a hundred sashayed across the asphalt without being forcably directed – two men on foot wearing knee-high rubber boots stopped auto traffic while the cows deliberately strolled out of one gate and over the road and through another to a field where their midday meal waited in large bins. Grandmommy was seriously impressed--she said she'd never seen such well-behaved cows. None attempted to break away from the herd, but all proceeded in a neat marching column, much like rows of trench-weary soldiers in films from World War I. The road was coated with mud kicked up by hundreds of cloven hooves. Only one cow stayed by itself in the old field – apparently it was feeling antisocial, and did not choose to join the general exodus.

 Speaking of following the herd, a peculiar trend in vehicular stickers has blossomed hereabouts in recent years: the mobile memorial. In large white letters on the tinted rear windows of minivans, SUVs, and trucks, there will be a phrase like "In memory of" or "In memoriam" followed by the name of a beloved person and their birth and death dates. My mother always makes sardonic comments every time she sees these, and remarks that it makes it look as if the person died in the car in question. I don't know if this is a fad throughout the United States or just in the American South. It does not seem to be limited to a particular ethnicity. For years there have been makeshift memorials, fitfully maintained, erected at spots on roads and highways where deadly car accidents took place. And I know a lot of people get tattoos to remember the departed. This automobile embellishment just seems to be a peculiar combination of the two practices, with unintentionally hilarious results, as Mums' deliberate misinterpretation shows.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Nasty With A Cold

3 AM. Clinging white knuckled to breath, I curled further and further up on my pillow, as if the final nautilus shape would allow me to inhale and exhale clearly, without the suffocating bands of elastic mucus winding from my sinuses through my esophagus and squeezing my sore throat closed, as they constantly threatened. I hate colds. My eyes are all gummy, with salty crusts drying in my crow's feet. I'm caught between fruitlessly snorting into wads of toilet tissue and swallowing indefinite phlegm. And with each swallow, my throat aches. Thursday, following my mother's advice (read: repeated nagging) I gargled with warm salty water until ready to vomit, so my tonsils don't hurt sharply like they did, but they aren't mended yet.

I'm not sick enough to avoid work (I have a new tutoring student starting this evening), but I can't welcome contact--at my job interview I offered a cordial elbow to the committee instead of a handshake--and when skulking around furniture shops Friday afternoon, closed-mouthed and sniffing, I was appalled at young parents exposing defenseless newborns to such silent lepers as myself.

I'm rather fond of my liver, and so I am trying not to max out on NyQuil, though waking up miserable in the wee hours isn't pleasant. I'm exhausted, but not sleepy. Meantime, I've had the dubious pleasure of catching up on the year's top music videos--if the sounding off of the ultimate Trump weren't sign of apocalypse enough, Justin Bieber at #1 certainly is--as I am too twitchy to read and too tired to get up and create. Or clean. Grandmommy's to come for Christmas and stay in my room (I'll decamp upstairs for the duration), and preparations necessarily entail the moving of mountains of (clean) laundry, vacuuming and other sprucing-up. I don't know what she'll think of the large female nude painting opposite my bed! Maybe I should put it up, as she'll already have to deal with the stained glass window of the bathing lady that is installed over the tub.

Friday, December 18, 2015

At Last!

I have a job. I HAVE A JOB! Gosh, I have been waiting two years to be able to type that. I'm more than a little unsure of the reality, not just because I am still dizzy from a continuing head cold, but also because being called in to interview came right out of the blue, last Thursday. This morning, during the interview itself, I felt befuddled, and the casual, "we like you, you're hired" at the end seemed so inconsequential a conclusion to the blood, toil, tears, and sweat of the preceding 24 months that I still feel like I'm flapping featherless arms on the edge of a precipice. I really am happy, I am just off-kilter.

The work starts January 4, whereupon I will be in training and on probation for about a month before being considered a regular part of the team. Of the many who have wished me well and sent me congratulations via social media, most have asked what I will be doing. I will be working as an editor for an academic publisher in Columbia, SC. I plan to commute from Augusta for the time being, as there may be some opportunities for telework once I am indoctrinated to the routine, and it doesn't make sense to pull up stakes and move unless and until I am assured that the company and I are mutually suited. Even when I did live in Columbia as a grad student, I still would come back here on the weekends, and while I don't relish two hours' daily drive, there are worse treks for employment.

My sweet estate sale boss was one of the first I called to share the bad good news that I wouldn't be returning to DC for the foreseeable future. And Jenny, who found herself a purposeful part of the providential plan that led me to the job opportunity, I messaged immediately--if she hadn't invited me, crutches and all, to the USC campaign banquet, or encouraged me to follow up so quickly on the contacts I made there, this would never have happened. I'm grateful to God, and I certainly pray that I will do a good job.

Social networks are peculiar things, both in how coincidentally close we find ourselves to those who inspire or help us, and how frustratingly far from those individuals we are removed by that tenuous connection. For example, this last weekend, I discovered that my boss's husband had known Martin Luther King, Jr! They both worked on their doctorates at Boston University in the early 1950s under the same professorial advisor. And this same sweet man who has regularly fed me shepherds pies from Wagshal's also spent time in India working with Mother Teresa in her famous hospice, and told me how that short fierce nun impressed him. Sheesh. I had no idea. Though these twentieth century luminaries "be dead and yet speak", they aren't exactly networkable (even the latter's rapid advancement toward Roman sainthood doesn't mean as a miracle worker she can be a reference on a resume), and while one doesn't want to think of--nor ever treat--one's friends as business assets, it does make me wonder how many extant connections with living mortal movers and shakers of the temporal world I have unwittingly overlooked?