Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Punctuatate at your own risk.
About midday on Christmas Eve, I was out doing the last of my Christmas shopping and feeling relieved that the rather severe traffic had not elicited a meltdown. Traffic is my hot button, and I never know how I'm going to react to it, but I rarely handle it well, particularly when I'm the only one in the car. But whether it was the time of year or having slept in because I'd taken the day off, I was relatively unphased by the somewhat glacial pace of traffic into and out of various parking lots. Anyway, I had left World Market and was on my way to Barnes and Noble when I turned on the radio and heard Karen Armstrong on the Kojo Nnamdi show. She was talking about the evolution, or relative lack thereof, of religion during the axial age, and someone called in to ask her to comment on the difference in the use of language in Western and Eastern religions, and she said that, by and large, the Eastern religions were skeptical about the use of language, believing that the nature of God is ineffable (my favorite word!). She described them as apophatic. I don't remember her exact phrasing, but I was so taken by the word that I grabbed a pen and a receipt and scrawled "apophatic." Yes, I know: writing while driving at 0.0001 mph is a highly dangerous activity, but I didn't want to forget, and my memory is a bit dodgy these days.

Similarly dodgy: my vocabulary. I have felt some measure of shame whenever I haven't known the meaning of a word ever since that 780 I got on the verbal section kept me from getting a perfect score on my GRE. (I was too lazy to retake the test; similarly, I was too lazy to use the results to apply to graduate school. When I finally got around to applying for a master's program, the admissions office only wanted my GMAT scores, which were slightly lower. My failure to pursue a career in academia would be one of the great regrets of my life if it weren't absolutely clear to me that I'm almost preternaturally ill-suited to be an academic, though I suppose I wouldn't mind having tenure, provided I didn't have to work for it. Now I'm wondering what exactly are the great regrets of my life, but I don't think I have any. I would now say that not having any great regrets is my principal regret, but I would be lying. One could argue that my lack of regret is indicative of a weakness of character, but overall I'm happy about it. I suppose that I almost regret not deleting this parenthetical.) Karen Anderson had explained the meaning of "apophatic," but how was I not already familiar with this word?

As it happens, apophatic is not quite a synonym for ineffable, which, one supposes, is why there are two separate words. Apophatic is defined as "of or relating to the belief that God can be known to humans only in terms of what He is not." I have left the capitalization the way I found it in the definition, even though my conception of some Eastern religions is that they would posit neither a singular nor an exclusively masculine god/God, but I don't even know whether Sanskrit has any concept of capitalization. Maybe I should have gone to grad school. I mean a real one, not business school.

All performances of Messiah must stop after part 2.
But maybe not. As it happens, I'm at least as wary of words as your garden variety Buddhist. I don't believe in god per se, and I'm not entirely sure that I even believe in the concept of the divine, though I would certainly like to, but if there's anything I believe utterly, it's that if the divine does exist, you won't reach it through words. Words are always at least two levels of meta from reality. Example: here is the world, over here -- slightly removed -- is how we perceive the world, and way over here is how we describe how we perceive the world. Similarly: here is the (posited) divine; out here are the antechambers of the divine, which we reach by wordless practice; and way over here are the ways that we talk about the idea of deity. Maybe the words help you to get to the antechambers, but they just as often take you farther away, I reckon. I think that's why people chant: if you say the same thing over and over, the words themselves disappear while the rhythm gets you closer to where you want to be.

Or, in a simpler formulation, if the divine exists, it must be infinite and indefinite. Words have definitions and meanings: they limit rather than expand.

But on other levels, that's all a load of bollocks, or at least it only makes sense within a very specific context. Most people's minds expand as their vocabularies increase. And ineffability is a very impractical concept for day-to-day life. I mean, let's just assume that I'm right and that the only paths to enlightenment are non-verbal. Are you going to give up speaking? How exactly could I do that? Is there a meeting? If you show up at Verbalists Anonymous, you'd want the conversation to go something like:
TED: Hi, my name is TED, and I'm a compulsive user of language. I haven't spoken in d'oh!
Group: Hi, TED! D'oh!

But instead you'd just have to stand there looking plaintively at each other, hoping to be understood, surely the most vain hope in all of creation. And sooner or later, your group's time would be up, and the ESOL class that had booked the room after you would be at the door, verbally demanding entry, and all hell would break loose. Also, I'm thinking that if I gave up language, representing clients before the IRS would become even more challenging, and it's already tough enough. It's tempting to think that an agent would come in, sit down, and be so impressed by the obvious sincerity of my countenance that he would merely shake my hand and not assess my client any additional taxes, but the more likely result would be interest and penalties.

Assisted Suicides R Us.
[By the way, and you likely realize this already, if this discussion doesn't make any sense, I'm going to blame its lack of sense on the inherent limitations of language rather than on any specific flaws in my logic. I used to think that certain things that I felt to be true were less likely to be true because I was unable to formulate them in logically compelling language, but nowadays I'm more likely to trust something that I feel to be both true and profound because it can't be formulated into language. (This analysis doesn't apply to more mundane matters, where logic and language are still necessary; I suspect that Karen Armstrong would refer here to mythos and logos, but I don't know for sure because I've only heard fifteen minutes of her on the Kojo Nnamdi show while I was driving about half a mile on Rockville Pike and then into a parking lot; I considered buying one of her books, but it seemed counterproductive given an apophatic philosophy; besides, she's written so many books, and it would appear from some of the reviews I've read that she may be considered something of an intellectual bantamweight.) You can decide for yourself whether my conversion comes from enlightenment or laziness: I tend to think that it's both.]

Practicality isn't the only argument, though: words are like crack. Rather, like what I imagine crack to be like, minus the legal consequences and potentially injurious physical issues. The chagrin that I feel over not knowing the meaning of a word pales in the face of the delight I feel in learning a new word. I love words, they have tremendous power over me, I'm frequently adept at using them, and I take much greater care with them than do most people. (The common lack of care with language is probably a separate issue. The imperfection of verbal communication is certainly amplified because so many people are so inexact (or flat out wrong) in the way they use words, but even if someone knows precisely the definition of every word he uses, he's not going to be understood because words are abstractions and definition is not the same as meaning.) I have a very sharp wit when I want to, but wit is linguistic cleverness, and cleverness is a double-edged sword.1 Wit can create amusement, even euphoria (and God/god knows there's nothing wrong with amusement or euphoria), but ultimately it has no substance: it fails to instruct. It's a lot like the sarcasm that's ubiquitous on the Internet (and elsewhere, and God/god knows I indulge in it): at best it makes me smile but fails to instruct; at worst it's like Red Bull, creating a temporary agitation but leading to a sugar crash, perhaps followed by falling asleep at your desk and waking up to find that you've been drooling. (Full disclosure: I've never actually had a Red Bull; like crack, it's something I'm content to let others experience. I do, however, abuse Diet Pepsi on a regular basis. There's probably a group for that, too, but in all honesty, I am not much of a joiner.)

You know, this is all really difficult to write about, so I'm going to take a moment here to relate that I ended up using the rest of my ornament hooks to hang kumquats from my Christmas tree.

I ended up using the rest of my ornament hooks to hang kumquats from my Christmas tree. They look pretty cool. I also made a bunch of star-shaped cookies, which I intended to decorate and hang from the tree, using ribbons that I was going to affix to the back of the cookies with melted sugar (i.e., caramel), but I was unable to convince YFU that Christmas should properly be celebrated through Twelfth Night, if only so that I could have a hope of having an epiphany. Also, since all of the other tree ornaments are made directly from various types of fruits, I really should have hung cross-sections of star fruit instead of cookies. Ultimately, though, I was too lazy, for reasons that have nothing to do with apophasis2 or ineffability, to do much of anything for Christmas beyond making Christmas dinner (I did make the desserts myself, though). I was up very late on Christmas Eve, and didn't even get the girls' presents wrapped. I was encouraged in my sloth by their not caring about whether their presents were wrapped (they seemed mostly interested in hanging out with me and in mashed potatoes), but I take full responsibility. I'll do better next year, regardless of whether they care. Is that enough of a break? I think so.

Earthquakes prohibited.
Literature, on the whole, is more substantive than wit, and I'm very much in favor of reading (What I did end up buying at Barnes and Noble was a $50 gift card for YFU. She was thrilled. Also, a jigsaw puzzle, which was one of only two items on her list. She was thrilled with that, too.), but I only trust it for entertainment, not instruction. I'm sure that someone has said what I'm saying now with a great deal more eloquence (and God/god knows, brevity), but whatever they said wouldn't speak to me until I had already garnered the knowledge wordlessly. Here again, we have an antechamber situation. Certainly fiction (and maybe even non-fiction, which I always trust much less) can propel you a certain distance towards the ineffable, and that's a good thing, but it won't take you the last steps. More concretely, when I think about whatever the hell it is that I'm discussing right now, the passage that leaps to mind is the alphabet passage from To the Lighthouse (which I have previously quoted), but I first read that passage when I was twenty-three, and, while I found it memorable, it didn't speak to me the way it speaks to me now: it reflected a narrower range of knowledge way back then.

It's not clear -- it's likely unknowable -- to me how enlightenment, which is what we're calling the experienced knowledge of the ineffable for at least the next paragraph or so, happens. When it happens is a little clearer, and I've discussed before at excessive length the various practices that work for me, so I'll only mention in passing that the recent incapacitation of my upstairs shower has removed one of my paths to enlightenment: the plumbing to the downstairs shower provides so much water so quickly that one must exercise immense caution to avoid being knocked over by the spray. Also, it empties the hot water heater very quickly, so a hot shower can't last more than three or four minutes, and nothing throws cold water on enlightenment like cold water. But I expect the re-installation of the shower to be completed tomorrow, which means that shower meditation can resume with the new year. Hooray: it's the only form of meditation that I've ever had much success with.

No whining.  Do you think you're the only person to ever lose an eye in a shot put accident?
I should seek additional paths, though. The horizontal path to enlightenment has always been the most reliable to me, but now that I'm single again, I have begun to experience certain drawbacks to casual sex that I didn't experience when I was partnered. I suspect the yogis would say that I'm not grounded. Or that I'm less frequently grounded: there are certainly times when coupling still evokes the infinite. And when it doesn't, it's still hella fun, and that's reason enough.

I'm not sure what it would take to be grounded again. I hope it doesn't require a stable relationship: that's something that I don't want right now, for one set of reasons, and that I'm not expecting to happen again, for another set of reasons that are not unrelated to the matter at hand. I have come to believe that a successful relationship requires the ability to be, at least on occasion, fully unreserved with the relationship partner. Ideally, this would mean that you could say anything to the other person without fear of giving offense or receiving rejection, and with the certainty of being understood. But who can say anything of real interest with any hope of being truly understood? There is probably something to be said for the mutual striving for understanding, especially when it is illuminated by affection, but it's something of a minefield. I suspect that the best I could hope for is companionable silence, and I seem to attract men who don't know when to shut up. I reckon my best bet would be to fall in love with someone who speaks a different language and who agrees never to learn mine as I agree never to learn his, so that we could only communicate tactilely and through frequent tender gazes, but, well, I think you can work out the practical difficulties of such a plan for yourself.

Anyway, I reckon that one of my goals for the new year should be to find a non-shower-based, meditative path to enlightenment that works for me. I wonder whether there's room for a labyrinth in the back yard.

Also: happy new year to everyone.

Free WiFi.

1Interestingly, if only to me, "clever" (from the Middle English cleven) and "cleave" (from the Middle English cliver) come from entirely different roots, robbing me of the opportunity to make yet another meaningless witticism. Even though a cleaver has only a single edge, "cleave" is, linguistically, a double-edged sword because it has two opposite definitions: it means both to cling to and to split.

2"Apophasis" is not really the noun form of apophatic. Or, rather, it is, but its principal meaning is within the realm of rhetoric: it means to talk about something by pretending not to mention it, as in, "I'm not even going to mention how fucking wordy I've been lately."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

We got some snow this weekend, and apparently it was a lot of snow, but I don't know how much because I'm generally not one to measure things. There are exceptions, of course -- I usually weigh my flour when I bake a cake, and I'm reasonably exact about measurments when it comes to home improvement projects -- but I'm not sure that it matters whether we got eighteen or twenty inches of snow. B&c proudly mentioned that in my former/his current exurb, they'd gotten twenty-six inches of snow, but in addition to not really caring how many inches of anything I have to deal with, I often find that the number of inches has been overstated, sometimes significantly. When I was out shoveling the driveway yesterday, I noted that the snow was deeper than the shovel blade, and that means there was more than enough.

I like snow a lot, especially from a distance, and when it begins falling on a Friday night and falls all day Saturday and on Sunday I can clear my driveway in half an hour, it seems like a fine thing to me, though I guess your point of view might be different if you were in retail or had somewhere to be. The only place I might have had to be would have been at church, and all the services were canceled. Sunday would have been the Christmas pageant, so I might not have showed up anyway. The pageant is the same every year, and watching the youngsters stumble through a Unitarianized version of the Christmas story is not more than I can bear, but it's certainly more than I want to bear.

By contrast, the choir's contribution to the Christmas Eve service this year will be three carols interspersed with readings of the Christmas story from, gasp, the Bible. I would like to think that this approach represents a more enlightened way of including Christian texts, but I'm pretty sure that we're doing it this way because the choir director is overwhelmed by all of the work associated with our upcoming trip to New York and the concert that we're giving before we go. The carols are arranged in a very intuitive four-part harmony, and the Biblical text is, well, already written.

I was about to say that people are far too emotional about their religion, but then I realized that a) I regularly find myself crying during church, and b) duh. Still, I wish Unitarians weren't so sensitive about Christianity. Nobody in my church believes that the Bible is the literal word of God, and almost all of them regard it as mythology, plain and simple, so why all the angst over its inclusion in the worship service? We love to include sacred texts from other religions. The answer has to do with personal histories, of course. A lot of the people who end up in a UU church feel abused by Christianity. But I doubt that any of them felt the yoke of fundamentalism any more keenly than I did as a youth, and I've long since learned to enjoy the beauty of the King James version's language and to appreciate the spirit of the Gospels (the Pauline epistles being another matter altogether) while rolling my eyes at any suggestion of fire and/or brimstone. Or let's put it another way: the existence of some douchebag minister in Uganda who's using the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah to justify life imprisonment for homosexuals does not negate the impact of this:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Which is not to say that I find Christianity a compelling religion in its entirety. It's more to say that there are few things I find as compelling as this:

One of the things that I find equally compelling is snow. I have, as is my wont at this time of year, been humming, whistling, and singing the above aria and chorus (I transpose the aria down a bit, obviously; I'm sure that Mr. Handel's failure to set it for a bass instead of a soprano was merely an oversight.) for much of the past weekend, and my sudden, temporary, and extremely incomplete re-connection to the nativity story has little to do with the story itself and much to do with the frozen deluge.

My knowledge of the history of the Bible is weak, but I feel relatively confident in saying that the early writers of the gospels were not inspired by snowfall. Still, the Christmas story as it's told in Luke speaks to the same atavistic desires as a snow storm: here is the world, despoiled by sin and decay, and here is the promise of renewal, in the form of a baby, or a blanket of snow.

There are other paths to renewal, of course. My newly cheerful Christmas spirit kind of mood certainly had a lot to do with the fact that on Friday, I called the contractor who had been second in line to do my bathroom upgrade, told him about my shower woes, and asked him to come take a look at the situation. He showed up later that afternoon and shook his head at what had been done, explaining to me the many ways in which the work that had been done was not up to code. I wasn't pleased at the idea of having to shell out so much money to have the shower ripped out and redone, but the idea of having the matter settled, even if I'm not having the new contractor start work until next Tuesday, was a huge boost.

I got another boost in the form of a mid-snowstorm social call from a new friend with a four-wheel-drive pickup truck. He and I had been trying to connect for some time, and I had begun to think we never would, but he had said that the snow would not keep him away, and when I saw him tromping through the snow up to my door and then removing his boots in the entryway, I could not have been more pleased by the apparition of an archangel. Such social calls are not exactly a rare occurrence for me, but this particular three-hour, mid-snowstorm interlude was special, and I could not look at his partially covered bootprints the next morning without a wide smile. Perhaps next year I can talk him into a horizontal sundown to sunrise celebration of the solstice. The idea has merit.

I am similarly unable to suppress a grin when I look at my Christmas tree. The dehydrated citrus slices certainly have not the level of skill of which Marth Stewart would approve, but I like them a lot. I am not so sure about the so-called red ornaments. I made them by simmering thin slices of orange in a red wine syrup before putting them in the dehydrator. EFU, however, looked at them and thought they were just slices that had turned brown. Perhaps I need to start with some red grapefruit, but a grapefruit will not fit on my little Japanese mandoline.

The cranberry garlands are time consuming to make, but stringing berries is a good thing to do while watching a movie. Idle hands, they tell me, are the devil's workshop. I would still like to make some cookies and hang them as ornaments, and, if the greengrocer cooperates, I would not be averse to a garland of red chili peppers and kumquats. Or something else altogether. After all, I still have ornament hooks to use.

Religion (of any variety) and/or spirituality aside, I maintain that forcing everyone to sit tight in their homes for a day at one of the most hectic times of the year can only be a good thing. After all, isn't this the year when we're all supposed to be cutting back, in recognition of a difficult economy? What better way to embrace the true meaning of Christmas than to stay inside and spend time with the people you love. Or, if it doesn't happen to be your custodial weekend, with an especially fit and intrepid pickup-driving near stranger. In either case, it's a lot less expensive and aggravating and a lot more rewarding than a trip to the mall.

Christmas, after all, is still going to happen without that one day of shopping. Many of my gifts are still in transit, but the kids won't really care that much if a couple of things are a day late. Besides, YFU would probably trade any of her gifts for a snow day, and she got that early.

Sunday, after the snow was finished, was sunny, with an almost painfully blue and clear sky. It was, nearly, a pleasure to reach for my ergonomically designed snow shovel and begin to clear my driveway.

There were a lot of other people out at the same time doing the same thing, and even the people who were forced to walk along the street because the sidewalk was still buried seemed unusually cheerful. It's all that beauty and all that potential inherent in the snow, or else it's that some other poor guy is shoveling a driveway, and they aren't. In any case, it was a beautiful day to shovel snow, and the work went quickly. Before long, I had enough room for both my car and EFU's, and I was buoyed by the knowledge that the volume of snow on the ground ensures a white Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

When Life Hands You a Meta, Make Metaphors

This past Sunday evening, EFU returned home from college with thirty pages of take-home finals and a hedgehog named Houdini. He's extraordinarily cute, with white quills that will stick up through your shirt if you happen to unbutton your shirt and let him burrow -- he lives to burrow -- in while you're playing with him, which you would probably not want to do, but I managed to extract him with no harm to hedgehog, shirt, or self. The quills are not especially sharp. He's a year old, but he was apparently a runt and is never likely to get much larger than his current size, at which, when curled up, he bears a dangerous resemblance to a tennis ball.

EFU is extremely attached to Houdini; consequently, she is very sad about the idea of having to give him up, though she's not the sort to grieve dramatically. But it appears that Houdini is so troubled by automobile travel (this alone would make him part of the family) that EFU can less easily bear the notion of causing him more trouble because of the frequent relocations inherent in her near future than she can bear the notion of saying goodbye to him. She has already located a local person whom she describes as a "crazy pet lady." In YFU's words, "She's nobody I would ever want to hang out with, but she's very excited about owning a hedgehog, and she'll give him a good home." That's my daughter: practical, responsible, and reluctant to let anyone see her pain. It brings a metaphorical tear to the parental eye.

I looked up at my phone earlier today, read the time and date display, and thought, "Wow. Only a week until Christmas. I probably have things to do," and then I went back to reading Treasury Regulation §1.752-2, which is more interesting than you would expect, not that that's saying very much, I suppose. It is easier to burrow into Treasury Regulations than to deal with the impending holiday, though it is easier still to burrow into the Internal Revenue Code (the ground is less dense, less rocky, and more familiar). And there are plenty of other distractions, plenty of other holes to burrow into.

I have long been an it's-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year sort of person, and it's pretty much unheard of for me not to be caught up in the spirit of the season by now. People have started to notice, too. EFU mentioned the other night that I'd been sighing a lot. I told her, "I'm really upset about the contractor. And it's been a tough year." I've already written way too much about the tough year, so let's talk about my upstairs shower, pictured here:

Last Saturday, I went downstairs to check on YFU, and I heard plop, plop, plop, and I thought, oh please god no, I think I know that sound, but maybe it isn't what I think it is, but it was what I thought it was, and I looked up, and there was a bubble in the ceiling, with water dripping down onto the corner of EFU's bed. A leak from the shower. Leak #3, in fact.

I'm sure you can imagine what came to mind:
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.

I know what you're thinking, but I absolutely do eschew evil, and this is how I'm repaid.

I have not, quite, the patience of Job, so I fired off a terse email to my contractor. Later that day, when I was out with some friends, the contractor left a message saying that he was sorry about the leak and that I should call him to arrange a time for him to come look at it. He came Wednesday, and first he said that maybe the leak was due to humidity, but when I said that I'd caught at least a quart of water, he decided to open the ceiling. I relocated Houdini to YFU's room while the contractor and his helper put down plastic sheeting and cut a hole. Eventually, he explained to me that pressure from above the drain had caused a gap to open and that water had seeped through. He proposed bracing the drain from underneath to keep the gap from opening it. I went to work. He called me to say that he had also had to take up a few tiles in the bathroom to check the drain area and that he could come back Thursday to replace them. I told him I wouldn't be available until Friday. He said he'd come then.

When I got home, I took a closer look at the drain. I am not a plumber, but I couldn't help thinking that my being able to see the lights on in the downstairs bedroom was a problem.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the drain pipe opens a gap when there is no subflooring under the tile, but who am I to say? I also could not find any evidence of the liner that the contractor assures me is between the subflooring and the tile, but perhaps if there's no subflooring there's no need for a liner to protect it.

I can't say that I was overly impressed with the bracing system he came up with for the drainpipe.

It seems equally unimpressive (the word "kluge" comes to mind) from other angles.

I was depressed about all of this, but I realized it was a metaphorical depression. Clearly, one is never worried about what one thinks one is worried about. Worry is always badly referred, like some kinds of pain. You think your left toe is broken, but really it's your gall bladder. Had I not known better, I might have thought that I was depressed, or even angry, about a shower with no visible means of support, but clearly I was upset about something entirely different. And there is no shortage of possible choices, but the big problem about living a through-the-glass-darkly sort of existence (as we all must needs live) is that exactly what I was upset about remained veiled to me.

It was about this time that I started to wonder about what happens after through-a-glass-darkly. There's the assumption that you move onto a higher plane of existence where you see clearly. But what if it's only more clearly, like when I put on my glasses in the morning. I can get around without my glasses, but they're sure nice to have. What if there's an afterlife, and you see more clearly, but not entirely clearly? Will we then hypothesize a post-afterlife in which you see more clearly still? Is there then an infinite series of afterlives stretching off into infinity like my reflection in the barber shop mirrors of my youth? Isn't it easier to accept the idea that we just die and rot?

Speaking of decay, even though all worry is metaphorical and/or displaced, I'm pretty sure that there's one thing that would appear to be troubling me greatly that would turn out to be the thing actually troubling me.

After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.
And Job spake, and said,
Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.
Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.
Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.
As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months.
Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein.
Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning.
Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day:
Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.
Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?
For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest,
With kings and counsellors of the earth, which build desolate places for themselves;
Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver:
Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light.
There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.
There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.
The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul;
Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?
For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters.
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.

The contractor is coming back tomorrow morning. It is impossible to express how very much I dread conflict with service workers, but it's conceivable that there will be harsh words.

I haven't entirely given up on Christmas, of course. Given the smallness and lack of organization in my new kitchen, I haven't done any baking, but there have been choir practices, and I did manage to retrieve my tree from b&c's basement and set it up. Real trees are too much trouble for a single gentleman (or at least for a single gentleman like me), but I dislike artificial things that try too hard to look real, so seven or eight years ago, when I found this somewhat, um, schematic tree, I was immediately infatuated. It was also very reasonably priced, so I brought it home.

Charlie Brown has nothing on me.

It looks a lot better when it's lit up and the wires are fanned out to slightly more accurately represent branches.

We're expecting a snowstorm this weekend, so perhaps I'll abandon my usual pattern of weekend socializing and finally get around to decorating the tree. Since the tree itself is uberartificial, I've decided to decorate it only with natural ornaments. I have some cranberries to string on thread, and I've thinly sliced and dried some oranges and lemons. I still have to come up with the ornament hooks. Sadly, I keep forgetting to look for them in any place other than the local dollar store, which didn't have any. I may end up having to string those on thread, too. I did find a number of garlands at the dollar store. I used them to make a Christmas version of hanging door beads for the doorway to the upstairs, but I had to gather them to the side so that the contractor wouldn't have to walk through them while taking tools upstairs.

They look better without flash. Really. Anyway, Christmas is a week away, and I keep reminding myself that I'm an optimist. And I am. If I have faith in anything, it's the ability of the Christmas season to make me grateful for all of the things that are going well, even in the middle of a tough year. The downstairs shower still works just fine, for example. I'm still singing Christmas Eve. The girls will still be over Christmas Day, and there will still be a feast. I may not have made my usual dozens and dozens of cookies. I may, in fact, end up buying desserts, which, by my standards, represents a burrowing of epic proportions. But if the solstice reminds us of anything, it's that things bounce back.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

All Over Again

I was sitting in my living room the other evening, talking to b&c on the phone about rescheduling tickets to see The Solid Gold Cadillac at the Studio Theater when I was struck by a wave of deja vu.

The wording in that last sentence is important. The sensation was a lot like being at the beach and standing in maybe waist-high water and looking back toward the shore and waving at YFU and, hey, I'm underwater, and possibly upside down. It's very disorienting to feel like you're living through a moment that you've lived through before, especially when you add the logistical impossibility (I haven't owned that chair or that house for long enough to have had the experience before) to the ordinary impossibility (time and tide being the things that wait for no man) of living the same moment twice, and then balance all heavy logical impossibility against the very light emotional probability that nonetheless manages to win out.

The disorientation is key here. Deja vu is something more than the normal oh-my-God-not-again-please feeling you get from the inevitable redundancy of life, or at least of most of our lives. The perception that you're stuck in a rut is something that exists and that you might want to deal with, but it's not deja vu. Deja vu requires something extranatural. Something eery.

You will likely recognize this poem, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow's soar
Your neck turned so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

I am not much given to the reading of poetry, (This is a lamentable fact, and I set aside at least forty-five seconds every decade to berate myself over the narrowness of my reading habits.) and I would likely be unfamiliar with "Sudden Light" were it not for the splendid choral setting that our choir does at church every two or three years. It's got a great bass part. I searched for a worthy performance on YouTube, but the best I could come up with was almost certainly a worthy performance captured by an execrable recording. You will especially, I am sure, appreciate the distortion in the forte sections.

There are not so many examples of good poems made into good songs, and the above is one of my favorites. Oddly, another of my favorites is something that I have sung as a solo at church around this time of year:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

I say "oddly" because the author of that poem, Christina Rossetti, was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's sister. The universe is a wonderful place for coincidence. And, not quite coincidentally, for deja vu.

Apparently ("Apparently" means that I did some research, and that, in turn, usually means that I read a wikipedia article and maybe followed a link. Or, in extreme cases, even two. I wouldn't want you to think that I applied for a grant and ran a study or anything, but I also want you to understand that I didn't pull the discussion entirely out of my own ass. Other people's asses have contributed.) some people believe that deja vu can be either reliving a bit of your own life [Ok, look, people. I can't get through this discussion without attempting to work in this clip from Doctor Who, so let's just pretend that I somehow managed to seamlessly blend in the notion of chronic hysteresis into this paragraph, ok? This is more or less where it would belong, and the alternative would be for me to rewrite and/or edit, and nobody wants that. So, watch:
] or living a bit of someone else's past. So the sense of disorientation, if not necessarily familiarity, comes from momentarily sharing someone else's experience. Hmmmm.

It is tempting -- though illogical, the ill logic likely intensifying the temptation -- to feel that you're revisiting a moment from someone else's life, that the sense of deja vu is another example of the veil slipping from the universe's collective unconscious, granting you a glimpse of that which lies beneath, above, around, and beyond. This is doubtless true in at least a metaphorical sense: regardless of whether there's truly a collective unconscious, the intense similarities existing in diverse human conditions create a sense of the collective, and with something as abstract as the hypothesized collective unconscious, the sense of it and the belief in it are more important than whether it actually exists.

There are any number of phenomena that are not deja vu but that are somewhat related to deja vu. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Reduplicative paramnesia is the delusional belief that a place or location has been duplicated, existing in two or more places simultaneously, or that it has been 'relocated' to another site. It is one of the delusional misidentification syndromes and, although rare, is most commonly associated with acquired brain injury, particularly simultaneous damage to the right cerebral hemisphere and to both frontal lobes.

If I were given to hypochondria, I would likely be alarmed just now.

And then there's anamnesis. Here's another quote, from someplace other than wikipedia.
Socrates' response is to develop his theory of anamnesis. He suggests that the soul is immortal, and repeatedly incarnated; knowledge is actually in the soul from eternity (86b), but each time the soul is incarnated its knowledge is forgotten in the shock of birth. What one perceives to be learning, then, is actually the recovery of what one has forgotten. (Once it has been brought back it is true belief, to be turned into genuine knowledge by understanding.) And thus Socrates (and Plato) sees himself, not as a teacher, but as a midwife, aiding with the birth of knowledge that was already there in the student.

I should be especially grateful to find the midwife who can assist me in unforgetting Sanskrit, but I suspect it would be a long and painful birth.

[Inappropriate anecdote alert! This past weekend, I may have been in a social situation that may have resulted in another man responding to a particular position I may have been trying (and maybe even succeeding) to put him in by saying, "I'm not Play-Do," and I may have responded by saying, "He was fucking Socrates, wasn't he?"]

My logic may be shaky here, too, but I'm going to posit that if the extralogical explanations for deja vu were valid, then I wouldn't have the experience at moments of such breathtaking mundaneness. I mean, deja vu would probably be most valuable if, say, I were meeting some guy and I suddenly had the feeling of recognition because he was my soulmate from several past lives. A discussion about scheduling a theater performance with my ex: not so much.

At this point, I'm going to fall back on that old bromide: the only honest discussion of a metaphysical phenomenon is one that reaches no conclusion. (Yes, I just made that up on the spot, and, yes, it can still be a bromide even though I just made it up on the spot. Because I said so, that's why.) It's not that I'm not smart enough or diligent enough to get to an answer: it's that I'm too honest. (Again, because I said so.) In any case, let's consider the abstract discussion, or at least this particular abstract discussion, of deja vu closed and move on to the practical application.

I can't decide whether I can stretch the definition of deja vu to the feeling that I have about being single again. Certainly, there's a bit of the upside-down-at-the-beach disorientation going on, though some might reasonably posit that the disorientation is largely due to my inability to unpack my boxes and organize my house correctly. Apartment Therapy readers might tell me that putting a couple of new cabinets in the kitchen would set me right in no time, and, well, Cthulhu knows some extra storage space couldn't hurt. Regardless, I feel a little bit at sea, so we've got the disorientation. And the experience of singleness is certainly familiar, both to me and to pretty much everyone else.

On the other hand, there's no eeriness, so, by my own definition, there's probably no deja vu. And there are ways in which the experience is utterly unfamiliar. I'm a lot less vulnerable than the last time I was single, or, for that matter, the time before that. And at the same time I'm feeling a bit at sea, I feel like I'm in control. Control is always an illusion, but it's a very pleasant illusion. In the past, I've always been content, happy even, to drift or settle as events saw fit to move or place me. It's good for once to feel like I created the situation that I find myself in.

There are still moments, of course. I can't help feeling that anyone over, say, 35 who doesn't stop at least once a week to say "My God, what have I done?" or, at the very least, "Well -- how did I get here?" has a fundamental (and perhaps blissful) ignorance of the way the universe operates.

Part of the way that the universe operates is that opposites are simultaneously true. You have no control, but you have control. You could frame the matter in terms of fate v. free will, but it should be obvious by now that the only honest discussion of that issue is one that reaches no conclusion. You can look at all of that, and you can cry, or you can laugh. I choose both, but these days, I'm mostly just smiling.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Simplicity of Living Single

I was reading a post over at Apartment Therapy the other day month, and it quoted Steve Jobs, twenty-seven years ago: "This was a very typical time. I was single. All you needed was a cup of tea, a light, and your stereo, you know, and that's what I had," and I thought to myself, "As if."

Moving, regardless of why you're moving, always sucks, and as you get older, it sucks harder. This fact is as certain as gravity. But there's meant to be a compensation: there's always a notion that moving represents a fresh start. A fresh start, in turn, means (is supposed to mean) shedding possessions, and shedding possessions (it follows, as the night the day) means arriving at a simpler, purer, and better life: you move and suddenly you're a Shaker. Metaphorically, people.

And there's some truth to the notion of simplification/depossession through moving, especially if your move, like mine, coincides with the annual church bazaar. Sadly, there are several factors working against the noble impulse towards simplicity. And I've been having trouble (for a month!) writing this down, so let's just go with the classic Lettermanesque reverse list. (I'll spare you numbers ten through four, though, because I'm nice. No, really, I am nice. If you met me, you would say that I'm nice, especially if you wanted something from me.)

3. If you're moving from a coupled to a single condition, you end up acquiring more than you discard: I'm not really going to live without a TV. Or a wireless router. Or a sofa, though it may be a while before the exact right sofa works its way into my consciousness and living/dining room. This is a matter of immense importance for me. If you're just out of college or still in your twenties, really, you can survive any manner of unfortunate seating, but if you're in your forties, an otherwise immaculate decoration scheme can be completely derailed by the wrong couch. Or a can fucking opener. How am I supposed to make Thanksgiving dinner if I can't open the can of pumpkin? I do not, thank you very much, need to open the can of cranberry sauce. I make my own. People who are proud of serving sliced, canned cranberry sauce where you can still see the can ridges can suck it.

2. The Marvell factor. (But at my back I always hear ....) Had we but world enough, and time, then I would surely be able to disencumber myself of half, nay two-thirds, of what I own, but these decisions must be made thoughtfully, and when the movers are scheduled to arrive next Thursday, well, it's so much easier to just throw things in a box and tape it up. And if that box ends up in a basement, unexamined, at least it's a roomy, clean, dry basement.


That, readers, is a laundry basket full of the books that I'm letting go, and, oh sweet mother of Cthulhu, do you have any idea of the shame? Seriously, what was I thinking when I decided to start packing my books in a sober condition? There are layers and layers of chagrin that would surely have been more bearable after a case of Tequila. Shall we enumerate the aspects of agony? (This time in ascending order! Letterman is overrated. Maybe: I haven't watched any of the late night shows since the Reagan administration.)

1. Why, oh why, do I own so many books? Are there no libraries?

2. What am I (still) doing with this book? Seriously, Walker Percy? I could probably be forgiven for my youthful fascination with Mr. Percy's works, but I couldn't have gotten rid of them any of the last six times I moved?

3. How can I give this book away? It must have meant something to me once, and getting rid of it is like disposing of a part of my personal history. What's next? Will I toss aside my children so readily? And what if one of my kids needs that particular book sometime, and I have to say that I gave it away? [I'm only giving away the Proust (which I carefully positioned atop the heap so as to make my personal library seem weightier -- a stratagem that seems pointless after hauling the fifteenth 12x12x16 box of the books I'm taking with me into the den: weighty!) because I have another copy of the exact same translation of Swann's Way, and it seems unnecessary to have two, especially given that I'll almost certainly never read it again. On the other hand, what if I lose the first copy?]

It's not all shame, of course: packing up your books is a lot like running into friends you've forgotten you had. But as pleasant as that is, it's also dangerous. That copy of The Monk (the ultimate Gothic novel, by Matthew Lewis) that eventually found its way into the donation pile took me back to my senior year of college and to my advisor, who had recommended it to me after reading one of the papers that I'd written for his class. It's amazing that I was still able to let it go (assuming, that is, I don't have a change of heart and shove it in a box tomorrow), but as awesome a book as it is, its particular brand of awesomeness is one that I'm not likely to appreciate now or ever again. Oh, the wistfulness.

Anyway, the movers really are were coming next Thursday a few Thursdays ago. [My apologies. I wrote this some weeks ago, and now I'm just going to pretend that I can step into the wayback machine and not bother adjusting the tense and the timelines. The Tense and the Timelines would make an excellent soap opera based on the lives of the Bloomsbury set, n'est-ce pas?] I've been very anxious about the whole going-out-on-my-own thing, but I was pushed into finally setting a date when b&c told me that his young, recently unemployed, Greek doctor friend is coming from Germany to stay with him for a month starting next Wednesday, in anticipation of b&c's shoulder surgery (and subsequent incapacitation) the following Monday. I was a bit taken aback. B&c had not scheduled the surgery until after I'd put a contract on the new house, but I had assumed that I'd be shuttling back and forth to take care of him, especially during the period when he's not supposed to move his shoulder or lie on his back. But he had not realized that I'd be willing to help out, (B&c's cluelessness is often charming, but ultimately it's one of the reasons we're separating.) and he was concerned that the level of attention he'll need wouldn't be compatible with my job and the kids and the new place. And maybe he has a point: it's probably a good idea for him to have someone around all the time for the first week or so after the surgery.

B&c tells me that the incipient presence of Herr Doktor Jung is no reason for me to leave any more quickly, and I'm sure that HDJ, like all of the friends that b&c has picked up during his travels abroad, is entirely charming (the last one was entirely charming; he also flirted with me, and that's always nice), and since he doesn't drive, I'll still be called into frequent service for grocery runs and taking b&c to the doctor and the like.

--- Here, readers, is where the previous entry ended. You are to presume that I am an old time DJ working at a country and western station in the early 80s and that I have only just now learned that when I thought I was being nostalgic and putting on "Coal Miner's Daughter" as I left for my cigarette break, I in fact put on "Anarchy in the U.K." and the switchboard is lighting up with listeners who are not amused with the calumny I have unwittingly heaped upon Miss Lynn. Imagine the sound of a turntable needle (Google it, kids) scratching across vinyl, after which begins a new entry ---

So, home ownership. Wow. It's a little overwhelming. There's so much to be done, but there's no one around to hold me accountable for not doing it. Certainly, YFU doesn't care if the housekeeping is, shall we say, lackluster, and I have discovered that I really don't mind living like a graduate student, which is to say that after all the work involved with painting the walls and so on, I cannot bring myself to be concerned about all the painter's tape still adhering to those walls. I mean, it's blue, and all the walls are either white are blue, so it pretty much matches.

Anyway, I'm sure that I'll get around to hanging the curtain rods sooner or later, and I'll probably even get around to hanging actual curtains on the rods (not so much sooner and later still), and if I continue to remember to take out the recycling every week, I'll be through my pile of Ikea boxes in no time at all. Or at least sometime this year. January at the absolute latest.

There are distractions, though. When I get home from work, it always seems more compelling to try to expand my circle of new acquaintances than to deal with window treatments. And so far, most of the new acquaintances have easily taken in stride the work-in-process nature of my new abode when they get the abbreviated tour. Perhaps their attention lies elsewhere. Men are so easily distracted from home furnishings.

I did manage to get the house reasonably clean for Thanksgiving. And by I, I mean we, because when EFU and YFU showed up just after noon on Thursday, before I said anything else, even to my daughter whom I had not seen for almost three months, I said, "I need help." So while I moved in and out of the kitchen, futzing with the food and telling them what needed to be done, the girls restored some order to the living/dining room. It didn't take very long, and then YFU vacuumed while EFU went around the room removing painter's tape. Picky!

Then I went to the basement to remove the hardware from the door that was soon to be the dining table. I was successful with the hinges but the doorknob wouldn't budge. The girls thought that it added character.

The door has deep panels, which render it relatively useless as a table, and I had gone to great lengths, including a trip around the beltway in Thanksgiving Eve traffic, to procure plexiglass panels to fit inside the door panels to make a smooth surface. It was a good idea, and it worked well enough. I had wanted to take leaves from the Japanese maple in the front yard and put them under the panels, but it had rained a great deal in the preceding week, so I ended up taking some other cuttings from the relatively dry plants next to the house. Right after I moved in, the rose bush next to the house began blooming. I'm sure it's a relatively common occurrence, but I chose to take roses in November as an auspicious omen for my new habitat. I used the last of the fading roses as part of the table decorations, and when EFU saw me scattering the petals, hips, and other cuttings in the door/table panels, she remarked, "Wow, Dad, that is the gayest thing I've ever seen you do." It was hard to argue with her, but I did explain that it wasn't half gay enough: there were some problems with the execution.

I sent EFU to retrieve b&c and HDJ from b&c's house. Contrary to all expectations and experience, HDJ had turned out to be not so much a charming young man as an insufferably selfish and distressingly odd individual, given to asking inappropriate questions and not listening to the answers. Whenever I went over to b&c's house to take b&c grocery shopping or bring him some DVDs, HDJ would guilt me into driving him to buy cigarettes, which he went through in great numbers. Despite his reeking of tobacco (How is it that other men smoke and manage not to either smell or taste like ashtrays? Not that I ever tasted HDJ: the smell was more than enough) in my front seat, I struggled to be polite to him, but I managed. I also managed (with less struggle) to deflect his many attempts to turn me into his social secretary. I must admit to a certain amount of glee at the prospect of unleashing EFU on him. She is not a person to put up with anyone's shit, and by the time she had picked the two of them up and brought them back to my place, HDJ had been significantly tamed. Not so much that he didn't still try to invite himself along to the movies with us on the day after Thanksgiving, but we ignored all of the openings he gave us to ask him along. After I drove the two of them home, I mentioned the attempted self-invitations to EFU, who remarked, "Yeah, wanting to hang out with a twenty-year-old woman. Pretty lame." Indeed.

Although I was halfway to zombiehood (I had stayed up very late the night before doing food prep and adding three new temporary members to my social circle) by the time dinner hit the table, it was a success. I tried to scale back dinner somewhat this year. The girls really only care about turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and dessert. I also made dressing, green beans, cucumber salad, cranberry relish, and crescent rolls (from a tube: oh, the shame), but that's a fairly modest spread by Thanksgiving standards. Some people thought that four desserts was overkill, and perhaps they had a point: because of the pumpkin cheesecake, the pecan pie, and the rice pudding, nobody had room to even try the lemon refrigerator pie, but it was just as good six hours later, and, hey: more for me.

I struggled to stay awake as I drove b&c and HDJ home, but I got back to the chez moi without incident and washed most of the dishes before collapsing. Everyone was tired and overfed, so we napped for a few hours, then I set up (finally: I bought it almost a month ago) the new flat screen, and we watched TV and ate more dessert.

On Black Friday, we all slept late, and then I took the girls to Ikea where we bought EFU a dresser (Malm, four-drawer, $99). We stopped by the cafeteria for lunch first, and I was delighted to find that, in honor of the day, the price on the Swedish meatball plate had been reduced to $1. I have of late become a great fan of the Ikea Swedish meatball plate. The first time I had it was when my friend George drove me to Ikea in his SUV so that I could pick up a loft bed (Tromso, twin, $199) for YFU (She helped me assemble it and is thrilled with the result.), and I bought him dinner as a thank you. The Swedish meatball plate was on sale then, too ($2.49), and we each had it, along with a beverage. The total price on the meal was something like $7.31, and I was a little embarrassed at having gotten away so cheaply. Embarrassed but well fed. The girls were not interested in the meatballs, so Friday's meal was slightly more expensive, but still a bargain.

After some additional shopping, we returned home and began assembling the Malm, stopping after about forty-five minutes (EFU shares my mad Ikea assembly skills, but the Malm has many, many pieces) so that we could head to downtown Silver Spring to gratify a) YFU's desire to see New Moon (not good, but not as bad as you would expect, and with eye candy) and b) EFU's desire to eat at Chipotle. We were home not long after 8, and we hung out and watched TV until about 11, at which point EFU took off to visit a friend.

Seeing EFU again when she comes home is terrific, of course, and it's worth the pain that inevitably accompanies her inevitable departure, but I've watched her go back to school any number of times now, and I don't seem to get any more used to it. On Saturday, when she finally got up (2pm: kids these days) and packed her stuff, I watched her walk down the sidewalk towards her car, and I got -- yet again -- all take-another-little-piece-of-my-heart-now. She'll be back in less than three weeks, and just seeing her head back to school after Thanksgiving was more difficult, emotionally, than the dissolution of my six-year relationship with b&c. I reckon that says something unflattering about the relationship, and something less flattering still about me. Oh well.

I really am liking the new house and the freedom of my solitary-four-days-a-week living situation. I'm slightly alarmed by the accompanying dissolutioneness, but I was relatively dissolute to begin with, and I suspect that the seasons will turn and the pendulum will swing back. Or at least that I'll be dissolute with more regular hours. '09 has been a pretty tough year by my standards, so I'm looking forward to a very good year in 2010. I always feel like I should knock on wood when I say something like that, but even when I have trouble finding simplicity, I can always find optimism.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

He Made His Home in That Fish's Abdomen

I feel like I need to get the various parts of my life together and tell them to take a number. Hey, you there, contractor problems! Back in line! When I'm done with family issues, work deadlines, and my next set of solos at church, I'll get to you. Nobody likes a line jumper.

Actually, the contractor problems haven't been all that bad, or at least I think they're nearly resolved, though I've been thinking that for about two weeks now. Maybe I'll talk about them in detail another time. Or not.

Now that my latest work deadline has passed, I feel a sense of urgency about getting moved into the house. On Saturday, I set off in search of boxes, but both of the local box stores had been closed. I had assumed the box business to be countercyclical: if you're downsizing, you need boxes, right? But maybe not. Maybe when the recession gets bad enough, people start storing their goods in garbage bags. I suppose that if you're downsizing and want to embrace thrift, you stop a garbage truck, pull out the garbage bags, empty them, wash them (optional), load your stuff into the bags, toss your bags into the back of the garbage truck, divert the truck with carefully positioned IEDs, then retrieve your (slightly compacted: it works best with clothing, and maybe pets) stuff at your new location. I should probably feel like a chump for going old school and hiring movers, but even after years of watching Law and Order and NCIS, I still don't know how to manufacture explosives. My bad.

Anyway, I returned home without boxes, so I looked online, where I found some at very reasonable prices, even after considering the somewhat steep shipping prices. There were also minimum order quantities, so I did have to buy twenty-five of the small packing boxes, but I have lots of books. Besides, a guy can never have too many boxes. In their original, flat condition, they make excellent hostess gifts. Especially with a nice bow. The boxes arrived yesterday, and I started packing my cookbooks, but my packing tape ran out as I was sealing the first box. Nom de plume!

This past Sunday, our church was ordaining one of our former intern ministers. Ordination services are kind of a big deal, so the choir was singing at it in the afternoon. The former intern minister was giving the sermon at the regular morning service, even though he was -- as of then -- still not reverend, and I was the soloist. I had been asked to sing ten days earlier (I usually get a month or more of lead time), when I was still navigating the sturm und drang of the extended tax season, but there are certain offers I almost never turn down. The sermon was about the importance of names, and I had managed to find two marginally appropriate but largely unappealing pieces that fit with the topic. I also got to sing "It Ain't Necessarily So," which is very appealing and always appropriate. The minister put it just after a reading from the Bible and just before the sermon.

I find "It Ain't Necessarily So" difficult to perform, mostly because the intervals I expect are not the ones Mr. Gershwin wrote, and that sort of conflict (correctly) always gets decided in favor of the composer. But I've been wanting to sing it in church (sadly, in my church, it offends no one) for years, and it went pretty well. The postlude, not so much. The music director had pounced upon my rather unenthusiastic suggestion of Jim Croce's "I Got a Name" for one of the pieces, and I could not get our pianist (who was splendid on the Gershwin) to play it at a reasonable tempo. Not that it would have been that much better at a quicker tempo, but if it had been twice as fast, it would only have lasted twice as long, which would have been a mercy, at least to me. The congregation enjoyed it, but from the very first phrase, I had that I'm-singing-on-the-Titanic-and-I'll-be-singing-until-this-damned-ship-goes-under feeling that, well, I don't remember having quite that feeling before, and let's hope I don't have it again. Ugh.

The ordination service was very moving, and the choir sang a particularly rousing arrangement of "Now Let Us Sing." It ran late, and I had to leave the building without congratulating the newly upgraded former intern minister, but perhaps I'll track down his email address. Or send him a nice box.

Home decoration plans have been somewhat on hold, but now that the upstairs bathroom shower installation is substantially completed and the downstairs floors have been refinished, I can move forward. I should be doing some priming and painting this weekend in the bathroom (goodbye, yellow!) and perhaps one or two other rooms. Also more packing of boxes.

Now that I have these beautiful hardwood floors, the first order of business, naturally, is to cover them up so that they stay beautiful, if largely unseen. I really like the idea of floorcloths. They're easy and fun to make (I've done it before), but they feel somewhat insubstantial all by themselves, so I've made a large order from this site. I've ordered 72 of the 24"x24" 10mm thick mats (in blue). The ones that go in the living/dining room will be covered (eventually) by a floorcloth. I suspect that YFU will leave the ones in her room uncovered, but we'll see.

While I was at it, I decided that what the upstairs bedroom really needed was a layer of the 40"x40" inch-thick mats, also in blue. It's the sort of thing that one typically finds in a martial arts studio, but I figure that if I ever take up Judo, I'll be ready. Alternatively, if something ever happens to get thrown out of bed (as, one hears, happens frequently in Judo), there'll be a soft landing. Plus: soundproofing! And insulation! And protected floors! I only ordered one 100-square feet pack of the thick mats, but given the way the roof slopes and where the furniture will be and the fact that I can leave the area under the bed uncovered, I can cover almost all of the usable floor space in my room with that one pack. It looks like I won't be able to get the pipe bed until next year, but at least I'll be well cushioned.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Y'all must be as tired of reading about how little free time my work schedule has lately been leaving me as I am of writing about it, but I just thought that I would mention how I was in church on Sunday to sing with the choir, and the sermon was about love, but the service was mainly about gay marriage rights, and after the service, our minister and our intern minister were leading a group who were going to take the Metro into DC and march in the National Equality March. I know there are people who were opposed to the NEM, and I don't really get it. By which I mean that I understand their objections, but I think they make no sense. But I didn't join the group and march: I had to go to the office.

Anyway, the service itself was very moving. The couple who did the chalice lighting are very active in PFLAG, and the wife read the passage from Ruth that is often read at straight weddings:
Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.

I got a little choked up. Of course, later in the day, in between tax returns, I took a moment to look the passage up, and it wasn't until then that I realized the person Ruth is cleaving to with such vigor is not her husband (who has died) but her mother-in-law. I couldn't help thinking that Ruth's steadfastness was less a reflection of love for Naomi than fear of returning to her own family. Then I read the rest of Ruth, which is very short, and while the language of the KJV is a little bit opaque, so I couldn't really follow exactly what was happening, it seemed like Naomi sent Ruth -- who must have been something of a looker -- to simultaneously seduce and tease Boaz into marrying Ruth and taking care of both her and Naomi. I reckon that things often seem more romantic when they're taken out of context, though that, of course, is no argument against gay marriage.

Anyway, I'm not sure it was this past Sunday, but it was sometime within the last week or so, and I was at the office, feeling displeased, but then I noticed that there was a new entry up on Mimi Smartypants, and that made me happy. I don't link to Mimi Smartypants on the sidebar because I figure that everyone knows about it already, even though I was once chastised by another commenter on another blog when I complained that the blogger had simply copied and pasted (although he had probably retyped it) an entire MS entry. This seemed to me a) lazy, and b) pointless because everyone already knows Mimi Smartypants, but this other commenter, who was from Outer Mongolia or Idaho or some place like that, told me that I was wrong because he hadn't known about Mimi Smartypants. Of course, my initial reaction was that he likely didn't know about indoor plumbing, either, but I kept that to myself. Anyway, there was a link on MS to a video by some heavy metal group called Teitanblood. I'm not a big fan of metal, but since I was at the office, where I always keep my speakers turned off, I figured it was safe to watch even a video called something very like (or perhaps exactly so: I really don't feel like fact checking on this particular item) "Seven Chalices of Blood and Vomit." I couldn't watch all of the video, because I found it tedious, but I became somewhat fascinated with the etymology of "Teitanblood." I was never able -- in all of the ninety seconds I spent trying -- to figure it out, but I did learn that there was an instrumentalist of some sort named Set Teitan in some European metal band, so perhaps it was his blood and/or vomit in the name of the band and video.

Anyway, while doing my extensive, ninety-second research into the history of both Teitanblood and "Teitanblood," I came across a page which referred to another, apparently also metal, group called We Butter the Bread with Butter, which struck me as certainly one of the most culinarily enlightened heavy metal band names of the new millenium. Unless of course, they went out of existence in the old millenium. it was sort of hard to tell because the site (I would link to it, but I don't think I could find it again. You know how it goes when you're haphazardly surfing, don't you? Exactly what it was that you saw on site A that led you to site B becomes murky over time. It's a lot like the way my mind works shortly before I fall asleep. Except that when I'm falling asleep, I don't ever remember to copy and paste before forgetting where I got the information from.) I found was in what appeared to be an Eastern European language of some sort. Still, I would like to think that, if I had any idea what it said, this passage would resonate with me:
Pod nazwą We Butter the Bread With Butter kryje się duet z niemieckiego Lübben tworzący muzyke na pograniczu deathcore’u i cybergrindu. WBtBWB ‘wyspecjalizowało’ się w nowych aranżacjach znanych i lubianych niemieckich piosenek dla dzieci (Alle meine Entchen; Backe, backe Kuchen itp, itd). Dzięki oryginalnemu połączeniu charakterystycznych, prostych i znanych tekstów, ciężkich i melodyjnych riffów, elektroniki, szybkiej perkusji, growlu i wrzasków zespół szybko zyskał spore grono fanów nie tylko na terenie krajów niemieckojęzycznych.

I mean, that says it all, right? Unless, of course, it says something horrific and/or illegal. I recently read Lev Grossman's The Magicians (recommended: well written and very entertaining), and there's a scene in there where during a lecture, the protagonist gets bored during a lengthy incantation and decides to make the professor's lectern (or something) wobble slightly, and that very small and apparently innocent alteration results in somebody getting killed in a particularly unpleasant manner. So you can imagine the sort of risk one takes by inserting an entire paragraph of an unknown language. Hopefully I haven't posted anything horrific and/or illegal. Or worse: there may be Eastern European metal aficionados out there who simply cannot believe that I would post that because it either over- or understates the influence of We Butter the Bread with Butter, and, believe me, that was never my intention: I believe they were exactly as influential as you believe they were.

Anyway, in case I've inadvertently broken local obscenity laws, ruffled the feathers of any metalheads, or caused your best friend to be devoured by a fictional character, please accept my apologies, along with the nearly infinite cuteness of these kittens. Kittens cure all.