Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I'm not sure why I did, but I watched John Carpenter's "The Fog" with Debbie & Robert last night. It relied on suspense rather than gore, which filmmakers today seem to have forgotten is a more effective way to make movies. But then again, maybe I'm the only person who doesn't want to see blood and guts spattered everywhere with the camera lovingly focused on each gory slash.
The movie started out with an emphasis on the 'witching hour', that hour between midnight and 1 AM. Though a bit later, I felt like I was moving through the witching hour when I got up early to go to work, all 4 cats (Pope John Paul the III, Burt Reynolds, Delta Burke, & Bea) moving silently through the house with me, weaving their stealthy dance around my legs and among each other.
When you're half-awake, it's a bit startling to be in the bathroom for a while, then look down to see Burt Reynolds gazing serenely up at you, curled up behind your feet, then gone the next minute I look--with nary a sound. Or to be making your way carefully through the dark living room and suddenly seeing Delta Burke's blue eyes floating in the darkness at your left (her face, being black, blended right in).
Pope and Bea aren't quite so delicate (being attention-mongers, unlike Burt or Delta, they usually make their presence wildly known), but even they would appear, then quietly disappear, at random intervals in random rooms, stalking shadows.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Well, Pope recognized me. He followed me all around the house and ignored everyone else now that I was there. It's always so strange to be acknowledged by a cat--a dog will always love you, but a cat can't be too sure.

Bear is getting old, and falls down a lot. He's not in pain, so the falls are rather comical. You just help him back up and keep on going. You can't help but feel sad, not only for losing a pet, but because it makes you think back over your own life.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I watched the most retarded show last night: The O.C. It was so retarded, you couldn't help but watch it and snicker at everything, particularly at the way it ended, with Seth's parents looking at each other with glowing smiles and saying, "This has been the best Chrismukkah ever!"
Never mind the fact that most of these kids are really almost thirty years old, or that they've been through enough problems in their early(?) years to scar them for a lifetime. They're young and beautiful, and that's what matters.

It made me wonder why I liked watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which had that same kind of verbal comaraderie tossing back-and-forth between the characters, and cool kids (well--they were secretly cool because they were fighting off evil spawn and still managing to get their schoolwork donw). But that was because it made fun of itself all the time, with some libraries and vampires thrown in. I couldn't help but be charmed, much less enjoy the time I spent with Mom making fun of the show each Tuesday night.
I just found out about a new website:
This is to Evangelical Christianity as The Onion is to politics and life.

Check out the Rapture safety cards section.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Nothing has yet topped "Anacondas", the best (or should I say "worst"?) Laura & Dad movie ever. King Kong has all the elements of a movie that could possibly fail, but of course Peter Jackson is making a superb movie out of it, and it is already getting rave reviews, so that movie can't qualify. Maybe AeonFlux, which has been savaged in the critic corner...

A partial listing of Laura & Dad movies:
-Tremors (if you have not seen this laughable movie, I don't know what's wrong with you)
-Lake Placid (this almost beat out "Anacondas" on our list)
-Chronicles of Riddick (just not on par with the cult classic Pitch Black, which I will never ever watch again, but which unfortunately I can't help but remember everytime Thanksgiving rolls around, since that is the night I watched it first with Dad and Ben. Try enjoying your turkey while thinking of those hideous creatures).
-Battlefield Earth (so pathetic, I don't know what to say about it)
In a single motion the river comes and goes.
At times, living beside it, we hardly notice it
as it noese calmly along within its bounds
like the family pig. But a day comes
when it swiftens, darkens, rises, flows over
its banks, spreading its mirrors out upon
the flat fields of the valley floor, and then
it is like God's love or sorrow, including
at last all that had been left out.

-Wendell Berry Sabbaths 1998 V

Friday, December 09, 2005

I went to Narnia last night. The experience was quite enjoyable. I think as a child I would have adored this movie on the same level as Star Wars (maybe I would have had a crush on Peter back then, like I did Luke Skywalker). Let me tell you, when I came home and Pope rushed down the stairs to greet me, I half-expected to hear him speak, but it was only indignant mews at being left all alone for the day.
It's a childrens' movie, made from a childrens' book, but their creatures and battle scenes are still quite gruesome (albeit bloodless). The scene with the Stone Table is chilling, even though you know what will happen the next day.
Jon told me later that he overheard some mothers discussing the movie. One said that she was seeing the movie before she let her children watch it because she wanted to know how the parallels between the book/movie and the Christian story are treated.
Why the concern? Shouldn't kids just be allowed to read the books, see the movie, without the religious metaphors being shoved down their throat? When they are ready, they will begin to see the parallels (which are metaphorical, not allegorical), but only then. Let the books be books. That is how they approached the movie: make the movie true to the books, and whether the audience sees the parallels or not is up to them.
When your children are young, they will admire the Pensieves for their courage, their kindness, their willingness to help even when all seems lost. They will like Aslan a lot because he is good, in the way that spring returning to Narnia is good, and the perpetual winter without Christmas is bad. Aslan shows his love by sacrificing himself in Edmund's stead--he thinks of others before himself. Aren't these all good lessons to take from a story?
I have nothing wrong with churches and Christian parents talking to their kids about the Christian metaphors in Narnia, but they should do so only after kids have been allowed to digest the stories for themselves, to take delight in the surface story before slowly discovering the underlying meanings. It's like hot chocolate--they'll taste the chocolate quickly, then later the warmth and sweetness will fill them through and through for a long time.
In a side note, I found this story amusing:
In response to a little boy's concern that he loved Aslan more than he did Jesus, Lewis wrote: “Tell Laurence from me, with my love, … [He] can't really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that's what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. … I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) … .”

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The summer of the cave crickets was awful. These little buggers would pop up in the most unexpected places. Since they like the dark, they would hide out in our closets and even burrow into the folds of our clothes. Imagine pulling a pair of pants on, walking out into the living room and sitting down at ease with a novel, and all of sudden feeling your pant-leg violently vibrating. That was one the few times when I actually hollered and danced like a jitterbug.

They are as fat around as your thumb, with spidery like legs and a cricket-like head. They can jump very high, and very far. When they were on the move, we were running away and screaming like little girls. We had no idea what these things were, so we coined the term "spidickets". When something is nameless, you are truly in more fear of it.

Later we found out their true name, and weren't so creeped out. (I think we were harboring secret thoughts that these cave crickets were really the results of some genetic engineering between crickets and spiders).

However, this past summer when I accompanied Jon to his Life Adventure camp reunion, I encountered these horrible bugs again. I was walking back in the dark to our tarp, ready to crawl into my fleece blanket and call it a night. I knelt down at the edge of my sleeping pad and turned on my headlamp. There were 4 cave crickets (LARGE ones, mind you) balefully staring at me from strategic points on my pad and backpack. I froze for the longest time, seriously considering packing up and insisting that we go home right then and there. Then I decided to face my fear and flicked them off one by one and burrowed into my fleece bag, cinching the end shut until only my nose poked out (this was in the middle of summer and rather hot). I think if I had allowed it to, I would have developed a phobia against cave crickets.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Out of curiosity, I've been checking out sequels to Jane Austen's works. Why do most of them focus on risque subjects? Do they think that most Austenite readers are dying to know about marital bliss, or about the seedy side of man? I think it's just another way to disguise romance novels and get them placed in the literature section. Most women that purchase romance novels (those Sandra Brown books, or the colorful covers of muscled men and barely-clothed ladies), or check them out from the library, are shy and insecure. You can see it in their eyes.
Sometimes I wonder if the profusion of such Austen-spinoffs, with their blush-worthy stories, are signs of ladies who have bought too dearly into the Darcy dream. They forget that Pride and Prejudice is the story of a relationship between 2 people who must learn to respect each other. They forget that part of Darcy's allure comes from the power of the love that he and Elizabeth have found in each other, a love bought with time and labor. Romance novels allow readers to skip this time and labor, and dive into the flesh portion of love.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Jon and I ate at Rincon's Friday night. We were seated next to a table of guys, some with large-lensed glasses and comb-overs, others with ponytails and beer bellies. They were having a good time catching up on stories, both in their real lives and about their role playing games. Jon kept looking at me throughout the night, an amused smile lighting his face up. Later he told me what they were talking about.

They would segue effortlessly between real life and their role playing games in their conversation. He said they could be talking about something as normal as, "Yeah, I saw my parents the other night. We ate out at Bella Nottes. Then later that night my friend and I were in a cathedral fighting a werewolf. When we defeated it, my friend and his palindrome went to another plane to fight the dark lord. I didn't see him for a month..." then slide right back into real life stories, without any further explanation.

Here are some signs that I should get a Scottish Deerhound (never mind that I was going to get one regardless):

-A Scottish Deerhound named Margot won best of show in the Philadelphia Kennel Club dog show (the one aired on Thanksgiving day).

-The Bennetts owned a Scottish Deerhound in the new movie Pride and Prejudice.

Jon says they look goofy. Even though they are big, they are quite graceful and intelligent, and very devoted to their family. (So there!)

On a side note, this is the kind of dog that Jon wants to get. The Australian Cattle dog, able to survive the harsh climate of Australia. It herds cattle by snapping at their heels, and is quick enough to lay low if they should kick at it. They say that these dogs are extremely intelligent and willful, happiest when they are working. If they do not respect their owners, they can become hard to manage. Jon wants to take it along on hiking trips. I think we can let it herd our goats. :)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Pride & Prejudice exceeded all expectations. They have actually made their own movie. I couldn't even compare it with the Colin Firth adaptation--not because it was better or worse, but because each movie approaches the material in different, equally successful ways.

One thing that particularly struck me about this movie was the emphasis on community, on family. The drama of courtship is carried out, for the main part, in the community, not in private (though there are private scenes, one feels that they are still a part of the community-at-large). Single men and women flirt at the ball while their older counterparts look on and encourage it. The family eavesdrops at the door when Mr. Bingley proposes. Elizabeth and Darcy verbally spar in the presence of their friends and family. What I mean by mentioning all this is that I was reminded of Pastor Pete's exhortation at my wedding on the importance of community upon a marriage, of the charge he laid upon my friends and family to uphold our marriage and do everything in their power to help us on our way. I was thinking of this as I watched the blooming of love between Elizabeth and Darcy because it seemed that the fact that their courtship (if one can call it that) took place in the middle of community made their relationship all the more powerful.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Here's a new website that's interesting:
It's the website of Wendy Shalit, who penned "A Return to Modesty", a highly unique perspective in today's times. The postings on the website sometimes seem a little over the top and harsh-but I guess that's because these ladies are striking back at a promiscuous society (sp.) with their own opinions on the way one ought to act. It was rather refreshing to read their take on everything. I like to hear both sides of the argument (even though I am quite obviously on the side of modesty) and hadn't heard enough from the modesty camp lately.
I found this site out through a website about Lauren Winner. Even though the journalist was somewhat derogatory about the site, I was still curious (on a side note, she was quite pleased with Lauren Winner, as I think anyone would be--she's so open and candid about her past and faith without being judgmental, while at the same time quite intellectual and unafraid of the hard questions).

Monday, November 28, 2005

Turkey day was good, as always. Debbie said, "Here we are, with all these healthy vegetables, and look what we're doing to them!" It was quite nice not doing anything for a couple of days. It feels weird working at a place that willingly closes for just about any holiday, and for the days around them. I can't shake the nagging feeling that I'm supposed to be at Joseph-Beth, smiling in the face of post-thanksgiving sale anarchy.
This makes me quite thankful that I'm on the path towards a decent job, not just because it would close around the holidays and all that (which seems pathethic to be thankful for, but I have a new appreciation for it after being in retail), but because it seems like employees in such circumstances are more respected, have more expected of them, instead of being just another cog in the machine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

So here I am trying to decide if a book is about "library orientation--united states" or "library research--united states" I think I would rather develop a career in thesaurus construction than to be the hapless cataloger trying to figure out the nuances of difference between 2 essentially similar ideas. This way, I get to come up with all the controlled vocabulary terms that catalogers must use in assigning subject headings to books.

Did you know that for some aspects of knowledge, a book's classification number is determined by adding 2 different numbers together? For example, to show that a book is about the history of forestry in the Soviet Union, one adds the number for the Soviet Union (63) to the base number for the history of forestry (144). This makes it 207 under the main class SD for forestry. (Yes, I know, this really doesn't make any sense). Here I was, thinking I had escaped math once and for all.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sometimes I wonder what on earth I'm doing juggling three different bits of work--EPIC, class, & Jo-Beth. Today has been that kind of day where I feel like one of those elderly residents in a nursing home--content to stare vacantly at nothing in particular for a very long time.

"Urban growth", "air pollution", "TMDL", "water quality modeling"--it's all giving me a headache. And then we're onto Library of Congress classification, with all the rules for class, subdivision, further class, book number, auther number, etc., in class. And then the usual customers at Joseph-Beth asking for something for an "8 year old boy," who then reject every SINGLE thing you suggest.

This is one thing holidays are good for--time to sit back and do nothing work related at all.
Ralph Fiennes continues to exceed expectations. His Voldemort is both terrifying and charming; one can still see traces of the handsome Tom Riddle he once was, even in his snakelike face. He was naked but for a ghostly cloak that flitted about him like shadow, insubstantial and cold. I thought this was a neat way to point to his powers, to the depths he is willing to plunge in his quest for immortality.
In the climatic battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic in the fifth book, Voldemort says there is "nothing worse than death." And Dumbledore counters, "Yes, there is, Tom." Hence the reason Dumbledore enters into the fray, exposing himself, so much so that Harry fears for him as he walks calmly around the fountain, looking rather frail. Those who want to live must be willing to die. So it has been written before, and so it will continue to be. Many of the great stories have this as their theme: Dickens's Tale of Two Cities; Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; LeGuin's The Farthest Shore ...

Friday, November 18, 2005

We had the usual pre-xmas staff meeting at Joseph-Beth this morning where the managers talked a lot just to hear their own voices and feel important, then run out of time before they actually say anything important. The GM had the gall to tell us that they saved money payroll-wise ($91,000), and that we the booksellers are great and doing great even when we have less help. In other words, we're working your butts off even more and saving money while we do it. Then they go on to espouse customer service values, which makes no sense to the 10 customers waiting in line because there's no one else on the floor to help them while I help a customer find 10 different DK travel guides (book series are notoriously difficult because no one catalogs/inputs them into the system in a systematic way).

I wish I could think of another word to describe the work there other than "demeaning" because there are booksellers that have been there for 10 years or more, while I am just working there for the money and ready to leave as soon as I can, but how can I when the managers talk like this? I do enjoy (to an extent) helping customers, but not when 10 of them are giving me the evil eye for doing the Joseph-Beth thing and paying this particular customer special attention. At least this makes me appreciate other customer-service people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I rounded a bend in Leestown Pike and saw on my right, amidst a patchwork of fenced paddocks, open fields, and crooked bare trees, a group of black angus cows moving like clots of shadow over the blue-tinged grass. A rorshach blot, torn funeral shrouds, gentle beasts. It was a chestertonian moment, a thrill of a dream that never was, the breath catching in one's throat. When I try to explain the moment, I can only think of the strange beauty of black against the bluegrass, of cows in the morning, of the loneliness of naked trees. Those are only the components, the scattered pieces of a puzzle.
The experience reminded me of encountering art (not just "seeing" art), where the combination of texture and hues and subject matter--disparate pieces at that--combine to influence your emotional self, bypassing your reason.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Harry Potter comes out this Friday. Of course we're all excited, but is it because of Harry Potter or Ralph Fiennes?
The desperate housewives is at my house thursday, so I thought I would make a British meal. The recipes are rather eccentric and dull (the British have made an art of it), though the names are funny. "Toad in the hole", "bubble and squeak", "faggots", etc. "Toad" is sausage baked in flour. "Bubble" is just sauteed vegetables. "Faggots" is kidney or liver. I think I will make Shepherd's pie, bubble & squeak, and oat scones, with tea and ale to drink. It might not be so Harry-Potter-esque, but surely the boy who lived ate plain food here and there.
Today has been the definition for "blustery". November has finally come. People down here wish for snow, and I want to tell them to go North (as far north as one can go in America, save Alaska) where my dad's from. It's flatter than a pancake as far as the eye can see, and in winter it's pretty much just blinding white, shiny on the ground from the snow, a dullish grey in the sky if it's overcast, else a blazing blue sky unbroken by trees or hills.
And then the temperature: it hurts to step outside. Just hurts. You can almost feel ice crystals forming inside any exposed skin. It can drop to 50 below. I wouldn't have been surprised if penguins had showed up while we were visiting for Christmas. I would have liked that as a little girl.

Monday, November 14, 2005

It's always nice to leave Lexington for a little while. Jon & I went to his parents' for the weekend. We always end up watching the Discovery Channel or CNN, and eating too many sweets. (I have yet to get used to this Southern proclivity to desserts so sweet they make your tongue ache).
There was a special on dinosaurs yesterday that was highly amusing. I think it was just another way to let adult boys have fun smashing things up. They were speculating on the ways velociraptors would have approached their prey. They were about the size of turkeys, with a large scythe-like claw on both of their feet.
To get an idea of how the ankylosaurous would have defended itself, the scientists constructed a working mechanical model of its tail with a club on the end. The beast was about 4 tons, and its tail, in full swing, would have had the power of a 2-ton car smashing into a wall. Then they wondered, could a turkey-sized velociraptor have attacked it? The answer was quite obvious, but they had to put a turkey carcass on a stump and let the tail have at it. Of course the pink carcass flew across the room, and of course all its bones were broken and its organs would have been irreparably damaged.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Jon comes home tonight. I haven't really missed him so much as just had the odd feeling that something wasn't right. It's been just me and the cat (who plows into me ceaselessly because the other human isn't there to notice him), and some books. Really rather nice, in an uneventful way.

And appropriate enough, because I was reading "The Narnian" a book about the imaginative life of C.S. Lewis. Lewis says "I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books." -C.S. Lewis (this is how it's been for the past week).

Another interesting (and highly amusing) thing from the book: the author reminds us that one of Lewis's favorite things to do (or have happen to him?) was to fall mildly ill and gorge himself on fantasy and fairy stories. This is exactly the thing I enjoyed when I was growing up. Mom would always tell my brother and I, "If you don't go to school because you're sick, then you can't do anything else and must stay at home." Think that bothered me any?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

When the air gets that crisp clarity, where the sky is truly blue, and the grass thoroughly green, and the trees whole-heartedly aflame, you know fall has come. The blanket of humidity has finally dissipated and the bugs are all dead. The wind kicks up the leaves, and the car shudders in its force on the road. Then winter and darkness mixed with the blinding light of snow comes.

Another thing I have noticed this week: how much I enjoy seeing cows in the fields during my daily drive to work. What is it about seeing living things--animals quietly chewing their cud, standing blissfully in a pool of mud, or contemplating the rock at their hooves--that is so pleasant to see? And cows, of all things!

Monday, November 07, 2005

The gentleman with the thistledown hair has been occupying my thoughts lately. If you have not read Susanna Clarke's tome "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell", you will have no idea who this disturbing, compelling character is.

The reason I mention him is because I came across a discussion of Faery in Alan Jacobs' book "The Narnian". In it, the author relates the various ideas concerning Faery that Lewis & Tolkien and their predecessors had. Tolkien says that faeries are not supernatural, but natural, in the sense that they are part of Nature, much like animals and trees.

In this sense, they are neutral, in the way that storms and sunshine are neutral. Neither care whether they land upon the just or unjust; they just are. (I am reminded here of a favorite LeGuin quote "The dragons! The dragons are avaricious, insatiable, treacherous; without pity, without remorse, But are they evil? Who am I to judge the acts of dragons? . . . They are wiser than men are. It is with them as with dreams, Arren. We men dream dreams, we work magic, we do good, we do evil. The dragons do not dream. They are dreams. They do not work magic: it is their substance, their being. They do not do; they are.")

The gentleman with the thistledown hair is quite disturbing; he strikes me as an overgrown child with absolutely no moral compass whatsoever. In the book, he talks dismissively of waging expansive bloody battles and skinning fellow faeries and such just because it hasn't been done in a while. He wants to make his favorite human Stephen king just because, so he makes King George go mad (see the parallel with history?) He thinks a girl is pretty, so he brings her back to life, only to whisk her off to Faery every night for dances (one thinks of the tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses") for as long as he feels like, which could be just a year or eternally. And because he is all-powerful, he can't be destroyed.

The way he is defeated is breath-taking. I can't relate the ending because its effect can only be felt after having read the whole book and working up to that perfect moment. Off the top of my head, only two other books have similar breath-taking perfect endings, which is Gregory Maguire's "Mirror, Mirror" and C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces"

"Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" is phenomenal. It's one of those books where you feel your life has been changed, even if only your imaginative life has been affected. I speak as an unabashed book-lover here. As Thoreau says, "How many a man has dated an era in his life by the reading of a book!"

Friday, November 04, 2005

Jenni asked me how I felt about UK, as compared to Asbury. The question gave me pause--it's not something I've thought about in a while. With UK, I just feel like I am going to work. It's not something I think much about.
Asbury was a community, whether I liked it or not. Oddly enough, the most galling thing about it was curfew. I could handle the snooty kids, or the sheltered ones with fundamentalist upbringings (I hesitate to name them themselves fundamentalists), or chapel (there are only one or two speakers that I can distinctly remember with pleasure--everyone else has quickly faded into obscurity). But to come to a place where you had curfew, when you had grown up with much freedom, was taxing. My parents and I had a good relationship. They trusted me to tell them where I would be and when I would expect to be home. (I know Mom is reading this and wanting to point out that this was all within reason). Asbury made me feel like I was an unruly teenager.
So there's my shallow reason for disliking Asbury.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I'm flipping through my stash of quotes. They covered the walls in my dorm-room at Asbury, a stamp of personality on those bland walls. Here's one I copied while spending a quiet Saturday morning at Kinlaw. It was so strange to me, as though I was hearing a story of my child-self from my mother.

"The deaf are said to be rigid and immature, impulsive and egocentric, cautious but lacking good internal controls, naive about the motives of others and short on empathy. Possibly the most tantalizing of all, they appear much less susceptible to obsessive and depressive ailments. In short, a childhood full of confusion, ambiguity, and isolation generally produces not a psychotic, but a particular sort of eccentric."

This was one of those moments where you suddenly realize with cold-water clarity something that has always been so naturally a part of yourself. It's like those moments at work when a deaf person approaches me with a question, and I slip into sign as easily as if it were my native tongue. I feel like I am seeing a long-ago dream of myself while I am helping them out.

My deafness has always been a source of confusion. Most of the deaf community have embraced their disability as their identity. I have not. For me, it is usually just a physical thing, a remnant of a high fever that ravaged my inner ear. Yet it has played a big role in shaping who I am, and this quote reminds me of it.

I'm quite glad I haven't turned out a psychotic.
In honor of Halloween:

"There is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages, for they have scarcely had time to finish their first nap, and turn themselves in their graves before their surviving friends have travelled away from the neighborhood; so that when they turn out at night to walk their rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of ghosts, except in our long-established Dutch communities."
-Washington Irving, from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Monday, October 31, 2005

Jenni and I were talking about Harry Potter the other day. Those books are growing up incarnate. (does that make sense?) It annoys me to read reviews of the books that complain about Rowling's lack of literariness. Do the kids care? They're the ones that matter.

I find it funny that my first thought about Harry Potter is the turmoil of becoming an adult, not the witchcraft involved, or Rowling's "satanic" bent. The magic is secondary. One critic pointed out that you could take away the wizardry, and the basic story would be mostly intact.

These books will be on the bookshelf in my children's rooms. I used to worry that my kids would be non-readers, but now I'm quite fine with the thought of letting it be. There will be no lack of books, obviously. What more can I do? (or should do?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I don't think I have ever had to force myself to eat chocolate before I went to Mt. Rogers. It was like Fear Factor as I bit off chunks of my Lindt dark chocolate bar, forcing myself to chew and swallow, trying to think only of the calories I needed, not how my gag reflex was threatening to act out.

It was that miserable kind of cold, 40 degrees in the steady rain. You don't even want to take breaks because walking is what keeps you warm. It makes entering the shelter, pulling on dry clothes, and drinking hot coffee pure pleasure. I would have purred if I could, cozily bundled in my sleeping bag.

I thought of myself as tramping across the moors in Wuthering Heights as we crossed the balds, picking our way through grassy humps and rocks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

When I was little, I wrote novels about kids that were suspiciously similar to my cousins and I. The novels usually centered on some adventure that took place in the wilderness, preferably with a madman chasing the protoganists, with some cute boys thrown in. The kids were remarkably self-sufficient; they ate dandelions and crushed ants for food, and caught fish with panty-hose. And they always managed to thwart the enemy through some outlandish means.

I mention this because of my own real-life adventure this weekend. Granted, there weren't any psychos pursuing Jon and I across the balds (I think in my novels I would have had the kids jump on the wild ponies to escape), but we endured the "cold-that-seeps-into-your-bones" and climbed a couple ancient mountains to boot. I can't tell you how pleased I am to have actually enjoyed myself 99% of the time; to have been able to look at the trail snaking its way up the mountain-side and not want to cry at the thought of climbing.

I really have changed since the first time I went hiking in the Gorge and collapsed deliriously red-faced by the truck after a maliciously up-and-down 8 mile trek. We hiked 10 miles the first day, 12.7 miles the second, and 13 miles the third, on our way into Damascus. I was still standing, and quite alert, when we reached the car.

On the third day, Jon woke me up at 4 AM to tell me he was too hungry to sleep. So we got up, went outside in the tar-black darkness to retrieve the food-bag (you hang your food-bag a substantial distance from your camp in case bears amble into the vicinity), cooked breakfast and set out. I can tell you now that I do not like hiking in the darkness and rain. We hiked four hours before the sun rose.

It's like Mom said, you truly have to like being around yourself when you go hiking. Without even the distractions of nature around you, hiking in the dark, focused on the small circle of light directly in front of you from your headlamp, calls for some serious retrospection mixed with zoning out. I just thought of myself as a hobbit on a journey, truding in the cold and wet.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pope caught a rat. He was quite pleased with himself, sprawling on the floor with his grey lion mane fluffed out, eyes half-closed and purring.

He redeemed himself after the mouse debacle. With that one, he just plopped on the floor and watched it run circles around him. That mouse figured out he was safer close to Pope than the 2 humans jumping around with a broom.
One of the few redeeming qualities about working at Joseph-Beth is books--free books. We had our fall rep breakfast last week and I walked away with over $200 worth of books: actual, hardcover books. All for just getting up early in the morning with bad coffee and doughnuts. Some of what I got:

-"The City of Falling Angels" by the guy who wrote "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil"
-"Julie & Julia" some girl cooks Julia Child's recipe book front-to-back
-"The Children's Blizzard"-one of those little incidents in history that were awful, but were barely mentioned in the news
-"The 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear" -a weird mix of fantasy, myth, fairy tale, adventure, weirdness all in one
..among others

Whether I'll actually read these remains to be seen.

Here's what else I'm reading:
-Christ Plays in 10 Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson
-Three Short Novels by Wendell Berry
-Lance Armstrong's War (not my typical genre, but this book is amazingly literary)
-The Narnian
-Albion by Peter Ackyroyd
-Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Why do I do this to myself?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

When I was little, I knew that there were wolves in the basement. A child doesn't care for the distinction between reality and dreams; both are equally strong presences in his life.

At night, I always crept into the kitchen (the stairs to the basement were at the far end), and gathered my snack foods as quietly as I could, then turned and ran as though my life depended on it. I remember shadows moving on the floor in the dining room as I dashed through, wildly thinking that the wolves were on my heels. Later, I know that the shadows were only from the tree-branches outside, waving in the night wind. But that moment in my child-life was real.

Now there is a children's book out: The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman. My memory of the wolves in the basement came flooding back. That's one of the things I love about books and reading. Every once in a while, a book comes along that revisits some part of your life, or brings back memories of a long-past era. Lately I have been so busy growing up that I forgot what it was like to be a child, when terror was as simple and as real as wolves in the basement.

Another thing about books is the feeling that some of them bring of entering a light-filled den where dad is calmly watching TV and mom is working on her needlestitch. The wolves in the basement disappear, forgotten as I step into the light and join my family.

PS--I have a new blog that got posted further down, below "Monday October 10th". Mom will probably like it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

While I'm on camping stories... I've told various people this story, and can't remember if I've told you.

Jon and I went to Hot Springs, North Carolina earlier this year to hike to Max Patch bald, a summit that is a little shy of 5000 feet, where you can look to the South and see the end of the Smokies, rising darkly against the sky, and to the North where the Appalachians rear their shaggy heads.

We were dropped off at the very bottom of the trail and began climbing. And climbing. And climbing. At five miles, we had climbed almost 3,000 feet. At eight miles I was weary. At ten miles I was breathless as well. At 12 miles, I was lagging on a constant basis. At 15 miles, my body gave up. My legs literally would not move. I stood there staring at Jon, ready to cry out of exhaustion. He came back down the trail, took my backpack, slung it over his shoulder, and headed back up the trail without any change in his pace, my pack banging against his. Mind you, we were each carrying backpacks weighing between 15-20 pounds. Later, he told me: "It never gets easier. It only gets less hard."

Feeling weightless without the backpack, I could go on, albeit shakily. It is a strange thing to literally toe the limit of the body's endurance, and still push on. The next day was easier. We had reached the top of the mountain, the climbs would be much more subtle, and we could see the sky between the trees (one thing that lets you know you are near the top is when the sky starts to peek through the trees on either side of you, rather than just from above).

That weekend, we hiked 32 miles in two days. When I was walking to class Monday morning, a stroll of 3/4 a mile, I quite honestly felt like I could go on. I could walk past the President's house, get onto Nicholasville Rd, walk out of Lexington and on to Jon's parents' house in Stanford 43 miles away. That frame of mind was so natural to me at the time, and my legs so warmed up to the notion of walking, that I wonder at it now.
Reading my friend Dwain's account of his camping trip is making me excited about our own trip this weekend. Jon and I are going to Mount Rogers in Damascus, Virginia this weekend. Hopefully, I can make it up this time without wanting to die. (It's a little shy of 6,000 feet--but I don't think we will be starting at the very bottom).

There are feral ponies around the trail. They ignore you until they hear the distinct sound of ziplock bags being unzipped, and the jostling of trail mix inside. Then they gather around you, staring at you with one keen eye. Jon says that they will nibble at your socks if you let them. They want the salt from your sweat.

My other distinct memory of this place is when I met Jon here in 2003, while he was on the Appalachian Trail. He had hiked a little over 500 miles by this point and I hadn't seen him for almost two months. I was going to hike a small section of the trail with him, then head on home while he continued on, with the intent of making it to Mount Katadhin in Maine. Well, he was getting fed up with the other thru-hikers, whose goals had quickly degenerated into "puttin' in the miles" rather than enjoy the hike (which is what Jon is all about, as far removed from the discomfort of constant hiking as he is), and he missed me. We had hiked about 3 miles out and were taking a rest stop when he sat on a log, looked up at me and said, "I'm done."
And he came home with me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

His Holiness Pope John Paul III
I'm posting this embarrassing picture because I don't like Pope very much right now...
He has been waking us up starting at 5 AM (that critical point where you can't resume deep sleeping before you have to get up), and for no other reason than the joy of having company.
He seems to know the exact location of your vital organs, or a rather full bladder, and places his paws just so when he climbs on top of you.
Sometimes he gallops across the bed, with such force that he unintentionally propels himself off the other end and smack into the wall. One night I dreamed of intense pressure on my chest, as though I was drowning or being crushed, and awoke to Pope kneading my chest, purring full blast. This is a rather big cat, mind you. So big that the girls below us asked if we had a dog because they could hear the thump-thump of Pope racing up and down our hallway.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Who knew that library school could be so funny?
Here is a rule from the fat tome of AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules 2nd edition):

21.26 Spirit Communications
21.26A. Enter a communication presented as having been received from a spirit under the heading for the spirit (see 22.14). Make an added entry under the heading for the medium or other person recording the communication.

Food for the million, or, Thoughts from beyond the borders of the material / by Theodore Parker ; through the hand of Sarah A. Ramsdell
Main entry under the heading for the spirit of Parker
Added entry under the heading for Ramsdell

Apparently, Mark Twain has written stuff from beyond the grave. I believe that there are books or pamphlets in some library somewhere that have been attributed to: Twain, Mark (Spirit)

Monday, October 10, 2005

The other day I was stepping out the door and heard an angry chattering on the wind. At first I attributed it to 'nature sounds'--my vague catchall for anything I hear outside. Being deaf doesn't allow one to be creative in naming sounds. Then I remembered Jon telling me of squirrels and their active participation in city life. I looked up and saw, sure enough, a grey squirrel staring beadiliy down at me, black fingers curled round a branch, vigorously shaking it like the wind at play with leaves.

I stood and gaped at this furry thing that, to me, had abruptly gained a voice. It was as though one of the mysteries of life had been granted to me, and I could understand animal tongues. We gazed at each other like two strangers meeting in a familiar place, curious yet wary. Then a car roared past, I remembered the keys in my hand, and he dashed off.

This is what life with Jon has done for me; a previously unknown door has been opened. He has been explaining the sounds of nature to me throughout our life together: on hikes, in the backyard, a city stroll. Oftentimes, he'll stand at the door to our apartment, just before we go in with our groceries, and say "Hear that?" and then explains what animal or phenomenon of nature has just sounded out its claim on life. It is all very strange to me, as though I am still a child, learning how to define the world.
After a month of feeling my around the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection), I sent out a letter to let people know I was there. I was nervous that I would get either of 2 contradictory results. No one would care or I would be deluged with indecipherable scientific questions.
Thankfully, neither happened. Most of the responses were people who hadn't a clue about the library's existence. A few reference requests were thrown in the batch. Surprisingly, they haven't been that hard. I just have to remember that I don't necessarily need to possess a phD in science in order to conduct searches. I just have to know how to construct an effective search.
The odd thing is that science databases are much easier to search than humanities databases. Science is a more objective field. There isn't much in the way of synonyms and abstract ideas.
On a side note, my first reference request was "vapor intrusion", which sounds somewhat like that murderous mist in Jordan's impossibly long series.

Friday, October 07, 2005

From Gilead by Marilynee Robinson:

"I have been thinking about existence lately. In fact, I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly. As I was walking up to the church this morning, I passed that row of big oaks by the war memorial — if you remember them — and I thought of another morning, fall a year or two ago, when they were dropping their acorns thick as hail almost. There was all sorts of thrashing in the leaves and there were acorns hitting the pavement so hard they'd fly past my head. All this in the dark, of course. I remember a slice of moon, no more than that. It was a very clear night, or morning, very still, and then there was such energy in the things transpiring among those trees, like a storm, like travail. I stood there a little out of range, and I thought, it is all still new to me. I have lived my life on the prairie and a line of oak trees still can astonish me.

"I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.”

This book is about the joy of living--truly living. And that's all I can say about it.

Here's some pictures of Jon racing. In the top picture, he is the the blue guy furthest to the left, or third person from the front. In the bottom picture, he is the second guy from the right, in orange glasses. These pictures don't do road racing justice. You can't hear the rush of the group zipping by, like an angry swarm of bees, or watch as they all prepare to sprint like mad to the finish (it was a mad sprint that caused one of Jon's accidents where he was literally flipped head-over-heels over his bike handlebars after his front wheel touched the back wheel of a biker in front of him).
This is one of those things that marriage does to you. You find yourself quite interested in something that you would never have paid any attention to otherwise. (Jon just told me he knows the name of Vermeer's famous picture "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" because of me, so it goes both ways).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Till We have Faces--I must admit that I would never have thought that CS Lewis had written this. I guess Chronicles of Narnia still looms large as my main mental association with Lewis (the movie is coming out this fall, and actually looks like it might be decent. The effects appear Tolkienesque). Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the Psyche & Cupid myth, told in an earthy style that I enjoy.
The land is under a plague and the people demand to sacrifice beautiful Psyche to the shadowbrute, to the god-of-the-mountain. The narrator Orual is not sure whether the stories say that the sacrificial victim is devoured by the brute, or taken to be the bride of the god (to be 'devoured' by his love). She eventually realizes that either way, the term 'devour' is an essential term in relation to the gods. Its violent connotation is reminiscient of the behavior of the gods, who are so far removed from mortals that what they do is all too easily misunderstood by the people of the earth. Those of you who know the Psyche myth know there is plenty more to the story, but this is what I took away with this reading. (My style of reading calls for countless re-readings, with each reading plucking some new grain of truth to chew on).
I think what makes this brooding book stick is the fresh take on Greek mythology. Those stories have been told so often, and the gods are so whimsical, like mortals allowed to have everything their way, that the stories quickly became rote. This book made them intimidating again. It reminded me why mythology has remained even as the years fade away

Friday, September 30, 2005

Jon and I want a house in the country, with a garden and a creek out back. Part of the land we will leave alone, let the trees do as they will. Part of the land will be pasture for our goats.

I have been thinking lately about why I want goats. That decision came about so gradually, I can't pinpoint the grain of a notion of a thought that started all this, that is the reason for the bemused smiles in our families' voices. I want goats as surely as I want to read, as surely as I will not willingly give up Pope. Animals and books are such a part of me, that I can't fathom a life without.

Annie Dillard keeps popping up in my musing, a stubborn pebble lodged in one's shoe. Her essay "Living with Weasels" has stuck with me for mainly 2 reasons. (You will have to read it, now that you are reading this posting.)

One is her simple proclamation "Weasel!" about a third of the way in. This isn't just the simple word, but the word that encapsulates the being of that particular animal. Think, perhaps, of Adam naming the animals in Genesis, of the power that comes in knowing the name of a thing. Whole books are built upon this power--the Earthsea books, for example. But I digress. What I mean by all this is that joy that comes in seeing an animal, that thrill in contact with another living being quite unlike yourself.

The other reason is this (in Dillard's own words): "I would like to learn, or remember, how to live. I come to Hollins Pond not so much to learn how to live as, frankly, to forget about it. That is, I don't think I can learn from a wild animal how to live in particular...but I might learn something of mindlessness, something of the purity of living in the physical sense and the dignity of living without bias or motive."

What all this has to do with goats, you can decide. I think I would be as happy living in a zoo as I am living here with just Pope. Laugh at my preoccupation or think about your own fondness for your pet. Sometimes I think that animals don't need us so much as we need animals.

Here's a link to the article.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Jon took me to Waterfall Cave while showing me around the area where he worked as a Life Adventure Camp counselor, down by the Red River Gorge area. It was quite neat, and rather scary. Being underground is not a natural human inclination, even though I was quite curious about what I would see.

The opening to the cave was vast; a house could fit comfortably there. We strapped our tiny headlights on and set off into the cool darkness. The walls rapidly narrowed in on us the further we went, until we were squeezing between curvy rock formations and clambering over and under sharp outcrops of stone.

We saw living rock, in the process of formation as minerals in the water dripping from above solidified into bulbous shapes. The whole thing looked like gleaming clay, as though someone had been at work on it and left just before we arrived. Perhaps this was the way Manwe formed his dwarves in the Silmarillion?

There was a pool of clear water at the end, as far as we could go, unless we wanted to start climbing up into the darkness that pooled above. That way would take us to the sinkhole high above, where we could have climbed up into dirt and grass and the sunlight. But we remained in that little room, our whispered voices echoing as we spied a blind crawfish in the pool.

Let me tell you how I felt in that underground place. I felt as though I was intruding, daring to enter some holy one's place. Perhaps my feelings are colored by "The Tombs of Atuan", by Ursula LeGuin. In that book, there is a labyrinth of caves that the protagonist navigates in her work as the priestess of the Old Ones. I could imagine more clearly the presence of the Old Ones, the Powers of the Earth as they were known in that book. I understood at last that feeling of weight about one's shoulders, one's being to be more precise. It was as though some other consciousness was bearing down upon us, or was it only the fear of loneliness--complete and binding in a hard, dark place?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Here's a typical conversation between Jon & I:

(on seeing an roadside ad for 'labradoodles')

Jon: "That's stupid."
Laura: "That sounds interesting.."

This illustrates perfectly our personalities. Jon is fiercely opinionated; Laura takes her time, preferring to collect all the facts before verbalizing her opinions.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mornings in the Red River Gorge are quiet, like the silence that comes just after a birth. In those first few moments when the shell-shocked baby's just come out, everyone involved is stunned speechless at the sacredness of this violent, profound mystery—something out of nothing, creatio ex nihilo, light out of the darkness...

So the thought entered my mind as I stood at the edge of the ravine, overlooking the valley still in night and the cliff-tops opposite slowly waking up in the light, a warm wash of sandstone, the color of a baby's stomach. It had been a moonless night, and being surrounded by trees had made the night thicker still, so I was glad when the sun approached, bringing back the blue sky we live our daily lives beneath.

This is what I had just arisen out of: a black night whose first part was filled with the noise of creation—cicadas droning their last desperate summer speech, the trees whining in the breeze, the rustle of debris as small, unknown animals settled in, the murmur of the campfire breathing its last. Then midnight came, and all was silent, as though some unknown presence was holding its breath.

They say that this is the evil hour, when the spirits can come forth and prowl a land they knew once while living. Indeed, you feel as though something is watching you from the edge of the campsite. It may only be a shy bobcat, pausing to observe the strange new beings on the cliff-top before making his way home to some pine-needle cushioned rock niche. But that feeling of unease remains, and some distant fear is awakened: fear of the darkness, and the void.

And so the pagans worshipped the sun, for they desperately believed that honoring it would assure the return of the light, their life—their salvation. I understood now a little of that desperation as I stood there on the ridge, exalting in the sunrise, joyously watching the valley emerging from the darkness as abruptly as a baby bursting forth from his mother’s womb, from the void. A passage came to mind then, startling in its newfound clarity:

“People living out their lives in the dark,
saw a huge light;
living in that dark, dark land of death,
they watched the sun come up.”

Isaiah’s foretelling suddenly jointed together and came alive for me with as much immediacy as the rock supporting my feet, the falcon’s sloping flight above the ridge, and the textured leaves of the newly-emerged trees beneath. I became aware then of the sacredness of the silence surrounding me, involving all that I could see. It seemed to murmur, with the freshly-stoked campfire, that bone-shivering prophecy: “Salvation is at hand!” And for once, in the growing warmth of the sun, I grasped the immensity of the situation, the profundity of the knowledge we take for granted: a prophecy that has come true.