January 2008 Archives

Apparently links to this photo essay documenting "What the World Eats" have been circulating for a good long while.... A few weeks ago someone sent me an email message about it, with only SOME of the photos--one of the most important photos was missing, one depicting the Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp in Chad. The email message included no information about the photos' provenance, so I finally got around to tracking it down.... Turns out the photos are from a new book called Hungry Planet. Make sure you look at all the photos.... Originally I only saw six of the photos, which were interesting, but you need to see the whole series to realize how horribly unjust the distribution of wealth on this planet is. I mean, I knew this already; I've seen the Care ads and sent them money.... But every so often something helps you confront again those uncomfortable facts in your knowledge you've somehow learned to ignore, and these photos did that for me.

Why I Don't Blog That Much about Knitting


I don’t blog much about either relationships while I’m in them or knitting. There are a couple of reasons for this reticence about relationships, one being respect for the privacy of whoever I’m with, another being that blogging about a relationship is a form of commitment that I’m not always ready to make. I don’t blog about knitting so much because, well, for one thing, I’m not the most hard core knitter out there. For instance, I have yet to knit a sock, a fact which raises the eyebrows of more serious knitters, who assure me that is a life-changing experience. I have heard enough people tell me this that I’m pretty damn curious to see if my life will be changed this way. I even tried to take a class on sock-knitting last fall, but it was full.

But another reason I don’t blog much about either knitting or being in love is that they’re among the few things that, if I have the choice between doing them or writing about them, I’ll almost always do the thing itself. That’s not true of shoveling the driveway or being homesick. It’s not even true of making cookies--lately I’ve been hankering for my favorite chocolate chocolate chip cookies but it just seems like too much bother to make them. It’s certainly not true of having sex--some sex I’ve had was way better than anything I could write about it but some wasn’t. It’s not even true of reading Jane Austen or watching Buffy.

Lately I’ve been knitting a fair amount, and maybe that’s one reason I’m more willing to blog about it now--perhaps I’ve reached a certain saturation point. I guess I’ve also found a project I’d rather write about than work on: this lace shawl.

Because I Had Nothing Else to Do

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Late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, I finally completed a draft of a writing project I’d been avoiding/ preparing for for weeks. I agreed in November to have this project done by the end of January, but I just couldn’t make myself start, really start. Oh, I did things like research Chinese characters, and try out different beginnings in my head, but I just couldn’t sit down in front of the computer and write it write it. I don’t know why not, because it was a project I’d wanted to write for years, and I was glad to have a reason to do it. I don’t know why not, because it wasn’t beyond my capacities or outside of my creative focus. I don’t know why not, because I certainly managed to write other things--blog entries and emails and journal entries and so forth--instead of the one thing I had promised to write.

Not only did I write other things, I got other tasks out of the way as well as I geared up to do this piece. The reason I finally watched that documentary on the Mormons was that it was a way of avoiding this writing project. In fact, in the ten days before I finally sat down and wrote this thing, I was super-duper productive. I worked hard on all sorts of projects--I even plan to post photos of a few of them tomorrow. It got to the point where, by early Tuesday evening, I really didn’t have anything else to do but this writing project.

Boring the Saints


A few days ago I finally finished watching the Helen Whitney documentary on The Mormons. I know, I know: this is old news; most people watched it months ago and I could have done so too if A) my tv got decent reception of PBS, but it doesn’t, or B) I was willing to watch it on my computer screen, but I wasn’t, or C) I had moved the disk to the top of my Neftflix queue weeks ago, but there were other things I wanted to see more.

Why I Need Glasses, At Least Tonight


A million years ago--OK, 16 or so months ago--I posted a picture of the reading glasses I finally had to get, because right on schedule, I began developing mild presbyopia in my early 40s. I like my glasses OK and wear them when I remember to put them on, which isn't that often. I keep them by my bed, so about the only time I remember to wear them is when I read before I (try to) go to sleep.

But tonight I tried to read something and there was just no freakin' way I could do it without glasses. Here's a photo of what I was trying to read:


My fingers mark the particular character I was looking for. Just for the sake of scale, here's another photo, including not only the book but my cat, so you can see how tiny the text actually is:


Looking up a character in an Chinese-English dictionary was always a challenge, particularly with older dictionaries in Taiwan, because to use them you had to know one of three things: 1) what the character's radical is (sometimes hard to determine even if you're thoroughly literate, and I never was--I was merely fluent), or 2) how to "spell" it with bo-po-mo-fo, a system I never mastered, or 3) how it is romanized in the wacky Wade-Giles system of romanization (which I didn't learn--at the MTC, we only learned Yale, which, despite being the easiest system for actually learning to pronounce Mandarin, is not the most popular system).

It was always an adventure to find a character even when I could read the tiny print of the dictionary, but now, well, it's quite the challenge. I finally found the character I needed, using a bo-po-mo-fo chart to help me sound out the phonetics of the character. It's this, ku, meaning suffering, bitterness, pain, a word I know well from my mission, because we were always being admonished to be "sying ku," to "toil bitterly."

Just thought I'd share.

A Typical Kid Picking Her Nose


Via Figleaf’s Real Adult Sex, I have learned about a way of depicting young girls as sexualized known as “lolicon,” a bastardization of “lolita complex,” which (I am not making this up) “has a nicer ring to it than pedophile."

I have three things to say.


2. Ditto to everything Figleaf says in his response to the topic.

3. Have any of those people proclaiming their interest in lolicon ever read Nabokov’s damn book? Because it doesn’t make sex with a budding pubescent (a.k.a. nymphet) particularly appealing.

A Really Good Reason to Take a Bath


In my last entry, I talked about the history of bathing, having just read a book on the topic. I mentioned that in various times and places, people managed to live six or seven decades without ever washing their hair or taking a bath or brushing their teeth. Admittedly, living this way meant that they were far more prone than we are to things like carbuncles (something Ashenburg doesn't mention but which I briefly found fascinating ten years ago or so in that "Oooh, how disgusting!" way) and being toothless by age 40, but it didn't necessarily kill them, or cause their flesh to fall off.

(That is, not washing one's hands or body didn't necessarily kill the unwashed one. It did sometimes kill the people that one touched--for example, the many women who died of pueperal or childbirth fever, contracted when they were attended by doctors with unwashed, germy hands. Ignaz Semmelweiz, the doctor who suggested that his esteemed colleagues should wash their hands before touching a woman's filthy nether regions, was ridiculed out of the medical profession by men who greatly resented his outright assertion that they were somehow unclean; he died in an institution, a broken man.)

But here's that something can make the flesh fall from your bones, and might potentially kill you: flesh-eating bacteria, transmitted by skin contact and resistant to antibiotics.


You can contract it from sex with an infected person, but you can also get it from contact sports. It's common in kids.

The article doesn't say how it is eventually cured for the people who contract it, only that "One in five infected patients in the US required hospital treatment."

But it also mentions the best way to avoid infection. That's right: "probably [probably! They don't know for sure] to wash thoroughly with soap and water, especially after sex."

I have a pretty good immune system and the ailments that tend to impair my health aren't usually infectious, aside from a mild cold from time to time, or the occasional bout of food poisoning, but I tend to recover very quickly. Normally I'm not the least bit hesitant to shake someone's hand but this is REALLY gross. Then there's the full-body massage I get every three or four weeks: I don't suppose I'll stop, but I might have to talk to my massage therapist about this. But how do you say, "I'm mildly concerned about contracting a gross infection that causes my skin to rot from the outside and my lungs to rot from the inside?" It's not a conversation I'm used to having.

I feel dirty right now, and nauseated, having tried to read one of William Kristol’s editorials in the NY Times. Loathing and revulsion don’t cover the reactions I have to that man. I have despised him since he first came to my attention, back around 2002 when I started paying attention to the fact that there were evil people with power who really, really wanted us to go to war. I would say that I can’t believe the Times hired the guy, were it not for the fact that the Times credulously accepted the kinds of arguments Kristol and his ilk offered for why we should go to war.

Something else that made me feel dirty and nauseated was this article about the evil that is Facebook. I resisted Facebook for a very long time, but finally joined a few months ago, after people convinced me it was one of the more benign social networking sites out there. Wrong! It’s owned by some really dreadful people who are glad to give the CIA access to all your information. I looked into deleting my account, but it turns you can’t do that--you can only “deactivate it.”

But this is not a post about Kristol or the Times--or Facebook or spying. It’s a post about dirt and dirtiness and cleanliness, and Kristol et al is useful in that they show the way dirtiness and cleanliness are states of mind, the way things we think about can make us feel, genuinely (not just as a figure of speech), that we need to take a shower.

This isn’t a new idea. It’s covered quite well in Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas, a book about ritual filth and purity that I had to read in grad school and liked well enough that I read it again later, just for fun. I’m looking forward to rereading it this summer, both just for the fun of it and as research for an essay I want to write about that concept of contamination ever so important to childhood, namely, cooties.

So, I have blogging homework. I know it, and I’ve been avoiding it. I still have not finished working out whatever idea I started to write a week ago about friendly interactions with strangers. Hell, so much has happened in the meantime that I’m not even certain what my final point was going to be, though I know it involved the cute bartender who garnished my drinks with extra raspberries and gooseberries (I’d never eaten a gooseberry before that night) as well as this other attractive man who chatted me up in order to ask me what I was talking to myself about (which sort of embarrassed me because although I know I talk to myself a lot, I thought I refrained from making that obvious when I’m someplace like a crowded bar). I might even have planned to mock outright the guy I teased gently when he started complaining to me about how he was emeritus and therefore “obsolete”--at Yale. “Oh, wow, yeah, that’s tough,” I said. “Being ‘obsolete’ at Yale. Though being obsolete there means that you were, at least, once relevant. It’s not like being put out to pasture after four decades at, oh, say, Boise State or Wabash College.”

Anyway, I think whatever I planned to say was either amusing or interesting, and may even have been slightly insightful, so I’ll try to remember.

Then there’s the whole topic of sex and lust that I raised back in mid December.... I actually do remember where I was going with that, and I’ve had more thoughts on the topic. I want to get back to that thread, not that I plan to exhaust it, but I think I have something worthwhile to offer on the subject. Plus it’s a topic most people are willing to read about.

And then there’s always the book about shoes I wanted to write all about, though I never got further than discussing my favorite chapter on military footwear back in August. I still hope to get in another post or two about that....

Plus there was this whole thing I was going to write about how I hate wrapping paper and the efforts I make to avoid it. I took photos in preparation for the entry I was going to write but never got around to posting anything.... Maybe I'll manage to get it done before Christmas 2008.

So yeah. I know I have hanging threads. I’m not going to cut them off or tie all of them up any time soon. But at least I finally took care of one of the most pressing blog-tasks I’d been ignoring, and that was to respond to a slew of comments I’d let accumulate. I know it’s really obnoxious not to reply to comments when people are kind enough to leave them, and my only excuse is that I was either A) traveling or B) still traumatized by the minivan ride with the farting teenager and the bossy pre-pubescent. But comments so increase the rewards of blogging--as I was reminded earlier today when Saviour Onassis brought to my attention an entry he wrote a year ago, and the really great comment I then left (it's under my old blogger name--scroll down far enough and you'll find it)--that it’s really inexcusable for me to wait so long to reply. I didn’t make many New Year’s resolutions, but one is to reply to comments more quickly.

And now I’m going back to ignoring the other blog homework I’m not yet ready to do.

Sartre Was Right


You know my last entry, the one about my New Year’s Resolution to convince myself that “a stranger’s a friend I just haven’t met yet”? Well, I’ve already revised that resolution, because I’ve already seen the limitations of that attitude. And it all has to do with travel, with the fact that getting back from Chicago was as stressful and difficult as getting there in the first place.

I didn’t go into the whole rigamarole here, because it was painful and not that interesting, but it took 48 extra hours to get to Chicago. Mercifully it was the first leg of my journey that was canceled or delayed each time, so I just ended up leaving two days late, sleeping in my own bed each night. This is what you get when you travel so close to the holidays, I thought, and vowed to avoid it again in the future if I could. I thought about canceling the whole trip, but I’d made my plans and had stuff to do, and anyway, I wanted to go. Given how much fun I had, I’m really glad I did.

But then there was the trip home.... I left on schedule, got to Detroit on time, sat down to wait for my connecting flight which was scheduled to depart at 10:10 p.m., and was informed at 9:30 p.m. that it was canceled.

There was one agent at the gate to rebook flights for every last passenger on a completely full flight; it took her 25 minutes to deal with the first stranded passenger, a young mother with a very unhappy, tired baby. No one begrudged the fact that this woman was taken care of first--that poor baby was really tired--but we all resented the fact that no one else showed up to help the rest of us too. Some of us called the 1-800 number, because spending 20 minutes on hold was still quicker than waiting in that line, and learned that there was not another available seat for the next 48 hours, not on any flight into the airport closest to home, or, for that matter, into any surrounding airports.

So my choices were: spend two days in the Detroit airport, or do something like fly to Atlanta on standby then fly to LaGuardia on standby then fly to Buffalo on standby and rent a car. Yeah. And then a woman in line near me said, “I guess my husband and I will just rent a car here, because we’ve got to be back tomorrow--he’s a doctor and he has to see patients. It’s not that far to drive; just four hours.”

At that point I turned to the woman next to me, who was trying to get home for her grandmother’s funeral. “Want to split the cost of a rental car?” I asked.

She paused. “Sure,” she said. “If you drive.”

Then the woman married to the doctor said, “Maybe we could all go together, if you don’t mind riding with our daughters.”

And that’s how I ended up sharing a minivan with five strangers on a four-and-a-half hour trip through some very bad weather. It beat the alternatives, I admit that. I was glad to get home. And I was also glad I’d thought carefully about how I wanted to interact with strangers.


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This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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