Coffee with J.M. Synge

Would we drink coffee with John Millington Synge?

Kristy: Yes.  Well let’s face it, I kind of have to.  He was a folklorist AND a playwright AND an Irish nationalist.  And right now he seems to be popping up all over my life:  loyal reader and former roommate Bridget was just in one of his plays, I just got assigned to read The Aran Islands and they he popped up in a song one of my colleagues is writing (derived from a Yeats poem).  So I think the universe is telling me I need to have coffee with him.  But honestly, there’s a lot I’d like to talk to him about.  How he became so enamoured of the poor, rural, Catholic population even though he was an educated, urban, Protestant-raised atheist. I’d like to see what he has to say about Ireland now; I think his “kinder, gentler” Irish nationalism would be happy to see the relative peace they enjoy now.  And honestly, I’d like to hear him elaborate on his specific political views since it’s hard not to suspect that some of his political allegiances were based on making the personal connections he needed.  I’d like to be nosy and ask him why he was hung up on  Cherrie Matheson for so many years and who the lady referenced in some of his later letters was.  And not that I know how I could delicately ask this, but I’d love to know at what point he realized he was terminally ill.  The doctors knew for eight years before telling him, but you have to wonder if he was really as clueless as they thought.

Cammy: Erm, sure.  Admittedly, I never heard of the man until just now (perfectly willing to admit my ignorance here), but nothing Kristy’s said (or Wikipedia has told me) has rendered him too disturbing, annoying or offensive to avoid coffee with him.  Sounds like Kristy might elicit some rather interesting (and maybe juicy) conversation from the guy, so as long as she does all the talking, I’m happy to listen (after all, he’s Irish, so if nothing else I can be entertained by the accent).

Things I Know From Being a Klutz

This morning, I dragged myself out of my warm bed and then out of the semi-snug room where I sleep down to the frigid kitchen.  I had a goal:  raisin bread slices and a glass of cranberry juice.  The electric kettle, my mug and tea bags were already upstairs on a little side table I keep up here for these cold months when I don’t like to venture downstairs into the chill for a cup of hot tea.  All I had to do was get my juice and bread and get back up to the warmth and the book I intended to snuggle up with.

Half way up the stairs, I trip.  Cranberry juice up and down the stairs.  Said stairs are carpeted in a light beige.


This is not the first time I’ve dealt with this, although usually it’s red wine to blame.  Towels are grabbed.  Carpet blotted.  Out comes the salt.  My lazy morning reading upstairs is forgotten as I empty an entire box of salt over the stairs, realize I have no more, then suit up and run out to stock up.  Several hours, vacuum sessions and reapplications of salt later….you really can’t see it.  My morning was wasted, but the day was saved.

I’m a klutz.  I trip and fall (often up stairs).  I’m a menace to a white shirt.  I can’t shave my legs without coming out looking like an extra from a horror flick.  Train wreck.

Since, at this point, I’m probably never going to “get over this” and stop, y’know, dropping ink pens on my blouse or tripping while I’m carrying red wine over a white carpet, I’ve acquired a skill set that allows me to deal with the aftermath: stain fighting.

The salt trick, as I mentioned, has bailed me out several times.  Then there’s the blood issue.  Since I can’t seem to shave my legs without incident, I wind up with blood trailing down my ankles and onto carpets or bedding.  When I catch it fast enough and there’s not a crime-scene amount to deal with, spitting on the spot and blotting it is, honestly, my best method.  Seriously.  For those times when I stand on the rug brushing my teeth while unknowingly bleeding out?  Enzymatic contact lens solution has been incredibly handy.  Hose it down.  Blot. Repeat.

Ink is my other nemesis.  I’m never without a pen, unfortunately when running too and from meetings, I sometimes forget to cap a pen and in hauling it around with my work notebook I wind up walking into the next meeting only to find that the pen has added some nice abstract art to the front of my shirt.  Shit.  This is the only reason I still keep hairspray in the house.  Soak it in hairspray, blot with water.  Repeat.  It may take a while, but I’ve even gotten Sharpie out with this method.

I didn’t realize I was acquiring these random tidbits until I found myself spouting them to co-workers (especially that pen thing).  At first I feared I was going a little too home-maker-hints-from-Heloise.  I didn’t remember reading any of those household blogging sites my mother likes to check…..where was this coming from?  While contemplating this development, I tripped, spilled tea all over my shirt and realized (as I drenched the stain in white vinegar and began blotting it with a wet washcloth), and then remembered exactly why I knew stuff like this.

Let’s Talk about Sex (Education)

Nobody look at Cammy because I’m reasonably sure tonight’s entry will make her red in the face.  I was at a party tonight where we got to talking about the kind of sexual education we received at children, both at home and at school.  Some interesting things came to light:

I remember promise rings from my high school, the girls (supposedly boys sometimes wear them too, but I’ve never met a boy wearing one) who wore a ring to signify their commitment to wait until marriage to have sex.  What I was completely unaware of back then was that in some places there is a code for where the ring is worn that defines exactly how the wearer defines chastity.  A little more directly, it signifies what acts, not defined as “sex,” the girl is willing to perform.

My mother was a Neonatal Intensive Care nurse and consequently the opposite of naïve about what kids know and do.  I started school with a basic understanding of sex (what went where, etc).  I don’t know that I fully got it, but I knew the geometry.  I realized as an adult not everyone learns everything quite so early.  What I learned tonight is that some people learned even more earlier on than I did.  One kid at the gathering had  his intoxicated father teach him how to put on a condom at age seven.  Since they were out of bananas, his dad tried to use a crowbar to demonstrate.  You can imagine this did not go well.

For all our advances in sexual equality it still doesn’t exist in sex education and the burden of knowledge and sexual withholding still falls to the woman.  In middle school I had 9 weeks of “family life” while the boys in my class had two weeks and then played basketball.  While I was thrilled to get out of playing basketball, the explanation our teacher gave us was that boys were only interested in what line would get a girl into bed the fastest and wouldn’t sit through a longer class.  As a kid I accepted that, as an adult it’s kind of infuriating.

Turns out my sex ed program was kind of in the middle.  At least one guy in the conversation tonight (who had gone to public school) had nothing but an abstinence lecture.  Said lecture told them not to have sex, but did not explain what sex was.  Guess what?  You can still get pregnant even if you don’t realize you’re having sex.   My mother has seen it happen.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of my friends told us tonight that they watched vides with internal shots of what happens to the body during an orgasm.  I’m pretty sure we never even got the word “orgasm.”

I was assured that most boys masturbate before they ever learn the word.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the point of this post is.  What I got out of it the most was that kids have a completely different understanding of sex than adults and that adults are largely ignorant of this fact.  No matter how much they learn in school they will still learn more from their friends, but it’s still a good idea to teach them.  Prevents them from winding up where my mom works.

What 80s Kids Remember 25 Years Later

If you are a child of the 1980s, today is the anniversary of a unifying event for many of us:  Challenger.  By the time Challenger launched, shuttle missions were becoming old hat and–only because of the inclusion of teacher Christa McAuliffe with the Teacher in Space Program–the overwhelming majority of the people watching were schoolkids.

It’s been 25 years now.  We’re along way away from the rug in kindergarten (or the Florida playground) where we were assembled to watch, but we can still picture the shape of the plume of gas from the deflagration perfectly.  We remember the awkwardness of the adults around us trying to figure out how to explain to us what they couldn’t figure out themselves.  We may not think about it constantly, but, on a day like today, when it’s mentioned in the news, we find that it’s all right there.

Kristy:  I grew up about fifteen minutes from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  We used to watch the launches live–not live on television, live.  I remember once when we were there they did a night launch and my family walked down to the beach to watch; it was one of the most beautiful things I’d seen in my whopping five years of life.  My sister and I would stay up late the night after a launch, hoping to catch a glimpse of the orbiting shuttle in the night sky.  I’m not actually sure now whether what we were seeing was the shuttle or just air planes, but we certainly thought it was the shuttle.

The day of the Challenger launch my kindergarten class went out to the playground to watch.  I remember it was cold.  Keep in mind that at that point the furthest north I had ever lived was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so cold was a relative thing.  We stood their waiting for the shuttle, not nearly as excited as we should have been.  We’d all seen this before and we didn’t really get the whole Christa McAuliffe thing.  The shuttle started to rise in the sky and suddenly something exciting did happen.  It split in two and for a moment there were two shuttles climbing up in to the sky. Several of us, I don’t know if I was one of them or not, in memory this moment has become completely collective, excitedly called out, “There are two of them!”

Then I turned to look at my teacher.  She wasn’t excited.  I couldn’t understand the look on her face back then, but looking back I would describe it as horror.  All she said was, “Something went wrong.”  She said it quietly, but firmly, and they shuffled us all back to the classroom.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be an adult with a room full of wide-eyed children, faced with the task of explaining something so imaginable to them.  So my teacher did what I can’t swear I wouldn’t have done and said nothing more on the subject.  “Something went wrong.”  It actually sums the whole thing up fairly well.

It was only after I got home and told my mother something had gone wrong that I found out about the explosion.  I remember my sister, eight years old at the time, insisting that the astronauts weren’t dead.  Her teacher had coped with the tragedy by giving her students hope.  There was an escape pod.  If they’d had enough warning they could have all gotten into it.  They might be in the ocean waiting for rescue or they could have been blasted into orbit.

I remember the beach being closed as debris began washing up on shore.  I remember the horrific news that one of the astronauts gloves had been found, with the hand still inside.  This is one of several places were my memory contradicts history; I have read since then that no pieces of the bodies were ever recovered.  Was this a hoax then?  I have no idea.

Cammy: Several hundred miles away, I was in my own kindergarten class in Texas.  I don’t have the same distinct recall of everything surrounding the moment.  I’m pretty sure that my class went next door to the other kindergarten room to watch with them, but maybe they came to us.  I remember the shape of the plume and knowing it didn’t look right. I remember the sound of gasping–I suppose from the teachers.  Then the TV was turned off.  That was it.  Honestly, outside of the image of the cloud of gas splitting off into two–which I can see clear as day–the rest is there, but hazier.

What I remember more was going home and Dad explaining things to me.  Though I didn’t realize it at time, I was in a very unique position by comparison to most of my other kindergarten peers:  my dad was a rocket scientist, for real.  Rather, he was an engineer working on the design of solid rocket motors.  Though his were far smaller than those on the shuttle, the design essentials are the same.  I came home and suggested that the astronauts might still be alive.  After all, they had to have parachutes, right?  Dad left no room for hope, “No, Cammy,” he said, before taking out a trusty mechanical pencil, a pad of graph paper and his writing board.

With my three year old brother nosing in, Dad and I clustered on the living room floor around the piece of plywood he used as a writing surface when he wanted to flop on the bed or the floor.  He proceeded to give me a lesson on speed, propulsion, the operating principles of rocket propulsion and how a solid fuel rocket motor differed from a liquid fuel.  I remember how he told me that you couldn’t “turn off” a solid fuel motor.  I remember telling him that sounded dumb and maybe the just should have used liquid so they could turn them off.  Much later, after the investigation turned up the whole O-ring issue, the board, the paper and the pencil came back out again as he sketched the pieces for me.   At some point he tried to correct my use of the term explosion (it was actually a deflagration), but that part didn’t stick until many years later.

I thought this was all perfectly normal.  It didn’t occur to me that my experience might differ from anyone else’s–until I was in college and the subject came up.  While I had thought Challenger was the point in time when everyone my age learned the basics of rockets, it was, for others, a time when their parents talked to them about accidents and tragedy and how “bad things sometimes happen and we don’t know why.”  I’ve always meant to ask Dad why he responded like he did.  I don’t know if it was his need to educate and explain and make sure I wasn’t walking around with any misconceptions about physics, or if it was just easier for him to teach his kid something with facts, rules and logic than to try muddling through an explanation of death and God.

So, 80s kids, the comment lines are open, we know you’ve got a variation on this theme….

Dear Time Vampire Above Me

Tonight’s Time Vampire isn’t exactly a ravenous one.  It’s just a little guy, so it can’t eat up too much of your time.  But we all know how little bits of time slurpage can add up.

Also, you all need to know about this one because it brings the funny.

I was introduced to Dear Girls Above Me by a colleague.  Can’t remember why she brought it up, but she did and then I had to google it.  Then I had to check it every day.  Then I had to read the archive. Then I remembered that there were important things I was supposed to be doing.  Then I kept reading through the archive instead of doing them.

The premise (and you all should know by now that I don’t care whether it’s true as long as it’s funny.  But I would guess this is true) is that the author, Charlie McDowell (son of actors Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen I’ve recently discovered) (more importantly cousin of Dr. Bashir), posts crazy things he hears from the girls who live above him.  Then he adds short commentary.  Then I snicker.  Or stare in horror (seriously, these girls are not just annoying, they’re annoying and weird.  In a bad way).

The bite on this vamp is small since most of the posts are twitter sized and it’s not always updated daily (what?  Does Charlie have better things to do than creep on his neighbors?  Doesn’t he care about us?).  And it hasn’t been around all that long so the archive will only suck away but so much of your time.  So I recommend you check it out.

Also according to IMDB Charlie and I have the same birthday.  For whatever that’s worth.

Anyway, Dear Girls Above Me has been added to my increasingly long list of sites to check when I don’t want to read about ethnography or study Russian vocab.  When I don’t know a thing about Russian by the end of the semester we’ll blame it on Charlie’s neighbors.

The 1983 Musical Phenomenon: Country Version

As Kristy covered some time ago:  1983 was a year of some kind of musical magic.  Kristy’s original realization of the disproportionate amount of awesome that came out of pop/rock in 1983 led to me to look back at country, since that’s the music I was being exposed to–almost exclusively–at that time.  I was pleasantly surprised–and slightly weirded out–to find that the statistically improbably percentage of musical gems was present in the country world just as in the pop/rock arena.  And, like Kristy, I found that the overwhelming majority of the songs listed were basically the soundtrack to some of my earliest memories.

Now, the nature of the country niche means that, unlike the songs Kristy identified before, not all the songs will have as wide a following.  But, part of the thing that amazed me in a look at just the Billboard country charts, were the number of songs that did break out of the genre.  The biggest example is “Islands In A Stream” (which was number-one on 3 different US Billboard charts,  and several foreign charts including Austria’s…really?  Austria???).  Honestly, if you haven’t heard Kenny and Dolly on this at least once, I really don’t know what kind of intergalactic odyssey you’ve been on for the past 28 years.

But that wasn’t the only one that tends to get some love outside of country fans:  this was the year that Shelley West made sure we knew that “Jose Cuervo” was a friend of ours (oh, do I EVER beg to differ with that statement).   Anne Murray was just looking for “A Little Good News” (which has a nice, timeless message if you can overlook the whole part about “Bryant Gumble was talking about the fighting in Lebanon”) and at a time when everyone was worried about Japan taking over our jobs (yeah, remember when they were the global market threat?), the Oak Ridge Boys assured us their baby was “American Made.”  And somehow a very bizarre assortment of my friends who generally hate this genre learned that “Houston (Means That I’m One Day Closer To You)” from Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Bros.

For those more familiar with the country genre, there’s plenty that might not be known to the outside, but which that you should recognize as absolutely classic fare.  In 1983 not only were you getting the ascension of today’s mega stars like Reba McEntire (“Can’t Even Get The Blues” was the first number one of the year), and George Strait (“A Fire I Can’t Put Out” was #1 in September)  coming in with a neotraditionalist sound (which George has kept and Reba has mostly ditched), but the generally epic!fail of the country/pop crossover of the 70s had finally ripened into something awesome with the likes of Kenny, Dolly, Alabama (“The Closer You Get” although, it’s arguable that Alabama had some neotraditionalist tendencies because you also have “Dixieland Delight” the same year), Janie Fricke (“He’s a Heartache Looking For a Place to Happen”) and even Charley Pride’s “Why Baby Why” (because, yes, kids, there have been black country singers well before Darius Rucker).  You were also still getting the outlaw country, in particular the absolutely classic musical epic of “Pancho and Lefty” from Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson (I still remember the music video for that one–it was much higher quality than many videos of that time).  Even songs that didn’t make #1 were awesome (honestly, until now I never knew that George Strait’s signature song “Amarillo by Morning” was not a number one in the US).

Maybe it was this unique transition and overlap, or maybe there was just some kind of weird planetary alignment, but something was just right in 1983, and while the rest of the 80s were also (in my far-less-than-humble opinion) fantastic for this niche of the musical market, something about 1983 was just a stand out.

It’s Not What I’m Eating…

Tonight’s entry is written by me, but courtesy of Cammy.  Cammy sent me a link to an article about foods that prevent insomnia and a note that I prove it wrong.  Yes, today we got further confirmation that I’m a freak.  I’ve had insomnia since I was a child.  My suspicion is that it’s actually part of a larger sleep disorder (see previous entry on sleep paralysis).  I’ve tried just about every solution (short of prescription meds which I took briefly but like to avoid) and nothing really works.  I was hoping this list might offer some help.  Not so much.

Let’s go through the list, shall we?

Pumpkin seeds:  Okay, I don’t eat these often, but they’re supposed to help because of their high magnesium content.  I take a magnesium supplement every night.  So… yeah…

Cottage cheese:  They got me here.  I almost never eat this one.

Sesame seeds:  I don’t eat them by the spoonful, but I eat a lot of multigrain products that contain them.  I guess maybe I should start downing some at bedtime?

Spinach:  Are you kidding?  We’ve been over this.  I practically live on spinach.  If I’m not getting enough to do the trick then I don’t want to think about how much I’d need.

As for the problem foods they mention?  I really keep them to a minimum.  I love bacon, but if I eat it once a week it’s a big bacon week.  I generally have a glass of wine a night, but according to what it says I’m not having enough to cause a problem, and I don’t tend to have chocolate at bedtime.

Oh yeah, and the yoga it mentions?  Totally doing that.

Guess I will not be cured this week.

Coffee and Copyright

Would we have coffee with Professor Lawrence Lessig?

Cammy:  Would I have coffee with one of the greatest copyright thinkers of our time?  Um, hell yes.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t be all manner of shakin’ in my New Balance.  Lawrence Lessig is a giant in my world.  He’s one of the leading copyright thinkers of our time.  Through his work with Eldred vs. Ashcroft (the, sadly failed, Supreme Court case calling to roll the copyright duration back from Life of the Author + 70 to Life + 50), with Creative Commons, and his many books and blog posts he’s opened up a lot of discussion about the role of law in connection with creativity and development of technology and communication.  He helped promote the voice of all the people who were being impacted by the increasingly draconian applications of copyright law, as major media interests bought off our government to act as a personal goon-squad in defending their outdated business model.  I’m willing to risk looking like an ignorant fool (because he’s scary smart and I’m a moron), for the opportunity to pick his brain on his move from straight copyright arguments to tackling the intricate web that allows the likes of Disney to make sure that copyright is extended every time Mickey might fall into the public domain.  Since his blog has been on hiatus for more than a year, I’d love to hear his take on where he thinks the weakest points are now–what’s the biggest fight on the horizon?  From his point of view, are we making any progress or not?

Kristy:  Sure.  I think I’ll probably have the benefit of less intimidation thanks to greater ignorance about the man.  But even I’ve read some of his stuff.  I will also not be wearing New Balances.  I don’t really wear sneakers.  I’m much less knowledgeable and impassioned about the issue of copyright than Cammy, but I’d still be interested in meeting him.  Perhaps he’ll be impressed that the press I work for uses Creative Commons licenses?  He’s also written a bit on copyright as it relates to cultural heritage (read: folklore) which is a topic I am a little more interested in.  Mostly, I just want to listen to him and Cammy and try my darndest to follow along.

A Little Familial Venting

Before our hiatus last month I mentioned that my parents had an internet connection so slow it made me want to rip my hair out by the handfuls.  It would have been one thing if they were simply cheap and paying for dial up.  But they have DSL.  They’re paying for DSL.  And it takes five minutes to get a freaking email (one without images I note) to open.  That’s if it doesn’t time out before opening.

But the most frustrating thing about this problem?  My father refused to admit it existed. Why would he do such a thing?  Because I was the one who pointed it out to him.  Actually, my mother had mentioned it before I even got home.  And then my aunt also pointed it out.  Why would he disregard all of our voices?  Because there is no way we could possibly know anything about computers.  Not a single one of us has a penis.

Yes, for my father the women’s equality movement was largely something that happened to other people.

I don’t mean to imply that my father is a bad person.  He isn’t.  He’s simply the product of a small Texas town in the fifties. Then he spent twenty years as a pilot in the US Air Force.  I think the combination of these two environments simply conspired to indoctrinate him with attitudes about gender roles and aptitudes which are a couple hundred (thousand?) years old.

He’s the same way with cars.  In high school I once told him there was a problem with my car’s transmission.  He drove it one day and pronounced that it was absolutely fine—I was imagining things.  I was a seventeen year old girl and there is no way I could have possibly known anything about cars.  To heck with the fact that I drove it every day and drove it quite a bit since I had to drive twenty-five miles to work.  No, no.  In the fifteen minutes that he drove it he determined that I was just a silly woman who was overreacting to nothing.  The problem is that, of course, I was right.  There was a crack in my transmission and by the time I finally convinced my father it needed to be looked at the transmission problem had caused a radiator problem and I had to pay $1000 to get it all repaired.

But cars are one thing.  By my own admission I really don’t know anything about cars.  (He doesn’t either, for the record).  But in all honesty, I probably know more about computers than he does.  And my aunt works with computer networks for a living.  It is just possible that we know something about the speed at which a website should load.  Possibly.

Now as far as my father is concerned, I’m doubly stupid, because I’m a woman and I’m in a field of study that borders the humanities.  Which is why I was so annoyed when my brother told me that I needed to nudge my father towards getting a hearing aid.  My brother is (or at least should be) completely aware that my father thinks I’m an idiot.  My brother, on the other hand, being a male who studied computers (and nearly flunked out of college.  Twice) is clearly a genius.  But he’s not going to bring it up, because my brother is a champion avoider and if he pretends like my father isn’t deaf, his hearing will magically come back.

In all fairness to my father, I have to confess that my mother bears part of the blame for this.  My mother, an incredibly strong willed woman, decided that marital peace was best achieved by ignoring my father when he goes into chauvinist mode.  Which is not to say she lets him push her around—she simply rolls her eyes and does whatever she wants and he usually doesn’t notice.  I understand why she does this.  It’s probably much easier than fighting him on every little thing.  But what she doesn’t think about is all the other women that have to put up with him from time to time whose lives would be easier if she had beaten the archaic attitudes out of him years ago.

In Which I Am Tempted To Make Something Up

Gentle readers, I am so completely out of any inspiration for this post that I seriously contemplated lying through my teeth and making something up about a slip and fall on my icy drive.

No joke.

But, as Kristy has already mentioned, I am all but completely unable to lie successfully.  And while Kristy is kind enough to call this a positive thing, at a time like this, it’s negative beyond belief.  I’m sure you’re with me on this, after all, you could be reading a marginally entertaining tale of an injury accident.

Truth is?  Outside of the snow I’ve already bitched about, this has been a week with little activity and even less inspiration.  Sure, I was at work late several evenings, but it was all pretty standard crap that was no more or less annoying than normal.  My time at home has been full of normal housework activities.  I haven’t had time to keep up with any news other than local weather for purposes of commentary and instruction.  I literally cannot think of anything worth commenting on, praising, complaining about, describing or recounting.  I have a book review, but it’s not complete and I was planning it for sometime next week.

So, for anyone out there with tips on how I can ditch the truth and embrace lying, please, let me know.  For the sake of your fellow readers.