New Year’s Projects

I do not make New Year’s resolutions as a general rule, but I do often have sort of new year projects. Some of those start in September, since, as everyone know the year actually starts in September (or at any rate, it does if you went to school for 27 years), and some start in January.

My projects last year were “stay busy so as not to get depressed” and “get some kind of hold on your finances”. The former led me to learn cross-country skiing, join a funky women’s exercise class, and start studying karate. As it turned out, working full time is enough of a time suck that those things kept me very, very busy, and keeping track of all my expenses took care of any spare moments. (Of course, I didn’t let any of this cut in on my sleeping, reading, or cooking habits, not to mention my talking on the phone habit.)

This year’s rather peculiar project is “try to look better.” This all started because I realized that (especially after gaining ten pounds over the summer) I had only about six outfits I could wear to work. That’s enough to get me through the week, and usually that’s enough for me, but some of them were pretty sketchy as work clothes. For instance, I’m not sure how cool it is to wear jeans with paint on them to work, even if it’s sort of inconspicuous paint. In any case, my whole presentation was starting to make me feel a little self-conscious, the way I felt in junior high when I had nothing but white socks (sensible enough, since those were the socks I wore at camp in the summers) and people asked me about it all the time. Nobody was asking, “Why are you wearing jeans with paint on them and a hoody to work all the time?” but I felt like they were.

Thus my winter break (translate: holidays off, five days of vacation time, and a day of unpaid leave) got dedicated in part to the whole “look better” project.

I braved the stores at Oakbrook after Christmas and came out with three articles of clothing that cost about $20 each, which still seems like kind of a lot to me. (We used to say that Goodwill was ruining us for Ragstock: “Yeah, but is this dress really worth five bucks?”). I’ve accepted that I may not always be able to find everything I need used, and so I was okay with that, mostly, but when I got to Iowa City, I hit up The Second Act, which is a pretty nice consignment store. There I got a pair of pants, a dress, a sweater, and several shirts all for about $40. I’ve been wearing my new clothes to work every day this week, and so far I’m pretty happy with them.

The other part of project “look better” was getting a haircut. My friend talked me into going to her fancy hair person, and I’m not even going to tell you how much I paid for a haircut, save that I was semi-able to justify it because of all the years I cut my own hair. Tragically, I didn’t manage to take a picture on the day I left the salon, or even on the day after. By days three and four it was looking not quite as good, but still okay. But by the time I got back to Wyoming and washed it with the fancy shampoo and dried it in the directed manner (I had explained that I don’t use hair dryers, so I was told to twirl it in sections and let it dry that way), it looked exactly the way it had before I got it cut. I’ve since been able to improve things a little, but it has been one of the more disappointing experiences of my life.

I know all these people who have fabulous, long-lasting relationships with their hair stylists–my mother has been getting her hair cut by the same person for over twenty years!–but I’ve never seemed to manage it. (I know, I know–cutting your own hair for the better part of a decade is not the way to make friends with your hairdresser.)

On the whole, though, I’m more pleased by this “look better” project than I thought I might be. I have a lot of weird hang ups about consumerism. I generally regard it as a bad thing, but it’s sort of like I have this relationship with consumer items that anorexics have with food. You need food to eat, and, unless you are either in the Garden of Eden or a really excellent dumpster diver, you do need to buy some things. I think that my figuring out that it’s okay to buy things is maybe a little bit like the struggle of someone with an eating disorder to see that eating some food is healthful and natural, but I may be wrong about that.

So that’s that for now. Incidentally, one of my other projects is “write more about what’s happening in your life,” and since I have this under-used blog space, it seemed like the place to do it. I apologize for the probable lack of political content in these posts, but if you’re interested in the goings on out here, there will, I hope, be more to follow.

In Which I Am Lured In

Yesterday I bought a pair of exercise pants. They were $31.45, including tax, from the discount store. Those of you who know me will know that I rarely pay so much for any article of clothing, particularly one that I can’t wear to work.

I bought them for several reasons. Partly I bought them because I could — having at long last paid off the last of my credit card debt (to which I have been contributing several hundred dollars a month for several years), I suddenly have a little bit more money, and so buying things that seem frivolous is a possibility. (I bought two CDs the other day, too–used, of course, but new to me.) Partly I bought them because I am, on occasion, a victim of fashion. But mostly I bought them because, although it is possible for me to wear my too-small sweatpants or my too-streched-out biker shorts to go run on the elliptical machine at the Rec, it’s not particularly comfortable. It doesn’t make me think, “Oh, how I long to wear clothing that doesn’t fit me well so I can go burn calories!” (The too-small sweatpants might, I suppose, be a motivation, but they’re also hot and a little too short even when they’re not too tight.) The new exercise pants do make me feel that way.

Of course, they also make me feel silly. I’ve always believed that exercise was something one shouldn’t set out to do — it was simply something one should acquire in the course of the day. In the days when I walked dogs for three or four hours a day, or when I taught one or two college classes a semester and had many hours to walk everywhere, that wasn’t difficult. But now that I work eight hours a day in a library, the only real exercise I get during the course of the day is a little bit of lift that barge, tote that bail when we move books and AV materials from one library to another.

I’d love to be one of those people who gets up and goes out for a morning jog, but (aside from my total lack of desire to do anything so strenuous in the morning), I can’t run — it’s too hard on my back. And walking enough to get real exercise takes hours. Enter the elliptical machine. Enter the dark Satanic mills. Enter the excercise pants. Enter my seduction by capitalism. Oh well.

Saturday Night Thought

From last night, posted tonight. I thought I might expand upon it, but no, this is all there is:

Every now and then, it dawns on me that Garrison Keillor is going to die, and that I will then have to live the rest of my life without Prairie Home Companion. (I have similar feelings about Gary Trudeau and Doonesbury, but they’re not quite as intense, probably because my acquaintance with them is a decade shorter–I started reading Doonesbury in grade school; PHC I probably heard in utero.)

That Trudeau’s show is not as good as it once was–that it could never be as good as “Snow Home” was when I perhaps four (if, in fact, I heard it live–I could swear that I did, on the old radio that I moved to my office at my first job, on which, for reasons that seem baffling even now, I listened while at said job to all of the Clinton impeachment hearings)–is of little matter. It may, I suppose, make it easier to say goodbye in the end, but I doubt it.

Once and Again

What follows is partially prompted by a discussion over at the Hermits’ place and partly simply my own muddled musings.

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

I was told not too long ago that this hymn was removed from The Hymnal 1982 not because it refers to “man” (not humans, or souls, or men and women, or what have you) but because of a theological issue: there is no one time in our lives that we must choose between good and evil–we are called to do so constantly.

Of course, I think Lowell’s lyrics acknowledge that: the choice goes by forever, after all. I am not a theologian or an expert on hymns, or much of anything else.

The hymn comes to me at the moment partly because it is a great favorite of mine–we sang it at my camp long ago, and it shows up in The House with a Clock in its Walls, and Martin Luther King Jr. quotes it several times in his speeches and sermons. It comes to me also, though, I think, because I’ve been thinking lately about moments that occur once and moments that occur again and again.

The incidents at Virginia Tech remind most people of the shootings at Columbine High School, which took place eight years ago today. They remind many also, I suspect, of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which took place twelve years ago this week. For those of us with a connection to Iowa City and the University of Iowa, the thing that comes most to mind is, I suspect, the physics department shootings in 1991, which, bucking the April trend, took place in November, on All Saints Day. Some may recall the many other school shootings in this country–Red Lake, Minnesota; West Paducah, Kentucky; and on, and on–killings that get less ongoing attention but that were no less devastating for their communities. And any act of sudden violence cannot help but bring to mind the attacks of 9/11. One doesn’t equate these things–one can’t–but they come to mind, and one realizes that evil does not happen simply once.

One also realizes–or some, at least, also realize–that we tend to pay more attention to the tragedies that are sudden as opposed to those that are ongoing. We lose sight of the ongoing killings abroad in favor of the one-off sensations. We barely even register the things that kill more slowly: poverty, homelessness, hunger, addiction, oppression.

It is remarkably easy to write off other people’s suffering. It is equally easy to judge the mourning of others, to believe that the woman who does not cry at her mother’s funeral or the man who does not seem affected by the school shooting that happened in his town are in some way not fully human or humane.

I do not believe that the choice between truth and falsehood is one we make only once, but I do believe that there is for each person one great tragedy–one thing that happens that defines your understanding of sadness. That thing may have already happened to you, or it may yet be coming to you (but make no mistake: it will come). It is one of the great comforts of my life, actually: as a friend once said, the great wheel of tragedy leaves no one untouched. Eventually it swings around to everyone. I try to remember that in a charitable way when someone says something appalling to me, but mostly, I must admit, I remember it in a more gleeful fashion. Oh, just you wait, I think. It’ll happen to you, too.


I started this post a day or two ago but didn’t finish it, and now I’ve forgotten where it was meant to go–if, in fact, it was meant to go anywhere–I call this ramblings for a reason. Suffice it to say that I am always struck, at moments of great national or international tragedy, by how randomly tragedy strikes us, and how peculiar and personal our reactions to it, or our lack of reaction, must always be.

it is exactly 0 degrees outside (a sad story that is actually happy)

Fahrenheit degrees, that is.  Last night it got down to -17.

This morning I woke up to discover that, despite having a) left two faucets dripping, b) double-checked to make sure the heat tape switch was on, and c) having left a heat lamp plugged in underneath the trailer, my pipes were frozen.  Apparently, according to my landlady, I need to leave the faucets not dripping but running.  Thank God I don't pay for water by the gallon.  It strikes me as greatly ironic that here in the high desert, where we're going into the eighth straight year of drought, where the total rainfall last year was under 7", that I can have all the undrinkable water (much too alkaline for human consumption) I want for $35/month. 

Luckily, I am not a morning showerer.  Actually, I am not even a daily showerer, which is good, because despite the balmy high today of 9 degrees or so, and despite my landlady's daughter coming over to plug in a space heater under the trailer, my pipes are still frozen.  But I'm getting ahead of myself here. . . .

After deciding that it wasn't worth making breakfast (and thus creating more dishes I might not be able to do), I thought I'd head over to the coffee shop and get a muffin and a latte.  So I loaded up my stuff and headed out to the car, which–you guessed it–didn't start.  So I thought, well, I'll go see if someone can give me a jump-start.  I called my coworker to say I might be getting to the library a bit late.  Then I remembered that, due to the lever falling off and then disappearing, it's extremely difficult to open the hood of my car.  Usually it requires vice-grips, or other tools I don't own.  (I keep meaning to buy some vice-grips–it's so embarrassing to have to ask someone else to open your hood so you can check your oil.)  I grabbed some needlenose pliers (I do have some tools) and gave the little rod a yank.  No luck.  I tried again.  No luck.  The one happy part of this story, though, is that on the third try, I got it, and the hood popped open.

I headed over to my neighbor's house, since it looked like he was warming his truck up, so I figured he was up and could probably give me a jump.  He was, although, I was rather surprised to see, he was not exactly clothed when he came to the door.  No matter.  Anyway, he got dressed and came over with the truck. We then had an interesting time manuevering the truck around to the front of my car.  Another happy part of this story is that that did work, and he didn't crash his truck into the fence.  That would have been bad.  So we tried jumping the car.  No go.  Tried again.  No go.  Tried giving the car some gas.  Nope.  More gas.  Nope. 

"Is that all the gas you have in there?" he said.

"Uh. . . yeah."

"You know you–"

"I know, I know, I should always keep my gas tank above half full in the winter.  My mommy always told me that."

He suggested I get some gas and some Heet and try again later.  He also very kindly gave me a ride into town.  I had him drop me off at the coffee shop, since it's only a few blocks from the library, and I still hadn't had breakfast or coffee.

So I got my coffee and my muffin and told all the coffee shop regulars about my sad tale, and my friend Shane said, "Where's that handyman boyfriend of yours when you need him?" and I said, "No kidding," and Shane said, "He could be there right now fixing stuff for you!" and I said "Yup," and we both sighed, because said handyman is also Shane's friend, and he's gone to rural Virginia for probably most of this year, and that makes both of us, and many of our other friends, sad.

I finished my coffee and headed up the hill to work (it was now up to -4 degrees), where I told my coworker my tale of woe, and called my landlady, and got back to weeding.  I withdrew half a dozen books about global warming from the mid-1980s to early 1990s and remarked that it's kind of amazing that people treat climate change as if it's a new idea.  Then I got rid of a bunch of true crime books and called a woman who said she'd be interested in them if we ever got rid of some, and that seemed to make her day.

And I got a call from the library director, who said that we are going to get some old furniture that is not nearly as old as our old furniture, and that we have a lot of money in our account at the foundation, so if we want, we could buy morne furniture.  Or books.  Or computers.  Or whatever.  So that was really happy.

Just before she was about to leave, my coworker got a call from her daughter, who was driving back to college (and was almost there, in fact), and had just been in a car accident.  No one was hurt, but the daughter was pretty freaked out.  My coworker talked to her for a little while and said "call the police" and "it's going to be okay" and "that's why you have liablity insurance" and all the other things like that that you said.  Then she said to me, "If my daughter calls again, tell her I'll be home in ten minutes." 

The daughter did call again, and I relayed her mom's message, and then I added, "You know, I have wrecked many, many cars" (well, not that many–but I did total a Volvo station wagon (mine) and put a huge dent in a BMW (someone else's). 

The daughter said, "Really?" and I said, "Yeah.  I know sometimes it helps to hear that from someone else."  And she said it did.

And then Shane picked me up from work, and we stopped at the gas station so I could buy a new gas can (because I couldn't find the lid to mine) and some Heet and some gas, and I got home and put the Heet and the gas in my car, and it started right up, and I ran it for quite awhile and then drove into town to fill up the tank and get some water in case I need to flush a toilet or something, and then I came home, and then I called my mom.  And I said, "You know what?  I had this huge catastrophic day and I handled everything just fine and I didn't call you in tears once–and I even got to console someone else who had burst into tears." 

And damn, do I ever feel like a grown-up.

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QotD: Thanksgiving

What are you thankful for?

The Milky Way, and living in a place where I can see it almost every night.

Family and friends and all the many people who fall into both categories, one way or another.

Animals, even when they're being holy terrors.

In a few weeks, I imagine that I shall be extremely thankful for the internet.  I'm always somewhat thankful for it, but I haven't been spending much time online in the past few months because I've been spending a lot of time outside with my boyfriend, who, in mid-December, is moving to rural Virginia.  Living in rural Wyoming is, for the most part, wonderful, but because I come from more populated areas where there are more people and more ideas and more art and more–well, just more–I sometimes feel a little lost here.  The internet–or more exactly, the people who make it up–are part of how I manage to feel a little less like a tiny dot on a dry, windswept hill.

A Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the US–and a happy day to all.  Here's a picture from the trip Jim and I took to Utah just recently.  Lots more where it came from on Flickr, and more on the way. . . I went a little crazy with the camera.

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