Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chop chop

So I finally finished my review of the Nasty Stinky Book (which turned out to be not all that nasty and stinky, just moderately troublesome). Relieved and happy to get the thing off my to-do list, I went back to the original instruction sheet to make sure I was doing the heading and the formatting and all that stuff properly. Everything shipshape, all I needed to do was print... on A4 paper. It's a British journal, and they want an actual printout as well as a copy on disk mailed to them across the Atlantic.

Those of you who have ever been anywhere outside the US are probably familiar with A4 paper; it's just a shade bigger than our regular 8 1/2 x 11. It's another product of the metric system, which means that most civilized people in the world use it but us. My software lets me format a document for A4; my printer has a setting for A4; now all I needed was the paper itself.

The campus bookstore? Nope. Office Depot? Never heard of it. (Seriously - they had no idea what I was talking about.) Fortunately I began my quest by making phone calls rather than driving around town; something deep in my brain must have suspected that this wasn't going to be as easy as it ought to have been. After six calls to major office supply stores, I only found one person who even knew what A4 meant, and she didn't have any.

I ranted in fury to the Left-Wing Intellectual, who said "Did you check the office? I'm sure I've seen some lying around in the office." I didn't believe him, but asked him to go look for some; it would keep him out of my hair while I yelled at the office-supply people, and on the off chance he was right, he would totally make my day. He turned up triumphantly a few minutes later with a stack of paper that looked...suspiciously long. No, it was just our non-metric next size up, 8 1/2 x 14. "Thanks, but sorry, hon, that's just a little bit too large."

Hey. Wait a minute. That's just a little bit too large.

One rendez-vous with the paper-slicer, and voila, the 8 1/2 x 14 inches are magically transformed into the desired 210 x 297 millimeters. Do you think they'll notice?

Friday, August 25, 2006


B* had a nice post the other day about how “people attend to details about us that we might not ever notice.” This reminded me of a wonderful conversation I had with GoldenFriend the other night. Golden and I went to college together, and we’ve kept in touch off and on ever since, even though at this point we haven’t seen each other for a few years. Most of the time months will go by between conversations, but one of us always breaks the silence, and we always manage to find a connection again. This is something I treasure.

She called me a few nights ago, and during our conversation (especially with all the recent kids-off-to-college posts I’ve read in the blogosphere), it struck me that Golden and I met for the first time on our first day of college, almost exactly twenty years ago. Twenty years! So I asked her: Golden, you sound the same, you have the same sense of humor, I still think I know what matters to you and what your days are like. But it’s been twenty years since we’ve met, and we haven’t been around each other much for the last sixteen of those twenty. What’s different about you now? How should I adjust my mental image of you to match the person you are now?

Golden and I love these kinds of topics, so she took that question and ran with it, and we had a fascinating conversation. As part of this, of course, she tossed the same question back at me. I responded that in some ways I’m more brave than I used to be, because I have more experience and I’m more confident in my abilities. But in some ways, surprisingly, I’m less brave. There are things I did without thinking twenty years ago that just boggle the mind now (arriving in the Bangkok airport in the middle of the night with no idea of where I was going to stay is one example that comes to mind). I’m glad I did those things while I did, because the thought of them terrifies me now, and I have no idea where I got the nerve to do them them. At this point Golden interrupted me and said “But one of the things I most vividly remember you telling me then is that sometimes you did things precisely because they scared you. You said that if something was scary just because it was a challenge, that was a better reason to do it than not to do it, and that’s exactly why you flew off to Bangkok. That was always one of the things I admired most about you.”

What’s funny is that I don’t remember saying that at all, but here she’s carried it around for twenty years as part of her idea of me. (And, come to think of it, that is exactly why I flew off to Bangkok.) I’ve been facing some interesting professional opportunites lately, and they’re both exciting and scary. I’m afraid of making big commitments; I’m afraid of making a mess in front of lots of people; I’m thinking that maybe the common-sense thing to do would be to back off a bit, save my strength, not get over-burdened.

But now I wonder - maybe I should look at myself through Golden’s eyes, and take the advice I gave myself twenty years ago. Why the heck not?

Monday, August 14, 2006

High praise

Back from a brief cat-petting break, I paused by LWI's desk and dropped a kiss on his cheek as he was hard at work preparing a class on modern Germany.

His response: "Ah, that's much better than Hitler."