Friday, November 17, 2006

The love shirt

Bardiac had a nice description today of a shirt that eases her way through a bad day, partly because it's thick and soft and partly because it fits better than it used to. This is not a small thing in my opinion, and it reminded me of a similar shirt I used to own - or more precisely, of which I was in temporary custody.

Many years ago, my old friend RocketBoy gave me several of his old shirts. There's nothing better than big old shirts from guys you love - worn soft, full of good memories, and big enough to wrap yourself in on cold or scary days. One of them, he told me, was special. Not because of its shape or design - it was just a nicely cut, white cotton long-sleeved shirt - but because it had a long history. I don't even remember the origins of the story, but the shirt came to be in the possession of his girlfriend's father, who gave it to his daughter when she went off to college because she had always loved to steal it from his closet. She wore it to comfort her during the difficult days of adjusting to the new world of college, but when she felt strong and confident, she passed it on to RocketBoy. RocketBoy wore it during some difficult times of his own, but when he figured out a new direction for his life, he gave the shirt to me. And with it he gave me these instructions: Wear it for a while, and then give it to someone you love.

By this time it was a bit frayed at the cuffs, but still soft and strong and a lovely reminder of my friend's support. I confess that I kept hold of it for several years, wearing it as I ended an ugly relationship and worked my way through the complicated years of grad school. After I married and landed my first job, I decided it was time, and I gave the shirt to Musical Friend in Louisiana. I haven't been in touch with him for a while, so I'm not sure how his life is going. But the nice thing about the shirt is that you win either way. If life is rough, you have the comfort of its warmth around your shoulders and the love of all the people that have passed it on to you... or if you're back on top of things, you can give that strength and love to someone else in turn, and smile when you think of them wearing it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

...But where does it go?

Okay, I need help with some meditation-visualizations here. I've been taking an awesome yoga class for the past several months, and when we end in the final corpse pose, the instructor always talks about letting go of whatever stress we've pulled loose, letting it fall away, letting it sink down into the floor.

I love that idea, but I can't help imagining the space about six feet below the floor as a dark seething cesspool of accumulated stress dumped by class after class, week after week, of yoga practitioners. It's a little unsettling. So lately I've been trying to visualize the space beneath the floor as a river, carrying all that stress away and washing us clean. But then I can't help wondering where the river goes, and picturing a big karmic dead zone like where the Mississippi dumps all its nasty fertilizer and chemical load into the Gulf of Mexico, killing everything off.

I'm so attuned to environmental issues that I keep thinking of stress like toxic psychological waste: sure, I can get rid of it and that's nice for me, but where does it end up??

Friday, November 10, 2006

Life, the universe, and everything

Back to the comment box for questions: Amy asks who I was in a former life. That's a little disingenuous, because she knows perfectly well that I have some slightly weird ideas about this-life and beyond-this-life issues, and she's trying to expose me to the blogosphere as the loopy goofus that I am.

But you guys have seen plenty of goofiness here already, and you stuck around, so what the heck. Besides, I don't claim to have any particular sort of doctrine or truth, just my gut feeling, and I'm not going to impose my views on anyone else or imply that this has anything to do with anyone but me, or even suggest that this is much more than the product of an overactive imagination.

Many people seem to believe in reincarnation, that they have past lives they occasionally catch odd glimpses of. I can imagine that working, and I do get the sense about some people that they're "old souls," like they've been through this life business a few times and know their way around.

The only problem I have with this, oddly enough, is that it seems much too limited. If you imagine a soul or a life as a force that carries beyond the physical life-spans of its hosts, why limit yourself to a succession of human lives? Some people would go so far as to imagine that there's a sort of hierarchy of hosts, that you might have one life as a cockroach, and work your way up to a bunny rabbit, and with hard work and dedication end up as a presumably-superior homo sapiens (or fall back down again, if you screw up).

But even that falls short for me. Think of it this way: humans, as a species, perceive the world in a fairly limited way. Our eyes can only perceive part of the spectrum of light; our ears register a pathetically small range of sound; there are other forces of chemistry and magnetism that other species sense but that we don't, just because of the limitations of human perception. So, logically, we tend to think of our own existence within the limits of the possibilities given us by the human brain. If we go so far as to imagine a soul, and the possibility of reincarnation, we tend to think of simply reproducing the experiences we know, but in a slightly different time frame.

But why not think bigger than that? If you're going to imagine a soul or life-force that is independent from a physical body, why limit yourself to the patterns contained within a relatively recent species on one dinky planet in a nondescript solar system on the edge of a minor galaxy? Shouldn't the universe contain infinitely more interesting possibilities? I've always entertained the notion that my soul has had some sort of previous existence, but I don't think of that existence in the shape of a medieval French aristocrat, or a Roman courtesan. (People who talk about their previous lives generally portray them as much more exotic and interesting than the average peasant who would have made up the majority of the population... maybe it's just that those who don't think they have past lives had past lives that were too boring to be worth remembering.) I'd rather think of my soul as a universe-traveler, that has played at being a supernova, and the color blue, and an electron circling the nucleus of an atom, or any of an infinite number of things that are entirely beyond human experience and comprehension, and this time around it's chosen to see what humans are like.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Now for the down side

Although I'm usually persistently and insistently cheerful, I also tend towards trying to keep a balanced perspective on everything - which means that when things start to look good, I allow myself a little criticism and negativity, just to stay honest.

So these days, on the one hand, I'm pumping my fist in the air and cheering: Dems in the House! Dems in the Senate! Rumsfeld out on his ass! YES.

But I also have to admit to some frustration with all the good people of America who voted against Republicans because of the war in Iraq. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad that people are beginning to understand how ugly things are over there, and how badly we've messed up, and that we need to find a different approach than Bush's "Us Good! Them Bad!" tactics. I'm glad that they're frustrated with the Bush administration's failure to accomplish basic social order in Iraq, much less peace and democracy.

But I'm a little irritated that it took them so long. It angers me that people begin to notice that the streets of Baghdad are strewn with decapitated bodies, that American troops are facing increasing casualties, that Iraq is becoming a haven for potential terrorists, that the rest of the world (including our allies) is viewing us with increasing fear and concern, and they say "Oh, this isn't going so well, it isn't fun anymore, maybe we should quit." That's true, but it seems to pass over the fact that it was their own flag-waving enthusiasm that got us into this war in the first place. Sure, I'm angry at the government that trumped up excuses to get us into the war, but I'm also angry at the people who so naively believed them. I'm glad that these people are beginning to get a more realistic view of things, but it's far too late. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, much trust in the US has been destroyed, every country in the so-called "Axis of Evil" has every reason to pursue the development of nuclear weapons as fast as they possibly can, and God only knows where this will all end up. But some of the people who voted for Bush are sorry now, so it's all OK.

I’m an historian, and I begin every survey class with a discussion of the importance of history and why it's a required subject at nearly every level of our educational system. Students always say that it's important because we need to learn from the past, or at least to avoid making mistakes that we've made before. I would like to think that's true, but it only works if we either have some familiarity with history, or if we listen to historians.

Nearly every professional historian I know strenuously opposed the war in the Iraq from the beginning, and several major professional history organizations issued formal statements to this effect. Historians (even those whose specialties are not remotely linked to the Middle East) thought it was dangerously naive to think the Iraqis would welcome us with flowers and parades, they argued that there was no link whatsoever between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, and they warned of the factional tensions that were likely to explode if we removed Saddam. But did anyone pay a damn bit of attention?

Maybe I'll have to begin my survey courses with a slightly more emphatic message: Ignore the historians, and people die.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fun with receipts

We stopped at the market on the way home to pick up some essential supplies (I am not proud of this, but Diet Pepsi with Lime is a drug I depend on to function in my daily life) and in the bakery section we found some nice fresh-baked bolillos. "Bolillo" is just Spanish for "roll," so they're ordinary roundish white-bread rolls, and we got a bag full.

I was just now entering the debit-card transaction into my files, when I noticed what it said on the receipt. While the bin was clearly labeled "bolillos," the receipt identifies our purchase as "Ethnic Bread." (Do you think if I bought their challah, it would show up as "Religious Bread"?)

Oh, and here's another one! We purchased two boxes of Swanson's brand chicken broth, and the abbreviation that shows up on the receipt is "Swan Broth." I wonder if that's tastier.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

General sense of inadequacy, soothed by food

Yet another weekend has gone by in which I have not enjoyed enough free time, nor have I gotten done all the things that were on my weekend list to do. I keep wrestling between the desire to buckle down, work the whole weekend, and at least get caught up on everything, and the desire to just take a day off and goof around a little and restore my sanity a bit, and I end up not doing either very well.

So, for a quickie post, I'll take up Phantom on her request for food blogging. This paradoxically can serve as a response to both the question "what's for dinner?" and the question "what are you craving that you can only get in Spain?" because my husband has attempted, for the first time, to reproduce my Awesome Sister-in-Law's famous albondigas. Literally this just translates as "meatballs," but that doesn't really do them justice, because they're meatballs cooked in a special secret sauce, served over crispy potatoes. I've never had them prepared this way outside of Spain, but LWI spent a chunk of time this afternoon slaving over the secret sauce, and oh baby does it smell good.

While he was doing that, I whipped up another favorite recipe, my Awesome Sister-in-Law's famous yogurt bread. I find this recipe oddly entertaining because it measures everything in proportion to the size of yogurt you use, so you just use the empty yogurt container to measure the other ingredients: two yogurts of yogurt, two yogurts of sugar, three yogurts of flour, half a yogurt of vegetable oil. (See, I'm chuckling just typing that out. I am so easily entertained, it's an embarrassment.) That plus three eggs (whip the whites first, and then mix in the yolks, then stir in everything else) [oops - and a couple of teaspoons of baking powder!] and a handful of frozen berries and/or chocolate chips, baked for 40 minutes or so, and you have yourself an excellent breakfast for the week.

It may sound from these two examples that we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves in the kitchen without my Awesome Sister-in-Law. The truth is that we managed for some time without her recipes, but we don't quite remember how, and truly those were darker days.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Purple_Kangaroo just left me a nice comment on an old post (thanks, PK!), old enough that I had to go back and re-read it because I had no memory of what it was about, and in the process of looking for it I glanced over all the posts from that month (March 2005). And that made me realize, goddamn, this blog used to be a lot better. I don't know if it's fall, which always makes me a bit fuzzy, or a phase of mild depression, or just the usual mid-semester weariness, but I haven't had thoughts that clear and interesting for some time.

But I shall carry on, and perhaps the Fun Witty Pilgrim will eventually come back out from her hiding place in the dark corners of my head.

jo(e) asked me about my earliest memory, which is interesting because I have very, very few memories of my childhood, up until about the age of twelve. Nothing traumatic; it's just that I was the youngest of six children, and my mother was tired of having kids, and both of us were eager for me to get through the whole childhood business as quickly as possible so we could get on with our lives.

But my father and I had some very close moments, and one of those I remember vividly. It was fall, cool enough that I was wearing the fuzzy purple coat that I loved, and we were walking through the leaves in Centennial Park. I was four or five years old, and there was something I was worried about - perhaps the first day of school, or some new event I wasn't sure how to handle. I was trying to explain to my father how I felt, but I didn't have the right words. I wasn't afraid, really, because it wasn't a scary thing; I wasn't nervous, because I was pretty sure I could handle whatever it was; I just had a vague sense of unease at the unfamiliar situation coming up.

My father listened to my attempts to describe this feeling, and then he smiled and looked at me and said very carefully, "You are apprehensive!" And oh, the wonder of having the word that captured exactly that feeling. I sounded it out - app-re-hen-sive. Yes! That's what I was. Ideas have colors and shapes in my head, and words are like the boxes we use to convey them to other people; the goal is to find a box of the right shape and size so that it won't distort the fragile idea that it carries. I love finding the right box, and I love that my earliest memory is of my father helping me find one.