Saturday, December 31, 2005

We're a rum lot, we Rutabegas*

I was off work this week, and among other things I went to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park with my friend Monica. It was quite interesting, actually, and I got to chatting with the park ranger, and explained that I have ancestors and relatives who tromped around up there in the Northwest Territories, and our family even has a river and a mountain and a lake and various other things named after us. (All names will be changed, not so much to protect the innocent as to prevent people searching the Internet for my illustrious ancestors from stumbling upon this blog and discovering how very un-illustriously their gene pool has mutated.)

Anyway, the ranger asked a simple question which stopped me short and got me going on one of my cute, obsessive little research benders: "What were they doing up there?"

Here is the basic story, as I can piece it together from family and the all-knowing Internet: In the early 1800s, a woman in England got knocked up, and she and her beau got hitched right quick and went to Ceylon, where little Julius Rutabega was born. Julius later turns up in Canada joining the military in his teens, and then joins up with the Hudson's Bay Company, like so many adventurous men before him. In 1869, Julius marries a nice girl named Sarah, and they proceed to have 11 children while living up in the god-forsaken unspeakably cold wildnerness of the far, far, FAR north. That's right ELEVEN children. Nine of whom survive, no less.

Now for some reason, Julius is no longer using the esteemed Rutabega name, but rather has adopted his mother's maiden name, Camel. His wife goes by Camel, his children do too. In 1876, Julius takes a two-year leave of absence from his job, leaves Far North, and travels by dogsled, snowshoe, train and steamer back to England and legally changes his name from Rutabega to Camel. Why? Why did he suddenly do this, at the age of 40?

One of Julius and Sarah's many children went on to become a famous scientist and government official, with many things named after him in Canada. This golden child happened to be born in 1876, the year Julius set out on his mysterious trip to England. Did Julius sense greatness in his new son, and decide then and there that he had to make the name change legal? What was wrong with the name Rutabega, anyway - did it just sound silly, or did Julius have Daddy Issues? Did something else take Julius to England that year, and the legal name change was just some extra housekeeping he took care of while he had the chance? Why couldn't he change his name in Canada? Were they sticklers about these kind of legalities on the Canadian frontier? Would the poor Canadians eventually have been stuck with Lake Rutabega instead of Lake Camel, had Julius not braved all of Alberta and Saskatchewan by snowshoe that year?

I find this story fascinating, and it gives me insight into how people become obsessed with researching their genealogy - and let me tell you, having ventured out into the Internet, there are some obsessed folk out there. I don't intend to become one, but I really do want to know: Why did Julius Rutabega travel to England and come back Julius Camel?

One other interesting note: It turns out the spunky and fertile Sarah - who lived to be 90 years old - was half Native Canadian. Given that in fact this branch of my lineage is moderately famous - and also officially claimed their First Nation membership at that time - it would probably be possible for me to register as a member. Which I would never do, since I do not culturally self-identify as a Native Canadian from the far north, but Enrico did point out to me that I may have the option not just of a back-up country, but a whole back-up race.

I should clarify that I am not descended from the famous son of the Rutabega/Camel clan, but from one of his numerous siblings. I won't say which one, except that it's not the one who drowned crossing the Great Slave Lake by dogsled.

And, in answer to the nice park ranger's question: My people just chose to live up there, because they loved the country, and that's where they found fame and fortune, and it's where at least some of their people had lived before any Europeans even arrived. Rumor has it that a few of those plucky Rutabega boys did hotfoot it over to the Klondike to search for gold for a while. But being native to the area, they figured out pretty quickly that it was a miserable, miserable proposition.

*A little joke for you Cold Comfort fans.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Possibly my favorite night of the year

Last night I went to the 36th annual Messiah Sing-Along at my church. It was my second time attending the event. It's not really a church function, more like a community function that happens to be put on by my church. If you've ever been to a Messiah sing-along, usually (in my experience) they are like going to a performance of Handel's Messiah, with an orchestra and soloists who are professionals or part of an organized amateur group, and then the audience can stand up and sing along with the choruses.

This sing-along is not like that. In this sing-along, everybody performs the whole Messiah - all three parts, with every recitative, aria, repeat and da capo. There are no soloists. The orchestra, too, is made up of people who show up to play. Of the 500 or so people in the room, only the conductor and the harpsichordist are professionals.

I find this experience to be profoundly, movingly and unabashedly populist. It's more like a musical barn-raising than a performance. There's an indescribable sense of community, of all these people who show up, on the same night at the same time each year, to craft together this beautiful, famous, complicated, 4-hour piece of music. There are many, many wrong notes. Some pieces are quite shaky, while others achieve startling clarity and beauty. But of course the orchestra has never played together, let alone rehearsed. There are over 100 people singing each recitative and aria, rather than just one practiced soloist.

As in a barn-raising, we tackle our project one step at a time, knowing that we are not experts but trusting that we have the basic tools to do the job. In between each of the 53 pieces, the conductor gives any instructions or heads-up - "ok orchestra, we're doing the version in G minor on this next one, and sopranos - the key is to keep those sixteenth notes light!" After each piece, we all applaud an aria particularly well done, or a valiant effort at something difficult - after all, we all have the score in front of us, we can see how hard it was, and we know our section will have its own challenge soon enough. The conductor is enthusiastic as well as gifted - how she keeps us all together is truly a wonder - and she compliments without patronizing. "Bravi, basses, that was magnificent, truly!"

I myself, having sung soprano for years, have shifted to alto, my voice no longer able to hit the high notes. So I'm learning to sing harmony, which is much harder than singing the melody (after all, you can almost always pick out the melody easily enough). I've decided the altos have some of the most beautiful arias in the whole Messiah, including Oh Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion and the haunting He was despis'ed. And that terribly tricky one, Thou art gone up on high, which went off so well this year. Plus we have the only duet in the entire Messiah, a bear of a thing with the tenors, late in the third part when everyone's tired, which didn't go off so well this year. But standing in the midst of 100 women, all singing in unison, "Lift up thy voice with strength; Lift it up, be not afraid!" - the wrong notes seem to disappear with the power of it.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Very Happy Holidays

The days are getting longer again. The sun has decided to come back, hooray! A little factoid for you: Last year while doing research on Christmas, Enrico learned that the Chinese yin-yang symbol is actually a visual representation of the changing length of the days. It is created by tracking the length of shadow cast by an 8-foot pole in the ground throughout the days of the year. I'm a little unclear on exactly how these measurements were taken, but through it the Chinese figured out the length of the year and all about the solstices and stuff. So the yin-yang is a literal symbol of the balance of light and dark, and also of seasons and change. Pretty cool, huh?

Our holiday festivities are underway, and the first night of the film festival was a great success. All week long, I had a great time going down to the public market and stocking up on Mediterranean supplies for the film festival. My office is just a block from the market, and every day I went and got a few things. I bought a block of fresh feta from the cheese stand, and some freshly baked whole-wheat pitas from the Greek market. I bought imported Italian olives and artisan-made orzo from DeLaurenti's Italian market. From various produce stands I selected some pomegranites, as well as rutabegas, turnips, leeks and celery root for a winter couscous. My most exotic purchase was a bag of Ras El Hanout, a Moroccan spice blend made up of various ingredients, including Damascus rose petals. The regular spice vendor on the main level of the market didn't sell Ras El Hanout, but they sent me through the bowels of the market to another spice vendor that I'd never even noticed before, a store so full of exotic smells that I didn't want to leave.

One of the nice side benefits of the film festival is that it gives me a reason to start the new year with a clean house. Thursday night and Friday we cleaned and cleaned, and now the floors shine and the clutter has all found a home, and the furniture covers are as free of dog hair as we can get them.

And so here we sit, with our Christmas lights and our sparkingly clean house, and enough hummus and pine nuts and fine olives to get us through the weekend, and bottles of Sambuca and port to keep our insides toasty. And a little bit more daylight each day. Life is good. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

First let me say that we are not waging the so-called "War on Christmas," despite our decidedly un-Christmasy film festival tradition. We have lights up, and our little ceramic Christmas tree, and I'm having just as much fun stocking up on Mediterranean foodstuffs for the film festival as I would have preparing a traditional Christmas meal (whatever the heck that is in my family). But...this year we looked around and decided to give our Christmas gifts to the world instead of to our friends and family. We picked four good organizations and made them our Christmas beneficiaries.

I know there are some who find this approach self-righteous and wet-blankety, and truly, that is not our intention. We're not trying to make a statement. We're not saying everybody should be giving to charity instead of buying Xboxes and Chiapets and books and chocolates. Honest. Some years, I get great joy from picking out gifts, this year just wasn't one of them. Kids will still get gifts from us, because we know they don't want to hear that we sent their Christmas presents to Pakistan. It's quite possible that we're simply too lazy to shop, actually. But regardless, it's what we felt like doing. So, here are our Christmas recipients - good causes all, in case you're looking for some.

Northwest Harvest
Since September 2005 (after Hurricane Katrina), cash and food donations to foodbanks across the country have been down considerably compared to last year, and the food bank system is feeling the strain. Northwest Harvest secures over 18 million pounds of food for distribution through warehouses across Washington state, supplying food without fees to over 300 food banks and meal programs.

Mercy Corps:
According to a recent report on NPR, the massive earthquake that struck Pakistan and Kashmir this year is the fifth largest natural disaster to occur in our lifetimes, killing approximately 80,000 people. As winter descends on this hard-to-reach region, leaving thousands of people without basic shelter or medical services, this disaster has generated considerably fewer charitable relief contributions than either the Asian tsunami or for Hurricane Katrina.

Global Fund for Women
The Global Fund for Women is a grant-making foundation supporting women’s human rights organizations around the world. The challenges women face vary widely across communities, cultures, religions, traditions, and countries. The Global Fund makes grants to grassroots women's groups based outside the United States working to address human rights issues such as educational access for girls, economic and environmental justice, stopping violence against women, expanding civic and political participation, and advancing health and reproductive rights.

American Civil Liberties Union
Because freedom can’t defend itself. I think that's enough said on this one.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Check, check, check

Reserve Film Festival movies at Scarecrow - check. (Gotta love Scarecrow - when I said "And the next one is more obscure, a 1937 French movie called Pepe le Moko?" the guy said "Oh yeah, great flick. Of course we have it.")

Purchase jumbo-sized tubs of hummus and tsatsiki - check.

Find recipe for orzo - check.

Clean house - um, not so much yet.

Almost there...

Tomorrow is, at long merciful last, the shortest day of the year. Sunrise, 7:54 am. Sunset, 4:21 pm.

I started taking multivitamins with iron because I became convinced that this seemingly inescapable lethargy I feel must mean I'm anemic or something. But I've decided it's just the time of year. On days when I go to my job, I have an inside office and if I don't go out during the day I literally may not see the sun. It all depends on which bus I take in the morning; normally I catch a few rays, but a half hour of sunlight experienced through the tinted glass of a metro bus is hardly nourishing.

I know lots of places have even shorter days than we do, but we also have The Grey, the stubborn cloud cover that descends on us for weeks or months at a time. Sunday was actually a gorgeously bright, sunny day, and as we were driving down the highway I felt myself wincing from the sun, as if its unaccustomed glare caused me pain, like Gollum. I'm sure I'm not alone in that - this is the only place I've ever lived where the traffic reporters cite delays due to "sunshine." As if the drivers are all so stunned at the unexpected brightness, they become disoriented and just stop their cars in the middle of the road.

So, bring on the nadir of sunlight tomorrow. It can only get better from there.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Portrait of a Garbage Gut

The chocolate and tinfoil have really laid him low, haven't they? Can you detect the rapidly swishing tail there, to the left? What a little stinker. (Literally. The chocolate flatulence, it is stunning.)

So smart, and yet so stupid

I'm pretty sure our dogs are able to track the days of the week. I say this because last night, we went to a friend's house for dinner, and Sunday is an unusual night for us to go out. And indeed, apparently our dogs knew that Sunday should have been Pack Togetherness Time, because when we got home we discovered they were PISSED, and had expressed their displeasure by mounting a raid on the dining room table. As I've mentioned before, Toby is lanky enough to get up on counters and tables, and occasionally the dogs pull off daring heists requiring a degree of cooperation that would make the Mission Impossible team proud.

Unfortunately, this time of year there are often extra holiday goodies on the dining room table, which we don't always remember to move to higher ground. So, when we got home, the detritus in the dog lair indicated that the heist booty included: two red Christmas candles; a tsatsuma orange; a package of fruit chews (contents eaten); the warranty card for our new DVD player; and an entire box of chocolate truffles - consumed, wrappers and all.

Yes, we are aware that chocolate is toxic for dogs. But fear not. We've had reason to check on this before. They would have to each consume about four pounds of pure baker's chocolate to have any real ill effects. It's the wrappers we're more concerned about. It's not as bad as the time Toby consumed an entire burlap bag of butter cookies - if that bag made a reappearance with no harm done, I'm hoping the little gold foil wrappers won't pose a problem. If nothing else, we've always wondered how Nelly and Toby divide up the spoils in our absence, and this should provide us with some empirical evidence - we can just count the wrappers as they appear, should we feel curious enough to do so.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Hell Myth

This week I found myself in a conversation with a man of the cloth, and we got to talking about the fundamentalists and the mega-churches and the scary, scary versions of religion that seem to be so popular these days. I asked this gentlemen why he thinks the rule-obsessed, Rapture-fixated, fundamentalist versions of religion appeal to people, because myself, I just don't understand it. Why would anyone want to buy into that view of the universe? It's so dreary and disempowering.

"They've got hell," he answered. "It's a powerful motivator, hell-avoidance. Most of us don't believe in hell, which leaves us at a disadvantage in getting our message out. We've just got love and peace and justice. It's not as compelling as hell."

Ok, I guess I can understand that. Fear is a powerful motivator. However, I pointed out that my personal idea of hell is a world where you're bad, your body is bad, your sexuality is bad, and your brain is especially bad and NOT TO BE USED. Where people suffer horribly from poverty and war and the destruction of natural systems that sustain life. Isn't that hell on earth? Why can't the tolerant religious folk preach just as effectively using that as their foil?

In our city, five of the mainline Protestant churches in one part of town are considering selling most of their property and building one shared, ecumenical complex with multiple worship spaces, offices, classrooms, youth facilities - everything they all might want. They all currently have big, old church buildings that they struggle to maintain with small congregations (this being one of the most un-churched cities in the country). They figure, as progressive Protestants, they have more in common across their denominational lines than they do with the conservatives within their ranks. They can create their own little religious haven where gay people are welcome, women are equal to men, God isn't a vindictive old man, other religions are cool, war and oppression are bad, Mother Nature is our friend, and there IS NO HELL except that which we create here on earth. As far as they know, this is the first such effort in the country. Nobody knows if it will work out. I wish them luck, though.

Friday, December 16, 2005

And to add a little outrage...

...on the radio right now, they are interviewing a grandmotherly-sounding woman who is part of a group disseminating information to high school students and parents on limiting the activities of military recruiters in high schools. They're a bunch of Quakers. They aren't even an anti-war group, they just don't want military recruiters to have unbridled access to their local schools and their children. They found out they were under surveillance by the U.S. governance as a threat to national security.

Oh, how appropriate that this story is breaking just as the Senate is considerating an extension of the Patriot Act.

Miscellaneous Shellfish...

...or, Did I Miss Something?

I replaced the tempermental household diety that was our DVD/VCR player/recorder, purchasing a new one that has the most inscrutable user's guide I've ever read. I don't understand the different kinds of DVD formats, and recording modes, and whatever the heck "progressive scanning" is. Why would you assume we all know these things like we know the difference between cheddar and swiss cheese, or PC versus Mac? Is it so hard to provide a little explanation? Especially since the nice man who sold me the unit pointed out that this particular manufacturer invented the DVD player, so you'd think they'd have figured out how to explain it by now.

For the past two days, the weather people have issued a "freezing fog warning." I don't recall having ever heard this term before. What is freezing fog? Why do we need to be warned about it?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Sort of like exposing the Freemasons!

So I just got back from a 32-hour trip to Dallas, Texas - 4 hour flights each way, between which was one business dinner, a night in an airport hotel, a 6-hour business meeting at the airport, and a couple hours in a bar.

The flight home seemed absolutely interminable. I don't know why it seemed particularly long - after all, I did the 20-hour flight between Seattle and Buenos Aires this year. My colleague/boss from Seattle actually did the whole thing in one day. As he and I were waiting for the shuttle train to our departure terminal, I looked at him and realized he had travelled halfway across the continent with nothing but a file folder full of paper. No bags, no briefcase, no computer, no coat. Like he'd just popped out of the city for a quick meeting at Microsoft. He said it did feel a little weird.

The meeting itself was in one of those "airline clubs," where super-frequent flyers can get away from the hustle and bustle and the rest of us unwashed masses. They always have opaque glass doors, I've noticed, tantalizing with the suggestion of great luxury, but revealing nothing. It turn out they also have meeting rooms, and catering, and my boss is a member so he arranged it all. At dinner the night before, I confessed that I'd never been in one of these places.

"Is it just like an extension of the rest of the aiport," I asked, "only quieter and less crowded? Or is it, you know, spiffy?"

"Oh," he said, "it's spiffy."

And so - I reveal what they don't want you to know about what's on the other side of those opaque glass doors. It's nice. Big cushy chairs, like a private gentleman's club. Little cubicles where you can set up and work. Free munchies and coffee. A full-service bar. The meeting room was nice, and equipped with a speaker phone and a computer projector screen.

But, I wouldn't say it was anything spectacular. The catered lunch was myeh. The wireless wasn't free. The cushy chairs were built for people at least 5'10" in height, as if to intimidate anyone smaller by making you slouch and dangle your feet. The coffee was terrible. Don't get me wrong, it's a much, much nicer place to wait for a flight. But it's not awe-inspiring like, say, the Biltmore.

So now you know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Does it count if you don't leave the airport?

Later today I'm flying to Dallas for a board meeting for my current job. The meeting will be held in the airport. Not just at one of those attached airport hotels, mind you - in the airport itself, in one of those special clubs that airlines have for super-duper-frequent flyers. I've never been inside of one before, myself; just caught glimpses, cool and inviting and mysterious behind frosted sliding-glass doors.

I'm flying out a day early and will actually stay in a hotel 5 minutes outside the airport itself. But lots of other people are literally flying in just for the meeting. My boss who's here in Seattle is doing that, flying in tomorrow morning, attending the 5-hour meeting and flying home. It's a 3+ hour flight each way. What a long frickin' work day that makes.

I just find this concept kind of odd. So those people - and even ones coming in a night ahead but staying at an attached hotel airport - will essentially never leave the airport for the entire trip. Does that count? Do you ever really arrive in Dallas in that case, or are you suspended in a kind of geographic limbo?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Third Annual Holly Street Film Festival

Two years ago, I had a case of the holiday blues. So we hatched a plan to pretend the holidays didn't exist. We held a film festival. We put out a schedule of film and food, and told people - we'll be here, watching the flicks and eating the food. If you want to come by, you'll be welcome. The first year's theme was Food & Film From Around the World, or some such thing, and included classics such as the 6-hour Bolliwood extravaganza Lagaan, Nick & Nora tossing back Christmas cocktails in The Thin Man, and the screamingly funny-bad Tarzan (seriously - little people in blackface playing pygmies). Last year's theme was Comfort Food for Liberals, and included a black comedy about liberal roomates who invite conservatives over for dinner and kill them (The Last Supper), and the classic Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood.

So it's back - the Third Annual Holly Street Film Festival. Those of you out there who are local and know us - you're welcome to join in the fun, just drop me a line. Here's the deal.

This year’s theme, in honor of our trip to Italy: Movies on the Mediterranean. A schedule is listed below. Friends of friends are welcome. Kids are also welcome, but few of this year’s movies are recent enough to have ratings, so you’ll have to judge the content for yourselves. And lastly, we do our best to reserve the movies ahead of time, but of course everything’s subject to availability. The particulars:

  • RSVP, at least a day in advance, because we’ll need to adjust the food and because the festival’s viewing facilities are rather small, so an unexpected crowd could be a challenge
  • BYOB, at least if you want the alcoholic variety.
  • All meals will be vegetarian, although some may include seafood. This year, we’re not planning specific meals ahead. It will all be Mediterranean fare, in honor of the theme, based on whatever whim might possess us. Olives, funny cheeses, falafel, pasta, that sort of thing.
  • Dinner at 6, followed by movie, except where matinees are noted
The schedule

Friday, December 23: Italy
Featured Film: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966, R) – “A bawdy Broadway farce set in ancient Rome where a conniving slave plots his way to freedom.” A classic, an Oscar-winning score, and supposedly very, very funny.

Saturday, December 24: Greece
Featured Film: Zorba the Greek (1964) – Another classic, with Anthony Quinn as the lively laborer who teaches an uptight young Englishman the proper lust for life.

Sunday, December 25: Israel
Featured Film: Exodus (1960) – Rounding out a weekend of classic movies made in the 1960s, we move on to this chronicle, based on a Leon Uris novel, of the post-WWII partition of Palestine and the birth of Israel. Boasts an all-star cast including Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb and Sal Mineo.

Friday, December 30: France/Algeria
Featured Film: Pepe le Moko (1937) – An influential early French film about a notorious gangster holed up in the Casbah, emerging at great risk for of love of a beautiful woman. Established Jean Gabin as a French film idol and was the basis for two follow-ups, the popular Boyer-Lamar Algiers (1938) and the 1948 musical The Casbah.

Saturday, December 31: Monte Carlo
Featured Film: To Catch a Thief (1955) – Yes, we’ve all seen it a million times. But the scenery is beautiful, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are beautiful, and it has a big fancy party scene appropriate for New Year’s Eve. Dress up or wear a mask, if you want, or don’t – but join us in breathless anticipation for the many classic lines… “Would you like a leg, or a breast?” and “Poulet! Vous ĂȘtes un poulet!” Ah, good times.

Sunday, January 1: Various secret pirate coves and ships
Pirates! What better way to go out with a bang? Enrico has decreed there shall be a Pirate Double Feature to end the festival. We’re not sure either one actually takes place on the Mediterranean, but as he points out – “it’s Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner. Who cares?”
Featured Afternoon Film: The Sea Hawk (1940). Every film festival should have some Errol Flynn swashbucklin’. Flynn is a patriot privateer who saves England from the Spanish.
Featured Evening Film: Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951). Seriously, how can you pass this up: “Feverish romantic fantasy has playgirl/nightclub singer Pandora (Ava Gardner) living in 1930s Spain, romanced by every man in sight. Naturally she cares for none of them until she meets enigmatic Dutch Captain Hendric van der Zee (James Mason) who is, in fact, the legendary Flying Dutchman – condemned to wander the seas forever unless a woman is willing to give up her life for him!”

Sunday, December 11, 2005

In which I once again reveal too much about my inner workings

I thought I had contained Overzealous Ozzie, limited his ability to be a pain in my ass without pulling out the big guns - but it appears I may have underestimated him. Damn you, Freston, and your evil minion Ozzie! But it's ok. After all, I'm just a temp. A temp CEO, but a temp nonetheless. And though I do get exasperated when somebody repeatedly suggests I'm a complete idiot, I ultimately understand what I'm in service to.

Several years ago, I saw Robert Kennedy Jr. speak - which, as an aside, is the only time I've ever gotten a sense of the electricity, the inspiration that people felt when listening to John Kennedy, or Martin Luther King. But - I digress. Kennedy was talking about his work as an attorney with communities in the Hudson River Valley, and their efforts to hold accountable the corporations who had polluted the river, leaving dead ecosystems and disease-causing toxins in their wake.

Kennedy talked about the fact that we in the US have lost sight of what it means to incorporate. Incorporation, he pointed out, is a structure that we, the people, chose to create within our laws to allow people to associate together for some social benefit that could be better achieved collectively rather than individually. You have to apply for incorporation, and through your articles of incorporation, you describe the social good that you expect to achieve through the power of association. When an incorporation is approved, it creates a social contract wherein we, the people, agree that this arrangement will further the interests of society. The fact that this simple act of incorporation happens so frequently and mechanically does not take away that fact that corporations exist at our pleasure because we, the people, through our laws, have given our permission and our blessing. Whenever we endow corporations with the same rights as individuals, when we let them damage people and communities and the world, we are doing something very dangerous. If those corporations do not live up to their end of the social contract, to create social benefit, we the people have not only the right, but the responsibility to withdraw our permission.

I loved this description, and it combined with another concept that a mentor of mine used to espouse: that there is both overt social change, like protesting or writing politicians or spending your time trying to change the world, and covert social change - where you simply live your life as if it is the way you want it to be. Which sounds silly, until you think about the fact that if every person acted as if the world were that way, it would, de facto, be that way. If you can keep your mind and your intention in that space, every mundane act can become radical, an act of social change.

So when I'm working for an organization, I try to think of the corporation the way RFK Jr. made me see it, as it would be in the world I wish for: a sacred social contract, intended to foster social good as specified when the organization incorporated. I try to think of myself as moving through the organization, for a time, in service not just to the mission, or the board, or the people I work for, or the organization's constitutencies - but to the underlying social contract. In moments of confusion I even visualize a little imaginary committee of citizens who reviewed and approved the original incorporation request, and who are periodically checking in to make sure we're doing what we said we would. I picture them as regular, honest folk, in simple clothing and a rustic little courthouse, reviewing our organization's promise to society, and whether we're living up to it. It may sound a little nutty, but it keeps me grounded.

I explain this to people who work for me, because it has odd side effects, like making me a sticker about annoying legalities. I figure all those labor laws and stuff are part of the social contract, and if I want to behave as if that contract is sacred, I have to respect all of it - or make an effort to change the contract, the laws. I explain to employees I don't expect them to work long hours, or put their job before their personal lives; I just expect them to show up and be authentically in service to the social contract, however they may conceptualize that.

So when Ozzie tries for some baffling reason to be the boss of me, I just try to remember what I'm in service to, rather than give in to the urge to crush him like a bug. However, y'all might want to start my legal defense fund now, in case I'm driven to murder Ozzie while I'm in Texas next week. Texas would be a particularly unfortunate place to be driven to murder, given their love of executin' folks down there. Let's just hope it doesn't come to that, and I'll keep visualizing my rustic little Council of Citizens.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ok so it's not a goiter

It turns out a goiter is an enlarged thyroid, which is not what the ping-pong-ball-like growth under my chin would be. It's probably just an enlarged lymph node, suggesting that my immune system is amped up to fight something. Given my chronic allergy problems, most likely my system has ramped up against some damn thing that it shouldn't worry about at all, but, you know, it doesn't always have the best judgment.

That's what my friend the doctor said. Of course, she pointed out, she is a gynecologist, and I should take any diagnosis involving my immune system and my head with that caveat in mind. She also suggested that I could continue refering to my ping-pong ball as my goiter, if it amuses me to do so. Which it does. To me, goiter sounds like one of those quaint, misunderstood ailments that people don't actually get any more, like gout (which people do still get, and which I had once), and consumption (which people totally still get, only they don't call it that any more), and chilblains (yeah, I have no idea on that one). Or the vapors. Maybe next week I could beg off my business trip to Texas on the grounds that I have a case of goiter and the vapors.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Anybody know what a goiter is?

Because I think I might have one. That gland right under my chin? It's been growing bigger all day. And sore, very sore. Isn't that what a goiter is? An unseemly, swelling growth under your chin?

Of course it's Friday night, so I'm self-medicating: peppermint tea with rum, Dilettante chocolates, and pomegranite seeds. I'm sure that's good for goiter.

Or, maybe I could call my doctor friend.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Evolution, of sorts

I so should not blog about this but I can't help it. I am so blessed in my professional circumstances, I have no call for cranky work blogging. But I have just one tiny little thing that provides me some solidarity, some connection to the zillions of bloggers out there who focus on bitching about work just about full-time. So basically, I'm blogging about work out of a need to belong.

There's a guy who's NOT my boss - remember, I have fabulous bosses right now - but who seems to think he is. Let's call him Overzealous Ozzie. He was sending me emails (with little red URGENT exclamation points!) demanding that I account for my progress on various items of business for which he is IN NO WAY ACCOUNTABLE and for which I am 100% accountable TO SOMEBODY ELSE. Namely, to my boss, who is absolutely welcome to call me up eight times a day if he wants and demand an accounting of my progress, and I will cheerfully give it to him. Cheerfully. Only he doesn't do that, because he's a good boss, and I'm doing my job.

Truly, this dynamic is downright weird. I've never experienced anything like it. During my Time of No Sleep, I shot off a couple of pretty smart-mouthed emails to Ozzie, putting him in his place I suppose. As I have acknowledged, these were not my best moments. Nonetheless, either he has gotten the message or he is just evolving and adapting, like the Borg. Now I get emails about things that are -still! - completely my responsibility and not in any way his, only they say things like "I'm looking forward to seeing the next iteration of this presentation. If you could please send the pieces to me, I'd be happy to check that they are the correct versions. Thanks for your work on this!" Moving from overtly patronizing to passive-aggressively patronizing. I guess that's progress. But at least I can be more gracious in my responses - "What a nice offer of assistance, but I'm comfortable that everything is in order. And thanks for your work - no need to thank me, since after all this is my job! :)" Hint, HINT. My job, dude. Mine. Go find your own to obsess about. Sheesh.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

O DVD Player, you are so very mighty...

A few months ago I bought us a combo DVD-VCR player. Our VCR had broken so we bought the new combo unit and gave away our stand-alone DVD player to a friend. It was well rated in Consumer Reports. It records DVDs. It was all very exciting.

It turns out that our DVD-VCR combo is actually a capricious and angry deity of some sort. Sometimes it accepts our DVD offering and allows us to view a movie. Many times, though, the deity is displeased and yea verily, it proclaims that we have made an ERROR. We try to atone for our ERROR, to mollify the mysterious DVD god of the fearsome, glowing blue eye. This seems to involve turning it on and off, unplugging it, making libations and offerings, and saying magical incantations. We've never had a moody deity in our electronic appliances before, so we don't have it totally figured out yet.

Ooh! It has accepted our burned offering and lo, Enrico's sacred DVD dance has been pleasing unto its sight. We can watch Lord of the Rings now. Gotta go!

Light and Darkness

Last night our power went out around 7:30, and was still out when we went to bed. I was returning home from class and drove through miles of eerie, inky darkness. We're having what passes for a cold snap here, so the house was getting pretty chilly when I got home. I found Enrico bundled up in fleece, extra blankets on the bed, in the dark, listening to the iPod. We lit some candles around the house and found a battery-powered radio. We went to bed knowing that we had a battery-powered alarm clock to get us up. It was cozy.

However, I must say, I learned a few things. One, I need to keep more batteries around the house. Two, I really hope the big earthquake comes during the summer months. It's partly the problem of the cold, but more importantly, having no power during the time of year when we get a mere 8 hours of sunlight would really suck on a long-term basis. Sitting there reading my book by candle lantern and battery-powered head lamp, I thought about the people living in dark, cold, northern climes before electricity. You'd probably develop highly evolved conversation and story-telling skills, and get lots of sleep, and become great at word games. But I have to believe there's just a lot of boredom involved in living with that much cold darkness.

It made me appreciate the Advent season - the Christian incarnation of this time of diminishing light. I'm sure that going back to the beginning of human time, people have marked this period, when the days get shorter and shorter, and the darkness seems to be winning the battle. What if the sun just kept disappearing, the days diminishing to nothing instead of getting longer again? At some point in human history, this must have genuinely seemed like a possibility. Hence all of the rituals around light - the Advent candles, the menora - that compensate for the diminishing sun, encourage it to come back. And meanwhile, you embrace the dark, the waiting, the introspection that inevitably comes from being stuck indoors with your own thoughts under a lot of blankets, with little to do.

And then, imperceptibly, the days get longer. The sun is returning, and has not abandoned its children on earth. So of course - you have a big honkin' holiday to celebrate. You create stories and metaphors about the coming of light, of new life, new beginnings. It all makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What a difference some sleep makes

Oh, feeling so, so much better. Suddenly life seems manageable again. I've been doing yoga. Tonight is the last night of private investigator class for this quarter, and I cranked out my long-delayed final paper in a single evening last night. I'm getting my job done, though my listlessness last week is going to exact its price this week.

I pretty much have two bosses at my current interim executive gig, both of whom are wonderful men, sharp as whips to boot. It's funny, I think of myself as preferring to work for women, and at my last few jobs as an employee I worked for women - but as an interim executive I've now worked for five different board chairs, all of them men, each of them a genuine joy to work for.

One of my current bosses I've known for a number of years and he has a certain no-nonsense, big-brother quality that I find reassuring. "You want me to kick that guy's ass for you? 'Cause I'll kick his ass, if you want me to." No, thanks, I'm a big girl and I can take care of business - but I do appreciate the sentiment.

The other one is a Texan whose easy-going style can at first mask his very keen intelligence. It's a lovely combination to work for. Yesterday he asked me how I was feeling about the big deadline this week in preparation for next week's board meeting.

"I'm fine," I said, thinking of the lost hours I spent last week in a sleep-deprived fog, "but I will admit, this is one of those times when I wish the world could just stand still for one day while I keep going, so I can catch up."

"Oh, my," he replied, "If the world stood still for a day and left you to do whatever you wanted - there are much better things you could do with that gift than work." True enough. Isn't that a great boss?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sleep is a GOOD thing

I'm working on a 10-day case of serious insomnia, and I think I'm going to lose my mind. Seriously, I just can't fall asleep. By mid-afternoon I feel like I could - nay, must - crawl up in a ball on the floor of my office and sleep like a baby, but come bedtime - wide awake. AWAKE.

I finally called the doctor's office today and asked for sleeping pills. I got some really, really good ones for the 16-hour flight to Argentina and the trip to Italy this year, and I want me some more of those. If I can just get a few nights of good sleep, maybe it'll reset my clock and get things back to normal again.

Of course, when you call the doctor's office and ask for sleeping pills - especially when it's the third request this year, because how do they know I really went to Argentina and Italy? - they have to wonder if you've got a little problem. They only gave me FIVE pills the last two times, so I hardly think they should be worried that I'm drug-seeking, but still. The very nice nurse grilled me for a bit on whether perhaps I'd been drinking coffee too late in the day, or perhaps I might try some warm milk and crackers before bed?

Finally I explained that my husband has a mild sleeping disorder. He's been to sleep clinic, where they wire you up overnight and watch your brain and your vital signs on a computer. I've read entire books on sleep. I understand about sleep hygiene. I have really good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is an incredibly weird and stupid-sounding phrase but I KNOW ALL ABOUT IT and that's not my problem.

So they're giving me some sleep drugs. I hope this works because I'm not really loving the person that Sleep-Deprived Flora seems to be. I am short with people (witness my previous entry), and almost every day I come home and reflect on some conversation I've had and think, boy - that right there? was not my finest moment. I'm a total blob in the evenings, too enfeebled to exercise and that's just making things worse. I am unproductive at work despite having a huge deadline next week.

So here's to better living through chemistry!