Love (of pens) bites

Not me, but it looked just like this cellulitis

Not me, but it looked just like this cellulitis

“Those are bites.”

I stared at the nurse practitioner. “From what?”

“Could be a bedbug.”

“I know what bedbug bites are like. This is something else. But I don’t have any bugs in my place.”

“Could be a spider.”

I had rushed to the doctor’s office fearful that the painful red, raised whorls were cellulitis, and they were bug bites from bugs I had never seen.

That pretty much encapsulates March — being preoccupied repeatedly with alarming symptoms that turned out to be minor.

And then April was the month of The Job. You probably know already how unhappy I am in my current job. An editorship opened up in another company that I felt qualified for. I have never been an editor, but this position was very specialized and required tasks I have done many times, and so I was emboldened to apply. In slow motion, I made the first bold overture, I was invited for a first interview and then, amazingly, a second, and then came the rejection letter saying that a candidate had been chosen and that my skills and experience were impressive.

Pilot bold G2

I wanted that job so intensely that my imagination ran amok, as in a romantic infatuation. I studied the writing of my erstwhile boss and watched interviews of him. I priced the stylebook I would need. I looked at transit schedules to see how long it would take to get to my after-work swims. And I spent a lot of time on jetpens.com.

Jetpens is a wonderful website, if you are the sort of person who fetishizes writing implements and office supplies. Back in the day, the inch-thick Staples catalog would mesmerize me for hours as if I were affianced and it Brides Magazine. So, yeah, I’m in the Jetpens target demographic.

I use a lot of different pens in my work for the many hats I wear in my current job. I suppose I could survive with one black stick pen, but I have found it very effective to communicate with pens trailing lines of various thicknesses and the four basic colors. So in the days after the second interview waiting to see what would happen, I hung out on jetpens.com and imagined what pens I would take to my new job.

Pen case unrolling

What particularly captivated me were the pen cases. There were no drawers on the desk that I wanted to be mine, so I would need one (of course). I looked at the pictures slowly and read the descriptions obsessively.

The cases that enthralled me were the fabric pen rolls, miniatures of the knife rolls that fine chefs use. Over and over I imagined myself arriving for work at the office I had been interviewed in, laying that beautiful case on my desk, and unrolling it slowly to see my pens laid out in perfect orderliness: Gel pens in sober blue and editor’s green; bright red and yellow in both felt tip and crayon; blue Sharpies in fine, extra fine, and ultra fine; a plain black Sharpie; and my favorite mechanical pencil. Never mind that I would do the vast majority of my work online; what’s an editor without writing implements? How wonderful a start to the day!

Even after the rejection letter arrived, my mind had seized on those pen rolls, like a child who has glimpsed the most wonderful toy in the world and had to leave it behind in the store. April became May, and I remained obsessed. I knew I didn’t want a pen roll at my current office, where I have an excellent drawer in which to organize my writing implements, but what about keeping one at home? I imagined reaching for it every time I need to send a card or letter. Wouldn’t you like one?

Sunsweet Ones

But it would be silly for me to buy one of those marvelous, marvelous pen rolls. At home, I keep my few pens in a transparent Sunsweet Ones prune cylinder. Undignified as that may be, I’m all set for pen containers. No need to spend on another.

Perhaps you have a set of favorite pens and pencils. What better than a special roll to keep them fresh and shiny, close at hand, separated from lesser implements and the slings and arrows of wayward scissor blades?

The fish and the hairdryer

SmokedRainbowTroutDo you like smoked fish? I do, a lot. Nom nom nom! It’s full of that famous new type of flavor, umami, which distinguishes simple salt and vinegar, sugar and bitter, from luscious savoriness. It’s fun to eat a generous helping of that stuff, but really, very little is needed to be satisfying. It tends to be expensive because of the labor that goes into making it and the small amount produced, what with the wood chopping and the long drying at low temperatures, but that doesn’t stop me from standing at the display at the corner store and feeling myself starting to drool at the vacuum-sealed package of peppered smoked trout.

There are many and varied editions of anecdotes from the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who were Christian monastics, mostly from Egypt of the very early middle ages, and some from the Russian steppes of the early modern period. (Wait, this is connected!)

51hM9lR63QL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_One monk who lived out in the Egyptian countryside got a hankering for smoked fish. Smoked fish not exactly growing on trees in the desert, he had to walk to town to get some. He walked miles and miles with his mind preoccupied by the fabulous thought of a bite of smoked fish. (Being poor, he probably could afford no more than a bite.)

Finally, he got to the town, and suddenly realized that he had put an immense amount of time and labor toward acquiring nothing but a flavor that would be gone in minutes. “This is nucking futs,” he said to himself, or whatever early medieval Egyptian monks said to that effect. He repented of his gluttony. He turned around and walked all the way back to his home in the desert where, I imagine, in the typical monastic fashion he had bread, water, and probably nuts and dried fruits.

For over a decade, my doctor begged me to find some kind of exercise. (Wait, this is connected, too!) “Do what you enjoy doing,” he said. “Maybe you could try walking. Walk five minutes in any direction whatsoever, walk back home, and you’ve got ten minutes done.” I always replied, “No. What I enjoy doing is lying on the floor in front of my computer. A rolling chair like in the movie ‘Wall-E’ would be nice, too.” I am allergic to the term “exercise,” what with its connotations of “fitness” (what, so everyone else is unfit to live?), and sweatiness and heat.

But on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I found myself in a hotel pool paddling back and forth doing laps. I suddenly realized with dismay and logic that I had found the famous “form of physical activity I like,” something I was so prepared to do voluntarily that I had packed my swimsuit in anticipation. So after six weeks of trying to ignore this grim fact, I joined a gym with a pool. I had a suitable gym bag, an extra hair dryer, some slippers.

Andis RC-2 Ionic 1875W Ceramic Hair DryerSo the first thing I did after my pleasant first swim at the gym was to go on a shopping quest, to look for a new hair dryer. The vast array online offers so many desirable qualities! Quiet, lightweight, folding, powerful, with a retractile cord, professional sturdiness, and all the cascading bounty of “ions” a girl could ever want. So much nicer than the old ones I have. I spent an hour or so putting many models into my wishlist. Such a technological upgrade!

And then, like the monk who wanted smoked fish, I suddenly said, “This is nucking futs.” I have a perfectly good hairdryer I use at home, and I had bought it as a quieter replacement to the one I keep in my until now-unused gym bag. To spend an hour selecting a third when I have two that work fine? That’s nucking futs!

Where the heart(h) is: Staying home, spiritually

RediscoveryofManThis is difficult to post, because I know that many of you will disagree with my decision.

From childhood through college, I was a tremendous reader of books. Then in graduate school, this tapered off. Then the internet came of age as a popular phenomenon, and after discovering news and debate sites like Zero Hedge, I have hardly gone back to reading books again, despite owning a computer and someone having given me a nice Kindle. I currently read on average maybe one or two books a year, typically light reading. Not infrequently, one of those books is fiction by Cordwainer Smith, the Christian science fiction author, whose writing I find enormously comforting.

SpiritofHappinessHowever, I have a lot of religious books on my Amazon wishlist, more than I can read in a couple of decades, at the rate I am going. I have been struggling for weeks to get through “In the Spirit of Happiness” by the Monks of New Skete, and while it is definitely not a difficult book, books no longer pull me through them the way they used to. When reading, I walk into the wind.

The books from outside my religious tradition are on my wishlist mostly from idle curiosity, to see what other brands taste like — from basic shopaholism. They are not there from a true wish to deepen my religious experience. Keeping them on my Amazon wishlist is pure vanity to flatter myself with what a broad thinker I am, or plan to be, someday, when I buy those books. Right.

So here is the difficult decision that I am sure some of you will disagree with: I am going to remove from my wishlist all religious books from outside my own religious tradition.

BrotherLawrenceYes, these other books can be of value. Yes, they can be deep. I’m not covering my ears and shouting “Lalalalala.”

I am an enormous fan of “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection and cannot recommend it too highly. I run across sayings by various Buddhist teachers and think they must be very perceptive people to say things like that.

But in the remainder of a lifetime that is growing shorter by the minute, I have to be realistic about the time I have left. Not to be melodramatic about it, really: There is the simple saying that in every gardener’s lifetime there are only a finite number of seasons in which to grow things. And none of us has more time left today than we did yesterday.

Is there really enough time left in life to plumb the depths of that lovable, wonderful, frustrating, central book of the Bible, its prayerbook, the Psalter that teaches you many ways to speak to God? (Buy a good useful edition here that guides you through a reading of the entire book of Psalms once a week — every week, if you wish.)

ElchaninovI do not plan to retire from work before I have to, and furthermore, I know from experience that should I have a serious illness, I just won’t have the concentration to read a book. (I spent one entire hospital stay fascinated by a little cosmetic catalog, which was all my mind could handle.) For the first time in my life, I have recently taken up exercise, which my doctors have long begged me to do. And so, because of the limits to the time left in my life, I find that my own religious tradition has enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

Suppose someday I convert to another religion: That is the proper time to look for books from another tradition! But now, now is the time to grow within my own.

Tough glove

When I was growing up on the East Coast quite a few miles from the shore, my mother carefully taught me about tsunamis. Just in case it was ever relevant, you know.

She bequeathed her knowledge of tsunamis to me like one of those ugly little magic pebbles in stories that the protagonist carries for years and years until they save his life or enable him to achieve the goal of his quest.

“When you see the water retreat, don’t follow it. Don’t get curious and pick up wriggling fish that are left on the beach. Get away from the water as fast as you can, because there will be a tsunami.”

Probably she was thinking of the 1960 tsunami that hit Hawaii, when 61 people died.

Fortunately, I have yet to use this magic pebble of knowledge. But because this information had been drilled into me so carefully, I paid special attention to the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, just in case I could learn anything else.

Indeed I did: That in the aftermath of great destruction, work gloves are of great importance to personal safety as one climbs through the wreckage. I had never thought of that before, but my soft fat paws, which I use intensely to earn my livelihood as a desk jockey, would be in great danger from broken wood, glass, and metal. Having only once handled wooden pallets and recoiled from the splinters and nailheads projecting from them, I knew I needed hand protection.

4013_Claw_v1-328x438For weeks and months after the terrible events in Japan, I anxiously scoured the internet for the “best” gloves. I decided that industrial gloves looked the ideal in terms of cut resistance and impact dissipation. Big, strong, hefty hand gear meant for first responders and rescuers, they surely would protect my squishy paws from the aftermath of a disaster.

But for almost three years afterward, I hesitated to buy them, while they languished on my wishlist. I was puzzled at my own behavior, because buying gloves seemed like a no-brainer.

Finally, some months ago I thought about the 7/7 bombings in Britain, and thought about what if something similar happened to me in the subway. Eventually, I thought about my purse, which only seemed roomy before the prospect of gloves arose. My headlamp is in there already.

WellsLamontGlovesThen last week it all gelled for me. I went down the block to the hardware store and bought much thinner, lighter, less bulky gloves that would fit in my purse.

My reasoning was that it is better to have two gloves in the hand, so to speak, than a pair at home. If I were home and a disaster were to occur so terrible as to separate me from my purse holding my identification and money, I would surely not have the time or ability to fetch out a pair of bulky industrial gloves. Thus, I choose to have disaster gloves that I can carry all the time easily. Like carrying a headlamp, a pair of coated knit gloves, light but tough, is an easy step to take for emergency preparedness.

But if you are or know a first responder or rescue worker, I can think of no better addition to the daily work gear than the Hexarmor gloves I lingered over for years.

Shopaholism: Not So Very Flex Spending

Writing this blog, I should be more aware than I am that my morale is to some extent dependent on having some discretionary income. This week sharpened that awareness a bit.

Dickens has one of his characters say, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”

That is, a dozen pennies are all that are between “happiness” and “misery.”

I was shocked to find this to be true — maybe not for happiness and misery in a deep sense, but at least for the distance between financial comfort and distress.

You know, if you have been reading this blog, that I have been unhappy at work, and that last month I went on a compensatory spree for things I enjoy, such as early-music concerts, Crane’s stationery (half off), and a trip to the nuns. I thought I could afford it all, and expected only some rueful feelings.

I just didn’t know how rueful until this week. Why, I wondered, was I having to debate whether to buy the $4 slice of Sicilian pizza or the $9 pasta dinner? (As you know, I live in an SRO without a kitchen, even a shared kitchen, so I tend to eat badly.)

In puzzlement at how my bank accounts had even less money than I expected, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t submitted last month’s prescriptions for flex spending reimbursement.

sicillianI was down by slightly more than four hours of gross income. That was all.

That’s too close a shave. Granted, the savings plan got fed as usual, as did the internet bill and the credit card and the loan, and the nuns received their donation for the visit. So compared to billions of people around the world, I am bellyaching. Still and all, to feel the lack of a mere four hours of gross income is way too close to hand to mouth living for me.

what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

More like Spam or more like Alpo?

AlpoI’m sorry I’ve been away. I’ve been agonizing over my work situation, and also went to visit the nuns (seven hours each way on the bus). But I had time to long after something to buy.

A story: Someone I knew admitted to having eaten Alpo. The dog food reputed to be the meat of last resort of impoverished senior citizens. It was pretty good, he said.

He did not specify the circumstances, whether poverty or curiosity, that had led to that ingestion, but he sparked my curiosity.

SpamYou see, like everyone who has some connection to Hawaii’s local culture, I love Spam, which too is canned meat. Spam is excellent sliced, fried, and served on fluffy, sticky steamed short-grain rice like Kokuho Rose brand. Serve in stir-fry dishes with vegetables, cut it into matchsticks and put on top of your ramen, and of course make sandwiches.

KokuhoRoseRiceSpam is an excellent ingredient in omusubi (rice balls) or sushi, replacing the traditional pickled plums in the former and the boiled shrimp in the latter. This video shows the simplest way of making this homestyle comfort food. Did you know you can make delicious sushi on the cheap? Indeed you can!

Being a poor graduate student, I looked for ways to eat more cheaply, since I subsisted on sandwiches from the convenience store. So I decided to try Alpo.

When I opened up the can, I was surprised at how good it smelled. I saw bits of offal in it, veins and such, but being an eater of such delicacies as fish eyeballs and chicken hearts, I had no hesitation at its looks.

I dug into the can. Oh, the horror! The horror! It tasted indescribably nasty; the bits of offal were rubbery to the point of being unchewable; and the heavy grease had no flavor, being more appropriate to a tallow candle or lubricating a garden fence hinge. Promptly I threw the can away. The word “animadversion” was made for such a situation.

CannedBeefMeatSo I was intrigued when I ran across “Canned Beef Meat” on the Lehman’s website. “Be prepared to cook hot, wholesome meals in an emergency, or simply stock your pantry for your family’s everyday dining.” “Enjoy in all your favorite recipes: stews, soups, casseroles, ethnic dishes and more.” Ethnic dishes? Hmm.

The sole ingredients are beef and salt. I can’t help wondering: Is it more like Spam or more like Alpo? At least it’s made for human consumption, but…

I would love to find out. But at $10.95 plus shipping for a 28-ounce can, it is too expensive to fulfill my curiosity. Maybe you can try it and let me know.

Being ascetic about asceticism

250px-Ignatius_of_Antioch_2Well, things have continued to be unpleasant in my work life. Actually, they’re getting worse. I have had to take consolation from the fact that what I’m going through is hugely easier than being an early martyr eaten by wild beasts– if slower. I shouldn’t whine. But, anyway, this blog continues to help me stay more alert to my relationship with objects.

It appears that the level of stress in my life is correlated with an increase in the size of my Amazon wish list. I hate to admit I was really surprised when I looked carefully. The number of objects on my wish list has gone up by 2.4% this month alone.

I already knew that under stress I tend to eat too much, but I wasn’t quite so clearly conscious that I also tend to WANT too much. Wow! I see now that it’s like an anxious kid reaching for her bear and blankie! Not good for a grownup!

So for today’s object, I’m going to pick something from this month’s additions to the wish list that I am choosing not to buy.

Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity is the first major study in English of the ‘heretic’ Jovinian and the Jovinianist controversy. David G. Hunter examines early Christian views on marriage and celibacy in the first three centuries and the development of an anti-heretical tradition…

JovinianistControversyThe early history of Christianity is really fascinating. A lot of people don’t realize that a huge amount of action took place in the first centuries after the writing of the New Testament. It is very true that those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it, because a lot of the most fiery disputes in Christianity in the most recent four or five centuries (such as between Protestants and Catholics) are simply rematches of similarly passionate disputes from the first centuries of Christianity. Any believer who has ever had a serious religious argument with a fellow believer knows: “Let Mortal Kombat Begin!”

The Jovinian Controversy was about what level of asceticism is most appropriate for Christians. Aha! You see why it caught my interest. The “Look Inside” selection on Amazon holds my attention, and rereading it makes me see why I put the book on my wish list a couple of weeks ago. The appropriate degree of involvement with the physical world is still a hot topic in Christianity (as the story of “the Bishop of Bling” illustrates), and probably always will be. The topic enthralls me.

ApostolicFathers1But thinking about it today, I know, deep down, that I don’t have the fortitude to wade through almost 300 pages of anything, much less a tome of early Christian studies. I also don’t feel I have enough background, which is why I’m leaving both volumes of the reasonably priced Loeb Classical Library’s Apostolic Fathers on my wish list, because Jovinian was quite a bit later than people like St. Ignatius of Antioch, who studied directly under St. John the Evangelist (best known as the beloved disciple at the Last Supper). And my work situation is keeping my span of attention low.

My experience in academic publishing whispers greedily, “You should get it before it goes out of print. You just know that probably there was a print run of 1000 and it will never be reprinted. Just buy it and keep it.” But my more ascetic self says it’s a waste of space and money I don’t even have, really, to spend $47 for a book (or $30 for a used copy) that I will probably never get around to reading. And this book, if I leave it in the freecycle area of my building, is going to end up in the trash.

So, with a great deal of regret, I’m going to delete it from my wish list. The mortal combats of Jovianian’s era will have to wait for another day, perhaps another lifespan.

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