I’ve had a lot of rambley thoughts about a lot of things, so this will be even more scattered than usual.

Out of the blue, a line from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare popped into my head last week.  “Yon Cassius hath a lean and hungry look.”  The context is Julius Caesar speaking to Marcus Antonius, saying,

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

I remember reading those lines when I was 12 and thinking they were brilliant.  They’re beautifully understated, ominous, and insightful, and the Cassius line in particular just sounds good on the tongue.  And of course, Caesar was right; Cassius leads the plot to assassinate him.  I finally figured out what made me think of it after so many years: the line reminded me of myself these days.  Not because I plan on assassinating anyone, obviously (assassination is sooooo last century), but because sometimes I think my employers must look at me and see a little bit of the animal on the prowl. 

I used to think that I wasn’t ambitious.  After the disaster of my job in Florida, all I wanted was a comfortable, routine job, and I didn’t care if it didn’t go much of anywhere.  After a year at my comfortable, routine editing job, I was just starting to hope for something more when the contract ended and I was tossed back into the crummy job market.  I found this current job quickly, but again, I was so grateful for steady employment that it didn’t occur to me want more for some time.  When putting food on the table becomes an issue in question, one isn’t picky about employment.  But I’ve been here more than a year, and in past months I began feeling restless again.  For me, the ingredients for change seem to be 1.) feeling too comfortable with where I am, 2.) an overabundance of sameness, and 3.) a taste of desperation.  Stir thoroughly, add a dash of cold-weather wanderlust, and bake.  I was ready to move on, and I definitely wanted to move up.  My supervisor was eyeing me like I might start gnawing on her ankle at any moment.

Then, last week, the head honcho boss at work called me into his office and basically said that he was well aware that I was doing lots of extra work and that my skills could be better utilized.  He talked about having me do more writing and editing work and more travel, and giving me better compensation.  He said I’ll be going to a conference in Boston this May, and I’ll be taking over newsletter duties for a couple groups.  So, for now, anyway, the hungry ambition beast is assuaged, I’ll be staying right where I am, and if I meet anyone named Brutus, I’m heading the other way.

Completely unrelated:  People so rarely look up.  This is a tragic realization that struck me anew the other night as I was walking the dog around 10:30.  The stars and the moon were out, but were surrounded by some extremely dramatic shreds of clouds, and the whole sky looked too beautiful to be real.  I was walking along, staring at the sky, and none of the other people I passed so much as glanced up.  Could it be that no one else in my town even saw the sky that night?  I hope that’s not true.  But then I remember how in college the way that I got away with climbing so many trees and buildings was because no one ever looked up to see me.  I sat and studied in a tree in broad daylight, and dozens of people walked underneath my branch and never saw me.  It amazes me that people can go days at a time without seeing the rest of the universe.  It’s like people assume that there’s always a ceiling—nothing to see, keep your head down and your eyes blinkered.  Hello, the rest of the world is up there!  You’re missing it to stare at the sidewalk. 

I like to go running, but I’m pretty desultory about it.  I usually go for two miles, three times per week.  Since the time change, it’s too dark when I get home to run (the park near my apartment closes at sunset), so I’ve been running on the treadmill in the fitness center.  This is considerably more boring (no new dogs to meet), but it does make monitoring one’s speed and time a lot simpler.  Last night I ran my best time for two miles ever, at 17:45.  I didn’t know if that was good or not compared to the average, so I did a little Googling and found that the Army’s physical fitness test requires a female of my age to run two miles in 19:36 to pass.  A score of 100 on the fitness test requires running two miles in 15:36, so I think that’s what my new goal.  Then I can get an A+ on the Army!  I told Danielle that, and she said, “I think they just give out gold stars now.  Maybe doodle a few smileys.”  I think she’s right.  You know the Army and their smileys.

The other day for dinner I had dill pickles, chocolate milk, and hummus for dinner.  I promise I am not pregnant.  But does this mean that I would eat normal things, if I were?  I hope I wouldn’t get any weirder.



Things that (unbelievably) exist:


Lots of books lately!  I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which was well-done, but not my cup of tea.  I think maybe some of my friends who work/have worked with autistic children might find it more interesting, so maybe I’ll pass it along.

I picked up a copy of A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis at The Reader’s Corner the other day, and it was exquisite, in the seldom-used meaning of the word—keenly sensitive—and in the more typical meaning of beautiful.  C.S. Lewis, as always, comes the nearest to wording the unwordable of any human being.  I know this is a book I’ll be rereading.  It’s so intensely personal that I can certainly understand why he originally published it under a pen name.  If I’d written it, I don’t believe I could have published it at all.

In a radically different twist of reading material, I read King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard next, who is about as different from the introspective Lewis as one can get.  The book is an adventure story that reminded me a lot of The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, sort of a precursor to Indiana Jones.  Casual racism aside (which seems to be standard fare for these types of stories, sadly), it was enjoyable.

Then, in another whiplash-inducing switch of topic, I read The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, written in 1136 or thereabouts.  Geoffrey, like Steinbeck, is a bit of a King Arthur fanboy.  He spends more time on him than on any of the other kings, and seems to lose interest in the history pretty quickly after Arthur’s death.  I found the book to be unexpectedly fascinating, albeit very dense.  Geoffrey told the story of a king named Leir, and after a minute I realized this was where Shakespeare got King Lear from.  I had no idea the story was so old: Shakespeare was as temporally removed from Geoffrey as we are from Shakespeare.  I’m not sure how historical Geoffrey is—not very, evidently.  He uses Nennius and Gildas, among others, as his sources, but they loved to make things up, and so does he. 

I was interested in Geoffrey’s portrayal of Arthur in particular (as well I might be) because it differs so much from the Malory version.  This is no courtly knight.  Geoffrey’s Arthur is brutal, as even Geoffrey indirectly acknowledges, even if he is a strong and successful leader.  Young Arthur immediately hangs his Saxon hostages after the Saxon leaders break their truce and has no problem urging his men to “leave not one alive” in various battles.  According to Geoffrey, he conquers 30 kingdoms, including Norway, Iceland, Germany, etc.  Rome gets mighty nervous and demands that Arthur pay tribute and acknowledge their superiority.  Arthur sends the body of their messenger back and says that Rome should pay tribute to HIM instead.  He gathers an army to take Rome itself, defeats the Roman army sent out to meet him, and is only distracted from taking the city when he hears Mordred (left in charge back home) is causing all kinds of ruckus.  Yet Britain prospered under his rule, and enjoyed relative peace for a change.  In many ways this portrayal felt far more realistic and historical (or pseudo-historical, anyway, since Geoffrey’s book is considered to be a pseudo-history) than the Arthur we know so much better from Malory, The Sword in the Stone, etc.  There’s no Lancelot, no jousting, just Arthur conquering Northern Europe by the edge of the sword and making darn sure he keeps it.  Until Mordred wounds him and floats off to Avalon, anyway.