You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2013.

Lots of good times with family and friends this week!  I had a wonderful Passover and First Day of Unleavened Bread, and I even got to spend some time with my oh-so-cool brother. My batch of unleavened bread turned out kind of mediocre.  I bake so infrequently that making it required a ten-minute intense search throughout the kitchen for my rolling pin, which I haven’t used since last Days of UB.  I guess it’s somewhat miraculous that the bread was edible at all. : )

This week’s philosophy discussion was at the Busy Bee Café, which appears to be the illegitimate offspring of a bar and a coffee shop, raised by a good-natured restaurant.  They were out of their mead and cider and I didn’t feel like beer, so I ended up getting coffee around 8pm, which was a delicious and terrible mistake.   I always tell myself I’ll never drink coffee past 6pm again, and I always do anyway and bitterly regret it when I can’t sleep for most of the night.   While sleep was evading me, I got to wondering what animals must think about human eyes.  The whites of our eyes are always showing, unlike those of animals; do they think we’re perpetually afraid or upset?  I ended up on a Wikipedia rabbit trail, and I learned that domesticated dogs are the only animals that pick up visual cues from another individual’s eyes.  Dogs don’t communicate that way with other dogs—just with humans—and wild dogs don’t do it at all.  Fascinating…

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Books: I’m reading Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. LeGuin, and after getting past the schmaltzy title, I’m really enjoying it.  The book consists of four separate stories of varying lengths that are loosely connected by location, time, and character.  While in the throes of my over-caffeination, I sped through the second story during the wee hours of the morning.  So far the stories, while compelling, aren’t quite as good as those in the collection I just finished, but I suspect they’ll all solidify at the end into something more unified and coherent.

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I spent most of last weekend at my parents’ place, and on Sunday my mom and I got together with a neighbor and her daughter.  We went to the Sunrise Theater to see The Quartet, which was unexpectedly good: not perfect, but the music was lovely, and I’ll watch almost anything with Maggie Smith.

The majority of the work week was insanity, and it does seem like that will be the pattern for a while.  In April I’m going to Boston for work, in May I’m going to NYC with my family, and in June I’m going to Minneapolis for work.  I’m excited about all of the above, though also slightly apprehensive about the work trips now that they’re giving me so much more responsibility.  It’s going to be an interesting spring!

Last week’s philosophy meeting was at Sunni Skies, so we had an interesting combination of ice cream and behaviorism.  We’re working on Science and Human Behavior by B.F. Skinner, which seems positively fluffy by comparison to some of our recent reading, and we’re going to forge onward in that for a little while.

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Books: I finally got my reading act together, after shaking free of the literary lassitude that ensued after tackling Confessions and Zorba the Greek.  I finished Zorba, and I can’t say that my initial opinion really changed at all.  Kind of wish I hadn’t bothered.

I finished Confessions this week too, and I realized I gave both it and Zorba two stars on Goodreads, though two such different books have probably never shared shelf space.  Two stars is probably terribly unfair; Confessions is undeniably of far better quality than that.    But I personally disliked it too much to do it credit, I’m afraid.  I still have a hard time pinpointing the cause of my dissatisfaction.  It wasn’t because it was deeply personal, or because I disagreed with so much of his theology, or because it was rather dry ancient literature: all of those things are true, but they’re also true of other books I read and enjoyed.  I did have an easier time with the last three of the thirteen books, for some reason; maybe I was finally getting used to him after all, or maybe I just liked him better when he was building an argument for something instead of…well…confessing so much.  I think probably the repeated statements of his own unworthiness and God’s greatness are what bothered me; I have a terrible time focusing during these sorts of things.  To me they often feel repetitive, boring, and meaningless.  A fact may be perfectly true, but if you repeat it enough times, it starts to lose its significance.

In contrast to my bogged-down struggles in the above, I raced through The Long Valley by Steinbeck in record time.  All of the short(ish) stories in the collection take place in the Salinas Valley, where Steinbeck grew up and where he sets most of his tales, but they’re otherwise unconnected.  “The Red Pony” is among this collection, and I distinctly remember picking that book up as a horse-crazy kid.  I put it back on the shelf without reading it, for some reason, which is something I never did–I read every other horse book I found in the library.  I’m so glad I left it there now.  That story is NOT for children, especially ones who adore horses.  I love Steinbeck with what probably amounts to an unhealthy passion today, even as I recognize that reading him at the wrong age would probably ruin a person for life.  A year or so ago I remember overhearing a man in a bookstore proudly say that his 6th grader nephew had worked his way through all of Steinbeck.  At the time I hadn’t read enough Steinbeck to know what that meant.  Is it too late to time-travel back and save that kid’s innocence?

I’m almost finished with The Compass Rose by Ursula K. LeGuin, another one of her short story collections.  LeGuin seems to create and destroy worlds with the cavalier disregard of someone who knows there’s plenty more where that came from.  Her creativity seems inexhaustible.  The inside of her head must look like the universe on fast-forward, with an endless stream of planets, each frighteningly unique and devastatingly fascinating, whizzing by faster than you can see.  The first story in this collection is available here online.  Go read it and tell me what you think.

Humorous misadventures tend to crop up in my life like mushrooms in a wet lawn, and this week’s scrape is typical of the genre.  Tuesday was a beautiful day, and as soon as I got home from work I opened my bedroom windows wide.  I dumped my work bag (with keys, cell phone, ID, etc.) on the floor and walked out of my room…and the wind slammed my door shut behind me.  Somehow the impact jarred the lock in the process, so I was locked out of my room.  Normally there’s a little hole for a key in those cheap interior door locks, but this one was so tiny, not even one of my bobby pins fit in it.  I tried picking it with a piece of wire for 10 minutes without any luck, in spite of all my childhood practice with similar locks. (Ed and I routinely broke into each other’s rooms for the fun of it.)  All of my tools were also locked in my room, but the hinges and the screws for the doorknob were on the wrong side anyway.  I was going in search of a ladder to try to get in through the window when Sam came home, so I used her phone to call the emergency maintenance line (because of course the apartment office was closed by this point).  Maintenance informed me that there would be a $35 lockout fee, but they could send someone.  Fabulous.  While I was waiting for the maintenance guy, I fiddled with the wire one last time…and with a click, my door swung open just as the maintenance man knocked outside.  I sheepishly informed him that his services were no longer required.  He wasn’t pleased at making a trip for nothing, but he didn’t charge me the fee after all, so it could have been worse.  I’m keeping my trusty piece of wire outside my room in case it happens again.

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Hodgepodge:

Books: I’m reading Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, which is supposed to be somewhat of a classic.  A friend recommended it highly, and now I’m beginning to wonder if we could possibly be talking about the same book.  So far Zorba is pretty horrifying rubbish–horrifying in its misogyny and irresponsibility, rubbish in its pretensions to be philosophy when it’s nothing of the sort.  The moral of the story, insofar as I can distinguish one, is that life must be lived deeply and sensually in every moment, because this life is all there is, and if you don’t, you’ll die alone and miserable.  Hey, look, I just saved you 300 pages.  Perhaps I’m being harsh; I haven’t actually finished it yet, and often the ending of a book modifies my opinion of what came before.  Occasionally the titular character does say something interesting or quotable.  The rest of the time Zorba attacks life like a rabid bulldog and chases after anything remotely female while the story’s narrator (who is of a delicate, high-strung nature, traits guaranteed to irk me beyond measure) mopes about for no apparent reason, doing nothing whatsoever.  Occasionally these two opposite characters attempt to philosophize at each other, contradicting themselves at every turn and falling into fits of despair with enough regularity that I want to ship them both off to a therapist.

The highlight of this past week was girls’ night at the Langdon farm, which consisted of watching a fascinating documentary on Russia’s toughest prisons, eating delicious food, and harvesting root vegetables by starlight at 11pm.  Pretty fantastic, this life business.

I was sure I had a lot of other stuff to write about, but it escapes me.  Have some fun things from the internet instead!

Fascinating:

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Books:  I confess I haven’t finished Confessions (heh); I took a break to read The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck.  Steinbeck wrote it in 1942 because he thought the Nazis were whupping us when it came to effective propaganda.  He decided he could come up with something better…and he did.  Interestingly, The Moon Is Down was criticized in the US; people thought it was too sympathetic to the Nazis.  Steinbeck was disappointed by the reception, but as the years passed, word got out that the book had been wildly popular amongst the resistance in occupied countries, with people risking their lives to produce and distribute copies.  Read it if you get the chance: it’s still every bit as compelling.

I’ve been restless all throughout this overly quiet week.  My life is really quite eventful, so I don’t know what I’m complaining about, but still it seems like something big needs to happen.  I’m sure I’ll rue those words–I can hear all of you shouting, “Be careful what you wish for!” from here–but the transitions into spring and fall always make me want to ditch everything familiar and travel the world or join the circus or something.

Just as I was falling asleep one night, I heard a cacophony of howls and snarls from the direction of Lake Johnson, rising to a crescendo before falling off abruptly.  I’m guessing  a coyote or feral dog pack brought down some animal.  It’s so odd to hear those wild sounds right in the middle of overly civilized Raleigh.  I’ll have to be careful when walking Gentry at night; he would certainly be no help at all if something attacked us.  He’s very sweet and very, very cowardly.  His girlfriend Greta, on the other hand, is a dog you want on your side in a fight.  If they were humans, Greta would be a tall, burly German girl who is into martial arts, and Gentry would be a slender, soulful-eyed poet who skates through life on his good looks.  The relationship would be rather unhealthy, I fear; Greta has a tendency to slam Gentry into the sides of parked cars when she plays.  I don’t know what the human equivalent of that would be, but she definitely wears the pants in the relationship.

Miscellany of the week:

Books: I’ve read excerpts of The Confessions of St. Augustine before and was unimpressed, but there was a lovely copy at Mr. Mike’s Used Books, and it’s a classic, so…guess what I’m reading now.  Some lines are very quotable, and one has to admire the openness and honesty with which it was written.  I still can’t quite seem to get over my dislike, however.  I’m only on Book 5; maybe I’ll come around to Augustine yet.

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

my read shelf:
Stephanie Ricker's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

A Storytelling

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