Ask a stupid question

I just had to update my account with an airline. This meant selecting and providing answers for a list of security questions.

WTF. Who makes up these questions? And how old are they? The list included “favorite ice cream flavor” and “favorite pizza topping.” I cannot eat either ice cream or pizza. If I make something up, I’ll have to write it down somewhere, because I’ll never remember. I think I made my attitude about “favorite” this and that clear seven years ago: https://dameeleanorhull.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/book-meme/  I have not changed my mind since then!

The answers are also to be selected from a list. I’ll give them credit for this much: there were some pretty creative answers for “favorite musical instrument,” including “didgeridoo,” but I’m pretty sure they didn’t have “crumhorn.”

Others included “month of your best friend’s birthday”: I don’t have a best friend. “Month you met your significant other.” For that, I’d have to ask Sir John; he’s the one who keeps track of such things. Besides, what about people who have gone through an SO or two since the time they provided answers? Do people have to work back through a process like “okay, I think I was dating Dave then, or was it Eric, and I remember when we broke up, but did we meet in summer or late spring? Maybe it was May because I think we went to that picnic for Memorial Day . . . or was it Mike at that picnic?” Are Kids These Days more inclined to stick to one person, or am I the only old broad who went around the block a few times before settling down with my most excellent and well-beloved husband who remembers the actual date we met and not just the season?

Favorite subject in school. Favorite winter activity. Favorite vacation.

I think my favorite winter activity is Ranting About Stupid Shit I Hate Because I Have SAD And Hate Everything.

That was not an option.

How about “Favorite child”? Wouldn’t that cause a few family rumbles when someone’s trying to help Mom update her account! Hey, how about “Favorite Significant Other” or “Best F^*k”? Or something I have an actual opinion about, like Favorite Toilet Paper, Your Usual Shampoo Brand, Preferred Brand of Chocolate, Your Pet’s Preferred Food/Brand, or Your Toothpaste? I’m in favor of a question that would make people learn something: Most Distressing Plague in History, Worst Civil War, Favorite English Monarch, Favorite Roman Deity, Favorite Ruined Temple. The answers could show pictures or link to Wikipedia.

What’s your least favorite security question?

Paul Sherwen

I’m late to the, uh . . . to the wake.

But I only found out today.

For something like two decades, I’ve spent several hours a day, in the height of summer, with Paul and Phil talking to me about cycling during the Tour de France; I’ve heard them commentate on various other shorter races around the year, together or with Bob Roll or, occasionally, someone else. As Sir John said to me when my voice broke, “There are probably people you count as close personal friends whom you’ve spent less time listening to.” It’s true: I never met Paul, but his face and voice spent a lot of time in my living room.

I guess I always hoped I would meet him, that some year, we’d make it to France for the Tour or one of the smaller races, and somehow we’d be at the right place at the right time and bump into him and Phil, share a laugh, maybe even a glass of wine. We’d be just another random contact with fans, to them, but it would have made my year.

I liked this tribute.

Random thoughts

  • I don’t like the two matching green pens I found in my desk drawer; they have too thick a line, and the ink smudges easily. Probably I ought to throw them out. But I may leave them in the department office to see if anyone wants to adopt them. Some people like thick lines, or else why would there be 0.7 mm tips?
  • However, in my attempts to color with them, I have established that I need a new and different green felt tip pen. No, really, I need it. A sort of pine green, fine tip. Perfect for flower stems and leaf borders.
  • Here’s someone who seems to have similar feelings to mine about gardens: http://gritsday.blogspot.com/2007/04/success-in-garden.html. But this is in England, 2007. If her gardener is even still in business, he’s not likely to come here. Maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time living in the past.
  • For another 36 hours or so, I have no grading to do. This is very strange and makes me feel unmoored.
  • OTOH, I really must get on with a complicated piece of writing I’m working on. That ought to be enough to anchor me.
  • Or I could feel anxious about the need to book flights and some other elements of travel.
  • I wonder what it’s like not to have anything hanging over one’s head to feel anxious about. If I achieved that state, would I start getting anxious about something unbelievably trivial, just because I’m used to having some nagging little worry in my head? Or would I go set up a jigsaw puzzle, visit a bookstore or the library, bake cookies, and settle into a hot bath with a glass of sherry and a novel at some mid-point of the day? (In other words, indulge in my exceedingly tame version of wild debauchery.)
  • Perhaps I should move my desk for the winter. In seasons when there are leaves on trees, I like looking out the window into the treetops. When I’m looking at branches either bare or with a few miserable dead leaves stubbornly clinging, and houses on the other side of the alley, I’m not so happy with the view. I wonder where Sir John’s painting of California foothills (golden hills, olive green live oaks) has got to. No doubt wrapped up and in storage. I’d happily stare at that all winter if I could find it.

My desk drawer

My desk has a keyboard shelf, a shelf to put a computer tower, and one single small drawer. I sat down this morning, looked at the way that drawer just barely closed, and decided the time had come to clean it out.

Contents:

  • Desk items: 1 pair scissors, 1 magnifying glass, 1 pencil sharpener, 1 intact ruler (dating to my parents’ house), 1 broken ruler (a more recent acquisition, now in the waste basket).
  • Writing implements 1, pencils: 3 mechanical pencils, 2 wood pencils, 3 colored wood pencils, 1 multi-color swap-the-tip pencil that I’ve had for about 25 years (eek), 3 boxes of refill leads for the mechanical pencils. All of these are 0.5 mm.
  • Writing implements 2, pens: 3 blue pens, 10 black pens, 1 fountain pen, 15 colored pens (1 pink, 3 red, 5 purple, 3 teal or turquoise, 3 green).  I think many of the colored pens date to when I collected student work on paper and marked it in colored ink. Now I do all my grading electronically. I have enough coloring books; I should use up my pens in them. Only one of these pens did not work and thus was thrown out.
  • Erasers: 6, all good white ones, 2 still in their wrappers.
  • Electronic storage: 3 camera cards, 4 flash drives, 1 SIM card.
  • Paper clips: a large handful. Not counted. They belong somewhere else. Sometimes I slip one into the drawer temporarily, before putting them away. Um. I put the plastic-coated ones where they belong, and the plain metal ones in a bag to take to school where I will release them into the general office supplies.
  • Sticky notes. 1 3″ square pad, 1 1×1.5″ pad, 6 pads of slips. These also belong somewhere else. I probably have a lifetime supply of sticky notes now. Note to self: admire office supplies with your eyes. You do not need to buy more.
  • Miscellaneous: 1 metal tape measure (adopted from my dad who knows how long ago). Red Cross first aid pin. Chapstick. Glasses cleaning cloth. 2 spare buttons that belong to clothing I still own (these also belong somewhere else). Safe deposit key. 2 i.d.s for Significant Libraries, one US, one British. 1 luggage tag. 1 carabiner clip. 5 hairpins.
  • Totally do not belong here: 3 bandaids. 2 pieces of candy (I ate the ginger chew and threw out the butterscotch). 2 airline packets of salt/pepper (also tossed). 1 small plastic-wrapped spork. 2 dead watches.

Except for the items I threw out or put away properly, all these things are still spread out atop my desk. I’m thinking about what to put back in the drawer. The number of pens does not seem excessive in and of itself, particularly for an English professor who has various notebooks that she actually writes in. It is, however, definitely excessive for this small drawer. I could pick out representative pens to keep in the drawer to use up, and stash the rest with other supplies (like the paper clips) so I could find them when I needed another pen. Alternatively, I could keep the ones I’m most likely to use and release the others into the TA offices at school. But I think I’ll keep them. My nature abhors a vacuum; if I feel that I have a limited number of pens around, I’m likely to start buying more, whereas if I remember there’s a stash, I have a better chance of behaving myself next time I’m in Office Despot.

Things I have done on a snow day

  • Slept till 8:00.
  • De-iced the bird feeders.
  • Put up an online assignment and dealt with some other online stuff for classes.
  • Added nearly 1000 words to the research document I am working on. Not new words. Old words whose time has come.
  • Edited those words and some others.
  • Graded a complete set of very short papers that didn’t need a lot of attention.
  • Posted at TLQ.
  • Finished and submitted a set of responses for program review.
  • Skulked indoors all day, apart from de-icing the bird feeders, attempting to de-ice some bushes, and taking a picture of damage to the house. I hear exercise is a good thing . . .
  • Sent the picture to our handyman to see if it’s something he can fix.
  • Made a Christmas wish list, mostly books.

Things I expect to do now:

  • Cook dinner.
  • Read a book. I have been reading some extremely fluffy cozy mysteries by Rhys Bowen. The “Royal Spyness” series is like the Mitfords on helium, with a dash of Peter Wimsey doing his silly-ass routine.
  • Stretch.

Thankful for a 30-year conversation

Thirty-something years ago, I started graduate school. In the first week of classes, maybe even the first day, I met a fantastically glamorous, vivacious, self-assured woman sporting bright red lipstick and an enormous amethyst ring. I wanted to be her friend, if she’d have me.

Apparently I was the intellectually intimidating powerhouse who spoke seldom but to devastating effect [= terrified, determined not to put my foot in my mouth, rushed off to the library to look up anything I didn’t know, then tried to speak intelligently about it next time, thus perpetually feeling behind the conversation, = terrified], whom she wanted for a friend, if I’d have her.

It’s funny now to think that we met so long ago, because then we were actively working on leaving our pasts behind, and creating our new, Ivy-educated grown-up selves. But we were still our old selves! We were both engaged to old boyfriends (for a little bit longer) and had not yet got involved with, or in her case even met, the Grad School Boyfriend/First Husband. We found we had the same position in our family-of-origin constellation. Our difficult mothers were both still alive. “Home” was where it had always been, the same parental house. Our adult selves were emerging, but many formative experiences were still ahead of us. Through the grad school years, we shared a lot of them in real time.

Over the months, then decades, we’ve talked repeatedly about families, jobs, men, clothes, self-presentation, therapy, etiquette, children (whether, when, how, with whom, raising and teaching thereof), parents, changing self-perception, getting older, friends, plans, roots and connections (making, keeping, breaking), writing, teaching, puzzles and games literal and psychological, cats, academia, changing careers (whether, to what, how), illness, death, divorce, new relationships, inspiration, in-laws, travel, religion, exercise, cooking, shopping, transformations. Everything important, really. We used to meet over breakfast, or for coffee and a muffin. Now we mostly communicate by e-mail, and occasionally catch up on the phone, when we restore our sense of the other’s physical voice, breathing life into the written “voice” of our messages. I don’t know where the years have gone. But the person who was once new, who knew nothing of my past and could accept me as the person I wanted to be, now knows everything important about me. She is my witness.

One bright spot

On Friday, I donated to the California Fire Foundation’s SAVE program, which gives gift cards to victims of fires so they can buy whatever they most need. Usually a gift card is loaded with $100. Saturday morning, I had e-mail from the CFF saying that response had been so great that they were able to increase that amount to $250.

It’s nice to know that people are being so generous. Even $250 doesn’t go far when you’ve lost everything except what you stand up in, but it’s still 2.5 times more than $100.

(And from a donor to any fire survivor: go ahead, buy whatever gets you through the day. If that’s ice cream, fancy coffee, alcohol, new makeup, I’m not judging! Whatever helps you feel like you can cope.)

Saturday morning

  • Wake at 0640 because Basement Cat feels yowly; pull on clothes, go down with BC, let him lick out Glendower’s bowl because Glendower finished his food last night. Make tea.
  • Observe that it is snowing. I had thought I might sweep up some leaves today. Never mind.
  • Sit in front of light box working through Dead Languages, then reading a chunk of a less-dead chronicle.
  • Feed cats.
  • Start cooking my favorite breakfast. We’re out of spinach, but have leftover cooked chard. Cut that up and heat it in the microwave, add the rice, beat two eggs and pour the liquid over the rice and chard. This looks odd. Oh! I should have just broken the eggs into the pan. Did chopping the chard remind me of cutting up potatoes, so I thought I was making a tortilla española? Well, it’s a frittata now. MORE TEA.
  • Cut up cotton gauze for brushing cats’ teeth. Brush cat teeth.
  • Head back to study with tea, to tackle the day’s thrashing exercise. Write-grade-plan/book travel-pay bills-write-grade etc. If I Write First, then I can at least try to soothe the deadlinedeadlinedeadline voices with assurances that I’m working on it.
  • So, as exercise in procrastination, write blog post. It’s a good thing I didn’t commit to daily blogging during November. Still, I’m doing more than I usually do, so let that be a lesson in not letting the best be the enemy of the good.
  • More internet procrastination: read the winter weather prediction, for a colder-than-normal winter here.
  • Draw curtains and turn light box back on. La la la not listening to anyone but my friends the iguanas. It’s always the same weather inside this nice iguana tank.

Thrashing

I’ve written before about thrashing, or at least referred to it. Today I am having trouble getting started on anything because there are so many things that need attention, and even writing them down (so I don’t have to keep them in active memory) isn’t helping. Even thinking about starting something (anything) prompts my brain to say “No! This other thing!” I’ve done a couple of relatively limited things with truly immediate deadlines, but now I’m starting on circuit of “must grade/write/work out/pay bills,” with a side of “Work out or swim? Grade old essays or new ones?”

And now that I’ve got this far, I remember the set of proofs that are due tomorrow, so I guess there’s another limited thing with immediate deadline that I can tackle. Unfortunately, that just sets off alarms about “long term goals, health and exercise, write first, graaaaading.”

Today also comes with the added annoyance of technical trouble with my personal e-mail. It’s past time to switch to a new provider, but I’ve been trying to put this off till after the end of the semester. Further, I know my brothers are not going to be able to remember the new one; sometime in all the uproar about my dad last year, it became clear that one of them had been trying to update me via an address that had been defunct for at least five years.

I wish my inner nag would just shut up.