Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Arachnids Are Everywhere

I really didn't want to know that water spiders exist, no matter how cool they are.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another Glimpse Inside My Head

I'm beginning to think there may be entirely too many glimpses inside my head here, but I can't resist sharing yet another dream. The setting was a bigger, fancier, but no less messy version of my current apartment. In the dream, I came home exhausted on a weekend afternoon, and as I collapsed on the bed I noticed a pile of different kinds of cheese on the bedside table.

"Oh, ugh," my dream-self thought. "I can't possibly deal with that until after my nap."

Then I reached up to take off the beret I was wearing over some sort of disorderly up-do.* As I pulled it off my head, a wedge of parmesan tumbled down from the nest of hair onto the pillow.

I think my psyche would like me to do some cleaning soon.

*Apparently I am a plus-size Sarah Jessica Parker in my dreams.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I was late to work this morning. This was in part because I haven't been feeling all that well and woke up late, and in part because there was a spider in my bathtub.

I knew even before I woke up this morning that there would be a spider in my bathtub. I'm not psychic; the spider had been there for at least two days. I first noticed it around 2:00 yesterday morning, but let it be--and when I got up for work yesterday, I decided I could go without washing my hair, which allowed me to hope that the spider would simply wander off and perhaps be eaten by the cats.

I am, you see, arachnophobic. Spiders have taught me many useful things over the years--that keening is involuntary, that concerned neighbors may call the police when you let out a sustained shrieking wail in a suburban house with the windows open, that police called by concerned neighbors tend to be suspicious of claims that sustained shrieking wails of such alarming intensity can be caused by something as innocuous as a spider--but I have never managed to conquer the irrational fear they provoke in me. My reaction to them is intensely physical. Even looking at a picture of a spider brings on chills and nausea.

Being me, I don't stop at simple arachnophobia. Killing the spider doesn't solve the problem; it just leaves me with a dead spider, which in my world is worse: it is now both a spider and a corpse. The issue is not, or not just, having respect for living things. It's more a matter of the overactive and persistent imagination with which I've been endowed. If I flush the dead spider down the drain, I will shudder for weeks every time I run the water; if I throw it in the garbage, I will have visions of it revivifying itself every time I pass the trash can.

And thus I knew when I got up this morning I was going to have to find a way to transport the spider in my bathtub to greener pastures. The arachnid relocation required the sort of planning one might more readily associate with a military maneuvre in hostile territory or a daring tightrope walk over a vat of burning tar. My preparations were both physical (assembling cardboard and tupperware, donning a long-sleeved shirt, propping doors open) and mental (visualizing a successful outcome, taking deep breaths, having an extra cup of coffee). After about an hour's worth of obsessiveness, I had to admit I had done everything I possibly could to prepare.

I am pleased to report that the mission itself went off without a hitch. I threw the cardboard in the tub, gently shoved the spider onto it with the tupperware, picked up the entire business, and walked toward the door as slowly and smoothly as any bomb-squad member. I walked through the hallway to the propped-open door of the enclosed stairwell, put my burden gently on the ground, and twitched the tupperware onto its side while simultaneously jumping back as far and as quickly as I could. The spider skittered off into the darkness, I skittered back into the apartment, and it was done.

Even the aftereffects were mild. There was a bit of shuddering and gagging, to be sure, and I did compulsively clean the bathtub with bleach, but after a third cup of coffee I was able to get in the tub and get on with the day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Engrossing Reading

One of my more interesting work duties is to keep an eye on the political and ecological news in monkey and ape habitat countries. This morning, I was reading a rather grim National Geographic article about an emergency gorilla-protection force formed in the Democratic Republic of Congo to deal with the massacre of gorillas in Virunga National Park, when I discovered a link to something even more compelling: a blog maintained by Paulin Ngobobo, a ranger in the park. It's not always an easy read--conditions in the D.R.C. are dangerous for both gorillas and rangers--but there are some heartwarming moments too. Today's entry includes the first picture of a newborn male gorilla in a family that was not affected by the recent attack.

As it turns out, this is one of several blogs from the D.R.C. and Kenya supported by the Wildlife Direct project of the African Conservation Fund. For the most part, they're written by local conservation workers in their native language and then translated into English. Sadly, I only got to glance at the other blogs before the pile of paper on my desk started (metaphorically) howling for attention--but I'm looking forward to taking a closer look soon.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Farmer's Market Haul

I feel all warm and fuzzy whenever I think about the Neighborhood Farmer's Market Alliance, which operates several weekly farmer's markets in various locations in Seattle. As Carissa puts it, it's one of the ways in which those annoying self-righteous technology-loving stereotypically-green Seattleites actually prove themselves useful. The markets support local small farms--and they're well-run, easy to locate, and generally packed with produce-seeking shoppers.

I usually meet a friend of mine at the U-District market on Saturdays. Said friend is out of town today, but I made the trek despite the lack of social incentive, and came away with a bunch of luscious, mostly organic, produce: tomatoes, yellow zucchini, carrots, bok choi, Japanese cucumbers, baby turnips, plums, and various fresh herbs. Good Seattleite that I am, I hauled it all back home in a reusable nylon shopping bag.*

You'd think that all this bounty would lead me toward healthier eating, but I'm not so sure that today's lunch was exactly a step in that direction. It featured the zucchini in a lovely pasta with a cream sauce and bacon on top.

*David Lindes deserves the credit for alerting me to the existence of reusablebags.com. Thanks, David!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Gentle Art of Bureacracy

Unlike many people, I'm generally a fan of bureaucracy. I believe that having policies and procedures set up is essential pretty much whenever you need to get a large group of people to work collectively, and I find knowing that I can look up a rule for just about anything I need to do oddly comforting. This may explain why I have managed to remain reasonably happily in the employ of the state for nearly half my life.

There is, however, an art to bureaucracy. It's easy to become enamored of rules for their own sake, and take things too far--as certain prisons seem to have done recently in setting up their approved vendor system for book shipments under the Department of Corrections' personal property policy. I do understand that books make excellent hiding places for other items. I also understand that prison shipping and receiving departments are woefully understaffed and probably perpetually overwhelmed. I'm just not convinced that defining used books as contraband and sharply limiting the flow of reading material to prisoners is the way to deal with these issues.

Three Favorite Sites

1. The Seattle Weekly's "Uptight Seattleite" column. If you've spent any time in Seattle, you'll probably understand why I love it so.

2. The Jabberwocky Variations. This page has been online forever, and hasn't been updated since sometime in 1998--but it makes me happy every time I visit it.

3. Planetizen, where I feed my inner urban planning geek.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


All is well, but I think my body is finally going to let me catch some sleep--so off to bed I go. I hope to be back tomorrow; in the meantime, I give you this preview of my self-portrait for today, Day 245, taken just a minute ago.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Jam Karet

Our title is an Indonesian phrase that translates to "rubber time." It's something we teach the students in our field study prep course each Spring, not because it's particularly useful vocabulary but because it explains a lot about how the culture differs from that of the U.S.

I've found myself living under jam karet for the past couple of days, working at a slightly slower pace and taking more breaks than usual. Yesterday's blog entry was a casualty of this low-key approach, alas, and I did have a nasty bout of insomnia last night--but even so it's been wonderful to have a chance to catch my breath. I'll get back to being a good clock-driven American tomorrow...or possibly the next day.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Asahel and the Tree of Promises

Asahel and the Tree of Promises

The church around the corner from my apartment has had what I, at least, think of as a "tree of promises" sitting outside it for a few days now. It's a wire-coathanger structure with paper leaves, each containing a Bible verse involving some sort of promise. I find it a compelling object, even though I don't really know why it's there. On my way home tonight, I realized that it might well have something to do with a service planned for tomorrow, so I stopped to try to get a picture or two in the dark.

As I was shooting away (and muttering under my breath, for long-exposure hand-held photography is an exercise in frustration), a man emerged from the bushes a few yards away. I watched his approach with some concern. I wasn't worried for my personal safety--the church is on a busy street with lots of foot traffic, and he was hobbling to a degree that made me pretty sure I could outrun him in any case. My worry was that he would ask me for money, or tell me drunkenly that I was pretty, or in some way or another want some response from me that I was unable or unwilling to give him.

That didn't happen. We had a nice conversation, the kind of conversation I'd like to have with any of my neighbors but rarely do, and then we parted ways. As I was leaving, he asked if I would take his photograph--which turned out to be the best picture I took at the site. I hope at some point I'll be able to track him down to give him a print of it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Musty, Fusty, Cucumber, and Grubby

In 1991, the E.U., recognizing that laboratory tests fail to expose many acts of adulteration, instituted strict taste and aroma requirements for each grade of olive oil and established tasting panels, certified by the International Olive Oil Council, an office created by the United Nations, to enforce them. According to the E.U. regulations, extra-virgin oil must have appreciable levels of pepperiness, bitterness, and fruitiness, and must be free of sixteen official taste flaws, which include "musty," "fusty," "cucumber," and "grubby." "If there's one defect, it's not extra-virgin olive oil—-basta, end of story," Flavio Zaramella, the president of the Corporazione Mastri Oleari, in Milan, one of the most respected private olive-oil associations, told me.

--Tom Mueller, "Letter from Italy: Slippery Business" (The New Yorker, August 13, 2007)

This week's New Yorker is a treasure trove of geekiness. There's not only the surprisingly interesting story on olive-oil fraud quoted above, with the Beatrix Potteresque list of adjectives that form our title, but also a piece on a rare self-destructive disease known as Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, an NYC-centric update of Aesop's Fables, and a Talk of the Town bit by none other than Oliver Sacks which I fully intend to use as justification for my bryophiliac tendencies for the foreseeable future. (Consider yourself warned.)

I love the New Yorker. And I love my parents, who give me a subscription every Christmas as a gift.

(And, yes, this makes two posts in one day! Don't get used to it.)

Window on My Psyche

My psyche throws up some truly odd images. Take the dream I had last night. As it began, I was at work, surreptitiously watching a 14-minute-long video of Paris Hilton confronting the instructor of an American Government class. Even asleep, I felt all the guilt one should feel at enjoying watching a human being in tears yowl, "But I'm smart too!"

Then the dream shifted, and I was in a photocopy room, removing someone else's discarded originals from the copier I wanted to use. The first one I picked up was an 11" x 17" sheet entitled "BETTER STUDY GUIDE," in large letters. I'd just put it aside in favor of a smaller sheet showing a magic-marker rainbow enclosing the words "Contract with America" above a group of dancing stick-figures when Newt Gingrich came storming into the room, muttering under his breath. He grabbed the drawing from my hands, gathered up the rest of the sheets, and stormed right back out.

A minute later, the hapless instructor of the government class came into the photocopy room.

"Have you seen Newt Gingrich?" he asked. "I think I insulted him."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dreaming the Impossible Dream

I've decided on a new goal: I will update this blog daily. Yep, daily. After all, I've managed to keep my 365 Days project alive for over 230 days, which would tend to suggest that a daily blog post shouldn't be beyond me.

Of course, I'm three days behind on posting my self-portraits as I write, so perhaps this suggests my daily commitment will lead me to post in bursts every few days--but even that would be far better than my current blog performance (to say nothing of my woeful record with more personal correspondence). My 365 Days performance would also tend to indicate that not every post will be particularly interesting, but I guess that's a risk we'll have to take.

Watch this space to find out what happens.