Thursday, April 29, 2010

Charmed and Strange

My new Quantum Tarot arrived yesterday. I unwrapped it, pulled out the LWB (little white book), and started reviewing the card descriptions. The one that immediately caught my attention was for the Two of Cups, which is, if you're unfamiliar with tarot in general, something you probably want to pull apropos of relationships rather than The Lovers. The Two of Cups is more innocent, and can be everything from deep friendship to romantic love.

In this deck, it's represented by quarks, subatomic particles that are paired and named. One of the pairs is "charmed" and "strange", also called "truth" and "beauty".

I felt the double entendre wash over me. If you know anything about the nature of quarks, or of that particular pair, it's one hell of an in-joke. On a certain level, it even manages to be self-deprecating. That card turned up in a recent reading of me by one of my own tarot proteges- so I mentally started running back through it substituting the cards from the Quantum Deck for those in the deck he used. As Spock would say, "Fascinating."

I've been reading tarot since I was twenty. I got started during a particularly emotional period in my life, and I've always used it as a tool for personal reflection. For many years, I collected tarot decks of different designs and backgrounds (I tend more toward Rider-Waite-Smith decks versus, say, Marseilles-style decks) and really only used one, the Hanson-Roberts, for reading. For the last several years, I'd stopped, more or less because I didn't have a deck that I liked or that "spoke" to me. Without even removing the shrink wrap from the deck itself, I have a distinct feeling that I will actually use the Quantum.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Derby, Schmerby

The first Saturday in May means many things to many people- in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, it means one thing to natives: avoid Louisville like the plague. The oldest organized sporting event in the United States is underway, and with it come hordes of tourists and celebrities who will wear intentionally and unintentionally ugly hats, sit in the rain, drink too much, and observe the Sport of Kings.

Of course, I'm talking about The Derby. We call it that. If you refer to it as the Kentucky Derby, then you're not from around here, are you?

Every year, my godparents throw a small daylong party for about twenty or so people. My godmother is rather a doyenne of society in the small southern Kentucky city in which they reside, so this shindig is tres intime, compared to some things she's hosted through the years. As the group ages, it becomes increasingly important for them to gather each spring to see who's still around and mark who is not; for example, last year, not long after the party, one of the ladies died quietly (and unexpectedly) while her husband was out for his morning constitutional. When I was in graduate school, I used to attend this function. Then, as the number of dogs at Chez Airedaleparent increased, it became my duty to stay in Smalltownland to a.) keep our neighbor's Derby party guests from parking on our lawn and b.)make sure that the dogs got their constitutionals.

Guess what I'm doing on Saturday? Well, aside from staring longlingly up the edge of the ridge toward Cricket VanArsdale-Smith's house at the marquee tent that will fill with guests around four-ish and not empty until, say, eight-ish.

Since I'm trapped at the Chez with my parents' three current dogs, I will also not be attending my best friend's Derby party in North Carolina. She discovered yesterday, somewhat to her dismay, that Derby party decor is not to be had in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Since this was a bit impromptu, there's no way for me to obtain and ship decorations and favors to her by Saturday. We're still knocking around ideas on how to get around this travesty. She did, however, tell all of her female guests that they are to wear hats. I told her to take lots of pictures, since Derby hats come in two flavors- serious and comedic- and I don't think she specified.

My supervisor has a truly unique solution to the Derby Day social dilemma: she's going to the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention. I will be catching up on crime show re-runs and trying not to strangle my parents' Basset, who will probably bay at the neighbor's guests all day. It's not like most natives attend the race, anyway; it's kind of like UK basketball- sometimes it's fun to go, but often as not, you get a better view on TV.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

If I Drop My Gs, Start Runnin'

Yesterday, Farmchick, the fabulous writer behind It's a Smalltown Life, sent me a link to an article about research showing that migraines can change one's accent- it's called Foreign Accent Syndrome and is a medical condition believed to result from brain injury. She was worried that I might be in danger of losing my Smalltownland accent via the ongoing headache, but she shouldn't have feared- I've never really sounded local. I've had more than one linguistics professor fail to guess, based on my accent, from whence I hail. The last linguist who failed to correctly place my accent added quickly, after I revealed that I grew up twenty miles from the junior college he attended, "Oh, your parents have college degrees and one or both of them has an advanced or professional degree." Nice save, and luckily for him, true.

My maternal grandmother, who was born and raised in northwestern Kentucky in a town near Owensboro, sounded as if she hailed from Mississippi. Case in point: my first name is Mary, usually pronounced by most people as if it rhymes with 'airy'...according to my grandmother, the Alabamian who is the president of the college where I work, and various friends from the Deep South, it's pronounced may'-ree. My paternal grandmother was from Texas, which became absolutely apparent in her voice when she was tired or irritated.

Daddy was a Navy brat who'd lived in seven states by the time he graduated from high school, and who clung like mad to the neutral accent he picked up in Arizona, where he was born. Mom has a lilting Southern inflection that grants two syllables to that cured meat made from a hog's leg, ha-yum. She was teased over that when she waitressed at a New Hampshire resort in college. For a few years between my high school graduation and until she had a heart attack three years ago, her accent faded. It's returned in force since her health declined.

The one thing to keep in mind about my accent is, however, that the increasingly Southern it becomes, much like my grandmothers before me, I am either a) exhausted or b) mad as hell. I once explained it as, "The more I begin to sound like Dixie Carter, the faster and further you'd better run!" My colleagues on faculty council can readily confirm this, as will our provost, who is a Mississippian- I can remember the broad grin on his face the first time I lost my temper and started channelling Julia Sugarbaker in his presence.

Sometimes when I teach at our campuses closer to Smalltownland, I'll ask the students to try to place my accent. They almost always fail, guessing like most that I'm from the states immediately across the Ohio River to our north. I quickly change gears, drop into my local accent, and tell them, "Oh, no, y'all, I'm from twenty miles that way," pointing in the direction of Smalltownland. If it's the right time of year, too, I leave them with the traditional local farewell:

"Y'all drive safe, and watch for the deer!"

Get Busy Livin'

Yesterday, I awoke to the fourth day of a migraine, Secret Asian Cat a half-inch from my face, and an epiphany.

As I lay there, staring at my cat, realization swept through me: in near-death, Hopkins had claimed his life. For good or ill, whether he's driven by hope, fear, or something that I can't name, he emerged on the other side of the diabetic coma with the will to keep living. He finally chose, and in that moment, took full possession of a life that's been anchored too long to expectations and goals that were never his.

It staggers me that in this single context, I've always been beyond slow on the uptake. However, when it hit me, I was truly happy. All of our lives, I'd waited for that moment to arrive- I sincerely wish it had been something a little less traumatic, but knowing him, it had to be for it to really 'take'. Whatever has happened since has really belonged to him.

It's enough.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Your Humiliation Will Be Televised

Today marks the annual Thunder Over Louisville, an enormous Derby event that includes an airshow over the Ohio River and one of the largest pyrotechnics displays in the continental United States. The television coverage begins early and continues throughout the event until the last firework has been deployed, usually a lightshower effect off one of the bridges late at night.

A few years ago, I was watching the telecast with my parents, when the roving camera pulled up a tight shot on a very tall man in the crowd on the Belvedere. Before I could even say, "Hey, that's the guy I'm dating," a small blonde bounded out of the crowd and picked a piece of imaginary lint off his shoulder. The look of sheer adoration on her face told me everything that I needed, and did not want, to know. I emitted what is best described as a howl of wounded rage and retreated to my folks' guest room in tears. Not an entirely mature response, but it was all I could manage in the face of that gross level of humiliation.

The next day, he valiantly lied to me for about ten minutes during an online chat, until I couldn't stand it and typed, "You were at Thunder." It was phrased as a statement, not a question. He fell silent for a couple of minutes and then typed, "Yes, I went with a friend who was visiting from out of town."

Ah, yes, your friend, I seethed. "The little blonde. The TV crew caught you on camera- I was watching it with my parents."

The one thing that has stayed with me from the rest of that exchange was when he added, "I'm entitled to want what I want." My reply: "So am I," and I logged out. So much for that, and to Hades with him.

I'm not really a crowd person. I'm short enough that I get shoved around and stepped on quite a bit, and I was almost trampled a few years ago during a stampede at a public event. Even though I love fireworks, between my fear of crowds and the negative assocation with Thunder, I will never go. It's one of the largest, most complex, and lavish fireworks displays in the country, and if you can stand the crush, it's one of those things that everyone (except me) should see in person at least once in a lifetime.

As for me, you'll understand why I don't even watch it on TV.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Four-eyed Monster

Growing up, I was widely acknowledged as having one solidly viable physical asset: my eyes are the color of forget-me-nots, with dark grey rimming the irises. People often passed comment on them, in the vein of "you have such a pretty face", i.e., "What beautiful eyes she has," and its unspoken corollary, "what a shame about the rest of her." After I started gaining weight in third grade, I became convinced that my startlingly blue eyes were the only thing separating me from complete, utter hideousness.

They also didn't work very well. In sixth grade, I got hit with everything at once: I was second-tallest in the grade, my hormones kicked in and along with them came acne (and breasts), the dentist decided that it was a prime moment to slap braces on me, and I suddenly went blind as a bat-adding ugly glasses to the litany of uncoolness that was my life. I didn't have to utter a word for the world at large to know I was a nerd- one look, and you knew the whole story.

It took roughly three years of relentless teasing and a volleyball spiked directly to the face in gym class to spur my optometrist to action. As he stood there holding the mangled remains of my very expensive, brand-new glasses, he announced that I really needed contact lenses instead.

God bless Denver Wells' memory, because although he was a very mild-mannered man, he was father to two daughters and he understood. I know that he had to execute a lot of very fancy footwork to pull it off, but pull it off, he did. He walked next door to my father's clinic and had a little chat with Daddy, who on his best day is, uh, a little intimidating. Dr. Wells managed to convince him that contacts would make all sorts of things much simpler in my complicated teenage existence. The big selling point was that if properly cared for, contacts were a LOT cheaper than a new pair of glasses every time somebody decided it would be funny to hit me in the face, not to mention less dangerous than a shattered lens.

As I say, God bless the man; he passed away a few years ago. That one simple kindness helped me more than I think he ever knew. There was so much going against me then that the easing of that single burden meant the world to me. He was also one of the reasons I became a Lion (I am not a 'joiner'), because he was a lifelong Lion and supporter of Lions vision charities. We could never do what we do without the many optometrists and opthamologists who volunteer their services to us, whether they are members of a Lions Club or not.

Thanks, Dr. Wells. I still believe that contacts are one of the Wonders of the Modern World, and thank you for helping me feel a little less ugly and a lot less awkward in the shark pool that was high school.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Target Practice

A friend of mine is getting married in a few weeks, and I'm desperately hoping against hope that she won't expect me to get out there with the other single women for the bouquet toss. Since I would likely be the most superannuated gal in the bunch, it wouldn't be fair to all the younger girls for whom it bears greater significance, and since I turn forty-one the week before, I'm just a little long in the tooth for it. Seriously, I've caught bridal bouquets more than once, and also on more than one occasion when my-friend-the-bride was deliberately aiming for yours truly, the resident spinster.

That's resulted in my being hit in the head with the bridal bouquet about four times. The worst one had irises in it that left streaks of pollen down my face, and the other girls were so angry that I'd caught it that they didn't tell me. A kindly older lady among the guests walked up with a Kleenex and said, gently, "Honey, I think you've got a little something on your face. Let me get that for you." It wasn't as if I pushed anyone out of the way- the thing literally beaned me on the top of the head and ricocheted into my hands- but that didn't mitigate the ill-will.

At one wedding back home the summer that I turned twenty, I was so drunk by the time the bride threw her bouquet that somebody had to prop me up during the toss. I was there with the groom's guests, so she didn't even know me; I managed some pleasantries until they could take our picture together. All I remember beyond that was our former vice principal sitting across the table giggling at me while I got even more drunk. My mother was horrified, and come to think of it, in retrospect, so am I. Ah, youth.

In grad school, a couple of my friends married one another in a modest formal ceremony at the Opryland Grand Hotel. That's the only time I was ever shoved out of the way by someone who was desperate to catch the bouquet- the bride's cousin literally tackled me to get to it. I'd heard stories of that happening, but I had never witnessed it in person. I was more than a little angry as I pulled myself up off the parquet floor of the reception hall...and I can honestly say that there is nothing in the world for which I'm willing to behave that way.

The last bouquet that I caught, once again because I couldn't really avoid it, was at my cousin Laura's wedding at Belle Meade Plantation down near Nashville. Laura was the other "brainy big-girl spinster" in our family, so she's always had an affinity for me in that regard. Because she knew I was unhappily single in the recent wake of a cheating fiance', she took it upon herself to cheer me up by deliberately aiming for me with her flowers. Yet again, I got hit in the head with the bouquet. It's been about eight years ago now; I confess that it was well-intentioned, but the whole "next to marry" superstition is a total bust.

I've been to a few weddings since then, including my cousin Molly's just a couple of years ago. I dutifully lined up with the other single women, albeit all the way at the back with a couple of divorcee' cousins who also felt obligated, and smiled for the birdie as a young, recently-engaged bridesmaid caught the bouquet. I felt really silly, but family duty demanded that I do it.

The wedding next month is at a marina near our hometown. If my friend insists, I suppose I'll roll out with the rest of 'em, but by gum, if that bouquet heads in my general direction, I think I'll jump in the lake before I let it hit me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Yes I'm Weird...and I Don't Care...

In a recent conversation about backhanded compliments, I thought of one of my favorite responses: "You say 'weird' as if it's a bad thing." I enjoy being weird, although eccentricity comes in a lot of different colors, flavors, and intensities. I want to be like those eccentric French countesses constituting the 'colorful' characters in historic mystery novels, or cranky, dotty old Southern gals on the order of Ouiser Boudreaux. It's my goal in life.

I recently began re-reading Asimov's Foundation series. I'm planning to redo the whole thing, which I had already managed before the middle of my junior year of high school. This was followed by the Robots; after that, I picked up Dune and continued through the entire set as authored by Frank Herbert himself, rather than those co-authored, ghosted, or written by his son. (That's on the order of reading Christopher Tolkien's stuff...ouch, that just derailed into total geekspeak, didn't it? If you're still with me at this point, the Force is strong with you and you probably have your nerd stripes anyway.) I finished JRR Tolkien well before high school...and re-read The Lord of the Rings in its entirety before "The Fellowship of the Ring" came out- but I still can't get through the bloody Silmarillion.

One of my shortcomings, and this could well cost me my cred to some degree, is that I forsook gaming long, long ago. On Easter Sunday, though, an idea so profoundly sacrilegious hit me that I almost couldn't say it- I walked out of my bathroom and asked The Boyfriend, "What do you think Jesus would have to roll for resurrection?" Without hesitation, he replied, "Natural twenty." On the off chance that you didn't get it, grab the nearest nerdy member of your family and ask. They will probably a.) roll their eyes, b.) groan, and c.) eventually laugh. I hope.

There's a trend in higher education to test certain things by putting students into SecondLife or other virtual realities. Again, I may lose my cred over this, but I have no need to live in an online reality. Actual reality is more than enough work for me. I have a couple of exes who are such hardcore gamers that they've really lost track of the feeling of sunlight on their skin and interaction with living, breathing people. I'm not a 'people person' per se, but jeez.

A few years ago, an ex-boyfriend and I were rummaging through a comics shop in a city near his home. I struck up a conversation with the owner, who had known him for years. We had a long debate about Golden-versus-Silver Age comics, during which I managed to respectably defend my points of view. As we made for the door, he called my ex over and I heard him whisper, "You'd better keep her. She's an actual Fangirl." It was flattering, because NerdWorld is still widely regarded as being a predominantly masculine domain.

Anyway, I'm off to delve into yet another round of reading. Having become somewhat bored with the pettier disagreements of the string theorists, I'm taking a little break to read Frank Close's AntiMatter, along with a cheesy historical mystery or two. Once I've burned through those, I will turn my attention, once again, to my old buddy Isaac.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Shall We Dance?

A friend posted Judson Laipply's six-minute "Evolution of Dance" video to Facebook this morning and I can't remember when I've laughed quite that hard. I was an avid high school dance attendee from eighth grade until I graduated, because it was a small town and that's what you did about every third Friday night during the school year. The band kids frequently dominated the dancefloor for everything from Bob Seger to AC/DC to Morris Day and the Time...I can (and did, at my best friend's wedding reception) still do the entire routine to "Jungle Love".

Yes, there's video, and so help me, I hope this doesn't inspire her to post it online- although the finest moment of the evening came when the best man, who was drunk as a skunk, did a high, flailing kick and tripped coming down. We bridesmaids scattered like flock of starlings as he crashed down on his butt in the middle of the floor.

Some dances refuse to die, like the Chicken Polka and the Electric Slide...I'll show my age here and reveal that the Electric Slide was known as the Watergate in my day. Others should be quickly forgotten- I'm getting a headache remembering what they did to Billy Squier's 'The Stroke' in junior high. One of my personal favorites, though, is 'Shout', from the Animal House soundtrack; I can honestly say that I 'gatored' to it at my senior prom, up to and including lying down on the floor in a five-bone hoopskirt as my mortified date, Joe, remained literally the last man standing. That may have hastened our breakup a little bit, but hey, a little mortification is good for the soul!

A few years ago, post-broken engagement, I ended up at a gay bar in the Big City with some of my friends. Part of my gay bar logic has always been that as a straight, biological female, I should be able to dance without having anyone pressing their attentions on me. That night, I was on the floor in the disco, doing my thing, when some man just reached out and grabbed my chest. My friend David slid in between us wearing his best "I Will Now Rip Your Still-Screaming Soul From Your Body" expression. The excuse I received was, "Well, you danced too well to be a real girl. I thought you were a drag queen!" Well, I am a drag queen trapped in a straight woman's body, but that's another story for another day. Being manhandled by a gay man in full sight of about two hundred people on a dancefloor is just a little weird, if you ask me.

This weekend will mark the annual Beaux Arts Ball in the Big City, a charitable masquerade sponsored by the School of Design at my dear old Alma Mater, State Flagship U. . I will most likely not be attending because one of my two friends has pneumonia and the other's partner just didn't want to go. I have, as always, a fabulous costume and a burning desire to shake my booty. I just can't bring myself to go alone.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pense de Moi

"Think of me."

It seemed like such a simple request at the time.

Remember me, even if you forget everything else here. Not everything was horrible, and I willed it with every fiber of my being. You are all that I have, and when you have gone, what becomes of me? Nevermind. I will find my way. You go, and wait for me on the other side. I can handle this. I have always handled it. I will survive. I charge you to do the same...

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Until we are willing to tear away the polite veneer that protects and perpetuates child abuse in "the old families" and among white collar professionals, it will continue to destroy lives beyond repair. It is not a problem confined to "them". It is among "us". To give it voice makes it real.

Clarence Darrow wrote that he had never killed a man, but he had read many obituaries with great pleasure, and there's at least one that I'm going to put on prominent display in a silver Tiffany frame when the time comes. The invisible nametag on my chest reads: "Hello: My Name is Collateral Damage". I have worn it far too long- I have borne the dark truths and the polite fictions all these many, many years. I felt the sting of it early and have since watched the slow work of that poison. I'm still bitter for what it stole from me, but moreso for the utter destruction it left in its wake.

I thought that I could mitigate it, even when I was trapped in my own hell. I did, for an all-too-brief time, and then it spiraled dangerously and permanently out of control. Each in our way, we have never recovered...but I have never lost the spirit that raged against the sheer injustice of it.

Pense de moi- think of me. Remember me. I cannot forgive. I will not forget. And I am still waiting...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hi, I'm Mary (fill in the blank)

With Easter upon us, I am much reminded of the origin of my saint-name (the Blessed Mother) and the fact that people insist on calling me by it despite my having what is essentially a double first name, versus a first name and a middle one that I don't use. It's a very Southern thing, plus Mom's family has the added bonus of being largely Roman Catholic.

My mother's family has a very short list of approved names. I am not the only "double Mary" in this outfit- we currently have a Mary Alice, Mary Elizabeth, and a Mary Margaret as well. The other acceptable names for girls include Sarah, Melissa, Rebecca, and Ann(e). Since this is a huge family, things get complicated trying to keep everyone straight. My mother and my younger sister both have the same first name, so they're differentiated among the family by either double names or calling my mother by her family nickname, "Sister".

The men have just as little choice: George, Charles, Robert, Thomas, William, Philip, Samuel, John, Joseph, and Benjamin, with a middle name of either Edward or Houston.

I thought this was really sort of weird until I figured out the naming convention in Hopkins' family. His true name alliterates completely and has a very musical cadence to it, in the finest old Southern tradition. Most of the men in his direct line bear the same first name, with the variation falling to the second name, which is by and large how it's done in Mom's family. Ironically, I had one of his relatives-by-marriage as my sixth grade teacher, who refused to use anything other than students' first names. He's never been called by his (wish I'd been there for that set-to the previous year- I never asked if she made an exception in his case) and I won't answer to mine. I finally lost it toward Christmas and informed Miss Avis that I wasn't the Mother of Christ, and therefore she should call me by my full name. Yeah, I got sent to the office. Sixth grade was not kind to me.

A couple of years ago, one of my first cousins passed away from breast cancer, and I spent most of the evening patrolling up and down the line of mourners talking to my gazillion relatives. One of my second cousins felt compelled to explain to me, apropos of nothing, that her name is Mary Margaret (she's called Molly, named and nicknamed for my great-grandmother). I laughed and said, "Oh, honey, I know. I almost got that one, but Daddy wouldn't agree to it. We're both named for the same ancestor."

I think, somewhat indirectly based on that conversation, that she named her daughter something tasteful but not familial because she was tired of the family names. Her niece is named for me, carrying my middle name as her first, although it came from Dad's side of the family and not Mom's...they got away with it because it was from a blood relative, anyway.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Easter Terrier

In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, there's no guaranteeing the weather, especially in late March or early April- it has been eighty degrees and sunny for Easter and it has also snowed from time to time. Frequently, children end up conducting their Easter egg-hunting activities indoors. In addition to dyeing the eggs, purchasing the elaborate Easter cards and candy, and filling our baskets, Mom often ended up hiding the eggs. One particularly dismal year, it was pouring rain, so she hid the eggs in the family room before coming upstairs to alert us to the Easter Bunny's visit.

At the time, we had a Wirehaired Fox Terrier named Sherman. Sherman was no slouch in the food-finding department, but he had a rather delicate stomach. Although my folks were terrible about feeding him from the table, they were very careful about what he ate. In her haste to fetch us, Mom forgot that hard-boiled eggs are still edible, whether they're colored or not.

About fifteen minutes after waking us, Mom ushered us downstairs only to discover the remains of three dozen colored hard-boiled eggs strewn all over the family room's shag carpet, and a belching, flatulent, groaning Fox Terrier to greet us. Dad scooped Sherman up and deposited him in the back yard to dispose of the consequences of his enormous snack, while Mom comforted two weeping little girls whose Easter had just been ruined. Our only consolation was that the Easter bunny also visited our church, later in the day...she would've had a real mess on her hands had that not been the case.

When Sherman was in his dotage and having difficulty consuming dog food, Mom hit on the idea of feeding him scrambled eggs for extra protein. Needless to say, Sherman quickly turned up his nose. I'm sure he remembered the many hours he spent exiled in the yard, expelling pastel-colored evidence of his Easter snack.