mofembot in france & germany

To content | To menu | To search

Wednesday 10 August 2016

What I want to say is this

A few months ago a Grenobloise friend of mine sent me a link to a long talk by a Québecois psychologist. I watched the talk — navigating through the ravaged "a" vowels of Québecois French — and came away with a number of helpful insights. The one that has stuck with me is this: "A large part of suffering is due to not accepting that which is" ("une grande partie de la souffrance est dûe à la non-acceptation de ce qui est").

It is well more than a year since I dragged my bleeding psyche out of Grenoble and headed home to Berlin, devastated by the loss of a friend, in some ways most particularly because I had not had a clue as to why things had ended so horribly. I grieved this loss in much the same way as I grieved the death of another important friend, Barbara, much earlier in my life. My Grenobloise friend kindly acted as a liaison and was able to furnish me some reasons for the rupture with the lost friend. I didn't like the reasons I heard. I had a hard time accepting that my over-the-top behavior had turned me into someone too difficult, too toxic, for this friend to deal with. Despite the hard truth, I honestly shudder to think where I might be today if this kind friend had not intervened. Ignorance is not bliss — not at all.

I have gone through so many mental conversations, mental apologies, appeals to untoward circumstances (my being clinically depressed, etc.), recognition of various incompatibilities between us, rationalizations about the unlikelihood of a continued relationship even under the best of circumstances… and all such pretend conversations with the lost friend have been quite fruitless in mitigating my feelings of failure and regret. I am not capable of changing the situation. I cannot fix this. It is possible that the passage of time may prove me wrong, but for the foreseeable future, this friend is lost. I am dead to her, buried alive, a voice that she cannot bear to hear, a writer she cannot bear to read. Accepting this without continuously beating myself up over it has been very hard.

But if I have not arrived 100% at acceptance, I am a lot closer to it today than I was before. Learning to practice self-compassion, forgiveness, coming to terms with an ugly ending in a way that does not promote bitterness, that does not require me to find fault with my lost friend… sigh. This episode was such an unexpected event in my life from start to … current finish. Some amazingly naive part of me thought that at my advanced age, there was little I didn't understand about relationships and friendship and caring — and about myself. Mon frickin' Dieu.

I owe much to several people, among whom are Mr. Mo first and foremost; to my American confidantes, "Ms Arizona" in particular; to Oldest, whose advice to "let go of the narrative" has been so helpful; and to this Grenobloise friend. After a few months of letting me vent, she finally lost patience with me, and understandably so: she is dying of cancer, and quite apart from whatever discomfort she may have felt by finding herself between me and the lost friend, she seemed to find it unbearable that I should waste so much precious time and energy stewing in my regrets and mourning someone whom I had to let go of — for my own sake, if not for her sake and for the sake of others dear to me.

Letting go takes a lot of effort, especially when what we want to hold onto seems so precious and irreplaceable. But hanging onto something hopeless makes it hard to hold onto what we still have that is equally or even more precious, and makes it very hard to reach out towards new experiences and possibilities.

I still have times when I wonder if I will ever truly get over what happened. Past experience is indicative that yes, I will. It will not be today, it will likely not be tomorrow, and possibly not for quite a while yet, but the passage of time does indeed help. If life allowed for do-overs… ah. But it does not. So forward we go, forward I go, grateful for all the good people and things I have in my life, less and less prone to look back with regret at the people and things I have lost. Accepting what is does, in fact, help to mitigate sorrow… Gott sei Dank.

Friday 26 February 2016


It has been just over a year since my last blog post, and… what a year it has been. As 2014 truly qualified as a turbulent "Z Cam" year, I'm not sure in which stellar category I could possibly place 2015 — perhaps a series of Type II supernovae?

The short (!) story is that I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder while in Grenoble, brought on by a number of factors, including the resumption of choral singing and meeting someone who reminded me a lot of my late friend Barbara. That person became very important to me. Unfortunately, the PTSD had the effect of my becoming largely the same person I was 40 years ago — a teenager, with all of the same kinds of obsessive behavior and hyper-perfectionism and so on that the passage of time had tamped down (at least to some degree). I was able to be "myself" again during those too-brief intervals when I was able to go home to Berlin (and sometimes to Quinson, but mostly whenever and wherever Mr Mo was)… and then I'd relapse shortly after going back to Grenoble.

To say that this was upsetting and disorienting doesn't come close to describing my inner turmoil. After many ups and downs (a.k.a. the Z Cam year), things smoothed out emotionally for me during the first quarter of 2015; and then, unhappy with my job agency's chronically late payments and refusal to allow me to work from home even just one week per month, I accepted a different job that would let me go home and pay me 25% more.

The new job started the beginning of May, and since I could do it long-distance, and had invested so much time in the three French choirs I was singing with, I decided to stay in Grenoble until the end of the choral season. But pretty much from the moment I accepted the job (the end of March), I was once again in the thrall of PTSD, and this time overcome by feelings of great grief and loss. — I ended up reliving Barbara's death and all of the terrible aftermath… and by the end of my time in Grenoble, and in no small measure due to the intensity of my feelings, I lost my new friend.

It was a ghastly ending to my time in Grenoble, and I was completely shattered as I drove home to Berlin for good in mid-July. It was only thanks to the kind intervention of a mutual friend that I found out what had gone so terribly awry, as I was entirely blind to my own emotionally-intense behavior, and my friend never talked to me about what was wrong (and I could never ask her). It took about another month (after being tested for hyperthyroidism in Berlin) before I was able to accept a diagnosis of profound clinical depression. My psychologist in Grenoble had suggested I was depressed (I started seeing her at some point in May when I kept crying uncontrollably night after night)… but I couldn't believe it. I was working! I was still enjoying singing and playing piano! How could someone so active be depressed?

… It was exactly the same kind of behavior as I had experienced in Pittsburgh 30+ years ago after Barbara's death, but I had forgotten. Further, this time around, in a bizarre kind of emotional multi-tasking, I was experiencing overwhelming feelings of gratitude. I didn't believe it was possible to feel thankful and be in the throes of this insidious mental illness/affective disorder at the same time. (It is.)

Anyway, I began treatment right after the diagnosis. I cannot now remember if I had the same kind of problem with "neurological fog" 30 years ago as I did this time around, but it took me until roughly this past December to be able to see certain things with clarity in retrospect (which produced no little dismay and not a few tears) and to feel as though I was starting to think/process things normally again. The fog affected my ability to do certain parts of my job. It was very distressing to have to read and reread instructions again and again instead of remembering them as I normally would. (I grant that sometimes the instructions were not wonderfully written and that the procedures themselves were sometimes ludicrously complicated and not at all intuitive, but still.)

Up until mid-December, I believed there was a remote possibility of repairing the broken friendship. But then I heard again from the mutual friend, who essentially said that there was no hope, that this friend had "turned the page" on our friendship, and little wonder. It was so hard to accept that I was persona non grata, that even sending a Christmas card would be viewed as an intolerable intrusion. That hurt. Worse is having all avenues of communication cut off. (It has been my happy fortune in this life to make and generally keep friends fairly easily, so being in this position has been largely rough and unknown terrain to me.)

It took me some time to get to what I think is the final step in getting over Grenoble, in getting over this lost friend, in getting much further along in my recovery from this episode of PTSD and depression. I didn't plan it this way, but I ended up posting a farewell letter to my lost friend on the 31st anniversary of Barbara's death. I don't entertain much if any hope that she will read what I wrote. I needed to write it, and I needed to send it — mostly so I can tell myself that I did everything I could to try to apologize, to try to explain, to try to fix things. I am sad that our relationship ended the way it did. I am sad that some of the lessons I learned (listed below) came at the cost of this friendship, and that I was not the only one who ended up paying that price.

I do not need my lost friend to read the letter to provide closure, and I think that conclusion will stand even if she sends it back unopened. Of course I hope she will read it, which would be miracle enough (a positive response would herald the Second Coming). My mailing the letter was analogous to going through the exit door of a theater: it's soundproof, so once outside, pounding on the door and shouting does no good. There is no handle on the exterior of the door, and quite honestly, were the door to open from the inside, there is little appeal in going back into a dark place. The only healthy way forward is to let the door close entirely on this part of my life.

I have learned many lessons from all of this. In no particular order, here are a few:

• Love and appreciate the people who love and appreciate you. And do your best to show it.

• It is important to cultivate gratitude. In some ways I think gratitude saved me from the much darker and more quickly dangerous type of depression that I went through 30 years ago.

• There are some wonderful people in this world. I owe so much not just to Mr Mo, but also to a handful of very kind other people whom I love, and especially to that helpful mutual friend who was willing to listen and to talk to me frankly when I most needed it.

• Music is extremely powerful and evocative.

• Alcohol is not helpful.

• It is important to assess emotional risks along with everything else when making major decisions. Feeling detached and uprooted contributed to becoming depressed, and doubtless made me more vulnerable to PTSD.

• Forgive others. I thought about the few people in my life whom I hadn't fully forgiven and hopefully have finally done so now. And I thought about how little I know about what other people are going through that could explain behavior that I might find hard to handle.

• I also thought about and forgave myself for the one particular instance in which I had to cut off someone from my life. (I didn't have much choice — I was only 14 years old, and my parents and bishop and other adults insisted that I stop communicating with a very troubled girl who'd been my roommate at a BYU summer program… but I still lived that as a huge personal failure for many years after.)

• If someone, such as a psychologist, suggests that you are depressed, believe her/him.

• Being too busy, as in workaholism, can be a masking behavior, a way to avoid taking the time to truly look at what is happening (both inside and outside oneself).

• Stonewalling behavior is very, very damaging to both the one stonewalling and the one being stonewalled.

• It is never too late to say you're sorry, at least for your own peace of mind, even if the apology cannot fix things.

I may add to the list later on (I am sure there are other lessons I've gotten from this), but I will end for now with this: About 34.5 years ago I wrote a man a letter in which I apologized for my stonewalling behavior. Just before I started dating him, I had gone through two heart-wrenching romances, and the one with him seemed to have started in the same manner, with lots of obvious mutual interest and attraction right away. I couldn't stand the thought of being burned again — and this even though I'd had a very clear impression that I would end up marrying him! But instead of talking things over, I started avoiding the man, who ultimately got the message and went away.

Anyway, a year after I'd dumped him, I sent the letter to his last known address. I had no idea where he was, and for all I knew, he could have already been married — I was not writing to pursue him nor to try to renew the relationship. I simply and very sincerely wanted to apologize for not communicating and for having treated him so poorly.

He wrote back. It was and remains the greatest second chance that anyone could have ever hoped or prayed for. (It was only recently that I realized that he, too, must have wanted a second chance with me as well.) I remain grateful that the person who is and ever will be the most important person in my life, the one whom I love and appreciate more than my generally undemonstrative self tends to say or show — he wrote back. I cannot ask for more.

Monday 23 February 2015

Toujours en deuil? (Still in mourning?)

Today and tomorrow are both part of one harder-than-usual anniversary this year (multiples of 10 being tough on us 10-digited homo sapiens, so it seems): on this very day 30 years ago, my friend Barbara Clark died in a car accident. She was one of the most important people in my life, and truth to tell, I think she probably always will be, even though I think she would find the very notion surprising, were she still alive. (She'd like the phrase "il ne faut pas exagérer.")

Tomorrow will be hard because it was on Sunday night, February 24, 1985, when my mother called me in tears to tell me that Barbara had been killed. I was stunned, and as the days progressed, I became increasingly grieved over the unfinished business I had with her. The situation was all the more poignant because had life permitted, we seemed to have finally, finally been on such terms that we might have been able to talk about everything that I at least needed to discuss with her.

The consequence of such apparently never-to-be finished business (along with hormonal chaos during and after pregnancy, among other factors) was a depression so profound that I came very close to dying by my own hand. (Note to the kiddies: do not neglect unfinished business.)

Were Barbara still alive, she'd be 74 years old, retired, and… who knows. Given where life has taken me and mine over the years, I suspect that she and I would never have become any closer than we were when I last saw her just a few weeks before her death. — Which is to say, closer than ever before, but still not very close in a personal way, for all that we genuinely liked each other: up until then, there had been too much of a gap between our respective life stages to have had that kind of friendship.

Tonight I honored her in a more practical way than I did by dressing in black today — by diligently practicing several different piano accompaniments that I will play at rehearsals for one or two of the chorales to which I belong. Barbara was a wonderful accompanist and served for several years as the associate accompanist for the Southern California Mormon Choir. I learned a lot from listening to and observing her practice.

The one thought that has brought tears to my eyes yesterday and today and very likely will produce tears tomorrow is — how very much I have missed my friend over the years. Not every day, thankfully, not constantly, not at all like that, but sometimes when I sing I can still hear her lovely alto voice. (She was the alto section leader at the time I joined the choir.) And she had such a wickedly fine sense of humor. I find myself wishing from time to time that I could share a good joke or anecdote with her.

Barbara would have loved the internet, I think, though it is probably (no, make that definitely) just as well that I was no longer a teenager but rather a married mom with children by the time email became commonplace. She put up with a great deal of on-paper verbiage from the adolescent me (so helpful to me at the time I wrote them, I suppose, and yet all of those letters turned out to be such a huge source of distress to me after she died). I am glad she was kind and patient and apparently could see enough potential in me to treat me in many ways like the adult I so sincerely wanted to become.

I end this all-too-personal entry by relating what happened about a year or so after Barbara died: I was finally getting treated for depression (yay for Western Psychiatric Hospital and its experimental programs that made it possible to trade my body for "free" medication and therapy). One night, I was just coming back to bed around 4 am after dealing with one of the girls… and Barbara came to me (unseen but very present). Yes, yes, I am well aware of the brain's ability, of the human psyche's propensity to manufacture what it needs to survive, but peu importe: for the rest of that night and well into the daylight hours, she (whether real or manufactured) went through all of that soul-killing unfinished business with me, went through everything that made the phrase "to die of embarrassment" so literal in my life at that point. It was a very healing experience. Nor was it the only episode of its kind during the months and years to follow.

I am pushing 60 with a vengeance, and even after 30 years, the grief is still fresh and present at times like these, but there are nonetheless moments of grace: during that initial experience, Barbara told me that she had been allowed to come to me because my need was so great. And for 29 years that was my principal interpretation: she came because of my need. But a few months ago a new friend of mine, on hearing this story, responded that "she must have loved you very much." The truth of that observation took my breath away: yes, my need was acute, but Barbara came to me because she loved me. That belatedly-received insight has meant a lot to me, skepticism and agnosticism notwithstanding.

In memoriam, Barbara Clark (September 18, 1940 – February 23, 1985). Her grave marker reads "beloved daughter and sister"… and there are many of us who loved her who were sorry that "and friend" was not part of the epitaph. May she rest in as much peace as the Mormon view of a totally frenetic afterlife can permit. (And yes, she would have appreciated the ironic tone of that last sentence.)

Friday 2 January 2015

Highlights and lowlights, 2014 (a Z Cam year)

For any non-astrophysicists out there, all Z Cam(elopardalis)-type stars are wildly erratic and highly unpredictable, as can be seen in the light curve for RX Andromedae: Note the irregular high- and low-amplitude periods over the course of more than a half-century of observations (light curve courtesy of the AAVSO, for which I used to work):

RX And(romedae), a Z Cam star


  • Oldest daughter's marriage: Given that middle daughter Ner's marriage qualified as the top highlight for 2013, it is only fitting that the Embot's marriage should top the list for this past year. It was a lovely wedding in a lovely setting.
  • Music: Not long after starting work in Grenoble, I joined a local choir and discovered how much I'd missed choral singing. I currently belong to three such French choirs, all of which have brought me a lot of joy and satisfaction.
  • Old friends and new: Since returning to Grenoble, it has been a pleasure to renew several friendships, particularly the one with my Italian doctor friend and her family. I have also been very fortunate to have found myself among friendly people both at work and outside of work; even more important, I have made a good friend at work and another good friend outside of work (the latter thanks to a very serendipitous set of circumstances that led me to join her choir). For this latter friend, getting to sing a couple of duets with her at her father's 80th birthday celebration was one of the highlights of my summer.
  • Most humorous moment: This past fall while at Tuesday night rehearsal, the conductor started us all laughing… and then, just as we were beginning to recover, one of the sopranos piped up and said that she thought it a shame that our emphasis on a couple of onomatopoeic syllables in the overture to La Petite Suite Québécoise (having to do with the sound of a windmill — "ti-qui ta-que, ti-qui ta-que") sounded to her as though we were singing "ta queue" … which means quite literally "pee-pee tail" (as Oldest called that part of the male anatomy when she was about 3 years old). I cannot remember when the last time was that I laughed so hard, tears streaming, and we were all completely helpless for a good long 5 minutes or more. (I do not know even now if that soprano said what she did innocently, but if not, her deadpan delivery was totally perfect.)
  • Runner-up for most humorous moment: the "brown lace" incident (in one of the episodes of Cranford, a marvelous BBC adaptation of several short novels by Elizabeth Gaskell).
  • And speaking of Elizabeth Gaskell, having my new musical friend introduce me to her (both via the several BBC series and via her books) was certainly the literary highlight of my year.
  • Snooker also qualifies as a highlight, even if my 30(+)-game winning streak was broken this week. Rrrr!


  • Oldest daughter's accident: I think I aged 10 years in an instant when I saw this email subject line in early December: "Embot has been hit by a car." Fortunately (and miraculously, given the speed of the car when it hit her), Oldest's injuries were nowhere near as severe as they could have been, and she is on the road to recovery.
  • My paragliding disaster: My new friend at work paraglides, and after a couple of trips up and down the mountain (ferrying fliers up and then picking them up at the bottom), I had earned myself a tandem flight with an expert. I was already dubious about flying conditions even before going up the mountain in early September — it seemed too windy to me. But I suited up and was attached to the expert pilot, and then… two aborted take-offs should have been enough to convince both of us to stop, but alas, for some unknown reason on the third try, I tripped and slid along on my stomach. The sail had actually gone aloft this time and was dragging us forward. I'm told that the pilot kept to his feet and that we almost managed to take off despite my position.
    … And had we taken off, would that have been before or after I broke my right wrist? All things considered, I was/we were very lucky: we came awfully close to the edge of the first "junior" cliff, stopped by the shrubs and trees. The drop was not as significant as the real cliff, but I've no doubt that we would have been far more seriously injured, possibly even killed, had we gone over. (The pilot came away with bumps and bruises; in addition to my wrist, I had a slight concussion, minor whiplash, and was black and blue all over.)
    My wrist is still not 100% recovered, and it looks like I've got a couple more months of unpleasant physical therapy to deal with, but I can type and play the piano and eat normally and even floss again. (I ended up doing all of my professional work left-hand-only for about a month. Fun! — Not.)
  • Exile and overwork and emotional turbulence: I was dreading having to live in Grenoble by myself. While renewing old friendships and making new friends and finding interesting things to do has been very helpful, being away from Mr Mo and family has been much more emotionally difficult than I expected. And having a huge amount of work from Paris — almost full-time for about 2.5 months this fall — on top of my already full-time Grenoble-based job… was financially a good thing, yes, but otherwise horrible.
  • Bureaucratic… idiocies: This is a late-comer for 2014: Yes, it sucks to have to go through two agencies to be able to work for the giant company that I do in Grenoble, and while I didn't have a very high opinion in the first place of the man who in theory "supervises" me in the one agency, my opinion of his professionalism plummeted when he made trouble for me by contacting my manager to object to my working from Berlin during the holidays. Rrrrrrr. The immediate situation got resolved, but at some cost to me and my family, and likely to my ability to work long-distance in the future. I hear that this guy has been "promoted" — and that he will not be around to meddle this year. To which I say: Yes!

In summary, it is my hope that 2015 will be a bit less chaotically variable and a whole lot less stressful. Happy New Year to one and all!

Thursday 1 January 2015

So no, I don't read music

Well, OK, yes, of course I do, but I know only the American system of solfège. (And how is it that I only just discovered that this word is the same in English as it is in French?) It is embarrassing, occasionally humiliating, not to automatically know what note (e.g.) "ré bémoule" is. I end up comparing the do-re-mi vs. ABC scales in my mind, much as innumerate people count on their fingers to calculate. Even with that, I am sometimes wrong (and laugh it off though I may in public, it's excruciating to me inside). And then I see terms such as "fixed-do" and "movable-do"… and am filled with dread and fear that this will all be too hard and complicated to learn — at least on my own.

— Indeed, it was the fear of being continually embarrassed by my ignorance that greatly contributed to my not having joined any choirs since moving to Europe in late 2001… until this past year in Grenoble, when the need to find some kind of non-work social outlet to keep from going crazy with loneliness and boredom turned out to be stronger than my fear.

So I rediscovered choral singing in early March 2014, and it has brought me a great deal of joy and satisfaction. Since buying my electric piano in October ("physical therapy for a broken wrist!" :-), I have also rediscovered how much I have missed piano accompaniment. I am nowhere near the level of either Roland or Laurène, who have accompanied (in concert) the choirs I now sing with, but with practice, I can be a competent rehearsal accompanist. And I've actually been a very good accompanist for soloists — I know how to follow. But I can't accompany a choir, even in rehearsal, without knowing the French system of solfège with as much automaticity as I know the multiplication tables. If the chef de chorale were to tell me to play a "mi" for the basses, for example, I need to know instantly what note to play.

I had budgeted for ping-pong lessons throughout 2014, but given that (a) I much prefer German training methods to what I've seen in Grenoble, and (b) my right wrist is not fully recovered (strange that I didn't blog about my parapente accident — but I digress), I want instead to take some lessons, to get coached in solfège so I will not feel so embarrassed and hobbled and restricted in what I can (offer to) do musically.

Finally, the theme for the 2014-15 musical season is light, and I've composed an entire (short) cantata… in my head. Even were I to miraculously get it all written out at this point, with or without help from notation software, it's essentially too late for any group to choose to sing it (assuming it would meet with artistic/musical approval). But I ought to write it down anyway, along with all of the other songs and themes & variations that I hear within.

Seems like I should start trying to become a better "European" musician and composer during this first part of the year, given how ghastly busy I was with work and work and work and work during the latter part of 2014 (and that may prove true for the latter part of 2015 as well).

Au travail musical!

So no, I'm not fluent in French

I have been living in Grenoble since the very tail-end of February 2014. Even when I lived in Grenoble before, and even when I was head of the American school at Europole, I was not quite as surrounded by and immersed in so much French language as I am now — and this is true even though I write technical documents in English at work. There I speak English only with the other technical writer (a completely bilingual Brit, and one of the kindest people I've ever met): all of my other colleagues speak (and generally write) in French to me, and I to them. The (three!) chorales I sing with are all French (see "So no, I don't read music"). Ping-pong is also French. With one important exception, I speak French with nearly all of the people I interact with outside of work.

I am not complaining, not at all. But the longer I live in this Francophone environment, the more I realize just how very far I am from mastering French, how extremely far from "native speaker"-level I am. And I find this more and more distressing, and less and less acceptable. (I am not particularly concerned with my accent, though that could use improvement as well.)

My business French is very good — good enough that I earn a fair bit translating technical and marketing documents from French to English. I cope quite well at work, in large part because the linguistic contexts are fairly limited and obvious. But in everyday life — oh dear, oh dear. My coming late to this belle langue means that I do not grasp culturally-ingrained nuances. I am entirely ignorant of certain idioms (even some quite common idioms). I miss verbal cues (as well as other kinds of cues).

So yes, one of my concrete resolutions for 2015 is to improve my French. I intend to do this by reading more in French — not just books, but well-written "prose de passage" (writing that does not necessarily rely on the literary past tense) at least once a week. Although I am loath to start watching TV, I will see if I can find a program or two to watch on a regular basis (or now that I've been introduced to Florence Foresti, for example, perhaps I can watch youtube clips instead). I will also make a point of listening to French (cultural) talk radio when I travel by car.

But I need to do more. I am going to see if I can find a good advanced French course to follow online. I will dig out and haul back our Larousse and other reference texts the next time I am in Quinson — and I will study them, hopefully as assiduously as I studied German in Berlin in 2013.

Further, if I write to any French person in English (outside of a business context, that is), I will also include my best effort to say the same thing in French as a postscript following my signature. (This said, even if I see any grammatical mistakes in my French emails, as I so often do, I will send a correction only if there is an error that affects the meaning, but not if it's just a "mechanical" problem.) (Update, 17h48: I was very bad today: very pressed for time, I used to deal with part of the French version of a much-too-long email to a friend. Even though I quickly went through the google version and fixed many things, I now see quite a few other mistakes. My friend, if she reads this, will doubtless be relieved to know that I will not send corrections, as I stated above. But I have learned my lesson and I will not do that again. I am surprised, however, that google seems to be getting worse instead of better: at one point not long ago I had high hopes for it — but as ever, I digress.)

There is one more big thing that I need to do to make progress: Although it is very useful for successfully playing certain kinds of games (e.g., Dutch Blitz and Set and similar), my ability to correctly anticipate simply doesn't work anywhere near as well for French (and truth to tell, not always in English, either). That (often misplaced) confidence and strong tendency to anticipate, coupled with my vanity and my pride — particularly my hatred of appearing to be ignorant — has far too often stopped me from saying, "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you just said. Can you repeat / can you explain / can you rephrase?" So one of my goals is to stop being so stupid, to stop pretending that I fully understand something when I don't.

That will be hard — the hardest thing of all for me. But I need to do this — in English as well as in French, because I have on occasion missed out on important information, on critical communication, on necessary comprehension. If nothing else, this "exile" in Grenoble has made me see just how much more I care about better understanding my family and friends than I do about the risk of appearing ignorant. (And yes, I am rather more aware and accepting of the truth that it is OK not to know everything. :-)

En avant! Ne désespérons point, la bataille n'est pas finie… not by a long shot.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Weighty matters

Since writing (but never posting) the following in early February, 2014, I've lost 18+ kg (40 lbs) so far. Goal is 23 kg (50 lbs), sooner rather than later, but definitely by my birthday in April. The secret? Well, ever since roughly mid-May of this year, I've restricted my intake to half-portions, and have eaten (almost) no cheese, no bread, and no salty greasy snacks (sweet things are thankfully not tempting to me), and I've drunk very little alcohol. I've experienced a fair bit of unusual stress in Grenoble, but the silver lining to that has been that it has greatly contributed to a lack of appetite. Overall, I feel good, I look much better (even to me — clothes shopping is no longer quite the horrifying activity that it had been for so many years), I am once again wearing certain clothing that I thought I'd never fit into again, and so... onward toward the goal!

I was a skinny kid. Not painfully thin, not emaciated-looking, not a stick-figure, but thin. I was also short, so my thinness didn't seem particularly out of proportion to my entire being.

To me, there were a couple of problems with my thinness: First, come puberty (or worse yet, come junior high and mandatory showers after gym class), I had no boobs. Flat as a pancake… not quite, but almost. "Little raisin cookies" is how my mom lovingly described my chest.

(Aside, "Adventures in breasts": Although I mightily resented my flatness, I was still able to appreciate that I didn't have to deal with the same kinds of problems as some of my overly-endowed friends. I can see in my mind to this day one such friend holding up her massive breasts as she jogged around the track. This was never going to be a problem for me, I realized, although at the time it was not a particularly consoling thought.

I found some temporary relief in high school and college (and yea, verily, beyond) in a succession of padded bras that helped me fill out my blouses a little bit… and hopefully without grossly exaggerating my natural (lack of) endowment too much. But more on this in a different adventure. (And perhaps a word or two about my Aunt who sucked up all of the breast tissue for generations….)

Second, I'd inherited what my mom also lovingly described as "the Bellmore butt" (and being a Bellmore, I can only assume that she was in a position to know). I had a generous (but objectively speaking, not outlandish) gluteus maximus, whose prominence was likely augmented by lumbar scoliosis that went undetected until just a few years ago.

Anyway, the point is that I was thin. Once I stopped growing upwards — attaining a maximum height of 5'3" or at best perhaps 5'3.5" (that's 160-161 cm for you metric folk) first thing after getting out of bed in the morning (still too short for the LAPD's height requirement of 5'4" for policewomen at the time — so much for my career in law enforcement!), my body decided that my maximum weight would be 103 lbs (about 47 kg) for the next 20-25 years.

I could weigh less than that, but never more. In fact, I dropped to 93 lbs (42 kg) after I had pneumonia when in the missionary training center. This was probably as low as I got as an adult, and once I got to my first city in France, I put on the lost weight again, thanks ever so much to French bread and pastries and all. But I didn't go above the line — except once.

That one time was when I was working as a part-time teller at Coast Federal Savings about two years or so before finishing my university degree at BYU. It was summertime, so I was putting in close to full-time hours covering for people on vacations. Someone, perhaps then-Chief Teller Katie, came up with the plan to have a weight-loss contest. I protested that that was totally irrelevant to me (a fact which did not especially endear me to those struggling on the opposite side of the scales), so we struck a deal: whoever showed the greatest change in weight over the month-long (or perhaps six-week-long) contest period would win. (I no longer remember what the prize was.)

I thus embarked on a massive eating spree. In addition to beefing up my usual breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I had milkshakes and other fattening things at least twice a day (morning and afternoon break) from the local burger joint right across from Coast. I ate other snacks besides, and had essentially at least one more meal before bedtime. In short, I utterly and completely pigged out as much as I possibly could for that entire period. (Jughead of “Archie” comics fame and Jeremy in “Zits” come to mind.)

I did not win the contest. A colleague who'd lost nine pounds (4 kg) did. However, I did come in second — I'd gained 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg)! An honorable if entirely gluttonous effort. But… not much more than a week after I resumed eating normally, I'd shed my hard-won weight — to the infinite disgust and envy of my coworkers.

Such were the blessings of a fast metabolism. Even giving birth to all three daughters did not make a difference: yes, of course I gained weight while pregnant — somewhere upwards of 50 lbs (23 kg) even. But it didn't take long for the weight to melt away of its own accord with no especial help from me — no diets, nothing out of the ordinary exercise-wise. It was a gift.

It was also a curse: I thought my ability to eat anything in any quantity with impunity (let's save "adventures in lactose intolerance" for a different entry, shall we?) would last forever.

But it didn't. My weight crept up a little bit by around age 40. I wasn't complaining, mind you, because 103 lbs was in many ways too little, and if I dropped below that magic number (which I would occasionally due to stress or illness or some such), I really felt it — as not exactly weakness, but as lacking in stamina or reserves.

From age 40 up until nearly the present day, my weight crawled upward, exacerbated by bad habits such as munching my way through bags of chips while production editing at the AAVSO (especially during tight deadlines and the Hands-On Astrophysics project). In fairness, I was playing soccer and basketball, so I wasn’t leading a completely sedentary lifestyle — until I killed my left knee for the second time. Still, I have photos of myself during our first few years in France that suggest to me that my weight really hadn't become a problem… yet.

I started noticing my weight while I was the headmistress of the Marshall McLuhan American School (now American School of Grenoble). Stress, overeating, being mostly sedentary (despite constant running up and down the staircases in the host school)… all contributed, but I'm kind of inclined now to point a plump finger at menopause as the true killer of my once astonishing metabolism. (Doesn't help, I'm sure, that my thyroid has been hovering at low-normal for years.)

I'm not especially inclined to reveal what my peak weight was, although I am hopeful never to, um, see that number (or higher) on the Mrs Sporty scale ever again. Whatever the method or madness, I have lost a few kilos and hope to lose more. (The phrase "unexplained weight loss" keeps rattling around in my head, however, with all of the worrisome googled possible causes such as diabetes and cancer and so on… but I'm hoping that it's more the case that I'm just not eating as much and that between Mrs Sporty, walking around a fair bit, and ping-pong, I'm burning off more calories than I'm taking in. Hope!)

OK, I should also add that one incentive for weight loss was that… I really didn't like how poofy I looked in Middle Daughter's wedding photos — face in particular. It was nice to have cheekbones again in time for Oldest Daughter's wedding this year.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Meeting wickedness (thunder)head-on

I was stuck with my France-based colleagues in a god-awful boring horrible useless netmeeting with people across the Atlantic at the end of our work day here today.

It's probably because I was (am) so desperately tired from sleeping so poorly for so many nights in succession that I've lost track of how many, but I was very wicked. After setting the stage for an emergency escape by saying that there were thunderstorms in the area (true, but my characterizing them as "severe" was a bit hyperbolic, I'll admit), I went ahead and found a youtube video of a thunderstorm and jacked up my laptop speaker to the max after quietly sampling where the best crash-and-boom was. (Thank God for mute buttons on our phone consoles, given the French-side reactions to these antics.)

The overseas colleagues were convinced. The next step was to have been playing another youtube clip that I'd found, this time of a fire alarm (which would be attributed to a short circuit caused by a lightning strike, and not to an actual fire), at which point we could all have excused ourselves because we would ostensibly have to leave the building. Safety first!

I regret that I didn't have the nerve to go ahead and click on play. As it turned out, we were already slated to give up 90 irreplaceable minutes of our lives for this wretched meeting, and yet even that was not long enough to wring out every last bit of pointlessness. Even occasionally interjecting myself into the conversation (to the amusement of one or both colleagues), just to make those in North America think that we were fully engaged instead of dying to be done with the whole business, did not really mitigate the boredom at all.

How I loathe useless meetings. Meetings generally, for that matter. Argh.

The end.

25 June addendum: Perhaps my unprofessional conduct did not go unnoticed after all: first email told the three of us that we would no longer have to attend these meetings; but the terse second (in response to my asking if the meeting convener wanted us to instead submit bi-weekly reports) seemed to make it clear that the convener was offended. Convener did not provide any opening for an apology, however, so I am waiting for one of my colleagues to make contact before I, abashed and a bit ashamed, try to make amends.

Friday 28 February 2014

Uh-oh Danny Boy

Well, that's another blog post lost to the vagaries of gandi's time-out and lack of automatic saving, goddammitall to hell.

Synopsis: Sad about not having been able to play my own arrangement of Danny Boy all the way through. Worse yet, not being able to play more than a few bars of other compositions. There's a piano here at my Grenoble landlady's, but too painfully out of tune and not in "my" part of the house to want to play it.

Should sing. Am thinking about joining a chorus here. Not that anyone much cares if I sing or not (pity party paragraph).

Parable of the talents, and mine's one of the ones that has been buried.

A nice line about ADD/OCD humming of "theme and variations beyond belief" of whatever earworm has seized my brain at any given moment. Even this has largely ceased because the asthma inhaler I use to deal with a chronic cough has adversely affected my vocal cords.

And so on.


Monday 17 February 2014

Watching it spin out of control

Yes, another doom-and-gloom post. Given my hand-wringing to follow, it may seem a bit hypocritical for me to fault hyper-righteous religious bigots for their hand-wringing over gay marriage, but I do so mostly because of their conviction that gays and feminists and liberals are the cause of natural disasters, which to their evangelical eyes are punishments from God for sinful permissiveness. (Let me refer you, gentle reader, to my religiously-based counter-assertion to this entire idea here.)

But still, I flatter myself that my hand-wringing has at least some basis in science, and the only judging I do is — OK, fine, I seem to end up comparing the entire human race to locusts quite a bit these days. But at least I'm not singling out vulnerable populations, right? (I do not count wealthy narcissistic over-indulgers as "vulnerable," by the way.) Anyway, while I try to confine myself to worrying about real problems stemming from real causes, I have been wrong before, and at least once rather spectacularly so (i.e., my firm belief that Y2K could possibly lead to The End of Technology… but hey, the Red Cross was grateful for the generator I donated when we moved to France the next year!).

I am an admitted catastrophile, which in addition to my hyper-religious background puts me in a reasonable position to understand several facets of the eschatological mindset, in particular how exciting and dangerously titillating the End Times can be. Yes, it is scary but also energizing to be engaged in a battle against evil, especially when people are convinced that they are fighting on the right side. And when the overarching cause is heavenly, so what if the tactics used are devilish? (The ends do indeed justify the means for so many, it seems.) Preparing for the battle is nearly as exciting as actually engaging in it!

Of course, my catastrophism is no longer religious in nature, but it is probably good that I got caught up in Y2K-ism back in the day so that I am less prone to go all-out in trying to do something about my current concerns about the many-headed manifestations of climate change. (This assumes that I can figure out exactly what makes sense to do, apart from trying to pressure lawmakers and doing my wee bit to recycle, and so on.)

This article was the impetus for this little blog entry. "Fish Out of Water" is a pretty reliable source for information about sea temperatures rising and polar ice melting, and this latest bit of documented news is… sobering. Per my comment on Fish's story, I've been watching the wind map as Ireland and the UK have been getting clobbered repeatedly by big storms. I've also taken to keeping an eye on the California Drought Monitor. Little wonder that the saints have been praying for "moisture."

Oh, I do think it's going to take more than just prayer to deal with the droughts in the western U.S. and in Australia and all (even if the saints and evangelicals repent of saying "moisture" and start praying for rain and snow in drought areas instead). My biggest concern is that there are so many people living such ordinary lives from day to day, contributing our own tiny, seemingly inconsequential bits to the overall problem, that we simply and catastrophically will not be able to act in a concerted manner as a species to stop destroying our biosphere. We seem to be crossing more and more thresholds at an accelerating pace.

I don't have answers… and even were it a good idea, we aren't in any position at present to be building and stocking our own Survival Fortress.


Update, 18.02.14: Science published a study (as it turns out, back in Nov. 2006!) that says that unless we change our ways now, there will be no saltwater fish left in the oceans by 2048. Why do I think we haven't changed our ways at all since then? Mon frickin' Dieu.

Sunday 2 February 2014

Praying for moisture

California has been in the grip of a huge drought for quite some time now, and today being the first Sunday of the month, "Fast Sunday,"† Mormons are being asked to pray that the drought will stop. And what have I been seeing over the interwebz? Calls for the Saints to "pray for moisture." Not for rain on the plains nor snow in the mountains, but moisture, as though California were some kind of armpit slathered with too much antiperspirant. (Which it may be in some respects, but that is not the point here.)

Mormons are not alone in believing that it takes special vocabulary to get God's attention, though they're among the last holdouts to use "thee, thy, thou" in prayer (and often not especially correctly, come to think of it; of course the Star Trek franchise bolluxed that up worse with the translation of Old High Vulcan… but I digress, I really do). Nor are they (the Mormons, not the Vulcans) alone in their predilection for employing euphemisms when (avoiding) talking about Unpleasant Things. Other denominations talk about being "called home," "passing," and "passing away" instead of dying, although I'm not so sure how many resort to the same kind of noxious death-related meme of "God needed him/her" and "s/he's serving a mission on The Other Side" that Mormons do with too-great frequency.

But back to Moisture. There seems to be up to a 60% chance of showers in parts of central and northern California today, and one can be sure that if any rain is observed at all, especially late in the day after church is over, such rainfall will be regarded by the faithful as an answer to prayers… no matter how little rain actually falls, and no matter if it does not do a damned thing to mitigate the drought. —In fact, any kind of "moisture" would be regarded as an answer, even inland fog — but again I digress, at least a little.

California needs a very, very wet February to have a prayer of having enough water to meet agricultural and other human needs, and apart from the possible showers today, there is no "moisture" in the 10-day forecast. And if this turns out to be as dry a winter as feared, despite all the prayers and pleading and church-going and all, what will the consequences be?

— I mean, apart from the actual physical consequences of water shortages, desiccated farmland, crop failure, skyrocketing food prices. Well, active Mormons seem to be as likely as winger fundamentalist evangelical Christians to believe that (semi-)natural disasters are punishments from God for sin. But what kind of sins? Willy-nilly exploitation of the planet? Overrunning the biosphere like locusts? Greed and corruption and rising, massive inequality? Mistreating the poor? Profits over people? Worshipping riches? Hypocrisy?

… No, no, no. Much easier to say that withholding Moisture is God's way of showing anger about the "immorality" of gay marriage and its as-yet still-undefined and unsupported threat to heterosexual marriage. That's certainly the biggest "sin" on the Mormon hierarchy's mind (and on the minds of evangelical leaders, too). To them, I reply with this fine cartoon by Crowden Satz (attached).

† And yes, there's a wikipedia article about this. I stand (or more accurately, sit) all amazed.

Friday 24 January 2014

Lost and found and possibly ignored

I started a blogpost some days ago about looking for — and eventually tracking down — someone I knew in Pittsburgh Days of Yore. Moreover, I recently mentioned on the Facebook old missionary page I run that I wish I could find my one truly lost comp, whom I haven't heard anything from or about for more than 30 years now.

The odds of my finding Sister H are very small, I think, and those odds are helpful for freeing me from any odd attendant feelings of obligation or guilt I might otherwise have. By contrast, as for my Pittsburgh friend, the fact that I know where she is, and where her children are (who were friends with our older children back in the day)… has not led me to contact her or them, at least not yet. And perhaps I won't ever do so.

—And it's that last possibility that I find a little disquieting (and yet surprisingly not as guilt-inducing as I'd expected). I used to be so good at maintaining relationships. I kept in touch with lots and lots of people for years. I was the one who gathered the info and produced and sent out the newsletter for the missionary song-and-dance groups I was a part of; my Christmas list was long; I always tried to see far too many people whenever I'd go out West from Parts East.

But the past few years — make that practically the past couple of decades now, I suppose — have seen a significant downward slide away from connectedness, even counting the hiccup of Facebook and all.

(I have found several old friends on Facebook and become "friends" with most, and yet… that hasn't translated into much actual communication and rarely, only rarely has it meant making the effort to get together when I am Stateside. I am nearly always willing to get together when people make the effort to let me know that they are on this side of the Atlantic, and I guess I'm always surprised, and perhaps even a little hurt, depending, when I find out that so-and-so was actually someplace nearby in France or Germany and didn't let me know they were coming. And yet that's very like how I am these days: I just don't have the time, don't have the energy, don't feel the need — or more germanely, the guilt — to try to keep up the ties I used to. —But I digress.)

It isn't that these people, these Facebook friends and others still residing in old snail-mail address books aren't important to me. I grant that some are more important than others, certainly, but I find myself neglecting even people who are still important to me (I will refrain from focusing this piece on my immediate family, which is a different story). I just don't seem to have the emotional energy, if that's what I can call it, to be as involved as I once was.

It would be nice to be able to blame social media for the fatigue, and there may be something to that, given that nearly everyone on my FB friends list is on equal footing, status-wise: I see things from mere acquaintances scrolling by as often as I see things from friends, close friends, family, close family. Obviously I should take the time to filter things better so that I don't miss anything important from those who are more important to me. (Of course, a lot of those people aren't exactly verbose when it comes to updating their statuses….)

The other factor in my fatigue, as it were, is discovering how much wider the gap is between me and so many of my old friends newly-found. I'd say more than half of those I have reconnected with are politically and religiously much farther from me than they are geographically and temporally. Yes, I care about them, at least for old times' sake and all, but omg, I do not want to see one more shared FauxNews story about the evils of Obamacare. I don't want to see yet another conserva-quote from some Iron Rod-up-the-rear church authority. I don't want to be reminded that here is yet another person with whom I disagree on many, many fundamental issues…

…Especially when it didn't use to be this way. Of course, it is unquestionably I who have moved the farthest away from the Comfort Zone, and yet there has been perceptible motion right-ward for many of these old friends — even over the relatively short time I and they have been on Facebook, for crying out loud. Per my previous post, I am not really sure how safe I feel about talking to them about such things, preferring (as ever) to avoid Possible Unpleasantness (or in some instances, absolutely guaranteed unpleasantness). Is not feeling able to be open really friendship?

… I will let the question linger in the air.

So is that why I don't want to contact my old Pittsburgh friend — afraid that I will end up with yet another person in my "omg, I can't believe that she's gone off the deep end, too" list? And even if she hasn't… well. Part of me thinks I should spend what limited social energy I have in keeping up with some of the people who have been the most loyal and the most likeminded (and thus in many ways the most fun) and the most committed to being friends over the years. The relatively small number in this category ought to be manageable, and yet here I am, typing this blogpost instead of sending emails to or skyping with them as I ought. I nearly always enjoy catching up once I've done it, but as with tracting… getting started is so very hard.

Need to start knocking on those doors again: these few are not people I want to lose.

Sunday 19 January 2014

On outing myself as an almost ex-mo… or not

I am the founder and administrator of a facebook group for missionaries who served under the same mission president Mr Mo and I did back in the day. President & Sister A were lovely people, and I was always glad to have the chance to stop and visit them on those rare occasions when I would be in Salt Lake City. Sentimental soul that I am, I have also founded other mormon church-related FB groups as well… but not because I'm still a believer.

Anyway, last night a relative newbie to the missionary alumni group posted this question: "So 30+ years on, I'm wondering how many of you guys are still practicing LDS?" Uh-oh, thinks I, here is a loaded question, and right off the bat, I correctly guessed that the asker, we'll call him Guy, was no longer a practicing member himself (actually, no longer a member at all, but I'm getting ahead of myself a bit). Various people responded, most of whom are still active mormons. Then finally an inactive or ex-mo alumnus piped up, at which point Guy chimed in and said that he no longer believed … and further, gave a short laundry list of reasons why.

This started a flurry of generally quite respectful back-and-forth. When one alum — "Andy," a fellow with whom I have locked horns quite a few times in the past in various listserv venues — when he contributed his two bits, once again I thought uh-oh, given Andy's propensity for sinking into contention and nastiness. So I monitored the discussion closely and finally invoked my administrative privileges and asked them all to take it off-line, as I didn't want it to become unpleasant and besides, the alumni group was not the right venue for that type of conversation.

Mr Mo noticed that during the course of the thread, which went on to about 90 comments, I managed to sidestep the original question entirely. Well, yes, I did, although I surprised myself at how very tempted I was to out myself as being among the "inactive" — more tempted, in fact, than ever before when similar opportunities have arisen.

I am, in fact, "out" on the Feminist Mormon Housewives FB page. So why not more out, or all the way out, in all of these venues? Why not tell these old friends and acquaintances that I've never attended any mormon church service while living here in Europe, not even one, and that I can count on my fingers the number of times I've been to church in the U.S. since I stopped going in (iirc) early 1996? While there's no particular reason for me to feel the need to bring up the subject myself, why not take advantage of appropriate openings to let my status and feelings be known?

Well… it's complicated. A significant chunk is my not wanting to give Arschlöcher like "Andy" any satisfaction. Here's a man who is about the worst online ambassador for the mormon church imaginable: contemptuous, self-righteous, sarcastic, nasty … and he's been that way at least since he was a missionary. Most if not all of his companions detested him, and little wonder. He is also a rabid right-winger, and his political posts and comments are as puerile as his religious ones; his FB feed is filled with the worst of the dreck about Democrats, Obama, liberals, and so on. He would happily hold me up as a liberal who had gone astray — and assert that progressive values and apostasy are two sides of the same coin.

So there's that. But why should I care about that sort of thing? And why should I care what kinds of conclusions my winger acquaintances might draw from the not-wholly-without-at-least-some-foundation connection between my politics and my (lack of) religion?

Enter projection. For better or worse (and landing more and more on the worse side as time goes on), I know exactly how people like my old companion Nina would feel if she knew I have "gone astray." Bad enough that I am/we are in my parents' prayers, and probably those of my practicing sibs and all, but I don't want my church status to be in anyone else's Thoughts and Prayers, too. And god forbid that I become some kind of project along these lines… which is certainly something Nina might pursue.

I don't have any desire to debate or discuss church matters on a personal level, really. For one thing, unlike "Guy," I don't have any particular desire to bring up all of the factoid-based reasons for leaving; and unlike Guy, I've done all the proselytizing I'd ever care to do, thanks very much, and if I want to convert people to something, I think there are political and social issues that are far more important.

—Which brings me to another reason: I frankly think that keeping my status unknown (OK, not saying anything that would induce people to realize I'm no longer active) helps my "cred" a little bit in the political arena. I have plenty of experience with my family to know full well that anything I say about political or social issues is immediately discounted because of my "inactive" status and/or "apostate" views. I think it is easier to talk about issues when one is perceived of as being on the same level or page. I think I've occasionally gotten through to people like Nina about some things that I otherwise would not have had I been pegged as an apostate. (As it is, I'm sure a fair bit of my liberal views are being blamed on my living in Europe… and that isn't even especially incorrect, come to think of it.)

Is it less than honest to know that people assume I'm active when I'm not? To sidestep precisely with the aim of keeping my cover? Well… gosh, what can I say? My initial response is — meh.

If I felt strongly that I needed to pull people out of mormondom (and if I didn't think the internet was doing a pretty good job at that already), I guess I'd be more open about my unbelief and the reasons for it. As it is, I'm pretty "live and let live"… up to a point. And maybe I'm approaching that point. But I'm not quite there yet — not quite ready to overcome this particular "sin of omission."

Update, 20/01, 10h00: Well, sure enough, "Andy" couldn't resist his baser nature and posted a comment full of insults and invective… which I deleted and then officially closed the thread (meaning that I would no longer allow comments to be added). To which Andy responded with yet another comment directed at Mean Me… which also got deleted, and led to the entire thread getting deleted… and to "Andy" quitting the missionary group. Good riddance. Arschloch.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Change and decay in all around I see

Today Mr Mo and I went to the remains of the Children's and Maternity Hospital complex, founded in 1908, and located not very far from where I used to have my art studio in Weißensee (just two stops farther on the M4 tram line). It was… well, seems like it would be hard to restore much if any of it: there have been numerous fires in most if not all of the several buildings on the campus, some quite serious, and the holes in the roofs and resulting rain damage have led to ceilings caving in and all kinds of rot. I was pretty nervous about scuttling through a couple of corridors, and was glad not to have had any plaster or worse drop down from above.

Of course, the buildings have been stripped bare of anything even remotely of value or useful, including copper wire. Only a few window panes in one of the buildings hadn't been broken, but for the rest — all of the interior windows (for observation, nursing stations, and so on) were thoroughly smashed. What few fixtures had been left behind at the facility's closure in 1997 — by this I largely mean sinks and toilets — had nearly all been broken to bits. The graffiti was endless and of varying quality. Most doors were off their hinges, and those on the floor were in many instances spongy underfoot.

—And speaking of feet, we came across a surprising number of shoes. I understand, perhaps, the artistic statement that the ginormous pair of new-looking high heels left in a mostly inaccessible place might have been intended to make, but for the rest — gee. With so much broken glass everywhere, and I mean everywhere, seems to me that one would not knowingly abandon one's footware. Stoned? Drunk? Who knows. Very mysterious.

—As were most of the rooms we visited. Very few indications as to their functions, though I was pretty convinced that one of the rooms we saw had been an operating theater. The patients' rooms were fairly obvious, I think… but for the rest, no clue.

Evidence of now- (and perhaps long-)departed squatters was everywhere: filthy blankets and clothes, but surprisingly very little "current trash." It didn't seem to me that it's been used very much as a shelter in recent times — leaky, burnt-out roofs and no windows kind of limit its possibilities along those lines, I guess. When we first arrived, we saw some people in the upper floor of what must have been the hospital's dairy barn (converted to other uses after the cows went away in 1920) — but later it was clear that they were there to do some kind of photo shoot. I didn't see anyone that looked at all like they lived there, but there were several people who, like us, had come to explore. Today was a sunny day, if quite cold, and given the dreary forecast for the coming week, visiting this nearby place made for a fine winter's outing.

I was surprised to learn from the Abandoned Berlin entry linked above that the last addition to the hospital had been in 1987. How strange to me that it was closed down only ten years later and so thoroughly abandoned. I recognize that the birthrate has fallen, but still. And I recognize that Berlin — East Berlin in particular — had a great many more immediately urgent kinds of projects to deal with after the fall of the Wall, but there's something sad and almost criminal that this facility was left to the vandals instead of sensibly repurposed.

Friday 17 January 2014

I've been lucky

My principal facebook hangout group these days is Feminist Mormon Housewives, and scarcely a day goes by when someone, and often more than one person, relates how she was abused — physically or sexually or emotionally or all at once, or… or… and often by a family member, often by a parent, sometimes by a spouse.

It was the same during Midwest Pilgrims and Exponent II retreats: so many women told of their suffering betrayal and hurt and grief and violence. Being LDS doesn't seem to prevent abuse: it seems to happen among the saints at the same rate as elsewhere (and in fact, authoritarian groups such as LDS, Inc. and evangelical churches have a somewhat higher rate of abuse than other populations). I found it all mind-boggling when I first started hearing women's stories. While I guess I've come to expect such revelations when such topics are raised, the number of women who have lived through awful childhoods still astonishes me.

—And makes me grateful that I had such a normal childhood, a normal family. I got spanked, yes, and sometimes even with a belt (and in retrospect, I think it was pretty unfair of my mom — unfair mostly to my dad — to have resorted to the threat of "wait till your father gets home"), but I was never sexually abused, never beaten, never a victim of gross negligence. Surprising how rare "normality" has turned out to be among the friends of my youth.

The cycle of violence and abuse is tough to deal with. Far too many parents end up parenting according to the way they were brought up, though of course there are variations and differences, and with a lot of effort, there can be many deliberate differences. For example, my mom's parents quarreled and bickered endlessly, to the point where she was too embarrassed to ever have friends over. (And even as a small child, I did not like going over to grandma and grandpa's for that reason.) My mom was absolutely determined that she and my father would not act like that in front of us kids, and they did not. I rarely saw them disagree, and never saw them fight at all.

But there was and still is a little bit of a mean streak, I guess, in my mom. I think of how she would call my sister "the pimple farm"… to her face. I can't imagine saying something like that to anyone, much less a child of mine. —That said, Lord knows I yelled and said many things that must have scared or wounded my children, particularly when I was battling depression (sleeplessness and irritability, that was me). — Indeed, if I could go back and have a do-over, I'd yell less… and hug more. I came from a fairly undemonstrative family: although my parents — my dad in particular — were lovey-dovey with one another, we did not hug much or kiss much or cuddle or snuggle.

I wanted to be a more demonstrative mom than my mom, but I didn't succeed at that, I very much regret to say. So yeah — less yelling, more hugging, that's what I'd do if I could turn the clock back.

But to return to the original thought: I'm lucky to have grown up with good parents. Thanks, mom and dad.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Pulling down the Darth entry

Well, I just unpublished my little "dirge for Darth" piece, as I find it unworthy in several ways. As it is now a bit later than I wish it were, and I'm plumb out of ideas at this hour, I will not be putting up anything else today. I take some consolation in the thought that I published a few of my old Mormon Women's Forum pieces over on nonlynnear this afternoon, and that will simply have to do.

"This is a stub"… indeed.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Pack books, send books

Riffing off of this story in the Deseret News about sister missionaries surviving Typhoon Haiyan: My most dangerous mission moment (apart from LTM stuff†) happened in Metz, France, during January 1978. It was P-day (preparation day — essentially our day off, when we would go to the laundromat and grocery shopping and such); Sister Blue and I had gone to Auchan, a big "hypermarché" a fair ways from our apartment in Borny, but still walkable. At least a good foot of snow was on the ground; I don't remember if the buses were running or not, but even if they were, we decided to walk back to the apartment with our groceries.

It was damned cold — quite possibly the coldest day of the coldest winter in my lifetime to that point. About half-way to our apartment, I remember coming to the harebrained conclusion that it might be fun to freak out Sister B (an ER nurse) by pretending to be suffering from hypothermia, so I sat down in the snow. But apparently I wasn't really pretending. She got me up and going again and we made it back to our place with our groceries… and then the fun began: my fingers were half-frozen and I needed to thaw them out by holding them under tepid running water.

This hurt like bloody hell, and I screamed a fair bit. Fortunately, the ordeal was over fairly quickly and I suffered no lasting damage. But I wonder what Sister B would have done if she hadn't been able to nag and cajole me to get up out of the snow and keep moving. We were in the middle of a frickin' frozen field, and it would have taken a good 10 minutes or so for her to have gotten anywhere to find help.

My other possibly dangerous situation occurred up north in Lille: my tiny comp, Sister Charette, and I (when I weighed all of 103 lbs /47 kg max, which was still heavier than Sister C) were on our bikes heading back to our high-rise apartment building. When we got to the building garage driveway, we realized that a car had been following us. We entered the garage — and to our dismay, the car followed us in. We managed to stash our bikes in the missionary stall and dashed for the door before whoever it was could get out of their car and come after us. Very unnerving. Maybe the person(s) just wanted to freak us out — which they certainly succeeded at doing, if that was their goal… but maybe their intentions were more serious than that. On the other hand, maybe they just happened to live in the same building (a thought which did not occur to us at the time, and only occurred to me now). Regardless, we were on edge for days afterwards.

My missionary dangers obviously totally pale in comparison to what the sisters experienced in the typhoon. Of all the things in the article, what surprised me the most is that the "lead sister" in the story apparently first learned about the pending hurricane from a local, rather than being contacted directly by someone in the mission.

In my day, we missionaries didn't have the internet nor even good access to telephones. If Something Bad was going to happen, the mission home was supposed to send us a coded telegram: "Pack books" meant to hunker down in one's apartment, get ready to go, and await further instructions; "send books" meant flee — I assume to the mission home? — That is Mr Mo's assumption as well. But seems to me that heading to the mission home from the far corners of our mission could have been a very dangerous endeavor, depending on the nature of the emergency. And as ATMs had not been invented yet, if one was short on cash, getting anywhere could present a problem. (We were supposed to keep enough emergency cash on hand for such contingencies, but I'm sure I'm not the only one whose monthly allowance barely covered even my basic living expenses….)

I'm told these days that various missions (perhaps all of them?) have asked the local congregations to set up safe houses for the missionaries in their area… and I guess such safe houses would be meant as gathering points (and hopefully shelter) during natural disasters as well as civil disorder. Given today's technology, it seems quite likely that some missionaries might know about impending doom long before the leadership. (Which may also be true in terms of the long-term impact of the internet on the church's truth claims as well. "Pack books," indeed.)

† There was at least one horrible moment at the LTM (language training center) when it was nothing short of miraculous that I didn't try to kill myself. Yes, I felt that wretchedly bad: never underestimate the power of a perfectionist nature coupled with impossible expectations to wreak havoc on one's self-esteem and desire to live. (Did I mention that I was chronically constipated the entire time I was there? Oh, yes, I did… and again, little wonder. "Send books," indeed.)

Monday 13 January 2014

That odd little 3x5 card entry

I've been decoding and transferring various jots and tittles that I wrote down on a small stack of 3x5 cards during my mission, mostly while I was at the Language Training Mission (LTM; this turned into the MTC — Missionary Training Center — in the fall of 1978, when I was serving in northeastern France). Anyway, one can well imagine that most of my notes were of the various LTM sacrament meeting talks, Sunday School or Relief Society lessons, or of LTM or BYU devotionals and firesides featuring various general authorities at the time. Most of these notes are in everyday English… but some are written using the phonetic Deseret alphabet.

I used the Deseret alphabet whenever I interjected a personal observation, indulged in (hyper-)religious breast-beating about my sins (both real and imagined or at least exaggerated in the rarified atmosphere of the LTM)… and when I was angry or upset or puzzled about something or someone (as illustrated in a previous blog post). As ever, writing in Deseret was a whole lot easier than decoding it (especially some 35+ years after the fact).

I came across one such (blessedly very short) note in Deseret the other day, to wit:

Dec. 11, 1977 — O Tristan Wood — come back and serve your mission.

Tristan (not his real name) was a young man in my home ward, a couple of years younger than I (in keeping with the age requirements/restrictions of the time: he would have been 19-ish, and I was 21.5 years old). I frankly do not remember the precise circumstances which would have led me to write this little plaintive private and unsent plea, but obviously Tristan went home. Did my mom write to tell me about it? Did someone else? I had entered the LTM on December 1st; had Tristan already been in the LTM for some time, or had he just arrived as well? Why did he go home? "Unrepented sins"? Homesickness?

No matter the reason, his leaving the LTM and going home would have been a big shock to our congregation ("ward" in Mormon parlance) … and doubtless to his parents in particular. There was (and still is) scarcely a greater disgrace for a young Mormon than going on a mission and getting sent home early (or in some instances deserting). And certainly the social stigma of going home early — even for completely legitimate reasons (health, significant family problems, etc.) — is shamefully still alive and well among the saints.

Well, whatever Tristan's reasons for going home… I can willingly wager that he ultimately went back out and served his mission. Why? Because he's now a stake president, and it seems pretty unlikely to me that that would be the case if he'd gone home and stayed home thereafter. (I could be wrong, but I think institutional forgiveness goes only so far.)

And this all said, I am still rather surprised that he is a stake president, given that he works for one of those awful vulture payday loan companies (which have legally bribed — I mean, donated tens of thousands of dollars to prop up politicians and legislation that will keep them as unregulated as can be in the Beehive State, among other places). It's… a little hard for my brain to reconcile Tristan's profession with his church job, but truly, "God works in mysterious ways" (insert eye-roll here).

Sunday 12 January 2014

Geh mawwiage

In a previous post, I said that the Mormon church had already done things in the political arena (to say nothing of things in other arenas) that to my mind have fully merited my resigning… were it not for my decision to wait until my parents have departed from this mortal realm. (Note poetic euphemism. We do like our euphemisms! — But I digress.)

One such set of actions and policies has to do with gay marriage. This past month has been a humdinger: a federal judge ruled that Utah's Amendment 3 to its state constitution — which categorically defines marriage as consisting of a man and a woman (ironic indeed for the former? polygamy capital of the western world) — was unconstitutional. About 1,300 gay couples went and got married, some more easily than others (I'm frankly surprised that there wasn't even more ass-holiness among the county clerks, quite honestly, but shame on those deceitful few!). Utah asked for a stay, which was ultimately granted… meaning that the marriages have stopped until such time as the Supreme Court will consider the matter, which probably won't be this year.

Then Governor Herbert — the same "moral" guy who secretly sold the Utah voter registration lists to various parties (after removing his own name and info, of course) — declared that Utah would not honor the marriages that it had legally performed for these gay couples, throwing those couples and their families once more into limbo. The US DOJ announced that these marriages would, in fact, be recognized at the federal level… and so what we have is a mess.

The Mormon church has indicated that it will not file an amicus brief.† Publicity ploy? Maybe — oh, hell, sure. The church leadership has made its position crystal-clear that gay marriage is an Awful Thing… apparently far more awful than so many true moral issues and outrages that I can scarcely begin to list them all (income inequality, environmental degradation, etc.; kiwimormon's post sums it up well). On these overarching issues — any one of which has an unquestionably deleterious impact on human life and happiness — the church is as silent as the tomb. Its "moral leadership," if it can be called such, seems to hover exclusively around issues of human sexuality, and indeed, the church has strained at this gnat for my entire life, for the most part ignoring far weightier questions about moral behavior.

Assuming the biosphere endures long enough, I think it is possible that LDS, Inc., will ultimately come to accept gay marriage… at least civilly. It's been painting itself into a tighter and tighter corner about the eternal implications, what with its reliance on the ridiculous Crock-Proc (Proclamation on the Family — "the next best thing to genuine revelation!"). So while I don't believe there is any real "eternal" reason to refuse a temple marriage to a gay couple, I don't see that happening anytime soon. (I hesitate to say "not in my lifetime," but… well.) (I have lots of things I could say about temple marriage and the whole notion of "sealings" in general, but I'll forebear at the moment.)

I fault the church because of the fundamental dishonesty with which it has conducted itself during the entire period of the gay rights movement (up to and including gay marriage). It has secretly belonged to and funded groups which have disseminated lies and misinformation, pandering to the very worst elements in society. It has cuddled up with bigots and cheats… some of whom (of the evangelical persuasion in particular) were and are more than happy to take every bit of support from LDS, Inc. … until the time when they, the faux-Christians, have the opportunity to turn their hateful efforts to annihilating the mormons — the cult they so despise.

I fault the church because of its doctrinal inconsistency, for its apparent inability to distinguish between inspiration and conservative political thought and tactics, and its for its willingness to let members believe that its leaders are receiving revelation from God when none has been forthcoming. I fault it because so many of its decisions in this area (and in far too many others) seem to have been made with utterly no consideration of that well-worn cliché, "what would Jesus do?" Instead, the church and its conservative U.S. members are working hard to portray themselves as victims. Grüß Gott.

Meanwhile, the newly-married gay couples are once again experiencing fear and uncertainty and blatant discrimination. Were it really and truly the church of Jesus Christ, the church (a) would never have opposed gay marriage in the first place (which might have rendered point "b" moot), and (b) would put pressure on the state to do the right thing by its gay constituents, rather than wasting millions on appeals that will only delay the time when justice and fairness will prevail.

It all makes me sad and ashamed. Maybe a bit of reconsideration is in order.

Update, Feb. 8: Apparently the church lied (quelle surprise) and has filed an amicus brief anyway.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Water-free West Virginia

Three hundred thousand people across nine counties in near Charleston, including Charleston itself, are without water due to chemical contamination of the water supply (the Elk River). From a practical and logistical standpoint, the biggest problem is that this contamination is such that even boiling the water won't do any good. All it can be used for is flushing toilets — not drinking, not showering, not laundry.

FEMA has trucked in 1 million liters of h2o so far… not even a gallon per person affected. This problem is bigger than what all but the most food-storage-conscious family *might* be able to handle (on a short-term basis).

To me, the worst part of the whole mess is that the coal-processing chemical company where the leak originated didn't even bother to notify WVa's water authority… it was discovered after the authority fielded complaints from people downstream. Unknown how long the leak's been happening and how many people (including unborn children) this may affect. Moreover, it's still unknown at present exactly how long it's going to take before people will have access to clean water again. Here's hoping it will be soon. And I hope the company pays the costs for trucking in water and is fined up the wazoo for negligence.

Of course, all this reminds me of my little Y2K water-storage fiasco. (No, one really cannot just stack gallon bottles of water on top of one another. Let's just leave it at that.)

I occasionally play The Survival Game in my head: which room of our Berlin flat or of our row house in Quinson would be most defensible? How long could we subsist on what we have? What of water, power, and sewer? … And so on. I'm afraid we're not very well-positioned for a zombie apocalypse, especially if the city/village grid and other infrastructure on which we so heavily rely goes off-line, as it surely would eventually.

With all of the dire climate change reports of late, the question of food and water is insinuating itself into my consciousness a little bit, but no, we're not in any real shape to do anything about stocking up, even if there are arguments for doing so. I can't see us doing a Y2K-like prep again even if we had the money. Nor do I want to follow in my youngest brother's fanatical footsteps. (To me, one significant earthquake and/or landslide, or worse yet, a wildfire, would impact all his preparations vs. The Marauding Hordes or whatever he's envisioning as the enemy he's fortifying his property against. Ah well.)

I am genuinely puzzled about what makes sense to do to prepare for the coming lean years during this time of only slightly waning fat years. It will be the third-world and then second-world countries that will first feel the brunt of crop and water failures. In past times, famine and drought (and yes, warfare, of course warfare) were catalysts for huge waves of migration. Not clear to me how "civilized" first-world countries will respond to even greater numbers and bigger waves. It will not be pretty (it never is). On verra. "Enjoy it while it lasts" (assuming that "it" is a first-world lifestyle).

…But it really seems like there ought to be something more one could do about at least some aspect of it. Hmm.

Update, Feb. 8: Nearly a full month later, the hapless 300,000 are still without potable water, with no end to the misery in sight. Their governor insists that no new regulations are necessary. Uh-huh, riiiight.

- page 1 of 5