March 31, 2004

OIF

I love writing OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM in my husband's address...

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March 30, 2004

WRITING

I don't think I've blogged about my new job yet: I'm teaching ENGL 101 Introduction to Writing this term. It came as a surprise to me too; another class got cancelled and they offered me the position a week and a half ago. So I started on Monday, and it's going to be fun but time consuming.

Anyway, I've hit a gumption trap. In the past I have used some of my old examples of writing in class for discussion because, well, because I am a masochist. I think that my students deserve to see how I write before they entrust me to teach them to do it. I did this when I taught ESL, and the students appreciated it, but in that setting I didn't really think too much about the topics. But tonight I have spent the last hour vetoing papers.

It seems back in college I mostly wrote about controversial stuff, and I'm not sure I want to open myself up in that way. It's different teaching a heterogeneous group of Americans instead of a group of middle-aged Koreans. That paper about gay marriage? Perhaps not in a military setting. The one on how Malcolm X is a racist? Not with half of the class being African-American. OK, how 'bout the one on hate speech? But what if they disagree and we spend the class debating the First Amendment instead of talking about the thesis statement?

All of a sudden, everything I've talked about before in my ESL classes seems controversial and scary for this class. Why do I feel like I'm walking on eggshells when most professors in our education system have no problem laying out their beliefs in class?

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March 29, 2004

WEAKNESS

Many months ago the Air Force Major asked me why the Army sees comfort as a sign of weakness. I don't know if the Army instills it in us or if it's something innately human that the Army has merely tapped, but I know I feel it too. I am dealing with my own feelings of weakness. Desire to hear from my husband is weakness. Complaining is weakness. Letting someone see me sad is weakness. Not grokking is weakness. A comfortable deployment is weakness. To an outsider it probably sounds like I'm crazy, but at least it makes me compatible with the Army mentality.

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March 28, 2004

USCH

For those who have an interest in linguistics, Amritas has commented on how easy it is to make a noun a verb in English, based on the closing line to my recent post Soldier. This used to drive my Swedish teacher nuts, because we would always change the function of Swedish words in ways that her usage just wouldn't allow. For example, a common expression of dismay in Swedish is usch, so we turned it into an adjective (Det känns så usch) and even morphed it (Oj, det var uschligt.) My classmates and I even borrowed it into English, and it became so common in my usage that my husband has even picked it up. A common question around our house is "Why are you so usch?" It's really easy to do this in English -- it's a fun way for one's lexicon to grow and new slang to be formed -- but the Swedish and French speakers I know seem to not have the same flexibility with language that we do.

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March 24, 2004

HA

Just got an email from my husband with funny stories in it. I don't want to give away anything OPSEC, but I wanted to share a part that made me smile. He had to go talk to the mayor of a nearby town about Problem X:

It was kind of cool. A room full of Iraqis were jumping through their ass
trying to impress your husband as they told him about [Problem X]. They
invited me to dinner and tea but I told them I had to go. I never thought I
would be a civil administrator in an Arab country while fighting an insurgency
against the only democracy in the region. If you would have told me that five
years ago, I would have called you crazy.

I'm going to see another town tomorrow about the same stuff. The only
translator available is yours truly so we'll see how it goes.

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OWNLIFE

I've been enjoying re-reading 1984, and I have found lots of stuff that I want to say about it, but that will have to wait. Briefly though, last night I found the Newspeak word for how I've been feeling lately: ownlife. Being alone, "individualism and eccentricity". That's how I've felt since my two best friends left for Iraq...up until the other day when I was talking to an acquaintance. Somehow the conversation twisted and turned until we were both nodding our heads that we support President Bush in the war on terror but think the Marriage Amendment is a bad idea. I think my jaw hit the floor. Someone to talk to...

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March 21, 2004

RE-GROKING

The husband asked me last year if I had thought 1984 or Brave New World was scarier. He was appalled when I said Brave New World. But I read them in high school, and I didn't grok anything when I was 18, so I'm reading both again to see if I feel differently about them.

I started 1984 last night and had a little chuckle in chapter one: I imagined Lefties reacting to the new Bush campaign ads much like the Two Minutes Hate. Ha.

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March 19, 2004

PREJUDICED

I am a horrible person.
I found that out today, and it's been eating at me all evening.

There's something about the uniform that makes all soldiers look upstanding and dignified. The uniform is the great equalizer, and all soldiers who come in my office are treated the same. But on a training holiday, like today was, we often help soldiers in civilian clothes.

A soldier came in the office today dressed straight out of 8 Mile who wanted to sign up for my English class. My gut reaction as he said this was that he was never going to pass the grammar placement test to make it into the class. I handed him the test, and he brought it back to me with a nice side order of humble pie.

He got the highest score I've ever seen. And he wanted to look back over the ones he'd missed and try to figure out why he missed them. He shocked the hell out of me. We had a great discussion about grammar as we corrected his mistakes, and I told him I'd be incredibly happy to have him in my class. He shook my hand as he left, and I felt like a complete jerk on the inside.

I consider myself an open person. I actually loved 8 Mile. I even went through a stage when I was 18 where I dressed a bit "alternative", so I should be the last person to judge someone based on how he's dressed. But I did it without thinking today, and I'm ashamed of myself, especially since I was so obviously wrong about this soldier. I really don't feel good about my gut reaction today, but how do you change your instinct?

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BINGO

Tonight was Bingo night for the wives from our Battalion. I haven't played Bingo since high school French class, so I wasn't sure if I was going to go. I decided to at the last minute, and it was a good decision: I won the last game (blackout) and got a $50 gift certificate to the PX. Sweet.

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March 17, 2004

POKER

I love my brother to death. He's always good for an entertaining story or a little excitement. I called him last night and spent a whirlwind ten minutes hearing about his recent trip to Vegas.

My brother is a gambler. A good one. He paid for his senior year of college by playing poker; he developed a reputation at his school until no one would play him after a while. So he had to go online; he plays Texas Hold 'Em night and day. My mom is less than thrilled that her son's part-time job is online gaming, but she's trying to deal with it. I was leery until I watched him play over Christmas: he plays three hands at a time and is able to keep track of all the cards and bring in the money. It's damn impressive, I must say, though the miser in me fears it could all go terribly wrong someday.

He had never been to Vegas before, so he and some friends went down for Spring Break. He went smart, though: he took a set amount of cash and left the ATM card at home. And my brother, balls of brass, walked into the Bellagio, sauntered up to the $200 minimum table, and played his heart out. He was up a lot, he was down a little, he told a great story of his 3 kings getting beat by 3 aces and missing out on a $1200 pot, and the thrill of his life was earning the respect of the other players at the table.

He also got to meet and get his photo taken with such poker greats as Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan. I wouldn't recognize these men if they knocked on my door, but my brother couldn't have sounded more thrilled. I told him to write all this up in a letter to send to my husband because it's a great story. He brought a huge smile to my face and then hurried me off the phone because he was on the way to a job interview to work for an online gaming company.

He's a trip; I love him to pieces.

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March 15, 2004

GULAG

I have some closing thoughts on the end of The Gulag Archipelago. I have finished Book I, and I think I need to move on to something a little cheerier for a while before I tackle Book II. But I'll be back.

Overall, I agree with Bunker that it's a book that should be read. I considered myself a pretty good student in school, and I never heard anything about the atrocities committed in Stalin's Russia. And I even took a Russian literature class in college! This stuff was horrifying, and I wish more people were aware of just what happened during those "glorious" Communist years.

If one takes the view that Latsis is not deliberately understating the real figures but simply lacks complete information, and that the Revtribunals carried on approximately the same amount of judicial work as the Cheka performed in an extrajudicial way, one concluded that in the twenty central provinces of Russia in a period of sixteen months (June, 1918 to October, 1919) more than sixteen thousand persons were shot, which is to say more than one thousand a month.

This passage is highlighted with a revealing footnote:

Now that we have started to make comparisons, here is another: during the eighty years of the Inquisition's peak effort (1420 to 149 , in all of Spain ten thousand persons were condemned to be burned to death at the stake -- in other words, about ten a month.

People were put to death for as little as shaking a fist at a Communist, or as vague as "wrecking", the simple charge of doing anything that might hurt the Soviet Union. And anything could be twisted into wrecking. An engineer suggests that they could research a way to save fuel: wrecking -- reducing resources. They would increase the size of train cars to make them more efficient: wrecking -- tying up funds. Suggesting that they buy cheap train cars now and then replace them later when the technology is better: wrecking -- suggesting the Soviet Union not have the best type of machinery. And so on. And all these charges of wrecking, twisted around no matter what you did or said, brought you a death sentence. Unbelieveable.

There was a great anecdote at the end of the book that made me laugh out loud. There are some who will just never grok when someone stands up for what he believes in:

When, in 1960, Gennady Smelov, a nonpolitical offender, declared a lengthy hunger strike in the Leningrad prison, the prosecutor went to his cell for some reason (perhaps he was making his regular rounds) and asked him: "Why are you torturing yourself?"
And Smelov replied: "Justice is more precious to me than life."
This phrase so astonished the prosecutor with its irrelevance that the very next day Smelov was taken to Leningrad Special Hospital (i.e., the insane asylum) for prisoners. And the doctor there told him:
"We suspect you may be a schizophrenic."

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March 14, 2004

CHERISH

I've decided the best part about a deployment is the way you rearrange your priorities. My husband is the only person who knows my cell phone number, so when it rang Friday at work, I grabbed it and ran out of the office. Work wasn't important, being polite wasn't important, all that mattered was contact with a loved one. It's funny because my husband used to call me at work all the time before he left, usually to arrange a time to pick me up at the end of the day. I often hurried him off the phone or hung up with him when a student came in the door. But now, the student can wait.

And the thing is that you never know when you'll have your last phone call. Tragedies occur every day, and my husband had just as much chance of dying in garrison as he does in Iraq. But I cherish him all the more now that he's gone. I write him long letters every day, explaining every detail of Reservists who bug me or a funny incident in class. When mortality is staring you in the face, you cherish what you've got. I encourage all of you to cherish your relationships as well, especially the ones who aren't deployed. They're the ones we tend to put on the backburner.

I also was thinking yesterday about how lucky I am that my husband is merely deployed. Last night I watched the movie Amistad and then read more Gulag Archipelago before bed; oh how much worse life could be. If you choose to look at life through the right lens, then deployment seems like a trifle. If fate had treated me differently, my husband could've been sold into slavery and taken from me for forever. Or he could've been put in a Stalinist prison for ten years simply for "failing to turn in a radio receiver" to the government. There are much worse things I could be facing right now, and the thought of that gives me strength to endure the simple one-year deployment we now face.

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March 12, 2004

YAY!

My husband had to run an errand in Iraq today to the F.O.B., so he got to use the phone. He sounds great, optimistic and ready for a challenge. It was so nice to hear from him and know that he thinks things are going to be OK. If he thinks so, then I feel good too.

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March 09, 2004

HEARTACHE

I played volleyball in high school with a girl who had wanted to be a gymnast. I guess she had shown a lot of promise as a child and had the potential to be quite a gymnast until she hit her growth spurt and topped out at 5'11". She had to give up gymnastics and instead started playing volleyball. She was a good player; she was very strong and her height was certainly an advantage. I think she might've even gone on to play in college. But you could always tell her heart was never in it; in her heart she was a gymnast. She never let go of the gymnast she could have been, and it must've killed her to see others do the one thing she wanted to do.

Tonight as I was working at a college fair, a female soldier came to find out information about classes and started telling us stories about Iraq. She just got back on Saturday, and she captivated the librarians and counselors with her tales from down range. The other civilians seemed horrified at the life she was describing, but all I felt was jealousy. I wanted to have her job so badly. Listening to her, I felt a sadness in my heart that I cannot explain; my heart was mourning the soldier I would never become. Everything this 21-year-old girl described was a reminder of how meaningless my life seems, a reminder that I have to watch others do the one thing I wish I could do.

Here on post, surrounded by camouflage, I feel like a gambling addict in Vegas, like an alcoholic in a bar, like a thirsty man in a lifeboat. Everyone I see is a constant reminder of what I will never be: the soldier in my heart. And it hurts in a way that most of you will never understand.

But god how it hurts.

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March 08, 2004

SHAFTED

If you're me, you still call your daddy any time you have a car problem. I can explain the trouble to him in moron-ese over the phone (what does it mean when the car sounds like a Model T / smells like formaldehyde / idles like a vibrating chair / makes that grrraaarrrr noise...) and then he can troubleshoot for me so that when I finally call the mechanic, I can all nonchalantly say, "Uh, yeah, I think it's the timing belt" and act like I know what I'm talking about. It's also a good idea to get daddy to give me a price range, so that I know about what to expect.

So what's worse than feeling like a moron with the mechanic? Feeling like a moron mit dem Mechaniker. No matter how much/little I know about cars, I can't do any of it in German. I'm completely at their mercy here.

That may be why I just got a $157 oil change. Ouch.

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DOG

Friend comes over for dinner last night. Friend brings huge Akita dog. Sarah's house is not puppy-proof. Dog decides he wants to chew on Sarah's deceased grandma's teddy bear. We take it away. Dog decides yarn also makes a fun toy and tears apart two skeins, one of which is very expensive. Friend leaves for the night. Dog may not be invited back...

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March 07, 2004

SNAILS, INDEED

In an age where we can take a photograph on a cell phone and mail it to a friend instantly, I'm getting frustrated with not being able to contact my husband. I'm printing out these letters I've been writing for him, and they're long and outdated. When one letter spans a month, it's hard to stay relevant and interesting. Oh look, Ralph Nader's running. Oh wait, you already know that by now. Um, how 'bout I tell you how much soup I have left over. What's that? You managed to read my blog in Kuwait? OK, I have nothing interesting to say that will still sound good when you read my letter in three weeks.

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March 04, 2004

TO DO

Things to do today:

1. File taxes
2. Bake peanut butter cookies
3. Bake two loaves of "freedom" bread
4. Make a salad
5. Dust, vacuum, and tidy up the house
6. Make tortellini soup for 15
7. Have a party where I teach everyone to knit

My schedule's full today, folks! Check back tomorrow.

MORE:

The bread's rising, and I started thinking of a funny story to tell. When we first got married, I knew my husband really liked breads, so one Saturday I worked all day baking him loaves for dinner. We sat down to eat and I asked him how the bread tasted. He said it was good, and after a few seconds' pause, he said, "You know what else is good? Grands biscuits. Those are great!" I cracked up. I'd spent about five hours baking for him, and all he really wanted was a tube of ready-made Pilsbury! He still says that he didn't mean it the way it sounded, but I don't usually take the time to bake fresh bread anymore!

UPDATE:

Oh my gosh, I have so much soup left over. If I ate soup for both lunch and dinner, it would take me 12 days to finish it all. Please send me your addresses so I can mail everyone some soup...

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March 03, 2004

KNITTING

When I'm bored at work and I can't take any more gore from LGF, I like to cycle through knitting blogs and find patterns and tips and look at the photos of what everyone else is knitting. My co-worker thinks it's hysterical that I'm constantly ohhing and ahhing at other people's knitting online. But I've never actually written about my own knitting. If Bunker Mulligan gets to write about golf and Charles Johnson gets to write about cycling, then may I be permitted a tangent into handicrafts?

Last night though I faced a knitter's dilemma. I'm making this sweater, and I've finished the back and had about 8 inches done on the front. And then I realized I'd made a mistake at about inch 5. I struggled with my two choices while the sweater sat on the coffeetable for three days: leave it as it was with a mistake in the pattern or try to rip it out to inch 5 and risk not being able to put it back on the needles. Last night I finally decided I had to face the music; since the mistake was on the front and not the back, it would be best to rip it out. I unraveled it back to inch 5 and tried to put everything back on the needles. Unsuccessfully. So I had to rip the whole thing out and start over again. It takes a long time to knit 8 inches of cables, but I think I did the right thing. I feel better knowing that it won't have a mistake, because it bothers me to look at every other project I've done where I've left a little flaw.

Plus it's not like I'm in a hurry. I've got 14 months to kill and lots of projects in mind. Like a sweater for the husband; he's got two so far from me: one that doesn't fit and one that he doesn't really like. He needs another.

MORE TO GROK:

Tim got a little stressed out yesterday about the state of the world, and he asked me how I cope. "Have you ever tried knitting?" I asked him. "Knitting?" he replied. "No...I've tried drinking though...." Ha.

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March 02, 2004

PRIDE AND FEAR

I've been trying to hang a shelf in our living room for weeks now. I'd guess it's a 30-lb shelf, which is hard to hang by yourself. Plus the walls are made of saltines, so the first time I got it up, it just pulled two big chunks of plaster out and came right back down. I finally got some toggle bolts and spent the morning struggling with the stupid thing. But when I got it up, I felt a sense of elation. I think I even did that Tiger Woods arm thing. I went upstairs to get dressed, and then I heard a crashing noise. "Oh no!" I said aloud and went racing down the stairs, expecting the worst. I rounded the corner, and there was the shelf, hanging right where I'd left it. I cautiously looked around the house, and I can't figure out what that noise was. But now I'm spooked; I'm sure the shelf is going to come crashing down any moment now.

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