12 July 2014

Humanity

We went camping last week, in the same spot we've gone to with our friends every summer for the last few years, just a couple of hours south from us. One of the major attractions of this campground is that it's situated right next to a river, a fairly shallow stream which winds its way right around the campsite and is ideal for floating on with inner tubes and inflatable boats. Usually, that is. This year, we had unseasonably cool, wet weather until just before we went, and even though the weather was really hot by the time we got there, the river water was still very cold, and it was running really high. And that's what led to the big excitement of this camping trip.

It began on Wednesday night. Around ten or eleven o'clock (I don't carry a watch on holidays, so usually don't really know exactly what time it is) we saw the lights of a car slowly driving around the campground. I took one of my many trips to the washroom; the car was stopped in front of it, and it turned out to be the camp warden. I overheard him asking some other campers if they had seen a nineteen-year-old boy on a bicycle, he was missing. But that was all we heard then. In the night, we saw some emergency vehicle lights flashing against the walls of our tent; I slept poorly, worrying about this missing young man.

In the morning, the excitement really started. By 7:30, people in safety vests came around, going from campsite to campsite, handing out photocopied sheets with a description of the missing boy. It gave his name, "19 years old, mentally challenged; black hair with long sideburns, blue t-shirt, black shorts, green bicycle" - a woman's handwriting, probably his mother's. And then the Search-and-Rescue machinery rolled into operation. Our site was quite close to the campground's entrance, so we had a front seat to the action. There were at least three big trucks, one of them outfitted as headquarters (my man went over there to ask if they needed help looking for the boy; they took his name and campsite number, and told him they'd find him if, or rather when, they needed volunteers). They had ATVs, and dog handlers. The helicopter landed, whirling most of the sand off the kids' playground, then took off again to fly slowly up and down the river, the infrared sensors on board trained on the rapidly-running water. Please, God, please, don't let him be in the river…


And then, around 9:30, my son calls out: "I think they found that missing guy! I heard someone say so, and they were clapping!" Sure enough: he was found. Rescue personnel drove from campsite to campsite on ATVs, spreading the good news. I cried… The helicopter flew really low overhead, and made a triumphant "whoop whoop whoop!" noise with its siren; we all waved and cheered. It turned out that the young man had ridden his bike back all the way to town, 120 km over a 1200m-high summit - and he was perfectly safe and unharmed. As my friend said, next time this boy says "Mom, I'm bored, I'm going home," they'd better pay attention.

It was all quite exciting. But what was really moving about this event was the effect it had on all the people involved, ourselves included. The Search-and-Rescue machinery in action was quite a sight to behold - dozens of people out there searching, looking for this one young man. And for those two hours that the search was on in full force, the campground became a community. All of us were worrying, concerned about this one lost boy, praying, hoping - and then so relieved when the good news was spread that he was found safe and unharmed.

It restored my faith in humanity. Yes, we hear so many bad, sad, disturbing stories in the news every day. But this, it showed me that by and large, people do care. We worried about this boy whom we had never met, and probably never will, and we all rejoiced when he was found. One mentally challenged boy who did something silly, and so many people out there concerned for him, and making sure that he was safe. Even one life matters, and it matters to so many people. It was beautiful.

Life, the Universe, and Humanity. There is still so much good in the world.

Steve on the campsite

04 July 2014

Stacks of Stickies

I just mailed off my final grad school paper. That paper, that's why I've been AWOL from the blogging front in the last few months; I've been up to my eyebrows in fairy tales (meaning I've been writing about them, not that what I'm telling you is one). But now it's done, one big treatise on "Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty", "Beauty and the Beast", and "The Frog Prince". I'll be anxiously awaiting my mark, and then editing the thing for submission to my uni's thesis collection.

So the paper is sent in, and I feel slightly stunned that I'm actually done. Two-and-a-half years of study finished with one click of a button. It can't really be true, can it? But then, there's always one more thing to do after that button has been clicked: I have to de-sticky my research materials. Yes, you know, de-sticky? Take the sticky tags out of the books, of course. I might have mentioned once or thrice, marking books is evil and will get you smote by the library gods. But a grad school student (or indeed any other student) has to keep track of interesting points in books somehow, so, enter the sticky note. I go through pad after pad of those things in the course of my research, plastering them all over the margins of the books, sometimes adorning them with expressive arrows  (← !!!) or erudite comments such as "Does NOT!!" or "pfffffft!", or even, I hesitate to admit, the occasional "IDIOT!" (it's true. I found one like that this time. What can I say - I was justly incensed at a scholar's assessment of my favourite movie.).

So then, by the time I'm finished my writing, I don't need all those place markers any more, and the university library, slack though they may be about the state of their books (I once had one out that sported the dusty print of a running shoe sole across its front page spread), would probably not appreciate all those pink and orange and green bits of paper sticking out of the book. So I pull 'em all out again and pile them on my desk. One stack of stickies indicating just how educated I have become. Or how muddled, either way. It's the sure sign that I really am done with whatever piece of research I've been doing.

And then I dump the stickies into the garbage, take the library books back to the library and put my own books on my book shelf (or pile them on the floor, because there is absolutely no book shelf space to be had any more), and then - then I go and find myself a book to read or a movie to watch that has absolutely nothing to do with whatever I just finished studying. Fairy tales? Hmm, I think I'll read a Regency romance now, thank you. But don't worry, I'll be back to fairy tales soon enough. Even studying them as intensely as this hasn't soured me on the topic, and that, my friends, means that it really is my thing.

Life, the Universe, and Stacks of Stickies. The sign of the end of grad school studies.






08 June 2014

Rose







delicate petal
languidly sleeping
in elaborate shadow.
lazy red whisper
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
rose.



(from the archives, 2005 or '06)

06 May 2014

Stuck in the Stacks

Apologies for the rather lengthy silences on the blogging front these days. My life pretty much looks like this right now:
That's right, I'm stuck in the stacks. Research stacks on fairy tales, "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" for now, "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Frog Prince" hereafter. If you want to hear where I'm rambling my way along the research lane, you can follow me over at quill and qwerty. The last thing I discovered was a really great book by Orson Scott Card, Enchantment, which is a retelling of the "Sleeping Beauty" story, very loosely and very brilliantly. It won't really do much for my paper, but it was very interesting nonetheless. Then again - maybe it will (do something for my paper, that is)? Hmmm...  And there I go, off I go on a rumination rabbit trail again...

Life, the Universe, and Being Stuck in Research Stacks. I'll talk to you when next I surface.

23 April 2014

Precision Scribblings

I just got a second-hand copy of one of my textbooks, Max Lüthi's Es war einmal: Vom Wesen des Volksmärchen (Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales). I bought it via AbeBooks, and it was mailed out from Germany (gotta love AbeBooks). Unfortunately, when you're buying a second-hand book online, you're buying a pig in a poke; there's no telling in advance what kind of shape it's in. The vendor's comment of "Condition: good" might mean almost anything. More than once I've been disappointed at all the scribblings and underlinings and highlightings in the book, and this one is no exception.

However, you've got to say this for Germans: they're tidy scribblers. This book is marked all over, but all the underlining has been done with a ruler. So at least, we've got precision scribblings here. It amuses me.

Incidentally, don't ever let me catch you scribbling in library books. The university library books I've got out right now are, in a lot of cases, a right mess. What is it with uni students? I don't care if you do it with a ruler or while holding the pen between your toes, marking up a library book is vandalism.

Life, the Universe, and Scribblings in Books. Enough with the rant, and on to reading Lüthi.

16 April 2014

Pedant

"Pedant: a person who is excessively concerned with minor details and rules or with displaying academic learning", Google Dictionary says. And here's what's at the head of the Wikipedia article on the same topic: "This article is about a person who is excessively concerned with formalism and precision. For the piece of jewellery, see pendant."

Hehe - now that cracks me up. I suppose only a true pedant would appreciate it - somebody who's picky about detail. No, I'm not a pendant; I'm not wont to dangle off pretty necklaces. And as for being a pedant - who, me? Naaah.  I never show off academic learning, do I? The fact that I tend to feel smug about being able to use grammar properly, down to the correct use of the apostrophe in the possessive case, has nothing to do with any of this. (This all sounds better when you say it with your mouth pursed and your nose elevated just ever-so-slightly.)

What got me thinking of this was that I just wrote this sentence, referring to the country of Bordavia (in Christopher Bunn's latest novella, Rosamonde): "…it's famed for its roses." Hah, get it? Two i-t+s words, one with apostrophe, one without. It's not so hard, is it? Its rules are quite simple: when it's a contraction, you use the apostrophe; when it's a possessive, you don't. Huh, you say? The apostrophe is there to replace a letter (or two) you've left out, in the case of "it's", the space and i of "it is". When it's a possessive, the "s" is part of the word itself, just like in "his" or "hers". Think of it this way: if the country of Bordavia was a "he" instead of an "it", you'd say: "…he's famed for his roses", not "hes famed for hi's roses". See? Same thing for the itses. "He's/it's" and "his/its". Simple, no? My inner pedant is purring right now.

Now, as for pendants, I'm quite fond of those, too. I have some lovely pieces in my jewellery drawer - a silver locket, a jade maple leaf (I think that was a gift from Canadian relatives when I was a kid in Germany), a silver-and-tiger-eye teardrop, a small brass goblet (made by one of my sons in art metal shop), my mother's silver cross with a small blue stone in it (an aquamarine, perhaps? I wore it at my wedding.). In fact, my favourite pendants all have meaning - they've got provenance, i.e. I remember where they came from.

There, and that's the penultimate piece of pedantry for today, explaining to you what "provenance" means, as if you didn't already know or couldn't figure it out for yourself. Pedants of the World, Unite! You have Nothing to Lose But Misplaced Apostrophes! And the really funny thing is that I just mistyped "pedantry" as "pendantry".

Life, the Universe, Pedants and Pendants. Maybe we should stick with the latter, they're prettier.

09 April 2014

Social Realism

Steve got a book! Well, okay, I got a book. A friend found it for me at a second-hand store, and at first I wondered why - I mean, I love kids' books, but why this particular one? Then I cracked open the cover, and all became clear: it's not for me, it's for Steve. Obviously.

It's called Teddy Edward in the Country, by Patrick and Mollie Matthews (published by Golden Pleasure Books in London in 1962), and it's the story of a stuffed bear, Teddy Edward, on a visit to the country with his human, Sarah (they normally live in London), as chronicled by lots of interesting photos. You don't see much of Sarah in the pictures, but lots of cows, swans, rabbits, and even some hedgehogs. And Teddy Edward, of course.

Steve considers it the best thing in Social Realism he's read in a long time; it's very true to life, he says. At least to life in England in the early 1960s.
It kind of threw him for a loop when I told him that the Sarah-girl in the picture is well over fifty now and probably has grandchildren; a bear's lifespan is very different from a human's - some only make it a few years before their plush is loved off, others last decades. For all we know, Teddy Edward is still alive and kicking somewhere in the home counties, and conversing with calves and kittens every summer. Maybe we should try to look him up if we ever make it to England.


Life, the Universe, and Social Realism for Bears. It's all in how you look at it.