Sunday, August 28, 2005

Our new apartment boasts a rectangular nicho in each bedroom, a feature we like but have been unable to properly utilize, as they seem to call for large urns or unusual flower arrangements. But finally the cats have discovered their true use--the perfect spot for hauissh. As I could not possibly explain this very odd game, I will direct you to Diane Duane's most excellent Book of Night With Moon, and, perhaps, post some pictures at a later date. Meanwhile, you can just imagine how cute they are.
I've just spent an embarrassingly long time laughing over the archives on Waiter Rant--no matter where you go, restaurants are all the same. It's pretty amazing to work in a place where you can see both the best and worst of people, though (sadly) usually the latter. I've realized that there are inumerable ways for people to display their ignorance and cluelessness--the stories are endless. I had a customer yesterday--or perhaps it was the day before(this whole summer has blended into one long yesterday for me)--who asked what kind of ice cream we have. Without showing my weariness too much, I recited, "Vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, and chocolate chip."

He looked confused. "So--the vanilla, strawberry, chocolate--is that all one?"

Ummm... if I'd meant Neopolitan, I would've said Neopolitan...

The really appalling thing was when I related the incident to another server, who said he'd had the same experience! How are people so incredibly dumb?

But the real hilarity yesterday came when the owner's son (who we think was deprived of oxygen at birth) strolled into the bar around 9. The restaurant was catering a wedding offsite last night, and someone had called him to pick up some more alcohol. Of course, he'd decided he didn't have to remember whether it was vodka or gin because that same person was also supposed to call the restaurant with the order. Fortunately the bartender was prepared, and handed over four bottles of Chopin vodka with alacrity. Oxygen-deprived Son stared down at them for a minute, then looked up at us and said, "Do you think I have time for a drink?"

Chronologically he is a grown man, as well as being the owner's son, and we mere minions can hardly tell him what to do. But I think our expressions made the general opinion fairly clear as we looked at him, looked at each other, and shrugged helplessly. The bartender murmured diplomatically, "Well, they probably need it as soon as possible."

"Oh, well, I'll just have a Dirty Goose--that'll be quick," said Son, sitting down.

More shared looks, more shrugs, and the bartender slid a glass down the bar to him. He took a sip, then said, "Anyway, if they'd wanted it quick, they wouldn't've asked me."

Funny because it's true...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The first time I tried to read How To Read A Book, I threw it across the room. In my defense, I was only sixteen, and Mortimer Adler can be that way sometimes. I am less sensitive to his pomposity now, and have decided that How To Read A Book should be a summer reading requirement for all tutors and students at St. John's. This is a particularly strong desire since we attended an alumni seminar in Seattle this weekend. It was led by Eva Brann, on Dostoevsky's short story "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man"--so far, so good. Those two elements were quite enjoyable. However, I was baffled by the attitudes of the other attendees. Being an alumni seminar, everyone there was 1), no longer attending SJC; 2), at the seminar voluntarily; and 3), unacquainted with anyone else (for the most part). These factors would cause me to assume that the discussion would be lively but mellow, with a united desire to understand the reading better and enjoy the insightful comments of our scholarly leader. How wrong I can be sometimes.

Actually, it was much like normal seminars at SJC, which made me realize that I DO NOT miss school. All the stereotypes were there, including the sunshine hippie who was disturbed by the negative connotations of the word "preacher", and the really-amazing-insight guy who was determined to convince us that the whole story was actually an allegory for the writing process. To be fair, there were several people who had quite intelligent things to say; however, I am already acquainted with most of them. (And for those of you who are wondering, no, I did not contribute to the conversation. I actually didn't plan to go at all, so was somewhat unprepared, but mostly I felt the way I did at SJC--I really didn't care what anyone else thought and had no desire to reveal my stunning insights to them. Or, in my sister-in-law's words, I didn't want to share with them, and didn't want them to share with me.)

St. John's is great in theory. And I really feel that Mortimer Adler could assist with the practice. One of the reasons I liked the book this time around was because I realized I do actually read the way he says one ought to (at least to some extent), and this is a rather unusual quality. Even at SJC people read to some purpose other than understanding, as if they want to "win" at seminar. We read the great books in order to understand ourselves better and, indeed, to seek the truth. Too many students (and tutors) allow themselves to be bound by fears and opinions and are unable to see truth in things they don't like. I take as example the Dostoevsky story. Ms. Brann several times brought up the question of religion, yet no one would consider the possibility of a true conversion experience, as if even thinking such a thing would somehow sully their liberal minds (though fortunately our dear Erin reminded everyone that this was, after all, 19th century Orthodox Russia). Now, there are plenty of books that expound ideas contradictory to my beliefs, yet I can still recognize some elements of truth in them. Also, I can accept an author's foundation in order to read his work, even if I don't agree with it in general. This doesn't seem difficult, but is apparently why Adler had to write his book.

Enough of annoying Johnnies. How To Read A Book is a book to which anyone interested in self-education should pay close attention. Even if you don't take the time to read it, consider these 4 questions the next time you read something of merit:
1. What is the book about as a whole?
2. What is the author saying in detail, and how?
3. Is it true?
4. What of it? (I.e., what do I make of it, and should I care?)

As well as being inspired to read better (and better books), I've decided to keep 4 kinds of books going at the same time, in order to keep my brain working and happy. Thus I am currently reading the following.
A work of poetry: Geography III, Elizabeth Bishop
A work of non-fiction: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn, Penny Simkin
A work of literature: Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence
A potato-chip book: Heir of Sea and Fire, Patricia McKillip

I'd like to break the non-fiction category in two or three, to delineate works of philosophy and religion, but that may be too adventurous at this point. For now, we'll see how the plan works.

Friday, August 12, 2005

25 reasons to homeschool. Not an exhaustive list by any means, but an amusing one!

Reading... in between work and company (after this summer I don't feel so lonely anymore!), which doesn't leave much time for blogging or anything else, really. I've been buying books and checking out enormous stacks from the library as if my life depended on it, and then realizing I just want to bury myself in fun fantasy and kid's lit--as usual. Mortimer Adler has been inspiring me, however, and I hope soon to get some better habits going.

Our new apartment is cozier and cooler, which is a blessing in this surprisingly hot Oregon summer, but since nothing on this earth can be perfect, we are surrounded by neighbors who smoke. YUCK! That stale scent wafting into my bedroom at night is nearly as disruptive as a boisterous party, but, unfortunately, much harder to complain about. I'm considering developing a severe allergy...

A quick recommendation for readers of all ages:

Butter on Both Sides and The Tie That Binds, by Lucille Watkins Ellison. Cherished favorites from my childhood, recently acquired from Amazon--sweet stories of life on a farm and old-fashioned family activities.