Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I totally love these books

There was a review of the latest novel in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series in the New York Times today.

These are terrifically enjoyable books. I highly recommend them. They're often classified as "mysteries," but don't be fooled. They're not really.

Unfortunately, the review gives away some of the plot points in some of the books. Not major ones, but if you want total surprise, don't read it.

Next on my list, after I finish Moneyball by Michael Lewis, is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I've heard really good things about it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bits and Bobs (grieving... again)

Just a few quick random thoughts...

The MBA student died. I feel terrible for his family and his girlfriend. I actually remember his girlfriend- she was in a problem study group (the incoming MBAs are assigned to work groups- they take all their 1st year classes together, do group projects together, etc.), but I think she managed to switch out of it early on.

I don't know if the family decided to turn off the respirators, or what. The school was smart enough not to make that information public. This was no Terri Schiavo case, though. This guy didn't have any higher level brain-stem functions. The brain stem controls your breathing, your blood pressure, basically, everything you do automatically to keep yourself alive. If your brain stem isn't functioning, then you can legally be considered "dead." People in a persistent vegetative state have a more-or-less functioning brain stem, from what I understand.

It's going to be a really hard road for his family and friends. The grieving process is so hard, and so slow. Unbearably slow. I remember wondering if I would ever be happy again. I remember being curled up in a ball on my kitchen floor, sobbing uncontrollably because something incredibly minor was just too much to take. I think it's only been in the last year or so where I've had a day go by where I didn't think of my friend.

I was trying to think of what I could do for his girlfriend that might help her. I was trying to think what might have helped me. The only thing I could think of was doing some practical things like cooking food for her, which seems like a silly southern thing, but you have to eat something, and you might not be able to pull yourself together to make it. Since she's surrounded by many people who were also his friends, I'm sure they'll all be able to have their outlet to talk about him as much as they want. I think this was the only helpful thing for me, really, besides time. It sounds cliched, but you just can't force the process.

The one thing I really, REALLY wish that people had told me, and in fact INSISTED upon, was that I didn't make any big decisions during that first year. During the first year after my friend died, I

  1. Moved from a perfectly reasonable apartment to a new apartment that was slightly cheaper and closer into the city. The week after my friend died, he was supposed to come up to my then-city for job interviews, and the idea was that we would be roommates. I had given my notice before he died, and despite a few comments from other people that I could probably renege, I was a "stubborn ishig," as my mother would say. Moving was hugely stressful. Terrible. I hate moving. Movers messed up my furniture. Big mistake #1.
  2. Decided to move up my timetable for applying to Ph.D. programs. Moving my program up also meant that I didn't really do enough research, so I didn't have anyone telling me, "Don't do it- it's hell!" I might have listened, had I heard that. I was iffy enough on Ph.D. programs. But I didn't. Big mistake #2.
  3. Decided to go to grad school anyway. Big mistake #3. I won't go into why. But if you're reading this, and thinking of going for a Ph.D., let me just tell you, don't. The reasons why are a whole other post.
  4. Quit my job. Not a mistake, per se, unless you think about why I quit my job (to go to grad school). I won't list this as a mistake, because quitting was a good thing. I should have tried to move to another job, though. Not grad school.
  5. Moved across the country, away from my beloved then-city, to a soulless place with all the horrible things about both the big city (traffic, pollution, high housing prices) and the suburbs (terrible restaurants, nothing to do but go to the movies or the mall). Even my mid-sized, modest, no-pro-sports-team-at-the-time hometown has more things to do. Big mistake #4, for a variety of reasons. Basically, I hate California. I didn't think I would, but I do. A lot. I will say that the actual program I chose is quite good, and nurturing, and nice, and should you be insane enough to decide to get a Ph.D. in my area, I would highly recommend it. Mistake #4.
  6. Randomly decided to take up my then-boyfriend (now husband) on his invite to go to his family's Christmas celebration/family reunion/grandfather's 95th birthday. In Europe. This meant missing Christmas/my dad's birthday with my parents for the first time ever. Not a mistake, but definitely out of character. He was shocked that I took him up on it. As it was, it was a good thing, because his grandfather died about 2 weeks later.
  7. Got engaged. Also, not a mistake. I had been dating him for over a year when my friend died, so it wasn' t like I took up with him on some kind of rebound/grief process. We also had a 2 year engagement (yet another post...), so I had plenty of time to rethink it. If I had a 2 year period to rethink grad school (or if my program gave terminal masters degrees if you leave), I wouldn't have gone (or I would have left)!
Unfortunately, I'm still suffering from the consequences of mistakes 2-4. Again, that's another post.

So my advice to anyone who happens to be reading this and is going through the grief process-- don't do anything drastic for at least a year. Don't move, either in town, or to a new place (exception: unless you're moving back home with your parents. I had a friend whose mom died in a car crash that they had while she and her mom were driving to her new job across the country. In that case, you're in limbo anyway, so you might as well go home and be with your dad and youngest sister, as my friend did. It's probably more theraputic). Don't have a baby. Don't get engaged to a brand new boyfriend (I said "brand new", people!). Don't make a big career change. Some things may seem positively insufferable when you're in pain. But you may end up doing crazier things that have a worse consequence than sticking with whatever you're used to.

The other advice I have is to try to get back into your normal routine within a reasonable frame of time (depending on who died. A spouse or a child probably requires longer than I needed with my friend.). Doing things like going to work helps. It takes your mind off the pain, however briefly. You have to have some relief. The first day I was back at work after my week off for my friend's funeral and all the post-mortem trimmings, I was miserable. I think I just stared at my computer teary-eyed all day. Eventually I got back into the swing, though. I might have been a total mess at home, but I was okay at work. My friend's parents were had both just been laid off at the time of his death (talk about unlucky), so they both just sat around the house all day being sad. This is really bad. It does not help you move forward at all. And your goal should be, eventually, to move forward, to have days where you don't have uncontrollable sobbing fits, to be able to deal with the realities of every day life, even if at a reduced capacity (I'm still there, and it's been over 3.5 years.). You will never get back to the way you used to be. Grief changes a person, and not for the better. But you can get back to some semblance of normality, and success is when you have more good days than bad.

Okay. That wasn't so quick. This may end up being a "musings on grief" blog. I have a lot to say on that subject, although I might end up saying it pretty fast.

The other thing I was going to comment on, that is so frivolous compared to the rest of this post, was just to complain about the snack I made myself. I mixed some Hidden Valley Ranch powdered salad dressing in with some sour cream, and it is horrible. It is incredibly, unbearably salty. And I was trying to eat it with some soy/flaxseed chips from Trader Joe's (my love for TJ's is also another post), which aren't lacking in the sodium supply department themselves. Blech. I'm going to stick to TJ's delicious Roasted Tomatillo Salsa instead.

Random thing Number 3: I've gotten back into playing Sims2. I had quit for months after playing it all the time around Christmas. I discovered it's more fun when you make your own Sims rather than playing with the stupid cranky assclown ones they give you (Pleasant family, I'm looking at you!). I made a great family- the Mirabiles. Mirabile is part of a Latin phrase that uses my all time favorite Latin part of speech- the supine! Mirabile dictu means marvelous to tell. Mirabile visu means marvelous to see. My family- the Marvelouses! Dad Marvelous is a fortune seeker, Mom Marvelous is a family gal. I made them have four (!) kids, since I'll never have that many myself. And the mom still wants more! I say, "no way!" I sold their cribs and toddler toys and everything. Three of the kids are now teenagers, and the youngest one is a child. They all have nice dispositions, and hug each other, congratulate each other, play with each other... everything that real siblings won't do. The three teenagers have aspirations of knowledge, popularity, and fortune. I think I may make the youngest have a family aspiration. I don't like the hoochiness of the romance aspiration, so I won't choose it for any of my Sims. They're all A+ students in private school.

I love the aging on/off cheat on that game, by the way. It makes things so much easier. I turn it on to get the kids to age, then turn it off, and get the parents to drink the Elixir of Life so they stay relatively young. I figure I'll age them eventually, but I want them to have a couple of grandkids first. Having the aging off is kind of tiresome when you have toddlers, though. They're high maintenance, but when you have 4 kids, when are you going to teach them to walk, talk, and be potty trained? Aging off cuts you some slack.

Okay. To quote my friend Chris, "Enough for Today."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Verbum sersum meis amiculis latinis (word up to my Latin homies)

My Latin is really rusty, or I would have made the Latin for "my Latin homies" translate literally "to my homies who understand Latin." Can't remember how to do that, and I'm too lazy to look it up. Maybe in a couple of days.

Anyway, I was pleased to discover that I could understand about 50% of what Pope Benedict XVI said in his blessing (which was given in Italian), thanks to my Latin education and my piddling amount of Spanish. That same piddling amount of Spanish gets me about 1 out of 10 words on Telemundo. Go me!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Abstinence and Chastity

There was an article in the New York Times yesterday about a new student group on Princeton's campus that promotes chastity outside of marriage, as well as "traditional" views of marriage and family, including "pro-woman, pro-motherhood feminism." This was a little bit encouraging to me, as my husband and were abstinent until we got married, and there is very little societal support for that. Very, very little. If you're still a virgin after the age of about 20, then there's just not much that society is doing for you to help you stick to your beliefs. And after you graduate from college, every message you get tells you that you're weird for not having sex.

According to the article, and the Anscombe Society echos this on their website, some students decided to start up the society in response to the huge number of resources they saw on campus for students who were having sex and the utter lack of resources they saw to support students who decided to remain abstinent.

This got me thinking- what could Princeton, or any university, for that matter, provide to support students' decisions to wait until marriage to have sex? One might argue that providing easy access to free condoms promotes a sexual freedom that undermines societal support for abstinence, and I might agree; however, I don't think the solution is taking away those condoms, or easy access to birth control, or free STD tests (as someone pointed out to me, just because you aren't having intercourse doesn't mean that you can't get an STD!). I am not interested in taking away resources from my friends who have decided to have sex (pretty much all of them), I am interested in how to make sticking to my decision easier.

In terms of what the university can do, I think the answer is: not much. I think the most helpful thing is social support for your decision, which the university is providing by giving money to this group. In my case, even though pretty much all of my friends had decided to have sex, they were all supportive of my decision. They never made me feel weird or strange for making and sticking to my decision. I am also lucky because my mother is very pro-abstinence, so back when I had a boyfriend who was pressuring for sex, she was able to be supportive during the relationship and after he broke up with me.

The other thing that I think would help encourage an understanding of the decision not to have sex outside of marriage is a toning down of the commerically sexual culture. Not in a "sex is bad" way, but honestly, I have seen so many movies where the protagonists rush to sleep together when it is totally unnecessary. I'm trying to remember the specific example that I have in mind, but I can't. Oh. Garden State. That's what I'm thinking of. And I liked that movie, otherwise. But it's little things like that.

And also, I hear a lot of people criticizing celebrities who talk about celibacy- people like Jessica Simpson and Kristin Chenoweth. The criticism is that these people are crass for making their sex life (or lack thereof) public. I disagree with this 100%. It is really helpful to see others making and sticking to the choice to not have sex before getting married. I would love to see more!

Monday, April 18, 2005


I got an email today saying that one of the MBA students at my university was in a serious accident this weekend while participating in an event to raise money for charity at a different university (a bunch of universities are competing against each other to raise money for a charity). We had very few details given to us in the email, but it seemed like the student (whom I was a TA for last fall) was in serious condition. Another email later from a classmate suggested that he was in a coma.

My husband actually attends this university, and got an email from his school about it that had a little more information in it-- turns out that it was a "possible drowning" during a water polo match. Yikes. Our guess is that there was a fight during the water polo match and it went on for too long. If this student doesn't make it, we're guessing that manslaughter charges may be filed and this is maybe why the Dean didn't mention what happened in his email. This is all strictly conjecture, though.

I hope he does make it, with his brain intact. And I really wish that I remembered him better. I remembered his face when I looked him up on our system, but can't remember any specifics.

It all makes me very sad for his friends and family. I have given much thought to what kind of death would be the least painful for family and friends. I don't really have a good answer. They all suck. My best friend and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident a little over 3.5 years ago. In a way, I thought this was probably the best possible way to go when it came to not adding more pain on top of pain. The reasons for this are as follows:

  1. It was very sudden, so I know my friend didn't suffer. He died on the way to the hospital in the ambulance, so there was some uncertainty about this for a while, but when my dad went with his parents to get all his stuff, his mom (a registered nurse) looked at the coroner's report, which stated that his spinal cord had been severed. So he wasn't feeling ANYTHING. It also made me feel better in that there was just no way he was coming back from that. There couldn't be any questioning of the medical team, there were no "what if they had done x, y, or z?"
  2. The accident was 100% not my friend's fault. He was driving, and the first question I asked my dad when my parents called me at work to tell me was "Was he drinking?" My friend had driven drunk once before, during our freshman year. He fessed up to me, and I gave him a good scolding. In the five or so years following that, he never did it again, to my knowledge. But still-- when I heard that he had been killed in a car accident, this was my first thought. I feel a little guilty about this, but I did have reason to ask... It turns out that the driver of the other car was out on parole for cocaine possession. He was probably high. We'll never know b/c he fled the scene, but it's a good guess, given how fast he was driving (45 mph) on tiny New Orleans backstreets, replete with potholes and street parked cars. I think that dealing with this would have been much, much harder if I thought it was his fault. One of his friends from college, whom I think had a crush on him, was just torturing herself with what he could have done differently to avoid being in that accident. Honestly, there was nothing, except to not be in that wrong place at that wrong time.
  3. It was hard for me to be angry at the other driver, because even though he was probably high, he ran the stop sign at that intersection, which is something that I did accidentally once, when I was totally sober. It was a stop sign that I had forgotten was there, and I blew right threw it. I just got damn, DAMN lucky that there wasn't anyone else around... although if there had been, I might have been more careful. There but for the grace of God (and perhaps, but not certainly, cocaine) go I. (I will say that I was shockingly happy when the driver pled guilty and got 9 years in jail. I wasn't expecting to be that happy, but I was. If he got 2 years, I would have been happy.)
  4. I had had a really nice long chat with him the night before the accident. Kind of spooky, in my opinion. So I also felt like there weren't any loose ends that I wished I had tied up, or any regrets on my part for anything, which I think was not a coincidence. I really believe it wasn't. I talked to him maybe once every couple of months. I almost got off the phone with him so I could watch a West Wing rerun. I ended up putting a tape in the VCR and staying on the phone. I've never been so glad of any action I've done in my life. I cannot imagine the regret I would have had if I had cut our conversation short to watch a stupid TV show. (okay, West Wing was a really good TV show at that time, but still. Relationships before TV, right?)
So, in a nutshell, no suffering, no fault, no regret, and hard to blame the other guy. That pretty much cleared the way for me to only have to deal with the pain of losing my friend. Which was pretty horrendous ipso facto, and led to bad decisions on my part and emotional ramifications from which I am still recovering. Maybe I'll give more details later, but not at this time.

All in all, I think the best, best way to go is when you're old and in your sleep, having led a full life with lots of loved ones. My great uncle went like this- brain anurysm at age 86 while driving his Mercedes. But at a young age, you pretty much only have the choice of horrible illness or tragic accident or some kind of willful death like murder or suicide (I did know someone who died at age 21 of a brain anurysm as well, but that's rare for young deaths).

It seems to me that the main benefit of a horrible, prolonged illness is the ability to get used to the idea of death (if one can ever really get used to it), and also feeling that death is a release from suffering. Mostly, I think this is a crock of shit. It reminds me of when people said to me, after my parked car was almost totaled by an epileptic with a suspended driver's license, "You were lucky that you weren't in the car." If I was really lucky, then my car wouldn't have been hit in the first place. Long, awful illnesses are not a blessing, people.

I am not sure which would be worse, though- murder, suicide, or an accident in which your loved one was clearly at fault. Murder is really horrible because it's the premeditated act of a sicko. You can't blame it on chance or say, "well, when it's your time to go..." These things aren't really a comfort, but they do take away added pain and suffering at a time when your plate is full of that and you'd rather not have another helping, thank you very much. Suicide and causing the accident are bad because then you blame your loved one for his/her own death and your unhappiness. I remember thinking that would be really hard to take.

I think this is kind of sick that I think about these things. I've been a lot more morbid, and more sensitive to death and sadness in the last 3.5 years. Losing someone you love really changes you, and not for the better. I used to believe that everything happens for a reason, but I don't think that's true anymore. I can only thing of one, ONE tiny miniscule possibility for any good that came out of this situation, and that's the fact that I discovered that my husband (who was then my boyfriend) could deal with difficult situations, which was something that I had been concerned about when we were dating, charmed life that he led and all. If God let this happen for a reason, then we all know that God is not an economist, because there had to be a more efficient way for me to find that out.

New Blog

I've decided to create a new blog for myself. I currently have one over at LiveJournal, but it's not as anonymous as I would like, given that it's a large interlinked community. I may still maintain that, somewhat. We'll see. I have a couple of good real-life friends over there, and it seems to be a relatively convenient way to keep in touch with them.

The first thing I struggled with here on blogger/blogspot/whatever was finding a name for my blog. Every darn thing I tried was taken. Ugh. I was finding blogs with names that I wanted that hadn't been updated for years. YEARS! Finally settled on "Regina aperum" which translates literally as "queen of the bees." Bees have special personal signficance for me.

I'll come back and post more later. I want to play around with technical things first.