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Summer Solstice
Waxing Gibbous

Like most of my stories this one needs a little background, in this case a small summary of my school years. Nightmare. Too short? Okies, a nightmare of beatings, abuse, beatings, mental torture, beatings and trying to ignore the pain of bruise upon bruise. Highlights include being pushed onto train tracks in front of fast approaching trains, circular saw blades used as shuriken for those dance! sissy boy! dance! moments and the always delightful discovery that someone has pissed upon on you or your property. I think that's a clear enough mental image for you without changing the subject.

And as if it has all been just dream we find ourselves back in the present day without the unpleasant special fx that show a flash back is occurring on television. A strangely compelling short film is being broadcast, detailing the bullying and subsequent suicide of a teen, all taped in obsessive detail by the obsessive teen, the mother of the victim views the tapes that document the bullying and finally death by gunshot with her stiffening son in her arms. The by now slightly deranged mom discovers it's parents night tonight and decides to attend, not forgetting to put on a nice face, choose a demure ensemble without unpleasant blood stains and or course the gun her son had so recently used to end his own life.

After a suitably hallucinogenic beginning to the evening, mom first shows the tape of the suicide to the headmaster before questioning him live on film and finally executing him, the parents of all the children who tormented her boy are next, hunted down in a blacked out hall as the pale light of a view screen illuminates her determined expression and then, at last the arch bully is gunned down, his crimes paid for in an inevitable ignominious death. Finally as the credits roll we see the by now well cracked mother rocking gently with her dead son in her arms. Fabulous suspense, incredible camera work and a marvellous plot twist.

So why am I so tickled pink with this little film? It was shot in the same school I attended, when she's stalking the corridor with a loaded gun it was the same corridor I ran down in terror chased by a gang armed with bats. The hall which ends up blood stained and horrific, stalked by an avenging angel of death is the same hall where bitter childhood defeats were inflicted upon me. You have no idea what a vicarious thrill I got out of seeing this film and I can assure I needed absolutely no help setting the scene.

Strange, I seem to have had a great weight lifted from my shoulders, there's nothing quite like seeing everyone you ever hated slaughtered then settling down to write a nice daylog about it, maybe chat with a few friends and check on the doings of others, without of course having to go to prison, actually kill anybody or do anything other than enjoy the slowly dawning realisation that I will never again be bothered by thoughts of school days.

It all started with an innocent conversation.

My wife and I came off a five day vacation on the coast, where we spent the week on the beach or reading on the screen porch of a house we had rented from some friends of ours. Upon our return, I commented to a co-worker that one of the reasons that we have been given to return to work was that there is absolutely nothing of value on television during the day. I mentioned that even PBS was filled with school programming. This started a conversation about high-definition television, which my co-workier is a huge fan of. He expounded on the virtues of the picture and sound quality and told me that I HAD to get an HDTV. I informed him that my fifteen year old Sony worked perfectly well and I couldn't see my way clear to spending money on something when I had one that worked fine. Little did I realize that I was about to experience the full force and irony of foreshadowing.

The next weekend, my television died.

So now my wife and I have a problem. We have to replace our TV. We go to the local electronics ubermart and wander through the television section, beating back the vultures as we try and make a semi-informed decision about buying a set. It seems that since the last time I let myself off my self-imposed chain that keeps me out of these stores, that technology has really gone off the charts. There is not only HDTV but also flat panel, flat screens, and televisions that are so big that they have their own representation in Congress.

We debated and talked and researched and talked and debated and watched about as much of a Sheryl Crow video as one man should be made to in one lifetime, while we tried to decided how much we wanted to spend and what features we wanted. I come from a very deliberate family and we don't rush into things. Risk takers we are not and my wife runs along the same line, so we are cautious to the point of being paralyzed. And we would probably be still in the same boat if it were not for my boss.

A couple of weeks ago, I passed the milestone of being an employee of this firm for seven years. As a gift for my seventh anniversary, my boss offered to foot the bill for a new TV. A wonderful gesture on his part and it bought him and the company a great deal of good will. We discussed what he was talking about when he said that, and he put the kabosh on a flat panel, but was perfectly willing to buy an HDTV.

So, yesterday, we bought a TV. Actually let me rephrase that: yesterday, we bought a 218 pound monstrosity that is sitting in my living room. It is a 32 inch Sony with HDTV capability and about enough features to fly the Space Shuttle. I think my wife is in shock and I know at least one of our cats got frightened by the sheer size of the image. I am secretly very pleased with the purchase knowing that I will be able to watch Farscape tonight in what will feel like life size, but I have to keep up the penitent act until my family adjusts.

Ah, technology! Ain't it wonderful?

It´s been a hell of a week.

Yesterday I was severly reprimanded for poor work performance. You know you´re in trouble when your boss asks you if you "want to contine working here."

Wednesday I was diagnosed with Mononucleosis.

I´ve been working illegally for Deutsche Telekom for months now. Working without a contract, without a work visa, without a steuernumer (similar to a social security number). On Monday I told them that without a contract I couldn´t get a visa (you can´t work freelance in Germany without having lived here for 5 years) without a contract. They said they will give me a freelancer´s contract next week. Don´t know how that will help me get a visa.

Today my girlfriend was diagnosed with mono too. Fuck.

The only good news is that apparently you don´t need a visa to get a steuernumer and that we filled out the forms correctly so that is on it´s way to me.

This means I can continue to work illegally in the country - you see in the past all DT wanted from me was a monthly invoice, now they want the steuernumer on the invoive in case they are audited by the German tax squad.

But as my boss told me today "your job is in your hands," meaning no more slacking, no more silly errors in my PR stories (saying a company is a DT affiliate when it´s a T-Mobile subsidiary).

All of this work trouble was brought to a head yesterday when my lates feature (about Telekiosks - DT´s Internet capabe phone booths) was declared DOA because when I finally got my interview subject lined up she told me DT is getting out of the Internet phone booth business (it only got into it in November 2001 - no wonder this companies stock has plunged more than 90% in the last 2 years... well that 67 billion dollars in debt can´t help). My boss Colin (nice queer guy who surfs gayporn sites on company time) was really miffed.

You can´t miss deadlines in the journalism/PR game.

Anyhow I´m recovering from the mono, today I got the steuernumer thingy, and next week my work is gonna kick ass. My attitude is turned around on account that I´m scared shitless that I might lose this gig. Its too good, too easy and the money rocks (200€ a day).

Fuck I´ve got to watch my ass.

Okay, does the concept of Nubian goats that produce spider silk in their milk weird anyone else out at all?

I swear, I'm not making it up - go read it for yourself at the NYTimes.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/16/magazine/16GOAT.html?todaysheadlines

You'll have to be registered with them first, though. (Don't worry, it's free, and it doesn't take long.)

This is the first wu containing translated entries from my diary, written as I'm going through national service in the army of Sweden. I can't node from the barracks, but I am able to come home almost every weekend. Thus, future entries will drop in at a rate of about once per week for the next 10 months of so. This is the first entry, covering days 1-7 (of 300), noded on the 7th day.

Before starting, here's a bit of background. The Swedish Army relies heavily on a system of national service, in which tens of thousands of males between 18 and 20 are recruited each year. Service is compulsory on paper, but rather easy to get out of doing. Service is not compulsory for women, but some join anyway. The male-to-female ratio is about 95-5 at present. Still, the Swedish Army is one of the world's foremost in terms of technological advancement, even though we've not been in that many famous wars recently.

I was recruited in autumn 2001 to serve 300 days as a combat vehicle commander at Upplands Regemente (S1) in Enköping, Sweden. The task of a CVC is to command one or more tanks or armoured personel carriers. APC's at S1 are mobile commmunications hubs, the interior decorated with all kinds of computers and cool gizmos for use by the senior officers, while the crew makes sure that they're comfy and that no enemies are allowed near.

Part of the duties of the soldiers at S1 is also to stand guard at the Royal Castle in Stockholm for a couple of weeks, a duty shared by all those doing national service. While standing in front of a castle with a fancy uniform watching people come and go might seem tedious, doing it is considered a great honour by most.

That's enough for background - if you feel anything is missing, msg me and I will add it. The diary starts here.

17th of June, 2002 - 09:40
Arrived very early. I was well greeted and the process of getting me signed in went smoothly. I was assigned to the second company, second platoon, group six. After filling in various sheets on next-of-kin and similar stuff I was taken to my room (to be shared with 15 others) where some miscellaneous equipment, mostly books, was laid out on the bed. Listing follows:
  • One note (self-copying) for filling in information on next-of-kin
  • One envelope for the abovementioned note
  • Three tubes of camouflage paint, type M97. Green, brown, black.
  • One jar of army skin lotion
  • One first aid pack
  • One small notebook
  • One notepad, A4 size
  • One wooden pencil (2½ = HB written on side)
  • One plastic ink pen (blue, very dry)
  • One eraser
  • Various books
18th of June, 2002 - 00:05
After receiving "the rest" of my equipment - including a large amount of clothes and uniform parts - but no weapons - an afternoon of drills, excercise (learning how to stand, walk, etc) followed. All indoors, which was kind of sweaty since it was about 25 degrees Celcius outdoors. We eventually moved outdoors, which was a lot better. We were told we'd be getting our weapons (Ak5 automatic rifles) on wednesday. Getting along well with the other recruits. Appointed group leader by some corporal whose name I can't recall. Seems to mean I get to boss the others around some, which is cool. Spend the afternoon sewing various marks to our uniforms. A relatively calm day. Good food.

18th of June, 2002 - 13:55
Wakeup at 0500 and told to report in full gear outside five minutes later, of course nobody made it in time. Drills all morning, though we didn't have to wear our field jackets so the hot weather wasn't much of a problem. We met the company commander for the first time. Very little time for breakfast and lunch, though the food was very good. At the time of this writing, we're listening to some captain give a speech about all the money and free stuff (like medical care) we'll be getting. Seems we get to travel home for free every time we're on leave. Nice. Also nice is that we get our weapons tomorrow. Was informed that I will not be commanding a tank but an APC, and possibly some mobile communications towers (TeleSystem 9000, very cool stuff). Looking forward to it.

(Notes) Stuff to do until tomorrow: All members of the group I'm commanding must sew their flags, company emblems and such to their uniforms, as previously instructed. This will be checked tomorrow morning. Read up on the Ak5 in SoldR (book about personal equipment we got). Everything must be ready by 0600 hours. Breakfast at 0615.

19th of June, 2002 - 10:10
Didn't have time to write any more yesterday, the afternoon was kind of rough. Our commanding officers got angry at us because we stayed up (sewing) even though we had orders to be in bed by 2230 hours. Reminder to self not to let that happen again. Apart from that, our commanders seem content with our performance so far, and some have told us we've come far considering we've only been here two days. This morning, we marched around the area to see the garages were the combat vehicles were parked, as well as the shooting ranges.

(Notes) One meal: 60% carbohydrates, 25% fat, 15% proteine. Stand guard at royal castle w. 32-34. Field excercises weeks 26, 27, 43, 44, 45, 47. BED BY 2230!

19th of June, 2002 - 23:30
After lunch (we had a barbecue!) we got our weapons, standard model Ak5's with various accessories and parts, including four 30-round magazines (5.56mm NATO caliber). We then learned to assemble and disassemble the Ak5's, and to test fire them after assembly (albeit without ammo). At lunch we managed to accidentally seat ourselves in the officer's mess, which wasn't very appreciated, as we found out later. In the evening, we found out that we had to move to different rooms, due to a reorganization of the groups. As part of the reorganization, I won't be group commander any more this week.

21st of June, 2002 - 11:50
Back home on leave (midsummer) now. Yesterday was pleasant because we had a lot of spare time, yet I didn't have enough time to write here, sadly. We did a lot of new stuff and weapon excercises, and a drill exam after lunch, where some lieutenant ordered us around for a bit to find out how much we'd picked up. All things said and done, he was pleased with our performance, adding that we'd come far after "only" three days. After the exam, we were able to rest our feet for a bit while the captain told us about our future activites. I took the bus home at 1540 hours (service ended at 1515). Told to report back Sunday evening.

This concludes the entries for day 1-7.

day 8-14 -->

I slept in the dorm and then


21 June, Friday
Awkwardness, then no awkwardness.

I got up and went to register at eight, where I discovered that the conference people didn't have my name down. They had apparently had some online form problems right around the same time I had registered. Well, that was great. They let me go ahead and pay for the conference and do it and everything, but it was still an extremely discouraging beginning. I went outside and walked around while they were trying to find me a nametag. Are we downhearted? No. Oh, ha. And I couldn't even have any coffee with which to buoy myself up, having no nametag with which to get into the cafeteria.

But things were reasonably straightened out, and I went into Steel Recital Hall(so apparently it was the music building) to wait for the speeches to commence.

It was a strange day, and one over the course of which I realized I needed to get copies of all the LMM journals that are currently out. The whole "life writing" thing was dominant, being the theme of the conference, but handled in a strange way. I mean, there has been the whole cult of personality thing with various writers: people like Sylvia Plath, the Beat generation, the Romantics. Everyone knows all these facts about various writers' lives; however, it is problematic to read their works apart from their lives. You aren't going to be able to unlearn Sylvia Plath's life if you already know it; a reader who does know her life will probably interpret her work differently than a reader who does not know anything about her. In fact, it may be difficult to get a full reading of a given poem without some biographical knowledge. This is. Well. It is difficult at any rate.

This spilled over in any number of directions here. Most if not all of the academics present were gung-ho on using LMM's journals, a problematic resource at best (which they did acknowledge, fortunately), to interpret or "find keys to" her fictional works. See, the thing here is that LMM intended her journals for publication, but we don't know exactly when she formed this intent. So we don't know how or when this thought colored her original writing of the journal. Second, in preparation for publication at some future point, she began to type out her handwritten pages, editing them as well as adding pictures; who knows what she took out? I'm pretty sure the original journals are also available, maybe with all the manuscripts at Guelph, but her original writing was already problematic anyway. Third, LMM seems to have been constrained by her environment. This is not surprising; neither the late Victorian mindset of the time nor the household in which she grew up were the most nurturing of surroundings. So on top of all the problems of intention, we have the same cultural bias which every writer brings to the table.

So there was That large academic problem to deal with, plus the more general strain of trying to meet various people in an academic setting, and to look professional and impressive to the established scholars, all while thoroughly exhausted. This worked to an extent. I did find people to talk to, fortunately, but it was a bit problematic. For one thing, a couple of the women who seemed to like me, and whom I liked inasmuch as I knew them, constantly whispered in the audience. It was really rude, but the worst thing was that they also tried to talk to me during presentations. So I ended up looking rude as well, even though I was doing my best to discourage them. Great, that's just the impression I was looking to make.


But after sessions ended I took several deep breaths and went downtown to meet some entirely different people at Cedar's. I was marginally nervous, but that was ok.

So, this whole meeting noders business? It's a very good idea. I've met a bunch of people previously, at the Columbus Starliner Diner brunch last spring, and at Natchlucid's second Iowa gathering, but so far I think this was the best meet I've been to. And it wasn't even technically a meet!

I came in and met Cletus and Luquid, and we were all pretty instantly at ease. Yay zero awkwardness! This seems to be characteristic of noder peoples meeting for the first time. It's so nice. It was especially nice after having to be all awkward while trying to meet people and talk small talk at conference all day.

I had Lebanese stuff (shish tauk? I forget), this being a Lebanese restaurant, and both Cletus and Luquid had "Canadian cuisine". "Canadian cuisine" apparently consists of just about the same stuff as "American cuisine", with breaded chicken sandwiches, etc.; watch, everyone in North America has the same commercial food supplier. That kind of takes the fun out of "local cuisine". On the other hand, I myself had way more than all the Lebanese food I could eat.

"Are you eating a chicken and mayonnaise sandwich?"

So we colonized the booth for a good two hours. I think the waitron chick got a little sick of us. Oh well. But we couldn't shut up for the entirety of dinner. This I find to be an excellent sign.

Cletus reminds me of a kid in my MFA program. Fortunately the resemblance is only physical. Same chin, similar facial structure, similar timbre of voice. I say "fortunately" because otherwise this kid in my program was the least sincere person I have ever met. He was just plastic at everyone. In contrast, Cletus is very interesting and good and not insincere at all. Luquid reminds me of someone too, but I still haven't placed that one.

Conversation ranged from accents and regional terminology to IT systems and island economy to the musical version of Evangeline to me spilling my guts entirely in regard to two or three complicated parts of my personal history. You know you are comfortable with people when you do That on the first meeting. Granted, I have a big mouth on certain topics anyway, but still. It was good. We were big geeks at each other, and even started to compete for greater paleness, and that was Fine with me.

When we were done, Cletus kidnapped my check. There was a pause in which we thought very similiar things, along the lines of "am I going to let him get away with this?" and "is she going to let me get away with this?" After a minute it became clear that yes, I was going to let him get away with it. Then I proceeded to forget to give him the mix cd I had brought. So THAT was equitable. Fortunately there is the possibility of actual mail.

After much dithering, I decided to ditch the night's conference stuff, which was the musical version of Anne of Green Gables. I had seen the musical version of Emily the last time, and that was just horrifying--brash and brightly colored and all wrong in tone--so I wasn't really concerned with missing comparable things. Anyway I wanted to hang out with people instead. We went up the street to see a parody film which we thought we were sneaking into but turned out to be public, and in transit ran into Cletus's gf and several other people (whose names have unfortunately flown entirely out of my head by this time) with whom we proceeded to watch this film.

The film itself was called "Picking Lucy's Brain" (I think?), and was about a zombie LMM and the island's whole weird tourist scene. It was interesting cultural commentary; you don't generally get zombie movies about the provincial government's need to control this particular aspect of the economy. And it was funded by an actual governmental arts grant! You certainly don't get much stuff like this in the US.

I feel like I noticed very different things about the film than other people, having been thinking about various LMM things at conference all day. For one, all the characters referred to LMM as "Lucy". This was particularly weird after a day of conference in which everyone referred to her by her middle name, "Maud": the name by which she was known to her close friends and relations. The whole calling the author by her preferred name business is bizarre anyway; people seem to be claiming LMM as their personal friend by use of her preferred name. Clearly, anyone who liked any of LMM's books would have been considered her friend! Clearly, although acquaintances and even some friends were referred to as "Miss X" or "Mrs. Y" in LMM's time, all the "kindred spirits" can just bypass this formality! Clearly, they know her inside and out! The serious academics tended to refer to her as just "Montgomery", thank god, but even they would use "Maud" at times. This can't be good for the whole "LMM is a serious writer" thing that they are trying so hard to endorse.

(Ok, yes, I am going to do language theory in grad school. I am going to do name theory. Yes. It is very clear to me.)

Right! So afterward we roamed across the street to a little cafe, in which we proceeded to hang out and drink or not drink coffee and chocolate milk. I was getting a little tired by this point, but not too tired to trade some E2 gossip and continue to comment on various people's various interesting lingual and cultural traits. For instance, Cletus used the phrase "half again as much" three times in one sentence, so we had to discuss that. Another instance: I stopped and looked before crossing the street (even though I live in Ann Arbor, town of people constantly wandering into the street without even seeming to realize there is a street there); in Charlottetown, no one stopped, as every single driver automatically stopped for us instead. Lots and lots of things like that. It was good.

Of course, then various people had to go, and we had to split up to go to sleep or work or what have you. So we said oddly prolonged, wistful goodbyes, to the unspoken tune of "But I just met you! You can't be halfway across a continent from me in three days!" And I got in my car and drove back to campus and called John.

Ok, if any of you go to PEI in the future, just let me say that these are the people with whom to hang out. Yes, go ahead and blush! I had a most excellent time and would be more than happy to come see people again.


The next day I did conference things again.

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