s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: November 2005

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Melyngoch and I were talking the other day about how we hate talking to our bishops about our problems. Not even in a confessional way, we just hate having to burden them with whatever isn’t going right in our lives – the sins and cares of an entire ward seems like a lot to carry, and one hates to further burden them. Probably this is the wrong attitude. Probably they are given the strength to handle it somehow, although I think I’d hate to be in such a position.

Of course, it occurs to me that I don’t feel unreasonably burdened by hearing about my friends’ problems. I can call or visit Melyngoch and we can talk for a couple of hours and both of us can talk about what’s hard in our lives right now, and I think we both come away feeling better, overall. So it’s clearly not a zero sum endeavor.

But I’m not the type to wear my heart on my sleeve, and I can only share my problems with a very few, close friends. It’s just natural reticence – half a desire not to seem like I’m whining or complaining and half a genuine wish not to have most people know what’s going on in my life. You may genuinely want to help or be a sympathetic ear, but I’ll actually be happier if only a small group knows what’s troubling me at any given moment – your sympathetic looks will only remind me that I’m to be pitied and cause me even more pain. Or, worse, you will turn out to have very little patience for actual problems behind your caring facade.

* * *

I wondered, idly, what life would be like if we could all see each other’s burdens. I pictured them like brightly colored marbles in a glass jar. Would the cashier at the lunch counter be kinder to the girl who’d cried herself to sleep the night before? Would I be less jealous of the gorgeous girl with an eating disorder? Would we be surprised to see doubt in the minds of those we thought were firm, or fear in those we thought were brave? Would we find solace in seeing others with our same problems, or despair in seeing weakness in everyone? Would we be better off, or would it be too much to handle? Would we avoid acknowledging people with problems the way we ignore the homeless and wear sunglasses to avoid making eye contact with anyone?

I think some people genuinely do have a gift of seeing the problems of others, and maybe a gift of offering empathy or wise counsel. And I think that anyone who’s been through a particular trial is more sensitive and better able to recognize others who are going through the same thing, whether it be the quiet pain in an infertile woman’s eyes or the sad resignation of a recently broken heart.

Maybe heaven will be like my glass jar of marbles, for better or for worse.

winter wear

Things whose purpose I am beginning to comprehend:

1. Long underwear
2. Scarves
3. Hats

I had always considered scarves and hats to be the province of those who liked to accessorize their winter outfits, and since I don’t accessorize much, I have always done without. Several days of Midwestern winter wind have convinced me of the actual utility of such things, and I am now in possession of two pairs. (And the fact that it is technically still fall makes things even worse.) One hat and scarf set is green and very fuzzy soft from Target. I am somewhat apprehensive that they may shed horribly and get fuzzies all over my clothing. We’ll see, when the time comes. The other set is black and gray and white stripes from H&M (thanks to a recent trip to Chicago). Pretty much I bought it just so that I could say I’d bought something at H&M, and it was one of the few things there that was actually conservative enough for me to wear.

Also, I’ve been thinking that I probably ought to knit or crochet myself a matching hat and scarf this Christmas break. I’ll be in Provo, which means having easy access to Heindselman’s (America’s “oldest knit shop” and a needleworker’s heaven) and lots of free time, as I’ll have no work or classes. And, seriously, how hard can it be?

For the record, I can, in fact, knit and crochet. (Melyngoch was very surprised to find this out yesterday. There is only one fully domestic woman between us, but sometimes the balance shifts.) That said, I cannot knit or crochet particularly well, and it has been a long time since I’ve done either. Back in the day, I could cast on, cast off, knit and purl, although it’s an old joke that I can’t knit anything that isn’t square and I can’t crochet anything that isn’t round. And I have been known to forget to add stitches to my crocheting such that it folds in upon itself into a new dimension. Basically, I gave up both because I got bored with crocheting doilies or whatever and with knitting scarves. As I have already mentioned, this was before I knew that scarves are an essential part of a winter wardrobe.

A scarf shouldn’t be too hard. It’s just a rectangle, in the end, and once I’ve got the right yarn and gauge of needles, I can just knit the whole thing straight, if I’ve a mind to be so boring. The hat may be trickier. The round form would seem to lend itself more to crochet, but I think that it may also be possible to knit one. Either way, it will end up being trickier than anything I’ve done before. And don’t expect fancy cable knitting or argyle patterns either. This first set will probably be very plain, just so I can get the hang of it. Maybe I can elaborate in future winters.

So I intend to trundle down to Heindselman’s some time mid-December, and ask for help selecting a scarf and hat pattern, as well as needles (and possibly a hook) and lots of wonderfully fuzzy, fluffy yarn. Did you know that you can get cashmere yarn? I mean, I guess it makes sense, but I’ve only ever encountered cashmere in the form of very expensive, already-made sweaters, not in its native yarn form. Did you also know that “crochet” actually means “hook,” in French? Thus, the phrase “crochet hook” is redundant?

Anyway, wish me luck on my project, and maybe you’ll see me knitting come Christmas!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

with apologies to Tyler

The first rule of the Friendship Club is: Tell everyone!

The second rule of the Friendship Club is . . . Tell everyone!!!

The third rule of the Friendship Club is if someone gets sad, feels left out, the party is over (temporarily) and they get a big Friendship Hug.

The fourth rule of the Friendship Club is only two people can be best friends (but everyone can still be regular friends, just not best friends).

The fifth rule of the Friendship Club is you can only have one best friend at a time.

The sixth rule of the Friendship Club is if someone wants to borrow your shirt or shoes, you have to let them (as long as they promise to bring it back OK).

The seventh rule of the Friendship Club is we’re going to stay Best Friends Forever, K?

And the eighth and final rule of the Friendship Club is if this is your first time at the Friendship Club, you get to sit in the Friendship Circle and wear the Friendship Hat.

Hugs and Kisses!

[I outlined this to Scott once and he gave me this horrified look as if I’d destroyed something beautiful and precious.]

Friday, November 11, 2005

I'll be watching you

If you think about it, this is a really stalkerish song. The irony is that Sting would be hard pressed to stalk anyone, because he’s famous. He’d be trying to be all low key, and someone would say “Hey! It’s Sting!” and soon there’d be a huge crowd trying to get his autograph. And you’d see him and think “There he is again. Weird.”

Of course, the flip side is that if Sting really was stalking you, no one would believe you. You’d say “Sting is watching me!” and they’d say “No, it’s just a song.” And you’d say “Listen! Every breath I take . . . every move I make . . . Sting is watching me!

[I actually used to go up to people and tell them Sting was watching me. It was a fairly effective litmus test: if they thought it was funny, we could be friends.]

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Milk (white – not chocolate)
Rice (white)
Cottage cheese (white)
Corn chowder (off white with yellow bits) with
Crackers (white)

I think I might be racist.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Christmas carols (annotated by Petra)

Good Christian men rejoice

Good Christian men rejoice
With heart and soul and voice!
Give ye heed to what we say
News! News!
Jesus Christ is born today*!
Ox and ass before Him bow
And He is in the manger now
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

*Inaccurate unless sung on April 6th, even if allowing for literary usage of present tense to signify past events.

Bring a torch, Jeannette Isabella!

Bring a torch, Jeanette Isabella*,
Bring a torch, to the cradle run!
It is Jesus, good folk of the village;
Christ is born and Mary's calling;
Ah! ah! beautiful is the Mother
Ah! ah! beautiful is her Son!

*Hisorical/linguistic inaccuracy. Jeanette Isabella not a valid Hebrew/Semitic name.

Rise up, Shepherd, and Follow

There’s a star in the East on Christmas morn*,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
It will lead to the place where the Christ was born,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

*Inaccurate if taken to mean that Christ was born on the pagan-turned-Catholic holiday celebrated on December 25th. (Also inaccurate by the Julian calendar.) On the other hand, the fact that it may have taken months or years for the wise men to reach the Christ child implies that the star would, in fact, have been shining on the morning of the day that would eventually be known as Christmas. However, it is unlikely that this interpretation was the intended one, given the generally low standards of factuality in Christmas carols.

It Came upon the Midnight Clear

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold*:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men from heavn’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.

Still thru the cloven skies they come with peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav’nly music floats o’er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains they bend on hov’ring wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds the blessed angels sing.

*Doctrinally unsound. The idea that angels have harps stems from apostate medieval traditions. Not supported by modern revelation.

Doctrinally unsound. Stems from iconographic tradition symbolizing ability of angels to fly, i.e., not bound by earthly limits. Not supported by modern revelation. See JS-H 1:30-31. (Reference in Isaiah 6:2 may be figurative. All of Isaiah may be figurative. Your Mom may be figurative.)

See note at †.

I saw three ships come sailing in

I saw three ships come sailing in . . .
On Christmas Day* in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three . . .
On Christmas Day in the morning?

The Virgin Mary and Christ were there . . .
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Pray, wither sailed those ships all three . . .
On Christmas Day in the morning?

O they sailed into Bethlehem . . .
On Christmas Day in the morning.

*†‡ Where to start . . .

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Champaign: Potbelly

Potbelly is a sandwich shop on Green Street. It’s relatively close both to my work and to the library science building, so it’s convenient for lunch.

I have, in fact, become a regular. This is not entirely unexpected. Where food is concerned, I am not picky, and find comfort in familiarity; when I find something that meets my standards, I stick with it.

This is not to say that Potbelly does not have good sandwiches. The franchise started in an antiques shop, of all places, whose proprietors decided to start making sandwiches for their customers. Now they make very good sandwiches, and the furnishings are a bit eclectic. (Now that I’ve researched its origins, the decor makes a lot more sense.)

So I am a regular, and I always order the same thing: a vegetarian with bacon. I know that it’s odd to order a vegetarian with bacon, but I like the mushrooms and cheese on the vegetarian, and I also like bacon. And this one guy always gives me a hard time for ordering a vegetarian with bacon. (That’s how I know he’s fond of me.)

So yesterday I was at Potbelly for my vegetarian + bacon, and the guy who gives me a hard time is preparing it (big guy, by the way, lots of tattoos and a couple of earrings) and he says that he has to tell me a story. And he tells me that he’d been preparing a vegetarian sandwich for another customer, and he saw some bacon come through the grill. And he didn’t know what sandwich the bacon went with, so he asked the vegetarian lady if she’d ordered her sandwich with bacon. And she basically yelled at him for about ten minutes for suggesting that she might want meat on her vegetarian sandwich, and he tried to explain that yes, he was perfectly clear that “vegetarian” meant “no meat” but there was another customer (me) who always ordered a vegetarian with bacon but she still kept yelling at him and called him a meat fascist or something.

So I feel kind of bad for getting this guy into trouble with the vegetarian Nazi, but it’s still a funny story.

I didn’t go to Potbelly for lunch today. I’ve decided to branch out a bit, so I went down to Oodles on Sixth Street. But I’ll still be back at Potbelly next week.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Book Review: Cryptonomicon

I picked this book up because it’s by Neal Stephenson and I loved Snow Crash. (That’s Loved with a capital lateral fricative.) It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, but I was a little disappointed with Cryptonomicon.

To begin with, it wasn’t nearly as witty. The main character in Snow Crash is named Hiro Protagonist (he’s Japanese-American), and the entire book is full of that kind of straight faced tongue-in-cheek attitude. One of the main characters in Cryptonomicon is a marine named Bobby Shaftoe, which is also clever. (There’s a nursery rhyme about a sailor named Bobby Shaftoe.) But the overall tone is much more sober, which is fitting for a war novel, I guess.

Where Snow Crash was clever, Cryptonomicon is smart, I have to admit. The former throws in dashes of history, linguists, philosophy and mythology. The latter is heavy on number theory, cryptography and computer science, complete with an appendix explaining the crucial last cipher used in the book. (I’ll admit to having skipped that part, albeit with a guilty conscience. Maybe some day I’ll come back to it.)

And I was really heartbroken when one of the main characters died. I won’t say who, so as not to spoil the ending, although several people die, actually, and one comes back from the dead and one suffers a fate worse than death. Really, this is a war novel and you’d think I’d be prepared, but I get attached to fictional characters rather easily. (This is pretty much why I don’t watch T.V. anymore, as I got too upset when characters died or left the show.)

So, between the people dying and the math and the lack of Snow Crash-esque wit, I had plenty of time to come to the conclusion that Neal Stephenson does not, in fact, know how to write women.

Maybe it’s just the genre – you can’t expect to have three-dimensional females in a war novel. It ruins the atmosphere. So the women are either pale, perfect flowers or they are basically men with breasts. (Come to think of it, Michelangelo had trouble with that last one, too.)

Our cast of female characters is as follows:
  • Glory Altamira – Perfect, beautiful, patiently waiting for her sailor, left to a terrible fate in a war-torn country

  • Amy Shaftoe – Tough, unemotional, possibly a lesbian, ends up becoming properly mushy and weak and feminine just in time to hook up with the hero (That’s a spoiler, I guess. Sorry.)

  • Mary Smith – Beautiful, refined, feminine, having only been educated in etiquette and feminine charm, she is in all other ways useless

There are a couple of other female characters, but none that we’re supposed to side with. So, if this is the pantheon of appropriate femininity that exists in the world, I don’t see a place for myself. And it’s all good to say that these characters are just shallow, but if it’s a book written by a man, for men, isn’t this what men really want?