Monday, February 26, 2007

Spam of the Day: Greetings from Valley Records, Or Russia, Or Nigeria, Or Wherever

Another Russian bride makes her move. This is entertaining reading, I promise.

FROM: Valley Records
SUBJECT: How are you? My name is Ekaterina.

How are you? My name is Ekaterina. I from Russia, city Cheboksary. To me 28 years. I shall tell to you about myself a little. I corresponded with the man from the your country before. His name Mark. He is from your country. We had a long correspondence and Mark wanted, that I have arrived to him in the your country that I have seen what life there. We have together submitted the statement on reception of the visa in your country! Mark spoke, that will help my in our meeting. I thought, that have met on the Internet the love. I and Mark made the big plans for the future, but in a flash all has changed. From the moment of submission of the statement for the application of the visa has passed 5 months. For these five months there was for what I least waited. Mark informed, that his former wife has returned to him and lives together with him. Soon they should get married. And now in Mark plans there is no me. I wrote to him sometimes after that, but Mark have wished me only good luck in the further searches worthy men and have told, that our ways miss. And in October to me there has come the invitation in embassy behind reception of the visa.In the beginning I wanted to throw out the invitation in embassy.To me it was sad, because my dreams were failed, I have nobody to fly in the your country. But my uncle have dissuaded me from resolute actions and have told, that else there is a chance to find worthy the man and to use the visa to a meeting with him. I well know English and practically I have visa your country. My uncle speaks, that it really solves many problems. Approximately in 7 days the visa will be ready, and I should go to Moscow behind reception of the visa. I write to you because in my heart there is an empty seat. I do not search rich or poor. I search careful and responsible man which wants to enjoy a life together. Is this person you? I think, that I ask not much. I have told to you a little about my life. I have told not all about myself, but it will be easier to me to write about myself if you will ask questions which interest you. I have told to you my history, and now I shall look forward to hearing from you with impatience. Write to me! I shall send you more photo in the following letter. I wait you answer. Ekaterina.

How about it--any of you single boys out there willing to make Ekaterina an honest woman?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

No Regrets

I got a note from a longtime friend this week. He's turning seventy, and he's not happy about it.
It's just horrible, terrible, awful turnin' the big 70. . . . I finally now
regret many errors, miscalculations, oversights and mistakes of my youth that
was taken for granted and pass by too swiftly.
My Lenten readings in Job have me now entering into the debates between Job and his friends. And I've found over time that whenever I read Job I don't know quite how to be there for my friends when they fall on hard times. In the abstract, a lot of what they have to say makes sense. And in the abstract, who doesn't enjoy a stimulating debate on the meaning of life and the question of suffering?

Of course, Job isn't dealing in abstractions; he's lost his family, his wealth and his health, and it appears he's lost his patience as well, along with his sense of decorum. When someone expresses regret, or even bitterness, at the way his life has turned out, you want to reassure him that he has, in fact, lived a good life. You want to grab him and shake him and tell him that if he doesn't like how his life has turned out, then he should change it. You want to introduce him to a nice, pretty lady to take his mind off his troubles--and, quite honestly, to give him someone else to pester with his problems. You want his troubles to end because, quite frankly, you want this awkwardness to end.

Some awkwardnesses, however, don't end easily. The loss of a loved one, the trauma of past abuse, the systemic conditions that convert minor mistakes into inescapable conditions--these are lamentable occasions, and they're meant to be lamented. Laments are no more fun to watch and listen to than they are to perform, but they're part of the world we've inherited, and they'll inevitably be part of the world we pass on.

I read a tasty little Latin phrase about Jesus: he is pro-me, which means, in English, that Jesus is for me. That in and of itself doesn't change a person's condition, but it does give a hint as to where God is in the midst of a lament. He's not listening or half-listening or looking for a way out; he's singing along.

Would that I could consistently be for my friends in the way that Jesus is pro me. Life wouldn't necessarily be any easier as a consequence, but I, and my friends, might have an easier time finding the melody in the midst of it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

And Another Thing . . .

I'll forget to do this later, so let me compliment the good people at Think Christian (see the link below in the blogarama) for discovering and publicizing this little ditty from Youtube: "It's All About Me: Songs for Self-Worship." Har har har.

Ashes

Not once through all this did Job sin; not once did he blame God. (Job 1:22 Msg)


When it comes to Lent, I'm out of practice. I fail to think in terms of how I will commemorate the passion of Jesus through my own behavior, so while my friends are giving up chocolate or swearing or their favorite television show or (perish the thought) blogging, in recent years I've shrugged and returned to my everyday life.

This year, however, for some reason I have Lent in mind. Maybe it's because last night I ate way too much for dinner, but even though I had Jambalaya and dirty rice, I didn't make the connection to Mardi Gras till much later.

No, I think I have Lent in mind because Lent builds up to Good Friday, and Good Friday is the day that Jesus died. And so by participating in Lenten observances we are acknowledging that the world as currently composed is not good. And lately, that's how I've been feeling.

Maybe it's because I got a traffic ticket I don't feel I deserved. Maybe it's because I got bad news about my book. Maybe it's because I have yet to secure a publisher's permission to write my second book. Maybe it's because I have far too low an opinion of the world, or far too high an opinion of myself.

Anyway, I've noticed that my behavior of late has been informed at least in part by all this bad feeling I've got. I've been grumbly and self-pitying. I've been short and sharp with my friends and colleagues. I've allowed myself to be bad in these ways because I have evidence that the world is not good.

So this Lenten season I decided to read through the book of Job, because let's be honest, that dude's life really sucked. He had everything, until in one moment, he found he had nothing. And in that moment, his character was defined by this simple statement:

Not once through all this did Job sin; not once did he blame God. (Job 1:22 Msg)


Oh, I know I'll find over the next several weeks that Job will have a hard time keeping his chin up and his upper lip stiff. But I hope I'll also find that the trouble Job experienced--which far outweighs any minor inconvenience I've been plagued with over the course of my privileged life--is known and noted and suffered through by the God who called him friend. That same God calls us friend still today, and he bids us keep our chin up, for through the passion of Jesus, he has overcome the world.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Spam I Am

Today, due to circumstances beyond my control, my outbound e-mail has been tagged as "spam" by one or more major e-mail providers. Consequently, until I can prove that I'm not a spam generator, many of my e-mails are being blocked.

I can't tell who thinks I'm spam and who doesn't until I get a bounceback e-mail, but it is a rather humbling experience--an indictment on my communication habits. My approach to e-mail historically has been to (a) have a thought, (b) commit that thought to digital data and (c) click on "send." My thought then becomes someone else's problem--until, of course, someone somewhere says "Enough!" and cuts me off. On days like these I realize that one person's epiphanies are very often another person's irritants.

Beyond the obvious benefits to necessary communication, e-mail as I've approached it--along with blogging, I think--is often equal parts an attempt to be known and a desire to be admired. As such, it can be pretty addictive. You want to be known by more and more people, and so you monitor the profile views on your profile, despairing when the count stays static and congratulating yourself when it reaches some new round number. You compare the comment count from one post to another and from your blog to another's, and thusly you measure your relative worth. Meanwhile, people with their own problems are surfing the Internet, minding their own business and either allow themselves to get drawn into your search for significance or throw their guard up and say, "Please don't bother me!"

Anyway, my experience as spam has left me plenty circumspect, so I will simply say: thanks for coming by my blog. I hope you have fun here more often than you get annoyed. And if my presumed profundities ever bug you, please don't flag me as inappropriate. Instead, please post a comment to let me know; you get the annoyance off your chest, and my fragile sense of self-worth gets bolstered by another comment. Everybody wins.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Your One-Stop Shop for Spam of the Day

Today's Spam of the Day ties the whole week together with a nice, snarky bow:

FROM: Agatha Manning
SUBJECT: Grouchy Mart

And here I've been having to subsist on the grouchiness I could scrape up on my own. What a relief to know I can now go to one place to purchase all my grouchy needs--along with (apparently, based on the contents of the spam) stock in MRG Productions, a film production company seeking funds to produce the romantic comedy "April in December."

Of course, I can't leave this spam alone, so I'll open it up for discussion, along one of two streams:

1. What, do you predict, will be the plot of "April in December"?
2. What brands and products would you expect to see advertised in the Sunday newspaper insert from Grouchy Mart?

Have fun. Play nice.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I'll Get Sprung with a Little Help from My Friends

I got a traffic violation today, and I'd like to contest it. Here's the scenario; please advise!

The scene: a residential neighborhood, a school bus route, freshly fallen snow on the ground
The cast:
  • a handsome, young-at-heart editor, regularly cited as an exemplary driver by the state and his insurance company, eager to get to work but mindful of local traffic laws and, more important, the safety of young children waiting for their bus
  • a malicious, power-hungry police officer desperate to fill a traffic violation quota

OK. That was petty. I admire the police, and the police I know are good people charged with a good task. I quote Joe Friday from Dragnet: Just the facts.

I'm accused of rolling through a stop sign. The same officer accused me of the same violation in the recent past, only one block away from the current crime scene. I don't think I rolled through the stop sign, nor did I think I rolled through the other one. But I paid that ticket to avoid the hassle of a court appearance. If I pay this one, I'm afraid, my insurance will go up. To paraphrase Peter MacNichol from 24, this situation has gone from being an irritant to being an obstacle.

It seems to me that what constitutes a full stop is largely a judgment call, and in my judgment I did come to a complete stop both times; in the judgment of the officer, I did not. It struck me as acidly funny that while he was running my plates and writing my ticket, nearly ten cars rolled through the stop sign right in front of us.

I've never contested a ticket, and I'm a little scared to, because I'm not a terribly compelling person. But I don't want my insurance to go up. I think I have a case, but I don't know for sure, and I need help articulating the case. Any takers?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Who Needs Books When You Have Spam of the Day?

Subject: 12 new messages from ladies for you (dating)

The ladies, based on the e-mail address, are apparently a part of the MEC Sundries of St. Paul. Perhaps, I naively imagine, they'd like me to come speak to their group on the subject of dating. So I open the e-mail:

I am looking for man for long-term relations.
I am from Russia, my name is Vika,
please let me know if you have interest.

I can tell it's authentic because Vika, like all the English-speaking Russians I've ever seen in movies, doesn't use articles: "I am looking for man," not "I am looking for a man"; "if you have interest," not "if you have any interest."

I hate to publicly humiliate Vika, but I'd rather break the hearts of countless Russian single ladies all at once rather than one at a time, so please take note and alert any e-mail-order brides in your address books:

Back off, ladies! I'm taken!

Friday, February 02, 2007

The State of My "Strange and Unpleasant" Industry

My friend and fellow editor Drew sent me this librarian's assessment of the state of reading among young people.

"I became a school librarian because I loved books and wanted to bring the joy of reading to young people. . . . Silly me. Young people no longer read for pleasure, and libraries are no longer places to discover great works of literature and biography and history. We librarians now exist solely to help bored students maximize their database searches, so they can complete papers and assignments in minimal time. When students do check out a book on, say, Jane Austen or Thomas Jefferson, they don’t actually read it; they check it back in the next day, having copied down what they need to cite the book as a 'source.' My fellow librarians and I still try to 'entice young minds and bring them to the reading table,' but to no avail. Most teenagers regard reading a book as some strange and unpleasant ritual from the distant past. I recently tried to coax one senior into reading Dickens’ Bleak House, promising that if she read just one page, she wouldn’t be able put it down. She took one look at the book, coolly assessing its hundreds of pages, and said, 'I think I’ll watch the DVD.'"
--Thomas Washington, "Washington Post," cited in "The Week," February 2, 2007, p. 14

If you're one of those weirdos who still reads, why do you do it?

If you've dismissed reading as "strange and unpleasant," convince me why I should give up on books.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Link of the Day

I just came across two great tastes that go great together: Presbymergent, a group of Presbyterians whose Christian living and thinking are informed by the conversations taking place in the Emergent Village. That's me in a nutshell, which I'm sure is easier to imagine than I'd like it to be. I don't know the site well yet, but my friend Karen Sloan is one of the organizers, so I'm excited to see what they'll be talking about.

It also makes me want to coin a cool hybrid term. I'm stuck though; any nominations?