Saturday, September 29, 2007

Three things

1 - Yesterday I wore red (well, dark burgundy) as part of the Red Shirt for Burma event. I'm not sure whether the event existed outside of the Facebook community (I did a quick Google search and the first things to come up were links to the Facebook group, I couldn't find anything more organized than that) but in any case, I'm a huge fan of using tools like Facebook to push involvement in movements (can we call it that?) like this. I mean, going by the date on the first post the group was only created two days ago and in that time they had amassed almost 80,000 members! 80,000 in two days with no "man power"! I think that's pretty amazing.

2 - Thin Air International Writers festival is on right now. Last night, a friend and I went to one of the Mainstage events to see William Gibson speak and read an excerpt from his new novel, Spook Country. Actually, there were a number of authors presenting new works but the one we were specifically going for was Gibson. It turned out to be a more painful experience than one might have expected. The first three authors to read excerpts from their latest books were all... horrible. Horrible!! For almost an hour my friend sat next to me with his head in his hands (we were sitting in the back, don't worry - we didn't psyche out any of the authors, that would have just been mean); I have to say I actually admired his restraint in not moaning or groaning. As I sat there - part of me listening unwillingly, part of me trying not to fall asleep - I tried to figure out how I would elaborate on my strong feelings of dislike besides just saying, "I didn't think they were very good." What specifically about their writing made me dislike it so much? I came up with a few ideas and I plan on getting into this more when I do my reading journal for A Complicated Kindness. I figure there must be some reviewers out there who hated ACK as much as I do (so far - I haven't actually finished it, so maybe I'll have a change of heart and end up eating my words; unlikely) and thus my strategy will be to seek them out and see what they've said about it. That should help me get a better idea of how to criticize intelligently without just saying something is "stupid" but being unable to pinpoint what precisely. Okay, moving along...

3 - Actually, the third thing I was going to post about I've decided to hold off on. I'll just say it involves a jerk in an SUV and a Tim Horton's drive-thru. (And me possibly reacting like a raging maniac. Although I prefer to see myself as a vigilante for justice. You know, like in V for Vendetta... Without any killing, of course. Or physical violence of any kind, don't worry.) So anyways, as a stand-in for number three, I'll write about... Sincerity and honesty. Although, on second thought that might be too big a topic to cover at the moment. Well, I'll make a brief attempt. You see, I'm reading Northanger Abbey and I'm really enjoying it. I started reading it because it ties in closely to Ian McEwan's Atonement (also a fantastic book) - its a novel about novels and the people who read novels and how it affects them. One of the things that becomes apparent by reading much Jane Austen is how she greatly values personal honesty and sincerity. She dislikes people who say one thing but mean another or who talk a lot of silliness without ever saying anything of sense or consequence (e.g. Mrs. Allen and her muslin) or who are inconstant in their loyalties and opinions and emotions (e.g. Isabella). I find that while reading Austen, I start to analyze my own reactions to people and peoples' reactions to other people more carefully.

Yesterday someone told me a story about a person they had recently met and who they had decided they didn't like because they had a bad attitude. In the course of the story, it came to light that what this person had actually done to my acquaintance was to simply decline the offer of friendship that had been made to them - they were nice to my acquaintance when they first met, but upon subsequent attempts to hang out the person avoided them, essentially snubbing them. For that reason my friend had decided that the person was not a good person and wasn't worth their time or friendship after all.

It seems like this is something many of us tend to do - tell ourselves that someone isn't a good person because they don't reciprocate our attentions, because they don't like us (or they're just ambivalent about us). Why do we do it? To save face, to protect our self-esteem, so that we don't have to address the reality and admit to ourselves that not everyone in the world finds us charming. That can be a really hard thing for some people to accept, I think. I like to think that as I "grow-up" I become more resigned to certain facts of life - one of those being that not everyone is going to like me (even people who's favor I really would like) and that's okay. But sometimes it can definitely be hard, like when you like someone romantically who doesn't reciprocate (been there). But I think that even when its tough to do so, its really important to be honest with oneself instead of searching for any justification to dismiss the other person in turn. Everyone is entitled to their likes and dislikes, aren't they? If someone simply chooses not to befriend us without giving any reasons why (which I think is the proper thing to do), accept it - don't just start badmouthing them for it. And yes, absolutely, being "rejected" can really suck, but can't we at least face up to it with honesty? If we can't even be honest with ourselves...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What a piece of work is man...

"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!"
~ from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

"I have examined Man's wonderful inventions. And I tell you that in the arts of life man invents nothing; but in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself, and produces by chemistry and machinery all the slaughter of plague, pestilence, and famine. The peasant I tempt today eats and drinks what was eaten and drunk by the peasants of ten thousand years ago; and the house he lives in has not altered as much in a thousand centuries as the fashion of a lady's bonnet in a score of weeks. But when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanism that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies, and leaves the javelin, the arrow, the blowpipe of his fathers far behind. In the arts of peace Man is a bungler. I have seen his cotton factories and the like, with machinery that a greedy dog could have invented if it had wanted money instead of food. I know his clumsy typewriters and bungling locomotives and tedious bicycles: they are toys compared to the Maxim gun, the submarine torpedo boat. There is nothing in Man's industrial machinery but his greed and sloth: his heart is in his weapons."
~ The Devil speaking in Don Juan in Hell, Act III of Man and Superman, by George Bernard Shaw, 1902

"This basic force of the universe cannot be fitted into the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world. We scientists recognise our inescapable responsibility to carry to our fellow citizens an understanding of atomic energy and its implication for society. In this lies our only security and our only hope - we believe that an informed citizenry will act for life and not for death."
~ Albert Einstein, Jan 22, 1947

"The drama of our time is the coming of all men into one fate."
~ Robert Duncan

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
~ Salvor Hardin, from the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov

"Time is the wisest because it discovers everything.”
~ Thales of Miletos

The threat of violence at the University of Winnipeg did not come to pass on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I'm sitting here sniffling. I just finished watching an episode of Ally McBeal. The two things are not related; I just have a cold. I blame some contagious friends for the cold. The Ally McBeal I'm not going to excuse - its just an indulgence; if I was watching it alone maybe it would feel more "shameful" but its a way to hang out with a friend; and, please, some people fill their nights watching Wrestlemania or reality TV - compared to which Ally is almost.... intellectual?

Anyhow, these past few days have been a little unusual. Last week I went to check my email and found a security bulletin my school had just sent out; it was to be the first of six (so far, anyhow). It seems a threat was found graffitied on one of the men's bathroom walls and the university has decided to take it seriously. You can read about it here and here, if you want to.

I've been trying to figure out what I think about all of this. Its hard to do with a cold; I really do feel like the cold muddles my thinking abilities (or at least my ability to write coherently) - all that stuffiness, ugh. Anyhow, I'm sure my reactions have been pretty much the same as everyone else's - angry at the person who wrote the threat, angry at the little we can do about it, afraid that something terrible will happen, horribly sad that some people want so badly to destroy. I think above all I hate feeling like, when it all comes down to it, in so many cases we're completely helpless, unable to prevent terrible things from occurring. Sure, in this case we have been given warning (if you can call it that). And we can boost security for a while - the police will certainly be on site all day tomorrow. But what about next week? And the week after? We can't always be on "red alert." Even if nothing happens tomorrow, it feels like the possibility is suddenly so much more real now that something could. (Even though the possibility hasn't really changed; its always been the same, hasn't it?)

I don't want to be afraid to go to my own school. I want to trust my neighbours, my fellow students. I want to be able to stop when someone's standing on the street asking for help (or even a ride!). I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, to assume they're good until something proves me wrong. I don't want to have to hesitate, to be afraid to intervene. I don't want fear to keep me from reacting the way I know I should, to keep me from stepping out the door. (Of course, all that's easier said than done, and this has really only brought to light one fear out of many.)

I hadn't come to a decision on whether to go to class tomorrow night. And as it turns out, I don't have to since my class - among many others - has been canceled by the prof.

I don't think I want to write anything else until after tomorrow. I feel like anything I can write (have written already) is totally inadequate and the stupidly superstitious part of me is telling me to just... stop.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thoughts on 'To the Lighthouse'

Don't you just love re-reading something you've written for school and cringing in dismay at all of the things you wish you could change in hindsight but can't because you've already handed it in?

For every novel we read in my English class - The Novel, I have to write a corresponding "reading journal" - about 250 words (1 double-spaced page). At first glance this assignment seems very easy - just respond to the novel, write a record of your thoughts, your reactions, your "wow"or "what the heck?" moments, or some of your observations or interpretations. But I always find these reading journal type assignments surprisingly hard. I think its because I think of a journal as being a private thing (yes, even though I post in a public blog) and so when I sit down to write one that I know my prof will be reading I get really self-conscious.

Anyways, yesterday over a span of about two hours I wrote my journal entry for the first novel we're taking up - To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Our apartment was freezing! Its only plus 5 and the heat's still not on, so I sat on the couch in the living room with my laptop on a little side table and the electric fireplace turned on. (I pretended I was writing in a cold, dark garret by candlelight with a lace shawl wrapped around my shoulders.... No, I didn't, I'm just kidding. But I did forget to turn the fireplace off again and only remembered six hours later. Fortunately one of my roommates had come home by that point and shut it off.) I ended up having to write my prof two times as I wrote - the first time to ask just how formal he wanted the piece to be (not formal at all, he responded) and the second time to find out if I was allowed to exceed the 250 word limit (I was but by no more than a page).

As I prepared to write I decided I was going to try to not edit myself as much as usual. Now as I read over what I ended up with I'm not sure that was such a good idea. There was so much I wanted to say - I had so many "wow" moments as I read it (well, I'm actually still reading - my journal entry is only based on Book I - The Window, which makes up a good two-thirds of the book as a whole) that I think I ended up feeling overwhelmed at being asked to sum up my thoughts in just a few short paragraphs. I'm starting to see now how some academics are able to spend their whole lives writing and analyzing the works of just one author; I think I could very contentedly spend a great deal of time reading, talking, and writing about Woolf.

Wow. That was a long intro just to get to the point of this post. The point being that I'm going to post my reading journal here in my blog and I'm opening it up to discussion/dissection/feedback/whatever. I'm not so much concerned with what you think of the style I wrote the entry in, because like I've already said I know its very rough and I'm definitely not satisfied with it. I'm more interested in hearing thoughts on the points I made from anyone who has read To the Lighthouse. (Also, if you're interested in reading it or comparing passages, there is an online version here.)

* * *

Reading Journal #1

What is To the Lighthouse about? It has characters and a plot (though perhaps a less conventional one) and a setting – but describing those things won’t give a person who hasn’t read the book a true sense of what it’s about. I watched a documentary on Virginia Woolf the other night and in it Nigel Nicolson, the son of Vita Sackville-West, says about her: “She was really attempting to describe people’s relationships. Not in the way that they talked to each other or behaved to each other, but what they didn’t say to each other.” I think that’s so true of TTL – it is all about what goes unsaid – what the characters are afraid to say, or what they think they shouldn’t say (because it wouldn’t be polite or because they’re being protective), or what they wish they could say but can’t because they can’t find a way to put into words that will convey the entirety of what they are thinking and feeling.1

It is also a collection of comments on art – Woolf addresses the difficulty of the creation process is, why it is that we want to create art in the first place, and offers some suggestions of what truly great art is. Lily is constantly frustrated by her inability to paint to her satisfaction (p. 27 “it was when she took her brush to her hand that the whole thing changed”). Mr. Ramsay is constantly brooding about his failure in measuring up to great men, to have left more meaningful creation behind (p. 43 “How many men… reach Z after all?”). Perhaps it could be said that Mrs. Ramsay’s “art” is her life – she wholly invests herself in the role of the perfect wife, mother, and social hostess; she believes her children are her legacy and her living art will go on in them.2 This all goes back to the reason we want to create in the first place – some do so because they simply cannot help it, they are naturally driven to create (e.g. Lily?); others create very consciously (e.g. Mr. Ramsay?) with the motive of being remembered, out of fear of being forgotten. Mrs. Ramsay’s art might be of a more transitory (or what some might even call trivial) kind and yet it gives her pleasure and happiness in the present – she has the satisfaction of knowing that she is needed and loved.3

In the private thoughts of its characters, TTL shows us a reflection of the inside of our own minds – our vanities, our frustrations, our fears, our insincerities. Woolf writes in a way that seems so simple and obvious (the simplicity of truth); she captures the feelings of utter aloneness we all have and then reminds us that yes, we are individuals, trapped in our own minds, cut off from each other, but yet still we are somehow connected: “All of them bending themselves to listen thought, ‘Pray heaven that the inside of my mind may not be exposed,’ for each thought, ‘The others are feeling this…’” (P. 104)4 As I read TTL, a quote from the title page of Howard’s End (E.M. Forster) keep coming to mind: “Only connect.” I think that this is where the meaning of great art comes in. During dinner at the Ramsay’s a poem is recited: “And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be, Are full of trees and changing leaves.” (P. 121) The poem moves Mrs. Ramsay greatly: “She did not know what they meant, but, like music, the words seemed to be spoken by her own voice, outside her self, saying quite easily and naturally what had been in her own mind the whole evening while she said different things. She knew, without looking around, that everyone at the table was listening… with the same sort of relief and pleasure that she had, as if this were, at last, the natural thing to say, this were their own voice speaking.” (P. 121, 122) The poem has drawn these individuals together, it has connected them; when we hear the truth echoing in art we recognize it, it resonates with us like a memory, like a thought we’ve always had but never knew how to articulate. Great art puts into words what we’ve always wanted to say (or to ask) but could never find the words for.

1 “They both felt uncomfortable, as if they did not know whether to go on or go back… No, they could not share that; they could not say that.” (P. 77)

“Look at that, she said to Rose, hoping that Rose would see it more clearly than she could. For one’s children so often gave one’s own perceptions a little thrust forward.” (P. 90) “It flattered her… to think how, wound about in their hearts, however long they lived she would be woven” (P. 124)

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.” Raymond Carver

And she is constantly asking what it all means: “How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after all?” (P. 33)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A liberal education, indeed

Yesterday was my first Philosophy of Education class (okay, so it turns out that the class is actually called A History of Educational Ideas and therefore you'd suppose it would be considered a History class, right? Nope, its a Philosophy class. The real Philosophy of Education class doesn't count as credit towards an Education degree. Go figure. Just one more of the wonderful incongruities of academia); it promises to be the easiest class I'll have ever taken. The prof will never win any awards for his public speaking abilities - instead of saying more with less, he says less with more. Much more. He's hung up on using philosophical turns of phrase instead sacrificing those for nicer things like clarity and conciseness. However, he does seem like a genuinely kind and nice prof who is really interested in being helpful and in making things easy for his students.

Almost too easy, in fact.

We have no essays or research papers or book reviews to write for this class. In fact, from what I can tell, no research of any kind will be needed whatsoever. All we'll have to do is read the assigned texts and come to class (but there's no mark for attendance or class participation). The grades will be determined based on a couple of take home tests and a final exam. The test questions - including those for the final exam - will be given to us weeks in advance so that we can muse them over and formulate answers ahead of time so that we are full prepared (a.k.a. ask our friends/Google?).

Wow. Now, keep in mind that I'm someone who will drop a class if I think the work load is too much for me to handle or if I feel like the prof has gone on a bit of a power trip and that the class doesn't warrant so many assignments. (For example, I dropped the class that Elliot and I had signed up for over the summer because I felt like for a 3 credit, 2nd year class that would only span about a 6 week period the work load was ridiculously heavy; on the other hand, the not-as-lazy-and-complainy-Elliot continued with the class and loved it and had a lot of fun with the assignments.) Anyways, the point being that I won't usually complain about having less work. However, this is a second year Philosophy class and I guess I was just expecting it to be... well, harder.

Oh, and I was also expecting my fellow classmates to grow in sophistication and maturity as I proceeded further into the university curriculum. I'm being disappointed in that respect as well. Last night I arrived a couple of minutes late and ended up sitting wedged between two other people at the back of a large theatre-style classroom. The prof was standing way up at the front talking us through the syllabus. As I've mentioned, his speaking style could be improved upon and it seems that the guy sitting directly behind me agreed with upon this rather strongly. Over the next hour and half we got to listen to him mutter in varying volumes his opinions on the prof, the syllabus, and the class itself: "What a f---ing waste of time this is!" or "Oh geez, shut the f--- up your moron, won't you!" etc, etc. interspersed with loud clattering noises as he "dropped" his pen on the table for the trillionth time.

After a while of this I was getting pretty annoyed and started going through my options. I could turn around and punch the guy in the noise? Nah, violence seemed a little extreme given the situation. I could turn around and hiss "Shut up!" - but that might have provoked an outburst from the guy and I didn't want to disturb the class or be rude in turn. I could go with ultra civilized option and say "Excuse me, but could you please stop talking?" Or I could turn around and say, "If you don't like the class, why don't you leave?"

I decided this last option was the best one. But then I never used it. I ended up wasting too much time trying to figure out whether it would be hypocritical to blast someone for complaining about something that I was actually mostly in agreement with them about. On the other hand, I did strongly disagree with his disturbing myself and others in such a juvenile way and in being disrespectful towards a professor (who couldn't hear the insults and so couldn't even defend himself). Mix that in with the fact that I'd just come from work and was really tired and not feeling particularly bold. It was a quandary. I thought I'd left lumpheads like him behind and that I'd never have to deal with that kind of thing in university.

Now you might think that this kind of thinking is naive on my part, but I've been in university for over 4 years now (taking classes on and off part-time) and before this I'd never encountered a rude student. Yes, I'm serious. Not one. (There have been varying degrees of arrogant students but that's another thing entirely.) Most of my random interactions or forced, group-work interactions with classmates have actually really impressed me.

But above all, what started to really disturb me as I sat there was the thought: "What if lots of the students in the faculty of Education are like this?" After all, where do we get the snarky science teachers? The mean math teachers? The nasty, grumpy gym teachers who won't let you sit out even when you tell them your stomach hurts (okay, so I faked that a lot of the time, but still)? Those awful teachers had to come from somewhere... And isn't there a kind of stigma or stereotype about the kind of people who go into Education? About how they just want an easy job that pays well and where they'll have the summers off (okay, again, in my case that does happen to be true but I also genuinely LOVE the prospect of always being in a school environment and being paid to teach to talk about novels and history)?

All of a sudden I had the sinking feeling that I was going to end up in classes with a lot of idiots. And that feeling hasn't quite gone away.

P.S. Maybe I'm being too hard on my prof and his speaking style will be more enjoyable the next time when I'm not so tired. Let us hope for the best!

Monday, September 10, 2007

What sort of diary should I like mine to be?

"I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life. . . . What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art."

Virginia Woolf,
from A Writer's Diary

(As quoted in "Some Deep Old Desk or Capacious Hold-All": Form and Women's
Autobiography, Suzanne Juhasz, College English, Vol. 39, No. 6. (Feb., 1978), pp. 663-669.)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Of course I'm Meg"

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

* * *

"...Christians build up little gods, little temples of Baal. We begin to worship them. And we must tear them down, destroy them. The gods we erect are easier to worship than the Creator of the universe. They're more comprehensible. The God I believe in is not comprehensible in finite, mortal terms. God is infinite, immortal, all-knowing."

Madeleine L'Engle has died.

(Links by way of the Claw.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

By the pear tree

"How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after all? Standing now, apparently transfixed, by the pear tree, impressions
poured in upon her of those two men, and to follow her thought was like following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one's pencil, and the voice was her own voice saying without prompting undeniable, everlasting, contradictory things, so that even the fissures and humps on the bark of the pear tree were irrevocably fixed there for eternity."

from To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf
p. 33

After all the fuss I made about writing in my blog, here I am signed up for two English classes in which I'll be made to write constantly. Kinda funny, that.

My first class - The Novel (and by "novel" the prof really meant "the modern novel") - was last night. Despite my best efforts to be extra-early, I arrived just at 6 pm to an extremely crowded classroom. I ended up sitting next to a guy in the very back of the room in a corner off to one side (if the fire alarm had gone off, I'd have been a dead woman). It was actually a lucky pick - that seat, because as high school teachers and - so it seems - university profs are want to do, we started the class off with one of those annoying "introduce yourself to the person next to you" task. This one wasn't too bad because we got to find out what our classmates' favorite novels were (one of Anactoria's ideal questions). And the guy sitting next to me was - blessedly - intelligent and friendly and nice so it was fun. He also seemed tolerant of the fact that I'd just had 3 cups of coffee and thus was in a rather hyper, over-talkative mood (*sigh*). And he patiently waited while I changed my favorite novel choice multiple times in a 3 minute period - finally settling on A Canticle for Leibowitz and making him write down the title, author and my reason for liking it... only to change my mind at the last second and go with Middlemarch instead. Ha.

It was pretty interesting to hear the favorite novel picks of 37 other students. There was a surprising amount of overlap - Oryx & Crake (Atwood) was mentioned three times, A Complicated Kindness (which we will be reading for this class, gag-me-with-a-spoon) was listed two times, and Stephen King - that literary whiz - three times. The classics were almost completely overlooked - there was one mention of The Great Gatsby but nothing earlier than that. I think two people mentioned Gabriel Garcia Marquez - one named Love in the Time of Cholera and the other One Hundred Years of Solitude. One girl named Interview With the Vampire as her all time favorite. Need I even say "Yuck"? I'm surprised she had the nerve. Another named off the Betty & Veronica comics - what??? And one guy couldn't narrow it down to more than three, including a graphic novel (The Watchmen) - totally understandable, of course.

By next Tuesday I have to have To the Lighthouse (Woolf) read and a one page "reading journal" entry ready to hand in. Its weird, I used to have no problem rattling off comments (a.k.a. b.s.?) but now those reading journal type assignments really get me! I make myself so self-conscious that nothing will come out! Hopefully I'll fare better this year since we have to write twelve of them.

Also, I think my state of mind was best-revealed at the end of the class. One of the assignments is an individual class presentation given once each term on one of the novels we'll be reading. Our prof had forgotten the sign-up sheet at home and so just ended up scribbling off a new one in a hurry and then calling out our names randomly. I was called third - a great pick, right? Right!

We had two options when it came to presenting - we could either present on the novel itself (e.g. the themes of the novel, the setting, etc) or we could present "criticism" of the novel - and I'm still not at all sure what our prof means by criticism. Does he mean we have to look for flaws in the novel or just present some outside material? Regardless the criticism option appealed to me so I knew I wanted to pick that. However, in the mad dash to the sign-up sheet (I was cut by 5 people before I got to it) I was in such a frazzle that I ended up signing up to give criticism on The Remains of the Day!

In hindsight the problem with that only came to me as I lay in my bed last night, about to fall asleep. I loved The Remains of the Day! I don't want to have to criticize it! I thought it was pretty much flawless!

Why oh why didn't I sign up to criticize A Complicated Kindness - I'm still only on page 9 but I already loathe it as much as I did Kerouac!


P.S. I finally responded to the comments made in response to my August 22 post. Sorry it took me so long! Thanks for all of the feedback!