august, 2004

Tue Aug 3 17:24:54 EDT 2004

I miss academic libraries. Tangentially, I miss spending a ludicrous amount of money on a pile of heavy, beautifully-typeset books at the beginning of a semester, and then having an entire four months to be walked, talked, discussed, and worked through them, with almost no mental or financial room for expansion of one's personal library during that time. The process of choice was focused, directed: you pick your four courses, argue with your faculty adviser to take a fifth without having to drop any one of your seven musical ensembles or your social life, and then buy the corresponding books. One choice, or a small set of discrete choices, and you have a reading list that makes you salivate almost as much as the idea of fresh bread dipped in olive oil with lemon juice, or a plate of morels.

These days, my intellectual curiosity hasn't dimmed, but its focus has rather broadened. Gone is the filter through which I used to be able to direct its beam; diffuse, my energies turn from Kripke's Naming and Necessity on philosophy of language; to Schönberg's Style & Idea, through which I grubbed hungrily in Vienna; Manning & Schütze's Foundations of Statistical Language Processing as a handle on the first whitepaper I've read since college; the Guarneri's Indivisible by Four and MDH Norton's The Art of String Quartet Playing as an attempt to gain a philosophy, or at least methodology, on an area I never thought to analyze before I left Midnight. I buy the books (no longer available through inter-library loan, that under-appreciated perk of an education that cost as much per annum as I now make in a year!), and they sit on my shelf, as my brain darts from topic to topic, directionless. I'm such an ENFP.

I feel like Emily's much better about directed reading than I am. She's read (and retained) most of the prefaces to my vegan cookbooks, and half of both of the two vegan nutrition/lifestyle books I got with the eating change. She's so far read more of the Kripke than I have. But she's in Chicago now, then briefly here, but then gone: Minnesota; California. All my books left to me.

It's this, basically, that makes me want to go to grad school (and not just the interminable COW-table building at work) -- though I have no idea what in, no burning desire to study any one thing (many, yes, and therein lies the problem) -- and therefore shouldn't go. At least, not yet.

But how, until then, to direct this voracity without getting distracted every five minutes by something new? (And no, I do not need Ritalin, or to drink less coffee.)

Tue Aug 10 24:42:15 EDT 2004

I met beets tonight.

(Or perhaps, "discovered," or "unearthed.") Except for the daily orange of the carrot, I've never worked with root vegetables before. Vegan, I'm exploring my culinary options -- brown rice syrup in the lemon bars; Emily's millet

Thu Aug 12 17:50:01 EDT 2004

So much rain. Today, accompanying coffee and Belgian dark chocolate. Yesterday, pouring in sheets and bouncing off the sides of the Capitol Hilton across 16th Street; filling the construction site at the corner of K, reďnforcing my belief that all they're building is a series of subterranean jacuzzis for me; lightly then, and under incongruous sunlight, as I walked home up Rhode Island. No longer do we have the option of running around bare, barefoot, on the President's Lawn, green and safe (though I'm still a stone's throw from a literal one, I have a feeling that the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania might take less kindly to it than did Al Bloom). The rain quit before I made it to DuPont to join twenty or so other blue-clad Run Against Bushers, sunlight replacing grey as we streamed, 9-minute-miling, up Calvert to the zoo and down Connecticut to the applause of café-sitters and onlookers.

Nina wanders in, wrapped in a giant sweater, bedraggled. Last seen at MLK, Sasha's out front, bemoaning that the Californian weather didn't follow him back. Kuzman crashing in his final DC tour, making pizza and drinking red last night before grappling with the physics of a vibrating string and its partials. Emily gone. Claire coming back Saturday.

-- all of which just means it's August in DC, or so I hear. This freak tropical weather; this transience of people. Leaves me hanging. I run (eighteen easy miles Saturday); I dance; I run some more. If April is a cruel month, August is just a weird one.

Tue Aug 24 11:10:57 EDT 2004

Marathoning, it turns out, is physically taxing. I knew this -- I won't soon forget all my knee problems of last winter -- but the heat of the summer and the twenty miles of Saturday morning have lulled me into a false sense of security. No joint pain: knees coiling and springing alternatingly up the C&apm;O canal all the way to Bethesda; hips ball-and-socketing smoothly; IT bands pulleyed tight above patellae, cho-pats leaving red welts after 4:39:57 of intentional pinching.

Wed Aug 25 10:55:26 EDT 2004

Grandma in January 2004, with her cat

Eleanor Maxine Mackay (née English)
18 Nov 1911 - 25 Aug 2004
[above, in January, with her cat]

One of the last emails she sent me, just after I'd graduated from Swarthmore and was settling down in DC:

Date: Sat, 21 Jun 2003 21:30:14 -0400
From: Maxine Mackay
To: Nori Heikkinen
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.50.4133.2400

Dearest Nori:: You have indeed accomplished a great deal in a short time and, in doing so, have carried on the best of our family traditions. Bravo. I'm glad you took a job in Washington. I was there at the time of FDR. He was thought of as a traitor to his own class. Apparently he wanted Japan to attack the US but did not want to be thought of as the attacker. Washjomgtpn has so many cultural advantages. I used to sit in the Corcoran art gallery trying to copy medieval prints -- before the Mellon was in full operation. I most liked the Folger Library and its copy of an Elizabethan theatre. And I liked the columns before the SupremeCourt Building. I worked in the U.S. Treasury Building, a fine old baroque structure across from Lafayette Park. I did witness one inaugural for Roosevelt in l932. It rained and it rained. I ruined a bag and shoes and hat. Then my date and I fled to the Willard Hotel and had sandwiches and a cocktail. This was always a retreat for the Treasury workers to find soup and sandwich for lunch. The hard thing about being a "governent gal" was to find suitable room. I stayed for a time on K Street and I also stayed at 1620 Connecticut Avenue. I sometimes wandered in the Mayflower Hotel and here saw various notables. Washingron is bound to stimulate you. At all events, congratulations, dear one, for what you have accomplished. .

I don't think I ever got around to a proper response to it.

The last one I sent her, a week ago, that she probably never got:

Date: Wed, 18 Aug 2004 15:21:06 -0400
From: Nori Heikkinen
To: "E. Maxine Mackay"
Subject: marines and their sabers
User-Agent: Mutt/1.5.3i

hi grandma!

i have a marine corps question for you. i was just talking to some people in the office about weddings, and one of them mentioned that his father used to know a lot of marines. when they would go to a wedding, and the priest would ask "Does anyone here know of a reason why these two should not be married? Speak now or forever hold your peace," whatever marine was present would drop his/her (i guess usually "his") sword loudly in the church, where it would clatter loudly on the marble floor and startle and scare everybody. i said that if anyone i know had ever done that, it would have certainly been you. :) did you ever do that? did you know anyone who did?

things are going well for me in DC. i'm training for my second marathon -- the Marine Corps Marathon, actually; so i'll be running with about 10,000 marines come October 31st -- and that's going well. i have a 20-mile training run on saturday. my job continues to be pretty cool; i'm in a string quartet, which is lots of fun.

how's life by you?


Now I'll never know, but I would bet money that, at least once, she let fall her saber loudly on the marble floor of some church. Maybe even at her own wedding. After all, she didn't shy away from shoving it through her false breast from her mastectomy (final score: she's now 1-1 with breast cancer) forty years ago. The kind of woman who hopped glibly on motorcycles before she knew how to stop them and then plowed them into trees (with equanimity, I like to think), the kind who joined the marines and helped start Social Security, would have probably relished the disruptive, echoing clank of metal on stone.

She wasn't always grabbing life by the balls. She used to push me in my stroller up and down the block, breaking off icicle stalactites from the eaves of Hoyt school, letting me lick them like a lollipop, which my mother never would. Hours were spent reading large-print books (always a safe -- and appreciated -- Christmas gift) in the Morris chair next to the fireplace, humming "merry, mer-ry mer-ry Christmas," ŕ la Deck the Halls, tunelessly but joyfully to herself.

But to hear Mom tell it, those were the mellowings of old age. Her default modus operandi was that of a firebrand. "A model of how to live life," as Mom put it chokingly on the phone from the ranch house where she grew up in Tampa this morning. Not that that means you should smoke a pack a day only until age sixty-nine, at which point your daughter threatens you with denial of visiting rights to your first grandchild until you quit, or that you should join in screaming fights between your two namesakes, to whom you've also bequeathed your temper. But it probably does mean that you should continue writing well into your eighties, and keep attending writers' conferences, at which you dress up in duck suits and become the life of the party (I'm not kidding -- yellow feathers and all). That you should memorize your family's entire genealogies back to the Plantagenets if it suits you, or recite Chaucer in the original Old English. That you should take the implicit challenge from your five-year-old granddaughter's nascent geekiness and swear that if she can touch-type and use a computer, you bloody well can, too. That you should eat your Christmas cookies before dinner (provided you check your blood sugar if you're diabetic). That you should join the Marines if you damn well want to, even if you're a woman in the nineteen-thirties. That, in sum, you should not obey arbitrary rules imposed on your gender, age, or anything else.

Rest in peace, Grandma. You've earned it.

Sun Aug 29 13:57:03 EDT 2004

From the Tampa Tribune on Friday, as placed by Mom & Cheryl:

Obituaries & Memorials

E. Maxine MacKay

MacKAY, E. Maxine, 92, of Tampa, died August 25, 2004. She is survived by her daughter, Kay Heikkinen; her granddaughters, Nori and Alexis; and her dear friend, Cheryl Gleghorn. Dr. MacKay was a member of the Michigan Bar, a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, a writer, a University of South Florida professor emeritus (humanities), a feminist, a licensed practitioner (RScP) and far more. Her memorial service will be held 7 p.m. Saturday, August 28, 2004, at the Tampa Bay Church of Religious Science, 4600 Busch Blvd., (813) 985-2428.

Published in the on 8/27/2004.

And, right next to it, an independent story by the paper:

Aug 27, 2004

MacKay Opened Doors For Women


TAMPA - Friends remember Maxine MacKay as a woman who opened doors for women in the military and academia.

MacKay, a former professor of humanities at the University of South Florida, died at age 92 Wednesday in Tampa.

MacKay received a doctorate from Emory University in Atlanta in 1958.

She held various government jobs in Washington and Detroit, where she was a member of the Michigan Bar.

She helped lead the way for female lawyers in the Marine Corps, said Liz Melton, her colleague for 10 years at USF.

Between 1957 and 1961, she was an assistant professor at Jacksonville University and came to USF in 1961. She was a founding member of USF's Status of Women Committee and was director of equal opportunity in the Office of Academic Affairs.

Writing Just For Fun

MacKay enjoyed traveling, writing and taking the day off at the beach, Melton said.

"She was a very kind, warm and generous person," she said.

In the mid-1970s, Melton typed a mystery novel written by MacKay.

"She wasn't interested in publishing it," Melton said. "She wrote it for the fun of it."

She continued to teach medieval humanities at USF on a part-time basis after her retirement in 1980.

Dan Rutenberg, professor emeritus of USF's Humanities Department, knew MacKay for 40 years.

He said MacKay was the first equal employment officer in USF's office of academic affairs and was responsible for major changes regarding women's affairs at USF.

"She did so much for creating the workplace environment that young people today take for granted," Rutenberg said.

A Letter From Mom

One of the funny stories Rutenberg remembers during MacKay's term at USF is when her mother, 90 at that time, wrote a letter to the university president complaining that her daughter was neglecting her.

"Instead of showing shock, her colleagues thought it was a wonderful prognosis of what [MacKay] would be like when she was 90," Rutenberg said. "And she was: articulate, intelligent and organized."

MacKay was active in the Tampa Bay Church of Religious Science, where she was a licensed religious science practitioner.

Reporter Falguni Bhuta can be reached at (813) 259-7620.

This story can be found at:

There's a vase of yellow roses on the table next to an empty walker.

all this ©nori heikkinen, August 2004

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