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Showing posts from 2009

Year's End, New Beginnings

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Sunset on Old Wagon Road, Oregon, Illinois
Road leading from my puppy'sbirth home out into the Wide Wide World

She'll be coming home with me on Sunday.

Photo by Andrea Murmann

The Work, Step One: Stories

"I often use the word story to talk about thoughts, or sequence of thoughts, that we convince ourselves are real. A story may be about the past, the present, or the future; it may be about what things should be, what they could be, or why they are....

"The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought [i.e. story] that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want.

"If you want reality to be different than it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end the cat will look up at you and say, 'Meow.' Wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless. You can spend the rest of your life trying to teach a cat to bark.

"And yet, if you pay attention, you'll notice that you think thoughts like this dozens of times a day. 'People should be kinder.' 'Children should be well-behaved.' 'My neighbors should take better care of their lawn.' 'The line at…

“Merry Christmas!"

There, I said it, and nuts to you if you aren't celebrating Christ's birth today.

Okay, I don't really mean that. I think it is wonderful that we live in a time and, for those of us fortunate enough to be the beneficiaries of the Enlightenment skepticism about state-mandated religion, a place that allows us to celebrate or not. I really wouldn't want someone to be wishing me "Happy Hanukkah!" if I weren't celebrating it. It would seem wrong, presumptuous, perhaps, yes, even a little aggressive, as if to suggest that I should be celebrating something that I didn't believe in. And yet, my heart sinks just a little bit every time I moderate my desire to say, "Merry Christmas!," with "Happy Holidays!" or "Have a good break!" or an uncomfortable, confused smile instead.

Here's what I want to say: "Isn't it wonderful that God, the Author of existence, the Creator of everything that is, visible and invisible, by…

The Night Before Christmas

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"Do you think they've wrapped the puppy yet?"

Catch-22: Christmas in America

According to the New England Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Christmas was a pagan (read, "Roman Catholic") excuse to carouse, dance, drink, feast, play games and generally get off work. New England Puritans, accordingly, treated December 25th like any other (i.e. work) day, not even observing the (for them, fictitious) holiday by going to church. Because, as everyone knew, nobody actually knew when Jesus was born and, besides, Christmas was just a thinly-veiled appropriation of ancient pagan solstice celebrations.*

And yet, despite the fact that no good Protestant was even supposed to be observing the holiday, over the course of the 1820s and 1830s, merchants started advertising their wares as appropriate New Year's and, a little later, Christmas gifts, thus transforming what had been a festival of communal, often rowdy, drinking and feasting into the domesticated flurry of gift-giving that we now celebrate today. Almost immediately, there began …

My Year According to Facebook

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For all those of you who don't quite have time to write that Christmas letter, this app will do it for you!

Pre-Holiday Thoughts

It's nearly time. I keep waking up thinking that maybe today is the day that I will be able to focus again. Alas, focus still seems to be eluding me. Or, rather, I am able to focus on everything but what I feel like I should be focusing on. I'm really good at thinking about puppies right now, especially my soon-to-be-my-very-own-puppy Joy. But more serious thoughts about the significance of the season? Well, let's just say it's easier settling back down into the couch with a novel or thinking about rearranging the apartment so as to get ready for the great Kitchen Remodeling next month. That book review that is now three weeks' overdue the extension I asked for? Still haven't read the book (for complicated reasons, having to do with more than just being distracted by puppies). That article that I had promised to revise this month? Not happening. At least over the summer I was able to keep some hard thinking going here in my blog. Now even my blog ha…

Puppy Solstice

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Sometimes, the best thing to do is to take a nap.

Psychotic Thoughts

"My feeling is that sanity is actually a pretence, a way we learn to behave. We keep this pretence up because we don't want to be rejected by other people--and being classified insane is to be shut out of the group in a very complete way.

"Most people I meet are secretly convinced that they're a little crazier than the average person. People understand the energy necessary to maintain their own shields, but not the energy expended by other people. They understand that their own sanity is a performance, but when confronted by other people they confuse the person with the role.

"Sanity has nothing directly to do with the way you think. It's a matter of presenting yourself as safe. Little old men wander around London hallucinating visibly, but no one gets upset. The same behavior in a younger, more vigorous person would get him shut away. A Canadian study on attitudes to mental illness concluded that it was when someone's behavior was perceived as '…

Fourth Sunday of Advent

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(click to enlarge)

Really, I'm working on it. In my head. You know, brainstorming. FYI, the novel is Terry Pratchett's Thud (2005). Highly recommended, particularly for its understanding of prayer. And fencing.

Things That Make Me Happy

1. Puppy feet.

2. The color red. Dark red.

3. Candles.

4. The smell of my son's hair.

5. Getting the action right, whether on an attack or with parry-riposte.

6. Newly-made hotel room beds. With lots of pillows and white sheets.

7. Winter sunlight streaming through the windows.

8. Seeing my friends at practice.

9. Grading an "A" paper.

10. The smell of pine trees.

11. My husband's smile.

“Believe!"

This is supposed to be a rant, but when I sat down to start writing it, I paused for a moment to check one of my old posts which, from the title, I had an inkling might have already been about what I was thinking about writing today. It wasn't, not exactly, but it was close in tone, so now I've spent the last ten minutes wondering whether I had anything to say. That's the problem, of course. I'm not sure I have anything left. More to the point, I'm not sure there is anything left, not that hasn't already been said, by me or by others, more often than not much better than anything I could ever say.

I had an invitation in my email inbox this morning to come to a conference in April on "Rethinking the Medieval Legacy for Contemporary Theology." I can't go, of course; much too short notice (above all, because I have no idea yet how traveling is going to work with the puppy, plus my husband is out of town around that time and I simply cannot jugg…

Anti-Hoarding

It's very simple: throw away everything that you don't want or need. Ah, if only it were so. It's taken the better part of a day to go through the stacks of papers and magazines that have been accumulating in the dining room over the past, oh, twelve months. What is it going to take to go through the whole apartment, not to mention the kitchen, so that we can get everything ready for the great Remodeling that is to start in a little over two weeks? And, then, of course, there's the preparations for welcoming our dog, finding a place to put her crate, making sure that the place she is going to play is clear of things that we don't want her chewing on. I want to do this. I really do. Why, then, is it so hard?

Some of the stuff, to be fair, isn't mine. My husband and son tease me about being a pack rat because I carefully archive old magazines and (for reasons known only to those who likewise suffer from this compulsion) even old school notes, but let'…

Time for Change

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Aches & Pains

In order of acquisition.

1. The tendon in my left foot, running from my instep over my ankle. Hurting since late July, apparently stressed during a tournament at our club. Come to think of it, it was hurting as long ago as March, but since July it has been chronic. Hurts mostly during fencing practice (my back leg for lunging), but sometimes also hurts when I've driving. Go figure. For the most part, it tends to stop hurting within an hour or so after I fence. Treatment: topical analgesic and wrapping during practice, Advil and ice if it is still hurting by the time I get home.

2. My right ear, cartilage piercing. Pierced in May, but still not yet fully healed, probably owing to the fact that I drag a fencing mask over it two or three times a week. Doesn't seem to be infected, but still tender. Treatment: wearing a white Under Armour headband under my mask, cleaning with Provon and H2Ocean daily (or when I remember, i.e. when it hurts). Trying not to fiddle with it (h…

Joy

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I have found my puppy.

Still Looking for the Door in the Wall

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[Brother Luke to the 10-year-old Robin, whose legs have been paralyzed by illness and whom the friar has come to take to the convent of St. Mark's so that he will have a place to live while his parents are away]: "...Dost remember the long wall that is about the garden of thy father's house?"

"Yes," said Robin, "of course. Why?"

"Dost remember, too, the wall about the Tower or any other wall?" Robin nodded. "Have they not all a door somewhere?"

"Yes," said Robin again.

"Always remember that," said the friar. "Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it."

"I will remember," Robin promised, but he wasn't sure that he knew what Brother Luke meant to say.

--Marguerite de Angeli, The Door in the Wall (New York: Doubleday, 1949), p. 16.

[NB: I first read this book when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It, more than anything else, is probably the reason that I be…

Dark Night of the Sword

I'm here again, my eyes puffy from weeping, my muscles aching to no purpose, sleepless and angry at myself for losing in that way yet again. How many times have I been here over the past year? I don't even want to count. I knew what I had to do in that bout and I blew it. I was so close, I was ahead, but I rushed it and made the same mistake over and over again. It makes me sick just to think about it. And then, when the bout was over, I totally lost it, even before I got off the strip and had signed the sheet. The women were so kind to me, but I'm not sure they should have been. I'm a grown-up, for goodness' sake, I know better than to behave like that. But I had been ahead. Mirabile dictu, I had won 3 of my 5 pool bouts (actually 4, but one of the fencers had to drop out for medical reasons), I had placed 10th out of the pools, the highest I had ever placed in a Veterans' event. I knew my opponent in the DE, I knew what I needed to do in order to f…

Fencers Anonymous

Hi, my name is Rachel, and I've been fencing for six and a half years. I do foil and a little epee. I'm always saying I'm going to quit, but I somehow I just can't. I don't always really enjoy fencing, but I miss it so much when I don't get to practice, I somehow find myself putting my gear in the car, leaving my husband and son at home, and going off for whole evenings at a time to practice. And then every so often, like yesterday in my first DE, I get that sweet touch that wins me a tournament bout, and just for a moment, it all feels worth it. But I also spend a lot of time in tears.

I tell myself I can quit any time I like, but I'm not really sure I can. The misery and frustration, while great, simply don't seem to override the wonderful feeling of being there in the moment when something has finally worked, the action made sense, the timing been right, and the light has gone off in my favor. And yet, I am more or less certainly never going to…

Love-Hate

I am not ready for this. My head hurts (caffeine headache? eye strain?), I didn't sleep well last night, I can barely think in complete sentences. I haven't been doing my yoga properly in the mornings, so my muscles are all stiff. I somehow seem to have hurt my left wrist (I think maybe I fell in the tournament on Sunday), so even if I wanted to, I couldn't do any Down Dogs. Yesterday, when I got to the venue to have my equipment checked, I wanted to cry. I am going to lose today, I just know it. There is not going to be any great moment of enlightenment when I am standing there on the strip waiting for the referee to say, "En garde." I'm going to be just as confused and nervous as I always am. And that, it would seem, is that.

I've tried, I really have, but I just don't seem to be able to get the hang of this sport. The driver in the taxi I took yesterday from the airport asked me whether I liked fencing (or maybe whether I enjoyed it, I don&…

Tit-for-Tat

It's ironic because it is what I actually wanted: for her to leave me alone, to stop criticizing and correcting every word that came out of my mouth and thus making me feel like there was nothing I could do to (as Nutt puts it in Terry Pratchett's most recent Discworld romp) "accumulate worth." But when I finally told her how I just couldn't take it anymore, trying all the while to explain what was so upsetting me, she responded by insisting that we not talk for a month--although with the confusing stipulation that we should still be polite to each other in public. Confusing, because as I learned yesterday, this means pretending in front of everybody else that nothing is going on and so, therefore, effectively lying; saying, "Yes," when asked if she wants to do something with me, only to turn around once we are alone and insist that she meant, "No." Fine. Whatever. Just get out of my head!

It's embarrassing. Here I am, mid-life, embro…

An Exercise in Thankfulness

I fenced a tournament today. I was pretty stiff this morning, not really sure I was at all up to doing anything other than skyving off for one more day watching puppy videos, but I'm going to a NAC this weekend in Pittsburgh, and I really needed the warm-up. I did only so-so in my pools in foil (2-5), but I fenced my first DE well (15-9, or maybe 15-8, I'm not quite sure). I did even worse in my pools in epee--seeded LAST after the pools! And, of course, I lost my DE, even though I did get some good touches in the end (10-15). And now I'm sitting here on the couch with a cat curled up next to me, thinking about how busy I'm going to be for the next couple of days because this weekend I didn't do my grading or class prep or anything other than the reading for my classes this upcoming week.

But--can you believe it?--I'm still glad that I went. Not ecstatically glad. I still hate fencing, and I still want to quit. But sort of soberly glad because, truth to …

New Kid on the Block

For the better part of oh, let's say, 37 years, that was me. Unlike my son, who has now lived in the same neighborhood in which he was born for nearly the whole of his first thirteen years (and counting), by the time I was thirteen, I (and my parents and siblings) had moved four times and another move was on the horizon. Even today, when people ask me where I am from, I have no idea how to respond.

I was born the year my parents were finishing their internships for medical school; we moved when I was five or six months old, so to begin with my birthtown is in no way my hometown. Five years in one city, two in another, another one back in the city where we had lived until I was five, six in a city I had never even heard of before I found the map in my parents' room when I was eight, three in a city I associated only with the route to my grandparents' house, and then I was off to college (yes, I was seventeen; I skipped second grade after the first two or three months, wh…

Latter-Day Martinmas

For all those of you fretting that the Christmas lights went up a week ago and the songs started playing in the shops even before that, when everybody (at least in the United States) knows that you shouldn't start worrying about Christmas until after Thanksgiving, it may be reassuring to realize that we Americans actually start the Christmas season somewhat late. Okay, so friends in England have been making the same complaint about the precocious tendencies of town councils and retailers to want to get us thinking about Christmas, but eight hundred or a thousand or even twelve hundred years ago, they, too (that is, the town councils and retailers) would already have been behind.

According to certain Carolingian sources (which I would reference if I hadn't left them at work, but one of them was Theodulf of Orléans' instructions for parish priests, I'm pretty sure), there were three major fasts during the liturgical year, each lasting forty days: a fast before Easter (a…

Sexiest Man Alive...Ever

"In the third place there is the physical, visible, palpable beauty of Christ.

"This can be sub-divided: supernatural beauty, which His most holy flesh was granted in His glorification. It is to configuration with this that our body aspires; and to this it must be brought, when, in the resurrection that is to come our humble body will--according to the apostle's promise (Ph 3:21)--made like to the Body of His Glory. But first we must be conformed to the Passion of Christ and to His crucifixion.

"But the natural beauty of Christ's Body, when He lived on earth, was so great, so lovely, that of it the psalmist sang: 'You are beautiful above the sons of men' (Ps 44:3). For perfect physical beauty, there are three requirements. The first is that the body should be tall and shapely; the second is that the parts of the body should be in due proportion; the third is good, healthy, clear colouring. As we read in the second chapter of Augustine's City of Go…

Eighth Week of Term

As best I can recall, to the tune of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969).

On Sunday, I went to church, bought some cookies and pumpkin bread at the church auction, graded two sets of papers, and watched two (or was it three?) episodes of season three of Dexter.

On Monday, I marked another set of papers (actually, bibliographies for research papers-to-be), attended a staff meeting on Luther's On Christian Liberty, held office hours (during which students came to talk with me about their research papers-to-be), went to a department colloquium on the history of pirate broadcasting in the UK, and spent the evening having dinner with the search committee for our parish rector. We spent a fair amount of time talking about whether we give money to beggars.

On Tuesday, I led discussions on monastic reform and the relic trade in the Carolingian empire in the morning and on Geert Grote and the Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life (a.k.a. the devotio moderna) in the afternoo…