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Showing posts from June, 2009

Learning Curve

Mainly, but not exclusively for foil

Being able to assume en garde correctly.

Being able to advance and retreat correctly.

Being able to hold one's weapon correctly.

Being able to make an extension correctly.

Being able to land a touch correctly with one's opponent standing still.

Being able to make a parry correctly.

Being able to retreat while making a parry correctly.

Being able to see an attack coming after it has started.

Being able to see an attack as it starts.

Being able to parry an attack.

Being able to make a riposte.

Being able to initiate an attack.

Being able to feel the difference between an attack and a counterattack.

Being able to feel the correct distance for making an attack.

Being able to see an opening for making an attack.

Being able to understand priority.

Being able to tell the difference between a stronger and a weaker fencer.

Being able to finish one's attacks without trying to take a parry.

Being able to be patient, not rushing one's attacks.

Being able to relax …

O God, My God*

Having finished Marilynne Robinson'sGilead(2004) a few days ago, this morning on my way to yoga and fencing I started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love(2006). The contrast could not be more telling.

In Robinson's book, the aged narrator John Ames is recounting for his young son memories of his life as a congregationalist pastor. Both Ames' father and his grandfather had been pastors before him, if of a very different type, the younger a pacifist, the older a fiery abolitionist who had served as a chaplain in the American Civil War. I've known about Robinson's work for years and have greatly enjoyed reading her essays, but still I had been nervous about taking on Gilead. What if it was too Calvinist? What if it conjured up for me all of the memories that I have of my childhood, growing up Presbyterian without the aesthetic richness of the liturgy I have come to enjoy? I recoiled at the thought of immersing myself in this restricted image of G…

The Frump Factor

I can't explain it, but there it is. Call it the force of anti-glamor. Do you remember the Peanuts character Pig-pen? Every so often, this unrecognizable boy would show up, his hair combed, his clothes pressed and clean, and the other kids would wonder, "Who is he?" Within seconds (that is, one or two panels), however, all would be revealed. His hair would suddenly stick straight up, his clothes would come untucked and a cloud of dust would rise up around him. "You know what I am?," he once asked Charlie Brown. "I'm a dust magnet."

That's me, minus the dust. A few weeks ago, I went to Macy's (a.k.a the old Marshall Field's) and bought a number of stylish, fashionable blouses. At least, they're in style now, unlike the majority of the clothes that I wear, some of which I have had since graduate school (mainly sweaters), and they are moderately fashionable, lots of paisley and bright colors. Definitely a big change from the …

Fencing Dos and Don'ts

Do have confidence and finish your attacks.
Don't start an attack convinced that it's going to land; be ready to counter-parry. But be sure to finish your attack first.

Do set up your attacks, for example, by doing preparatory beats.
Don't search for your opponent's blade, for example, by trying to do preparatory beats.

Do take control of the action by closing the distance so as to make your attack.
Don't push; your opponent will just retreat.

Do keep your distance so that you have space to (counter-)parry and make your riposte.
Don't start an attack until you are actually in distance.

Do keep your point on target by holding your blade steady.
Don't just leave your blade out for your opponent to beat.

Do keep moving on the strip, in and out of distance.
Don't signal when you are about to make an attack, e.g. by moving into distance.

Do remise if your opponent's riposte does not land. The important thing is to get the touch.
Don't remise; counterparry first…

The Republic of Blogs

I can tell it's finally summer: my legs get hot as I'm sitting here with my laptop, chewing over what it is that I want to say. The problem is, what I want to say is something about somebody else's blogpost, and I'm not used to interacting with other bloggers in quite this way. It's like, they have their conversation going and I have mine, and although I often like what they say, it always feels a bit awkward bringing them on stage here because, well, wouldn't it be better just to let you follow the links under "Bear's Favorites" if you want to know what I'm reading?

Mind you, I don't tell you why the links are there. Some are my family's blogs, some are my friends'. Others are bloggers I've "met" through following links from my friends' and followers' blogs. And some I've just stumbled upon in the course of searching the web. But today one of those blogs has a link to yet another blog where the same …

Mommy vs Messdor

A Meditation on Mess

I've spent the past couple of days going through closets and cabinets sorting out things to give or throw away. It's possible, of course, that this is simply procrastination. According to my original plan for this week, I was supposed to be getting started on the next chapter of my book, but when I woke up on Tuesday, I simply couldn't face going into the office knowing that I had not done the clean-out that I had put on the to-do list for last week. Or maybe I just couldn't face going into the office and decided to clean closets in order to give myself something more urgent to do. Either way, my melancholic-ness* gets to express itself: balking at beginnings plus needing things tidy.

But why should I--or anyone--find mess so intolerable, particularly at the beginnings of things? My family likes to joke that they can always tell when I am worried about getting started on a new chapter or article. Suddenly, all the clutter that was, if not invis…

The Battle for the Apartment

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Eeyore 101

The Care and Feeding of Melancholics*

1. "Melancholic" is a temperament, not an illness. Simply because your melancholic seems introverted and inclined to see the down-side of things does not mean that she or he is sick or clinically depressed. Nor--extroverted sanguines take note!--does it necessarily mean that she needs "cheering up." She may be grumpy because she needs some time alone. Above all, it is important not to take a melancholic's moods personally (but see below #6).

2. Melancholics need time to adjust to change and may be reluctant to initiate change themselves. They tend to see problems where others (e.g. cholerics) tend to see challenges or opportunities. Melancholics tend to set themselves high goals but can get stuck second-guessing themselves as they consider potential difficulties. Setting clear goals is, therefore, critical for them. Melancholics typically find it difficult to take the first step in a new project, but once they get s…

The Death of Dreams

This is probably one of those posts that should never be written or, perhaps better, written only never to be posted, but I'm finding that if I don't let myself write about (and post) some of the things that have been depressing me lately, I may never write again, so here goes. I hate my life. No, that's not true. I love my life. I love my husband and son. I love the home that we have made together. I love my job, both teaching and doing research. I love living in a city with so much energy and diversity. I love my friends. I even, believe it or not, love fencing. So why am I so depressed?

My friends at fencing are getting the worst of it. Well, again, not quite true. My husband and son are getting the worst of it, but my friends at fencing shouldn't have to suffer through it as well. Every other practice lately I end up in tears. I had to tell my coach yesterday that I simply couldn't do a lesson; what would be the point? I'm not getting any bett…

Excuses, Excuses

Things distracting me from blogging these past several days:
Listening to Marilynne Robinson's Gilead (2004) while driving to (in traffic) and from (in the rain, at least on Tuesday) my athletic club
Going to yoga class (Tuesday and Thursday, not just Saturday as usual; Thursday we were on the roof!)Going to fencing practice (Tuesday and Thursday, as usual)Buying my son (age 13) his own cell phone so that I can call him when he is at camp
Leading a discussion with members of my parish about our search for a new rectorProofreading an article about Anselm of Canterbury and his prayers to the saints (hint: it's about God)
Talking with my sister on the phoneMeeting Philippe Omnès, the 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist in Men's FoilReading Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (2007)Learning about (real) pirates at the Field MuseumTaking photos for my next comic (coming soon, if I can just figure out the argument)
Watching (and enjoying) Slumdog Mill…

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not*

Self-help book for the week: Art and Laraine Bennett's The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Close to the Lord (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2005).

According to the Bennetts (p. 263), I am a near textbook example of a melancholic: "Slow to react, with intense reaction growing over time and of long duration; thoughtful; spiritual; deep; poetic; introverted; overly cautious; perfectionist; thinker; critical; doesn't prioritize well; tends to discouragement and self-pity; worries over possible misfortune; can be a hypochondriac; easily hurt; slow and sometimes indecisive; pessimistic; moody; goal-oriented; detached from environment; few friends; exclusive; likes to be alone; second-guesses; introspective; holds grudges; abhors injustice; is motivated by problems; looks at the down side; idealistic; self-sacrificing; sensitive; makes decisions based on principles/ideas."

And that's not all: …

Waiting for God

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Benefits Include

The August issue of Yoga Journal showed up yesterday (August?! It still feels like March here in Chicago!), and as usual I'm flipping through wishing I looked like the models in the photographs and not my graying, wrinkled, flabby self. I've been practicing yoga in one form or another since I was in college, starting, yes, with Richard Hittleman's 28 Day Exercise Plan, but I look nothing like the women and men who grace the pages of Yoga Journal. So, I know most of them are, like, yoga teachers and stuff, and therefore must practice hours and hours a day, but still, yoga is supposed to have all these powerful effects even if you don't do it for a career.

For example, the Home Practice feature for this month is a sequence of poses by Ana Forrest designed to help with abs. I've been doing these poses intensively once a week for the past six months or so, and, yes, they definitely help tone the abs. I'm not so sure, however, about all of the other things that F…

Bear's Theory of Comics*

This is still very much a workin progress, but this is what I have so far.

1. Comics are neither novels with pictures nor pictures with captions, but something wholly other, a hybrid of text and image with which it is possible to tell stories that can be seen as well as "heard." Theorists have found them so difficult to describe because they (the theorists) are habituated to think in terms only of text (literary critics) or image (art historians). In this respect, comics are analogues of God, more particularly, of the Second Person of the Trinity, who, while by nature divine (the Word), became incarnate, taking on not only flesh, but also (as per the Nicene Creed) our nature as human beings.

2. Comics are preoccupied with superheroes and superheroines and their battles against evil because there is something in the form itself (word+image) that presupposes this kind of story. Just as God became incarnate so as to save humanity from its sins, so comic book heroes fight to …

Incarnation of the Word

It seems obvious in retrospect, although at the time it seemed an odd thing to say. Of course the conjunction of image and text in that puzzling art form we call "comics" is somehow akin to God; that's the whole point! Okay, maybe not consciously for most comic artists and perhaps for even fewer readers, but from a Christian perspective, what could be more true? "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). It was staring me right in the face: comics are so powerful because they realize as can no other art form this theological truth: the Word became visible, something--or someone--whom we could see, even with our bodily eyes, that he might live among us and save us from our sins.

Not convinced? Think about what it is that makes comics distinctive. Comics are pictures with text, but not just with titles or labels. Rather, in comics (and here I am drawing on David Carrier as well as Scott McCloud), the text typically appears in the form of s…

Guilty Pleasures

I was up way too late last night reading an outstanding comic book series that I just found a few days ago. In fact, tired as I am, I'd be reading it now online if the site weren't having trouble loading. It's probably crowded with hits from everybody else on lunch breaks, hooked, like me, on what happens next. Oh, how I wish I could put into words the experience of being drawn into a story that is presented in both pictures and words! Scott McCloud has tried, of course, but it's interesting how even he is not able to say what it is that is actually so captivating about this particular mode of art despite the great service he has done in articulating its formal properties and how they work. Perhaps other critics have, but unless they have done it in comic form, like McCloud, I doubt it. Isn't it strange how art works?

Aha, you will say, but art historians talk about this sort of thing all the time. Actually, they don't really, at least not in my field. T…