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Showing posts from July, 2009

Seven Quick Takes No. 2

1. We've finished our Dexter marathon and moved on to the second season of Mad Men. It's spooky, to say the least, watching my childhood (or close; I wasn't actually born until a little over a year after Kennedy was shot) reconstructed before my eyes. Most striking images thus far, other than all the smoking and sexual shenanigans: the plumptious size of the women in the country club bikini fashion show, and the little boy being scolded by his mother for trying to sneak a candy while she and the other grown-ups were playing bridge (and smoking).

2. I used to worry about sailing through stop signs on my bicycle until I learned about Hans Monderman's anti-design for the Drachten intersection. Now when I come to an unmarked or simply signed intersection, I watch, fascinated by the way in which the cars, bicycles and pedestrians negotiate the exchange and I wonder whether it's true that we would actually be safer without traffic lights and road markings. Even bett…

Writer's Block

I am here at my desk rewriting page 5 of chapter 3, again. This is the third time I've made it to page 5 in this draft; both other times I found myself having to cut everything that I'd written after page 4. I'd made it this far by Monday last week: "But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart." Since then, all I seem to be able to do is stumble.

There was a stab last Tuesday at explaining the tradition of medieval Scriptural exegesis that started promisingly enough (or so it seemed at the time): "It is a curious feature of the Christian tradition that it should depend on the one hand upon a rich, complicated and, indeed, for many, impenetrable practice of reading the Scriptures, whether, as in the ancient and medieval tradition, as a tightly-interlocking system of symbols or, as more recently, according to highly-developed historical-critical methods; and on the other upon the conviction that true understanding and, presumably, devotion com…

Angel Overtime

In the category, "what if?"

What if my guardian angel had not been looking after me and my loved ones

...on the way home from high school swim practice with a carpool of teammates, when the windows fogged up because we were all wet and it was cold outside, and a semi-trailer truck took the side mirror off as I tried to merge too far over getting onto the freeway because I couldn't see? [1982]

...when I was trying to park on the edge of a cliff outside one of the monasteries at Meteora in a standard that I didn't quite know how to drive and nearly couldn't get into reverse? [1987]

...on the way to the airport to fly with my husband from London to Chicago to take up my first job, when I drove into some smoke and suddenly there was a car stopped in front of us, smoking? [1994]

...on the way from North Carolina to Texas, as my family and I were going over the Appalachians in the rain and a semi-trailer truck nearly took the side mirror off as I changed lanes? [1998]

...on …

Fame, Indirectly*

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Academics (like me) are supposed to be immune to the allure of fame. After all, they purposefully choose to write books that only a few people will actually want to read, many of whom they already know. If we (academics) wanted fame, surely we would write something less obscure, more salesworthy, right? Well, maybe. All writers want an audience, including those of us who spend our time researching what to others may seem obscure, even (heaven forbid!) narrow questions, hardly the stuff to show up on best-seller lists. Because, of course, to us the questions really aren't narrow, otherwise we would hardly spend our lives thinking about them. We want people to read our books and we work very hard to write as well and clearly as we can. And yet, we are very lucky indeed if our books ever make it below the 100,000 mark in Amazon.com's Sales Rankings; even luckier if they manage to stay there for more than a few days.

Imagine, therefore, how we feel when mainstream writers ha…

Seven Quick Takes No. 1

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1. I thought that this would be relatively easy given that I already have my list of seven things that I'd like to share about how things have been going this week, but I'm already finding myself tongue-tied. I find this happens fairly predictably whenever I become too aware that someone might actually be reading my blog. Curious, eh? I am perfectly comfortable writing to myself about my spiritual journey (at least, in my better moods, I hope that is what it is) and I am eager to find others who are also interested in thinking about the relationship between disciplines like fencing (or yoga) and prayer, but I'm not always very good about reaching out to make new contacts. I'm grateful to Jennifer at Conversion Diary for giving us this opportunity to find new ways to connect.

2. My feet have been hurting quite a lot lately after fencing practice, particularly the instep on my left, that is, back foot. I don't know whether it has to do with the way that I'm…

The Agedness of Youth

Here's a scary thought: everything that I am today I am thanks to decisions that I made in my youth. Okay, so that's the way history, even personal history, works: the past gives rise to the present. But think about it. Everything that I am now, as an adult, I am thanks to decisions that I made when I was young and inexperienced and--horrible to think!--didn't know any better, having more or less no clue what I was doing.

By the time I was 20, I had decided on my career and started applying to graduate schools. By the time I was 21, I had chosen the topic on which I would spend the next several decades (and counting) of my research. By the time I was 26, I had met my second husband (long story there). By the time I was 29, I had finished my dissertation and started my first--to date, only--job. Everything, in other words, that defines me professionally and, except for the birth of my son, personally was in place before I was 30 and he was born when I was 31.*

Surely t…

The Good, the Bad and the Perfect

I'm still having quite a lot of trouble with getting this next chapter off the ground. I'm making my quota of a page-a-day (just), but it's been a real struggle this past week. Although I always have trouble with beginnings, I'm nevertheless a bit surprised that starting chapter 3 has proved to be such a hurdle, particularly after chapter 2 went so well. Writing yesterday's post helped a little bit, but more in retrospect than actually at the time. I want so very much for this book to be good. No, not just good; really, really good, and I just don't know whether my writing skills are up to it. Of course, that's the interesting thing about skills: they never are--up to it, that is--not, at least, until you test them. My writing skills weren't up to writing my first book, but somehow I managed to do it. The skills come when we let them, I suppose. If we wait until we're ready to do something, we'll be waiting forever. "Ready" i…

Comfort Zone

That's it, I quit. I am sick of living on the edge, always on the brink of failure. From now on, I'm only going to do things that I feel comfortable doing. Chicken of me, I know. But I just can't take it anymore, constantly judging myself inadequate, constantly looking over my shoulder at what I might be when I'm not. I'm a failure, fine. But I'm going to be a happy failure.

I used to be pretty good at things, back in the day. I always finished my homework on time; I knew how to study for tests and make near perfect grades; I was a good student, really. And that wasn't all. I could swim and play the piano and read books and draw and bake cookies and arrange furniture and navigate for anyone who was driving. I felt, if not brilliant, at least competent, secure in the belief that given the opportunity, I would know what to do. But it's been a long time since I've felt that way, and I'm tired of it.

I'm not really sure when it happen…

Mona Dexter

Strictly speaking, my family and I do not watch television, but we do have one, and every so often we get DVDs of almost-but-not-quite-current series. This week, while our son is at camp, my husband and I have been more or less obsessively watching the first two seasons of Dexter.

You know the premise: attractive and congenial Dexter works for the Miami Metro Police Department as a forensic specialist in blood spatter by day, but by night he becomes a ruthless serial killer, hunting down others who have taken innocent lives, his killing governed by a strict procedural code but motivated only by his need to feel something other than the great emptiness that otherwise threatens to consume him. Over the course of the first season, we learn the reason for his emptiness: as a young boy, he saw his mother hacked to death with a chain saw, only to spend the next several days locked in a cargo container inches deep in her blood. By the time that the police found him, he had lost his humanit…

Q&A: Devotional Prayer

Luke asks: "I have recently begun to pray some popular devotional prayers and overall my experience has been positive. As a recent Catholic convert it seems that personal devotional prayer was an unfortunate casualty of Vatican II. Do you think devotional prayer is an important aspect of the Christian faith and what do you think might be done to renew people's interest in it?"

Oh, my, this is a good one. Yes, most definitely, I think that devotional prayer is an important aspect of the Christian faith. What do I think might be done to renew people's interest in it? In a word: focus more on Mary. It's what I'm trying to write about in my current book* and a good part of the reason that I wanted to have this blog. But whether I can explain why I think this in just a few paragraphs, I am not so sure. One problem I have is that, not being Catholic myself, most of what I think about devotional prayer comes from an earlier age. It is only recently that I have…

Nothing Doing*

Sometimes the answer really is staring you right in the face, if only you could see it.

As you, my faithful readers know, it's been a hard past couple of weeks for me, preparing for the almost certain disappointment of Summer Nationals. But why "almost certain"? I could tell I wasn't ready, boy, oh, boy, could I tell I wasn't ready. The problem is (was), I didn't know what to fix. Some of my friends spent the latter part of June at fencing camps, working out extra hard, getting their bodies ready to compete. I've done camps before with much the same hope, but I knew from past experience that, for me, at least, they haven't really worked. Sure they sound like a good idea, but I knew that if I went this time I'd just get hurt and exhausted and come out none the wiser for all of the extra bouting.* So, instead, I got depressed. Well, okay, so that wasn't so much my plan as what I fell into, but I really didn't know what else to do. Be…

Bear Hugs

As any of you who saw me yesterday at the venue know, I did not do as well as, well, I might have if I were a different fencing bear. Div III Women's Foil: I won two of my pool bouts (5-4, 5-1), lost three (4-5, 4-5, 4-5, 0-5), and then proceeded to lose my first D-E (9-13) to the girl whom I had beaten in the pools 5-1. Tears followed...and followed...and followed...and followed. But, happily, because fencers are such amazing people, I was not alone. Huge thanks to all of you who were there for me, even as I was in floods, again. Special thanks to my dear roommate Lynn Botelho for being there to coach me through the only pool bout that I fenced like I actually know I can fence when whatever it is that is holding me back lets me go for the moment; to the ever-so-generous coach from my alma mater (Rice University) for coming back to talk to me even after I had broken down after losing to his student (4-5); to Kristin Vines for being there as I went to get water and smiling and…

Adopt-a-Bear

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God on the Strip

I don't know about you, but as a Christian fencing bear, it really bothers me that all the best advice about preparing oneself mentally and spiritually for a fencing bout would seem to come from outside the Christian tradition. You know, all the great wisdom about how to concentrate without concentrating, being always in the moment without expectation but ready to respond, the Zen and the Tao and the Yoga of detached attention, no-mind, union, what have you: none of this teaching would seem to be available from within Christianity. Sure, there are the mystics who talk about achieving self-annihilation in love of God, but that doesn't seem to be quite the same thing. Nor does praying the Office or reading the Scriptures or saying the rosary seem to be a way of preparing for the kind of attention that fencing demands. Perhaps if I could get on strip and say to myself the "Ave Maria" I would be better able to see when my opponent is planning to attack, but I doubt i…

Up in the Air

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I love traveling, don’t you? Okay, so there’s the headache of making hotel and flight reservations and deciding what to pack, plus the anxiety the night before of whether you will wake up in time to get to the airport. But once you’re out the door and on your way, it’s exhilarating.

New places to go, new things to see, new people to meet. Whereas the day before, life seemed heavy and uninteresting, now everything seems possible, lighter somehow and open to change. I especially love the feeling of being in the airport after my bags have been checked and I’m through security. Suddenly, thanks to the magic of carry-on restrictions, my possessions for the moment are reduced to their essentials: my wallet, my cell phone, my laptop, my totem bear, a few books, my iPod(s), some money. All I have to worry about is getting to my gate on time, and I’m free.

It’s an illusion, of course. In reality, I’m no more free than I was yesterday; I’m still as bound by obligations and schedules, hope…

Q&A: Lord, Open My Lips

Ooo, ooo, ooo! My first question to answer, and it's a good one, too.

William asks: "Praying aloud or in silence. I feel like I'm talking to myself when I attempt to pray aloud. I suppose that would differentiate myself from those of FAITH and casual believers."

Okay, okay, I can answer this one. At least I think I can. Let's see. Puts on professor hat. Takes professor hat off. Trying to find the right voice with which to respond. Maybe I should try a prayer, perhaps the one used at the opening of the Morning Office: "Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise." Says it aloud several times. Thinks a bit more. What is the difference between reading this prayer aloud and simply saying it to oneself in one's mind? Okay, so I'm sitting here on the back porch, nobody can hear me if I say it, well, nobody but God. And maybe those workmen whose voices I can hear from across the way. I'll say it really softly. Hmmm...the…