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Showing posts from February, 2010

Reasons for Getting the Flu

I swear I didn't used to get sick this much when I was younger. Maybe it was just because I was younger. Now, the slightest thing seems to trigger the return--and it does seem like a return, the same flu over and over again--of this achiness, sore throat, sinus congestion, dehydration, loss of concentration and general all-round fatigue. Why? Why do I get sick so much now?

This past summer I decided to start keeping a list of the dates when I come down with flu. The last big bout was in late September, so it's been less than six months since I last felt this wretched. I had a brief something or other in late December, but that seems to have gone away fairly quickly. Whatever I have now is looking to hold on for at least a week.

I, of course, am convinced that there has to be a reason. Could it be...

a. It's the eighth week of term. I regularly get sick around the eighth week of term. But I'm only teaching a graduate seminar this term; it's not like I'v…

On Playing Professor, Being Comfortably Numb and the Really Real

You'd think that I would believe it by now. Here it is, nearly sixteen years since I earned my Ph.D. and took up a position as a professor. My students seem to believe it when they sit in my classes and come to me for advice. Some of them even call me "Professor" when they address me. So it must be true. Why is it, then, that every time my husband helps me update my home page photo, he has to remind me while we're doing the shoot, "You are a highly respected professor at a major university," so that I'll look the part? Ha. I looked at my photo just now so as to put in the link and I still don't believe it. Sure, she might be a "highly respected professor at a major university," but surely that can't be me.

So what if it is? How, exactly, is a "highly respected professor at a major university" supposed to feel? I know I feel faintly embarrassed every time someone introduces me for a talk: "Author of such-and-such…

Calvin's Ghost

So, this was supposed to be one of those sophisticated, thoughtful posts in which I explore the depths of my current historiographical angst, but I seem to have come down with who-knows-what (cold? flu? they all blend anymore), so we'll see what I'm able to come up with. Okay, here's the problem: I am afraid to write anything substantive anymore about the practice and experience of medieval devotion because I am worried that everything I--and, indeed, the majority of my medievalist colleagues--would say would simply be a latter-day refutation of Protestant critiques of which I am only imperfectly aware but which have governed Anglo-American (particularly American, thanks to all those New England Calvinists) scholarship pretty much since the year dot. For example, the current obsession with the senses.

Calvin, or so I learned recently, was particularly wary about claims that it was possible to gain knowledge about God from our sensory experience of the world. Not that the…

Where's the Puppy?

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I've spent all day meaning to write something about Lent and desire, but somehow laundry and playing Hunt-the-Puppy intervened. She's conked out after puppy class now, but then, so am I. Instead, here's a picture I took earlier.

NB the beautiful new top on the dining room table! The pile of boxes covered with the yellow bedspread is our crockery and cooking stuff. No kitchen yet, but we do have laundry facilities again.

The Other Woman

I had an insight the other day that startled me somewhat: I didn't like my body much even when, five years ago, I was especially thin. Oh, sure, I would look in the mirror and think, "Wow! Is that me? I look so ripped!" But I wouldn't really believe it nor, more importantly, would I trust it. The me that I saw in the mirror, sure she looked great, but could I trust her? I certainly couldn't trust her (or so I thought) not to get fat again. She, that thin woman with no body fat (truly, you could see the veins in my arms, just like a guy's), might look powerful and energetic, but in truth she was a fake, not really real at all. Any moment she might start eating again (gasp!) and the pounds would come back.

Plus, she seemed so hard and unloving. Certainly, she didn't love me. She thought that she was who I should be because, of course, she looked much more like all the models in the fashion magazines than I do now (or had some years prior to becomin…

Walking the Dog

My mother is going to love this one.

My office on campus is about a 25-minute walk from my home. I left my office on campus at 4pm this afternoon. I got home about three minutes ago--an hour and 25 minutes after leaving my office. My shoulder hurts from carrying my bags. My hands are cold from being outside for so long in below-freezing weather. My head hurts from trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. And, above all, my arms hurt from carrying the dog.

You will ask, "So if you were carrying the dog for most of the time, why did it take you an hour and 25 minutes to get home?" Answer: "I don't know!" I know, I know, she's just a puppy, only a few months old. Everything in the world is new to her: the afternoon sky, the birds calling from the still leafless trees, the other dogs in the neighborhood, the rocks and plants and concrete and people and ice and snow and mud and gum and cigarette butts and sticks and poop and pears (yes, pears; we also…

Fencing Bear's Quote for the Day on Academic Writing

"Most problems in writing come from the anxiety caused by the unconscious realization that what you write is you and has to be held out for others to see. You are naked and shivering out on that limb that seems likely to break off and bring you tumbling down into the ignominy of being accused of inadequate research, muddy unoriginal analysis, and clumsy writing. So you hide yourself behind jargon, opacity, circuitousness, the passive voice, and a seeming reluctance to get to the point. It is so much safer there in the foliage that blocks the reader's comprehension, but in the end so unsatisfying. No one cares because they cannot figure out what you mean to say. How much better it is to stand up before the firing line and discover that no one ordered your execution. The most the critics want is an intense fencing match [sic!], and you are more than up to the challenge because you have honed the edges of your research and said forthrightly what you thought."

--Lynn Hu…

Hidden Depths

I wish I had some. You know, like every self-respecting fictional character worth the paper she is printed on. Secret talents that none of the other characters expect her (or, indeed, him) to have that are revealed when necessary to help the plot along. Languages spoken fluently; artistic abilities honed to perfection but only reluctantly displayed; athletic or scientific or business acumen to be unsheathed unexpectedly to exquisite effect. Instead, I have hidden shallows.

"Oh, yes, I was on the high school swimming team." "Oh, were you any good?" "Of course not. The best I ever did was to make the alternate for the women's relay team to State. I got to go to the meet, but I didn't get to swim." Or: "I used to like to draw a lot." "Oh, did you get anything printed?" "No. I tried once or twice to submit a drawing for one of our college posters or t-shirts, but nobody ever liked any of my designs. I painted a tra…

Stream of Consciousness

I wish I had one. A stream, that is. The past six weeks have been more like running the rapids. Sustain a thought--a single, continuous thought for more than three minutes at a time? Miraculous! If this what it is like having ADHD, no wonder so many people take Ritalin. Mind you, I'm really not sure even Ritalin would help now. Do I even have a thought to sustain?

Portrait of today: Wake up at 5:50am needing to go to the bathroom. The puppy seems quiet, so sneak to the loo before putting on hat, coat, boots and Battle Scarf filled with diaper bags (for the poop), flashlight (to find the poop in the dark), treats (dried out because for some reason I have the one puppy in the universe who is picky about what she eats), and keys. Go to puppy's crate and say, "Good morning, sweetie!" Help puppy out (her legs seem to fall asleep after she's been in the crate overnight), pick her up and carry her through the apartment and down the stairs out back--or, wait, di…

Veblen's Industrial Theory of Secularization

"It appears, then, that the devout habit of mind attains its best development under a relatively archaic culture; the term 'devout' being of course here used in its anthropological sense simply, and not as implying anything with respect to the spiritual attitude so characterised, beyond the fact of a proneness to devout observances. It appears also that this devout attitude marks a type of human nature which is more in consonance with the predatory mode of life than with the later-developed, more consistently and organically industrial life process of the community. It is in large measure an expression of the archaic habitual sense of personal status,--the relation of mastery and subservience,--and it therefore fits into the industrial scheme of the predatory and the quasi-peaceable culture, but does not fit into the industrial scheme of the present. It also appears that this habit persists with greatest tenacity among those classes in the modern communities whose ever…

Spiritual Exercises--Not!

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It's a bit of a shocker, really. I don't believe in them anymore. Spiritual exercises, that is. Not that they don't work as advertised over the past several (oh, let's count) millennia; they do. It's just that I no longer think they're necessary other than as tricks to get the mind to do something that it was perfectly capable of doing all along. It's Katie's fault, of course, for introducing me to the Work. But she's right: everything is exactly as it should be, and that's all one needs to know.

All those postures and breathing exercises in yoga--distracting. All those exercises to get oneself to pay better attention--wearing. All those prayers and disciplines and structures--beside the point. I know, I sound like Meister Eckhart or some New Age guru, but it's true. Here I've been, all my life, searching for that magic key, and I had it in my pocket all along. There was nothing to find, except reality, which has always been he…

Animal Magic

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She's asleep at the moment beside her water bowl, which could mean I have another half-hour to forty-five minutes to write this post. Or she could wake up now and I'll have to spring into action to get us out the door in time for her to pee. I'm guessing the latter, largely on the basis of the fact that now I have to pee, which must mean that I've been sitting here on the couch taking care of emails and ordering course books for next quarter for longer than I realize. It's a hard call. I really need to get up and go myself, but what if I do and she wakes up? I will more than likely lose the thread of this thought in the ensuing flurry, only to spend the next hour or three gnawing on it in my head until it is thoroughly chewed and worn out. Covered in floor fluff and gray.

Oh, she's stirring. No, it's just a dream, her little legs pumping as if she is running in the snow. Now she's lying on her back, crashed out like only a puppy can crash. I cou…

Animate Diamonds

"The dog has advantages [as compared with cats] in the way of uselessness as well as in special gifts of temperament. He is often spoken of, in an eminent sense, as the friend of man, and his intelligence and fidelity are praised. The meaning of this is that the dog is man's servant and that he has the gift of an unquestioning subservience and a slave's quickness in guessing his master's mood. Coupled with these traits, which fit him well for the relation of status--and which must for the present purpose be set down as serviceable traits--the dog has some characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits. For this he makes up in a servile, fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict damage and discomfort on all else. The dog, then, commends himself to our favour by affording play to our propensity for mastery, and as he is also an item of exp…

Conspicuous Consumption

It is, I suppose, a comfort in a sort of roundabout way. According to Thorstein Veblen's theory of the leisure class, pretty much everything that I do--reading or writing books, learning dead languages, having a dog, practicing yoga or fencing, being an intellectual--is a form of conspicuous consumption, i.e. "wasteful," "not serving human life or human well-being on the whole," taking up the time that, if I were actually economically productive, would be involved in growing food or making clothes or building buildings. Of course, thanks to the time that I spend in such conspicuous leisure, demonstrating thereby that I am not obliged to spend my time providing for the essentials of my bodily existence, I accrue social status (such as it is) and spiritual fulfillment ("spiritual" in the sense of everything other than bodily), but (by Veblen's definitions) it does mean that I am never, in fact, being anything other than parasitic on all those who …

The Puppy Effect

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Thanks to Joy...

...my son is no longer afraid of dogs or, at least, of all dogs. There is now one dog in the world whom he thinks is actually pretty cute--and cuddly.

...I have seen many of my departmental colleagues in a whole new light, smiling and excited and not a little bit playful.

...I have a whole new topic of conversation with my fencing friends, many of whom it turns out have--and love--dogs. Oddly enough, my fencing has also improved remarkably in the past month, since I got Joy.

...my days begin with a glimpse of magic, the sky still dark and the air crisp, everything quiet and still. This morning, the moon was hanging just above the buildings to the south and the ground was glowing with yesterday's snow.

...I have met all sorts of people who live around my building, not to mention dozens of students on campus. It helps, I know, that Joy is still a puppy, but she is also a beautiful dog. I know, because I hear people talking about her even when they don't ask to p…

Training for Joy

I must admit I'm getting a little discouraged. Or, at least, I was, until about five minutes ago.

It's been five weeks now since we brought puppy Joy home, and to judge from the accident that she and I had this morning as I was taking her out for her first pee and poop of the day, we are no closer to being house trained than we were five weeks ago. I say "we" because, of course, I know that it is my fault as much as hers--more so, because I am the one who is supposed to be teaching her. But how?

I'm doing everything, well, most everything that the books and teacher have told us to do. I take her out more or less every other hour, sometimes every hour, sometimes we get a nap and I (she) can go for three. And I praise her when she goes, saying, "Good girl!" as enthusiastically as I can whenever we get a pee or a poop. But, okay, I still haven't managed to get a handle on giving her special treats whenever she poops because, you know, it's hard…

In the Belly of the Beast

I'm not going to complain. I'm not. Why should I? There's nothing to complain about. The puppy and I had a nice run (-ish) in the snow, I've cleaned the salt off her paws and now she is sleeping peacefully alongside my legs. The workmen are starting on the second day of installing the floor in our kitchen. They got about a third of the way through yesterday, and it is already looking fabulous. Okay, so the puppy pooped all over the hearth last night because I was too sleepy to notice what time it was when my husband came home from class and asked if she needed to go out. And however long it takes for the workmen to finish the floor, there is no way we're going to have a kitchen again until sometime in early April because it's going to take until the first week of March for our new cabinets to come in.

But puppy Joy and I had a great time on campus yesterday; she even came to our department meeting and did nothing more alarming than chew on the carpet bef…