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Showing posts from November, 2010

Random Thoughts About Stuff

You will have doubtless gathered from my previous post that my (extended) family is experiencing something of a crisis this season. There have been phone calls and emails and txts, but few real ideas about What Can Be Done other than to Stand By Each Other In These Difficult Times. How interestingly hard it is to be of help to one another when someone is in pain, whether from illness or emotional distress. As always, I wish I could write about what we're going through because writing always helps me make sense of things or at least put things in perspective. But when others are involved, I find I simply can't. And yet, ironically, or so it seems to me, if only I could write about it, I might be of help. More help than I could ever be just getting upset over the phone.

Some of the things that I might say, if I were asked, not necessarily to any one person, just generally. Don't be so hard on yourself, it isn't all your fault. I know it feels bad now, but what eve…

All in the Family

Somehow, even though we are all thousands of miles apart this year, my family has still managed to enact the regulation Thanksgiving family drama. There are threats of divorce and memories of divorce, threats of silence and pleas for help, accusations of hurt feelings and protestations of innocence, all flying through the air like angry birds aiming for the little green pigs of the people we imagine each other to be. I would say that I'm bored with it, but here I am, still pulling back on the slingshot, still trying to aim my exploding crows at the walls that I think my family have built around themselves in order to protect themselves from each other.

And, yes, I'm angry. I have every right to be. It's their fault for not listening to me when I was trying to help. It's their fault for being so unwilling to talk about the hard stuff. It's their fault for building all those walls of ice and wood and stone, silence and privilege and shame, just so as to keep eve…

Outlook: Joy!

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The Case for the Humanities

There isn't one, anymore than there is an answer to the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Perhaps that is why everyone is having so much trouble coming up with a reason for their demise. It's the Marxists, John Ellis says (hat tip to millinerd). No, it's the departments and their ideals of expertise, says Mark Taylor (as reviewed by David Bell). But who says that the humanities were ever beating their wife (if only metaphorically) in the first place? It's a trick question. So I'm here to say, the next time that somebody asks you, "Why are the humanities relevant?", don't answer! You can't. The question (as Patrick J. Deenan has shown, hat tip to ProfMondo) is rigged. It's like asking humanity to defend itself for loving language and logic, music and art, wisdom and beauty. Why study the humanities? Not because they will make us better citizens (although they might). Not because they will make our lives physic…

Q&A: Asymmetry

Penny Willis asks: "Hi-I'm just starting fencing, and very nervous for the most ridiculous reason... I heard that if you fence for a long time, one of your thighs can get pretty thick. Also, is it ok if I fence right and left? I'm pretty OCD, I must have right with my left."

Hi, Penny! Welcome to fencing! Yes, it is true that if you fence for a long time one of your legs (your leading leg) will get somewhat thicker than your other, but in my experience, only so as you would notice if you were wielding a tape measure. Otherwise, you may be conscious of it (e.g. if one of your pants legs feels a bit tight--I've had this experience), but nobody else will. I've seen guys who have fenced all their lives have one leg somewhat thicker, but, again, not so as to make anyone who wasn't looking for it notice. The asymmetry is really no greater than some people have anyway. E.g. my left foot is a whole size bigger than my right. I make sure to mention this …

Bear's New Sword

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It was a terrible battle, grim to behold. There I was, keeping watch over the mead hall, my sword at the ready to take on the fiercest foe, when suddenly I felt the hot breath of the dragon. She seized me with her razor sharp teeth and wrested me from my post. Before I knew it, she had carried me back to her lair and was trying to wrest my helmet from my head, in preparation for eating me alive, as she had so many of my warrior-kin. I would have died then and there if not for the coming of an angel, who took me up and rescued me from the beast. Happily, she had failed to pierce the mail covering my face, but in the course of the battle, she splintered my weapon, the first that I have ever lost to any opponent, monster or bear. I appealed to the great Maker, however, and he fashioned me a bright new weapon, a sword of hope and power, endowed with the energy of Lego and love.

More prosaically, the dog ate my foil, but now I have this new one. Isn't it cool?

A Few of My Favorite Things

Waking up this morning next to my husband.

Inventing a new ball game to play with the Dragon Baby.

The sermon our rector Peter preached this morning about the necessity for hermeneutics in reading scripture.

Pumpkin pie.

Michael Card's cover of "Let All Things Now Living."

My friend Phil's modern rapier, which he brought to the tournament at our club this afternoon and let me hold.

Wearing my new "Brown" lame for the competition.

Winning 4 out of 5 of my pool bouts. (Phil beat me.)

Having so many friends rooting for me in my D-E.

Talking ankle boots and shoes with my best girlfriends.

Finding the clothes folded when I got home. (Thanks, love!)

Watching Castle: Vampire Weekend with my husband and son.

Too Good To Be True

Argh! I knew it, it was too good to be true. Optimists may have it better in terms of how they feel about life, the universe and their place in relation to everything, but pessimists are actually more accurate about how things stand. Sigh. No wonder I thought that I was doing so well on that "how optimistic are you?" quiz: pessimists, according to Seligman, tend to have a more realistic picture of their ability to control things, likewise to have a better memory about their failures and successes. So, am I right about all of the things that I've been feeling so down about--my prospects for promotion, publishing something people will actually want to read, making a difference in my field/profession--or am I just telling myself the wrong story? Perhaps more important: does it matter?

St. Martin's Day

I have no idea what happened other than that I've been continuing to read Martin Seligman's book on learned optimism, but I haven't felt depressed in days. It's like a miracle, truly. Maybe it is just a mood. But maybe, just maybe it's actually a real change. For days now, I've been willing to believe that maybe all those stories that I used to tell myself about how everything that went wrong was my fault were, well, stories and that I don't need to believe them anymore, and it is like a cloud has lifted off of my life that I wasn't even aware was there. I'm not saying this well, but maybe that is to be expected when a whole new world opens out in front of one.

I feel so happy. So light. So able to get things done. I even wrote the first of those letters of reference today. And I had a great conversation with one of my students about how to answer that video. And I have learned that, indeed, reading my blog has been of help to one of my fr…

Power Play

I'm probably the only scholar in all of academia not to know the answer to this question, but what is power, anyway? Sure, it's about force, but most of the time when we're talking about power it's more subtle than just who has the biggest weapon--isn't it? I'm thinking at the moment of a colleague who is studying women and power and how they hold it, and I can't seem to get around the question of what that means. If you can't threaten to kill somebody (or have somebody kill him or her) for not doing what you want, do you actually have power over them? See, there are times I really wish that I had power other than being able to hand out grades, but for the most part, that's it. Okay, and every year I get to help make decisions about whom we would like to have in our graduate program, but even that is fairly indirect: I get to make recommendations for my field and then the admissions committee hashes out how many offers we're actually able t…

“Optimism, Captain!"

Maybe it's the sunshine. Maybe it's being more or less on schedule with my reading for class this upcoming week. Maybe it's having my keyboard clean and my laptop's operating system reinstalled so that I don't get the Spinning Beachball of Death every time I start trying to type.* Maybe it's sitting here on the porch with my husband watching the Dragon Baby frolicking in the leaves. Or maybe it's reading more in Martin Seligman's Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (New York, 1998), but I really am feeling better. More optimistic, even.

Not so much yesterday when I started reading Seligman's book. I took his "are you depressed?" quiz and nearly maxed out (40 points out of 60, with over 24 points being in the danger zone for "severely depressed"). Apparently, I should be seeking professional help now. Like right now. As in yesterday. It's amazing I haven't killed myself. Or maybe I just …

Happy Hour

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What's Wrong With the Academy?

As Saladin said to Balian when Balian asked what Jerusalem was worth, "Nothing. Everything!"

Nothing. Nothing at all. My colleagues often complain that our students can't write, but I don't see it. What I see is a higher level of literacy in our culture than at any time in human history. Okay, so it's not perfect. But it's a hell of a lot higher than it was even in our own country less than a hundred years ago. Nor am I impressed by the stories of how hard students used to work compared with today. All of the students whom I teach work extremely hard. And so what if I teach at an elite institution? I am talking here about colleagues who teach at the same institution and who say these sorts of things every so often when we are complaining about how bad things have gotten these days. So apples with apples. In my experience, students "these days" write better, work harder and think better than even the students whom I taught sixteen years ag…