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Showing posts from 2011

Scorecard, Winter Break

Since returning from the tournament mid-month, after the end of classes:

Papers graded and commented on: 16

Fellowship applications reviewed: 6

Books read in preparation for Vestry Retreat: 2 (one assigned by Rector)

Articles read in preparation for Mellon discussion next week: 3

Books read in preparation for new course starting next week: 2

Books read for review: 1/2 (started on way to tournament, finished December 23)

Communion breads baked: 13 (one batch)

Syllabi written from scratch: 1

Items scanned in preparation for new course: 19

Movies watched on iPad while scanning items for new course: 6 (this took two full days)
Chicken Ranch (1983, documentary) The Lord of the Flies (1963, movie of the book) 
Best in Show (2000, mockumentary--with dogs!)Bottle Shock (2008, based on a true story) 
How to Succeed in Business Without ReallyTrying (1967, movie of the Bob Fosse musical)From Prada to Nada (2011, "a Latina spin on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility") Articles read…

The Unbearable Emptiness of Religious Experience for Its Own Sake; or, Why Having an Object Makes It Possible to Love

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"The turn to experience [in mainline and evangelical Protestantism] is a failure because it's based on a misunderstanding of how experience actually works.  Focusing on your experience waters down your experience, because experience feeds on what it experiences, just as love feeds on news of the Beloved.  We can use the same picture to illustrate this point as in chapter 9.  In Christian faith, your experience is like the arrow on side A of the picture.  It's the verb in a sentence like 'I believe in Christ.'  The arrow is aimed at Christ, just as the verb is 'aimed' at its grammatical object, which is Christ.  Very significantly, it is not aimed at itself, which is why on side B, what the person on side A is experiencing, the arrow, disappears.  That is to say, the experience of faith is not about faith or experience but about Christ.  We don't believe in our experience, we believe in him.  So Christian faith and the experience that comes from it are …

Another piece of the puzzle

"[Dichter] also understood that [American] consumers felt guilt after buying self-indulgent [sic] products, so marketers had to sell such things as tobacco and candy as 'rewards' for the deserving.  Much of this is taken for granted now, but when [in the 1940s] Dichter was whispering these sweet nothings in the ears of CEOs, they were revelatory."

--"Retail Therapy: How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionised marketing," The Economist (December 17th-30th, 2011), p. 122.

Just in case you were wondering why you are so convinced that you "deserve" that cookie, even when you aren't hungry.  Or why you think eating will make you feel better when what you really need is a hug.

I'm still here...

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Just taking a break.

Grammatical Note: How (Not) to Read

"Bernard [of Chartres] also used to admonish his students that stories and poems should be read thoroughly, and not as though the reader were being precipitated to flight by spurs.  Wherefore he diligently and insistently demanded from each, as a daily debt, something committed to memory. 

"At the same time, he said that we should shun what is superfluous.  According to him, the works of distinguished authors suffice.  As a matter of fact, to study everything that everyone, no matter how insignificant, has ever said, is either to be exceedingly humble and cautious, or overly vain and ostentatious.  It also deters and stifles minds that would better be freed to go on to other things.  That which preempts the place of something that is better is, for this reason, disadvantageous, and does not deserve to be called 'good.'  To examine and pore over everything that has been written, regardless of whether it is worth reading, is as pointless as to fritter away one's ti…

Doesn't it ever get it any easier?

Short answer: No, not if you're doing it right.

As, for example, here, where I am trying to explain an insight that came to me at the tournament this past weekend while I was thinking about whether I should just quit trying to fence épée as a second weapon and stick to foil.  I've been competing in épée off and on, I now realize, for going on something like three or so years.  And yet, I am nowhere nearly as strong in épée now as I was when I had been competing in foil for the same amount of time.  By the time I had been competing in foil as long as I have been competing in épée, I was a D.  I'm not even an E in épée at the moment, nor is it likely that I will be any time soon.

So why is that?  Well, I don't really get to practice épée much now that our club moved and most of the fencers that I practice with only do foil.  But that isn't all of it.  I could say that it's because I haven't been working hard enough at it, but that isn't quite it either.  …

One of the Gang

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All of my friends got medals this weekend.  My roommate (the one closest to me in the picture) even got two.  And I was back on the ground taking photos for everyone.

Yes, I feel a little bit sad.  Who wouldn't?  I've been up there twice (although not in this particular event, Vet Combined as opposed to Vet 40s), and, yes, I liked it.  The question is, why?  Why does it make so much difference whether one gets on the medals podium or not?

I used to think that it was because being up there on the podium would prove something about my fencing, that I was good enough.  But, again, good enough for what?  To fence?  I'm already that.  Even the fencer who comes dead last in the event is good enough to fence.  Nobody has to earn the right to compete, at least not as such. Sure, getting up on the medals podium usually means that you got to fence more on that particular day, but, again, it isn't like all those of us standing round taking photos didn't get to fence at all. …

Cold Feet

I do not want to fence this event today. Not. Not. Not. I am terrified. Who am I kidding, thinking I can fence epee? I'm a foilist, I don't practice epee. What on earth was I thinking signing up for this event?

Okay, so I've fenced it before. Several times, in fact. Over the past two (or is it three?) years. And I always lose. Badly. Even worse than I did yesterday. Okay, no, yesterday was pretty bad, and even in epee, I have occasionally won the odd bout. But. This is ridiculous. What do I think is going to happen? That I am suddenly going to discover a hidden talent, find that, in truth, I am really an epeeist? That all the struggles that I've been having in fencing were simply owing to the fact that I was fencing the wrong weapon? Yeah, right.

Yeah. Right. I do think this. I think about how hard I found it learning to start an attack in foil, so terrified was I of getting hit, but in epee, there is much less advantage in going first (at least, i…

The Drivers

National tournament, day two. I should not be writing this, it is only going to be one of those upsetting posts where I tell you all about how terribly I fenced, but the demons are chattering and I have not been able to get them to stop, despite having stayed at the venue to watch my event (Div II Women's Foil) all the way to the end. Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter.

"Be perfect," the first one says. "You missed that action, you rushed, you failed you failed you failed you failed. What did you think you were doing, trying to fence these girls? Don't you wish you had been fencing when you were their age? They are already much much better than you are."

"Hurry up," the second demon chimes in. "That girl only started fencing three years ago, and she is miles better than you are. You suck, you're slow, you're never going to learn how to do this."

"And you should," Be Perfect chides. "You've been doin…

Who is this bear? Do I know her?

Look at me. Okay, this would be easier if I could figure out how to upload a photo into Blogger from my iPad. But imagine you can see me, sitting calmly on my fencing bag. (Remembering, of course, that I am just a little bear, not a full grown woman or anything.) There I am. Not crying, not beating myself up, not telling myself stories about how I can't learn and never will. Just sitting. And, yes, I lost today. Not badly, not well. Just lost.

And that's it, end of story. Or the beginning of a whole new one. Because I fenced in a national tournament today against the best women in the country my age (well, some of them, not everyone who was signed up decided to fence the event so as to save themselves for their big event on Monday), and...nothing. Or everything. I'm fighting a bit of a caffeine-headache right now, not having my usual supply of tea for the day, but I am still nevertheless oddly calm. So calm I'm not quite sure what to think about it. Becau…

The Limits of Christian Theology

"By way of conclusion, it will be well to draw the reader's attention to the inherent limitations of the philosophical principle of order in theology.  Philosophy is reckoned as quite a high card in theology: let us call it the jack, the fourth-highest card the pack possesses.  This card can be trumped by three other cards.  First, it can be trumped by the king, which is divine revelation itself.  Obviously, if a philosophical principle of order is tending in some way to distort revelation or leads to our leaving out of count things that are manifestly important to the faith of the Church, then the king will trump the jack.  But in between the king and the jack is the queen.  Between divine revelation and the philosophical principle of order in theology there is always some theological principle of order.  As I mentioned in the course of roughing out a definition of theology, no one theology can ever present divine revelation in its totality.  It will always take up a particu…

Power Sit

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Feeling Thankful

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Juxtaposition

"We are wired from birth to want answers and hard data.  Uncertainty is okay, as long as it exists in someone else's life or we don't have to do anything about it.  But as soon as we're challenged to own it and then act in the face of it, with rare exceptions we run from it.  Because running at it terrifies us.  We're scared of the discomfort that comes with opening doors without knowing what's behind them.  Scared of being judged if it's a monster.  Scared of having to pick up the pieces and rebuild if we go to zero.  Even scared of hitting the jackpot.  And beyond the fear, we just plain hate the persistent anxiety that rides along with continually leaning into the unknown.  Without intervention, we experience it as anywhere from discomfort to outright suffering.

"The problem is, if you strive to create anything--be it a book, a business, a blog, a collection, a body of work, or a career that is defined by brilliance--uncertainty, risk of loss, and …

A Word of Complaint

It feels almost miraculous.  Everything in my life (well, almost everything) that was holding me back (funny, I feel anxious just writing that) is now, well, perhaps not gone, but markedly better.
I have a whole new set of tools for thinking about my eating and my body and my weight; I even forget to count calories most days (and know that it is better to stop myself when I start and simply ask whether I am hungry), and yet, I am eating better than I ever have and (mirabile dictu) enjoying my food. Our home is calm and happy, no longer stuffed full of junk we don't need.   Even better, I have gone shopping several times in the past month and come home without having bought anything because I couldn't find anything that was exactly right. I have established a regular schedule for working on my research and stuck to it for nine months even though I am not on leave.  I have made good progress on my translation, as well as researched, written, sent out for review, and revised (stil…

Bear's New Mantra

Know your purpose.

Trust the process.

Sit with the anxiety until you understand what it is trying to teach you.

Repeat as necessary.

Angry Corgi 2, Thieving Pig 0

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Just Out

I could feel the panic rising almost immediately.  I was at a seminar on Saturday with a number of colleagues in my field, and one of them had a book just out that another of my friends was passing around.  It was my colleague's fourth book (I still have only one, plus an edited volume), but although she is some years senior to me, it didn't help.  The demons were already chattering.

"Where is your second book?"  "Why have you been so lazy?"  "Look, she's been able to publish two books since your first one came out."  "You're falling behind."  "You've already lost it."  "You're hopeless."  "Give it up."

I tried to look calmly at the table of contents and get some sense of what the argument was, but I could barely see straight enough to read the title, never mind absorb anything of what the book was actually about.  All I could see was Another Book When I Still Have Only Published One.  So I p…

Scala virtutis*

Get enough sleep, 7-8 hours night, plus naps as necessary.  Particularly important when you are trying to learn something new, think through a difficult problem, or recover from a session of writing.Eat well and often, about every 3 hours, but only when actually hungry.  Eat foods that make you feel good, not jazzed up or sluggish.Exercise regularly, ideally 6 days a week, 20-45 minutes at a time.  (Translated into Fencing Bear's terms: walk the dog twice daily, go to fencing practice twice a week.)Write (or whatever your most important work is) for no more than 90 minutes per session, with adequate breaks in between.   Schedule your writing for the time of day at which you can concentrate best (in my case, mornings).  Work gradually over time at longer projects rather than "bingeing" or "pulling an all-nighter" or "writing the conference paper/chapter/proposal in a weekend."  Set a timer, turn off all distractions, and concentrate on nothing but your…

It's not just me

"Above all other stresses, it's the feeling of being personally criticized that appears to take the greatest toll on our bodies, and on our ability to think clearly.  In a meta-analysis of 208 stress-related studies, the researchers Margaret Kemeny and Sally Dickerson found that the highest rises in cortisol levels--the most extreme fight-or-flight responses--are prompted by 'threats to one's social self, or threat to one's social acceptance, esteem, and status.'  An impersonal stressor such as an endlessly ringing alarm is obviously annoying, but it prompts a far less pernicious stress response.  When people are subjected to an uncontrollable alarm, their cortisol levels rise but return to a baseline level within forty minutes.  By contrast, a threat to their self-esteem prompts cortisol levels to remain elevated for more than an hour.  That helps explain why even the most 'constructive' criticism so rarely has much impact on us and is often counterpr…

Birthday Dog

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Joy, age 2  b. November 8, 2009

Notes to Self

All those people out there are just as afraid of you as you are of them.  Unless they are saints, which means that they have been able to let go of their fear because they don't need it anymore.  That's what it means to say, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself."  Fear is what blocks you from being able to see other human beings for what they are--not enemies, but frightened children, all worried about what the other kids are going to think.  (Hat tip to my sister for helping me see this more clearly.)

You're not crazy if you think that some of the kids, particularly the boys, are making faces at you and then denying it meant anything when you "overreact."  Maybe they meant to get at you, maybe they were just being kids themselves, unable to sit with their own feelings long enough to understand why they said what they did.  But the ugly face was really an ugly face, the cutting remark was really a cutting remark, the emotional manipulation (or atte…

A Shoulder to Cry On

I always thought I needed one, but now I realize, I don't.

I thought I needed you to support me, listen to me, help me, comfort me when I was down, but now I realize, I don't.

Not like I need sunshine or sleep or food.

Not like I need to spend a certain amount of time every week on my work.  And my blog.

Not like I need exercise or time spent in meditation or prayer.

Not like I need to go to church on Sundays.

Not like I need to know that, however bad it gets in my head, I can sit with it.

Did you want me to need you?  Or did you simply enjoy the feeling of being needed without having to respond?

It's okay, I'm a big girl now.

The falcon has taken wing.

Pen & Sword

Yes, well.  This was supposed to be this oh-so-clever post about how sending my writing out for review was like going to tournaments, but I didn't write it on Saturday when I first had the idea because, yes, I was on my way to a tournament and now, three days later after a day of teaching, I can't think straight.  Which is frustrating, because as it came to me on Saturday it was really cool.

So let's just pretend this is practice.  Because, in fact, that's what blogging is, at least for me.  Practice.  It's easy.  I can just noodle around here, pleasing only myself.  I like having readers (a lot!), but I don't need anybody to say that what I've written is worth publishing because, hey! here it is, not even copy-edited, just blurted out as it comes to me, however I want to say it.  Sometimes I might come up with something really cool that somebody might find worth reading or even sharing, but it doesn't really matter because the point is to write.

Much a…

Vicious Circle

I am afraid to smile at you.

What if you don't smile back?

Does it mean that you don't like me?

Or did you just not see?

I smiled, but you just looked away.

And now I feel abandoned.

Rejected.

Ashamed to think that I was worth smiling at.

Maybe I shouldn't have smiled in the first place.

Maybe you should have smiled back.

Now, how will you feel if I don't smile at you?

Oh, please, smile back.  I'm dying here.

False Economies

Eating something you're not really hungry for just because it is low calorie.  Or "a treat."  Or because you might not be able to eat later.

Buying something that isn't exactly what you want just because it's not too expensive (a.k.a. cheap).  Or "on sale."  Or because it's as close as you think you are going to be able to get.

Doing a job that doesn't inspire you just because it's a good opportunity.  Or pays well.  Or because you don't think anyone would be interested in what you really want.

The Ultimate Irony

Becoming the person you want me to be because I don't care anymore what you think.

Prayers for All Saints' Day

Prayers of the People—November 6, 2011
St. Paul & the Redeemer Episcopal Church 

Year A, Proper 19, RCL
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Written by Rachel Fulton Brown

Humbling ourselves with all the saints before the throne of the Lamb, let us pray to the Lord, saying,
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God, through your saints you have given us models of the kinds of human beings you want us to be.  Teach us, your Church, to follow in their footsteps, imitating the Lamb in whose image we are made.  Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God, who numbers as his children every one of the seven billion of us now alive, be with our leaders that they may govern us in righteousness, protecting the meek and working always for peace.  Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God, whom angels serve and the heavens proclaim, make us mindful of the ways in which our desires and actions affect your world.  Bless those among us who are working to change our habits o…

Blind Review

Last night when I got home from practice, I ate a cup of pot noodles and two (big) bowls of ice cream and then spent more or less the next four hours straight watching the entire first season of Awkward, MTV's new sitcom about high schooler Jenna Hamilton's struggles to be somebody other than "That Girl" whom everyone thinks tried to kill herself.   How apropos.

No, I don't want to kill myself (not like last week), but I do know why I ate all that ice cream and stayed up all night watching television (actually, huluplus on my iPad): I am still feeling very, very, very angry about the reviews that I got back on the article that I sent out, the gist of which seem to be (as well as I can remember from reading them last week, I don't really want to revisit them now), "Your material is great, but your presentation sucks." (And, no, they did not engage as such with the material or my scholarship, only the presentation.)  Even the editor who encouraged me …

Enlightenment

All my life, I have believed that it was wrong to try to do something that you couldn't do easily at first (a.k.a. "had talent for").

All my life, I have believed that it was wrong to say what I really thought or, worse, "put myself forward."

All my life, I have believed that the world was a dangerous place filled with people you couldn't trust and events you must be prepared for lest you fail or die.

All my life, I have believed that to have something nice I would need to deserve it, that is, behave in a certain way, otherwise it would be wrong to have or expect good things.

All my life, I have believed that other people know better than I do how I should behave.

All my life, I have believed that it was my fault if I felt awkward or uncomfortable about doing something other people thought I should.

All my life, I have believed that it was wrong to feel anything other than happy.

All my life, I have believed that the reasons I had difficulty being the perso…

Victim Mentality

My worth is dependent upon what you think of me.

My beauty is dependent upon how you see me.

My success is dependent upon whether you are impressed.

My importance is dependent upon your ability to appreciate my work.

My happiness is dependent upon whether you smile at me.

My joy is dependent upon your ability to congratulate me.

My boundaries are set where you decide.

Not that I know what this feels like, just saying

"And yet, for all his protestations of confidence, he was shaken.  After years of defending his work as an exegete against students and masters too thick (in his view) ever to appreciate the great labor of his life, after exposing the most intimate secrets about his career, albeit indirectly, in a work of great ingenuity, not to mention love, Rupert found himself, once again, having to defend his work in terms that he himself despised."

--Rachel Fulton, From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), p. 346.

Note to My Students (Because I Know You're Reading This!)

It's not about you, it was never about you.  Not anything difficult that you read here about Fencing Bear's frustrations and struggles as she seeks to learn what it means to be wielded by God.  Only the good bits are about you.  You are my most cherished nurslings, the children of my dreams, the hope of our future, and the light of my life.  No, really.  Okay, you and the Dragon Baby, but you know what I think about her.

Just so you know.

Behind the Scenes

Perhaps I should tell you a little more about myself, just to put some of my more recent posts into perspective.

My parents divorced when I was 11.  I would love to say that I saw it coming, but I didn't, not in a million years.  I have a very distinct memory of walking home from school about a year before, past a house in our neighborhood where, it was said, a woman lived alone with her kids, a "broken" family.   (Gasp!  This was, after all, the 1970s).  "How lucky I am," my 10-year-old self thought, "my parents will never break up."

But they did.  My father went on a training course for six months to Florida where he met another woman; she was 20 or 21 at the time, a precocious medical student; he was 36 or 37, a surgeon and researcher at the top of his career.   We got to go to Disney World when we visited him there that summer.  Three months later, he was home, and my parents called us all into their bedroom. 

"Your mother and I aren't g…

To Blave

Riddle me this: what is the difference between true love and indifference?  'Cause, you know, I'm not really sure anymore.

All my life, there have been certain people who could hurt me more than anyone else with the things that they said to or about me.  Or, rather, all my life, there have been certain people whom I allowed to hurt me more than anyone else because, or so I thought, I loved them.  Or, rather, all my life, there have been certain people whose opinion of me I valued so much that, regardless whether what they said had any bearing on reality, I believed because, after all, they loved me, which meant, surely, that they knew me better than anyone else and that, therefore, I could trust them to see me clearly and understand who I was and, therefore, how what I was was good or true or worthwhile.  Or lovable.

Which hurts (and has hurt).  A lot.  Because, as I have started to realize over these past several weeks of sitting with those uncomfortable feelings I keep talki…

Medicine for the Soul

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Doggie Zen

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My dog has exactly the right idea.  Whatever she's doing, she does with her full attention, whether it's lying on the floor in the hallway or going outside to chase squirrels.  You never see her halfway: kinda relaxed or kinda watching the squirrels.  Her attention is fully on, and in, the moment.  Which means, true to her name*, she is never without joy, whether she has a hour to play in the back garden while I sit and read, or only a few minutes as I take her downstairs to pee.  An hour, a minute, it's all the same to her--because it's all the same to her.  She takes full advantage of every moment to sniff, to look, to be.  And then, she's coming back inside, as satisfied (nearly) with the momentary break from indoors as she is with a more extended walk.  Okay, so she tugs at the bottom of the stairs, just to make sure I'm serious, but then she is bounding back up, as cheerful and engaged in the moment as she was when we went down.  She does not worry from o…