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Showing posts from July, 2011

Hello, my name is...

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To what extent do the names that we are given by our parents at birth influence our sense of being special, unique, popular, wanted or loved?

My name is Rachel.  According to baby names hub, at least 547,035 girls born in the United States since 1880 have been named Rachel, but in 1965, when I was born, it was only the 175th most popular girls' name, nowhere near as popular as it would later become in the mid-1980s, where it hit 15th in 1986.  In 2008, it was back down, at 75th (see chart).


Which is odd, because as I was growing up, I always felt like Rachel was a more common name than, say, Rebecca, my sister's name, because I was named after our grandmother Rachel, and Rebecca was not (at least in living generations) a family name.  And yet, Rebecca was the 39th most popular girls' name in 1967, the year my sister was born. Rebecca peaked a few years before Rachel, hitting 15th in 1982.  It was at 119th in 2008.


Curiously, both of us have regularly had the experience of …

Hermeneutical Trumps

A. The qualia (the “what it is like” characteristics) of an experience are by definition inaccessible to anyone other than the one to which they occur. That is, I can never know what it feels like for you to be happy, hurt, eager, surprised, enlightened, in love, angry, in this place or that place, in this body or that body, male if I am female or vice versa, you rather than me.

B. People lie. They lie with their facial expressions, they lie with their words, they lie (at least with respect to their wants and desires and opinions) with their actions. Which means that, pace Ekman's studies even of microexpressions, there is no way whatsoever to gain unambiguous access to what other people are thinking or feeling.

Are we then supposed just to give up?

Ego sum

I need to say this carefully so that there is no misunderstanding.

Objectively speaking, I am Christian. A Christian, yes, but more importantly, Christian.

That is, subjectively speaking, I see the world, reality, what have you from a particular perspective which, objectively, others have identified as "Christian" but which for me is simply the truth.

The truth being, that I, like all other human beings, am a child of God, created in His image and likeness, a creature of body and soul, created good and yet fallen and, therefore, in need of salvation.

Which means, I realized yesterday talking to a new friend who is a Baha’i and whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Iran when she was a child, that I, like she, am not particularly anxious about being or not being an American, other than that living in the United States gives me political freedom to see myself and everyone else in the world as a child of God without risking criminalization or exile, at least, politically.

Of…

That Thing You Do

Yoga: I've been doing yoga since I was sixteen, since before there were sticky mats, when the only book on yoga that you could find in the local bookstore where we lived was Richard Hittleman's Yoga: A 28-Day Exercise Plan (1969).  I started going to classes when I was in graduate school up on Morningside Heights in New York and the only yoga studio that I could find was at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center down on 24th.  We chanted kirtan in Sanskrit, too.Writing: I started keeping a diary when I was eleven, writing to "Toni" in conscious imitation of Anne Frank's "Kitty" as a way of practicing for when I would be a "real" writer.  I kept a diary all through middle school, high school and much of college, then again when I was in graduate school.  I did Morning Pages every day for a good five or six years, particularly when I was working on my first book.  And, of course, I've been blogging here now for three.Swimming: I swam on the neigh…

Best Dodge Ever, or How to Pretend That It Doesn't Matter If You Don't Actually Read the Book

"[Mombaer's book] is divided into titles, or articles.  The first one is called 'Eruditiorium Exercitiorum', or 'Of the more learned (advanced) exercises,' and covers six folios in the Zwolle edition of 1494.  It is divided into several sub-divisions, which deal with a great multitude of subjects, having little connection with each other.  It seems like a vast jungle of nouns and verbs, suggestive of purity, fervor, moderation, advice, congruity; dignity, doing, commanding, giving, promising, enemies, judgment, example, writing, evil, sin, pride, order, place, time, etc.  Probably this first title or article is intended as a sort of introduction, or survey."

--Albert Hyma, The Christian Renaissance: A History of the “Devotio Moderna” (New York and London: The Century Co., 1925), p. 258.

Frog Flow

I could write something now, about, I don't know, being hot or getting that sweet parry-riposte at practice last night or wondering what they're shooting a couple blocks away, but that would mean eating the writing frog and I don't really want to.

I know, I'm a writer (well, a wannabe writer).  I'm supposed to enjoy writing.  And I do, sort of.  But not really.  Not as much as I enjoy, I don't know, reading the new comic books I got a few days ago or lying in bed next to the air conditioner trying not to sweat.

I'm wasting my life if I don't write, I know.  But if I do write?  Well, then, what happens is what happened to me this morning when I sat down to work on the paper that I am presenting at our symposium next week.  One minute it's 9:00am, the next minute it's noon--and I have no memory of even existing during that time.

Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not entirely.  "I" (ironically, given that the topic of the sym…

Love is...

Seeing the fragility, neediness and imperfections in another person upon whom you depend for your own sense of validation and self-worth--and not resenting them for it.

Likewise, seeing their abilities, talents and accomplishments--and being able to rejoice with them.

The Big Pay Off

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We all want it, the big pay off.  The watershed that will make all of our problems go away.  We spend our lives convinced that if only I could win the jackpot, if only my book would become a best-seller, if only I could win that gold medal, then, then I would be on Easy Street.  And what happens when we get lucky and all our dreams come true?  As everyone who has been following the happiness studies knows, nothing.  We are typically right back where we started, more or less just as happy (or not) as we were to begin with.  Happiness, it seems, is indifferent to success.

So why keep striving so hard?

Blog in the Family

Those of you who have been with me since the beginning will remember that one of the inspirations for my starting a blog in the first place was the excellent series of reflections that my brother had posted on his original blog about being an American living in Belgium.  Well, after a hiatus, he has now started publishing again.  Indeed, he has started a whole net of blogs, in which he plans to reflect upon not only his experiences living in Belgium, but also his teaching and further travels, as well as giving advice to his daughter and homage to his favorite video stars.  Given that he is not only a Buddhist, but also my younger brother (ahem!), it is more or less guaranteed that there is going to be a fair amount of (ahem! ahem!) sibling rivalry at stake in my response to his blogging.

What can I say?  It is in the nature of family members to disagree, particularly when they have so much in common.  As, thanks to several of his recent posts, I realize that my brother and I do.  We a…

Gather Us In, or A Rant in Defense of Organized Religion

I'm sorry, I can't write this any other way.  I am sick to death of people (white people, enlightened seekers, well-meaning agnostics who were scarred by the experiences of growing up in less than forgiving communities) bleating about how they dislike "organized religion."  As if they know the first thing about what it means to participate in a tradition or belong to a Church.

There, I said it.  Now stone me.  But, first, listen for a moment.  Please.  Because maybe, just maybe what Krishnamurti so famously told the Theosophists when they hoped to recognize him as the World Teacher wasn't the whole of the story about what it means to be a Church.  Maybe there is a point to participating in a tradition, a community of worship, following others in the journey of life.

No, I can tell you aren't listening, don't want to listen, know that what I am going to say will make you frustrated and upset.  You don't want to be told what to think--nor do I--and for …

Stumbled Upon

The best description yet for why I am keeping this blog.

Jacobs is talking here about essays as a way of representing "the mind -- following in its habitual way its branching pathways of memory and reflection -- discovering something deeply true that the mind's owner would just as soon not know":
An old phrase holds that to be a Christian is to be homo viator: the human being as wayfarer, as pilgrim. Wayfarers know in a general sense where we are headed: to the City of God, what John Bunyan, that great chronicler of pilgrimage, called the Celestial City -- but we aren't altogether certain of the way. We can get lost for a time, or lose our focus and nap for too long on a soft patch of grass at the side of the road, or dally a few days at Vanity Fair. We can even become discouraged -- but we don't, ultimately and finally, give up. And we don't think we have arrived. To presume that we have made it to our destination and to despair of arriving are both, …

Just promise me

Things that I have wanted desperately that I no longer expect or care whether I ever actually get or achieve:
A C rating in foilA housePromotion to full professorMy family (either side) to come visit me in ChicagoThousands of hits per day on my blog20/20 vision Goodness.  I must be near perfect.  If only I could stop caring about the size of my thighs, I'd be there.  Truly.

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," sayeth the Preacher.  "What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?...  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun."

Harry Potter 7.2

I wanted to enjoy it, I really did.  And I did, in a way.  The casting and sets were as usual delightful (go, Snape!); the special effects fully up to industry standard (great dragon!); the 3-D was much better than I thought it would be (even if, without the glasses, the world looked like nothing so much as post-PRK); the audience was enthused and cheerful.  And yet...

I've had a love/hate relationship with J.K. Rowling's blockbuster series ever since book 4, which I thought contrived beyond imagining (really, three trials spaced out over the academic year so that, what, the plot could end in spring as necessary?) but nevertheless read in more or less one sitting the weekend after it came out (my husband read it first, the same night).  The first three books had me fully captivated, but the last three I read more out of duty to my earlier interest than out of joy.  Not that they weren't gripping reads.  But.

But what?  What was missing for me?  Was it just that I was no lo…

Plan Frog

It's huge.  It's ugly.  It's sitting there on my dining room table (where I'm writing), just waiting for me.

I've done laundry (that was yesterday).  I've looked into upgrading my MacBook (still running OS X 10.5.8; I didn't even know there was an App Store for Macs until I tried to find iA Writer this morning for my MacBook, thinking, you know, that maybe having a different word processing program would help me get over this block).  I've upgraded my blog template and rearranged all the gadgets.  I've read various articles about the late medieval devotio moderna that my research assistant scanned for me.  I've tried taking the dog for a walk (tried, but failed--she is terrified of all the branches that came down in Monday's storm).  And I'm terrified.  Still.

It's been almost two years since I wrote anything remotely resembling a research paper.  Sure, I did a plenary address last autumn for a conference on the Virgin Mary, but that…

Pardon Our Dust

Yes, I'm updating my blog template today. I should, of course, be eating a wholly different frog, but it's hard to look those warty buggers in the face when you're tired. You know, from fencingallweekend.

Unlike many who seem to be happier having updated their blog templates, I'm actually sorry to be losing the old Blogger style. But the older templates don't support the nifty networking buttons and response boxes, so here I am in Josh Peterson's "Picture Window" rather than Todd Dominey's "Scribe". I miss the background and the parchment colored "scroll". But I like the ability to have tabs across the top for my "Writing Time" and "Point Control" pages. Maybe I'll even add some more pages, just to make things fun.  And I like the way I can set off the blog posts against the background of the side bars, as well as that the posts appear in their own little boxes, not just as a continuous scroll.  …

Plan D

Use the whole three minutes.

Breathe.

Plan C

Simone Weil said it better than I could. It's about attention and how everything that we do--she says, every subject that we study in school--is preparation for prayer. Because study requires us not just to concentrate, but to attend, to care, to be wholly present to the object of our attention.

I see it now. I have been making it too complicated. I kept thinking that prayer was about having a particular kind of experience; a feeling rather than a thought. I expected prayer to be, I don't know, exhilarating, rapturous, absorptive, mystical. Which it can be, but not for the reasons that I had thought. Prayer is being there, absolutely, attending to God. Not expecting anything else, not wanting to be changed or validated or inspired, just paying attention. What could be simpler?

I felt it yesterday, there on the strip. I was so tired from the previous two days' competition, I had no energy left for expectations. All that I could think was, "This bout is the…

Plan B

Every muscle in my body aches, even my armpits. I'm not sure how I am going to get on the strip again today. Even my mind is foggy, despite the fact that I finally seem to have been able to sleep through the night, no thanks to the a) altitude, b) time zone difference, and c) frozen margarita I had yesterday evening while sitting in the hot tub with my girl friends. (Happy days!) But I'm still here, so I guess I have to fence today.

Have to? Get to! This is the first year that I have qualified for this particular event (Div II Women's Foil). And it's going to be tough. I've fenced Div II before at NACs, but I know from my experience of Div III that Nationals is even harder. What is going to be my plan for today? Let's concentrate on getting me to the strip in the first place.

First things first, write this blog post. Let my mind settle into thinking about what is going to happen today, what I am going to need to focus on. Have some coffee, even tho…

Plan A

It really isn't that complicated. Relax. Breathe. Visualize yourself on the strip. Think what it feels like to have your foil in your hand, your mask over your face, your body in on guard. Think what it feels like to hear the director say, "Fence." Look at your opponent. What is she doing now? Does she look tense? Relaxed? Ready? Sly? What kind of traps is she going to be setting for you?

Start moving towards her on the strip. How does she respond? Does she step back or in? Watch the distance on your tips. When the tapes cross, you are close enough to be hit--or to hit. Do something, don't just stand there. Play with her blade. Move in, move out. Take a beat and see if she responds. Take another beat with extension. Nothing yet? Make it a little more convincing, make her think you are going to attack. Attack!

Ah, she parried--which one? A four. Yes, she's right-handed, that's going to be her strongest parry. How to get around it? …

Bear de Milo

I do not, as a rule, like showing my arms.  Or my legs, for that matter.  Even when I have been slimmer than I am now, I haven't particularly liked wearing shorts.  My knees look too heavy.  But you'd think that at least I should be able to wear short sleeves, even when I am not feeling particularly svelt.

Perhaps it's the memory of one of my teachers shaking her arms over us in fourth grade.  She wore sleeveless dresses and her upper arms were somewhat flabby so that when she pointed at us, they would wobble.  I hate looking in the mirror and seeing my arms like that.

"So just keep them by your side," you say.  "Don't point accusingly at people."  Ah, but then they'd press against my rib cage and look even bigger.  I have arms like a man.  Except when it comes to doing manly things like putting the air conditioners in the windows; then I'm a wimp.  Sure, I can "make a muscle" if I flex my arm, but what muscle there is doesn't …

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I don't know how many times I've read (or not read) these instructions on my shampoo bottle. Every bottle has them, but who actually follows them? I had always thought of them as a colossal waste of time.

Repeat? Who has time to rinse twice when there are things to do during the day much more important than washing one's hair? And besides, I reasoned, wouldn't lathering and rinsing once get my hair clean enough? Surely the shampoo companies only included these instructions on the bottle to get us to use more (as they say in the hair-cleansing industry) "product."  Well, apparently not.

According to cosmetologist Kendra Aarhus, the first lather-up only gets the first layer of oil (sebum) and old shampoo out of one's scalp.  It is actually the second lather-up that gets your hair clean.   So, I tried it.  And guess what?  She's right.  Fancy that.  I have been lathering, rinsing and repeating for a couple of weeks now, and, yes, my hair is signific…

Bear's Frogs

"Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.

"Your 'frog' is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don't do something about it. It is also the one task that can have the greatest positive impact on you life and results at the moment.

"The first rule of frog eating is this: if you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first." --Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time (2007)

My ugliest frogs, which I must eat in order to have a career but which I tend to put off eating because they are the hardest and most important things that I have to do

1. Read and/or translate primary sources from Latin

2. Write about these sources

3. Footnote what I've written s…