Showing posts from 2008

For Auld Lang Syne

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Waking Dream

A prayer for camp, day three, product of a sleepless night, excess adrenaline and twitching muscles. Yet another exercise in iambic pentameters. Our goal: a conversation of the blades, A thing of beauty, work of art, a test Of skill and cunning, wrought in steel, a joy. You take my blade, I parry yours, blades clash. We stop, we fall out of step, tips up, points Off target. Watch the distance, do not rush. I waver. How to sneak past your attack? Must mine be pretty or just get the touch? Anger now, so ugly, nothing beautiful In this. Why won't you do the action right? It's your fault, not mine, we can't converse as well As such an ancient art deserves. Watch me; I'll show you how it's done. Hold your blade like this . How dare you baffle me with your mistakes? And yet I know to blame myself. Why can't I transform our stumbling into something Worth the name of fencing? This is just a mess Of foils. Must get back to basics. Breathe. Point On target. Br

Camp, Day Two

Yet another exercise in iambic pentameter, after a long soak in epsom salts. Advance, advance, retreat, retreat, advance. If only I could somehow learn the rhythm, Then maybe I could one day learn this art. How many years of practice will it take Before my verse takes flight into the skies? But I, you say, belong upon the ground, Not soaring through the air like Peter Pan. Something more age-appropriate becomes A woman of my stature; not this, not Verse : clumsy, inelegant, a-wandering From one thought to another. Point on target. Should I not try e'en though I'm past the age For whimsy? Teen-agers alone may be Forgiven dreaming; adults like me should Know their place. I don't, too bad! I'm here, trying Despite my years. I promise, tomorrow's Poem will be better. Just give me time. Retreat, advance, advance, retreat, attack!

First Day of Camp

An exercise in iambic pentameter. It's just not fair; I want to learn to fence. But here we are: one coach, eight kids and me. Am I a fool to try to do this now? My hair all white, my legs too stiff to move. My heart says yes, I need to learn this skill. But oh the pain to lose to someone new. Too old to win, too young to quit, that's me. If I quit now how will I ever know Was it too much to ask myself to dream?

Inventory, Age 43 5/6

1. Things I can do well but don't really think of as skills despite the fact that it took time (i.e. years) and effort to learn them: Touch type with some degree of speed and accuracy Write grammatical English Read and remember thousands of books and articles in my academic field, their authors and titles, and give a rough idea of their arguments without having to look them up (very useful when talking with colleagues, advising students or designing syllabi) Design a university-level course and teach it (see previous item) Converse on a high level about questions of history, theology, hermeneutics, and devotion Know where to look for bibliography in fields that I have not studied intensively myself Critique an argument and make suggestions on how to improve it (a.k.a. grading, but also thesis advising and peer review) Read medieval European book hands in manuscript Read and translate Latin, plus a few other languages when I need to (mostly German and French) Design and carry out a

Vigilia Nativitatis Domini

click to enlarge Key to Red Bear's allusions in panel 4 1. Bricolage : "the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things which happen to be available; a work created by such a process" (Wikipedia) 2. Walter Benjamin, " The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction " (1936) 3. Andy Warhol, especially Campbell's Soup I (1968) Historical note: the first pet I had as a child was a dog named Puppy. Our cat was named Kitty. So, yes, my toys really are named Fencing Bear, American Girl, Red Bear, Teddy Bear and (unusually) Sugar Bear. I'm not sure whether this makes me a nominalist or a realist at heart, although I suspect I am a realist (names carry essences, if not universals) with nominalist tendencies (it takes many names to pray to God because no one name can ever be adequate to express divinity). Perhaps it makes me a Hobbit. In my head, I live in the City by the Lake and teach at the University. You get the idea.

Feria Secunda

click to enlarge To be continued... N.B. Fencing Bear has obviously been reading too much in John of Damascus 's defense of the icons against the iconoclasts , although she seems to have gotten the argument somewhat backward.* John argues that all reverence given to the image redounds unto the prototype, thus images should be permitted in Christian worship: "But since some find fault with us for worshipping and honouring the image of our Saviour and that of our Lady, and those, too, of the rest of the saints and servants of Christ, let them remember that in the beginning God created man after His own image. On what grounds, then, do we shew reference to each other unless because we are made after God's image? For as Basil (the Great, c. 330-379), that much-versed expounder of divine things, says, the honour given to the image passes over to the prototype. Now a prototype is that which is imaged, from that which the derivative is obtained." --John of Damascus, Expos

Identity Crisis

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Like Mother, Like Daughter

Reasons neither my mother nor I feel like traveling this Christmas: We both like to decorate our own home and have very particular ideas about what kinds of decorations to use. We both insist on driving to each other's home rather than flying, but are nervous about driving on ice of which there is a good deal between the Texas panhandle and the south side of Chicago just now. We both want to attend Christmas services in our own church with the people whom we see every Sunday during the year. We both like to cook our favorite dishes for Christmas in our own kitchens. We both find it difficult to have our routines disrupted. We both promised neighbors to take care of their pets/plants/mail over the holidays. We both wish the other would come visit her because there are so many things that we would like to share with her. And, oh yes, we are both stubborn. But don't try telling us that. We just like doing things the way that we do. And besides, there's so much to t

Mine, Not Mine

What does it mean to own something, say, a beautiful book? Perhaps a book like this one. It's possible, you know. Maybe not this book exactly*--as far as I know, the university is not planning on auctioning off its collection--but one very like it. Hundreds almost exactly the same survive from the workshops of fifteenth-century Bruges. You might even be able to find one illuminated by the very same master ( Willem Vrelant ) or, if not the master, perhaps (like this one) one of his assistants. The library probably paid something along the lines of $3000 when it purchased this book back in the early 20th century.** Now you'd more likely be looking at something starting around 40,000 Euros , if you were lucky and nobody else bid. Would you want one? Myself, I don't know. It would be a terrible responsibility, after all. These books are hundreds and hundreds of years old, containing some of the most beautiful paintings produced in their time and exhibiting a level of c

Rich Woman, Poor Woman

I was rude just now to a beggar. I was leaving the library on my way to lunch and there she was, standing at the bottom of the stairs, holding the hand of a child probably no more than five years of age. As I saw her move towards me, I knew what she was going to ask, as, indeed, she did, very politely: "Do you have any money to help us get some food?" My usual response would have been to shake my head sadly and lie, "No, sorry, I can't help." But this time, weakened perhaps by my own hunger or--just perhaps--by the work that I have been doing with the books of Hours, I didn't. Instead, I snapped at her: "Yes, of course, I do," and started to pull out my change purse. It took a moment because I had forgotten which pocket I had stashed it in (coat or sweater), during which she began thanking me, still very politely. At which point I snarled: "I give hundreds of dollars every year to the local soup kitchen [true, I just made my annual dona

Hic Dracones

Overheard while sitting in Regenstein Library, following the attack of the Snailox ... click to enlarge What the dragons are saying: Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise him in the heights. Praise him, all his angels; Praise him, all his powers.... Let them praise the name of the Lord. Because he spoke, and they were made. He commanded, and they were created. He established them in eternity, and for all ages.... Praise the Lord from the earth.... The answer to the last dragon's question is in the next line of the psalm: dragons are here, on earth!* *At least, according to the Vulgate. Modern translations turn them into sea-monsters or whales. I'm pretty sure this is why the dragons came to Chicago this evening, along with the hail, snow, ice and stormy winds, thus keeping me from fencing practice so that I could finish this post. See Psalm 148:7-8.** **And, yes, this is one of the reasons medieval Christians believed so firmly in dragons. They're in the Bible, after

Monsters Are Us

The dreaded Snailox, pronounced "snay-lox" (with thanks to TE for the suggestion!) Habitat: the lower margin of University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center, MS 348 fol. 31, opening folio for the hour of Terce for the Little Office of the Virgin Mary. Diet: acanthus leaves , thistles, (possibly) butterflies. Strength: that of an ox. Speed: that of a snail. Powers: induce sloth and distraction in the minds of readers, forcing them to ruminate for hours over the same text. May also encourage web-browsing in search of images of, for example, acanthus leaves, leading to discoveries such as the site linked above on how to draw said leaves. Very dangerous, but easy to escape if you can manage to turn the page.

Riddle Me Wrapped

Consider: Human beings like making things. Human beings also like giving gifts to other human beings, and sometimes even to other animals.* Sometimes human beings make things that other human beings want to have, like dolls or clothing for said dolls . When this happens, the human beings who want the dolls (for example) are often willing to pay money to the human beings who made the dolls so as to be able to give the dolls to younger human beings whom they love. If many human beings like the made things, for example, the dolls, they then crowd into the shops selling those things. The makers of the things then make lots of money in exchange for the things that so many people want. Some human beings would say that there is something terribly wrong with this picture. Is it a) that human beings like making things, like dolls and clothing? Is it b) that human beings are willing to honor other human beings for making things that they like by exchanging property or currency for those

Not a birthday card

To: Mom, a.k.a. Nona, a.k.a. Grandma , hoping the day is not quite just like any other day. "Sky Writing" Written and directed by TRFB Cinematography TRFB Edited by TRFB and RLF Produced by RLF & JPB Music: "Guns in the Sky" edited by VI Corps Combat Engineers Model by Flights of Fancy Trivia question: can you guess what year you were born from the video? There is a clue hidden in it. Hint: think American, not U.K. edition.


Point control: hold grip firmly but not tightly between thumb and index finger. Feel the end of the blade through your fingers. Pommel on wrist as you extend your arm. Lead with the tip, shoulder relaxed. Keep arm up! Don't drop your blade as you advance. Point on target even when you parry. Don't drop your tip. Keep parries small. Hold parry just long enough to gain control of the blade. Give yourself time to feel how your opponent is responding. Set the action up. Watch and feel how your opponent moves his or her blade, but don't allow him or her to control what you do. Ease into the action. Slow-fast is much more effective than fast-fast. Don't push; that will just make your opponent retreat. Move in a way that is not threatening and then finish fast when you get the chance. Keep moving on the strip but change your pace. Don't let your opponent hypnotize you into a pattern. Don't fight the fighter. Don't push against an aggressive fencer; he

Hymn for Vespers, Office of the Holy Spirit

"Dextre dei digitus uirtus spiritalis Nos defendat et eruat ab omnibus malis. Ut nobis non noceat demon infernalis Protegat et foueat nutriat sub alis." --The University of Chicago, Regenstein Library, MS 344, fol. 14 Finger of the right hand of God, spirit of strength*, Defend and rescue us from all evils. That the infernal demon may not harm us, Protect, cherish and nourish us under your wings. *Lit. "spiritual virtue" or "fortitude"

Overheard in Zurich

click to enlarge Photo credit: JP Brown


click to enlarge Blame on it my sister. She introduced me to this program (Comic Life Magiq from ) and the Bear wanted to have a go.... Bear's bugging me to get the program that enables you to make comics on your iPhone, too. Fame's really going to her head, I'm afraid.--RLF

The Work of God*

I feel like Dorothy, suddenly learning that she was wearing the way home on her feet all along. On Monday this past week I posed a question: why, after all I had done over the holiday weekend (including watching The Wizard of Oz with friends), did I have such a feeling of inadequacy and emptiness? When I wrote the post, I was thinking to myself of potential answers, including some of those touched on by my readers: that it had been a holiday weekend, so I did no "real" work, only indulged myself in time with family and friends; that taking a holiday of itself can seem wasteful, particularly in this year when I am on leave to be as productive as I possibly can in my research; that even when I am at work, the feeling of "not doing enough" persists if I am doing "nothing but" reading or, when I am not on leave, preparing for class. Writing, after all, is my only "real" work. "Publish or perish," as the saying goes. If I am not writin

High Maintenance

It's not fair. My husband's feet are perfect: smooth, pink, no cracks in the heels, no rough spots along the edges. Just feet. Mine, on the other hand, are almost frightening. My heels are nothing but cracks, peeling and dry. There are calluses on both my big toes and on the ball of my left foot, just where I put the most pressure when I'm fencing. Even the bottoms of my feet are horrible to look at, a spider's web of cracks and dried skin. Sometimes, as last night, I put lotion on my feet before I go to bed and cover my feet with socks. When I wake up, my feet are significantly improved: pinker and not so overtly cracked; the calluses softened a bit so that I can smooth them away. But the lotion makes my feet slippery for when I am doing my yoga, meaning I would seem to have to choose between having smooth feet on the one hand and a sure grip on my mat in Trikonasana and Adho Mukha Svanasana on the other. Nor is this a temporary condition that I might cure by

Feast of St. Birinus

"At that time, during the reign of Cynigils, the West Saxons, anciently known as the Gewissae, accepted the Faith of Christ through the preaching of Bishop Birinus. He had come to Britain at the direction of Pope Honorius [I, reigned A.D. 625-638], having promised in his presence that he would sow the seeds of our holy Faith in the most inland and remote regions of the English, where no other teacher had been before him. He was accordingly consecrated bishop by Asterius, Bishop of Genoa, at the Pope's command; but when he had reached Britain and entered the territory of the Gewissae, he found them completely heathen, and decided that it would be better to begin to preach the word of God among them rather than seek more distant converts. He therefore evangelized that province, and when he had instructed its king, he baptized him and his people. It happened at the time that the most holy and victorious Oswald was present, and greeted King Cynigils as he came from the font,

Holiday Check-in

Things that I did over the long Thanksgiving weekend, beginning Wednesday: Finished the first sleeve on the sweater I'm knitting; started the second Listened to George MacDonald's The Princess and Curdie (1883) Wrote two blog posts ("10,000 Hours" and "The Eternal Feminine") Went grocery shopping for Thanksgiving dinner Watched the BBC production of Gaudy Night (1987) Cooked (Thursday morning, 8:30am-1:30pm) Listened to Tennyson's Idylls of the King (composed 1833-1874) , with biographical introduction and critical discussion Went over to friends' home for dinner; ate dinner Watched The Wizard of Oz (1939) Talked with my sister and my mother on the phone Finished Andrew Greeley's Myths of Religion (1977) Watched High Fidelity (2000) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Started Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924) and Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk (1997) Went to a yoga class; stayed for fencing practice Wr

The Eternal Feminine*

Paradoxically, given the fact that I've spent my entire academic life thinking about the Virgin Mary, I very rarely say anything directly about gender. You'd think I should, right? Most people do--think that I should, that is. Because, of course, most people who have written about Mary in the past thirty or so years have. Marina Warner, Mary Daly, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Rosemary Radford Reuther: how well I remember reading their work while I was in college and being swept up into the debate on the feminine image of the divine. Reading Andrew Greeley's The Mary Myth (1977) is bringing it all back to me, and not in a good way. I'm discouraged, because I was really enjoying his treatment of Jesus and Sinai . Now, however, I am beset with sentences such as these: "I will contend that Mary is a symbol of the feminine component of the deity. She represents the human insight that the Ultimate is passionately tender, seductively attractive, irresistibly insp

10,000 Hours*

That's how long, according to the experts, it takes to become expert at something, say, writing academic prose or fencing.* Not "talent", not "genius", but 10,000 hours of practice. At 40 hours a week, 50 weeks in the year (giving yourself a bit of vacation), this means five years of full-time work. And full-time means full-time ; it won't do simply to show up at the gym or the library and stand around talking. 10,000 hours means 10,000 hours of concentrated effort and attention under conditions of high relevance, that is, pushing yourself to the edge hour after hour, for years . Most of us can't really work all those hours in the day with full concentration, so realistically it's going to take more like ten years to make our goal, practicing--really practicing--some four hours a day, five days a week. You might be able to compress it a bit by practicing on weekends, but it's still going to take upwards of seven years to even come close. N

Fur, Foil & Friends*

I haven't written about this much yet for fear of embarrassing my friends, but it really is one of the most important reasons I fence. As my friend Neal always says, you meet such great people on the strip. Many of us (at least, this goes for Badger and me) think of ourselves as relatively shy beasts, but give us a mask and a foil, and there we are, scrapping it out like the fiercest of rivals. But take us off the strip and it's all hugs and kisses. It's a paradox worth contemplating. Many of us would never even meet in "real" life. Among the women whom I have fenced at the national veterans' tournaments, including Badger, who works in museum design, there are several fencing coaches (perhaps less surprising, given the context), another history professor, a Latin teacher, a dentist, a social worker, a lawyer, someone who works in insurance, even a graduate student in medieval literature--and these are only the ones whose off-the-strip occupations I kno