Showing posts from January, 2009

Mind Games

So, here's the thing, although I'm not sure I can explain it in a way that will make sense to anybody who isn't a fencer. Because that, of course, is the problem: fencing doesn't make sense. Here's a sport, mind you, in which anybody on any given day can defeat even the most experienced fencer; in which thinking to oneself, "Oh, I'm getting pretty good at this," is a sure guarantee that the next time you get on the strip you will lose; in which years of practice count for everything--and absolutely nothing. I don't know about you, but I can't think of any other activity for which this is the case. Imagine someone sitting down at the piano without ever having touched a keyboard and playing a sonata better than Beethoven. Or imagine swimming for years, getting stronger and stronger, and diving into the pool one day and not being able to float. Anything else, you practice, you develop a skill, some days you feel better than others, to be sur

Day Four, Page Four

I have a rant. Why is it when you tell people that you are managing to write a page a day of good academic prose (about 400 words, not including notes) they immediately seem to assume that you're having trouble because you're not writing fast enough? What is "fast enough," people? Okay, maybe not you, my blog readers, but some of my friends, who will go unnamed because this really isn't about them. It's about what we expect of our lives and our creativity, and the idiotic pressure to do everything FAST. Isn't it better to write books that we take our time over rather than just churning out prose as fast as we can so as to fill up our c.v.s? There's already more out there than any of us can manage to read, even in our own narrowly-defined (and, therefore, mind you, academically effective ) fields. I really don't want to waste my time reading articles and books that colleagues have not taken the time to research and write well. There's a

25 Random Things About Me

As if you didn't know enough already! Inspired by the current Facebook meme, with the following instructions, and written this morning when I should have been struggling with page 3: "Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you." 1. I like winter because it means I get to wear sweaters. 2. As I write, my desk and the floor around my desk tend to get covered in photocopies and books. Eventually, it becomes difficult to get to my chair. 3. I had guinea pigs as pets all through college and graduate school. My last guinea pig died the week before my son was born. 4. My favorite colors are jewel tones: rubies, emeralds, sapphires, amethyst. I also rather like silver and gold. 5. I took piano lessons for almost 10 years (it's hard to know how t

Zoned Out

Is it worth it? Is it worth it, Feeling like this Night after night, Just when you think You’re improving To be back, stuck, Unable to See what to do, Unable to Step at the right Time, blind, inept, An idiot Holding a foil? Not my best night. (Although it's interesting how writing bad poetry about it makes me feel a little bit better.)

A Journey of 100,000 Words

...begins with a single page. As I was looking through my files this morning, wondering what I had done with the word processing template for my last book, I found this schedule that I kept the autumn that I started work on it. Nostalgia and a reminder of how books are written: one day, one hour at a time. (Click on the images to enlarge.) As I recall, I finished the draft of the first chapter of that book a week later. Working more or less to this schedule, it took me another two and a half years (minus a term or two teaching) to get the book finished and to my publisher. So I guess I'm in for the long haul now with this next book, although I (and my prospective editors) very much hope it is not quite as long as the first one was. If you're curious, you can check that one out here . N.B. The times on the chart only reflect hours I actually spent sitting at my desk, writing.* I know I spent a good deal of time reading as well, but I didn't record that as such.**

Signs & Portents

I've spent the week going over my notes and making outlines for the chapters of my new book, which probably explains the nightmare I had on waking this morning. I dreamed I was in my office and heard construction outside. When I "awoke" from my dream-nap, I found my office door replaced by a temporary wall that, thankfully, still opened, and people milling around outside talking about how to move walls and make space for the administrative offices they were planning to move to my floor. I found my dean and began pleading with him not to disrupt my work space in this way, but oddly soon found myself comforting him as he broke down in tears. When I got back to my office, it was full of more people, my wood floor was covered with a hideous blue shag carpet and, horror of horrors, all of my books were gone. At which point I broke down in tears and actually awoke, gasping at the effort to try to talk these strangers out of taking over my life. Can you say anxiety dream? T


This is very likely the most provocative post I have written to date, but it's getting in the way as I try to start working on the draft of my book and I need to think about it out loud. This morning I was reading the psalms for Lauds in M. Basil Pennington's The Abbey Prayer Book (Ligouri, MO: Ligouri/Triumph, 2002), and I came across this passage from Psalm 147, vv. 19-20: "He reveals his word to Jacob, his statutes and rulings to Israel: he never does this for other nations, he never reveals his rulings to them." Pennington is working from The Jerusalem Bible (1966). According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV, 1994), the passage is just as categorical: "He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation: they do not know his ordinances." I don't know how you feel about it, but I have a hard time with claims such as these. It's important for my purposes because Psalm 147 (in

The Power of Rhetoric

For all those worried about whether The Speech we just heard was simply Rhetoric, some thoughts by another master speaker about the art of using words. Lewis is here talking primarily about Poetry, but what he says about Rhetoric seems worth bearing in mind today: "I do not think (and no great civilization has ever thought) that the art of the rhetorician is necessarily vile. It is in itself noble, though of course, like most arts, it can be wickedly used. I do not think that Rhetoric and Poetry are distinguished by manipulation of an audience in the one and, in the other, a pure self expression, regarded as its own end, and indifferent to any audience. Both these arts, in my opinion, definitely aim at doing something to an audience. And both do it by using language to control what already exists in our minds. The differentia of Rhetoric is that it wishes to produce in our minds some practical resolve (to condemn Warren Hastings or to declare war on Philip) and it does this


An exercise in syllabic verse, count 7-5-7-5. All my life I've loved the rain. Water on hot rocks Smells like heaven to me, a Child of the desert. Storm clouds over the mountains Dark with promises. Today I will stay inside And listen to God.


Yes, it's really that cold. High today 1 F.

In the Eye of the Beholder

I have a beautiful sister. I know this because men whom I have just met have been telling me so for pretty much my whole life, typically taking me aside to whisper it confidentially, as if somehow I hadn't noticed before. What they want (I guess) is for me to say something to her--"He thinks you're gorgeous"--but, of course, a) she already knows this and b) they don't really need me to tell her that they think this. I'm not really sure how I am supposed to respond. My husband (God bless him) thinks I'm crazy, not to mention just as beautiful as my sister (if not more so). But, then, he is in love with me. Does he love me because I am beautiful or does he see me as beautiful because he loves me? I wonder if a man (other than my husband) has ever taken my sister aside to gush over how beautiful he thinks I am. Here's the thing: why should I care? My husband loves me and I am utterly uninterested in any other man. Don't get me wrong. It'


What do you write about when you want to write but don't have anything very definite to say? I did my poetry exercise for the evening, but only came up with one decent line, a dactylic pentameter ending in a spondee: Sud denly one day in spring time the cows appeared in Grant Park . After which should come something about how cool it was returning to Chicago after a year down south at the Research Triangle to find statues of cows populating all of the sidewalks downtown. But nope, nothing. It's because I'm thinking too hard, of course. Nothing puts off the Muse better than wanting her to show up. It's not unlike what happens in fencing when you're trying to force the action: the harder you try, the more you get hit. And yet, last night one of my friends had me do a drill in which I would only score if I made the touch without any blade contact. The point of the drill was to force me to stop always trying to take the blade first, but how then was I supposed


An exercise in recognizing how good it is to be alive. In iambic tetrameter and trimeter. To the tune of "Sweet Spirits Do Surround Us Now." Sort of. My family's home, the fridge is full; No dishes in the sink. Our flat is warm, the laundry's done; There's time to sit and think. There may be more to say, but I can't think of it right now without getting somewhat sappy. At least, that's what my husband said about the next stanza that I wrote last night so I think I'll keep working on this one. Meanwhile, a little something for all those of you waiting for the next episode of Battlestar Galactica this Friday, again in iambic tetrameter and trimeter: A Cylon's not like you or me, Their spines glow in the dark. But get them on theology, And watch their conscience spark. And in trochaic tetrameter: Happy Cylons are a mystery, What they know and why they care. Number Six loves Doctor Gaius Hoping he will not despair. I have more in my notebook, but

Chrysalis's Lament

An exercise in iambic tetrameter (I hope; I'm still working on hearing the accents properly). Why is it when you have an inkling To write a poem or a book As soon as you put pen to paper All your ideas turn to muck? I have an image of myself now, A caterpillar, hugely fed, So full of facts that there is nothing For me to do but go to bed. I've feasted on the living history Of men and women centuries gone, Stuffed myself with facts and figures, Manuscripts, their prayers and songs. "What now," you say, "you're surely ready To start on chapters of your book." "But," I answer, "no, not really, I'm all a mess, just take a look. "There's nothing here that counts as writing, Outlines, yes, but where to start? With us, with them, or in the middle? With prayer, with Mary, or with art?" Someday soon I'll have to answer, Tremble though at first I may. Cocoons are nice, but flying's better, If only I could find the way.

A Pearl of Great Price

Prose explains itself. Poetry bemuses, Manifest in its pentameters yet Veiled in its significance, like a pearl Hidden in an oyster, mystic, divine. I read an article this afternoon* About the death of inspiration, how Poets no longer look to heaven but Only within, their wounded souls the source Of all their musings. Once upon a time They prayed to God, opening their minds, shell-like, To the stars, as oysters awaiting the dew. Now, however, we no longer believe In dew-dropped pearls, wedding heaven and earth At their confection. Pearls, we say, are like Scabs, the oyster's self-protection against Invasion, excretions of nacreous Goo, hardly the stuff of poetry. Alas, Cold hard facts win. The spiritual sense Dies like shrimp in the oyster's briny maw, Enveloped by the hard coating of science, And poetry with it. Sing, Muse, of heaven's Kingdom--but the pearl-strewn path is gone, swept Away not so much by knowledge as by Poetry's dependence

The Year Ahead

FWIW: This is the post I had planned to do for New Year's Day before I got sick. As they say, the best laid plans... click to enlarge N.B. what a good game of YDYB (" Why don't you--yes but ") Bear has going here. Let's hope A.G.'s final move helps snap her out of it. [ Postscriptum : For those of you who are wondering, 30,000 words is not enough for a whole book, at least not the one I am planning to write. The point is to give myself an intermediate goal for the upcoming year. The book itself should be more along the lines of 80,000 to 100,000 words, as per the recommendation I have from one potential editor.]

Sick-bed Rant

Diagnosis: flu. I hate being sick. Every muscle aches, nerve-endings stretched taut, A mask of pain across my cheeks, my throat On fire with pins. This sucks. What happened to My holiday? I had plans, things to do, Places to go, books to read, friends to see. Instead I'm stuck, here on the couch, dream-ridden, Lethargic, my sinuses an aching mass Of snot. Do you wonder that I'm pissed off? At least this year it's just the flu. Last year I wrecked our car on the ice. Some luck, eh? Still working on those iambic pentameters.