Showing posts from April, 2009

How Others See Us

My lesson at fencing last night was probably one I should--or "should"--have learned earlier, but there you go, we learn them when we can. My friend Ed (also a coach at Northwestern) was trying to get me to back up enough to be able to parry his attacks, but all I would ever do was take two steps forward, two steps back, stop at my on guard line--and get hit. "You have to be able to move out of your comfort zone," he told me. "Back up! Don't just stand there waiting to get hit." Now, as far as I was concerned, this was not what I was doing ("waiting to get hit"). What I thought I was doing was stopping in distance to be able to take the parry and still be close enough to hit him on the riposte, but what he saw--and my clubmate Alan confirmed--was that I was stopping before he did and that there was no way for me to avoid his attack if I didn't move further back. "But, but, but," I protested. They both shook their heads: &

How to Stay Calm in a Fencing Bout

1. Breathe . This is one of the first things I learned in preparing for a bout. It helps if you know how to do yogic breathing or ujjaya breath: slightly constrict the throat and then breathe through your nose, very slowly while you're waiting off strip, making a sound a little like Darth Vader in his helmet. This will help calm you down for when you get up. It's harder to maintain this method of breathing while you're actually fencing, but you can help yourself by returning to it between touches. When you go back on guard, breathe and refocus as you wait for the referee to say, "Fence!" 2. Keep your point on target . I know, it seems simple, but one of the things that beginning fencers in particular often fail to do is keep their blade between themselves and their opponent. Your blade is your shield as well as your weapon, but you cannot parry efficiently if your point is off target. Also, if your point stays on target, this means that you only ever nee

Dirty Little Secret

I am ashamed that I don't make more money. Not that I and my family don't live very comfortably, we do. But I know that colleagues of mine--in my department, not just in the sciences or business or law--must make vastly more than I do simply on the basis of what they are able to afford: houses, more than one child, vacations in Europe, second houses, new clothes. Not all of them, but many, some only my age. I don't know what to do with this. I feel slighted, of course, because I work very hard at what I do, but somehow I have never managed to do whatever it is that it takes to get a raise that would enable me and my family to do certain things that I see others doing, and I really don't know how to respond. Work even harder? But it doesn't seem to make any difference; prizes, publications, my family and I still have to watch every time we want to do something more extravagant than go out to eat. It's possible, of course, that I am misjudging my colleagues:


Good word, isn't it? It means "a sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances, esp. in reference to fictional narrative" (New Oxford American Dictionary). It's what I've been hoping for with my fencing and, truth to tell, with my writing. My husband diagnosed the problem for me after reading yesterday's post . "It's the difference," he said, "between drama and real life. What you're hoping for is drama, but what you get is real life." Sudden reversals of fortune--say, going from being a D-rated to an A-rated fencer in one season--are the stuff of drama; it depends on them. In real life, such changes can happen, often do, but they rarely take place as suddenly as we'd like. Instead, we labor for years and years for something to change and then, "overnight" it does: one's book is published, one wins that critical bout. The problem is, by the time we have spent all those years working at something--f

Rags to Riches

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, there was a little scenario that I liked to draw on the back of my homework. It wasn't really a comic strip so much as two scenes, before and after. "Before" would show a young woman, potentially attractive, but dressed all in rags; "after" would show the same woman, now exquisitely dressed, her face clean and hair coiffed, now transformed into the beauty she actually was. The middle (sometimes implied, sometimes drawn out) involved someone--a fairy godmother, a fashion-conscious other woman--catching sight of her and wondering why she was dressed all in patches and then promising to change her for the better. I would draw this scenario over and over again; I particularly liked putting all the big stitches around the patches on the "before" dress and I liked the way the raggedy young woman seemed simpler, more natural than her metamorphosed self. And yet, the dream was of transformation: being lifted magically

The Light Well

A fairy story, by JPB and TRFB. Long, long ago there was a little village in a little island now known as Britain. The villagers were all happy and content because a powerful wizard had made a light well for them--the only one in the world. The wizard had taken a piece from the sun and put a charm on it in a deep hole. Whoever had the magic bucket could pull up a bucketful of light and pour it on whatever he wanted; when he poured the light whatever he wished for came true until the next full moon. The bucket was made from oak wood with a rope of twisted mistletoe. Every inch of the bucket--the inside and outside and all the edges--was decorated with looping, spiraling pictures which the wizard had carved with the iron tip of his staff. Only a person who knew what every single picture on the bucket meant could lift the bucket. For anyone else the bucket would be as fixed and immovable as the biggest mountain in the world. The wizard had told the villagers what all the pictu

Recipe for Success

1. Humiliate yourself by crying whenever anybody asks you how you did on the first day of the tournament; spend at least an hour when you get home weeping about how life is meaningless and you don't know why you keep trying. 2. Do lots of Facebook quizzes to try to figure out who you "really" are. 3. Drink two big glasses of champagne so that you get a headache from having been crying so hard and so that when you fall asleep, you wake up almost immediately and can't get back to sleep until almost dawn. Watch The Matrix (1999) and wish you could see The Code . 4. Spend the wee hours of the morning reading webcomics about mad rabbits , neurotic cats , and sexy skunks . 5. Wake up after only two hours sleep (if that), pack your still unwashed uniform and then drive in the rain for an hour and a half wondering if you will run out of gas. 6.Change weapons from foil to epee, but tell yourself that you're actually really a foilist; you're just fencing epee to

The Secret Ingredient

What are my goals in fencing? Winning clearly can't be one of them because the more I want to, the surer the guarantee that I never will. And yet...and yet, I am sick of writing these posts after tournaments. My eyes are puffy with crying, my head aches, I didn't eat properly today and now I can't sleep. How is this possibly worth it? Worth what? Why do I do this to myself? I was having a really good day yesterday: I got the opening to my second chapter written; it's finally warming up and I was able to wear my new shoes; I'm going to get my new navel ring soon and it's going to be beautiful; my son is turning thirteen in three weeks. Life is good, but I'm sitting here now feeling miserable, life meaningless, wanting to throw myself under a bus. For a sport, God damn it. There had really better be an important life lesson in here that I'm missing somehow because otherwise I haven't a clue why I'm going through this--again. I must be rea

Post-Game Analysis

I didn't qualify for Div II/Div III Summer Nationals. After seeding 2nd out of 15 after the pools, I lost my second D-E to make top 4. By two points. Enough said. You know how I feel already. Here are the results of the quizzes I've just done on Facebook: Which Peanuts character are you? Charlie Brown : "You might be a big blockhead, but you're the best friend someone could ever have." I thought for sure I'd be Lucy. Some mistake, surely. What is your greatest fear? Death : "The fun things in life are too risky to try is your motto. You constantly worry about death and you refuse to attend a funeral [true, I didn't go to my grandfather's ten years ago]. You only watch comedy movies as a sad ending sends you into deep depression [again, true; Salvador still haunts me]. As a child, the death of your pet caused you to miss school for weeks [I'll tell you sometime about when my first guinea pig died]. You never take risks or go anywh

The Elements of Style

I don't like the way I write. At least, not as much as I like the way some of my favorite authors--Barbara Newman, Elaine Scarry, Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien--do. Somehow the words just never come out the way I want them to; and yet, every time I try to write in some other way, it just seems fake, not my voice at all. I could try writing like my sister , more observationally, less argumentatively, which is not to say that she doesn't make arguments, just that she is not bound as I am to make apologies (like this one) for every claim that she makes. I wish that I could write more like my friend Barbara ; if you know her work, you will know why. She is so subtle and yet so profound in the problems that she sets; you think you are reading something simply about a particular text, and before you know it, the whole structure of medieval religious thinking has been turned inside out and laid bare. Scarry is another matter altogether: she is dense and difficult right from the

Maria Elephas

"The elephant symbolizes the Virgin Mary. According to [Aristotle], the elephant has many commendable qualities: it is more obedient than other animals; it is strong in sense; it is easily tamed and lacking in bile, and it is the enemy of the dragon: therefore, the blessed Virgin may be compared to the elephant. "Firstly, the elephant is very obedient, because it is always obedient to its liberator. For it is said that when it is captured, it is beaten severely by the hunter, such that when someone approaches who wants to buy it, it imagines that he is the one who has set it free, and thus the elephant always loves him, and is always obedient to him. Such obedience was excellently [found] in the Blessed Virgin, who was not only obedient to her superior, that is God, when she said: 'Behold, the handmaid of the Lord' [Luke 1:38], but also to her inferior, that is Elizabeth, with whom she stayed three months, and served her as she gave birth. [The Virgin] was also ob

Alleluia, He Is Risen!

He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Christ's Descent into Hell and Resurrection: Icon of the Yaroslavl School, Church of Elijah the Prophet , 1680s. And for all those struggling with doubts about whether this "actually" happened, go here .

Maria Commortua

"Already [her son] was taken, already he was bound, already he was spat upon and struck, and it was said over him: 'He deserves death,' and it was shouted to the prefect: 'Crucify, crucify him.' These things were not hidden from the pious mother, who doubtless had come to Jerusalem at this time, whether for the festival of unleavened bread, or rather to see with pious eyes the agony of her Son, which had been specially revealed to her. And thereupon she heard from many: 'Don’t you know, woman, what has happened to your son?' "'I knew, she says, 'so be silent, and do not add to the pain of my wounds.' Thus however she was saying to herself: ‘"I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense" [Song of Songs 4:6]. I will go and I will see his agony, and maternally I will die with him ( commoriar ei ), because that prophecy which truth-telling Simeon said to me—"His sword will pierce through your own soul&

40 Reasons to Serve Mary

According to Richard of St. Laurent (d. c. 1250), De laudibus beatae Mariae virginis libri xii , lib. 2, cap. 1: 1. Because the Son of God, whose every action is a lesson for Christians, honors and magnifies his mother, according to the commandment, Exodus 20:12: "Honor your father and mother." 2. Because the Holy Spirit commands that Mary be honored, Psalm 98:5: "Adore the footstool of his feet, because it is holy." 3. Because whatever reverence and honor is shown to the mother redounds wholly unto the son, and vice versa. Whence Ecclesiasticus 4:15: "Those who serve her serve the holy one," that is, Christ, who is the holy of holies. 4. Because through her and in her and out of her, the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is increased. Whence Psalm 47:2: "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, in his holy mountain." 5. Because through her and in her and with her and by her the


"I do not know how to write, nor can I, unless I see with the eyes of my soul and hear with the ears of my eternal spirit and feel in all the parts of my body the power of the Holy Spirit." --Mechthild of Magdeburg (ca. 1212-ca. 1282), Fliessende Licht der Gottheit , lib. 4, cap. 13, trans. Frank Tobin (New York: Paulist Press, 1998), p. 156.

Daughters of Eve

By now every woman in America will have seen Valerie Bertinelli's photo on the cover of this month's People magazine; I've seen it and I'm always the last one to pick up on such media events. What was your reaction to seeing a 48-year-old woman looking--let's face it--pretty amazing, even if she is wearing nothing but a bright green string bikini? Okay, so that was the point: here's an almost 49-year-old woman (her birthday is April 23) who, doubtless with the usual help of a bit of airbrushing (and hair dye), looks as good as a 20-year-old without her clothes on. But Bertinelli is not just your usual aging starlet: two years ago, she would never have been photographed in such a revealing costume because at that point she weighed some fifty pounds more than she did when the bikini photos were taken. In a little under two years, Bertinelli went from 172 lbs. to her original goal of 132 lbs. and then, with the help of a trainer and a 1,200 calorie a day diet,

Cost of Living

Things $1000 (or thereabouts) will buy: 1. A 32" Sony Flat Panel TV (with laptop hook-up for watching DVDs) plus an iPod dock 2. Surgery for your dying cat 3. One quarter (10 weeks) of After School Study Hall for one 7th grader 4. A New Edition LOTR cloak (New Zealand dollars) 5. Athletic club membership fee for 4.3 months (including yoga classes and fencing lessons) 6. Roundtrip flight from Chicago to London in August (if purchased now on 7. Food for a family of three for a month (shopping at Whole Foods) 8. Custom designed jeweled navel ring

Carrying the Donkey

"There was a certain poor man in the Holy Land; he had a son and he was old, and his son said: 'Father, you cannot leave me many temporal goods; would you teach me something of your wisdom?' His father said: 'Willingly.' His father had a donkey. He told his son to lead the donkey with them when [they] went into town. He said to his son: 'Get on it.' Certain people met him and said: 'That peasant is stupid: he loves his son more than himself.' He said to his son: 'Get down;' and he himself then got on. Other people met them who said: 'That peasant is harsh and cruel, he has no mercy on that small lad; the peasant has long and strong legs, he gets on the horse and lets that young boy go on foot.' 'Listen, son,' said the father, 'get up with me.' And other people met him who said that: 'He is very cruel, that peasant: he has no pity on the dumb animal; both ride it; at least one ought to go on foot.' The

Hymn for the Day

To the tune of Te Deum . Te Matrem laudamus, te Virginem confitemur. We praise thee, O Mother; we confess thee Virgin. Te aeterni Patris, stella maris, splendor illuminat. The splendor of the eternal Father illuminates thee, star of the sea. Tibi omnes Angeli, tibi Caeli et universae Potestates; To thee all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens and all the Powers therein; Tibi Cherubim et Seraphim, humili nobiscum voce proclament; To thee Cherubim and Seraphim, in humble voice cry aloud with us. Virgo, virgo, virgo virginum sine exemplo! Virgin, virgin, virgin of virgins without exemplar! Ante partum et in partu, atque post partum. Before giving birth, in giving birth and after giving birth. Te gloriosam Apostoli praedicant. The Apostles preach you glorious. Te prophetarum, Virgo, canunt lineae. The lines of prophets sing your praise, Virgin. Te Martires sui Domini matrem esse testantur. The Martyrs bear witness that you are the mother of their Lord. Te per orbem terrarum, sancta confitetur Ec