Showing posts from April, 2012

The Way of the Turbit

Okay, so in retrospect, that was more than a little bit manic last week.  Kinda like deciding to start exercising a little bit every day and then trying to work out four times a day and/or every chance you can get.  No wonder I crashed and burned.  And yet, oddly, I do think that the experiment worked.  Because, truth to tell, even in the midst of the flames, I did learn something.†  Several things.  One, and perhaps most importantly, it is possible to find a half hour a day for writing, even on what might otherwise feel like wholly impossible days.  And, two, doing so curiously means that the days themselves feel less impossible, less pressured .  But, three, and this is probably equally important as one and two, this does not necessarily mean trying to finish a piece of writing (no, not even a blog post) in any one segment of time that has somehow miraculously opened up.  What it means is allowing oneself to come back to the writing every so often during the day, ideally, at lea

Sheep Jobs (a.k.a. “The Lord is My Shepherd")

Okay, folks, here it is.  The Sermon.  I am taking a huge risk putting it out here before I give it at our university chapel on Sunday, but Prof. Boice also says that writers need to practice asking for feedback.  Please be gentle, I'm really scared about this.  NB I don't intend to read the footnote.  That is for your benefit.   And the opening sentence will be slightly different.  I should probably say a prayer--suggestions welcome. This is the psalm assigned by the lectionary for the Sunday that I have been asked to preach.  I've always had difficulties with this psalm.†  Perhaps because it is the one psalm that everyone seems to quote whenever they want to make a point about how loving and undemanding God is: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.”  It all seems so saccharine and, well, fake. After all, who wants to be a sheep?  I don't.  Sheep are bumbling a


This is worse than not working.  This is a disaster.  I am not only not enjoying my writing (as per Prof. Boice 's promise I would if I worked in brief, daily sessions rather than in deadline-induced binges), I'm even more anxious than before.  I can't sleep, I spent another couple hours after last night's session watching yet more episodes of New Girl , I felt myself wanting to pig out--really pig out--for the first time in months.  It's hopeless.  It would have been better--much, much better--just spending this week feeling busy and writing the sermon in a single two-hour session on Saturday (which I could do if I thought of it as a blog post).  Instead of which, I've now spent nearly a week niggling at something that won't work and that will probably still need to be rewritten in a great binge on Saturday.  Or, if I don't try to rewrite it ( again ), will just make me feel even stupider because I actually worked at it over a couple of weeks and it st

Snow Globitis

I'm not sure I like this exercise of writing just because I have a pocket of time that has opened up.  It was fun last week when I was testing whether such pockets exist , but now that I've found them , I'm not entirely sure what to do with them. I've been working on my sermon off and on since Thursday (at least, I think it was Thursday), but I am worried that part of my breakdown on Friday evening was owing to the stress of trying to write in such brief chunks.  Okay, so I managed to write a first draft of something in the course of two days, but it sucked (well, parts of it sucked) so much so that I lost it and ( as you may remember ) ended up in a binge.  I took a break from trying to write on Saturday and came back to the sermon on Sunday, but I really needed more than just twenty minutes to settle into the writing and be able to figure out what I wanted to say.  Sure, it was nice having a draft (however terrible) to work from, but what if I had just given myse

Hard Rock Heart

My heart feels so hard right now, it's like having a rock in my chest. I am sick of being hurt.  Sick of hoping for some understanding, sympathy, or support.  Sick of risking asking for help when all I get is indifference.  Or examples of how others have done better than I have. Why is it so very hard to listen to what each other says?  Just to sit quietly and give the other person time to speak?  You'd think it would be the most basic skill in the world.  And yet, so rare is it that it is almost by itself evidence of sanctity. I'm sorry, what was that you said?  I was too busy worrying about myself just now to listen.

Battery Life

I'm so ashamed.  I did it.  I couldn't help it.  I fell off whatever wagon I was trying to ride this week by working in brief, daily sessions, counting carbs, trying everything I could not to fall back into my old patterns of working.  I binged.  Not, thank goodness, on carbs (although there was that third Atkins bar of the day at about 11pm, but I was still only at 25 carbs for the day even then).  And, okay, not on writing , although maybe I should have.  But on television .  Okay, technically, internet-streamed episodes of television on my iPad.  Eleven of them (not counting the one that I watched earlier in the afternoon).   Full confession?  I was up till 2 am watching eleven episodes of New Girl .†  I would have kept going, but the battery on my iPad gave out. And now, predictably enough, I feel like sh*t.  It would have been better if I had just tried to write that stupid sermon in one go.  I don't know why I thought I could learn to write any other way.  And now

The Lord Has Created a New Thing

Check it out: Psalter of the Virgin Mary has a new look! Plus several new tabs . And now over half of Book VII from John of Garland 's Epithalamium . More to come!  Subscribe today!  Or, you know, pop in from time to time.

Nothing Outside the Text

I think that I understand better now the anxiety that I woke up with the other day , about wishing that I were able to write about something other than what I have read in books.  It's not just my perfectionism.  It is also my habit of noticing. I spend most of my waking life reading in one way or another.  Reading books and articles in my field, preparing for class, grading papers, reading applications for admissions or faculty hires.  Almost everything I do involves the written word. And I'm good at it.  In fact, I think that I am very, very good at it.  It is one of my principal skills: exegesis, reading a text for what it actually says, not for what I want it to say.  To my mind, it's what makes what I write as an academic distinctive: I actually read the texts. And not just read them in order to pluck out whatever bits of information (examples, ideas, arguments) I want to use in order to make some point or other that I have gleaned from reading lots of bits and p

Breakfast Reading

So, I'm reading along in Prof. Boice 's book as I eat my strawberries and roast beef and ham and drink my beef broth and tea with half-and-half for breakfast , and here he starts talking about how strange it is that there are so few therapists actually working on understanding what we call writer's block when there are hundreds and hundreds of therapists for other anxieties and phobias. Why [he asks] do writing blocks remain largely untreated?  Why are most accounts of blocking and its treatment amateurish and less than credible?  Where else can we find similarly unimpressive results?  The answer to the last question is easy and illuminating--in traditional programs for weight loss in obese people.  Put simply, dieting generally leads to failed plans and even greater weight gains in the long run.  The reasons for this expensive failure are becoming more and more apparent.  For one thing, diets typically rely on external forcing.  For another, weight loss programs ignore t

“Patience, Grasshopper"

Okay, so I've proven to myself that there is actually time in the day for writing that I didn't believe I had.  Now, when does the brilliant prose start flowing?  'Cause, you know, I'm already getting a little tired of these meta-posts about writing.  For goodness' sake, it's already been two whole days.  Where's my Muse?  Where's my deathless prose? I'm waaaaaiiiiting!  Nope, not coming to me.  Nada.  I don't believe that this is going to work.  Anymore, let's be fair, than I was confident about cutting down on the carbs .  Sure, it sounded great in theory, but who had months and months and months to spend counting carbs?  Oh, right, me.  And, yes, guess what, it's working . Soooooo....  Do I give this writing thing enough time to start having an effect?  Or do I toy with it for a day or two, decide that, exhilarating as it is, it won't work, and simply go back to my cycle of procrastination and bingeing ?  That doesn't soun

Fourth Thought of the Day

This feels a little manic.  I probably shouldn't be trying to write again today.  Three posts in a day is more than enough.  But I have found yet another twenty minutes that I never knew I had, so here I am, writing again. It's like finding a treasure in your sofa when all you thought there was was loose change.  Suddenly, I have all the time in the world for writing.  More than enough.  An abundance!  I am overflowing with time, just like the Virgin Mary overflowing with graces.  It is as if I have stepped into a whole other life, one in which there is actually enough time to do everything I ever dreamed I might want to do. And then some.  I have not only written three (and counting) blog posts today.  I have walked into campus with the Dragon Baby (i.e. exercised--she walks fast on those little legs!  Especially when we go past the vet's).  I have spent two and half (or thereabouts) hours finishing preparing for class.  I have taught class.  I have held office hours. 

Third Thought of the Day

My head is dizzy with images.  Songs.  Thoughts.  Thoughts about the Virgin.  Thoughts about devotion.  About putting devotion into words when I am so filled with images and songs.  The Virgin and Child.  The Virgin of Rocamadour in a tub.  Tomie dePaola's illustrations of the story of the tumbler who juggled before the image of the Virgin.  Songs. I am tempted to start Googling for links.  But then I would get lost in the thicket again and lose the images.  The Virgin as a pillar of ivory.  The Virgin smiling at her Son.  The Virgin protecting her devotees.  A woman delivered of a dead child.  A child in a glass furnace.  A child murdered because he sang.  A woman who lost her pet bird and "went into a rage every bit as violent as if she were present at the funeral of one of her children."†  A knight who teased his pregnant wife that he had been unfaithful to her so that she stabbed herself in the stomach.  And lived. So many stories.  So much devotion and love.  Wha

Second Thought of the Day

I just spent ten minutes niggling about with my email when I could have been spending it writing. It occurs to me that this exercise, of practicing writing in brief, daily sessions, is the correlate I've been looking for to the decluttering that I've been doing in every other aspect of my life. What, after all, are carbs if not clutter ?  It is not that I need to eat fewer calories (although when I give into the temptation to check, particularly when I'm feeling rather hungry, I realize that I probably have cut significantly down).  Rather, I need to eat better food. Likewise, it is not that I do not have time in my life for writing, even quite significant amounts of writing.   Rather, I need to give it higher priority than the busywork in which I have been inclined to indulge at the expense of writing.  Which is hard.  Everyone knows that the first thing that you do when you have something to write is start cleaning the kitchen.  Or clearing out closets.  Or tidyi

First Thought of the Day

I wonder what it would be like to trust my experience as a source of knowledge.  To know something other than what I read in books.  Because then I would have something to write about other than other people's ideas.  Something that I created.  Something that I understood. Why this anxiety?  Because everything I think to write about feels so forced.  Okay, so I'm trying to force this exercise, maybe it's just a part of the process of learning to write in brief, daily sessions.  Step one: start keeping a file of things that I observe that might turn into topics to write about.  What Prof. Boice calls "prewriting": reading, noticing, collecting, taking notes, organizing, filing, outlining. But for blog posts?  I've never needed any of that stuff before, I always just sat down to write when an idea (usually in the form of a title) crystallized and I knew what the gist of the argument was going to be.  And the few occasions when I have taken notes because I

Tacit Knowledge

Are you as disturbed as I am by what I realized at the end of my last post ?  You should be, especially if you are one of my students.  Because if my (or anybody's) ability to write depends on being able to do something that, by definition, only the brilliant and/or hard-working can do, then what hope do you have that I am ever going to be able (not to mention, willing) to teach you how to do it yourself?  Answer: none . Which is yet another of Prof. Boice's destabilizing insights (or, rather, carefully tested hypotheses†) about why academics don't write, having to do with their operating assumptions about what it means to be able to write.   In short: they have themselves never been taught how to write; they have only ever been rewarded for demonstrating their ability to do so.  In consequence, they consider writing not only as something unteachable as such, but also something that to teach would diminish their capacity to recognize brilliance in their own students.  Aft

And another thing...

Writing isn't meant to be "comfortable" or, heaven forbid, " fluent ."  For goodness' sake, it isn't meant to be easy .  Writing is supposed to be soul-grindingly, spirit-churningly, mind-breakingly difficult.   If it were easy , just anybody could do it.  If it were easy , it wouldn't be work . Writing is my job , after all.   It's what professors (and geniuses) do.  It is supposed to take hours and hours and hours of one's day (except if you're a genius; in which case, it just magically happens, like breathing).  It's not supposed to be something you can do in the odd 20-minutes here and there .  It's supposed to take concentration in large blocks of time. My whole world falls apart if writing is easy.  See, being able to write fluently should be a secret talent, not something that can be learned, not something that can be taught, not something that can be accomplished in brief, daily sessions.  It is the only evidence t

Parting Blurt

See, here is what I really don't believe .  I don't believe I can write a book in such brief, daily sessions.  Hundreds of blog posts?  Sure.  Thousands of lines in translation?  Working on it .*  But an actual, honest-to-goodness scholarly book?  Pull the other one, it's got bells on. Plus--and this is the thought that came to me yesterday as I was walking home after writing my first twenty-minute post (yes, I am going to try to make this a regular exercise, see how terrified I am, I can't even admit it to you, much less myself that I'm doing it)--as this very sentence demonstrates, I'm a butterfly.  I hate sticking to developing one thought day after day after day.  It's the main reason (among others) that I like blogging so much: each post is a complete thought in itself, I don't need to come back to it day after day after day, rereading what I've written the day before in order to get back into the mood that I had before.  I can just write in

Twenty-Minute Post

This is already a disaster.  I sat down at my MacBook a full five minutes ago, intending to spend twenty minutes just writing, as per Prof. Boice's advice on working in brief, daily sessions , and it took the stupid machine a full three minutes just to boot (what has my son been downloading onto my laptop?!!!).  And then I had the thought that I should check in iTunes for a recording of some of the songs that we have been talking about in my course on Mary , and while those were downloading, it took another two or three minutes for Blogger even to open.  How can I possibly write something effective in only twenty minutes under these conditions? Okay, now I've had to move so that I am sitting in a chair rather than at the dining room table, but I'm still not settled enough to start writing about what I wanted to say.  See, there seems to be a contradiction in the advice that Prof. Boice gives.  On the one hand, he says, and I do believe him, that we can write more in shor

On why this post would have a better title if only I weren't so busy

"Jane Burka and Lenore Yuen, pioneer researchers on procrastination, provide some especially useful insights into blocking.  Procrastinators are, for instance, uniquely incapable of enjoying free time; they have trouble relaxing because they customarily rush from one immediate task to another as a way to avoid other, less pleasant activities such as writing.  That is, instead of using free time wisely as writers (e.g., relaxing, noticing, and putting ideas into writing), they spend it on busywork (e.g., reading and responding to unnecessary memos [or emails]) or distractions (e.g., office cleaning to the point of obsessiveness).  When they cannot stay busy, they worry. "Procrastinators also, because they approach tasks blindly and try to complete them hurriedly, do not learn to make realistic estimates of how much time major tasks like writing will take.  First, they underestimate the time needed for prewriting, rewriting, and editing.  Then, they fail to appreciate that la

Stolen Time

Prof. Boice has something very illuminating (if embarrassing to admit) about how professors (like me) talk themselves out of having "enough" time to write.*  (Breathe.)  He says--and I'm trying to paraphrase here, following his instructions to allow writing to become something ordinary--that they procrastinate because they make writing too high a priority and thus convince themselves that it is only something that they can do in long, uninterrupted blocks.  It is for this reason (ironically enough) that they are always "too busy" to write: not because they don't have the time, but because the feeling of busyness is itself a direct consequence of having made writing such a high priority. In Prof. Boice's words: "The individual who constantly feels pressured about the noncompletion of an important task will describe himself or herself as busy."  Thus, although it is common for professors (like me) to have "small blocks of potentially open

Against Bingeing

This is bad.  I have been asked to preach at our university chapel in a couple of weeks, and I am feeling somewhat panicked about what I am going to say.  I know what I should be doing, thanks to Prof. Boice : writing a little something every day, rather than waiting until the last minute--say, the Saturday afternoon before--and writing whatever comes to me at that moment in a binge.  But. But just the thought of doing a little bit of work now and then tomorrow and the next day, in the kind of brief, daily sessions that Prof. Boice recommends, is making me even more anxious than the thought of trying to come up with 1,300 words in a single session.  Which I know I could.  I often do, writing pieces for my blog.  Indeed, I like sitting down, writing for an hour or so, and being able to post whatever it is that I've written right then.  It isn't always brilliant, but occasionally, it's not bad.  Plus, I get to practice writing regularly, which is the whole point, right? I

Brief, Daily Sessions

I've been meaning to write this post since yesterday, but there just hasn't been time. First, yesterday, after walking the dog and making breakfast and having a shower and reading a little bit more in Robert Boice's How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure (1994), there was some translation to do , which took until it was time to leave for campus in order to go to a workshop . Then there were proofs to correct for the article that I had accepted this winter (my first new piece in over three years!), then there was a meeting with some of our graduate students who were worried about what the future holds for them as academics (I told them about Boice's other book , which I now need to read myself even though I am no longer "new" to the whole business of "being faculty"). Then there was more work to do on the proofs, at which time it was after time to go home, interrupt my son's game of Minecraft with his friends,

Enthusiam Fail

I should be having the time of my life with this course.  It's one I've wanted to teach for years, it's on questions and sources directly related to my research, it's something I've thought about more than pretty much anything else, ever (okay, other than dieting and fencing).  And yet, I'm scared. Our discussions are going fine, but I leave class feeling wiped in a way that I have not experienced since my very first years of teaching.  I don't think it's the class; they seem attentive and interested.  It's me, I know it's me.  But why? Because I care too much.  Because if I cannot excite them about this topic, then everything I do is a lie.  No, not quite that.  Meaningless.  A charade.  Because, truth to tell, this topic is the only thing that really matters to me, has ever mattered to me, and it is too much to bear if I can't get them to see why. I'm overreacting, I know.  The course is going fine.  Their blog posts ( go read a f

On Theology as Narrative, Shattered in Time

" We are able to represent the mystery of divine providence as intelligible to us in any way at all only insofar as we can represent it in the form of a narrative --for history is, as it were, the narratival refraction of the divine eternity, as a single source of light might be refracted in the multiplicity of fragments of glass.  Time is eternity shattered into fragments that we can piece together again only one after another in sequence as best we may.  What is one in itself, a single willing of love emerging from the divine simplicity, can be perceived by us only in the time-bound fragmentations of historical succession in some way linked into a narrative.  Moreover, this narrative is not one we can be told or tell as if from a position outside it, for we are internal to the story we tell, we are being told by it as we attempt to tell it.  Perforce, the eternal knowledge and love that made all things out of love--the Trinity--is for us a narrative : and the nearest we can get

iPad Central

Okay, I think I have the hang of this. Now I just need some more content. I'm thinking maybe something theological... But why when I go back and edit does the image move left? Still a few bugs to work out here... - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Testing BlogPress

Hmmmm.... - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Empty Tomb

I don't believe it.  I saw him die three days ago .  Nobody comes back from the dead, not after three days.  I won't believe it unless I see him again, alive, in body, and can put my fingers in his hands and feet and side . It's easier for me to believe that he was God incarnate than it is that he died, really truly died, and then came back to life.  And it is easier for me to believe that he died and came back to life than that this means I will. Give me a break.  We all die, every one of us, and that's that.  Sure, there are all those stories about people coming back from the dead, but those were just little excursions of the soul, not true death.  Not the kind of death that has maggots eating away at your entrails.  Not the kind of death you die after the medical examiner finishes her autopsy.  Or after a soldier puts a sword through your side. They did something with his body, that's the only explanation I can think of.  But why?  Who did they think would

Holy Saturday

God is dead, and we have killed Him, but with our virtue more so than our vice. We have killed Him with our efficiency. We have killed Him with our dedication to our jobs. We have killed Him with our responsibilities. We have killed Him with our perpetual busyness. We have killed Him every time we refused to stop to talk because we were late for an appointment. We have killed Him every time we promised to be in touch soon. We have killed Him because we were trying to stay on schedule. We have killed Him with our calendars. We have killed Him by always planning for tomorrow. We have killed Him because there simply wasn't time.

Improperia A.D. 2012

"My people, what have I done to you? or how have I afflicted you? Answer me! "Because I led you from the land of Egypt, you have prepared a cross for your Savior. "Because I led you through the desert for forty years, fed you with manna, and led you into a land exceedingly good, you have prepared a cross for your Savior. "What more should I have done for you that I have not done?  For I planted you, my most precious vineyard, and you have become exceedingly bitter to me; for in my thirst you gave me vinegar to drink, and with a lance you have pierced the side of your Savior. "I gave you a beautiful planet on which to live, filled with animals and plants to feed you and help you, and you have imprisoned them, tortured them, forced them to live in cages and to reproduce as if they were machines, murdered them without compassion or thanks, and turned them into things to be bought and sold. "I gave you beautiful bodies in which to live and reason wit

Maundy Thursday

It should feel more meaningful.  For the first time in my life, I have kept a Lenten fast.  Six weeks plus a day or so (I started early) on 20-25 net carbs a day.  I've lost about two inches in my waist, likewise two in my bust, and (probably, it depends on how I measure) two in my hips as well.  I've learned to think about food in a wholly different way, as something nourishing for my body rather than as a drug for my mind.  I can recognize carb cravings now for what they are (a cry for help), and I know that I can survive without stuffing my emotions full of sugars and starch (although, full disclosure, those Atkins peanut butter bars really come in handy at the end of a long day).  And I look forward to the day when I can fit into my skinny jeans not with longing, but simply as a matter of course.  One day, I will simply be a different size. And that, it would seem to be, is that.  No great drama.  No great crises of self-realization where I find myself suddenly transforme