Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Aye Aye Captain": Congregational Meeting

 A young member's experience of her first "real" congregational meeting. What doesn't get into the official notes but is more fun to remember.

6:45: Fiona and Dana debate the aesthetics of the ceiling. Tim sides with Dana. Fiona argues that there is no natural light and so it is therefore the ugliest church she's ever worshiped in. Natural wood is however a benefit.
7 pm: Dana begins taking notes on the beginning of minute taking at Oakwood's congregational meeting.
7:01 Fiona commences whispering to Dana. Janalyn asks if Fiona is being sarcastic already. "Oh no. Not quite yet" Fiona replies
7:02: Voting on the changes to last years congregational meeting notes. Several typos. Institution of Robert's Rules. Dana asks Fiona what "Robert's Rules" are. Not sufficiently explained.
7:03: All communicant members respond "aye" to a question that Dana missed. This moment is frequently repeated.
7:05: Dana notes to Fiona that she feels like a "rude young pup for finding this process bizarre."
7:15: Elder Perry notes that he is the scapegoat that goes to jail if anything is amiss.
7:16: Mark attempts to assemble a sound system. Perry's wife notes: "Perry, stop talking. You are stressing Mark out!"
7:30: Pastor Houston notes, "We have this hand out. You should have read it before you got here. I know none of you have."
7:36: Pastor Houston asks a committee leader, "So explain this work. Is it the kind of thing that eats up your time and is onerous?" Congregation laughs. Question is not answered. Implied yes?
8pm: Leader of the worship committee stands to answer questions. "Here I am. Any questions? [long awkward silence]... Good. Good. Come talk to me only if you are sure you are a skilled instrumentalist."
8:01: We applaud a faithful church volunteer. I note to Fiona how astonishing it is to hear applause in a Presbyterian sanctuary. "Only once a year," she replies.
8:13: Screaming child removed.
8:17: Linda Bonness announces that a new church ministry will include arranged marriages along with arranged wedding showers.
8:45: Janalyn Sheetz is seen to be knitting a complicated piece. Dana admires for extended period of time.
8:46: Someone suggests that Bill Bonness sing the budget report to make it more interesting.
9:05: Dana realizes she has lost track of time.
9:20: Personal angry moment. At least one is required to meet congregational meeting quota, right?
9:21: Fiona says its okay.
9:30: Fading begins. Fiona begins texting.
9:48: Alcohol gift to a retiring elder. Dana is jealous, but glad that Presbyterians delight in good drink.
9:50: Hymn. Dana exists.

Addendum to the minutes: All these minutes are falsified with the events. Please note this in next year's addendum minutes. Thank you.

Friday, February 25, 2011

No Refund Theatre's "Othello"

Tonight 8pm, Tomorrow 2pm, 8pm
111 Forum
Of course, it's free

Last evening, I attended the open dress rehearsal for NRT's "Othello". My dear friend Katherine Leiden was starring as Desdemona and several other English class acquaintances  were on stage as well.

The experience was riveting.

Sure, the beginning was slow, but I chalk that up to Shakespeare getting too political about the Ottomans. "Othello", though, is a fantastic story line after that dullness gets worked out of its system. I was hooked the moment the marriage quarrel gets going. The story goes like this: the beautiful Desdemona elopes with the renowned "Moor" General Othello. This man is widely loved but intensely hated by one man: Iago. There is not a more despicable and disgusting character in Shakespeare. I mean, really, he's incredibly vulgar and a master manipulator. He manipulates every character in the play forcefully, smoothly. No one is out of his influence. He eventually gets what he deserves but not after the stage is piled high with deaths (Desdemona's death bed gets a little crowded).

Most of the audience, I assume, know this play. So saying lots of people die on stage isn't giving much away.

There was nothing more I wanted to do than to transport this production to a space like the Globe Theatre, where audiences actively responded to what was happening on stage with cheers, boos, tears, encouragement. There were several times I was thrashing in my seat because the plot had become so painful and frustrating to me. I called Iago a lot of names. When Othello started loosing it, I may have made obscene hand gestures in his direction. I was also as strongly moved the other direction. In the first scene that we observe Othello and Desdemona interact, their physical chemistry and affection delighted me that I sighed "Awww, they are so cute!" My friend beside me asked if the two actors were dating. "No, not them. Desdemona and Othello are cute!"

These were stellar student performances. I wasn't a huge fan of the setting change (20s America?) since it confused me at times (it took me awhile to figure out who Othello was when he came on stage. They have him as Irish instead of dark): the acting more than made up for it. Shakespeare isn't easy to act because it isn't easy to say. The intonations of voice change with the sentence structure. So, too, the body changes with the voice. This can be hard to embody but several characters did it superbly. Max Simone as Iago blew me away. Incredible. I was impressed that this Iago so smoothly transitioned voices and body language for each of his character moments, but maintained the same personality throughout. Casio was also a presence that lit up the stage, especially with his ease in speaking Shakespeare's English. His character isn't terribly complicated but was played so compellingly that I almost liked him more than anyone else.  I also may have resisted the urge to run to him when he got his leg slashed (Shakespeare character crush? Possibly.). Othello was also noteworthy, but mostly as he developed his character into madness. And Desdemona? Ah, she was magnificent! Strength and quietness is so hard to pull off without looking like a doormat. Katherine Leiden succeeded. I don't think I shall forget her voice as she sings before her death. I had never particularly liked that part in the play (characters breaking into strange and incomprehensible songs puts me off): last night, I cried.

It also qualifies as a worthy adaptation because it revealed Shakespeare to me in a way not accessible on the page. For example, Iago has a thing for Desdemona in this version: incredibly creepy and incredibly effective. One almost suspects that he destroys her and Othello because he wants her. Iago was compelling in fact because he played the character sexually, something I had never picked up on while reading. Vulgarity, yes. Attractive and vulgar and evil, no. Iago's wife (name slippage. Sorry!) had a tough part to play opposite him but their scenes went so well, and she brought more of an innocence to the character than I had imagined before.

In summary: just go see it. You won't regret it.

PS. Also a plus: great stage kisses. They were uncommonly delightful.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


The snow is beautiful. Heavy, full, melted enough to crunch. And the day is comparatively warm. I have felt much colder this past month.

A ten minute walk from my house on Foster, there is a swing set and playground for the families that live in White Course Apartments. Maggie and I have gone out there several times at key points during our undergrad years for conversation, prayer. Today, I went to watch the sunset. I swung the sun under the pine trees and horizon. The horizon was close, just on the far edge of the golf course.

When I watch the sun for longer than a minute, I always wonder: why do I not do this daily?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jubilee 2011

I'm sure there will be more talk on this later, but I wanted to share some first responses to the weekend.

  • I finally learned how to "do" conferences: make a game plan, rest often, take it one person/one conversation at a time. Never try to be somewhere you aren't.
  • Music of Joy and Peace Ike Saturday night while talking with OCBP 09 dears: Lindsey Smyth, Ruthann Rutherford, and Risa Nakajima (roomie!).
  • Sharing the event, even by distant moments of connecting, with my Navigator family. It meant a lot to finally show many of them for the first time the role of CCO in my life!
  • Jen Davidson and her wisdom; lemon ginger tea, orange/cranberry biscotti.
  • Liturgically structured worship.
  • Andi Ashworth's talk on the art of hospitality. It was great to be in her presence after following her essays at Comment Mag and the Art House America blog for a while now!
  • Exploring options for the future.
  • Playing with "Soularium", a Cru dialogue starter in picures that Leighann Dull shared with me.
  • The most Gospel repetitive Jubilee I've seen yet. Eric Mason's talk was particularly needed!
I love these weekends. This was my fourth, each marking a different place in my undergraduate journey. More specific thoughts on these moments will come soon.

Another installment of "Not Supposed to Say" is coming this week.

Not Supposed to Be: Homeschooled

Today, I read my writing tutor reviews from last week. In answer to how I did my job, one student wrote, "Knowledgable. Very kind. Not awkward."

I might as well have been kissed for how ecstatic I was over someone telling me how non-awkward I was.

I hate awkward because I believe in my heart of hearts that I am an awkward person. Why do I hate this so much? Because I'm terrified that when they find out I was homeschooled they will say, "Ah yes. That explains the awkwardness in this sad individual. They must have been deprived growing up. And their parents must be Christian fundamentalist brain washers and terrorists. Yes, I see it all now."

I fear this because it happened once. I was on a trip with Penn State to South Carolina and on a beach hike, one of the guys that I got into a discussion with asked me if I was homeschooled. My insides shriveled. "Yes?" "You just act like some people I knew growing up. Kind of hard to relax with some people, really respectful. Dana, its really okay for you to laugh at our dirty jokes."


So I usually keep my mouth shut, slide through the day with as little awkwardness as possible, and hold my breath against the possibility that someone will know without me ever having to tell them about my schooling.

Confession: I consider a compliment if someone is shocked when I tell them that I was homeschooled.

All of this is nothing short of appalling. I loved being homeschooled. LOVED it. I can't say that enough. It doesn't work for everyone, I know. But I grew up one happy kid (other than having to learn math). I took piano lessons. I was in plays. I had friends. I hung out at Starbucks when I got my license. I may not have been able to tell you who Brittany Spears was in fifth grade or recognize a Backstreet Boys song, but I managed. College is its own learning curse. You can't really tell anymore.

Part of this whole thing is that there aren't many homeschoolers who could break stereotypes for them.

But then again, I knew people who are the stereotypes. Why have I taken such pains to distance myself from them in word and deed? Many of these dear people, clad in jean skirts and sneakers, from families with members numbering over 6, were dear friends, teachers, instructors. Their children were my friends. I was even one of them! My jeans were mama jeans until eighth grade. My hair was long, scraggled, and french braided (at my request). Disney was banned at one point in my childhood (my mother later recanted this decision, so don't worry about my education that way). I wish I could find the proper photographic evidence for you. It does exist.

But being this girl wasn't bad. I picked up a lot of crazy ideas about how it was bad to be that, but it wasn't. It was my own version of childhood and junior high. Yes, I was homeschooled for religious reasons. Yes, I was sheltered. And, in case you were wondering, no, I didn't do school in my pjs or eat all day or have trouble making friends. But for a while, they were friends that others might not have thought to be with.

And I've grown into the experience of a strange educational minority, without a way to communicate that experience to the world that doesn't come off as strange or defensive. I am strange and defensive because it was once a badge of odd pride, a reason to keep my nose in the air, to be better than anyone else. Too often, my pride becomes my secret shame: just another form of pride.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Not Supposed to Say: "Christian"

I wrote a paper about resurrection last fall. I had never done that before. The paper came back with Professor Kadetsky's scribbles in the margins. They kept repeating the phrase "Stop throat clearing". I had no idea what this meant. I visited office hours to ask. My problem? That I kept trying to shuffle off the responsibility of bold statements with caveats, "In my opinions", side comments to add a touch of flippancy and non-committal language to get me out of saying exactly what I needed to say. I was, as I noted in a previous post, scared of using my own voice, because using my own voice would mean drawing on blatantly Christian voices. And that, I had somehow come to feel, was jepordizing what seemed a hard won battle to be a valued and respected student at a secular university. For example, I found early on that using "Well, the Bible says" as a rhetorical devise to be fairly useless in a classroom setting. Across coffee? Go for it. To your professors or classmates face when you are discussing how bizarre Byron actually was? Not the best idea.

But why have I felt this tension? Lived in this status of I can't say I'm Christian? Why do I feel that to claim that title would make it harder for me to be listened to or respected? While much of this can be traced to my own fears, I don't believe this can be traced only to imagined threats. Take, for example, what a poetry professor declared last week: "There is no place in poetry or the poet for religious convictions. No poet wants the hand of doctrine over their mouth...Existentialism is the true religious feeling of the intellectual." I couldn't disagree more. But I said nothing. For the moment, I had passed.

There are times, though, that I do not, and I wonder if it is a negative or a positive that for just a few moments, the core of my identity was revealed. In writing workshops it happens when someone picks out a theme in a poem or story that I didn't know was there but is clearly from religious experience. Often times, it gets noticed when I can pick up Biblical references or clarify half remembered Sunday School stories when studying a piece of literature. Or, as happened once, another student wrote a story full of religious imagery, knowing that I would be the only one to get it when the time came. I was, and emailed him later to ask more questions about the story. "I wrote it for you in a way. I knew you were a Christian," he noted. I was stunned. One moment that I did it on purpose was when I wrote the essay about resurrection. I couldn't write the essay honestly without "going there" as it were.

A rather difficult and negative part of all of this is my intense concern with how people will view Christianity because of me. Maybe "UnChristian" by Gabe Lyons had more of a  negative affect than a positive one for me. I hesitate to declare my commitment here until I knew that my work has won the approval of my professors or classmates. Yes, as I've said, part of that wants to preserve my own status. But another part wants to preserve my faith's status until I know that I've made a good showing for it.

Sounds like paralyzing fear, to me.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Not Supposed to Say: "Passing" at Penn State

Part 1 of Series "Not Supposed to Say"

We talked in writing class the other day about ways each of us "pass". While the term most commonly refers to the way members of the lgbta communities can "pass" as straight through default assumptions, this situation applies to each of us in some way. There are things we hope no one will find out, things we pretend to understand and participate in because it will make things easier.

I pass in two polarized worlds. I keep my mouth shut a lot. For the following posts I will refer to them as "Christian world" and "Penn State". I don't want to put them in separate spheres. I live in both simultaneously. They are, however, distinct, and so I give them contrived names to help with clarity. 
I've begun to realize just how polarized my life as a college student has become. It wasn't in the beginning, but that was because I stayed within my chosen and created world: I stayed in Navigators. God was not satisfied with this state of affairs and I've been pried out of my happy isolation ever since.

Basically, I walk every day between two extremes of thought and belief. I myself do not change, at least I hope not. I hope that I have some integrity between the two worlds of my collegiate faith community and my collegiate "worldly" pursuits. I've longed for unity. What I mean is that I live in between two places that expect very different things from me and assume very different things about me.

I am also not allowed to speak those assumptions or contradict them. At least not without a lot of awkwardness. Strangely enough, this happens primarily within the Penn State World, the one where it boasts in its ability to say and do and be anything.

But I'm tired to not speaking in this supposedly "free" dialogue. It's time to explore the polar opposites I struggle in, the expectations and traditions of my past and faith against the expectations and traditions of the #1 Party School in the nation.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Faith Language

As you can tell by my previous post, the thesis is starting to discourage me. I keep telling myself that "it all looks like failure in the middle". And its true. I think I've thought myself an utter failure at life every semester somewhere in October/March. So the feeling is hitting a little early this time. I know from seven semesters of experience that the feeling passes and it works out just fine.

But one issue that has continued to come up in my conversations with Julia Kasdorf, my adviser, has been how to express and deal with issues of faith in writing. It seems that I so effectively talked myself out of writing in a "Christian" voice for my college courses, that I have jettisoned much of the vocabulary that would be useful in my thesis. Of all things, I am writing a thesis that explores my personal journey in writing and faith, two things that inevitably drag out some unpleasant things in my life as well as some intensely theological, abstract thoughts. Getting the immediate personal and the theological abstract to work together clearly and coherently in the same sentences has been no small challenge. Much of our meetings are spent with me desperately trying to answer questions I thought I had answered in writing, but had confused Julia. While blundering through my thoughts on communion and resurrection and how I know  (but can't seem to explain) their profound impact on my writing, I "resorted" to quoting from the Presbyterian Confession of Faith I read through recently in search of communion service directions and doctrines. Julia's face lit up and said, "That's what you need. You keep trying to explain these things in your own words. Pull in the other voices. You aren't just an individual making this stuff up in a corner. Place yourself and your words in a tradition."

While this was a small moment in our mangled and confusing conversation, I think it showed a deep flaw I've adopted, thinking it a strength. There is a lot of shame in me about using "Christian-ese", a lingo that makes sense and is explainable only to a Christian readership. I've made fun of this language and been influenced by some Christian writers asking for new vocabulary to re-explain the faith. But what I failed to realize, in a kind of arrogance, is that my new vocabulary will necessarily be weaker by putting off the traditional vocabulary of faith. Throwing off that vocab actually makes me fall into abstract thought and ideas. I fail to communicate the essence of my experience and my knowledge of truth in the process. I have aided no one by avoiding the words and structures given to me by tradition: creeds, texts, hymns, vocabulary, doctrine. Rather, Christian-ese is really the attempt to individualize words and doctrine in a way that has made it shallow and weak. My attempts to remake the weak are foolhardy.

Instead, consciously and actively use the deep language given to me through millenia. Study history, explain and explicate words and ideas like "communion" and "resurrection" and the texts that have surrounded them. No need to re-invent the wheel. It was great the first time around. Readers and I will go much farther together if I just take it and run with it.

Individualistic expression of faith is certain to confuse and baffle a reader. Placing oneself in a tradition and actively, consciously employing that language grounds and clarifies abstract thought for a reader. Not the other way around. It's about time I got over my awkward inhibitions with vocalizing faith. O'Connor would have been appalled.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

How To Write an (Creative Writing) Thesis

 Simple: Date it.
  1. Begin far in advance. You will never, ever have enough time though. So perhaps it isn't worth it. This is the awareness stage.
  2. Begin with a question. Don't worry too much about this question because you will change your question many times. This the awkward DTR progression.
  3. Take trips. Ask questions. Become very confused.
  4.  Meet with your adviser. Discover how bad you are with words. Discover how bad you are at asking yourself questions.
  5. Meet with your adviser again. Be very confused.
  6. Have a break through. That is later questioned very thoroughly by your adviser.
  7. Feel discouraged.
  8. Feel encouraged.
  9. Write pages you will later throw away.
  10. As the semester in which you write your thesis draws near, begin pursuing your thesis with dedication and persevereance. She will elude you. But keep going. It's a lot like pursuing Wisdom. 
  11. By the time the semester is at hand, enter a committed relationship with your thesis. Make it facebook official if you have to.
  12. Make your thesis angry with you for neglect.
  13. Panic. Then ask its forgiveness. Try over.
  14.  Consistently struggle to give Thesis the attention they demand from you.
  15. Realize you are asking all the wrong questions, have trite and recycled language, and confuse more than illuminate any of the things you once instinctively knew were connected.
  16. Be convinced that you never had true instincts.
  17. Reconsider your major and whether graduating with honors is worth it.
  18. Question your thesis's thesis. Consider starting over with six weeks to go.
  19. Then, Lord willing, turn it in on time.
  20. Remain confused.
  21. Thank your adviser for never killing you for never understanding her questions and for all the times she made you use better words and write till it hurt.
  22. Remember and believe it was worth it.