Monday, November 26, 2012

Re-Evaluating

I'm contemplating a shift in this blog's purpose and structure. And appearance.

My issue is that when I stop to re-evaluate, I tend to want to immediately quit whatever the current trend is before I move forward. I want to just stop whatever I'm doing if it isn't best and not pick up again until I have the sorted out purpose and goal for it.

Life does not work this way. Neither do successful blogs.

All of this is simply to say that I've been sitting back and watching my non-hit winning blog and thinking about it a lot in a passive, contemplative kind of way. Rather than blogging.

I'll try to fix that in the coming weeks. Evaluate and Sustain simultaneously.

If you'd like to help in this re-evaluation process, please note in the comment section if you have a favorite post or thing that keeps you coming back. (Or thing that keeps you not coming back. In which case its unlikely that you'll comment.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Spies on Life


A year and a half after graduation and a year and a half into campus ministry.

I have no one to appall when I say I have never read James Joyce that I have never heard of this week's poet coming to read. In fact, no one asks what I'm reading anymore. There are no deadlines I miss if I don't blog on a given week. I can't remember exactly that Lyotard said about literary theory and I only remember the name "Stanley Fish" because the name was always so unique. I wouldn't know where to submit poem if I had actually cleaned one up recently.

I have a different kind of life than I had a few years ago. I miss it. I do. But I've also found a great many other things to love.

I do have someone to tell me what it is like to help give birth to a calve and where on the dairy farm she buried her first cow. I have someone to tell me the study of light and what she's learned about God in the calculations of daylight in architecture. And another tells me which roads to bike down on clear days. I hear stories of roommate conflicts and I hear stories of wedding proposals in pumpkin fields. In the range of my own evenings and days, making soup and hosting meals, having meetings in Webster's Cafe, dancing and learning to teach dance in afternoons, I get to see. I see people. I'm asked to watch and know and care. It's a job full of real things. It goes against my natural tendency to hide in ideas, sorting the farming of my own thoughts without the voices and lives of others.

It's like having a network of spies, out of my settled mind. Spies into the promised land, like Joshua and Caleb, bringing word of things that are both good and unnerving. Spies on life; real living; stories worth telling. Through my students I know more life than I can live. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

"What is Literature": Memories of a Loved Prof

I suppose they can go by many names.

Mentor, teacher, friend, mother, sister, advisor, role-model.

In my writing and intellectual life, I was raised by mothers and aunts and sisters. I'm thinking about creating a series of posts recognizing a few of these people. A sort of "thanksgiving" by way of memory. These are people who act as sign posts, as guides, as fellow pilgrims. I would be lost without them.

A week ago, I was thinking of one such woman as I went about my reading and writing and day-preparations. Nearly 20 days later, I remember that I never replied to her latest email.

I write her back and find out that she has gone through a terrifying amount of change in the last six months. She was hospitalized for a long period of time for health complications upon her long standing health complications. Her father passed away and she navigated family tensions before she finally laid his ashes to rest during Hurricane Sandy. She moved out of the house she raised her family in to a small home within walking distance of campus.

She ended her email saying she was having a dinner for her neighbors that Wednesday and that I was invited.

This professor was one of the early ones to make my imagination come alive. She was a gift in one of those mundane, routine courses all English majors were required to take: English 201 "What is Literature?" I don't remember what we came up with as a definition. I think she took the Suzanne Lori-Parks approach, thinking about "The Great Tradition" and the "Next Great Thing". Or something like that. In the tight room on the third floor of Sackett Building, with the wide window ledges that opened up to the tops of the elm trees, she drew outlines and timelines on the chalkboard in careful, elegant cursive. She had us reading "The Inferno" and translations of "The Bacchae" and gave extra credit for going to see live theatre. I gave a presentation on film adaptations for my final project, explaining through Jane Austen adaptations what "faithful translation" meant when taking literature to the screen (for the record, I lauded "Sense and Sensibility" by Ang Lee and decried the Joe Wright "Pride and Prejudice" as a fraud). A few times, she made us circle our chairs and sat outside the circle while we ran our own discussion. I met two of my favorite English Major friends in that course but probably wouldn't have ever learned to love them as much as I did without those discussions and papers.

When I walked as marshall for the English department at graduation, she walked with me. Kept me from killing anyone with that stupid banner.


Her new house was a charming one. She had invited all the neighbors she had met so far on her street and many had come, bringing food to contribute to the meal. She offerred me wine and then said in a panicked voice, "You are 21, aren't you?" When I was first in her class, I wasn't 19. Yes, I am of age.

I couldn't stay long and I hugged her as I left. "You are doing okay?" she asked. She had remembered a short conversation we had as we waited to walk for graduation over a year ago about my parents, my unwieldy banner sitting against a wall, and voices echoing around us in the high cement walls of the Bryce Jordan Center. I said that I was in a good place. "You sound skeptical" she replied. And I started crying. It had nothing to do with parents but with Other Things. She hugged me, saying that she understood completely. And please, would I come to her next dinner in a month? I promised I would.

I felt ridiculous crying in her dining room about something so passing in my own life when her own had been turned upside down this year. But that was the kind of grace this professor has, as a teacher and now as a friend.