Thursday, December 22, 2005

back to the ol' homestead

Tomorrow morning early we leave for TN, the place of my birth, for Christmas but much more importantly, for my mei-mei's wedding. It will be gay, it will be fun, it will be one ultra-hip soiree.

I guess the next post will have a bunch of pictures to show you all what fun you missed...

Monday, December 19, 2005

theological reflections on "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"

One of my favorite perennial Christmas classics is that edition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer where Burl Ives narrates as Sam the Talking Snowman and sings. You know, the one where the little figurines move around jerkily but endearingly. (For some interesting info about this classic, click here.)

My favorite character in this thing is Hermey, the Elf who wants to be a dentist. Herbie reveals this sick unnatural ambition in a conversation with the Elf Boss, who lectures him threateningly:

Hermey, miserably: Not happy in my work, I guess.
Head Elf: WHAT??!
Hermey: I just don't like to make toys.
Head Elf: Oh well if that's all...WHAT??!! You don't like to make toys?!
Hermey: No.
Head Elf, to others: Hermey doen't like to make toys!
Others: (repeat it down down the line) and in chorus: Shame on you!
Head Elf: Do you mind telling me what you DO wanna do?
Hermey: Well sir, someday, I'd like to be...a dentist.
Head Elf: A DENTIST? Good grief!
Hermey: We need one up here...I've been studying it, it's fascinating, you've no idea, molars and bicuspids and incisors--
Head Elf: Now, listen, you. You're an elf, and elves make toys. Now get to work!

The ontology undergirding the Head Elf's reprimand of Hermey leaves no room for consideration of an elf who deviates from his "nature" by not liking to make toys. It's simply inconceivable. Hermey's attempt to "fit in" is stymied when, engrossed in the task of providing teeth for some dolls, he misses elf practice and suffers another confrontation with the Head Elf, which concludes with the Head Elf's vicious assertion, "You'll NEVER fit in!" Miserable, Hermey jumps out the window in self-imposed exile, his only option to be true to himself.

Rudolph's situation is parallel. Born with the disgusting congenital deformity of a red glowing nose, his parents are horrified (even his own mother can only weakly offer, "we'll have to overlook it," while his father goes so far as to actually hide it by daubing mud on his son's face.) Later, at the "reindeer games," Rudolph outshines the other reindeer in skill, but when his prosthesis falls off, everyone gasps and his erstwhile playmates mock and shun. The authority figures echo this attitude: the Coach gathers everyone up and leads them away, saying loudly, "From now on, we won't let Rudolph join in any of our reindeer games!"

Santa's role throughout most of the cartoon is to legitimize the prejudices against the misfits already evident in lesser members of the Christmastown community. When Santa visits the newly birthed Rudolph, his unthinking prejudice becomes plain when he comments that Rudoplh had better grow out of it if he ever wants to be on his team of flying reindeer. Santa's behavior at the scene of the reindeer games is even more disturbing; like his pronouncement at Rudolph's birth, he says, "What a pity; he had a nice takeoff, too." For Santa, Rudolph's skill is less important than his nose, an arbitrary physical attribute. A distant and authoritarian figure, Santa is unaware of Hermey's plight (apparently the welfare of elves is beneath his notice) and condemning of Rudolph's gall in considering himself a reindeer of the same worth and dignity as the others.

Rudolph and Hermey get together, and a few lines of their "misfit theme song" are revealing:

"We're a couple of misfits, we're a couple of misfits--
What's the matter with misfits?
That's where we fit in.

We may be different from the rest...
But who decides the test
of what is really best?"

In "Christmastown," those who decide "the test of what is really best" seem to be the tyrannical and thoughtless majority, reinforced by authoritarian sanction by Santa, the pseudo-benevolent despot. Those who question the status quo--those who are already marginalized--are mocked, punished, and driven out of the community.

Over the years it's become apparent to me that this simple children's cartoon contains some real subversive elements: Hermey's misfit-ness is the result of apparent "choice," but the kind of choice where the alternatives are to be true or false to oneself. Rudolph's misfit-ness is the result of birth rather than choice. Change "dentist" to "gay" and "red nose" to "black skin." Now the subversive message is clear: Santa is racist, the Head Elf and the elf community is homophobic, and "Christmastown" is really "Whiteytown."

Given this subtext, the change of heart on the parts of Santa and the Head Elf at the end are more than just the formulaic ending to a well-known Christmas fable. Although it takes a prodigious feat of community service on both Hermey's and Rudolph's parts (each requiring skills peculiar to their misfit-ness) to bring the authorities and the community to repentance, repentance is indeed the note sounded in the conclusion. Everyone, including Santa, apologizes to the misfits. And in the end, difference is valorized rather than exiled.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


my nose, my nose
is a snot hose

she blows she blows
where it all comes from
nobody knows.


I read in a book somewhere that this can happen in pregnancy. I think this means that I can look forward to this miserable slimy condition from now until June. I'm trying everything I can, to no avail: I sleep with Breathe Right strips on my face (unpleasant to remove but at least marginally helpful to keep you from drowning in your snot while you sleep); I've been using Brent's Neti pot every morning (unpleasant because it can make you feel like you are actually drowning but does a swell job of flushing out your snotty head). I run through boxes of tissues. Today I think I'll add walking around with a stinky mentholatum mustache. See what desperation leads to? (And yet, I really like breathing...and I bet the kid does, too.) But now my throat hurts because there's so much snot that while I think the majority of it is content to get blown out of my nose, some of it is impatient and has found an alterative way to make me miserable: the post-nasal drip. I know my body's wigging out on me, but this is ridiculous: how can it be so far gone that it's into producing not just one but two rivers of snot? Shouldn't it be concentrating on making other bodily fluids, that amniotic sac stuff, all that extra blood that's supposed to be circulating? Why snot? When the kid gets old enough to ask questions, I won't be telling about how dreadfully cold it was when I was pregnant, or how my back hurt, or whatever. I'll be saying, "when I was pregnant with you my body tried to drown me in snot. It was horrible. I still haven't forgiven you completely." This will probably produce a warped vision of human procreation during those formative years--but come to think of it, if the kid grows up thinking that sex involves inordinate amounts of mucus, perhaps that will serve as useful deterrent come adolescence...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

a link

This is a link to a message from Dale Pauls at Stamford Church of Christ that I picked up off the forum at For anyone wondering why I bothered to do such a crazy thing as audition for the Vagina Monologues, here it is, in Dale's words.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Hi everyone.

Last Friday I tried out for the PTS production of the Vagina Monologues. Last year was the first time for the Vagina Monologues to be performed at PTS, and I wasn't able to be a part of it, or even go see it, so this year I was determined to get involved somehow. Then, I forgot all about it and just happened to be walking past the Women's Center and saw that I had almost missed my chance...and part of me said, oh well, it's for the best, I'm a busy woman. But another part of me, maybe it was my vagina, decided to kick my butt and make me ashamed of my apathy and whaddaya know, I scrawled down my name for a time slot and so that was that.

I didn't get a real part (waaah) but I am part of the Vulva Choir. That's good enough. I have to say, it was liberating just to try out, really.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


When I was at HUF (spring '97), I saw a mosiac of the Slaughter of the Innocents on the floor of a cathedral--it may have been Siena, but I don't really remember. I can, however, still see the depiction of the soldiers spitting babies on the bayonets, weeping women reaching out vainly for their children. It was a shocking thing to see and it disturbed me so profoundly that I ended up trying to process the experience by writing it into a short story.

In Matthew, where the story of Herod's decree to kill the male babies under two is told, Jeremiah is quoted: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

This pregnancy has been nothing but joy for me. Even the weeks of muscle soreness, constant urination, and low level but chronic queasiness were a mark of something special, something happening that set me apart and gave me a reason to be happy. Getting pregnant was like falling off a log. I have those fears and anxieties that everyone has, but there's no special reason to worry, or particular thing to fear. I have every reason, my shelf-full of preggie books tells me, to assume that things will turn out perfect.

But I know some Rachels. Some Rachels who are desperately hoping to someday have what I have, what I have and have taken for granted. Some Rachels who, despite their own inconsolable grief, can still say to me, I'm happy for you. And now that I have some inkling of what it means to have, imagining suddenly not-having wrecks me. Now that I understand that a pregnancy, from the moment you see that dumb little blue line on your generic test from Target, changes your whole life because now, now suddenly, there's a new human being in your life, whose presence cannot be ignored or denied, whose presence has changed absolutely everything.

So I wonder why. Why are there Rachels? Why me? I find myself so grateful for this wonderful thing that has happened--but I shudder to call it a gift, because it means that there are others who don't receive this gift, and that begs for explanation. Even worse to call it a blessing: why me, why not Rachel?

In the midst of my joy, I am sad. I am sad for the Rachels I know, and I am sad because I know that no matter how happy they may be for me, truly, that my joy makes some part of them sad. The bigger and rounder I get, the more obvious my own good fortune becomes, the more the question must haunt them: why her, why not me?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

meet the kid

Look at the foot. This is a future soccer star indeed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Haircuts are a source of stress for me. I have short hair. It grows fast. It requires a cut about once a month, and that's because I let it get all long and unwieldy before I give up and admit to myself that once again it's time to get it cut. When you have to get it cut that often, you can't afford the kind of hairdresser with whom you forge a warm and understanding relationship. You go to a place where you can get out for under $15 bucks, sit down in a stranger's chair, take off your glasses, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.

So this morning once again I faced the truth: I could no longer avoid the haircut. My hair was not "a halo of mouse-brown fire," but an untidy haystack of mouse-brown that no amount of magical product could tease into a semblance of style. So with a sigh off I went.

And it could be worse. It's short, like I asked, but somehow, I just feel like this haircut screams "dork." And I have realized that the whole process is so stressful to me that the reason why I periodically am tempted to grow my hair out is simply to avoid the painful process of getting it cut, again and again and again.

Of course, growing it out means going through that horrible haystack hair stage again. It'll be great for my ego when I'm all big and pregnant, have grody hair, and have to try to "look nice" for baby sis's wedding.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Cat Knows

She knows. I don't know how she knows, but she knows. She mysteriously somehow knew even before I set her down for The Talk, so the talk ended up something like this:

[cat insistent on establishing ownership of lap]
[I intent on establishing lines of communiation]: Kitty, you know you're my favorite cat in the whole wide world. You're even as good as Christopher (even though Mom won't say so).
[cat blinks, begins to purr]
Me: So, kitty, you really don't have to worry. No matter what happens, you'll always be the most important cat in this household.
[cat lazily closes eyes in recognition of unarguable fact]
Me: And even though I'm no longer changing your litter, you know you're better off 'cause Brent remembers to do it more often than I did, anyway.
[no discernible response from cat]
Me: So, kitty, this whole I-have-to-be-in-your-lap-all-the-time thing, you don't have to do that just to make sure I still love you. Besides, pretty soon this lap is gonna disappear, so you're going to have to find another way to reassure yourself that you still have my loyal and undivided feline affection.
[cat ignores me, appears to be asleep]
Me [to self]: Okay, this is clearly going to be an issue.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I've found it: the Food that Doesn't Make Me Want to Vomit at the Thought of It.

Any guesses? Okay, forget the guessing. Blogs aren't quite that interactive. Cream o' Wheat. Yes, I have reverted back to my childhood completely. I ate two bowls today. And for a short blessed while after, felt great.

Now I feel like crap again, but that's to be expected. I could eat another bowl of creamy wheaty yummy goodness, mmmmm so bland, so completely nondescript and unobjectionable, but I'm afraid to lean on my food crutch too hard lest it break before its time. I need this solution to last as long as possible.

Other news: I am on the way to successfully finding myself a place to give birth. It's been quite the daunting task, but I finally whined at Brent and things got taken care of. Now, don't fret, I'm still a feminist and everything, but it is soooooooooooooo nice to have a husband who will make phone calls for you when you don't feel like making them yourself.

I even hate ordering pizza. It always makes me feel stupid. I really hate calling business type places.

So, other than sleeping a great deal and finishing off a new sci fi novel per day, I haven't accomplished much this Reading Week. But after catching up on all this sleep I should be able to jump back in to the ol' routine with some enthusiasm. That's good.

The bad news? I discovered I no longer like the smell of coffee...Yes, you can expect Jesus any second now.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

new things to be rudely truthful about

The kiwi hat isn't the only thing I've been doing around here. Sure, you say, there's that mysterious and awful process known as "comps" you keep bitching about, we get it already, so shut up.

No, that's not it. My newest latest accomplishment (sorry, no picture), is a baby.

Yep, people of the blogosphere, I'm pregnant.

I was determined to hold off on announcing this until comps were over. I thought maybe if I didn't tell announce it, it would make it easier to temporarily shove the fact aside and concentrate on comps. Despite the fact that I can still work myself up into a snit about the injustice, inefficient pedagogy, and downright cruelty of the whole comps process, my mind's just not really been on it. This week I tried dutifully to read Diogenes Allen as a review for the upcoming philosophy comp, and put it down in favor of The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy. And nearly had a weeping fit while reading about morning sickness over breakfast.

That's not my first weeping fit, either. Last week I was trying to review for History of Doctrine, and since Brent was gone and the apartment was eerily quiet I turned the TV on for background noise and got sucked into a rerun of the movie The Other Sister. Brent came home just at the moment when the marching band shows up at their wedding. He peeked into the living room, said hi and asked what I was doing, and I promptly burst into tears. My first excuse for behavior that shocked and surprised me as much as it did him: "I love this movie. It's so...cheesy...and beautiful..." Then I tried blaming it on anxiety about my History of Doctrine comp, but he wasn't fooled. He had a sort of freaked look that he tried to hide, valiantly, but unsuccessfully. I myself was freaked because honestly, I had no idea it was about to happen, and while it was happening, I found it so hilarious that I could be sobbing without feeling sad that I started giggling. The whole thing devolved very quickly a scene of individual random hormone-induced hysteria.

At least at that point I already knew I was pregnant and didn't have to worry that I was losing my mind. Before I peed on the little stick--twice, just in case I did it wrong, although honestly, it's not that complicated--I was chalking up all the fatigue, despondency and muscle soreness to existential dread of comprehensive exams. It was such a relief to know that there was a physiological basis for waking up feeling like someone had been beating me with a baseball bat in my sleep every night, and being unable to concentrate on the utterly riveting things I was supposed to be frantically studying, and unable to keep myself from taking a nap no matter how worried I was or felt like I should be about the upcoming exams. In a way, it was a great stress-reliever, too: clearly, comprehensive exams do not constitute the entirety of my world. There Are More Important Things Going On.

Of course, the only possibility for getting through these exams with any hope of comporting myself with any credit was to ignore the fact that I'm pregnant until they're over--at least this round. I made it through 2 exams but, oops, kindof lost it this week and started thinking about pregnancy instead of philosophy. I think it's that the queasiness has started to kick in, and at that point, it's no use pretending anymore.

So, there it is. Some of you knew already, most of you related to me, so the rest of you, don't get your panties in a wad. Maybe you think this wasn't the proper fanfare for announcing the scary fact that Brent and I have decided to doom your progeny to share the world with ours, but you get to announce your procreation any old cutesy way you want to.

So, look forward (or dread) a new theme to this blog: rude truth about being pregnant while doing a doctorate. Have I mentioned I'm now cursed with terrible gas, and at the same time I'm horribly constipated? Oh yes. That doesn't have anything to do with the doctorate but it's very uncomfortable to take an 8-hour exam feeling constipated the whole time, plus horrible back pain from the non-ergonomic chair, plus getting up to pee every ten minutes. And even worse, for my second exam they provided a hotel room in Eerdman Hall--which had a bed. Cruel, really.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Well, week 1 of Comps Hell Month is gone.

When Brent took his first comp, he called me on his way home, energized and jubilant. He even said the words "kicked ass." When I finished my comp last week, I felt like I was the one who'd been kicked. Down a couple flights of stairs. Repeatedly. By someone with big hobnailed boots on. What are hobnailed boots? It doesn't matter. It sounds scary and painful and that fits.

I just wasn't prepared enough. I don't know if it's possible that I could have been prepared enough. But I could have done better than I did. My answers were disorganized, rambly, and probably not so intelligent. I find it hard to believe that I did so bad that I would fail, but I certainly didn't do well. I think I pulled a very solid mediocre. I should have done better.

Of course everyone wants to know how it went. I find it hard to be honest and say, "rotten." These are people I go to school with after all and I have to keep up a facade of intelligence and bravado. But the truth is, I feel rotten and I'm scared to even review the crap I wrote because it'll confirm my worst fears...or even worse, tell me I wasn't feeling bad enough already 'cause it's even worse than I thought.

There's no relief in sight, folks. I don't get to know how I did (officially) on any of this until February sometime, and even then, I don't think you get feedback on an individual exam. You just pass, or not. That can be a little comforting when I'm in the mood of "I've never failed anything in my life (well, except for that physics test in high school, but that doesn't count because my 22 was the 2nd highest grade in the class) so I can't possibly fail this either"--then I can feel justified in a little dark optimism because, mediocre is all you need in an overall pass/fail scenario.

But I just should have been able to articulate this stuff a little better. I know what I think about stem cells. I know what I think about the moral status of animals. I don't know why I couldn't present my thoughts in a little more creditable way.

So, now that I'm feeling so good about myself and all, Exam #2 is up this Wednesday: History of Doctrine. Unlike the Ethics comp I just took in spectacularly mediocre fashion, I don't know what my possible questions are. I know nothing, in fact, other than my topics: patristic Christology, St. Augustine on "moral psychology," and medieval women mystics on the same. I have 3 days to frantically review the reading that I have frantically done previously, and to sit and fret about trying to guess what my questions might be so I can adequately prepare. I don't even know how many questions there might be.

Some of you might remind me that I should realize now that Life is Bigger than Comps. Fine, I know it. But right now that's a liability. Look at what just happened when I walked into Ethics all relaxed and "I can handle it" and "Life is Bigger than Comps"-ish. I sucked, that's what happened. So right now I have to pretend that Life=Comps, and don't try to talk me out of it.

Someday soon there will be a happy post but I wouldn't look for it until after October 19. That's Exam #3, Philosophy. That one is "friendlier" than History of Doctrine but still...I didn't manage to read the whole history of human thought listed on the bibliography, so I'm underprepared for that one as well.

I really wish I could recover the academic confidence I had as a 1st grader, back when I was best at everything and I never even had to try.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

my latest accomplishment

First, this is what a kiwi fruit looks like:

And here is my latest accomplishment:

Sunday, September 25, 2005

who is good but God?

Joe's got a great little post over at Brooklyn and Beyond referencing Jon Stewart's words from the other night, addressed to God: "What part of God bless America don't you get?"

Joe's point was that part of what it means to be a Christian is an (endless?) quest for consistent language about how God works in the world. Specifically, if God's in charge of procuring my parking space (Hallelujah!), then how 'bout them hurricanes, eh? That's not to say there aren't a whole lot of inconsistent Christians out there. There are--otherwise, why make a point about the necessity of this quest, right?

Around here, snuggled deep in the comfy bosom of the Reformed Tradition, the response to these things always comes back to one thing: sovereignty. God's sovereignty. God's big, we're puny. God's powerful, we're weak. God knows, we don't. God Created, we are created. God does what God does, and if we don't get it (and don't like it), well, that's just to be expected, isn't it, 'cause God in his sovereignty didn't equip us with the necessaries to even begin to question him.

I don't know why this is satisfying to people. When I want to know about God and the hurricanes, I don't think about God's sovereignty. I think about God's goodness. And I think, some things about this world are obviously not good. I can see that. There's no doubt about that. If I can see that, so can God. And surely God can see it so much more clearly and painfully than I do. Some things about this world are not good.

So what? Well, I personally like to inform God, just in case God missed it, or really, just to reinforce what God has undoubtedly already surmised. Shit happens down here. And I like to point out to God that God is in a position of responsibility. Sometimes this is phrased elegantly in my discussions with God: "Creator of all, nothing exists except through you. Have compassion on your creatures" or sometimes it comes out more like, "you started it!!!"

It can degenerate from there. I'm not saying I'm a Martin Luther or that guy from The Apostle or anything, but, well, when a conversation is private and in your head you can feel rather uninhibited.

But I'm not afraid of it, of affirming God's goodness to God's face and demanding, why aren't you doing what you ought to be here? Why did you leave us with this mess? Why are things this way? Don't you love your creation anymore? Doesn't it make you sad to see it wrecked? Don't you want to make it right? What are you waiting around for? Haven't you made some promises you ought to be delivering on right about now?

I think, rather, that God wants us to get worked up and and good and pissed when we see this obvious discrepancy between the goodness of the Creator God we praise and the muck of the creation we live in. I think God is proud of us when we realize that goodness is goodness, and evil is evil, and when all we can see tells us that God is less than good, we should be pointing that out, not making peace with a vision of God who is less than the good God we used to believe in. I think God rejoices when we see this clearly, rejoices that despite everything we see around us, instead of capitulating to the evident evil in the world, we stubbornly continue to believe in a good God throught the very act of challenging God in all God's goodness to appear and prove it.

I imagine that, if I were a mommy with an extremely precocious toddler, that I would feel more proud than pissed if little Susie pointed out some obvious, gross injustice in my behavior and held me up to the very standard I'd taught her. Because good is good.

Friday, September 23, 2005

like, duh!

Oh, the amazing opportunities for procrastination afforded by the Internet.

I totally stole this awesome link from the Feminarian, like, the Big Ten say stealing's like, not so hot, but, like, there's nothing about blogs in there, and anyway, what's a blog?

New American Valley Girl Version

1 THEN Gawd spoke all these words, saying,
2 I am the LORD your Gawd, who totally brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 Like, duh! You shall totally have no other gods before Me.
4 Like, duh! You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is totally in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
5 Like, duh! You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your Gawd, am a jealous Gawd, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
7 Like, duh! You shall not take the name of the LORD your Gawd in vain, for the LORD totally won't leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is totally a sabbath of the LORD your Gawd; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your stud or your Valley Girl servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is totally in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
12 Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your Gawd gives you.
13 Like, duh! You shall not murder.
14 Like, duh! You shall not commit adultery.
15 Like, duh! You shall not steal.
16 Like, duh! You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 Like, duh! You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his stud servant or his Valley Girl servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Friday, September 16, 2005

busy busy busy

Saw Vonnegut on The Daily Show a couple nights ago: reminds me that "busy, busy, busy" is the phrase invoked by Bokononists in Cat's Cradle when "a lot of mysterious things are going on."

So things have been busy.

First, there are those damn comps looming on my mental horizon. It's hard to explain to people who aren't facing them, or who haven't undergone them, what they are and what kind of awful pressure they represent. So I don't expect y'all outside this tiny little corner of the world to really get it (and you should thank God for the "bye"). But here goes. Basically, there are 5 exams: Ethics, History of Doctrine, Philosophy, and Systematic Theology; and one dissertation-topic-related paper. In less than a month, I am taking the first three: October 5, 12, and 19. I will go into a little room with a computer and an envelope on which are some questions, and I will then sit and write my answers to these questions for 6 hours or so.

I have a feeling that after the first, say, three hours, things will degenerate and I will start making a lot of obnoxious puns and inappropriate jokes and asides. That's assuming I make it that far; I might lose it long before then. I don't really know.

So, there's that. But a lot of my time this week has been absorbed into other activities (time, of course, that I have in increasingly diminishing and precious quantity as October draws nigh). This was the first week of the fall semester. So, now that I'm done with coursework, you'd think this wouldn't matter. But alas, I am involved in stuff. I am TA'ing (known for some arcane reason around here as "precepting"--I heard a professor this week admit that he didn't know why we call it that, which made me feel a lot better), for one thing, which meant attending a couple hour-long lectures, but even worse, I volunteered (never, never volunteer) to be the Blackboard coordinator for the course. Now, it's not that I don't know Blackboard; but troubleshooting for a course with 168 people enrolled in it, and 2 profs that don't know the program, turns out to take a lot of work.

So there's that. I've also, not exactly volunteered, but rather reluctantly consented, to be the female co-moderator-type for the PhD student organization. Mostly this means that I sit back and let my co-moderator, bless his little pea-pickin' heart, do all the work. But this week, even though I didn't do a whole lot of the prep work, required a physical presence and a lot of socializing. So I've spent a lot of time this week chatting and pretending I have the time to take a break from studying for comps and that I'm not worried about them in the least. In short, I've welcomed people to the PTS campus with a smile and 2 great big whopping lies.

So there's that. So, my advice, don't be checking this blog every day. It'll just sour your cheery optimistic dispositions with continual disappointment when you see the same old screen every day. But believe me, you really don't want me blogging my interior monologues at this point.

Monday, September 12, 2005


No time for a real post, y'all: so here's a picture. Consider it my usual 1000 words.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

kitty love

My cat is in love.

His name is Zeke. Zeke is a handsome cat, dark browny gray with black stripes and very lean and muscular looking. He lives next door, and he is a very nice cat.

But he doesn't like my cat. We tried to introduce them, and that's when it happened. Tiamat fell in love, and Zeke hissed at her and ran away.

I'm taking care of Zeke this week while our people-neighbors are away. Tiamat's figured out that I'm seeing Zeke regularly and is clearly jealous. At first I thought she was just miffed that I was dividing my feline affections with another cat, but slowly I began to realize it doesn't have anything to do with me at all. She's jealous that I'm seeing Zeke and she's not, not that he's seeing me. She follows me to the door whenever I leave, and she's waiting at the door when I come back. Yesterday she darted out the door and went straight to the neighbors' door, sniffing and looking for a way in. She goes to the door at night and yowls plaintively: in catspeak, I think it's something like, "Whyyyyyyyy don't you looooooooooooove me?"

I've tried to explain to her that if you want a boy to like you, rule #1 is do NOT chase him--let him come to you.

And Zeke, for his part, can tell that I am friends with the detestable cat next door and isn't so sure about me anymore, even though I do feed him and give him treats and clean out his potty.

I don't have a lot of hope for this relationship.

Thoughts on reflection: strongwilled, intelligent, aggressive women simply don't fare well romantically. Perhaps Zeke--like all those guys who never managed to ask me out in college--is just too threatened by my sleek, lovely, chaotic goddess of a cat.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

absentee living

What is there to say? I've been very absent and felt very absent lately. I don't know what else to say about it other than just own up to it.

Right now there are fire trucks and police across the street. We don't know what the emergency is. They don't seem all that frantic so it's hard to make myself care, despite the fact that these are neighbors (whoever they are) and there is an ambulance and police and firemen (there's one occupation that just can't be PC'd, eh?).

I've been feeling the same way about the hurricane: just uninvolved, absent. It's not that I don't care. It's just that I don't feel like I'm really all there. I can work up some indignation about the obvious racial issues. But it's an abstract indignation and not a whole lot of personal feeling gets stirred up.

Comps are a month away. It's hard to make myself care about that, too. When I think about it I get a little panicky--deeply ingrained performance anxiety reflex. But I find it fairly easy to shove it all away from me. I better snap out of it, because I am woefully underprepared. But I kindof don't care about that, either.

I'm hoping church tonight will wake me up. I have missed like three Sundays in a row, not my fault, just that things interfere. Going to church will be the restoration of normalcy, of involvement, of being present in my own life again. I hope.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Richard Houston Palmer, III

My grandfather died last Sunday, August 14. He was 95 years old. This past week I've been thinking a lot about my grandfather and trying to remember things about him: fuzzy impressions from early childhood, specific details about how he looked and sounded, stories he told and habits he had. Sometimes it feels like I don't remember very much at all. Sometimes it feels like I have a treasure trove of impressions and stories and visual pictures stored away.

He called my little sister "pixie." I remember being jealous that she got a nickname and I didn't. I wanted to be cute like a pixie, too, but I wasn't. But I knew even if I wasn't "pixie" that Grandpa loved me anyway.

He had a deep voice, and slow, and a wonderful TN accent. The way he sounded makes me feel at home. When I hear other people who sound like him, I feel warm and cozy. He told a lot of stories. I don't remember a lot of them, but my aunt and uncle and cousins who still live nearby across the old cow pasture from Grandpa's house made him record some of those stories and some of the family history. His voice got frailer as he passed 90 years old, but he never lost his sense of humor or the impeccable timing required for a really effective punchline. My dad says he still remembers hearing Grandpa say, "I've heard just about enough about that damn peafowl."

He ate chitlins and played Rook. In college I took up Rook partly because the game held a mystique for me: it was that mysterious card game with the big black bird card that Grandpa always played with all the other old men in the cabin behind the house.

I remember watching cartoons on the big, old TV in the living room on Saturday mornings. I remember eating breakfasts at the formica table--specially ordered and incredibly large to accomodate Grandpa's large family. I remember that Grandpa always had a glass of water to drink alongside whatever else it was he was drinking--orange juice or whatever--and it always seemed strange to me, a little idiosyncrasy that we all followed whenever we ate there, because that was what Grandpa did. I remember that Grandpa always prayed before meals, and it was always the same prayer, the prayer that all my life my sisters and I have called "The Grandpa Prayer": "Heavenly Father, We thank you for this food. In the name of Christ, Amen."

My mom told me that one time when my Grandpa was an elder and in charge of serving Communion on Sunday, a poor man slated to serve for the first time showed up without a tie. Instead of telling him he couldn't serve Communion to the congregration without a tie, my Grandpa took off his tie and told everyone else to take off their ties too.

I remember going fishing with my Grandpa and catching my first and only fish. I dropped it on my cousin's head trying to get it in the boat.

I remember my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary.

I remember my Grandpa being proud of me for going to China and for coming back from China and going back to school.

I don't remember my Grandpa the way he looked the last few times I saw him. I remember him big and vibrant and able to hop the fence and feed the cows. I'll always remember him that way, because that's who he was.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

punkin head

The Society of Mutual Admiration is pleased to present

"Punkin Head"

and invites you all to admire both the extremely professionally knitted chapeau and the adorable child modeling it.

Yes, yes, thank you, thank you. It was nothing, really. All I did was make the hat. John and Priscilla get credit for the kid--a much harder project, really.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Ira is out of surgery. It seems to have gone well. Again, you can go to Joe's blog, Brooklyn and Beyond, for details.
Ira Hays is in surgery now. You can visit Joe's blog to read more about it if you like. This is Ira, taken a month or so ago:

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


The Feminarian has a nice post up with pictures of her kitties. As you can tell I am having a rough time of it--little kids and old people dear to my heart are suffering, and I'm stuck here in NJ unable to do anything but blog about it--but I thought that I too would post a picture of my cat, who, like all wise cats, knows when to seek you out, settle down for the long haul, and purr. If only people could comfort that well.

She sleeps with her tongue sticking out. It's cute, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Some people treat the world like it's a friendly place, full of rainbows and soft landings and certain success just around the bend. Maybe some people really live this kind of life. Maybe it's completely rational for them to think of the world this way--after all, as VH points out (see The Shaping of Rationality), one's own experience is always rationally compelling.

In a lot of ways, I have floated through life like this. I had a great childhood with sensible parents (despite that lapse which resulted in a 10:00pm high school curfew), sisters who grew up to be pretty cool, good grades without trying, scholarships to pay for college as the result of one good test day taking the NMSQT, a semester overseas which my parents were hellbent on paying for, a dream job overseas (in some ways) right after college, marriage to an amazing person (which I had seriously begun to doubt would ever happen), more school with scholarships, and more school with scholarships--at my first choice institution, no less, studying under a prof who's internationally known in his (and my) field. It's not that I don't work hard. I have, and I continue to, as I'm sure anyone who's read this blog knows, 'cause I complain about it on a regular basis. But look at all that. That is the trajectory of my life. Everything I have ever really wanted, everything important and serious and life-shaping, that is, I've gotten. It's come true, all of it.

John Hick's answer to the problem of evil basically proposes that all hardship, evil, suffering, etc., in the world is there because without these things, human beings would never come to spiritual maturity (which in any case he thinks takes longer than a human lifetime to reach--this goes on even after we're dead). The world is like a huge obstacle course, and in encountering obstacles, we learn and grow, and that's the ultimate point of obstacles. The obstacles being a metaphor for evil, of course. Imagine us all as toddlers, wandering around trying to learn something about our environment. If there was nothing for us to bump into, we would never learn anything. Therefore: humanity requires obstacles in order to progress.


If this really were so, beyond committing the unforgiveable breach of making senseless evil make sense (I like to think of this as "domesticating evil"--like, now that we've explained it, we can give it a nickname and keep it as a pet. "Here, Evil, here boy! Awww, good Evil, you're so cute, and helpful, too, aren't you, boy?"), Hick has some explaining to do, because I should be a naive nauseating idiot floating around telling everyone how good life is and God will bless them and nothing so bad we can't bear it ever happens and someday, someday we'll all be in heaven and it won't matter anyway.

But I'm not. I don't see a world of rainbows and happily-ever-afters and guaranteed successes, despite my coddled and overblessed life. Joe asked a few weeks ago how we view the world--optimistically, hopefully, or pessimistically, prophetically...

I see a world where little kids get run over in driveways and other little kids have recurrent CDH and old men get sick and old women get smashed up in car wrecks. I don't think that this is some kind of metaphysical learning experience for anybody. Not for them, and not for me, and not for you, either.

I'm mad. I am burning prophetic pissed that things like this happen in a world that Someone supposedly pronounced "good." I am raining down wrath on people who want to tie a bow on it and make it all better. I am sick to death of watching other people suffer for no reason and know myself to be completely helpless. I am embarrassed to have lived such a pain-free life that I don't even have a concept of how these other people suffer and manage to keep living.

These things haven't happened to me. I'm convinced my share of pointless suffering is down the road somewhere ahead, but that's not the point. They don't have to happen to me for them to matter. They happen. That's the problem. And if we can't see that from our cuddly cushy sunshiny happy place, then we too are the problem.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

what's that blue thing...DOing here?

Continuing on the theme of food. There is a legend in my household about the Blue Soup. Brent encountered the Soup back in high school, in Russia, as an exchange student. He doesn't know what made it blue. He remembers it vividly because, naturally, he really, really didn't want to eat it.

(Incidentally, our Ukrainian friends are mystified as to the possible culinary identity of the Blue Soup. They seem a little skeptical, despite Brent's earnest protests, that such a thing exists.)

My first time to venture down to the local government-run cafeteria down the street in China had me perusing a line of dishes which, for me, had no name and no immediately identifying factors. Pointing randomly I chose 3 dishes and sat down. The only thing on my tray I could be sure of was the rice. It turns out one of the things I had chosen was cow stomach, helpfully ID'd for me by my Australian companion, wise in the ways of the cafeteria after a year in China. It had a decent flavor, but the texture was unpleasant. I ate the peppers. And all of my rice.

The real problem was when I couldn't even decipher whether a dish was vegetable, or meat. The first time I saw Qie zi Bao I felt completely uninspired. This is a delicious eggplant dish, in case you're wondering, but unless you know it's eggplant, it looks like a nest of dead caterpillars in brown sauce.

This is not gratuitous mocking of other cultures' cuisines. My point is that, when you can't identify for yourself that a thing properly belongs in the category "food" then you simply do not want to eat it. It seems unnatural to do so and despite your best intentions and sincere desire to be courteous, you experience a strong revulsion and a desire to run away and forget that you ever saw that blue thing on the table.

(This is, I think, part of the horror of cannibalism; human beings do not belong in the category "food." I posted a short musing on this a while back at a few voices.)

What's really interesting to me is how strongly we feel about this. It's wrong to eat dog, it's gross to eat pig's ears. It's not just that we feel "this isn't for me." Our guts get twisted up and our world gets tilted a little bit when we consider eating the uneatable. And yet, the category of "food" is indisputably socially learned and formed. If it weren't, there would be no ex-pat cravings and no ex-pat food inhibitions. This category which is so obviously cultural-specific is somehow, in our minds and in our actions, transmuted into a natural/unnatural paradigm.

Perhaps, you may say to yourself, that's not true. We don't say people are "unnatural" if they eat pig's ears or dog. We say that's gross, or cruel. But let me point out that "gross" and "cruel" are not aesthetic pronouncements. They're not expressing a matter of taste. At core, they are moral judgments. And this is what I mean by saying that this matter is elevated to the natural/unnatural; when we make a judgment about practices which don't fit our category, we don't simply shrug and say to ourselves, "Oh. apparently some people like to eat donkey meat, while that simply doesn't tempt me at all." No, instead we feel repulsed. Not just by the unidentifiable Thing on the table, but by the people consuming it as well; we feel it strongly, viscerally, and express it in terms of moral condemnation.

You can, however, get over this. It takes some effort and repeated exposure to weird eating habits. You have to hang out regularly with people who eat Blue Soup, pig's ears, chicken feet, cow stomach, dog and donkey meat. You have to learn that regardless of these supposedly barbarous and repellent habits, these people are essentially just like you, and are doing what comes "naturally"--they are eating what they consider to be proper food.

The final lesson comes in the form of watching our home-video of our Chinese students attempting to eat some of our cherished sharp cheddar. Some of them managed to gag it down. Others raced each other for the kitchen sink to spit up. One student seemed to go into a mute Zen trance in order to gain the inner strength to swallow.

Brent and I enjoyed the spectacle immensely. They had just attempted to serve us frogs, after all. I don't mean like cutesy little Frenchy frog legs, either. Things come whole in China.

They were quite good, actually.

***this is also posted over at A Few Voices. For those of you that read both blogs, sorry for the redundancy.***

Thursday, August 04, 2005

ex-pat food cravings

Those of you who have never embarked on extended travels or lived overseas for a time may not know this, but there is a syndrome which I shall label "Ex-pat Induced Food Cravings." I've never been pregnant, so I don't know what pregnancy-induced food cravings are like. I tend to disbelieve the old pickles-and-ice-cream paradigm myself, but like I said, I haven't been there. Perhaps the moms out there can enlighten me. Or frighten me. Or both.

Ex-pat food cravings are different. They're not longings for the strange and unusual. They're cravings for familiarity packaged in food form.

I'm thinking about this today because yesterday afternoon I put down Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone in order to attempt making my own Wheat Thins. Yes, homemade Wheat Thins. This is a mission upon which I embark for the sake of my sister, the current ex-pat of the family. She has developed a craving for Wheat Thins, and though she has recently been pregnant, the diagnosis is ex-pat-, not pregnancy-induced, food craving. Naturally, of course, Wheat Thins are unavailable in Choluteca. This is part of the indication of the syndrome.

My Wheat Thins were, alas, neither tasty nor crunchy enough. I will try a second recipe after acquiring some more wheat germ. When I get it right, off the recipe goes to my mei-mei, who then (hopefully) will make a couple batches, and then discover that, upon availability, the cravings subside.

My own ex-pat cravings centered around cereal. (Cereal was nominally available in China--if you wanted to spend $10 USD a box.) I also had short but intense bouts of craving for a good creamy pasta. And cheese enchiladas. And, well, cheese. (Cheese was also nominally available in China back in '98--you can get all kinds of crazy French cheeses now, at Carrefour.) And I discovered that my liking for grits (yes I'm a good Southern gal in some ways, at least) had increased exponentially--and for grits, I was entirely dependent upon a collection of inherited envelopes of instant grits.

I won't call my year-long yearning for a decent cup of coffee an ex-pat craving; that's just garden-variety addiction and coffee snobbery. I'd feel the same anywhere.

Thanksgiving was a big deal for us Americans living in China. Some mistakenly attributed the emotional importance of the holiday to religious significance. It wasn't that at all. It was a Feast of Familiarity, and we would go to great lengths to "get it right." We had to have mashed potatoes--doable, but expensive because of the cost of butter. Had to have green beans. Had to have dressing. Had to have, of course, turkey. The turkey was a problem--my first year, we grudgingly made do with roasted chicken. Later, after my return to the States, I heard that one family had raised its own turkey. I don't know where they got it from. They had to hire a restaurant to cook it, because, difficulty #2, you can't stuff a turkey into a toaster oven.

I'm poking fun at us, sure, but Thanksgiving was a serious thing. It was important. It was a lifeline of sorts. It was a haven of American-ness in the middle of China. It was a chance to, for the length of a meal, feel at home in a place where we always felt out of place.

So, my Wheat Thins were a disappointment. But I shall redouble my efforts. I can't fly myself to Honduras or send endless streams of care packages stuffed with Wheat Thins for my sister. But hopefully, I can find a way to make a tolerable substitute, one which will evoke thoughts of home and feelings of familiarity, so that my sister can begin to feel at home wherever she is.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

the Anchorite

You may have wondered why there's been no new post for ages. It's just that there hasn't been anything to say.

My days pass with dreary uniform regularity; I wake up, I go to the computer to do online course work while I drink my coffee, I read some boring thing by some dead person who's usually German. I take a break to eat a late breakfast and then I read again. I take a break to snack instead of eat a proper lunch and then I read again. About 4:00, thanks be to God, I leave the apartment for the gym where I ellipticize for a half hour. Then I come back home, make dinner, and in all likelihood, read again.

This kind of routine makes one vulnerable to sloppy personal hygiene, frequent napping, and long conversations with the cat. It is, in fact, hardly distinguishable in some respects from clinical depression. (Perhaps my more psychologically knowledgeable friends will weigh in on this comparison.)

It makes me wonder what in the world people were thinking when they decided the best way to serve God was to huddle away in solitude. Or Thoreau, wanting to go "live deliberately" all by his lonesome. I don't even consider myself a real extrovert (officially I am right in the middle of I/E on Myers-Briggs, or at least, that was the case when I took it in college, 10 years ago), but this over-solitary existence is wearying. It makes me feel a little better to realize that Thoreau, the old fraud, was only 2 miles out of Concord, and Julian of Norwich (my latest mystic) was visited by all sorts of people seeking out her holy advice--most notably, Margery Kempe, who provides us with the majority of the information we have about Julian. Even Simeon the Stylite who decided to go live on top of a pillar in the desert drew an audience.

Which makes me just a bit skeptical about the whole thing. Perhaps the solitary existence bit was just a stunt, a ploy to get people's attention, a way of drawing a crowd instead of avoiding them. I don't really know. I'm not a historian and I am not an expert in mysticism and can't really say for sure. And if it was a stunt, well, I'm not sure that's necessarily bad. It at least sounds a lot healthier than a genuine desire to avoid all other human beings for years and years.

At least I have some things to look forward to on my calendar: a wedding on August 13 (already have the outfit picked out & brand-new shoes!), a trip to Texas, a trip to TN for my sister's wedding in December...hopefully I won't be so wacky from this anchorite existence that everyone thinks there's something wrong with me. Should I attempt to climb on top of a pillar, please, someone, take pity and haul me off to the nearest therapist.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Brent's Guest Post

This is just a quick guest post by Jennifer's spouse Brent. Some of you may know that Jen has preached three times for a Church of Christ in New York State over the past few months. I have encouraged her to make the sermons available, because I think some of you may have an interest in reading them. Though I'm biased, I think they are deeply insightful and characteristically articulate. Since they are longer than typical blog-length and we don't want to overwhelm her regular posts, we've put them at another blog entitled rude sermons (see the permanent link on the right). I've already posted her most recent sermon and I'll post the earlier two shortly along with any others see preaches from here on out. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


What an amazing day this has been. I thought it wouldn't be all that remarkable, and on the surface, maybe it wasn't. But this morning I got calls from Atlanta, TN, and local friends, messages from WA, AR & Honduras, and a surprise plate of brownies from the cool Lutherans next door & the other Jen, complete with singing and a candle. Wow! Maybe there are those among you, imaginary and alien included, whose birthdays are always full of candles and singing and lots of raucous celebrating. But my family is pretty low-key about things like birthdays, and on top of that, for a good long while in my early 20's birthdays took a drastic turns for the may have been as many as 5 straight years when my birthday probably rated as the worst day of my year, for various reasons.

So turning 29 is good. The celebrating hasn't been raucous or anything, but the cool thing is, lots of people seem to have remembered, even people who aren't related to me or married to me. That's just really nice. And despite the requisite grousing about getting old, I'm really happy about it. I like being at an age where people accept you as a grown-up. I think I've been ready for this since I was about six, actually.

Oh, and I have such an awesome spouse. (I am saying spouse instead of husband because Brent has told me this is the way people do it around here, apparently.) I mentioned in a cutesy random comment on someone else's blog that an iPod would make a really nifty gift for my birthday (then a month away). And sure enough, friends, now I have one. Isn't that seriously amazing? I am very happy about this. Not just because I now have a cute little piece of technology but also because Brent has once again proved beyond all possible doubt that he is the most romantic and thoughtful guy in the whole wide world. Maybe not the whole universe, but perhaps our new alien friends can comment on that.

Okay, I can feel myself sounding actually bubbly so in the interest of dignity I will sign off. But thanks to everyone who made this an awesome day. I love you all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

greet our new foreign friends

Hello! Hola! Ni hao! Tag! Buon giorno! Zdrastya! Everyone, say hello to our new friends. This blog is now being beamed into space along with the 5:00 news and I Love Lucy. If you too would like to chit chat with our alien friends out there then visit and sign yourself up. Many many thanks to Greg at for this blog upgrade. Now my blog audience is not just an elite few and a host of imagined passers by...but an elite few plus my imaginary friends plus my intergalactic neighbors. That is so much better!

By the way, new alien friends, please know that the movie reviewed in the last post was a crazy fictional scenario dreamed up by an obviously lonely British man with too much time on his hands.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

War of the Worlds

note: this actually was over a week ago but this cute little baby distracted me and I forgot to post this.

Brent took me to the movies last night. It's always an interesting cultural experience to go to an actual theater. The theater in Hamilton is packed full of teeny-boppers displaying bellybuttons, tight ass jeans and attitude. They glare at you like you're invading their personal playground, which I guess we are. At nearly 30, we're as old fogey as you get.

So, the movie was actually pretty good. I have to say, it was by far the most faithful movie rendition of any sci-fi book I've ever read. If all science fiction movies were done that faithfully, maybe the majority of them wouldn't suck like they almost always do. But even better, the changes that were made to the script were generally good ones. Instead of a fussy British academic narrating the tale of his mostly solitary adventure, we have a New Jersey deadbeat dad attempting to return his kids to the safety of his ex-wife's parents' place in Boston. It worked, I think. They changed the aliens a bit, too; although they did portray them as dependent on mechanism, which is faithful to the book, they gave them fully developed bodies rather than simply being brains operating the machinery. This I feel neutral about. Other than that, the structure of the story remains intact, even the ending. I am especially happy about this, as I'm sure it would have been very tempting to play up the interstellar war thing and have America defeat the brainy bastards with our indomitable spirit and powerful weaponry. But, like the book, there's no "war" in War of the Worlds. Right as it looks like humanity has come upon its certain doom, the aliens mysteriously start to croak and the invasion falls apart. Earth's bacteria prove fatal to the alien invaders and, through no merit or effort of its own, humanity is saved from annihilation by the ecosystem.

One thing I found curious was that Tim Robbins' character carried over none of the religious hysteria displayed by the original character in the book. It would have been, I think, a very effective platform from which to make a statement on religious apocalypticism, and I am unsure why this road wasn't taken. It certainly would have added interest to the character and provided an opportunity for thought-provoking dialogue. As it is, Robbins is just a garden-variety kook, perhaps with a hint of incipient pedophilia setting in (there's a disturbing conversation between Robbins' character and Cruise's character's daughter). But, maybe that's just my preoccupation with all things theological kicking in again...I forget that I'm not normal.

So, that's it. Not a full review, certainly, but hopefully enough that those of you who, like me, have seen way too many bad movies made out of really wonderful science fiction novels and short stories will find it in you to hope once again that perhaps this time, it will be good. This time, I think, you'll find a movie worth watching.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Now that's a cute kid.

Bet her mama's proud!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

back in NJ

Well. Mount Rainier does exist after all. We got to see it on the drive to the airport as we were leaving. Here's what it looks like as you peer through the back window of a moving vehicle:

But Mt. Rainier, impressive though it is, was not the main attraction of our little jaunt to WA. Nor, wonderful though they be, were my folks. Nope. We went to see my sister and her new little baby Levi (heavily featured, by the way, in the archives of this blog), who are visiting my parents for a few weeks. Haven't seen Ally since she got married, over two years ago, and of course, since Levi didn't really exist until a few months ago, hadn't ever seen him. So mostly we just stayed in the house and made ridiculous faces at this incredibly good natured kid and competed for the privilege of holding him. Nothing like a new baby to dissolve the dignity of all grown-up persons in the vicinity. We were shameless.

I knitted 3 baby booties and 2 hats over the week. That is pretty much my main accomplishment. Why 3 booties? Well, the first one was experimental, and of course too small. Why 2 hats? Well, the first one was of course too small. Ally will take that one home to Honduras for Sol to use on her Cabbage Patch doll. Yes, Cabbage Patch. I have realized the awful truth that, not being a mother myself and having not babysat since high school, I have no idea of the actual dimensions of live babies. And while Internet knitting patterns are free, a big perk, they apparently really aren't that reliable in terms of sizing. I have the distinct and awful impression that basically everything I've knitted for every baby I've ever knit for (um, this is two babies so far) has been way too small. So, anyhow, once I finally finished the second pair of booties, which are actually too big (luckily time will rectify this problem), I was absurdly proud. I hope I feel this good about defending the dissertation. Somehow I doubt it.

But just so you can see what a cute kid this is, and what a witty little knitter I am, here you go:

Now, isn't that an awesome hat?

So, all in all, it was a great week, really restful. I didn't really get a lot of reading done, although I did finish a short biography of Bonhoeffer that was really interesting: A Spoke in the Wheel by Renate Wind. And I finished the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics but I didn't get started on Critique of Pure Reason OR Strawson's Bounds of Sense. I meant to, really I did, but there was this baby to play with all the time. Really, it's all his fault.

It's nice to be back home though. I missed the cat, and she apparently really missed us. She's developed a weird meow while we were away, like a smoker's meow or something. I'm hoping it's not because she yowled in loneliness so much this week that she's gone completely hoarse. Overall though I prefer my kitty's codependent affection to the sulk routine some cats give you when you get home from a trip.

Well, that's it. I know this wasn't an exciting or thoughtful post but the pictures oughta make up for it, eh? Maybe after I get over the dopiness of the whole red-eye flight back and the losing of the luggage (again!) my brain will start working again. There won't be any more cute little babies to distract me from thinking my usual lofty thoughts. My loss, your gain.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

strangers on trains

Since I relayed that very dismal train conversation I was inadvertently party to this past Sunday, I thought I would relate another little train vignette from the week before. This time I was by myself, and I had managed to get to Penn Station in time to catch the 8:03 express rather than the 8:14 local, which I was very happy about. But it turns out that the 8:03 express train to Trenton is very popular train indeed on Sunday nights, and this particular night it was packed. Not China-crowded or even Italy-crowded, but, you know, American sensibilities regarding personal space were being infringed upon everywhere you looked. So I snagged a seat fairly easily, being by myself, and was settled in before the crowds hit my train car, placidly ignoring the frantic and ruthless competition for seats by the hapless folk around me, reading Catherine of Siena's _Dialogue_. Pretty soon, the seat next to me is taken by a dark-haired woman about my age, whose companion, an extremely large woman carrying a fairly large (though apparently not heavy) box, sat in the aisle on the box. She was sporting a sticker on her blouse that said "Go Queer" and from the chatter, I think they had just come from a march of some sort. Anyway, pretty soon they noticed that I was reading a medieval woman mystic and, whoosh!, the conversation begins. Women's bodies, mystical experiences, religious experiences, religion, science, our respective religious upbringings and rebellions, and where we find ourselves now. It turns out that these two fascinating women are Unitarian Universalist, which I know next to nothing about, because while they rejected religious dogmatism, they didn't at all reject spirituality. It wasn't a deep conversation, but one of those very wide conversations of the sort you can really only have with strangers on trains.

It was relaxing to me. I'm sure that had we talked longer we'd've found things to disagree about, and perhaps the momentary camaraderie (thanks to Dr. Burks for making it impossible to type this word without flashbacks to Harding chapel) would have ended. But it was pretty liberating to discuss opinions and experiences candidly without worrying about how your audience will react to them. I can't talk to members of my own tradition like that. Which means the question we should all be asking of ourselves right now is, why the hell not?

It could be my problem. I've admitted before on this blog that part of its raison d'etre is practice finding my voice--despite the bravado of the title I'm not at all comfortable with actually being rude. I think over the last couple months I've achieved rudeness a few times, and so I think I'm making progress. But still: progress in the blogosphere doesn't easily translate into boldness in the personal sphere. So it could be my problem. I find myself wrapped up in anticipating who will think what and say what and what they will then think of me after they know what I really think about whatever. It's paralyzing.

But it could also be "their" problem. Why am I so paranoid about how what I say or think will be received? Why is contemplating that an occasion of dread? Quite possibly because it's something legitimately dreaded, because "they" can be quite dreadful. But "they" is also the "we" that, for better or worse, I have cast my lot, in all honesty, it comes back to being my problem, doesn't it?

Well, I'm sure this little dilemma will come up again sometime. In the meantime, here's a bit of wisdom from my mother: "Jesus told us to be salt, not sugar." Amen. Preach it, Ma!

Monday, July 04, 2005

sitting in a lab

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July 4

Well, I'm sitting in a computer lab and, quite frankly, find it depressing. So don't expect any profundity. Coffee is not at hand, in fact is forbidden, and that is a prerequisite for composition of any sort for this proud American.

I'm in one of those anonymous bad moods, the kind where there's no apparent cause--it's just there, sitting gloomy and dusty and heavy on your shoulders and you can't shake it off. If it gets any worse, it's gonna sprout a head and limbs like those horrible old stoles people wore back in the Whenevers, you know, back when it was considered attractive to parade around with dead things that clearly were once alive on your shoulders. Oh, no, I don't mean like Neanderthals or cavemen or trogladytes. I mean like when it was cool to wear your dead animal with heels and chic purse. And if it gets any worse than that, it'll probably start growling. The mood, I mean. But clearly this metaphor has gotten way out of hand. As has the mood.

Maybe it's because I sat on a train last night on the way home from fairly intense theological discussion at church (yes, you read that sentence right: theological discussion at church, and I meant it) and listened to a quartet of loudmouths declaim the superficial and ridiculous about everything from how much wine it takes to get them drunk to how dumb PhD's are. Brent and I were 2 seats away from them and I could hear their conversation better than I could the woman sitting next to me on her cell phone. It occurred to me as I listened--at that volume I think eavesdropping becomes an obsolete concept--that it would be absolute hell to be trapped in a body that, no matter how hard you tried, only expressed the dumbest thoughts in the high school vernacular you never grew out of. These people seemed okay with it, though. They were 6 years older than me. I know this because they spent 5 minutes discussing how much better it is to have been born in 1970 than '69 (complete with reference to that song by whoever it was) because they can legitimately claim to be children of the 70's. But then they started on church. These laudable Ambassadors for Christ proceeded to blast everything I hold sacred by talking about it in the same inane and foolish way they talked about everything else--loudly, carelessly, irreverently, confidently, and self-servingly.

If there's anything that shakes my faith, and I say this very, very seriously, this is it. If this is Christianity, then this rotten boat full of holes is going down. By the time we all disembarked at Princeton Junction, I felt physically ill.

I really wanted to say something snide and confrontational as I walked past them--something like, "y'all have been real Ambassadors for Christ tonight. Keep it up." But I knew they wouldn't get it. They would pat themselves on the back. Maybe invite me to a Bible study.

So maybe that's it. Or maybe 'cause it's the Fourth of July and I don't find anything to celebrate. We're going to our NZ friends' place later and I plan to wear the KGB shirt the K's gave me a couple years ago. I don't want to spend the day complaining. But I don't want to celebrate, either. What is there to celebrate?

Yesterday on the TV I heard it asserted that we should honor the soldiers who have died because Jesus said, "there is no love greater than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Well, I have to end the tirade because there are pasta salads to prepare and I should probably shower before showing up for the party. Perhaps I will find myself in a better mood at the end of all of this, but somehow I doubt it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


This past Sunday I accompanied Brent to church, which I try to do unless I'm overworked, overtired, overstressed, or just plain too lazy. As you might expect, it doesn't happen often enough, but I always love going. This Sunday was especially good, as I didn't have to sit by myself even though Brent was acolyting (I assume this can be a verb?). A couple of friends who live in Brooklyn came all the way out to Princeton to spend some time with us, and so we all piled into the little green car Sunday morn and bumped our way down Alexander Road to Trinity.

I've been to church with Brent enough now that things are beginning to feel familiar. I know the tune they sing the Doxology to and I can remember to sing their words and not the ones I grew up with. I know how to sing the Sanctus in the middle of the Great Thanksgiving leading up to Communion. I know how to navigate my way to the altar rail and I don't freak out about how to hold my hands just right to receive the bread, or worry that I'll confuse the person giving me the cup and end up with wine down the front of my shirt. And I no longer feel that everyone is looking at me all the way up to the altar and all the way back to my seat.

I bet all this sounds really silly to people who have been going up to an altar to receive Communion all their lives. But these are the things you feel when what you're used to is having an old man in a bad tie hand you a plate while you sit in the pew. The only thing you have to worry about is when they forget to come pick it up from you after it's been passed. This sometimes happens. It's a real problem if you're a woman and you feel like you can't stand up and take it to the guy (someone might think you're usurping, you know).

Anyhow, taking Communion at Trinity has become a very special thing for me. It truly is the focal point of the service. The sermon happens, is over, sometimes is good, and then we begin "The Great Thanksgiving," a very long (or so it seems to this CofC kid) liturgical movement which retells in gratitude the story and the meaning of the crucifixion, punctuated by responses from the congregation expressing thanks. Then we move to the altar. The bread is presented with the words, "The body of Christ," and the wine with, "The blood of Christ."

Sunday evenings, I take the train into Brooklyn and meet with a bunch of other Manhattan CofCer's who've committed themselves to Christ's Church for Brooklyn. Right now we're a house church. I've missed the house church dynamic after coming back from China. There's something unreproduceable about the intimacy of sitting in someone's living room. It's something like the difference between homemade and store-bought bread. Homemade church. This past Sunday, we sat around Joe and Laura's living room, around their coffee table, and shared communion after being invited to think about what this church would look like in a year: what new faces would there be around the table as we share communion together in the future? As we sat together, I imagined us all as various parts of the body, a la Paul's metaphor, and thought, which parts are we missing? What parts will join us and make us whole? Who will be a part of our journey together toward wholeness in Christ?

Two communions, separated by about 6 hours, an hour's train ride, the difference between high liturgy and informal address, the difference between altar and coffee table, church and living room. And yet, somehow, the essence of communion--being drawn together with God and with others--collapses those differences, making it plain that whatever the form, the bread and the wine function the same. The body of Christ, the blood of Christ. What else could make two celebrations so different one and the same?

Monday, June 20, 2005

hear ye, hear ye

I have an announcement to make.

I am a "bad Christian."

I have proof.

You can find out if you're a "bad Christian," too. Take the test. I would encourage you not to endeavor to improve your score (despite the exhortation at the end when you get your results back). Think of it like golf: the lower the better.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

my interior castle

For part of my History of Doctrine comprehensive exam in the fall, I am reading women mystics: Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, and Julian of Norwich. I have never read them before, which is part of why I'm reading them now. The doctrine I am following in this part of the exam (and also in Augustine, in another section of the exam) is Christian anthropology, or as my professor prefers as more accurate, Christian psychology (using psychology in a radical way, referring to the psyche as the soul/mind, rather than the current professional use of the word).

And that's all very interesting. I am very interested in Christian anthropology/psychology, it is academically relevant to the direction I'm headed in with regard to the dissertation, etc., etc. But I have an ulterior motive here, too. I want to know what it's like to be a woman mystic. I want to know what "union with God" really means, not in an academic sense such as "when Teresa of Avila refers to the prayer of union she means x, y, z," & footnoted. I mean, I want to know what union with God is. I think I want a mystical experience.

Unfortunately for me, Teresa says quite clearly that union with God isn't granted for the sheer wanting of it. It's a fleeting and unpredictable favor which God grants to whom God chooses, inexplicably.

So I've been reading along in The Interior Castle, where Teresa compares the soul to a castle of clear crystal, within which are myriad "dwelling places," and within which, in the center, dwells God. Each dwelling place, in her metaphor, represents a certain level of spirituality. Union with God is a process, a journey through each of these dwelling places (although, as she points out, there's nothing ironclad about this process; God can give you a shortcut if God wants to). Not everyone makes this journey. And, it seems pretty clear to me, that Teresa thinks not everyone can, or should feel compelled to; she's not writing a pop-Christian manual for the laity, but to her Carmelite sisters.

There are seven dwelling places that Teresa talks about. I am about to begin reading about the sixth (which has eleven chapters to it--clearly this is something big!). I was going to finish the work before writing anything about it here, but I found something so wonderful in the third chapter of the fifth dwelling place that I had to stop and write about it.

As you might imagine, there's been a lot of stuff about spiritual consolations and spiritual delights of union...stuff that, while I can try to understand what she's getting at, I just don't have a personal experiential grasp of. But after all of this, she says:

" will be good to avoid giving the impression that those to whom the Lord doesn't give things that are so supernatural are left without hope. True union can very well be reached, with God's help, if we make the effort to obtain it by keeping our wills fixed only on that which is God's will."

I got very happy at this...and then very disappointed. I have in the past ranted (although not on this blog but I'm sure it will happen sooner or later) about the vagueness and uselessness of the trite phrase "God's will." (I especially hate when people affirm that vacuous sentiment "everything that's happened in my life has brought me to this point" and think that that's some kind of description of God's will. Uh, HELLO! Is it not obvious that everyone's life can be viewed as one long chain of cause/effect from any point? Shall we all pause before we get up off the toilet to reflect, "everything that's happened in my life has brought me to this point! Praise God!" Hmmm...guess that counts as a mini-rant and it seems to have happened sooner rather than later. But hey, "everything that has happened in my life has brought me to this point"...Praise God!)

So, I read on, a little disappointed in the Holy Mother, but thinking, well, obviously she has some idea of what that means even if I don't. But luckily for me, she goes on:

"There is no reason to doubt the possibility...of true union with the will of God. This union with God's will is the union I have desired all my life; it is the union I ask the Lord for always and the one that is clearest and safest. ...The Lord doesn't have to grant us great delights for this union; sufficient is what He has given us in His Son, who would teach us the road. ...Here in our religious life the Lord asks of us only two things: love of His Majesty [note: she often uses this phrase to refer to God] and love of our neighbor. These are what we must work for. By keeping them with perfection, we do His will and so will be united with Him. ...The most certain sign, in my opinion, as to whether or not we are observing these two laws is whether we observe well the love of neighbor. We cannot know whether or not we love God, although there are strong indications for recognizing that we do love Him; but we can know whether we love our neighbor. ...I have said a lot on this subject elsewhere, because I see, Sisters, that if we fail in love of neighbor we are lost. May it please the Lord that this will never be so; for if you do not fail, I tell you that you shall receive from His Majesty the union that was mentioned. When you see yourselves lacking in this love, even though you have devotion and gratifying experiences that make you think you have reached this stage, and you experience some little suspension in the prayer of quiet (for to some it then appears that everything has been accomplished), believe me, you have not reached union. And beg our Lord to give you this perfect love of neighbor."

It is astonishing to me that in what is basically a manual for prayer with the objective of achieving mystical union with God, in the middle of it, love of neighbor becomes the means of union with God. And how perfect is the last bit? Teresa of Avila scolding those who take their visions and emotional gratifications as proof of union without worrying about their neighbor. Can we hear this too much? I don't think so.

So maybe I'll stop worrying God for some kind of mystical experience. Maybe I'll take Teresa's advice and beg our Lord to give me this perfect love of neighbor instead. And we'll see what happens, sisters.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

who sinned?

The disciples were gazing at a blind man. They probably were feeling something like "but for the grace of God there go I." And they wanted the explanation. Why him and not me? Who sinned, this man or his parents?

Yesterday the baby across the hall from Ira died. And now it seems everyone is searching for an explanation, one which will assure them that there's a reason this happened across the hall and not to Ira. One that will assure them that this won't ever happen to Ira, because Ira is safe from the dangers that strike other babies in the NICU.

It's too early in the morning for me to rant about this. It just makes me feel tired. Why haven't we learned? Why do we insist on fabricating neat little explanations for things that aren't neat and tidy? We read the Bible. We have Elie Wiesel and The Sparrow. Why don't we hear truth? Why do we close our ears to it and prefer to make comforting shit up?

Here's some truth. God didn't "spare" Ira because Joe is a good Christian man. God didn't "take" the baby across the hall because the parents didn't pray hard enough. And Satan is not "poofing" out my faith because I dare to notice and say these things. If Satan is involved in this in any way, I'd say he's playing the role of false comforter and dispenser of easy lies. Get thee behind me.

Monday, June 13, 2005

on my own

So, Brent is in Florida all this week for the Stephen Ministries training. I think this is a great thing and I'm really glad that Brent has been asked to help do it. But this is the first time I've ever stayed behind while he went off on a trip. I've been to OR twice to visit A & J up there, for a week each time, and left Brent behind. That was fine...but it sucks to be the one left at home. As I'm finding out, 2 hours into the deal. This place is so echoingly empty.

Thank goodness my cool Lutheran neighbors get back today from their vacationing so I'll have someone to hang out with when I get super lonely. In the meantime, I've got the cat. And LOTS of books to read. Up for this week:
the last few pages of H. Richard Niebuhr's The Responsible Self
Plato, The Republic
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (hopefully it arrives soon)

Of these, I've read Niebuhr before (and am almost finished with it anyway--will probably knock it out on the train into Brooklyn for church later today) and also the Republic. But I haven't read the Republic since 10th grade, except for a couple of times in various classes over the last decade where the Allegory of the Cave was excerpted. But I am so glad that I have read it. James Cockerell, wherever you are, bless you! It took some balls to put Platonic philosophy on a 10th grade reading list. But you did, and I read it, and now I'm reading it again...for a PhD comprehensive exam in philosophy & theology. Way to think ahead! Way to prepare us 10th grade self-absorbed neo-hippie deadbeats for our potentially bright futures!

Of course, this also means my copy of Plato is seriously and embarrassingly doodled all over with everything from sunbursts to "I love ..."! I really might find myself compelled to get another copy, especially if it turns out that there's agonizingly adolescent marginalia. I find margin notes from college embarrassing at this point now; I can't imagine what 10th grade notes are going to be like. And I was never one to write in pencil. (What's frightening about all that is, I remember doing it, and I feel exactly as mature now as I remember feeling then. So the question is, is this feeling of mature selfhood a total illusion? Or is that I'm doomed to fifteen-year-old consciousness for the rest of my life? Or am I reading back my own self-awareness now into my memories from then?)

So. Here am I, on my own for a week. What am I going to do? Probably watch a lot of movies, and Gilmore Girls re-runs instead of annoying Dr. Phil at 5:00 pm every day. Maybe finally change that flat on my bike and enjoy some of this awesome sunny hot weather we've been having. Start a new knitting project. Hit the West Windsor Library and check out some more sci fi. (I can justify this: I'm looking for sci fi writers who incorporate ideas about the posthuman into their fiction, for later use or reference in the dissertation. Any of you who read sci fi and are interested, send me recommendations.) Study for comps. Finish editing vH's mss. Bake some bread. Eat lots of things I like that Brent doesn't like. Make some strawberry jam (2 quarts from the farm this week! Wow). Call my parents 'cause I'm lonely (already). Blog overtime 'cause I'm lonely. Go to bed early so I can get up early maybe and do yoga. Maybe make some progress on that long overdue to-do list...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

aardvarks and humans

Aardvarks and humans share the rare distinction of being the only surviving species of their genus.

Em? How 'bout a chorus of "I'm all alooone in the woooorrld"? Maybe the aardvarks'll join in...

Saturday, June 11, 2005

tomorrow's fun fact

What do humans and aardvarks have in common?

(I'll take suggestions.)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

recipe for Em

Pasta & Greens

1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch watercress
3/4 cup ricotta
salt, pepper, nutmeg
1 lb. penne or whatever you like

Saute the washed and coarsely chopped greens in olive oil with some garlic. Add your seasonings, don't forget the nutmeg. When they're nice and wilty, take off the heat. Put the ricotta and the greens in a blender and blend till smooth. Toss with your cooked pasta. Top with pinenuts, Parmesan, chopped tomatoes if you like.

P.S. The greens are interchangeable. Use spinach or whatever you can find.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

the Chinese way

Thanks to everyone for putting up with my fit yesterday. I'm sure that there's some kind of decent reason for there to be an anonymous option for comments. Actually, a certain level of anonymity is what's attractive about blogging at all. People stumble across your words inadvertently, and without knowing anything else about you, learn what you think about the things that are important enough to you to blog about. That's a weird kind of anonymity that goes hand in hand with a real intimacy. You're inside someone's head...but you don't know anything else about that someone. We're all disembodied talking heads here in BloggerWorld.

So I'm not saying that's bad. A couple of weeks ago my husband told me the thing he liked best about this blog was that it reminded him of the emails we sent back and forth when we were dating/engaged, when I was in China and he was in Texas. I remember the freedom of composing those emails--I could say whatever I wanted, without editing, without worry. And this is kindof like that. I just get to be me, and follow whatever line of thought catches my fancy, and make whatever stupid puns or weird associations or abrupt subject changes I want. It's intimate to talk that way.

So, it's not really anonymity that puts my back up. It's just plain cussed meanness. Or maybe occasionally I mistake utter stupidity for meanness, but there's a point at which stupidity is inexcusable, too.

Abrupt subject change. Brent and I have joined a CSA (that's Community Supported Agriculture! I have now successfully remembered the meaning of the acronym without asking for help! YEA!!! For some reason I had been suffering terrible mental blockage on that one) for the summer, and every Saturday we drive out to Pennington, NJ, to the Honeybrook Organic Farm to pick up our share of various veggies for the week. So far we have been inundated with exotic lettuces, bok choy, arugula, and picked our own strawberries and sugar snap peas & a big bouquet of flowers as a bonus.

So Saturday night when we finally had our across-the-street neighbors over for dinner, we had a Chinese feast which included our bok choy and snap peas. This was da bai cai, not the small ones, so it was a little different from what we used to eat all the time in China. But it tasted right. So here's all you need to stir-fry some authentic Chinese greens: oil (with a high smoking point, because you need very high flame to properly stir fry), lots of garlic, greens, and salt. Yep, that's it. Let the oil heat in the wok and then toss in your garlic. Stir it around for just a few seconds and let it get fragrant. Then throw in your greens and stir them around. Maybe toss in a little water to steam them a bit, especially if they're taking awhile to get tender--stir fry should be fast. Salt to taste.

For the sugar snap peas I added some ginger along with the garlic, and seasoned with a bit of soy sauce and some sesame oil at the end.

We also had carrots, tofu, and eggplant. The eggplant wasn't from the farm, but I think we get eggplant in the future (maybe), so when that happens I'll be letting you all in on the Best Way to Eat Eggplant Ever. I love eggplant all kinds of ways, but the Chinese way is best.

Yes, I said "the Chinese way." I cannot count the times I heard the phrase--usually in the form of a censorious "that is not the Chinese way" in response to some clueless American lao wai question I'd just asked. Most often (predictably) I found I was not enthralled with "the Chinese way." But the Chinese way with eggplant...oh, yes.