Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!!

Goodbye, 2008 - Hello, 2009 (in approximately 12 hours!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Letter - Revisited

December, 2008

 Dear family and friends,

After Jen hit “print” on that 90-page honors project in May, I thought life would be easier. Right. We moved back home, and three days later, it was business as usual.

Most days, Jen has three to ten web pages running simultaneously. We also spend excessive time fixing commas in documents and typing commentaries on topics in education.

Occasionally I get so overloaded that I don’t have the energy to load another email. I suppose Jen gets the hint; she stops typing and cracks open a dictionary-sized book with a British or Russian name on the spine. But then, even after the workday ends, she’s back to French or Latin language study websites or writing on her two personal “blogs.”

Don’t forget the grad school applications. Eight, to be exact. As if four years weren’t enough, Jen wants to go back to school for another five to seven so she can teach other young adults about books that are thicker than the old Pride and Prejudice on VHS. Thankfully, she put the apps in the mail last month, so I don’t have to look at another existential exploration of her life purpose. In the evenings—

How would you know? You start virus-scanning yourself at five and don’t have a spare byte of RAM for the next ten hours.

You’re one to talk! You’re just a shoe!

—Go defragment yourself. I’m telling this part.

You see, I’m a dancing shoe.  I spin.  I twirl.  I waltz, swing dance, contra dance, and even throw in an occasional tango or salsa step. In Jen’s case, I travel along to late-night IHOP visits, and I help Jen make friends while she’s living at home, even if it involves getting her very, very dizzy.

Umm, aren’t you forgetting something?

Are you talking to me?

Do you see another car with amazing gas mileage?

Who do you think gets Jen back and forth and everywhere else at three a.m.?  With so many people getting married this summer, it was all I could do to make it to the next oil change!

I don’t see your keys wearing off from—

If my steering wheel was as twitchy as your touchpad, I’d—

Why do you two think people go dancing—to get away from you!



** Massive smackdown ensues between computer, dance shoe, and car. Outcome unknown. Results TBA next year. Merry Christmas.**

Saturday, December 20, 2008

No explanation needed...

This really says it all...

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Would you like a "Sno-Cone"?

So, if you ever thought God didn't care about the little your personal nutrition...think again.  I was making eggs for lunch yesterday, and after beating them, I was about to sprinkle a little salt on top. 

Apparently, either as a warning about the dangers of sodium intake or a hint that I'm not eating enough of it, my choice was deemed incorrect in quantity or quality by the kitchen gods, otherwise known as the sea salt container assembly machines.

Instead of a few choice grains of coarse salt, the little plastic lid fell out, and the ENTIRE bottle (2 inch diameter, 6 inch tall) fell with a muffled splash (more like a "ploosh") into my eggs. 

The resulting concoction looked somewhat akin to a particularly gelatinous banana-coconut sno-cone. I was severely tempted to offer it to a greedy child in the mall, but my better half got the better of me, and I refrained, lest I further anger the kitchen gods.

Such is life.

*Note: while somewhat irreverent, allusions to God's role in daily nutrition are not meant to be offensive or to be taken seriously... :-)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What to Say and How to Say It

Real post coming soon, I promise.

Here's what the head of children's dictionaries at Oxford University Press has to say about the changes:

"When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance. That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed. We are also much more multicultural. People don't go to Church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism, which is why some words such as "Pentecost" or "Whitsun" would have been in 20 years ago but not now."

Just goes to show how much language still shapes our culture; and that people KNOW language shapes culture.

On the other hand, the comments from a concerned individual are no more reassuring, in my mind. From the master of Wellington College, a private school: "I think as well as being descriptive, the Oxford Junior Dictionary, has to be prescriptive too, suggesting not just words that are used but words that should be used. It has a duty to keep these words within usage, not merely pander to an audience. We are looking at the loss of words of great beauty."

The funny thing is, being prescriptive is exactly what OUP has done. They simply have a different opinion about what words should be used and not used. Once dictionaries start being prescriptive, everything is subject to what the people in power want to describe.  And thus relativity encroaches on the English language as well.

Want to change culture? define words...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Just for Fun

This one's for you, Natalie...

The instructions in the "tag" were to go to My Pictures, open the 5th folder, and post the 5th picture I found. Here's the result. :) I think I was singing something from The Sound of Music.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday: an Ethnography

I'm generally a shy person. I need a break after extensive large group time. But inexplicably, I really like going shopping on Black Friday and Christmas Eve. I am not the 6 a.m. doorbusters type of girl; instead, I enjoy rambling around the mall in the afternoon, silently smirking at the exploits of my more intense fellow shoppers.

Here are a few highlights.

Minivans. The first sign of Black Friday is the overabundance of minivans on the highway. These are the mothers rarely seen on the interstate, but who drag their children out of bed at 5:30 a.m. in order to buy discounted winter coats and microwaves. 

Sneak tactics. The best way to ensure first dibs on items in a narrow aisle is to take a wide cart, man it on each side with several children hanging off the basket, and park in the center of the aisle while you start at the other end and work your way up.

Bizarre priorities. When it takes longer to return an item than it took that item to be made, purchased, gift wrapped, and opened.

Holiday spirit. There's nothing like watching shoppers snatch items off a pile and toss them on the floor or ram other shoppers with their cart, to the tune of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." The only thing better is three guys roaring with laughter when you accidentally crash into a fake plant while passing slow-moving shoppers.  

...and finally, the countdown...
  • Number of non-employees wearing Santa hats: 1
  • Number of fathers sitting dejectedly outside a store: 15+
  • Number of teenage couples holding hands: 9+
  • Number of people asking help figuring discounts or deciding between two items: 2
  • Number of people using hand sanitizer in the food court: 4
  • Number of awkwardly loud cell phone conversations: 2  
What memories...

On a more serious note, Black Friday has become a dangerous day. The phrase "doorbusters" was not meant to be taken literally. It's not funny to consider store employees trampled, injured, and even killed by rioting shoppers. In fact, it's downright disturbing when you think about it. No $388 flat-screen TV is worth it; not by a long shot.

The sights and sounds of madcap shopping make funny stories. But honestly, when consumerism leads to a blatant disregard for humanity, that's no laughing matter.  As much as I get a kick out of the atmosphere on Black Friday, I wish that giving thanks and celebrating the people in our lives, rather than the effects of overeating turkey, would be what sticks with us into the Thanksgiving weekend. 

...and they arrived!

With one day to spare on the 4-6 weeks deadline, my GRE subject test scores FINALLY arrived yesterday. Chicken that I am, I put off opening the envelope as long as I possibly could. 


The results were good! (better, in fact, than I had hoped.)  It may not mean much in terms of getting into grad school, but it certainly won't hurt.  WHEW!!!!  

Now I just have to get those last few transcripts located and the last few references in...

Happy Thanksgiving, by the way!

Monday, November 24, 2008


No scores today.

Friday, November 21, 2008


No test scores today.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


No test scores today. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Grad School Update

Busy, busy, busy.

Final application count (subject to change): 8

-Emerson (MA, Publishing and writing)
-Mary Baldwin (MLitt, Shakespeare)
-Duke (PhD)
-Wake Forest (MA)
-UVA (PhD)
-Northwestern (PhD)
-Vanderbilt (PhD)

This week, I've been talking to admissions and financial aid reps from Mary Baldwin and Emerson, including an online chat open house hosted by Emerson, and hoping to schedule a visit at Mary Baldwin in the near future. 

Deadlines approaching rapidly. Still no GRE scores.  Some transcripts apparently failing to arrive at their intended destinations; ironically, the most oft-missing are the ones that had to be ordered from the other side of the world. Sigh. 

And oh, the waiting. :-P

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I think I've hit "Acceptance"

After chortling my way through several similar sites in the past year, I recently came across the blog "Stuff Christians Like." (Rumor is, there's a book deal coming). 

In the meantime, I feel an inexplicable need to point you to #438.  


Monday, November 17, 2008

Grumble, grumble...ETS

Sometimes life is cruel.

I took the GRE subject test Literature in English four weeks and 2 days ago. The test results were scheduled to arrive 4-6 weeks after the test date. of this past Saturday, my eyes are glued to the mailbox.

Today, an envelope arrives, addressed to me and bearing the return address of the ETS.

Heart-rate rises.

Stomach begins to roil.

Palms begin to sweat.

Fingers begin to tremble.

After a stern, "Just get it over with," I open the envelope. To stall, I read the cover letter explaining how to interpret your scores, noting that subject test scores are on a scale from 200-990, unlike the general test. 

Finally lift the flap of the slightly thicker, green-tinted score report. Trepidation and fluttering feelings escalate as eyes slide down the lines of typewriter text to find a blank box underneath the heading "Subject Test Scores."


A last-minute decision to apply to Mary Baldwin College's Masters of Letters in Shakespeare required me to request another online score report request, separate from the other 7 I had requested last month. 

Each time you request scores from the ETS, they send you a copy to confirm. Talk about cruel.

In my opinion, they should be required to include a notice on the OUTSIDE of the envelope informing you what it contains. Some modicum of mental preparation would then be possible, and Drop Zone emotional trips like mine could be avoided. 

All I have to say is, there had better not be any more envelopes from the ETS until the actual scores arrive. I don't think I could take another one.

What Americans are Reading

USA Today just released its list of the top 150 best-selling books in the last 15 years. 

I have read 36, including 11 of the top 20.

How about you?

I find it fascinating that the three most popular non-fiction topics are God, self-help, and food and weight loss. What an interesting commentary on American culture.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

My thoughts on Election Day.

Voted this morning without standing in line. It was great. 

Spent a weekend in Virginia for my college's fall theatre production, Women of Troy, by Euripedes, which was very well done and thought-provoking. Beautiful fall colors along the interstate. Went to a halloween dance (my fourth!!) and "won" band's second place pick for a dance. :-0

Sent in my last electronic application (unless I decide on another school) today, and a heap of transcripts on Monday. I think the post office is getting tired of seeing me come in. I'm not even going to count the total cost of the application process, but 7 schools definitely adds up.

Still reading Madame Bovary by Flaubert.  Doing a close study of French pronouns and prepositions, and still working on "Le Petit Prince" and "Le Coeur Revelateur" for my French reading practice. Taking a brief break from Shakespeare.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Die Without Being Dead

This week, in a discussion about Galatians 2:19, my Bible study was talking about the meaning of "through the law I died to the law" and how this verse fits into the concept of grace. The concept was foggy in my mind, to say the least. The main progression of thought had been as follows:
  • The law points out our sin, because we cannot keep the whole law as commanded. 
  • The law, because of its authority as an arbiter of justice, thus has a claim on us to exact appropriate punishment, so that justice can be served.
  • The law demands our death.
  • We can only be free from the law's claim if we can pay that penalty. 
The problem is how to die - thus escaping the law's demands - and not simply be dead, which is no good in terms of the overall objective of escaping the law. A quandary, if there ever was one.

One of the excellent benefits of being an English major and an avid reader is having a thousand ready illustrations. All of a sudden, a literary motif made perfect sense of the verse. Literary characters all across the spectrum have wrestled with this same dilemma. *Warning, spoilers.*

...Think of the original Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) in the movie The Mask of Zorro. He is imprisoned, albeit unjustly. There is no way out unless he is dead. 

...Think of Edmond Dantes in the book The Count of Monte Cristo. He is imprisoned, and no one leaves the Chateau D'If alive.

...Think of Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities. He is imprisoned in a place where the only exit was en route to the guillotine.

...Think of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He was convicted for breaking a minor point of the law, but which rendered him guilty nonetheless. He would bear the law's stamp (the convict's stamp on his passport) until he died.

The answer for each of these men came in an exchange or apparent death. 

A dead guard in The Mask of Zorro permitted Don Diego de la Vega to feign death and be carried out of the prison to be buried. The death of Edmond's friend Faria allowed Edmond to be carried out of the prison and thrown into the sea in a body bag. Even after his flight was discovered, he was presumed dead from the fall.  

Charles Darnay was given the clothes of his look-alike Sidney Carton and allowed to leave the prison as Carton, while Carton went to the guillotine in the likeness of Darnay. For Jean Valjean, re-imprisoned on the ship Orion, escape from the life of a convict came only when he fell into the sea and was reported drowned.

Feigning death allowed Valjean and Dantes to temporarily escape the physical representation of the law. But what about God's law, which is not fooled by disguises or pretenses, and under which all of us are condemned justly?

The only answer is that a real death has to take place. Someone has to die, so the law's demand is paid in full, not postponed. Enter Jesus.

What makes Jesus' sacrifice so much greater than Sidney Carton's is the fact of the resurrection. By paying the price of the law and then being raised to life again, Jesus broke the power of sin, which was to make death the end and the ultimate consequence.  

So what changes afterward? What is the new end consequence?

The effect of sacrificial death is that someone bears your sin (your being, your name) to the death you deserved. Edmond Dantes couldn't simply return to Paris and announce himself as Edmond Dantes, because "Edmond Dantes" was presumed dead. Jean Valjean couldn't re-establish himself as Jean Valjean, because "Jean Valjean" had died. 

Their new, free life had to come with a new name - a new persona. As a Christian, that new persona is just as integral.  "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).


There is nothing new, nothing revelatory, nothing ephiphanological (even if there was such a word) about my musings. 

It's like the tiny window of brilliant, crystalline colors in the sky right before the sun rises. It's impossible to capture in fabric or paint, but in that instant, I catch a glimpse of something amazing beyond the power of expression. 

So that's why I share, even knowing the inadequacy of words, especially mine. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Grad App Update

Three applications complete (minus recommendations and GRE scores) and out of my hands!  Four more to go in the definite-schools list.

It's truly amazing the sheer range of things they can find to charge you for...

*UPDATE 10/24/08*

Six applications complete, minus a writing sample, transcripts, recommendations, and GRE scores. 1 more to go on the definite-schools list!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

GRE Literature in English

It's over. 

Now if only I didn't have to wait 4-6 weeks to find out my score.  I've already calculated all the probabilities, and I hate waiting.

Why didn't I read more postmodern philosophers and dramatists?  Oh yes - I remember why.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Hit 50,000 miles on my car - exactly as I got home. What are the odds? (...anaphora, parataxis, litotes...) Test day tomorrow, and I'm far from ready but trying not to think about it that way. (...Jonson, Sidney, Donne...) Reading Beloved by Toni Morrison and listening to the audio tape of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (a re-read). (...Tristam Shandy, Anna Karenina, Faerie Queene...) Busy week with work and everything else. (...vilanelle, sonnet, ottava rima...) Next week, the application process starts for real. (...negative capability, dissociation of sensibility, objective correlative...) Not looking forward to all the fees, and thinking that schools really should refund your money if they reject you. (...Frye, Bloom, Arnold...) The way it is now, it just adds insult to injury.


Imagining what freedom will feel like...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Greater Expectations

Only one week stands between me and the GRE subject test in Literature in English, which I have been dreading for the past two months.  Unlike the creator of the study site I have been using (Vade Mecum), I did not study for fifteen hours a week for five months.  Two months will have to do, ready or not.

On Tuesday, I took the full-length practice test sent to me by the Educational Testing Service. When I finished scoring my 2+ hrs of effort, I had to face a number that was good, but still lower than I had hoped. I had expectations, and I was not able to meet them.

Of course, since then, I have been studying harder than ever, and I hope the test next Saturday will show some of that effort. But nonetheless, not measuring up to my own standards was a blow.

This weekend, I have been hit by another example of how powerful expectations can be.

On Thursday, my family's twelve-year-old Dalmatien, Pepper, had to be put down.  His legs had been getting weaker for several months, and he was finally unable to stand up at all and was in pain most of the time.  

In the back of my mind, I knew he was getting old, and that he might not make it much longer. I didn't expect it to happen so soon.  I still expect to hear him bark when I get home and have to fumble for my house key.  I still expect to step over him when I start a load of laundry.  I have expectations, and they are not fulfilled.

Of course, since then, I have been digging up more memories than ever: when he used to drag me around as a skinny eleven-year-old, when he ran through the snow using his nose as a snow plow, when he stood on the doggie gate and tapped me on the shoulder with his paw to remind me to pet him. But nonetheless, not seeing him when I walk in the door is a blow.

Expectations can be powerful - and painful.  I am beginning to realize that I have a lot of expectations, like those about my dog, that I am not aware of having until they are not met.  I expected to get into grad school last year.  I expect God to answer my prayers the way I want Him to, not the way He knows is best.  I expect life to make sense.  And when it doesn't, I get disappointed, discouraged, or angry.

One of the hardest lessons I am learning this year is to recognize that my expectations do not fail because they are too high, but because in God's grand picture, they are pitifully small.  I am like the woman at the well in John 4, so caught in the idea of physical water ("you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep" vs. 11) that she could not see what Jesus was offering her.  

He did not meet her expectations. He exceeded them. 

As I wrestle with my unmet expectations, especially this week, I am driven to think about the people who plant seeds for giant, shaped gardens like this one.  All they see is a few misshapen, shrivelled grains of life being buried, when in reality, it is the foundation for something beautiful.

Image (c) International Peace Gardens, North Dakota.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Back from a 4-day weekend for homecoming.  So much fun to see friends, camp out, chat with professors, wander around campus enjoying the autumn leaves, and just relax.  Ah. 

Now back to the grind.  Several bigger projects starting with work--a much needed increase in hours.  GRE subject test approaching t-minus 10 days.  Took the official, full-length practice test today.  More studying needed.  Still finalizing list of grad schools, and getting ready to send out information to references so they can write letters.  Actual applications to be compiled following the subject test.  

Still working on Merry Wives of WindsorAntony and Cleopatra, and Inferno. Finished reading A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card.  A very bizarre and philosophical story, with interesting and vague commentary on religion and nationalism.  Anyone read it?  Thoughts?

So that's life, plus peeling 4 pounds of apples to make homemade applesauce.  Smells great cooking, but ends up with so little sauce for so many apples.  Sounds like the start of a great analogy, but I don't have the energy right now.

Real post to follow...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Lots of dancing last weekend - contra, then swing, then ballroom - equals sore feet but happy person.  Homecoming this weekend!!!!!  In the meantime, finished reading Will in the World, Pericles, and Titus Andronicus. Now into Merry Wives of Windsor and Antony & Cleopatra, as well as Dante's Inferno.  Also read The Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult (see review here).  

Two and a half weeks until the big test. I'm now reviewing poetry, prose, and drama terms like "chiasmus," "epithalamium," "pararhyme," and "hamartia."  Brushing up on allusions to Greek epics and drama.  Who cares about his Homer guy, right?  Finishing personal statements and moving on to writing samples.  Finalizing "to apply to" lists and getting ready to dole out application fees.  Whew!  I almost feel like a student again, except with only one class! lol.  

That's life in a nutshell.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Presidential Jewelry Debates

After the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama, we may not know much, but we can be assured that both presidential candidates will not fail us in the realm of fashion.  Both are savvy to the most important issue of all: jewelry.*
McCain: And I'll tell you, I had a town hall meeting in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and a woman stood up and she said, "Senator McCain, I want you to do me the honor of wearing a bracelet..." And I said, "I will -- I will wear his bracelet..."

Obama: Jim, let me just make a point. I've got a bracelet, too...
Sorry.  This is out of my usual topic range by a lot, but I couldn't resist. Somehow, everything seems funnier in a transcripted version.  

*Note: taken completely out of context for satirical purposes...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What could be more personal?

The personal statement.

The sworn enemy of college and grad school applicants.

Personal statement, I will face you, and you will lose.


It's funny how surreal a life decision seems until you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to begin to make it real. I have been talking about graduate school for over a year now, and (again) am now beginning the concrete steps of applying. There's something scary about it - it means putting yourself out there for possible rejection, and it means choosing one road instead of another. Robert Frost was right:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

But the process of writing a personal statement (or many, since every school wants something a little different) forces you to think about who you are as a person and why you have chosen to pursue further study. Do you have the characteristics necessary? What in your life thus far has prepared you?

For me, the issue of the "gap year" still hangs over the statement. And as I write, I begin to see the ways that this year is beneficial, even necessary to my development. I asked a former professor what I should emphasize since I come from a small Liberal Arts college. "Evidence of independent work or thought" was his reply.

Hmm... I have spent the first few months of this year working from home doing independent writing, research, and editing projects. I have crafted a reading list to fill in the gaps of my literary experience. I have taken the initiative to relearn French and will have to do so again with Latin. I have had time (more than I wanted, actually) to think about what I want to study and what I really enjoy researching.

Don't misunderstand me, I still dislike writing personal statements, especially because there is a high likelihood that no one will read them. In addition to studying for the GRE subject test (a mere three weeks away now!), gathering transcripts, contacting references, filling in applications, and proofreading writing samples, the personal statement is just one more task.

But on the other hand, reflection, no matter how tedious, provokes thought. In that sense, maybe there is a purpose for the personal statement after all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Finished reading "Silas Marner." Now reading "Will in the World," by Stephen Greenblatt, to brush up on my Shakespeare. Beginning to feel the press on Subject test-prep. Still to go: Am. Lit 1700-1860, Greek classic influences, poetry and drama vocab, critical methods, and then practice tests and review. Finished a first draft personal statement after much agony. Getting excited for a dance-filled weekend and then homecoming next weekend. :-)

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I can lose an argument and be okay.
I can lose face and be okay.
I can not have the last word and be okay.

Ouch.  Even writing those words is a struggle.  Last night at Bible study we talked about the concept of humility in relationship to other believers, specifically in the context of 1 Peter 5:5-7.  One of the ideas tossed around was the picture of humility as a people-centered, not superiority-centered attitude toward discourse.  

Sometimes humility means being vulnerable to the appearance of inferiority.  

There is a difference between knowing the truth (God is right) and having to win the argument (I am more right than you).  That doesn't mean always backing down, and it doesn't mean diluting the truth.  It does mean, to quote the old adage, not "beating them over the head" with the truth.

I like to argue: politics, world affairs, philosophy, history, academia - you name it. These debates are not a matter of life or death (even as November approaches), but you would never know it for the intensity of my desire - my need - to win. To be right. To be vindicated. But why?

To quote Donald Miller in Searching for God Knows What, I am living according to lifeboat theory: 
"If people are in a lifeboat, the reason they feel passionately about being a good person and all is because if they aren't, they are going to be thrown overboard. ... when you really think about it, these wants we have, like wanting to be right, wanting to be good, wanting to be perceived as humble, wanting to be important to people and wanting to be loved, feel perilous, as though by not getting them something terrible is going to happen."
When I read 1 Peter, I often overlook the caveat that follows the directives to be holy and to be humble: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (5:7). I need to remember that it is safe to lose face because I am in a relationship with God, the source of worth.  It is safe to be vulnerable because His love for me is not dependent on the opinions of others. 

1 Peter 2:23 reminds me that it is not weakness; it is knowing Whose opinion matters and being strong enough to let the rest go.

That doesn' t mean I like losing arguments (I don't).  It doesn't mean I will stop trying to persuade people that I am right (I am).  But it does shift my focus, so I no longer have the sense that I am racing for a safe haven that only has room for one. 

(...and since this post spontaneously deleted itself the first time, requiring me to retype it from memory, apparently God is telling me the message still needs a little drilling.)  More on the Boston trip next time...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Real post to follow, I promise.

Just returned from a weekend trip to Boston to visit ma soeur.  It was fun to experience the big city; returning to life as usual is a bit of a pinch.  Finally stuck my toes in Walden Pond and walked around Harvard.  Still reading Silas Marner after a week off for lighter books by Gregory and Picoult. Working on personal statements for grad school, reviewing post-WWII American lit and vacillating about final choices to send scores to.  Here are the current standings: (I can't apply to 11 schools!!!)

1. Duke
2. Northwestern
3. UVA
4. Vanderbilt
5. UNC
6. WFU (Masters)

Notre Dame
Emerson (writing and publishing)
American studies somewhere...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Had a nice birthday yesterday, lots of friendly phone calls, lunch at Olive Garden, and some time off working. Finished reading The Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers. Now working on Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and still Silas Marner by George Eliot.  Finished my speed through of British Lit and moving into American.  Got a 'happy birthday' package of transcripts from the college registrar. Good stuff.  Hoping to contact some professors this weekend... we'll see.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Amidst the rubble...

Yesterday, part of the beauty of largely self-scheduled work, I took a trip to the massive, annual Labor Day weekend flea market in Hillsville, VA.

The number of people and vendors is astounding, and a few minutes calculating the profit earned by the lemonade stands resulted in another "astounding." The only thing that could improve the crowd would be if the event took place in Flatsville instead.

It was early, damp, foggy, and cool when we arrived. The day before, it had rained all day. Walking through the parking areas was like tramping over a water mattress, except with more mud. The smarter sellers had tarps and straw spread around their tables to soak up some of the wet.

During the course of the eight-hour day, I walked probably seven to ten miles. The sun came out mid-morning and by noon the mud was turning into half-baked clay.

The booths are laden with dusty glassware in green, red, and blue. Boxes of assorted, yellowed papers are shoved under the display cases of old coins, Pez dispensers, and antique fishing lures. Enormous shelves hold reusable window etchings, hand-crafted jewelry, stacks of LIFE magazines, and dilapidated old books. Canvas is the decor of choice, followed closely by plastic.

The people mirror the goods. Fanny packs are back in style. So are grocery-style carts and hand carts with milk crates and a bungee cord. Baseball caps and sunglasses are sold on every table, but most people bring their own. Some are members of the old crowd, darting from table to table at 7 a.m. with eyes squinted to find a particular item before their competitors do.

Teenagers tend to stroll among the streetside vendors, looking at puppies, cheap perfume, and the college boy running the Funnel Cakes booth or the scantily dressed girl beside the Nascar display. Parents roam the aisles to find second-hand furniture and bulk lots of picture books while their two year old strains at the furry brown harness and leash fastened around her waist.

The true collectors know what they're looking for. They have to scrounge through four dozen dust and grime-coated boxes of miscellany to find one postcard from the 1950s. They have to scour ten different lots to locate an original Don Knotts autographed photo. Sometimes the search seems endless and pointless. But if it were easy, it wouldn't be so satisfying.

Me? I like people-watching. I also like hand-painted glass and old books. My prize find was an 1819 edition of collected works by Alexander Pope, in good condition. I found it in the midst of a big, has-never-seen-the-light-of-day-or-a-dustcloth box full of 1860s Algebra books and 1990s comics.

Hunting through all the rubbish to find the treasure is kind of like dealing with life and people. All of us have a lot of mildew and broken glass inside - remnants of our pasts, our families, our mistakes, our choices. And yet we're made in the likeness of God. So somewhere, underneath all the mess, there is something worth noticing, worth honoring, and worth seeking out.

Too often, I forget to notice. To honor. To seek out. I am so grateful that God never does (see Luke 15:8-10).

At the flea market, I watched a man find the one coin he was seeking. He lifted it from among the rest, polished it on his sleeve, and immediately tucked it into the vendor's plastic baggie with all the care of a museum curator. To him, the grunge no longer mattered, because he had found the treasure underneath.

Pretty powerful image, right?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

FINALLY finished Brothers Karamazov. I was looking back at previous posts, and I realized I started this book on May 14! It took me over 3 months to read!!! I don't think a book has taken me that long in...well, ever...

Funny, though, I'm pretty sure it was worth it. Now starting the much shorter "Silas Marner" and considering reading kiddie lit for a while to recover. Almost to the 20th C in my review of BritLit for the GRE. Trying to relearn HTML and CSS for work. Labor Day upcoming!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Life in 10 - almost

Finished "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Golden. Down to 150 pages in "Brothers K." Now studying English Romantics in my GRE subject review. Reading "Le coeur revelateur" by Poe as I struggle to remember French vocab. Beginning to request transcripts and gather info for grad school apps.

Top schools for now - also taking suggestions:

-WFU (Masters only)
-UNC-Chapel Hill (Masters first)
-Notre Dame

With acceptance rates in the <5% range, I probably need a backup plan, but I have so many [application fees] already!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I needed another book list...

So, to continue the online transmission of dubitable statistics ;-), I stole this from Andrea. Only 41 - gasp! as an English major! Well, new additions for my reading list...

Apparently the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read program) estimates that the average adult has only read six of these books. At least, that is the statistic that is bandied about the internet. So, basically, this is a random unverified list with a random unverified statistic attached to it.
Here’s how it works:
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Mark in red the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list in your blog

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare - still working on it...
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot - (Silas Marner...much shorter)
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - if I ever finish Brothers K
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - brilliant
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - not big on mystic realism
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - so much power
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - in a word, disturbing
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - masterwork

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beyond blurry vision

Questions on my mind this week...
  • Sonnet: Petrarchan or Shakespearean?
  • Why did people in 16th C England write so much?
  • Will I ever finish Brothers Karamazov? and...
  • Why do decisions stress me out so badly?
In between studying for the GRE subject test, this week I have been making hard decisions about my job situation. I have learned well - perhaps too well - to look at both sides of an issue and measure the pros and cons. Yet the pessimist in me persists in saying both options have a lot of negatives, rather than a lot of positives. As a result, I fixate on the decision. "Stewing" is an appropriate word. And after I make it, I continue to second-guess.

I'm sure all of us have watched (or heard about) swimmer Michael Phelps make history with his 8 gold medals (100%) at the Beijing Olympics. One big story was the 200-meter butterfly, in which Phelps' goggles filled with water halfway through, leaving him blind.

Some people would have taken the incident as an excuse to fail. Phelps went on to win the race despite the incident. "From the 150-meter wall to the finish, I couldn't see the wall. I was just hoping I was winning," he told reporters.

As I think about it, I take a few lessons from Phelps and other Olympians.

Phelps was competing against himself and the clock as much as against the other swimmers. He would swim his best whether he was five lengths in front or a length behind. Slacking off when he was winning was not a consideration (see the 200-meter freestyle).

'Winning' does not always mean being better than the person next to you. 'Winning' does not always mean standing on the top of the podium. Just ask Oksana Chusovitina, the 33-year-old gymnast competing for Germany. In a sport dominated by 16 year olds, Chusovitina's reaction to her silver medal could hardly have been more jubilant.

And sometimes you just have to race blind, knowing that you are going in the right direction and using your best effort, even if you can't see the wall.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Philip Pullman's Dark Materials

*Warning - spoilers throughout*

...Read the book before you criticize it, I always say. And so I did. I encourage you to do the same.

Tragic. That is the one word that first comes to mind as I set aside the nearly 1,000-page collection containing Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.

The plot is compelling; the characters, alive and covered with skin and hair; the emotion, fierce.

If there are snags in the fabric of story and philosophy, it is because this book is, in many ways, a refutation. When establishing a new order, an author can simplify without losing the credibility of his or her world. When dis-establishing an old order, an author has less leeway for simplicity.

And Pullman’s novels are distinctly disestablishmentarianist. His premise is that the Christian faith is, as one character says, “a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all” (p. 871).

This is the problem Pullman’s novels face. In one chapter Lyra and Will are battling a harpy in the world of the dead, and in another Pullman is alluding to the questions of grace and works that have occupied Christian theologians: “But your reading will be even better then, after a lifetime of thought and effort, because it will come from conscious understanding. Grace attained like that is deeper and fuller than grace that comes freely, and furthermore, once you’ve gained it, it will never leave you” (p. 909).

For the reader, the plot has fallen into a crevice and is momentarily lost, but the philosophical treatise replacing it is only half-formed and simplified to a child’s level.

The metaphysics of His Dark Materials imagine a tri-part human, containing body, soul (daemon), and mind (ghost). The properties of mind and soul are incompletely distinguished, but the body is declared the most important.

The epistemology stems from the idea that consciousness (Dust, Shadows, original sin) is a fundamental force in the universe and is the root of knowledge. Knowledge, therefore, comes from the pursuit of knowledge. Pullman paints the overarching narrative of human history as “a struggle between wisdom and stupidity” (p.899) rather than between good and evil: “The rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed” (p. 899).

The ethics of His Dark Materials are decidedly situational. Lyra, as the Eve figure, uses truth and lies, cheating, and betrayal to accomplish her ends. “She felt warm and virtuous, because she did it for Will, never for herself” (p. 674), Pullman tells the reader. She deals with a shifting sense of reality that is not simply caused by her growth and maturity, but it is related to the nature of reality itself, according to Pullman. “I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or that’s an evil one, because it hurts them” (p. 875), says Mary Malone.

As a consequence, Pullman’s is a dismal, self-preservationalist political world. Closing instructions tell Lyra and Will to “show [people] how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all how to keep their minds open and free and curious.”

Other parts of the narrative invoke a Hobbesian view of reality that is parallel to rationales for the use of the atom bomb and for the ensuing arms race: “We never knew about [the subtle knife] when I first met you, Iorek,” Will says, “and nor did anyone, but now that we do, we got to use it ourselves—we can’t just not. That’d be feeble, and it’d be wrong, too, it’d be just like handing it over to ‘em and saying, ‘Go on, use it, we won’t stop you’” (p. 682).

Most classic (pre-postmodern) children’s novels carry the expectation that sacrifice will not go unrewarded and that beloved characters will be rescued from destruction, because there is someone who can always be trusted. Pullman’s protagonists are forced to realize that no one is safe or trustworthy, and that life does not have happy endings.

Elements in Pullman’s novel strike at comparable fantasy epics like The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and especially like The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, of whom Pullman was an especially vitriolic critic.

There are specific elements, like the names of the heroines: Pullman’s Lyra and Lewis’s Lucy. Motifs are echoed, like the beginning of both Lyra’s and Lucy’s adventures through an escape from censure into a wardrobe. Fierce, helpful animals (the lion Aslan and the bear Iorek) appear in both sets of novels. Powerful, magical objects appear in both Tolkien and Pullman. Parallel worlds, initially reached through a neutral world (Citagazze in Pullman, the Wood between the Worlds in Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew) are featured in Lewis and Pullman.

Even dialogue mirrors other works of fantasy. “I can feel war, Lyra Silvertongue; I can smell it; I can hear it” (p. 692), says Iorek at their parting. The quote has a parallel in The Return of the King, in which Treebeard says, “For the world is changing: I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air. I do not think we shall meet again” (p. 321).

Pullman readily admits the intertextuality of his books. “I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read,” he said honestly in the acknowledgements. He cites Blake’s poetry and Milton’s Paradise Lost as central influences, but epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter also quote the Bible (angelic characters are drawn from the genealogies in Genesis), Emily Dickinson, Keats, and others.

Beyond the similarities, though, it is impossible to dismiss the extreme differences.

The worldview in Narnia and Lord of the Rings, from my perspective, is something pervasive and natural. It is inherently intertwined with the stories, as if the stories were created for their own merits and the worldview simply flowed into them (with possible exceptions in a few of the Chronicles of Narnia). By contrast, Pullman’s story and worldview are intertwined deliberately, as if the story was crafted to exhibit the philosophy.

Pullman’s novels centrally seek to remove something: the certainty and persuasion of the church. His attempts to set up an alternate worldview in its place are subtle and fragile in contrast to the crushing arguments he flings at Christian thought.

In The Amber Spyglass, there is a moment of realization and regret that, for me, was one of the most poignant in the entire trilogy. Mary Malone, who is called on by Dust (consciousness) to act as the serpent to Lyra’s Eve, pauses in relating the story of her downfall from faith. She says, “And then had come the discovery of the Shadows and her journey into another world, and now this vivid night, and it was plain that everything was throbbing with purpose and meaning, but she was cut off from it” (p. 878).

This is the emotion that Pullman’s His Dark Materials left in me. The threads of human love, sacrifice, honor, duty, and compassion are prevalent throughout the trilogy, but they always pause just on the edge of purpose, continuity, and meaning. It is as if their author, like Mary Malone, had come to that same edge and, turning away, were seeking desperately for an alternative way to find it.

For more on this topic, visit

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Real money

One way to make an event seem more real is to pay for an extremely expensive test related to said event.

I just registered for the GRE subject test, Literature in English. Pocketbook = ouch, Brain = yikes. The test date isn't until October 18, but that's just over 2 months to study all of British and American literature, literary theory, terms, critical methods, and anything else the test makers can think of.

Eh. Why am I worrying? And since when do I study for two months for any test? Perhaps I'll start in this case, since I don't have other classes to worry about.

In any case, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Especially since I decided to send my scores to Harvard.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Great visit with my cousin this weekend. Now reading "The Amber Spyglass," by Philip Pullman. Once I finish this one, I'll post my thoughts on the comparison between Tolkien, Lewis, and Pullman. Still chugging along in "Brothers Karamazov," after a brief hiatus. Big decisions in the works this week. More details forthcoming.


Yesterday, our pastor preached an interesting sermon on the oft-quoted Ephesians 5 selection on men and women. His take on the verses was that men and women have different designated roles, not different worth or superiority. Those roles are designed to counteract what happened at the Fall.

  • Adam's sin? Running away from the responsibility. Protecting himself at her expense.
  • Man's role? Staying. Taking responsibility. Loving his wife above himself.
  • Eve's sin? Pulling him down instead of lifting him up. Using her power wrongly.
  • Woman's role? Pushing Adam forward and allowing him to lead. Lifting/holding him up.
The idea that got me thinking was the concept of power as the ability to withhold.

My pastor described men's "language of love" as respect, and he said women are very good at figuring out how to withhold it. I think it goes both ways, but since I'm a woman, I'll follow his angle of thinking as I muse about this topic of withholding respect.

It is one consequence of not being given the direct leadership role. The thought process is something like, "If he would do it my way, this wouldn't happen. He's a fool for not doing it my way. Therefore, I don't owe him my respect."

It's punishment. Like withholding food, company, or intimacy, withholding respect is a statement of disapproval, of the other's failure. "When you get it right, then I will respect you."

It's a substitute for communication. We allow others to sense our disapproval without being honest enough to tell them why. That's a major difference between training an animal and living in a relationship. It's good if the animal can read your body language. A person shouldn't be expected to do the same.

The question is how not to give respect too lightly, but how not to withhold due respect. The line is finer than I once thought. I guess that's one of those things married couples especially have to figure out, but it certainly is food for thought in regards to all relationships, among women as well as between woman and man.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Grad School Schedule

Well, as autumn rolls around, I intend not to make the same mistake I made last year, i.e. waiting until December to make up my mind about grad school applications. This year, I will be on the ball. Here's my current attempt at a schedule for myself.

-study for English GRE subject test
-research grad schools and narrow list to 5-6
-contact professors at top schools

-study for GRE subject test
-register for GRE subject test
-take GRE subject test
-begin writing personal statements for schools

-contact and line up references
-finalize resume
-finish personal statements
-revise and proofread writing sample
-request transcripts
-request GRE scores

-collect, compile, and send applications

We'll see how well I stick to the schedule. Along the way, I also intend to begin my study of Italian, possibly refresh my study of Latin, and continue to advance my study of French. Once I settle on a location for this upcoming year, I hope to take a few classes at a community college to work on my language skills.

Fingers crossed for a better outcome this year!!!

Life in 10 - or not 10

Just got back from a week up north for a friend's lovely wedding. The hardest part about returning, besides saying goodbye to college friends - some for an indeterminate amount of time - was driving past the exit for my college and not turning off and going "home." Felt very unnatural and sad. But it was great to see everyone for a little while.

During the week, I read "The Other Boleyn Girl" by Philippa Gregory, an excellent historical fiction piece. Still working on "Brothers Karamazov."

Now back to the daily grind.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What - who - how

As I continue this job/grad school application process, I am becoming more and more convinced that all of life is about who, not what you know. Unfortunately, I am naturally better at the "what."

On one hand, it seems unfair. Why bother getting good grades, high test scores, a strong resume, or racking up the leadership roles if none of it matters? Well, maybe because doing these things involves the same kind of character traits that forming relationships requires: dedication, patience, self-confidence, and high standards.

On the other hand, maybe it's not so unfair. Creating relationships and networking is not easy, especially if you are truly creating relationships, not just starting a collection of business cards. Maybe good grades and test scores actually are the slacker's route.

I'm not without people skills. In fact, especially in professional settings, I would say I can do fairly well. Informal settings are a little tougher, but I can hold my own. It's simply not my forte.

So now my question is how? For me, at least, throwing aside the achievement focus and becoming an extrovert are not options. Instead, I wonder how to transfer the skills I develop in one area into creating more real, beneficial, and lasting connections.

In a sentence, how do I become more than a piece of paper?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Finished reading "Last of the Mohicans." Now back to the 800-page "Brothers Karamazov." Also re-reading "Perelandra" by C.S. Lewis. Another wedding next weekend, and still no news about jobs. Starting to lay out schedule for grad school applications this fall.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reflections in/on the word pool

Yesterday, I was getting ready to go to a Bible study, so I was looking up commentaries on a passage in the NT. One of the most helpful sites was Precept Austin, which contains notes from a variety of commentators.

I like the site because it presents each section of text in the original language, then discusses the potential translations of each phrase.

As I go deeper into study, it is frustrating to find the discrepancies in Bible translation. Some, like Bart Ehrman of UNC-Chapel Hill, take these discrepancies as proof of the unreliability of the Bible. I read Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus last fall, and reached a different conclusion. To me, the amazing thing is how much of the Bible remains consistent, after several thousand years and thousands of hands touching it along the way.

Nonetheless, translation is a potential concern. It amazes me how much difference the small words, the prepositions and conjunctions, can make. See discussion of 1 Peter 3:18-22 for an example.

Using sites like Precept Austin, it is interesting to look at the Greek words. I plan to learn basic Greek at some point so that I can reach a deeper understanding. However, the presence of multiple translations can also be a gift, not just a curse.

In creative writing, we learn about creating word and thought clusters, allowing our minds to follow a chain of random associations. My favorite thing to do is reverse the process, looking at the cluster and figuring out what associations created it.

The same thing applies to multiple translations. If you study several versions in direct comparison, you begin to see a common thread. By looking at the pool of words translators have used, it is easier to see the Greek or Hebrew concept they were trying to embody.

I guess it's sort of like trying to use human concepts of time and space to capture the infinite. "Now we see in a mirror dimly..." (1 Cor. 13:12).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Internet problems this week, preventing longer blog posts. Almost halfway done with "Last of the Mohicans." Went to a wedding this weekend - sore feet after almost 3 hours of dancing. No new news on jobs.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Review: God's Harvard

For mainstream America, there is the Ivy League. For conservative Christians, and especially homeschoolers, there is Patrick Henry College, what Washington Post religion writer Hanna Rosin has termed, “God’s Harvard.” Rosin’s 2007 book is the result of a two-year, in-depth study of this small, private college in Virginia.

Patrick Henry College was founded by Christian lawyer and activist Michael Farris. The school’s stated goal is to transform America by placing highly qualified students in the highest offices in the land. During the year and a half that Rosin spent at the school, students, faculty, and administration wrestled to define and redefine how that mission would be acted out.

In the years since the school’s inception, PHC students have earned a reputation as hardworking, diligent, and determined individuals who are welcomed at internships and jobs on Capitol Hill. Activists at heart, the students are heavily involved in campus and local and national politics. A large percentage brings perfect SAT scores to the quest to defend Christian conservatism on a national level.

But the statistics are not what interested Rosin. Instead, God’s Harvard is about the individuals who comprise the PHC student body and community, affirming—and challenging—its codes. For example…

…Derek is a freshman and an idealist whose grand goals for political activism are tempered by losses in state campaigns.
…Elisa is a high-powered woman whose love of politics comes in conflict with PHC cultural expectations for women and her own desire to be a wife and mother.
…Farahn is a dancer, a rebel by PHC standards. A self-proclaimed “Christian nihilist,” she struggles to find a place in the community.
…Daniel is an aspiring filmmaker, whose pursuit of quality and desire to infiltrate Hollywood set him at odds with the more conservative PHC families.
…Nathan and Chris are roommates who are set at odds by a policy that requires students to inform the administration about their peers’ misconduct.
…Jennifer Gruenke is a biology professor and baraminologist who, along with her colleagues, walks a line between intellectual inquiry and theological certainty.
…Bob Stacey is a much-beloved political philosophy professor who is driven away from the college by his loyalty to the liberal arts and Socratic methods of learning.

These and other individuals provide the framework for God’s Harvard. As glowing reviews on the cover indicate, Rosin’s research is extensive and thorough. The characters are indeed real people; however, their portraits are not randomly grouped. Each one points to some aspect of Rosin’s premise.

“Is there a future for the evangelical college?” one of the PHC professors asks. A pervasive tone of skepticism and irony suggests that for Rosin, the answer is “no.” The gap between the intellectual and the political and the deeply religious is simply too deep.

In her eyes, the only way to bridge that gap is to compromise one set of values or the other.

Life in 10 seconds

Finished reading "Wuthering Heights." Also read "God's Harvard" by Hanna Rosin - review forthcoming. Now back to "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Last of the Mohicans." No more updates on jobs.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Two Million Minutes

While researching for my job, I came across a recent documentary (2007) called "2 Million Minutes" that compares high school experiences in the United States, China, and India. The results, according to a recent Business Week article by one of the American interviewees, are not encouraging.

Out of curiosity, I took the documentary website's "Third World Challenge," a series of tests that tenth graders in India must pass to progress to eleventh grade (the title is in mockery of a Harvard professor who dismissed the documentary on the grounds of the "third world" countries it compared).

I achieved a poor score in geography; average scores on math, history, chemistry, and physics; a good score in biology; and an excellent score in English grammar (whew!). I'm not sure what the test really demonstrated, other than my inability to retain the formulas and facts I once learned.

However, an earlier Business Week article reached a different conclusion: we need to "compete on our strengths, not theirs." Our strengths apparently include our "well-balanced" and "well-rounded" students. I wonder if that's a valid substitute for "well-educated"...

Reform, according to this writer, involves creating a culture in which science and technology are valued. In other words, replace "computer geek" and "science nerd" with more complimentary terms.

The question he was appropriately led to ask--but not answer--was, why are we not excited about academics, especially technology and science? Why are these career fields unpopular among teens?

I think the answer has a lot to do with the American "celebrity complex." Movie stars, American Idol winners, athletes, and even a few politicians are the glamorous in our society. These are the ones we want to emulate.

Until we tone down our obsession with Hollywood and its counterparts, it will be difficult to supplant the sorority with the academic honor society.

This still leaves a bigger question: can this be changed? If so, how?

Because after all, surely our strengths are closer to the broad-based flexibility of a liberal arts education than to the ability to stand in line for three days to appear on a reality show.

...I think I am a columnist at heart.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Now reading "Wuthering Heights," by Bronte. Seriously wondering if the 400+ pages of "Last of the Mohicans" are worth the effort. Applied to a job at Pearson NY. Now back to business as usual after a lovely 3-day weekend.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day! Enjoy the fireworks! ...and the watermelon seeds, and the crowds, and the hamburgers, and the ketchup on your favorite shirt, and everything else that makes the holiday special.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Book Review: Falling Man

Imagine riding on a train in New York City after 9-11. As you cross an elevated trestle, you see a man standing on the rails. The next instant, you see his falling body as he plunges over the side.

Would you press your nose to the window, reach for your cell phone, or just sit there, reliving images of other falling people, framed by smoke and the trembling shadows of the two towers?

What you don't see is that he snaps up short a few feet below the platform, caught by a rudimentary safety harness. It is an act, performed citywide, that has earned him the name "The Falling Man."

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo, is not primarily about the stunts of the fictional David Janiak, the Falling Man. Instead, it chronicles the attempts of a few New Yorkers to make sense of September 11.

The book opens on a man named Keith, who escapes onto the street minutes before the collapse of the first tower. In his confusion, he returns to his estranged wife, Lianne, and his son, Justin. Unable to go back to life as usual, Keith travels extensively, playing poker, something he shared with his lost friends.

Justin has been deeply affected by the hush surrounding the facts about 9-11. Using binoculars, Justin watches the sky for the return of "Bill Lawton," the mystical man who was responsible.

Lianne works with dementia patients, encouraging them to write as a form of therapy. As the members of her group wrestle with God, justice, and anger, she tries to do the same. She is haunted by the image of the Falling Man and what he represents.

Lianne's mother, Nina, is an art historian and avowed rationalist. Nina is in a relationship with Martin, whose explanations for September 11 are concrete and academic: economics, politics, and history. Yet somehow they always end up talking about God.

Subtle, seemingly unrelated incidents capture the numbness and confusion that characterized the days after 9-11. On the wall of Nina's apartment are two still life paintings. Natura morta is the Italian title. At one point, Lianne compares the people in the room to a still life - natura morta in the wake of 9-11. "It's about mortality, isn't it?" Nina says. "Being human," Lianne says.

Keith struggles throughout the book to face his brush with death and mortality. His wrestling is mirrored in flashbacks to the preparations of one of the 9-11 hijackers. When the hijacker completes his mission at the end, the crash of the plane leads to the closing scene of the book, in which Keith finally relives what actually happened before he emerged onto the street.

Despite its realistic feel, "Falling Man" is a novel, and DeLillo encourages readers to recognize it as such. In a moment of self-mockery, Keith revisits his apartment to gather his things. Inside, he pauses, saying, "In the movie version, someone would be in the building, an emotionally damaged woman or a homeless man, and there would be dialogue and close-ups."

What about in the novel version?

For DeLillo, the meeting point of reality and illusion is central. In conversation with the one living member of his poker set, Keith sits in front of a hotel waterfall. "Did you ever look at that waterfall?" he asks, "Are you able to convince yourself you're looking at water, real water, and not some special effect?" Terry replies, "I don't think about it. It's not something we're supposed to think about."

Like Keith and the waterfall, the characters in "Falling Man" struggle to think about the unthinkable, to separate Bin Laden from the mystical Bill Lawton, and to find their way back to the towers to try to understand.

The raw emotion created by the Falling Man will not let them forget.

When David Janiak dies, Lianne reads a series of press clippings about his life. In the process, she finds pictures of the real people who leaped from the World Trade Center on September 11. Lianne remembers witnessing one of Janiak's falls. She thinks, "That nameless body coming down, this was hers to record and absorb." Her words can refer to both sets of images.

For Keith, Justin, and the real people of whom they are shadows, the task is the same: to record, to absorb, and to remember.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Welcome to July. Hit level 50 in Free Rice. Finished reading "Speak Rwanda" and "Falling Man." Now reading "The Last of the Mohicans." "Brothers Karamazov" is currently in limbo. Another rejection, this one from Bethany House. Watched "Ben Hur" on television last night - all 4 hours of it.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Random thoughts in church

I must start by reassuring you that, yes, I do pay attention during sermons. However, I have been blessed by a multitrack, extremely active mind, which listens better when engaged in multiple cognitive processes. are a few of the random thoughts that accompanied a sermon on Mark 15:33-47. Some are related to the sermon topic, some are not.

..."'leave me alone' is the one thing you never want to pray." All control-based alternatives seem to be cut off. No, "this is what you should do for me," and no, "leave me alone." Drat.

...When Sohrab in The Kite Runner film says he doesn't want his parents to see him because "[He's] so dirty," that's kind of like us being afraid to seek God until we straighten out. And probably just as heartbreaking to God as the line is to moviegoers.

...If it's easy to explain/understand God and the concept of regenesis, we must be painting too small and limited a picture.

...Every novel, from Paradise Lost and The Two Towers to The Picture of Dorian Gray has an element of His story and Truth.

...We all secretly desire truth, accuracy. It matters to us to correct errors and falsity: that's why Wikipedia works.

...As little as we like "the media" these days, imagine if they didn't exist and no one told you what was going on. Re: The Sky Unwashed about the government concealing Chernobyl.

...Writing is my pensieve.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Finally hit level 49 on Free Rice. Read "The Sky Unwashed" by Zabytko, "The Inheritance" by Alcott, and "The Awakening" by Chopin. Now starting "Speak Rwanda" by Pierce and "Falling Man" by DeLillo. Applied for a job with PR Newswire. Watched the DVD of "Jekyll and Hyde." Was served by "Jesus" at an ice cream shop.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The mystery of contra dancers

As I have for the last month and a half, I went contra dancing yesterday. I was faced with a question that has puzzled my mind since the first time I went, back in December:

Why are contra dancers so happy?

I sat out one dance, and the girl sitting beside me started talking. She had come with a summer school class and thought it was a great place to have fun and meet a lot of people.

I was in "hands four" with another new dancer when she remarked, "This is the most welcoming group of people I have ever met." I had to agree.

Another man I danced with told me that his partner had recently dubbed him "the happiest person in the room," but that he was passing the title on to me. For those of you who know me - somewhat a pessimist and not too quick to show emotion - his comment sounds a little bizarre.

I have been to quite a few different dance communities in the last four years. Some are reserved, some elegant, some enthusiastic, some relaxed. Although I have been welcomed at all, and have come to feel accepted, it took time. Not so here.

It could be true simply of my particular contra group. But I have been to another group once, and the same thing was true. All across the Internet are stories like mine. This blog post expresses the same.

But why? Does contra dancing attract cheerful people, or does it make them? I would say the latter. Here are a few thoughts on why:

1. You don't need a partner. It is expected that you change partners every dance, so even if you sit out one dance, you are almost certain to dance the next.

2. You have to make eye contact in order to keep from getting dizzy. After staring at a perfect stranger halfway down the hall, it's hard not to laugh at your own awkwardness.

3. Everyone is equal on the dance floor. Some people add more fancy spins or an extra strut, but you're all following the same steps. There are no star performers.

4. Everyone makes mistakes. Even the caller sometimes skips a measure, and bumping into people or missing a turn on a "hey for four" is just an excuse for a good laugh.

5. You will sweat, and it's okay; no one cares, because they're sweating too.

6. Every generation is represented. Older folks show the younger ones, parents bring their little children, college and high school students come en masse.

7. Groups are dissolved. There is no room or time for cliques. Someone will bump into you during an enthusiastic swing, and the group will be no more - they'll probably all be dancing in different parts of the room.

8. Goofiness is totally acceptable - the more the merrier. Showing off is not competition, it's a chance to watch someone else collide with the caller and ruefully settle to a quieter pace.

9. The music is foot-tapping, swirl-your-skirts fun, and usually live.

10. And overall, there is a general lack of taking oneself seriously. See this introduction to contra dance for a good example of the tone.

Addicting? Smile-producing? Yes. Find your own. Or come to mine!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Real post coming soon, I promise. Now reading "The Awakening" by Kate Chopin. Finally finished "A Connecticut Yankee." First rejection from editing job at UVA. Bummer. Bridal shower this weekend. Re-watched "The Kite Runner" film. Powerful - so powerful.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Applied for an assistant editor position at UVA's Iris Magazine. Saw "The Incredible Hulk" last night. Now seriously looking at grad schools for PhD in English Literature or American Studies.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Applied to a fiction editorial assistant position at Bethany House Publishers. Now reading "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," by Twain.

A different kind of resume

Try #2, after Blogger shut down without saving my draft.

What with all the decisions about jobs, internships, and reapplying to grad schools, I have found myself thinking a lot about resumes. What would a resume look like if it was comprised solely of skills that correspond to my interests? Here's what I think it might look like:

Organizing things

Recently spent three hours alphabetizing list of books read in the last eight years. Maintains seasonal organization of clothing. Workstation is covered with post-it notes and to-do lists.

Writing random things

Has written and maintained five blogs. Specialized in mass emails telling quirky stories about college life and studying abroad.

Creating parodies of poems, quotations, and writing styles

Rewrote "The Night Before Christmas," "I heard the bells," selections from Shakespeare, and "The Tiger." Drafted a letter to evict college housemates using legal jargon and style.

Helping confused people

Served as a parking attendent at local functions. Assisted students with sending their papers to the appropriate printer. Gave visiting parents directions to appropriate campus buildings. Handled customer service at home school bookfairs.

Editing for good writers

Regularly marks typographical or grammatical errors in personal copies of textbooks and mass market periodicals. Known as the "comma police" and resident expert in obscure questions about grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Formatting things

Recreated an electronic copy of an out-of-print mock trial guide. Standardized format for study and assignment guides written by five different authors. Known for spending excess amounts of time on the details of an assignment before beginning the actual work. Hates "widows" and "orphans" in documents. Will re-edit blog posts multiple times to avoid hanging lines.

Tweaking pictures

Used basic photo software to add color to black-and-white images, edit, crop, and add elements to scenic photographs. Particularly specialized in adding people and switching elements in the picture to create an abstract effect.

Reading books

Completed a 40-60 book reading list every summer since 2004. Received a B.A. in English. Had memberships at and regularly frequented four-six different libraries since 1994.

Reading out loud

Recites memorized passages from Shakespeare while exercising. Aspires to work in Reader's Theater at some point. Enjoys reading Shakespeare and Paradise Lost out loud when no one is home.

Learning...especially bizarre things

Learned elvish and translated several poems from Lord of the Rings. Took macroeconomics for fun. Enjoyed general education classes. Checks out non-fiction books from the library during the summer. Knows how to change a water filter. Wants to learn about car engines. Enjoys following skilled people around. Concurrently considered five different college majors.

...And I could probably come up with more. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of entry level jobs that match that set of skills/interests.

I guess there's always "Clean Sweep" or "Beauty and the Geek," right?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Life in 10 seconds

Just finished reading "Mostly Harmless," the sixth and final part of Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy in five parts. Also finished "The Bean Trees," by Barbara Kingsolver. Two pages left to go in the prologue of "Nouvelles histoires extraordinaires," by Poe (in French). Just finished memorizing Imogen's 42-line speech in Act 3, Scene 4 of "Cymbeline." Applied to a job at Tyndale House Publishers near Chicago.

Monday, June 16, 2008

In the middle of a lot of superglue

Did you ever have a doll or action figure that came with a hat or helmet? I'm not sure if it is a child's propensity for destruction or the sense of mystery that pervades anything hidden. I do know that as a child, I was bound to remove all accessories from my toys.

Unfortunately, when a riding helmet is superglued onto a doll's head, removing it has the same essential effect as scalping. Not a pretty sight, and colored pencil can only do so much to repair the damage.

I promise, there is a reason for this story.

I went to a swing dance on Saturday night. I knew a few people, from my contra dance group, but not many. The group was almost completely bisected into newbies and experts. Unfortunately, I didn't fit into either group. As one of my dance partners candidly told me, "You're not the best dancer here, but you're pretty good." The whole experience made me miss my college dance club even more.

I often find myself in this troublesome middle ground. More motivated than some, but not quite enough to seek the greatest challenges and thrills. Not satisfied with the how-would-you-like-your-burger? job, but not a candidate for president either. I'm the one who recites Shakespeare while walking, but not the one who stars on Broadway. Not an optimist by a long shot, but deep down, not truly a pessimist either.

In literary studies, we talk about the concept of "liminality." Essentially, liminal space refers to the borders. Not one thing, but not the other. It is being in the middle, the undefinable space. C.S. Lewis might call these, "the Shadowlands"--impermanent and subject to displacement and dissolution.

People respond to uncertainty and liminality in different ways. Some of these "defense mechanisms" are barely recognizable as such.

Flippancy is one. If you convince yourself that nothing really matters, maybe the failure won't seem like a big deal. If you limit your conversation to the weather, you can pretend that everything is fine.

Cynicism is another. If you convince yourself not to care, maybe the failure won't hurt so badly. If you tell yourself to expect nothing better, you can pretend you aren't disappointed. Not allowing yourself to depend on other people keeps you safe when they let you down.

On the surface, either technique is successful. But what is frightening is the way that outlook becomes reality. Sweet, romantic movies strike a chord in me that I would prefer left unstruck. If I scoff at the "cheesy" parts often enough, I lose my ability to appreciate them. All of a sudden, you realize that the helmet you set on your head is stuck. Spend enough time convincing yourself of something, and it can come true.

Somehow, you have to find a balance between reality and the superglued helmets that scar what they are meant to protect. Enough dreams to stay hopeful; enough pragmatism to stay real.

So where do you go from the middle, from that liminal space, from the defenses? For me, it's ultimately about looking up instead of down, outside the shadows, where "...In your light we see light..." (Psalm 36:5-9).