Friday, February 29, 2008

Man for All Seasons


Last night, we watched A Man for all Seasons. Great movie; I really enjoyed it.

I was particularly taken by words attributed to Sir Thomas More, as he explained to his daughter, Meg, why he could not take the oath required by the Act of Succession, intended to establish Anne Bolyn as Henry VIII's legitimate wife and queen of England.

In the movie, More's daughter has come to the Tower of London to attempt to convince her father to take the oath and save himself. Meg speaking first:
"God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the mouth." Well, so you've always told me.
Yes.
Then say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.
What is an oath then, but words we say to God? Listen, Meg. When a man takes an oath, he's holding his own self in his own hands...

...like water.

And if he opens his fingers then, he needn't hope to find himself again.

Some men aren't capable of this, but I'd be loath to think your father one of them.


This morning's quote of the day settled into my subconcious:
A child's education should begin at least one hundred years before he is born.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., US Supreme Court Justice (1841-1935)
Good idea. And interesting, because of course I dealt with Holmes and some questions of American pragmatism in my dissertation. Nice to know that Holmes appears to have some degree of a sense of proper historical perspective: at least an historical perspective that goes back 100 years.

Looking for a picture to illustrate my lovely post about conscience and truth and being true to oneself a la Sir Thomas More, I came across this Teach With Movies site, which notes that the movie (although a good one to teach with) is based on the inaccurate theme that More sacrificed his life in the cause of individual adherence to his own conscience. 'Not so', these educators claim. In fact, "Sir Thomas More would have thought the view of conscience described in the film to be radical and subversive." Instead, they claim that More "sacrificed his life for the medieval view of conscience, one that was not independent of others, but which derived its legitimacy from his community and the tradition to which he subscribed."

OK then!

More research clearly needed.

Further research showed that More apparently did not quibble about the consciences of others, insofar as he was involved in the death sentences of several Lutheran dissenters. . . .

In addition, unlike the movie, it was apparently not the adhering to a religious view of marriage (and not allowing for divorce) that prompted More to refuse the oath, rather, it was the attack on the primacy of the Pope as head of church. Earlier, More had apparently gone along with King Henry's desire to put aside Catherine of Aragon, but drew the line when the Pope refused to annul the marriage.

I should have known better.

I should have remembered Emanuel Kant, because for all that Kant is difficult to read and notoriously difficult to understand (let alone knowingly apply) one thing I know he did stand for is the inviolacy of individual motivation and thought - in short: conscience.

My mistake was not to situate More within the proper historical time line. Before Kant. And you know what? Holmes' hundred-year historical perspective would not have helped me. Sir Thomas More's life was 1478-1535; Kant was 1724-1804. That's over a 250 year time differential between More and Kant; it's 200 years from Kant to us.

It is almost impossible for us - now - to imagine the adherence to traditional and community-based ideas of legitimacy and authority which would have shaped and guided Sir Thomas More. We may even have reached a time when it is almost impossible for us to imagine the adherence to an inviolate personal conviction ushered in by the thought of Emanuel Kant, and portrayed so attractively and movingly in A Man for all Seasons.

After all, this is the age of the politically-expedient, when the "public" life can be separated out from a so-called "private" life, and lies about sex with interns can be compared to supposed truth or lies about what was known about "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, voting records in Congress, or the use of steroids in professional sports.


Conscience? We live in the age of the expedient. Duty? We measure that these days by what is "legal". I don't know that anyone really expects the truth anymore. Certainly no one expects to suffer for it.

Can you point out just one?

Maybe I'm starting the day on a bit of a pessimistic bent, and have overlooked our modern-day truth warriors. How I hope so!

Meanwhile, I'll cling to the ideal that the movie brought up again: the incomparable value and beauty of truth and the character that is committed to it.

Sigh. . . . I can't help but wonder if this particular depiction of the ideal is tainted by its own falseness to the historical person of Sir Thomas More?

Sometimes maybe I do think a bit too much.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

this and that

I woke up this morning with no proper clue of the "now what."

It was before dawn, because I have at least one more day before I've officially acclimated to being back on U.S. East Coast standard time. Whatever you call it. Greenwich minus 5.

I had time to take myself to task that I don't spend as much time praying as I used to when I was still single. My husband uses his time being first up in the morning well: he makes coffee, and he prays. Not me. I sleep until he calls, then I drink coffee.

Bleary-eyed.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think I've ever done much praying first thing in the morning. My brain isn't really working properly yet. I used to find the best time was walking to work or the library - a good half hour each way. (Uphill both ways. Just kidding. . . .) But one doesn't do much walking in the United States. And driving in urban traffic isn't exactly conducive to meditative states.

So this morning I stayed in bed and turned my thoughts towards prayer. It was kind of hard going. With each new topic, my mind would race off ahead - sort of like an over-eager Golden Retriever. Before I knew it, I was conducting a legal defense, designing the final lace touches to my Pi Shawl, cooking, finishing a short story, and remembering childhood friends. Then I'd be gently nudged back to "Oh, yeah. I'm sorry. Here I am! You were saying?"

I came away with three things today.
1. Feed the birds.

2. Call your brother. (I have some good things to say to him)

3. Submit a proposal to the ________ conference.
At which point I went off a bit on what the proposal would be about, and before I knew it, I was out of bed and bustling about like the ridiculous woman I can be. . . . All busy. Eventually I made it downstairs, where the coffee was made and our reading this morning continued in the book of James, where today's heading said - and I am not making this up - "Listening and Doing"

OK, so I fed the birds. I'm about to call my brother. Then just the 300 word summary to pull together.

How hard could that be? [giggle. . . . hoo buoy. right. ] Kind of feels nice, though, to think that I will have done all that is really required of me today. Anything else is pure gravy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

peace-making versus peace-keeping

An interesting inter-specie peace-making intervention brought to my attention by Garden Rant. She wants to send the chickens to Washington. . . .

I found the various stages quite interesting: (1) the speedy intervention with force to separate the warring parties, (2) the "stare down" with reminder slap, and (3) exit, stage right.

Well and good, as far as it goes.

But what if act 2 is the resumption of leporine hostilities? Worse, what if act 1 is endlessly prolonged by those hostilities before the peace-makers can exit, stage right, as called for by the script?

I have to wonder who will learn what from this lovely little film. . . .

Well anyway it's a welcome switch from the hawk and dove type-casting.

time for a picture. . . .

The house is really coming together. Here, a view through the woods.

leaving marks

I made pot roast last night. Pioneer Woman gives instructions for a basic pot roast that will knock your socks off. The king told me my version* was as good as either of the two incredible meals we had at very expensive French restaurants while recently in the capitol city of a small, well-known EU country!

I was suitably chuffed. . . .

I made the pot roast in my copper oval pot - a wedding present. Not that any one person dished out the money for such an extravaganza! But enough people - facing the lack of a wedding registry - determined that a gift card from William Sonoma was just the thing, that I ended up with a sizable credit balance with that cooking store. I didn't want to lose recognition of the special status of the Wedding Gift by just buying a bunch of random (but needed) stuff at William Sonoma, so I decided to splurge on a copper pot.

Well and good, until someone dropped the lid, and somehow it got gouged or scraped or something - all I know is that there's a big, ugly mark on one side of the handle.

I was pretty upset.

Then I remembered my dad, mad as hell at my dog, who'd blissfully tromped through a patch of cement carefully troweled smooth over a bit of walkway that had needed repair for a longish time. My dad stood there for a moment, and then shook his head.

"You know?" he said to me, "One day I'll be glad the boy walked through that cement. I'll be glad to look at those paw prints and remember this day. And I'll be sorry I was ever mad at him, because I'll see that mark, and be glad to remember him. . . ." [yeah, yeah, yeah. . . . break to wipe away the trite little crocodile tears]

BUT, it really has served to make me stop and think about the marks and bumps we all leave as we bounce off one another and the world we live in. From the theological perspective, that would be considered the price we have to pay for living in a "fallen" world. . . . You know: Adam and Eve and all that.

All I can say is that I find it a much easier way of dealing with the inevitable marks and scars that just happen with life. And just as I'm happy to see "the boy's" paw prints in the cement - and him gone now, these 5 years - I am learning to look at the marred copper lid affectionately, and wonder just how it is that our housekeeper manages such controlled mayhem in such a tiny frame. . . .

And then there's the dissertation with so many marks made and left by so many different people, books, thinkers, nay-sayers, and my encounters with them and others as I made my way through the time it took to assemble it all. In a way, it's like the herbes de proph├Ęte described in the footnote below.


*Note: your efforts will likely be different, as you won't be using my own homegrown herbs - the current batch of herbes de proph├Ęte - a unique concoction each year, even if it does make the attempt to follow after the tried and true Herbes de Provence tradition. . . . (not to mention that soil, water and sun conditions vary from garden to garden, and all those things - and the love and 'sweet nothings' added by the gardener - really do translate into a unique taste)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

there's just no easy way to say this. . . .

I passed.

Wow.

I PASSED!!!!

Not only did I pass, but I passed AS IT STANDS. As it was written. No corrections or additions - although I do get to fix typos before getting it printed on lovely heavy bond paper and bound. . . .

Magda told me (1) this never happens! and (2) this is the shortest viva she's ever attended. She had no notes to take.

There were comments, but they were geared towards the publication of "my book". [my book!!!] They had some excellent thoughts about how to make the book more accessible and to help stave off possible areas of criticism. Both external and internal emphasized how "important" they thought my work was - and how important they thought it was that it be published as soon as possible.

I'm sorry - I'm still a bit shell-shocked. I scheduled us in for a few extra days after the viva so that I could make copies of whatever additional resources I need to consult to take home and hope to gear myself up to making changes; writing extra transitions; adding citations, etc. As it turns out now, I'm going to correct the 22 (!!) typos. . . . (that sounds worse than it is. . . .) and go camp out at the dissertation printing centre and get this thing done TOMORROW!!!! And turned in.

Looks like I could be graduating in July. . . .

The coolest thing?

They liked it. They really liked it.

The king and I went up to the Shelbourne Hotel for a celebratory concoction, and remembered that - 3 days from now - is our 3 year proposal anniversary. Same place. We walked down the street and had a simply splendid dinner at La Mere, Zou. Oh. yum.

wow. . . .

I know. I said that already.

Hey - thanks for the good wishes and the notes and emails! much appreciated. . . . I think I need to go to sleep now. More later.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

'twas the night before viva. . . .

and I have a glass of red wine handy. The chatty lad at the wine store is a natural-born salesman and got me on two bottles with a description of chocolate, currant and pepper notes - nearly lost me with the story of how it reconciled him to his girlfriend's parents (or was it the girlfriend?) - re-engaged with the recommendation of a 70% dark chocolate to go with the wine. . . . and ultimately held me captive with the very sad story of his exam failure that will necessitate another repeat in 'mats' (meaning 'mathematics') and his enthusiasm for his preferred course of study: law, politics, and economics.

From there, it was a hop, skip, and a jump to stem cell research, the ethics surrounding recent legal pronouncements in in vitro case law, and the politics of funding and public disclosure, not to mention the inside information he was privy to, which might come from his mother, but then again, he didn't want to say, precisely, although he wouldn't deny it (he said) and she did work for the Attorney General's office. . . . I'd say he'd made the trip to Blarney a time or two. He never met a topic he didn't like, or wouldn't be amenable to wax prolific on.

Luckily an elderly chap finally entered the store, and I was able to leave before that gentleman realized his peril.

Actually, the saleslad was rather entertaining, but I had reached my limit and wanted to get back to the flat, pour a glass of wine, and take a peek at the two articles Magda sent me away with.

"But perhaps you won't have time to read these, but they will be handy for later, if you need them. And perhaps you will look at them, briefly, in case you need to refer to them. . . ."

By which I take it that these would be good to refer to at the viva, even though I did not refer to them in my dissertation, because they weren't out then.

If you get my drift.

Magda is some kind of wonderful supervisor! It's just taken me some time to be able properly to translate her sometimes, and my early dealings with her suffered I think, accordingly.

By the way, I am staying just to the right of the bridge in the foreground, which I can see from my room, as well as the green dome which is across the river. . . .

Anyway, there's not really much more I can do tonight. I'll have dinner with some friends and then do a bit of reading and try to hit the sack early. The king arrives at about 8 am - so I can't sleep in, as I have to meet him. He doesn't know the city that well and we won't have mobile phones as a back up if we miss one another so I have to make sure I'm at the meeting place. It's a bit hair-raising. . . . but I'm sure it will come off with no problems.

Then, the exam is at 2:30. All I have to do in the morning is come up with a 5 minute introduction of my work (10 max, but no longer), and then be prepared to answer questions. Then it's done. And then we'll see what we'll see!

Till tomorrow, then.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

d-day

meaning: I leave for the airport in 2 and a half hours. . . .

I have learned (1) I don't seem able to travel as light as I used to, (2) notwithstanding #1, above, it is still not possible to bring all my books with me (not that I'd have time to read them all again), and (3) it will take considerably more concentration than I have so far expended to retain the bit of the dissertation title that follows the colon after the 'snappy bit'. Oh - and it might be good if I actually did make it through the entire dissertation (meaning: read it - at least once!)

I'm taking a copy with me - of course - and maybe I can read it on the plane.

Then again, I'm taking my new knitting project: Elizabeth Zimmerman's pi shawl, and I suspect I'll be working on that quite a lot to mask my terror.

That, and red wine ought to do the trick.

I feel like such a fraud.

But. . . . wanted to sign off for a bit - I don't know that I'll be posting while overseas, getting worked up for this trial by voice. The viva voce. I'll be lucky if I can remember my name.

Those who pray? Please pray. Those who don't - carry on doing whatever it is you do and/or are led to do, considering my plight. Comments and/or encouraging emails would be welcome. See you when it's over. . . .

Friday, February 15, 2008

thought: war and freedom


No protracted war can fail to endanger the freedom of a democratic country.


Alexis de Tocqueville, statesman and historian (1805-1859)

It is, of course, because at some point we find that it is easier to catch [and/or kill] the "bad guys" if we don't also have to guarantee their freedoms. . . . Unfortunately, it is not so easy to give freedom to some - but not to all. How do you decide who gets freedom? And what if someone decides - for the sake of argument - wrongly? What if someone were to decide, for example, that I am one of the "bad guys" - wouldn't I feel differently about the freedoms I might be rather ambivalent about denying to someone else?

And yet - at the same time - there are things worth fighting for. . . . . and there are freedoms I may cede - for the moment - during a time of war. But I will not do it lightly.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

and no, I don't do valentine's day




Amusingly, the refusal to honor valentine's day is probably viewed as more curmudgeonly than just about any other 'public holiday' opt-out.

I had a hard time finding an appropriate anti-valentine's day symbol online! (and didn't want to take the time to make my own).

Not that I don't think that love is a grand thing. It is! I just don't value 'love on demand' or, rather, the production of a physical proof of "love" on demand in the form of flowers, chocolate, cards, stuffed animals and/or jewelry. Oh - and lingerie. . . .

There's something about the combination of the timed spending of money and sexuality that I find a bit distressing. And I certainly don't want anyone to "be mine"!

I've often been told I think too much.

Luckily, the king is of a similar disposition, and so we have a pact not to mention this particular 'holiday'. It is not "holy" for us. . . .

happiness and paradox - viva minus 7

I woke up in the middle of the night, all in a sweat that I hadn't talked in my dissertation about paradox with respect to the entertaining of two apparently irreconcilable positions.

Wouldn't you think that that would come to mind at some point? And wouldn't you think that that would surely come to the mind of someone [me!] who had actually spent some considerable time thinking about that very subject at the very beginning of this whole journey?!

Well - apparently not. Because it didn't. It just didn't. Not till now.

I wonder if anyone will bring it up at the viva? It seems a glaring omission to me, at this point. But hold on here! Wait a minute. . . . no one else has talked about paradox in this context, so maybe it's a bit more understandable. Maybe I just missed another potentially cool point I could have made, or maybe I dodged a bullet that would have derailed the dissertation. I don't know. . . .


Anyway, it really seems to me that the [especially Christian] embracing of paradox (theoretically, at least) could add another tool by which to attempt to navigate the terrain between the "good" and the "right". We do not have to choose one or the other where they [appear to] conflict. But neither do we need to do violence to the opposition presented in order to try and live - somehow - with both.

The other fill-in-the-blank 'gift' I got today was an article a girlfriend emailed me about happiness. It's an article by one Sharon Begley, entitled "Happiness: Enough Already." Quoting one Eric Wilson (who has apparently written a book entitled Against Happiness) she says
. . . "the blues can be a catalyst for a special kind of genius, a genius for exploring dark boundaries between opposites." The ever-restless, the chronically discontent, are dissatisfied with the status quo, be it in art or literature or politics.
It reminds me of my disagreement with a favorite writer of mine who quoted [with approval] a guy who tried to equate morality with science. In my comment disagreeing, I mentioned that that attempted equation would be to deflate immorality to a physical malady - presumably treatable with a pill. Here, we have a similar situation already going on, where everything not happy is pathological, and which ought to be treated with medication, or therapy, or both. ["ought" is italicized there, because I wanted to point out how often we ignore moral statements, which are so often headed by that little word. . . . ]

Anyway - enough for this morning. Off I go to chart the "dark boundaries between opposites" - not that I aspire to "special kind of genius" status - but I have been wrestling the blues!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

viva minus 9

so, have you checked out the Viva Viagra commercial yet?

No?

Well - here it is for you. Or one of them, anyway. . . .

The band is pretty good.

You can tell I'm of a flippant disposition today. I haven't been doing the countdown and I discovered today that I'm already in the speed-up 10, 9, 8, 7 mode. . . . I still haven't made it through the dissertation all the way. May God have mercy on my poor. . . . [man! I can't even think of the word! What do you call it when you put things off? Right. That word] _________ing . . . . soul.

Today, via the Happiness Project, I came across an article about not adding value to other's ideas. I'd never heard it expressed this way, but I know exactly what they mean. I've always called people like that "dream cuckoos". They're people who try to deposit their own, unformed yet overgrown, awkward fledglings into the little dream nest you have labored over, to then crowd out or even devour your own little dreamlets. . . .

I've known quite a few of these people - there's one in my family (and it's not the king. . . .) - and I tend to give them a wide berth. Actually, I learned some time ago not to air early ideas at all. You've got to give them time to gestate first, or else they can get so mangled up that they'll never draw breath even if they do manage to see the light of day.

Do I try to "add value" to others' ideas?

I often want to. Sometimes I'm tempted to. But I usually default back to a cheerleading role fast enough, with an apology for trying to put my own oar in. I just remember how I feel when others start to try and hijack one of my dreamlets. Although sometimes people can come up with some good ideas! It's such a balance.

This was a difficulty I had with the whole academic process, by the way - as I realize just now, talking through it. I am of an artistic temperament, and tend to 'create' alone. The academic, however, also relies on community by which to work out ideas, sort through objections, and come up with consensus on solutions. This really is pretty antithetical to the artistic process, although - granted - artists also interact not only with one another, but also perhaps to an audience.

All this to say that I am not really looking forward to the viva insofar as it approaches an "adding value" process by which I must suffer the "good ideas" of others who have not spent 5 years on this. Even as I write this, I am very well aware of how unfair the suspected charge is. I know the internal examiner, and he's just great. He gives you lots of room for your own ideas, and with him it's always about the student and never about himself. He's one of the most generous people I know that way. His attitude also tends to rub off on others, so that before you know it, a room full of "Look at me!" students has become a very affirming exploration group.

I'm just not used to group explorations. They tend to go places I'm not that interested in. Or maybe it's just that I am boring, and they won't go there with me! In any event, I'm used to solo jaunts. . . .

Off now, to find something to munch on while I do some reading.

PS - the missing word, above, is "procrastinating". Right.

Monday, February 11, 2008

another view

I have linked to this lady (Elizabeth Perry) before. She posts a sketch every day - and has been doing so now for a couple of years.

Today's sketch really helped pull my expectations of travel out of the gutter. How strange that a little pen, ink and colour wash could renew my excitement of the adventure and glamour of going overseas - my word! Here I've been, dreading it.

The crowds. The lines. The squalling children. The dirty seats, trays, tables and sticky armrests. The floors that don't bear close examination. The smells. The obnoxious people. More lines. Travel documents. Heavy burdens (why does paper weigh so much?!) Personal space invasions. Sleep deprivation. General anxiety about missing one's plane, or connection, or losing luggage or money or just in general. . . . general anxiety.

I used to travel very well. Elizabeth Perry's sketch has pointed me back towards what I used to know. I can still travel light, and expectantly.

I leave on Sunday.

Friday, February 8, 2008

heidelberg happy

Here's a happy thought: the Heidelberg castle in a bit of sun. Waiting for me on my desktop webcam! Just right there, all nice and sunny on the other side of the ocean even as we speak.

At least I think it's 'as we speak' - I can't make out the little numbers that show when the last webcam photo was updated. And you know what? I'm not looking! As far as I'm concerned, the thought of my favorite castle in the whole world in a bit of sun is a happy thought and I'm all over it.

lucky 13

I'm feeling flat. Kind of pointless.

I've been biting my cuticles again, in spite of the deal I made with myself that I would stop, and by which I justified the purchase of L'Occitane cuticle cream and Tweezerman serious cuticle pushing tool [read "these babies were expensive!"] about a month ago. . . . The fingers of choice for dental assault are the left forefinger and the right thumb.

sigh.

I don't get it.

I'd stopped for about 4 or 5 years.

So. Ok. Writing. Although I don't really need to write these days, so much as read. I'm perverse that way, though. When I should be writing, I'm reading. Reading? Right - we're writing!

But note, the writing isn't going all that smoothly just now, either. Very well then.

I think the problem is that I'm feeling like I'm missing so much. I haven't really been seeing many friends. I'm not doing what I want to do, but neither do I feel like I'm accomplishing much of anything else. I'm just generally uncomfortable.

I do have friends scheduled in now: buddy coming tomorrow afternoon; group dinner at another friend's house tomorrow evening; music friend's band playing the day after (early evening gig, which is all I'm up for these days) and 'actual best friend C' is meeting me there. In other words: I've gone overboard in the opposite direction. I'm good at that.

Today: hair cut.

It is probably not a good day to be doing this, as I might be tempted to something extreme. I think we can count on it being a bit shorter than usual. . . .

Who'd have thought a 'bob' was so difficult to achieve? I've been trying to get a kind of 20's bobbed hair cut for years, but no one seems to be able to achieve it for me. The closest I ever came was once about 4 years ago - growing out layers I'd consented to in a moment of madness - after which I took a pair of shears to my own hair rather than deal with yet another hair dresser also convinced that layers would be 'just the thing' on me. [It is not. Trust me on this one.]

Here's a photo I finally found of the style I want to emulate. Great movie, by the way. My current hairdresser's comment? "That's great, but it doesn't show me the back."

Ok. So what does she think the back looks like? How hard could this be?!

sigh.

Well - this oughta be fun. Oh - and I finished the turquoise vest - need buttons. That's always good for a laugh.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

viva minus 14

There was a huge storm last night, which left me grateful to be inside, warm and dry under the covers trying to sleep. Unfortunately, the howling wind and claps of thunder made that rather difficult.

Today my actual best friend is coming over to go see the greenwood happenings and thereafter have a bit of a birthday lunch. We don't see much of each other any more. She's relatively newly married, as well, and what with her own house constructings and running a business she doesn't get a lot of free time. I miss hanging out with her. It's hard, then, to just enjoy time together when you do get it, because you feel like there's so much ground to cover - first, to catch up, and then to make up for the fact that you suspect you won't be seeing each other for another month or two!

I remember someone once saying how ridiculous they found the concept of "quality time" - when used as an excuse for spending a small amount of time with one's kids, for example. . . . [grammar question: does "one's" properly have an apostrophe there, for the possessive, or does that signify a contraction?]

Anyway, this person said something to the effect that more often than not it's really the spending of time with someone that counts - not just the supposed 'quality' of it. Granted, the quality counts, too, but not as much as we might like to think. You can't cultivate a friend from scratch by just spending one quality day a year - for example - with them. At some point, you just have to spend time. Riding in a car saying nothing. Skipping stones. Shopping for food together, perhaps, or going your separate ways in a bookstore (and meeting up afterwards to inspect acquisitions), enduring the boring recital because it's her kid and she asked that you go with her.

I don't excel at this, by any stretch. In fact, I'm pretty bad about it. Luckily, I've spent so much time with C over the years that I can get away with some patchy stretches. . . . every now and again, anyway. I think it's time to replenish the time-spent-together cache.

More reading today - I hope to get through 2 more chapters and then finish the dissertation tomorrow. At that point, I should have a better idea as to which works of my main author I wish to re-visit and in what order.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

viva minus 15

Housekeepers today, so I was up and out early and headed over to the local college library and my favorite easy chair in the aerie overlooking the atrium with nothing but the dissertation and a pad of paper on which to record errata.

I have two pages [of errata] already.

The good news is that I'm mostly enjoying my own writing. I think Magda was able to insert a whole lot more structure than I suspected - or would ever would have included - since I tend to operate by the maxim that if I have to tell you what the points are, I obviously have failed to make them. . . .

I don't know where I got that idea, but I realize now that it has been firmly in place for a very long time. I intend to banish it, forthwith.

Much better just to tell people what the points are, rather than trust that they'll 'get it', if you just make the points as strongly as you can. . . . Of course, it doesn't make for very compelling writing, but then I need to decide whether I'm in the business of writing, or providing information - or something else, entirely.

All of that is way too egg-headed for me today.

The point is: I enjoyed the writing, I found enough typos to keep me busy, and I didn't mind the telegraphed plan of the dissertation. In fact, I found it rather reassuring to know just what it was I was going to talk about next - and why. [Doesn't that sound ridiculous? Yet it's true.]

It's a gray day. Warm. Warmer outside than inside this ridiculous rented house we inhabit. Yet it feels wasteful to open up doors and windows, as "the heat is on".

I'm waiting for a buddy and we're heading to the greenwood to talk about security systems. I'm also hoping for a walkabout, and then a pint after. Then - perhaps - I'll be in a proper frame of mind to resume the conclusion of chapter 2 and start on 3. Actually, chapter 3 is one of the 'fun' ones - insofar as you could count anything in a doctoral dissertation as "fun."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

viva minus 16

I truly don't know where the days go.

Yesterday started great, but ended with a big headache. Still, as days go, it was a really good one.

What I want to focus on today is why "I knew you could do it!" can feel like the opposite of an "attaboy!"

On the one hand, it's nice that people have confidence in you. On the other hand, if everything you undertake is a 'done deal', then there's no sense of accomplishment. I think that this is what people tend to overlook when they say: "I knew all along there was nothing to worry about - you were just being ridiculous to worry so much!"

I'm not a worrier by nature. But this doctorate was - and is - no 'done deal', and I kind of resent the implication that it was/is. Even as I can also recognize that the people who so imply, probably do so under the [false] impression that they are thereby building my self-esteem by stating their supreme confidence in my abilities. It's a delicate balance. Confidence in the outcome, but still preserving the real challenge presented and the real precariousness of success! If success is a given, how can there be a real challenge?

I see that we're back to conflict, and the need for conflict in any compelling story. The trick is to somehow preserve the "I had no doubt" while at the same time being able to experience all hope fade.

Which leads me right back to the question of "faith".

I think I mentioned yesterday that we've been reading the book of Hebrews - chapter 11.
What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. . . . [keeping our] eyes on the one who is invisible.


Funny, because elsewhere it says that "without faith, it is impossible to please God", and I think that this is part of the same question I'm struggling with. Just maybe the other side of the coin. God wants us to have confidence in him, in spite of the real adversities; I'd like acknowledgment of the real adversities I've faced, in spite of my family's confidence in me.

[and OK, just so you know, it's my mother we're talking about here. As far as she's concerned, there was never any question at all about my ability to do this - her only question is why I've been dawdling so much, getting it finished.]

Like I said, it's a delicate balance. I could be facing the other side of the coin, the "I don't know why you even try, you'll never succeed!" Which reminds me of a favorite C.S. Lewis quote, to the effect that we are like the drunk man who climbed on a horse and fell off one side, and then climbed back on only to fall off on the other side. . . . There's plenty of room for error on either side of this narrow path!

I survived. . . .


. . . but retired at one point to the local Barbie Doll Princess abode for a bit of a nap. The king failed to get the pink palace roofline in, for the full effect.

This, from the superbowl weekend.

You already know my predilection for stripey socks. . . .

Monday, February 4, 2008

it's my birthday

. . . and it's already been quite a day!

Somehow, my birthday has gotten shoved into the annual Superbowl gathering - which I really don't mind, as I enjoy football - but it can leave the actual day a bit empty, when the celebrations are already in the past tense.

Today has already been quite a day for me though. We started with the usual: coffee with the king (he added cinnamon - which he knows I love - as a special treat), and at some point the impression of Psalm 112 fixed itself firmly enough in my mind that I felt confident that that was what we should read together this morning.

Fine. Because other than that, we were about to take on the martyrs in the book of Hebrews [the second half of the chapter on faith, chapter 11. . . .] and I really didn't have the heart for that on this festive day.

Anyway - Psalm 112 was about the good stuff that follows from being on good terms with God. The two ideas that really stuck with me as 'for me' today were: "trust" and "you won't be afraid of bad news".

Very well then!

The first thing I saw when I checked email (beyond several birthday wishes emails) was an email from Magda. "First comments", it was entitled. I clicked to open it before I could work myself up into being afraid of bad news. Magda reports that the internal examiner told her that both he and the external examiner thought my thesis "very good." She wanted to pass that information along so that my viva preparations would be a bit more "light-hearted". . . .

So now I'm worried that once I get in there, they'll realize that I don't really know a thing and that this dissertation (which I have yet to re-read) was somehow achieved as if by dictation and that everything I wrote escaped my mind the minute it was put down on paper!

No - not really. But I have not been preparing the way I know I must, and this good news - although really good news - is not going to ease me out of preparations, it should actually make me work even harder. Now all I have to do is figure out where we are again on the countdown. That'll strike terror into my heart, eh?

Oh no, that's right: I will fear no bad news.

Isn't it strange not to be working out of fear? That doesn't mean I won't ever get bad news, it means I won't fear it. . . . Yet I realize now that fear has served as a major motivator in my life. What shall be the replacement, do you think? And isn't it funny how many of us work off of fear throughout our lives, and yet how often have I heard people claim to be turned off from God, because they're offended by talk of fear of hell. . . . or by a "religion" that supposedly tries to use fear as a motivator.

But is not fear almost the universal motivator? Think of our advertisements. What do they prey on, if not fear? Fear of death. Fear of hunger. Fear of growing old, getting wrinkles, losing one's attractiveness, being alone, smelling, having split ends or gray hair, being constipated, getting sick, having high blood pressure, low self esteem, losing erections, having a tree fall on one's house or car, getting audited - I mean, you name it! Even the Superbowl commercials yesterday can be traced back to fear. Bridgestone's screaming squirrel, and the tires that allay the fear of death and squashing a lovely furry critter. Budweiser's Dalmatian training the Clydesdale and overcoming a fear of failure. The laundry detergent (was it 'Tide'?) that presented itself as saving us from rejection and shame by silencing the "talking stain." Doritos' attacking giant rat. . . .

Fear and "protection". Start counting the number of products or services or companies that claim to "protect" us. At the same time, consider just what it is they would be "protecting" us from. . . . I've been amazed at the sheer protection racket going on.

Anyway - just to get back here: it's my birthday, and I'm a very happy prophet today. I trust God and I fear no bad news. I think I'll go to the greenwood and have a walkabout. At some point, I'll recalculate the countdown number - not because I'm afraid - but so that I can recalculate the work that needs to be done, and allocate the days properly.

I do hope that there's some champagne in my near future!

Many happy returns to all of you.

Friday, February 1, 2008

garden: gorgeous. . . .

What is it about nature - modified - that can be ever so satisfying?

Not that "raw" nature is not gorgeous. We've all seen enough of that to know the truth of it.

But there's something about the 'hidden' - but obvious - hand of man somewhere in the mix that can be incredibly appealing. A subtle shaping or encouraging or ordering that is so lovely, but yet can go so wrong. We've all seen enough of the 'so wrong' shapings as well: the one-putrid-purple-petunia-every-six-inches in a straight line manning a sidewalk. . . .

The untouched landscape is something we can observe, marvel at, be thankful for, perhaps plan changes in. The shaped landscape is one which we have responded to already - or someone has - and so it calls forth a different response to the visitor or viewer. We respond to the land and to the gardener.

Perhaps this is another aspect of the question I considered yesterday, with respect to headline questions. There is a vast difference between a 5-year-old's constant questions as her only means of gaining attention and the solitary question of an Einstein about whether time is constant. Likewise, the difference between petunia outlines in garish colours and Piet Oudolf's juxtaposition of sculpted hedges in waves behind the tangle of a deadened winter field, in front of ancient knobby trees - in a row.

It's the difference between a melancholy ache of longing and simple nausea, perhaps, but it's more than that.

It's the "more than that" that draws me.