Wednesday, March 29, 2006

In the still of the night...

I stumbled across this passage this morning that I thought would be interesting to post.

A great anxiety has God allotted,
and a heavy yoke, to its sons and daughters,
From the day one leaves her mother's womb
to the day she returns to the mother of all the living,
Her thoughts, the fear in her heart,
and her troubled forebodings till the day she dies--
Whether she sits on a lofty throne
or grovels in dust and ashes,
Whether she bears a splendid crown
or is wrapped in the coarsest of cloaks--
Are of wrath and envy, trouble and dread,
terror of death, fury and strife.
Even when she lies on her bed to rest,
her cares at night disturb her sleep.
So short is her rest it seems like none,
till in her dreams she struggles as she did day by day,
Terrified by what her mind's eye sees
like a fugitive being pursued;
As she reaches safety, she wakes up
astonished that there was nothing to fear.
(Sir 40:1-7)

How often I've lain awake at night trying to fall asleep, with fears and anxieties coursing through my mind, often unrealistic fears and anxieties that I thought I'd long since conquered or buried. Why do these disturbing thoughts come bubbling to the surface when one is most open and undistracted, most vulnerable and eager to fall off to sleep?

It must be that the daily business of life (work, home, telephones, tv, radios, etc.) drowns out our fears during the course of our day and their tiny voices emerge when the world surrounding us has quieted down.

Remember the Anxiety Closet in the Bloom County comic strip, how it was full of the most absurd and humorous fears and anxieties like killer clowns or accountants. It is a relief to put a name and a face to what feels like such a personal experience and realize that even the most self-confident and unreflective narcissist probably has an Anxiety Closet of their own with the door shut and bolted and a chair pushed up against the door handle.

I guess one of the possible messages of the passage is that there exists the possibility that we will "wake up"--from our unthinking ways of acting? from our self-absorption? from our delusions about how the world works? from our prejudices and negative thinking? from our self-destructive habits?--and be astonished that there was nothing to fear.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Scaredy cat

Last month, my housemate, who swore she would never get another pet, brought home a cat. She looks a lot like Buffy who died earlier this year, kind of a light orange, and she is probably about 4 or 5 years old. Her most distinctive features are yellow eyes, darker orange rings on her tail and the lightest pink nose and paws...very pale and delicate pink. Because she seemed so sleek and elegant, I called her Serena and the name kind of stuck.

But she was abandoned and has an abandoned cat complex: alert and fearful. She hid under the couch on the first floor all of her first day here but "escaped" during the evening when the door to the room was left ajar. It took forever to find her but she was under a bed in a second floor bedroom.

She eventually found her way to the third floor, which I occupy, and she's been a fixture here ever since. I can't get her to leave! Every other day, I take her down the stairs and walk around the rest of the house to familiarize her with the place but I have to hold her tight against my body or she'll claw her way over my shoulder and hightail it back to the third floor.

I take her on these outings to reassure her: there are no dogs or other cats or small children in this is a pretty quiet and placid place...she should not be afraid. But she gets terrified just coming down the stairs from the third floor.

The whole situation is quite awkward considering that she's not my cat! The housemate, her owner, has been understanding about the whole thing since it seems like it is completely out of our hands. I tried leaving her outside my door and closing up my place but she just hides herself away and then we have to later comb every nook and cranny in the house, trying to find her to make sure she gets something to eat.

So far, she has made her preferences clear. But I'm hoping as she feels more and more secure and starts feeling confined in my small place, she'll venture out into the rest of the house and her owner will start connecting more with her. It's great to have her company but I think she'd be happier to have more territory to roam around in.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Holding on and letting go

Forgetting what lies in the past, I press on... (Phil 3:13)

I'm not given to quoting the Bible. Seriously. But I come across these quotes that make me pause which, I've found, is always a good thing.

I am overly tied to my past, both the good and the bad. I don't brood or obsess but I get sentimentally attached to events and things and people and ruminate, trying to squeeze some meaning out of them, learn some lesson.

I remember a friend calling me crazy when I was in my 20s because I had a file of all of my job rejection that time, I was trying to change fields and applied for a lot of jobs I wasn't exactly qualified for, dream jobs, ones that I had absolutely no experience in.

"Why do you hang on to those things?", he said. "I'd rip them up". But I didn't, I held on to them, trying to read between the lines, to try to understand something about myself by what I had NOT succeeded at. They were also part of my history, albeit one that wasn't entirely pleasant, a marker of some period of my then short life.

I wanted to have them around to remember that I once strove to do something beyond the ordinary life that I was living at the time. Tried unsuccessfully, in this instance, but it is still wild to think about how different your life might be if things had gone in a different could have a completely different lifestyle, different friends, live in a different location, be in a different relationship.

What seemed relevant to me back then when I spoke with my friend was not that I didn't succeed but that I was able to imagine myself living another life, one different from the one I had. Whether better or worse wasn't the issue, it was the ability to imagine how different things could have been had the circumstances changed...I had been able to imagine that I could be out of the rut I was in at the time.

But holding on to the past can itself turn into a rut. You can get too attached to the past to the point where you live in the past, remembering past joys, old friends, and happy experiences instead of making new friends, creating new experiences. It is easier to live amidst your memories than work at creating new memories which takes effort at times, sometimes a great deal of effort.

When one is weighed down with baggage from the past (as I have been lately), forgetting the past and forging ahead might be the better course of action. Memories, God willing, will always be there but present opportunities may not. Maybe by letting go, putting the past behind us, one can be free of old notions of what "should be" or what IS possible and one can be able to take advantage of new avenues that present themselves.

Kind of sounds like something you'd read in a self-help book but at this point in my life, I'm open to any inspiration that comes my way, whether it is regurgitated wisdom or some fresh insights. Judge by the fruit, not the tree.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The spotlight

It's been about two weeks since I last posted. I was going to try to post something every day, then got busy with a new job. And then I read on another webpage that someone had actually read this blog and it threw me for a loop even though she was perfectly polite about it.

I mean, it shouldn't have shocked me. If I wanted to write for myself alone, I could keep a journal. But the fact that I haven't had any comments to what I was writing lulled me into thinking that I was only writing for myself and it gave me pause to think of someone else reading the words I'd put down.

That thought led to my mind freezing every day when I thought about returning to post something to the blog. I began to second guess myself, thinking, "what would someone else think about what I was writing about", "someone" being no one in particular, just a friend or foe or the unknown reader. I know an author is always supposed to consider the audience you are writing for but I have found it completely inhibiting.

Part of the reason for starting a blog was to get over this useless kind of paralysis, and be open and vulnerable enough to share my ideas, come what may. A lot of this blog has been "fluff", not serious contemplation or controversial opinions but it has revealed part of who I am right now and so the fact that I was able to do it at all I count as an accomplishment.

So, I'm going to try to revive it and keep going on, aware that there might (or might not!) be an audience for my words and just try to be myself...the insightful parts as well as the ordinary, mundane parts. I'll try to keep it interesting but, more importantly, I'll try to keep it honest and real. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rend your hearts...

...not your garments (Joel 2: 13)

I always loved this passage on Ash Wednesday. I think it means that true sacrifice, opening one's heart and soul to change is preferable to large, emotional displays of grief and penance, overly pious attempts to beat oneself up, psychologically speaking....where one wallows in despair rather than making oneself vulnerable to the realization that we are imperfect.

Ash Wednesday is seen as a solemn ritual, one where you reflect on sin/errors, ways we've disappointed ourselves, others, or God, and how limited is our time on this Earth. But it is also about second chances, of leaving behind the wounds of past, those done by us or done to us. As the song says,

We offer you our failures,
We offer you attempts
The gifts not fully given,
The dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
Give our visions wider view,
An offering of ashes,
An offering to you.
"Ashes" (Conry)

We burn our past misdeeds, the sources of shame in our lives, our failings, into ashes and, like a phoenix, "create ourselves anew", hopefully, into a person more faithful to one's self and one's community. This can involve discipline and sacrifice but also forgiveness and redemption, and the happiness that can come from having integrity and a clear conscience.

May this Lent bring you to a clearer understanding of yourself and your place in the universe.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

I have a soft spot for zealots, pt. 4

Okay, this is it, just in time for Ash Wednesday, the conclusion of my collection of random, lesser known comments from Paul. This exercise was explained here:


Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters with complete purity.

Whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Religion with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.

Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true

Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness.

The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.

Endure your trials as discipline. At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated by healed.

Our God is a consuming fire.

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.

Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.


I think within the four selections, you'll find some surprising comments. I still have ambivalent feelings about the guy but I do admire anyone who'll go out on a limb for no apparent gain even if I disagree with what they say.

I'll try to do something a little different during Lent...and try to keep the surprises coming.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Lucca vs. the mouse

I'm still feeling pretty woozy these days. I was well enough on Thursday evening to drag my carcass to class but, god, it was great to get on the train to come back home and get back into bed.

Because of the flu, it has been a very unproductive week and I've gotten very little written or read. No deep thoughts to share. So, what do you do when you have nothing interesting to say? Why, post pictures of pets, of course!

Here is Lucca, mentioned in an earlier post ( He's now about twice the size he was since the earlier picture was posted three weeks ago. What you CAN'T see in this picture is a very long scar along his tummy.

Last weekend, he became very ill, throwing up everything he tried to eat. Several vets were consulted and it was determined that he had some kind of intestinal blockage. So, he was put under, surgery was performed and out came a two inch long stuffed mouse. Now, here is the weird brother and sister-in-law don't recognize it and this dog has barely been out of the house and their backyard because he is not fully immunized. Where did it come from? Where did he find it? It's a mystery.

So, this is a picture of a recovering Lucca, minus the cone, and probably not one bit wiser. He's still a chewer, biter, and swallower although he is in the early stages of obedience training. The biggest problem my sister-in-law says has been trying to keep him still because he is so active he could easily pull his stitches out.

That's it for this morning...hopefully, my next entry will discuss greater mysteries than how Lucca found and swallowed a cat toy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I am sick and tired...

...of being sick and tired.

Flu is the worst, short of an illness that is actually life-threatening. But you feel like you're to die.

Oy, my head, the pain 24 hours a day for three days. I tried Advil, Aspirin, Tylenol (or the generic equivalents), decongestants, prescription headache medicine but nothing but a can of Diet Red Bull and a half of a ten year old tablet of Vicodin cleared my head enough that I could get out of bed, call my doctor, and make an appointment....where she said, basically, drink lots of fluids and get lots of sleep.

Gee, thanks very much. (I get sarcastic and cranky when I feel like death). I didn't really expect much help from the doctor for something like the flu but she did point out that I was very dehydrated which can turn a bad headache into one where you want to cut the damn thing off.

I think part of my headache was from caffeine can't go from three cups a day to nothing for three days and not have your body complain, loudly. That's why I thought of trying the Red Bull...there was no way my stomach could take a real cup of coffee but luckily the carbonated caffeine was much easier to take.

The cramps and moment I'm an iceberg, piling blankets on top of me and the next moment I have to take off all of my clothes...the erratic sleep and the mild hallucinations (me, the Rolling Stones living in a bed and breakfast in a treehouse? I'm just usually not that creative. Great furniture though).

When I can stop for a moment from rolling around in self-pity, it makes me realize how relatively healthy I have been, cold and flu-wise. I only get these bouts every five or six years so it is easy to forget what pure misery they are.

Ironically, at the beginning of the week, I actually had a lot stuff I wanted to write about but when you can't lift your head off the pillow, it's hard to think coherently enough to form sentences that anyone will be able to follow.

Hey, maybe those might make for more interesting blog entries than the ones I usually write. Let's raise a glass of ginger ale, eat some saltines and toast to good health.

Monday, February 20, 2006

I have a soft spot for zealots, pt. 3

I'm a day late...I meant to post this yesterday but had to spend most of the day in the city. But here is Pt. 3 of a collection of random, lesser known comments from Paul. This exercise was explained here:


They show interest in you, but not in a good way; they want to isolate you, so that you may show interest in them.

Would that those who are upsetting you might also castrate themselves.

If you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.

For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deluding himself.

May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call...

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification that it may impart grace to those who hear.

All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you along with all malice.

So husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heard thinking one thing.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Feeling wistful

All of this beautiful new snow that blanketed the city just five days ago is all melting away. You can even see the grass peeking through in some places. Hard to believe that it was covered with 18 inches less than a week ago. It's going to be 53 today but down to 23 tomorrow so I hope it doesn't melt and then ice up or traveling will be worse tomorrow than it was last weekend with all of that snow.

Life in the house is so quiet now that we don't have an ailing cat to fret over. Lucca, the Golden Retriever puppy, swallowed a toy mouse and ended up in intensive care and had to get surgery to remove the obstruction. I guess you can't watch babies or puppies close enough because they both put everything in their mouths.

I had a visitor, Asa, from Germany in town this week. It is so hard when old friends move away. It is like there is a hole in your life that emails just can't replace. It was great to see her but it reminded me of those frequent times when we would just run into each other on the street and talk. It just happened as part of our daily lives.

I wish more people wrote letters these days...they seem much more personal than email messages of a line or two saying "I'm busy. Will write later". I'm one of the few people I know who save old email messages from friends but they are de facto letters and I want to have something I can read later and get all maudlin about when I miss their presence.

I once scored high on a personality test (professionally administered, not in Cosmopolitan) on a scale of devotion (it also measure other characteristics) and I'm afraid I get terribly attached to the people I become close to. But it has been a recurring theme that people get opportunities elsewhere or the cost of living here is too high and they move on.

Luckily, there is a professional conference I attend yearly where I can see most of them (though, unfortunately without spouses and children) so I guess I should cherish that instead of wishing for things that existed in the past. I have to consciously try not to live in the near past as much but it is easy to reminisce about good times with old friends when your current life feels full of frustrations.

Time to plan for the weekend...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

When shall I arise?

I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been told off of me.
If in bed, I say, "When shall I arise?" then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn
(Job 7:3-4)

This is plaint of those of us who suffer from insomnia. I was first hit with insomnia about 13 years ago. I would spontaneously wake around 4 am every morning and was unable to get back to sleep. So, I just adjusted my schedule, going to bed between 9 and 10 pm and getting up early.

It was actually quite an interesting period of my life...I got a lot of work done because the house was quiet and I started going to a nearby cloistered convent for 6:30 am services just because I was up and curious about the group. By 9 am, I had usually gotten a lot of work done.

Then, about six months later, the 4 am risings ended and I started waking up at a more normal time. I almost started missing those early morning hours when it seemed like I had the whole world to myself.

But this current bout of insomnia has been different. It started hitting me around April 2003 and continued in full force until last summer. In this case, I just can not fall asleep at all. It's amazing to think you can lie in bed for 6 or 7 hours and do nothing but toss and turn but it's how I spent many a night and early morning. I was pretty much useless the next day, just sleepwalking through the hours until I could go back to bed and try again to sleep. And, for some reason, no matter how tired I was, I couldn't catch up on my sleep during the day by taking a nap. It was sleep at night or no sleep at all.

I tried everything...getting up and doing work, relaxing my body through meditation, reading a dull book, hot baths, herbs and vitamins, sleep-inducing teas, homeopathic remedies, and prescription medication. EVERYONE I knew had an opinion or remedy to offer, none of which did much good. It took at least a year to get some help because the doctors I consulted and all of the books I read say that most insomnia is short-lived. But it kept going on, night after night, a couple of times a week.

The worst part was when I would have two sleepless nights in a row. Going 48+ without sleep can induce a hallucinatory-like state where you have a feeling of unreality. It is hard to describe but it almost felt like I was on drugs. I felt really unsteady behind the wheel of a car and usually avoided driving.

Things have calmed down in the past six months and now it is usually only once a week or so and I have learned ways to deal with it. But it hit me again last night and reminded me of this quote from Job which I had heard in a church a few weeks ago. It seemed to capture the despair one feels when one cannot drift into sleep.

The moral of the story? Never discount the blessing of a night of is without price!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Becoming a pyromaniac

When I first started this blog last month, I had to limit myself to writing only one entry a day. I had so much I wanted to write down. Now, a month later, I find myself with so little worth saying. The enormous snowfall? So what. My teaching? I don't want to reveal too many details about that. My writing problems? How self-absorbed. My health issues? Everyone is dealing with something going wrong in their lives.Same old, same old.

How could I go from bursting with ideas to being intellectually bankrupt so fast? The muses are indeed fickle. And it has been quite a while since they smiled upon me and showered me with their blessings.

Right now, my ass has been called on the carpet (is that a real expression?) because it's been so damn long since I've turned in any of the work I'm supposed to be doing. It is almost like the pressure has to become unbearable in order for me to work and who wants to put themselves through that kind of stress? It's like being an actor who has stage fright who signs up to do 8 performances a week...almost like I have to force myself to do what terrifies me because I know somewhere in there there is a payoff. And that payoff is a long, long ways away.

The funny thing is is that I'm good at what I do. I think so and I've been told so by others. But I'm not "brilliant" and that apparently is the standard by which my advisers are judging me by. And the prospect of getting yet another rejection of my best efforts is demoralizing.

Ironically, intellectually, I know that this is something every writer goes through. I have books that tell me so! No artistic effort ever matches the ideal in your head (everything that exists is imperfect) and it is impossible to please every critic. All of these books tell me that the writers who are successful just work on despite the rejections that anticipate receiving, writing through the anxiety. But most people who want to generate creative work let themselves be stopped by the frustrations which are real and painful.

So, I guess I need a thicker skin or a bigger ego or a singlemindedness that will keep me working despite knowing that whatever I do will fall short of my advisers' hopes for me (this attitude is not me being a fatalist but what I've experienced over four years of working with them). I guess I need to stop seeking their approval and yet I literally can not move forward in the process without it, I can't take the next step until I get their okay.

So, I think I need to put on my bitch face and channel some of this despair into anger and put that into my work. Not the most positive approach but maybe it will help to light a fire from these burnt coals of my career.

Hey, I guess I did find something to write about...a good size dose of self-absorption but isn't that what blogs are really all about?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The weather outside is frightful/delightful

Well, I woke up to some beautiful scenery this morning...a thick white blanket of snow covering every inch of the earth with more soft flakes falling down. Kind of like living inside a snow globe.

But our local municipality has been slow in plowing the streets today and I'm not sure if I can even make it to the train station to get to NYC to visit this Korean church. I have one more hour before I need to leave...otherwise, I will venture out and see how far I can get on foot.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bracing for snow

Ahhh, the snow is coming, finally! We're due for 6-13 inches so there will be a fair share of shoveling. I can hardly's been more than two months since we got a decent snowfall!

It has crimped my plans somewhat though. The students who signed up for the trip to the Korean church tomorrow all bailed on me, which is allowed as long as they do one of the other field trips this weekend. But I will show up on behalf of the group, no matter how bad the "blizzard" (which is what they're calling it) is because the minister was kind enough to invite us to come and participate in their service. It should be an interesting experience, both getting there and the service itself.

I wish I had something more interesting to write about but it has been a pretty lazy week as I've eased up on the workload to tend to this lingering cold. So, lots of cups of tea and wearing of the bathrobe way past the time I should be dressed. It's the kind of time when you wish, if you are single, that there was someone to take care of you, to fix you soup, insist you lie down, and feel your forehead for fever. Kind of a combined lover-mother, if that isn't too inappropriate. But my family is far, far away and my housemates, while perfectly decent people, have their own lives to lead. So, I will baby myself and not berate myself too badly for having nothing interesting to say today.

Time to go out and forage in the supermarket for food before the storm hits. Then, I can burrow in tonight, listen to Prairie Home Companion (yes, I AM that boring), do some writing, and watch the snow fall. Maybe if I'm inspired by the snow, I return to this blog tonight.

Otherwise, wish me luck slushing through the snow in the city on Sunday.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Blah, blah, blah

I've been wrestling with a cold the past few days and so far, the cold has won. That, plus losing the cat has left me logy (one of my mother's favorite words) and uninspired. No witty thoughts or keen observations or eccentric musings have come to mind so I've basically been shying away from this blog. I mean, we all have our blah-blah days and who wants to read about someone else's?

The only news in my life worth commenting upon is that my class is now taking trips to visit churches in NYC. Last Sunday we went to a Buddhist (BCA) service that was pretty conventional (English language, hymn singing) but was different enough for these primarily Christian students. They seemed to find it interesting which was the whole point of the visit, to get them to "see" church environments with new eyes. We start with the unfamiliar and then they take this keener vision and apply it to their own religious communities.

The people at the church were exceedingly welcoming to us and had fixed a nice meal for us after the service. This Sunday I'll take a different group of students to a Korean church which should be a bit more unusual (all in Korean language) for them to experience. After that, I'll start visiting my student's churches which are spread out throughout the city from Harlem to the Lower East Side.

This should keep me busy as I'm supposed to be doing my own field research at the same time. I have yet to find a church to work with but since there are thousands of churches/temples/synagogues/religious centers in the NYC metro area, it is just a matter of finding a good fit. The variety can be a bit overwhelming though.

I hope that somewhere there is some time during the week to devote to my writing. But it is clear that I'll have to MAKE time for it as there are only 24 hours in a day and right now the schedule seems pretty filled...quite a change from just a month ago!

Oh well, time to take my next dose of Vitamin C and "Emer'gen'C" (tangerine flavor).

Sunday, February 05, 2006

I have a soft spot for zealots, pt. 2

As promised, here is Pt. 2 of a collection of random, lesser known comments from Paul. This exercise was explained here:


Every athlete exercises discipline in everyway. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.

For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.

Love never fails.

At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

I give thanks to God that I speak in tongues more than any of you, but in the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, so as to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue...Tongues are a sign not for those who believe but for unbelievers...So if the whole church meets in one place and everyone speaks in tongues and then uninstructed people or unbelievers should come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that you might be pained but that you might know the abundant love I have for you.

You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.

For if we are out of our minds, it is for God; if we are rational, it is for you.

For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.

If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me! Please put up with me!

I am talking like an insane person.

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Finally, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.


A little postscript: Early this morning, my housemate found that the beloved and bossy Buffy had passed away. She was described in this post: . She had a good 19 years, a pretty old age for a cat and she will be greatly missed in the house.

Lucca, again

I was having a lot of trouble with my blog late yesterday. First, the entire blog disappeared, now it has reappeared but my last post is missing.

All I can imagine is that someone didn't appreciate me linking directly to the picture in my last post which was housed elsewhere on the web.

But let me assure the Internet police, that the picture was taken by my sister-in-law and submitted to this pet website where it was housed and I have the authorization to use it. It is her photo not theirs! The whole thing is ridiculous especially considering how little traffic this blog gets.

Here is the post and photo which I now have linked from a private source...poor Lucca, he prefers to stir up trouble rather than have others fight over him.


Lucca (February 4, 2006)
My brother and sister-in-law's beloved Golden Retriever Sunny died last year and this New Year Eve's they picked up a new GR whom they named "Lucca".

We always adopted adult dogs from the pound when we were growing up (Mutts-R-Us) so it had been a long, long time since I was around a puppy. It was almost more adorable than I could handle.

Despite the fact he was only halfway up the learning curve on knowing he should be peeing outside and not inside, he was beyond cute, rolling around, playing tug-of-war, doing all of those games that all two month old puppies do but, in this case, it seemed to make him uniquely lovable.

Since I had been OD'ing on solitude over the past four months here in the writing cave, it was all I could do to stop myself from kidnapping him and taking him on the plane when I came back home. This apartment though is no place for an active puppy...nothing breakable, just piles and piles of papers and books he'd have to navigate around and no direct access to the backyard. I just don't think it is fair to keep a dog in a small living space, no matter how often you take them outside for walks.

But I WAS sorely tempted...he was just a bundle of joy covered in fur. Buffy, the 19 year old cat who lives here, leads a sedentary life...she can become like a piece of furniture--one you step over--and she is probably asleep 20 hours of the day. Sweet, but not the best animal companion.

Perhaps when I finish up here and get a full-time teaching job somewhere (hopefully, one that can provide me with enough income to get a house!), I can get myself a passel of animals, old and young...not to replace human company, but just to add more life and love to my living environment. Just another reason to put my nose to the grindstone, finish up, and move on with the next chapter of my life.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A distant good

"For present joys are more to flesh and blood, Than a dull prospect of a distant good." John Dryden

Oh, yes. This sentiment explains much of human behavior. Right now, for example, instead of working on my writing, I am watching "Spirited Away" on TV, a movie I wasn't able to catch in the theaters when it was released (it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003). Unfortunately, I tuned in to it midway into the movie but hopefully the Cartoon Network will replay it and I can see the first half.

I'm not sure whether watching a film qualifies as a "joy" but it is a more pleasant alternative to endlessly going through my notes, trying to come with original perspectives on well-worn material. It is indeed part of a long process of attaining a "distant good" and I hope I will persevere because my slow progress on it has been discouraging.

The signs are not good that I will ever finish and yet, I can't give up trying. I've stopped and then returned to my writing many's like a relationship where you keep breaking up and then getting back together with the same person without much movement forward in the relationship. I don't think I'm in any kind of denial...I think I know that I CAN do it and the little willpower I have won't let me give up.

The obstacles are real but I know in my heart that they are not insurmountable. I just can't let myself quit when I get discouraged (which I think is most people's first instinct) and carry on with the dull prospect that one day in the future, I might finish this project and close this chapter of my life.

But, hey, it's Friday, I'll allow myself a present joy and return to work in the morning!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The smell of chalk dust

Today I went into NYC for an organizational meeting for a class I will be helping to teach that starts tomorrow. I'm part of a "teaching team" which is a real euphemism because it's not a democratic, collaborative arrangement and the adjunct instructors make less than 1/10 of what the professor in charge makes. But it sure sounds good, doesn't it?

What I thought was just a morning meeting actually ended up being a talking session that lasted from 10:30 am until 4:30 pm with lunch brought in so we didn't need to (couldn't!) take a break. It is a good thing I'm a low maintenance person because by 1 pm I was ready to leave and by 3 pm, I started checking my watch every 20 minutes. Grumble, grumble. But I need this job and I'm glad to be working again.

I haven't worked since August when my last job ended and I decided to concentrate on my writing. Now I'll have to emerge from my writing cave, take off my working pajamas and dust off the business clothes, and reacquaint myself with a makeup brush. The solitude and unstructured life had turned me into a bit of a hermit...if I'd been a man, I'd have a beard down to my collarbone.

Being a writer (or trying to be one) is a dangerous life for an reenforces our isolationist tendencies and leaves too much time for brooding self-reflection. Anxiety has free rein except for those moments in which you manage to corral it and put it back in the closet.

This class, while it will take time away from my work, will get me back out among students (I taught for six years) and walking the streets of the city. There will be a lot of fieldwork--taking students out into NYC neighborhoods, looking at new and historic churches--and that will be the best part of the position. I look forward to getting to know more about areas of NYC that I haven't ventured into before. The adventure starts tomorrow night...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I just got home from a 3 hour dental 12th in 5 months. It's been hard to bear. I hadn't seen a dentist for at least a decade and I avoided them because I'm on a fixed income and I have no health insurance.

But a friend told me about a local dental school that I could go to that had a sliding scale and student doctors with professional supervision. It took a lot of phone calls to actually set up an appointment but I got evaluated and was pleased and surprised to find I had no problems at all (lucky I have good genes), but there was such this minor, optional, elective procedure I could undergo that might prevent a tooth from cracking in the future. But it was up to me. I went for it, mainly because I could actually afford their rates and because it was a teaching hospital and there were dozens of professional dentists around to advise in case my student doctor ran into complications.

Well, here I am, 5 months later and what was supposed to take 3 visits has taken 12 and they told me to plan on at least 2 more...and the visits last between 3 and 3 1/2 hours. It hasn't been torture (they have great painkillers now) but it has been tedious, tiresome and frustrating. And there is no one I can even get mad at about it all!

My student doctor is a sweetheart, young, eager, well-intentioned, and a bit of a perfectionist. But "things", I've continually been told, didn't go as planned. Unforeseen consequences. What they thought would work, didn't work, so they had to start from scratch with another procedure, then ran into problems with that one, etc. etc. It's been an exercise in patience and it makes me wonder how people cope with dialysis or chemotherapy, those uncomfortable and timeconsuming procedures people undergo which can actually save your life. What a trial that must be...I think it would either build my character or leave me a bitter woman!

I guess what I'm left with from this experience is that being well-intentioned might make you a nice person but isn't an integral ingredient to success. They are not opposed to each other (you can be both well-intentioned and successful), but being well-intentioned just isn't enough when you are trying to accomplish something (do a medical procedure, right a wrong, build a career, write a frickin' dissertation, etc.). It's best to try to mesh your good intentions with knowledge, experience, and the drive to reach your goal in a timely fashion, whatever that may be (get this damn tooth crowned) or however long you consider to be timely (last November).

Monday, January 30, 2006

Ticket, please!

I get up every morning, get some coffee, turn on the local NPR station, and sit down at the computer which is on a table by my office window. From the window, I can see the trains coming to and from New York City, taking people from or bringing people to the NJ suburbs. This morning is very foggy and it's beautiful seeing the train lights cut through the misty air, hearing their lonely horns blaring, and the wheels clacking upon the tracks.

There is something romantic about trains that sets off my imagination. One summer a few years ago, I had some free time and took a train trip around the United States, stopping off at different towns for a few days or weeks. Although train travel has its frustrations, it was fascinating seeing the backyards, open plains, and coastlines in different states.

We stopped in one place in SW Texas, a desert town close to the Mexican border where there was just a boarded up old train station, not a living soul or house in sight. I almost expected to see cattle skeletons and wagon wheels besides the tracks. Another part of the trip went through the area around Gary, Indiana and the route took us through an enormous factory graveyard, buildings and warehouses that were completely abandoned because of the change in industry in the U.S. I felt like there were ghosts of 19th century factory workers watching us pass by.

But for every desolate spot, there were gorgeous vistas like Idaho where you travel through a national park and see mountain peaks and raging rivers or the ride coming into Chicago where you pass by a baseball stadium and see the busy life of an amazing city. And there is nothing more beautiful than the train ride from San Diego to San Luis Obispo which glides along the California coast. It is always breathtaking.

So, when my life is in a rut, like has happened periodically over the past few years, I work by the window and listen to the trains and think about the people in them, who they are and where they are an office job, to visit family, to connect with an Amtrak train at Penn Station that will take them somewhere else in the U.S. And it is freeing knowing that the train station is there and if my life here writing ever gets too claustrophobic, I can walk down the hill and catch the next train and soon be transported somewhere else.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I have a soft spot for zealots

That is, of the nonhomicidal, nonviolent kind. There is just something about their tireless devotion, their singlemindedness, and their boldness that I find endearing and attractive.

This week I celebrated my birthday which falls on the feast day of the conversion of Paul, one of the most celebrated zealots in history. I grew up in the Roman Catholic church but left at 13 to join an alternative religion, an act that was completely acceptable in California in the 1970s. Later, at a different point in my life, I rejoined the church and was confirmed as an adult, at the age of 27. Searching for a confirmation name, I looked at the saint whose feast day fell on my birthday and saw, with disappointment, that it was Paul. What a misogynistic jerk! At least that is how I had always viewed him since I returned to studying religion. He said that husbands should rule over their wives and slaves should obey their masters...I couldn't imagine a figure more opposed to my liberal religious beliefs.

But I had taught by one teacher to always look for the small kernel of truth, even amidst the garbage and so I read through his letters, finding words that were difficult and challenging as well as patronizing. Sure, he could be harsh, anti-sexuality, anti-gay, overly dualistic (spirit vs. flesh), inconsistent, arrogant and grandiose, and, at times, anti-Semitic. But those failings obscured the fact that he also had some interesting and even funny things to say.

So, I decided to embrace my inner Paul, full of ignorance and blindness as he was, and chose Paulina to be my confirmation name.

Now, in honor of my birthday and Paul's conversion, I'm going to share a few lines from his letters that I find interesting, challenging, poetic, or surprising. They are not the most theologically significant or important. In doing so, I am violating the primary rule of biblical scholarship--do not remove passages of texts from their literary and historical context! You miss all of the subtlety of their meaning and can easily misinterpret the words and symbolism. Those folks are completely right but this is my blog so I'm going to violate those rules in hope that anyone reading this might find something of interest.

For those of you who are atheist, anti-Christian, or hostile to religion of all varieties, you can skip today's and future installments of "My Favorite Zealot" (I've divided it up into parts). I'll return to hashing out other ideas and the mundane details of life soon enough.

So, here is Part I of my completely arbitrary selection, in no particular order:


For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things.

There is no partiality with God.

Their throats are open graves; they deceive with their tongues; the venom of asps is on their lips; their mouths are full of bitter cursing.

Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.

I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, "You shall not covet." But sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin is dead.

What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate...for I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.

I consider the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed to us.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother or sister.

God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something so that no human being might boast before God.

Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within?

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.

For you have been purchased at a great price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.

If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that.

Food will not bring us closer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, nor are we better off if we do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I think you can tell a lot about how a person looks at the world and other people by how they would answer the following two questions:

1) Do you think people are inherently good (trustworthy) or evil (untrustworthy)?

2) Do you think the world is a place of order or of chaos?

So, of course, here's where I reveal what I think. I think people are basically good. Or, at least, I tend to trust people until they give me a reason to think otherwise. Perhaps I've been fortunate but I've had few people ever intentionally betray my trust or stab me in the back. I believe everyone has a shadow/dark side but I think most people are either ashamed of that part of themselves or they selectively express it and it doesn't define who they are. Or they have a skewed moral perspective and what they think of as evil or sinful are merely aspects of being a typical human being with weaknesses and faults.

As for the world, I tend towards theories of chaos rather than karma. Years ago, I had a close friend Phillip who had an attitude of providence or, basically, that the universe would provide for him when he needed things. And, remarkably, that was true for him...everything (jobs, love, money, success) seemed to come to him at the exact moment when he needed it. Not spectacular things or riches, but enough to provide him with a full life.

But my experience has been different...."sure things" fall apart...I fall for someone at the most inappropriate time, like when I'm moving to another state/city...people I know who are deserving suffer while those with little talent succeed...individuals get serious health problems when everything seems to be going well in their lives...I am born into a nation and family where I have enough to eat and a roof over my head while others are born into starvation and unstable environments. Life is clearly unfair.

The upside of chaos though is that you can receive blessings that are completely undeserved. I'm not sure that I would call it "luck" and I would never bet on a longshot winning the Triple Crown. But the most unlikely things happen, things that are unpredictable and unexpected and sometimes those things are wonderful and more beautiful than you ever imagined.

And therein lies the slim hope I have in my future. I think a certain amount of success comes through hard work but most of the course of my life has been completely out of my control and is never what I would have imagined or planned it to be. There have been more twists and curves than Lombard Street, some good, some very unpleasant. So rather than being an optimist or pessimist, I think I would call myself a is hard and unfair but people are generally good and the most amazing things can happen to you when you least expect them.

Here's hoping that something amazing and unpredictable happens to you today!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Call me Lina

The other day, I picked up my new glasses....bifocals. I hadn't been tested for 6 years so it was quite a shock. I mean, bifocals are for your grandparents, right? Well, no, the optometrist said, people get them around 40. Another little signpost of aging.

Frames have changed so much since the late 90s, from ovals to small rectangular jobs. Having a limited selection to choose from ($$ an object), I got a pair that is small, plastic, black, and rectangular and I think I look like Lina Wertmuller....for everyone born after 1970, she's a famous Italian film director and the first woman ever to be nominated for a Oscar for Best Direction (1977). But she also famously wore these thick, rectangular, plastic frames that were kind of iconic.

I could go back to contacts which are invisible and thus, more flattering, but I think I will instead embrace my Lina-ness, have an espresso, kiss people on the cheek, dream big, and order people around to carry out my visionary work.

Have a good week, mia cara!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dilettantes of the world, unite!

This afternoon, I was reading the acknowledgments page of a book in which the author thanks one prominent scholar for rescuing him "from the temptation of intellectual dilettantism".

On the academic playground, being accused of being a dilettante is akin to a bully calling you a "sissy". But the "temptation" of dilettantism was news to me...oh, yes, it's pleasurable at first and gives one a rush of knowledge but it soon becomes the first step down the slippery slope towards irrelevance and obscurity. One becomes an pitiable object of mockery at cocktail parties and scholarly conferences. As you try to worm your way into other people's conversations, offering a witty comment or two, you later walk up to the bar (cash bar for academics) and find you are the target of hushed giggles and whispers. You, my kind sir, have been called a dilettante!

Worse yet, in academia, one's untouchable status is often exposed in a footnote where another writer dismisses your ideas as mere dilettantism, unworthy of mention except to warn the reader that cleaning out her gutters would be a better use of her time than to spend it reading your work. If widely read by your peers, that dismissal acts as a white kid glove slapped across your face, calling the author either to defend himself on the playing field of battling rebuttals in journals or to resign himself to being an acknowledged--shudder!--dilettante.

I think scholars, amateur or professional, should reclaim the identity of dilettante. My dictionary cites dilettante as coming from the Italian word dilettare ("to delight") and meaning "a dabbler in an art or a field of knowledge", "a lover of fine arts", "a connoisseur". What the hell is wrong with that? Better to be a dabbler delighting in art and knowledge than to sit down to a Labor Day six hour marathon of "Everybody Loves Raymond" episodes; better to crack open a book on a Saturday afternoon or visit a gallery, park, or museum than spend the weekend shopping for plasma screen TVs; better to try to pull together a Greek meal for your Anglo family (with mixed results in my case) than to run into Burger King for a quick dinner fix.

So, DABBLE AWAY! Experiment in the arts! You might fail miserably but it's GREAT material for stories later in your life and you'll learn something about yourself. Explore some aspect of knowledge (Aviation? Winemaking? Python programming? Pierre Bourdieu? Ventriloquism? Divorce Law?) that you're curious about. Try to cook a complicated recipe from Katmandu! Make a mix tape (okay, dating myself here)!

Better to be a dabbler and a lover than a pompous ass who rests comfortably in her/his own small, self-important, and insular world. Break down those intellectual and cultural gates and walk down into the halls of knowledge proudly holding your Dilettante ID card. Now go...log off your computer and GO DO SOMETHING!

Friday, January 20, 2006

What do you cover?

I heard a public radio interview today with Kenji Yoshino, a Yale Law professor who has published a book called Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. He made some interesting statements about how people in U.S. culture are encouraged to "cover", to hide aspects of themselves that would make them stand out as different from mainstream culture, whether those differences are racial, sexual, ethnic, religious or just ones of personality (a man who hates sports, for example). Diversity is accepted and preached but we receive subtle but strong pressure to silence or not express those parts of us which are different enough to cause others to become uncomfortable (being blind, being gay, being poor, being a sexual victim, male or female, etc.). The one exception he mentioned is the marketplace...if some aspect of, for example, being black (rap) or being gay (Queer Eye) proves to be hip and popular, it is accepted and incorporated into the mainstream while other aspects which are not fashionable are discouraged or put down as strange and unacceptable.

Yoshino had larger issues to make about how this concept of covering influences civil rights legislation (behavior, not identity is regulated). It got me thinking though about how we all actively cover, really manage, what parts of ourselves we are willing to show to different people in different situations (Psych 101, right?).

But it connected with a quote I had read earlier today from an E.B. White essay, "The Second Tree from the Corner" (in a Ralph Keyes book about writing) where a man named Trexler goes to see a psychiatrist because his fears and anxieties are crippling him. The session has mixed success but Trexler feels a bit more free afterwards because he is "unembarrassed at being afraid; and in the jungle of his fear he glimpsed (as he had so often glimpsed them before) the flashy tail feathers of the bird courage." Keyes goes on to say that White was a beloved writer because he was "so willing to sail boldly into the squall of his own fears, commenting on the trip as he went" (1995:5).

Fear is so visceral. You break out into a sweat, you hyperventilate, your eyes dialate, your heart rate shoots through the roof, your muscles tense up, and your stomach does cartwheels. It pulses through your body. Meanwhile, your mind is actively scanning the physical, psychological, and verbal horizons for that one reliable source of relief: an escape!

The idea of not only being unembarrassed by our fears--not "covering" them--but to "sail boldly" into the midst of them, requires a courage that eludes me at the present moment. But it does inspire me to try to take a different approach to writing anxiety than the one that is my typical reflex--busying myself with something completely unimportant in comparison (cleaning, writing letters, playing Sudoku, um, writing in a blog). Something to muse about over the weekend...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Please, more snow!

We got a tremendous rain storm yesterday that washed away the little snow that was still on the ground from the last snowfall. We are really snow-deprived right now. We got a good blast in December but so far January has been a bust.

The landscape is so dreary without it...bare trees, brown lawns. Having that white coating reflecting the light seems to brighten up an otherwise blah month. Januaries have been a cruel time for me in the past and a good snowstorm would really pick up my spirits.

Luckily, I have a warm den to retreat to during the storm itself until quiet comes and I can go out and shovel. Funny that a lifelong Californian who didn't see snow until she moved East would like to shovel snow but I do. Unlike paperwork or routine chores around the house, it is a useful task that once you're done with, you're done with! Unlike some of the houses surrounding us, we are blessed with a short, nonsloping driveway, so it only takes an hour or so to clear the sidewalks and driveway and start warming up the car.

After years of old clunkers, I'm fortunate now to have a car that is only 9 years old with decent tires so I no longer fear driving in the aftermath of the storm...I use to slide around on the road and there is nothing to get your heart pumping like doing a 90 or 180 degree spin. I remember one day going down a gently sloping street with my full brakes on and just sliding, sliding, sliding down the street. The best I could do was steer into the curb. Remarkably, I was able to drive in reverse back up the hill because there was no way the car would have stopped moving when I got to the stop sign. I have little desire for money and the burdens it brings but it is a relief to have enough to buy a dependable car.

So, please, weather gods, cooperate...ignore the global warming that has brought us temps in the 40s and 50s and send us a good, old January snowfall. It would be a great birthday present.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Enmeshed in Significance

Clifford Geertz, paraphrasing Max Weber, famously wrote that a human being "is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun". Thinking about my writing problems, I'm wondering if I have spun webs where everything is of equal significance and I can no longer distinguish north from south or inside from outside. My writing project should be a forest I manage but it has become acres and acres of trees I need to tend to and prune. I take care of one and there are still miles before me.

Even though my interest has never flagged, it often seems overwhelming. I can become riveted by the smallest of details that seems, for that moment, to have been imbued with significance. Distracted by a million tangents that have become crucially important for that moment, every aspect becomes invested with significance that is usually completely out of proportion to its ultimate importance.

This trait annoys me in my theologian friends because it seems like they project their own religious views into objects or moments or persons that rob that entity of its own identity and ability to define itself. Human beings are symbol-making creatures but that should be something that enhances these entities/events and doesn't impose a meaning upon them.

The ethics of nonfiction writing. The whole process is one of interpretation, of making distinctions, analyzing consequences, passing judgments. At times I think a touch of arrogance would help me handle this responsibility better, to care less about properly representing the perspectives of my subject(s) and care more about accomplishing the goal at hand.

Then I realize that it is actually humility that I probably need, to realize that I never need claim to be the definitive voice but just one offering some truth and insight as I see it. That doesn't help entangle me from these webs but perhaps I'll be more patient with myself during the process.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Buffy is an old cat who lives in my house. She's tanish-orange, 19 years old, and normally unaffectionate. She has a howl that would raise the dead. Her fur is matted in places and she no longer cleans herself. She spends most of her time sleeping on one of our heaters to warm herself. But, as Willow said in a BtVS episode, she just won't die! She's got a tenacious spirit that holds on despite every indication that she should be on her last legs. She goes days without eating and then bounces back to her normal, howling self.

In some ways she reminds me of my grandmother (grandfather's second wife), a tough, tough lady who was born in 1900 and lived through the joys and pains of a century. She didn't want to make a big deal of it when she turned 100 but her relatives wanted a big party so they threw her one, everyone trekked out to the small town she lives in and she made her obligatory appearance at the party, saying thanks, accepting good wishes, and eating a piece of cake. And then two days after, after all of the guests had left her little desert town, she passed away. She hadn't been sick but she was clearly done with this world and she had the willpower to continue living because she didn't want to disappoint her family. But after she fulfilled her obligation and everyone had been able to gather and celebrate together, she said, "Okay, now I'm out of here!"

I wish I had a bit more of this survivor mentality, not enough to make me as tough as these two are/were, but enough to weather the unfairness and injustices of life without getting so bruised. Maybe I should reconsider one of my grandmother's favorite expressions that she use to say in the last couple of decades of her life: "I never thought I'd be content with so little". I use to think that this was a sign of having overly low expectations but now I think maybe it reflects an attitude of gratitude for what you do have instead of being preoccupied with what you think you are entitled to.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Has it ever happened that you've been listening to or singing along with a song that you are familiar with (and in my case, don't even like that much!) and all of a sudden you hear something you never heard before?

That happened last night to me with a song by John Lamberton Bell...there is a line in one of his songs that goes "Will you risk the hostile stares/Should your life attract or scare" and it just hit a nerve. I have such ambivalent feelings about one sense there is the craving for the new and unexperienced but there is an equally strong fear about unexpected outcomes, rejection, and possible disappointment. Some might chalk it all up to confidence but it is easy to be confident in activities that we routinely do. That is why repetition can at times be so comforting.

But this line highlights the risk of being in the spotlight which, to me, sometimes feels like being under a microscope. The hazards of being an introvert in a creative field. Unless your only audience is the mirror, you need to put yourself and your work out there and once you release it to the world, it is out of your hands. I think it takes a detachment that I have yet to acquire.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A new year...thank god

In lieu of a new presidential inaugural (damn it), I'm inaugurating this website. I hope it won't be your typical self-indulgent "life is hell" blog but sometimes, sigh, ya just gotta vent.

Right now, I'm a struggling writer (is there any other kind?) and ever since I've been blocked, I've been reading about the nature of writing, composition, and other creative endeavors whether they are in art, science, philosophy, or design. It all seems so mysterious, cryptic, unpredictable and a matter of luck. Yet, I know that breakthroughs only come through a LOT of trial and error and I guess I'm frustrated with this part of the process. It is not that I want things to come easily but it is difficult when you don't see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I can see how frustrations with creativity can lead to addiction problems (drinking, smoking, reckless behavior, etc.) as the whole process seems fraught with anxiety. Hence, the insomnia. Luckily, I've been able to limit my vices to online surfing and Sudoku having wasted a portion of my younger years in more risky pursuits. When you realize how short life really is, it sure wakes you up and helps you get your life together. Or, hopefully, it does.

Time to log off and return to the frustrations at hand. Cheers!