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...