(But our beginnings never know our ends!)
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Late Spring To-Do List
Monday, March 27, 2006
You just haven't earned it yet, baby
Okay, I'm breaking my Blogger fast to make this observation:
I've been listening to The Smiths tonight for the first time in a very long while (I used to love the Smiths), when the song that gives this post its title came on.
I'd think that my CD player was trying to tell me something about my career--or, really, about any one of a number of other things--but given that my other options include, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," "Panic," "These Things Take Time," "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish," "I Know It's Over," and "Nowhere Fast," I'm probably playing with a stacked deck.
You just haven't earned it yet, baby
You just haven't earned it, son
You just haven't earned it yet, baby
You must suffer and cry for a longer time
You just haven't earned it yet, Baby
And I'm telling you now ...
I'll tell you why
I'll tell you why
Blogging will be light or nonexistant for the next several days as I prepare for my campus visit later this week: Decent Regional U wants me to do both a teaching demonstration and a job talk (and all the usual individual and committee interviews), and so far I've done next to nothing on either.
I'm nervous about both, in the way that I'm nervous before I put together any performance (whether it's a conference paper or a class discussion), but I know that once I have a plan sketched out this anxiety will lift. And I have to say that if I can pull off my teaching demo, it's going to totally rock. I'm not teaching a full class, but rather am charged with taking half or two-thirds of the period to introduce the students to something a) relevant to my research interests, and b) relevant to their class (but which need not have anything to do with what they're reading for the day).
The class in question is the course that people in my field teach year after year, and that I'm teaching myself right now at Big Urban. As some of you know, however, my scholarship involves neither this author nor this genre, so when I received my instructions, I had a moment of panic. The work they're currently reading does touch on some political issues that interest me, but it does so mostly in difficult, obscure passages that aren't likely to set a room of undergraduates on fire, if you know what I'm saying.
Instead, I've come up with a very interactive, very show-and-tell-y presentation that I think--hope!--will be engaging and accessible while adding some new and important dimensions to the work they've done so far. The only problem? I've been madly flagging pages to photocopy and downloading images from the internet, and I fear I'm going to wind up with a thousand and one handouts.
Actually, there's another problem: as cool as I think this project is, I'm embarrassed that I haven't covered this same material (except very briefly) with my own students. I guess this just goes to show how cool a teacher I could be, if only I always had this much lead time and this much at stake.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Some time this past week George Washington Boyfriend and I hit our five-year anniversary. As much of a historian of my own life as I am, I don't know the exact date. I think it's safe to say that neither one of us expected, at the time, that we'd still be dating even one year later, so we didn't get into the habit of noticing and celebrating anniversaries--the three-month! the six-month!--with the frightening regularity that my undergraduates bring to the enterprise.
In lieu of a narrative account, I present for your enjoyment some relationship trivia:
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Because someone STILL hasn't bought any vermouth
I'm sitting here on Friday night drinking straight gin. Following Sfragett (and Winston Churchill)'s excellent advice, I decided that a damn martini didn't really need any damn vermouth, so long as the whole damn thing was ice-cold.
(It does have olives, though, because I'm the kind of girl whose refrigerator is never without a jar of cocktail olives--and a bunch of other things.)
Any bets on how many sets of reading responses I'll get through before calling it quits?
Friday, March 24, 2006
In praise of Planned Parenthood
Those of you who haven't seen Bitch Ph.D.'s post on the awesome proposal of Cecilia Fire Thunder, the President of the Oglala Sioux, to build a Planned Parenthood clinic on tribal land in South Dakota, beyond the jurisdiction of the state and its new anti-abortion laws, should check it out immediately. If reproductive rights are something that you care about, please consider making a donation.
I myself went to Planned Parenthood for the first time today, as my prescription for the pill is about to run out and I'm between doctors. I'd continued to see my old gynecologist in Grad School City after moving here three years ago, but as of January I'm no longer enrolled as a student; moreover, since I'm going to be moving again this summer, it just didn't make sense to try to find a new doctor locally. A birth-control consultation at Planned Parenthood is good for a six-month prescription (after which a full exam would be necessary), and it runs $40--more than a doctor's visit under my insurance plan, but only slightly more than train fare to Grad School City and much less time-intensive.
The facility that I went to, named after a famous early feminist, was busy when I arrived at 3 p.m.; nearly every chair in the outer waiting room was full (friends and family members can remain there after their loved ones have gone through the "patients only" door into other, much quieter waiting rooms). About a third of the patients were white, a third African-American, and a third Hispanic, and I was struck by how young everyone seemed--virtually no one looked to be much older than I, and most were probably in their early twenties. There was a pair of women with sweatshirts from the prestiguous university uptown and a woman with a massive psychology textbook propped up on her knees. Most of the patients had carefully blank expressions and were occupying themselves by reading magazines or sending text messages, but some looked anxious. The one older woman I saw--probably in her mid-forties, with a no-nonsense haircut and sensible shoes--looked as if she'd been crying for days.
I've always had a reflexive respect for Planned Parenthood and I've always been pro-choice (even if I have some uneasiness about abortion itself), but it wasn't until seeing a clinic in action and looking at the population that it served that I realized how vital an institution it really is, and how much I've taken my own access to reproductive care for granted. You'd better believe that it's going to be high on my list of charities in the years to come.
Friday Poetry Blogging: Dorothy Parker
It's high time that I threw a female writer into the mix around these parts, and if Dorothy Parker's poetry is not All-Enduring Art, it's still criminally underrated.
Here, then, are three (I'm seemingly unable to read one Parker poem without reading all of them--they're best devoured in big gulps).
Song of One of the Girls
Here in my heart I am Helen;
I'm Aspasia and Hero, at least.
I'm Judith, and Jael, and Madame de Stael;
I'm Salome, moon of the East.
Here in my soul I am Sappho;
Lady Hamilton am I, as well.
In me Recamier vies with Kitty O'Shea,
With Dido, and Eve, and poor Nell.
I'm one of the glamorous ladies
At whose beckoning history shook.
But you are a man, and see only my pan,
So I stay at home with a book.
Faute de Mieux
Travel, trouble, music, art,
A kiss, a frock, a rhyme--
I never said they feed my heart,
But still they pass the time.
If I had a shiny gun,
I could have a world of fun
Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folk who give me pains;
Or had I some poison gas,
I could make the moments pass
Bumping off a number of
People whom I do not love.
But I have no lethal weapon--
Thus does Fate our pleasures step on!
So they still are quick and well
Who should be, by rights, in hell.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
You're kidding me, right?
Believe it or not, I have ANOTHER plagiarist.
Different class, better paper, but same M.O.: take a bunch of stuff from Cliff's Notes (a change! My students generally seem to prefer Sparknotes), swirl it around, and make a paper out of it. The reliance is too extensive and too unusual (the kid keeps describing one character with a couple of terms that s/he never defines, explains, or seems to understand & which it's highly unlikely s/he knew on her or his own) for me to write it off as merely relying improperly on an outside source and failing to acknowledge it.
However, since this one was dumb enough to lift one entire sentence in addition to numerous paraphrased ones, s/he's totally going down.
Enjoy your time with the disciplinary committee, kiddo.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
To those who fell along the way
I've been thinking lately about all the people who don't make it through grad school and into the profession, particularly those I've known personally. I'm not talking about people who are kicked out of their programs after their comps (which is awful, but which didn't happen in my program because entering class size is so small and our funding uniform), but all the other casualties, of whom there are so many.
George Washington Boyfriend and I were two years apart in grad school, and we were both in extremely uncohesive cohorts; the joke was that the admissions committee got it right every OTHER year, but on the in-between years, they inevitably fucked up. Fucked up, how? Well, entering classes usually number around 10. From GWB's year, he's one of exactly TWO people who both a) finished his Ph.D., and b) got a full-time teaching job. No one else is even still in the profession.
As for my cohort, 10 people began my program not quite seven years ago:
It's hard to explain this to someone who hasn't been through grad school, but of course most of my readership probably knows what I'm talking about; I myself was so depressed my second year of grad school that the only way I got through many days was by telling myself that I could drop out in May, after I'd gotten the M.A. I think, in fact, that part of what makes grad school so hard is that when you're unhappy doing what you love, you look at yourself and think, "what else is there? if I'm not good at this one thing that really matters to me, what am I good at?"
I'm sure that many of the people who left are now happy doing whatever they're doing; I hear about some of them through various chanels, and they're at least in no worse shape than anyone else who's still trying to find his or her calling. And of course, with the job market what it is, it's probably just as well (for them and for the rest of us) that they're pursuing other paths. But I just keep thinking about that last conversation I had with my one friend before he left, or the last time I saw another friend before she did, and how empty they both looked. Neither one had any plans; neither had any idea what he or she was going to do; and both spoke and acted as if they were failures and embarrassments to the rest of us. (Embarrassments, maybe, because they reminded us of how close to the same failure we all were.)
And what of those who actually finish the degree? One of the people from GWB's cohort--widely acknowledged to be brilliant, with teaching awards, good one-year appointments, and all the rest--finally left the profession after striking out on the job market three years running; her last year on the market she had exactly ONE interview at the MLA.
Not every cohort is like this. In the class between mine and GWB's, no one took time off and 10 out of the 11 are done and in full-time jobs--most of them at extremely good institutions. It's easy to focus on those students and to say, well, most candidates make it through. But what is this "most"? We're looking at maybe 60% of my program's entering graduate students staying in the profession, and this at a place where the funding is good (relatively speaking), the teaching load light, and the name on the degree has long-term value.
That's really not good.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Just wanted to say that you guys all rock, and that I'm feeling much better today; your comments have been really helpful--if in part because now I know that I'm not the only one with an inappropriate advisor.
[Sticking fingers in ears: "La la la la la, I can't hear you...!"]
Monday, March 20, 2006
All kinds of anxious
Apologies for the light and erratic posting of late. GWB was in town this weekend; I've got a fresh stack of papers to grade; I'm a little anxious about this campus interview; and I've been obsessing over something that my advisor said when I met with her last week.
I don't want to go into details, but suffice it to say that it has nothing to do with my scholarship (she was in fact extremely helpful and encouraging in that area), but rather with a matter of self-presentation. It's something that I'm sure she's right about, but that I can't exactly fix, or at least not in the near future. As an analogy: let's say that your advisor told you that you were overweight, and that you'd really look better if you weren't--and how hard could it be to lose some of those pounds?
In such a case, the comment might have been well-intentioned (at least deep down there somewhere), but it's a) not really the advice-giver's business, b) probably something that the advice-receiver already knows or fears, but that is c) quite likely out of her immediate control, whether for medical, personal, psychological, or a variety of other reasons.
But although I can't fix this problem, I also, now, can't stop thinking about it.
I wish I never had to leave my apartment again.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Casting out the phone interview demon
Forgot to say that my phone interview earlier this week went very well. I was, I think, genuinely more at ease on the phone than I had been in my first phone interview, but it's also the case that the committee in question was much better at the process than the earlier one.
And that was really what I cared about most: having a comfortable interview, so that I wouldn't be paralyzed with anxiety if and when I had to set up any phone interviews next year. But~~they want me to come to campus!
So, maybe my job search isn't yet completely dead in the water.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Now, I realize that not everyone out there in the blogosphere teaches four hour-and-twenty-minute classes in seven and a half hours, as I do, which is indeed something of an endurance test, but as this semester enters its second half I've become aware of the various exercises and preparations that I go through on my teaching days--and I'm curious whether anyone else has any of their own.
Before my first class:
I limber up with arm, neck, and back stretches (I teach all my classes standing). Depending on what I'm wearing, I may swing my arms around and make more extravagent movements, but I always roll my shoulders and neck and bend forward and back several times.Before every class:
I take off my shoes and stretch my toes and feet and roll my ankles. I also tend to do leg and back stretches during this time, and I often suck on a throat lozenge or two.I've never acted or played a sport, but I'm struck by the way that teaching a full courseload has got me thinking of my body and its care and capabilities as a performer would. Not just, "what persona do I need to project?", but, "what do I need to do to allow me to project that persona? And how can I keep all of my parts in good working order?"
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Things that enrage, vex, or otherwise irritate me (a partial listing)
1. This article from last week's New Yorker. I'm so infuriated that I can't do more than link to it.
2. The fact that when I borded my train this morning there was a large, bulky duffel bag sitting in the overhead rack with absolutely no one anywhere near it. When I snagged the conductor and asked her if she knew whom it belonged to, she gestured vaguely toward some passengers many rows away--who had in fact borded the train AFTER me--and said, oh, it probably belonged to one of them. And then she wandered off. Ooh, way to instill me with confidence in our rail security! (I got up and moved to the extreme end of the car.)
3. The loud and minimally talented female musician in the apartment below mine caterwauling at this very moment.
4. Blogger's refusal to load some lovely photos that I took yesterday of the sun streaming in through my windows.
5. The dangerous state of my liquor cabinet. I have nearly three liters of Bombay Sapphire, but I've suddenly run out of all of the following: dry vermouth, lime juice, and tonic. I'm also clean out of both scotch and vodka. I may be forced to concoct a drink out of some combination of these unappetizing elements: sweet vermouth, pear brandy, creme de menthe, Khalua, Cointreau.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Now this is unexpected
I spent most of the day in Grad School City, returning tonight to find a message on my machine from the department chair of Decent Regional U. They want me to do a phone interview.
Now, I did indeed apply to DRU, way back in the mists of time when I was still teaching in sleeveless tops and didn't know how to put my books on reserve at the library at Big Urban. But I haven't heard from them since I got my thanks-for-your-application letter back in October. I know, however, that they interviewed candidates at the MLA, and I even know that they recently brought candidates to campus. (I know these things almost entirely through the magic of the MLA wiki--no one I know actually had an interview with them.)
So. . . what's this all about? Are you telling me that ALL FOURTEEN (or twelve, or however many) of your MLA interviewees got jobs elsewhere--or sucked so violently--that you're now desperately combing through vitae and writing samples that are practically yellowed with age?
Regardless. I'm pleased to be contacted, although my crappy performance on that other phone interview doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.
Friday poetry blogging: John Hollander
Science and Human Behavior
(for B. F. Skinner)
Feeling that it is vaguely undignified
To win someone else's bet for him by choosing
The quiet girl in the corner, not refusing
But simply not preferring the other one;
Abashed by having it known that we decide
To save the icing on the chocolate bun
Until the last, that we prefer to ride
Next to the window always; more than afraid
Of knowing that They know what sends us screaming
Out of the movie; even shocked by the dreaming
Our friends do about us, we vainly hope
That certain predictions never can be made,
That the mind can never spin the Golden Rope
By which we feel bound, determined, and betrayed;
But rather, if such a thing exists at all,
Three nasty Thingummies should hold it, twisting
Strand onto endless strand, always resisting
Our own old impulse to pull the string and see
Just what would happen, or to feel the small
But tingling tug upon the line, to free
The captives so that we might watch them crawl
Back into deeper water again. It is well
To leave such matters in their power, trusting
To the blase discretion of disgusting
Things like the Two who spin and measure, and
The Third and surely The Most Horrible,
Whom we'd best forget, within whose bony hand
Lies crumpled the Secret she will never tell.
Which Secret concerns the nature of the string
That all Three tend, and whether it be the wire
Designed to receive the message or to fire
The tiny initial relay. In the end,
The question is whether merely Determining
Or really Knowing is what we most pretend
To honor because it seems most frightening
Or worship because we hold it most to blame.
I once saw Dr. Johnson in a vision:
His hat was on his hand, and a decision
Of import on his lips. "Our will," he said,
"Is free, and there's an end on't." All the same,
Atropos and her sisters, overhead,
Grinned at this invocation of their name.
Best academic game EVER
(With apologies to Lucyrain, who's posted some fine ones of her own over the last few days.)
George Washington Boyfriend and I were on the phone earlier tonight when for some reason we started trying to cast the movie version of The Wizard of Oz using INRU English department senior faculty. At first we were just trying to identify the four main characters, but by the end we'd come up with Toto, the public Oz and the real Oz, Glenda, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the Munchkin Mayor. (We never quite got to the flying monkeys, but I'm working on them.)
GWB: So [faculty member] is TOTALLY Toto! He's small, he's yappy.Play amongst yourselves, and let me know how it goes.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
I'm so confused.
I've been working on my taxes since getting back home from Quaint Smallish City a few hours ago, and in that time I've gone from delighted ("this Turbo Tax thing is so easy! and I'm totally getting tons of money back!") to deeply worried.
Here's the deal: I need to file taxes in three states this year: Grad School State, Residency State, and Big Urban State. As if that weren't bad enough, there are these complicating factors:
But the state sections seem flat wrong to me: I OWE $153 in Grad School State (I've never owed money in this state--I usually get back about $100), and I'm only getting back $143 from Big Urban State.
But the biggest shocker is that. . . wait for it. . . I supposedly owe ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY-ODD DOLLARS to Residency State.
People, my income for 2005 was about what you'd expect for someone who was a grad student for half the year and a decently-compensated lecturer for the other half. Who owes twelve hundred dollars in taxes, other than freelancers and the self-employed? Moreover, who owes that kind of money to a single state when she doesn't owe it to the others--and when she is in fact getting several hundred dollars BACK from the Feds?
I'm really not sure what to do. I'm convinced that this is wrong, but I've had so little success in the past in finding the right forms and instructions to prove this that it doesn't seem likely I'll be able to do it this time--and I don't exactly have a thousand dollars to send to the state capital until they figure it out for me.
Anyone have a CPA friend they want to loan out for a day?
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Typo of the week
Grading midterms (and bear in mind that these are in-class midterms, so we can't blame spellcheck), I just came across a reference to that famous Shakespearian character, Skylark.
You know: the one who demanded that pound of flesh? Yeah, him.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
[This one's probably primarily for the medievalists in the house.]
So, there are two manuscripts in the U.K. that I really need to spend more time with, one at the BL and one at Oxford. I was initially hoping to get over there this summer, but what with one thing and another (not getting a tenure-track job; currently holding a position that pays out over 10 months rather than 12), I'm not sure that I'll be able to do so. Whether I go or whether I don't, though, I'd like to have these documents reproduced since I'm not confident of my ability to transcribe everything perfectly on the first go--and since God knows when I'll have the kind of institutional support that would allow me to party with these particular manuscripts on a yearly basis.
I'm thinking, then, about putting in a couple of microfilm requests. I suspect this would be easy at the BL, but perhaps harder at Oxford (the MS in question isn't at the Bodley, but in the dinky little library of one of the colleges). So my first question is, has anyone tangled with this at either the BL or at institutions that may not be as prepared to handle such requests? Are there secret procedures or passwords I ought to know? Would it be better if I went over and handled it in person? (I've worked with the Oxford MS in the past, but the obliging college librarian who helped me out has since moved on and I have no relationship with her replacement.)
My second question is: what on earth do I do with the microfilm once I get it? Can I purchase a reader (and would it be insanely expensive)? Can one bring one's own microfilm to a public or university library and use their readers? Or should I just go ahead and get a photo-positive made from the film, as one experienced textual editor suggested?
Any and all advice appreciated!
Friday, March 03, 2006
I'm one full day into my spring break, but even after a full night's sleep, a day of cleaning, and a lovely evening of cocktails with one of my oldest friends at Big Metropolitan Museum, I'm still not sure that this vacation is going to be long enough or profound enough to bring me back to life for the rest of the semester.
This was a terrible week, teaching-wise, and although I know that my students bear a large part of the responsibility (it WAS the week before spring break, after all, and I had a high rate of absenteeism), I can't help but worry that it's my fault and a sign of the utter deterioration of my pedagogy.
Exhibit A: on Tuesday, I was still finishing the reading for my class on Author #2 on the train into campus.I really love all of my classes, but this four-classes, two-new-preps thing is really wearing on me and I don't feel that I'm able to give my students everything they deserve. (Once in a while it occurs to me that it's really Big Urban that, by relying so heavily on lecturers and adjuncts, isn't giving them what they deserve--but even when I know that grading 110 papers in four weeks is insane and inhumane, it's hard not to beat myself up for the distractions and oversights that such a heavy load occasionally produces.)
I feel as though I'm half-assing everything, and the parts that I think I'm actually doing pretty well--the grading and commenting on papers, for example--are the ones that I'm getting shit for. Yesterday one of my more talented students asked me, in front of the entire class, whether it was, in fact, possible to get a good grade in my class. I gave her a very polite and encouraging response, but what I wanted to say was: "I gave your paper a B because you're smart and you're a good writer, but your ideas were based on a completely tendentious and superficial reading of the text. I gave your best friend a C+ because she can't write, she didn't seem to understand the work in question, and her paper had no thesis. In both cases, I gave you better grades than you deserved. You wanna try to convince me otherwise?"
I also got a rejection letter today from Small College, the school with which I had my lone on-campus interview. This isn't crushing, but it is disappointing. I liked the school, the faculty, and the students, and I could have seen being happy there, at least for the next several years; it's also relatively close to Atypical College, where George Washington Boyfriend teaches.
On the other hand, I'm reasonably happy at Big Urban, and (assuming that I get reappointed), I'll probably be able to get much more scholarship done there than I would in my first year at SC. When I look at myself realistically, I know that I'm a strong candidate and likely to get a good job eventually--I have a number of significant articles either in print or forthcoming; I've got both a solid book manuscript and an edition in progress; I'm working up a good stable of courses in my field; I have a degree from a top school--but it's still disheartening to feel that all I'm doing is treading water, and it's hard not to second-guess oneself and wonder whether one IS, after all, such a worthwhile candidate. Maybe this is as good as it gets for me.
I also know that it's probably just as well that GWB and I aren't going to be in the same place: he's going up for tenure next year and plans to go on the job market, so the fact that I won't be starting a new job gives him the freedom to look further afield; it also raises the possibility of our doing a joint search.
I know all of these things, as I say, and I even believe them--but sometimes it's still hard not to feel demoralized.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Ash Wednesday II*
All this "whoo-hoo, Lent!" attitude notwithstanding, I'm glad that I'm not teaching today. Even if I could have gotten to a service with my current class schedule, I would be extremely reluctant to teach classes or even wander the halls wearing ashes. I did do it last year, when I was teaching at INRU and the only service I could get to was the noon one at my old church, and it was fine--my students mostly politely pretended not to notice, the one exception being a very young Muslim woman who wore hijab: she seemed visibly excited, possibly at no longer being the only person in the room wearing her religion, as it were, on her head.
However, last spring I was teaching an intro-to-the-novel course. A course with pretty much zero religious content. These days? Well, I wind up talking about religion quite a lot in three of my four classes, and I think that the way I pull it off is by being rigorously fair: I'll explain the relevant side thoroughly, and the reasons behind some of its beliefs, but then I'll immediately explain its potential shortcoming and what people on the other side might say. I also speak as informally as I can, saying things like, "And what's [this character] trying not to do? He's trying not to piss off the Big G."
So, I think I strike a good balance between respectfulness and irreverence, and it seems to me extremely unlikely that my students have any real idea whether I'm a secularist or whether I have some particular religious identity. (My last name IS recognizably ethnic-Catholic, but so are the names of many of my students, and that doesn't say a thing about their actual religious beliefs.)
I like it that way. I think I'd lose a lot of credibility if I tipped my hand, at least in my lower-level classes. My more secular students, I know, are already overwhelmed by the religious content of the works we're reading in my survey, and I want them to understand me as a guide through what is genuinely foreign material. I don't want them to think that I have some secret agenda, or that I'm proselytizing when all I'm actually doing is outlining a belief system (one that does not, in fact, match up with my own, even if both are broadly "Christian").
I think that all of this makes sense, but whenever I think about the degree to which I exclude the autobiographic from my classroom persona, I get a little nervous. Is such a project doomed from the start--since we can't escape our own biases? Am I eliding information that my students actually have a right to know? And is this behavior in any way gender-specific?
Except for the last one (to which I answer a resounding, "yes!"), I'm really not sure. I'm big on the biographic and autobiographic, I love the personal and the particular, and I think they're crucial interpretive tools. On the other hand, when I'm teaching a survey course, most of what I'm providing is back-fill. My students need some basic historical, political, and religious information in order to ground their analysis of a given text. I do try hard to show that our understanding of history is not fixed, and that people of the same religious persuasion could have completely different philosophies, but at the same time, my students need to perceive me as an impartial and final authority, someone who's telling them FACTS. Someone who has no dog in any given fight.
I mean, when I was an undergraduate, did I want to know more about my professor's personal lives (at least in some cases)? Yes. Did my friends and I speculate wildly about some of them? Of course. But would it have improved my educational experience if I had known that Professor X was in the process of a messy divorce, or had five cats, or was a member of the John Birch Society? Uh, no. I'm not sure that I could have separated that out from the subject of the class or from their pedagogy; too much background noise.
I think that the same thing applies here, but I still wonder, sometimes, whether I'm operating in bad faith (pun not intended, but let's go with it).
*Doesn't this sound like the sequel to a particularly ill-conceived horror movie?
I just got back from mass, rather hungry (it's a fast day) and appropriately be-ashed. The ashes themselves I can take or leave--there's something rather ostentatious about wandering around with this mark on one's forehead, as if to say, "hey! I went to church! and what have YOU been doing, sinner?"--but I have to admit that I really dig on Lent.
Lent is, in fact, my favorite part of the liturgical year, and the part that most appealed to me when I started gradually gravitating back to the church a number of years ago. I suspect that this is because, growing up, the version of Christianity that I saw in my hometown and my high school was so smug and self-satisfied and suburban and Jesus-loves-you, full of bland music and back-lit paintings and group hugs. Lent, then, to me, represents the more serious and introspective side of the faith. It's a time in which to take stock of oneself and and think about the places where changes need to be made.
I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do over the next six weeks, although I'm thinking about trying to finally get through the Life of Teresa of Avila, which I began a long time ago and never finished. And I'll go to the usual services and avoid meat on Fridays and all that good stuff. But I also want to really create some space in which to think, and I'd like to come out the other side having figured out ways to be more involved in the causes and charities that I believe in. Giving money is all well and good, and I do give modest sums to a variety of organizations--but I want to start devoting some volunteer time as well.
(Oh, and if I needed any further proof that I've escaped those churches of my youth? Last Sunday, the priest who delivered the homily quoted from--and explicated--T.S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday." Word up, Fr. Dominic!)