Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Almost four years ago, one of my dearest friends, a brother now, really, asked me if I’d be willing to officiate his wedding service. I thought he was joking. A person just didn’t become a minister overnight. You needed credentials, training, religious and/or political authority.
As it turns out, you don’t need very much. You need Google, of course, and about ten dollars. After that, and with very little worry, you can perform marriages in a variety of states, cities, and municipalities within the U.S. Nifty, huh?
My friend footed the bill, and on 8.9.2010 (get it?) I officiated a wedding for the first time. Since then I’ve performed two other weddings. One here in Maryland for very dear friends, and now, most recently, in Cincinnati for Fox’s cousin.
Public speaking doesn’t make me nervous anymore. I suppose I’ve taught often enough that I’m good so long as I’m prepared. I think I’d be a bit shakier if I had to go all impromptu, but I usually enter into speaking engagements with at least some notes. For Fox’s cousin’s wedding, I knew that bride and groom wanted a relatively short ceremony, and I hope that is what I gave them. I chose a few key quotations, some lovely bits of J.R.R. Tolkien’s musings on matrimony (the bit about soul-mates is perfect), and, of course, my favorite – 1.Corinthians 13 - no greater passage about love exists in all of scripture, and perhaps not in all of literature, although some Shakespearean sonnets give Paul a run for his money.
They had the wedding in Cincinnati’s Bell Event Center – a cavernous and gorgeous place, full of, well, bells, and stained glass depicting apostles, scenes from the New Testament, and a variety of symbolic lambs. Yes, lambs.
The boys behaved themselves, and now I wait for the next wedding request. No more marriages on the till, but you never know when someone will need a reverend, minister, or Grand Poobah.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Lily, our dog, died this past weekend.
We arrived at my in-laws' house on Saturday morning, boys and baggage in tow. Lily has lived with Fox's parents for nearly two years. She has been in our world for eleven, almost as long as Fox and I have been walking Cupid's Grove. We entered the house through the garage, but when we met my mother-in-law at the door, we knew something was wrong. She was holding Lily, wrapped in a blanket, snuggled in her arms.
"Her foot is broken."
We asked how, why, what happened. You know, the usual questions, spoken too quickly because as much as you want the answer, you really don't. Mom-in-law and dad-in-law were taking Lily to the vet for an exam. After speaking with dad-in-law, we confirmed that he did not think it was a break. Lily is tiny - a chihuahua/dachshund blend - and it would be fairly easy to check her bones for obvious breaks. If it was broken, it was a hairline fracture. Her main symptom - she did not seem to be able to move her back legs.
That detail brought back a shadowy memory. In the early winter of 2000, I was just completing my first semester as a freshman at UMBC. My parents had come to Maryland to usher me back to NY for Christmas, and my sister was at home getting the house ready for this and that. We'd just crossed the bridges into NY when mom got a phone call. It was my sister, and there was something wrong with our collie, Sheena. She was lying on the floor, not moving, and crying softly. When we got home, we saw that Sheena could not move her back legs. Up we carried her, into the car, and right to the vet. Her diagnosis was grim. Sheena had had a stroke. Her legs were paralyzed. Worse, the damage was moving up her spine. She was gone in less than 24 hours.
Seeing Lily move like Sheena did - that half-step lurch, that stumble, that utter incomprehension that you, a human, are mute to explain. Memories flooded back, and it took great effort, and the distractions provided by the boys, to keep my mind afloat.
Lily went to the vet. The diagnosis did not, at first, seem as grim as Sheena's. It was not a stroke. She seemed to have something wrong with her spine, though, perhaps a bulging or cracked disc. The local vet said that she needed a trip to a neurological specialist. Mom-in-law and dad-in-law decided to do it immediately. Off they went to Leesburg. Fox and I were attached only by the tenuous line of cellular connectivity. We waited. The inlaws returned without Lily, because the tests would take all day, and perhaps last into the following morning. The first up (and the most important) was the MRI.
We got the call sometime after 8:00 PM on Saturday. Lily had degenerative disc disease. There had been only a 5% chance that that was her particular affliction. But it was the worst possible diagnosis. There is no cure for the disease, and all treatments are only minimally effective. As a family we had to decide Lily's life. I don't think I have ever agonized so much in so short a period of time.
What do we do? Do we bring her home and potentially increase her suffering? But what if she does recover? What if she doesn't? Couldn't she live in a box, a crate, or a cage? We could carry her everywhere. We would need to keep the boys away; they wouldn't understand. We love her. We aren't ready to lose her. She was supposed to live longer. She was a mutt. Don't mutts live longer? She was so feisty. She is all alone in that hospital. Can we make this decision?
Fox and I had made the decision before we went to bed. It is how we are. We don't sleep on much. We couldn't imagine Lily living in a box. She was a dog of life and verve, and anything we did to prolong her, we concluded would be for us and not for her. Unwilling to do that to her, we decided to - as they say - put her down. Rose took the phone call. She saw it as her responsibility. As always, when I grieve, I did not cry, but I think it would have been good to do so. It hurt so much. Flashes of Lily jumped in my eyes.
The day my eldest son was born, Lily was with me. We were snuggled warmly in bed. Fox woke up both us, and asked me to walk Lily. I did not understand at the time. It was very early in the morning, and Lily did not seem to understand either. She looked at me with bleary eyes. Then it dawned on me. Rose was in labor. Lily walked, quickly. And then we were off to the hospital.
Lily was with me so often. She was my friend, and I loved her. My baby girl. I can remember her smell, her warmth, the feeling of her heartbeat in my hand when I held her. I remember her growls, playful and grumpy. She was the Queen of her demesne. I miss her. I miss her more than I have ever missed anything. I have had several dogs in my life, but none were my Lily.
For love of the Queen...RIP.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
1. Lectures for the course are posted online.
2. Because my students are unlikely to sit and watch an hour long recorded lecture, lectures have also been carved up into mini-lectures (10-15 minutes; many are shorter).
3. Class time will be devoted instead to working back over the lecture material, and, most importantly in a class based on the reading and analysis of ancient texts, on the working through of those same texts.
4. Assessments will live both online (discussion boards/blogs/journals) and in class (quizzes).
I’ll post parts of my syllabus this weekend as I gear up toward getting this new, hybrid myth off the ground.
A good link: http://flipped-learning.com/
Monday, February 20, 2012
I recently (7.3.2012) edited this post, because I demanded the odd title 'efflagitasti' for something a bit more me. And what, my friends, is more me than purple?
Sunday, January 15, 2012
We spent a delightful Christmas here in Maryland. My parents, beloved abuela, and Fox's parents, brother, and we spent the weekend here in our little apartment, snacking on the cookies my mother lovingly prepared, and the dinner I hesitatingly offered. I cooked too much food. All agree, and so next year I must plan a different menu with more care to portions. Either that or invite more people. Part of me leans toward the latter, since I like food, and food in very great quantities seems a wonderful holiday tradition. Still, there is room for improvement and adjustment. After all, I didn't really need a ham the size of my Christmas turkey, did I?
Fox and I also attended the American Philological Association (APA) meeting in Philadelphia this year. The boys stayed with my parents in New York. A wonderful time was had by all. Fox and I dined at Alice's Tea Cup in Manhattan (Chapter II), and we spent far too much money on books in the APA's book room. The APA is good for many things. It prods, but for some reason not as effectively as the letter I received. There is something remarkably powerful about a personal letter. Perhaps it was always so, or perhaps it is a product of our instant, demanding society. I cannot say, but I loved receiving a letter. I have begun to compose my response, and I will send it out with Tuesday's mail. I, unlike my good friend, will type my letter. His handwriting stood the test of travel, but mine will not. It has devolved to the point where even I am hard-pressed to determine its meaning. My handwriting is a cipher, and I lack key cryptographic skills.
Kit is learning to crawl, and he has started to babble "da-da, da-da." This cheers my heart. He has also become a ravenous little creature, eating two or three times within the space of an hour. Only then will he settle for the night. Is it a growth spurt? Possibly. Whatever it is, it is impressive to watch. Where, I wonder, like a kid before a skilled magician, does he put it all?
Thorn is, well, two-and-a-half. "No" is his favorite type of expression. He even yells at his computerized devices. "Press the button," one device says. "I don't have to," Thorn exclaims! Such are the shapes of his moods. Still, he is my happy, little man. Full of verve and life, bouncing like his much beloved Tigger. His vocabulary increases daily, and the fears I had that he would not speak, or would not speak well, are allayed.
Fox, well, I'll let Fox write her own update. This was mine. Time to close up shop.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Me: Shall we pray?
Me: Say with me: God...
Thorn: Cookies! No way! Silly God.
Thorn giggles, ascribing humor to God. "Silly God!" he repeats, wondering why I'm laughing so hard, but eager to get extra applause. Later, as I munch a few grainy, gluten-free squares with my boy, I consider Thorn's clarity of vision. Even though the first cultural constructions have already begun to box him, his mind is still amazingly unfettered. He sees nothing odd about pouring tea on his soy yogurt, calling his Latino soccer player doll "mommy," or praying for his uncle's dog's knee. It has been particularly interesting to me to see his theological development. What is God to a child?
Papa: Where is God?
Thorn: In the picture.
Papa: No...where is God?
Thorn: Oh no! Missin'.
Thorn has always seen Jesus in pictures, and the similarity in how he is portrayed allows Thorn to point out "God" whenever there's an image in his picture Bible, framed on the wall, or in Sunday school. (Amusingly enough, the similarity is less in skin color and more in the white robe and red sash.) For Thorn, God has a definite shape. God is also a person, because Thorn talks to God, and expects to be heard. How, then, can God be there when Thorn prays, but missing when he looks for a visible presence? Then again, we're talking about a kid who thinks he's invisible if he covers his eyes...
What are your own experiences with young children and God?
Addendum from the breakfast table (Thorn calls himself "Tah"):
Me: God loves Tah.
Thorn: God loves Tah so much.
Me: Where is God?
Thorn: God follow Tah home in car.
Me: From church?
Thorn: Uh huh. God see mommy from back chair.
Monday, October 17, 2011
The boon is that I can now fit into fifteen minutes more than twenty-something me could have done in two hours. Heck, two days. I remember reading that Octavia Butler told aspiring writers to read when they were young, because they'd never have that much time again. Amen.
Fifteen minutes is all I need to accomplish most things. So what happens when both the toddler and the baby manage to sleep for two hours in the afternoon? First, of course, you don't know it will be two hours, and you go sneaking around, desperately cramming in all of the fifteen-minute things you can. I did tendonitis exercises. I put my legs on ice while finishing a book. Then, not believing my luck, I wrote one, then two, 1,000-page letters. I revised a short story, pausing to look at Kit's crib every few minutes. Mania increasing, I did the dishes. I read a poem my brother had written. I reviewed vocabulary, wondering how I'd construct THANK YOU GOD FOR TIME in ancient Greek. I sketched out ideas for a couple of characters. I read a commentary on the Biblical book of Numbers, and began reading a book on Mohammed.
By the time I got to the readings, the mania was becoming bewilderment. When would they wake? What could I do next? What would happen if, heaven forbid, I ran out of tasks? I was walking in an unexpected garden, but instead of admiring the plantlife, I had begun to worry about bees. Or if I'd lost my keys. Or where I'd parked my car. So I stopped. I sat down. I freaked out at the stillness, and then looked outside.
Trees. They're always there outside the window, but I don't look out, unless I'm giving Thorn some lesson on the weather, the seasons, or the rampant deer. I believe everyone ought to know their neighborhood trees as a courtesy, because they'll still be there, most of them, when we've gone. I made a pact with myself to identify the trees closest to the window. When the boys awoke in tandem, screaming, I bundled them out the door and into the grass.
The trees were wild apples. I confess this knowledge pleased me more than any other accomplishment today.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
According to one reckoning the total number of lovers had by the Greek god, Zeus.
It also happens to be the number of library books that I brought back to the University this afternoon. I returned all the books that were not pertinent to the classes that I currently teach or to my dissertation project. Books accumulate in my presence, increasing like amorous leporids. I had books borrowed on account of old papers and old exams. Books written by speakers who visited the University several years ago, and who gave memorable talks. Books taken at a whim, for the pleasure of my reading them. Books, books, books. They filled a whole case in our living room, had grown like literary mushrooms upon the office floor, and were threatening to overtake my closet. Over the weekend, Fox and I decided that it was time to return these wayward volumes to their proper shelves. Library books, it could be argued, belong in a library, and I had kept far too many on my private shelves for far too long. Returning the books was not easy to do, as there were several that I'd barely cracked open. For some reason I had great cognitive difficulty with the idea of the library. My shelf or the University's the books would be there. When at last, and with much coaching from Fox, I broke the barriers, it was a simple matter to pile the texts into bags, drive the bags to the University, and deposit them in the large book receptacle. I did make a list of all the books that I returned, so that should I need reading material in the future, I'll know where to turn.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Write. Take up the pencil and pad, or pen and parchment, or keyboard and screen, or lipstick and napkin. Make marks. Make a scribble, make a scrawl, make a right-slanted ladder with your southpaw. Don’t bother with calligraphy—that’s stalling. Turn the marks into your letters. Turn the letters into your words. Be an alchemist. See the paragraphs? Or avoid the paragraphs, but don’t avoid the kōan of grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling. Don’t expect tomatoes without a trellis. And your tomatoes—your perky little red characters, scurrying around on your page, or your screen, or your napkin—make them your people, but also everyone’s people. Don’t leave your people eating the same soup and the same bread. Don’t give them the same trees, or the same bends in their moonlit paths. Don’t expect their adjectives to line up like ducks, waddling into padded cells. Forgive their individual preferences, and catalogue them. Make them suffer, make them die. Give them redemption. Suffer the purgatory of authorship. Cover the page: a blank place is an abomination, the writer’s hell. Follow Dante to your muse, but don’t expect bliss—this isn’t your Beatrice. Expect criticism. Better yet, welcome criticism. Encourage criticism. Practice ways of agreeing with criticism. Become the yogi of the critical. Get zen with your critics. Practice seeing the points of view from real people, and your imaginary people will become real.
Drop what you’re doing, but not the baby. Bounce the baby, if you must. Use its screams to enhance your frustration. Rock the frustration into the page. Lead your sentences with milk-sops. Give your wailing writing block an unwashed pacifier. Suckle your sweetest lines from the breast, before editors come with their five colors, their rice gruel, their cheap soy. Become sleepless, but don’t let your passage cry it out. Cradle your words: you can never give them enough attention. But don’t let the little mites walk over you—they’ll learn to do that, once they start walking. Behold your characters speaking on their own, doing their own blathering things, ruining your careful plots like self-important kittens in your yarn stash. Learn to twine red and green and find the compliment in it. Knit your characters socks for their oranges, their coal. Just don’t forget to fill them: an unfinished chapter is an empty Christmas indeed.
Watch how the lines begin to stretch thin, your hands and mind faltering. Continue shoveling fresh words onto your mound of slush, for surely an editor will leave you a few sentences, or a few words, untouched. Do not blame the editor, even though the public’s disdain of your writing is more her fault than yours. Go ahead and write what you feel, the blank page long forgotten—you’ve jumped from the ledge, and only a coward would waste time looking up or down or doing anything but experiencing the flight. Land eventually, and land on your feet. Let your editor decide if what you wrote will merit a trip to the hospital.
Friday, September 16, 2011
A long morning. An impossible morning, in fact, if it hadn't been for two things: Sparrow's adoring notes in the office and dining room, and work stations.
I've come to the conclusion that work stations are essential for any stay-at-home parent. Like we keep toys in every room so as to amuse the boys, I keep some small bit of work in every room so as to make good use of time and limited energy. There are books in the bathroom, by the lamp in the living room, at my desk, and behind my pillow on the bed. My Christmas sock knitting project is on the coffee table. An ancient Greek textbook is currently at my desk, but it is usually at the dining room table by the omnipresent cup of tea. There are portable Greek flashcards to carry around with me. There's a handwritten journal near my daylight lamp. My story idea book follows me, but usually ends up in the office. And of course, the newly-minted sketchbook for character and map ideas. If I had all of these things at my desk, I'd never get any of them done. As it is, I can squeeze in an artistic-intellectual life around my toddler and baby. And that is the first step toward sanity, my friends.
Now to go and meditate until I feel normal again. And then to work on a problematic third chapter. I've playful thoughts in my mind that haven't had a chance to find paper. With mommy brain, it's quite possible they'll fly away before I capture them.
...or Kit could wake up. Arrrgh.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
"Mommy go boom. Kit go boom. E help mommy up. Pha hold Ta." When asked what Daddy did, Thorn answered "Daddy working." Which, while not accurate, was cute.
And so our Thorn's bardic training has begun. He can begin his memoirs with this tale. His first story.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
This has been a week of meetings, workshops, and orientations. Also a week of earthquakes, thunderstorms, and (soon) hurricanes, but I am less inclined than most to make much of meteorological phenomena. UMBC begins on the 31st of this month, but faculty and staff are already dashing about. Administrative work waits for no one. Today's workshop, Engaging the Millennial Learner, was exceptional, both in the clarity of the presented data, the charm of the presentation, and the energy among the very engaged participants.
As you can guess from the title, engagement was a central point of today's work. We, as faculty, desire to see our students more engaged with the material, and, even more importantly, with the work of learning as a whole. The enterprise of education and the life of the mind are what we find ourselves concerned with as we draft syllabi and establish assignments.
The structure of today's workshop was twofold. First, the presenter defined the millennial, and I was surprised to find myself among them. Anyone born between 1982 (the year of my birth) and 2002 can be termed millennial. This is to differentiate the individual from Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and earlier generations. Much of what we discussed began from the premise, backed up by research in both neuroscience and psychology, that individuals born in this period have had their minds shaped more by recent technological innovations than previous generations. What then to do to approach such tech-savvy students? Lots.
In an effort to get my posting up, and to have a reason to post daily, I will explore this workshop in great detail over the next few days. I hope you will join me.