Break?

For those following along at home, this (upcoming) week is spring break at King’s, which means the students are all off merrily relaxing/writing papers for the professors who are evil enough to assign them over this break. In my world, this means scrambling to finish a project that was delayed beyond my control and then heading off to Whidbey Island early Thursday morning for my second of five ten-day MFA residencies. In the sea of what has turned out to be a fantastically rewarding but also wildly stress-filled semester, ten days of school where I am the student sounds like a welcome relief (even if I fear I’ll end up grading on my free day): hanging out on a lovely, damp, green island discussing Shakespeare and craft and each others’ work with some of the finest folks on the planet? Yes, please.

Somewhat relatedly, I recommend to you this piece from the NY Times Magazine‘s blog: How to Write a ‘Lives’ Essay. It’s about how to write for their section entitled “Lives” (clearly), but every bit of it is apt advice for writers. (Most of it sounded like they’d eavesdropped on my College Writing 1 class. I know, I know: I’m so original.)

A sampling:

• Don’t try to fit your whole life into one “Lives.”

• Don’t try to tell the whole story.

• Do not end with the phrase “I realized that … ”

Oh, and the students at the school newspaper interviewed me, which is sort of fun. You can read the piece here.

On the road again

After a blissful ten days of no travel, I’m packing up again, and I’ll be at two conferences in the next two weeks: in Grand Rapids at the Festival of Faith and Music at Calvin this week, and then just down the road at Princeton for the Kuyper Center’s Calvinism and Culture conference next week. So if you see me, please say hello!

Epiphany

First things first: I was featured on the back page of the December issue of Christianity Today, and the interview went online yesterday. The digital edition has a couple of factual inaccuracies (notably, I am not the editor of Comment), but I’m still very humbled that CT even asked me to participate and grateful for their kind support.

So, as you might know, we had a bit of a snowpocalypse here in New York, beginning Sunday. My family almost never treks to NYC to visit, but as luck would have it, not only were my mother and brother in town, but my paternal grandmother and aunt had taken the train down from Boston to spend the night. They got here right as the snow started falling, and so we had a grand time traipsing around in a Little House on the Prairie– style blizzard on Sunday, eating at our favorite restaurant, book-buying at Greenlight, bracing against some crazy winds, and eating Tom’s chili.

Yesterday we’d originally planned to do some touristy sightseeing, as my grandmother had never been to New York before, but with the winds and the snow we thought we’d better stay inside. So we headed for the Met, which, thankfully, was open, and wandered around a bit. Several of the wings were shut off (unfortunately that included the contemporary art wing), but several among our party had never been inside the Met before. (My brother walked into the room with the Temple of Dendur and said, “Gee, some day a really confused archaeologist is going to dig this up.”)

They all got off safe between last night and this morning, and after lunch with an old friend from college whom I haven’t seen in years, I’m in my office, madly meeting deadlines, voting on end-of-the-year lists for CT and Paste, and returning emails before the rest of the week happens: celebrating the New Year with friends (notably, Rob, who is coming all the way from Hamilton-by-way-of-Ottawa for the occasion, provided the good weather holds), traipsing to the Cloisters (which ought to be gorgeous in the snow), practicing music, drinking whiskey, playing poker, hopefully seeing both True Grit and The King’s Speech; basically, wishing 2010 a fond farewell and greeting 2011 with open arms.

(Marilyn Chandler McEntyre exhorts us to “love the long sentence” – I think she’d be proud of that last paragraph.)

Love and admiration and Mark Zuckerberg

It was, apparently, the year of Mark Zuckerberg, between Sorkin/Fincher andTime and the Newark public schools donation and such. Oh yeah, and that website.

I’m supposed to hate Zuckerberg, I think, because of all of this. But I don’t. The whole way through The Social Network (which I reviewed), I thought I was probably supposed to hate him. But I couldn’t, and not just because it was actually Jesse Eisenberg, who I kind of adore.

On the contrary: I kind of get him, or at least the Hollywood/media version of him. We’re about the same age, we studied similar things in college (peering over “his” shoulder in the movie, I could read the code as if it were just plain old prose), we were in college at the same time, and we both seem to have the inability or perhaps underdeveloped ability to read social cues, though I think, or hope, that I’m better at it than him.

But, uneasily, I identify with him a bit. Mark, or his movie version and probably at least a good portion of his real version, really is just driven toward success by his desire to belong to something, to be accepted by someone, to be on the inside.

Oh, how I recognize that desire. I know its contours intimately. I’m neither old nor particularly wise, but when I peer uneasily backwards I can see how many of my choices have been determined by that same need. Some of those choices turned out to be good. Others probably should have been left alone. Sometimes it’s just been a hunt to be branded properly, accepted, fit into the slot that would let me be understood and known by the right people.

Earlier this year we published a piece by Vincent Bacote in Comment that I have returned to at least a half dozen times since. He starts out by talking about John Piper’s hiatus this year from the public eye, and its reasons:

One of the most interesting things he stated as he addressed his congregation was that in stepping completely away from ministry, he was not only refraining from preaching, blogging, Twittering, and writing, but also refusing to pridefully sip from “the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety.” I found this quite fascinating and illuminating, because it displayed an understanding of the perils involved in a life of public prominence. Of course, this poison cup is not only available to public figures; it is a great temptation for any of us when we find ourselves admired by others.

What is it about the pursuit of our ambition, our legitimate and godly desires for success in vocation, that can become poisonous when it meets that admiration and recognition of others? I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with the late Stan Grenz at a conference in Nashville nearly a decade ago. I told Stan about my desire for an increase in public speaking opportunities as part of my vocational goals, and the first words out of his mouth were, “It’s seductive.” I was a bit stunned by this, because I thought he would give me some tips about how to accomplish my goals, yet the first words were a warning. As someone who did a lot of traveling and speaking, Stan was keenly aware of the pitfalls that ride along with those who travel the road of success. Stan never explicitly named the siren song with the sweetly dangerous tune, but my guess would be that he and John Piper had the same thing in mind: pride that can take root unnoticed and grow into a ravenous beast.

I don’t know what really drives Mark Zuckerberg. I only know the public version of him, and frankly, he doesn’t say a whole lot (probably wisely). I do know what drives me, though. I know how I’ve struggled against God these last few years as he’s shown me that the people and world I am called to is different than the one I might hope for – that the Venn diagram overlap between “those from whom I most desire admiration” and “those among whom I am actually called to be” seems to be smaller than I might like. And that this work is actually a joy and a blessing to me, not pain.

It’s a humbling recognition, one I couldn’t see clearly for long and am only glimpsing through shadows now. In his goodness, God has placed a few people in my life who know me instinctively (better, at times, than I know myself) and love me anyhow, and help me recognize that his yoke is easy and his burden, indeed, is light, and that admiration is worth very little if there is not love.

And in the end

I say it quietly, lest some papers sneak up on me that I missed: it is finished! I graded the last paper (of about 540, total, this semester) just after lunch and have been quietly rejoicing since then. Sure, there will be much, much more next semester, but that’s a whole month away.

So that means the end of my first semester as a full-time college professor. And at the end of it, and even in the middle of it, when the hamster wheel kept turning faster and faster and faster, I couldn’t be more grateful.

I was considering this on one of my morning commutes this week. I’ve given up reading, most of the time, on my morning commute, because it’s a fabulous thinking- and people-watching-time. And I got to thinking about this time last year. I had just finished my first semester as an adjunct – teaching the same class I just taught – and was fighting a small amount of despair over the “knowledge” that I loved teaching but it’s impossible to get a job teaching full-time in the humanities these days, especially without a terminal degree. Because I’d just finished and submitted my M.A. thesis and couldn’t see my way forward, I assumed my education was probably finished. I loved my work and was happy in it, but I could see what I was best suited for and sad that it wouldn’t happen.

In the space of the next eight weeks, my life changed so much, through conversations that were supposed to be about one thing but turned out to be about something else, chance encounters, books I read, things I heard. And so: here I am, almost by accident, grateful, tired, and blessed.

—-

Also, hey: I’ve gone back to Tumblr to assemble the strange bits and pieces that come across my desktop.

O come, O come

I’ve been keeping very busy traveling back and forth from various places, mostly all over the states from here to Virginia and back, for family things: weddings, funerals, holidays, and the occasional fine craft beer tasting with cousins-in-law. And the semester, which ends next week. And writing and editing. You get the idea.

That said, through the wonders of modern technology we can now do such things without wildly disrupting our work, and so, I’ve been working busily. The latest bit – co-authored with my good friend and colleague, Rob – was published in the Globe & Mail yesterday: Not their parents’ conservatism.

What I’ve learned this semester about teaching, and writing, and myself, is manifold. For instance, I do have a breaking point, and my eyes are bigger than my proverbial stomach: I often, as Linford Detweiler put it, grab this life and wring its neck with joy, but sometimes it turns around and fights back. Also, I revert into my college-era unhealthy habits when I am stressed out, eating poorly or forgetting altogether, not exercising, sleeping a little here and there.

Also, Bach is very helpful for concentration.

Also, there’s a reason we were created for community.

Last week I accepted an offer (with support of my department) to teach a class at NYCAMS next semester as an adjunct, as my course load at King’s will be four sections of a class I’ve taught twice already and therefore (hopefully manageable). It’s a departure from teaching writing, which is mostly a workshop-based endeavor. The class is a history of Christianity and the visual arts, and I’m still sorting out what exactly I’ll teach but it will be something in the crossroads between philosophical theology and aesthetics, read against (mostly Western) art history. It is in fact what I dwell in and work with and think about, but it’s the first time I’ve put it together in a formal way. I’m nerdily excited. But wow, the spring semester is coming fast, isn’t it?

That all said, Advent is here. The new church calendar started on Sunday. Though it wasn’t actually acknowledged where I was on Sunday, I still felt the newness of it, the anticipation. It’s no accident, I don’t think, that the darkness stretches wider and wider across the day until just about Christmas. So much to wait for. So much to yearn for, and anticipate. So much rejoicing to come.

On teaching poetry as a non-poet

Also, from a student today: “Well, poetry’s really like when you pour Coke into the glass, and fills in between the ice cubes. That’s the poetry.”

I’ve been taken aback by how much I’ve been soaking up poetry these last couple weeks as I prepared for class. I didn’t teach poetry in last year’s class – it is, after all, a nonfiction class – but, inspired by Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, I built two weeks’ worth into my syllabus and as it turned out, it hit right in the perfect time for both my students (who have been wearily slogging through midterms) and me. October was good, but not easy, and very wearying in body and soul and spirit in a way I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. In the past when I was weary, I shut down, but this month I’ve felt the exact opposite happening inside of me. I’m beginning to understand things I haven’t in a long time, if I ever did.

And so I’ve been inhaling poetry, more than anything else.

On Friday I went down to First Things to hear Christian Wiman – eminent poet and essayist and editor of Poetry magazine. He read some old work and new. I admit, shamefacedly, that I’m familiar with his name and reputation but not his actual poetry. It was a rather august crowd, including some King’s students (some mine!) and a colleague on the faculty as well as a number of other familiar faces – including, believe it or not, Mark Strand.

Wiman’s poetry is dark in a not hopeless way. There seemed to me to be a lot of spareness and trees in his work, probably something borne of his youth in far-west Texas. He found his way toward faith through poetry. His work seems like it’s a curtain between the eternal and me, fluttering and letting me see beyond it just a little, once in a while.

Later that night we were at the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe, where about half my students and some of their friends and roommates piled into a corner for their Friday night slam, which was (at times literally) hopping. The poet who won is an NYU student and a pastor’s kid, something I wasn’t expecting and something I was glad of, for their sakes.

After these few weeks of teaching, experiencing, and observing poetry, I’ve been gratified to have several students approach me and say they want to start writing and maybe even performing their own work. Nothing could delight me more.

But I don’t write poetry. Sometimes I think  I could, but I’m not sure you can force that sort of thing, and I’ve chosen my genre for the next few years. And yet. And yet.

Rare, Vaguely Existential Ramblings

Last night I popped over to the blog I kept when I first moved to the city to establish a date on something – I’m glad I blogged that year, there’s so much I’d forgotten – and it reminded me once again that I was quite a funny writer at one time. I’ve been digging through my archives and putting them on Dropbox and found my first attempt at NaNoWriMo, which I abandoned about five thousand words in, but it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. And I thought: Huh, maybe I’m more creative deep down than I really think I am. Which bodes well for my next stage of graduate study.

But before I can get back to creative writing, I need to finish my Harvey Fellows application. My chances are very slim – I’m not being modest, they are slim for a few different reasons – but I have amazing, wonderful recommenders and at least a shot and it would cover tuition entirely, so it’s worth the angst. It’s due November 1, so I’m hoping to get it submitted by mid-week. Then I can go back to noodling around with essays and conference paper abstracts and the like.

By way of quotidianity: It’s been in the seventies here the last few days, which is thoroughly confusing. I do like warm weather. But I also relish the scarves and sweaters, and whenever the warmth extends too deeply into fall, I get nervous that I won’t get enough winter to satisfy my need. I’m such a northerner. I need seasons to feel settled. And I do want snow – preferably by the New Year, because it’s just so happy-making to have white stuff on the ground when the year ticks over.

And on the subject of years: Every year ends and I say, wow, that was quite a year, but this year really was on so many levels. I am much older at the end of it than I was at the beginning. For instance – and this is simply one instance of many, but you’ll have to buy me a coffee or a glass of wine if you want more – at the turn of the last year I had just finished and submitted my thesis and had no real intention of pursuing further graduate study or seriously pursuing a job in academia. Then I got offered one out of the blue. And then I was convinced by a couple of conversations and some gentle Almighty-nudgings that no, this is for me, and I need to go for it. And now here I am: applied and accepted in a program I’d only sighed wistfully over before, and working full-time with a proper office and students who call me professor. It’s freaky. And fabulous.

That leaves me wondering what on earth can be in the cards for 2011. People sometimes write me emails to ask how I have gotten into the jobs and opportunities I have, and at this point all I know to say is that the only thing I do is make myself extremely available to – well, to whatever – and I work really hard at whatever I’m doing at the moment.

From what I can tell, from my fairly naive and inexperienced vantage point, it seems the line between success and failure is just showing up and doing whatever you’re given to do.  And doing it well. And on time. And with a smile and a sense of wonder.

It helps to have some good traveling partners along the way, though. In that, I am blessed.

Getting in

The last couple weeks have been very roller-coaster-y: some excellent time in Hamilton and in the Cardus office for a bunch of work on Comment, then returning home to stacks of work and some very late nights.

Good things, though —

  • I got an incredibly exciting call when I was sitting late in my office trying to meet a deadline: I got into Seattle Pacific University MFA in creative nonfiction! I’ve deferred my acceptance to the fall term, which means I’ll start at the Glen West in August. I did a lot of research and soul-searching before deciding to apply to SPU because, frankly, it’s the best program out there: selective, rooted, low-residency but also very rigorous. And I’m so glad I got in.
  • Yesterday, my spring course load was rearranged, and now I have my ideal schedule, giving me freedom to schedule conference and Comment-related travel into my week when needed.
  • And I’ve caught wind of some exciting teaching opportunities in 2011.

Leaving shortly for my sister-in-law’s wedding in the Richmond, VA area. Relishing the idea of Monday, which starts my first full week in the office in a month.

Shiver

It is cold, grey, rainy, and wet in New York, and because this is New York and not England, it feels as if it’s been this way forever, even though it’s only been a week, or maybe less. So we bundle up and drink coffee and other warming things and pray for autumn sunshine.

I just noticed that my piece on “little magazines” for the Center for Public Justice was broadcast on Dordt College’s radio station (and I recorded it myself, so if you’re itching to hear what I sound like, now’s your chance). You can read it here or click next to it on this page to listen – though you’ll need Windows Media Player (grumble).

Also, have you read Lorrie Moore’s piece on the (objectively) best television show ever to hit the small screen, The Wire? (I haven’t, but it’s coming home with me tonight.)

Ask an academic about procrastination.

After class on Thursday I catch a plane in Newark bound for Toronto for almost a week of work on Comment mixed with visits with friends and many late nights of good conversation – balm for this weary soul.

And now it’s time for this academic to stop procrastinating and get back to work.

Friday morning

Two announcements:

  • My dear friend Jenni (who I have known from a distance for several years and am delighted to be rooming with at The Glen in a week or so) has been working very hard on the Art House America site – and it’s finished, as of last night. So go read, gawk at the loveliness, and enjoy.
  • I’m delighted to be the faculty advisor for the newest women’s house at King’s, named for Corrie ten Boom. (You can read the announcement here from last spring.) I know several of the girls from my class last year, and I am very excited to be joining them as they embark on their first year, and to be able to engage in student life at King’s in my first year.

Things I am pondering:

  • The perennial question: M.F.A. or Ph.D., or both, and in which order? Do I need to study craft or history? Where, how, when? Do I need prerequisites? And how can I avoid paying for it? These things roll around in my head a lot, and they’ve come back lately in a kind of aggravated existential crisis. (What do you think?)
  • I asked this question of a number of teacher/writer friends in an email, but I’ll ask here, too: if you do both, how do you manage both? Do you schedule time for writing into your office time? Or is it haphazard?
  • Similarly, blogging friends: do you find that blogging takes away from or enhances your writing time? I used to say that blogging was exercising the writing muscle. Then I stopped blogging. And I think maybe I was right, but it’s hard to start again.
  • Jim Belcher’s book Deep Church, which, besides being incredibly engaging, compassionate, and reasoned, is also challenging, expanding, and clarifying my thinking in ways that few books have done of late (Jamie Smith‘s Desiring the Kingdom being one of those few). If you care about church and have been scurrying around the periphery of both relatively traditional evangelicalism and vaguely emergent churches for a while, like me, you can’t afford to skip this one. I promise: you haven’t read it before. And you’ll also enjoy it.
  • Speaking of Desiring the Kingdom, I’m struggling with how to develop thick practices in my students through teaching. I’m already committed to not setting deadlines for big assignments for Sunday night or Monday morning, because I know students, and many will not make Sunday into a day of rest if they know a project is due. I don’t want to teach them that behavior – it will burn them out. I’ve been there. I know. And I also plan to focus on Sabbath the week we also focus on poetry and description in my first-semester writing class this fall. But what else? I’m thinking about, for instance, Andi’s article on shelter and my own new (even if shared) office.

You know, just an average Friday morning.

We left and came back

On Wednesday, June 16, I was waiting for my plane at LaGuardia, en route to a work trip to Hamilton, Ontario (which also, by extension, is filled with a lot of fun), when Apple called and said that no, my dead computer wasn’t covered under warranty because it was showing liquid damage to the logic board and I could either pay $750 to fix it or just cut my losses.

It’s two years old, so I chose the latter option, which of course means I’ve been computerless, since I immediately hopped on a plane (with my husband’s laptop), came home two days later for twenty-four hours or so, then boarded another plane at another airport bound for Dublin. (After much deliberation, I ended up ordering a netbook from Asus. I hate Windows – a feeling that has not abated but grown since I started using it again – but the iPad lacks a lot of functionality I need from a portable computer, and I lack the funds to buy another MacBook.)

Dublin, though, was great. We immediately rented a car and headed out of the city for a few days to Cashel and other places, spent the night in Kilkenny, then climbed a very tall hill in Glendalough before returning to Dublin:

Not nearly a good-enough photo. It looks quite low and uninteresting here. More pictures to come.

Back in the city, we visited galleries, museums, old buildings, new sights, and more, winding up at the end at the Guinness Storehouse (as one does in Dublin). We spent evenings in pubs, watching the football, and had a great time.

A week later we moved on to Glasgow, where we stayed with very kind friends, and spent a few days tooling around Glasgow and Edinburgh – two very different but very interesting cities. We saw the Queen’s Scottish home and some underground streets and the fabulous cathedral in Glasgow, above which towers, perhaps ironically, a statue of John Knox:

John Knox atop the necropolis behind the cathedral in Glasgow, the only one to survive the Reformation in the country. Irony?

England was last: first Bristol, where we stayed with the marvelously longsuffering and generous Beldmans, and visited both beautiful Bristol and the best place in the world – Bath – where we went to the contemporary hot baths and soaked in a warm pool on the roof overlooking the Georgian town, and visited Jamie’s Italian twice in one day; then London for two nights, where we went on the London Eye, ate Indian food, and spent a day in the Tower of London, which is enormous and fascinating.

We got home Saturday and have been running around madly since – Tom to D.C. to see his grandpa, me unpacking and cleaning and sneaking in the World Cup finals yesterday in a Hell’s Kitchen bar full of yelling Americans, who, after all, were a bit more enthusiastic than any pub crowd we ran into in the British Isles – go figure.

So here we are – back home. Three weeks and I head to the Glen in Santa Fe. Tom’s working on an action flick in Manhattan beginning today. I’m finishing out my tenure at IAM this month and getting my syllabi put together for my three classes this fall at King’s. We’re attending a dear friend’s wedding at the Botanical Gardens on Sunday. And hopefully squeezing in the Philharmonic’s performances in the parks this week.

Traveling, we find, always reminds us why we’re happy to live in New York, a place where people are friendly when they need to be, where they walk quickly on the sidewalks, where it’s easy to carve out a small corner in a big city if you want it enough, where you can get food or really anything you want past 6pm, and where the subways are VERY cheap (1/4 the price of the Tube!). We’re grateful that we have such a wonderful town to come back to, filled with wonderful people.

Be it ever so humble – or maybe not so humble! – there’s really no place like home.

Jubilee and beyond

Last weekend I was at Jubilee, conducting two workshops, meeting with people, and generally having an awesome time. We flew in Friday morning quite early because I had an editorial meeting for Comment, which, as it turns out, was a great time to meet – for me, at least. We solved all our problems and then proceeded to solve a bunch of others throughout the weekend.

After the meeting, Tom and I slipped out of the hotel to drop by the Andy Warhol Museum. It feels a bit weird to be reading all about Warhol – who defined a large part of New York’s culture scene in his time, and continues to do so – while not actually in New York, but the museum was quite interesting. It’s not laid out strictly by chronology or by medium, leaving you to draw some conclusions about the work as you work your way from the seventh floor down.

The conference itself started Friday night. The speakers were fabulous, as always – Don Opitz, the inconceivably awesome Bob Goff, John Perkins! and I won’t even try to name the rest. My workshops were fairly successful, and Tom’s was a smash bang-up success – so full that you couldn’t get your head in the door.

But the best part of these weekends is always the connections you make with others, and Jubilee is starting to feel like one giant reunion party with a lot of college students attending on the side. Besides giving workshops, I spent most of the weekend with my colleagues from Cardus (and thereby, most of them, from Comment), who drove down from Ontario, and are some of my favorite people in the world that I never get to see (though I did spent five hours on the “phone” aka Skype in a meeting with them yesterday, which, given the generally dismal state of five-hour conference calls, was pretty pleasant). We spent a lot of time laughing and drinking a variety of substances and talking with various interesting people about the future of the world at large. It was, quite frankly, splendid.

All good things come to an end, of course, and we got back Sunday night. This week has been, well, bumpy. Early mornings and too much work, and some really nasty weather. I feel like the avalanche is accelerating, since the IAM Encounter starts a week from today (good, but oy). I’m having a trickier time staying on top of grading this semester, which I attribute to the fact that while last semester I had one essay to grade each week, this semester they’re all kinds of different essays, spread gratuitously all over the semester. It’s okay. By the time I get the hang of it, the semester will be over.

It could just be February slump, though. I’m a New England girl through and through. I like winter, I really do. I like sweaters and scarves and boots, and bundling up, and I like how pretty snow is, especially since I don’t have to drive in it. I like hot drinks. Hockey is far and away my favorite sport.

But by late February, I always am feeling the SAD a bit. It always takes me by surprise, because I don’t consciously feel like I’m tired of it. I’m not even watching the Olympics (and in fact, the entirety of my Olympic watching this year was restricted to some background ice shuffleboard curling while hanging out with with crazy people Canadians). But I guess I could be ready to go running outside without being so bundled up. And I do get excited for toe ring season.

(Am I too old for toe rings? Every year I wonder if my inner hippie will sneak up on my outer chic New Yorker facade and I’ll be suddenly clad in toe rings and flared jeans or broomstick skirts.)

A Week of Strange

I fail at blogging. But at least I’ve been thinking about blogging. That means that I’m remembering I have a blog, which is a positive development.

Every year, for the past few years, I have a number of strange things happen to me in the early months. Last year it was bedbugs, which I dearly hope never to repeat, followed by getting hired at King’s for the fall semester, which has been utterly delightful.

This week turned out to be my week of surprises. First, I got to be on The John and Kathy Show (on WORD-FM in Pittsburgh) on Tuesday, talking about the concept of being a Christian in the scholarly community. Several people asked me why I didn’t alert them to this sooner so they could have listened; I was on at 4:15pm, and I found out I’d be on around 2pm, so hopefully that explains it. But it was good fun and I’m hoping to meet John and Kathy in person at Jubilee next weekend.

Then there was a blizzard, kind of, on Wednesday. This is notable mostly because it doesn’t happen too often in New York City. It was a rather cowardly blizzard, as blizzards go. And I work from home on Wednesdays, so it wasn’t really a snow day. But it was fun to watch it fall and remember that I used to spend all winter dodging blizzards like this when I lived upstate. I don’t miss that one bit.

Thursday requires some explanation. King’s has a “Distinguished Visitor” series, in which famous, intelligent, or otherwise worthwhile people visit at noon for a lecture or a Q&A about their work. I require my students to attend some of the lectures but I’ve never been able to attend one myself.

Until Thursday. It worked out that Tony Hale (aka Buster Bluth) was the visitor, and as my students are studying film, I told them not to miss that one. Then I decided to go as well. Tony, while being hilarious, also managed to reinforce several things I had talked about in my class lecture that day (which I thanked him for). He also lived in New York years ago and therefore knows half of my friends, including my coworkers, so afterward we trekked up to the IAM Space and all chatted a bit whilst eating lunch. I’m used to running into people famous enough to have their own Facebook fan pages, but rarely do I have a great conversation with them. So, thanks, Tony.

So now it’s Friday, and I’m at work, of course. We’re showing Yi Yi tonight at IAM, and tomorrow we’re seeing people all day, and Sunday is Valentine’s Day (though we have no huge plans that I know of).

And I will try to blog before next weekend, especially because we leave on Friday morning for Jubilee. By the way, Ash Wednesday is this week. Isn’t that crazy?

January fades

A gorgeous, clear morning here in Brooklyn. It rained heavily and gustily on Monday, was warm (meaning, around forty degrees) and beautiful on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then yesterday morning I was putting on my running shoes around 7:30 and looked out the window, and it was snowing mightily. I still went out – it snowed ever more mightily as the time wore on – but running in the snow is lovely when it’s not too deep. And the ground was warm, so the snow melted by the time I’d emerged from the subway in midtown.

But I think it’s pretty cold today.

I still sound like I’m hacking up a lung, and people tend to inch away on the subway, but I’m really quite a lot better. I have enough energy to to walk around and do things, and after two weeks of misery, I’ll take that. I even went running twice this week and will do so again tomorrow.

I’ll be heading toward the IAM office around noon to work and then help coordinate our evening event, a concert/poetry reading by Brooke Campbell and L.L. Barkat. (You should come! But if you’re not in New York, you can still watch it streamed live online at 7pm EST. You probably won’t get a glimpse of me, but you’ll see where I work a couple days a week.)

Before he left this morning, Tom said to me, “Can you believe it’s almost February?” And no, I cannot. Until yesterday I thought it was mid-January. February is an exciting but exhausting time in our world; we’ll head to Jubilee in mid-February, where we’re both presenting workshops, and then two weeks later – this year, it’s the first weekend in March – is the IAM conference. Conferences like this are wonderful, now that we are on the speaker side of things, because we get to meet new friends or see far-flung friends again. But they’re undeniably tiring. I’ll be packing the Airborne when we go to Pittsburgh.

I’m sorry for these dull, quotidian entries. I’m not back into the swing of blogging yet, and I forget the blog exists until Fridays, when I sit down to write blog entries at the other three blogs to which I contribute. I’ll get better. I need to flex the personal essay muscle more, now that I spend a lot of time teaching it.

::cough::

There is a reason I haven’t blogged in over a week, and that is that I have been rather ill in between being rather busy. I’m still sick, but I have to teach tomorrow, so whether or not I have a voice I’ll be there. (Thankfully, my students are slated to present on various film history topics tomorrow, so I won’t need to say much.)

If you, too, are under the weather, you ought to check out Katy’s list of strategic ways to combat what ails you. My blood pressure precludes the use of Sudafed, but I did run through my supply of Breathe Easy tea and have moved on to elderberry syrup, echinacea + propolis throat spray, and slippery elm lozenges, which I am trying not to use up too fast.

But it’s been a good week, if we don’t count the hacking cough. Last night, Tom led a bourbon tasting at an IAM event for young patrons, and all twenty or so participants, plus staff, enjoyed themselves greatly. There was good food and good music and good company – and that’s all you really need.

Pocket Litter and It's Been A Week

Pocket litter, as Gideon calls it:
• I’ve been a long-time user of Remember the Milk for to-do lists, by which I live and die, but I’d found over the past few months that certain things just weren’t conforming to the way I live my life. Enter Things, which I had heard about but was really convinced of by ProfHacker. I think I’m in love.

• By the way, the aforementioned ProfHacker is a fantastic site for those of us who teach at the college level.

• The truly brilliant Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, now about to be performed in NYC.

• William Zinsser’s insightful talk/essay on writing good English – essential reading, even if you, like me, harp on good writing for a living. (HT Rob)


I haven’t had a week like this in a long time. Fighting off illness was only the half of it – and I’m functional, but have a lingering chest cough. Lots of tea.

My later section of research writing was cancelled, but in its place I’m doing some work with the online education program at King’s. It’s exciting work that uses all the skills and education I’ve accumulated to this point (amazingly enough), but it’s also disorienting to suddenly pick up another set of responsibilities you hadn’t thought about until that moment. Added to getting lecture preparation finished on the right day (still trying to remember that class is on Monday and Thursday, not Tuesday and Friday), and piloting an online version of the class I taught last semester, and that’s just tiring. The other jobs (including a grand push to get the next print edition of Comment ready by Jubilee) have been an icing on the proverbial cake (which I, being barred from gluten for the time being, cannot even eat).

Yet I’m very thankful. I spent many years working in not just full- but part-time jobs (in college and high school) that I nearly unilaterally disliked or was at least bored by, and so I had come to expect that I could never really like work. I’m unspeakably grateful to have a to-do list a mile long with things I actually want to do (yes, even laundry).

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not a little stressed out, and since I do in fact have high blood pressure, I should probably be watching the stress level. I’ve taken up real running again (and the weather has been cooperating – thirty degrees is ideal for street running), and I have been very carefully watching my diet and laying off the coffee for the most part. I think what I probably really need is a yoga class and a vacation, but this will do for now.

Let's spend the day in bed

It’s vaguely nervewracking to wake up with a sore throat and nagging cough on Friday when you have to start lecturing to college students on Monday morning. Hence, I am working from my cozy bed today, doing all the things I’d be doing in the office but not actually going out in the cold.

Because it is cold; not unbearably so, but chilly, and there is pretty snow coming down that I can see against the dark rooftops of the apartments and buildings from my window. The flakes are tiny, light, and floaty, which is the best kind of snow, because it sticks to the ground, but not to your eyelashes. And in New York, unlike most other places in the country that are getting snow today, an inch of the white stuff does not shut down schools and workplaces. It just means boots and a pretty, clean coating for a day.

I’ve spent most of this week working from home, my last like that for a while. The Curator‘s web host and I had a run-in after a WordPress upgrade went awry, and I spent most of Wednesday trying to fix it and finally just migrating to another host in utter despair. If you poke around the site, you’ll see that a few things broke, a little, but nothing so terrible that it obscures actual articles. By Wednesday night, I’d lost the will to fix things anymore. It hasn’t come back yet.

Tom has been shooting lengthy hours this week (lengthy, but not as lengthy as I thought they’d be – in the film industry, a thirteen-hour day is “short”) on a set in Bed-Stuy. He’s been leaving before six o’clock (and in some cases, before five o’clock), but coming home cheerful considering the circumstances. It’s hard work. I couldn’t do his job.

I haven’t finished my first book for Fifty Two Fifty Two yet, but you should pop on over there and see what the others have been reading. I’m delighted with the reviews that have popped up so far. (I, too, am reading Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, and if it looks like everyone in the world is, that’s mostly but not entirely because several participants are in the same book club with me.)

New Year, New Work

We celebrated the New Year sumptuously: games, pizza, and champagne with friends on Thursday night; a long, languid day of delicious food and old friends on Friday; a day spent at the Kandinsky exhibit at the Guggenheim, Cafe Sabarsky, and The Princess and the Frog with friends on Saturday; and church plus our favorite brunch spot on Sunday.

Tom went back to work very early yesterday morning. I worked too, but from home, and only kind of feel like I’m at work this week, since I have only two days in the office. But next week the semester starts, and so I am busily prepping materials for my two classes (one college writing class online, and two sections of the same research writing class in the actual classroom). The spring is a busy time, with several conferences and a lot of projects popping up, and so it’s important to be as organized as possible.

But all that organizing needs a respite, and so I have started recording the movies I watch along with starting the Fifty Two Fifty Two project. I haven’t finished a book yet this year, but I’ve gotten into Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, the 2009 Pulitzer winner, which our book club is discussing next Tuesday, and I’ve read the first two interviews (Dorothy Day and Truman Capote) in the Paris Review Interviews, Volume 1 – which is completely delightful. I tend to read a whole bunch of books at once and finish them all on the same day.

Last: my doctor put me on a fairly restrictive diet because, as it turns out, I have Stage 1 hypertension – nothing to get too worried about, but also something I shouldn’t have at my age. And so I’m off dairy and gluten for a while, and eating a very specific amount of certain things. I found myself re-reading Jenni’s article from Comment a while back.

I’ve become quite in love with cooking and good food in the last year or two, enjoying the cheese counter at the local gourmet market and baking homemade bread, but I can receive these things again when I am well. It is good discipline for me to experience some “fasting” along with my feasting, and I suppose, in that sense, that Father Capon would approve.