Over there

There’s now a Cardus staff blog, and along with some of my colleagues, I’ll be posting there once a week or so. So I blogged something very brief about the KJV Bible today. (I also quite frequently post to the Comment Tumblr.)

And speaking of colleagues, Rob and I have a point/counterpoint piece in the May/June Books & Culture on food politics. Some of it may sound familiar if you were in our workshop at Jubilee this February, though it’s more developed here. If you’re a subscriber, you can read it at Books & Culture’s website or in the print edition if it’s shown up in your mailbox. If you’re not a subscriber, well, shame on you. For Christians who want to actually thoughtfully engage with both books and culture with some depth, there is, quite literally, nothing else like it. (So subscribe!)

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!

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.

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.


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.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed

Rodney Clapp quoted Wendell Berry in his lecture last night at the Glen:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Go West, Young Lady

I’m writing this from my iPhone as I wait for my plane in Dallas to finish loading en route to Albuquerque, ending later today in Santa Fe (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, since I’m in Texas and all).

Up too early (3:30am EST) and will undoubtedly be up too late (TBD MST), but I sense good things are coming this week, even if I had to leave my trusty traveling buddy (Tom, obviously) at home this time.

On Teaching and Other Things

Dove straight back into real life after returning – Tom started his new job on Monday, and I feel like I’ve been climbing an endless mountain of to-dos. I can’t believe tomorrow’s Thursday already!

Sometimes life seems settled, and I know roughly what to do next and have a manageable list of things to accomplish. Other times it is crazy. Inevitably the craziness hits when I want to be reading books and spending time outdoors and planning for the months ahead. But today I agreed to a position of some influence on the lives of some students, which I am terribly excited to announce soon, and that makes me realize anew how blessed I am in the work I do, or rather the work I fell into quite unexpectedly.

My friend Allison’s piece on growing into a teaching vocation reminded me today that teaching comes naturally to no one, that it’s something we learn. Some get to learn it from great classroom teachers. I didn’t have many of those before I began teaching (a couple great professors in college and one in grad school excepted), but her observation is heartening:

Often we see vocation as something to claim, not something to grow into. We do this, I think, because vocation identifies us, not only to the world, but to ourselves; carrying a label wards off fear, insecurity and mystery. And we label ourselves as “masters,” our insecurities hidden, the future predictable and bright.

A true leap of faith.


One small note: this Sunday, our dear, dear friend Angela is getting married to the very best of Peters at the New York Botanical Garden, something we’ve been very much looking forward to since we, well, met Peter on New Year’s Day this year. Tom will also be taking a few photos, not as the primary photographer but filling in a few gaps, and I’ll be playing the piano for two congregational hymns. (And we’re very much looking forward to dim sum the day before.)

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.)

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.

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.)

What I've Been Writing

Even when I’m not blogging here, I’m doing a lot of writing. Here’s a few recent pieces I’ve published:

– A review of the new book The Dude Abides, at Patrol.

– A lot of reviews at Christianity Today Movies; most recently, New York, I Love You.

– At Paste, the lead review in the October mini-issue for Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

I also have recently begun contributing to two blogs. The first is Living Jubilee, the blog for the CCO‘s annual Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh, which Tom and I attended last year as workshop leaders and found greatly encouraging (even though we’re both past our college years). I’m contributing on a mostly weekly basis.

The second is After Hours, a venture that some of my colleagues at Cardus and I have put together for commentary and conversation on issues that affect the architecture of North American life – economics, politics, art, literature, social issues, and scientific innovation. (Cardus, you may recall, is the publisher of Comment, for which I am associate editor.) Contributors will include emerging Canadian and American voices on these issues – those of us who may not have been around long enough to have finished all our graduate work or written any influential books, but are grappling with these issues nonetheless. (We’re in the process of ramping up still, but I contribute weekly.)

And of course, if you haven’t been tracking with us, you should visit Filmwell, where I (along with a bunch of critics I greatly respect and admire) publish on a fairly regular basis on cinema off the beaten track. We’re still a relatively new site, but we’ve drawn a significant audience thus far. Our articles were cited on several occasions at Greeencine and The Daily at IFC.com. The Auteurs’ David Hudson recently listed us as one of the Best Film Sites, and Online Degrees Hub cited Filmwell among the Top 100 Film Studies Blogs. I usually contribute short essays in the creative nonfiction vein, while the others are skilled at in-depth analysis or critical examination of film.

Welcome to The Welcome Wagon

My profile of Brooklyn-based band The Welcome Wagon is published as a web-only supplement to Christianity Today‘s June issue.

Part of the fun of writing this article was getting to know Vito and Monique better. I knew Vito a little from his guest-preaching stints at the Village Church (where I am a member and where they attended before they planted Resurrection in Williamsburg), but it was wonderful to be in their home, meet their son, and listen to more about their story.

Serendipitously, I also got to book them in concert at one of my workplaces shortly after completing the article, which was a very popular event and a great time.