Archive for July, 2009

I started reading _The Mating Season_ by Alex Brunkhorst, this evening on the train. I’m almost finished, and I love it– it’s an amazing love story, with strange and lovely details about insects and small “creatures,” and a hidden architectural backstory.  But it feels dreamy, with cabochons of witty detail that take me by surprise.

This prologue is so beautiful, so fanciful and astonishing, that I immediately wanted to read it aloud, or photocopy it and share it with a friend via post.  Additionally, I’ll share it here:

“It was mating season, and Grasshopper was getting frisky.  At first I thought his abrupt change in behavior was the result of Daylight Savings Time, a twice-yearly ritual that temporarily wreacked havoc on the entire menagerie.  Each year, the sliding scale of the sun caused Butterfly to crash against the ceiling, as if suddenly forgetting the sky was no longer the limit.  Tadpole nearly drowned; I had to gently, then more forcibly, prod him onto his green, heart-shaped life raft.  Even Ant, my most resilient species, stumbled through October in desperate search for meaning.  He usually found it in mid-November, in time for the leftover turkey and mashed potatoes I fed him after Thanksgiving.

But it was now the hour before the Festival.  It was universally agreed that the Committee of Illumination–Hummingbird, Mockingbird, Bat, and Owl–had outdone itself this year.  Chandeliers had been dimmed in favor of white teardrop lights, seaweed candles floated in the saltwater pond, and my stars had congregated just shy of the glass ceiling.  It was said that Chairwoman Firefly, who had always been a micromanager of sorts, paid particular heed this year, and the house glistened with her touch.

Even more magnificent than the decor were my beloved creatures.  They were in deep and serious preparation, standing before vanities and performing last-minute adjustments before venturing into the dark night to the Meadows of Lophelia.  Rabbit and Catfish fought over the blue eyeliner, Mosquito practiced his strut, Daddy Long Legs assisted Tarantula in combing his radiant black coat.  Ladybug, traditionally one of my more insecure creatures, had chosen a pink floor-length gown that showed off her single black spot.  Bumblebee–Ladybug’s best friend and a fashion devotee–advised against the choice, arguing that pink clashed with deep red; but Ladybug had been steadfast, and now Bumblebee felt a bit envious watching her dress in front of the three-way mirror. Dove asked for Moth’s aid in hooking her top butterfly clasp; Jellyfish practiced his introduction (his date was known to be sea royalty); Peacock held a small bouquet of purple daisies that he would later present to his escort.  There was a little bickering, some chiding, and a lot of teasing, but such antics were not surprising for a family of 310.

There was music, too, a preamble to the twelve-piece orchestra that awaited at the Meadows of Lophelia.  Some of the melody came from my creatures themselves: the aggressive chirp of Cricket, the chatter of Woodpecker, the slow hum of Veery Bird.  Other harmonies gushed from my stars, a collective flicker of lights murmuring quietly.

Wings fluttered, antennae twitched, beady eyes looked at beady eyes.  My creatures lined up single file, jockeying to be the first to the Meadows.  The subtle notes of the cello, the throaty oboe, the whimsical flute; from acres away I could hear the symphonic beginnings of the Festival.  My creatures heard it, too.  Their laughter tickled the air.  The Committee of Music, satisfied with the beginnings of Chopin’s ‘Fantaisie in A Major,’ hovered near the front of the line.  The Committee of Illumination, still intent on their duties, extinguished the candles and unplugged the white lights.

It took less than three minutes for the greenhouse to dim and go black, and another six for my creatures to line up.  I looked at Millipede, the first creature in line, and opened the greenhouse door.”

I only have this book because Matt wanted to read a book by the same name by a writer with the surname Wodehouse; it’s apparently satire about finding a bride in English high society.  The library sent this _The Mating Season_ instead.  We only have this book because, as the book jacket tells, Ms. Brunkhorst originally wrote it “as a Christmas gift for a close friend.”  Serendipity times two.


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Last year, I co-founded a new academic journal; it has an online presence, as well as a “non peer reviewed” online section, with additional articles.  It’s done well; we did a good job fund-raising, hiring a staff, and collecting a board.  When I presented at a conference in the field last month, many people had already heard of it and been reading it.  The first issue had articles from four continents, and we’ve been picked up by the press in places like Egypt and Indonesia.  Initially, my co-founder, Josh, was in Israel, and we worked long distance.

Yesterday, he and I met in person for our first-ever yearly staff evaluations, of ourselves.  (We had done the staff members earlier this summer.)  One thing Josh brought up: I undersell myself.  He said I have a weird mixture of confidence and no confidence, and I don’t realize that I could be doing so much more.

He said a similar thing when he saw my CV.  In the PhD application process, my CV was a piece that I sent to every school.  In included information about my work on this journal, including some of the accolades we’ve gotten so far, and included the fact that I will be presenting this year at the AAR (American Academy of Religions) conference, the major professional association in my field.

Josh, for one, was stunned that I didn’t get in anywhere, and asked me to send him my CV.  And what he saw made him call me, direct from Jerusalem.  He said, “Do you mind hearing some really important, honest feedback?”  I said, “Of course not.”  He pointed out that, at least for the section of the CV describing my work with the journal, I undersold myself on every point.

Now, because he and I are co-founders and co-Editors-in-Chief, ostensibly our CV sections for work on the journal would be very similar; he knows exactly what I’ve done.  I was actually surprised: I worried that I put a little too much emphasis on my contributions.  He also noted that some people actually fluff up their CVs a bit– and if my “underfluffed” CV was in a stack of fluffed ones, my work would look even less.

We talked about this again in the evaluation.  We talked also about our management styles, our strengths, and how we want to use them in complementary ways as we continue to build our organization.  But another thread emerged: sometimes I am more passive, even when I’m in an area where I’m strong, or should be strong.

It’s so interesting to think about these issues.  For one, I think there’s a masculine/feminine thing at play– I know that I’ve been socialized to be humble, polite, and more likely to wait and demur.  Add to this a spirituality piece I have, where I believe it is more important to be humble than prideful–although my professors, even the priests, have worked to show me how this doesn’t apply to academia.  Add to this a sort of natural inclination to “wait and see” or “watch and learn” when I’m in unfamiliar territory.

You can see that in the world of academia, particularly if it is competitive, I might not be using my best skill set.  I’m comfortable stretching myself in my work on the journal, with our staff, and with outreach. I’m still unsure about applying again next year for a PhD- and I don’t know yet how to change what I did this year.

I’d love to hear from others how to be able to share my work with confidence.  What’s the difference between being cocky and vainglorious, and truthfully sharing one’s skills?  How can I practice finding the right way to talk about my strengths, and how will I know when I’m doing it well?

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We’ve been talking for the past month or so about the Holy Spirit, and about ways we have to try to capture in language and image the idea of it.  Flames, wind, breath, music, doves.  We talked about things we cannot see, but can feel, or know to be real.  

And since before Easter (since the Jesus in the curriculum grew up enough to be a young boy, and then an adult), we’ve talked about how Jesus used stories to tell us things, and to help us learn.  Recently, six-year-old Louisa has been growing adept at classifying things “fiction,” or “non-fiction.”  

Today we made little gardens of sand and play-doh, and talked about the story of the gardener, sowing seeds into soil that was rich and fertile, and soil that was too hard, had birds, or was full of weeds.  

“The soil is fiction,” Louisa asserted.

 “Yeah,” I said, “I think he’s talking about our hearts, wanting our hearts to be rich where things can flourish.”  

“I have that kind of heart,” she said.

The craft for today was only tangentially related to either of those– while talking about Jesus and his stories (fiction), and the ways we try to understand the Holy Spirit, we made kaleidoscopes, following instructions from here.  It was cool to look through the tiny hole and see the colored light against the tinfoil, to see what had been merely sequins and glitter become wide shapes, colored and new.  

I tried making a pinhole, but Louisa grabbed a pencil and shoved it through the black construction paper, saying, “I can’t see enough; I want to _see_.”

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Yesterday, while working on our save-the-date cards for our wedding, we were looking through favorite quotes.  I came across this one from C.S. Lewis; I have loved it for many years.


“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters to large for some of us to see.”


I think, in this case, he might be describing the “small” miracles that surprise our hearts, interrupt our days, and that we keep as markers of our humanity, community, and faith journeys.

This time reading it, though, I also thought about all the saints’ stories I know.  A favorite one came to mind: Felicity and Perpetua.  They were two women, sentenced to death by lions in the colosseum.  To display their heart-felt and true belief in God, and belief that death would merely deliver them into the morning of their lives in their Father’s kingdom, they held hands and sang, facing the lions.

I was at a conference once (concerning women in Orthodoxy), and spent a great deal of time gazing upon an icon of the two of them (they are always, inevitably, pictured together) during the more boring paper deliveries.  I tried to imagine the scene, the sounds and the smells.  Were people shouting at them? Could they hear the lions?  Did they know immediately which hymn it would be?

Then, of course, my mind wants to construct the rest of their story.  One was first the servant-girl of the other, but in Christianity, they were sisters.  How did they get in so much trouble?  What were their daily lives like?  Who did they leave behind?  Was one stronger, more headstrong and willful? Did one hearten the other, sharing her bravery?

Here are two common icons of them.  In the first, they are pictured as European ladies.  In the second (the type with which I am more familiar), they are correctly Northern African, and clasping each other close.

St Perpetua & Felicity



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the bright spot


I found this photograph a few days ago on Jezebel.  I’ve been thinking about it lately, and looking at it, and admiring the beauty, the light, and the composition.  And I can’t ignore the fact that this just happened a few days ago, and the people in it are living, and living through whatever comes next.

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