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I’m a month into my studies. I’m thankful I’m a quick reader… I’m ahead (touch wood) in my readings for two of my three classes.

It feels strange to only have three classes, and only have my job at the journal. No teaching, no Sunday school, no babysitting.  No fitting in editing, phone calls, and e-mails between teaching, or on a subway, or right before kids come running to me. I am thankful to do one thing at a time.

This time around, I also purchased many of my books. At Union, I got all of them from the library– I never bought a single book in three years there, unless it was a workbook for language study.  The books for these classes were cheaper, and often available used on Amazon. The history books I read at Union were thick, rare, and expensive. I just used the inter-library system and got them from as far away as Yale or Harvard.

I didn’t really think about the convenience of writing in my own book, or marking pages. I used to dog ear pages that had something I would need to or wanted to remember, and then fill up my notebook with quotes and page numbers. Now, having all of my books (mostly), I don’t have to spend that time doing the “second” step of writing things down.

Luckily, I also have a pretty good memory. I would often remember much of what I read, and even the chapter and location, without writing it down. So even in a seminar, I could make a point, and say, “Pelikan brings this up in the ninth chapter? I think early in the chapter, maybe two pages in?” without having the book.

I much prefer having the books, though. And I wonder how much mental energy I’ll now use for other things instead of having to instinctively memorize content I might not need.

I’ve continued my old, old practice of writing “new words” in the margins of my book or notebook as I read. I’m a stickler for always going back and defining the terms. For me, at this point, a new word is a term or phrase that I couldn’t use confidently on my own. For example, I can accurately guess what “positivism” means from reading it in a sentence, but wouldn’t know it well enough to use it myself.

New phrases from this week. I have not yet found definitions for them yet… I think I’m going to have to read articles in Google Scholar that use them.

disembedded cogito

other-oriented induction techniques

interpretive ethnography

New words for which I have learned the definitions include: sequential analysis, actus purus, Tonglen practice, positivism, alterity, noumenal, militates, and non-teleological.

Places I study: on our balcony in the sun, in the library on our campus in deep leather couches, and at the grad school library further into town. I’m mostly only reading at this point, but keeping a running list of names, curricula, books, and programs I need to research or follow up with for future papers and projects.

One of the best things I’ve read so far is a book called, Children, Youth, and Spirituality in a Troubling World, by Mary Elizabeth Moore and Almeda M. Wright. It’s a collection of essays documenting the voices, struggles, and expressions of young people– they include discussion of Disney’s Princesses and their charismatic power, young adults who survived the war in Bosnia, eyelid surgery and young women in Asian-American communities, the power of testimony in African-American communities, liturgies designed by incarcerated teen girls, and questions about God from queer youth.

Every single one of the essays has made me underline furiously, read sections aloud to Matt, wish I was still teaching, and revealed something about the world I didn’t know. This is a great place to be for early October, surrounded by not-yet-read books and pages of notes.

sample of notes– and note, I’ve had this pencil and used it nearly daily since 2001

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December 14 – Appreciate What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? (Author: Victoria Klein)

Thanks to reading Lee’s blog, I can no longer just write about one thing.

1. My husband’s family. I think about them nearly every day, thanks to the Facebook. And being with them at holidays, and feeling surrounded by their love and _acceptance_ at our wedding is such a blessing.

2. Health insurance.

3. Being able to teach drama. Not by sneaking it in to an ELA curriculum, but outright, whole-heartedly, full on.

4. Working with Matt. Sharing students is wonderful, but also: when he hasn’t had time to do his share of dishes, I know it’s because he’s been working like crazy at school. It’s so easy to appreciate his time and the things that wear him out.

5. The nuns. They give me so much support–written, phone calls, e-mails, little postcards and prayer cards and notes. Just today I picked up a postcard Sr. Cyril Marie had sent in the midst of my certification troubles, and it re-inspired me. My Dad says the nuns are like the Elves in Rivendell. Not like us, and not of this world, and fading out of this world. Fewer and fewer women are entering the novitiate, so they tend to be old… and they are certainly not of this world. Some of them, they mystics, the ones who do not live in the world or even in the larger community: when they look you in they eye, you _feel_ their closeness to that close place.

6. Cable TV and DVR. Honestly: sometimes, I just want to watch _Law & Order_, and only _Law & Order_. It’s a comfort.

7. Our neighborhood: great fresh Mexican food, outdoor shrine at St. Lucy’s, public library in walking distance, seeing our kids and their families, Botanical Garden and Zoo in walking distance…

8. Living within our means. Having a good relationship with my student loan lenders, not having consumer debt, working on a budget and being mindful about what we have and don’t have.

9. Cooking with Matt: we complement each other, we take turns, we chop or clean up for each other.

10. Fiddle lessons!  I’m actually starting to learn things. I can play two tunes.

11. Baths. Reading in hot baths until I’m falling asleep.

12. Broadway UCC. This is the year I came to think of it as my church home. I have been fed and supported there.

13. My growing Sunday school there. There were years where I only had two small chickadees, some weeks I had no one. But they believed in keeping me around, and I believed– I could visualize, someday, Children’s Sermons on the chancel steps, full of kids, and so: it happened. It is joyful to see them and be with them.

14. Christmas songs. Oh, I love so many of them. Nothing beats singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I know the harmonies, and can sing without looking at the hymnal– allowing me to gaze about whatever space I’m in.

15. New clothes. There were a few years where I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. This year, with working full time, and with losing weight, I’ve been able to buy some new things. Buying new pants was so much fun! Having some new options is exciting, and I so appreciate it.

16. Daily Puppy.com  I can’t tell you how many times those puppy photos have helped me wake up of a morning, or in the middle of the night. Cuteness = serotonin, which helps anxiety.

17. How Facebook helps me keep in touch with some of my favorite friends, and hear their voices, and see photos and videos… I love feeling connected to in that way.

18. Getting manicures. They’re affordable in this neighborhood. I don’t quite get them weekly, but it is so luxurious to have freshly painted, colorful, unchipped nails. No dry, raggedy cuticles. Pleasing, glossy, candy-colored fingertips.

19. My Christmas stocking. My Grandma made it; I think there must have been a year when she made them for all of us grandkids who were born by that year. She did our names in glue, with red glitter. You can tell my name is a little too long, or maybe she didn’t plan for it well, but the end is kind of scrunched in. And some of the glitter is chipping away. There was a time in my early adulthood when I was ashamed of it. It looked kind of cheap and white trash-y. The mother of the guy I was with at the time got me (as a replacement) an embroidered one from Neimann Marcus. I don’t even know where that one is anymore.

20. How Matt knows me well enough that he can check out a stack of library books for me, and I will love every one.

21. The weddings of beloved friends. Inspiring, fun, gorgeous.

22. My own wedding. One of the happiest, most fun, most exciting days of my life. I fell in love with my friends, and with Matt, and with our families, and with my church, and with flowers and song and food… over and over again.

23. Knee socks. Last winter I discovered that knee socks are fantastic. And that I could wear knee socks under leggings under pants, on the coldest days, and be completely warm and comfortable.

24. Canada. My first trip there with Matt was sheer heaven. I only want to go back there again and again, and there is a whole subset of things I appreciate in Canada: pie, hammocks, water, swimming, stars, cooking with family, tiny Anglican church services, painting, reading…

25. The written word. I get so much: pleasure, excitement, learning, truth, perspective, connection, ideas, inspiration… from reading novels, posts, scripture, essays, articles. I am so grateful I can read and write.

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How I Nanny

(Photo taken by me, of a little boy I took care of two years ago. He’s let go of a balloon, and is just realizing it’s now unreachable.)

I am nannying for two of my Sunday school charges, every day, for a major portion of the summer, from 9:30 AM to around 5 PM or later, with an odd overnight or extra evening babysit thrown in.

Here are the activities we do: Greek, Mathematics, Spelling, the Big Visit, Scouting the Neighborhood, Music, and “working on the atlas.”  I’m taking fiddling lessons this summer, and the kids study piano, viola, and trombone, so we often work on music lessons together.  “The Big Visit” means a trip somewhere, mostly to museums or places I already know and love.  “Scouting the Neighborhood” is because we’re going to make a to-scale model of the city block they live on, a al a huge model of all five boroughs at the Queens Museum. We have a lot of sketching, photo-taking, and scale work to do.  The Atlas is a giant (biggest artist’s pad of paper we could find) collage/history/atlas of everything we’re doing this summer.  Plus.  The little girl is also adding castles for all of her favorite Greek gods, and the boy is making actual maps of Europe, and then re-envisioning them for the future.  We also watch movies, mostly of film adaptations I will teach next year.  The poor little 8-year-old girl spent the entire last scenes of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet murmuring, nearly inaudibly, “Wake up, Juliet, wake up Juliet!”  Poor thing.

And, we go to the library frequently. The ride to their house is a little more than an hour on the subway; if I finish my book either on the commute or during the day, and I need a new books, they’re happy to accompany me.  Here is the list of checked-out books from our last visit.  Mine, the girl’s, and the boy’s (ten years old) all together:

Nerve Damage, Peter Abrahams

The Household Guide to Dying, Debra Adelaide

The Privileges, Jonathan Dee

Return of the Crimson Guard: a Novel of the Malazan Empire, Ian C. Esslemont

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger

Mia the Bridesmaid Fairy, Daisy Meadows (can this be her real name??)

Bone in the Throat, Anthony Bourdain

All Saints, Liam Callanan

Candlelight for Rebecca, Jacqueline Dembar Greene

Rebecca and Ana, Jacqueline Dembar Greene

Danger! Wizard at Work, Kate McMullan

97 Ways to Train a Dragon, Kate McMullan

Help! It’s Parents Day at DSA, Kate McMullan

Countdown to the Year 1000, Kate McMullan

Ali Baba Bernstein, Lost and Found, Johanna Hurwitz

Kristy’s Great Idea, Ann M. Martin

The Hot and Cold Summer, Johanna Hurwitz

Worlds of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, v. 4 Warpath

Mere Mortals, David Mack

Gods of Night, David Mack

Over a Torrent Sea, Christopher L. Bennett

Star Trek: The Last Roundup, Christie Golden

The Summer We Read Gatsby, Danielle Ganek

Think of a Number, John Verdon

Model Home, Eric Puchner

The November Criminals, Sam Munson
I think it’s pretty evident which ones are mine. Of this latest batch, I’ve finished The November Criminals, The Household Guide to Dying, The Privileges, Bone in the Throat, and Her Fearful Symmetry.

I started The Summer We Read Gatsby, but didn’t finish it because it wasn’t good at all.  Obviously I got sucked in by the title, and could have survived on the glib Fitzgerald references alone, but that’s how bad the plot and characters were– I had to stop anyway.

I love watching Anthony Bourdain on television, and liked his other book about the restaurant business very much, so got Bone in the Throat— it’s kind of a regular kind of NYC murder, with the mob, and restaurants. It was okay–the highlights are when the sous chef character is cooking or prepping meals, and we get to see that from his perspective. There was enough descriptions of food, cooking, and the restaurant world to keep it good.

I loved Her Fearful Symmetry. It’s apparently the same writer who did that Time Traveler’s Wife book, which I never picked up because I find the idea creepy, and because I would never wait around for some man popping in and out of my world through time.  But Symmetry was a ghost story, and about twins, and Victorian graveyards, and had lots of descriptions of wonderful books and clothes and furniture. It was also genuinely scary.

The November Criminals I think I saw recommended in the special Books section that comes with the Saturday NYTimes. It had great parts– enough to keep me reading, and re-reading the best parts, but the young (trying to channel Holden Caulfield) narrator said “like” and the f-word way too much. I get it, kids say “like” a lot. It’s tiresome to read that much, though.  If you like coming of age stories, but ones that definitely aren’t sweet, this is pretty good.

I read The Privileges very quickly. Young, charmed couple marries, has family, grows old and rich, complications ensue. I liked it. I was surprised by the characters, and the things they did wrong, and the things they did right. I expected it to be one kind of book, but it was nicer and more human than I expected.

The Household Guide to Dying was very sad. I was quite tear-y and a bit melancholy at the end of it. Of course, because the narrator is dying throughout the book. It’s charming, though, and has a bit of a mystery, and the relationship between the narrator and her husband, and her daughters, and her friends is very good, and realistic, and inspiring. I don’t know who I’d recommend the book to, because it is sad, and is about dying, but it’s good.

I just started The Saints this afternoon.

Looking at the checked-out list, I note that I recommended the first in the Babysitter’s Club series to my young charge.  That makes me smile. My best friend Janet had all of them (Janet, did you have all of them?) when we were young, and I used to borrow them. For example, over Christmas break, I would borrow several at once, because I went through them so quickly. Our library, where I went every Saturday, didn’t have those kind of books yet, so most of the books I read were old-fashioned, like The Secret Garden, and Nancy Drew, and lots of biographies and anthologies of “American” short stories and poetry. The Brontes, The Red Badge of Courage, heavy gilt-edged books of Dickens.

Finally, in other reading news, I took one of my teaching certification tests today, for English Language Arts. You know, you read selected passages, and answer questions. Happily, my selected passages included “Song of Myself,” a poem by Anna Akhmatova, a selection from Maud Martha, and a long selection from An Accidental Tourist, which I had recently re-read.  It’s so much fun to see things you love, even in a standardized test, in a room of five hundred test takers.

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Sarokwel

Okay, disclaimer: I intentionally misspelled the name of the drug I’m talking about, because I have mixed feelings about writing about it.  And I don’t want my post to come up in searches for it on Google.

It’s technically an anti-psychotic. People who are schizophrenic, or very bi-polar take it, to help them not be manic through the day.

I first started taking it two years ago this past summer.  I had not slept through the night in months.  With my first dose– a “baby” dose, or “granny” dose, according to my doctor–I could sleep.  It was incredible, and life-changing.

Earlier this year, we had dinner with another couple: dear, sweet friends from my school.  I mentioned my anxiety.  Neither of them could understand: “What do you get anxious about?  I mean, what makes you anxious?”  It’s hard to explain, how irrational things suddenly loom and have so much power.  I actually had a hard time understanding how someone could _not_ understand what anxiety is like.

Here’s an example.  That summer, I was working in my school’s development office. Sometimes, I would file.  The filing room was on a floor by itself. If you are part of a long-wealthy city family, with tons of money to donate, and have donated for generations, you might have a file there.  Any correspondence, letters from the president, Christmas cards from your family, small donations given in someone’s name… copies all go into the file with your name.

My colleagues would give me a stack of correspondence to take up to file.  I would file them, name by name, date by date.  At my own pace, easy, singing to myself in the warm, dusty sunlight.

A dozen hours later: 3AM.

I am suddenly afraid that I have misfiled something.  I imagine, instantly, that they will need the file in a year or so, and not be able to find it.  I don’t wake up and start thinking about it, I am already in a panic, heart racing, when I wake up. It’s as if my body is reacting to the worst that can happen, before reason can intervene.

I had a similar problem reshelving books at the library. What if I reshelved something wrong, and it was lost for decades?

So: 3AM, I’m in a panic. Adrenaline rushes through me, I’m sobbing, I can’t breathe, I feel sick and floaty.  I’ve been dealing with various forms of this, with various insistent reasons to panic, since I was 17.  But two summers ago, it was the files.

I decided that to keep this from happening, I would just memorize each name of the file that I filed. And the file cabinet in which I put it.  This way, I [mis]reasoned, if I heard anyone complaining that they couldn’t find a file, I would remember exactly where it was.

I have a good memory. I’m good at remembering many things, and many words, and many languages.  For a few days, with a lot of stress and effort, I was able to keep this up.  A few dozen filed documents, and files, and file drawers.  But then– a new middle of the night would happen, and I would realize that I couldn’t, in fact, keep up.  Commence brand new panic.

Over several nights of this, I get more brittle during the day.  I’m tired, and stressed, and the little things that usually don’t bother me start to be really taxing.  Occasionally, I start to cry during the day. I know it’s anxiety, I know it’s chemicals in my brain, and adrenaline in my bloodstream, but I can’t reason myself into feeling calm.  I dread going to bed at night, because I know the panic is coming.

It was such, such a relief, the first night I took sarokwel, and began to get sleepy an hour or so later.  Matt started reading to me from The Hobbit at that same time, in an attempt to give my bedtime something sweet and good, instead of dread.  Night after night, I’d take the sarokwel, settle in to listen to The Hobbit, and get sleepy in due time, and sleep through the night. It was amazing, and peaceful, and healing.

Now, I only take one half of that original small dose; I bite a pill in half each night.  Sometimes, I even take one quarter.  If I wake up and feel panicky, I take a half and suck on it under my tongue, until I feel sleepy and calm.

It has a few minor drawbacks. I’ve gained weight while I’ve been on it, as many apparently do. And, I’m not as alert in the morning with it– I have a harder time waking up, and feel sleepier for longer.  I’ve felt bad, when we have overnight guests, or when we’re with family for the holidays, because I’m always the last one to wake up.

But, still: it’s been an amazing asset to my life.  I am thankful for it. Sometimes I even thank God for it when I pray–that’s how different my nights are.  And my days: the little things don’t pile on when I am rested. It’s just easier to be reasonable.  Do I still get anxious, and more than the average person? Yes.  Do I still wake up anxious and inconsolable?  Sometimes.

That’s all, really. I just wanted to write about sarokwel.  I have some guilt that I take something every day, that I can’t snap myself out of it, that being in therapy for more than half my life hasn’t been enough to rewire my synapses. But mostly, I’m thankful to get sleepy at night, and hear Matt read, and get sleepier and sleepier, and finally fall asleep, knowing I will sleep through the night.

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Yesterday, I babysat Louisa, one of the little girls from my Sunday school class–I’ve been teaching her in Sunday school for three years now, since she was three. I babysit only occasionally, when my work schedule allows.

We did lots and lots and lots, but in the afternoon, she wanted to play soccer in Riverside Park. She even changed into her complete soccer kit to do so.  She told me the rules, and I guarded her increasingly-getting-wider goal area.  She gleefully escaped, sometimes scoring one point, sometimes two, and sometimes three.  (I don’t know how scoring actually works in soccer, but that sounded reasonable to me.)

We lay in the grass to rest, and she said, “Let’s tell a story.”  Louisa began by telling me the story of the tortoise and the hare.  (Interesting that in US English, we never use those words, save for in that story, which even little children know.)  I made up a story for Louisa, inspired by the way the blue sky looked like lace through the green-to-yellow shuddering leaves above our heads.

“Once upon a time, there was an ancient and wise king.  A dragon searches for him every night.  To escape from the dragon, he decided to turn into a tree. That tree there– see how silvery?  That is the wise and ancient king.  Every night, the dragon walks slooowwllly through the park, looking for the king, but he never finds him.

The dragon is purple and red, with golden scales.  He is very ferocious, but not very smart.”

Occasionally, I stopped, and we’d think about the bit I’d just told.  Then, Louisa would say, “Tell more.”

“There is also a royal empress, and she has loved the ancient king for many centuries.  She is brilliant and brave.  Her love for the king is so deep that she also chose to become a tree–she’s that tree there.  See how their branches go up together? They’re holding hands.  If you come here to the park on a summer night, and listen very, very carefully, you can hear them murmuring–they tell wisdom and love for each other.”

“Is that true?  Like for real life?” Louisa demanded.  I said, “It’s story true.” “Tell more,” she said.

“Every night, the dragon walks through here– he’s searching for a secret, but only the king knows where it is.  (It’s deep inside the big library, but the dragon will never know.)  You can see the gold scales glitter in the moonlight, and it would give you the shivers.

Once, a brilliant young girl came sailing up the river on a royal ship, all the way from China. She had heard of the wise king and empress brilliant and brave, and wanted to meet them.  She had long black hair covered with emeralds, and her cloak gleamed with rubies.  Her ship sailed silently up the river, landing right there.

When she came into the park–she was such a smart little girl–she stood very still, and listened very carefully.  In that way, she knew right away which trees were the royal king and empress.”

“She becomes a tree too!” Louisa said.

“Yes, the young girl–a princess, really–decided to become a tree, too.  Which tree is she?  Yes. Oh, they are wise and kind, and will live long, good lives. They can turn back into humans if they like, but they have good lives here in the park, too.”

After the story, we played it out.  A dried leaf with turned up edges can be a bed if you put it turned-up edges up, or a very good table if you put it down turned-up edges down.  We found good blades of grass for the king, empress, and princess.  You know how sometimes leaves dry full of tiny holes, looking like lace?  Those kind of leaves became skirts for the empress, and a torn leaf rumple was a cloak for the king.

Tiny squares of bark were plates for the table, and books, and pillows.  Slender, tiny twigs were serving pieces.  The royal trio ate breakfast, and slept, and talked about royal and beautiful things they knew.

And then we played some more soccer.

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Verdancy

I read _Schooling_ by Heather McGowan last week– it’s written in a very Joycean stream-of-conscious, no use of quotation marks, shifting point of view style. A young American girl is at boarding school in England; the story covers her immersion into the school, her grief over her mother’s death, her strange (inappropriate?) relationship with a teacher, and her coming of age.

It actually got tiresome after a while, trying to keep track of who was saying what, and which person’s perspective I was following.  This is a shame, because many of the scenes were very beautiful, and very memorable.

One of my favorite parts included as many terms for the color green-running to yellow as I have ever seen in one place. It was enjoyable and curious, reading them, to try and picture each shade, and to imagine the differences in hues.  The colors mentioned included:

luteous, copper, jade, loden, teal, jonquil, barium, turquoise, celadon

The girl’s teacher was giving her a painting lesson, and they were painting a garden– he was encouraging her not to use merely, “green,” calling green a “downward slope to nowhere.”  He was also warning her against plebeian ideas, so I’m not sure I agree with him in whole, but I do like the idea that we ought to think specifically, and to take time to imagine or articulate exactly the shade (or shade of meaning) that we mean.

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Farewell, Matyora

Several months ago, Matt and I started a book exchange.  We  each recommend a long-favorite and read them at the same time.  I tend to read more fiction, more novels than he, and we both have books that we love, or that have deeply influenced us in turn.  

Each exchange has been a success– I’ve loved hearing how much he enjoys some of my favorites, and I’ve found some new great books as well.

The exchange also feels like part of our early courtship.  In early e-mails, he might mention a song or album, and I would surreptitiously try to seek it out.  Or I would title an e-mail subject line with a quote from, say, Nabokov…keying an extra layer of meaning into my message.  We would recommend books, articles, and songs, and it was exciting to find out more about this other person with whom we were becoming smitten.  Sharing new books feels akin to that.

Over Christmas break, I started reading a book that he read a long time ago; he gave it to me for a birthday present more than a year ago.  I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, but I love it.  

Here is one shining paragraph that struck me; I will probably memorize it so I can keep it.

“The village Matyora slept.  The old women dreamed dry anxious dreams, which come down to them secondhand, but the old women didn’t know about that.  Only at night, casting off from solid land, the living and dead meet–the dead come to them in body and word and ask for the truth in order to pass it on even further, to those who they remembered.  There is much that the living say when they are unconscious and unencumbered and that upon wakening they do not remember and seek random answers to the last visions they saw.”

from Farewell to Matyora, by Valentin Rasputin

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