I see friends I haven’t seen in a long while. It is like we have not been away. One is so gauntly thin, now, that I can count the bones in her wrist. Her eyes and cheekbones are hollow, and her wedding ring is gone. “What happened?” I ask. “Spinal Meningitis. And he left me for his secretary,” she says. “I’m still mad at him for making me a cliche.” This is unthinkable. I see another friend, a newer one. This one looks healthy but seems to have acquired a taste for liquor that he takes immediately after conference sessions and in large quantities. He, too, is missing his ring. “What happened?” I ask again. “My wife told me she’s a lesbian,” he explains. “I think we can work it out.” I doubt that, but check myself at the impulse to share this information – what good has discouragement ever done? He gets a note from her at the end of the conference saying, “I’ve gone.” He does not know what this means – although everyone else does -- and is inconsolable.
Tracy, Rachel, (good Baylor friends and my roommates) and I play a new game: “Vagrant or academic?” I lose, spotting what I think is a vagrant outside of Starbucks who turns out to be wearing an ALA nametag. We become instant friends with two people who introduce themselves as Sari-like-Mary and Corinne-like-Maureen and talk about children we don’t have and reality shows and smutty books we love. We eat veggie burgers and Thai food covered in too much chili sauce and it keeps me warm even though I haven’t brought a coat and the ocean wind is cold here.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Andrew and I have been training for the Batesville 5K for a couple of months now and the morning finally came to put our hills, sprints, lunges, weight lifting, distance and speed training to the test. (We ran as part of a Sunday School class team. Some members saw that other groups made shirts and suggested we should, too. I heard someone ask, "Yeah! But what would we put on them?" I said, "How about 'my Jesus is faster than your Jesus'?" I'm not sure how my suggestion was received.) It was my first race, and I came in fourth in my age group! Andrew came in eighth in his, and we both have the shin splints to prove it. It was fun in a very painful kind of way. Watch out Water Valley Watermelon festival -- I've got the fever!
Posted by Paro at 7:06 PM
Duffy is a new British pop star I can't stop telling people about. She has a beautiful new (old) sound straight out of the 1960s when people still knew how to sing. The song below is just a taste of her new album, "Rockferry." This is the video of "Warwick Avenue." Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Posted by Paro at 7:03 PM
Friday, May 16, 2008
Today's post is about what I'm calling the "doctrine of exclusion." Lately, it's all I hear about. The post was inspired by California recognizing gay marriage as legal, only the second state to do so. And, of course, it brought outcry from several Christian groups.
What I don't get is why people are so absorbed with "who's not invited." That is -- who doesn't belong in heaven, who isn't worthy of salvation without repentance, and so on. Lately, the only Christianity that gets any press are the people preaching the doctrine of exclusion. For example, I've heard that Muslims "aren't invited," nor are gays, lesbians, and Hindus. Terrorists are absolutely "not invited." Nor are democrats. Or liberals, especially; in fact, I believe they've been sent a polite letter asking them to stop filling out applications for the hereafter. But what intrigues me is that this rhetoric does not stem from the Bible so many base their rage upon. I was trying to think of the times that someone came to Christ and he turned them away for not fitting into a certain paradigm and -- lo! and behold -- I came up blank. Take the prostitute who bathed Jesus's feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. His disciples advised him to stay away from her, lest she "infect" him with her sin, but he chastised them for these exclusionary principles. The lower-class leper that touches the hem of Christ's robe is rewarded by being healed and praised for being a man of the truest kind of faith. Even David, a lech, a philanderer, a murderer (like Moses and oh so many others) is rewarded by God, not turned away. So where are we getting this doctrine? Why is the most visible part of Christianity, its hate?
It seems so ridiculous to me and apparently, I'm not alone. There's a website dedicated to satirizing the hundreds of things Christians have spoken out against (Harry Potter, Oprah, gay marriage, Obama, public institutions, video games, the Golden Compass, Disney, Wal-Mart, Johnson and Johnson. . .do I have to go on?) called www.godhatesshrimp.com. Funny as I found it -- and I found it damned funny -- is that really what we want to be known for?
Posted by Paro at 12:21 PM
Monday, May 12, 2008
This is Andrew, my husband, who graduated with his MA on Saturday. As you can see from this (almost frighteningly representative) family photo, his folder did not include a diploma. No one's did. All folders on graduation day were empty. Students, we assume, will get them at a later time.
This made me think about ceremonies, like graduations but also weddings and funerals, inaugurations and retirement celebrations. They are often, like Andrew's folder, empty, and by that I mean woefully inadequate to represent the agonies and ecstasies that came before. For all of Andrew's late-night revisions on top of a full day teaching hooligans, for the nights he lost sleep worrying about when he would finish the degree, for the exhaustive amount of paperwork he had to shuttle back and forth to Oxford to rush in time to graduate on Saturday, a hollow book -- even the piece of paper they might have given him -- seems almost insulting.
And yet, there's something about a ceremony that the human spirit needs. There's something about the pretense of finality that helps us, or is supposed to help us, move on; if our family and friends come for the pretense, it is perhaps an even more useful exercise as we all participate in the charade that "this" hard time is now, as if it were not before, over. Although it would never be enough to represent how glad I am for him, I wish I could have done more to somehow make it all bigger. I wish I could have caused the sky to rain gold or rented 1,000 bubble machines to go off simultaneously. I wish I could have brought a marching band inside to make a cacophonous noise when he got onstage even though we were supposed to "hold our applause."
I wasn't able to do any of these things. But who knows? Even though the ceremony has passed, it's never too late for bubbles.
Posted by Paro at 9:43 AM
Friday, May 9, 2008
I have Anna to thank for my levity for the week. She sent me a copy of the Washington Post's Mensa Invitation which asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Some of the winners were:
1. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
2. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
3. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
4. Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
Anna and I loved these but decided to come up with our own; I should add that part of the Mensa challenge was to take known words and give them unknown definitions [i.e. Willy-Nilly: impotent or Lymph: to walk with a lisp.] Here are Anna's:
1. Discipelines: grad students who are blind devotees of a particular professor and her theories.
2. Canine: actually a mathematical formula (K*9) to calculate the cost of whatever's wrong with your dog, where the variable "K" equals the amount you can afford which is then multiplied by 9.
3. Muilt: that special form of guilt that only your mother can make you feel.
Here are mine:
1. Hintillectual: A Rhodes Scholar who can't stop dropping clues about how smart he is.
2. Crackademic: A PhD student who was in her program so long that she started selling drugs just to get by.
3. Fauxtox Injections: What Californians receive when they don't want a better face -- they want a new one altogether.
4. Valetudinarian: Someone who is brave who also shelves books. Or, someone who shelves books bravely. =)
Got any to add?
Posted by Paro at 10:31 AM
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
This is the White River in Arkansas, a powerful, fast-moving, flood-gorged body of water that we braved in a raft last weekend while visiting Camille's parents' cabin in Mountain View. The 4-hour river rafting expedition began ominously. It was early morning and dark, with heavy gray clouds overhead, a wind that could drag a body out of a boat, and a frigid temperature of about 50 degrees. Brooke and I wrapped our bodies in everything we could find: towels, blankets, sweatshirts, jackets -- and still, every single part of me was numb. About two hours into the trip, when I thought I just couldn't get any colder, we met up with two other friends who'd taken a motorboat to go fishing, and they offered to pull us the rest of the way. We almost accepted, but stopped, determined to finish the trip the way we'd planned. And it was good we did. About 5 minutes later, the sun burned the clouds away and we reached a part of the river that blocked those awful winds. The water slowed its furious pace and the raft began a calm drift to our stopping point. I'd never been so grateful for sunshine in my life. The rest of the journey was beautiful, languid -- slow like no other part of our lives lately.
Since the trip follows on the heels of Andrew's struggles with the history dept to get his MA, followed by his eventual triumph in passing his thesis defense (go Andrew!), the whole experience got me to thinking about how it feels when the sun comes out. I'm not sure I'm a pessimist, but I catch myself talking more about trials and less about what it feels like to get past those trials. Not as much as I'd like, in other words, about what it feels like when the sun comes out. It's not that everything always turns out rosy, but troubles that plague me -- like my dog Sierra's $400 heartworm treatment -- are fleeting. I'd like to focus less on the bill and more on the fact that the dog can be cured. I'd like to focus less on the wind and more on the fact that the river did, eventually, slow down. This is as much of a challenging task as is facing the trials, when you think about it.
Posted by Paro at 9:41 AM
Thursday, May 1, 2008
It seems like this blog is going to be about MTV's The Real World (Hollywood), but it isn't, although the airing of the newest season was the impetus for these thoughts. Since I grew up with the Real World -- anyone remember Puck? -- it's a train wreck I just can't turn away from each year it comes on. This year, one of the cast members (Joey) is an alcoholic-manic-depressive with suicidal tendencies; the girl he's interested in is a stripper-with-a-warrant-out-for-her-arrest-who-used-to-have-a-coke/meth addiction. As a bonus, she's "into" abusive boys. That got me thinking: what is the "real world?" Not the show -- I mean, what do we mean when we use that phrase?
When MTV named the show, they meant "real" as in "when I hate you, I get to punch you in the face" rather than pretending I like you or I get to call you horrible names or sleep with you and show it on television. "Real" means, on the show, to pull no punches. And, as anyone who's ever seen the show has said before, reality TV is hardly an adequate depiction of what normal humans go through on a day-to-day basis. Very few people would call living in a free house with free liquor and no job an adequate representation of life among the masses. So, of course, that's not real.
So what is? When we were younger, in school, I remember talking to my friends about how this subject or that one wouldn't be useful in the "real world." I guess by that we meant that whatever lesson teachers were trying to impart that day wouldn't be useful to our future careers (I think I wanted to be a car mechanic when I was 6 -- really, who was I to say what I should and shouldn't learn?). But even in academia, instructors talk about our students' "real world." What's going on in their world that we can't get them to understand what's important about ours? Is their world more "real" than ours if they're having problems, like if they're struggling with depression or they've lost a parent? Or does it just mean that their reality is harsher than the one we're trying to teach them about -- that bad grammar and poor syntax and an inability to think properly can affect not just your job prospects but your quality of life, since it affects the way people size you up. Does living "real" always entail a struggle?
Let's say I'm not living in the real world. As a dissertation student with a fellowship, I have mobility I've never had before. I don't technically have a boss, and I get paid to read. I'm sure lots of people think this isn't reality. So the logical question that follows then, is if you're not in the real world, where are you?
Posted by Paro at 10:39 AM