Sunday, October 28, 2012

Notes for a talk I'm giving soon.

I was nominated to speak on the topic of Orthodoxy as a model for education at an open house for our school. I have spoken in this venue before, but it still makes me want to throw up. Speaking about education in front of a bunch of parents is also particularly terrifying to me because, childless at 24, I don't really wish to claim to be an expert on raising Orthodox children. But here, anyway, are my two cents. The cents are rough notes for a speech, not a polished essay.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lycurgus was the original homeschool mom.

   He filled Lacedaemon all through with proofs and examples of good conduct; with the constant sight of which from their youth up the people would hardly fail to be gradually formed and advanced in virtue.
    And this was the reason why he forbade them to travel abroad, and go about acquainting themselves with foreign rules of morality, the habits of ill-educated people, and different views of government. Withal he banished from Lacedaemon all strangers who would not give a very good reason for their coming thither; not because he was afraid lest they should inform themselves of and imitate his manner of government (as Thucydides says), or learn anything to their good; but rather lest they should introduce something contrary to good manners. With strange people, strange words must be admitted; these novelties produce novelties in thought; and on these follow views and feelings whose discordant character destroys the harmony of the state. He was as careful to save his city from the infection of foreign bad habits, as men usually are to prevent the introduction of a pestilence.
From Plutarch's The Life of Lycurgus

Friday, October 19, 2012

Naked. Whew.

This song goes down easy and the cheer will linger all day

I feel more like reading than writing at the moment, but I wanted to record a realization that I had today. It's about ME and MY happiness, so you will probably not be interested in it, which is totally normal and human of you.

I'm happy (if anyone can be called happy before they're dead) but like a human, I spend a lot of time thinking about what would make me happier. One of my students asked me what I used to want to be when I grew up, and I answered that as a child, I wanted to be a Writer, an Artist, a Mother, a Teacher, a Chef, a Cowgirl, a Black Belt in Karate, a Musician of some sort, and a Gymnast.

Except for motherhood, I've experimented with all of those selves and I suppose that I incorporate them all in my life to some extent. Usually I'm not very much of a Cowgirl. But I am officially a Teacher; I really enjoy cooking tasty food for my husband; I write letters and blog posts; I do mother people; I paint and draw almost daily; I sing every day and play our piano when I can bear its awful tuning; I am a Green Belt in tae kwon do; and I do cartwheels whenever I have room and I'm not wearing a dress. So most of those selves are still around. I'm always the Reader, although I don't think that was a career goal.

For some reason, though, today it struck me that although I like doing all of those things, I usually have to talk myself into making efforts towards them, and I am easily distracted from doing most of those things. I fall out of those selves.

Except for the Artist. Making Stuff is the one thing that I can do for hours at a time without eating or drinking or talking to my husband or getting on Facebook or even going to the bathroom. I don't have to talk myself into doing it, but I do have to talk myself into putting down the pencil or glue or paintbrush and doing other stuff.

I cannot remember a time when this was not true. My Reader self sort of muscled out my Artist self at some point, culminating in the choice to study philosophy, literature and language rather than art in college, but the Artist has always been there. I think the Artist has to be older and deeper; image, intuition and desire to order my environment all came before speech and the explicit recognition of abstract ideas. I think reason was born in the Artist, and the Reader forgets this.

Origins are important. They are usually hard to explain and painful to share; one must return to them privately. Immersing myself in some sort of manipulation of sensible materials (that's my most general definition of art) feels like taking off my clothes and stepping into a warm bath; a place where I don't need to think about whether I'm wearing the right clothes, and neither am I ashamed of my nakedness.

I don't feel the need to talk to other people about the Artist in order to confirm that I'm doing the right thing. This is important for me, because I spend a lot of energy worrying about duty and propriety. I have to "check-in" with other people fairly often. (Oldest daughter! Gemini with Virgo Rising and Leo Moon! ENFJ! Ack!!) The worst thing about this is that I feel sort of ashamed of being an extrovert; it seems weak to need clothes, customs, mirrors and masks. In fact, this shame gets rather recursive because I even feel ashamed of being ashamed of being an extrovert. Ugh. Thanks a lot, philosophy.

I used to worry that I wasn't a "deep" person. Now I think I realize that I was tapping about for depths in the wrong places. So I felt stronger today when I realized that I do have a private, naked self, which I don't need to share with anyone but God. Of course I am blogging about the Artist and I blurted some of these thoughts out to my husband as soon as they occurred to me. Oh well. The important thing is that the Artist does not seek justification. I still want to be all of those other selves and more as I grow up, and I am growing in and out of those selves. But in recognizing the Artist recently, I've begun to weave a strong, soft, quiet little dwelling for her. She could have used one of these in college.

Does that make sense to anybody else? It doesn't have to, finally.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Out of shorts

We watched a scary movie last night. It was a fairly complicated time-travel-I'm-actually-the-killer thing, with a few horrible images, somewhere between Groundhog Day and The Shining. The plot was interesting enough ("Wait! Does this movie even have a beginning or an ending?") that we spent some time reading possible explanations on the internet, and then, stupidly, turned off the lights and tried to go to sleep.

Fear of dark dreams kept me from sleeping, but my half-awake state was probably worse. One can wake up from a nightmare and feel a shock of relief, but delirious, repetitive gropings at reason insist on justifying themselves over and over again. I kept trying to figure out the movie, and of course I became the protagoniste. It wasn't the worst post-horror-movie night of sleep I've experienced, but it was very unpleasant.

Sometimes, even if I'm not afraid of some ghoulie jumping out at me on the way to the bathroom, I can be afraid of a room. I'm probably not alone in this; in fact there is probably a German word for overwhelming, ambient horror. Last night I remembered a strange instance of this feeling: One dark October morning two years ago the moon impressed me with a deep dread, and I felt almost paralyzed by its gaze. I prayed myself out of bed and leapt onto my bike to pedal madly through the dry chill, tearing down the streets of Santa Fe as a hounded supplicant.  Warm panes of light and my co-worker's opening-shift jazz welcomed me to the coffee shop, and I wanted to tell him how glad I was to see him, but I could not bear to tell him that I was afraid of the moon.

Halloween is coming. I always wonder whether we should let little non-existent Jimmy and Susie (not our actual non-existent children's names) join in the fun. Aren't there really uncanny things to be afraid of? Mightn't something besides dry leaves be sweeping about in that exhilarating air, of which there is certainly a Prince?

If we have children, and if they simply must go trick-or-treating, I would like to teach them to sing this as they walk:

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
His baptism in the Jordan River,
His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my god to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

No contest.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

trop et trop peu de vin

That is why many of us have concluded that the way to remain American, Orthodox, and sane is to remind yourself that somewhere thousands of miles away there is a Romanian guy who smokes 2 packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day and curses like a sailor, and the last thing he did before passing out drunk was make the sign of the cross the same way that you do. And it isn’t a matter of glorifying vice or trying to hold up examples of bad behavior in a hipsterish or ironic way. It’s about the fact that if there is hope for him, there is hope for me; in other words, the only comforting religion is one that is made for humans, not for angels. And there is something deeply human and deeply spiritual about a person knowing that he is a terrible, terrible screw up that doesn’t really want to change but somehow wishes he did want to.

This guy seems to keep it real.

Orthobloggers who complain a lot (read: whiskey drinking male converts) seem to have completely different problems with living in Orthodox communities than I do. Oh well. I know it's not all sunshine on the icon of Christ and getting stoned ("noetically") on incense and feeling smart that you know some Greek words to use at coffee hour, but sometimes I think the post-honeymoon convert cynicism is extreme. Maybe this is because the Orthodox churches I have spent time in have been a pretty good mix of converts and cradle cats, but I haven't noticed this "guruism" that many Orthobloggers worry about.

The small ROCOR church that I attended in my college town had a couple pious Russian families with grown-up kids who made normal-people mistakes and tried again later, and the rest of the congregation was made of academics like me who were pretty neurotic before they were Orthodox anyway, and generally chilled out as they got older. The priest was an extremely liberal stroke-y old fellow who was always dropping holy things and forgetting words. It was my first Orthodox church and I just thought really long pauses and clanging and mumbling were what always happened behind the iconostasis. No guruism there.  That was a fun and hard church.

The OCA church we attend now is just strikingly not weird in any way (to me, at least, since it's in my hometown,) and at coffee hour, people just talk about living in or around a small town in the Midwest. There's a streak of Wendell Berryism running through a few of them but it's not extreme, and it seems a natural growth from this independent, home-loving stock, who would just be de facto shrugging libertarians anyway.  Our priest is an humble and easy-going young dude who gets haircuts and likes football. Not a guru.

But thanks to the internet, this dumb problem is on my radar! But wait, there's more! Catholic Women Bloggers complement their Orthodox Male counterparts on the spectrum of Anxiety Over Stuff That Doesn't Even Happen to Me (such as arguments about women wearing pants.) Perhaps these things will all come up eventually. Whatever there is to worry about in the next stage of my life, I'm ready.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Survival of the Cutest

I was so, so proud of the brown bread that I made yesterday. Before yesterday, I had never been able to make it as well as my husband's mother does. Not even close. Try making sandwiches with brick slices. I looked at the recipe yesterday and realized that somehow I had left out the salt when I wrote down her instructions. So I put a handful in and everything turned out perfectly. I think I added about ten bucks to our gas bill by keeping the stove on for a few hours, but there was nowhere else to let the dough rise in our (suddenly!) very cold house. Right before we went to sleep, we each had one glorious, steaming, sweet slice of bread with butter. I tucked the darling loaves into a brown paper bag to keep them moist, and kissed them goodnight.

This morning, as I rustled the paper bag to open it, a MOUSE shot out, scurried across the counter and leaped into the air like a skydiver. I was so upset. The first time I get the bread right, and an effing mouse poops in the bag. Well, I examined the precious things and they had miraculously escaped mastication by the intruder.

"Why would he just poop in the bag and neglect to munch on the bread?" I wondered, a little offended that the mouse hadn't found my homemade bread tempting.
"He was probably trying to find a warm place to sleep," my husband said.

Then my heart melted a little bit, because at the time I was changing my clothes in the early morning darkness, and I was cold. I thought of him smelling the bread and crawling up onto the counter. (Sick.) Perhaps he only hoped to find some little crumbs to nibble on (or to share with his wee little wife and baby mice? Do they do that?); then he was drawn by the scent into this enormous shelter, where two crackly monoliths exhaled a warm and dizzying perfume. The structure was full of this thick, soft air, and he got so drunk on bread-breath that he was no longer hungry. So he laid down between two big bosomy loaves and slept. And pooped. Anyway, I thought that sounded so nice that I didn't blame him, even though it still grossed me out.

We kept the bread. We've been cutting off the crusts (which is sad because they turned out great) and it's still heavenly. I guess one night of hospitality to a yucky cute little mouse isn't too much to ask.

Mirror, mirror, please change the channel

I ran across a little quip recently, and I can't remember exactly how it went or where I heard it, but this was the gist of it:

A beautiful woman looks in the mirror and thinks that her image in the mirror is her true self. An ugly woman looks in the mirror and knows that the image isn't her true self.

Feel free to revise that for pith.

Recently my husband said "Have you been sitting on my left side for three years so that I wouldn't see what you think is your bad side?" Yes, I answered, with not enough shame. I had to get him to marry me, after all. When I was a teenager, I realized that one side of my face was ever so subtly less pretty than the other side, so I started to make sure I put my best face forward, which meant turning my head a lot. Luckily the slightly more elegant half of my face is the "driver's side," so boys were more likely to see that side. I went back and forth between parting my hair on either side, sometimes wanting to prettily frame the good side and cover up the bad side, sometimes feeling like a bunch of hair on the bad side made it look even worse.

Sometimes I was conscious of this posturing, sometimes unconscious. For a while, I felt uncomfortable when I was driving someone else. All of this is pretty natural (I won't say healthy) for a girl to do. However, what I eventually realized was that I was not only offering my "good side" to others, I was favoring this side when I looked in the mirror. Even today I still turn my head slightly to the right so that I can see (this is so stupid) how I really look, because that other side is not me.

This is so dumb. I know it is dumb. But through habit I have really cultivated a certain mental image of myself, and it is disturbing when it is shattered by the truth. I imagine most people have had the unpleasant experience of seeing an awkward, candid picture of themselves. "Why did they take that when I wasn't looking? That's a really bad angle!" really means "Shit, I haven't been thinking of myself as fat, and now I have to revise my self-image." Revise it, or simply blame the camera man. "No, I really DON'T look like that." Yes, you do.

The badly-quoted-quip above stuck with me because I have been both the ugly girl and the pretty girl, and I imagine that you (whoever you are) have too. What I think is even more interesting, though, is that this is one of those pretty-hard-to-come-up-with examples of how self-love could lead you past the illusion and into the truth. The ugly girl has just as much self-love as the pretty girl. She isn't to be praised for her lack of superficiality, because she didn't have much going for her on that level anyway. She glances at store windows for less than a second, and then she moves on and accomplishes something. Then she'll feel the warm glow of self-satisfaction when men complement her on the elegance of her mind. It's a little closer to the truth of who she is, but she still got there through self-love.  The pretty girl will drown in her own reflection, but the ugly girl's self-love will lead her away from the mirror.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I'm pondering a post about music but I ate too much chicken soup to be articulate. This song is first of all beautiful and second of all a PREVIEW to my half-baked theory.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Free Friday

My husband is playing this song in the other room. I am waiting for my tea to brew. It is a Free Friday and I finally feel like I can relax. Our teaching loads are much easier this year than they were last year; I am only teaching five classes instead of what really amounted to seven. It's still a bit too much, though, from what I hear about teaching at normal schools, but we've never experienced that so this year seems like a breeze to us. Nonetheless, two days is never a long enough weekend to be properly slothful AND productive. I like to have enough time to catch up on sleep but also to feel like my own person-- an artist as well as an art teacher, a Latin scholar as well as a Latin taskmaster, a reader of books not required for high school students, a friend who mails birthday presents on time, a dutiful daughter/granddaughter/daughter-in-law/sister/sister-in-law who calls and writes, a housewife, an informed citizen, etc. And a Free Friday makes me feel almost as if I could do all these things (most of them tomorrow,) as well as write in a blog.

Those poor students are all rain-camping this weekend, while the teachers who cancelled school due to lack of students are going to Vietnamese restaurants and drinking wine and reading Rousseau in their pajamas at home. Hah!