Friday, December 2, 2011

The Wall

I don't have much time these days to write specifically for my blog, but it doesn't take much time to post something I've written for another reason!

Below is a somewhat cheesy impersonation of my classroom walls. My Rhetoric students, who are completing part of the progymnasmata this year, were composing impersonations, so I decided to whip up a model for them. Enjoy!

Classroom Walls to Students during Spirit Week
You painted me beige and called me classical, and I’ve played my part well. You, on the other hand, have broken character. At first, you performed: you recited Homer within my parameters; you pronounced Chaucer’s Middle English (which, though a bit young for my tastes, might be considered classical); you read Aristotle (though your Modern English translation slightly defiles that great thinker’s words).

Lately, however, I feel inside myself that things are getting a bit too contemporary—which, in my classical opinion, means base. I’ve even seen you enter in your pajamas. Classically speaking, that’s just indecent. Then many of you donned the attire of your favorite athletes. I’m not sure if you realize this, but classical athletes didn’t wear uniforms.

You also defiled the space I define by imitating what you call “nerds.” Don’t you understand you’re all nerds? You should be wearing robes, togas, sandals, laurels—not hiked-up skinny jeans and suspenders.
Yet, it’s true: I’m only acting, too. No such thing as drywall existed in Plato or Sophocles’s day. Back then the building materials (stone, wood, etc.) were more like the people—solid, strong, natural. Real buildings; real people. So, yes, by wearing beige and holding up prints of master painters I’m only mimicking that which is classical. Ah, well, as young Wall Shakespeare has said,
                            All the world’s a stage,
                            And all the walls merely players:                           
                            They have their exits and their entrances;
                            And one wall in his time plays many parts.


My students did well with the exercise. Some of the impersonations were: a Walmart buggy; a soldier speaking to his gun; a Les Paul guitar; and a mirror.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Domestic Pursuits

For Christmas, my sweet husband gave me a new sewing machine (my first).  It was an extremely thoughtful gift, because I had been wanting one but feeling intimidated by the research necessary to buy one.  An interest in and a penchant for research, however, is one of Matt's quirks and strengths.  So he researched and selected a machine (a nice Brother), and now I'm a happy camper!  Here I am--growing ever more domestic in my pursuits.

Now I just have to learn how to sew . . . .

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rinse and Repeat

I want to do something BIG.

An itch, an urge, an instinct, a pang--call it what you will, it undulates within me, now aflare, now asleep.  On the weekends it's the strongest.  I become like a bored little child tugging at her mother's sleeve and pleading, "Let's do something!"  I tug at my husband's sleeve, insisting, "Let's do something BIG with our lives!"  My itch flares up like arthritis, if I'm given enough free time to consider it.  During the week, though, little tasks crowd out the big, distracting me from the irritation.  My daily (mental) to-do list reads like the back of a shampoo bottle I've read a hundred times:  plan, grade, compose, rinse, and repeat.  This repetition is anti-inflammatory, and the itch is fairly well suppressed from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. 

I scratch the itch in various ways: searching real estate on craigslist, writing in my moleskin journal (thinking all the while that the paper connects me to Hemingway), drinking coffee, and reading great literature, for example.  As with all itches, though, such scratching only causes further inflammation.  Until my husband and I have bought a house and opened a non-profit bookstore and coffee shop, and I have written a book and read all the important books in the history of the world, I may still itch--if only on the weekends. 

I want to do something BIG.

There are a few root causes for this itch.  First, I buy into the "if only" fallacy.  If only we owned our own house;  if only we were doing something to directly fight injustice;  if only I were a published writer;  if only . . . . Then what?  Would I be satisfied, itch-free?  I suspect then I would simply itch for a nicer house, a greater impact, or more profound writings.

The second cause:  I forget that the way I wash my hair is important.  Plan, grade, compose, rinse, and repeat.  Plan, grade, compose, rinse, and repeat.  Plan, grade, compose, rinse, and repeat. What am I doing again?  Oh, yeah, now I remember:  I'm trying to make a difference in the lives of young image-bearers.

 The third cause is the hardest to admit.  Even though I know better, I think my value is tied to what I do, to what I make of myself.  My thoughts are something like this:  If I own a cute house and decorate it beautifully, won't that show me to be a beautiful, tasteful person?  If my husband and I own a non-profit organization devoted to fighting injustice, won't that prove we are good people?  If I write a book, won't that mean I'm a legitimate thinker and artist?  And so on.  Wrong as it is, deep down I feel that I'll finally be somebody when I accomplish all these things.

In short, I buy two lies and forget an important truth.  But there is one more cause for the itch, and this one's not so bad.  In fact, it needs to grow.

I itch for Truth, Beauty, Justice, Love, and Mercy to be vivid in my life.  Some of this desire, of course, is a selfish wish for profundity; but some of the desire stems from knowledge of redemption--here and now--and also from hope, longing, faith in consummation to come.  I itch, not only for personal glory, but because I believe that, as puny as I am on the face of the earth, what I do on it matters.

I want to do something BIG.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Planes

I just boarded a plane headed from Knoxville to Dallas. If I can manage to make my connection in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, it’s on to Albuquerque.

I don’t fly much. I’ve flown only 3 or 4 times in my life before now—an amount which allows me to retain both my wonder and fear of flying. I can only suppose that most of the people on board this cramped craft are seasoned flyers. Everyone but me seemed to find his or her seat quite easily, then quickly settle in with a book, newspaper, or cell phone. Some even shut their eyes, laid back their heads, and ignored the safety demonstration as well as the takeoff.

I, on the other hand, confident that 4C must be in the far-off section C (for less-experienced and shallower-pocketed passengers) trod toward the back of the plane. But very soon I saw the lavatory ahead of me—with no such section beyond it. My naturally red face turned a shade brighter as I repented of my trek to the plane’s tail section. Fortunately, I was one of the last passengers to board, so on my way back toward the front and my undeserved fourth-row seat I didn’t have to squirm past too many people.

Finally in my seat, I admitted my foolishness to the woman next to me. “Are you 4B?” I asked. Then, upon her nod: “Oh, good! I’m in the right place.”

While my blonde neighbor adjusted her watch for Dallas time, I itched to open the window. Finally I did, but not without asking if it would bother her. She piddled about in her purse. “Oh no, honey. That’s fine.” She was nice, though apparently uninterested in our upcoming ascent.

After ten minutes of poking around in the leather bag, she closed her eyes, and her head lolled slightly toward the aisle. I felt impatient for takeoff, and when it came I was grateful for the window seat my sleeping companion would likely not have appreciated.

Now here I sit, alternating between craning to view earth’s texture below and scratching my messy cursive on a small legal pad I threw in my bag with no expectation that inspiration would visit me. From up here, even my fine-lead pencil seems too large to describe how small the world looks—the world I so recently have crawled on and considered large and important. I first realized how high we must be when we passed over a stable, including an arena full of jumps appearing nothing more than lines in sand. We’re much higher now than we were then, so that even roads appear only as earth's veins:  thin, squiggly, and hardly-visible.

Now clouds and summer haze keep me from seeing even those. But for a few minutes, at least, I saw the earth’s surface as two-dimensional. Huge and pure bright clouds, in contrast, seemed full—as though things up in the air have greater substance and make up a more tangible reality than the stick figures below.

I have bothered to look out the window, and I have seen that the dust from which I am made really doesn’t comprise much. Fence-lines, tree-lines, roads, and rivers seem no more real or massive than the markings on a map. Buildings which ordinarily would overwhelm my 5’2” stature have no height, really. And cars just like the one I drive on seemingly important business are like specks I can’t be sure represent more than a flaw in my vision.

Up here where clouds collide with sky I never knew to be so deeply blue, I have seen that the hill of dirt I daily trudge is miniscule. And though I sit on this plane, separate from that almost-reality, I know that--were I tied to earth as usual--I could not hope to be even a speck in a sky-flying observer’s field of vision.

Yet it’s also easier (from up here) to see the beautiful order of the earth’s landscape. Roads section off verdant plots of land—some fields dotted with tin-topped barns, others subdivided into symmetrical neighborhoods—all with trees marking internal boundaries and occasionally dappling the landscape. From above, there seems design and purpose of placement. There’s beauty in the smallness.

Now we’re descending and I have to stow my implements. Unfortunately, the Dallas airport will make me think earth-bound things are large once again, and that my scurrying to catch my connection is terribly important. Still, for two short hours I have seen the smallness and the beauty of the earth. Indeed, I think I may have seen the smallness of myself.

I wrote the above post at the beginning of a delightful trip to New Mexico.  The picture below shows me, an insignificant traveler, in the vast Sandia Mountains.