Why Intro to Lit?

The other day at the gym, I saw an ad for Reese’s new, very meta candy: Reese’s Pieces inside a Reese’s cup.

Here’s what the ad looked like:

reeses

revolution? 

Really?

Basically, this was my reaction:

you-keep-using-that-word

But The Princess Bride aside, this is partly why I teach Introduction to Literature.

We teach in a world where, as Matthew Crawford notes, our attention is increasingly divided among a growing number of companies competing not only for our money but also for our brain space; they want to be remembered. They want to be noticed.

One way to do this is to be the loudest kid on the block. Such a strategy that naturally leads to such overstatements as calling a new kind of candy (and not even a new kind, but a variation on an old favourite) a “revolution.”

You know how at Yankee Candle, you can smell about seven candles before your nose is so overpowered by the scents that it stops registering anything? The same thing happens with language; the more students are exposed to overstatements like the one in the ad, the less they’re able to register nuance in language and to speak precisely. The language sense is all overpowered. Ordinary language, simple and elegant, no longer registers.

In Introduction to Literature, at the start of every semester, I tell my students I want them to appreciate literature. This is (partly ) what I mean by this: to value words well-used and simply spoken, to attune themselves to the subtle differences, both emotional and intellectual, in word choice.

My hope is that the exercises we do, all the analyzing of imagery and tone and symbolism, helps accomplish this. Whether they do depends on the students of course, and more on my teaching.

But this is the goal: to keep students from swallowing candy ads trying to pass themselves off as a “revolution,” and to use words well. 

My Syllabus

Hands down, my favourite course to teach is Introduction to Literature. While I enjoy teaching Composition, I love teaching literature. There’s more reading and less grading; it’s a win-win.

Every semester, I add a few new stories and poems that have caught my interest, and I keep on a few that I think are important.

Here’s some of the new ones I’m most excited about teaching, mostly scheduled during March and April:

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s “EPICAC”
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” (scheduled immediately before Spring Break. That’ll be fun.)
  • Arthur Clarke’s “The Star”
  • Czeslaw Milosz’s “Song at the End of the World”

And . . . drum roll please . . . I’m finally teaching a movie! I’ve wanted to do this for years. This year, it will be Arrival. It’s a good story, recently released, and probably new to the majority of my students.

A few favourites I’m keeping on:

  • Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.”
  • Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”. I’ve been listening to Hardcore History’s podcasts on the Persian empire, so my keeping of “Ozymandias” is partly inspired by that.
  • Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

Interestingly, many of the texts I keep on not because they’re favourites of mine but because they’re favourites of the students, and/or they do an excellent job teaching what I want them to. Mary Oliver’s “The Swan,” for instance, is great at teaching imagery, and the students last year loved it, while Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” is a fantastic little play that can be read in class to give students more time to work on their first projects.

And, through a last-minute adjustment to my schedule, John Milton’s essay, “Areopagitica,” abridged by yours truly for non-majors. A previous student of mine recently reached out to me, looking for the title of the essay; it turns out that she was going through an experience which made the essay personally relevant. I love the essay but had wondered whether it was in fact relevant to students; the fact that she found it so made me add it back on.

And yes, they’ll be asked to memorize a passage for the test, the same passage I memorized when I took a course in Milton during senior year of college.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees its adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. 

Beautiful. Thanks, Dr. S.

Now, if I could only decide what novel to teach!

 

Faithfulness

Jamie Smith argues in You Are What You Love that we have a tendency to reduce human beings to what they are thinking about, as though they are brains on sticks.

In this context, and more particularly, we tend to reduce faithfulness to adherence to a particular set of theological principles.

Yet it seems to me that faithfulness is as much something as we live out as something we believe.

Lately, I’ve been facing a situation that makes me pretty anxious.

It’s not a health issue, nothing life or death, but it’s always there, lurking at the back of my mind. I feel all the time as though I’ve had one too many cups of coffee.

I could choose to bring this thing which is causing me anxiety from the back of my mind to the front. The other day, I was testing the freshness of eggs by dropping them into a glass of water; the eggs caused the water to slosh over the side of the cup that I was using.

Something similar would happen to my life if I focused on my anxiety. It would become unbalanced.

Things that really matter, like my work responsibilities and spiritual life and physical health, would get pushed out of the way by this new thing.

And because I can’t really even do anything about this new thing currently, I’d wind up doing things that don’t matter at all, like reading Buzzfeed posts about what people wore to the Golden Globes. I don’t even care about the Golden Globes, but the anxiety does not let my mind focus on anything more substantial.

Or I’d hover aimlessly in the kitchen, eating way too many chocolate candy melts and then feeling even more unsettled thanks to the sugar rush.

That’s one option.

The other is what I’ve been trying to do: to choose, moment by moment, to focus on what’s important now: planning my lessons for the end of this week, getting my Mac ready to take in for service, taking care of some important things in my personal life. If all else fails, I clean my apartment; if nothing else gets done, at least my floors will be swept.

This, I think, is what faithfulness is: the choice to do what needs to be done, to act as we are called, regardless of how we feel or what we’re facing.

Faithfulness is as much a way of living as a way of believing.

Being faithful does not make the anxiety go away. It doesn’t even make it easier to deal with; it is impossible for me to just get rid of that little niggling worry at the back of my mind, the catch in my breath, the continual turn of my thoughts back towards this thing.

But the fact that the feelings of anxiety do not go away is no reason not to do the things that need to be doing.

Nor is the anxiety a reason to give into despair.

It’s cloudy out today, and snowing a little; the gloomy day makes it even easier for me to feel nervous and down about everything.

Yet I can choose to cultivate gratitude, to be glad for the things which are good in my life.

To name just two that have been on my mind:

I made homemade bread yesterday; I’ve gotten so much better at this since I started working on this last year!

I am blessed with a God who intervenes in my life, forgiving my sin; what more could I ask than to be free from the monsters that haunt me?

This is faithfulness, this moment by moment choosing to think about the things that need to be thought about, to do the things that need to be done.

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Peanut butter & jelly toast with homemade bread. Yum!

 

 

Taking Action on Teaching Evaluations

evalsI received a batch of student evaluations this afternoon (still waiting on a few others).

Some students were positively glowing, giving me high marks on nearly all standards. Yet a handful of students were displeased with my teaching, primarily because my grading was (from their perspective) far too difficult, as though I were assessing graduate students and not students in an online literature course.

This is perhaps the most common complaint I receive, that I grade too hard.

When I first started teaching, it was an accurate one.

Since then, however, I’ve made adjustments to the way I grade. I use detailed rubrics with that spell out the qualities of every level of work, from the lowest right up to the very best. The standards I hold my students to are the usual in my field; in discussions, for instance, my students are expected to quote or refer to what happens in the story we’re discussing, and explain their thoughts on the story. None of this is particularly hard stuff. I am not a hard grader.

And yet.

I’ve been reading The World Beyond Your Head lately, and in one of the chapters I worked through today, Crawford makes an interesting point.

He notes that in considering whether our actions accurately express who we are, “Some will say that sincerity is the key element here; whether or not an act is a true expression of the self is determined entirely by the inner psychological state of the agent” (152).

This passage reminds me of Ender’s ethical formulation in Speaker for the Dead, that an act is moral or immoral based entirely on the actor’s motive; what matters is not necessarily what we accomplish (since acting in the real world can be messy) but what we mean to accomplish.

Under this formulation, I am not a hard grader, because I do not mean to be; it is my students’ fault, not mine, that they misperceive my rubrics and videotaped feedback as excessively hard.

But Crawford (drawing on Hegel) pushes back on this way of evaluating whether our actions are successful.

He writes, in reference to Hegel, “You have not executed an intention successfully unless others attribute to you the deed and intention you attribute to yourself.” (quoting Robert Pippin). Crawford adds that although there are exceptions to this view, “it serves well as a corrective to the cult of sincerity, which perhaps amounts to this: the idea that you yourself can be the source of the norms by which you justify yourself.” (153).

In reference to my teaching, this means that if imagine myself to be not a hard grader, I am not actually not a hard grader unless my students also perceive me as such. Put more simply, it doesn’t matter if I imagine that I’m a fair grader, unless my students agree with me.

So what should I do about this?

There are two things to be said here, I think.

One, I can adjust the way that I grade. I do not necessarily need to become easier; but I clearly need to become better at articulating why certain grades are assigned and why certain work is expected. This primarily involves providing more feedback: adding notes in the LMS rather than in a Word document I upload for the students, for example, or creating more screencasts.

It also involves providing a different kind of feedback. I could explain more about why the standards I’ve set are necessary, for instance. I could make sure to start feedback with the students’ strengths, not their weaknesses (I thought I did this, but obviously not enough.)

Two, even though I can (and should) make some adjustments, it’s important that I not accept student evaluations are the only valid source of feedback on my teaching. I am prone to self-doubt as an instructor, quicker to see my students’ shortcomings as an error in my instruction than in their work.

Crawford speaks, if not to this doubt as an experienced emotion, at least to the question of whether student evaluations are a sufficient measure of my work’s effectiveness. Developing his example of who judges a carpenter’s work, he writes that “the discrimination made by practitioners of an art respond to subtleties that may not be visible to the bystander. Only a fellow journeyman is entitled to say, ‘Nicely done.'”

In reference to my teaching, I make decisions as an instructor on how I assess students and present the material that may not be entirely clear to my students, who are certainly not English scholars and likely not teachers; they lack, therefore, the requisite knowledge needed to make an accurate judgment of whether my teaching is effective.

This is, of course, all the more reason for me to explicitly walk my students through why I make the instructional decisions that I do.

It’s also an important reason for people to work together in community, with colleagues who can serve as a touchstone for whether a particular pedagogical decision is or is not working. I have certainly been grateful for the input of my fellow instructors in my own teaching; they have shaped my work, helped me figure out what worked and what doesn’t, and made me a better teacher.

 

Teaser Tuesday

headWelp, I’m not reading a story anymore. If last week’s book were a chocolate cake, this week’s would be a bowl of lentil soup: yummy, but also nourishing, and slower to digest.

This week I’m reading Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, and though it’s philosophy, not fiction, it’s very good. Crawford has a lot to say about how we understand ourselves, particularly in our relationship to the world and the larger society. His work challenges assumptions that we Western our destiny and  that we Westerners hold dear, but which may in fact be neither correct nor helpful. One such assumption is such as the fact that we are free to choose our destiny, and that this act of choosing constitutes our will and the most essential part our being.

His work is cohesive and as readable, at least as much as any book of philosophy is!

Here’s a sample:

Another way to put this is that the left’s project of liberation led us to dismantle inherited cultural jigs that once imposed a certain coherence (for better and worse) on individual lives. This created a vacuum of cultural authority that has been filled, opportunistically, with attentional landscapes that get installed by whatever “choice architect” brings the most energy to the task – usually because it sees the profit potential.

The combined effect of these liberating and deregulating efforts of the right and left has been to ratchet up the burden of self-regulation. Some indication of how well we are bearing this burden can be found in the fact that we are now very fat, very much in debt, and very prone to divorce.

The effects of this have not been evenly distributed. To gain admission to the svelte, solvent middle class, and stay there, now requires extraordinary self-discipline. Such discipline is generally inculcated in families. Two self-disciplined people meet in graduate school, make, and pass their disciplined ways on to their children. But we also make use of external props that are available to those with means: jigs for hire.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

We often complain about our fractured mental lives and feel beset by outside forces that destroy our focus and disrupt our peace of mind. Any defense against this, Crawford argues, requires that we reckon with the way attention sculpts the self.

Crawford investigates the intense focus of ice hockey players and short-order chefs, the quasi-autistic behavior of gambling addicts, the familiar hassles of daily life, and the deep, slow craft of building pipe organs. He shows that our current crisis of attention is only superficially the result of digital technology, and becomes more comprehensible when understood as the coming to fruition of certain assumptions at the root of Western culture that are profoundly at odds with human nature.

The World Beyond Your Head makes sense of an astonishing array of common experience, from the frustrations of airport security to the rise of the hipster. With implications for the way we raise our children, the design of public spaces, and democracy itself, this is a book of urgent relevance to contemporary life.

And in case you missed the last Teaser Tuesday post: This is a (semi) weekly series I’m doing, posting an excerpt from a randomly-selected page in whatever book I’m reading. More info here. Feel free to chime in with whatever book you’re reading!

 

To Do: 2017

Here are my goals for 2017:

Personal: 

  • Learn to make at least three new cocktails. I know three, currently: the gin & tonic, a bittersweet grapefruit greyhound, and a hot toddy. All of these are yummy, but I’d like to expand my boundaries. Anybody want to come over for drinks?
  • This feeds into my second goal: I want to have more dinner parties. On the one hand, I love making food for people. On the other, I’m highly introverted and reluctant to invite people over. I want to push myself and host a few genuine dinner parties this year. Let’s set the goal at three.
  • I want to take care of my health. Specifically, I want to start flossing regularly and cut my addiction to Brach’s mints. I’ve had trouble with my teeth lately, and I think this will help.
  • I want to start selling, or giving away, some of my handiwork. Over the past few years I’ve gotten into handcrafts: knitting, bread baking, making granola; my hope is to find a way to sell these, or a way to give them away more frequently. I’ve already given away some knitting, including a blanket to Project Linus, but I’d like to formalize this a bit more. And of course, if the opportunity presents itself, I’d like to make money on my hobbies! We’ll see how this goes.
  • And I want to learn to pick up dropped stitches. 

Two less quantifiable goals:

One, I want to improve my bread-making skills. At this point, I’ve learned the basics. Now, I want to try some new and more adventurous things: a sourdough starter, rye flour or wheat flour, bagels or English muffins, homemade pizza. And of course, I want to gain confidence in general; I want to make fewer panicky posts on my Bread Baking group!

Two, I want to do more re-reading. Over the past few years, I’ve really gotten into the Goodreads challenge, amping up the number of books I read in any given year (from 25 to 30, to 45 this past year). Trying to make my reading goal has caused me to re-read very few books, and so I want to return to some of the most formative books in my life: the Lord of the Rings particularly, but also perhaps Laurus, the Divine Comedy; or even just really good books like A Fire Upon the Deep.

A few other wishes in this category: I’d like to travel somewhere new, I’d like to hike another mountain (My aunt & uncle & I picked out Uncompaghre), I’d like to go solo camping.

Professional: 

In this category there are three books I want to read:

  • A Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer. This one comes recommended to me by my mother. (She has good taste.) This one is a cornerstone of the classical school movement, and despite a few niggling annoyances I find in the movement, it’s largely solid. I’m interested to see what the book has to say about education.
  • The Marketplace of Ideasby Louis Menand. I can’t recall where I encountered this book, but as universities are going through a fairly massive shift in terms of the service they provide and who they provide it to, this book (I am hoping) will help me understand the context in which I work.
  • Along the same lines, I want to read Education is Not an AppNot only do I teach online, I teach, using technology, to students who are immersed in technology every day. This book promises to analyze and evaluate the progress of education in an increasingly technological world. I hope it will be illuminating.

I want to teach a film in Introduction to Literature. Technically, this has been a goal of mine for the previous three years, but I’ve never made it happen. This year, I think it will; I think I’ll be able to teach Arrival. But if that doesn’t work, I’d really like to teach another film. Film is the primary medium in which my students encounter Story, and so I think it’s important that they be able to interpret it.

I found taking online courses valuable for my professional development, so I would like to take at least one more online course this year.

Spiritual:

I want to memorize a book of the Bible, ideally 1 John. I found 1 John very encouraging and spiritually challenging last year; my hope is that in memorizing it, the words of Christ will abide more closely with me.

I also want to start following the church calendar. Reading Jamie Smith’s You Are What You Love articulated a lot of what I’ve been feeling about the importance of liturgies, of ritual and routine, in enriching life. I have friends on Facebook who follow the church calendar, observing not only Christmas but also Advent; not only Easter but also Lent. Such rituals seem to imbue the season with more beauty and meaning. My hope is that in following the church calendar, I will participate more wholly in the Christian story, and become more attuned to the presence of grace in my life.

My hope is to get following the church calendar underway by Lent, so I can participate in that, and then continue for the rest of the year. If I don’t manage to follow the full calendar, I at least want to establish some personal liturgies for my home, to enrich it spiritually.

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Books & Movies

In addition to looking back on what I’ve done over the past year, I also like to look back at what I’ve read and seen. Books (and for that matter, movies, which are just another way to present a good story) are important to me, so I like to reflect on what stood out.

Let’s do the books first: 

Most spellbinding: Uprooted, by Naomi Novik.22544764 I picked this up over Christmas break, wanting to indulge in a good story over the holidays. Uprooted reminded me what a pleasure Story is. I had a hard time putting this one down. It’s the story of a girl taken from her family and village by the Dragon, a nearby Wizard who protects the village from a mysterious danger; Agnieszka discovers, once she’s taken, a great world of magic and mysterious.  One of the chief pleasures of this book was the Magic in the story was strange and organic and beautiful; it reminded me very much of eastern Europe, appropriate since the book draws on eastern European folklore.

Best children’s book: C.S. Lewis said once that there’s nothing wrong with adults loving good children’s books, as such books are often the best written stories. I love continuing to read children’s books; if nothing else, it gives me something to recommend to my friends who are parents. I enjoyed many books this year, but one of the most inventive and heartwarming was Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley. A story of discovery and friendship, Circus Mirandus tells of a boy who reaches out to a legendary magical circus in a last-ditch attempt to save his dying grandfather. The characters from the circus, especially the Man Who Bends Light, are interesting and well-developed. Like Uprooted, the magic in this one is different; it doesn’t belong to Narnia’s family tree, or Hogwart’s; it’s unique, and that makes this book worth reading.

Most beautiful book: laurusEugene Vodolazkin’s Laurus. From its gorgeous red and gold cover to its meditative and transformative ending, I found this a beautiful, enthralling tale of grace in a human life. This is the story of Arseny, a healer in 15th century Russia; responsible for the (unshriven) death of his betrothed, Arseny leaves his village and goes on a pilgrimage seeking redemption. Along the way he meets characters who likewise seek spiritual life; in this, the book feels similar to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, being richly peopled and interesting, like a tapestry. Woven into the story are questions about the nature of time (is it cyclical or linear?), what makes us holy, where magic comes from, and  how we handle both death and life.

Memorable nonfiction: Nonfiction is a taste I’ve developed as an adult, and I’ve really come to appreciate the way that it can weave its own stories, about who we are and how we live. I read so many good books in this category this year, so there’s a tie: Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft, for one. His argument that we become better people through doing handwork, due to its insistence that we attend to what is around us and follow some law besides my own, has stuck with me, particularly as I’ve pursued my own forms of handcraft this year – knitting, and increasingly, bread baking.

For another, Jamie Smith’s You Are What You Love. His argument that we are more a product of our desires than our brains, and that our desires are shaped by daily rituals in our church, homes, and vocations, also speaks to where I am currently. I have been seeking to establish healthy, enriching, and spiritually fruitful life patterns, and Smith’s book provides a strong justification for this. I am going to try teaching it in English Composition next semester.

And now the movies: 

arrivalBest movie: Among all the good movies that came out at the end of the year, I was planning to see Dr. Strange. Then over Thanksgiving, three separate people recommended Arrival, so I went to see that instead. It was excellent: a moving story with a measured pace, a thoughtful aesthetic, compelling characters. It’s a science fiction movie in the vein of Asimov and Clarke, more interested in thinking about big questions than blowing stuff up.

One of the things that I really appreciated about the movie was that it used its own medium, film on story, to convey the themes; the characters didn’t simply talk about what was most important in the story; the film showed it too, essentially immersing the viewers in one of the key ideas: what makes our lives matter, and whether time is in fact linear.

Most heartwarming: I watched Wild back in May and loved it. I was a little worried that watching a woman walk on a trail for two hours would be dull, but the story weaves in some interesting characters, some bringing tension and fear; others, humour. The scenery is gorgeous. I came off this film with a new interest in through hiking.

Most surprising movie: mad-maxMad Max: Fury Road. When this first came out, I heard it was good, and I added it to my to-watch list. Then, I put off seeing it for a long time, as I also heard it was one long action scene and I was worried it wouldn’t have enough story and character development to interest me.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, it is one long car chase scene, but that improves the story, not weakens it. The constraint of keeping the whole story on the Fury Road brings focus to the story, and pushes the filmmakers to establish an actual rhythm, with periods of action and periods of rest, instead of creating interest by changing settings or blowing new stuff up. Plus, there are some really gorgeous shots of the desert scenery.

Weirdest movie: The Lobster, hands-down. Basically, this is the tale of a man living in a society where single people who cannot find a mate are turned into an animal of their choice (such as a lobster); the story chronicles the man’s successes & failures in romance, if it can be called that. It came to recommended by Eve Tushnet, a writer I’ve really enjoyed, but she also enjoys horror films, and there is something horrific about the nihilistic humor and abrupt cruelty of this film. The Lobster is not a particularly graphic film, and it does perceptively skewer some of our society’s odder hangups with romance and singleness. But it’s also brutal and odd, a parable told in muted neutral colors and leaves the viewer cold.

 

What did you read and watch this year?

To Do 2016: What I Accomplished

Growing up, I laughed at the tradition of setting resolutions, but when I finished my master’s degree, and was left without the usual goals of Write good papers! and Graduate! I discovered that goals are really helpful in giving my life forward direction and structure. So now I too set New Years’ Resolutions!

Here’s what I’ve accomplished over the last year:

Professionally, I resolved to read up on teaching developmental courses, as well as read John Milton Gregory’s The Seven Laws of Teaching (recommended by my mom). I also made a tentative resolution to pursue the opportunity to teach online and to pursue further professional development for myself.

I’ve done really well in this area. Over the past year I’ve

  • Read Teaching Underprepared Students, by Kathleen Gilbert
  • Read Gregory’s Seven Laws of Teaching 
  • Taken a course in online assessment
  • And taught a course online! I’ve even designed new assignments for it!

I made progress on my personal goals too.

I wanted to get more comfortable baking yeast breads, since traditionally I make Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, and traditionally, I panic about making cinnamon rolls. Are they rising enough? Did I kill the yeast? Is this a warm enough spot for them?

But this spring, I joined a bread baking group on FB and started making my own bread. I regularly post panicky questions (most recently: What happens when you forget to add the oil ?) to the group, but the people there are kind about helping me through my problems, and I’m really starting to understand the process better. And the bread I’m making is delicious! It’s nothing spectacular, just white bread that never seems to rise as high as I want; but it sure is yummy!

Sadly, I didn’t get to make cinnamon rolls this year, as a helpful family member commandeered the process. So I treated my cousins to a chocolate babka instead!

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Babka, or as my cousin Dan calls it, “chocolate goodness”.

I also opened a retirement account and purchased a new car (a blue Toyota Corolla); the car purchase was especially wise since I put nearly two thousand miles on it driving about southwestern Colorado this summer, hiking a 14er with my aunt and uncle.

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Me, my aunt, and my uncle on Mt. Handies. 

But I missed a few things personally:

I never learned to pick up dropped stitches. Just a few days ago I dropped two or three stitches, and when I tried to pick them up, I dropped a few more stitches. So into town I went today, to get the yarn store ladies to pick up the stitch for me.

I never owned a pet. I tried, but it turns out I’m not rich enough for that yet. Back to the shelter my cat went.

I accomplished a few spiritual goals, too: I found a new church home, and I’ve gotten involved, reading Scripture during the morning service and participating in a Friday evening women’s event. I also kept Lent, with a fast from sweets, including Brach’s peppermint candies, to which I’m slightly addicted. Beyond giving me a break from my addiction, the Lenten fast was a good reminder of how much I depend on the Lord’s grace for spiritual life.

But there were spiritual goals I missed, too. I never read Dante again, nor did I finish George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons. To be fair, I own the Unspoken Sermons on Kindle, and it’s a little daunting to read 19th century religious essays on a tiny iPhone screen!

It’s worth noting that I accomplished a few others goals in addition to the ones I formally set, too:

  • I got my first smartphone, an iPhone SE. I love it!
  • I took up yoga. I also really love yoga.
  • I baked Christmas cookies and delivered them to people in my church. This is a really good way to connect with people personally.
  • I visited Mesa Verde and Four Corners. I’ve wanted to visit Four Corners all my life – totally cheesy, yes, but I’ve always been fascinated with standing on the boundaries of things. Mesa Verde, incidentally, was super cool, much more so than I expected it to be.
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Me at Four Corners. I’m smiling, but it’s like 105 degrees here. 

Now it’s time to look forward to next year; look for a post in the next week or so laying out a few goals for 2017.

Till then, tell me: What did you accomplish this year?

 

Teaser Tuesday

22544764Over Christmas I chose a lighter book to read, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. How lovely to put aside philosophy and social commentary and read Story again, and find myself caught in its spell!

While I have a few bones to pick with it, I’ve enjoyed the book, a fairy tale that draws deep on Eastern European folklore. It has the feel of Howl’s Moving Castle (the book, not the movie) and, surprisingly, picks up on some themes I’ve encountered elsewhere, about the meaning and importance of being at home, of being rooted.

Here’s my excerpt, chosen (mostly) randomly from page 105:

But there was something watching. I I felt it more and more with every step the deeper I went into the Wood, a weight laid heavily across my shoulders like an iron yoke. I had come inside half-expecting corpses hanging from every bough, wolves leaping at me from the shadows. Soon I was wishing for wolves. There was something worse here. The thing I had glimpsed looking out of Jerzy’s eyes was here, something alive, and I was trapped inside an airless room with it, pressed into a small corner. There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing and rage. I crept on, my shoulders hunched, trying to be small.

And here’s the book’s Goodreads blurb:

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

And in case you missed the last Teaser Tuesday post, which was way, way more than a week ago: This is a (semi) weekly series I’m doing, posting an excerpt from a randomly-selected page in whatever book I’m reading. More info here. Feel free to chime in with whatever book you’re reading!

A Poem for Sunday

I stumbled across this on the web the other day & wanted to share it, as a meditation for Sunday:

by Czeslaw Milosz

A valley and above it forests in autumn colors.
A voyager arrives, a map leads him there.
Or perhaps memory. Once long ago in the sun,
When snow first fell, riding this way
He felt joy, strong, without reason,
Joy of the eyes. Everything was the rhythm
Of shifting trees, of a bird in flight,
Of a train on the viaduct, a feast in motion.
He returns years later, has no demands.
He wants only one, most precious thing:
To see, purely and simply, without name,
Without expectations, fears, or hopes,
At the edge where there is no I or not-I.

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