Friday, February 28, 2003

Literary structures

Mamamusings left me curious about the definition of oulipo, and interestingly Google answered the question when the complete OED (which my university subscribes to) did not. But my reaction to oulipo is to recommend Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), a Portuguese writer who had different identities from which he wrote, sometimes responding to each other. He shows how multiple personalities can be a creative way of making sense of an impossible world.

As a scholar interested in social construction I wonder how Pessoa understand himself. The idea of multiple personality current at the time was a theory of dual personalities, and I haven't yet seen any evidence that Pessoa connected to that. I wonder if there was any folk understanding of such things in Portuguese culture--in the case of another culture I see evidence of such a folk understanding in Edwidge Danticat's, Breath, Eyes, Memory (New York: Vintage Books, 1994). What is clear is that Pessoa used the literary tradition to find a way of understanding himself as a variety of authors.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Mr. Rogers

jeanne d'arc has a moving post about the death of Mr. Rogers. My sister who is on the border between moderately and severely mentally retarded has always loved Mr. Rogers most of all, and watching the show drove me crazy as a teenager. It was what I needed to hear, but I couldn't hear it, couldn't believe I deserved the safety he represented, that those child fears in me were acceptable.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Policy vs. local conditions

I just wrote an in-house grant proposal to try to get funding for a graduate student interested in forest history in South Carolina, and what interested me most was the relationship between federal policy and what happens on the ground in a particular local conditions, both of environment and of culture. I wrote: Most of the important changes in environmental policy have come in the form of federal legislation, such as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the National Forest Management Act of 1976. However, environments vary, and national legislation will have different impacts in different parts of the United States, depending on the local environment and local culture. For example, protection of two endangered species that required radical shifts in forest management--the red-cockaded woodpecker in the Southeast and the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest--led to very different controversies over forest management practices, due both to environmental differences and to different levels of environmental activism in the two regions.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Community and faith

AKMA writes about devotion and community that his devotion is: "To God, as God has been revealed in and to the lives of a body of people big enough to damp out individual idiosyncrasies."

That's the hard part for me. How do I reconcile my idiosyncratic experience of God with the way the community (eg. a parish) understands God? Slowly I have learned to describe my own experiences more in the language of the church, but it isn't always a comfortable fit. A lot of what I most value in my experience of God is indeed idiosyncratic.

I understand intellectually the need for a community to discern what of individual experience to accept. I went to a church service Sept. 11, 2001 where an individual got up and said that God is punishing us for the evils of modern life. I don't doubt that that individual believed that he heard God directly just as sincerely as I do, but don't think his community (it wasn't my church) would be wise to follow him.

But I guess individualism is deep in me even though I question it politically. At least at this stage in my journey my deepest loyalty is to the truth of my individual experience, not to what the community tells me.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Intentional community

My weekend at the Convent of St. Helena was an experience that stirred a lot in me that I am only beginning to understand. It took me far away from my everyday world. Yet what got to me most was watching the six sisters interact, watching an intentional community of women work to share authority.

Update: I went looking for a list of Episcopal religious orders in the U.S. and finally found one.

Friday, February 21, 2003

better already

I got someone else to take the job candidate to lunch, and I'm feeling much more relaxed. My back is a bit better, I think mostly because I've tried to tell myself I'm not in control. I was stuck in the idea that if I do the right thing it will get better and if it gets worse it must be because of something wrong that I did. But what I do, within reasonable limits, actually doesn't seem to have much predictable effect, and I was adding to my stress by blaming myself.

I realize that control is a hard issue for me because as a child I didn't have the feeling that my parents were keeping me safe. I think children need to feel that someone else is in control in a beneficent way, and I didn't have that. So I tried to believe I had control, because things outside my control were too frightening. The whole idea that God will make everything come out for the best just doesn't resonate for me. My parents didn't do that.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

stress and rest

We have a job candidate coming in today--I will pick her up at the airport tonight and take her to dinner and then to her hotel. Tomorrow I need to be here for the class she is teaching at 8 am and take her to coffee, then teach my own class at 10, then take her to lunch, then there is a meeting with her in the afternoon. When I'm going to pack I don't know.

When that meeting is over I am leaving for the Convent of St. Helena in Augusta, Georgia, for a two day retreat. The three hour drive should give me some transition time, but still it is going to be either very hard to change gears or a huge sense of relief to get to quiet. I've never been to the convent before--I wish it were the lower stress of a familiar place. And I wish my back wasn't hurting so much. Pray for peace for me.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

send a condom to Africa

I've given a couple of lectures on the history of the condom, partly out of a personal interest because one of my father's business successes was persuading his company to buy the Trojans company in the late 1970s. He was involved in the fight for condom advertisements to be allowed on TV. So I love the idea (I found via Long Story Short Pier) of a campaign to send condoms to Africa in George W. Bush's name to protest the limits the Bush administration is putting on U.S. funding for AIDS relief.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

wailing wall

I was waiting for an appointment yesterday, in a kind of meditative state, and a strong image rose up in my mind of writing a prayer on a piece of paper and putting it in the Wailing or Western Wall in Jerusalem. I've been to Jerusalem once, more than 20 years ago, so today I looked the wall up to refresh my memory. It seems ironic to me that there are now two webcams of the wailing wall. The same sites accept messages to be placed in the wall. I find that for me it is an image of answered prayers, though that seems strange given how hopeless is the situation in the middle east.

Monday, February 17, 2003


It is incredibly hard to change the belief I grew up with that someone always has to be at fault. It is hard to accept that things just happen; I guess it is human nature (and often useful) to want to know why, what went wrong. I don't believe in predestination in the sense that God already knows what is going to happen, but the thought that no one is in control is frightening. I suppose that is a child need for safety.

I was a Presbyterian for a while and I actually found some value in the more half-hearted Presbyterian efforts to save the concept of predestination. Not in the sense that God has detailed plans for everything that happens, much less that God preordains who will be saved. But I don't believe that God equally reaches out to every person and the difference in how we respond is a matter of our choices. I was lucky (chosen? blessed?): God reached out to me in a very clear way. I wouldn't say I had no choice, but I do feel that God reached out to me with a clarity I didn't deserve and wasn't looking for.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Dolly dies

Dolly, the cloned sheep, has been euthanized, after aging prematurely. What got me, though, is the detail that she will be stuffed and put on display in a museum. If Dolly is important it is only because she was a true clone and looked just like other sheep. So she is important as an individual because she is not an individual? Or does our gut belief in Dolly's individuality (to the point where people might want to see her at a museum) support the argument that cloning isn't that weird, clones are just delayed identical twins? Is this a case for Overcoming Yuk?

Friday, February 14, 2003


I needed a laugh today and I found it at One Pot Meal, who was inspired by Tom Lehrer (see especially "So Long Mom") to write (in part):
I accidentally wrapped the duct tape around my packets of powdered soup, and when I tried to separate them the tape stuck to my plastic sheeting, and the whole thing became a big tangle and as I tried to sort it out I tripped over the gallons of water and flooded the room, shorting out the battery-powered radio. more...

Thursday, February 13, 2003


I grew up near the George Washington Bridge and always thought that suspension bridges were beautiful, but I do like the new cable-stayed bridges. This is a picture I took in Savannah GA several weeks ago of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge (here it is under construction).

War and Valentines Day

I'm not a big fan of Valentines day, in fact it is one of those holidays that we would pretend doesn't exist if our kids would let us get away with it. I will make a flourless chocolate cake from the Cooks Illustrated Best Recipe Cookbook. But the idea that the war will start on Valentines day just seems cruel.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Spiritual Direction

I said goodbye to my spiritual director yesterday--she is moving away to take a new job. I really want to work with a woman (Episcopal) priest and they don't seem to stay in jobs in this area very long. Women have been accepted as assistants but not so well as senior pastors.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Breathe on me

(updated 2/13) I'm still thinking about the image of breath as an image of hope and life. A little web searching suggests that "breathe on me" is very much a religious and healing image, in music and poetry.
  • "Breathe on me breath of God" was one of the hymns in church yesterday, which felt like the confirmation I needed.

  • A person whose thoughts were helpful to me years ago wrote a web page titled "They still breathe in me".

  • St. Augustine prayed "Breathe in me, Holy Spirit."

  • A friend suggested the image of breathing out weightless silk ribbons that would curl and fill the room.

  • I think of breath creating a space, particularly a safe space for a child cradled in loving arms.

  • Breathing with someone is a way of putting oneself in a place of empathy and connection; I have done it in movement work.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Rice for Peace Update

Snopes has posted more information on the Rice for Peace story. He (I assume it is a he) is still listing it as false, but he is arguing against more specific evidence. In response, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center has posted a more carefully worded historical statement.

I'm struck by how on the web factual accuracy becomes so central to reputation. My reaction is still that it is a wonderful protest even if the history was initially sloppy. It reminds me of the student who told me he hadn't read a book I had assigned to the course he was in because in the first twenty pages he found a statement he knew was false and so he stopped reading.

Further update (2/15):
For more discussion see Body and Soul and Long Story Short Pier.

Thursday, February 06, 2003


Working with my therapist, I went deeply today into feelings both from Ruth's death a year ago and from my father's death when I was not quite three. The dark peace of death called me so strongly. And then what came into my mind was breath, "breathe on me breath of life." Spirit and breath and sometimes wind can be interchangeable words in Hebrew and Greek. As the hymn says in the traditional words: "Breathe on me breath of God"

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Talking Back

I was quoted yesterday in a story in the local newspaper (the university sent out my name as an expert in the history of the space program). I immediately got an email from someone saying that he is an insurance agent and he knows from the experience sitting on his desk that lots of people are driving 20 year old cars. I suppose there have always been people who spent a lot of time writing letters to the editor, but it seems to me that for me (the person quoted, without my email address being given) to get an email the same day the article appeared shows that the public has a new sense of talking back to the media.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Rice for Peace

At the time I posted the rice for peace story I checked the Snopes site on urban legends. At that time, Snopes had posted the information that the current rice for peace protest is real and stated that the Eisenhower story was still under investigation. Now Snopes says that the Eisenhower story is false, though so far as I can tell his evidence is only that the book that tells the story gives no source for it.

Ah well, there goes my credibility. I still think it is a wonderful protest and am glad I sent my bag of rice, even if the historical story behind it isn't true. And I would like to know more about the historical story.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Space Shuttle

I'm moved by a picture of Columbia ready for its first flight. But it is also a reminder of what old technology the space shuttle is. If this accident doesn't create the political will to authorize the development and construction of a replacement for the shuttle then it is hard to see how NASA's program to put people in space can survive.