Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

"To flatter and follow others, without being flattered and followed in turn, is but a state of half enjoyment."
---Jane Austen, in Persuasion


“We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.”


“Young Lincoln did have the King James Bible—who on the frontier didn’t? You could tell as much from his House Divided speech that stirred the whole country during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and by the biblical cadences, and content, of his Second Inaugural. The stories in The Book might not all have stuck with him, but the language certainly did.

And he had Shakespeare. Stored away in his memory and at the ready. Like a portable arsenal, entertainment, comfort, guide, treasure and elevation. Shakespeare and the King James Bible. No one could say he entered the fray unarmed.”
---“Where Did He Come From? The Enduring Mystery of Abraham Lincoln,” 2/12/09 editorial,
Arkansas Democrat Gazette


“A BlackBerry can have detrimental effects even, or especially, when users turn it on when they are doing ‘nothing.’ That ‘nothing’ is what our pre-BlackBerry forebears called daydreaming, which is a propitious mental state for creativity, insight, and problem solving. Truly novel solutions and ideas emerge when the brain brings together unrelated facts and thoughts. . . . Daydreaming or thinking about something else keeps the signals off those rutted roads and allows far-flung facts and ideas to combine in novel ways . . . Hence the common experience of an ‘aha’ moment of creativity or insight about some problem when it is not commanding your conscious attention. If mental downtime becomes BlackBerry time, eurekas will be rarer.”
---Sharon Begley, in “Will the BlackBerry Sink the Presidency?” Newsweek 2/16/09


“We newspaper readers all have our pet vexations. Somewhere in one of those sections is the column we anxiously turn to for the sole purpose of disagreeing with the columnist. Volubly. Until family members, rolling their eyes, remind us it’s a free country and you don’t have to read it every time.”
---Barbara Kingsolver, in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle


Happy Reading!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sympathy for Mom

My friend Amy wrote a post on her blog the other day about having THE TALK with her young daughter, and it reminded me of a story I just have to share. It’s sort of related to sex. And it is about a child. Close enough.

Although he doesn’t have any now, my husband has raised cattle at various times in the past. One day, he had a cow that was having trouble calving. This didn’t happen often, but when it did he’d call Uncle Dub, who thought it was great fun to come help pull a calf.

Well, Uncle Dub was duly called but it would be a while before he could make it. So, my husband did what farmers have done for centuries—he put the wife and kids to work.

My job was to use my body to hold the cow up against the wall while my husband tied a rope around the calf and then pulled it out. Oh, and I was supposed to try to comfort the cow while he’s doing this. Now, I’m not quite an Amazon woman. I mean, five foot four inches pretty much sums me up, but I was giving it my best shot. The two older kids were helping my husband pull. It looked a lot like a one-sided tug of war game with the other end of the rope in a pretty weird place. Our youngest son just stood over in the corner of the barn, watching.

Finally, out came the slippery, bloody calf, alive and well. It was a pretty exciting moment for all of us.

Slowly, my youngest son walked up to me, big-eyed, and asked, “Momma, did they have to do that to you?”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back-Row Student

Monday, I went to visit my son Travis in Jonesboro. In addition to his various and sundry other activities, he’s also teaching a few History classes as an adjunct at Arkansas State University. I’m sure he’s doing the adjunct teaching because the pay is so ridiculously high. Not.

Anyway, I went to classes with him, but contrary to my usual modus operandi, I went all the way to the back and sat in a corner, against the wall. Then, of course, I proceeded to listen to his lessons. In one class, he taught about the U.S. Constitution and in the other about urbanization in 19th century America. I found both classes really interesting. Travis knows what he’s talking about, he’s passionate about his subject, and he’s witty. He kept me thinking, and even though I was familiar with both subjects, I could never predict exactly what he would say next. It was great. But it was SO hard to just sit there, quiet in the back, saying nothing.

It’s not that I wanted to teach the class, either. It’s that I really love being a student. I like to sit on the front row, take notes, raise my hand, and take part in classroom conversations. I'm weird that way. I’ve always absolutely loved to learn, and although I’m happy with my choice, I think I could have been content in several disciplines.

That kid over in the other corner with his ipod earplugs in doesn’t even know what he was missing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Shack

If a book causes a big hoopla, I try to read it. After all, it’s my job (kinda). And I want my students to see that I’m not hung in the 18th century, that I try to keep current.

So last year, when I heard so many people talking about The Shack, how wonderful it was, how they were doing a Bible study based on it, how you’d better have a pencil in hand as you read, and so on and so forth, I thought it’d be a good read for me. I figured I’d have students who’d read it and might want to discuss it, and since I always try to keep one “spiritual” book going, this would combine my love of fiction with my daily dose of devotional reading.

Boy, was I disappointed. Besides some shaky theology, The Shack really wasn’t all that well-written, and frankly, I often found it corny. But I wasn’t nearly as disappointed as this guy. Check out his review HERE.

You won’t be sorry.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Girl Who Cain't Say No

Yep. That’s me. It isn’t enough that I’m working full time on my doctorate. Of course, not. See, really, I think I’m Superwoman.

I spent all last Fall preparing for my Comprehensive Exams, doing research, and writing my dissertation proposal. Oh, and also writing a paper and presenting it at the Harding Lectureship.

This Spring, I’m writing my dissertation. Oh yeah, and preparing to lecture at Harding’s WINGS conference this weekend.

And to top it all off, I think I must be wearing a sign on my back that says “Give me all the controversial topics!” Last Fall I spoke on “Is Jesus a Feminist?” My topic this weekend? “Tolerance and Variance.” I have to wonder if I’m being set up for a fall.

No, really, I’m glad to speak on these topics. First of all, they are so important, and I’m really glad Harding sees the need for these discussions.

And secondly, I feel about preparing these talks the same way I feel about writing papers. It’s not as much fun or as interesting to write about something that you’ve already got figured out. You miss the sense of being a seeker; there is no thrill of discovery. It’s really pretty exciting.

But, boy, is my brain tired.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you that I also wrote a proposal (that was accepted) for the Christian Scholars Conference this summer. The theme of the conference is “The Power of Narrative,” and the speakers will be Billy Collins and Marilynn Robinson. It’s gotta be worth writing a paper to get to hear them speak.

Now, if I can just figure out WHEN I’ll write it . . .

Monday, February 23, 2009

Booking It--Storage

“How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or do you just put it where it falls on?”

Oh, my. If there is any one part of my life more disorganized right now than any other, it’s my books. Part of it comes from having some of my books in my office (which other people are using during my absence) and part of my books at home. Of course, this leads to the problem of never being quite sure where the book I need is—at home? at the office? lost? Who knows? Major stress.

My books at home are arranged (somewhat) by genre, or at least they started out that way. Downstairs in the office is my Escape Reading Fiction. Upstairs, where I’m working on my dissertation, is a bookshelf arranged by : Shelves One and Two: Works of Jane Austen, Austen Criticism, and Criticism relevant to my dissertation; Shelf Three: 18th Century Fiction Read for Comprehensive Exams; Shelf Four: Non-fiction, Poetry, and Criticism Read for Comprehensive Exams. It's a big bookshelf.

As I said, though, that’s how they started out. Now, there are piles everywhere because I grab what I need as I need it then pile it on a chair, the table, the sofa, or the floor—fully intending, of course, to replace it later. Dream on.

Actually, I have been forcing myself to straighten up after each major milestone. So if you came upstairs right after one of my comprehensive exams, or right after I finished Chapter 1, for example, you might discern some order.

But in between? Fuhgettaboudit . . .

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

“What a delightful library you have at Pemberly, Mr. Darcy!”

“It ought to be good,” he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”

“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”

“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”

---Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice


“The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life . . . This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading.”
---Caitlin Flanagan, in “What Girls Want,” The Atlantic, December 2008


“Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but for a naturalist he is wrong. For a naturalist, it is the examined life that is not worth living.”
---James W. Sire, in The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog


Academic postmodernism is “a loosely structured constellation of ephemeral disciplines like cultural studies, gay and lesbian studies, science studies and post-colonial theory . . . that borrows freely from a host of works (in translation) by such scholars as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Jean-Francois Lyotard. . . . Given the impossibility of imposing logical order on ideas as dissimilar as these, postmodernism is long on attitude and short on argument.”
---Mark Lilla, in “The Politics of Jacques Derrida,” New York Review of Books, June 25, 1998


Happy Reading!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Austen Rx for Obama

That should be Emma he's carrying.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd tells Obama he should have read his Jane Austen. You can read her column HERE.

Who says Austen's no longer relevant?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Classics--How Many Have You Read?

This is the current “tagging” thing on Facebook. Lisa did it on her blog, and since it is book related, I thought I would too.

Here goes:

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.


1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
4) Tally your total at the bottom.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen X+
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien*
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte X+
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling*
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee X+
6 The Bible X+
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte X+
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell X
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott X
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy X+
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare X+* (Most, but not all)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier X+
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien*
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger X
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliott*
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell X+
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald X
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens X
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy*
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy*
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky*
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck X+
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll X
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy*
32 David Copperfield - Charles DickensX+
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis X+
34 Emma - Jane Austen X+
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen X+
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis X+
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini X+
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne X+
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell X
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown X+
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez X
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins X+
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy*
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood X
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding X+
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan X+
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel*
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen X+
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens X+
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley X
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck X+
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov X+
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold X
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas X+
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy X+
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding*
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville X
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens X
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker X
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath X
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray X
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker X
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro *
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert X
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White X+
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Alborn X
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle X+
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas X
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare X+
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl X
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo X

My totals?

54 x’s
30 +’s
14 *’s

Not too bad. Certainly more than six. How about you?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fiction Withdrawal

All my reading lately has been nonfiction, and I’m going through fiction withdrawal.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love nonfiction. But it’s like a diet of all vegetables. They taste great and they’re good for you. But sometimes you just want dessert.

The reason I’ve limited myself lately to nonfiction is that, with this genre, I have much more self control. I can close the covers, put it down, and not feel quite as compelled to read when I should be doing something else. Like working on a dissertation.

But, man. I stare at the unread novels on my nightstand like a dieter longingly eyes the pastries in the bakery shop window.

Really. I do.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pete and Repeat

Bad writing habits may not make such a big difference on a small paper, but when writing a dissertation, they can really derail the whole project. And boy, do your bad writing habits come floating to the surface when writing is your job every day.

One bad writing habit I’ve been struggling with is re-reading the whole chapter I’m working on, no matter how long it is, and tinkering with diction and sentence structure. Every day.

There’s a logical reason that I fell into this habit. Each morning, when I start back to work, it takes a while to get my head back into the project. So, re-reading’s a logical place to start, right?

Well, yes, but not the way I was doing it. The longer the chapter got, the more time it took to read, and adjust, and tinker, and change, and switch, and substitute . . . You get the idea. You can pass a whole morning that way.

So my solution was to limit myself to the last three or four pages. I can usually read, make minor proofreading changes, and be ready to move into the next section within half an hour or so. That's pretty reasonable, I think.

Another thing I’ve been doing to help ease my return is never to stop without making a note about the next point I plan to cover. Then, when I return, I’m not faced with figuring out what the next big structural element will be. It’s already been decided. All I have to do is write about it.

As if that’s not enough . . .

Monday, February 16, 2009

Booking It--Electronic vs. Paper

Tell us what you think. Do you have an ebook reader? Do you read ebooks on your computer? Do you hate the very thought? How do you feel about the fact that book publishing is changing and facing much the same existential dilemma as the music industry upon the creation of MP3s?

No, I don’t have an ebook reader. I have a niece who is a reader, and she asked me this past Christmas if I thought I’d give in and buy a Kindle. I told her, “Not yet.”

I don’t think an ereader would or could ever replace books for me. But I could see how getting newspaper and magazines on one might be really handy. Instead of all that “stuff” arriving in the mail, zing, right here it is. It would eliminate the table-top clutter problem. And, if you do your periodical reading during a commute or in stolen minutes here and there, it would be much handier to keep up with a Kindle than to remember to stuff magazines and newspapers into your bag.

Of course, there would be problems. I mean, I underline things in newspapers and magazines, too. Don’t you?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

Happy Valentines Day!

"A person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill."
---Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice


Since I’ve been doing a lot more writing than reading lately, this week’s quotes are all observations about writing from Joan Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day (yes, the book I griped about last week).

“The only rules there are in the dissertation-writing process are the useful ones you make up for yourself.” (7)

“What does ‘ownership’ of your writing mean? It means that your writing belongs, for better or for worse, to you, and you alone. . . . Other people own their responses to it, but you own the writing.” (17)

“Sometimes writing a dissertation is a bit like having a serious, but not mortal, illness: it takes enormous energy to sustain life, you have to take very good care of yourself so you don’t collapse, and your defenses—in this case not white blood cells, but psychological defenses—are sky high. One symptom of this ‘illness’ is ‘dissertation paranoia,’ the powerful, not totally rational feeling that other people are out to harm you, and that you must be vigilant and fierce in order to protect yourself and your work. . . . Dissertation paranoia, fortunately . . . is time limited; It tends to disappear when your final draft has been accepted.” (27)

“Remember that you are entitled to put your dissertation first (not for several years, but for a while). Realize that it’s time you stopped asking other people’s permission to do so.” (66)

“It’s more common for the students I’ve worked with to read too much than to read too little. They use reading as a distraction, or as a way to avoid having to think their own thoughts, or as a magic charm: ‘If I read everything in the field, then I’ll be able to write and be sure I haven’t missed anything.” (69-70)


Happy Reading! Or, maybe today it should be “Happy Writing!”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Stephen vs. Stephenie

Prolific horror writer Steven King says Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer “can’t write worth a darn . . . She’s not very good.”

Why, then, are her books so popular? King “speculated that Twilighters simply aren't yet ready for a depiction of real, adult romance.”

You can read more HERE.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Reader

Tuesday afternoon, a friend and I drove to Little Rock to Market Street Cinema to see The Reader.

I saw a lot more of the current Kate Winslet that I would have preferred, but seeing the aging Winslet was really something—so believable, so well done. And casting Ray Kross as the young Ralph Fiennes was brilliant.

I’m not sure, even now, what I think about the movie. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever seen, but it was nowhere near the worst, either. The film raises so many questions that it does not, or cannot, answer. And neither could we. We discussed the movie all during dinner and on the drive home. It provided plenty of food for thought, which I always appreciate in a film, but no real answers—only layers to peel back, suppositions to propose, theories to explore.

It’s one of those movies that really makes me want to go read the book—not because there was anything lacking in the acting—but a raised eyebrow, a pointed stare, a perpetual sternness, a tear rolling down a cheek; those things can only communicate so much. They must be interpreted. Books, though, let you get inside heads. They provide more clues. The interpretation is much easier.

Well—there’s another book to go on my must-read list.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

You Just Thought You Knew

“Urban Dictionary is the slang dictionary you wrote. Define your world.”

Wanna see how this on-line dictionary defines the word “book”?

1. book—an object used as a coaster, increase the hight of small children, or increase the stability of poorly built furniture. Example: “Where do you want me to put your drink?” “Oh, just leave it on top of that book.”

2. book—verb meaning to run or to leave in a hurry Example: “I booked when the cops showed up!”

3. book—cool: the first option given when trying to type 'cool' in a text message using t9 “That chick thinks she's book, but she's totally hacked.”

4. book—1. A source of information. 2. A source of entertainment. 3. A tool barely used by todays societies, because it is not 'cool' to read a book. Examples: 1. The dictionary 2. Neil Gaimain's 'American Gods' 3. Which is a shame, really, because once upon a time (and today, in countries with little money) a book was a precious commodity.

6. book—secret word for "booze" Used when near adults or somewhere that you cannot talk about drinking openly. a. a shot is one page b. reading a book means drinking c. being literate means being drunk (since you have "read the book") d. being illiterate means being sober e. the library is the liqour store. Examples: a. “Lets read a few pages!!” b. “I’m gonna read a book.”
c. “Damn man, Bob read so many pages that now he is literate as hell!” d. Bob: "Wanna read a few pages after school man?" Jim: "Naw man, I have a driving lesson and I gotta stay illiterate." e. "Yo, I’m gonna get some books at the library so we can have a lot of it at the party."

7. book—1000 hits of acid. Somebody else posted that it was a hundred. That is incorrect. 100 is a sheet or page. 10 is a strip and 10,000 is a bible. I used to get books for $1450.

8. book—1. An object containing information (ie: words, pictures) used for the purpose of entertainment or education. These are now available in electronic form. One that writes such a 'book' has the ability to earn money known as 'royalty'. 2. To get into trouble with an authority figure such as a teacher or a police officer. 3. To make an escape... usually from an authority figure such as the ones mentioned above. Student 1: “Dude! I forgot to read my book for my report for English Class!” Student 2: “Did the teacher book you?” Student 1: “Na man, I booked before she could find out!”

10. book—An archiac form for bringing information to the masses. Consists of several paper pages with words printed or written directly on them. After the invent of computers, books where a thing of history. Evidently many people on the internet cannot read words with only letters in them, they MUST contain numbers and symbols as well.

13. Book—In the Twilight Zone, an episode which showed the disappearance of humankind, there was one guy left in the world, a bookish type of person that read all the books that he possibly could. In the end of the episode, he finds out he had all the time in the world to read every single book in human history, the problem was, that he broke his glasses, and could not read any book. he screamed "I had all the time in the world!" Lesson of the episode? Dont take things for granted. Books are cool, if you find the time to get interested in one that is.

14. Book—A collection of paper strips, usually bound together and labeled on the cover or binding. The strips, or pages, contain various sections, or chapters, which relate facts or a story. Generally, all topics discussed in the book relate to each other and form a point, which is the main theme of the book. Many books relate stories, whether funny, action-packed, romantic, horrible, dramatic, etc. Some books are very evil and discuss topics boring and very fact-based. These are called School books, and should be burned.

28. book—A piece of literature that people read and write to make themselves feel smart.

33. book—one of the greater objects to fill free time with. Reading a book induces feelings and thoughts not attainable anywhere else.

34. book—A movie that hasn't yet been shot.

38. book--An object that you should never look at,EVER. Boy 1: "I’m gonna read a book." Boy 2: “Nooooooooooooooooooo!!"

48. book— thing in da world 2. worst thing in da world Examples: 1. “I love reading books in my free time.” 2. “Ugh. I have to read 5 books over vacation for English homework.”

49. book—Object that does not give instant gratification, like a computer, a television or a dildo.

52. book—A source of reading, in America and most English speaking countries opens right to left then you read them top to bottom left to right.

53. book—"koob" spelled backwards.

54. book—A now useless form of entertainment Example: “You like books?! You should have real fun and watch TV and play video games! No one has the right to tell people what fun to have! (Mine was just a suggestion.) Those annoying grown-ups have to stop telling us to read instead!!!!!!!!”

55. book--Useless pieces of paper with words on them. Wait- I take that back-FREE ROLLING PAPERS!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Peak Experience

For a couple of years, my husband and I have been talking about climbing Pinnacle Mountain. Often one of us would mention going, but the other would think that it was too hot (me), or too cold (him), or we’d have something else to do that interfered.

Last Friday, when the weatherman informed us that Saturday would be beautiful—sunny, with a high near 70 degrees—my husband said, “Okay. Tomorrow’s the day. If we keep on putting it off, one of us will have to push the other’s wheelchair up the mountain.”

Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration; we’re not quite that old. But he was right. What were we waiting for? “I’m game,” I said.

We climbed the West Summit Trail to the top (1011 ft. elevation), a 1 ½ mile round trip. And after seeing the view from the top, we’ve decided we’re going back. After all, we haven’t climbed the East Summit Trail yet . . .

And the best thing? I didn’t think about my dissertation all afternoon. Not even once.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Booking It--Sing, Sing a Song

If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness. So, what's today’s question?

What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love? Why? And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?

I’ve been working too hard on my dissertation—reading, thinking, analyzing, aaaaaarrrrrrgggggghhh—to feel like explicating any song lyrics right now searching for epistemological insights. So, how ‘bout this? We’ll examine a serious subject—a crisis of identity—and have a little fun at the same time.

Here we go . . . Picture Chevy Chase in your mind right now, right hand to left elbow . . .

Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”

A man walks down the street,
He says, Why am I soft in the middle now?
Why am I soft in the middle?
The rest of my life is so hard!
I need a photo-opportunity,
I want a shot at redemption!
Don't want to end up a cartoon,
In a cartoon graveyard .....

Bonedigger, Bonedigger,
Dogs in the moonlight.
Far away, my well-lit door.
Mr. Beerbelly, Beerbelly,
Get these mutts away from me!
You know, I don't find this stuff amusing anymore ....

If you'll be my bodyguard,
I can be your long lost pal!
I can call you Betty,
And Betty, when you call me,
You can call me Al!

A man walks down the street,
He says, Why am I short of attention?
Got a short little span of attention,
And whoa, my nights are so long!
Where's my wife and family?
What if I die here?
Who'll be my role-model?
Now that my role-model is ....
Gone ...... gone,
He ducked back down the alley,
With some roly-poly, little bat-faced girl.
All along .... along ....
There were incidents and accidents,
There were hints and allegations .....

If you'll be my bodyguard,
I can be your long lost pal!
I can call you Betty,
And Betty, when you call me,
You can call me Al!
Call me Al ......

A man walks down the street,
It's a street in a strange world.
Maybe it's the Third World.
Maybe it's his first time around.
He doesn't speak the language,
He holds no currency.
He is a foreign man,
He is surrounded by the sound, sound ....
Cattle in the marketplace.
Scatterlings and orphanages.
He looks around, around .....
He sees angels in the architecture,
Spinning in infinity,
He says, Amen! and Hallelujah!

If you'll be my bodyguard,
I can be your long lost pal!
I can call you Betty,
And Betty, when you call me,
You can call me Al!
You can call me Al ......

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Gleanings from My Readings

“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”
---Jane Austen, in Northanger Abbey


“Reading from a monitor, instead of a book, is like playing videogame football instead of tossing a football around.”
---Roy Blount, Jr., in Alphabet Juice


“It’s magic to see Spirit, largely because it’s so rare. Mostly you see the masks and the holograms that the culture presents as real. You see how you’re doing in the world’s eyes, or your family’s, or—worst of all—yours, or in the eyes of people who are doing better than you—much better than you—or worse. But you are not your bank account, or your ambition. You’re not the cold clay lump you leave behind when you die. You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders. You are Spirit, you are love, and even though it is hard to believe sometimes, you are free. You’re here to love, and be loved, freely. If you find out next week that you are terminally ill—and we’re all terminally ill on this bus—what will matter are memories of beauty, that people loved you, and that you loved them.”
---Anne Lamott, in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith


“Highly credible people make decisions to ‘suspend judgment’ when considering another person’s perspective. They do this because they are okay with being wrong—or, at bare minimum, okay with having their opinions challenged. This doesn’t mean they don’t have passion and strong beliefs. It simply means that their minds are open to other opinions, even if those are quite different from their own.”
---Sandy Allgeier, in The Personal Credibility Factor


“Hillary’s campaign illustrates how far we’ve come, and how far we haven’t come. The tone and tenor of the debates around Hillary, and around Sarah Palin, was far more personal and mocking than toward their male counterparts. Maybe the material was richer, but there was no attempt to dance around gender issues the way there is with race. As a society, we still condone sexism; we view it as a part of nature, a given that isn’t worth bothering our pretty heads about.”
---Eleanor Clift, in “Suffrage, Hillary Style,” Newsweek 1/27/09 Commemorative Inaugural Edition


Happy Reading!

Friday, February 6, 2009


The editors of Smith Magazine have published a compilation of mini-memoirs called Not Quite What I Was Expecting: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Here are a few samples:

“Our prison visitations were surprisingly romantic.” --Larry Smith

“Didn’t realize I’d still be lonely.” --Pamela Cash

“My marital advice? Marry an orphan.” --Kristina Wright

“It’s better when you’re the celebrity.” --Lux Alptraum

Neat idea, huh? Here’s mine:

“She went upstairs again to write.”

Care to give it a try?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Faulty Association

Back in my youth, for some unknown reasons which will not be analyzed here (got any ideas, Mom?), grapefruit became associated with diets and deprivation. So for years, I ignored them when I browsed the local produce section.

But one day, a year-and-a-half or so ago, a large, beautifully shaped grapefruit caught my eye. I picked it up, enjoyed the heavy weight of it in my hand, and decided to buy. The next morning, I cut it in half, admired its firm pinkish-red flesh, and tentatively separated a section to taste. Oh, my.

Now, no breakfast is complete without half a grapefruit. If I don’t get to eat one—because I ran out unawares, because I haven’t gotten to the store, because those at the store didn’t look worth eating—I am not a happy camper.

Weird, huh?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I have to be fair. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day may have a misleading title, but it’s not completely worthless. It’s not so much about the mechanics of writing (but wouldn’t you assume anyone who’s made it this far, at least in the humanities, would have that part down pat?), but about overcoming mental roadblocks and peripheral issues that can derail your efforts.

If nothing else, I’m glad I found this book because of one passage on page 56. Normally, when I read about “The Writing Process,” it never matches with mine. It’s either so neat and completely thought-out that I’d have to write the paper and go backwards to achieve that level of organization on my outlines and notecards, or it is so freeform that I’d go crazy—days and days of freewriting leading to multiple uncontrolled drafts that are somehow supposed to morph into a finished product.

But in her discussion of writing styles, a man named Peter shares his:

I don’t know whether my procedure for papers will work for chapters, although I suspect it will. Perhaps the word “procedure” implies more planning and organization than actually gets done. My mess stage generally consists of an assortment of notes jotted down here and there, a pile of books full of stickies, many of which have a few notes jotted down on them, and an array of thoughts floating around in my head. Sometimes I make a rough outline to sort out what to present when. Sometimes I structure my first couple of paragraphs in such a way that they provide a roadmap I use for writing. Sometimes I have an idea in my head of the way the paper should progress. Then I sit down and write. Sometimes what I write follows the outline, but often the outline changes as I progress through the paper. I often use quotations or passages that I am analyzing as moorings for my thoughts. When I am writing I also tend to do a fair amount of in-process sentence-level editing. I know that this “procedure” would be a recipe for disaster for certain types of writers, but it seems to work for me.

Copy cat.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

False Advertising

OK. I’m a sucker, I know. But how could I resist a book called Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day?

I’m not completely stupid. I didn’t actually expect to be able to shorten my work day down to fifteen minutes, but since mine’s more like fifteen hours than fifteen minutes [hyperbole alert], I figured author Joan Bolker might have a few tricks up her sleeve that I could use.

My hopes were soon dashed. Before I even got to Chapter 1, right there in the Introduction, I found this disclaimer: “One of the most important pieces of advice in this book is, Do some work on your thesis every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Although I’ve known people who have produced finished theses in widely varying lengths of time, anywhere from six weeks to ten years, I don’t actually know anyone who’s done it in fifteen minutes a day. But I do know many who began the process that led them to complete their dissertations by writing for only a very short time every day.” Duh.

I guess Pope was right. Hope does spring eternal.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Booking It--Inspiration

“Inspiration” is the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

I had to think about this a while. Reading gives me much pleasure. It always has, and I trust that it will for many years to come. But I don’t think that pleasure is what “inspires” me to read.

Deep down, I think I read out of a need to know, to more fully understand, to be a total participant in the human experience. I think that’s why I enjoy different genres, why I read novels and poetry and plays but also memoirs and biographies, books about history and health, psychology and sociology, books of religious contemplation or outright denial. I want to know the world, other cultures, other peoples. What do they believe? What motivates them? Why do they feel as they do? I want to understand history, what it was like to live in other places at other times, to comprehend the contradictions, the pains of the queen, the pleasures of the peasant. I want to understand how we got where we are now, what’s in my food, and how to do better take care of myself. And since I’ll never know it all, I have motivation to keep on reading.

What’s your inspiration?