Monday, April 30, 2007

The Next Adventure

I've been quiet because I have a lot on my mind. (Yes, I've noticed that my mind is apparently sufficiently fragile that, when I have to make a big decision, I can't think of very many other things. Oh well.)

Math-Man has been offered a job for next year. Not back here. He wants to do this. I just plain don't think that I have another year living apart in me. It's career-stupidity to quit my job and go there to be with him. I could, of course, say that I won't, and that he should bloody well come home. He's had his fun. He's been clear that he would do that.

But is there a way we can both have what we want and need, if we just think a little more creatively? Do I even know what I want and need? Well, there's the trick question! We have until the end of the week to finish this decision process. After that, the employing institutions need to make plans of their own, so common courtesy demands that we get our acts together.

So, I'm trying to think of a short-term move as an adventure. And it would be great if this adventure could be tweaked into something meaningful and important for me, as well as for him. Honestly, sometimes I'm just plain worn out trying to craft a life in harmony with other people. But then... I'm the one who wants to put being geographically together as the essential for next year, so maybe what I'm trying to be in harmony with is my own unharmonious needs.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Charity Knitting -Tomorrow Night

I know there are people who are cold and who need our knitted garments here in DeKalb. I really do. But through Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka The Yarn Harlot) I learned about The Dulaan Project, which supplies hand-knit wool garments for people in Mongolia. On the website there is a picture of a sweet little toddler, and my heart was lost. Dulaan Knitting is my project.

So, tomorrow night my knitting circle and, I hope, some knitters I've never met before, will gather at the Newman Center to knit for Dulaan. Bring your needles and your yarn. There will be plenty of expert help available, although this probably isn't the time to learn how to knit. The potential teachers are a little distracted trying to meet a May deadline for the sweaters being shipped to Mongolia. We can do a learn-to-knit event some other time, if there's a need.

So, 7:00 at the Newman Center, 512 Normal Road. Be there. People are cold. We can fix this.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Set your iPod to shuffle and tell us the first ten songs that play. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones that might make you look cool. Here are mine for the week:

  • Zydeco Tous Pa Tous; Zydeco Party
  • You're Still the One; Shania Twain (Oh no)
  • Winter Song; Harry Chapin
  • Here Comes the Rain Again; Annie Lennox
  • I Saved the World Today; Eurythmics
  • Where Does the Good Go?; Tegan and Sara
  • Perfect World; Indigo Girls
  • La Bicyclette; Yves Montand
  • God Help the Outcasts; Bette Midler
  • Girls Lie Too; Terri Clark (This one cracks me up.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Table of Contents

There is much that is wrong and confused and a royal pain in my nether regions lately. My heart is broken over the massacre in Virginia. My brain is tired from trying to make sense of it. Math-Man and I are tangled up in a long-distance argument. Big changes may await me. Or not.


Good Southern girl that I am, I channeled Scarlet O'Hara. I'll think about it tomorrow. A braver person would have cleaned closets or scrubbed floors. I started to cook. And cook. And cook some more. Before I knew it, I had a pot of spaghetti, a huge salad, some bread rising, a peach cobbler..... Nothing fancy. And I can't tell you that is was cooked with love and lightness of heart. More like dark glowering angst. But it still tasted good.

Now how in the name of all that is holy is one person going to eat all of that? Never fear. I have a son who can smell a home-cooked meal from across town. I heard his truck -and his buddies- in the driveway, so I put four more plates on the table. A few minutes later, a yoga buddy popped over to see why I hadn't been at class. One more plate on the table. She called her husband (another Math-Man) and told him to come over. Their daughter popped over for a few minutes.

We haven't solved the problems of the world. But we talked about important things -violence, the equality of marital partners, does George bush really have a brain. And some not-so-important ones -seriously, IS there a good domestic beer?

Nothing's changed, except my attitude. Of course it wasn't the food. None of those people knew there was food here when they stopped over. Instead, it was the gathering around the table and the almost lost art of conversation. And the wine didn't hurt ;)

Thank goodness for friends! I was glad to be able to feed the ones gathered around my table.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thinking Critically and Building Peace

Pretty deliberately, I haven't sought any more news today about the shootings at Virginia Tech. My brain is on overload; I have absorbed all the grief I can absorb. My heart breaks for the people who don't have the luxury of simply deciding to stop paying attention to the story.

My friend Kimberly is quite right to point out that, the media circus notwithstanding, violent crime is actually down in this country. We shouldn't forget that we have the ability to think critically just because we're reeling from grief. But the statistics don't tell the whole story -not that she was claiming that they did. It's entirely possible that the crime statistics are simultaneously down from 10 years ago and yet too high. Nor do I have any evidence that schools are particularly unsafe places to be, statistically speaking. Again, I'm not sure that's the point. One school shooting is too many.

The last I heard the insta-pundits were out in force. "We should keep kids safe at school." "We shouldn't mainstream kids with mental illnesses." "We should enact meaningful gun control legislation." "We should relax gun control legislation so innocent bystanders can shoot back."

Hush already.

Acknowledge that this urge to do something -anything- comes from your own grief. Acknowledge that this grasping at straws rather than solid explanations is an honest and commendable need for understanding. But then, let go of the sound bites and set about actually understanding the things you're saying. And acknowledge that understanding anything is hard work.

Research suggests that there is no profile that will predict who school shooters will be. I'm sure that profiles are already being bandied about as though they were fact. They are not. And when the mythology replaces fact, actual understanding is impeded. And the thing about understanding this kind of tragedy? People's lives are at stake. Professional practice, basic intelligence, and reasonable life principles all demand that we stand for truth.

Think twice before advocating still more curtailments of civil liberties. You may decide in the end that you support more restrictions of liberties (and I will argue with you, but that's all right), but think first. If you end up trading them away for a feeling of safety that turns out to be unwarranted, what will you have accomplished? Cameras in the halls, see-through backpacks, searches as you enter buildings, isolation of people who are different... these strategies build resentment and intolerance. My guess is (someone probably knows... I'll poke around in the research) that these strategies might help us identify perpetrators after the fact but won't do much to prevent a troubled person from becoming a perpetrator. These measures will have accomplished something, but probably not the thing we wanted in the first place.

Rather, I think we're required to do the harder work, the more nebulous work, of building compassionate communities. The verbal violence of sarcasm that comes so easily to me? That needs to go. The dismissing that is so easy to do when I encounter someone who doesn't please me? It's gotta go, too. The brain that God gave me? I should use it as a peace-making tool. The stakes are too high to fool around. We need real understanding and authentic peace. Let's get to work.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A New Green Challenge

Just in time for Earth Day, Slate and TreeHugger have teamed up again for a new Green Challenge. (Quite possibly, that sentence wins the prize for most links/sentence.)

The challenge starts by looking at transportation -which is unfortunate, because I just drove to go vote. The polling place is about 3 blocks away, and the weather is beautiful and I own a perfectly lovely bike. So, pretty clearly I need reminders in this department. In my defense, I also went to the library, checked out books, and dropped off four big bags of books that I've weeded from our collection. Okay, my collection. But still. At least I combined errands. It's a lame defense, but it's the one I have.

This week, I will bike to work. I won't promise that the whole day will be car-free, but I'll at least do that much. I need to get back to car-free Thursdays. Now that the weather is (one fervently hopes) turning to spring, I can get back to that easily enough. So, there's the plan.

Go check out the challenge and let us know what you're going to change about your transportation -if anything.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Set your iPod to shuffle and tell us the first ten songs that appear. No cheating. Don't leave out the ones that make you look like a dork or add in ones that you think will make you look cool. Here are mine for the week:

  • Music of Healing; Pete Seeger, Tommy Sands, and Vedran Smailovic
  • Could I Have this Kiss Forever; Enrique Iglesias
  • B Minor: Jenny's Chicken/Glasgow Reel; Leahy
  • KaBoom!; Ursula 1000 (I hope it doesn't get more embarrassing this week. I don't see how it could.)
  • Find Out Who Your Friends Are; Tracy Lawrence
  • Tears of a Clown; Four Tops
  • Largo from Concerto for Harpsichord No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056; J.S. Bach
  • Dance of the Swans; Swan Lake; Tchaikovsky
  • Conquest of Paradise; The Ten Tenors
  • Today (As for Me and my House); Kathryn Scott

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God is Watching You (??)

Driving home from work yesterday, I heard a disturbing local news segment. Apparently, sometime in the night before Easter, someone broke the stained glass window at my church. It would have to have been quite late. The Vigil on Saturday night went until 9:30 or 10 and I'm sure people weren't out of there until 11:00 at the earliest. I assume, but don't know for sure, that they mean the mosaic window that runs behind the sanctuary space. If so, this break is quite disturbing to the community and the celebration they would have been hoping for on Easter morning. What a bone-headed, nonsensical, destructive thing for someone to have done.

But, the part of the story that caught my attention was "police are using surveillance tapes to identify the perpetrator..." . There are surveillance tapes of my church? Does that strike anyone else as odd? Where's the camera? What are they monitoring? Why?

On the one hand, the building is open until quite late at night. The parking lot is dark, and staff and parishioners need to get to their cars safely. Not that surveillance actually helps with that, but I'm trying here. There are gold chalices and other liturgical supplies that I suppose a thief could steal. There's the peculiar-to-Catholicism fear that someone evil will steal consecrated hosts and act disrespectfully. Honestly, does that really happen? And even if it does, doesn't worrying about it beyond the simple protective measure of locking everything up in the tabernacle seem sort of like magical thinking?

I don't think the parish staff is up to anything dark and sinister with these tapes. They probably don't even think about them from one month's end to the next. I'm still kind of disturbed. The "other hand" of this argument is that we can go almost nowhere anymore and not be under surveillance. I really don't care that I'm under surveillance at the grocery store and the bank -even my gym, which HAS to be disturbing to the poor slob faced with watching those tapes. But church? If we're doing church right, people are working pretty close to the bone. Surely we could have privacy for those moments of spiritual angst that we all experience.

Who else would have access to the information contained on them? Would the staff have to turn them over to some over-zealous governmental agency? They would be spared that decision if the tapes didn't exist in the first place. Would, say, the Bishop have access? They could be used to monitor staff -which might be good, but given our bishop I doubt that we're concerned about the same things. He'd probably want to monitor orthodoxy more than, say, child safety.

These are probably just tapes or digital information that no one looks at at all, until a crime is committed. But still....

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Two-Body Problem

Really, it's a problem in classical mechanics.... something about two particles in motion interacting with each other. I clearly should have looked it up. What I mean here, though, is the code-phrase in academia for "what do we do with two career families?" How can a hiring committee entice the one partner to come to their institution when there's no position in the community or the university for the partner? Or can they work a deal where there's an instructor position in another department, so that they get hot-shot-professor-person? (The less hot-shot person then becomes known as "the trailing spouse". How flattering.) Can two people share one position? What might the department offer to make the fact of living 1000 miles apart impossible to refuse?

And those are the problems the university has -which I care about, but only tangentially. We've been busy, as you know, trying to figure this out from the other side of the table. I had previously thought the two-body problem mostly affected young academics, particularly those searching for their first post-PhD jobs. My mistake.

As I've whined about repeatedly, Math-Man and I are living apart until August. He's on sabbatical -a sabbatical he deserved, needed, and, truth be told, kind of demanded. Moreover, he intended to travel for this sabbatical. I couldn't uproot my life here, so we're living apart and figuring it out.

I'm struck by a few things. It stinks. Oh wait. I think I've mentioned that already, and you might have guessed it, anyway. While I completely support the practice of sabbaticals, particularly when there's a research requirement for the faculty, I'm also struck by the throw-back feel to it. Traveling for sabbatical isn't, strictly speaking, required. But, understanding the universe (the task of the academic life, as I understand it) is necessarily a cooperative venture. If one wants to work with someone to push back the intellectual frontiers, it's just good manners to go where that person is. That traveling, then, either assumes the person is single or has a family willing to temporarily uproot themselves.

By the time you get to be my age (well past the traditional newly-minted PhD age), you've met plenty of academic families. And some have traveled here, there, and everywhere, with and without the children. "We home-schooled the kids that year because we were living in a tent in the mountains of Chile." "That was the year we spent in Thailand." Immediately, though, you notice that the traveling family has a non-academic partner whose job is either unusually flexible or comparatively unimportant in the family value system. S/he could quit it, travel with the family on sabbatical, and then find another job upon return. I don't have that kind of job, and I'm grateful for that. But I can't have it both ways.

Maybe my existential angst is just a consequence of my personal choices rather than of a slightly neanderthal sabbatical system. I continue, though, to chafe at a situation -whoever or whatever caused it- that requires us to live apart if we are both to take our life-paths seriously. Is this really our best effort at supporting both family and intellectual curiosity?

Secondly, I'm struck by the male/female differences I'm noticing in our little experiment of one. I'm a feminist married to a feminist, just to get that out there. Nonetheless, Dave decided the sabbatical was going to happen, and that it was going to involve travel on his part. He clearly couldn't decide how I was going to spend my time, but he was going to be gone. The family just needed to work around that. When I've been faced with a similar decision, I've found 1000 reasons why I shouldn't go, almost talked myself out of traveling many a time, and needed to be convinced to do it almost every time. It's not that I'm a timid traveler at all. It's that I don't want to burden the family with the consequences of my choices -even when they're clearly saying that they're not burdened and I should get the heck out of Dodge.

Nobody has put me in this second quandary but myself. It's just interesting that after all this time and all this thought and all this intention towards equality, we still come at these "family or work first" questions differently. Is our sense of entitlement different? Does it have anything at all to do with gender, or is it just a consequence of our different personalities?

I have no answers. I know, though, that I'm grateful that the situation isn't worse yet. We could well be one of those families who has to live apart for years, until jobs in each of the partner's fields become open in the same geographical area. How badly would that stink???

131 days left, but who's counting? Oh, that would be me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Vagina? Scrotum? Wash My Mouth Out With Soap!

I'm a big fan of using powerful and appropriate language. I use the occasional big word, and people live to tell the tale -and sometimes even rise to the occasion. I admit to sometimes letting it rip in the swear words department. Yet here, too, I think of that as a failure of vocabulary and encourage myself and people around me to find words that are more, shall we say, precise. If I'm feeling feisty, I'll challenge sexist or racist jokes. I don't like it when people say things like "I'm so stupid". Their subconscious is listening, after all, and they're teaching it to believe such clearly false assertions. If I want to be grandiose about it, I feel like I'm standing up for something important when I defend the power of language. (It's entirely possible that I'm just being annoyingly pedantic. Please don't clue me in, if that's the case.)

But here's the thing. Conservatives know that language is powerful, too. And somehow, when we liberals weren't looking, they've taken over not just the terms of the discourse but MY language. Okay, not mine literally, but the language that regular people can use.

There's another children's book being pulled from library shelves: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. This book commits the tragic error of using the word "scrotum", correctly and in context. The problem is.... what? Someone might have to explain to a child what a scrotum is? Because that would be a tragedy? Weirdly, the book (in the same paragraph, actually) refers to adults drinking enormous quantities of rum, while sitting in parked cars. That's not why parents are pressuring libraries to pull the book, it seems.

And then, three high school honors students were suspended for challenging the rule that they couldn't use the word "vagina" in their dramatic excerpt from The Vagina Monologues. They could use the Monologues, but were supposed to find a bit that didn't have the dreaded word. (Way to prove the whole point of the Monologues, but I digress!) This is a kind of civil disobedience issue. They broke a rule and there's a disciplinary action that they will have to face. The question is, why was it against the rule in the first place?

What horrible thing happens if children (and adults for that matter) learn and use the right words for genitalia? We'd have to admit to them that there's sex and reproduction? I'm thinking that high school students have figured out the general idea. And conservatives know that; they're conservative, not stupid.

Possibly the problem is that they want all things sexual to be absolutely private- governed, defined, described, experienced within the nuclear, traditional family. Talking about it in public, however clinically, blurs the public/private distinction that they want to pretend is very sharp.

The funny thing is that I have a nuclear family that they would be proud to have. One man, one woman, two children...what's not to love? (And I do love them, by the way!) But I'm here to tell you that sex is always political -even married sex ;) And it matters publicly, or we wouldn't have state-sanctioned marriage, laws against some kinds of sex, laws against some kinds of violence masquerading as sex...

It's a little hard to link that kind of "sex matters publicly" argument to children's books, for heaven's sake. But forcryingoutloud, the discourse has to start somewhere. And if we have to defend the practice of teaching children the anatomically correct names for body parts, we have sunk very far indeed.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Set your iPod to shuffle and tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork. Here are mine for the week:

  • A Country Dance/ Nonesuch; Trapezoid
  • I'll Go Tell Elizabeth; Ken Medema
  • O Praise Him; Dave Crowder Band
  • Hungry Heart; Bruce Springsteen
  • Message in a Bottle; Police (I think this one has to go.)
  • Come On Home; Indigo Girls
  • I Will Survive; Gloria Gaynor
  • Calypso; John Denver
  • De Ruada/A Herba de Namorar; Cabo do Mundo
  • Take On Me; A-Ha (It's in a workout playlist.Stop laughing!)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Generous Computing

As we've established, my brain is only wrapping around the simplest of ideas these days. (By the way, I will no longer wonder why mental health clients with clinical depression can hardly move. I am in no way clinically depressed. Chronically whining, yes. Technically depressed, no. And I can hardly think or generate energy for new projects. Patience. I will have more patience with other people's challenges!) Given my new and hopefully temporary limitations, I'm opting for a simple justice project today.

This one involves no work on my part. I'm thrilled. The computational power required to analyze some kinds of data, including molecules which need to be screened for cancer research, is massive. The United Devices Cancer Research Project is asking people to volunteer their PCs to help process molecular research being conducted by the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford in England and the National Foundation for Cancer Research. To participate, you simply download a very small, no cost, non-invasive software program that works like a screensaver; it runs when your computer isn't being used and processes research until you need your machine.

There is no impact on your computer use. The project software cannot detect or transfer anything on your machine except project-specific information. It just allows your computer to screen molecules that may be developed into drugs to fight cancer. Each individual computer analyzes a few molecules and then sends the results back for further research. This project is anticipated to be the largest computational chemistry project ever undertaken and represents a genuine hope to find a better way to fight cancer.

It's an interesting cooperative mechanism for research, a simple social justice idea, and easy to download and install. Let's go have a beer, while my computer works on saving lives ;)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Lend Me Your Ear

Deafness and interpreting are on my mind because I dreamed in sign language last night. Even when I used sign language daily, I don't think that ever happened. Of course, it was a dream. Bone-headed mistakes don't matter so much in a dream! Then, PBS has a 2-hour special about deafness, Through Deaf Eyes. Since I don't have a television, I haven't seen it yet. It got good reviews, though, and it's on my list of things to track down. Then... (this gets weirder) my sister-in-law knows that I will be on the east coast during the graduation ceremonies of the high school where she teaches and has asked me to interpret the graduation. (There are no interpreters in New Jersey? But I appreciate the invitation -among other things because it puts me in the same state as Math-Man for the weekend.) And finally, I was asked to interpret the Palm Sunday liturgy yesterday. I couldn't do it, because I had already signed up to go on retreat, but still... the universe is clearly trying to tell me something.

Deafness raises some interesting issues about inclusion and social justice. We think of those two concepts as the same, or necessarily related, anyway. Ostracizing people is bad; including them must be a necessary first step toward treating people fairly. It seems obvious, but deaf people might disagree. The only symbol of the deaf community is sign language. There are no wheelchairs or canes to signal to us that the person walking down the street has special needs. There is deaf theater, music for the deaf, a body of literature.... This is a community, largely defined by the use of ASL -a language, by the way, that is almost not-masterable (I'm making up words this morning -a trick that works in sign language and less well in English. Sorry.) by people who can hear.

So, if inclusion means absorption into the dominant culture, then the deaf community will be lost. It's not going to last much longer, anyway, since there are fewer and fewer deaf children being born. (We picked up on the rubella/deafness link and took care of that.) In schools, deaf children are typically in the regular classroom but are signed to in English, rather than ASL. Signed Exact English is an unbearably complicated and clunky tool, but the law is that education happens in English. So, the children learn and practice this different language all day at school, their parents barely know it, and scorn it, to boot.

Sure, inclusion can mean that both cultures broaden. But how do we actually make that work when it's hard to talk to each other? I'm obviously stumped, but I think I'm supposed to be thinking about this.

And pretty clearly, I'm not supposed to be trying to intellectualize about it -because that's certainly getting me nowhere fast. So, what's a girl to do??

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Bishop and the Whopper

Not the "do you want fries with that?" kind of whopper. The "go to confession immediately" kind of whopper.

A few months ago, I blogged about Bishop Bruskewitz, Call to Action's excommunication in his diocese, and the Vatican's upholding of the excommunication. You can go here to read it: Mala Lex; Nula Lex. It's a certainty, though, that other people have written about the circumstances more powerfully.

But here's the news. The Bishop ...ummmm..... misrepresented, shall we say.... the Vatican's decision. Call to Action members finally received a copy of the appeal decision, and contrary to the Bishop's claims, the Vatican has not endorsed the attempted excommunication. They didn't rescind it either, though.

Here's what did happen. The Apostolic Signatura wants to define the attempted excommunication as a "local legislative action" which means that they can render no decision at all. Instead, CTA needs to appeal to the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. (Who knew that there were so many #$()* councils and judicial bodies? You don't suppose they do this on purpose to make appeals prohibitively burdensome, do you?)

So, Cardinal Re's opinion on the subject is no more legally binding under the circumstances than mine is. I am so very not a canon lawyer, but it looks to me like the decision as to how to classify the appeal could go either way. It could be a decision regarding "administrative acts of ordinaries and dicasteries (including penal cases decided without using a court)," which would put it within the purview of the Signatura. Or it could be seen as "interpreting the laws of the Church", which would put it with Legislative Texts. By moving the decision, however, the Signatura has bumped the importance of the decision rather noticeably down the hierarchical ladder.

I'm not sure what difference that makes. Nor am I sure that this body will be any more inclined to make a sensible and just decision. Bishop John Myers serves on the Council, I'm pretty sure, and that can't be good news. Nonetheless, I am sure that Bishop Bruskewitz misrepresented the actual decision to his diocese and to the rest of the world, in the press. I wonder what kind of penalties there are for that?

I continue to admire the tenacity and faith of these Catholics in a sad diocese, who stand so steadfastly for justice. My prayers are with all of you.