Monday, August 27, 2007

First Day, or Am I Grown Up Yet?

Today I taught my first class. I was sick to my stomach for an hour beforehand and talked fast all the way through, but it seems to have gone off reasonably well.

When I arrived, the classroom was still occupied by the previous class and several freshmen were waiting in the hall. "Are you here for Greek?" they asked.

"Yes," said I.

"Are you an upperclassman?"

Well... I suppose you could say that. "Actually I'm teaching it..."

"OH. Sorry!" And they got wide-eyed and vaguely apologetic.

I guess I do at least look older than 18.

After that I had my own three classes (Athenian Empire, Survey of Greek Literature, and Latin Prose Composition)with only 10 minutes between each. One professor gave me permission to bring lunch to class, but I forgot that everything I eat for lunches these days is crunchy and the noise embarrassed me too much to eat it until later.

Then, in a final spurt of goodness and discipline (not to mention getting up at 7 to have coffee with Brooks before his early class), I went to the gym on campus. I hope this will become a reasonable MWF schedule that will keep me healthy and academically on-track most of the semester. Tuesday and Thursday of course are nap days. One can't expect too much.

Goodbye summer!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Banishing Clutter (or What the Well-Dressed Woman is Wearing)

My vague anti-clutter feelings reached critical mass this weekend. All the stuff in our small apartment makes me feel claustrophobic even when the sun is shining, so I fear for my sanity when winter returns.

I sorted through the books, which were overflowing all the bookshelves onto the floor in three or four places. One box went to the used book store; three boxes went into the closet. I still like some of my modern history books, remnants of my B.A., but I can't see myself reading them for at least five years now that I've changed fields.

I recruited Jena to help with my wardrobe. Under her stern eye, four large grocery bags of clothes and shoes -- worn, ill-fitting, or unfashionable -- were dismissed from service. Perhaps one-third of what came out of the closet went back into it.

Brooks tackled the big closet under the stairs, and disposed of several boxes of knicknacks and old dishes. (Now I can see the entirety of the full-length mirror at the back of the closet!) The Goodwill delivery from both projects took up the whole back seat and floor of the car.

I felt rather weepy that night, despite how happy I was about all the stuff going away. I don't miss any of it; in fact, I'm still spotting things that need to go. But somehow it was still a wrench. Why is that?

Jena continued her role as personal wardrobe assistant by making up a list of all the things I needed to make the clothes I had left a)go with each other and b)look a bit more polished for teaching. By the next day, she had also located all the items online and within budget. All I had to do was approve and enter my credit card number. I did look askance at the green moccasins (I like green shoes but I've never really liked moccasins) but Jena said, "TRUST me. They're SO IN this year," and ordered herself a pair of lavender ones. Finally, she provided a list of more expensive winter items to acquire as I manage to save the money later. So I have a streamlined closet and a new wardrobe, with no shopping required! Everyone should have a Jena for these occasions. Too bad she can't write my Greek syllabus, too...

A Beginner's Guide to Prayer

I picked up this book early in the summer from our church library, looking for help in restructuring my habits in the midst of all the cerebral examinations of theology we've been doing (see Brooks' long posts). Despite being a Christian all my life, I am still a beginner when it comes to any kind of habit of prayer. Fr. Keiser of course writes from an Orthodox perspective, but I think much of his approach would be helpful to all Christians trying to establish a solid prayer life.

The reasons he gives for doing so are far from legalistic:

"Public worship and personal prayer are the twin support beams of the spiritual life for any believer. All our growing will take place within the framework they provide" (6).

"Why bother with the effort of a disciplined prayer life at all?...We pray as a response to love, and we pray in order to love" (8).

He encourages a mixture of written and spontaneous prayers, starting out with written:
"Nothing can color our image of God like the words that we use to communicate with Him....Using written prayers that have been tested against the teaching of the Church can help us keep to sound doctrine so that we do not end up worshiping ourselves" (27).

I appreciate written prayers, finding that they often say what I wanted to say without having fully realized how to express it. They also take away the excuse that I am feeling too uncreative and unexpressive to pray on any given occasion.

Fr. Keiser's advice about forming a personal rule of prayer is drawn from Scripture and the church fathers, with a healthy dose of practicality for the busy and easily-distracted realities of our lives and a common-sensical balance between emotions and discipline.

Written, spontaneous, and non-verbal prayer all contribute to the same end. The whole point, as with all the spiritual disciplines, is to grow in communion and likeness with God, which is genuine wholeness and the deepest authenticity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Belated birthday reflections

I don't know if I've lived up to my goals for my first thirty years, because I've never been able to envision life that far ahead. It's rather a surprise to me that I'm here already. However, my thoughts earlier in the summer about authenticity without perfectionism were motivated in part by a concern that I would turn this milestone into another impractical and depressing checklist opportunity. At least for the next week or two, I've resolved not to make resolutions and not to compare myself with people who have families, careers, and PhDs at 30.

Brooks has drawn up a gratifyingly adventurous list of all the things I've done in the last year. I also had a lovely chat with my cousin the other day (hi Lori! the book just arrived!) and she inspired several Helpful Reflections.

First of all, I realized that I have much less inclination nowadays to try to be someone else. I still don't think I do a good enough job of being me, but that's a different stage of development.

Second, she reminded me that growth is a combination of intentionality and epiphany. There is a place for analysis, and there is a place for letting things happen.

Third, it struck me this morning that almost all the blogs I've been reading this year, whatever their various issues, have in some way emphasized incremental growth over drastic and ultimately unsustainable change. The Orthodox approach to spiritual disciplines has a similarly practical bent. God doesn't usually re-make someone in a day; it's the persistence of working at it that develops the virtues and disciplines. I think this may be my next Big Issue.

I've always been convinced that I have no self-discipline, but that's because I always assumed that I ought to be able to remake myself in a week or two if I just tried hard enough. When I look even just at my summer through my normal lenses, it looks like a failure. I didn't make a dent in my reading list, I didn't pray every day, I didn't get in shape, I didn't organize my whole house, I didn't minimize my environmental impact, and my squash and cucumbers were abject failures. But if I look at the small sporadic things, I did start praying and exercising once or twice a week, I did throw away or recycle several boxes of stuff, I eat less meat and dairy, I use less water and fewer plastic bags, I got the best tomatoes ever from my backyard, and I read at least parts of books in three languages. Not to mention that I spent more time with my sister than I have in the last seven years combined. From that angle, it doesn't look too shabby.

And finally, the birthday party reminded me of how many smart and interesting friends I have, because the ones who came also represented to me all the ones who couldn't come, and I marvelled at them all.