Finding the Art in Everything

31 December, 2007

Losing Things in Bulk

The holiday's leave plenty of time for losing things, running expensive errands, snacking, long showers, and reflecting on current employment (because NOT working leaves time to think about it). So naturally, a few more top-five lists emerge:

My Top-five Most Annoying Things to Lose:
(Based on degree of annoyance and frequency of misplacement, these are the things that wreck all concentration until I find them)

1. Fingernail clippers
2. Fountain pen
3. Driver's license
4. Phone charger
5. my lists!

Top-five Coolest Things to Buy at Costco:
1. Post-it notes--a pile of 24 for 10 bucks!
2. Wine--Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva for 12 bucks!
3. Peanut M&Ms--who wouldn't want five pounds of these??
4. Cheese--Gruyère, Gouda, and a Dublin cheddar!
5. Dog bones--even George Herbert understands the significance of buying in bulk.

Top-five Favorite Cheeses:
1. Sharp English Cheddar (aged)
2. Muenster
3. Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella
4. Feta
5. Brie (with no rind)

Top-five Favorite Shampoos
1. Paul Mitchell's Tea Tree Shampoo
2. Bumble and Bumble's Gentle Shampoo
3. Redkin's BlondGlam
4. Aveda's Rosemary Mint Shampoo
5. Bumble and Bumble's Creme de Coco Shampoo

Top-five Dream Jobs
1. Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (with a season ending at The Proms)
2. Accessories/Cosmetics product selection for Nordstrom's
3. Editor of my own magazine (The New Yorker meets InStyle meets The National Review meets Paste meets CondéNast)
4. Ambassador to Britain under Tony Blair
5. U.S. Senator (Foreign Affairs Committee, Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee)

29 December, 2007

extraordinary days

Over a month ago, I posted a lament that I couldn't find something important to me online.

Yesterday, I was wandering around online, and I came across this. It is only part of what I was looking for, but it is sufficiently representitive of the thing I thought I had lost.

I forgot how much I had contributed to this site, acknowledging that it is amateur and archaic. My photos (or I!) appear in the following sections:

Birmingham>Manor House, Out and About in Birmingham, Working in Birmingham, University of Birmingham.

Chances are, if there are blue skies, I took the photo. Also, a handful of photos at the bottom of here are mine, too. I am quite proud of that nighttime Tower Bridge photo, and the shoe one.

I got a gift for Christmas that has me pouring over photos. Doing this, combined with having found the website, has me wondering what to do with a set of experiences untouchable by any other set from before or since. This life seems so irreconcileable to the one I have now; in fact, these extraordinary days are actually aggravating because they give me something against which everyday life is compared--if not everyday life, at least my current geography. I am so annoyed by the contrast.

For which days are we supposed to live? Those days, the extraordinary ones? Or the doldrum days like these ones between Christmas and New Year's?

It is easy to love the extraordinary days--the kind one spends galavanting around Europe (and then spending years paying off). And to be honest, it is unlikely I need any more of those, exactly.

All this just makes me wonder what it will take before I feel satisfied, before I am no longer aggravated by what I don't have any more or what I am not. I know I have a job I love, a cool apartment, and a great dog--why isn't this enough?

So what we have here is a set of life lessons:

1. Holiday breaks highlight twentysomething ennui. Combing through favorite pretty photos is no remedy for this.
2. Drinking more (liquor or coffee--its a tossup) is.
3. And my longtime favorite: Today is not forever.

22 December, 2007

Smashing the World

“The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself…We are mistaken when we compare war to “normal life. Even those periods we think most tranquil…turn out, on closer inspection to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies…” –C.S. Lewis (Weight of Glory)

“One of the most dangerous errors is [believing] that civilization is automatically bound to increase and spread. The lesson of history is the opposite; civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost. The normal state of humanity is barbarism, just as the normal surface of the planet is salt water. Land looms large in our imagination and civilization in history books, only because sea and savagery are to us less interesting.” C.S. Lewis (Rehabilitations)

The Washington Post, this past few weeks, has had several articles discussing the fight over the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I am deeply bothered by this whole situation, and I have been for some time. There has already been the congressional vote over the issue of the detainee’s treatment; now, it’s under judicial scrutiny, where the latest battle is over a destroyed set of tapes that allegedly recorded a significant interrogation. It is true that the issue of the Guantánamo Bay Detention center poses a serious political and ethical dilemma, but this governmental action is bringing us no closer to solving it. I question the legitimacy of a bill whose passage is so clearly marked by party lines, like this last one.

The more we talk about Guantánamo in terms of presidencies, bills, and hearings the smaller we make it. Few meaningful things actually fit in the tiny context of partisan politics. One problem with the Guantánamo situation is that it is being shoved into the role of a banner issue—one must be for or against it. But it doesn’t fit a context this small, and it is not the only issue that doesn’t. I feel the same way about abortion.

It seems to me the issue of Guantánamo shouldn’t be part of the referendum debate on the current administration, but part of one of the greater debates in human history: between civilization and. anarchy, or between war and pacifism. It is a great historical paradox that war—in all of its brutality and savagery—must be waged to protect civilization. War and civilization are intuitive opposites, except in the case of preservation. Lewis reminds us that shreds of civilization are hard won and not the normal state of humanity. The prisons in Guantánamo are an ugly reality of war—war on those who threaten our young notion of civilization.

We are fortunate that, in the last 100 years, our attempts to mitigate the hideous effects of war with conventions and treaties has been relatively effective. I don’t disagree that these conventions are a good thing—in fact, they still fight for civilization in the face of its opposition on the battlefield. But our biggest problem with Guantánamo and its detainees is that they may exist outside the battlefield defined by our rules and conventions. It may exist, as a friend helpfully identifies, in a space outside “democracy” and “rights” and even the law.

Of course I would prefer that we could keep war within the confines of our civilized political conventions; Of course I am appalled by the legal and physical conditions of Guantánamo , just as I would be appalled by these conditions in any other element of war. One argument (all superficial partisanship aside) is that a place such as Guantánamo seems absurd because it tramples democratic virtues. But maybe the absurdity is trying to apply civilized, democratic conventions to War in the first place. War and civilization are opposites. It is no wonder that the issue of Guantánamo is so problematic: the government is attempting to drag an element of war into an element of civilization, the United States Congress (where civilization is a broader term than that which evaluates the individual behavior of our representatives) The degree of political infighting does not reveal the magnitude of this issue’s significance, but the absurdity of pursuing a political solution.

A friend pointed out, “the decision to use methods of torture is not going to be definable by law… [W]e need to face the fact that there are some issues that cannot be solved for all cases in advance, and that this is one of them. The decision to torture someone is a moral decision, one about which one must have absolute certainty, and the Congress will not be able to define all of these cases via legislation.” The issue of Guantánamo is not threatening because it represents the work of an evil executive or military with too much power; it is threatening because it exposes the weaknesses and flaws modern liberalism and its political manifestations bear. Every age seeks to hold their own laws and systems as absolute, and the issue of Guantánamo , among others, exposes that principle for the historical hubris it is. Our notions of Civilization are actually young and fragile and perhaps sometimes flawed.

We don’t defend our system because it is perfect and everything about it is defensible. We defend it because this civilization is ours—a civilization, that Lewis defines as, “the realization of the human idea…the life of beings for whom the leisured activities of thought, art, literature, and conversation are the end, and the propagation of the species is merely the means…” (Rehabilitations) All patriotic pomp and circumstance aside, the 9/11 attacks put us directly at war with people who seek to destroy our political, economic, and moral system based on the freedom of choice. Their preferred system (if there is one) is one of totalitarian control by a few corrupt elite (using the government of Iran, as an example). We are free to be critical of this system—to in fact, deem it inferior—because we love our own.

Just because two systems both lay claim to the label of “civilized” does not make them equivalents. History reveals the tactics used by a Civilization to defend itself do not have to be civilized to be in defense of it. It is the brutality of war that masks a key difference between the two. While the elements of war are horrifying, we can make the distinction in the case of combative defense based on purpose: the purpose of preservation is inherently noble and civilized, while the purpose of destruction is not.

We may in 100 years, or even 10 years, come to regret our behavior in Guantánamo . But we would certainly regret not doing everything in our power to preserve our civilizations’ freedoms. As Chesterton points out, those who love the world would be “ready to smash the whole world for the sake of itself.”

15 December, 2007

The Flag of the World

There are those moments when you read something so catching that you wish everyone you know was also reading the same thing at that very moment. It is likely that no one else is reading that very thing because they care about it a great deal less than you, but blog-posting is sort of a half-way point between making people read your book and keeping it to yourself.

This morning, I came across some great Chesterton:

"For our titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as compromise [between good and evil], but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it... No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on in this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its collossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its collossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fantical an optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails and the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole world for the sake of itself."


"An imbecile habit has arisen in the modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in once age but cannot be held in another...You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. [But] what a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, no upon the clock or the century...It is simply a matter of a man's theory of things. Therefore, in dealing with any historical answer, the point is not whether it was given in our time, but whether it was given in answer to our Question. "

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy "The Flag of the World"

If it were not end-of-term and exam week, I would be posting a pondering response to the passage instead of just the passage, but my to-do list has a hold on my intellectual will and creative liberty. I'm looking forward to the upcoming holiday, where, though riddled with boredom, will have plenty of time for "real" blog entries.

02 December, 2007

Christmas List

I checked the refrigerator today when I got home for "tree-festooning," and all of my siblings had their Christmas lists posted. The problem with posting things on the fridge is that you can't add hyperlinks; one may look at a written list, but there is no compulsion to click on it. So I posted mine in the family pile, but here is where you can add specifics and pictures.

So, without further adieu, the interactive Christmas List:

I seem to have posted a series of shallow, materialistic lists. I will make a real post later.

24 November, 2007

Thanksgiving top- fives

It is hard to categorize my restful and heart-warming experience for this trip to the Midwest. But one of my "core-competencies" is list-making, so this is probably the best way to make notes about my holiday. Here are some more Top-Fives:

Things I miss about the Midwest:

  1. Caribou Coffee
  2. The smell of the cold
  3. heavy, fluffy scarves
  4. the lack of a need to lock doors
  5. being able to find cold storage anywhere outside during the winter

Favorite Christmas decorations:

  1. white lights
  2. red ribbons
  3. red berries and evergreen
  4. sparkly tinsel
  5. **mistletoe**
Places to drink in Sioux Falls
Going out is unbelievably inexpensive here! Pint of imported (read snobby) beer: $2.75
  1. McNally's Irish Pub
  2. Braccos
  3. Paramount Piano & Wine Bar, on Phillips Ave
  4. Long Shots (Main Ave)
  5. Kaladi's
Favorite Sioux Falls Stores

  1. World Market (Cadbury dark chocolate Flake bars, and McVittles Plain Chocolate "Digestives" [cookies] )
  2. Zandbros (new fountain pen converter, Pelikan Blue ink, Dover collection of W. Somerset Maugham short stories, Christmas cards with a Dickens Quotation)
  3. Barnes and Noble (one of the largest I have ever seen, purchased a renewed Victoria magazine, Ian McEwan's Atonement, Barnes and Noble's History of Ancient Rome for dad )
  4. Ten Thousand Villages (jewelry from India and Chile, Bangles from Bengal, experienced "singing bowls" for the first time thanks to Chase)
  5. The Red Shoe (purchased absolutely nothing, but this is a common reaction of mine to Stuart Wietzman and Cole Haan)

22 November, 2007

Holiday Ritual

I noticed yesterday how much I delight in rituals. I spent the day noticing how ritualistic my travelling is. I have a night-before routine, a morning routine, an airport routine, an on-the-plane routine, an arrival routine... and the whole thing in reverse on the way home. It is like a holiday: you enjoy the occasion because you get to do the same things you don't do any other time. Roast turkey and cranberries are not everyday foods; is isn't normal to hang colorful plastic things with hooks on trees; and, unless you work at Disney, you don't get fireworks on a daily basis. The ritual means I delight not only in the destination, but in getting there.

  • The night before I always stay up too late packing, and I try to make Beth help me pack. I used to bribe her with the promise of presents, now I have to bribe her with beer AND preemptive presents.

  • The morning I leave, I vow to rise early to finish the cleaning of my apt I whined about the day before but never did. Then, I oversleep because I was up too late packing and leave a messy apt anyway.

  • I always buy magazines (a budgetary luxury) at airports "for the plane." I buy things I love but don't usually indulge, like The Economist, The New Yorker, and InStyle. (I have a deep fondness for "thinky" periodicals. Even InStyle counts because they have a brainy and artistic word use.)It is during these purchases that my horrible resentment for NOT having a good national paper really burns.

  • On the plane, part of my ritual is guessing who in the gate area will be my seat partner. (only once in my life has it ever been the handsome, single, leather-jacket wearing, scruffy stranger...usually it is an enormous, unfriendly man, a surly teenager, or a chatty old woman who can't identify I intend to read my luxurious magazines) Thist time, I randomly flew next to one of my favorite students from my former school. We had a fantastic 2-hour, life-defining conversation.

  • The arrival ritual includes a dash to the bathroom to cosmetically recover from the just-been-mauled-by-recirculated-air-for-hours effect. KCI (Kansas city) wrecks this part by having the retrieving party wait practically in the gate area. Only when it had been wrecked did I notice this was an important part of my ritual.
I am here now, after a long drive, in Sioux Falls, and we have done some of the Sioux-Falls ritual--like driving aimlessly around the city to see how it has changed. But with this, I got to think about what separates ritual from routine. I think routine is simply repetitious actions, but ritual involves repetition based on enjoyment or meaning. We drive around Sioux Falls because we love the city. I buy the magazines because I love them. I guess about gate-dwellers because I can't help myself. I delight in ritual because I love that I get to repeat doing what I love to do. So often, what I really love only happens once.

What I don't have is an un-packing ritual. I hate it so much, I don't even have a routine. I prefer to keep things in bags for months to putting them away. If only I could find a way to ritualize the triumph of a clean bedroom floor...

19 November, 2007

If only No. 10 were my address...

I am sorry to say it seems my strange affection for British Prime Ministers goes beyond Tony Blair (and my appreciation for Tony Blair is more than unreasonable--some say disturbing) . I have seen the movie Amazing Grace four times this week (because I am showing it in my classes), and my favorite character in it is Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.

In addition to finding his movie portrayal charming, , he was single--I mean--I would have liked his politics. I am reading a biography of William Wilberforce, and I am pleased to find much of the dialogue in the movie is taken directly from historical documents of the time. This means that I get to like the historical figure instead of just his portrayal in the movie. And he was quite the historical figure: He was prime minister during the Act of Union with Ireland, but he also stood up for the rights of the Catholics. Though he died before slavery was abolished, he was instrumental in Wilberforce's success. He was loyal to the king, even in George III's madness.

Admittedly historical accounts (here, here, and here) are mixed on his overall sucess as a PM, but historical commentary suggests it was because he was a statesman, and not a politician. The difference between the two terms is more than semantic: a statesman demonstrates great wisdom, ability and experience in the art of government, and a politician is someone who is more concerned with winning favor than with governing. What Britain needed during the tumultuous time of the early 19th century was a statesman, and this is what America needs at turn of the 21st. From a political and a quirky personal standpoint, wisdom, ability, and experience are attractive qualities in a man--a confession which betrays my preference for older men.

Perhaps developing an appreciation-turned-crush on historical figures is a hazard of being a twenty-something single history teacher. There is a small chance that I like Pitt because I find the actor (who was recently featured in a Times article) for him attractive. It's unlikely, but I hope that is it. It would make my ministerial fixation a lot easier to explain.

17 November, 2007

Responding to "Stop 'Making a difference.'"

I seem to have started something by posting an article I found curious on my Facebook. Then a friend of mine posted an emphatic criticism that motivates an explanation for my original posting.

I confess the article was on the side of obnoxious, and of course I do not hold it as the epitome of intelligent analysis. But I thought there were three things worth considering:

  1. It is interesting to consider that humanitarian actions may not be entirely benign. I have a sister who used to run a homeless shelter for teenagers, many of whom struggled with drug addictions. While they need compassion and aid, unadulterated charity, particularly of the monetary kind, often made matters worse instead of better. What many of them needed was accountability and especially treatment. Filling their stomachs was hardly meeting their needs.
  2. I liked his destruction of the inane “giving back” motivation, though I am not sure he went about it as I would have liked. “Giving back” creates an imaginary debt to an unidentifiable lender, which I find absurd. Sowell says that the “lenders” are the people who engendered a society that affords us the luxury of the capacity to give. I think that humanitarianism is NOT motivated by repaying a debt, but by something more noble: the simple fact of loving your neighbor. There is nothing noble about paying what you owe, and that doesn’t explain the great humanitarian sacrifice made by many. Recognizing the dignity and worth of those made in God’s image, who are seeking to bring about His kingdom on earth may be the only thing big enough to explain it, where the poor, the meek, the mourners and the peacemakers are blessed. And this is big enough to encompass people who act outside organized religion or who even subscribe to it. Loving your neighbor is not tied to debt or membership.
  3. I liked that he points out the merits of Western Society. I am watching Amazing Grace in class this week where good men fought to eradicate one of Humanity’s greatest evils. When I was in school, my teachers focused more on the plight of the enslaved instead of the people who fought to eradicate slavery—focused more the opposition to the abolition movement instead of its success. There are two lessons to learn from this part of history, where we need not only review the human potential for great evil but also the potential to eradicate it. The “truth” that he talks about may not be statistically correct or free from generalization, but it should be two-sided.

I have posted my commentary in a couple of places because I am not sure where it was supposed to go. (Whose Facebook? Whose blog?) But there is a Life Lesson here: Mind your Facebook postings.

11 November, 2007

*You Left Your Heart Where?!?

For Thanksgiving, I am going to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Can I just say how much I love this city? I usually get the wierdest looks when I talk about how excited I am to go there, but you have to go there--maybe you even have to go there with Dave--to see how charming it is. Dave pretty much grew up there. I cannot count the number of hours I have spent with him, driving around the "country's biggest suburb," admiring all of its quaint eccentricities.

For instance, Sioux Falls has the highest number of restaurants per capita of any where in the country--it is a great place to go out. It has a thriving local theatre and arts scene, my favorite coffee shop chain, Caribou Coffee, as well independent coffee shops scattered all over the city (inc. a tiny Ethiopian one on 10th where I think my friend Mike and I were the only white people to have ever been there). It has a Magnolia tree, which is strange because you are not supposed to be able to grow Magnolias that far north (Magnolias are my favorite tree). It has one of the largest green spaces in the country, with a park that on either side of the river that surrounds the city. This city's people have a ridiculous amount of civic pride; it has a long history, and they celebrate it (with the kind of brass placards nerds like me have to stop and read). And the people are friendly in that mid-western, down-to-earth, genuine sort of way. In case you get a chance to go, here is a list of things to do when you get there.

Top Five things to do in Sioux Falls, SD

  1. Zandbros: a variety store/independent bookstore. It is where I bought my first fountain pen, they carry the Bloomsbury Review (the sign of a good bookstore), and the type of quirky, home-decorating stationary things where people always ask. "Where did you get that?" Bonus: there is an antique-soda-fountain-turned-coffee shop in the back.
  2. The Washington Pavillion. Instead of tearing down an old highschool, they turned it into a civic arts center. It has a performing arts center, and both a permanent visual arts collection and rotating exhibits. The last time I was there, they had an exhibit about Harold Edgerton (that is now in Arizona.)
  3. Falls Park. They light it up for Christmas and it is gorgeous. In the summer, when the falls are low, you can climb all over them; and in the spring, when they are full of the melting snow, it is a powerful experience.
  4. The Sculpture Walk. Some really great pieces have come from here. The city votes on their favorite, then the city buys it each year and puts it out for everyone to enjoy. It started out as local artists, but now it is a national competition. Local corporations also buy pieces and put them in places for the city to enjoy.
  5. St. Joseph's Cathedral (See photo above). You can sit on the steps for one of the best views of the city.It is a beautiful piece of architecture--stained glass windows and all.

In Medias Res

I watched a docudrama this weekend on HBO about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor for British Prime Minister. (It is a British movie, but HBO picked it up, and I found out about it because “Tony Blair” is a search category in my news reader.) The Deal was made by Stephen Frears who made The Queen, using Michael Sheen for Tony Blair in both.

One of my hobbies/interests (what is the difference between an interest and a hobby?) is British Politics, so I loved The Queen. It was a fascinating look at the modern tension between the roles of monarchy and of representative government with a parliamentary executive. I am one of the only people I know who liked it, which means I had to watch the lesser-known American follow-up The Deal alone. This means there was no one I could ask about the parts I didn’t understand. Having seen The Queen and having remembered the death of Diana and the surrounding coverage, I knew Frears’ method for integrating film footage with actual news clips from that time. I know the news clips in The Deal were monumental moments in British politics, but I had no context or frame of reference, since these events occurred when I was in 5th grade. I have no way of gauging how great the impact of the Blair-Brown rivalry, a key principle in the movie. With the transfer of power in June, the rivalry is now a moot point. I tuned in in medias res, only the beginning seems to have really mattered.

Blair ushered in a new era for Britain, and Brown marks the waning of it. I am looking forward to the next election so that I can start things from the beginning. My natural tendency as a history student is to weigh the present against the past. I want a fresh start so I can do that accurately. What is present now is a past I will know—however small it is.

Brown is to Blair what John Major was to Margaret Thatcher. He illustrates the idea that a change in leadership is hardly the start of something new; in fact, it may bring out the worst in what is left of the old. We saw this with the 2006 election, where there was hope for significant change. The democrats’ seizure of control over congress and the resulting failures, I fear, sets the tone for the next presidency. (People point to the president’s approval ratings when congressional approval ratings are a little to the left of ZERO) It won’t matter who is elected, we will have more of the same.

With Nancy Pelosi, we have the novelty of a woman in the country’s third-highest office. One of Hillary’s most prominent attributes is that she’s a woman who may, by that fact, have something different to offer. One of the faults attributed to Bush is ill-conceived foreign policy, but in Pelosi, we have already seen what a “woman” as to offer. Washington Post commentator Charles Krauthammer points out that what we have is a leader who is “deeply un-serious about foreign policy,” citing, “This little stunt [the Armenian genocide declaration] gets added to the ledger: first, her visit to Syria, which did nothing but give legitimacy to Bashar al-Assad, who continues to engage in the systematic murder of pro-Western Lebanese members of parliament; then, her letter to Costa Rica's ambassador, just nine days before a national referendum, aiding and abetting opponents of a very important free-trade agreement with the United States.”

New leader, new gender, same heedless foreign policy.

In America, as in Britain, vision-driven, principled politics is mired in partisan squabbling. In theory, it is this decline into pointless bickering that marks the end of an era. Unfortunately, I see no presidential candidate who is standing as a light at the end of this tunnel. We need politicians farsighted enough to weigh their present actions against a past that extends farther back than the foibles of George W. Bush. We need a congress that recalls they themselves voted for the War on Terror instead of superficially shifting blame to the machinations of a single man—because our presidential candidates are coming from this congress. We need a leader who will not only start at the beginning, but make a new one, because the politics of in medias res have deprived both voters and leaders of desperately needed context, and therefore foresight.

06 November, 2007

Some top-fives

I was reading the Guardian, and one click led to another, taking me to this. What a masterpiece! And this was the commentary: "The elegance and logic of Harry Beck's design - its combination of bustling intersections, sprawling tributaries, long, slanting tangents and abrupt dead ends, all sucked into the overturned wine bottle of the Circle Line - seems to spark other connections and appeal to the brain's innate desire for patterning and structure."

"The brain's innate desire for pattern and structure".... might explain my top-five lists.

I have been mulling over these lists for a while, and in lieu of a real blog entry, here are some of my recent top-fives:

Favorite Things Men Wear:

  1. well-cut, single-breasted black suit
  2. closely-coordinated shirt and tie
  3. Pea-coat
  4. The Jeans--the kind that sit just right
  5. cologne--particularly Armani

Renaissance Art Works:

  1. Michelangelo's David
  2. Botticelli's Primavera
  3. Ucello's Battle of San Ramano
  4. Rafael's Entombment
  5. Donatello's St. John the Evangelist

Favorite Beers:

  1. John Smith's
  2. Old Speckled Hen
  3. Southshore Red
  4. Newcastle
  5. Guinnesss

Favorite Actors:

  1. Cary Grant (hands-down favorite)
  2. Colin Firth
  3. Jimmy Stewart
  4. John Cusak
  5. Anthony Hopkins

Things I'd like to own someday:

  1. A really expensive, beautiful fountain pen engraved with my initials
  2. An overstuffed reading chair that permits me to sit sideways
  3. A full wine rack
  4. A tailored leather jacket
  5. a DSLR

    Ok.. so this list is way longer than five...

  6. A diamond ring
  7. an espresso Machine
  8. A British Passport

Other artful things of note:

  • I love my Levenger bottled ink. I can't believe I ever used any other kind. It is strong and vibrant, and it has made the most stubborn pens smooth and sure.

  • I found a new lip gloss by Laura Mercier that replaces my discontinued favorite from Guerlain.

  • I have a new travel mug from Starbucks that epitomizes the travel mug. It has a non-leaky top that flips open and is non-intrusive. It keeps my coffee warm through 5th period, and it is a pretty raspberry color.

02 November, 2007


I have this thing that has for years been my icon for the single most formative experience in my life. It is so significant that I left no room for it to be less significant to anyone else (not that I was aware of this). I was then so distressed to find the other day, that it had vanished from the internet--and I'm good at searching, too. It has been awhile since I sought it, but I remember it used to have a substantial presence online. Even after a couple of hours looking (the obsessive point it reaches when there seems a pending identity crisis), I found no helpful results.

I wanted to post something about my thing on here and provide a handy link, but everyone knows if Google can't find it, it must not exist.

How can this be? Where is the corporate urge to preserve something so precious? Why can't I find it and why doesn't anyone else care enough to keep it around?

Defeating the most exhaustive search mechanism we've ever really known feels like anything BUT victory.

Moving on in life means things aren't "there anymore." I get that. The loss of it, though, even in the cyberform is big. What a wave of isolation comes from realizing that my precious icon can no longer serve as a common referent--and that maybe it didn't even in the first place.

30 October, 2007

The Weight of Things

“That the sky would lift
That I’d find my place
That I’d see your face in the door
And the sun would glint
On a time well spent
On a time that ain’t no more

Takes the broken hearts
In the vacant lots
To see the fruit that rots on the trees
Had to turn my head
Leave it all for dead
But it’s in my mind always"

LATELY—David Gray

I have been lately feeling the weight of things amiss. Maybe it is because I am tired, and everything feels heavier when you are tired.

My heart aches for the loss of a student who might always be lost. I have another student whose family has been ravaged by an irreparable pain, and I feel the weight of the permanent damage that is still occurring.

The losses that contributed to me being where I am are back to grind at me, and I had forgotten them a little bit--or at least I wasn’t having to bear them every day anymore.
I feel the weight of having lost where I always went for guidance, because it is broken, or at least separating.

I feel the weight of the impossibility of return—what I loved simply isn’t there anymore.

I saw a movie this weekend that reminded me what a human mess we are in, and I feel the weight of having no clear way out.

A friend of mine is getting married, and the last time this happened, we never really spoke again. What should have been beautiful and loving amounted to some of my most significant losses and regrets. A repetition is, of course, not inevitable, but the potential weighs heavy enough.

I feel the weight of aimlessness and of being very far from my favorite people.

This weight drives me into one of my most familiar rituals: a pot of English tea—my special kind that really comes from Britain—and a whole lot of David Gray. I have been having tea with him, especially on days like these, for the better part of five years.

I first started doing this at Manor House (see Picture), when I lived in Birmingham. The English rain had its own effect: it would run down the window, washing in a kind of clarity. I didn’t mind the rain so much because it was such a part of where I was, and I knew it would stop sooner or later.

I still do this because I have found David Gray can make the hurt and heaviness beautiful without trivializing them. Also, it has to do with ritual. A ritual stands as a reminder that both the its routine and its inspiration are repetitive—cyclical. I don’t always have to carry it all, I just do sometimes. Sooner or later it will lift, and when the rain starts again, I know what to do.

24 October, 2007


"What have you read?" The question is not "what have you read?" but "what are you reading?"

I have a friend who always finishes one book before starting another. He even finishes one book before he BUYS another. I could never live like this. For me, this would be akin to going through my whole day only talking to one person; in the case of a long book, a whole month in the company of only one.

I have another friend who says she doesn't feel like she has really ready anything because she has 20 unfinished things. I don't agree with this, either, because it makes reading and books some kind of to-do list: I don't have to finish something for it to mean anything. For me, books are living things that walk with me, drawing me into a deeper reality.

So each day, I actually have this invisible entourage of authors and ideas going along with me. You don't put friends and mentors on a to-do list, and what kind of entourage only has one person?

Of course, the Red Beacon of Crazy flashes when you tell people, "I don't read. I have an entourage."

Nonetheless, here is my entourage for this month:

Orthodoxy--G.K. Chesterton
Real Christianity--William Wilberforce
Velvet Elvis--Rob Bell
Liberty, Equality, and Power-- Murrin, Johnson, et al.
Letters from London--Julian Barnes
A Long Way Down--Nick Hornby
The Metaphysical Poets--Penguin Classics
New Poems on the Underground
Jane Eyre--Charlotte Bronte. (Actually, this one has been walking with me for a decade. It is my favorite book. I am always reading it just a little bit.)

22 October, 2007

Life Lessons #2

This weekend, a few more life lessons came to light:

9. If ever offered the chance to meet "his friend Bobo," always DECLINE--more than once, if you have to.

10. Tatoos are no substitute for clothing.

11. When it comes to 1000 Places to See Before You Die, it is important to remember that BIKETOBERFEST is NOT on the list.

12. Driving is a lot like Mariokart Racing: Only after a collision, you don't just spin around and get dizzy; you wind up in the hospital and have to pay thousands of dollars.

13. If you consistently fail quizzes and you feel newly inspired to cheat, start small. Teachers find perfect scores suspect when a series of "F"s ends in a sudden "A". They will find you out.

19 October, 2007

Our Students

And while we are generating top-five lists:
Here are the top-five most annoying student questions (in no order):

1. Do we have to write this down?
2. Do we have a quiz today?
3. Can I go to the bathroom?
4. Is this going to be on the test?
5. Did we have homework last night?

And in the running...
6. Oh, am I late?

18 October, 2007


I came across this quotation in what I have been reading:

"We have no more questions left to ask. We have looked for questions in the darkest corners and wildest peaks. We have found all the questions that can be found. It is time we gave up looking for questions and began looking for answers."

G.K. Chesterton--"The Suicide of Thought"

I find suspect the integral worth of isolated questions--even questions that connect to other questions. It seems practical to me that questions are only worth as much as they point you to new truth in the answer. This contentedness with "the question" seems a complacency with incompleteness. It is only half the thing: a road with no destination. And don't we question because we crave the completeness an answer can bring? I accept the possibility of the cannot-be-knowns, and that some questions cannot be answered. But that is no reason for surrendering seeking to answer them. What is the worth of questions that are not driven by the search for truth?

17 October, 2007

Life Lessons: Set #1

  1. Always drive in the direction of the arrows.
  2. Never be friends with people who bring cameras to the bar. What kind of friends would document your stupidity?
  3. Always inquire as to its origins before drinking it.
  4. If you are prone to cavities, start no romantic intrigues with the dental hygienist. Both problems end in awkwardness and pain.
  5. Do not aggravate those in possession of the coffee.
  6. Where an ex-boyfriend is involved, so should be a flask.
  7. If approached, reject the over-enthusiastic lab-partner. Eagerness in this case is a warning sign for dangerous incompetence.

And finally, the house favorite:

8. If you are going to become an existential disaster, go all-in head first.

11 October, 2007

top fives

After reading High Fidelity by Nick Hornby and seeing the movie some years ago, I have found myself, like Rob, putting my life in terms of "top-five" everything. eg. top five travel destinations, top-five greatest naps, top-five most embarrassing moments, top-five reasons why I need to spend less time at school, top-five favorite pairs of shoes, top-five worst ways to start an apology, etc. It is handy, because it provides a non-committal twenty-something the ability to emphasize importance without having to actually select anything.

So because I mentioned it the other day, here is my list of top-five-all-time-favorite-albums in no order: (subject to change, but really haven't in a while)

1. Pride and Predjudice--soundtrack
2. Futures-- Jimmy Eat World
3. A New Day at Midnight-- David Gray
4. Transatlanticism-- Death Cab for Cutie
5. 11th Hour -- Jars of Clay

10 October, 2007

Chase this Light

There are few albums toward which I actually count down, but this is one of them--because JEW's last album was one of my top-five-hands-down-all-time favorites. I went to target yesterday to buy this, but it turns out I am a week off--it doesn't come out until NEXT tuesday.

I find two things annoying about this:

1. My countdown was for nothing. My pannicky nature abhors countdowns, but I had one anyway. Now I have to begin again.

2. It leaves me another week to wonder if the new JEW album is just going to cut it. I recall two years ago this time I got the release date for the new David Gray album wrong. And since David Gray's previous album, A New Day at Midnight, is also in my top-five-hands-down-all-time favorites, the one after it was a letdown. This invalidated a similar two weeks of torment. (But I guess it was a temporary let down: I just didn't know it would take me a while to grow into the sadness of Life in Slow Motion.) I now have another week to ponder the possible loss and gain brought by this addition to my collection.

3. And while I am on things that bothered me yesterday: the wrong album-release date has nothing on the disgust and annoyance I have for inflateable lawn decorations--particularly grotesque halloween ones. When I see them, I am overcome by this wild urge to become a scissors-wielding banshee, running through the lawns slicing and snipping my way to reestablishing order and dignity in my parents' suburban neighborhood.

Which begs the question: is a banshee really a useful tool for reestablishing order?

And, how will I make the TRUE album release date if I am in jail for property destruction?

Here's to hoping I have another jail-free week....

05 October, 2007

The Strand

Photo: The Strand, ca. 1929. The Museum of London

I think it’s sad when landmarks are reduced to a postcard existence. Sometimes I visit my favorite places, and I see they are bits of geography extracted from their meaningful historical context by tourist point, shoot, and run tactics. The Strand runs no risk of this. It is largely un-photogenic, though it has flashy endpoints (Temple Bar at one end and Trafalgar Square at the other.) No one really takes pictures while along the Strand, and its not a tourist target because there is little access to its unadorned stone buildings. Yet, it is always a small triumph when the appearance of something is no measurement of its importance.

The Strand is one of the most significant literary and historical thoroughfares in London history. Today, at either end, there are the 2 forces that drive society: the money of the The City and the politics and government at Westminster. The middle passes through the Covent Garden theatre district, past the Adelpi and the art galleries of Somerset House. Geographically it places art at the center between power and money—a familiar idea in the study of art’s history.

While literary London landmarks include Bloomsbury, Westminster, and Shakespeare’s South Bank, it is unlikely any single neighborhood housed more writers for a longer period of time. Since the Strand was the merely home to some of our greatest writers, it’s missing the celebrity culture of Bloomsbury and the journalistic excitement of Fleet Street. The Strand is extraordinary because grounds the works of Boswell, Dickens, and Kipling in the context of daily life.

Boswell drank coffee and picked up prostitutes along the Strand, only to be scolded by Dr. Johnson, who piously prayed at its St. Clement Danes on the same road. Twenty-five years later, Dickens’ parents were married in the church of St. Mary le-Strand, and his father was eventually thrown into debtor’s prison. Young Dickens was forced into a shoe-polish factory, where, upon leaving each night, would scrounge around the Strand for cheap food like Oliver. Many years later, adult Dickens would return to the Strand and its side streets as a parliamentary reporter, as does David Copperfield, and Dickens lives in a flat near the one described as Pip’s residence in Great Expectations. Here, the Strand is proof that, for Dickens, biography, geography, and fiction are inextricable. These are other writers who lived and worked on or near the Strand: Samuel Pepys, Ben Johnson, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskill, Wilkie Collins, William Rosetti, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Graham Greene, P.G. Wodehouse, Thomas Hardy, J.M. Barrie—and consistently, where they lived appears in what they wrote.

In college, much of my literary critical training emphasized a very formalist method. The literature I studied was deliberately extracted from its context; the author and his life were irrelevant—even intrusive—and the society surrounding it, even more so. But it seems the height of hubris to elevate art above its society. To do this renders the reader and his experience more important that the collective experience that conceived the work. It diminishes literature’s value to restrict its meaning to immediate contemporary experience. Just as common, the historical discipline renders society more important than its art. But it’s in art, particularly literature, that the demographic statistics, power changes, and economic trends come to MEAN something. What good is an understanding of the past if we don’t understand fully its impact on the human experience by concentrating on its expression? Someone told me that history was the story of “humans being,” but literature is the story of humans living.

The Strand is the Highstreet that connects society and art and history and literature. It deserves a stroll; it deserves some coffee and writing to commune with its saints and tenents--even if there won't be postcard shots to show for it.

classroom aphorisms

I am accidentally in correspondence with an erudite stranger. I sent him queries on the dilemma of content selection for my course, and this was his response:

"The best history, and the best learning, I believe, comes with the negation of the students and the teacher. Only the ideas should exist in the classroom--we leave ourselves outside.

American education has been doomed to mediocrity at best because we think ourselves too important. No. We are nothing. Ideas are everything...

Lazyness and apathy are the real enemy, not interpretive schema. It is against these that the teacher must fight..." --J.R., Kansas City.

04 October, 2007


I turn 26 tomorrow--hardly the most commemorated birthday--but the start of a new year nonetheless. In the name of newness, I have made a new place to put things.

I used to consider moments and things and observations worth archiving because they were all part of some brief and transient phase, e.g I am not in high school forever; I am not in Duluth forever; I am not in England forever; God, please don't keep me in Central Florida forever, etc. And to reconcile the constant change, I work to keep the best parts of each--maybe I can keep some of them here.

New phases are worth noting. At 26, I am beginning the first year in five where I will NOT be trying to move to England.

But which is the phase? Chasing London or staying put? And does 26 make me too old for phases?

At any rate, this begins the blogging phase.