Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wild Order

This morning doves--not pigeons--were on the ground in the backyard. Before I let Dixie out, our female cardinal was on the patioway between the kitchen French doors and the covered portico.

In the front, the prosaically named bottle brush plant [also far less pleasantly known as donkey spurge (don't think)] is blooming a brilliant brick red, if you can imagine that. Mint nearly a foot high is thickly carpeting the southwest corner of the yard, and while the pansies still bloom under the fruitless pear tree, petunias and impatiens are in full go as well. The bizarre-looking orange "blooms" of the kangaroo paw are up in profusion; the ajuga's purple stalks are finished, but sedum is blazing with tiny yellow and white flowers, and the dwarf rose is pink atop the center rock garden. The Shumard oaks out in the parkway are each adding 12-18" to each branch, and the easternmost Eve's lace, up by the southeastern corner of the house, is surging out over the roof and headed for high over neighbor Jo's driveway. She'll trim them at the property line. The yaupon hollies look raggedy, but are doing well. The first burst from my foxgloves is about done, but they are sending up subsidiary stalks, which I didn't know they did.

As Wendell Berry points out again and again, caring for what is entrusted to you for as long as it is entrusted to you is essential for responsible "earth-keeping." And while we have not meant to, we have been at the BabySwiss longer than any other residence in our lives. The staying with it is beginning to show, because Dawn insists on cooperating with nature. You can see this, in the healthier trees, the gradual encroachment on grass of the flower garden and rock garden plots, the slow accumulation of don't-have-to-buy-them-again perennials, the juxtapositions of plant and stone textures as the diversity of plants (and stones) grows.

This is ironic to me, because this house feels less ours than any ever has. I don't think we've ever bought the "if we're renting it's not ours, but if we're buying then it's ours" thing. That hasn't ever made any sense to me.

You are where you are, for some temporary time, longer or shorter. You are responsible for what you have an opportunity to effect. What a particular economy happens to call ownership or leasehold or whatever is arbitrary and incidental to your God-given role as human-among-earth-things, and your social-historical identity as citizen-in-a-culture-which-outlasts-you. So caring for the built and natural environment is what you're about, and you just manage the particularities of that as they are created and constrained by things like laws and attitudes at any given time.

We've always felt that what we rented belonged to us. And we have a strong sense that what we own now is a temporary trust. Realtors and homeowners' association advocates do not easily resonate with us, I suspect...

The house on Broad was ours, though a piece of paper said we were renting it for $250/month. Within a few months of getting married, we had an informally-placed foster kid and several college friends living with us. The Rice apartment (not called that because that was all we could afford to eat, although it could have been) was ours. It was our main seminary residence, and where we were when Dawn finished her African studies degree, and where we first got used to living around people we didn't know ("who's that?" "the woman from the couple across the stairwell" "how is she?" "she looks like a new egg" "what do you mean?" "freshly laid." Ah, apartments.)

The house on Belvar, all 750 square feet of it, was very much ours; it was where we were when the kids were born, when I finished seminary, from which we went to Zambia. The house in Zambia was a prize: no heat or air, but 1800 square feet, bars and iron gates, an acre of land, and Africa. Then there was the house we shared with the Roaches on Vickery (now a McMansion), where the kids were for the amazing Stonewall elementary experience and Cub Scouts, and where Lower Greenville began. Then our real house, the Richmond house, the giant American foursquare friend Connie and we got to house the growing church. Right across the street from the Food Hole, right off Lower Greenville. It was ours. But those who think law and economics are real said otherwise, and so it was that we had to go, this time to the BabySwiss, which has been a good house for high school, an okay place for LGBC for a while, a great place to write a dissertation (thanks to Dawn and the kids for the shed, to Dawn and friend Kristen for the uninterrupted time, and to Dixie, for safety in isolation), and a great place for housemates and Dawn's mom.

The orange daisy-like flowers at the foot of the steps are playing out, but the coneflower is rising, and the alyssum we've never been able to grow is starting to spread over the rocks and choke out the grass. By inches, order and wild work toward beauty.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


A multi-degreed woman who is a friend of ours confessed to me this past week that she was a "Dawnnabe"--someone who wants to be more like Dawn.

Well done, you, I say. And if Spain and the rest works out, maybe people who have only known Dawn in the last few years, when she has been at the lowest point in her life, will see why being a Dawnnabe would be understandable.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Wheel Is Turning, But There Is No Hamster

I know. This will be fun. How can we spend ten years and a gazillion dollars and thousands of lives constructively? How? Oh, oh, pick me; I know...

Have an energy problem. Spend more energy on something, anything really--large cars and trucks, extra wars--that doesn't go towards fixing the problem. Spend the money you could spend on fixing the problem--helpful things like developing clean coal, carpeting Nevada with wind turbines, hybridizing your entire fleet of internal-combustion-engine vehicles, and ultimately,producing hydrogen-powered cars and the infrastructure to service them--instead on driving black SUVs around a tan country having a bloody-red religious civil war. While you're doing this, refuse to tax your energy companies or to invest in any significant or transformative way in mass transit or alternative energy sources or human-scaled, walkable / bikable cities. Also, it helps if you refuse to encourage people to switch to less energy-intensive lifestyles by increasing the cost of those lifestyles and lowering the cost of energy-parsimonious lifestyles.

Now, be surprised, nay, shocked, that your currency is falling, inflation is taking off, the environment is worse off, your competitive position is no better, and probably worse, than it was ten years earlier, and others' respect for you is in the toilet. To cap it off, leave it all to the next person to deal with, without a single apology or good-bye or useful suggestion or anything.

Elephant-class problems, gerbil-class leadership.

Thank goodness all three of the replacement candidates show signs of being 1. vertebrates (having a backbone), 2. mammals (caring about their young), and perhaps even 3. hominids (using reason rather than brute force to adapt to (rather than pave over) and master (rather than crush) their environment).

But if the gerbils, on their way out, draft my kids to shoot their way into Iran and out of this mess--or, out of us paying attention to this mess--they've gotten themselves and all of us into...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pontifex Minimus

Friendcouple Naomi and Dave got seen last night. How very good it is to maintain relationships over time. We just stepped right back into important and real conversation right away. Wonderful.

There's a sort of person who, when they drive by, bridges just spontaneously burst into flames all around them...If such people see renewed contact with lovely human beings like happened last night, which such people surely must from time to time, you'd think they would get a clue there's something wrong with their current abutment abatement program.

The whole friend thing turns out to be worth it--not the Friends thing, being united in a common haircut and a common conspiracy to never hold one another to a higher standard--but the real friends things: it's worth it. The patience is worth it; the tried and failed attempt at *that* joke is worth it; the not-about-you-ness of it is worth it; the long prayers and late evenings because that's when you can get together and that's what needs doing, is worth it.

Of course, I suppose many never have coherent or caring relationships ever really modeled for them. Sigh. Hence Big Brothers, adoption, mentoring programs, neighborhoods, letting people board ahead of you on the bus, and all of that.

But we, my family and I, have had many great, and many good, examples of how to make and keep a relationship, and for that, on an afternoon when I'm so tired I can't lay down or sit or stand up or walk, I'm grateful. If you get a chance, and you come to some watershed event in somebody's life, if you can't build a bridge over a river, then at least throw a log across a brook.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

What I'm Reading

Reading recently...

I got my first job away from home (as a cataloguer of Latin books at Duke University Library's Rare Book Room) because I knew the difference between juvenilia (works by and about teens and young adults) and Juvenalia (works by and about the Roman writer Juvenal). But I'd never read Juvenal. So I found a half-price copy of the Satires and read them on the bus to and fro each day. Pretty caustic, often funny, pretty sad as far as the state of upper-class Roman society at its peak, and very instructive as to what Roman life and attitudes were like. I excused spending time on this because I'll teach ancient philosophy in the fall.

There's a warhorse standard introduction to Hindu thought that I've had for a while, Outlines of Indian Philosophy, by Hiriyanna. I finally hauled it out, and it's my current bus book.

I am very slowly making my way through the last few chapters of Randall Collins's Sociology of Philosophies, which shows how groups of people generate ideas and how ideas generate groups of people. Total command of an enormous global literature. At the other end of social-scientific assessments of philosophy, I'm reading the marvelously-named Ben-Ami Scharfstein's The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Work, which takes a psychological approach. It deals with philosophers' biographies, and personal reasons why this or that aspect of their work appealed or made sense to them as it did.

My bedtime book is Mere Christianity, which I have not reread in a long time. No, it's not perfect, and Lewis shouldn't be idolized. It's still better than almost anything else out there trying to do the same thing: reach skeptical people with a thoughtful presentation of Christianity.

I've stopped reading Augustine's City of God after Book XI or whatever, where he ends his critique of ancient philosophy and pagan religion, and begins a tour of religious history and theological development. I've picked up Confessions again instead, which I last read all the way through in college.

For sanity I watch John Stewart and occasionally flip open Stephen Colbert's I Am America. I was rereading John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, but that has been crowded out by work-related reading. It's still the funniest book ever written, for a Southerner anyway. Imagine the novel Toole (who committed suicide in the mid-60s) would have written in his old age (he'd be 75 or more now) about the Katrina fiasco.

I hope to read some fiction in between spring term and summer school. We'll see. Everything put off needs to be done then, too, so who knows what there'll actually be time for.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Respect the 'Stache.

Yeah so in the leadup to our twentyfifth and Beth's high school graduation, a photo of your humble correspondent on my and Dawn's first anniversary came to light. A certain household member who shall remain mostly nameless, and who had apparently seen VeggieTales at some formative time in their life, observed of the mustache I was then sporting that it was "suavamente."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

greetings, earthlings

Newsy bits first, before the rants begin...

Elizabeth has been accepted (to 6 of the 8 colleges she applied to, by the way, including one Ivy, said the obnoxiously proud parent) and will be attending Washington University in St. Louis this fall. She intends to double in literature and African studies.

Yes, this means that simultaneously Jonathan will be at the University of Washington and Elizabeth will be at Washington University. That's funny. Dawn and I think we should get t-shirts that say UWASHU.

This won't be for long, however, since Jonathan is racing towards the victory line on his undergraduate; he may finish this very December, with a degree in southeast Asian studies. He's looking towards graduate school in perhaps the fall of 09. He also made Phi Beta Kappa. 'Bout time he gets recognized.

Beth will hopefully work this summer, in between her graduation trip and family reunion and orientation. (Apparently the number one pet peeve of Wash U students is that after saying you're going to Washington University in St. Louis, people routinely ask, 'where's that?') Jonathan is headed off to immersion Cambodian language learning in a program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I guess it's the Baptist heritage...

Beth's graduation trip, like Jonathan's was, is to visit her Aunt Kathy in England in June (and LGBC alumna Connie as well). Howsomever, her route there is a tad different. That's because many persons, including the few beloved readers of these humble pages, contributed to make it possible for Dawn to walk the Camino de ('del'?) Santiago pilgrimage in northwestern Spain this summer. But...since she didn't want to go alone, she is going with Beth. Then when she comes back to the States to go back to work, Beth will fly on from Madrid to London.

In other news, in early April I got the permanent position in philosophy and religion at El Centro College, which I badly wanted. (I did not even sent out a resume to any other possibilities, was how sardined in all my eggs were in the El Centro basket.) Community colleges in Texas don't have tenure per se, but this is the equivalent--and, by contemporary standards, is beaucoup job security.

The Sweaty Moment in the process was due to the fact that in teaching-oriented institutions, candidates are often asked, as part of their formal job interview, to do a teaching demonstration for the search committee. This is faintly bizarre, since the committee may be faculty, administrators, or staff, and with anything from no interest at all to lifetime professional specialization in whatever you're asked to teach them. As it happened, my assignment was in religion rather than philosophy: compare Christian and Muslim notions of compassion. So I had to (well, friend Cynthia said *I* had to, although no one else would have *had* to) do a word study on the terms in the New Testament and the Quran. But I don't have Arabic, I'm just looking stuff up in concordances and dictionaries and so forth. And then the kicker is that I walk in and the committee has a fluent Arabic speaker on it. Fortunately, I apparently didn't botch that part, because I got the job...

That news caps happily two years of full-time probation at the College. This term I'm teaching intro philosophy and world religions and ethics, as always, but I'm also teaching a course in contemporary philosophy as well, which has been lots of fun. I'll do bread-and-butter stuff over the summer, and then get to teach ancient philosophy in the fall.

More anon from moi, but first, and last...Dawn's mom Diane continues with us, lovely CurrAngela continues with us, my folks are okay, and my underappreciated sister Rachel got big-time travel industry kudos for the new portal her team developed for travelocity. Check it out:

The roses at the BabySwiss house are blooming in wild profusion. It is encouraging in the morning...