Wednesday, October 29, 2014

An unforced pace of work

I am spending the night at the old Jesuit novitiate at Wernersville to see my spiritual director, I haven’t been up here since the beginning of the semester. Last time a note was tagged to the bulletin board noting the temperature in the pool, today there is a notice about the start of hunting season. The canopy of leaves is barer, if brighter. The moon is a bare crescent, not enough to light an after dinner walk, even on the paved paths.  Time turns.

The semester is half spent, 7 weeks finished, 7 weeks to go.  The first seven have felt relentless, as if I’m stuck on a hamster wheel, spin, spin, spinning.  I’m hoping (longing) for a return to a workload that allows for some breathing room over these next few weeks. Philosopher of science and physicist Gerald Holton suggests in his book The Scientific Imagination that ideas flourish (at least in a scientific setting) when the pace of work is unforced, rather than a frenetic rush.

I picked up Walter Bruggeman’s Sabbath as Resistance:  Saying No to the Culture of Now this weekend, sampling bits and pieces while curled up in a chair, ignoring the prep work I needed to do for class today.  It’s made me wonder not only about sabbath rhythm over a week, but also the ways in which my days breathe.  Am I on a forced march from morning until evening (as in this PhD Comic strip) or do I have time to stop and contemplate, wonder, pray, muse, think — eat lunch?

I woke before dawn, tossed on sweats and my walking shoes (hurrah, I managed to arrive with both shoes this time) and walked a mile out from the house, to watch the sunrise, to pray, to live into kairos.

Funniest moment, in the middle of Mass, the workmen repairing the cloister suddenly began hammering blocks of stone into place, as I tried to read, with a straight face, "... in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Math Man and chaos



I first met Math Man at new faculty orientation, on a hot and steamy August day.  I, with four years of college teaching under my belt, had come at the provost's invitation to share what wisdom I had with my newest colleagues.  Math Man jokes that his one-liner about his research — "I design chaotic billiard tables." — was what caught my attention.  It's a line, he still jokes, that attracts a certain kind of woman (geeky).  Fast forward to the end of first semester, and it might be that we have been on a date.

This summer he helped develop this TedEd lesson about billiards, chaos theory, and the climate.

We expect things to be linear, turn the tap a small amount and the temperature of the water changes a tiny bit.  But not everything in nature is linear.  For example, you can make a small change to the concentration of one reaction in this reaction, and suddenly the entire beaker starts flashing through different colors.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Round about on pilgrimage


We're in Ireland, on pilgrimage.  Well, perhaps Math Man is on pilgrimage -- under both the oldest definition, which simply means a wanderer from foreign places, to the current which carries the connotation of a journey to a sacred place. As soon as Crash announced he was studying this fall at Trinity, Math Man started planing the trip.  Four rounds of golf, a thousand kilometer loop, three iconic courses. Oh, and some time in Dublin with our son.

I love to walk, so for me, as long as there is a good walk to be had, I am happy.   This morning, in the rain, I had a most marvelous walk on an utterly empty golf course, then into town and along the sea wall.  Math Man is out playing this incredible course with just a caddy, no one else was so crazy as to go out early this morning.

Pilgrimages ought to offer difficulties, I suspect. Roads that are less than direct, wrong turns, trying weather.   We left Ballybunnion late yesterday afternoon, headed to the ferry across the Shannon.  Though the GPS took us round two sides of a triangle, we made it with a safe margin. We cross, then decide we will take the N67, the larger road, slightly longer route, along the Atlantic coast.  "Follow the signs for the Wild Atlantic Way," advised our innkeeper from last night.  We drove to Kilkee, only to find the road closed for repairs.  A construction worker offered directions around. We backtracked nearly to Kilrush, and turned north again. The road was single lane, and the tractors were heading home for the night. The cows were all resting their heads atop the stone walls that lined the road.

We intersected with the N67 again.  Only to find it closed again in less than a kilometer.  We asked directions.  "Go back to Killrush...take the road to Cooraclare"  We did, finally finding the road to Cooraclare.  For more than an hour, the GPS told me it was 45 minutes to our destination, no matter how far we drove, we never got any closer.  A mystical pilgrimage?  Was there a task we needed to do?  A novena to say?

In the end we arrived at the hotel I'd booked us. Late, dark, tired, it looked more like something out of The Shining than anything else. The coffin like base to the narrow bathtub, made me think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  But the staff in the bar was delightful, we watched Ireland tie Germany in the last 10 seconds of a soccer game, drank cider and ate a good meal.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Trigger warnings

The student plenary voted to ask faculty to consider placing trigger warnings on class materials and syllabi.  I know from painful experience, how distracting triggers are when they appear, and how difficult they can be to avoid.  And I know that I've brought up examples in class that trod on painful ground for students, a risk I take in electing to teach chemistry within a context, not as a sterile set of numbers.

On Sunday — which would have been Tom's 58th birthday — I opened up the Sunday paper to find this spadea.1  I was riveted by the red balloon.  The aneurysm which killed him would have been at least as large at the balloon in the illustration, it still strikes me an unimaginable that we could not have known something of that size was inside of him.  It's odd, too,  to think about Tom at 58, older than our parents were when he died, twice the age I was when he died.  Does it make sense to think about someone being dead for more than half their life?

Probably not.

But it may explain today's funk, and last night's uneasy dreams.




1.  I love that there is word for these foldover sheets on newspapers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Memory charms

Photo of Thomas Great Hall
at Bryn Mawr College

c. Bart Everson.  Used under CC license.
Yes, I work at a place that bears a passing resemblance to Harry Potter's Hogwarts.  In my building, as at Hogwarts, not every stairway goes where you think it does.  I teach Potions to first year's at times and since I've an exam in progress this week, there may be some that wished for a memory charm.

The battery on my little pedometer ran out last week, which I discovered when the TSA people had me run it through the X-ray again.  I finally got around to doing something about the lack of electrons yesterday.  I thought I had another battery for it, but couldn't recall where I had put it in my study.  Ah, I did remember that the device had sent me an email when the battery was low last time, complete with information on the battery type.

I searched "fitbit battery" in my email and what came up but an message with the subject:  "fitbit battery is clipped to the wall folder hanger in my study."  It felt like magic. How did I know I'd need that information?