Friday, August 26, 2022

Making a meringue of things

The end of summer can be a seismic shift for me. I go from days with nothing at all on the calendar to days that are end to end meetings and classes. There is no happy medium. It can be chaotic, and it always takes me a bit of time to find my rhythm.

This year it feels a bit like making meringue, as I gently try to fold my summer schedule into the coming academic year. When you fold egg whites into a batter you need to be gentle, and slow. Use too much force, beat them too fast, and the whole project utterly collapses. These are good lessons for life as well. Be gentle. Don't rush. Let the lightness balance out the moments that feel overwhelming and heavy. Sometimes it's enough to get things basically combined, but if one tries too hard for perfect uniformity, one can lose some of the spaces to breathe.

I have a heavy teaching semester coming, with three courses, including a writing intensive one with extra conferences for students. I'm still working on the tea book. I have a couple of other writing projects with deadlines staring me in the face. But I'm trying to keep some of summer's pockets of air folded in. Riding my bike back and forth to the college. Making time for prayer first thing in the morning. Taking a moment to catch up with the student or colleague I haven't seen since last spring. I may not be perfectly organized for the start of the new semester, but the goal is to let the  summer leaven the year, and to avoid collapsing the whole cake.

Now of course I'm craving an angel food cake, and maybe will give that a fly on the weekend. Or maybe a sponge cake with fruit?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Ant farms

All summer long I had a companion at my desk. One large black ant. I would see it marching across the top of my monitor, or sunning on the windowsill. I couldn't bring myself to smash it. It wasn't crawling on me, or generally on my papers, or on my keyboard. It kept to the edges. I wondered that there was just one ant. Though there just is not that much to sustain even one ant in my study. The crumbs from lunch stay in the dining room, and my glass of ice water will not power an ant for any distance.

I finished a solid draft of one of the chapters of the tea book, and took the opportunity to clear the papers off my desk. Turns out there wasn't just one ant, but a dozen of them living in the terrarium on my desk. Am I hosting an Airbnb for ants? If so, does this violate the party policy? I sent the vacationing ants back to the garden, where they may or may not be living happily ever after. But I do miss my reminder to keep at it, to move the words one at a time from my mind to the keyboard to the document.


Photo credit: Dawidl at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Weird Catholic Twitter: Hymn Edition

There is such a thing as Weird Anglican Twitter, which I find (for the most part) gentle and grace-filled (and occasionally perplexing, not being Anglican).  Their Advent devotional got me through a chaotic end of the semester. Would recommend.

Weird CatholicTwitter? Not so much. Lots of pearl clutching and “well, I never”ing.  It’s often holier than thou. And sometimes perplexing (and I am Catholic). I try not to follow the denizens of that virtual space, but occasionally we cross paths in the comments to a post, as happened last week.

One of the common tropes on WCT is that people should not sing hymns that speak in God’s voice. Someone posted a paean to Sr. Susan Toolan’s “I Am the Bread of Life” — appreciating that so many congregations sing this with gusto. This brought out the “don’t say God’s words” crowd in droves. (Including a new spin, women should not sing this because they are quoting Jesus.)

I’m perplexed. The Divine Office, which can be sung, includes psalms which feature God speaking in the first person. The Church’s ancient liturgical tradition has us singing as if we are God speaking. If you want  to ban that practice, ok, I guess, but be consistent. If “I Am the Bread of Life” is off limits, so are those psalms.

I tried to engage someone on this (yes, I know, I’ll go to confession, I promise) who wouldn’t answer my question about the sung office, but insisted that I reject “a song writer putting themselves in the voice of God” (as opposed to scripture). I surrendered when I realized he didn’t know that the words to “I Am the Bread of Life” were from the Gospel of John. Oh….dear.

Friday, August 12, 2022

A splash of joy

“Wah-hoo,” cries Math Man as he rides yet another wave to shore. He’s grinning from ear to ear, shouting with joy, along with the dozen or so kids riding their boogie boards at the Jersey shore. There are adults out there, too. Clearly having a good time, but none of them are screaming with delight. I would say it’s undignified for the Kenan Professor of Mathematics and chair of the department, but I would argue it’s precisely because of his dignity that he should be should be whooping on the beach. Dignity derives from worthiness. Math Man is certainly worthy as academia measures it, but his human dignity makes him worthy of joy. 

Adults, me included, can be chary of joy. Worried that it makes us seem undignified. So we tuck it in our pockets rather than wrap it round ourselves, we walk it back rather than dance with it. We essay a wan smile while inwardly jumping for joy. But as novelist Léon Bloy wrote in a letter to his fiancée, joy is the surest sign of the presence of God. (No, that was not Teilhard de Chardin, nor was he writing to Jacques Maritain.) If our dignity stems from being created in the image and likeness of God — we ought to be clothed in joy, it ought to trail behind us like a sparkling train.  We ought to shout and leap and grin madly in the presence of our God. Who is before us, behind us, beneath us, within us. And in every wave that carries us to shore. For we are all worthy of joy.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

The realms of the unwinking gods

“The first cup moistens my lips and throat. The second shatters my loneliness. The third causes the wrongs of life to fade gently from my recollection. The fourth purifies my soul. The fifth lifts me to the realms of the unwinking gods.”

– a mystic of the Tang Dynasty

I noted I haven’t posted for more than a month. I’m all recovered from COVID, but have been writing like a fiend to make up for lost time (also another conference, but that’s another post). By the end of the day, I’m all out of words and ready to be off the keyboard.

I’m working a book called Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea. I knew the chemistry was rich, but as I have done the research, I’m discovering just how incredibly rich and varied it is. The downside to friends and family, poke me and I disgorge odd facts about chemistry and tea. Tea is big source of dietary aluminum and fluoride and their uptake is linked. Caffeine is made from the rubble of a tea plant’s DNA and RNA (adenine and guanine). The gene for caffeine synthesis has been identified and genetic knock-outs made for coffee (but not tea)….ok I’ll stop now!

The quote from the unknown mystic is the epigraph for one of the chapters. I’m holding it to one cup of tea a day, since I’d rather not be unwinking come the wee hours of the night.