Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring is capricious this year

Has it really been twenty days since I posted anything here? How sadly I have neglected thee, o my blog.

Spring came, and spring left, spring leapt away like a deer vanishing into the trees, irretrievable. Chasing after it does no good. Like a child crying at every inevitable loss, I cried when spring abandoned me to winter again, and I whined and whined about the rain.

But like the deer who returns at dusk to nibble delicately and destructively at your garden, spring has returned, again. Spring has come bounding in so many times, and then has gone bounding out just as many times... But I think spring is here to stay this time. I really hope so. (Spring, did you hear that? Don't leave me again, don't break my heart by only staying one day. You have my hopes up now: two days of sun, light, warmth, the promise of sweat.)

It's almost May and the tulip trees are blossoming. The dandelions are out, biting my bare feet. The grass is still a swamp from yesterday's thunderstorm, but it shone in the hot sun all day today. I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

[Thesis abstract] A Lyricist Responds to the Iliad

[Here is the 330-word abstract of why I only made one post during all of March.]

Art refers back to other art, and literature is no exception. The Iliad belongs to the body of literature that has deeply shaped English writing. A knowledge of this poem and the mythology that accompanies it enriches a reader's experience of a much greater body of literature, from the Roman masterpiece the Aeneid, to Dante's revolutionary Inferno, to modern books such as James Joyce's Ulysses. Moreover, deep engagement with this poem, as with any great piece of literature, enriches a person's life by bringing a consciousness of its lasting themes into quotidian existence.

For this project, I lived with the Iliad. In reading, I first inhabited the Iliad as poetry and story and human experience, then tried to capture my emotional and intellectual reactions as lyric poems. Some aspects of this experience were familiar and easy to accept as relevant to who I am and what I believe. Other Homeric attitudes, though, are diametrically opposed to my beliefs; dwelling within those perspectives during my reading was emotionally challenging. The mix of intuitive familiarity and utter foreignness of the Iliad was fertile ground for reflection. The fruit of this meditation was a body of close to a hundred lyric poems that respond to the Iliad.

These poems first reflect my deeply held beliefs about the subjects treated in the epic, then proceed to explore my own emotional experiences from outside my reading of the Iliad. The Iliad is a war poem, taking place within a polytheistic spiritual/religious framework. Its characters belong to a patriarchal society whose culture relies heavily upon the externalization of emotion and identity, defining a man by his reputation among his peers (and defining a woman by her value to the surrounding men). My reactions to these characteristics of the Iliad fed the themes of my responsive poems. This paper discusses my poems and their relation to the epic, approaching my experience of reading the Iliad from an analytic rather than poetic perspective.

[I now have an extremely rough but relatively coherent 23-page paper as well as 75 pages of ordered and clustered poems. Huzzah! There is a lot left to do but this feels like a major accomplishment as is.]


This morning I woke up 45 minutes before my alarm actually went off, but I hallucinated that I'd woken up to my alarm, and I never did get back to sleep. A headache and a new batch of colored nose-fruit greeted me. On the other side of the window, the trees were writhing. Rain battered the glass and the wind sounded angry.

My morning improved once I got out of bed: Tulsi tea, Nutella sandwich (I need to find a fair-trade alternative to Nutella), comfort from John 17. And it was better when I got back in bed and read Poetry 180, and journalled, ink bleeding through the lined paper, the notebook almost full.

But before I actually got out of bed the first time, and in flashes of sorrow throughout the morning, discontentment pervaded me. Sick sick sick, and all alone. I wanted someone to take care of me, be with me. Actually I didn't want just any someone, I wanted the person who holds me, the person whose presence reminds me--life is sweet. I thought: I am tired of sleeping alone. I want to wake up with O. (109 days...) I want hugs in the morning.

And I thought: Waah, I don't want to be sick.

But I got through the day (cancelled almost everything but made it to my German test; drank at least 5 cups of tea).

Then around 6pm, O. called. "I was partly calling to ask if you've had dinner?"
Me: "No..."
O. "I was thinking about coming by and making you dinner and trying to take care of you."

So he did. He improvised dishes from ingredients I'd been worrying about cooking before they went bad, and it was all very unplanned and it was all very sweet, and much better than chicken soup or Tylenol or breathing steam or all the honeyed cups of tea.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Trusting Judgment

If I say I trust you, what does that mean? I think of it has having two dimensions:
1) I trust that you have good intentions toward me.
2) I trust that you have good judgment.

(1) is fairly self-explanatory: I believe that you mean me well.

As for (2): If you don't have good judgment, then I don't believe that you have the capacity to discern what is actually good for me. In that case, your good intentions are not particularly reliable.

But what does trusting someone's judgment mean?

Let's start with what it doesn't mean. When I say, "I trust your judgment," I don't mean that I believe everything you say must be absolutely right. I don't mean that when you talk to me, I forfeit my right and responsibility to think about what you are saying. I don't mean that if I disagree with you, I will assume that I am wrong and you are right and discard my ideas without a second thought.

But when I say "I trust your judgment," I do mean: I believe you are intelligent and rational and well-informed. I believe you have good morals/values/priorities (in whatever area we are talking about; or if I say I trust someone's judgment without any qualification, I mean I believe that person puts God first in their life). I am biased toward believing that your decisions and beliefs are well-founded. If you say A and I believe B, my belief in B is likely to be shaken; I won't just abandon B, but I will question it, and I will operate under the assumption that you have good reason to believe A; I will ask you what you mean by A and why you believe A.

And often when I say I trust someone's judgment, I mean that I am biased toward believing that they are more likely to be right than I am. For instance, I trust my father's judgment. If he were to tell me (heaven forbid) that he thinks I am too young to marry after all, I would be really shaken up, because I am strongly biased toward believing my father is more likely to be right than I am, but I really wouldn't want to believe he was right in this case. I wouldn't immediately conclude that I should cancel the wedding in July, but I would immediately ask him why he thought this, and I would listen very carefully and with the expectation that what he said would be well-founded.

I should note that I have a bad habit of assuming that I am right and people who disagree with me are just wrong and not thinking clearly. I say it's a bad habit because I know it grows out of arrogance on my part, not because I think I have poor judgment (which I don't think). Being aware of this habit helps me deliberately counteract it; but what I really need is not another filter on my thoughts, putting another layer between my mind and my heart. What I need is a change to the way I actually think/feel in the first place. What I need is an attitude of humility.

In some circumstances, I already have the humility that allows me to truly listen without assuming that any point of divergence from what I think must be a divergence from what is correct. The trivial case is where the person I am listening to is an expert and I am not. The significant case, though, is where I trust the person I am listening to. If I respect and trust him, then it is natural for me to set aside the assumption that any point of divergence is him being wrong. If I respect and trust her, then it is easy to learn from her. If I respect and trust her, I can accept correction from her.

On the other hand, if there is no one whose judgment I trust, then there will be no one who can effectively correct me, which is a bad situation to be in. Moreover, there will be no one whose reassurance I trust, because if I'm worried and someone tells me things are going to work out, I won't be able to absorb that comfort because I will assume they are wrong because they are disagreeing with me. Clearly this is maladaptive.

In order to truly live in community, I need to trust. I need to trust people's intentions and at times I also need to trust their judgments. "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Submitting to someone means placing myself in their hands, and it makes a lot more sense in the context of trust. Granted, it's possible to submit to a person without trusting that person, but that requires trusting Christ. In fact, I think that trusting Christ enables trust in other people. Why? There are two major hindrances to me trusting trustworthy people: pride and fear. Fear keeps me from trusting their good intentions; pride keeps me from trusting their judgment. But trust in Christ eliminates fear, because I know that He is taking care of me, and trust in Christ eliminates pride, because I know that God is God and I am not.

Trust is a risk, like love is a risk, like hope is a risk. But we are called to trust and to love and to hope, because they are worthwhile risks. Trust doesn't mean checking my brain at the door; trust means entering into the full range of relationships.