Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Free Time

This is my second week as a homemaker. There are many things to do, but few firm deadlines. I need to buy vegetables and soy milk and a strainer for the kitchen sink--sometime soon. (Today? Tomorrow? It could wait till the day after.) I need to find a laundromat, and haul our dirty laundry and a couple dozen quarters there--before we run out of underwear. I need to research grad programs in linguistics--sometime in the next year.

Astonishing how hard it is to have my schedule completely amorphous. Time is a liquid. It returns, like water, to the lowest place. It settles into low spots in the vinyl floor. It pools under the dusty baseboard heaters. In the summer heat (top-floor bonus), it evaporates and steams up the windows and condenses on the ceiling.

As the days pass one minute at a time, two years stretches before me into eternity. I can't seem to imagine that far in the future. My foresight extends to this weekend, and not much beyond. I have never been so deprived of vessels to pour time into: schedules and meetings and activities. My calendar is a field gone fallow. I wander through it, blowing dandelion seeds and picking wild flowers.

What is this time like? Not like school, though I am learning things. Not like childhood before school's tyranny: I do have responsibilities, and I cross the street without holding anyone's hand. Not like summer vacation: I cannot go to the beach and I am not with my parents or sister (which is no longer to say that I am not with my family); also, if I don't cook dinner, then there will be no dinner. Not like work, where someone else set my goals and told me when to go rest.

If it is like anything I have experienced, it is like writing my thesis last year. My own project: defined by me and executed by me, refined by me and scheduled by me; dealing with whatever interests me, but needing a focus; a source of pleasure and confidence, but also of anxiety and vulnerability; and built around a relationship.

When I read my poems to my mentor, I exposed myself. Criticism stung, while praise surprised me again and again. His approval made me stand taller. It gave me courage to call myself a poet. I prepared poems around the scaffolding of our meetings. I waited for those conversations.

Here, I am not arranging words that will speak into eternity. I am making dinner that disappears within a few hours, I am cleaning a floor that will be dirty again tomorrow, I am emptying a laundry hamper that fills up a little more each night. But here I still have my uncertainties, my fears. Approval still makes me glow, disappointment still makes me shrink. I wait for the reunions. I wait for the connections, the conversations.

I could be a little more stable, more driven, more independent in my heart. But I think this time is about waiting, about resting; about leaning on O. and on God, trusting and depending in a new way; about opening myself wide; about taking down the fences, about letting the wind blow through and plant what seeds it wills.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Education as Essential

Two days ago, a young man with a British accent and a clipboard stopped me as I was walking through Manhattan after having lunch with my husband (! (Two weeks of marriage is not at all enough time to make this word mundane.)).

The young man was fund-raising for an organization that claims to "punch poverty in the face!" by provide basic care and education to children in impoverished countries. He asserted, in the course of his spiel, that education is the most important thing to get people out of poverty. When I looked skeptical, he demanded to know why. I didn't have a good answer. I mumbled about the primacy of food and water. It wasn't until I was walking away that it occurred to me that I believe knowing the true God is the most fundamental precondition for true success.

Anyway, I don't instinctively think of education as something that nourishes the human soul. "Learning," yes. "Education," no. But today I read this interview of a philosophy professor who teaches a course on hope in modern philosophy--at a maximum security prison! (Good read.) At the end of the interview was this exchange:

This program that you were doing is part of a Bard College Program to make a bachelor's-level education accessible for prisoners. Based on your experience, what do you think of the role of education for our prison population?

The facts are pretty compelling. The recidivism rate goes way down when people are involved in these kinds of programs—60 percent, I think, is the normal rate for people coming out of maximum security context, and it goes down to below 15 percent for people who've been involved in the Bard Program, and the ones who actually get the B.A. are even lower than that. For the ones who will get out of the prison someday, it becomes much more likely that they'll live productive or at least not-incarcerated lives in the future.

(From the Veritas Riff "Hope Unbound: A Philosopher Goes To Prison.")

If I had known those statistics, maybe I wouldn't have made such a face at the volunteer on Tuesday!

I wonder what the impact of more specific classes like the philosophy course discussed in the interview might be, statistically speaking...