Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
If you live anywhere south of say, Omaha, then you know what more snow feels like this time of year. We had at least a week of warm pre-season days, and then, the last few, were back in the icebox. Snow--heaps of it--is even worse.
Want to know what it feels like? Like this. Just about kills you.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
On May 25, 1931, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Investment Bankers Assoc. of America listened to proposals designed to safeguard US investors when obtaining foreign securities because present conditions for such investments were bound to prolong economic depression.
On May 25, 1931, an editorial in the WSJ noted misleading coverage of the Supreme Court decision reversing a decision in the case of Yetta Stromberg, who'd been convicted under California's "Red Flag" law for displaying a "red flag, banner, badge, or device of any color ... as a sign of ... opposition to organized government." The court, the editorial argued, had left in place provisions against anarchy and sedition.
The Wall Street Journal of May 25, 1931, contains no mention of a young lady in India, Sister Teresa, making the first profession of her vows after two years of her novitiate training, vows that promised a life of "poverty, charity, and obedience."
"If you could know how happy I am, as Jesus' little spouse," she wrote a friend. "No one, not even those who are enjoying some happiness which in the world seems perfect, could I envy, because I am enjoying my complete happiness, even when I suffer something for my beloved Spouse."
I rather doubt her first profession was noted anywhere in the English-speaking world. Why should it have been?
Somehow, that it wasn't seems a blessing.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
To her friends and family back home, she wrote, "Pray much for us that we may be good and courageous missionaries."
Sister Teresa was only 19 years old, no different from the students in the chairs in my own classrooms; but she was ready to give her life away as a missionary for our Lord. At that moment, she had to be filled with equal measures of fear and conviction. She was only 19 years old. She had to be, at that moment, near unto God. What she could not have known was how near.
She thought she knew what she would be--"a good and courageous missionary." But in reality she knew absolutely nothing of what she would become, even less about the squalid world she was about to find, the desperate children she would touch.
At that moment, her youth, idealism, and blind faith carried her triumphantly into a fray about which she knew very, very little. She could have had no clue that her selflessness, her righteous dedication to the poor of Calcutta would, in time, establish her a place among the most revered people of this world.
She had little more than a child's sense of what God almighty had in store for her. Really, she knew nothing at all.
Amazing naivete, and even more amazing grace.
Monday, February 21, 2011
This generation, not nearly so supine before "liter-a-choor" as I was and am, simply doesn't go to their knees as easily before the NY Times Book Review. Hollywood is a pantheon of gods to them, but ask my students to name one contemporary poet, and the only name you'll get is Robert Frost. They don't know much at all about the literary world, nor do they care to. In another generation, literary fiction will be as relevant to them as opera.
But I'm not Chicken Little. I don't think the sky is falling.
Perhaps I was willing to put up with humorless darkness because I inherited a view that looked up to writers as prophets and seers. If what they created was or is as dark as my students claim it is, this true believer didn't really notice because I've spent most of my life as prostrate as a Muslim.
Donald Miller, in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, says that we--that is to say "the American people"--may be jaded by commercials, all of which--can you think of an exception?--make grandiose promises about the future if only we buy the soap, drink the beer, drive the car. That kind of sales job is what we hear, day after day after day. Nirvana is but a credit card purchase away. After a couple million ads, it's not all that hard to begin to think that life is good and easy, if only we've got the right stuff in our billfolds. It makes senes that a steady diet of darkness repels them.
Years ago, Flannery O'Connor took on some Life magazine reporter who'd chided American writers for not singing the radiant glories of American life: "What is most missing from our hot house literature," that Life writer had said, is "the joy of life itself."
O'Connor answered the charge this way: "The general accusation passed against writers now is that they write about rot because they love it. Some do and their works may betray them, but it is impossible not to believe that some write about rot because they see it and recognize it for what it is."
Still, the fact is, I have some sympathies for my students' sweet and youthful constitutions. I'd just as soon not pour a semester's worth of dark edginess over their energy and idealism.
But then I hear Eugene Ionesco: "Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together."
Seems so true.
Armed with that, today I'm on my way back to class.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Once upon a time I knew Ray Carver. He was a teacher of mine when I was at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a visiting lecturer. He was dried out by that time, having quit drinking in June of 1977. He was finishing work on the collection of stories that would become Cathedral, certainly among the most fascinating collection of short stories of the late 20th century, if not the most famous.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
But the one she likes isn't even a Lay-Z-Boy, so it's not on sale. I know what that means--it's even more money. My wife's tastes are expensive, but rarely used; she's come by her ways honestly, however, if you knew her mother. She says she wants something smaller than anything Lay-Z-Boy makes. Anyway, she says she wants me to have a look and try this new, expensive chair on for size at the store.
Which is a strange way of saying it, but it's true: if you want a new easy chair, you'd better try it on for size.
So I did. It fit just fine.
But I was still non-plussed about this big Valentine's/birthday present because years ago I thought I got myself in trouble for suggesting that maybe we ought to have a new chair and a new sofa in the family room. I wasn't all that fond of either actually, and the sofa wasn't a particularly good fit, for me at least, because normally it took a wench to get me out, the kind with ropes and pulleys. Put it this way: I thought getting new furniture in the family room was one of those things I shouldn't have said, even brought up.
Anyway, now I know why.
"So I get a new one?" I said, "--What's going to happen to the old one?"
She says she doesn't know exactly because she knows well and darn good that she can't just dump it because she's sure that more than fifty years ago her mother picked it up at a sale, an auction, someplace out on the Iowa countryside, hauled it home in the pickup, reupholstered it beautifully, and then used it herself for years before bequeathing it to her daughter decades ago already. And her mother never, ever bought cheap furniture. That I know.
There's just way too much history in that big green easy chair, especially since her mother has been gone now for almost two years. My wife just can't just toss the heavy thing. That expensive fabric her mother put on it hasn't worn down a bit either--her mother didn't do anything half-strength. But it is more than a little dirty; after all, I've been sitting in it for a quarter century. When Ma and Pa Kettle sit in our family room, she's in the sofa, I'm in the chair.
So the old green easy chair on its way out, except it's not really leaving, which I understand, even though, truth be told, it never was my favorite. And the fact is, it sits just like a throne--it really does. You sit down and it doesn't even move, I swear, and I'm no featherweight.
It's got a matching footstool too, which we can position right between us so that both of us can put our feet up together, sort of homey when I think of it. That big green footstool is in good shape too after 25 years. Shoot, after twice that many at least. It's hard to think about the family room without that fat old footstool.
Something about that whole Saturday afternoon new-chair business just sticks with me, in part because I honestly thought change would never happen. I thought we'd leave this old house before getting a new easy chair--and sofa. I was resigned to sit this one out, so to speak. Then, out of nowhere, my wife just decides that this old green trooper's days are numbered.
But she can't just throw it away either.
I like that. I really do. But then, I like my wife. A lot. Much better than the old green throne.
So yesterday in church, a man who reads just beautifully is reading the Word of the Lord from the book of Acts, and he reads this line: "This is what the Lord says: 'Heaven is my home, and the earth is my footstool.'"
Honestly, I think, it's not a particularly becoming metaphor. Saturday morning I was out and about on a landscape that could hardly have been more beautiful. I could have said, "You know, Lord, I really beg to differ." I could have asked the Lord to red-pencil that line about the earth being a footstool and take another divine shot.
I could have said that, and I likely would have if it hadn't been for Saturday afternoon and my wife talking about a big, two-holiday present for me and an old throne that still holds thumbprints from her mother's precious and powerful upholstery hands, not to mention a lot of life itself between us for all these years.
Honestly, before Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, I'd never thought of that old green footstool as being all that gorgeous.
But then life is as full of lessons as it surprises, I guess. If you keep your ears open, you can learn a lot. So this Valentine's Day morning, I'm thankful for the teacher who's been my valentine for lo, these last 39 years.
And a footstool, too, an ancient, lovely footstool.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
A quilt of clouds swarmed east this morning and covered most of the dawn--what it didn't smother grew into a thin swath of bright pink ribbon for just a few minutes. Most of an hour later, the clouds withdrew and the sun pulled color up where it seemed there'd been nothing but gray over the sweet rolling hills just west of the Big Sioux. The great story is a new place, a place I've never visited before, a winding road right along the river and up into the hills--two miles at least of little but wilderness. I'll go back for sure.
We're a long way from Thanksgiving, but on the way home, those turkeys wanted nothing to do with me. No matter--it was the first time I've been out in weeks. The best therapy I know.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Christ's happy little one,
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Right now, it's the beating heart of this house. It hums and runs and pours out lifeblood heat so reliably I swear I don't even think about it. It's just there, working, burning fuel like it's going out of style these days, but most graciously keeping us warm, which is to say, out here on the edge of the plains, alive.
Once upon a time in this century-old house, I'm sure there was coal down here, and a coal-burner, something the old veterinarian who built these house had to feed before bed and, houseslipper shod, right away again in the morning in this awful mid-winter cold. Then, sometime later, long before we moved in, the doctor likely bought himself the monster that sat down here when we moved in, a huge contraption created by local tinkerer named Wandscheer whose creations, once upon a time, graced the basements of a couple hundred village homes, I'm sure. I was always proud of that big-shouldered furnace from the hands and the shop of creative local gent and his crew. When finally it had to go, I was a little sad, even though the new Lennox--vastly more efficient--probably paid for itself in just a few years.
This morning--and not just this morning--I'm thankful for our workhorse furnace, its efficiency, its reliability, its steady performance, because without it we'd be elsewhere or frozen stiff.
The cold has been outrageous this winter, just as it was last--mighty and dominating and seemingly endless. I told my night class on the first Tuesday, mid-January, that the good news was that we were, that night, living through the coldest night of the year. Liar. The successive Tuesdays ever since have, I think, been colder.
When it's this bitter cold, there's little to separate us from the bears really. I mean, no one sleeps their lives away, but we're so contained inside our separate heated caves that what's out there on the horizon seems a fantasy. You really can't be outside. You have all you can do to get in and out of that fierce pinching cold as quickly as possible. Cars run on square wheels. The Tracker's suspension freezes--when I get in, it feels like I'm sitting on a brick. Icicles form like weapons. Sun dogs bristle. The wind doesn't need to howl to incite fear. Blame snow screams beneath your feet. I live two blocks from work. Tuesday morning when I walked, I thought my face was going to fall off.
We stay inside, like bears, occasionally raising an eyelid at the weatherman, then shutting them and praying, hoping for an end to cabin fever.
It's coming this weekend, the weather people say. I swear. Forty by Sunday. That'll be sixty degrees warmer than it's been most of this week, the difference, farther up the mercury, between, say, 20 degrees and 80. That's an appreciable change.
Meanwhile, here we sit, awake but imprisoned, each of us in our separate caves, furnaces beating, humming.
We're waiting. Hoping. Telling each other that soon enough it has to be over, this sepulchral siege, soon enough we'll stretch again, open our eyes, shake out the kinks, and, once more, start to live.
We'll call that moment, ecstatically, spring, and it's all we care to believe in now, the unseen promise of a warmer future, here in the howling cold.
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Now this is a stupid problem that i don't know what to do about... I was hopped out in my car to come over to class.. and i can't get my car to work at all.. i've been trying to get the powersteering to work right for the last few days, and now i can't get the wheel to work at all. and i don't live on campus and it's nowhere close for me to just bundle up and walk to class. so as to that i'm unsure what to do.
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
We've never been visited by a Pulitzer-Prize winner before that I remember. She was a first, and a good one, a woman whose novel, Gilead, features the deeply wrought sentiments of an old Presbyterian minister writing a long letter to a very young son he fears he won't live long enough to rear adequately.
Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely the difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches. It is that we remember not to consider men's evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.
Saturday, February 05, 2011
Friday, February 04, 2011
Honestly, you take a look at my news feed this morning, and it feels like chatterbox cafe, the goofy voices of people, most of whom I don't know, people I can hardly help but judge by their inanity. Scroll down. There are tales of woe and anguish--mostly parental--stories about kids hurling and loading diapers; there's a blizzard of comments about the blizzard--the big one, "snowmaggedon," someone calls it; there are birthday greetings galore and new baby pics, and at least a half dozen compelling reasons to watch a half-dozen bizarre viral videos.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
In a certain sense we are--all of us--eyewitnesses to history every single day of our lives. Something, somewhere is always changing. The world's widest avenues are full of those who are leaving and those who've just now arrived.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
No true, red-blooded Calvinist could ever be guilty of sloth, or laziness, one of the highly respected seven deadlies. Good night, if Max Weber is to be believed, we gifted this culture with capitalism, after all, because to us hard work is, without a doubt, something of a heavenly virtue, and I'm no exception.