Tuesday, September 30, 2003


Linda's reading Jane Eyre! Woo-hoo! And she's SHOCKED. Check it out here: Plotsville.

Of course I have to agree--Helen Burns is NOT Elizabeth Taylor, and I think the novel's the better for it. She's a slovenly little brat, smart but inattentive--and fixated on the life to come, since she knows she's leaving this one. This last troubles me a bit--Linda's more generous than I, when she says "Helen Burns loves life, wants life. She accepts rather than ignores the unbearable injustice of life on earth and takes the sweetness where she finds it."--Well, yes, but I still find her too passive. I find myself with Jane, wanting her to stop turning the other cheek, to fight for herself. But she's already chosen her way, and there's a sort of maturity about that that seems to me heart-breaking. She's old because she's suffered so much, because her life is almost over, and she knows it.

When I think of the death and suffering Charlotte herself had known by this time in her life--two sisters and a mother already dead--I wonder how much of Helen she had in her. Not much, I think. I think she was more Jane, more the fighter, though she loved and admired the Helens in her life (primarily her sister Maria, or so all the footnotes tell us...).

Friday, September 26, 2003


I've had trouble finding things in the archives lately--somehow the dates on the blog page don't seem to correlate to the actual dates. So I'm switching to daily archiving and hoping that works. I'm also going to try to reinstate the comments. I like that feature on other blogs so I'll see if it works here.


power to the people

The temptations to make various "power" jokes right now are just too great. We got our lights back last night, so I've got loads of laundry running, clean dishes in the dishwasher, and a huge shopping-cart full of groceries back in my fridge. So nice to have all the mod-cons working again.

On the other hand the cable's out (could have been out all week, or just gone down last night, for all I know) so we've got no internet at home. And the kids were disappointed when "Ripley's Believe it or Not" disappeared on them this morning. (We did have intermittent service for about 12 hours, then it just quit altogether.)

I really want to reflect on this whole experience but it's going to take me a while to process.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


I have been wanting to write about Isabel but, alas, without power it's hard to get online. We haven't had power since last Thursday (so, approaching a week now), and I've only been online a couple of times since then, when I could get into the office. Even here in the office things haven't been perfect--there are several campus entrances blocked, the water wasn't drinkable until yesterday (because the pumping stations were down when the power was out, potentially allowing bacteria into the system), and although the power came up on Saturday it was knocked out again yesterday by tornadoes in the area.

So we're not quite up to full speed yet. But classes resume tomorrow, we were able to have church on Sunday, and the kids have managed to occupy themselves without tearing down the house or killing each other. Today Mariah is babysitting for someone who got her power back yesterday--after five days in the house with three boys, she needed someone else to watch them while she cleaned up and did laundry today! And Nick came into the office with me, to watch a video in the library (seven days without television was beginning to seem like cruel and unusual punishment) and to cut up paper on my office floor. In the meantime I've managed to plow through over 300 e-mails. Frankly, it was more fun reading by candlelight, something that I've really enjoyed over the past several days. In fact, I'm starting to think it would be fun to have "blackout night" once a week or so, where we eat by candlelight, keep the TV off, and play hearts around the dining room table, as we've been doing all week. Check in with me in a month or so to see if I carry this one out.

There's plenty more to say, but I'm a little sleep-deprived--not to mention overwhelmed by the sudden return (to me, anyway) of the internet.

Monday, September 15, 2003

the first date

I think I was sixteen when I had my first date. I was a (too young) high school senior, and he was a too-old one. He had a deep voice and dark eyes and I didn't really like how he kissed, but I didn't really know there was any other way. That took a while. And we didn't date for very long. Really, I just went out with him because I was flattered he asked. And, after all, I was a senior in high school and had never gone out on a date! So, you know, I had to. But it didn't add up to much.

Mariah is thirteen. She had her first date on Saturday, with a fifteen year old boy she met at camp. He seemed sweet when I met him the day I picked her up, but how much can you tell in a few minutes? He lives an hour away, and when he "asked her out" over IM, Mariah asked me permission to go out with him. "Where?" I said. "Oh, nowhere, you know, just go out." I said yes, and she said I rocked. That was the easy part.

Then he asked her out on a real date. This took a little doing, as neither of them drives and a two hour round trip to sit around while teenagers go to the movies wasn't my idea of a fun Saturday. But they persisted, and made a plan that worked.

He came to pick her up around 11:30 Saturday morning. As he stood on the doorstep I realized I'd had entirely the wrong picture of him in my head: he was skinnier, shyer, than I'd been picturing. He thrust an envelope at me. His mom said, "He wrote you a letter." I left them sitting on the couch while I got Mariah out of her room.

His mom said, "I left my other two sitting in the car, so..." and they were off. The letter was an itinerary, with a sweet note thanking me for letting him take her to the movies. He included a synopsis of the movie (off of imdb, maybe?), and exact times for lunch, the movie, and the return home. I almost cried when I read it--it seemed so sweet, so caring. I thought I'd done the right thing letting her go off with these strangers.

She got back just when he'd said she would. They parted on the doorstep--was there a quick kiss? I didn't see, didn't ask. But she looked sad when she came in. I asked how things had gone.

"I don't know, ok I guess." But she was still sad, so I pressed a little. And then it came out. "He didn't talk to me the whole time!" she moaned. She could list all the inconsequential words they'd exchanged--over the movie, over a song on the radio. "And then he fell asleep in the car on the way home!" She was really in tears now and I moved over on the couch to hug her--a bit awkwardly. She's a big girl, almost my size now, and she's not so huggy as she used to be. But she put her head on my shoulder and sniffled a bit more. We talked about what might have happened--maybe he was shy in front of his mom and siblings in the car, maybe it felt awkward because they had really spent more time IMing than talking, maybe, maybe.

"Maybe he doesn't really like me that way," she said. "And the thing is, maybe I don't like him that way either. I just want to be friends again!"

I suggested that maybe they could. "But if I say that to him, it really means I'm breaking up with him! And I don't want to hurt his feelings."

And so it starts. After a while she looked at me and said, "I'm just really confused and disappointed." And I had to say it. "Welcome to the dating world, sweetie. There will be plenty more confusion and disappointment before it's over."

The advantage, we both agree, is that since he lives 50 miles away they don't have to run into each other every day and maybe they can work things out on their own. The disadvantage is, of course, that since he lives 50 miles away they can't run into each other every day and work it out together.

All her friends who've had one say their first dates sucked, too. And maybe that's the biggest consolation.

Jane Eyre

Some years ago I was talking to another mom, a smart woman and a reader, who said to me she just couldn't read Charlotte Brontë because her child characters are so unbelievable. I gave her an Elizabeth Gaskell novel to read, tacitly agreeing with her.

But I've just finished reading Jane Eyre again. And, first of all, it holds up under repeated re-reading. I have to drop it off my syllabus every few years because I stop reading all the words when I'm preparing for class, but then I miss it and put it back. And this time I read all the words. And they are so remarkable, I kept stopping to say, "this book is just so good!" (Luckily, my husband is used to this sort of outburst.)

This time I really focused on the child characters, on Jane herself and the beatific Helen Burns (memorably played by a child Elizabeth Taylor in the 40s film version) and little Adèle, Mr. Rochester's ward. And I found them utterly believable.

My favorite moment--or one of them, anyway--is when Jane is being grilled by Mr. Brocklehurst, the hypocritical evangelical head of Lowood School. He asks her if she knows what hell is, and who goes there. Of course she does, and then he asks her how she can avoid hell. She answers, "I must stay well and not die."

There's child logic for you. I can imagine Nick saying that. If you go to hell when you die--if there's even a chance of it--then the best thing is not to die. I remember telling my father I'd give up birthdays so I could live forever, figuring that if growing older eventually meant dying, then I'd just stop growing older. I realized I was giving up a lifetime of presents, but it seemed a small price to pay for eternal life. It's the same sort of logic, or it seems so to me.

Helen, true, is a little unbelievable. She's too perfect. But then again, she dies. Jane has about two conversations with her before that. So I give Brontë a pass on her.

And Adèle, well, she's the best. The spoiled brat daughter of an opera dancer and a misanthropic near-bigamist (maybe), she seems pitch-perfect to me. She gets all the ladies oohing and aahing over how delightful she is, she sings naughty songs and gets all the gestures right, she begs for gifts whenever Rochester returns from wherever he's been. She gets in between the lovebirds and demands all the attention for herself.

Charlotte Brontë died of complications of pregnancy. She was 39 years old. She never got to raise children of her own, to measure her recollections of her own childhood against her own growing children. She never got to nurse an infant, or teach a toddler that stoves are hot, or hear her daughter speak to her. And maybe those things wouldn't have meant much to her--childhood was different in those days, after all. But she wrote some fascinating child characters nonetheless. And Jane Eyre is still a terrific read.

Friday, September 12, 2003

not quite there

I couldn't even come close to posting yesterday. It was my big teaching day, and though all morning I was consumed with thoughts of September 11, 2001, it didn't even come up in either of my classes. I remember, though, that two years ago the weather was much as it was yesterday--sunny, brilliantly clear, one of those great late summer/early fall days when you're glad to be alive. I spent the morning in the doctor's office, two years ago, trying to get some kinks worked out of my back and side. I exploded at the nurse-practitioner who saw me, yelled at her about how I'd just been seen for this problem, and it wasn't better, and why wasn't she taking me seriously. I was sobbing as I went into Radiology for an MRI. The tech thought I was crying about the planes, about the buildings, but I had only the foggiest idea of what was happening. I was crying for myself, for my own damn pain.

I came home and sat pretty much glued to the television, like everyone else I know. But what I really remember is the morning, and how unhinged I was by my own pain, and how that just seemed to blend in with what was going on in the world.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The Futile Pursuit of Happiness

I really liked this article. It had a certain "no, duh" quality to it--that is, I know a new car won't really make me happy--but the ultimate message, that happiness is less important than we think, is helpful. And not just happiness--sadness or tragedy too. We accommodate ourselves to whatever our realities are, the author argues, more quickly than we think. And that seemed really helpful, because it makes the future so much less scary. Or so I thought. Not because it says we should give up on happiness, but because it argues that we can be smarter about it.

Of course, modern capitalism is premised on the notion that the new car (shoes, makeup, fill-in-the-blank) won't make you happy--and therefore you'll have to buy another. So if too many of us read this article, will capitalism collapse? (Alas, probably not...)

The Futile Pursuit of Happiness

low-carbing it

Everyone I know seems to me low-carbing it except me. I love bread, and I just can't find it in me to give it up. Besides, since I started doing yoga every morning and practicing a little moderation in my eating, I feel better and I've lost weight. So I really don't want to go all extreme and give up carbs. I'm really sorry so many have, though, because I like to bake bread and give it to people and now it seems like I'm trying to tempt them or something. I'm not, really. I just like to bake bread.

Besides, I think it's unChristian to give up bread. I mean, really. Jesus didn't say he was the meat of life. Think about it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

back to school

This morning began with a phone call at 7:30 am to tell me that Mariah didn't have school today because a water line had broken over the weekend and flooded the middle school classroom. So she took off her "first day of school" outfit and got ready for one more day of vegetating in front of the TV before school...

At least Nick got to go. He was all excited. Well, actually, when I went to wake him up he first said, "I don't want to go to school" and then claimed he'd rather be in his kindergarten class again. But that didn't last long.

By some stroke of genius both kids had made their lunches the night before (the FlyLady would be proud of me!) so we got out of the house on time. Still there was no place to park within two blocks of school. Many of the bus kids get driven to school on the first day; none of the car pools are in place yet; and the "drop off" line wasn't even operating. So everyone had to park and walk. Nick and I had circled the school a couple of times when I saw a woman wave at me, motioning that she was about to go to her car. I stopped and threw the car into reverse as I opened my window, but then another car pulled up behind me. "Just drive around the block," the woman said. "I'll wait for you." I took off, circling the block faster than I should have given the number of illegally parked cars on the corners. But when I got there she was still standing on the sidewalk. She saw me pull up, got into her car, and drove off waving out the window.

A random act of kindness that kept me smiling all morning.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Not the last word on prayer, but mine--for a while

One of the people I've been praying for lately died last night. She'd been very ill, and her passing was peaceful. It was, in fact, all she'd wanted--she died at home surrounded by family. I hadn't been praying for her to get well. Should I have? I prayed instead that she would die peacefully, that she would be able to let go, that her family would know her love and that she would be surrounded by God's love.

I don't know much about intercessory prayer. Some years ago I heard Jack Spong speak, and in the course of a much longer talk he mentioned that in his first wife's long battle with cancer many people had prayed for her. Of course, he and his wife welcomed the prayers. But then, he said, he began to feel badly when they would say, "she's lived this long because so many people are praying for her..." or something of the sort. He began to wonder if they really believed that his wife deserved life more than someone else, equally sick, who was less known to praying people, who wasn't, therefore, surrounded by prayer as she was. He said he wasn't sure he wanted to believe in a God who responded to prayers like that, who just listened to the loudest or most persistent prayers, or who somehow kept score and responded to those who had the most prayers.

His wife finally died of her illness, surrounded by prayers. In the end, he said, he simply believed that prayer was "the God-stuff in me responding to the God-stuff in you"--that is, it's a way we connect with another across time and space, perhaps even without their knowing, in love and care. For now, that's enough for me.

So now I'm praying for those who live on, who have said good-bye to a loved one and have to go on with that hole in their lives. I know they will--they have plenty of love and strength and compassion--but it will be hard and so I'm praying for them, and in part it's for me, so I can connect with them and their love.