Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Legal, moral, mission?

Yesterday, I sat through a 3 hour workshop run by "college counsel" for new faculty called "legal issues." I want to be clear that this was "legal issues," not "moral issues." And let me also admit that the summary below of course loses a lot of the nuance of the three hour session and leaves a couple of the topics completely untouched.

But here's my summary: sure, we're a religiously affiliated school, but legally, you can sleep with anyone you want, as long as you don't have sex with anyone over whom you have direct power nor they over you. But NEVER, I repeat NEVER EVER, violate copyright law or student confidentiality. Perhaps we need to sort out our priorities.

And there's this odd edge, right, one that I've heard about from several theology folks around here, of wanting new faculty not to feel as though the religious commitments of the school are a big deal. And of course, there is a tension here. A colleague of mine told me a story about how, at her new faculty orientation session on the "ministry and mission" of the school, the veteran faculty members leading her group's breakout session basically told them that they should nod and give lip service to the mission-talk when administration or friars asked, but then ignore it for the rest of their professional lives. She just asked the question "But what about those of us who came here because we want to give our lives to that mission?" Apparently, they didn't have much response. They weren't sure she was serious.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Boys' Night Out

The “boys” in my department and the other department which shares our building started going out for “boys night at the movies” several months ago. In an unprecedented bending of gender lines, they decided to invite me along for this week’s feature film, Nacho Libre.

If you know nothing about Nacho Libre, this will get you through: it’s by the directors of Napolean Dynamite and stars Jack Black (of School of Rock and Tenacious D) as a monk at a Mexican orphanage who moonlights as an amateur wrestler. I loved Napolean Dynamite and School of Rock, though I confess that I have very bad associations with Tenacious D (associations that I imagine some of my faithful readers who are former housemates may share). Regardless, I figured 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, plus it’s a good idea to embrace unprecedented opportunities for bonding with the boys.

The movie was horrible, though it was well worth the 2 bucks we each paid for it for the following five reasons.

5. “The brothers don’t think I do, but I totally know a buttload of crap about the gospel.”
4. “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.”
3. An awesome song done as only Jack Black can, monk-to-nun, involving lyrics along the lines of “If I’m going to break my vows, I want to break them with you.”
2. The pre-wrestling match locker room baptism scene.
1. Street fight: knife vs. corn-on-the-cob. Corn wins.

Plus, it was good to hang out with the boys. I think they either think I’m crazy, or that I really liked the movie, or both. I was in a mood to have fun with it, and I had a lot of training one year learning to enjoy really stupid movies (Bubba Hotep?) for the sake of building relationships, or trying to.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Waiting room romance? No thanks.

A couple quick updates and one story.

My car is up and running again--4 working tires, which turns out to be rather important. Also, Paul had his first appointment for services up here, and we're in business. No housing yet, but he's on the roll for psychiatric and social services up here, which is a real blessing.

So, I'm sitting in the waiting room quietly (re)reading Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass while Paul is being seen. A man and his son come in. We had run into each other before when I had been in the back talking to Paul's social worker (who also happened to be an Episcopal priest!). Anyway, I'm reading and I hear the dad telling the son something to the effect of "If she smiles, she's married, but if she doesn't look up from the book she's single." Actually, though, it was low enough, and accented enough, and I hadn't really been paying attention because I really was reading, that I didn't really hear well enough to get the whole "code." But basically, I ignored it.

The boy was probably 10. They were Hispanic, so he had this beautiful brown skin but then also striking green eyes (I thought: Harry Potter meets A-rod). He did something a little loud and then suddenly the dad says "You see, it's because you're bad like that that women ignore me. They want to go out with me but then they see you do things like that and then they won't even talk to me, just keep reading their books, because why would they want to go out with a man with such a bad son?" Then, to me: "Excuse me, if you weren't married, would you go out with a man with such a bad son?"

Well, now I had to respond: "I'm sure he's a good boy."

"But you're married, right?"

And I'm thinking: just tell the lie. It's easy. Make something up. Tell a story. "No, actually I'm not." (Do you sense the "almost virtuous" theme here again? Virtuous enough to tell the truth, but not virtuous enough to refuse to consider the lie. Vicious enough to sit there through the rest of the conversation thinking that I could be reading instead if I'd just told that little lie.)

"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Weren't you with a man before?"
"That was my brother."
"Why don't you have a boyfriend?"

Ugh. We got through vague references to my being too busy for a social life before we moved on to his own story of disability (having been hit by a bullet intended for someone else, though in what particular situation, he didn't mention and I didn't ask), his health having been made worse by ill-treatment from "state doctors," as his inability to sleep since the whole ordeal began.

Then I was saved by Paul's return with the nurse.

I had been so afraid that he would actually ask me out. Never say never, but, unless something rather extraordinary happens, I don't foresee myself going out with anyone I meet in the waiting room at a county mental health center. In a way that sounds obnoxious, because of course I was someone in such a place myself yesterday, and can think of at least 2 occasions in the next 2 weeks when I will find myself there again. But there it is.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sexist Pepboys

I had a flat tire today. Such things are odd stoppages in the blur of life. Although the ten thousand things you should be doing just get worse, they also somehow fade to the background. Now you must do one thing: get the car fixed and moving again. It's a strange twist on Kierkegaard. I don't think it's what he had in mind, though, when he said that purity of heart is to will one thing.

I'm now safe at home, though my car isn't yet. But I want to continue my exploration of my life as Paul's sister.

One of the moments in today's adventure, which of course involved Paul, had the two of us in a Pepboys store looking for an Allen wrench, aka a "hex key," that would get my special extra-cool hubcabs off so that we could change the tire. So I walk up to a Pepboy guy, probably 20 years old, and Paul is trailing 5 feet behind me listening to my iPod. I speak in complete sentences, something to the effect of "Hello, can you direct me to the Allen wrenches? I can't find the hex-key that came with my hubcaps and I need to change a tire." Pep-guy looks at me and says something like "Uhh... I don't know if we...." Then Paul pipes up, shouting because he is listening to an iPod at a higher volume than any human should, "Allen wrench! Hubcap!" Then Pep-guy looks right past me to Paul and says to him, "Oh, okay, aisle 11. Do you know what size? Blah blah blah."

So, part of me was irate. Are you seriously going to talk to the guy under any circumstances? You sexist pig! But part of me was sort of happy. Maybe Paul doesn't seem as off to strangers as he does to me. But mostly I was irritated with the sexist peppy pig....

Virtuous as a cucumber?

My friend Cyberian Tygre posted his "rules of cool" in response to an encounter he had with a not-so-cool SEXYDIVA driving a cool car. His thoughts on coolness inspired some of my own, which I posted on his blog, but thought I'd post here as well.

Cyberian Tygre's idea that one either is or is not cool reminded me of Yoda telling Luke "Do or do not. There is no try." That made me wonder whether trying to be cool necessarily rules out actual coolness. And I think it does.

Now this is intriguing ground for someone who spends as much time as I do thinking (though not necessarily writing) about intention, action, and virtue. Aristotle and Thomas both argue that, to be fully virtuous, the virtuous action must be done for the sake of the virtue. My current thinking--and I'm open to correction here--is that coolness (though in a certain way a virtue) functions precisely opposite of virtue in terms of this relation. You can perform a cool action (or purchase a cool car), but insofar as you do so for the sake of the coolness, it is in fact no longer cool. The intention to be cool nullifies the coolness. One is not truly cool if one is trying to be cool.

Interestingly enough, I think coolness functions like goodness does for Thomas. For Thomas, for an act to be good, it must be good in every respect, but a single defect is enough to mar its goodness. In the same way, coolness is a package deal. For something to be truly cool, it has to be totally cool. A single defect ruins the whole.

SEXYDIVA stands as evidence of this.

By the way, I humbly admit and appreciate that citing Aristotle and Aquinas on the subject of coolness also, in most circles, rules it out entirely. Alas, the best I ever did really was being "pretty cool for a smart kid."

I think I've ruled out my own coolness and virtuousness in about 24 hours in this blog.

Perhaps this is why Christians have begun to aspire to that much vaguer and therefore easier virtue of "niceness." Perhaps I'll aim at that.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Roommate issues and the life of virtue

If you know me, you know that for the past 5 years I lived in an intentional Christian community in North Carolina. Much of my life was about roommate issues, and well it should be, since charity, which is the form of all the virtues, begins at home. What better way, then, to be schooled in the virtues, than to live with other people whom it is sometimes hard to love.

For me, life at Iredell was a constant confrontation with my own limitations in virtue, my own inability to be thoroughly called out of my individual life in order to be attentive to the needs of my brothers and sisters. Oh, I did well enough at times, but often the interior questions and resentments piled up. One friend and one-time housemate used to kid me about the "notebook" -- my mental list (book!) of resentments tallied.

So, of course, I've been looking forward to a little time in my own space, to cook whatever I want, to watch whatever movies I want, to clean up after myself and not wonder what the score is on how many times which housemate has emptied the dish drainer.

But alas, that's not how it turned out. Clearly, God decided that I needed to be more deeply schooled in charity. It has become clear that my brother will be living here at least until Sept 1, unless some hefty miracle intervenes. (Feel free to pray for such.) Meanwhile, having him for a housemate is interesting schooling indeed.

Now, let me be clear that my brother has a debilitating illness. St. Augustine was brought to tears by the mere thought of what it means to have one's intellect so thoroughly shattered. I've been brought to tears by it myself many a time, believe me.

I'm listing my top 3 complaints, just to put them out there.

3. Frankly, I resent the fact that he has more extensive conversations with the voices than with me.
2. He is a very sloppy eater. He gets more food inside him than anywhere else, but the #2 spot is a toss up between the floor, the table, and the edge of his plate.
1. He is either unable or unwilling to care whose toothbrush is whose. My new one lives in my travel bag.

Actually, this is going better than I would have imagined possible. But it does wear on one to always be the one who cooks and cleans, and always the one who nags the other to do even the barest minimum of cleanup to contribute. And the toothbrush thing really grossed me out. Ugh.

I have the sense, as I often have before, that I bear the curse of being an almost-virtuous person. It seems to me that, if I were a truly virtuous person, I would find perfect joy in serving my brother in his affliction. If I were a completely vicious person, I wouldn't bother at all. It seems to me that I am in the somewhat difficult position of knowing what the right thing to do is, and even being willing to do it, but because I lack complete virtue, I still carry a certain amount of resentment over the whole thing.

I suppose I should be thanking God for this wonderful opportunity to learn to be more charitable. Sigh.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Suicide hotline

It just came to my attention that the best number to call for a suicide hotline is 1-800-273-TALK. I wanted to post that here because of a previous post I made that involved a suicide hotline. That post is also updated to include this number.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

On the Rhode

I promised that I would go back and say a bit about the trip up to Rhode Island.

My friend John, who was moving from Durham to Boston, was my designated moving buddy. But my brother ended up being released from the hospital just in time to make the journey too. So we were three in the big yellow truck.

Paul was supposed to be released at 8am, so after a stop at the divinity school to say an early morning goodbye, I arrived at the hospital about then. Breakfast had just been served, and there were morning meds to be given out, but by about 8:45, we were back at my house and ready to roll. Almost. We also had to get 5 prescriptions filled (the kid's on some serious stuff). So we rolled out about 10:30am, 3 little adventurers in a big yellow truck dragging a little green car behind us.

The voices were nearly constant. Not that I could hear them. But it was like sitting next to someone on a cell phone the whole way: hearing half of a conversation. I'd try to point things out ("Look, Paul, we're in Virginia." "Hey, the Washington Monument!"), but the only thing that got much of a response from him was Philadephia. All of a sudden, he was fully alert, totally attentive, and totally responsive: "This is awesome; it's so big and bright and alive...." He was so pumped. He barely seemed to notice NYC.

Note to weary travelers. If you are driving up 95 to New England and thinking, as we were, "we'll just get past the city, and then we'll find a place," BEWARE. You know the convenient signs that tell you what lodging is available at a particular exit on just about EVERY interstate you've ever been on? The state of Connecticut apparently has something against them. We drove and drove and drove, and then finally just tried our luck at an exit or two, without any at all. Well, perhaps some, but it was all bad. We found a couple of places that would have been possible, if they had had parking for a truck and trailer. One such place may find very slight evidence of our passing on its fence and/or in its landscaping. (Sorry!)

Another note to travelers, in case you haven't already thought of this. If you have a cell phone, and if you can find a friend who is connected to the internet, you basically have access to the internet, even when you're flying down the interstate in a big yellow Penske truck. So, I called my friend Kyle, who eventually got to a computer and called me back. Of course, by this time we were to the part of the state that has billboards and other helpful road signage. But Kyle gave us the number for an upcoming motel and we called and confirmed that they had a vacancy and that they had truck parking. And we slept.

The next day, the plan was to swing by Boston to drop John's stuff off. When I first made this plan, it hadn't occurred to me that we would go right through Providence on our way. I did realize Boston was north of Providence and not precisely on our way. I just wasn't thinking we would actually go through Providence. This was no problem really, except for the fact that it confused Paul a lot. About 20 minutes after I'd pointed out "Hey, look Paul, Providence," he suddenly turned to me and said, "Why aren't we stopping? I thought we made it to Providence." I explained (again) about dropping John's stuff off. Paul conceded that perhaps John was worth a little extra time in the Penske.

By the way, I should note here that for me, John's worth was immeasurable. Not only did he drive the truck the whole way and oversee all the loading and unloading, but he was also good and patient company on a journey that would have been stressful enough without Paul. John was great with Paul as well. It was a real gift and blessing to have him along for the ride.

Once in Boston, John's unloading went smoothly, thanks to the help of some of his future BC colleagues. We hung out with the Coolclan a bit that night, then went halfway back to Providence and found another hotel. Walk-through and closing went smoothly, and Paul and John were able to unload while I signed my name a thousand times.

We took the truck back with about an hour to spare, though we got slightly lost on the way. There are apparently multiple combinations of "North" "Main St" and "Providence" possible around here. I think we were looking for North Main St in Providence, and I somehow got us to Main St in North Providence. Oh well, I'll learn. It all worked out eventually.

And that, more or less, is the story of the road trip to Rhode Island.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Home, Sweet Home

The papers are signed, and I'm sitting in my new house. Strange to be a homeowner after so much renting. Strange, too, to have shared so much of householding for the last 5 years with the other 5 or 6 members of the intentional Christian community that I used to live in. Strange to think I used to live there, I used to have housemates.

The house is lovely. The seller had promised to paint the interior and have the hardwood floors refinished. It turned out great. I really am quite pleased.

I'm also exhausted, and will perhaps post a bit about the trip up soon.