Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Semester Has Flown By

Another semester has come to a close, though I still have lots of grading to do, so it doesn't feel concluded quite yet. My college does not push us to finish the fall grading before Christmas, which is both good and bad. What is good about this is that those of us who celebrate Christmas can pause to get ready for Christmas. What's bad is that if we do that, then after Christmas we still have to finish the grading! I paused over the weekend, but I'm going to see if, in the next few days, I can finish the grading before Christmas, for a change!

Then I look forward to adding some new posts here to my blog. I have had some new insights I would like to share.

Until then, I wish my readers Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Busyness and Discipline

My work life is happy, these days. Even though I am still chair of my department (for this year and next year), and am also now the director of our new Peace Studies program, I am fine with all of this. Of course all of this makes my life very busy. Fortunately, however, I have not been busy in a stressed-out sort of way. It's nice to know that this is possible: that one can be busy in a happy sort of way.

Part of what has really helped this semester is the more rigorous discipline by which I have structured my life.

But, having said that, I have to confess that this has been unraveling lately. My running, for example, was interrupted by my coming down with a bad cold. Then, just as I recovered from that, Thanksgiving break came. You would think that break is a good time to pick up on running again, especially since, during break, I have the luxury of waiting until daylight breaks to run, which is far more pleasant during this cold time of year. But I still felt too daunted. Finally I decided to just give myself a break over break, and I plan to resume on Monday, when classes resume.

But, over break, I have returned to regular music practice on several of my instruments. This was something else that paused while I had a bad cold. Playing wind instruments is actually good to keep doing through a cold, but it's frustrating and difficult too, and so I'm afraid I let that drop too. Work had then also gotten especially busy. But I'm glad to be back into regular practice again now.

Anyway, discipline is key to managing a complex life. When you structure your life with practices that keep you healthy, spiritually centered, and in touch with a sense of the meaning of your life, everything else finds its proper place. You are not daunted by your busy life because (a) you are healthy enough to keep up with it without undue fatigue or risk of burnout, and (b) you are clear-sighted enough to remember how each task you must do fits into the overall meaning of your life.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Uselessness of Violence

The more I study war and peace, the more convinced I become of the uselessness of violence. I am increasingly bewildered about why people tend to be so impressed with war and violence. It is a blunt instrument, really, that tends to destroy a lot more than it intends to destroy. Its use often backfires, in that it often provokes a retaliatory response and so creates a cycle that tends to perpetuate itself (the cycle of violence). Those closely affected by the violence tend to fixate on the horror of the violence itself, and seldom listen to or care about the reasons for the violence.

The recent events in Mumbai demonstrate these points. The attacks were horrifying and difficult to understand. Who did this, and why? We do not know. Nor is anyone inclined to be that sympathetic. Sure those who instigated this got a lot of attention, but most of them also got killed. A lot of other people got killed too. For what?

If violence ever has any justification at all (which I myself seriously doubt), it would be for the sake of some grander cause. But what cause was served by this? If no one knows, it is hard to see how any cause was served. If a cause is identified, those most hurt by this are the least likely to become sympathetic to that cause. The changes the instigators may have wished for in the world are not likely to come about because of this. When people are violently attacked, or are hurt by those close to them having been violently attacked, they seldom say, "Oh, I deserved this punishment! I'm sorry and will reform my ways and become Perfect (according to everybody's standards of perfection) from now on!" Instead, they are inclined to regard the attacker as evil, and themselves as good and innocent.

So, what is accomplished by violence? Nothing, really, except perhaps increased fear, anxiety, and hatred, but I wouldn't call these "accomplishments" as such.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ambivalence About Technology

I had a bit of a crisis last weekend. For several years, I've used a PDA to manage my calendar and such, and it died. No, actually, it became terminally ill and was only half functional. Part of what I like about PDAs is that you can synchronize them with your computer, and so you have a backup of your data. I had synchronized mine recently, but I had also made a lot of changes since then. So, this did threaten to be a major crisis.

The device kind of went haywire. The controls were now behaving unpredictably. But with patience, I learned its new, twisted logic, and managed to extract my calendar data for the next couple of weeks, writing everything down. Then I managed to coax it into synchronizing with my computer one more time.

Now I had to re-think how I wanted to do things. I used to use a paper system. At times, I used Daytimer, which I really liked. Through grad school, I made up my own system and printed sheets out on my computer. Did I now want to go back to a paper system? There are three problems: it is vulnerable too, to loss -- and without backups. It's tedious to keep track of regularly repeating events. And it is bulky to carry around.

I shifted to a PDA when I became department chair and my life made a quantum leap into greater complexity. I liked being able to enter in repeating events easily. And I loved how compact it was. I could easily carry it with me wherever I went! And, I could load important documents on it, such as papers I'm working on.

So, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is a system that works well for me.

But, can I find a more reliable system? I was miffed at how this one died on me! (And it's not the first one that has done that, alas!) But as I did some research online, I came to realize that all of the systems have problems. The ones with the best reliability reviews are really expensive systems that have bells and whistles I don't need while lacking some of the ones I do appreciate. (This is another thing I don't like about how our economy works: it's in a company's best interest to make things that don't last too long! That way, they sell more of them!)

Then I considered smartphone systems, but I often need to look at my calendar while I'm on the phone, so, while the convenience of having PDA and cell phone all together in one unit is attractive, it doesn't seem functional for my purposes. And, again, there is the problem that many of these systems have bells and whistles I don't want yet lack some features I do want. (That's another thing about our economy that irks me. The apparent "variety" is mostly an illusion. When you find a system in a configuration that really works for you, it will die and then you will find that it's obsolete now and features that you like can never be found again because, while they sold and people liked them, they didn't sell in large enough numbers to justify continuing to produce them. Just selling things is not enough. You have to be able to sell them in large numbers! Thus are we forced by the business world to lose our individuality and go with the crowd.)

With all that's out there, I was amazed at how hard it was to find exactly what I wanted. The only one that really suited my purposes was the one I had before.

So, I ordered a new one.

It arrived. I set it up. I synchronized. And, to my horror, I found most (but oddly, not all) of my calendar gone!

This was the night before the TV crew came to my class. I was already worked up about that. So what I did was took a deep breath, turned everything off, and went to bed. "I have to stay focused," I said to myself. "I can't deal with my PDA Crisis until after my big day tomorrow." Anyway, I had my little slips of paper with my schedule scribbled on to keep me going in the meantime.

So, I got up early the next morning, went for my longest run yet (can you tell I was worked up?), and set forth into my Eventful Day.

That evening, I searched online help files. I realized that the computer I was synching to had Vista, and so I shouldn't have used the installation disk that came with my new PDA, but should have downloaded a new version for Vista.

Since things were about as bad as they could get, I decided that was still worth a try. I downloaded the new version, installed it, and synchronized again. Same problem. Still trying to stay calm, I had noticed that I could run the installation again in a "repair" mode. Why not try that? So I tried that.

To my utter and complete surprise, my calendar was restored!

But there was still a problem. Pieces of it still did not show up on my computer. Since the whole point of synchronizing is to have a workable backup on your computer should you lose your PDA, or should it die, this was still unsatisfactory.

The next night, I returned to online help and was able to chat with a technical support person who helped me solve my problem. Now everything is functional again, and I am so relieved!

Technology can be really helpful, but its unreliability can be almost catastrophic sometimes. This experience had me perceive the complexity of my life in a whole new way. It wasn't so much my dependence on technology that was the problem, but my needing fancy technology to help me manage the complexity of my life. What I mean is that any system would have to be frighteningly complex to manage such a life. The real problem is how complex my life is! The vulnerability is really at that level. The temporary lack of a PDA exposed that deeper problem.

I have two exchange students in one of my classes, one from Spain, and the other from Germany. Both have come to talk with me about how different U.S. university life is from their lives back in Europe. They cannot believe how demanding the daily schedule is. They feel under constant pressure, because they have important projects and papers due almost every day. Each said to me, "I am not a machine! Meaningful learning does not happen this way!" They came to me because they thought I might understand, and I do. But it was hard to know what to say to them. That is the reality of what university life is like here. How do we change it? This is not healthy for our students or the faculty.

Yesterday a bad cold overcame me. This morning I wanted to stay in bed all day. But to let go of what I had scheduled today would create even greater problems down the road, I thought. Postponing it would make my busy week next week impossible. So, I got up and forced myself onward. I showed up at meetings, only to find them sparsely attended because nearly everyone else was sick and overwhelmed. Had I known, I would have stayed home in bed too. After my last meeting, I was going to wrap up a few urgent things in my office and take the rest of the day off. But those few things were really many and took all afternoon.

I started off saying that I was busy but didn't feel terribly stressed, and, oddly, that is still true. My mood is quite good, and that carries me through. But it can only carry me so far, and I know that. The way I pushed myself today is not healthy, and I must not let this way of being develop into a habit again, because that's how I got burned out before.

So, in the complexity of a complex life, a lot of great things can happen, but managing that complexity and living up to its demands is hard.

When I do manage it well for periods of time, I now realize that I'm fortunate in being able to. It's not virtue so much as good fortune: good health, stamina, and support that makes it possible. To some extent, we can foster these things, but they are not completely in our control.

So I have the humility now to comprehend that I live in fragile relationship to the complexity of my life. When I see others around me struggle with their own relationships to the complexity of their lives, I have a lot of sympathy.

Is the slowing economy a sign that we've all had enough? We can't go on at this relentless pace? Sometimes I wonder if that's really what this means...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Other Updates

In other updates:

Yes, I am still running, and continue to make slow but steady progress.

I have been very busy this semester, but I've been handling it very well, and I think the running is part of what's making a difference. But it's not just that. It's also that putting this energy into getting the Peace Studies program has felt like an important part of my life mission, and so putting in long hours has felt satisfying rather than tiring.

I think I've found a new musical group to join. It's a new contra dance band. I went to the first, organizational rehearsal, and it is looking very promising!

I've managed to keep some momentum going on my research. I finished two smaller projects and now can turn my research attention back to my bigger and favorite project. In fact, I'm scheduled to talk about it with our philosophy faculty in a few weeks, so the timing is excellent.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Publicity for Peace

It turns out that our Peace Studies program is getting some good local publicity. At first, a mention in a small local paper; and an interview and a photo of the planning committee for the school paper. Meanwhile, I was disappointed not to see mention in more prominent local papers or my beloved local public radio station! But then, to my complete surprise, we received a request from a city news TV station for an interview! I was interviewed on camera, and then the next day they came back and filmed my class and interviewed some of my students! The segment has not aired yet, so I do not know how it all turned out. But it was all pretty exciting!

In truth, I am very camera shy and would rather stay out of the spotlight, but I knew that this was a rare opportunity to share what we are doing. My students were splendid. They were very excited and rose to the challenge, participating really well in discussion for the camera! They participate well in discussion anyway, but seeing them try extra-hard for this occasion was really wonderful!

In the life of teaching, you work really hard, and are never sure what exactly is sinking in or how all of this may or may not matter in your students' lives. It is faith that keeps you going. But in a moment like this, seeing the students working really hard to show the world how much they value what this means to them -- this class, this subject, but also our college -- really moved me!

The reaction of my colleagues to all this attention has been interesting too. "What was that all about?" they asked. "I was interviewed, and then they came and filmed my class!" I replied., with a dazed and awkward smile. "For what?" they asked, bewildered. After all, I am a quiet type, mostly working hard in the background, never trying to draw attention to myself. "Peace Studies!" I replied, surprised that they wouldn't have figured this out. "Oh," they said. It's old news around here that I'm into that kind of stuff. But I, in turn, am surprised that it didn't really dawn on them that this would make news. I knew that it would make some news, and our university publicity staff was ready and waiting -- they expected it, too.

Of course there are lots of other Peace Studies programs across the country and across the world. But I'm not talking about national (or international) news -- this is a big deal in our local area, because there are several colleges around, and no one else has a program anything like this. And we are near a military base. The whole idea of "Peace Studies" really does take people by surprise here!

So I am grateful to have had a chance to explain a bit what it is and why we find it valuable to study it and teach it here.

Maybe that's it now. I'd actually like things to calm down a bit now...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election Maps

This is my favorite election map:

It is from this website:

It uses red, blue, and shades of purple in between to indicate percentages of votes, at the county level. And so it provides a more nuanced view of voter choices across the country.

From this other (also fun) map, I found that in the small county I grew up in (but no longer live in), Obama lost by one vote! But Obama still won in that state. In fact, Obama won in all states where I've lived!

I know that not everyone agrees with me, but I am happy about the results of the presidential election, for a lot of reasons. It will be interesting to see how things continue to unfold from here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Peace Studies Program

I've been really busy lately, in part because I and some other faculty have been working hard on a proposal for a Peace Studies minor at the college where I teach. I finally submitted the proposal earlier this month.

And I have just received word that it was accepted!!!

This is very exciting news!

There is a lot I could say, but for now I will just say this: I think it is really important that we are doing this, because we find our students hungry for new paradigms. They are worried about this world that they find themselves in, and they see that many of the well-accepted ways of thinking are not really working. They are prematurely cynical, but underneath that cynicism, they are desperate to find reasons to hope: reasons that hold real promise; reasons they can trust.

Peace Studies helps them to perceive new possibilities, for their own lives, and for a hopeful future.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Thoughts on the Economy

As I've continued to hear and read about the current financial crisis, I've been wondering if the root of the problem is that those who are very wealthy and very greedy have finally pushed everyday workers too far.

The economy is powered by the work of the workers, coupled with people's willingness to spend money. But if workers are pushed harder and harder for less and less, they eventually collectively reach a breaking point in both dimensions of powering the economy: the energy they put into their work, and the money they have on hand to afford to buy as much.

Some of this is structural. I heard an interview with Steven Greenhouse on public radio (NPR) this morning. He has written a book (The Big Squeeze) about the increasing stress on American workers. Many American workers have had to work harder and harder for less and less. And then many get laid off as companies continue to try to increase profits, and do so by cutting payroll.

It's no wonder that all of this is a very bad idea. When there are layoffs that result in a reduction of positions in a company, those who are left have more work to do, but reach limits in how much more they can do, and so productivity begins to decrease. When those who are still employed keep having to do more and more (sometimes having to take second jobs just to make ends meet), they eat badly and may not get enough exercise, and their health suffers, but health benefits are also cut. And with layoffs, and pay that does not keep pace with the rising cost of living, people have less money to buy anything above and beyond the basic necessities.

What has fueled this squeeze? I think, but I'm not sure, that it's not that companies have been struggling to stay afloat, for the most part (although the problems may quickly evolve to that), nor that they are not making profits -- what I have heard more and more in recent years is that companies have not been making big enough profits.

So maybe this is the problem: it's become socially acceptable to make investment decisions only based on performance. The only thing that matters is whether you are investing in the companies that make the biggest profits. This has become what is regarded as rational. The only goal is to make as much money as possible. And so companies compete against each other in terms of how big their profits are.

An encouraging sign is that the phenomenon of "socially responsible investing" has emerged and has been gaining credibility. At least some investors do care about more than the bottom line. They don't make investment decisions just based on performance, but also in terms of the social value of what companies produce, as well as the way companies treat their employees and handle the environmental impact of their production methods.

I would like to see the day come when people care more about ethical measures of success of the companies they invest in than performance. It is still rational to want to support companies that are fiscally responsible, but what if people saw this only as a minimal requirement? And what if the question here were not "how much of a profit does the company make?" but simply, "does the company have a pretty consistent track record in making profits?" without caring how large? What if people just wanted to make some extra money, not "as much as possible." And what if what was determinative, after this minimal requirement is met, is the ethical track record of the company:

  • "Do I believe in the social value of what this company produces?"
  • "Does this company treat its employees well?"
  • "Does this company operate in ways that are environmentally sustainable?"

And only if a company passes all of those tests, does one decide to invest in it.

Some people do this already, but clearly not everyone. What if this became normal practice? Then would our economy revive and operate in a healthier way?

I think it really could. Care about the environment would help sustain the natural resources that companies need for producing what they produce. Limiting production to what is of social value would help everyone to be healthier and to live in healthier relationships with each other. And taking good care of workers keeps them productive, happy, healthy, and able to spend their extra time, money, and energy contributing to society above and beyond what they do for work: being creative, raising children, and attending to the quality of life in the communities in which they live.

I used to question a profit-driven economy altogether, thinking that we would all be better off if all companies were run on a non-profit basis: just trying to be fiscally responsible, and not trying to make "extra" money for people who are not actually doing the work. Any "extra" money that happens to be made could be channeled back into the company to pay for its growth, or could be given away to charitable causes.

But over time I've come to grudgingly accept that there are ways that investment for hopes of profit can be good. Putting money into something you believe in, in hopes of getting that money back with a little extra, is not in itself necessarily problematic. Most of our retirement plans rely on this feature of our economy. At heart, and at best, it is based on a principle of trust and optimism: that if you let others use your extra money while you do not immediately need it, they can do creative things with it that increase the quality of life for everyone, so that by the time you need that money back, they are able to give it back with a little more besides.

The problem has been that people have more and more cared only about performance. Letting greed rule is not a good idea. We should shift our attention to using our extra money to do social good. It's okay not to want to lose money in the process; even wanting a little extra is not bad. But we shouldn't be so focused on getting a lot extra that we lose sight of the bigger picture. After all, what is money for? It is not an end in itself. It is a form of energy. It is a means for channeling our energies towards what we value. We can and should use it to improve ourselves and the world around us.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Running Again, and Other Updates

I am running again. Some running friends had advised me to lay off for two weeks, but I did go out this morning (one day shy of two weeks), and everything seems fine. I'm glad! It feels good to be doing this again. I've lost some of my hard-won conditioning, but not as much as I had feared.

My life has gotten very busy again. It's back up to Level III. Mostly I've not minded because I'm enjoying all that I'm doing. I think I mentioned that I've been resuming my efforts at getting a Peace Studies program going at my University. That's a big reason why I have been extra-busy. But this feels important, in a way that I find very satisfying. So I don't mind this extra outlay of energy. If this gets accepted, the actual implementation will not be so hard, and will involve work I really enjoy.

And, in light of the state of the economy, I've been wondering again what money really is. My concerns at the time of that posting was that new money seems to be made out of wishful thinking. I'm thinking that I may have been right. Maybe this would be a good time for a "jubilee." Take whatever money is left, divide it by the number of people, and distribute it evenly, and see what happens. Would that be a good way to press the "reset" button on the economy?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I strained or sprained my ankle. I missed a step coming down a staircase in the dark and toppled over. My first thought (as I struggled back up on my good leg, gingerly then putting my injured leg down to see if it could bear any weight) was, "Oh no! Is this going to throw off my running schedule?" The pain was unbearable for a few moments, but then I could walk, sort of, in a hobbly sort of way.

My ankle swelled up. I awoke several times that night in pain. The next morning (Monday), I was determined to go for a run -- until I got out of bed and realized I could still barely walk. I looked in a medical book about how to treat strains and sprains, and reluctantly realized that I really did have to take it easy for at least a few days.

So, I've been trying mostly to stay off it. It doesn't hurt very much any more, but it is still a little swollen. Maybe I can resume my running on Friday. I'll be tentative and careful and see how it goes.


But other things in my life are going reasonably well. It could be worse...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tentatively Embracing Complexity Again?

I continue to be on track with my running (pun intended!). I haven't progressed beyond ten minutes in one go; but since one of my goals is not to push myself too hard, I can say that I am making great progress in my goal of not pushing myself too hard! Steady progress in running ability is not actually possible. Many training schedules include a week of holding steady or even cutting back a little every few weeks. After my initial steady improvement, I am not surprised to find myself hitting a plateau now.

I'm having a hard time finding time for research, though. My life has gotten immensely busy again. Because of lots of interest from students, former students, faculty members, and the president of my university, I decided that I could not let go of our plan to construct a Peace Studies minor where I teach. Besides, I am teaching a Peace Studies course again, and revisiting the material has been very good for me. I am also amazed all over again to witness the effect of this course on my students. This weekend is family weekend, and the parents of one of my students came by my office to say that the Peace Studies course is their daughter's favorite course, and they asked me for reading recommendations so that they could talk with her intelligently about this material.

I'm still putting in some time for research -- having some real deadlines helps keep me focused! I have a paper I have to finish this weekend. I should be working on it right now. So I will.

Busy though I have been, I am reasonably happy. My decision to resume with Peace Studies has made me happier than I expected. It had been a good plan when I thought I would be relieved of chairing my department. But when I learned that I had to continue as Chair of Philosophy for two more years, I considered letting go of the Peace Studies plan, at least temporarily. Deciding not to let it go does complicate my life. But it feels really important, and that gives me energy.

And my life as Chair of my department is in fact better this year. We have a new faculty member who has brought good energy to our department, and I am amazed at how much of a difference this has made. I've been carrying so much of the weight of our department for so long that I honestly did not know that things could be different if others had time and were willing to take some initiative in departmental projects. I've always liked my colleagues, but they've tended to either be focused on their teaching and research or highly involved in other initiatives in our university. Having someone who has taken interest in our department and wants to help it develop to its full potential is making a huge difference. Our department now gets together for lunch every week, and we have set up a schedule of sharing our research with each other once a month.

So, I'm busy, but things are looking up, and I am very glad about this.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Running Update

My running is still going well. I've now kept to my schedule for four weeks, and I'm up to being able to run for 10 minutes in my first stretch of running. Then I walk a bit and run about three more times in shorter spells. The total time of this run-walk is about 20 minutes, framed by 5-10 minutes of walking to warm up and again to cool down.

I'm pleased. I did not expect to be able to do this well this soon. And I do not feel like I'm pushing myself too hard. I'll continue not to push myself too hard -- I'm kind of happy with 10 minutes and will let myself stay at this stage for a while if I need to, extending it only very gradually. Instead of pushing to extend longest run, I'm gradually extending the duration of the run-walk part.

I think there must be something to theories of "body memory." Because there were significant times in my past during which I did run regularly, my body in some sense remembers this and is able to adapt more quickly to my running again than if I were only just now in life starting for the first time. I'm still a long way from the level of fitness I once had, but, like I said, I'm surprised that I'm progressing faster than I expected.

I'm also really happy about how well the running has improved my overall energy and my spirits.

Another good sign is that I find myself at times throughout the day thinking, "I'd rather be running," and looking forward to the next time I go. My times of running are transcendent moments. I connect with nature and with a wider perspective in which my own problems become recontextualized as small, local, and manageable, losing the inflated cosmic proportions they can sometimes assume during my moments of despair. Despair itself becomes reconceptualized as merely human.

As I run, I feel like a very small dot, moving slowly in a huge landscape. I feel both tired and powerful as I propel myself across the face of the earth. Illusions fall away in such a pure physical encounter with exactly what I can and cannot do. There it is. I see what I can do, but I also experience exactly how difficult it is. It is difficult and easy, both. At every moment, I can choose how hard to push. I watch too how I make these decisions. I try simply to notice rather than judge. In this, I learn about who I am in new ways.

For example, I used to have a habit of pushing myself very hard. But after my encounter with burnout, something in me has changed. I see it reflected in my running. Keeping the running going is too important to me now to risk injury. I am not as inclined to push as hard as I used to do, and I see in this the growth of a very real self-compassion.

I saw an article in our local paper not long ago about an 82 year old woman who has been running for 30 years. There was a photo of her, and she looked great: not only fit, but happy. I thought: "I want to be like her when I'm her age!"

Keeping with it is much more important than how quickly I progress.

I will have to keep telling myself this, because it will get harder as the daylight hours get shorter and the weather gets colder. And so I remind myself too that this is an opportunity to notice the changing seasons more vividly. That is part of the journey too.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Running, Yes; Research, Well, Er...

My running still goes well and is still on track!

But my research plan? Well, er, once I realized that I'd lost momentum, I decided to pour energy this week into getting caught up and even ahead in certain lingering administrative matters (mostly having to do with my ever fascinating life as department chair), vowing to myself to get back on track with the research this coming week for sure!

But it's a dangerous tactic. Since of course I didn't quite accomplish all I wanted to accomplish, it's awfully tempting to put it off one more week. But that quickly would become a slippery slope! So I will do my best to resist that temptation.

Besides, a big part of my lack of success this week at accomplishing all that I wanted to accomplish was that I wasn't working very efficiently, in large part because I was swimming in the molasses of depressive symptoms again, which in turn I think was mainly due to losing a sense of who I am and what I feel called to do in life, which itself is due mostly to the fact that I've lost momentum on my research.

So, the solution to all of my woes is to follow my research schedule strictly again next week!

I've started by working on it a bit today. And it's helping my mood significantly.

Surprisingly, despite all of this background drama in my life, the teaching is going very well. I am grateful for that. My students this semester are really splendid!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More on Running

Strangely enough, one of the new features of my running program that helps make it work for me is my required days off. On the days that are not my required days off, if I'm tired and having trouble getting up, I think to myself, "Look, I have to take tomorrow off, so I really need to go today," and, surprisingly, that works!

My previous system was to go at least four times a week, but with the implication that more was better, and without specifying which days (except that I could take no more than two days off in a row, but only rarely: preferably only one).

Nice and flexible, yet clear, right?

But in the morning waking-up haze of having to make a new decision each day, it was too much for me. It became far too easy to find excuses not to go, especially as the semester wore on, time pressures intensified, and the days got shorter and colder. If two days elapsed without running, I knew that I'd have to run now a few days in a row to make my four-times-per-week goal, and so the pressure to go every day would increase. But if (when) that pressure became too much for me and I let myself slip to missing more than two days, then I realized that my next time out would be perceptibly harder. Going out would confirm this, which was discouraging, and so before I knew it, I found myself well along the path of giving up entirely.

The feature that is working surprisingly well for me this time is my specifying exactly which days I must run, and exactly which days I must not run. No new decisions to make. The decision is already made. I just comply. And if I'm grumpy about having to go out, I remind myself that I'll be glad I did, and I also remind myself that tomorrow I get to stay in, and there I go. Simple.

It's funny that this is kind of negative when I usually try to find positive motivations, but, hey, it's working for me right now, so I'll accept it!

And I also trust that the positive addiction (that I'm already seeing signs of) will grow as my fitness level increases.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Semester is Rolling

The semester is fully underway now.

I've been keeping up with my running schedule! I've now had two weeks of 4 times of going out for a 30-minute walk/run, and can run continuously for 5 minutes. I then add in other times of running as I am able to manage for the next 10-15 minutes. This walk/run is framed by 10 minutes each of walking to warm up and cool down. I am really really happy that I have been able to do this. To succeed for two weeks is a solid step along the way of instituting something as a new habit in one's life.

My classes are starting off pretty well, I think. One course I'm teaching is part of a new experimental program we might institute, and I was pleased to receive permission to teach it as a pass/fail course. This will greatly simplify my life, because I can give students feedback without being evaluative about it!

Shockingly enough, one student dropped the course, claiming that it was too demanding in her already demanding schedule! But also, interestingly enough, already I could tell on the first day that she wasn't really going to do this. What put her off? Mostly I have very good rapport with my students, but every now and then I do encounter a student who, so to speak, takes one look at me and runs as fast as possible in the opposite direction. I try not to take the personally. Since they don't really know me yet, maybe it just indicates that somehow I remind them of someone in their past that they had a bad experience with. While I know to give people the benefit of the doubt until I really do get to know them, young people especially maybe haven't learned this in life yet.

But I have to admit that the design of this course is pretty intense. It's a chance for sophomores to connect philosophy with real life. (The course is called, "The Meaning of Life.") And I think students see that I'm really serious about this, and some students are really drawn to this and find it exciting, but others are terrified -- and maybe for good reason!

At any rate, to be honest, I'm kind of pleased to be able to say to some of my dubious colleagues, "I scared one student away from my pass/fail course," because most of my colleagues think that pass/fail courses are fluff courses. Those who know me and have examined my teaching know that all of my courses are demanding, in very good ways. But those who don't know me so well still do know that I question our grading system (I'm kind of famous on campus for that), and so they are inclined to scrutinize my various experiments with grading somewhat critically. I don't mind. I think this is healthy and important. I totally agree with them that we don't want to change our system unless we are sure that doing so would genuinely improve the effectiveness of the kind of education we want to provide. And I know that I haven't myself figured out how to do this, and so I don't presume that my experiments so far are anything more than experiments. I have not developed a system I myself am fully happy with yet.

My research did stall out last week, not so much because of the busyness of the start of a new semester, but because of new extraordinary events in my life. But I think that things are calming down again, and I did find some time to work on research again yesterday.

Just when I was starting to think that I had calmed the forces that bear down on me imposing great pressure upon me, they begin to intensify again. In counseling, I continue to work on trying to understand my own role in all of this, and how to deal with it effectively.

Meanwhile, I haven't been oblivious to current events in the world around me. I just haven't been blogging about them. There's a lot I could say about politics, for example, but, well, don't get me started...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My New Schedule for My Life

Long-term readers have probably detected patterns in my blogging, and one of those patterns is that a key way that I get psyched for a new academic year is to plan my schedule, treating this as an artistic task: the art of creating a Good Day.

I've read back on my previous attempts, and think I have a better sense of what works and what does not work, and so, with brand new optimism, I hereby present my latest version:

1. Running. Today I got up early and went for a run! Because of this one-day success (the first time in about a year that I've actually gone running, as such), I now perhaps ridiculously think that I can integrate this permanently into my life at long last! Now, lest my patient readers think I've turned inexplicably irrational, let me explain. First of all, there have been times of my life when I've succeeded in maintaining a morning running schedule. In fact, this worked well for me two summers ago, when I even ran in a 5K at the end of the summer, and last summer -- until it got interrupted by my (minor) surgery. I tried to pick it up again last fall, but it failed miserably. Someone told me that maybe I'm just not a morning person. But my attempts to re-locate exercise to other parts of the day ended up failing too because my schedule just gets too busy and complex during the academic year.

But I've re-evaluated what went wrong last fall. I had classes every morning at 8:30. As the daylight hours get shorter, and the weather gets colder, it got harder and harder for me to get up early enough to fit the running in, until I did give up in discouragement.

But this semester is different. I only have 8:30 classes two days a week. So my plan is simple: get up at 6:00 am every morning, and on the mornings that I don't have 8:30 classes, go for a run. The mornings I do have 8:30 classes I can skip. In fact, building in these allowed days off will be good for me, I think -- otherwise I can push myself too hard too soon and risk injury (since, after all, I keep getting older as time passes...!)

On weekends I'll try to keep to the schedule in terms of what time I get up in the morning, but I'll let myself decide whether to run, or just walk, or give both a miss, based on how I feel. I'll try to go at least once during the weekend, but that's not a hard and fast rule.

The truth is, establishing a three- to four-day-a-week pattern will be a vast improvement over what I've managed lately. It is enough to build a solid base of fitness.

I think this is crucial for me, because when I do exercise regularly, I feel better about life, and better about myself. The effect is immediate. I'm feeling it right now! And the truth is, this is a nice way to start the day! Instead of worrying immediately about work, I will know that I will have this time for myself, to do something good for myself, and to immerse myself in nature: a world bigger than me and my little concerns! It will anchor me in much-needed Perspective!

And my training program is simple: Walk 10 minutes. Run as much as I feel like in the next span of 10-15 minutes. Walk 10 minutes.

I can gradually expand the middle section, marking with celebration certain milestones like "running 5 minutes continuously without strain," "running 10 minutes continuously without strain," etc., until I can run 30 minutes continuously again, framed within 5-10 minute warm-up and cool-down periods. When I'm there, I'll let myself stay there, and perhaps even start entering 5K races again if I feel inspired to do so.

2. Another feature of my schedule is that I am building in dedicated research times again. This sort of worked for long stretches well into each semester last year, and so my optimism is well-grounded, I think. My previous attempts have not been total successes, but they have not been total failures either. And I think I've addressed some problematic patterns I've noticed from the past.

So the plan is that on the days I have class later in the day, I start off with two hours of research (Monday and Wednesday; on Friday this extends to lunchtime). On the days I have my 8:30 class, I will go to my carrel immediately after class and work for an hour. This still gives me space to plan for my later class.

The key is that I must go immediately after class, without pausing to check e-mail. In the past, I allowed a half-hour gap to get a cup of tea and check e-mail, and that was my undoing -- I got caught up into dealing with administrative matters until then I had to shift attention to class prep again.

My new plan is to not check e-mail, but deal with all of that after my afternoon class.

3. Music practice. As is my usual schedule, I do this in the late afternoon or evening -- as soon as I get home, or, if getting home presses too close to dinner, after dinner then. Then the rest of the evening after music practice is time to do more work if I need to, or (rarely) to relax if I need rest.

4. Like I mentioned before, I will let Sundays be sabbath days.

So, I am feeling really good about all of this! Empowered by what looks like a good schedule, I think I may succeed in managing my busy life well while maintaining momentum on my research!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Odds and Ends

1. I went to a meeting the other day. The other faculty were in such high spirits they were bouncing off each other and ricocheting around the room. I think it is really funny how giddy and happy professors do become as a new school year starts. They keep talking as if they are rueful that the summer is coming to an end, but if you watch them work and watch how they interact with each other, you cannot help but notice that they are really happy and excited.

2. I've had a string of computer problems. Some are because we got new computers at work over the summer, and switched from XP to Vista. But others are totally unrelated. For example, my computer monitor went up in smoke all of a sudden. Now I have a new flat-screen monitor. I feel very modern and up-to-date now. The funny thing is that I had just heard that that can happen to the old CRT monitors, but I had never known it to happen to anyone. Then it suddenly happens to me! I do like that the new monitor takes up less space and uses less energy.

3. Speaking of being modern and up-to-date, I got an iPod for my birthday. I've been having fun loading a bunch of my CDs onto it. Then I make playlists that, for example, bring together different versions of Irish tunes as played by different groups. All of this has me listening to more music, more intentionally now.

4. When I received news that my natural father died, I made a new playlist of "laments" and listened to it and cried.

5. Then I finally picked up my flute again and played a bunch of laments, and didn't cry, but was sad to realize that my Irish father (well, of Irish descent) would never hear me play Irish traditional music.

6. I have been having trouble working, which at times has put me in a bit of a panic since the school year is rapidly approaching. But suddenly on Thursday I did work very well again. On Friday I was back to being moody and didn't work well. Today, though, I'm actually feeling optimistic.

7. Someone wrote to me yesterday to encourage me not to give up on trying to start a Peace Studies program here where I teach (I had been contemplating giving up because of all the other pressures in my life), and to ask me to take a leadership role in forming an Irish Session in our area. I found myself enormously grateful that someone valued me for two of the things I most value about myself (my interest in peace studies; my interest in traditional music), and also grateful that this person was also offering real help and support in both of these endeavors.

I've had lots of good ideas, but too often feel alone and unsupported as I try to carry them out. That's what led to my burnout. Last year I pulled away from a lot. But in recent weeks, I've started considering what I need to bring back into my life in order to feel meaningfully connected to people (in ways that are supportive of how I feel called). I feel I've healed enough from my burnout now that I can cautiously try to add some things back, as long as I'm careful not to overdo it again. I also have to be careful to add them back in ways that don't place undue pressure upon me.

So the fact that someone else has ideas about how to move forward in these two endeavors, and is willing to play a role, but also values my input, really means a lot to me. I feel a sense that at last the universe is trying to help me instead of dauntingly resisting my every effort!

There are other ways too that things I thought would be really challenging this coming year might in fact be resolved much more easily than I had expected, but we'll have to see.

All of this shows me how hard my life really has been in recent years. Everything has tended to be much harder than I had expected, finally wearing me down to quite serious burnout and depression.

But maybe things don't always have to be this hard. Dare I believe that some things in my life might actually start to become easier and more fulfilling? Is that really possible?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Letting Myself Be

What I'd like to do is go for long walks and wander aimlessly.

But a new academic year rapidly approaches. I still need to finish getting ready. Sometimes it's good to try to work. Other times, it's hopeless. Fortunately, I still have not had to press myself.

Sometimes I sink into real depression again. Other times, moments of being really glad to be alive break through like those rays of light between storm clouds -- unbelievably bright, but passing by so fleetingly. I am glad for them, though. They remind me that there really is a brilliant sun behind the clouds. I do know this even when I am not directly seeing it.

And sometimes I actually believe that I can enter into the new academic year with a whole new attitude: keeping "in touch" and staying centered.

Lately I've started avoiding work as much as possible, but I sense that new ideas about how to handle it well are brewing under the surface. So, when it is time, then I will be ready and I will know how to take it on with grace and effectiveness.

So I hope.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not Really Moving Forward Very Well

Ok, I'm afraid I have to take that back. I'm not really moving forward very well, after all.

I thought that having a final Interlibrary Loan deadline for two important books yesterday would motivate me to finish them over the weekend. And these are fascinating and wonderful books, highly relevant for the research project that I am very much interested in and enjoying working on. Yet, I've been having a very hard time concentrating.

So Richard M's recent comment, and similar sentiments from other friends, remind me to be patient with myself. An event like this is big in a person's life.

I have felt very close to my father after receiving the news, because of course such news gets you revisiting old memories, and doing what you can to find out more about the person and his life, such as talking at length with other family members. Having a mystery associated with it all maybe intensifies the inquiry.

So, feeling so close in this sort of way, I am startled every morning when I wake up and remember that he is gone. Initially when I wake up I am happy because I feel close. Sometimes I find myself in the middle of a stream of thought and am thinking, "I can't wait to ask him about that!" But then I remember with a jolt: "Oh, wait a minute: he died! I can't ask him any of this!" And I am stunned at the finality of it. I'm really never going to see him again.

How naive of me to think after the first intense wave of emotion that that's it: I'm ready to move on. Because my father hadn't been much in my life, really, I tried to tell myself that my sadness was just a temporary intensification of a sadness I've lived with all my life, and that I'd be able to move on with my life pretty quickly then.

Each loss is its own unique story, following its own unique path of grief. And you don't really know what it is like until you are in it. Slowly it is dawning on me that I am still just barely in the early stage of grieving.

So, yes, I will try to be patient with myself.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Moving Forward Again

A new school year approaches, and this is probably a good thing even though I keep thinking and saying that I'd like another two months, at least.

I would like to say that the approach of a busy schedule focuses my mind and motivates me to use the rest of my summer well, but, to be honest, in the face of recent events in my life I have not been well-focused at all. And last night I even went into a tailspin of panic about it all.

But in the light of day, I'm doing better again.

There are ways I am looking forward to the coming year, because things are on course for us to make some changes in our department that I believe will make my life easier in the long run. And in other dimensions of my work life and my personal life too, I feel much clearer about my goals and what I need, and so I feel optimistic that I will be able to continue to make changes that will bring my life more in line with what I want it to be. But the process still feels long and hard.

As I look ahead with trepidation to the coming busyness, I am considering reviving my Sabbath idea as a strategy for maintaining sanity. I am going to let Sundays be stress-free days. On these days, I will avoid anything that stresses me out, but I am allowed to do anything that I enjoy. This will be one day a week during which I will be intentional about not letting anxiety rule my life. This weekly discipline (which hopefully will infuse the rest of my life as well) will help me to keep in touch with positive motivations, and keep in touch with a sense of how God is calling me (instead of what the people in my life want from me).

Since there are in fact many dimensions of my work that I enjoy, this version of Sabbath is not for me a day of "no work," but a day to remember to try to tune into positive motivations and get centered again if the week has pushed me off center. It's a day to take stock of how things are going, and to seek refreshment.

Just setting this in place cheers me up and gives me hope.

There are some other decisions I have to make too about how to set up my weekly schedule to help me keep up with my busy schedule, and so I may be writing about this more in the coming days.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On the Death of My Distant Father

I received word last week that my natural father died. I had not seen him in 30 years, and had not spoken with him in 9 years. I did my best to try to keep in contact, but it is a long-standing mystery in my life why he has not wanted to keep in touch with my brother and me.

I had always hoped for the chance to see him again, or at least talk with him again. I had always hoped to solve this mystery and come to understand. Now I am adjusting to the realization that it is very likely that I will never know.

To have a parent not take an interest in your life is hard to live with. All my life I’ve been trying to do something spectacular to justify my existence and prove my worthiness for love. “Maybe if I did something really great and wonderful and became famous, my father would finally notice me and be happy to be related to me,” was a primary motivating force throughout my life, though I did not consciously realize this for a long time. By the time I did realize it, I was able to deconstruct all of the premises supporting this belief, but, in a way, it was too late. The pattern had become too deeply ingrained in my entire being. My whole being had been indelibly shaped by a constant desire to prove myself worthy of existence and love.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, my cousin redoubled his efforts to get him to be in touch with us, but to no avail. My father even forbade my cousin to let us know that he was ill. Thankfully, my cousin did break the rules to let us know that he had died – if he had not, I was perilously close to finding out through the internet. I periodically did internet searches to see what my dad was up to. He was, as they say, “highly respected in his field,” and so has a pretty impressive web presence. But the online obituaries now appearing do not mention my brother and me at all among the list of survivors.

It’s hard to know how to handle a death like this, when the “official” survivors don’t want us involved, for reasons we do not understand. I revert back to the child I was when I did last know him, and with childlike simplicity absolutely cannot fathom why other people are blocking two young kids from coming into that sacred space of honoring and saying goodbye to their dead father. Never mind that we are complicated grown-up adults now – still, we are solid good people, well-respected in our own fields. No one should have any reason not to want to see who we have become.

From afar, we try to peer over a fence too high for us to see over. Through small cracks in the fence (the internet), we catch glimpses of love and laughter and appreciation that seems otherworldly to us, perpetually out of reach. Is it real? Was he real?

Did he not care, or did he care so much he couldn’t handle it?

How would all of our lives be different if only … ?

But of course such questions can drive a person crazy. It is too late now.

I’ll go on trying to prove myself worthy of love, because it is the only way I know how to live. It doesn’t matter that it’s hopeless, because I already did figure that out: human love anyway is always inadequate. Strangely, this thought has come to comfort me. It sounds bleak, but it has helped me to become more forgiving and more accepting. Over the years, I have come to see how I’ve always been surrounded by love. So what if it has seldom or never been perfect? Why should I expect it to be? Do I love in a perfect way? No! I wish I did, but I know that I fall short because of my own limitations. So I can understand why others fall short too. No one is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent—except God. There is a perfect love that is there for us, but never will any one human being manifest it all perfectly.

So, even though there is a lot I do not understand about my father and my own distant past, I actually do believe that he loved me. Much of that love never reached me, and much of my own love for him was blocked from reaching him too. This is tragic.

But the love that was there was and is still real.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hanging on to Summer as Long as I Can!

People keep pointing out to me that the new school year is approaching. I try to ignore them.

I'm hanging on to summer as long as I possibly can. I'm trying to live fully in the present. The weather is still nice. The students are not back yet. I still do have time to keep writing, and to accomplish a few more things that I had hoped to accomplish this summer.

I am happy with how the summer has gone so far. I'm glad that I got a good research schedule going right away. I've gotten a lot done, and hope to finish the article I've been working on before the school year starts. If I don't quite make this goal (I've gotten distracted lately by computer problems. We got new computers at work this summer. Need I say more?), I'll just have to be sure to keep making time every day to keep working on it! It would be tragic to lose momentum on this project.

I am glad that I went to the conferences at Woodbrooke, and that I also scheduled research time there. Not only did I get a lot done, but I got good affirmation of what I am working on. It really means a lot when others value what you are doing!

It was also great to go to Boxwood again. It gave me the chance to take stock anew of my musical life and begin to formulate new ideas about the place of music in my life.

Both of these trips helped me to affirm dimensions of my life that are really important to me. I feel better in touch with who I really am and what my life is really all about.

I've made a lot of progress this past year in recovering from burnout and reorienting my life from other-centeredness to getting back in touch with my own sense of call. It will still be a challenge to live true to this shift once the school year gets going, because I will be very busy again, and will still be chair of my department. But I'll be patient with myself and will do my best.

There is more that I hope to accomplish this summer, before the academic year begins again. If I am successful, I'll be reporting on this; if not, I'll still be pleased with what I have done well this summer.

In the meantime, the summer is not over. There still is time, and I will continue to exercise the spiritual discipline of living in the present!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Back from Summer Travels

I'm back from my second and final summer trip -- to Boxwood again. It was a really great experience.

I took the train and really appreciated the reflection time if offered me. On the way there, I read parts of Barry Green's The Mastery of Music, as well as parts of William Ury's The Power of a Positive No. On the way back, I mostly slept and edited my mini-discs. I was really exhausted after a week of little sleep in order to fit everything in: full days of classes and full evenings of concerts and late-night sessions!

I was in a pretty good place musically and psychologically for this. I was able to just focus and learn without the distraction and interference of my usual confidence issues with music. Is it that I'm feeling confident at last? It is more that I've come into acceptance that music is a necessary part of my life. I no longer feel apologetic about this. I no longer have a guilty sense of being a "pretender." It doesn't matter whether I'm "good enough" or not. Of course I'd like to get really good. But issues of being good or not being good do not matter to me any more. What interests me more now is authenticity of engagement in the journey itself.

Engaging with music is a lifelong journey, and I perceive my own playing and the playing of others in a totally new way now. Of course I still love brilliant expressive playing, but I've come to appreciate that that is not all that there is to hear in music. A skilled listener can listen to music that does not always reach the heights of brilliance, and still find much of value in that music.

Somewhat related, this year at Boxwood, David McGuinness led a series of classes on "Listening." (By the way, he has a fun blog.) We were guided through various exercises that helped us to sharpen our listening skills and respond more quickly, intentionally, and accurately to what we were hearing. David opened these classes with eloquent words on the importance to musicians of good listening. All week, those of us in this group were hearing the birds, traffic, and fog horns in new ways!

There is lots more to say, about Boxwood and about my work this summer, but I also have a lot to catch up on now as the summer begins to draw to a close, so I will close for now but will continue to write as I can.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Thoughts from My Recent Trip

I wanted to share some more thoughts and impressions from my recent trip to Woodbrooke and the conferences.

First of all, we were sad that Richard M could not attend the FAHE conference this year. We missed him. The Quaker Philosophers did gather again for the second year in a row to talk about the intersection of our lives as Quakers and our lives as Philosophers. It was good to share further thoughts about this.

For myself, I am really happy to have connected Quakerism and philosophy explicitly in my research now. The more I work on this, the happier I become. And I was delighted to find that so many others are interested in my project. I'm hoping to finish an article by the end of the summer to send out for publication.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about Quakerism, worrying about the declining numbers of Quakers, and wondering what kind of renewal is needed. I am encouraged by the signs of renewal in the Quaker blogging world, and the Convergent Friends discussions. But what I was wondering specifically, due to the nature of the conferences I was attending, was whether Quaker researchers have a special role in the renewal of Quakerism.

A theme that came up a lot in the second conference (the joint conference of the Quaker Studies Research Association and the Quaker Historians and Archivists) was whether it is time to write a new comprehensive history of Quakerism, in the spirit of the "Rowntree" Quaker History Series. That series was written at a particular time, and had its own purpose. So why now is there talk about writing a new and updated history? What is it about this time that prompts this question now? What would be the purpose for doing this now?

It is not surprising to me that we Friends do want to take stock of our history in a comprehensive way again now. I myself can think of several answers to the above questions, but I think it may be more interesting to leave them as questions -- or queries perhaps.

There are other disciplines involved in Quaker Studies as well, besides history: sociology, theology, economics, philosophy. And of course the interdisciplinary field of Peace Studies intersects with Quaker Studies too. What role could these fields play in the renewal of Quakerism?

Another question/query I've been thinking about is whether Quaker scholars have a responsibility to write more about Quakerism for a wider audience. A lot of our writing is and needs to be for each other. When we write for wider audiences, we tend to keep our Quakerism in the background, and often don't mention it at all. Probably some of this writing has to be this way. But, all of this leaves a gap. Should more of us be writing about Quakerism for a wider audience?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Back Home Again

Yesterday I departed from Woodbrooke and returned home.

It was a long day of travels. Of course, flying west, we chase the sun, which extends the day. This time, we covered 3 hours in about 7.5 hours, making each hour 2 hours and 30 minutes long! (See my earlier post about my arrival). We were flying a northern route to avoid the worst of the strong headwinds, and we had spectacular views of Greenland!

My visit to Woodbrooke was amazingly wonderful in many ways. I re-met old friends, and met lots of new friends. I got a lot of good research done. I worked very hard, and was happily tired by the end of my two weeks. Although I was sad to leave, I was also really fine about returning home, even looking forward to it. I have a feeling I will continue to find good excuses to return, and so this felt more like a "good-bye for now" than a "good-bye and I may never see you again!"

One of the nice things about getting older is the way one's sense of time changes. Long stretches of time no longer seem like solid walls of separation. Time in and of itself no longer seems real, as such. Instead, time and space shift and bend to allow changes, and to give you different experiences. In that shifting, you are brought close to some people for a time, and to other people for another length of time, and you go back and forth, and in all of that, relationships are formed and evolve and change, and they are what is real.

Everyone feels close in my heart, and so I do not feel far away from them at all.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Immersion in Quaker History, and Reflections on Language

The joint conference of the Quaker Studies Research Association and the Quaker Historians and Archivists here at Woodbrooke has been going well. Not only was I already immersed in Quaker history from my own reading, but now this weekend I've been surrounded by historians talking about other dimensions of Quaker history as well. As I read some very old books from the library, I cannot help but wonder which early Friends may have themselves touched these books!

The version of the Bible that is common here is the New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized Edition. Intrigued, I read the Preface that explains why an "Anglicized Version" is needed. Short answer: British English and American English are diverging! I have been trying to notice the divergences, but I do not pick up on them too easily. I have spent enough time in the British Isles in the past that I adjust to the differences fairly easily. But there have been enough Americans around for these two conferences that I do notice the differences when I see them get confused. Last night, for example, the Friends in Residence offered us "torches" if we wanted to go into Bournville to watch the fireworks (they were having some kind of festival there). The Americans in the room suddenly imagined us all trekking through the night carrying flaming branches of wood, while the British and Australians were just thinking of (what Americans call) flashlights!

Besides, I have been reading lots of 17th century English, which confuses all the more any sense I have of what "normal" English should be like! Now I have a habit of suspending belief about what any word or phrase I read or hear is supposed to mean! (For example: "Is that use of 'want' supposed to mean 'desire' or 'lack'?")

In the preface to a new "old" version of Barclay's Apology, the editor explains why it is better not to translate 17th century English into contemporary English. The English back then was very close to English now, he insists. If you try, you can get used to it. And I have found this to be true.

I cannot help but wonder how someone from back then would hear our use of English now. Can we imagine how much English will change in the future?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The rest of the FAHE conference went very well. I thought I would be blue when that conference ended and most people left; while I was a little sad to see friends go, I was also simultaneously happy that I did not have to leave so soon myself.

I have been working further on my research, using the excellent Quaker library here. The rhythm of the days, and the wonderful spirit here, make for a very supportive and inspiring atmosphere. I would add that the beautiful gardens help as well, but instead they are quite distracting, really! When I go for my daily walk, it's hard not to spend hours and hours out there! But I'm not really complaining, and, to tell the truth, this does add to the supportive and inspiring atmosphere, of course.

On Thursday, those who went on the 1652 Quaker tour will come back through, and it will be fun to see them again. On Friday, the joint conference of the Quaker Studies Research Association and the Quaker Historians and Archivists begins. I chose not to present my work to these groups, because sometimes historians think that the way philosophers work with history is strange! Instead, I will talk informally with people about what I am working on and ask for suggestions and advice. And I will attend the presentations of others to get a feel for the world of high-level academic Quaker Studies.

So far, I have been getting good encouragement about how I am bringing my philosophical and my Quaker interests together directly in my research. It is very exciting to me to be doing this. And to find that others find this interesting too and are encouraging me is just wonderful. I feel like I am finally more directly moving into the kind of academic identity I really want -- one that includes my Quaker self integrally.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Conference Observations

The conference is going very well so far. Some of the sessions really feel like "gathered Meetings."

A theme that I keep noticing both in sessions and in my conversations with people is "living with creative tensions." Don't try to force resolution. Or, more importantly, don't berate yourself for not being able to force resolution.

Yet, funnily enough (as they say here), this bit of advice itself stands in creative tension with another theme I notice: the quest for the integrated life (in contrast to the divided life).

Do creative tensions mark a divided life? If we should not try to find resolution, how then do we find our way to the integrated life?

The conference theme is "Where Faith and Practice Meet." The tension we talk about as Quaker academics is the tension we often feel between our Quakerness and some of the demands of the academic life.

One suggestion that emerged yesterday that I found especially helpful: "Where do faith and practice meet? Answer: Love. Or: Grace, the highest form of Love."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Happy to Have Arrived!

I made it to Woodbrooke for my conferences and research!

My travels all went well. I departed on Monday evening. The flight was nice. While the sun did set, it never got completely dark. There was a band of orange twilight fading to a brilliant deep blue stretching from the north-northwest to the north-northeast, and I had a lovely view from my window seat. At 12:45 am (according to the time zone I was leaving), the sun rose again!

Trying unsuccessfully to sleep, I engaged in mental computations and realized that, flying east as we were on this plane, the combination of our speed and our crossing through time zones meant that each hour we traversed was only taking 35 minutes. Thus we managed to cover 12 hours in only 7 hours! (I like putting it this way. It shows a human-experiential form of the strange relativity of time and distance.)

Because I got so little sleep on the flight, it was hard not to doze off on the train ride to Birmingham, even though I was so happy to be here and loved looking out the window! From the train station, I took the bus to Woodbrooke. Even though it was more than two years ago that I had come before, it all felt so familiar again, and I was unbelievably happy to arrive. Even on the hair-raising bus ride, I found myself smiling uncontrollably, and at times laughing. I didn't care that the people around me might have been wondering about my sanity. "How and why could this scruffy traveler be so happy?" they may have wondered.

And then was the magical moment of walking up to and into the entrance of Woodbrooke. I felt like I was coming home again, back to a very important spiritual home for me.

I know it is the kind of place that a lot of people regard as an important spiritual home. We are very fortunate, those of us who find places like this in our lives!

I quickly got settled in. All traces of fatigue had evaporated -- my happiness blasted all the fatigue away. A few other early arrivals were happy to see me, and I was happy to see them. And I was delighted to greet again those who work at Woodbrooke who remember me from my visit from 2 years ago (and one who had been a resident with me during the year I was here a while back!).

Even though normally in life I am an introvert, some extrovert side of me emerges at times and in places like this! I chatted happily with people during tea, for the rest of the afternoon, over dinner, and after dinner.

At 9:00 pm local time, I did finally make it to bed (reluctantly skipping Epilogue -- just this once!) and had a pretty good night's sleep. At one point I woke up in the middle of the night at first thinking, "oh, it was just a dream -- I'm not really at Woodbrooke ... am I? Oh, wait, I am!" Amazed awe.

Thus begins my new journey...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Soon to Depart

My next adventure begins soon. I depart tomorrow for Woodbrooke for the FAHE conference. I will arrive in the morning on Tuesday.

Lately, I have found myself unusually emotional and anxious. (Ok, once upon a time, anxiety was a way of life for me. It's actually kind of nice to find myself experiencing it as an unwelcome intrusion again: that suggests that I actually have become mostly not-anxious in life in general, which is good!) I think the reason I am so worked up ironically is because I am so looking forward to this trip! I can hardly believe I am really going. You see, Woodbrooke is one of my very favorite places of all. It means so much to me because of the year I spent there way back when. This was such an important year for me.

I had dropped out of college. I was transitioning from thinking of myself as an aspiring scientist to thinking of myself as an aspiring philosopher and theologian, although I did not fully realize this then. Woodbrooke at that time had a year-long program of informal studies (divided into three terms), and I was fortunate enough to be able to piece together the means to stay for the year, with the help of scholarship assistance and work-study assistance from Woodbrooke. I did, in a leap of faith, pour in every penny of my own remaining savings, as the final step that made this possible. Looking back, I admire that I was brave enough to trust my own intuitions this much, because it really was the right decision. That year at Woodbrooke was spiritually formative for me.

I studied Quaker Studies. I did a lot of writing that helped me to shift my intellectual identity into philosophy and theology. I met a number of people who kept encouraging me to continue my formal studies, and to do so at a Quaker college, such as Earlham (which is in fact what I did next in life). I loved the daily discipline of two times of worship per day (in the morning and the evening). I met people from all over the world. I played a lot of music with a small chamber group we formed. The community and the structure of daily life were wonderfully supportive to me.

When I went back two years ago to spend a month there when I was on sabbatical, I found it wonderful all over again. A lot had changed, but the same supportive spirit was there. I've written about that experience here (March 2006).

This time I will be there two weeks, framed by two conferences, with a little time in-between for research.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Hard at Work on Research

Structure of My Summer Days

This year, I did not go into free fall in the transition from the busy pace of the academic year to the highly unstructured summer. This past semester, I actually adopted a pretty workable pace of life and so I didn't end the year gasping for breath and exhausted, and didn't feel the ground fall out from under me as the year ended. Instead, I had the foresight to put a plan into place -- a disciplined structure for my summer life -- and just kept going.

First we had some faculty development workshops which I attended. Initially, faculty complain about this happening right at the end of the academic year, but we always end up enjoying it and feeling somewhat inspired by it, and this year was no exception. Then after that, I just stepped into my new pattern of life without even thinking about it.

Here's how it works. I get up, have breakfast, and head into work as usual, except that instead of going to my office, I go to my library carrel. Then I work all morning on my research and writing. Usually I find it so much fun that it's hard to tear myself away for lunch, but I make myself do so at a reasonable time anyway, because I have learned that overenthusiasm is the first stage of burnout! It is really important to pace oneself. I have a tendency to push myself really really hard -- which is part of why I got so severely burned out to begin with! Now I'm trying to stop just before I really feel ready. That way, I am always eager to get back to work!

After lunch, I do go into my office to deal with administrative matters in my life as chair, and to attend to the one summer independent study project I took on this year. If I finish what I need to finish in time, I go back to my carrel and resume work on research. If the afternoon's tasks take all afternoon, then I call it a day when dinner time draws near.

In the evenings, I go for my walk, practice music, and maybe do some more reading related to my research.

Throughout the day, if I run into friends over lunch or when taking short breaks to get a cup of tea, I go ahead and take time to chat and catch up.

It's a very nice life!

My Research

I am really excited about my current research project. I have been focusing on a paper I am presenting at this year's Friends Association for Higher Education (FAHE) conference, to be held at one of my favorite places of all, the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre! Some of you may have guessed that this was where I spent a month during my sabbatical a couple of years back. I also had spent a year there once upon a time, a long time ago. So it is very exciting to me that we are having our FAHE conference there this year! I will be staying on after the conference to continue my research, and then will also attend the joint conference of the Quaker Studies Research Association (QSRA) and the Quaker Historians and Archivists (CQHA), also being held at Woodbrooke.

My project requires me to be reading some of the writings of the early Friends, and I always love reading these early writings. I am especially thankful to the Digital Quaker Collection at the Earlham School of Religion for providing access to many of these early writings.

I have been trying to track down something obscure and difficult, that is not easy to track down using typical academic search techniques, but I've been making good progress and so I am very pleased at how this is coming along. I feel like a detective. Initially I had an intuition about something, but finding the historical evidence to support my theory was harder than I expected. Still, one clue leads to another, and slowly I've been piecing together a story that I think has not really been told in the way I am telling it. So I am eager to receive feedback from learned Quaker scholars and philosophers, to find out if I really am on the right track. If so, I plan to develop this into an article I will send off for publication.

I'll share more about this as it develops.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

In the last two years (2006 and 2007), I have been posting some numbers for Memorial Day, and wish today to continue in that tradition.

Number killed on 9/11: 2993 (same as listed last year). Wikipedia breaks this number down as follows:

"There were 2,974 fatalities, excluding the 19 hijackers: 246 on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,603 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon. An additional 24 people remain listed as missing. All of the fatalities in the attacks were civilians except for 55 military personnel killed at the Pentagon. More than 90 countries lost citizens in the attacks on the World Trade Center." (Source:

Number of U.S. killed as a result of U.S. military activities since 9/11: 4758 (up from 3455 as of this time last year)
507 U.S. military killed in Afghanistan (
up from 390 as of last year),
4082 U.S. military killed in War on Iraq (up from 2844 as of last year),
at least 169 U.S. civilians (contractors) killed in Iraq (source for last year's summary number of 398 not available, but I found this number of U.S. contractors from


Number of Iraqi civilians killed since War on Iraq began: 84,050-91,713 (up from 64,400-70,540 reported last year).
(These figures are critiqued by many as being low estimates. See the Iraqi body count webpage, linked below.)


If you find figures that you believe are more accurate than the ones here, please let me know in "comments," and please cite your sources.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lessons from Burnout

Today I thought I would sum up what I have learned from burnout.

What burnout is: It's not just exhaustion, but exhaustion coupled with a sense of failure, or some sense that, after all of that effort, little was successfully accomplished in relation to the costs to your own well-being and maybe the well-being of those close to you as well.

It is important to note that the actual failure (or lack of success) might not be real. But to the person experiencing burnout, it seems real. The perception of failure may be biased by one or more of the following: (a) one's own habit of low self-esteem; (b) others who have been helped may not have expressed their appreciation out loud; (c) what failed was relatively minor in relation to accompanying successes, but the failure got a lot of attention and the successes got very little attention.

At any rate, this analysis of the experiences that contribute to burnout also gives clues as to how to heal from it.

1. Rest and time are important. While easy to say, this can be hard to accomplish. Life may not automatically let up for the burned out person, giving them time to rest. Hence...

2. The burned out person needs to find a way to scale back in order to create the right kind of time and space in which to rest. This can be hard -- it may require retraining bad habits of overcommitment. Ironically enough, the sense of failure can be useful. To understand why, see next...

3. The burned out person needs to process the sense of failure very carefully, avoiding the danger of denial on the one hand (pretending it never happened) and the danger of negative self-flagellation on the other hand (overexaggerating its importance). Is the failure real? How significant is it really, in proportion to related successes? Does it signify the importance of doing things differently next time, or does it signify that this is a kind of challenge that you need to let go of, and hand over to others? There are times when what we can learn from failure is "who we are not," and in truth, this can be quite liberating! I have found that saying, "No, I can't do that because, to be honest, I'm just not very good at it," with confidence and maybe even humor is far more effective than any other way of saying "no" I have ever tried! When I try more apologetic ways of saying "no," people have a hard time taking me seriously and keep asking me over and over again. But when I say, in a confident instead of pathetic way, "I'm really not very good at that," people do back down! So processing failures well, learning from them, and simplifying one's life accordingly, is a very important part of healing from burnout! It is a process in which you eventually forgive yourself, liberate yourself from future related disappointment, and can then move on toward a more positive future, with your life focused more effectively on what you really are good at and successful in. This leads to...

4. You need to have some positive, confidence-building experiences. These are not always easy to plan or manufacture, of course. But they also do not just "happen." You need to know yourself well enough to be alert for the right kinds of opportunities, and assertive enough to take them when they come.

5. You also need to pay attention to building a good support system. The tendency in burnout is to withdraw, and some withdrawal may be an important part of the healing process. But you have to be careful not to withdraw too much. Stay in touch with good supportive friends. Tell them you need their patience and support. Don't be afraid to seek professional help. And gradually work to nurture new positive relationships. It's okay during such a time to avoid trying or difficult relationships as much as possible and focus on the positive relationships as much as you can, because this is an important part of your healing. If troubled relationships need attention, you are better off waiting until you feel stronger before pouring a lot of attention into healing them.

So, in sum: simplify your life, rest, be patient with yourself, give yourself time, process your sense of failure without dwelling on it unhealthily, seek out positive, confidence-building experiences, and bolster your support system.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Coming Out of the Cocoon

I feel like lately I've been all wrapped up in a cocoon, but now I'm finally coming out. I feel all raw and bedraggled, but new. The warm spring air feels good. My wings are still damp and all folded up, but starting to open up and come to life. I'm not claiming to have turned into some spectacularly beautiful butterfly -- more like a drab, ho-hum moth -- but hey, having wings now is pretty cool! I look forward to seeing what flying is like. I'm excited about what it will be like to establish a whole new relationship with earth and sky. Already, I find myself perceiving the world in a whole new way: three-dimensionally instead of just two-dimensionally. A new life opens up before me.

This is what life can be like. Sometimes we have to curl up in a cocoon for a while as a prelude to a new transformation. The cocoon offers protection. It also hides from view the messiness of dramatic transformation. And the confinement of the cocoon prepares the being inside to desire and appreciate the much-expanded freedom that its completed transformation will bring.

This is what my life has been like. After years of steadily increasing intensity, by the end of last year, I was seriously burned out -- so much so that I didn't even realize it. Instead, I was dimly aware of the kind of depression that severe burnout brings, without fully understanding its cause.

So I curled up and withdrew as much as I could without letting go of all that I absolutely needed to do to keep my life and work moving along. I didn't realize that what I was doing was closing myself up in a cocoon. I had no idea that there would be a time when suddenly I would emerge and find myself transformed. I just instinctively needed peace and protection, time to heal and time to transform.

I don't really know what's next. I'm just happy to see the sun, and amazed to notice that I have wings now.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another Year!

We are finishing up another year! It's amazing how quickly an academic year can spin by! You're busy and busy and busy, and then all of a sudden, it's over! Just like that. You look around, dazed, watching the dust settle, and ask, "what just happened?"

And then you start to remember who you really are.

But things are not quite totally over yet. I did get my grades in, and that's a big moment. The pace changes rather suddenly after that, because life is no longer so intensely deadline-driven. There are still deadlines and meetings, but they all become more widely spaced.

The big change will be after graduation. This weekend will be busy with all of the graduation-related events, and then Commencement itself. At a small college, we are expected to participate in all of this, and it is good to do so. The students really do appreciate it. They get all sentimental about everything, and it's nice to catch these glimpses of just what this has all meant to them.

I am feeling especially close to this year's graduating class. There are a lot of students I'm really going to miss.

My classes ended very well, and I enjoyed reading all of my students' final papers.

I'm really looking forward to the summer. I'm very ready to get back to my research and writing again. I'm going to two conferences this summer, and the Boxwood Wooden Flute Festival again (as I've done and written about in the past).

And I've had some important breakthroughs that I'll try to write about soon.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Catching Up

Wow, I actually skipped the whole month of April! I don't think I've ever missed a whole month of posting before. Sorry about that!

Here is a short run-down of the news:

1. I've been trying to adjust to the realization that I have to continue as chair for two more years. Given this information, it is impossible to continue doing all that I have been doing. There were some things that I took on because I thought this was my last year as chair and so I thought that some new time would open up for me starting next year. So now I have had to re-evaluate what to continue with. I have tried to include others in this conversation, to help me discern. I came up with what I thought were very good ideas about how to keep going with the most important things that I uniquely could offer (and that I felt called to offer), but the powers that be would have none of it, unfortunately. I finally summon my energies to assert myself, my needs, and my priorities, but the world does not budge one inch. Feeling defeated, I am now having to let go of some things that I have put a lot of time and energy into in recent years. The other people who have been involved are disappointed. This has been hard.

2. (Related?) I came down with a bad case of strep throat in early April. Then it came back! I've now finished a second and quite powerful course of antibiotics and am glad to be off of that and feeling better!

3. (Related) I have renewed my vows to take better care of myself. Now that the weather is getting nicer, I'm going to reinstate an exercise plan. Phase 1 will be the modest (but highly effective) 30 minutes/30 days walking plan. It's very simple. Walk at least 30 minutes for 30 days in a row. That's long enough to establish this as a habit and build a base of fitness from which I can then start running again if I wish. Or I can just continue this much for the rest of my life and still be much better off than I have been lately! The "rules" I'm establishing around this are: (1) I am not allowed to try to run before these first 30 days (because I don't want to pressure myself or burn myself out with over-enthusiasm), and (2) I can walk longer than 30 minutes if I ever should wish so, but I still have to keep going out every day no matter what for at least 30 minutes.

4. I've recently come to terms with how severely burned out I was after the ridiculous busyness of last year. This year has been much more manageable, and slowly I've been healing from the burnout. Burnout is not only exhaustion from working too hard for too long, but also includes a sense of discouragement (some sense that all of that effort had not really been worth the cost). The more manageable load this year has helped me recover from the exhaustion component; the psychological component has been more challenging. It requires careful analysis of the causes of the sense of discouragement. In my complex life, this is complex work. There's no easily identifiable single element. But I've been making real progress and am starting to feel a real sense of hope that, even with continuing as chair for two more years, I can still bring my life closer to how I want it to be.

5. Related: A lot of the work I've been doing this year has been to shift from an essentially apologetic orientation to the world ("I'm sorry for taking up space on this planet. To make up for this, let me do something Spectacularly Good to justify my existence") to something so different I don't yet have a name or phrase to describe it. My long habit of living apologetically and orienting myself to (thinking that I could be) making everyone else around me happy ended up trapping me within a huge set of obligations and responsibilities that began to be too much for me, leaving me with two daunting tasks: (1) find a responsible way out of this tangled web, and (2) learn to live in a new way that would prevent this from happening again. I have been making my way out of the tangled web, one strand at a time. And I have have mostly succeeded in not adding new strands to the web. And I am slowly creating new habits of setting my own agenda and taking better care of myself.

6. I do need to come up for a name for the new way of being I am trying to establish for myself. It involves setting my own agenda, and taking better care of myself, and this kind of shift initially feels like a shift to a more selfish way of being, but that's not really it at all. All along, what has been centrally important to me is what I think of as "trying to discern what God calls me to do."

All along, the discernment process has included both looking within and looking outside of myself for clues and guidance. What do I like doing? What I am good at? What gives me joy? What is easy? What is hard but feels like an exciting challenge? What feels like it goes against my nature in potentially harmful ways? What do the people I trust ask for from me? What needs in the world do I feel most drawn towards addressing? What builds me up? What brings me down? What do people appreciate about me? What do I most value about myself?

But I had been giving priority to responding to what others want from me, lately in life. Now I am shifting priority to the more inward modes of discernment. The people around me may like me and appreciate me, and may want things from me that I am glad to offer, but they still don't know me as well as I know myself, and their caring for me is limited and somewhat conditioned just because there are limits to what any person can know about another.

Ultimately, I have a kind of responsibility for and to myself that no other person can do for me, no matter how much they care. And I owe it to others (as well as myself) to take this responsibility seriously, so that I can be the best person I can be. It is up to me to do this, precisely because no one else can do this for me. This is why it looks selfish but actually is not.

I know I have been working on this sort of thing for a long time, and maybe keep repeating it here in this blog, but this is, I think, a hard point for some people (such as myself) to "get." Maybe it's harder for women than for men, because women are acculturated to value and exemplify a certain model of "unselfishness." I certainly don't want to abandon unselfishness altogether. But there's a difference between a self-sacrificial unselfishness, and a non-self-sacrificial version of unselfishness. The latter is what I have been trying to find.