Monthly Archives: June 2005

From Way Out of Town

We hustled back to Evanston so that we could catch our beloved friend Jon Walters passing through town with his foster son Mangala (from Sri Lanka). Jon and Margaret went through college together; now Jon is professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Whitman College, spending loads of time in Sri Lanka, whence he brought a foster son to spend some time in the U.S.

Si, Margaret, Pippa, Jon, Mangala

Jon and Mangala spent the afternoon and evening with us, renewing their friendship with Si from the days when Si visited Sri Lanka, and with us from the good ol’ days at Bowdoin. Just wonderful to see Jon again, to meet Mangala, and for Si and Mangala to connect up. . . .

Si and Mangala

Meme Acceptance

I often try to avoid “everyone’s doing it” internet chains, but since Frank challenged me to name my six favorite songs, I’ll bite (I have a complex rationalization for why I’d participate in this one, but not others — but I can’t imagine that you’re interested).

Six favorites. That’s tough, given the sheer quantity of tune-age that’s flowed around me over the past skillion years. I have to pick something by Bruce Springsteen, so in a semi-arbitrary pick from among equally beloved selections, I’ll call “Badlands.” I have to pick something from the soul singles that first beguiled me into listening to AM radio; I thought I could pick something by the Supremes, or Gladys Knight and the Pips, to get an early start on gender balance, but for honesty’s sake I think I have to go off the Motown label to name Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say.” That’s not one of the songs that hooked me on the radio, but it’s a classic. I’m calling a dead heat for post-Beatles John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” both powerful songs that came to me at an impressionable time (count only as one). I owe Elvis Costello a pick; his Imperial Bedroom and King of America are my favorite albums of his, but the one song I put forward will be “Man Out of Time.” The Who: “Pure and Easy.” Michelle Shocked, “Holy Spirit,” from the Victoria Williams tribute album. There, that’s six (sort of).

That leaves out too much: the Indigo Girls, “Power of Two” (coming out ahead because all of Rites of Passage weighs so equally); the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”; Bob Dylan, goodness gracious, uh,“Tangled Up in Blue” (or “Buckets of Rain”); Billy Bragg, “Waiting For the Great Leap Forward”; Kirsty Maccoll, “Walking Down Madison” (though since her death, “Soho Square” resonates especially sadly); Rev. F. C. Barnes and Rev. Janice Brown, “Rough Side of the Mountain”; I eliminated Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” as not a “song” in the sense of the assignment; likewise Philip Glass’s “Koyanisqaatsi.” Of course, U2’s “Gloria.” The Kinks — hmmm, “Misfits”? Joni Mitchell, “Hejira”? The Jam, “That’s Entertainment” (the version from the album release, not the demo that often appears on greatest-hits compilations). The Stones: I think I’ll nominate “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” since it draws on a variety of their strengths, but my first Stones song back in the day was “Jumping Jack Flash.” Talking Heads, “The Great Curve.”

And there’s so much more. Ask me again.

So Long

Yesterday we kept pretty busy; Margaret had a short nap, but I was using that time to sort and upload pictures to Flickr, and didn’t want to take time to blog. Even yesterday afternoon, we felt the end of our vacation creeping up on us.

Sunday, though, we made our first stop the Allan Gardens, a conservatory a few blocks east of our hotel. We had a hard time getting into the conservatory; it turns out that bits of it are closed, and the doors that are open to the general public are hard to locate, and there’s hardly any signage (Margaret and I are willing to consult — at very reasonable rates — with any institution that wants to spruce up its signage, because we’re so weary of laboring to decipher unintelligible signs, or negotiate the total absence of signs). Once we got in and clarified the permissible boundaries with a cheerful painter, though, we relished exploring the garden’s displays of beautiful flora. Margaret noted that plant life suggests not so much an evolutionary theory of intelligent design as of whimsical design, pointing to the “Old Man of the Andes” cactus and the transgressive excess of some of the orchids.

Bunny Ears Cactus

From Allan Gardens we headed northwest to the Royal Ontario Museum, partly on Michael’s recommendation, and partly because I had seen posters advertising the exhibition of “Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Renaissance in Florence.” Unfortunately, through a bewilderingly complex chain of confusions and associations, I had mistaken the venue for the Florentine exhibition, which (as you can see perfectly well if you clicked on the link) is the National Gallery in Ottawa — rather further than we’d intended to walk.

Fortunately, the parts of the ROM that weren’t substituting for a non-present exhibition of Florentine painting more than made up for that absence. The “Feathered Dinosaurs” exhibit (the link leads to the San Diego Natural History Museum’s site; the Royal Ontario hasn’t devoted much web-savvy to publicizing this exhibit) presented tons of information and conundrums about saurid and avian evolution, all of which tickled Margaret and me. We don’t resist evolution, nor sponsor any of the theologically-motivated rivals, but we do take a fascinated interest in the rhetoric of factuality, conjecture, error, and polemics in controverted scientific topics. We’d have bought a book and some tawdry promotional gear from the exhibit, but the only available book was too expensive and too technical for our target readership. ROM seems not to understand the commercial power of a fascinating exhibit (and anything involving dinosaurs).

Deinonychus

The ROM also has a handsome Art Deco room, some beguiling medieval representations of the Madonna and Child, and the prospect of a tremendous addition when the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (designed by Daniel Liebeskind) is finished (walk-through movies here).

We found a late lunch, Margaret and I each took a nap, we headed out for dinner, came back to the hotel (ascertaining that Si’s first day at his first job went very smoothly), and reluctantly yielded to the inevitability that we had to sleep some before our last morning of Toronto vacation.

That’s now. And believe me, we’ve had a spectacular time, and we’re going to remember these days vividly, and we’ll miss the delightful time we had here. Now, though, off to breakfast and packing. . . .

Twenty-Three

“Twenty-three” is not a number of legend, not an intensely symbolic number or a quantity hallowed by fathomless association. Nonetheless, I’m feeling pretty proud about our twenty-third anniversary today, and am very excited to be having such a marvelous time spending it in a relaxing, refreshing, satisfying way.

We started out yesterday with a quick expedition to the north of our hotel, a few blocks east and a few blocks west. During this stroll we encountered again the mysterious phenomenon of Toronto’s “Look Point” signs which, to a visiting pedestrian, mean less than nothing.

Look Point

Margaret and I may not be globetrotting cosmopolitans on the scale of, say, Joi Ito, but neither are we are provincial rubes, and we spend a lot of time contemplating problems of signification and information design. We studied this sign and its environment for a long spell, but could make nothing of it. We pushed the button on the street pole, but nothing happened that seemed to us to call for looking or pointing. (We subsequently learned from our native informants that back in the day, Torontonians would approach certain marked crosswalks and extend their arm and finger as a way of communicating to drivers that “I’m crossing this street, and if you run me over you’re in a heap of trouble.” I withhold comment on whether one might more easily prevent such accidents by, for instance, simply putting a red light or stop sign at the crosswalk, or using the globally-popular “zebra crossing” design — but for the rest of the day, we played it safe by pointing at something every time we crossed a street, lest some loophole-hunting driver feel free to regard us as fair game. Evidently the custom has died out, with the introduction of flashing yellow lights and with an influx of new citizens who do not understand the customs of antiquity, but who wants to take a chance that some crazed driver might be a stickler for traffic laws?)

We proceeded from our morning stroll out to The Beaches, a neighborhood where at least one distinguished PR flack can be found. On our way, we noted the rigorous safety precautions taken by the Toronto Transit Commission, and admired the lettering in the subway stations (which has been fontified by Quadrat, available from MyFonts). We were greeted by Charlie, whom we had long waited to meet, and Ruairi, whose advent in this world was so breathlessly anticipated by all the readers of Blogsprogs (by the way, for those keeping score, since we saw Cameron two summers ago in London, we have now met two of the blogsprogs, and need only to track down Sawyer to complete our blog-relative duties)— and were fêted with a delicious snack that the O’Connor Clarkes had made specially in our honor. Eventually, Lily returned from a party and shared with us her very-impressive sixth birthday,

Lily's Flower

and all took a wonderful long walk from chez O’Connor Clarke to a ravine park. that leads to a cozy small business area. Beyond the businesses lies another park, though — this one, a beachfront park, to which we repaired for a glimpse of Lake Ontario (we waved to Nate and Liz in Rochester). The beach offered a chance for a generous meander down the boardwalk, complete with a stop for stone-skipping, and at the end of a wonderful afternoon with Leona, Michael, and the younger generation, we hurried east on Queen Street to catch a streetcar back to our hotel, where we were to meet Joey for dinner.

Joey led us through one of Toronto’s Chinatown neighborhoods, past the Ontario College of Art and Design (where we had the opportunity to evaluate the Sharp Centre from ground level), to Queens West, where we ate a scrumptious vegan dinner at Fressen. Joey thought that we might want to go to one of our subsequent dinners at Kalendar, Toronto’s best restaurant for a first date (he took Wendy there, so who can doubt that evaluation?), so we proceeded north and east to Little Italy to identify Kalendar’s location.

Hey, Joey

Then we wandered further east on College till we decided it was time to return to The Big Chill for dessert and music criticism. For some reason, Margaret and I had gotten tired by midnight or thereabouts, so Joey showed us back to the Metropolitan, where we collapsed in happy exhaustion, full and footweary and intensely thankful for our marvelous friends.

Today is the actual exact anniversary of our wedding, twenty-three years ago, and we’ve mostly just slept and brunched (and now, “blogged”). We never dreamed our lives together would be anything vaguely like they have been, and I feel a wee bit mystified at how I’ve managed to sustain my own part in so complex and demanding an occupation as “husband and father”; luck and persistence will carry one a long way, I suppose. But this afternoon, while my sweetheart dozes and our children look after one another, and our friends return to their already-busy enterprises, I sit down to write that there has been no gift more overwhelmingly wonderful than the affection and trust and support and love and encouragement that Margaret has offered me for twenty-three years of joyous marriage (and nigh onto four years of patient waiting for the wedding!) — graces that have been reflected and intensified by the shared gifts of Nate and Si and Pippa, of Juliet and Jennifer, so many lovely relatives and friends, near and far. What a glorious thing you all have done, helping us make it so far, so sweetly! Thank, you, thank you, with tears in my eyes and an irrepressible joy in my heart, to all of you — and especially, today, to the most wonderful love anyone might ever hope to share life with, my dearest Margaret.

On the Beach

Repeated Borrowing

Last fall, Adam posted a quotation from Pseudo-Dionysius’s Letter 6, “To Sosipater, Against Polemics” (did you find that by way of Prof. Rorem?); Maggi Dawn posted the same quotation (here, from the CCEL’s text version; the conversion of Pseudo-Dionysius’s Works seems not to have reached the “Letters” part of the volume):

LETTER VI. To Sopatros, Priest.

Do not imagine this a victory, holy Sopatros, to have denounced a devotion, or an opinion, which apparently is not good. For neither — even if you should have convicted it accurately — are the (teachings) of Sopatros consequently good. For it is possible, both that you and others, whilst occupied in many things that are false and apparent, should overlook the true, which is One and hidden. For neither, if anything is not red, is it therefore white, nor if something is not a horse, is it necessarily a man. But thus will you do, if you follow my advice, you will cease indeed to speak against others, but will so speak on behalf of truth, that every thing said is altogether unquestionable.

Well said, Denys.

It Is Finished

This evening I finally handed in my last set of grades for the year, and put exams and papers in people’s mailboxes. It’s been a real burn-out year, and I have a ton of tasks pending for the summer — but this weekend we’ll steal away to Toronto, get recharged, and come back full of vigor to tackle the mandatory accomplishments for the summer.

That They May Be One

Back when I taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Presbyterians were devoting a lot of energy to sexuality issues, in a way similar to the present tensions in the Episcopal Church. Numerous congregations and presbyteries summoned PTS faculty to address them about the problem, and often enough they had to settle for one “conservative” Presbyterian and one “liberal” Anglican (though there’s another post in me about “why I am not a liberal” — that’ll have to wait).

At these events, I went out of my way to stress a couple of points apart from the merits of the particular arguments we were about to represent. First, I pointed out that we were deliberating not simply about vote-counting in some local or regional or national judicatory; we were seeking God’s will for humanity, for which deliberative discernment we would be judged by the Truth. As such, pettiness and caviling must play no role in our colloquium. After all, Jesus warned that we who indulge in name-calling would be accounted as murderers! If my arguments hold (living) water, then my less receptive colleagues would be found to be setting stumbling-blocks before the little ones who believe in Jesus; and if my arguments miscarry, I (in turn) am found to be releasing one of the commandments that Jesus instructed us to teach and obey.

Second, I invited the congregation to ponder the significance of the unhappy burden of division that beset us. I hoped not to be commended by God at the cost of their condemnation, and I promised always to pray that we not be separated at the last day. I asked that they likewise pray for me, that my error be forgiven me on the basis of their intercession (should I, in fact, be found in error).

I’ve tried to stick with that path as long as I’ve been a small-scale public persona in this turmoil. If I’m wrong, I’m ready to be accounted least in the kingdom; and I pray, and I ask prayers, that the mercy that prevails over judgment will embrace both re-asserters and re-assessors.

Blogs As Case Studies

A number of times over the past few months, Margaret has pointed out to me the value of blogs as ready-to-assign case studies for psychiatry textbooks. After all, the blogger is writing speaking as though on the couch; the material is out in the open, often covered by Creative Commons or fair-use copyright permission. And the examples you could find: grandiosity, paranoia, narcissism. . . . Sometimes it seems as though a blogger is decompensating right before your eyes.

Why dress up a textbook with “Patient Y” and “Client X” when you can just point readers to a URI?