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Date: Monday, 06 Oct 2014 23:29
The student plenary voted to ask faculty to consider placing trigger warnings on class materials and syllabi.  I know from painful experience, how distracting triggers are when they appear, and how difficult they can be to avoid.  And I know that I've brought up examples in class that trod on painful ground for students, a risk I take in electing to teach chemistry within a context, not as a sterile set of numbers.

On Sunday — which would have been Tom's 58th birthday — I opened up the Sunday paper to find this spadea.1  I was riveted by the red balloon.  The aneurysm which killed him would have been at least as large at the balloon in the illustration, it still strikes me an unimaginable that we could not have known something of that size was inside of him.  It's odd, too,  to think about Tom at 58, older than our parents were when he died, twice the age I was when he died.  Does it make sense to think about someone being dead for more than half their life?

Probably not.

But it may explain today's funk, and last night's uneasy dreams.

1.  I love that there is word for these foldover sheets on newspapers.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Tuesday, 30 Sep 2014 22:50
Photo of Thomas Great Hall
at Bryn Mawr College

c. Bart Everson.  Used under CC license.
Yes, I work at a place that bears a passing resemblance to Harry Potter's Hogwarts.  In my building, as at Hogwarts, not every stairway goes where you think it does.  I teach Potions to first year's at times and since I've an exam in progress this week, there may be some that wished for a memory charm.

The battery on my little pedometer ran out last week, which I discovered when the TSA people had me run it through the X-ray again.  I finally got around to doing something about the lack of electrons yesterday.  I thought I had another battery for it, but couldn't recall where I had put it in my study.  Ah, I did remember that the device had sent me an email when the battery was low last time, complete with information on the battery type.

I searched "fitbit battery" in my email and what came up but an message with the subject:  "fitbit battery is clipped to the wall folder hanger in my study."  It felt like magic. How did I know I'd need that information?
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Sunday, 28 Sep 2014 23:07
It's been a crazy couple of weeks, where despite my best intentions, I ended up working 12 straight days without a break.  Mindful of nettles and myrtle, I am grateful for work that is sustaining, in literal and metaphorical ways, and that is extraordinarily stable.  But a number of conversations this week have left me thinking about how we read the rhythms of work and rest.  Are more hours construed as more devoted, more passionate, or just more?  Is rest something that we must collapse into, or is it built into the order of our day?  We speak of a well-earned rest, but what does it take to earn such grace?

Of course, the ability to ask these questions is itself a luxury. A few weeks ago, the New York Times had an article about shift work, and the ways in which the lack of a predictable and regular schedule, — a rhythm of work — can make it difficult or even impossible to meet the basic needs of life, from a place to live, to time for sleep and care for a family's children.  Over these days I've been aware of those I see working odd hours: the grocery store clerks re-stocking early in the morning, the baggage people there when my plane lands at 9 pm, the woman working the desk at the hotel overnight.  No matter how out of control my schedule feels, the bulk of it is not this much out of my control.

After this crazy busy rush, this weekend I made time to do my laundry, to sit and meditate in the warm rose and cobalt blue light of the parish's stained glass windows.  I walked with Math Man, wrote and read.

This afternoon I picked up Monastic Practices by Charles Cummings, a Trappist monk from Holy Trinity Abbey, written in the late 1980s after he'd been a Cistercian for almost a quarter of a century.  It's a practical book in some ways, grounding the customs of a monastery in Benedict's rule and lived experience in equal measures, which reminds me of First Initiation into Carthusian Life (it oh so practically covers laundry as well as prayer).

Cummings notes that while being and doing are two parts of who we are, and both need to be appreciate.  But being comes before doing, being trumps doing.  I risk doing so much that I fail to be, that I lose the ground I  stand on.  God, in whom I live and move and have my being.

Two other thoughts from the chapter that I'm thinking about.  "Monastic manual work brings me again and again up against the obduracy of things." and the notion that we might take on more work than we should to insulate ourselves from what might be found in prayer and contemplation.

And in all this I learned this is a journal called "Mystics Quarterly" (they reviewed Cumming's book when it first came out).  Do mystics need a journal?
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Wednesday, 17 Sep 2014 00:07
In place of the thorn bush, the cypress shall grow; instead of nettles, the myrtle. Isaiah 55:13a

I was the reader at Lauds this morning, the text from Isaiah's 55th chapter:  Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the water.

For some reason I looked at the rest of the chapter later today.  Thorn bushes and nettles, cypress and myrtle. I could make a list of today's nettles:

I spent over 90 minutes with UPS on the phone today, trying to figure out why their insurance people still haven't managed to pick up The Egg's broken computer, despite repeated assurances over the last three weeks that "it will be picked up tomorrow."   
A piece of research equipment that was ordered last week was "stuck" in the system. 
Unbloggable work issues. 
But images of the cypress trees in the cemetery at Wernersville are dancing at the edges of my vision, reminding me of a late evening walk there last week, and the deep welling water that was God in the silence.

Cypress and myrtle.  Their growth means there is water stirring somewhere.  Cool.  Quenching. Life-giving water.

The company that made the sink offered to replace it. 
And public safety called, they found my breviary, dropped from bag as I got out of the car in the parking lot this morning.  And as it doesn't have my name in it, it took them a bit of detective work to figure out who it might belong to.   
My students.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 10:37
"There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That's how the light gets in." — Leonard Cohen

The picture at the left feels to me as if it were pulled straight from Leonard Cohen's lyrics from Anthem, the cracks are beautifully brilliant in the morning sun, alive with the light.

I have an entire box of these glittering stones.  It used to be my bathroom sink.  Yesterday, the sink underwent a catastrophic, spontaneous fracture.  More precisely, my sink blew up in my face.  Without warning.

I was watering the plants on the window sill and had set the succulent in the cache pot to soak for a minute while I wiped down the ledge.  I reached out to turn the water on and the sink exploded, blowing chunks of glass ten feet out the open door and down the stairs. And I screamed.

I hasten to say that it was tempered glass, and other than a few scratches on my arms, I was undamaged.  I was however, most certainly unnerved.  I stood there, amid the sparkling glass, in my sock feet, looking at the completely destroyed sink and said, "What the f--k just happened?"1

There was this odd crinkling sound, as the glass chunks continued to fracture.

I cleared a path out of the bathroom, found a pair of shoes, corralled the cat (who wanted to investigate), then dashed to answer the phone.  It was Math Man, just calling to say hello in between golf game and afternoon meeting.  It was good to hear his voice. "Should I come home?"  No, I assure him, it's just a mess to clean up and I'm unhurt.

But what happened?  The sink and water and room were all at the same temperature, I'd just had the water on a minute before.  Nothing hit the sink, the pot had just been sitting there. Had I gone momentarily mad and smashed the sink with...with what?  No hammers up here. I did what any reasonable human being with an internet connection would do.  I did a search.  I typed in "glass sink e" at which point Google suggested "glass sink explodes."  I breathed a sigh of relief.  I was not alone.2

1.  The first time I ever heard Crash use the word, he hadn't realized I was in the room.  I can't quite recall what had happened, but it was definitely worthy of an imprecation.  He blanched.  I looked at him and said there were times and places to use that sort of language, and that this was certainly one of them.  Which made him blink.
2.  Community is a wonderful thing.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "camels, detachment, humor, light"
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Date: Friday, 12 Sep 2014 11:48
Me, no glasses.
On this day, forty nine years ago, I received the Eucharist for the first time.

I still have the dress, but not the veil, which was my mother's communion veil, too.  We sat in the front pew, which meant I could see what was going on.  I was so nearsighted in those days that I had no idea you could actually see each individual leaf on a tree.  But since I'd always seen the world in a blur, I never noticed, and it wasn't until third grade when I was moved to a seat several rows back in the classroom that I realized I couldn't read anything on the flip charts.

My mother, wearing the same veil.
Father John Sullivan heard my first confession the day before, and Father John Coholan, a Maryknoll missioner and English professor, who learned his role only a few minutes before Mass began, was that Sunday's celebrant.  I was the only first communicant, having been accidentally catechized the spring before, and both my parents and the pastor (who had quizzed me over the summer) were convinced I was prepared for what I desired and not inclined to make me wait a full year more.  So on a warm September Sunday, I knelt at the altar rail, and to the words "Corpus Christ," I responded, "Amen."

I can still remember the aching desire to receive, and my relief that my parents and pastor took my request seriously.

Someone asked me this morning why I am marking 49, not 50?  It's a perfect square of a sacred number:  7 x 7? Once a geek, always a geek.

Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Eucharist"
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Date: Thursday, 11 Sep 2014 13:14

Crash heads to Ireland.
I drove up to the old Jesuit novitiate on Monday night to see my spiritual director, and to take a brief, but much needed plunge into the silence.  I was looking forward to two long walks, after dinner and early in the morning.  Somehow between taking my sneakers from the house to the car (along with my overnight bag, my lunch and my school bag), I dropped one.  Or perhaps I knocked it out of the back of the car when I was unloading the teaching supplies I picked up midmorning?  All I know is that after dinner, when I walked back to the car to get my shoes, there was only one. The left.

The shoes I had worn to work were not precisely walking shoes, but would certainly do as long as  I stuck to the paved paths.  I let go of the plan to walk the hedgerows toward the frascati and just headed down the hill toward the Jesuit cemetery.  I sat on the benches and prayed for the men buried there, and my own beloved dead.  I watched the full moon climb higher in the sky, astonished at how clearly I could see the craters on its surface.  And I contemplated my missing shoe, and what it might have to say about the other things I am missing (and not) in my life.

The Egg begins his college orientation.
A post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, about surrendering what I have been given, and what I hold onto appeared today at DotMagis, and as is often the way of it, others are writing funny, beautiful and poignant reflections about letting go and holding on. To memories, to visions of church and to kitchens.

Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Sunday, 07 Sep 2014 23:05
"Slivka" by Maciarka - Own work. Licensed under 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 
The plum tree out front has been ransacked by the local squirrel population.  As soon as the green fruit appeared, I started seeing them sampling the fruit.  The last few weeks, as soon as I spotted a deep violet globe in the depths, a squirrel would be on it in a flash, chirruping gleefully.

Reading an essay last weekend I ran across Natasha Trethewey’s elegant poem Tableau with it's warm images of plums, so plump I wanted to pluck them off the page and eat them.  Which reminded me of William Carlos Williams' short poem This is Just to Say...which I imagined could inspire the squirrels to ask me for forgiveness.

I have eaten
the plums
that were on
your tree 
and which
you were probably
of turning into jam 
forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so warm.

As I hung laundry out to dry in today's warm breezes, perhaps prompted by the images of the man's hands on the plum in Trethewey's poem, my hands moving on the line reminded me of my great-grandmother's hands hanging out laundry behind her warm sandy brick house in Illinois. The rhythm of it as she hung the sheets. Clip, slide, smooth, clip.  The snap of sheets in the wind.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Saturday, 30 Aug 2014 20:31
When I came home from the hospital after Tom died, everything was still as we had left it three days earlier. Used towels hung on the racks, rumpled sheets, Tom's razor and shaving brush still on the counter in the bathroom.  It was surreal.  Life was utterly ordinary when I went to work on Wednesday, and unimaginably not when I returned.

I went into the bathroom, looked at it all, and realized that he had no use of these things anymore, nor would anyone else.  I put the razor and brush into the trash can next to the sink, and systematically went through the house removing the traces of the last day, subtly altering the terrain to accommodate one, not two.  My exhausted parents watched, but did not try to stop me.
We came home this week to the detritus of a less permanent and  harrowing departure, but the after images of that other return home remained.  His razor on the counter in the bathroom, his towel hanging on the hook behind the door.  His tousled sheets. For a moment both realities were superimposed.

Once again I put towels in the wash, put away shaving cream and razor, and hung my robe on the door, transforming the guys' bathroom into a space for a soaking bath.

Now is not then, but neither time nor grief is precisely linear, they crisscross the everyday, crashing into each other at odd moments, in unexpected ways.  Like in the bathroom.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Barnacle Boy, Crash, grief, healing, wid..."
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Date: Friday, 29 Aug 2014 19:10
by Tuxyso - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons 
Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 
We dropped The Egg (the child formerly known as The Boy) off at college earlier this week, then returned to welcome our own new students.  I spent yesterday morning advising first year students in a Harry Potter like hall,  this afternoon at a safety refresher (how long does it take a lab coat to catch on fire?) and various moments in between fielding placement emails and finalizing my syllabus.

Math Man has gone off after work today to play golf, it's a gorgeous afternoon by any measure and I've settled down on the patio to catch up on some writing.  The blog stats showed a huge increase in hits today.  My post entitled "Magic Kingdom," which while about California is not about Disney's Magic Kingdom, appears on the first page of Google search results for the last week.  Hence, I am a prime target for blog spam.

In search of a term for the inadvertent use of high traffic search terms (blog homographs?), I discovered the Scunthorpe Problem, named for the North Lincolnshire town of Scunthorpe whose residents found themselves blocked from AOL because their town name included an unfortunate string of letters (characters 2 through 5).
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Saturday, 23 Aug 2014 19:57
From top of stairs leading down to the arroyo.
The Boy is going to college in California, and we are out here to drop him off, staying with my brother and his wife (The Artistes) in their wonderful Craftsman home in a historic district of Los Angeles.  Yesterday we drove to  Santa Monica to dip our feet in the Pacific.  We walked down to Muscle Beach, where I managed to blister my feet on the sand, which made the cold Pacific water feel all the more delightful.

This is a beautiful place. The sand is white and fine, the ocean turquoise, the sun bright, the humidity low.  Palm trees sprout from the sand, and gnarled trees shade the walking path along the ocean.  Be on the look out for celebrities shopping, says my brother.

My eye is so caught by the show and beauty, that as with a magician distracting the audience, I miss at first what is in plain sight.  The homeless woman stretched out on the grass in a sleeping bag.  The man sleeping behind Santa Monica's camera obscura, a blanket over his face to keep the sun from his eyes.  The young man who mentioned where he lives when we checked out.  On the far side of Los Angeles from this upscale shopping center.

From the bottom of the stairs leading down
to the arroyo. Math Man on the right, Mme. 
Artiste on the left.
We made that very drive in fact.  At almost 6 pm it took us over an hour and a half to go 24 miles on the highway.  An average of 16 mph, if you do the math.  I can bike that fast on the flats.  Our sedate speed let me notice the tent jammed between the chain link fence and the sharply inclined verge, the boxes tucked up against the buttresses of the underpasses, the encampment in a vacant lot, unseen from the street, a blur when the highway is moving fast.

This morning, after an amazing brunch in a nearby town, we walked the neighborhood, peering into front gardens, admiring the architecture.  Madame Artiste was the driving force behind the neighborhood's official historic status, and did the architectural survey, so she is full of details.  We walked down the eight flights of stairs to the arroyo, and checked out a terraced back yard, then I turned around to see that the very ordinary concrete steps we had come down, were not so ordinary after all.

I wonder what extraordinary beauty, which person dearly beloved by God I missed asleep on the grass in Santa Monica.  Can I learn to turn around?
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 15:59
Burbank Airport
This reflection appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 18 August 2014.

…if you receive my words and treasure my commands
Turning your ear to wisdom, inclining your heart to understanding;
If you seek her like silver, and like hidden treasures search her out,
Then will you understand the fear of the Lord; the knowledge of God you will find;
Then you will understand what is right and just, what is fair, every good path;
For wisdom will enter your heart, knowledge will be at home in your soul…

— From the second chapter of the book of Proverbs

About once a month I take a long walk, to a spot at the edge of a field where there is no one within a half-mile of me in any direction. I stand there and listen. To the distant sound of traffic on 422, to the wind stirring in the leaves overhead, to the chitter of cicadas in the summer and the whistling of the cardinals in the winter. To God.

I might be alone in the silence, but these days I’m not alone in my desire to seek it out. Recently there was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the growing popularity of silent retreats, as people seek to escape the noise and frenzy of daily life. While many people today might associate silent meditation retreats with Buddhism or other Eastern traditions, there is a long tradition of silence in Catholicism as well.

Reflecting on the many Christian religious orders that practice a discipline of silence Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi points out that silence is not just for the women and men who have chosen a cloistered contemplative life. “Reflection, meditation, contemplation are as necessary as breathing,” he said. “Time for silence — external but above all internal — are a premise and an indispensable condition for it.”

Silence lets us turn our ears to God’s wisdom, gives us time to search out the treasures hidden within.

While you don’t need to go on retreat to find pockets of silent time to spend with God, a dedicated time of retreat in a place apart from our daily rounds can help make those spaces easier to identify in our everyday lives.

Silent retreats can be short, as short as a few hours, or last several days or a week. Five years ago, I spent a month in silence, making the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in a secluded retreat house on the Atlantic coast. In January, I spent an hour of grace-filed silence as part of an evening of reflection at the IHM Center right here in Bryn Mawr. The month spent listening to God was a tremendous gift but even the hour taken from the start of a frenzied semester contained blessings beyond counting.

If you are encouraged to find more time in silence to listen with God, but not quite sure you want to dive into a weekend retreat or are not able to get away from home, here is one way to try taking some silent time without leaving home.

Schedule an hour (or perhaps less if you are new at this) and find a place where you can sit or walk undisturbed. A park or a church are obvious spots, but I’ve walked through Philadelphia, and sat in libraries in bad weather. St. Ignatius advises starting a time of prayer by praying for a particular grace, so before you head out to walk with God, or sit down with Jesus, ask for what you desire in this time of prayer. Wisdom, strength, forgiveness? Then listen to what God has to say back. Gently, without strain. At the end of the time you have set aside, say an Our Father.

Know that silence in a retreat, even one as short as what I suggest here, is not always a gentle or consoling experience. It can feel dry or empty as if God is not there at all, or it may open the door to a distracting cascade of images and thoughts — at times I feel as if my to-do list starts dancing the macarena as soon as I sit down to pray.

Even Jesus had a hard time when he retreated to the desert for 40 days. A directed silent retreat offers time each day to talk over what is happening in prayer with someone who is familiar with the church’s long history of contemplative prayer and meditation and who can direct you to helpful advice drawn from this tradition.

“Give yourself to prayer at intervals, as you would to food,” advised St. Comghall, a 6th century monk honored as one of the 12 apostles of Ireland. Find some time with God to let wisdom enter your heart and knowledge make itself a sure home in your soul.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 15 Aug 2014 18:03
High speed line tracks in Bryn Mawr.
Yesterday I rode the Norristown high speed line four stops down the road to get to a meeting.  Crash has one car in DC this week, so he can move his stuff home from Georgetown and get packed up for Ireland, Math Man, who this summer could have had a new name, Man of Many Meetings, had an appointment for which he needed a car and The Boy was off at work.  So I rode my bike and took the NHSL and walked.

SEPTA's high speed line, might elsewhere be known as "the train" but since Philadelphia has two other rail systems serving it (regional rails and Amtrak), we have the "high speed line."  Fares on the line are cheaper by a factor of two than the regional rail line, it takes longer to get into the city riding it, it is far less plush and it runs longer hours.  All of which means that there are fewer investment bankers riding it.

As I waited for the train, the early morning shift at the hospital was getting off.  The two people next to me on the platform were chatting about feeding their kids over the summer, exchanging tips on where to find cereal inexpensively and in bulk, hard to come by in the city, and the gas to get to a Costco is expensive.  "Did you see the 10 for 10 deal on lunch meat?"  This isn't food insecurity, precisely.  This is simply what it is like to live on a budget in what amounts to a food desert, where you don't have the time or extra money for gas to bargain hunt, or the time or energy to cook from scratch.  (And Philly is working a lot of different angles to help improve this situation...)

But it made me think what we miss about each other, how much is hidden from us, when we drive about in our little bubbles or ride the bus and train plugged in to phones and iPods.  Turn your ears, says Proverbs.
Turning your ear to wisdom,
inclining your heart to understanding;
If you seek her like silver,
and like hidden treasures search her out,
Then will you understand the fear of the LORD;
the knowledge of God you will find;
Then you will understand what is right and just,
what is fair, every good path;
For wisdom will enter your heart,
knowledge will be at home in your soul…
                                                    — from Proverbs, Chapter 2

Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 15 Aug 2014 03:00
Mary, Seat of Wisdom
12th century
Mabon Madonna at St. John's Abbey

"...my imagination is caught — not by Revelation’s dragons and diadems, or John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, or even the queen draped in gold of Ophir — but by the woman in labor. I can feel my body recall the times I labored to give birth to my sons.

To be in labor is to yearn with your entire being, to be wracked by an ineluctable longing to come face-to-face with what has been kindled within you...Mary once labored to bring God’s hidden face to light, so that we now might yearn with all our being to see the face of the God of Abraham and of Jacob."

— From a reflection for the Feast in Give Us This Day

I've been humming the Alsott setting of Psalm 45 under my breath off and on all day, preparing to cantor tomorrow.  I've been thinking about young people joyously going off, and about how much I will miss them.  I've been meditating on longing.  What do we desire? My oldest, wrung from me so many years ago, comes home for a few days tomorrow.  I long to see him.

I pray for friends who long to see children they have lost.  Lost to addiction. To illness. To accident. To war.  To violence. To suicide.

I pray to learn from all of this how to yearn more and more deeply to see God's face.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Give Us This Day, Mary, writing"
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Date: Thursday, 07 Aug 2014 23:28
A punch card, what I used when I first began writing 
computer code.
8289, 8290, 8291...

I'm running a simulation, creating a set of miniature universes, designed to let me explore what happens if I staged their creation over and over again.  Ten thousand times in this case.

The mathematical model behind it all is called the Monte Carlo method, enabling my universes to evolve by a combination of rules and random chance.  Though I usually use these methods on chemical systems, this time I'm modeling a social system.

I've been working on the code off and on over the last week, and this afternoon had it in shape to run some quick models to make sure the code was working.  Once I was sure (or as sure as you can be) that the code had no significant bugs, I put a 30 minute simulation on to run and went for my walk.  The results were encouraging, so I started a longer run, then went to have dinner.

It reminded me of graduate school days, when I would put a job on to run while I went home for dinner, then go back to the lab to get my results and queue something up for an overnight run.  Yes, these were the days before machines were webbed into each other, no way to call in and get the results from much further away than the little room in the Physical Sciences building that had no windows and several terminals, wired into our research group's Harris computer (see a photo of one here, the large boxes on the left are the computers, the washing machine sizes things on the right are hard drives, 40 MB — not GB, MB — hard drives; our large drive was 80 MB).

When I was in graduate school, I could track my jobs by ear, the disks would begin to scream when the jobs hit a particular point in the code that was I/O intensive, either trying to stash the values of integrals as fast as they possibly could, or peeling them back to reassemble into a final value.  My silent solid state drive offered me no such clues to progress, so even though I know that it slowed my code down a tiny bit, I inserted a counter, so I could see what it was up to.  The eight thousandth ninety-first universe, when I began writing this.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "chemistry, computers, nostalgia, science"
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Date: Wednesday, 06 Aug 2014 23:08

Habits on my desk, and yes, that absolutely is a 
St. Ignatius bobblehead holding down my notes 
for a chemistry essay in progress.
Susan Sink, who I wrote about earlier, has a terrific new book, Habits; a collection of one-hundred word stories based on the oral histories of Minnesota Benedictine sisters.  It's funny and sharp and poignant, particularly in the small details.  After a couple of weeks praying the psalms with the Benedictine monks, who keep a lot of space open around the words, I enjoyed, too, the layout of this book.  One story per page, where there could be two or three.

A story about "particular friendships" ends with the note of a young woman come to the community from a farm where she slept four to a bed.  This said much about life in early twentieth century Minnesota, in a few spare words.

You can read one of the stories here (click on the photo that comes up to read the story).  I encourage you to browse more of Susan's stories while you are there.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "Benedictines, writers, writing"
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Date: Saturday, 02 Aug 2014 11:21
Bela Lugosi as Dracula  Via Wikimedia Commons 
I met a friend last night for an ice cream cone.  I texted her when I arrived, "My book and I are here.  Sitting on the wall by the vampire children."

There is no seating for the little ice cream shop, but the wall between the parking lot and the back drive serves well enough for outdoor seating.  There were already two mothers sitting there, with their four young kids running off steam, evidence of their choice of ice cream and water ice flavors on their faces.   When I had settled down to read, they ran circles around me, until their mothers asked them to the leave "the lady" alone.  I think the "old" was unvoiced.

One of the urchins had a line of cherry red water ice running from his mouth, and when his mother asked him to wipe it off, teasing him that he looked like a vampire, he decided that he was a vampire, and so certainly should not wipe the sticky stuff off.  Pretty soon, the whole lot of them were vampires, huddling by the garden, shooting glances my way.  "How much blood do you think that woman has?"1

Maybe I should have had more garlic on my tomato salad?

1.  About 4.7 liters is a good estimate.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 01 Aug 2014 12:33

Ite, omnia incendite, et inflammate! 
Go, and set the world on fire!  
— St. Ignatius of Loyola to St. Francis Xavier, upon missioning him to India

A few weeks ago, at the end of an evening gathering of writers I was at, a priest/writer closed the night with a poetic blessing.  One word in particular wove its way through her benediction, "luminous..." which my brain insisted on rewriting as the imperative "luminesce!"

Luminescence is light that comes from within a material, photons shed as atoms and molecules change state.  It's not reflected, it does not consume like a flame. It's kenotic, releasing what has been hidden within.  

The usual translation of Ignatius' words to Francis Xavier is, "Go, set the world on fire!" (Or the looser translation I found here:  "Go kick some butt!") But like the archetype eats/shoots/leaves meme - without certain knowledge of the punctuation, it's ambiguous. Does inflammate go with omnia or with ite?

I might be willing to translate it as "Go, set everything alight, and be aflame!" Pour forth the light that has been poured forth into you.  Luminesce.

Happy feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

Warning on the video. I found the music to be grating, mute it and play something lilting and classical.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)" Tags: "flame, Ignatius, light"
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Date: Wednesday, 30 Jul 2014 22:07
"Blinders (poultry)".  Via Wikipedia 
Since I've come back from my stint in Collegeville, I've been trying to start each day with a short warm-up writing exercise.  I've been avoiding fussing over prompts (or at least avoiding link diving through the interwebs in search of a "good" prompt) and using ones I've used while teaching or that we used at the workshop.  I pick, set the timer for 10 minutes and write.

I remain mystified that I can write 300 words (that with some editing could be just fine) in 10 minutes, but can struggle to produce that many in a morning "on topic"?  I may try some quick writing with the essay I'm working on now.

Today's prompt was to write the beginning of the essay with the title The effects of plastic spectacles on the condition and behaviour of pheasants.  A paper with that title appeared in a literature search I ran yesterday (which I assure you had nothing to do with spectacles, pheasants or plastic -- so I'm at a loss to tell what keyword made it pop up, and I was too disciplined to actually look at the paper).  As I know nothing of avian eyeglasses, I was free to make it up, and did...
We offer a choice of frames, lively and colorful for the male of the species, that won’t fall off during particularly high-spirited mating displays.  For the ladies, something genteel, as befitting the decision maker.  Both anti-glare, and polarized lenses are available upon request.  As many find lenses fog up when they are flushed by the dogs, ask about our anti-fog lens cloths.  Young pheasants can be fitted for their first set of spectacles when they fledge...
I spent some time working through how you might keep spectacles on a pheasant.  Do they wear monocles, the lenses held in by pure muscle power?  Do they go over the head with a strap, like WW I aviator googles? Over lunch I looked up pheasant spectacles.  They are a thing, it turns out, used to prevent caged birds from pecking out their own feathers or cannibalizing their eggs.  They are also considered cruel, as the bridge is inserted through the bird's nose to keep them from sliding off. While I am frequently annoyed by glasses that slip down on my nose, this is not a solution I would be pleased with, either!
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Tuesday, 29 Jul 2014 23:07

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
The Boy wrote a couple of weeks ago about what happens behind the scenes when seven shows share one stage over eight weeks.  Some weeks they have have one show or two shows running and one or two more in final rehearsals, and need to be able to change up the sets in under 12 hours.  Whew.

The time-lapse is of an entire season (in fact the first one The Boy spent at Summer Stage). I've tried over and over to catch the few frames in which that show is rehearsing or running, but can never quite manage to stop it at the right spot.  I catch one glimpse of lights in the upper left, where the show's narrator stood, but the images and the time slip through my fingers like silk.

The Boy leaves for his California College in less than three weeks.  Today he asked me to look for a photo from a show he did in 7th grade.  I swept through photos on my computer, watching him race his hamster in a ball to putting on a tux to sing in his first high school concert to grinning as he sits with his brother on the 4th of July in DC.  I try to freeze the frames, remembering when he had to stretch to reach the mixer and how he calmly climbed up the Beehive trail in Acadia National Park.  I see all 70-plus inches of him stride down the aisle of the local Presbyterian Church to sing his solo in Carmina Burana.  The frames move so fast, my eyes blur.  And I can hold on to none of it.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Author: "Michelle (noreply@blogger.com)"
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