Posts that are Didn’t fit anywhere else-ish

Can you take over my sponsorship of a special-needs child in Zambia?


Short version: I’m looking for someone to take over sponsoring Deborah, a Zambian child with disabilities who is receiving care from Special Hope Network.

Longer version: Most people reading this blog know that I narrowly missed growing up as a disabled child in the developing world. (I am profoundly deaf, and my family is from the Philippines.) Growing up as a disabled kid in the developing world sucks. There aren’t resources to support you, so you don’t get the therapy you need, and have virtually no chance of being educated. Culturally, you’re likely to be seen as not just a burden, but a shame to your family — your very existence is seen as punishment, clear proof that a close relative has done something horribly wrong. Fathers abandon their families to avoid this shame. Mothers keep disabled children confined inside the house at all times for fear of it. There is no witness to society that your life is worthwhile — that your life even exists. You get an entire society who does not know how to deal with a person with a disability, because they’ve never seen a person with a disability, never watched someone else interact with them with graciousness and dignity.

Special Hope is a small organization that works in Zambia with the most marginalized of these kids — those with severe intellectual disabilities. It started with a family who left their comfortable lives in America and moved to Zambia to work and live as a family — who happens to have 3 kids with Down’s Syndrome. After noticing their kids were the only disabled kids they ever saw outside, they asked around and realized the others were being shut in at home — and decided to minister to those kids. They placed themselves right in the center of the poorest neighborhoods, so caretakers don’t need to spend precious cents on a bus ride. They teach siblings, parents, and grandparents how to do physical therapy with the children at home. They feed them (both the kids and the caretakers). They teach these kids whatever they can learn — singing, dancing, the alphabet — kids who would never otherwise set foot inside a school. These families meet other families with special-needs kids for the first time, and learn that they’re not alone, and that their child’s condition is not divine punishment. Most of all, they witness that these kids and their lives are worthwhile, and that these kids are loved.

I met Deborah during my trip to Zambia with Purdue’s audiology program. She was about 3 years old then, sitting on her mother’s lap — a young woman close to my age. They were fairly new to Special Hope, but Deborah’s mom was joyful at her child’s progress, and determined to learn and do whatever she needed to help her daughter — now that she knew she could do something, which filled her with hope. As I followed them into the physical therapy portion of their day, I remembered a photo of my mom coaxing 3-year-old me through physical therapy after I came out of a 7.5-week coma. And when I got back to America, I signed up and started to sponsor Deborah out of my tiny grad school stipend.

Two years later, my tiny grad school stipend has gotten (significantly) tinier, and I need to taper off my sponsorship — but I didn’t want to just quietly drop and run. So in my letter to the Special Hope folks, I promised I’d try to spread the word and ask if someone might be interested in picking up on my monthly $35 contribution for Deborah. They’re a small organization, and cash flow is crucial — and these folks make every dollar count. $35 gets Deborah nutrition, medical care and physical therapy, school for her and education for her family on how to love a special-needs child, and sets her up to do the very important work of advocating — in her own tiny preschool-child, simple-witness way — for a better world for everyone, including people with disabilities.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in doing, head to the Special Hope Child Sponsorship Page and sign up — let me know if I can help in any way. And thanks for listening.


ok, I’ll try learning how to run; this should be funny


The wonderful and infuriating thing about friends is that they push you to do things you think are beyond your capabilities. Yesterday, during Abbee And Mel Go To the Gym Time*, Abbee started asking me if I wanted to train for a marathon with her.

Now, Abbee is a former high-school cross-country runner. I have never been a runner; my lung capacity has been constricted by chest-tube scar tissue since I was 2 years old, resulting in a constant borderline-asthmatic peak-flow test score. In other words, imagine being on the edge of a very, very mild asthma attack your entire life. Rolfing (deep myofascial therapy) significantly improved my lung capacity a few years ago, but oxygen is still kinda hard. My temperament is also far more of a sprinter’s than a marathoner’s; I work almost entirely in short spurts and am mildly horrified by the idea of doing anything (except sleeping) for several hours in a row.

But I’m intrigued. I thought my brain was a sprinter’s brain, and so my body must be a sprinter’s body, with fast-twitch rather than slow-twitch muscle fibers. But that’s not necessarily the case. Last year, a kinesiology major watching me lift weights commented that I was powering slowly out of lifts rather than exploding through them, and that my agility drills were quick to plateau — indicating that I might have a distance runner’s muscle composition, if only I’d develop it instead of training for exactly its opposite. “You’d probably be a good marathon runner,” he said.

I laughed, and then I thought about it, and then I laughed again. And then I kept thinking about it. I do want to develop the sort of discipline that distance running would force me to develop — the long-term haul, the consistency, the quiet solitude I find so difficult. I wonder what my limitations are. So I told Abbee I’d train for a 5k with her for the end of the semester, and then we’ll decide more based on how that goes.

This post is to remind me of that decision (although I’m pretty sure Abbee is going to do that anyway).

*One of many “Abbee and Mel Do Action X” formats. Other common formats include “Abbee And Mel Cook European Food,” “Abbee and Mel Pray A Multilingual Rosary While Laughing Uproariously,” “Abbee and Mel Do A Late-Night Diner Run,” “Abbee and Mel at Daily Mass,” and dozens of other little things that constantly remind me how blessed I am to have friends like this.


Some things I want my kids to learn


As I mentioned previously, my kids are going to have a mom who’s a scholar and a maker. They’ll grow up thinking that everyone writes their own software and builds their own bikes, and that “stick a microcontroller in and automate it” is a normal solution to a household problem. They’ll know how long it takes to write a book, what “sabbaticals” are (and why mom is so excited about them), and why we throw a massive celebration when one of our friends gets tenure. They’ll walk through grocery stores and be able to tell you how each mass-produced item was probably manufactured.

But I also want to make sure they think other things are No Big Deal, as my friend Sumana puts it. Working with their hands — the dignity of manual labor, the knowledge that just because they’re privileged with education doesn’t make them better than people who aren’t. A skepticism towards elitism. Respect for mastery and skill, no matter what its form. They’ll grow up seeing, discussing, and working against racism, sexism, classism, ablism, homophobia, ageism — discrimination in all of its forms, because social justice demands that we see and appreciate the infinite worth of each person. I want them to recognize and honor the dignity of those who may be different from them, disagree with them, perhaps even hurt them. I want them to know that doing this is very, very hard, but it’s the good kind of hard that’s worth trying your hardest at.

I want them to read and think and calculate, but I also want them to know the physicality of human experience — not to get stuck inside their brains, but to move through life with their entire bodies, and to let life move through their entire bodies, tackling tumbling and dancing and running and climbing with as much gusto as they tackle books. I want them to experience the bigness and the beauty of the world; so many languages and cultures, how precious it is to have the opportunity to travel, and how material poverty is the least awful kind (compared to intellectual, emotional, social, or spiritual poverty, at least). I want them to never be hungry, but I also want them to know that they are not enslaved by their hunger, and that there are worse things than going without food.

I want them to know where food comes from, and how to prepare it, and how to clean the kitchen afterwards, and how to bring breakfast in bed to their parents. (This means learning to make good tea, coffee, and smoothies early on, and learning what “lactose intolerant” means, because their genes will be at least 50% Asian). How to be kind to animals, gentle with the earth, loving towards one another, and patient in communicating (especially with their deaf mom). How to perceive and pursue the mystery that underlies reality — the practice of how one pursues growth as a human being made of and for and from love. (I call this “Catholicism,” and think of my faith practice as a sort of gymnasium for getting Better At Love.) The joy of giving.

But in the end, they’ll also come from a very human mother (and a very human father), and we’ll mess up time and time again. I want them to see that even professors mess up, that engineers make prototypes that break, and — more broadly — that human beings are not perfect, but that we are free to choose. And that one of our choices is always to stand up again when we fall down, and try again to walk the path towards everything that’s good.


Alex and Lisa and dry feet


I’m going to write about something that’s haunted me for a while. I haven’t written like this for a long time, and details in this story will be changed for privacy reasons.

It was last fall or winter — chilly, but before the bitter cold came. I had stepped into the street to wait while several friends were finishing their shopping. One of those friends — I’ll call her Alex — was already waiting outside. Alex is the young, excited type; happy with everything, friendly with everyone. This time, Alex was crouched on the sidewalk talking with an older woman who had a battered backpack, a cardboard sign asking for money, and a paper cup with coins she’d been tossed. She introduced me to the woman — I’ll call her Lisa.

Lisa was about my mom’s age. As we talked, we learned she had kids about my age, and grandkids. Hadn’t seen them in years. I got the sense there had been some sort of conflict with her kids, and contact broken off — and she wanted to reestablish it, but they didn’t want to be associated with her and the state she was living in. There might have been regret in her voice, but there was also gumption and pride. She was just homeless for a few days — her caseworker had messed up, she said, and didn’t pay her rent, so she had been evicted from her old place. Had to wait a few days to get an appointment about getting a new one. Was sleeping on the streets in the meantime, but it was all right; it wouldn’t get too cold in the next few days.

Suddenly, Alex asked: “Lisa, what size shoes do you wear?”

And then: “Try mine.”

It took some persuasion — Alex finally pointed out that she had other shoes at home, she’d switch to them tonight, she wouldn’t miss this one pair and besides she’d got it at the clearance section of REI for $20 — but Lisa finally agreed. When she pulled Alex’s sneakers onto her feet, she sighed in delight. So nice, to have warm feet without the wind cutting through them, she said. To know that they’ll stay dry.

“I got them last month, they’re not new,” said Alex. ”But they’ll at least keep your feet warm.” Alex pulled Lisa’s shoes onto her feet and wiggled her toes experimentally — you could see her socks poking through the soles, which had been worn completely through in several places. Alex laughed, but I grimaced; I’d worn shoes down like that, back when I couldn’t afford new ones, and walking through the cold, wet streets that fall had become a constant hidden reminder of that poverty. Not being able to afford warm feet.

We asked Lisa to be our dinner guest that night. Nothing fancy; student-budget food-truck fare, something where we could afford to say “order whatever you want, take as much food as you can.” She asked what we were doing, and I told her about school, and she said good, stay in that, complete your studies. She said she wished she could go back and learn so many things, but it was too late now; there was no time left for her.

No, I told her. Not too late. Plenty of older people go to college; there are scholarships and grants, and if she wanted, we could help her find one to apply for –

Alex left for the restroom in the middle of my diatribe. Once the Young Excited Happy Person was out of earshot, Lisa pointed at her plate, which had been hardly touched. “I can’t eat very much,” she said. “I’ll take this home, but you’ll notice I have a hard time eating.” Indeed, I had noticed that Lisa had been occasionally silent and still along our walk to dinner, and wondered out loud if that might be pain.

Lisa glanced around to make sure Alex wasn’t back yet, and dropped her voice. “I’m sick,” she said. “I really have no time left. The doctors say I have less than a year to live, maybe even 6 months.” I don’t remember what it was, but it was somehow stomach-related. Cancer, maybe. “So I really can’t go back to school,” said Lisa. “I wouldn’t live to finish a degree.”

Alex came back, and we abruptly switched our conversation to happier topics — her grandkids, the upcoming holidays, what Alex and I wanted to be when we grew up. I noticed Lisa tucked her food carefully into her bag, largely untouched except for a few spoons of rice. We bade each other a good night, gave Lisa a big hug, and off we went; Lisa to wherever she was sleeping for the night, and us to the discount department store, at my insistence. I told Alex in no uncertain terms we were going to put another pair of sneakers on her feet, right now, because those old shoes were making my feet cold just looking at them.

Alex looked happy, running through the shelves of marked-off discount shoes, looking for the cheapest sneakers that would fit her. “Look, I only had to wear those shoes for what, a mile?” she laughed as she peeled the soggy rags into a garbage can. “And now Lisa has good shoes. They’re only a month old, and a good brand — they should last her for at least a year.”

She’ll die before those shoes wear out, I thought, but didn’t speak that thought out loud. Instead, I smiled and paid for Alex’s new shoes. “My treat,” I said. “I know what crappy shoes feel like; besides, you paid for dinner, so we’re even now.”

Alex still wears the shoes I gave her. They are starting to wear through. She showed me her shoes recently, and joked that they were turning into Lisa’s shoes; there aren’t holes yet, but the soles are wearing thin and smooth and it’s only a matter of time.

And that’s when I remembered. It’s been nearly a year now, and I wonder: how is Lisa? Is she still alive? If so, are Alex’s shoes still keeping her feet warm? Or maybe Lisa and the doctors were right; she’s dead, maybe months dead from whatever sickness was killing her, and those shoes were the last shoes that she wore. Or maybe — I don’t know. But I realized that Alex’s shoes were what reminded me occasionally of Lisa, and that I might not remember Lisa once those shoes were gone.

So I decided to write this, because I want to remember: I want to remember the woman, and the evening, and the conversations, and the dinner, and the shoes — the spontaneous act of kindness, and the warmth of dry feet, and a reminder to myself to never take comforts for granted (I’ve been able to afford dry shoes for years now). I told Alex, and she’s ok with me writing this; she was sobered when she heard of Lisa’s illness, and we prayed together that Lisa might find peace somehow, wherever she is now.

“Peace and dry feet,” Alex added.

Amen.

 


Postmodernism in a 3-panel comic


These images of the postmodern paradigm and its predecessors have become popular enough that I’ve started getting usage requests, so here are redrawn versions for easy usability. General reuse terms are CC-By-SA, but contact me if you need other ones.

Sketch16585926 Sketch1659038 Sketch1659138


What does “becoming a better programmer” mean? – Assessments Brainstorm Edition


The goal of every Hacker Schooler is to become a “better programmer.” Given that I last wrote on Test-Driven Learning, I feel almost obligated to ask: “what does that mean exactly, and how could you assess yourself on it?” (Another wording, from Dave’s post: “What qualities of being a ‘good programmer’ could you aim for, and how would you know if you had them?”)

There is no one-size-fits-all assessment that would work for every Hacker Schooler — everyone has such different interests, learning styles, experience levels, and a wide splay over every other type of spectrum imaginable for learning programming. (Typing speed. Language preference. Shoe size.) Making a single pre/post test and foisting it on everyone would (1) fail miserably at assessing anything and (2) work against the intentional self-directedness* of Hacker School.

So during my Hacker School residency, several Hacker Schoolers and I sat in Hopper (the big glass-walled room at the end of the space) and brainstormed on exactly that question. Here’s what we have for starters, totally unsorted and only edited for spelling and clarity of terminology.

  1. length of  Hacker School bio page
  2. number of git commits
  3. number of “merits” (a currently nonexistent, hypothetical arbitrary credit) given by other students
  4. list of acquired skills
  5. contributions to FOSS
  6. number of pairing experiences
  7. lines of code per project
  8. list of completed projects
  9. total lines of code blogged
  10. number of roadblocks overcome (subjective)
  11. happiness/satisfaction (subjective self-report)
  12. lines of code written without needing to consult external references
  13. how fast can you make this deliberately slow code?
  14. Project Euler time trials
  15. persistence
  16. number of job offers
  17. number of friends referred
  18. ability to explain concepts to novice coders
  19. number of people helped
  20. understanding of software docs
  21. number of blogs
  22. hackathons attended
  23. number of followers in (git) repositories
  24. time wasted browsing other stuff
  25. length of time paired
  26. number of presentations
  27. ability to improve own code
  28. usefulness of programming blogs
  29. refactoring time trials (rewrite code to run faster, as fast as you are able to rewrite it)
  30. how many lines of code produced
  31. number of projects done as an individual vs collaboratively
  32. assessment from peer partner
  33. ranking of comfort with (programming) languages
  34. number of times you had to use a search engine to complete a task
  35. cups of coffee
  36. number of tweets on technical topics
  37. how many ways you can think of to code the same function
  38. total time spent with facilitators
  39. presence of test suites with code
  40. number of keystrokes
  41. hours slept
  42. debugging time trial
  43. results of code reviews
  44. number of git commits
  45. number of presentations delivered
  46. number of seminars attended
  47. number of seminars given
  48. number of new tools learned
  49. reading pseudocode
  50. ability to follow directions
  51. writing a program from scratch
  52. alum application reviews vs facilitator observations
  53. average length of (git) commit
  54. number of alumni contacted
  55. independent rating of CV by HR people
  56. can someone else independently compile & run your project?
  57. on a scale of 0-5, how confident do you feel as a programmer?
  58. number of interviews
  59. frequency of git commits
  60. number of questions asked of residents and facilitators
  61. frequency of code revision
  62. how many errors can you spot and fix in this deliberately broken code?
  63. time to fizzbuzz solution implementation
  64. how many technical words on this list can you explain
  65. grade on open courseware CS class final exam
  66. Zulip (Hacker School internal chatroom) lines with ? (question marks) in them
  67. heart rate/stress response during Jess McKellar’s most technical talk

Further ideas quite welcome.

*Tom also pointed out that a pre-test would “prime” students to learn certain things and could dramatically affect their pathway — for instance, if the pre-test had a bunch of CS theory, students would think “oh, I should learn CS theory!” and veer off in that direction, which could be positive or negative (but would most definitely skew the study results). He wondered if we could make pre-assessments that “primed” for certain… habits of mind, for lack of a better term, rather than content.

 


You know, I used to.


[Trigger warning: brief mild depiction of depression/suicide imagery from the past.]

Looking just now at a Christmas 2013 picture of me in my (then) brand-new dress, I realized I’m at an interesting point in terms of figuring out what “authentic femininity” means for me personally. Specifically, I now feel like at some point in my life, I will say something like “you know, I used to hate wearing dresses/makeup/dancing/whatever[0] and felt really awkward around them,” and someone who knows me pretty well will be surprised: “YOU used to HATE dresses? What?”

[0] not necessarily this set of nouns; it’s still too early to see how this might shape up. Part of my definition of “authentic femininity” sees physical vigor as totally badass and loves running and around in a sweat-soaked hoodie and muddy cargo pants (that somehow permit a full range of motion in the hip and knee).

This point may not come for many, many years. But I now believe it will come, and that feels weird in (what I think is) a good way.

I used to be like this for computers and technology. You know, I used to — well, not hate computers, but certainly I used to feel awkward and incompetent around them. I thought I’d never be a decent programmer, I thought a breadboard was a baking implement, and I certainly didn’t think I was going to engineering school. I remember telling my parents in high school “well, the first decision is easy; I can scratch everything that’s not liberal arts off the list of schools I’m looking at.”

And then there are the other things that I believe I’m going to say someday, if I’m not already saying them now.

You know, I used to hate being deaf, and felt really awkward about that.

You know, I used to hate needing to have a body, and felt really awkward moving, and wished I could just become a robot or computer program so I wouldn’t have to deal with things like muscles and breathing. Dancing? Ahaha. Ha.

You know, I used to hate silence and solitude, and felt really awkward and like I had to get the hell out of it as soon as possible.

You know, I used to hate the thought of getting married and settling down and being a mom and maybe not working for a little while so I could stay with my family, and felt like I should avoid the slightest possibility of that at all costs.

You know, I used to hate having to take time off to sleep and rest and relax.

You know, I used to think I’d never have or want any close female friends. You know, I actually used to think I’d never actually have friends at all.

You know, I used to hate having to be alive. There was a period — an extended, multi-year period — in my preteen and teenage life when I would beat at my curiosity with Small Mel Fists of rage, because the question of “what’s going to happen next?” was by far the strongest argument for not throwing the whole damn thing away. It wasn’t being “lifted up on the wings of hope in the midst of despair” or anything picturesque like that. It was more like being dragged unceremoniously over a black pit by a monofilament that cut into my gut like a knife and whooped annoying things like “BUT MAYBE THE FUTURE IS SHINY!” as I flailed at it with whatever cutting edges I could find, cursing it for not shutting up and letting me drop already.

You know, I’m glad it didn’t.


Oh boy, worksprint exploding! With tea.


When I’m in the middle of an intense worksprint, I explode all over the kitchen and living room. A just-cooked, half-eaten pot of curry soup is on the stove; the sink is piled with plastic tupperware that used to hold the pre-chopped meat and vegetable ingredients. Grapefruits, a platter that formerly contained cheesecake, and a bowl with traces of curry soup are sprawled across the kitchen table with my phone, two newspapers, my research journal, and a set of coupons for AJ’s Burgers & Beef.

I am piled on the couch, a tangle of speaker cables at my feet blaring Ingrid Michaelson and Jason Mraz. The speakers were dragged from my desk earlier in the week when I decided I wanted music and my couch at the same time. A glass of tea is perched beside the couch; a miniature French press brews yet another glass, witnessed by an empty San Pellegrino bottle and a grocery receipt for $117 worth of spinach, eggs, potatoes, chocolate, and all the rest of my calories for the month.

There’s something about the sprawl of half-open, half-cooked, half-cleaned, half-eaten things that feels sort of like my brain when I’m letting it wander between a multitude of half-baked, not-quite-formed-into-words ideas, fragments of reading notes, crappy first drafts. I’ll get up, dance around the room (quite literally: I’ve got a lot of choreography to figure out before Monday), refill the tea, and dive onto the couch to type again.

I know that when things start to feel more solid in my writing, I will want to clean the space; as my ideas converge, I’ll feel the need to go and wash the bowl and put away the pot and tuck the soup into a clean plastic container in the fridge. I will clear my desk, resettle my speakers by their usual chair, recycle the San Pellegrino bottle. At some point — probably before I proofread for the last time — I will want to take a shower, scrub clean both my body and my mind, and then look at the thing I’ve made before it marches off into the world. And then I’ll go and get new groceries (we have run out of both water and salad greens) and sit down with new books to read.

Turns out my physicality and intellect are highly intertwined. Don’t even get me started on how spirituality, sexuality, and affective/emotional states blend into that — I do not understand it in the slightest, but it’s awesome to experience and keep discovering. I’m pretty sure my future family is going to think “okay, mom’s really weird,” but these quirks and cycles I have now will mature and metamorphose into whatever that future looks like, and I’m curious to discover it too as it comes along.

Oh, man — the possibilities! I like being a person.

And I will end this break and get back into editing now. Hello, Derrida!


Braindump ramble starting from “contemplative scholarship”


Around the time I graduated from college, happy but worn down with frantic overwork, David Levy at the University of Washington wrote a paper titled “No Time To Think: Reflections on Information Technology and Contemplative Scholarship.” It’s a nice paper to read while sitting on the couch in a patch of sunlight and resting your hands between proposal-typing spurts.

The quote that struck me most was from Josef Pieper, a German theologian who drew on St. Thomas Aquinas to make sense of how to turn a devastated world towards “meaningful” work in the wake of WWII.

“Leisure is a form of that stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear. Such stillness as this is not mere soundlessness or a dead muteness; it means, rather, that the soul’s power… has not yet descended into words. Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion – in the real.”

How are you with silence? Solitude? Feelings? Discipline? I was asked all these questions at the start of the school year by different people, and answered them all with nervous laughter as I buckled down on each one. When I look at how I write about the future, I can see I need this sort of living contemplation to spring forth into the action where I also feel alive.

“A cozy home, a life intertwined with the community and with scholarly colleagues. Big kitchen with a window with a view, good food to feed the brains and hearts and hands tumbling through tough ideas at the table, wrestling out research and life together. Sleep, food, and faith. Friends. Music, movement. Sunlight. Writing. Tea and satisfaction.” (December 2013)

“A sort of worn-in comfort; cozy-looking gates and windows, an absently roaming garden jammed with flowers, grasses, and a plethora of charmingly mismatched lawn doohickeys… a fireplace, a lounging couch with laptop power cords winding towards it, shelves and shelves and shelves stuffed full with books, desks stacked happily with papers and coffee stains. Everything in a sort of happy flow, absentminded of the cooling mulled cider because of an intense, expansive mental presence in a problem space, dogs and cats and spouse and kids tumbling in and out of a researcher’s field of vision. The night grows crisp, and the tea kettle runs out and is rinsed with hot water and placed upended on a towel to dry…” (October 2011)

I do not often find that balance. I am still learning to become myself. But yesterday, I woke up early, read and studied, wrote several solid pages, danced, and ran leaping down the sidewalk in a light drizzle, Hug Panda around my neck, shouting gleefully as I passed bewildered friends. “Happy Easter, Mark! WheeeeeI’mgonnaparkthecar!” “Look look look Abbee, squirrels!” (“Mel! The walk sign!” “BUT BUT SQUIRREL, ABBEE!”) And then scrambling into a meeting: “Hi Megan! Brandon! Everyone! Oh right! I need… a… BOOK!” — my continuous sprint into the room turned into a vault-over-tables to get to the bookshelf (with efficiency!), whereupon I turned around to realize the whole group was falling over with laughter at my acrobatic entry.

Working hypothesis: I’m called to a multifacted hospitality (more on that someday) as well as a punctuated contemplation in the world; my actions bubble up, spring forth, from silence and stillness and rest and a making of home-ness for both myself and others.

But I don’t know, and that’s okay. Before I sleep at night these days, I lie in bed quietly stretching out my shoulders and my ankles, nuzzling into the nest of comforter and pillows, grateful for being in the world, wondering whether I did it right. It’s not an anxious wonder, it’s a curious and hopeful one. And then I tumble into sleep. And then I wake and stretch again and start with leisure: showers and tea and (now that Lent is over) eggs. (Eggs!) And then I work, and contemplation is my work, and being Mel is also my work, and sometimes I write papers and things while being-Mel…

Not sure why I am writing this. Thoughts half-formed. This post is a half-chipped block of marble; lots of mess, a ton of extra stuff, a tangle. But. Nice moment, sunny day; good break from “real” work, and now… I go back into it to write a chapter on poststructuralism for my proposal. Hello, Barthes. How are you? (I am a Mel. Let’s go!)


The Joyful Mysteries ought to be called the Terrifying Mysteries


Random Catholic Musing: the Joyful Mysteries ought to be called the Terrifying Mysteries. Sure, they’re joyful — but we call them that thousands of years later when we know how everything plays out. Rephrased, these 5 rosary decades are:

  1. Unwed teenager notified of unplanned pregnancy she could be executed for. She gets to tell her fiancé he’s not the father.
  2. Aforementioned teenage girl’s first family reaction to said pregnancy.
  3. 15-year-old gives birth alone in a cave in a strange town without access to medical care. She is immediately visited by hoboes wielding weapons (shepherds were not cuddly, polite people) yammering excitedly about some trippy-sounding vision that involves the baby.
  4. While registering her infant’s birth, young mother hears very disturbing prophecy about swords piercing her heart. Fun for the whole family.
  5. 12-year-old boy disappears from family trip, still missing after 3 days; distraught parents hunt in city.

It’s easy to forget this when all the Christmas cards are filled with excessively twee poetry set in italic calligraphy and soaring orchestral music. I don’t like twee poetry; sentimental historical depictions make me gag. But terror? I can do terror. I can do aloneness and unplannedness, and societal pressure and being lost and getting approached by random people who might look a little sketchy, and having to tell people things they probably don’t want to hear.

I just can’t do it with quite as much grace — for me, that part is the mystery — but I reckon that’s why Mary is a saint.