Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Earth Day, Everyday

"When I first joined the Franciscan order in 1961, my novice master told me we could not cut down a tree without permission of the Provincial (the major religious superior).  It seemed a bit extreme, but then I realized that a little bit of Francis of Assisi had lasted 800 years!  We still had his awareness that wilderness is not just 'wilderness.'  Nature is not just here for our consumption and profit.  The natural is of itself also the supernatural.  Both natural elements and animals are not just objects for our plunder.  Francis granted true dignity and subjectivity to nature by calling it Brother Sun, Sister Fire, Brother Wind, and Sister Water.  No wonder he is the patron saint of ecology and care for creation.

Once you grant subjectivity to the natural world, everything changes.  It's no longer an object with you as the separated and superior subject, but you share subjectivity with it.  You address it with a title of respect, and allow it to speak back to you!  For so long creation has been a mere commodity at best, a useless or profitable wilderness depending on who owned it.  With the contemplative mind, questions of creation are different than those of consumption and capitalism, and they move us to appreciate creation for its own sake, not because of what it does for me or how much money it can make me.  For those with spiritual eyes, the world itself has to be somehow the very 'Body of God.'  What else could it be for one who believes in 'creationsim'?  As Paul puts it, 'From the beginning until now, the entire creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth' (Romans 8:22), so it is not only an evolutionary body but an eternally pregnant body besides.  God's creation is so perfect that it continues to create itself from within.  The Franciscans were not wrong in not cutting down ordinary trees without a very good reason."

--Richard Rohr

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Snowing here, but the Magnolias are blooming in Nana and Papa's yard in Idaho:

Addie, 9

I love it when someone's self-portraits magically appear on my camera.

This is one awesome kid.  Funny--her favorite thing right now is to make people laugh.  Loves comics.  Reads them, makes them, draws them.  Sensitive and sweet.  Sarcastic.  Very much in kidland, but also so grown up in many ways.  I forget she is a kid sometimes, and have to remember the power of my words to wound, and also to build up.

Beautiful.  Red lips.  Thick black hair.  Long, long limbs, always going everywhere, falling, hitting things, knocking things over; also graceful, goofy, fun.  Pure potential.

Loves legos.  Loves television.  Loves books.  Reads books until they fall apart, until pages fall out, soaked wet from being read in the tub.  Has questions about words and meanings and jokes and everything.  Knows everything.  Corrects you on everything.  Sleeps through anything.  Still knock-kneed.   An infectious giggle.  Still wants to cuddle.  Can't get comfortable being cuddled.  Would rather be naked than anything else, because all clothes itch.  Hates having her fingernails cut.  Always has stuff in her hair.  Loves her friends.  Loves her family.  Loves her teachers.

I love knowing her, and being around her, and having her in my life.  Lucky beyond words.


E. was tearing apart the deck this weekend, you know, before ANOTHER SIX INCHES OF SNOW decided to fall, and found this:

Happy Tuesday!

At Table

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that one of my major life struggles is balancing busy-ness (which usually manifests from my enthusiasm, on the one hand, or my need to feel valued, on the other) and down-time, which I need in decent quantities in order to feel human.  This has been a busy-busy semester, with lots of deadlines and talks and travels, plus all the doings of everyday life:  volleyball and soccer practices for the girls, doctor appointments and acupuncture appointments (for Nolie) and therapy appointments (for me and E.), and a beautiful, vivid social life for all of us.

Some things have had to give.  We continue to have someone come in and clean the house every two weeks, which has been a lifesaver.  I've been late on a few deadlines.  I got a pus-pocket in my throat and was too busy to notice.  I had a breakdown over getting tenure, this thing I've been working toward for six years, probably because I didn't take enough time to consider whether it was something I really wanted (it is).

But here's something that has been helpful.  I've been doing a lot of reading about minimalism.  These books are about minimalism, directly or indirectly:

Simplify:  a short, $3 kindle jobber which walks you through minimalizing your living space.  This book helped me to realize that I'd been holding on to a lot of "stuff" with the idea that I would use it "someday" or because it meant something to someone in my family (though not necessarily to me) or because it would feel wasteful to let it go.  But clarifying our living spaces has made cleaning and tidying up much easier, has made us appreciate the things we truly enjoy using and looking at, and has cleared up psychic space as well.  This process is ongoing but we've made a lot of progress.

Added bonus:  I'm more reluctant to bring crap into the house, which would undo all of the clarifying work.

Minimalist Parenting:  We already do a lot of the stuff in this book, including keeping the kids' extracurriculars at a minimum.  Though we mostly have made that choice as a matter of survival, it has also been because all of us need down-time to recharge, and this book was a nice confirmation that it's more than okay to exit the "gifted" parenting rat race.  This is a great book, especially, for new parents, I think.

And, my favorite:

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily:  Written by a Benedectine nun, it's not a self-help book about minimalism, but rather a sort of manifesto about how to live a more centered, meaningful, and faith-filled life.  Minimalism comes out of those commitments.  It's also an awesome example of a woman writer using her voice to call out what is crazy in our culture, but which somehow passes for normal, which is my new goal as a tenured professor and human being.  She's a badass.

This passage from the last book here strikes me:

Indeed, if there is any indicator at all of the lack of spirituality in American culture it may well be the demise of the family meal and the common table, where privacy has superseded community and personal agendas have come to overshadow the common good.  In the meantime, we eat in cars and on stools and in front of cheap TV shows, day after day after day and wonder why we're lonely and why no one cares and why the gospel seems so remote.  We open cans instead of peel the tomatoes or clean the corn it would take to make a meal; we eat on the run instead of at a table; we eat alone instead of with someone else and we wonder where the wonders of life have gone.  Monastic spirituality says that the wonders of life are all around us and what we must do is to invite people in and learn to revere them.

See?  Badass.

Of course, when you're busy-busy, it can be easier to order the pizza and let the kids watch cartoons so that you can have a real conversation with your husband, whom you haven't seen in three days.  That happens.

But we make a real effort, most nights, to sit down and have a real family meal.  It's ugly, in a lot of ways.  Addie still eats like a neanderthal, and a lot of food ends up in her hair.  She can eat three plates of pasta in six minutes.

Nolie's blood sugar goes nuts half way through the meal and she usually careens off the barstool while lustily singing show tunes.

I roll my eyes.  A lot.  And lose my patience about the bad manners and yelling and singing.  E. tries to calm me down, and probably fantasizes about there being roasted meat bits somewhere, which he might be served and get to eat, by some other wife.  But we're there at the table, together, and the food is usually homemade, at least most of it, and we are able to talk to each other a bit before the inanity sets in.

Here's our newest innovation, which you'll also see in Minimalist Parenting, and which has been a godsend:

Apparently, Indiana Jones is invited to dinner.

It's theme night!  It was Addie's idea.  Mondays are soup and sandwiches night, Tuesday is pasta night, Wednesday is make-your-own pizza, and so on.  Every Sunday, I go through our cookbooks and pick out recipes for each theme, do the shopping, and then know what to cook for that night.  Shopping:  easier.  Cooking:  easier.  Fights over what's for dinner and excessive eating out/ordering in:  improved.  And I still get to try new foods and recipes, which is important to me.

If you have suggestions on the manners front, please do leave comments.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Courage, and Oil

Yes, I’ve got tenure, but more than that I’ve been at this job for ten years and have achieved some level of success at it, if you’re defining success in terms of being invited to give talks and share your research and your perspective and that sort of thing.  And oh man, has this been tough for me.  Tough in a learning-all-new-sorts-of-skills kind of way.

Like last fall I got invited to go and talk at a huge convention for petroleum engineers.  The room I was speaking to wasn’t that big but the convention has thousands of people at it and I was on the first-ever panel for corporate social responsibility, and I’m scared and unsure of petroleum engineers in general and didn’t know what it would be like.  Also, I get really bad stage fright.  Not every time.  In fact, nine times out of ten I think I’m a pretty good presenter—I try to be engaging, to tell stories, to have well-designed slides.  But one time out of ten I get a horrible case of the nerves and my voice shakes and my knees knock and it’s a disaster.

And I never know when that time is going to be.  Which in itself is nerve-wracking.  When I spoke at the conference, it was great.  The anxiety beast didn’t appear, I gave a good talk, it led to more offers to speak and write articles and collaborate.  Good.

It has also forced me to get more clear about who I want to work with, and to what ends.  Good.

In the meanwhile I’ve gone after the presenting thing head on, primarily by teaching my own students how to present, and then forcing myself to model it for them.  All this is also terrifying and difficult, but has been helpful and I’ve gotten better and a bit more confident.

But still.  The petroleum engineers.  I think it’s because—in my head—they can be mean.  There is a fraternity-kind of thing going on when groups of them get together.  And it’s mostly young men.  They hoot and holler and heckle.  And also, most do not give a shit about the kinds of things I give a shit about:  environmental issues, social justice, deliberation.  Which doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do the work.  But it feels like a personal risk to talk about it with them, for sure.  Maybe having tenure now will start to wear away at the feeling a bit.

And there’s the fact that the oil and gas industry is a big, nasty player in one of the biggest threats facing our planet, namely climate change.

Also, greed.

At the same time, I’ve taught petroleum engineers for a long time, and many of them are good kids, and they are in fact interested in these issues, and they work hard in my classes, and I learn from them.  Energy and environmental crises and what to do with them are complicated, too.  So I always have to hold both of these things in my head when I work with them:  my fear and anger, and the fact that they’re human, and they’re students, and they have things to teach me.

But then I got invited to speak again in one of their classes this week, and it was a terrible experience.  I got in there and half the room of 150 student had laptops open (and it clearly wasn’t to take notes).  I’m typically pretty good at classroom management, so I asked them to close their computers so we could share the hour together.  I proceeded with my talk being as lively and engaging as I could, but I could tell that my request didn’t go over well.  I think at that moment, in fact, a number of them decided they would ice me.

Then, to make things worse, I got that student you get some times, that student who is articulate, speaks very quickly, knows just enough political theory to be dangerous, and who is typically an ideologue intent on getting me to talk about my position on market economics even when I’m talking about something entirely different.  You put up with it for a little while and endure his being cheered on by a loud but small group of fellow students who are excited to punish me for 1) making them close their laptops, 2) asking them to think about the social impacts of fracking, and 3) daring to exist when they clearly have senioritis, jobs, and just want to get the fuck out of their university.

I mean, I did okay.  Much better than I would have done ten years ago.  I got some emails from students thanking me for being there, and the instructors were gracious after, too.  I made some points, kept my cool.  But I was shaky by the end of it, for sure.  The lack of civility, the combativeness, the disrespect. 

What to make of it.

A few days later I boarded a plane to Virginia to talk about fracking again—a colleague had invited me to participate on a panel with a few other experts on energy policy and to judge a student debate on fracking.  I’m writing this post from the plane and reflecting on going into another situation that is completely foreign to me and therefore scary.

Again, I’m out of my element.  I edited my high school yearbook and played sports.  I was never on the debate team.  And now I’m going to be a judge alongside Al Gore’s right-hand man and Giuliani’s right-hand man.  I’ve taught energy policy for a few years, but I’m not a wonk.  I have some ideas that are some times hard to verbalize and which don’t always make sense and which I’m still working through.  So on the one hand I’m pretty sure I know nothing and will be exposed as a fraud.

On the other hand, when I’m pretty sure I know nothing, I get to work and enter research mode:  I ordered a book on debate, thinking that would help my ignorance.  If I would have, I would have read an entire library of research on fracking.  Just, you know, to make sure I know everything.

Still--in line with my increasing awareness of when things don't feel right--falling back on researching in order to know didn’t feel like the right move, either.

Then it occurred to me that what I needed was a book on courage, and I remembered that Brene Brown does work on courage and vulnerability and bought this book instead, which is about how to be, not what to know (and is wonderful, by the way.  You should buy it.  Right.  Now.).  Lo and behold she told a story at the beginning of that book pretty much like mine, where she gave a talk to a really hostile audience (she only found out why later) but just barreled through rather than figuring out what was going on. Here is what she says:

The second the talk ended, I grabbed my stuff and ran-walked to my car.  As I was pulling out of the parking lot, my face was growing hotter.  I felt small and my heart was racing.  I tried to push back the instant replay of me acting crazy, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  The shame storm was brewing.
 When the shame winds are whipping all around me, it’s almost impossible to hold on to any perspective or to recall anything good about myself.  I went right into the bad self-talk of God, I’m such an idiot.  Why did I do that? The greatest gift of having done this work (the research and the personal work) is that I can recognize shame when it’s happening.  First, I know my physical symptoms of shame—the dry mouth, time slowing down, tunnel vision, hot face, racing heart.  I know that playing the painful slow-motion reel over and over in my head is a warning sign.
 I also know that the very best thing to do when this is happening feels totally counterintuitive:  Practice courage and reach out!  We have to own our story and share it with someone who has earned the right to hear it, someone whom we can count on to respond with compassion.

Brown talks about calling her sister after for that connection (I called N.—thank you, N.!), but it also occurred to me that Brown, and I, could have done more in the moment of the talk itself.  Yes, the students were being rude, and no, I didn’t really want to engage the ideologue and have my lecture derailed.  But it might have been interesting to take a time out from my presentation and to ask what was really going on in that room.  To call on the quiet but attentive students and to have them explain things to me.  To break and regroup with the course instructors to address the issues I was seeing.

That would have been better, I think.  That would have been more courageous.  And it would have modeled a more present, respectful communication than I enacted myself.  Sure, it might have backfired.  But now I’ll never know.

Doing that requires being more present in the moment and being more vulnerable.  So that is my plan for Virginia.  Stay present.  Pay attention.  Acknowledge vulnerability.  Connect in the moment.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


To Addie:  Do you love Nolie?  Write your answer.
Nolie's been checking in with us via notes a lot lately.

Dear Mom, I am sorry I wrote on the counter with sharpie.  Will you forgive me?  Love, Nolie.

To Dad:  Nolie loves you.  Do you love Nolie?
To Mom:  Do you love Nolie?  Write your answer here.

Dear university:  do you love me?  Write your answer here.

I guess we all need confirmation sometimes, a sign that we're headed on the right path.

Easter Surprise

Sometimes, one lost jelly bean from last Easter hides and is somehow found in this Easter's basket.