Given: The hour

Prove: That professors should not blog late at night.

A good friend and I plan to watch all of North & South tomorrow evening after work. I haven’t watched it in three weeks or so now. It’s been a little longer for her. The main plan is to eat some Indian food, have some great drinks and desserts, and enjoy this little escapade apart from her beloved partner, who, although he’s a good guy, feels he has done his bit with this flick, having now seen North & South enough times to last him for several years.

***

I’m reading way too much explicit Guy fan fic. But I’m finally getting a handle on what the appeal is, I think. Adding this topic to the list of things to write about.

***

This post is mostly about me and not about Mr. Armitage. I’m sure you’ve seen this stuff, but if not, recently I’ve read a lot of things I enjoyed by guest bloggers at Richard Armitage Fan Blog, and at RAFrenzy and Phylly’s Faves. I’ve still got stuff to write, but admit that the end of Spooks 9 has made that weekly Monday night writing orgy a lot less pressing and frankly, a lot less attractive. I’m not going away, though.

The real issue: writing’s been sparse here because every single one of my students is writing a term paper of between ten and fifteen pages. This activity necessitates hours and hours of meetings on top of normal office hours. It’s fine, I signed up for this, they are writing about subjects that interest me, since they’re enrolled in my classes; I like to see their progress, so it’s even frequently rewarding, and even when it isn’t, it is my obligation, but trying to keep track of dozens of students’ writing means that my own thoughts whir about in my head like bats at times. They’re spiraling upward toward a purpose but they’re not there yet.

I suppose the big thing that is preoccupying me in terms of this blog is the upcoming one-year anniversary of the trigger event that set up my second contact with North & South and the consequent Armitagemania. I need to write about this and I’m not sure how. It was hardly a happy moment and thinking about it still hurts. It will come, I guess, just the way everything else does on this blog: as it comes.

***

Humans are all so similar. And yet we are so different. Which distinctions are important, and which are incidental?

***

“All the world is a very narrow bridge; the main thing is not to be afraid at all.”

We’re now all hurtling at high speed toward the last day of classes, then winter graduation, then the last day of finals. We have to take lots of deep breaths. The main thing, to misapply the words of Nachman of Breslov, who was not talking about final exams, is not to fear as we all cross the very narrow bridge to the end of the term and the end of the year. We’ll be all right, though hardly any of us believe that right now.

***

My student who may be suffering from PTSD is getting a B-minus. Glimpses of brilliance in his written work and conversation both suggest that he’s a much better student than that, but as he said to me today, he can’t really concentrate most of the time. I told him I don’t care what grade he gets but only that he does his best under the circumstances and does not disappoint himself. He’s writing a final paper on the similarities between religious propaganda in the period we’re studying in class and military propaganda today. He has also re-enlisted and is submitting his work in my class early in consequence. He’ll be gone by finals. Destination — he thinks: Afghanistan. I did not ask him how he knows this because I did not want reliable verification that it could be true. When he makes it back, he says, he’ll go to OCS.

***

Grant that I may seek to understand. The military is his family. Lord, why is it so pointless to pray for no more deaths?

***

Many of our students from India and Pakistan blow off stress by playing pickup games of cricket on the main plaza of the campus in the middle of the night. The speed with which they hurl that ball toward the batter makes this look like a frightening game, one requiring much more skill than baseball. They are very excited and cry out in languages I don’t recognize. But when I have to cross the playing field to walk to my car, they politely stop their game until I’m out of the path of the ball.

***

Wills and Kate finally announce their engagement. I, like everyone else, wonder what he thinks about putting her into the difficult position that contributed significantly to the unhappiness and finally the death of his mother. I am glad to hear they are above all friends, and I wish them well. I — undoubtedly like millions of others — remember very clearly the day their parents were married, and the day his mother died.

***

Prince William is the same age as my very favorite graduate student, he of the summer paleography lessons.

***

I attended our campus madrigal dinner tonight, and I paid for a really nice seat — I’ve never gone, but since I’m leaving in May I decided it was time to go this year or shut it. They sang La, la, la, je ne l’osé dire, of course, how could they not, and the very moving Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake, but I think what moved me most was hearing them sing Agincourt Carol and Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. I’ll say that if the only alternative is Afghanistan this is how I prefer to see the baby-faces of 18- to 24-year-olds, innocent, ridiculous, spoofing for a little while longer. They were enjoying themselves and I remembered that camaraderie of arts productions from my own youth.

***

In the last two weeks, the most mischievous boy in my confirmation class dropped dead in the parking lot of a superstore near where I grew up, and the female lead of the undergraduate production of Die Fledermaus in which I played clarinet in the pit orchestra died of reasons not listed in her obituary.

***

While I was waiting for the dinner to begin I was standing in the foyer to the university’s student union ballroom, a room with impressive wood paneling and decorations, above all medallions of important figures in the institution’s history hand-carved by notable artisans. I was reading the descriptions of them. None of the important figures in the institution’s history, or the notable artists, it seems, were women.

***
http://movieclips.com/e/ZvgqQ/ Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at MOVIECLIPS.com

Beautiful music. And you know, beauty is everywhere in the world. Why haven’t I arranged to hear more beautiful music in my life? It made me think of one of my favorite moments in “That Thing You Do,” when Faye (Liv Tyler) dumps Jimmy (Johnathan Schaech). She says, “I have wasted thousands and thousands of kisses on you – kisses that I thought were special because of your lips and your smile and all your color and life. I used to think that was the real you, when you smiled. But now I know you don’t mean any of it. You just save it for all your songs. Shame on me for kissing you with my eyes closed so tight” [watch above].

I’ve been kissing the scholarly world with my eyes screwed shut for ten years. Beauty is available at a price much lower than the one I’ve become accustomed to paying for ugliness. Time to dump the abusive partner. Can I stay resolute?

***

Saw the film Four Lions this week. It’s a film about four wannabe jihadis in London. Very, very black humor. At first you think, how stupid; then you find yourself laughing at their incompetence; then you start to find them lovable because you think they will never be terrorists. And then suddenly they start to succeed, and you realize that your heart is caught in your throat — that they’ve tricked you into laughing at horrors, at the frightening ways in which incompetents succeed at their projects — that they’ve tricked you into laughing at the deaths of characters you find lovable.

The scene above is the funniest and the saddest in the film, I think. Fessal is trying to train his pet crow to act a suicide bomber. This is what Mash’Allah means.

***

I was taught as a child that humans have no freedom to will the good in any meaningful sense, that every action toward virtue or human salvation had to be willed by G-d first for it to have any effect. But I’ve never understood why G-d wills what G-d wills. Or to put it in the terms of my week, why some kids get to sing sixteenth-century art songs and others fight wars, why some kids come from Central Asia and others go there, why some of us live and others die, why some human lives are so important that millions of people hang on the latest events in them while others are apparently of negligible value, why we voluntarily give up so much in life that is beautiful to engage in the stressful, damaging pursuit of the ugly.

***

This time of year my students get all of my rather limited reserve of optimism following my hope that my expressed belief in their projects and my somewhat ragged cheerleading will keep them going even when they find it difficult. If you feel like post this is unreasonably gloomy, do not feel the need to try to comfort me or cheer me up. If I were my brother I’d be unconscious with drink by now. Instead I’ll go to bed. This is self-contempt at Servetus’s best, there’s no solution except to get up tomorrow, and to work again at tikkun olam, though I do not often feel like I succeed in repairing anything. Probably now that I’ve written all this down I should hide it. I’m leaving it here because it’s real and these moods have a lot to do with why I watch Armitage. We all need something beautiful. Even one thing beautiful.

QED: Professors should not blog late at night.

~ by Servetus on November 19, 2010.

31 Responses to “Given: The hour”

  1. I think you have proven the exact opposite of your QED. This post is exactly why they should blog late at night. Writing this down is akin, imho, to confronting a fear, once its out there, and you read it, it becomes less, I can’t think of the right word, weighty? dark? oppressive? troubling?

    I am not analyzing you nor attempting to give you comfort. What you are writing about is interesting, as an outsider, to watch, the process of separating. Preparation to separate from the University, your students (especially those you have a particular interest in), as well as a troubling and obviously distressful memory/anniversary. Servetus, write away. Your blogging is always an intellectual exercise for the likes of me which I greatly enjoy.

    As far as beauty goes, the lovely Mr. Armitage, since I discovered him, is proof that beauty comes in many forms and that God had some REALLY good and creative moments!

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    • Thanks, Ann Marie. Mr. Armitage is indeed a sort of reminder that not everything in the world has to be ugly or cheap.

      I hadn’t thought about this as separating, but of course, you’re right. That’s one of the chief difficulties at the moment — not least what to maintain and what to separate from.

      Like

      • Sometimes we get to decide what we lose and what we keep and sometimes we don’t. ….And sometimes its a wheat and chaff kind of thing. You said something in another post thread not too long ago in a response to something I wrote and your response has been on my mind ever since. You said something along the lines of “being FORCED (emphasis mine) to make a change”. I thought that your use of the word force meant that it was not something you wanted or chose. Well, having been in that situation (repeatedly!) sometimes the best thing to do is just open up and embrace it. It takes more courage than we THINK we have but, eventually, find out we had that and more. Again, no advice just my experience.

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        • Part of the problem is that I’m still trying to figure out whether I’m being forced and if so by whom or what :). Most people don’t choose a difficult life over an easy one, and I am no exception. It’s hard to talk about this in such vague terms, but the extent to which it keeps creeping up on this blog means I should probably be more exact soon. I guess I could say that aspects of this decision are being forced, but that very fact points to my own inability to choose something that would be better for me without being forced by circumstance.

          Sometimes just speaking helps a lot. If I can just say “I am not a professor” even though it hurts afterwards I feel calmer.

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          • @servetus,

            since in this particular blog world all roads lead not to Rome but to Armitage I will leave you with this thought from Lords of the North (take a moment and put his voice in your head here……ready?):

            Fate is inexorable.

            Like

            • That was the worldview of Uhtred’s time, indeed.

              I grew up with a worldview in which G-d made all the important decisions. I wasn’t able to live with that. I chose a worldview in which I had more volition. Although I don’t appear to actually have that volition lately.

              Like

              • I took my leap of faith and posted my first ever little Sir Guy ficlet on Live Journal (under my *ahem* “pen name” annie_lucas). I finally did it!

                It is a small thing but huge to me…I enjoyed writing it and it was very cathartic for the dissertation as well.

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                • well, because an unfinished dissertation is the ultimate frustrating WIP, there is a definite relationship there!

                  This is a really cute and ingenious fic, Anne Marie!

                  Like

  2. Servetus, of course I don’t know how you’re feeling, but I work for a university and I hear and see the issues involved from both the students and the faculty side. I often surprise friends who are outside the academic world by my stories since most of them think I spend the day listening and participating in fascinating conversations with interesting people. I wish that was true, though once in a while I do feel the privilege of spending my work life in this world and maybe helping others to reach for their dreams. I wish I truly worked in a world of beauty.
    Seems to me you have the courage to make a change Though it may not be an easy road, I have no doubt you will find what you’re looking for in your career.
    As for our beautiful man who brings us all happiness and solace and makes us feel such a range of emotions, I am proud and happy that he’s on his way to the success he has worked so hard for, but also worried for him because his world will change so completely and so will ours as his fans. Thanks for the beautiful pic of JT and enjoy viewing N&S with your friend. It’s “all about love”

    Like

    • Thanks, musa. It’s helpful to hear from others somea ffirmation that the university world is not always as it seems.

      I agree with you that there’s a part of Mr. Armitage’s current success that is worrisome. He’ll need to change to accommodate some of the attention that is coming his way. I wish him well with those challenges.

      Like

  3. “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
    –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

    My brother loved the army and was proud to serve. When he came home from Iraq, he burned his uniform. I have watched him struggle in vain for the last four years to regained his life, his footing. It is heart breaking. It is like watching a train hurl into a wall and feeling helpless to stop it.

    I had the same feelings about Kate. I thought that poor girl, does she have an idead what she is signing up for? I watched an interview, and Prince William jumped in when the reporter asked about Diana. He said something along the lines of Kate can be Kate and no one expects her to be my mother. I wish them both well.

    Enjoy your N&S therapy this weekend. We all could use more beauty in our lives.

    Like

    • Iraq. I’ll pray for your brother. It’s distressing to me that we as a country take such advantage of the noble and gracious influences of our fellow citizens. I hope he can somehow rediscover the beautiful ideals that put him on this path. I sympathize in a weak way because I often feel I have lost most of mine.

      Like

  4. I feel concerned for Kate, as I would for anyone who steps into that fishbowl life. I truly do hope she and William will be happy together. They seem to be good friends, which is something Diana and Charles never were, as far as I could tell.
    And it helps in any marriage to be married to someone you genuinely care for as a friend.

    Great quote, by the way, @Rob. The dark times are what shape and mould us as well as the good times. If we live long enough, surely we all go through some of those awful times and we don’t come out unscathed on the other side, but hopefully better, stronger, wiser for it in some way.

    I hope your brother finds some peace and resolution. It is very hard to see someone you love in pain–physical,mental, emotional–and feel powerless to help them. As you said, heartbreaking.

    Like

    • I think it helps that she’s roughly his own age (as opposed to being a decade younger) and that she has had a lot of time to adapt to the media barrage as opposed to being immersed in it suddenly with no help.

      Thanks for the good wishes, angieklong 🙂 You are always a supportive shoulder in a bad moment — if I am not chatting to you I can read some of your nice sexy cheery fic.

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  5. Dear Servetus,
    Your late-night ponderings are very personal and truthful and I found myself thinking of the quote from Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn.
    ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’
    But I had to check the quote to make sure I got it right. When I reread the poem I was astounded at how closely your post echoes the same mood and themes as this poem.
    Write on dear Servetus!

    Like

    • Thanks, phylly3 — this is part of what I was trying to attain in the post. Just describe the things and how I feel when I see / experience them, let them speak for themselves. Sometimes the riot of impressions I gather in a day because too much for me.

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  6. It’s doubtful that you can live long without experiencing life-changing events. For those of our generations (and we’re not all the same ages), careers have been an integral part of our identities. As have been family, whatever the indivual circumstances. Somewhere, there is always an anchor.

    How many times have any of us been thrown from the horse? What do we do? Get back up on the horse – and it is not always the same Horse what threw ya. (I haven’t yet conquered fear of snow-driving – just provide for contingencies in other ways. Or height-phobia – just wait for a crowd on the escalator before descending. Cowardice! I swear I’ll go up the Eiffel Tower next time – in your dreams, girl!)

    We do get through. And there are always alternatives at the moment. Sometimes, we just take a job, which does not meet our immediate needs or proven qualifacations, or what you KNOW you can do. And sometimes it works so well, it just leads to the place you need to be and can give of your best.

    Just getting back up that horse (or another horse) can work well.

    Cheers.

    Like

    • you intuit the central question at the bottom of all of this for me which is what is next and what if I don’t know what is next. The answer to that question for a decade now has just been to do the next thing — but I think it’s prevented me from taking time to think about what and whether.

      The first time I drove my car into a ditch into a snowstorm my dad made me drive him to work the next morning. It was salutary, although I told him I thought we could just move out of the snowbelt. 🙂

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  7. I sympathize Servetus. I find endings hard (even if they lead to exciting new beginnings). I think it’s human nature not to be able to tolerate endings calmly and logically. We’re cast adrift and it’s scary.

    I’ve come to the conclusion we have to work up a certain amount of anger – self-righteous anger even – before we can detach ourselves from anything, or anyone, that we’ve invested a lot of ourselves in. Separation is such a hard thing to do and reminding ourselves forcibly of how bad our situation is really helps to propel us out and away from it. Afterwards, when we’re safely on the far side of the narrow bridge, we can look back more calmly and acknowledge what wasn’t so terrible about who or what we’ve left.

    On a more shallow note – I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Guy. I can’t put into words what it is that makes him such a compelling character, but I know you can!

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    • Thanks for this, feefa. Last year my therapist kept telling me that I needed to be able to be more angry, and I just couldn’t bring myself to feel any anger. Now when I occasionally do it’s still hard to acknowledge. But you’re right: it’s the only explosive energy enough to get me out of here.

      Ah, Guy. He’s so much more complex than most of Armitage’s other characters, and it’s surprising because he’s the one that could most easily have just have ended up (as Armitage said himself about the role) a villain in a pantomime. There will be more Guy on this blog now that Lucas is apparently dead.

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  8. The previous comments are so beautiful and encouraging, that I cannot really add something. Just want to let you know, that I found your article so very true. I keep my fingers crossed that everything turns out right for you!

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    • Thanks, CDoart. And i hope that your own struggles with work and business at the moment work out the way you need them too!

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  9. Change is tough, no matter the circumstances. They’re even harder when you made the final decision to change, because you realise it is needed.

    After so many years struggling to graduate in something I inherently knew was not right for me, I found myself stuck. And didn’t know what to do anymore. So I sought help to get unstuck, and also to get re-acquainted with myself.

    In the end I decided to quit a few months before graduation instead of forcing myself to go on, despite knowing that piece of paper would make some things easier and more acceptable for those around me.
    Now I find myself scared beyond belief, but with a stronger sense of direction. I may not know what the future will bring me, but I’ve never felt so certain about what I need/want to do. Whether or not any of my goals will come to pass, no one knows, but I sure will try.

    So I wish you good luck. These are uncertain times, but you are not alone.

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    • Thanks so much, CC. I’m starting to understand a lot better now myself how much I have to want to do what I need to do — and that I can’t live without this for very long. There are plenty of arguments for security but only me arguing for my own sanity and sometimes it’s easy to lose track of what’s important.

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  10. Thank you for being so open and thoughtful in describing what you are going through. Somehow it mirrors something in my life, and in your blog you sometimes give me more insight into my own thoughts. Change is scary, it’s also as simple as that.
    In a way what is happening in your career is also happening in mine; the company that I work for for almost 15 years has been ”aquired” by 2 US companies during the last couple of years, and the last one is now about to close the facility in my country. So I am forced out of my job and am also thinking: ”now what”. It is scary, but in my better moments I manage to see that it is an opportunity too. So I’ll be figuring out what to do next starting a couple of months from now. It may be soemthing completely different, or not (not a clue what yet, there is just this feeling that I need to do something with animals, whcih I have had for the better part of my life now, so maybe I should start to listen to that feeling). Scary, but who knows. Doesn’t the saying go that ”when one door closes a window somewhere else opens”?
    Good luck!

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    • Thanks, Elisabet, and good luck to you, too. I really do believe that we too often don’t look for the new opportunity because we are too preoccupied with maintaining the status quo. Let’s hang in there together!

      Like

  11. […] in a classroom this afternoon and burst in to give him a hug. (Then apologized to my colleague.) Despite his plans, he didn’t go to Afghanistan. He was able to delay for another semester, and he wanted to see […]

    Like

  12. […] in terms of the suffering I was experiencing. Exhausting job, rough day housekeeping, deep inner dissatisfaction with the world, career […]

    Like

  13. […] found a place of rapprochement with my father. That I can’t grade faster and that my energy is insufficient to change the world even just the little bit that I’d like to. That I couldn’t figure out how to get my sexual harasser to stop or just ignore it and move […]

    Like

  14. […] should stay home and study this afternoon. I think of my student who went to Afghanistan once and almost twice and then didn’t go. He did get to OCS and he graduated, after which I lost track of him. […]

    Like

  15. […] time with contemporary veterans. I used to worry about students who were going to be veterans, or the occasional one I ran across in my classes. Now I see one or two a week. They are all very different people with different experiences, needs, […]

    Like

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