I’ve Surfaced Again!

Le_Morte_d__Arthur_by_ThorleifrTwo months to the day since I last blogged, here I am again.  After beginning the year with so many challenging goals, reality is creeping in, which brings the realization that some adjustments are in order.  I’m currently thinking through what those adjustments will look like.

So, in the last two months, I’ve taken on another composition and literature class.  We’re reading Le Morte D’ Arthur, which I hadn’t even read before, much less taught it.  In one way, it’s kind of difficult to connect with knighthood, the age of chivalry, and the quest paradigm.  However, Malory is forthright about the failures of both Arthur and the knights.  The Round Table is a community that aspires to live a virtuous life.  The inability of the knights to live up to their ideals doesn’t invalidate the ideals.  Rather, it shows that these are worthy of striving for.  I’m also teaching journalistic writing, which is something I’ve never done before.  I’m enjoying both the content and the students very much!

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Finally . . . Some Progress In Weight Loss!

Iscale1 weighed myself this morning.  Not a practice I would recommend on Monday mornings.  I used to do it every Wednesday because with the “w” in weight and the “w” in Wednesday, it was easier to remember.  Then, it just got too discouraging and I quit. In case you haven’t noticed from my previous posts, I’m not exactly svelte.  I do occasionally run some pretty long distances.  However, that is more of a matter of going really slow and not quitting than it is athletic talent or having the kind of body that would naturally adapt to such a practice. But finally, some good news!  Somehow, I managed to lose seven pounds from last week!  I was flabbergasted!  It occurred to me that there is more than one possibility at work here:
1.  The scale is off in a good way.
2.  Somehow, I managed to trick the scale.
                                                                                     3.  221 lbs. is really what I weigh now.
I’m going with number three at present.
I’ve felt lighter in the last few days or so.  Last week, I noticed that I had to cinch my belt a notch tighter.  I also noticed yesterday, while wearing a tie, that there is more room in my collar, and my shirt felt looser.  So, I was somewhat prepared, but had steeled myself for the possibility that it was all an illusion.
What do I give credit for this unexpected blessing to?  A couple of things:  first, I’ve picked up the intensity of my running.  Almost imperceptibly, I’ve started running harder.  A number of things are involved here.  I’ve been able to strengthen my core, which has helped me to hold my form and allowed for faster turnover.  So often, it’s a matter of paying attention to form and rhythm and not mentally letting down.  Secondly, my tastes have changed, at least temporarily.  I suppose you could call it aversion therapy.  My sister, who lives with us, is on steroids and craves massive amounts of foods with sugar in them.  I was getting sucked into the tide of this for awhile.  However, it’s almost like my taste buds cried out, “no more!”  So, I’m drastically reducing the sugar in my diet out of a desire to adjust to this aversion to sugar.  Good stuff!
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Being A Hermit Today And Enjoying It!

07392666639a183982794280ac73312dI see that I haven’t posted in a week.  Been putting in some long days at work.  Teaching is like that sometimes.  I’ve gotten myself in a big hole with lesson planning and need to dig myself out.
However, I did get in a little R & R today.  Ran an 8K race in 48:05 gun time.  I’m guessing the chip time will be about 46:30-47:00.  Now, I realize that this isn’t exactly the second coming of Steve Prefontaine.  But it’s the fastest I’ve run in many years.  To be able to hold under ten minute mile pace for five miles is bookin’ it for me, at my age and weight.  I think the difference now is that I’ve gotten my core strong enough to be able to preserve my form when I get tired.  Today, my mind was on preserving my form and rhythm, and not letting that get away from me.  Also, I’m proud of the way that I stayed mentally tough throughout the whole race.
I’m staying out of the house today because my wife is giving a baby shower for our niece.  So, I went to Riverside Arts Market after the race, and got a savory crepe with feta, spinach, and tomato from The Little Family Crepes.  Great food truck!  Then, I went to Chamblin’s Book Mine, Jacksonville’s treasure house of used books, and picked up more than my share, including an interlinear translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.  Now, I have about ten hours of study ahead.  Teaching Revelation 11 in church school tomorrow plus class prep for this week.  So, that’s what’s happenin’ today!
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Reading and Surrender

I’ve fallen woefully short of my publication goal for this week.  I enjoy writing for the blog. However, much of my time has been spent in teaching, getting ready to teach, or lately, running.  So, I haven’t exactly made writing in the strictest sense a priority, although most of the above has been a function of some kind of writing.  But it’s not finished writing — just enough to get the job done to either give my students a thorough lecture or devise good open-ended questions for a discussion-based class period.
In terms of audiobooks, I’ve been listening some to Middlemarch while I drive.  However, it’s kind of difficult on the run, as you really want to participate with all your faculties.  George Eliot demands a kind of surrender that many contemporary authors don’t require, and is difficult to render if a person is trying to listen while doing other tasks, or perhaps even trying to read other books.  The surrender pays rich dividends when the option is available.  This is something that I’ve noticed with other authors such as Tolstoy, Doestoevsky, and Melville.  Perhaps the reason that these works aren’t preferred by students is the necessity to utterly surrender oneself to enjoy a satisfying experience with these texts.  There’s a degree of resistance in the soul to such a surrender that must be overcome.  But this is essential to reading a work charitably, putting oneself under the tutelage of the text, and withholding judgment until understanding of the text is achieved.  I’ve also started listening to Murakami’s Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  However, I’m wondering if he is going to require the same kind of surrender that George Eliot does.
I finished Charles Murray’s Coming Apart.  It was a worthwhile read.  The data he presents quite clearly supports his view that America is becoming more segmented and stratified as a society.  What may be controversial is how one interprets the data, and what conclusions are to be drawn from it.  And morally, is this a good development for American society, or is this something to be lamented?  On balance, it seems that this new stratification is something to be lamented.  However, the aggregation of brain power in what Murray calls ‘the new upper class” has some beneficial effects for all of America.  The downside is that the new upper class has little contact with the rest of America.  It appears that the new lower class does not either.  The only caveat on this book  I have on this one is that some of the later chapters could have been abridged or eliminated. However, I suppose he really wanted to convince the naysayers to his thesis.  I’m pretty sold on his thesis about the distance and America being segmented into demographic “neighborhoods,” but uncertain about what that means for the future or if anything can or should be done about this.
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Caesar, Cicero, and Middlemarch

I read recently an article about Dorothy Sayer’s education in Latin.  She assess various teaching techniques, pronunciation methods, why Latin is essential for one’s education, and what content to include.  For much of the article, I found myself in agreement with Miss Sayers.  However, I disagree with Dorothy Sayers about Cicero, when she said something like “throw that old fool out the window.”  I felt that way about reading Caesar when our Latin III class was reading from the Gallic Wars.  We found out that Caesar was extremely selective in the battle reports that he presented and that he liked himself a lot.    Although Cicero is way over my head and has a number of idioms, I’m enjoying him more because of his facility with language.
middlemarchI started Middlemarch this weekend. Some bill it as “the greatest novel in the English language.”  I had begun reading Rebecca Mead’s My Life In Middlemarch, an interesting enough memoir about how reading Middlemarch at different stages of life has shaped her as a person.   About halfway through this book, I decided that Middlemarch itself may be more interesting than Ms. Mead’s experience of the novel.    I’m only to chapter six, but so far, I haven’t seen any reason why Middlemarch can’t live up to this billing.  Moby Dick and a couple of other novels, maybe Bleak House, compete with MIddlemarch for this but it’s absolutely top drawer.  I love reading books in which it appears that the author has read everything that you have and the book is a conversation between the author and you.  That’s what I enjoyed so much about both Moby Dick and am enjoying about Middlemarch.  
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Around the House

818kGmg0fFL._SL1500_I ended up sleeping until almost 9 am today.  For most people, that would be the equivalent of sleeping until noon.  Is this a luxury?  Something I needed to do?  Or merely a lack of discipline?  My intention was to not set my alarm clock, wake up as close to 7:45 as possible to go get my blood drawn (no coffee, food, etc.).  Well, I accomplished sleeping in until the lab was open.
Consequently, I’m feeling rather “type b” today.  As we speak, I’m typing this from bed and it’s past noon.  However, it can be said that I have been a little too tightly wound this week.  Having recovered from some unknown respiratory virus that I caught last week, I’ve been on a mission to catch up on grading, prep for classes, find time to write, crank up the exercise, and read 4-5 books at the same time. Getting up at 5:30 or earlier each day this week,  I’ve caught myself being impatient with my sister, who lives with me and has a number of infirmities from the toll that cancer has taken on her.  If I need to take her somewhere, she’s debilitated enough so that she can’t really be hurried.  For her to get ready, it takes as long as it takes.  Meanwhile, I’m drumming my fingers, hyperventilating, obsessing about being late for class, driving way too aggressively, and in general, being rather annoying.  Not a flattering picture!
So, I got myself organized, made myself a list of things that I need to get done over the next couple of days, and am just going to go after them one at a time.  I’m almost caught up on grading, having maybe a couple of hours to go.  Since it’s the midpoint in our quarter, I need to notify the parents of my students who have gotten behind the curve, while there is still time and hope for them to improve.  A sermon that I’m scheduled to preach next week is still to be written.  Then, the weekly task of planning each class period for the upcoming week.  A good day to take time to think and sharpen the saw rather than go, go, go.
I made myself a list of books in my house that I’d like to read this year.  I counted 46 books, which include an assortment of fiction and nonfiction, education, life development, spiritual growth, biographies, histories, etc.  Good to know that I have enough reading to survive an  long economic downturn or reduced circumstances.  This doesn’t even include books in my study at the church, which would at least double that number.  At a future date,  I’ll categorize and publish the list.
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Of Books and Such

Currently, I’m licoming-apartstening to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart:  The State of White America 1960-2010. I decided I needed to get myself a little more grounded again after The Handmaids Tale. It’s a controversial and fascinating account of social developments that have taken place in America over the last fifty years of so, particularly the development of a new “upper class” and a new “lower class.”  There is a point in which the numbers of statistics from studies become rather mind-numbing to listen to, but I’m far enough into it that I’m going to tough it out.   My observations seem to be in line with the narrative of Dr. Murray, at least as far as the rise of the new upper class.  I just started the part on the new lower class.  I’m expecting it to be as on point as part one was.
 I’ve also gotten into Werner Jaeger’s Paideia.  It’s quite an interesting read on the educational aspects of ancient literature.  He makes the point that the poets were seen as educators, and brings out what each of the poets shows us and teaches us.  I’m really starting to think that these mid twentieth century literary criticism classics, like Paideia and Mimesis are classics for a reason.  Part of me is thinking that I should have read Paideia earlier, and part of me thinks that it wouldn’t have made that much since apart from a few readings of the Iliad and Odyssey.  It’s good to start taking the whole aspect of continuing education and preparation seriously.  Paideia has been on the shelf for a long time and it’s good to finally get into it. Jaeger has a great eye for making connections across all of the classical works.  He is able to teach out of depth in a way that very few contemporaries are able to do.
I don’t feel like I’m producing anything that close to something I’d want to share with cyberspace..  It’s kind of disturbing.  A few weeks ago, I was just churning it out. It’s possible that the cause of this is not making space in my life to think.  I’ve become a little too task oriented over the past few weeks, which may lead to shallow living.  It’s probably time to dial it back a notch and to live as if the people in my life really do matter, rather than having my nose to the grindstone 24/7.
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Of Books and Such

I finished The Handmaid’s Tale last night.  It continued to be absolutely gripping to the very end.  I’m not a big fan of ending —there’s no resolution to anything.  But I suppose with the setting and the plot of the novel, it’s an appropriate ending.  In the alternative world that Margaret Atwood creates, the nature of life is that there really isn’t much change.  Still, Ofwarren is a sympathetic enough character that the reader is rooting for her to “overcome the odds” and to find a rich and meaningful life.
1848-261926Woke up clear headed and rested for the first time in a long time.  Went for a four mile run yesterday.  Although it was really slow, it felt good to get out, and it appears that it helped me sleep last night and put some pep in my step for today.  I woke up at 5:30 for the second day in a row.  Yesterday, it was so I could do some Latin translation to prep for Latin III.  Today, it’s to be selfish with my time.  To take time to think, to pray, to write, time that no one is asking or expecting anything of me.
Hopefully today, I’ll feel a bit more connected with my classes than yesterday.  For the entire day, I felt like Robo Teacher.  I went over the material scheduled for the day and made appropriate disciplinary interactions, but for some reason, felt no connection with my students.  Hopefully, it was the lingering effects of the sickness and the cold medicine and today, I’ll do a better job in connecting with them.  I really dislike feeling that way, and more so when it’s for all my classes.
I completed eight books in the month of January, which is abut three more than I had planned for.  I’m on pace to complete 96 for the year.  With summer and breaks in the mix, I should be able to finish 100 if I continue with my present efforts.  A shoutout to Book Oblivion for the 100 books per year suggestion.  I thought I was doing well to aim for 52 — a book per week, but it may be possible to double that.  Challenge accepted!
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Yard Sale

1506_405323316216228_14675588_nI’ve finally turned the corner on this deathly virus.  All I’ve been able to do is the bare minimum to be prepared for class and to survive.  I was sick enough to go home early from work Thursday, which for me, means near death.  It seemed a bit narcissistic to call in sick for the blog, but I had to suspend posting until I experienced a turn for the better.
I did finish Paradise Lost.  I’m not sure I feel any more prepared to teach it but I did outline the introduction to our class discussion and was surprised how much I was able to put it all together.  This is one of those works where you really need to trust the author to take you where he wants you to go.  Being familiar with the Scripture is a big help in getting through this tome.  Even though I get the big picture, I feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s really an inexhaustible treasure.
I started listening to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale a couple of days ago.  Absolutely gripping.  The setting is a futuristic dystopian society that is controlled by a cult that has some Christian elements in it.  I haven’t gotten very far into it, but it appears that the ability to sire and bear children is rare due to the collateral damage done by the wars that have plagued that society.  The protagonist is a “handmaid,” one who is set apart to bear children for the wife of one of the commanders.  Anyway, I got to thinking about this book along with a book that came out a couple of years or so ago by Jonathan Last called What To Expect When No One’s Expecting.  For years, the worry among the progressive elites of Western culture has been overpopulation.  But now, the West is experiencing something unprecedented — a demographic death spiral that is taking place throughout the West, as many families have instituted their own voluntary one child policy.  Last forecasts an alarming decline in economic growth, productivity, standard of living, and quality of life.  It’s an eye-opening read.  The juxtaposition of the two books is almost enough to make one paranoid that we are teetering on the edge of a collapse of civilization, and we don’t recognize it.  Quite interesting.  I don’t think Atwood realized that there may be a time when her effort at speculative fiction may be closer to the mark than she thought.
I’m mostly working on sermon preparation for when I preach in two weeks and Latin III translation.  We’ve moved further into Latin than I’ve ever been in this year’s Latin III class, so I’m having to do the translations with pencil and paper before class now rather than just sight read them.  I’m enjoying the challenge and I’m seeing myself become more competent in the language.  My Latin is completely self-taught, so this milestone and challenge is rather gratifying.
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It Takes A Long Time To Learn To Do Something Well

I’m planning on finishing up Paradise Lost tonight.  It’s quite a challenging read.  Even having been to seminary and having taught Homer, Virgil, Plato, and Augustine for the past eight years and even having taught Dante before, I still feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s going to need more than one reread before I think I can do a good job of teaching it.41Ux+jGSkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

However, I keep telling myself I have to start somewhere.  The good part of this is that I can sympathize with my students as they struggle with the text.  Also, most of my students have a degree of familiarity with the Scripture, so we can all follow the basic plot.  But thinking about this made me consider how long it takes and how much effort it takes to become really proficient in a craft.  It’s taking me eight years of teaching Plato’s Republic to get me to a place where I can read it both sympathetically and critically, and engage the students in a reading that’s both sympathetic and critical, and to really be able to enjoy this process.  It’s taken me six years as a Latin teacher (starting out literally one lesson ahead of my students) to be able to enjoy the rhetoric and the rhythms, the timing and the pacing of Cicero, and to take pleasure in reading an author who makes a language sing.

It’s rather ironic that I’m closer to having this experience with Cicero in Latin than I am with Milton in English.  But Paradise Lost is so rich that the time invested in it will be repaid a hundredfold.  Maybe after I teach it eight years, I’ll have a greater degree of confidence in engaging students with the text, rather than us all sharing ignorance.  Diligence.  Industriousness.  Making the most of my time.  Applying myself.  These were virtues that were largely absent from my misspent youth and young adulthood.  So I’m making up for lost time, and enjoying the journey.  I’m getting to read all the books that I’ve wanted to all of these year, and getting paid to understand them and to share them with others.  It’s a great life. But I have not been able to get around just how long it takes to get good at something.

Any shortcuts out there for becoming competent and proficient to a high degree in something that you are passionate about?

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