Rogue Homilies by Deidre Price

a study of life that smacks of the divine

Month: July 2014

Last Call for Summer Reading!

In June I challenged readers to take part in The Little Literati Summer Reading Challenge, and I was overwhelmed by the response. From Jacksonville, Florida, to Missoula, Montana, Little Literati picked their books and started off on their separate reading adventures! My littles were included in this challenge (although they’ll be going prizeless; my being their mother is likely prize enough, I’m sure), and we have delighted in old reads and new.

Libraries are free for most people, but the Prices racked up record fines this past month. I regret to inform you that we were not the best of bookish citizens. My personal apologies to anyone looking for Aquarium Fish on the Destin Library shelves in the past month. Some lunatic put it in a basket with things we could knit with if we knitted. It was E. She can’t be trusted.
Another E I’m especially fond of is one of our fellow Little Literati. Her mother is an avid Instagrammer and hashtagged her heart out during the challenge.
Here is E working her way through her picks this summer. If this doesn’t just inspire you to get thee to a library (or have half a dozen daughters), I don’t know what will.
Keep reading, everyone! The last day to send in your contest submission is August 1, 2014. 
And don’t forget that very nearly equally awesome adult challenge here.
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How to Beat a Case of the Bartlebys: A Tired Academic’s Resolutions

I work too much. I do. I’m a maniac about it.

This English professor’s story started with a love affair: me + books + paycheck = academic happy ending. Somewhere along the road, I lost my way–or got carried away–the details are fuzzy.

In part, my father’s toxic work ethic (read: addiction) is to blame. In part, it’s my mother’s toxic perfectionism (read: obsession). Add to that a youthful energy and persistent optimism that somehow survived my twenties, and you’ve got me: the happy workaholic who is convinced she’s changing the world, semester by semester.

The trouble is that most of us aren’t. We’re cogs that will eventually be replaced inside a machine that will outlast us all. 

It sounds grim for someone like me who is still madly in love with the literature I teach and in love with the idea that many of my students link arms with me and are wholly invested in this great work we’re doing together.

But I will admit to have moved at least a pinky toe over to the dark side when I finally realized this world weighs me in credit hours. 

Still, strangely, some of us are innately bound to that machine. We celebrate like small puppies at the slightest pat on the head. Applause warms us like sunshine. People take our pictures with framed certificates at barbecue lunches, and we smile.

Even when the work day is done, its remnants stick to some of us. Meetings wipe their feet on the mat and come right in the house. Works in progress rest on our heads in the evenings like June electric blankets, and they jolt us awake in the morning with a warmed-over list of to-do’s.

In the digital age, there is really no getting away from it. Those who think an internet holiday is realistic may be overlooking the fact that whether I’m online or not, work is happening. Conversations are happening. Everyone else is there, and I’m in direct competition with them all. The stakes are high: reputation based on accessibility, reliability, and response time. 

I am the prized fish being measured three times a year with student evaluations, lined up alongside my colleagues.

And so I roll with the dings. Texts, emails, and push notifications. I’m what Pavlov had in mind when he experimented on his dog–far kinder than experimenting on a human. Yet here I am, conditioned and fully equipped with a hamster wheel and a steady stream of treats.

But what happens when the treats stop? What happens when the small rewards are no longer enough and we need more to sustain us and to inspire us? What happens when we realize that the very ones who caused us to ask, “Why don’t they care?” transform before our eyes from antagonistic neighbor to sympathetic protagonist?

Something seems madly awry when the roots of work grow so deeply into our foundations that our floors start to crack. 

Recently I realized that, at my current pace and depth of involvement with my students, I will not be able to sustain my current pace until retirement. I am managing classes, other academic commitments, and essay grading around the clock. Somewhere in the middle of my efforts to appear competent and confident (a real Mary Poppins of humanities), I overdid it, overcommitted, said yes too many times.

Some weeks I’m spread so thin that I feel certain I am about the depth of a doormat. 

Imagining a mystery payoff was my own immense mistake. There were never any guarantees of a happy ending. A cake will be served between 1 and 3 on the day of my retirement. There will be no parade or coronation, and even if there were, would that feel like enough?

Sometimes we must work for work’s sake, and as a cog, I’ve decided I must keep an oil can nearby to prevent rusting out.

Here’s my savvy plan for extending my expiration date:

1. Realign your efforts with your goals.

Decide what you want from the semester or the year–or longer–and target those goals with strategic investments of your time and energy. Oftentimes, we add smaller goals to our list, and our efforts and energy become divided. It’s important to stay focused so that you can make more progress to toward reaching that goal; then others can follow.

2. Speak up.

When you are consistently good at the work you do and easy to work with, you don’t have to speak up to volunteer yourself for work; others will do that for you. Speak up to say no sometimes. Keep your priorities in mind and know that saying no to something means saying yes to other things that may matter more in the long run.

3. Set boundaries.

No one else will do this for you. My goals for this year are to limit the time I am flitting from one task to the next, especially online. In order to be goal-oriented, part of speaking up will mean setting boundaries on my time and the depth of involvement I can have with some projects. I plan to limit myself to two open tabs and to silence my phone sometimes. I often tell my students there is no such thing as an English emergency, and I need to start believing that.

4. Know the difference between work and family, and business and philanthropy.

Period. Their business decisions aren’t personal, and neither should yours be. In the words of Batman’s Joker, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Once the cycle of friendly favors is established, you’ve transitioned yourself into a one-man non-profit. Congratulations on your tax-exempt status.

5. If there’s a stick, make sure there’s a carrot–even if you brought it on the trip yourself. 

The trouble with bridging a gap is that you get walked on. Also, it’s really hard to stop doing something once you’ve started. Saying “not anymore” is far more complicated than saying “no.”

That being said, intrinsic rewards are everything, and if those tasks teach you something, prepare you for something, or just plain bring you joy, take them on.

Just see steps 1-4 and repeat.

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Fear and Loathing in Nashvegas, or My Last Shy Lunch

Aside from flat-out failure, uncertainty is my biggest fear. Alone I can do no problem, but uncertain is another story.

This paralyzing uncertainty is assuaged by the presence of my husband, loud music in a gassed up car on a familiar road, and something technological to fiddle with in my right hand–those three things and nothing more.

You might imagine then the difficulty that comes with solitary dinners in a foreign town.

You might imagine my inner distress when faced with dinner decisions that ought not be carried out in parking lots, doors locking me away from the world with one of many Publix salads while away at a conference for a full week.

photo 1

My last shy lunch

But let me tell you this. Few things are more liberating than walking into a swanky Italian restaurant at nine p.m. on a rainy evening in a dark new town and saying, when they ask the number in your party, a solid and sure “one.”

I confess. I took pictures of my food. I was one of those. 

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Making It New / Review: The First Time We Saw Him by Matt Mikalatos

One of my favorite things about living in a house with people who are drawn to art and creative things is that we often find overlap happening among our current projects and interests (read: obsessions). The connections are profound sometimes, and so interesting to me that, despite our varied interests, we find so much common ground.
We’ll start with the one closest to the ground. Atticus, our three-year-old is hooked on Super Why!Thanks to this show and the benefits of having a literary mama who is obsessed with the written word—okay, mostly the show—Atticus knows nearly all his letters already, capital and lowercase. It’s impressive enough to justify my obnoxious bragging. What I like about the show is how it takes children’s stories and reinvents them by showing how changing a word or two can change the ending of a story, even save the day.  So, for example, in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, if we change the sentence to read that “slippers” were in bed instead of the wolf, boom—sad ending averted. No one dies. This model borrows from the old to make the new. It makes a story that was once passive become interactive.
Daina, our thirteen year old, has recently become fascinated with the show Once Upon a Time, a show that also takes known fairytales and makes them new by locating some of the storylines in the modern-day town Storybrooke. It’s no surprise that she loves the show since she also loves Doctor Who, which calls into question time’s being linear in nature and, consequently, conventional narratives. In both cases, there is rewriting being done. Reinvention is happening, and as a result, the same stories hit us in a new way—we are reawakened.
This is not a new concept.
The fragmentation and reassembling in an attempt to make something new is something we see in music as early as the 1960s’ dance hall in Jamaica. Prior to this, in art we see artists like Picasso fragmenting images and reassembling them, enabling us to see conventional images in unconventional ways because of how they’ve been newly pieced together—same concept, new format.
Prior to this, we have Ezra Pound’s modernist literature paired with the preaching of “Make it new!” and the hope of a new era of literature that broke away from all that had been done to death before.
Ezra Pound (poet among other things)
One of my favorite of Pound’s contemporaries is Gertrude Stein, writer and a friend of Picasso, who played with words in order to wake people up to the newness of them, to refresh the words—or at least refresh our eyes to seeing them in that new light. Of her sentence “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” she said the rose had never been as red as it was before that sentence.
Gertrude Stein (yes, she’s a woman)
My husband Jonathan designs pedals and amps and does woodworking. He loves analog and throwbacks. His book stacks are stocked with books on fine woods and dovetail joints and joiners and other words I’m not comfortable using in sentences. He is investing his time in seeing how things were done when they were done well. Through his work, he is recreating what he loves and presenting it in a new way so that we also might appreciate it in a new way.
I have no idea what this is. Location: bathroom sink, circa 2014
The idea of taking something known and adjusting our vision so that we can really see it as we had the first time when it was new and all its details soaked into our skin, that’s the goal of so much of the literature I’ve been adoring lately. It’s not changing the content so much as it’s changing my perspective so that I can see it in a new light—really see it again as if for the first time.
I finished a book this evening that offers reinventions of known stories. In The First Time We Saw Him, Matt Mikalatos posits what the Biblical accounts of Jesus’s life would be like if they were to have happened in twenty-first century life.
The book upsets routine retellings with beautiful, poetic passages that illuminate new meaning like in the modernized version of Mary who takes a pregnancy test she buys at the convenience store. She sits at home, “staring at the test, waiting, and the small blue cross slowly appeared, bright and certain and shining like a star.”
The stories are intermingled with exegesis, in which Mikalatos explores familiar questions, such as where God is during dark times, in very unfamiliar ways. This is Mikalatos’s gift: He stays true to the core of the text, but he turns it on its head in such a way that you cannot see it the same way again. You simple can’t.
If chapters got shout-outs, I’d give one to Chapters 5, 7, 8, and 12 through the epilogue. You see, I was reading along, minding my own business, until Chapter 5 called “The Billionaire and the Teacher” high fived me in the face. I want to cut and paste his casserole joke here (something all Southern church-folk should ‘get’), followed by his explanation of what it must have been like for the disciples to bring their lives full-stop and follow him. I want everyone I know to read pages 62 and 63. He is honest about how bizarre some of Jesus’s miracles were, and he is honest about how we respond to these so many years later, many of us far too close to callous. We’ve just heard them so many times. Are we really hearing them? Is it possible to experience them in the same immediate way that his disciples did? Do we get it?
On page 92, he calls me out. Just gloss that. Keep walkin’ by. Try not to cry like I did on page 94.
Around Chapter 8 is when you begin to hope the book doesn’t end. It’s powerful.
Most refreshing to me about The First Time We Saw Him is that it offers not only a new way of seeing Jesus but also a new way of seeing ourselves. It invites us to engage more deeply with these texts and to think critically about the ways we’re living—or not living—in response to them.
If I had a billion dollars, I’d buy you all a copy. Because I don’t, you’re on your own, with a pocketful of promises from me that you’ll love it.

This book does exactly what I love about books in general. When I finished, it left me different, and that’s an incredible thing and an incredibly hopeful thought, that we can rewrite ourselves and make better pages of our days, that we can make new things–be new people. That nothing’s done and nothing’s perfect, that we’re all works in progress with the power to revise and be revised. I just love that. 

Thank you for reading.

I know I write long.

Bless it—and me—and you.

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