Baffled

*No literal, real-life horses were harmed in the writing of this post.

My father and brother arrive in Ireland this evening, after spending some time in Spain to visit the exchange student they hosted this past school year. They’re only here for a few days, so we’re going to try to do as much of the island as we can in a whirlwind adventure. Current plans include Dublin, surprise, Belfast, and possibly Galway or Cork. We’ll see. But should be good craic. It’ll be nice to see them and to have them visit. For my younger brother, this trip is not his first time out of the country, but it’s close. And it’s his first time to Europe. Catalonia and County Dublin will make quite a contrast, I’m sure. All the better.

Also, here are some cats for this week, from the remarkable Evie.

So the preceding news is probs more interesting to most of you, but after jilting this post last week, I felt like I really ought to include it. Didn’t want to hurt its feelings. This is the part where the horses come in, for good or ill, if you were confused by the disclaimer at the beginning. Here goes.

I feel like lately I’ve been writing a lot about how confused I am, just as a general state of being. So I kind of hate to beat on that super dead horse. But also, I mean, it’s where I am. And then I stumbled across this wonderful quotation by Wendell Berry who I normally associate with environmental stuff (but who is also a poet and stuff I guess).

When we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

I then came across this little stunner from Rumi, whom I expected to be poetic.

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.

How true. It’s all very ancient Greek, you know–the unexamined life and all. But somehow more human, I feel. Because, in examining my life, I don’t feel that I learn much most of the time. Instead, I become baffled. And perhaps that’s what’s important.

And notice that he’s not like, “It’ll all be grand once you overcome X confusion or solve X problem.” No. If you’re not baffled, you’re not living. Solve problems, do. But always know that the work is never finished, not truly. The seaweed may indeed be greener, but no lake is puzzle-free.

Which is sort of comforting (another deceased ungulate–how to feel better about yourself when you’re abusing the horse of confusion). The idea that you’re never really supposed to get to the point where the stars are perfectly aligned and all the ducks are in a row and everything’s coming up roses. We wander around, having all-too-brief moments of clarity in the midst of an otherwise enigmatic world. And life, generally, leaves us bewildered.

One thing that is actually encouraging, rather than just comforting, is that the world is full of people–not just people who are as confused as you, but people who may be confused about different things. When other people play significant, positive roles in our lives, some of that always-looming bafflement recedes. When we let other people teach us–as in the dark as we both may be–they can show us, perhaps, a better way even as we may show them. When we live together with people, truly together, it just makes things better

I have one final quote for you, if you’ll bear with me. In the course of this year, I have read pitifully few Irish books–not even Dubliners. But I did read a remarkable contemporary novel recommended by an Irish coursemate, The Book of Evidence by John Banville. And though I read it in December, just recently a section returned to mind. Not only is it incredible writing, but it also seems to be an all-too-painful assessment of the state of humanity–not just now, but always. His character says:

I have never really got used to being on this earth. Sometimes I think our presence here is due to a cosmic blunder, that we were meant for another planet altogether, with other arrangements, and other laws, and other, grimmer skies. I try to imagine it, our true place, off on the far side of the galaxy, whirling and whirling. And the ones who were meant for here, are they out there, baffled and homesick, like us? No, they would have become extinct long ago. How could they survive, these gentle earthlings, in a world that was meant to contain us?

I don’t know about you, but those words almost make me ache with their accuracy.

Maybe that’s not a great place to end a blog post, especially when it seemed to be going in a more positive direction. But surprise. There you have it, something unexpected happened and brought down the mood. I rest my case on bafflement.

I guess as some small consolation, I’ll leave you with this:

Tristan2016-7-25

 

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Draig Dw I

I had written some real muse-y stuff earlier this week, but now it comes to it and I’m just like nah, not feeling that for today. So let’s start off strong and keep it light with some good cat pictures because it’s hard to go wrong with cat pictures.

This week, we had some incredible weather. Like, actually really hot. Now, the temperatures themselves were not insane–I think the highest high for here was 25. But understand that in Ireland, the hot feels hotter and the cold feels colder. Not sure how of why, but others I’ve spoken to about it agree. But fear not, we’ve had some rain and plenty of clouds too because Ireland.

In other news, ‘madrona’ is not apparently the common name for that tree in areas generally outside of Washington and Oregon. Additionally, the species that we have is only found along the coast of Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and around Vancouver Island. Most other species are Mediterranean or other hot places, like Mexico. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. It’s also in the same family as cranberries, huckleberries, rhododendron, and heather. Science is weird.

Confession time. So I acknowledge it to be a little strange and perhaps a bit outside of my expected behavior, but this year I have started watching vlogs on YouTube and it’s been great. The one I follow most consistently is a British guy who, oddly enough, is like a fashion somebody. Not that fashion is odd (though it kind of is) mostly just that I don’t care for it at all. Anyway, it’s so strange seeing all these people who are fairly famous because of YouTube and it’s like a whole world. A little crazy. But I’ve somehow gotten into it and I don’t care who knows it. You basically just follow them around in daily life and they’re not generally too exciting (though they occasionally do like meet important people or do fancy things). It’s maybe a trifle voyeuristic, but there you have it.

I think I stumbled into it in the search of videos of Welsh people because Welsh accents are my favorite. They’re the first time I’ve heard people speaking English and understood the way people are sometimes described in books as having a singsong like quality to their speech. It’s delightful.

I’m also currently on my longest streak on Duolingo (39 days) for both German and Russian. So here’s some German and Russian examples from Duolingo itself, because this whole post has been in English and variety is the spice of life 😉

Die Freundin zeigt ihre Haare.

Твой брат когда-нибудь был на этой горе?

Those sentences are just random ones from my training today, they have no particular significance. They’re pretty mundane, though sometimes Duolingo gets a little creepy. Other times, it’s just delightful–one of the first sentences I learned in Welsh on Duolingo is ‘I am a dragon.’

Draig dw i.

Mend Our Shoes

Major shoutout to my sister who, in the midst of studying for her physical therapy qualification exam, has been my biggest dissertation encourager. We celebrate the little victories and send each other lots of gifs (no, people who don’t know what gifs are, that’s not a typo). Also, shoutout to Evie for some stellar writing advice and some cat-based encouragement to write write write.

Evie's Cat2016-7-14

I’ve heard it said, on occasion, that when you’re angry with someone or don’t understand why they’re acting in a particular way you should walk a mile in their shoes. Right? It’s a pretty well known saying. Pretty sure almost all you readers will have heard it. Pretty sure almost all Americans will have heard it. And I think most would agree that it’s very sage advice, you know, for general good things. Yet here we are. No walking. Ruined shoes.

 

A friend of mine recently wrote, in response to events in the US, “Stop focusing on who’s right and start righting what’s wrong.” I heartily agree. In doing some other reading, I came across a reference to the Westminster Larger Catechism, passed by the Church of Scotland in 1648. And, you may think, that pertains to racial injustice in the US today because…? Let me tell you. When going through the Ten Commandments, it not only asks the content of them, but also a variety of details about what they mean. The sixth commandment is Thou shalt not kill. Importantly, before asking what sins are prohibited by the commandment, it asks what duties are required by it (Q 135) and here is what it says:

The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defence thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labour, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behaviour; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succouring the distressed and protecting and defending the innocent.

Like, I really don’t know what else to say. I had written a whole thing this week, but when I came across this it all seemed unnecessary. This is why black lives matter (too). We are to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

So let’s go back to that old phrase. Walking a mile in another’s shoes. Many of us have lost that ability, if we ever truly  had it. When we see the tattered shoes of another (because we rarely see the frightful state of our own) we have little inclination to step into them. Good thing I know someone who delights in mending our shoes.

My heart is sore. Facebook, that great well of loud opinions, has given me enough heartache to last for a while, and also shown me that many others have spoken much more eloquently than I. This post is inadequate, as am I in writing it. So I will finish with just a little prayer, in faith that prayer changes things.

God, help us be courageous enough to admit when we’re wrong. Help us be compassionate enough to do something to help. Teach us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with You. When we are tired of walking in our own lives, much less the lives of others, mend our shoes. And help us mend one another’s. You are the Great Mender and to you I entrust my heart and this world. Amen.

Why Dissertations are like Vampires

So my parentals left on Sunday, we had a nice last few days. We walked through the War Memorial Gardens (with some amazing flowers) and then along the river to Chapelizod, the supposed final resting place of the legendary Isolde (or Iseult or however you want to spell it).We had a casual dinner in Chapelizod village and then a leisurely stroll back into Kilmainham, where they were staying. It was a pleasant conclusion to their visit and I’m glad I got to see them.

Also, shoutout to the family with whom I am now living. They are super cool. I’m so glad to be staying here 🙂

Monday was Independence Day in the US and so that happened, I guess, though I’ve never been particularly attached to it as a holiday (gasp! how unpatriotic–my REC senses are tingling!). We went to a little barbecue with some Americans and it was very nice, but the weather was typically Irish–mostly cloudy, fairly windy, spots of rain. After we got back, there was a downpour. So yeah, like I’ve been saying this whole time, sweater weather year round. Anyway.

For the thoughtful section this week, I’d like you to watch this video. It’s a song from a musical, and I apologize in advance for the strong language. But the rest of this post will make zero sense if you don’t watch it.

I’ll wait.

Seriously.

So there you have it, basically. Writing a dissertation is hard, there are so many vampires involved. Pygmy vampires are everywhere, and they’re so distracting. And they make it so easy to just put things off. And just…gah.

And, without getting into my rant about why we have dissertations at all, the ‘establishment’ (if you’ll excuse my use of such a hackneyed word) can be so constraining in their actual production. I mean, standards and formatting stuff I get (as annoying as it can be) because you want to be able to have some sort of base line by which to look at academic research broadly, and also within your field. But at the same time, we’re told that we can’t go too far out of bounds just because no one else has done it. You have to simultaneously say something new and something that someone else has already said. It’s a little ridiculous and, I think, more than a little air freshener vampire.

The vampire of despair, man. That hits me.

The Voice of Reason indeed.

Sometimes, it seems like even opening my computer requires wading through seas of vampires. But I’ve written before that it’s important to do hard things. If that hard thing is just getting out of bed, you gotta get up and exercise for twenty minutes. If that hard thing is leaving the house and speaking to another human being, you gotta go to a French National Day party for at least two hours. If that hard thing is writing a dissertation, you gotta write 1,000 words today.

This post is as much (probably more, actually) to psych myself up than encourage you. But if you’re facing some hard things–be it getting up in the morning or making major life decisions–maybe that song can be your anthem too.

Go forth, then, grab your stake, and get to work. You have a story to tell. Or, in a totally unrelated allusion: you is kind, you is smart, and you is important.

Die, vampire. Die!