February miscellanies: Chaucer, pilgrimages, and liturgical calendars

“I distrust pious phrases, particularly when they issue from my mouth.  I try militantly never to be affected by the pious language of the faithful but it is always coming out when you least expect it.  In contrast to the pious language of the faithful, the liturgy is beautifully flat.”

—Flannery O’Connor, from Flannery O’Connor: Spiritual Writings

Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon), photographer (French, 1820 - 1910) Sarah Bernhardt as Phedre in Racine's, Albumen silver
Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon), photographer (French, 1820 – 1910)
Sarah Bernhardt as Phedre in Racine’s, Albumen silver

Today I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer as part of her end-of-the-month What I’m Into series.  February was a busy month for us, but the next few months will be even crazier as we head into conference season and seminar paper deadline time.  This list of things I’m into (mostly books, I admit) kept me grounded and feeling like a normal human last month—always a good thing.

Gazing…

The J. Paul Getty Museum has an Open Content Program where you can search their collection and use images freely so long as you cite the source properly.  This collection is full of beautiful things—a “mansion for all lovely forms,” as Wordsworth would say.  I love this image of Sarah Bernhardt and company.

Just finished reading…

Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, a prose translation by Barry Windeatt.  I read this in conjunction with the Middle English poem to help me track with nuances in the plot, and I was really impressed.  Of course, Windeatt’s translation is no substitute for the Middle English poetry (which is beautiful), but I found this book so approachable and entertaining that I would recommend it to someone who hears the term “Medievalist” and thinks RenFest or jousting restaurant, not scholar.  If you want to read one of the most complex love stories of the English literary tradition, this is your entry-point.

Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning, edited by David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith.  I’ve been dipping into this collection on and off for the past year.  Many of the essays here have really transformed my approach to teaching writing (especially David Smith’s chapter on charitable reading, Griffiths on the vice of curiositas, Woodiwiss on changing students from tourists to pilgrims…actually, all of the essays are good).  Although some chapters are a little abstract, most of them offer tangible practices you can integrate into the classroom that illustrate the Christian ethos.  I love how this collection privileges practices over talking about faith in the classroom—at a faith-based institution, the conversation about religion turns up fairly often in classes, but I’m convinced that practices are ultimately more meaningful than occasional sermonettes.

The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore.  I discovered this book through NPR’s Fresh Air—a story about a woman reconciling her desire to be a mother with her inexplicable infertility.  The couple in the novel opts for open adoption and endures all the struggles that accompany waiting to be “chosen” as parents.  The title is really telling, since it suggests that our grand cultural narrative of motherhood will always be inescapably exclusive: some are mothers, some wish to be mothers, some will never be mothers.  I really enjoyed reading this book (although the ending felt a little abrupt).

Pilgrim Principles: Journeying with Intention in Everyday Life, by Lacy Clark Ellman.  Lacy’s blog is so interesting to follow, and so I was excited to read an expanded collection of her ideas about spiritual pilgrimage.  This was a fantastic, practical guide to our theological conceptions of pilgrimage.  Although this book explores how you might enact aspects of pilgrimage at home, the same ideas (and a lot of her blog content) can apply to travel.  Next month, I’m traveling alone to a Renaissance conference (to the desert, in fact, so I’m feeling quite monkish), and so I’m trying to think critically about how I can use these ideas about pilgrimage in light of an academic conference.  How can a conference function as a kind of pilgrimage for an academic?  Sort of an unusual idea, but I believe there’s something to it.

Currently Reading…

Flannery O’Connor: Spiritual Writings, Ed. Robert Ellsberg and Richard Giannone.  This reads like a commonplace book of O’Connor’s thoughts on faith, the Church, and twentieth-century Christianity.  I’ve been reading this book in all kinds of places: over the stovetop waiting for water to boil, first thing in the morning at my desk, in bed, while the minutes tick away before I teach… There are so many pieces of wisdom in this collection that I want to hold onto.

Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber.  Although I feel pretty well grounded in the world of academia, finishing this PhD is my ticket to truly identifying myself as the thing I’m working to become: a Shakespearean.  I’m a little terrified of what I’ve gotten myself into, but reading Shakespeare After All (a collection of lectures on all 38 plays) reminds me why this particular literary field can be so rewarding—even over an entire career.   We return to Shakespeare over and over again because, as Mrs. Whatsit in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time points out, he is one of “our very best fighters” against the darkness.

Loving…

Miss Jessie’s Pillow Soft Curls.  This may sound wildly superficial, but this hair product could very well be changing my life right now.  I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable with my very curly hair, but I’m getting to a place where I want to embrace it.  This bluish, smells-like-a-dryer-sheet curl cream really does make my hair look like one imagines curly hair is supposed to look.  A tad pricey, but I think it’s worth it.

Christian Seasons Calendar.  This calendar is organized around the seasons of the liturgical year.  Really lovely illustrations, too.  It’s currently hanging in our kitchen.

This yellow sweater from ModCloth.  I purchased this sweater a few months ago and (without shame) I wear it multiple times a week.  I’m wearing it right now as I type this, in fact.  There’s something about it that’s just so wonderful… Maybe it’s the shape?  The vintage cut?  The color?  New favorite sweater.

My L. L. Bean lunchbox that’s so large it’s not even called a lunchbox on the website—it’s a “personal cooler.”  As I get older, my eating habits become more and more hobbit-like, which means I’m carrying lots of food to work with me each day.  Hence the giant lunchbox.  I even got it monogrammed, y’all.

Watching…

B. J. and I watch a total of three television shows together: Downton AbbeyThe Walking Dead, and Mad Men.  Since we don’t have cable or a TV, we usually subscribe on iTunes and watch the shows the next day on a laptop.  Right now, we’re wound up in the world of The Walking Dead—so intense, so well crafted, and so unafraid of testing its characters.  The most recent episode, which focused solely on Beth and Daryl, was probably my favorite episode of the entire series.  

I was a latecomer to ABC Family’s Bunheads, which was canceled after only one season, but I had a fantastic time watching this show.  Admittedly, I would watch Sutton Foster in anything, so I’m probably the worst person to make an objective claim about this series.  But just watch her go:

And I suppose along with the rest of the world I’m following the final season of How I Met Your Mother.  It’s good.  I like the mother.  This has been a really nice de-stress show for me, so I’ll be sad when it’s gone.  (Let’s be honest, though, the show is really about Barney and Robin—not Ted.)

Cooking…

Julia Child’s basic recipes for mayonnaise and chicken breasts from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I’m not a very adventurous cook, but this past year we connected with some new friends who are serious foodies.  They’ve really inspired me to be more thoughtful about how I’m preparing food and, frankly, how not to settle for shortcuts that diminish an ingredient’s potential.  I made the chicken the other night (it’s nothing fancy—it just requires a sturdy porcelain casserole pot that you can use on the stove top) and B. J. said, “This is the greatest chicken you’ve ever made.”  I’m never going back.  As for the mayo, I’ve been making a stash of this every Sunday and using it all week long.  It tastes so good, I could eat this stuff with a spoon.

This Roasted Rosemary Almonds recipe from Nom Nom Paleo has also become a staple around here.  I’m not sure I want almonds any other way now.

Thinking…

The Pastoral.  Why are so many of us attracted to the pastoral life, as in get-back-to-nature and find “pleasure in the pathless woods” pastoral?  (Not the adjective for preacher.)  I’ve been thinking about the play As You Like It, and my big question is, “Why can’t we stay in the Forest of Arden all the time?  Why do we have to return to the real world?”  That’s the central question of the pastoral, isn’t it?

Growing tomatoes in Texas.  Will this ever work for us?  We tried to get our tomatoes in the ground early this year (because we’re always late) and, much to our misfortune, lost them all to a surprise freeze.  Tomatoes are so easy to grow in Georgia, but Texas just kills them all.  Alas, alas…

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