Sunday, April 29, 2007

That empty bookshelf

Last Sunday, the day after my conference, upon returning home from church, LavenderGirl gave me the ultimatum.

"That's it," she said. "We've waited long enough. Today you can pick out the books that you absolutely need for the next couple weeks - and the rest I'm packing."

I grumbled, of course. I've been grumbling about this prospect for weeks, preparing for battle every time someone brought it up: "You know, your books. . ." they would said. And up would go my fists. "What about them?" I wanted to know.

So I picked out my books grudgingly, all school texts, stacking them at the foot of my bed. And then nothing happened. For a few days the bookshelf sat there, still full. I kept a careful eye on my gems. I felt miffed that I had had to make premature choices. But at least my shelves were intact.

Her methods were subtle. On Tuesday, the shelf was in mild disorder. Only her own books were gone, on the some of the shelves the neat rows of volumes were falling in on each other. Wednesday, the damage was more significant. My Wheelock's, formerly balanced on top of a row, had collapsed to the shelf in a heap with the Vulgate and a book of Latin fairy tales. There were gaps on each of the other shelves, marked by tousled volumes. By Thursday the decimation was complete. Bare shelves and boxes were the new look and feel for the bedroom.

I was mostly resolute by now. I was too busy, caught in the maelstrom of the school week, to spare my empty bookshelf more than a resentful glance.

On Friday, though, I began to realize just what had happened. Home from school, I determined to ditch the metaphysics reader and the Frege for something lighter. Some of Madeleine L'Engle's poetry.

But where was the book?

Oh, yes, in the box.

So I turned to an older favorite. Little Women seemed in order.

Both my copies were packed.

In despair, I turned to the living room bookshelf, itself but a shadow of its former glory, and barely scraped by with some Just-So Stories. But it was a decided nuisance.

I have been promised that this coming Saturday, all will be restored. We will depart, sans fond farewells, from the rental house and hightail it for the country. There, with fresh air blowing through my second-story bedroom window and maybe even some sun gilding the mountains across the valley, I'll set my bookshelf back to rights. The philosophers will once more sit in a comfortable row next to the Greek dramas and the medieval texts. Dickens will keep Austen company in their corner of the shelf. My Shakespeare and poetry anthologies will all discover that the others still exist. And I'll be home. Again. At last.

It's about time. We've found a church. I've started school. We've learned what summer and two winters are like in Oregon. We've discovered the joys and disadvantages of small-town life. And now, really, we're here to stay.

Not, of course, that we didn't know that already.

But this is a second footnote to that chapter. And I don't think it's overstating things to call it reassuring.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

In sum

The conference was wonderful: eight philosophy papers, two trips to Portland, clouds and rain, and many good conversations with interested students. Yes. My idea of a good time.

But then I was tired. All Sunday. And most of Monday morning, as I checked in newspapers and stamped periodicals at the library. By noon, things had begun to look up.

My metaphysics prof stopped me in the hall to ask how things had gone: "You weren't sorry you went? We haven't scared you off?"

"No. And no." No one could scare me off now.

I dropped in to chat with my English prof from Fall and Winter terms. "How are classes going?" I wanted to know. He told me all about the books they're reading. Have I mentioned that I miss my "fun" reading?

Further down the hall, my logic professor to my advisor: "She's agreed to tutor logic for us." Yes, I did. And one of these days the tutoring application will make it into my backpack and into the ASPC office. One of these days, I'm sure.

On Wednesday, I talked a copy of the logic book out of Perlman, who is currently teaching the class. "If you could just tell me what book you're using, I could borrow it from the library," I said.

"I might have an older edition you could borrow," he replied.

"That'll work. Or I could borrow it from my advisor. He said he might be able to come up with a copy."

"Well. You won't need to borrow it from him. I have more books than he does anyway. I've had longer to collect them."

I asked for a syllabus, too. And he muttered something about demanding students. "But we're glad to have you," he added.


Today the sun was shining as I pondered Frege and language and anti-realism on the second floor of the library. It was actually warm outside. Our house will be finished soon, very soon.

They're glad to have me. And I'm glad to be here too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I won't add anything of my own. Wittingshire says it for me.

[Edit] Lucinda Roy, one of the directors of the creative writing program at Virginia Tech wrote an op-ed for NYT this morning:
Hours have passed, and now we know that there was — as a friend of mine put it when she called saying she was safe — “a massacre in that classroom.”
But Blacksburg isn’t a place of massacres — Blacksburg is my home in southwest Virginia. It’s boring — that’s why I like it. We are Virginia Tech, the fighting gobblers, the ones who wear the funny turkey hats and plant tasteless turkey sculptures all over town. We are not the stuff of massacres.
As I write this I am being flooded with e-mail from friends asking if I’m O.K. How do you answer them? What can you say when so many — so many of our young — were slaughtered?
I hit “Reply” — try to type the phrase “I am fine,” but it seems ridiculous to type that. I substitute “safe” for “fine” — another lie, for none of us is safe as long as there are angry young men who yearn to blast a hole in the world.
I think of the parents hurtling down to Blacksburg on Interstate 81, praying for miracles. My son is safe in Atlanta; their grief will dwarf mine. How do we begin to comprehend absolute loss?
You can read the entire piece here.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The other side of the table

Last spring I was one of the crowds of students surging past the tables in the Oregon Room. Hurrying by, trying not to look too confused, stopping, sometimes, at the tables which interested me (English, the language department's table), picking up a sampling of fliers.

Today I was one of the cognoscenti. One of those people on the other side of the table. Answering questions about the honors program to my heart's content.

Is it hard? (That depends. It's challenging, but not impossible.) What's the workload like? (There's less busywork, and the assignments are more focused and productive.) What are the classes like? (Intimate. No more than twenty students. There is a lot of dialogue among professors and students. People come prepared to ask good questions and contribute to the discussions.) Are the professors good? (Absolutely.) What are the requirements for applying? (Well, it's based on your high school GPA, your SAT scores, an essay. All of that's taken into consideration. But honestly, the real key is your interest in the learning experience. Are you motivated? Are you excited about the program? Are you willing to work hard and dig into problems?)

After lunch there was an honors specific session. A small group of people - parents and students - showed up to learn more about the program, and to ask even more questions.

Which professors were your favorite? (As a philosophy major, I'm biased. But. . .) Do you get together with other honors students outside of the classroom? (Yes. To study and to have fun. Sometimes the girls hang out and watch Grey's Anatomy together.) Why do honors students not have to take PE? (Good question. I have no idea.) Do you ever feel singled out by other "regular" classmates as an honors student? (It's just not like that here. At all.)

The more questions they asked, the easier it got. Like a favorite song sung over and over as I drive to school day after day after day.

"I remember when you came to this last year," she remarked.

"Not so very long ago," I replied.

When the session was over we collected our boxes and headed to our respective homes. The campus was quiet. The Werner Center was hushed after the recent and precipitous influx of prospies. It was the weekend, and most of the students are studying or gone (home or, perhaps, to Corvallis for a day of partying). I'll be back on Monday.

Friday, April 13, 2007

On nervousness

It was so easy to send it in. You see, I had written the paper in November. I had worked hard and I was happy with it. So was my professor. I took my Christmas break and when I came back in January, he sent me an email. What do you think about sending these guys the Aristotle paper? He asked. And I said I thought it'd be fun.

It couldn't hurt anything, anyway. It was my first philosophy paper, after all.

So I sent it in.

Everyone was happy. It was a step in the right direction, they said. "These things can make a difference," said my honors advisor. "For what?" I asked. "For grad school."

"Now, they might not want another Aristotle paper," my professor warned. And I was alright with that. Most people don't get their first philosophy papers accepted to conferences anyhow. It was good just to send it in. It made people happy, which was kind of the point. Conferences scared me. They still scare me.

They are scaring me. Because, oh yes, they hadn't told me that this might happen. "I knew it all along," my professor said when I showed him the email in February. "I'm sorry I'm not more excited. I mean, I am excited. But I already knew it. It would have been ridiculous if they hadn't accepted it." My honors advisor was thrilled. "Very few freshmen at Western have done this before."

So then I was excited. Now people were really happy, and April 21 was a long three months away. A whole term away.

The term came to a precipitate end. I found out that I was scheduled to present at 8:00 am, the first presenter of the first session. "If anyone asks," my professor said, "just tell them you're a senior."

Now April 21 is next Saturday. And the Pacific University Undergraduate Philosophy Conference is only eight days and an hour and a half drive away.

Someone should have reminded me that I have never given a real speech before. That I have never had to defend a paper in the face of audience questions and a commentator. That 45 minutes in front of a room full of strangers and my philosophy professor has to be one of the most purely terrifying prospects I have ever faced in my brief college career.

"It's going to be great fun," my professor tells me. And I just smile.



  • Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning within a world. Morphology is the study of parts of words. In linguistics class this week, we did an exercise involving Latin paradigms and I discovered that I could still understand the language.
  • Robert Nozick thinks that if nothing nothings itself, then something is produced. My sister points out that this only works if we presume that "nothing" is analagous to a negative number (which, when multiplied by another negative number, becomes positive). What if, she wants to know, nothing is really a zero?
  • The five stages of grief, as described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I learned this in my theatre class (I have also learned about string theory, wormholes and sundry other quantum physical details in my theatre class). I was depressed today, but I am not grieving.
  • Frege thought that there was something wrong with natural language. Too ambiguous, he thought. Let the poets knock themselves out. He created the Begriffsschrift, a logical language that was supposed to be the scientific panacea for all equivocations or linguistic confusion.
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak designed and marketed the Apple II in the mid-1970s. The new personal computers sold like hotcakes. The reason? Steve Jobs had found what was to become known as a "killer application." (In this case it was VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet.) Killer apps turn mostly useless "hobbyiest" items into useful and desireable programs and products. I think that philosophy needs a killer application. My brother thinks this too, and he also thinks that this idea deserves an essay. I'll let you know if I write it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Voting begins tomorrow for the Homeschool Blog Awards. I was delighted to find that The Autumn Rain was nominated for the Best Teen Blog category! You may browse the rest of the categories and vote for your favorites here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Like a handshake

"I was homeschooled," I said, at one point in the conversation. I thought it might help to explain things a little.

It must have. "So that's where I've heard your voice before," he said.

"My voice?"

"Yeah. See, I know this other girl (oh, and her name starts with 'A' too - I seem to meet a lot of girls with 'A' names) and she was homeschooled for a while. She was really smart. And she talked like you. You both round your words a little differently, more softly or something." He paused. "It's like," he said, "it's like you treat social interactions like a handshake instead of a head-on collision."

I wasn't sure whether to be pleased or offended.

He went on. "I read somewhere the other day that we live in a disconnected world. No one really interacts with anyone else anymore. I read that these days it takes us crashing into one another to really make us relate. We're all floating along in our little bubbles and suddenly - WHAM - someone bursts in. And here you are, and here they are."

And here we both are, breathless, a little shaken, startled because we've just done the unthinkable and actually communicated; because we've barged into someone else's world and made our presence known.

I still don't know whether he meant that as a compliment. Did he mean that I'm not forward enough? That I'm shy? (My family, at any rate, declares that I exude confidence.) For now, I'll choose to believe that it's a good thing. Some little token of gentility and politeness in a "head-on collision" kind of world. A way of somehow making contact while still respecting other people's space, and their integrity as thinking, breathing, more or less autonomous human beings.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


The metaphysics class was small. We filed in one at a time, each with the same query: "Is this the metaphysics class?" Someone else came by: "What class is this?" "Metaphysics," said three of us at once. He paused, then, "I thought this was the English floor." Another pause, then he moved on, past the door and out of our sight. Two seconds later he was back. "What do you do in a metaphysics class anyway?" We looked at each other. "We don't know. It's the first day of class." "Well, when you find out, let me know. I'll be down the hall." He disappeared again.

The professor arrived a few minutes late. "Is this my metaphysics class," he wanted to know. We said yes. "Metaphysics," he said. And paused. "What is metaphysics?" Then he handed out the syllabus. "One thing you should know is that none of the stuff you learn in here will ever be even remotely useful to you in daily life. Ever. But you should be greatful. You should be greatful that you live in a society that no longer has to spend its time gathering nuts and berries or hunting. You should be greatful that you live in a society that will let you sit in a classroom and ask questions about why there is something rather than nothing, and get a grade for it."

"Your assignment for Wednesday," he said, "is to read about nothingness. Until Wednesday, you need to nothing'ing. See, it's a verb. Nothing'ing." He winked. "I'll see you later."

After class, some of us designed an impromptu t-shirt. This is what it read:

Please do not disturb
Perlman's metaphysics class is

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

What a treat to discover, on my morning blog rounds early last week, that I was included in A Circle of Quiet's list of "make me think" blogs.

You can find out more about the "Thinking Blogger" meme here.

And now it's my turn. Five of my own "make me think" blogs.

~~Lanier's Books. I've been reading Lanier's posts ever since, several years ago, I found her web address next to her byline at the bottom of an article for Inkblots. Gorgeous pictures and illustrations, and a peaceful yet honest glimpse into a rich life. Sometimes I'll track blogs for a little while before finally letting them fade out of the picture, but that hasn't happened with Lanier. And at this point, it probably won't.

~~InternetMonk (or "Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness). I can't remember when I started reading the imonk, but he quickly became a regular stop on the morning rounds. His posts are insightful and thought-provoking (of course!), and keep me on my toes.

~~Lore. I stumbled across this blog a few months ago. Lore, an English writing major somewhere across the country, doesn't update often. "Mostly," she says, "I write to get good grades. But sometimes I write because I like it." And when she does write, I like it too.

~~Textual Tangents. Amy and I have been dialoguing off and on about literature, which we both love. We're asking some of the same questions, literarily speaking. And it wasn't long before her blog found its way onto my blogroll. Textual Tangents is my go-to for interesting thoughts on literary ethics, the role of reading in everyday life and some of the latest book news.

~~The Little Professor
. Her descriptive header reads: "Things Victorian and academic." Which just about covers it. From notes about her latest research on Victorian sermons, to thoughts on the academic and teaching life, The Little Professor is a first rate morning stop.

One of the things I love about the blog world is its rampant "perspectivism," to use a term from my English classroom. So many points of view, so much to think and write and talk about, so many new people to meet. Granted, not every blog is worth the time it takes to read, but some - many! - of them are. And the really good ones, if blogs actually had a physical weight, would be worth that weight in gold.

Not enough time, even less sleep

In the NYT article, "Too Busy to Notice You're Too Busy," Alina Tugend remarks that though she considers her "life to be somewhat filled and fulfilling," she "also [has] time to read novels, catch a movie or play once in a while and have the occasional long lunch with a friend." And she's embarrassed about it.
In our busy, busy world . . . I sometimes feel as if I am the odd one out. Although those who are overworked and overwhelmed complain ceaselessly, it is often with an undertone of boastfulness; the hidden message is that I’m so busy because I’m so important.
Tugend goes on to qualify that statement. There are legitimate reasons for busyness, she says. But, she adds, "I am speaking about those who choose to keep up a frenetic pace that seems largely self-imposed, unnecessary — and unenjoyable."

It was that "undertone of boastfulness," those "self-imposed" schedules that caught my attention. Because it's true. Busyness has become a social trump card. If we do have extra time for novels or any other pleasant pastimes, we're not just lucky - the fact is, we're probably a little lazy. We wear our busy schedules like badges of honor, and we refuse to give them up. And we're not just boastful about our busyness.

On campus, it's sleep. College students are notorious for being late-nighters - and for bemoaning their lack of sleep. But give us the opportunity to get to bed on time and we hesitate. Getting eight hours of shut-eye is like loosing face. It's not just that we had to stay up until five am writing that paper (probably because we procrastinated), it's in the job description. What kind of college kids would we be if we went to bed at ten? Tell us you got a full night's sleep and we'll laugh, a little jealously, but mostly condescendingly. After all, we haven't been to bed on time for years (or at least since we left high school). And we're proud of it.

It's not that I think being crazy busy or staying up late is wrong. But if these schedules are self-imposed (either by conscious choice or not-so-conscious procrastination), then we may as well leave off with the complaining. The choice was ours, we made it, and the rest of the world shouldn't have to live with the grim and griping consequences.