Saturday, April 26, 2008

Memory & Identity: I Am Who I Am Remembering Myself to Be

So two of the main themes in my dissertation are memory and identity--two things that fascinate and confound me. Both are fluid, contested, constantly being shaped and re-shaped, negotiated, constructed, forgotten, and re-constructed.

There have been several seasons as I've been working on my PhD that I've had to burrow deeply into a cave in order to concentrate fully on my work. I'm just now emerging from one of those caves, after having the proposal approved by my Area a little over a week ago. I come out, stretch, blink, and re-acquaint myself with my surroundings.

Part of that re-acquaintance, this past week, included locating a dear friend of mine from college. He met a French woman our junior year and married her a few months later. As soon as he graduated, he moved to France and has never lived in the States again. We remained close for several years, back in the dark ages before Al Gore invented the internet. We wrote long letters on actual paper. Some of the letters I wrote, I actually sent. (Which is saying something. Most letters I wrote to folks usually languished on my desk for months until I finally gave up and threw them away. Apparently the post office confounds me as well.)

The two of us lost contact, though, after I moved out West. But this past week we were finally able to reconnect. When I opened his reply to my email, I could immediately hear his voice coming through. There are some friends where it doesn't seem to matter how many years intervene, you can always pick up exactly where you left off.

Then, strangely, the very same day that I reconnected with S, another old friend contacted me. This friend goes back even farther than college and is someone I grew up with in church. We went through confirmation together, and youth group, and also attended the same camp for a couple years.

The confluence of these re-acquaintances was disorienting to me at first. I talked about it a bit with my spiritual director yesterday. I told her that I feel like there is an invitation in this to pay attention to the threads that have made up my life over the years. Even as I work on this project that centers around memory and identity, I am being invited to deepen my own experience of those themes in my life.

Last July 1, I officially started my position as a professor. It turned out, though, that I was still back on the East Coast for a previously planned, annual trip. Coincidentally (if coincidences happen at all), that particular day we happened to drive over to my old neighborhood where I lived until I was 18. It was the first time Monk had seen my house. We walked around the neighborhood and I told D and Monk many, many stories of the things I'd done as a kid--most of them involved mischief making of some kind, to Monk's great delight.

In fact, the picture to the right on this page was taken that day, as I stood by the old creek (now very overgrown) and held onto the rope we used to swing across until some kid broke his ankle and we weren't allowed to do it anymore. (And, yes, I did swing across the creek one more time that day, as did Monk!)

When we pulled up in front of my old house, (sold hastily after my parents' divorce), we saw there was someone out tending the lawn. He was gracious enough to let us go inside the house and look around a bit. It was a powerful experience for me to be able to show Monk at least a little of the house that I'd grown up in--to see his nine-year-old self moving through the same space that had held my own nine-year-old self, once upon a time. Of course, it wasn't the same anymore. The kitchen cabinets my grandfather had made weren't there, for one. Even now, sometimes when I can't get to sleep at night, I imagine walking through that house as it used to be, trying to remember every thing I possibly can about what used to be there.

But there was something significant in that experience for me. As I began my new identity as professor, I walked in the house and along the streets (and by the creek) that had helped make me who I was still becoming.

The year has continued to be full of such things: I've reconnected with my best friend who grew up a few doors down from me as well as with my best friend from high school. My high school class had it's twentieth reunion, and though I wasn't able to attend, I suddenly had a flood of names and memories come back into my life that I'd thought I had long forgotten.

All of these people and places--and so many more--have woven into me somehow, made me who I am, or who I am becoming. I do think the invitation, these days, is to re-member just how much this is so.

I think I'll try to write about it here some more over time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Heater Dance

I'm sitting in the living room at the moment while someone is dismantling our heater in the hallway.

Our landlord called a bit ago to confirm that we would be around for the appointment. I was glad that I thought to ask him what he expected to be done--would they repair it? clean it? replace it? He said that the plan was to repair it or that it would be replaced if they determined that was necessary.

So when the workmen came in, I immediately said: "We'd love it if you erred on the side of caution and determined we needed a new heater."

Well, it turns out he didn't need a moment to decide. He took out a flashlight and looked in there and said, "Oh, yeah, you need a new heater alright."

Joy! I didn't realize I had a new heater dance until the occasion arose, but when he went back outside to collect his tools, I was dancing away in the kitchen: "We're gettin' a new heatah! We're gettin' a new heatah!" Much to D's delight, as you can imagine.

I am glad for the news, though. Last week's events put a bit of the fear of God in me. And I don't think I ever would have trusted that the repairs had entirely fixed the problem. So this will be a relief to me.

He showed me where the damage was--there was a piece that had broken off. Who knows how long ago? I can tell you we never found it laying around, though. And then he also showed me where the residue had built up. I actually took pictures of it and can post 'em for the curious.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Follow Your Nose

Thank you, God, for tragedy averted!

This morning we went to hear Monk give an oral presentation on his Mission Report at school. (He did a wonderful job!) When we got home and opened the door, D & I both immediately noticed the smell of gas.

Actually, a few weeks ago we thought we smelled it, too. But couldn't quite convince ourselves that it wasn't our imagination. The thing is, we have a gas heater in the wall of our hallway--common in temperate climates like we live in, I think. And the smell of gas seemed to be present while the heat was running. This didn't make any sense to me, because it means the pilot obviously was lit. And I think that was what led me to think it might just be my imagination.

But this time we decided to call the gas company and ask them to check it out. I'm so glad we did!

The man just left a bit a go. After inspecting the heater, he told us that it seems to have been malfunctioning for some time. Soot had backed up inside so that it wasn't exhausting properly. This was preventing the gas from being all burned off causing it to recirculate. He said it was also causing carbon monoxide to be released as well!

So he has shut down the heater and filled out forms for our landlord so that the heater can be repaired and cleaned. We've already called our landlord who will follow up on this right away. (He's very good that way.)

D and I just sat down and shook our heads for a while after the man from the gas company left. Wow. That could have been a lot worse.

I am both tremendously grateful, but also annoyed with myself. Just last summer I told a friend that I would buy a carbon monoxide sensor for the apartment, but I never followed up on it. And I've also been ignoring the feeling that I should ask our landlord to clean the heaters (in the whole apartment building) once a year. And, of course, we ignored the smell of gas just a few weeks ago.

I'm glad God doesn't work on the three strikes and you're out principle.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Moments with Monk

1. Our dear friend SRF sent Monk two volumes of Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States for Monk's tenth birthday. Monk has been devouring the first book. Tonight, as we were eating our Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Monk remarked: "Howard Zinn is the most skeptical person about American history that I've ever known. He doesn't hold any U.S. document as sacred--not the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Sedition Act. He thinks Christopher Columbus was a dingus. He thinks Andrew Jackson was a major dingus. And he thinks that half the Revolutionary War was just a business plan for the leaders in America." [Edited to add: After reading again for a little while, Monk commented, "This guy actually makes communism sound pretty good compared to us. I mean, he makes communists, socialists, and anarchists sound a heck of a lot better than the way we're running stuff!" Now aren't your proud, SRF?! :D]

2. I've been under Haaa-yooooge stress lately and haven't been sleeping well. I remarked a couple morning's ago that I knew we must have gone to bed early the night before because when I woke up in the middle of the night it was only 12:00! Monk thought for a moment, then commented, "That's weird. When I woke up in the middle of the night it was 3:30."

3. We're still thinking about renting a 3 bedroom house. Tomorrow we may go see one that is available. I read the listing aloud to the family: "3 bedroom, 1 bath small house with living room and large kitchen." Monk remarked, without missing a beat: "What would we need with a kitchen?" Yep. Guess I don't cook that much anymore.