Sunday, April 5, 2009

72% irresponsibly stated, &tc.

While waiting for a reception the other day, I stepped into a Starbucks to translate some of Homer's Illiad for a Greek class and to buy a hot chocolate (so that I could feel justified in translating in their store). They had a small placard which boasted that their coffee was "100% ethically grown and responsibly traded." All of which made me wonder whether ethical behavior was really quantifiable, and, if so, what assurance these stores had that no ethical lapses had occurred in the buying or trading of their coffee beans. This made me think that perhaps the advertisers who'd created the sign/placard/what-will-you had perhaps not fully grasped the nature of what it was they were trying to quantify, and led me to believe that their claim was actually quite irresponsible. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say it was 72% irresponsible.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

More from Keillor

"Every time I read a book about how to be smarter, how not to be sad, how to raise children and be happy and grow old gracefully, I think, 'Well, I won't make those mistakes, I won't have to go through that,' but we all have to go through that. Everything they went through, we'll go through. Life isn't a vicarious experience. You get it figured out and then one day life happens to you. You prepare yourself for grief and loss, arrange your ballast and then the wave swamps the boat.

"Everything the went through: the loneliness, the sadness, the grief, and the tears--it will all come to us, just as it came to them when we were little and had to reach up to get hold of their hand, when we knew them by the shape of their legs. Aunt Marie had fat little legs, I held her hand one cold day after a blizzard, we climbed snow-drifts to get to the store and buy licorice whips. She said, 'Come on, we can make it, don't slip,' and soon she was far behind, a fat lady in a heavy coat with a fur collar, leaning into the wind, wheezing from emphysema, and sometime later she died. She knew that death was only a door to the kingdom where Jesus would welcome her, there would be no crying there, no suffering, but meanwhile she was fat, her heart hurt, and she lived alone with her ill-tempered little dogs, tottering around her dark little house full of Chinese figurines and old Sunday Tribunes. She complained about nobody loving her or wanting her or inviting her to their house for dinner anymore. She sat eating pork roast, mashed potato, creamed asparagus, one Sunday at our house when she said it. We were talking about a trip to the North Shore and suddenly she broke into tears and cried, 'You don't care about me. You say you do but you don't. If I died tomorrow, I don't know as you'd even go to my funeral.' I was six. I said, cheerfully, 'I'd come to your funeral,' looking at my fat aunt, her blue dress, her string of pearls, her red rouge, the powder on her nose, her mouth full of pork roast, her eyes full of tears.

"Every tear she wept, that foolish woman, I will weep every one before I'm done and so will you. We're not so smart we can figure out how to avoid pain, and we cannot walk away from the death that we owe." --Introduction to Leaving Home, xxi-xxii

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"So much is gone that once we could not live without, and yet we do live somehow and even sometimes think hopefully of tomorrow." --Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days, 56.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Well . . . I'm not in Oxford anymore . . .

and so this blog title is probably misleading (if not down-right dishonest). And so I had given up on blogging . . . which was perhaps an extreme measure. . . . But at prodding from my aunt, I've decided to revive this (comparatively) old site.

So, a brief update:

I'm again at Calvin College, enrolled in what we call interim. This is a period of three weeks spent taking only one course. I decided to take German 122--a continuation of German 121, which had been offered last semester at Calvin. But of course I wasn't at Calvin last semester, so I'm starting in at my classmates' midway point. I did, however, spend much of Christmas break picking up as much of the language as is possible in a three-week period.

But I'm enjoying the class and learning a new language, both of which are (I think) good. And I'm preparing for grad. school as well. All the same, as difficult as it might be to comprehend, I'm equally as busy here at Calvin as I was while in Oxford. But then I'm also working a part-time job again. So perhaps that explains for the similarities.

But it's all been a good challenge and one for which I'm grateful, and there you have as brief an update as I've ever posted.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

School's out

Last paper of the term turned in earlier today, around noonish!

Reactions? Mainly tired, a bit dazed that it has ended so quickly, more than ready to see my family again, amazed at the kindness of my church family here in Britain (I figured that by the end of the term, I'll have been to members' house at least ten times for dinner; this past week has been particularly busy in that regard: Sunday afternoon with the Clarks, Monday luncheon with the Rawlings, three invitations for Wendesday evening [from the Jones', the Francisco's, and the Heklot's (sp?)], desserts at housegroup on the same day for a farewell, and then a last lunch on this coming Sunday).

Specifically, I'm glad my final paper is done, though it may well be the worst I've written this entire term. Sadly. Interesting topic though, but at some point or another you simply have to accept the constraints of time and bodily limitations. I felt intellectually dishonest nonetheless to turn in such an incomplete paper.

Looking forward to a full night's sleep for the first time in a week or so.

More later

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Day in the Life

Fri., Nov. 28, 2008.

6:15--Wake up, shower, devotions, breakfast, laundry, prepare the night's dinner, straighten room.
8:45--Bike to the Radcliffe Camera Library (in the centre of Oxford) with plenty of readings in the philosophy of language (phil. lang). Stop by Frewin Ct (offices/student hangout centre) to make sure my roommate is still alive. He'd a paper due today and probably spent the night at Frewin writing it.
9:00--Radcliffe Camera opens. Next two hours spent reading one long essay in phil. lang.
11:00--Homer lecture to attend at the examination schools. The lecturer asks beforehand how to receive an applause like the other lecturers. I replied that they probably hand out chocolate at the start of each class.
12:00--Head to the Taylorian to continue reading phil.lang.
7:00--The Taylorian closes, but the Sackler Library is open 'til 10:00 so I head there.
8:30--I'd been planning to study until 10:00, but my eyes are beginning to ache from staring at text (especially on a computer screen) all day long. So I head back to the Vines (the house where I'm living).
9:00--Dinner. The house is deserted.
9:30--I doze off while attempting to read more phil.lang.

other tidbits
I was invited to a chamber concert taking place this past Tuesday. It was beautiful and restful (and it was right next door to the Kilns for C.S. Lewis fans). Afterwards, dinner was provided, and I knew I was out of my league when this dear elderly lady inquired whether 'I knew Florence.' I had to admit that I'd never been. 'Oh, you'd love Florence,' she replied, and then proceeded with the greatest of ease to list artists and works and locations, all with horrendous Italian names and equally difficult pronunciations. Thankfully, there was another gentleman present, else I don't think I could have carried my end of the conversation. 'Hmm, I've never seen that painting. No, I don't remember hearing about the artist you just mentioned. etc. etc.' She was quite delightful though, and near the end she spoke about the importance of tending one's own garden. And for those who complain about the formality of academic papers, mind you that this dear woman remarked in conversation that 'one's own children do teach one so much, do they not?' All the same, when she asked later on whether 'I knew Verona,' I also had to remark that I'd never been. 'Oh well, you simply must go at some time or another.'

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In the midst of wealth, poverty

I went walking the Oxford streets last night. As I did, I met three individuals: John, Sheryl, and Gabriel.

John first. I was biking down a side-road and on top of one of the side-walk grates (there's no real equivalent in the states that I'm aware of) was sprawled a person covered with a burlap sack. At first I thought it was a drunk. I walked past later in the evening as he was getting up and he commented on how the grate provided heat during a cold evening (he could already feel the chill now that he was up) and that the one thing he needed more than anything else was a sleeping-bag. Most shops in Oxford had already closed (or were closing) though.

I later met Sheryl. She's a street musician (plays a piper I believe) who lives in a tent outside the city. At this time of the year, she was playing mainly Christmas tunes, though with some old tunes mixed in. Rarely, someone would walk past and drop coins in her hat. The streets grew more and more empty as she continued to play.

Gabriel was the last individual I met. He was leaving a phone booth and had a somewhat mangy dog at his side. He asked if I had spare change for the homeless. I don't have much I said. It doesn't have to be a £50 note he replied. We struck up a brief conversation. He asked if I was a student and where and what I was studying. Yes, and at Wycliffe Hall, and the Classics, er, I mean Greek and Latin. Do you hope to teach then? Eventually, yes. What exactly do you say at that point?