Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thanks, E. Jean

A note I wrote to E. Jean, my favorite hero nearly 2.5 years ago:

Dear E. Jean, I'll be blunt: I am afraid I have been channeling Edward Casaubon for much of my life. Channeling a postmodern E Casaubon, that is. My reasons: (1) I am in my third year out of coursework and have yet to produce a viable chapter; (2) I am dating a man as virtuous, lovely, and great-spirited as Dorothea; (3) I am convinced that I am incapable of enduring friendship. The first two worry me least (the man is not a worry at all, in fact). The third, however, is dispiriting! As a good postmodernist/Kierkegaardian/existentialist (circle one), I am well aware that I cannot deserve any friendship: friendship is a daily offering of generosity, not a professional contract. Etc. But how do people do it? Let me state in my own partial defense that I am not entirely a social cretin. I can be charming and rather humorous company. I enjoy being around others about as much as I enjoy solitude. Still, I marvel at the friendships my friends experience with others. They endure over the course of many years—decades, even. They may ebb and flow, but there are phone calls, visits, emails—communication—across all sorts of distances. This is not my experience. Once a friend has left my zip code, friendship, like an unwatered plant, loses its bloom. Ah, my would-be Philoctetes, you say, why not call up these pals, send them emails, letters, flowers plan visits? I do... Perhaps not as much as I ought to do, but I have such a sense of intruding on their lives, taking up their free time or of insisting that they talk to me, now! that it is difficult to sustain the effort. If this had happened once or twice, I should think nothing of it—not all friendships are of the life-long or even years-long nature. But this has become such a regular pattern for me that I am faced with the strong possibility that there is some relationship between this incapacity for friendship and my own character. How can I overcome the limitations of my own character and learn to have lasting friendships?
Some things have changed in the interim: I have produced almost and nearly viable chapters. The current draft of chapter one my dissertation director has in his hands may indeed be viable. I do now worry whether the man and I will be able to forge a relationship that endures into the future. What hasn't changed is my fear of forcing myself on others. I feel I speak the language of friendship brokenly, with insufficient vocabulary and no grasp of verb tenses. 

I suppose the answer is in the metaphor I just wrote: If I wish to become more fluent in friendship, then I must devote much more time to it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

preparing for Lent

I have decided to keep Lent this year. I have never done so and have spent the past week or fortnight wondering what it is I might do. I've overheard conversations, spoken and online, in which a conversant gives something up: chocolate, coffee, and facebook are items I've commonly heard. I could give up meat, but then I don't eat much anyway. I could commit to praying the Daily Office twice a day, and that would indeed be good discipline. It isn't in my heart (yet?), though, and I don't want to (re)train myself in scrupulous rule-keeping this year. 

Then I found this poem and I think it is exactly what I will do:

For Lent, 1966
by Madeleine L'Engle
It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.