Novak (novak) wrote,

Personal: General Letter, September 1993

Michaël A. Novak
University of Notre Dame
Room B
36 O'Hara-Grace Townhouse
Notre Dame, IN 46556-5619

I suppose that recent news is in order. Obviously, I'm at Notre Dame, and that's a biggie, but I'll start around the beginning of the summer. After finally finishing up all the hoop-jumping that the Department of Theology here wanted me to go through, (taking things like Introduction to the Bible and wonders like that; Me? Annoyed? Of course not! ) and then finishing working forever at Founder's Memorial Library (the second or third time I've finished forever...) I cheerfully moved out of the rat-hole that I'd been living in for the year (May I never see another cockroach again!), I retreated to my pleasant Oregon home for three weeks of blissfully doing nothing but reading and mowing the lawn. Mowing the lawn is an important spiritual exercise for me because I only have to do it when I'm at home and it is usually about all I have to really do around the house so if I find that I'm grumbly about that than I'm not really thankful for all my blessings and it makes me have to eat humble pie in front of God, which can only be good for me. I fear that I eat a lot of humble pie. The rest of the time I dream up letters that I can write that have lots of digressions and parentheses in them. Home was good. The rest was welcome and it gave me a chance to spend time with my brother Joe, who is way cool. After about three weeks of rest, I then began my Amazing Summer of Adventure!!

The ASoA consisted in Journeying "from sea to shining sea", beginning with a three week stay with my dad at his place in Orlando, FL. I had also intended to spend some time there with Drew, who you may remember is studying at Reformed Theological Seminary there, but I found out just before I left that he was spending the summer in Illinois. We did get to spend an afternoon together in DeKalb, which was good, but I would have preferred more time. In Orlando, I discovered once again how truly horrible Florida is, entirely inasmuch as it is all a tacky tourist trap. I also discovered that I was not at all as tough as I had supposed in regard to conditions of climate, and I thankfully hid indoors during the afternoon delighting in the wonders of air-conditioning. The single truly glorious thing about Florida is that it abounds in lizards. I spent many days sneaking around the house (when I risked leaving the AC for a bit) trying to spy on or catch lizards and probably looking like quite the mad fool for any bored neighbours who might have been watching. And of course, I had many, many, many hours of talking with my dad. Sometimes, I'd go and sit at his work with him, and given the peculiarities of the Orlando-area tourist schedule, he was always free during the afternoon, so oftentimes that's when we would go out and do things. The times I mentioned above of hiding during the afternoon were mostly just late mornings or on days when I'd tell dad to take a nap rather than run around, 'cause work had been particularly draining that day. So sue me for inaccuracy. I'm just trying to tell a story, OK?!? Sheesh! Anyway, I saw many wonderful things like the day I spent wandering around the Epcot Center (which was sort of like being imprisoned inside endless PBS documentaries, but nonetheless fun) and two abortive attempts to watch the launching of the Space Shuttle Discovery, which I see finally got off the ground after two months of problems. A trip to Tampa to see Busch Gardens (only moderately worth it if you're not into roller-coasters) filled out the rest of local exploration. BG, we were told by the guides was ranked as one of America's top four zoos, which left dad and I under the impression that there could only be three others. They did say that they had a great deal of success in breeding so maybe that's the part we didn't see. (This, of course, is entirely fair as I can't conceive of really wanting spectators around for any attempts at breeding that I may engage in.) Bleeeh. So, to continue. My trip was also groovy for having been the first time in nine years that I've flown and returning to the air was adventure in its own right.

After a brief ten-day layover in Oregon, (in which I began reading Joe's copy of the incredible novel The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy) I was off again: this time on a wallet-imploding cross-country drive to Orange County, California to stand up in Dave Nutting's mind-numbing descent into the pit of matrimony. This may sound sort of negative, but when one sees their closest friend snatched away by someone who only a year ago was barely a topic of conversation, one may feel a little sense of loss. Actually, Priscilla Andruss is quite groovy, and Dave could elaborate on that theme for days, but it was a little disheartening to see someone else become "best friend", although, of course that's how things should be.

I rented a car with another fella who was standing up for Dave, Scott Williams (not the Bulls player) from the Music department. We decided to go out and stay out after the wedding and look around a bit. Actually, Scott used to live in the L.A. area, so we were staying with an old friend of his just outside of San Bernadino. The drive out was a blast. We talked and listened to/discussed music (Scott has a Bachelors in Piano Performance and just finished his masters in Choral Directing.) and got to know one another, as we were only just acquainted through Dave. He picked me up around 10 on Tuesday morning (Aug. 10) and we drove until around midnight, stopping about an hour outside of Denver. We pulled off to a state park (Jackson Reservoir, if you're eagerly following this on your atlas) and tried to sleep in the car. We both woke around 2 am, cold and stifling in the stuffy car. Scott moved out and tried to sleep on a picnic table. I finally faded out around 3:30 and we woke around six. Strangely rested, we left in a fit of energy. We spent the day traversing the Rockies, which I'd only seen once, back when I was a freshman, and then only around Colorado Springs. After Denver, I was going further west than I'd ever been.

It was magnificent. We stopped rather frequently to look around and throughout the day I was possessed with urges to go dashing off into the hills and explore. I only did that once, leaving Scott rather bewildered standing alone on a ridge in the middle of Colorado. Not for too long. Off we went again! Once we hit the Colorado River, the road began to follow it down a wondrous series of canyons. The Colorado seems to have left canyons scattered down its whole length, not just the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I highly recommend following it if you have the means and the opportunity. After Colorado we drove through the vast waste of Utah. I say waste because you can drive well over a hundred miles at a stretch without running into the least village. Just the road. If, however, it were vastly populated, then it would truly be a waste. There's beauty in a lack of population and Utah is the most beautiful state that I've ever been in. If you don't like desert and rocks, then it's probably not the place for you, but I could live there with great contentment. The only two drawbacks are the absence (as far as I could tell) of any forests and the absence of a(ny) good universit(y/ies). Brigham Young U., of course, is populated and controlled by heretics of the worst sort (silly and historically-inaccurate) and is therefore not to be counted. Sigh. Thus, I am still (more or less) in the midwest. Eventually, we got to the far side of Utah where there were people and gas and turned southward. At this point I shall now add that I left Oregon with something of a sniffle, but attributed it to my mild allergy to our stupid dog, Bandit, and assumed that it would vanish. After spending the night in shorts (it somehow never occurred to me to put on pants) just east of Denver, something like 5,000 feet above sea level, I now possessed one of the nastiest colds in the universe. All this driving through the Utah desert at somewhere above 90°F. By the time we entered Nevada that night I had gone through somewhere between 200-250 Kleenex and all of Scott's napkins. Mike was having fun, but his nose was an unhappy nose, and his mind was tired of dwelling on that fact. We pulled a little off the road to watch the great Persid meteor shower, which was supposed to possibly be a meteor storm (very, very rare and exciting), but were treated only to a fizzle. Ahead, (starting from about sixty miles away--no exaggeration) we saw the great glaring glow of Las Vegas. We had called ahead (using Scott's handy cellular phone) and made arrangements to stay at my cousin Steve's and his wife-and-my-high-school-classmate's house. Upon our 10:30pm arrival, owing to my incredible sickness, I promptly fell unconscious (after a much-needed shower, mind you) and Scott set off to re-acquaint himself with the wonders of Las Vegas. My sole experience of the town was our drive down the strip to my cousin's place. In view of Las Vegas, I must reassess my condemnation of Florida as tacky. Las Vegas was loud. In the way that a suit is loud, and if Las Vegas were my suit, I can safely say that I would never date again.

After a blissful sleep, I left Scott still knocked out and spent a few hours visiting with Tracy, whom I hadn't seen since her and Steve's wedding, which coincidentally enough, was four years ago that very day. Steve, unfortunately, had had to leave for work early that day so we barely saw one another. After Scott joined us for a bite to eat, we were on our way. We crossed the mountains and headed down into California. Most of the way was just the vast unpopulated Mojave desert which I still thought was great, but not splendid like Utah, where you drove through areas which were like driving down the middle of the Grand Canyon.

Finally arriving at Priscilla's house that afternoon we were reunited with Dave and her and spent a few hours just sharing news until the rest of the wedding party folks from Illinois returned from their afternoon explorations. They were (smart/dumb), having flown in the night before from Illinois, and had thus (spared themselves/missed out on) the (grueling/delightful) drive across the country. [Now, for your convenience, opinion-letters! Fill in the perception of your choice and read what you want to read!!! Just take a Big Red Marker (not included) and circle the opinion closest to Yours!!
--Kids don't try this at home. Must be 18 or older or have Parental Consent.--]

Ahem! Shortly after this we all went out to fit our tuxes and enjoy the "guy's night out" before the wedding. Actually, there were two of these. This night (Thursday) was for having fun and wild abandon (or the nearest thing that we could conjure up to it) and Friday night was reserved for talking and praying. On to fun and wild abandon!! First we went to a place called Camelot--a place featuring go-kart rides, water rides, video games and more. We just ran around for some hours enjoying the possibilities. Then around 11pm we grabbed Dave, blindfolded him and threw him in the back of the car. We then drove about 20 miles to Newport Beach and found a place to park. The beach was off-limits after 10, and as it was now about 12, we endeavoured to be quite careful and we avoided every police car we could. We carried Dave over the sand, so that he couldn't tell where we were (the tide was out and the "blindfold" covered his ears somewhat, as well as his eyes). "Fish!" cried Dave. "I smell fish!" When we were coming to the last rise above the waves, we took Dave's blindfold off, and as he looked around, wondering why we'd brought him to the ocean, he became aware that all of us around him were nude or quickly becoming so. So after about three seconds of careful consideration Dave stripped, too, and we all ran screaming into the sea. Such was my first experience of the Pacific Ocean and of skinny-dipping for that matter.

As I had not actually been swimming in the ocean for some nine years, I had forgotten about the undertow. As I found myself being sucked out to sea, I realized what a horribly embarrassing death this would be and I scrambled back to shore. After a commemorative group picture (towels stategically placed, mind you) we headed back to the cars. We then drove into town for a look, and in Newport Beach was a brand-new mall at a major, well-lit intersection downtown. At this intersection we found the most interesting fountain that shot columns of water into the air in irregular patterns at various strengths. We jumped up onto it and began to try and avoid the water. We all eventually failed at that and played in the fountain for about a half-hour, enjoying the stares of the late-night motorists immensely. After we left a horrible bar called the Goat's Head Tavern, I changed clothes behind a bush in the mall parking lot (dodging the guys' attempts at photographing that spectacle) and we drove back to Priscilla's sister and brother-in-law's where we were staying. The rest of the guy's in my car (Scott, Brian Eterno and Justin Krone) hung their soaked shorts and underwear out of our car windows in hopes of drying them out. It just made them colder. We traveled home in fear of being pulled over and an officer finding three men in a car nude from the waist down. I don't think that any claim of mine to be a theologian would have saved me from guilt-by-association. In fact, I'm sure it would have made things worse. Mercifully, we got home around 1:30 and that night, like all nights, ended in poker.

The next few days of preparation, intimate talk and prayer on the night before, and finally David and Priscilla's wedding are all good stories, but I think I'll cut off on details for now. I can elaborate on anything that you think is interesting later. The night of the wedding, the entire party went out for an incredible Italian dinner at a beautiful place called the Old(e?) Spaghetti Factory where I spent the evening talking with ex-roommate Chris Urosevich outside the place and then the entire dinner with a charming friend of Priscilla's from California. We then spent the evening exploring Hollywood and then went window-shopping in Beverly Hills (where I purchased an expensive and ritzy milkshake). The next day we all went out for breakfast (with a wonderfully rude, not-taking-any-crap waiter) and then took everyone to LA International Airport for their flights home. At the airport we played poker again on the floor of one of the gates and I took everyone for an incredible $10.10 (we were playing nickels, dimes and quarters) and met (my first) movie star. This was 13 year-old Anna Chlumsky who starred in My Girl with Macauley Culkin a few years ago. When all my friends descended on her and her mum, (I stood in the back, being terribly embarrassed) she explained that they were filming My Girl 2 at the moment. As it turned out, she was a believer, so now I suppose I'll have all eternity to be embarrassed about my friends mugging young teen-age girls. Swell.

After getting rid of everyone, Scott and I drove out to his friend Jim's place. Over the next few days, I made a new friend, climbed a mountain, saw the LA County Art Museum (somehow I managed to miss a room with five or six Rembrandts--one of my favourites--and outside the museum at the LaBrea Tar Pits, I ran into Anna Chlumsky and a giant crew filming a scene for My Girl 2. At this point, I had reached a horrible level of paranoia that Something, somehow, would screw things up and I would not get to Notre Dame again this year. So when I finally saw this girl through the crowd, the thing that popped into my mind was that maybe she'd recognize me from the other day and that somehow I would get locked up on stalking charges. I fled.) and I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway and after a stop at the classy Malibu McDonalds for supper (didn't see no one famous) I went on up and watched the sunset from the Santa Monica Mountains at this beautiful national seashore, where the mountains come right on down to the shore and descend into the waves. See it if you can.

The drive home was epic. Scott was by now in total possession of the cold that I'd gotten over, so I drove 15 of the 16 hours of that first day. We went further south through the Mojave this time, and came to the Grand Canyon around suppertime. Another first for me. Much to my utter aggravation, we were only able to spare about half an hour for that, and that just sitting on the rim. But by this time I was getting pretty used to not being able to hike at all, and I was still on a little bit of a high for having climbed a (granted, smaller) mountain all by meself. We saw and possibly photographed a brilliant red and dark sunset from the far east end of the canyon and returned to the road. This is where we hit the one colossal mistake in my planning. The other reason we were going this route home than the Grand Canyon was so that we could take this highway that went through the middle of Monument Valley, which I'd spotted on the map. We hit Monument Valley at midnight. There wasn't even a moon. But I did stop anyway and I could still make out the shapes of the columns and pillars around me. No moon, no towns anywhere around, no lights of any kind, except for the stars. The Milky Way glowed there in way that I never would have suspected. Silence except for distant cars on the desert road. We drove for around three more hours, missing (I do believe) incredible sights all around until we came to the town of Moab just south of Arches National Park, where we got a ratty motel room. No more sleeping outside for the sick! The next day we were reunited with the Colorado River as we left around noon. As usual, the big C. had carved an incredible canyon along the edge of the national park, and the road went right down the middle of it. It was a strange, red land. I'm definitely thinking of returning. It would be wonderful land for a vacation (again, if you're really into rocks and moving around a lot). Shortly, we came to the same route we had come west on, and as Scott was feeling better, we didn't stop except for gas and food. We drove 21 and 1/2 hours to get back to my house. A great experience, endless talk, and a sunrise around Des Moines that we agreed we would never really be able to describe to anyone else that provided strangely exciting entertainment (which Scott orchestrated to Mozart's Requiem). Then home and a massive collapse, with four days to get ready to move to Indiana.

I got home at 9:30am Sat. the 21st and found to my amazement that Leslie and Joe had left for the U of I a half-hour before. So I didn't get to see them at all or talk about my adventures and whatnot. After I woke up that evening, I then found to my outrage that Joe had wandered back to school toting his copy of The Sum of All Fears with him. I scoured the library with no success, so my mind-pacifier was thereby lost. I guess it just made me pack with no need to hurry. I rented an expensive little U-Haul to take all me stuff to where I be now. The wondrous University of Notre Dame!!

I can't describe how beautiful this campus is. A place like this moves one to learn, to deserve to be a part of such surroundings, to fulfill tradition and the intentions of founders that one has scarcely heard of. Not that I haven't met many who don't appear to have any such feelings. Fortunately, most of those don't seem to have gotten to graduate school yet.

I live in a wholesome piece of University real estate--graduate housing in the complex that has all the married students with children, most of whom have seized upon us as big playmates. I'm particularly fond of 4 year-old Chester who pounds on our back door and growls his intentions to blow us up with his dynamite and his missiles. There is also 3 or 4 year-old Caitlin who screams like no one I've ever heard and comes over on game days to do football cheers for about an hour before the game. This is said with no exaggeration. She has a little cheerleader outfit and pom-poms. She's the daughter of one of the older M.Div Students that I know. The kiddies particularly approve of me as a monster. When they make the afternoon especially loud, I open my window and make a monster noise or Bob comes over and makes his own horrifying noise and the little mob of terrorists gathers below my window (mob, high window, and Notre Dame, now all I need is a horrible disfigurement...) and shortly I go down and wrestle with them for a bit. Until they bring out the plastic swords and start whacking on me. Then I do what's best for both of us. I flee. They have their victory and I have my dignity. The only problem is that they're then so hyped that they usually beat on the back door for about a half-hour and throw dirt at it (there are now pits being dug behind our place, the little gravelly patch under one of the only trees right by the buildings) in order to provoke us into coming back out. This when we usually leave and go to dinner. As you can see, this is already all down to a science.

I mentioned a Bob. That's one of my three housemates here. The others are George Chan, an MBA student, Brother Joe Markel, a Marianist monk studying for a degree that is like an MBA, but for non-profit organizations. Bob Woodberry is a first-year Ph.D. candidate in Sociology. His main focus is Soc. of Religion and is a wonderful evangelical intellectual from southern California. He had just finished an MA at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. The night that I had climbed my mountain, I drove out to Pasadena and we had dinner, after which he showed me around town. We hit it off spectacularly (he laughed at my jokes!) and so we had at least knowing one person at school to look forward to. We're getting to be quite close friends here at school, and I expect that to continue. He's a missionary kid and grew up in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. as well as having been a teacher of English in China for two years (during Tiannamen Square--I know I probably spelled that wrong, don't hassle me.) so he has great insight and stories to tell of many things.

The department is interesting. I have some major disagreements with some points, particularly the ideas concerning revelation and scripture. There are other places were material is at its best--like inquiry into the Trinity and the rigour of the exegesis that is demanded by my Jesuit professor of Pauline Writings. But the profs are wonderful, and I've come to this conclusion after a mere three weeks of classes (they seem to be very fast). The students are a fun group as well, especially the MA students and the new MDiv students. The MA program is only a year of classwork and I think that we've unanimously decided that this is too quick, but maybe we're just reacting from a social perspective. We go out a lot. We are frequently descending on the bars, announcing ourselves as the Theology Department and trying to take over. We also bought football tickets as a block group (grad students are in the middle of the student section right on the back goal line level with the goal posts, the theology students are two-thirds up, if you want to spot me on national TV) and attend that event with the same bacchanalian fever that the rest of the school displays--it's an incredible part of the culture here. We also are a frequent movie group--I just dragged everyone to see The Maltese Falcon, and was profusely thanked. This week it's Like Water for Chocolate. I'm told that it's an incredible film. We (as a student body) seem to be trying to go out of our way to organize social events with the faculty. We had a party at the seminary last week. I walked off with most of a leftover bottle of White Zinfandel, but I'm nervous about casually consuming it, because given the plethora of Jesuits and Holy Cross fathers present I fear that perhaps it is now the Blood of Christ. Who knows what a priest might bless after a couple of glasses? So, as a whole, things are good here. I think that some of my evangelical perspectives are considered naive, but I make a decent case for them (I think; actually I worry about this a lot, but I think that I present myself well: rational, loving, homourous, which is to say, not a crazed zealot) and I think that I'm accepted on my terms, even if some of my view or suspicions about the way things are are rejected.

I think that wraps up a lot concerning recent history. I'm thouroughly in my element and having a blast, my only problem is that I can't study enough! I do relax, perhaps a little too much at times. I found a copy of The Sum of All Fears at the library and devoured it at the beginning of classes. Now my problem is I'm trying to read the rest of Clancy's stuff and I really need to be doing other things! The people in the department are a blast because all the students (people me own age even!) want to talk theology almost all the time, to the point where when we're out, whoever is functioning as self-appointed social director at the time (we rotate) almost inevitably complains that we're "talking shop" again and let's pretend to be like the rest of humans for a while. It is immensely gratifying to even find girls like this! Although some of them, if they were reading over my shoulder (which seems to be the eventual intention of a few) would say, "find women like this" to me. Then I would sigh. Whatever. This is a big kahuna letter isn't it? Wee doggies!, as my friend Jimbo would say. I think I'm getting a little giddy, it's around one in the morning and I'm having fun. Tomorrow I'm giving a copy of one chapter of my undergraduate these to my Early Christianity professor, Blake Leyerle, to see what she thinks. Some of my profs at NIU encouraged me to try to publish it last year. It would be an incredible asset to publish at this point in my career. So I'm hoping. And terrified. Yikes!
Tags: biblical studies, books, family, friends-niu era, friends-notre dame era, niu, notre dame, old stories, paul, personal, teachers, theological notebook, travel-1993 across america

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