Novak (novak) wrote,

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Personal/Theological Notebook: Joe; Erynn & Museum; Kelly & Art; Writing Sullivan, Seeing the Lloyds

Life continues to be virtually all about the dissertation this last week. Still, the rest of the world snuck in, here and there. The hardest part has been that my brother Joe has been hospitalized since Monday with a fever of indeterminate origin that he has been unable to shake, even with the medical staff's help. Spiking up to 104ºF at times, the pain and discomfort from it has been keeping him from sleeping for very long, with a 3-4 hour stretch Sunday being the best he's done for days. That's hard going after a while. When I talked with him the other afternoon, he apologized right up front for the fact that he was sounding rather "surly." Or was it "sullen?" Daniele's managing alright, with her Dad and an aunt in the area able to help her with Nate, but of course she's concerned and distracted for Joe.

Last Tuesday Erynn and I hit the Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Milwaukee Public Museum before it closed. It was again quite moving, even having already seen it once with Angie and her family back in April. But in the same way that teaching the same lesson is an entirely fresh experience with a different group of students, it was a different experience to see the exhibit with Erynn, as we inevitably noticed different things, reacted to one another's comments differently, and pointed out new observations to one another. For some reason, we kept coming back to the cumulative weight of the ironies involved in different people's stories with the Titanic, or rather all of them together as the one outrageous story of the doomed ship. We seemed to spend a little extra time on the photographs and portraits of the passengers, getting drawn a little more than I had the first time I saw the exhibit into the drama of identifying with the passengers, which is something that the exhibition tries to do right off, as they assign you a "ticket" with a name and brief biography of a passenger of your sex. You do not find out whether your person lived or died until the end of the exhibit, information that they specifically withheld through all the display until the end. This time, instead of First Class passenger Samuel L. Goldenberg, who survived, I was given Third Class passenger Frederick Goodwin, who perished along with his wife and six children. We came across a very large portrait of that family early on in the descriptions of the variety of people aboard, and you couldn't help but start to feel the personal weight of the tragedy as you looked into all their faces. You realize after a while that the exhibition is as much a memorial as anything else.

Later we wandered through the Native American, bird, Streets of Old Milwaukee, and then the insect displays, including the Butterfly Room. We spent a considerable amount of time really looking at the details of the "European Village" connected to the Streets of Old Milwaukee, and the cottages with their representations of the arts, crafts, furnishings and fashion of the places from which came the bulk of Milwaukee immigrants. We particularly loitered around the Norwegian display, while Erynn entertained and sickened me with descriptions of the gross fish products of the Norwegian side of her family, and the various things she had been tricked into eating by relatives. I was surprised that she had never been there, for all the years she had lived in the Milwaukee suburbs, so I got to have that cool feeling of having successfully showed someone something interesting about the town. There was more that looked interesting, but we had to be heading out so that Erynn could meet her coach for her afternoon training as she prepared for the NCAA Regional meet. The temperature had spiked up to 82ªF, and we had both conspicuously dressed for cooler weather, which I think drew us some funny looks as we walked passed everyone wearing shorts and t-shirts.

Wednesday I had to drop $120 on getting my upper permanent retainer fixed, which I suspect I pulled loose on a carrot. So I failed to hold my end of the conversation with an Irish orthodontist-in-training from Kilkenny who had his instruments in my mouth while asking me questions. On the way in I had run into Carol, a former student of mine who was now in the Dental program, and so I heard some of that adventure from her, and on the way out I ran into my neighbour Kelly, who was just leaving the building and walking back to the Ardmore. We hadn't run into one another for some time, and so I caught up on the news of her graduation and acceptance of a residency at UCLA where she would be doing medical dentistry for a year, with an eye toward helping people in trauma cases, which sounded very exciting and worthy. We also talked of some of the modeling she had been doing on the side for fun, which actually gave me a chance to get some recommendations for area photographers doing fashion work, as Erynn had expressed an interest in finding such people to shadow, professionally. Having done an absurd amount of musical production work while doing my doctoral coursework, it was interesting to hear Kelly's language for talking about taking up modeling over the last two years while she was doing her dental degree. I had always just tended to look at modeling as a purely economic endeavour – supermodels selling washer/dryers. Kelly spoke of it in a more artistic way: I could see that for the photographers, but I hadn't considered it from the model's perspective: that one could see the work as an artistic outlet for themselves, collaborating with a photographer in creating an image. While all of Kelly's work was lovely, I was particularly struck by one photographer who had done work with her that looked to me to be very much of a Pre-Raphelite style – but photography. I had never even conceived, really, of recreating formal painting styles in the photographic medium, and so that was particularly eye-opening and provocative, giving me all sorts of ideas of potential ways to play with photography that had never occurred to me before. Not that I have the skill or time to do such things, but that it would be interesting to see if more of that was going on in photography than I'd been aware of before.

Thursday was Francis Sullivan's 87th birthday, and so my morning was taken up with writing him a letter of congratulations as well as a bit of a report on the current state of the dissertation. In particular, I wanted to share with him how personally compelling some of his work on a theology of charisms has become for me in the last few weeks, as I have not only had to do formal work in theological writing, but also to consider the significance of related experiences in my own past. It's one thing to simply accept and recognize your past. It's another thing to have to truly assess it with academic rigour. That is, some questions in life you don't necessarily have to answer: you can simply accept something as a complex or ambiguous situation, perhaps a very meaningful one, even personally meaningful, but never actually feel compelled to sit down and work out exactly how or why it is meaningful. I had never put myself to the work of considering some of my own spiritual experiences in this way: I felt no need to. I know I'm being a bit vague, here. I'm not sure that I feel the need to go into some of these experiences in a public way, here in the journal. But in really coming to terms with what Sullivan had written in Charisms and Charismatic Renewal, I could no longer write about such things without really deciding what I thought, personally. And so I wrote to him of some of this, because when I did have to write this material, it became far more clear to me than it had simply by several readings, which is not unusual in the academic or writing life. And I felt I owed it to him to let him know that this work was having a wider impact on me than just the writing of a disinterested academic exercise. I look forward to visiting him at Boston College when this chapter is – at long last! – finished.

Saturday featured a dinner invitation from the Lloyds to help them consume a lovely piece of grilled salmon with some yummy mystery glaze that Amy and Dan had conjured up out of seven different cookbooks and an ancient Coptic papyrus Dan discovered as part of his dissertation research. The best salmon I'd ever had: not too "salmon-y," but also not overwhelmed by the glaze. A perfect balance.

Not so balanced were the kids, with whom I hung out and played while Dan was grilling. Owen got particularly goofy in pulling off the round white clumps of blossoms from the "snowball tree" in the backyard and throwing those at me, eventually going so far as to dig into the quite attractive centerpiece of a bowl filled with the blossoms that had been left on the patio table and throwing those all over me, laughing with increasing madness as he got further into his work. Anna cautioned me that if he got to be laughing too much that he might throw up, which is alarming on two levels: first that it's true, and second that I always forget this fact, and so get Owen dangerously worked up when I'm playing with him. Anna got in on a bit of the fun with the "snowball fight," but also spent some time informing me that she was almost a grown up now, since she was turning five next month. I distinctly remember considering myself a grown-up from about sixth grade onward, but this had me blinking for a moment as I tried to put myself back in my head at that age and remember how the world looked to me then.

Conversation was pretty low-key and comfortable around dinner, more on the slight news of what one another had been doing over the last week or two, and the small doings of the kids than anything else. We were hoping to all go and catch Terminator: Salvation in the evening, which Dan was hyped to see, but that depended on getting a sitter for the kids, and that was up in the air. So I accompanied Amy to the local Walgreens on a candy run for Dan, who likes to go into a theatre well-stocked with Mike and Ikes, and we talked about oddities like our personal histories of candy favourites and consumption. As Amy doesn't much care for sweets, her version was more complicated and subtle, but I'd already profited from it before when she turned me on to putting Hershey's Dark Chocolate syrup instead of the regular stuff on vanilla ice cream, so I listened closely while continuing my own futile search for BottleCaps, which seem no longer to exist in drugstores. But no babysitter was forthcoming, so Amy went ahead and sent us to the film without her, which felt rude to me, but she apparently was not nearly so invested in witnessing the mayhem as Dan was. So he gave me the low-down on his experience at the North American Patristics Society meeting the day before as we drove over, making me have to hard-shift from the subtleties of ancient theology to the non-subtleties of evil cyborg destruction in merest seconds. The Lemonheads helped, but I made a point of not eating the whole thing this time....
Tags: art, family, francis a. sullivan s.j., friends-marquette era, historical, milwaukee, personal, photography, theological notebook, writing

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