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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal/Theological Notebook: Turning in the Dissertation; Surprise Letters 
24th-Feb-2010 07:05 pm
So I'm finally done done. There was still some nit-picky detail work to do on the dissertation before I turned it in, and it was way more time-consuming than I'd expected. Even just constructing my Table of Contents took six hours of work this past weekend, which is absurd. I finally had everything copied at the print shop for the committee members to turn in Monday after class, before I headed over to the meeting of the Seminar on the Jewish Roots of Christian Mysticism. As I was picking the copies up, I realized that the 20 page file of the Table of Contents, Preface and Acknowledgments didn't have the extra indent I was supposed to have on the left margin for the thing to be bound. So I had to do the same pokey work on the Contents Monday night, as well as tweaking the Acknowledgments and Preface, which was another three hours. So on Tuesday, the copies got into everyone's hands in their final form. I vegged out in the evening by reading part of a book that had nothing to do with my dissertation topic, which seemed like an act of wanton rebellion after so much time working on the same topic. Dinner Monday night after the Seminar at Louise's with Anthony, Mike and Markus also felt like something of a reward.

While last week still was dominated by this nagging, one-more-thing kind of detail work, I did have a few really cool surprises in the form a few letters out of the blue. One was from a former a student at Saint Joe, Mira, who I had last seen as a high school sophomore and who is now a University of Chicago grad in politics and doing graduate studies in China through Johns Hopkins, which was beyond cool to hear. I was once again floored by the way you can discover that you have had long-term effects as a teacher when she mentioned revisiting a paper she had written for me, returning to what she dealt with from a classic of spirituality – Julian of Norwich – and also from my comments on her work. On her Blackberry, along with other lines or sayings she's come to appreciate, she apparently keeps this line I'd written: "Sophistication will reveal itself more truly in what you're saying than how you're saying it." I had to laugh, writing back to her, that hearing that now for the first time in years, it sounded really good to me, too! But as she rightly pointed out, it was one variation on one of those pieces of wisdom we spend our lives having to learn and re-learn, expressed a number of ways in different traditions. Still, for all the awareness I carry around in me about the ways in which my teachers have affected me, it still kind of boggles my imagination that I can do that to others, myself. But it was even cooler just to hear something of who Mira had become.

The other letter was an even trippier piece of time-traveling, originating from the summer after my freshman year. As I had written some time ago in my photo album with regard to this picture, this particular camp was the first time I had ever worked with high school students, and where I first began to have a sense that perhaps I had some particular talent for working with teenagers. That was a bit of a surprise, since I was still 19 myself, but now coming from a different angle than a peer or near-peer one: not so much that I had a designated authority, but that I was now in possession of a role, someone of whom it was expected that I might have something worth hearing. This camp was also the first time where I had made any kind of friendship with a camper, staying in touch with one of these students for a few years, and another for a shorter time. (It was also a bit of an early lesson in how settings like camp or teaching often are intrinsically temporary kinds of connections: that the intensity of something like a camp setting, in particular, just cannot be sustained in the same way outside of that setting.) So I got a Facebook note from Dan, one of this tight group of four really funny guys, older than the others, who had been in my small group. All these years later, to hear that described as one of the best weeks of their lives was also amazing, because it had been so for me, too, if from a different angle.

In my acknowledgments for the dissertation, I had to revisit this chain of my teachers, too, both "official" and unofficial. It's like what I love about history in general: all of these amazing chains of connection, of influence and of cause-and-effect. There's little better in life than the way we human beings are bound together. Now if someone will just start paying me a real salary to do this once again....
25th-Feb-2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
Angelia Brunner DeWeese commented on your note "Personal/Theological Notebook: Turning in the Dissertation; Surprise Letters":

"Ah, and hopefully soon the salary will complement the experience."

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