Yesterday was typical for the break-neck pace that school is for me this semester, since my prep for my Modern Christian Thought course has me reading all over the place in copious quantities. I'm hoping that I'm doing well by my students now, but I suspect that this is the groundwork that might really pay off for the students in five years or so. Yesterday, for example, I was prepping for a conversation on the impact of biblical criticism and of the advent of Darwinian biology in 19th century Britain (which I rightly assumed would take up the bulk of the class's attention) as well as the rise of later 19th century Protestant Liberalism, particularly in the persons of Adolf von Harnack and Walter Rauschenbusch. As usual, prepping this stuff didn't mean prepping just this stuff, but took me all over the place in trying to answer my own questions as well as prepare for questions I might anticipate among the students. Thus in the afternoon before the class session, I found myself going so far afield as to comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Isaiah to the Masoretic (Medieval) Hebrew text of Isaiah, and looking up what Augustine and Basil the Great had to say in the 4th century about the age of the earth.
I got a kind letter from a student who had been worried about how difficult some of the reading we were doing was for her, particularly Hegel, which she had virtually single-handedly chosen to present to her peers among the in-class presentations I ask students to do. I had to explain to her:
As to Hegel and your worries: I thought you gave one of the best presentations the class has seen. Not because you knew it all. I don't know it all. I found that stuff as hard going as the rest of you. But my point in taking you into the too-deep waters is, at its most basic, to get you used to not drowning in them, not to get you to be an Olympic swimmer. (Yet.) So you took on the toughest, most complicated reading we've done this semester, and you (as far as I could tell from my own reading of the material) pointed out where the issues that concerned Christian thinking were. To my mind, that's a rousingly successful exercise. Getting into this material, especially if you're looking at graduate school, is always going to be an exercise in humility over how much of this stuff there is to try to become competent in, and how difficult it is to gain competence in a lot of it. The trick is to learn to let our lack of knowledge empower us and drive us into further learning, and not to be overwhelmed and defeated by that lack of knowledge. I think the same is true for those going deeply into the physical sciences as well.Just hearing back from her about her reassurance on this point, and her extra "Thanks Dr. Novak: you are always so helpful and caring and it really means a lot!" really kind of made my day. I mean, it's great to be paid for my work, and to be able to responsibly pay my bills and all, but it's even cooler to help students gain both a sense of the wider world around them and of their ability to uncover it.
By the end of the Mardi Gras break, it was quite exciting to see Sarah start to finish her initial drawing for the chapel window project. I don't know if I should post any of that online as yet, since it's definitely still "work in progress," but it was terribly fun to get each update from her: initial pencilings, rough text inserted, inked version, possible color scheme, and so forth. When she sent me a large scanned file, then I was able to start using Photoshop to insert a more formal version of the texts for the window, as well as to digitally clean up and tweak some details in the scanned image. That, class preparation, fielding emails from my filmmaker friend who is interested in using some of my music in his indie film, (being pretty sure that I was) talking plastic surgery intelligently with my doctor, and talking the virtues of Mel Tormé vs. Joe Williams or of the public perception of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams with Anne Marie in London – all began to feel very "polymath" after a while: pure fun, but reminding me why I crash hard in the bed when I get to the end of my day.
Leslie was jazzed to report that Grace had won the all-around in her gymnastics tournament on Sunday the 26th, with 9.425 on the beam for 2nd place, 9.475 on her floor exercise for 1st, and (if I understand the text at this point, which has a typo, I think) 9.05 on her vault and 9.3 for 3rd on the bars, for an all-around 1st place finish of 37.250. So cool! Seeing the picture of her on the winners stand that Jim had posted to his Facebook page was kind of grand.
My house adventures continued with a four-day gap without hot water (getting a plumber during the climax of Mardi Gras was a bit unlikely in New Orleans), and after some awful sponge-bathing experiences (my bathroom is almost so narrow as to have only one side), the plumber was able to get the hot water heater going again, and now I have water that's somewhere between tepid and vaguely warm. It's a vast improvement, but it's still cool enough that you want to be standing closer to the shower because the amount of cooling that occurs in the water from exiting the shower head and when it gets to the ground is actually rather significant. NO FUN.
I had a lovely dinner over at Sr. Liz's house on Saturday, with Tim and Minoo in attendance, (Sr. Terri having a bad cold and unable to make it). Tim opined on the way over that I had futzed up my taxes if I had owed anything, but I can't see how. (Which doesn't say anything at all.) And we looked at a few spots still wiped out from Hurricane Katrina on the way over, which took me farther north in New Orleans than I'd been in a long time, some of it since Tim showed me around in May 2010 and outlined for me just how vast (and deep, in areas) the flooding from Katrina had been. So over roast pork and real mashed potatoes and such, we spoke about work, of seeing students develop, of family, the Sisters' own Katrina stories, and all the sorts of good conversation you hope to have at a gathering of the sort. It was just fun to see how much fun Liz seemed to be having just in hosting itself.