31 December 2012


. . . being a bi-weekly report on self-imposed unemployment, scholarship, and vocational exploration . . .

Twelve weeks, but not three months. One week shy of a quarter. But with this bi-weekly, I draw these reports to a close. Yesterday, December 30, was a milestone on several levels, and tomorrow begins a new year. The adventure continues!

The past two weeks have been mostly free of academic engagement. I sat for a final exam on the 18th, attended a final class session on the 19th, and that afternoon tidied up and organized my newly set up study area. Notes organized and put away for easy retrieval, book shelves restocked, and the extra computer monitor turned so I can watch videos from my winter bicycle trainer!

Then it was all Christmas all the time. A couple of social engagements, grown kids returning home, and all the comfortable aspects of a King family Christmas. (And no, we are not that King family. While growing up, that was a common joke question. And a fair one, given the roster in my childhood home.)

The bike went up on the trainer the day I took my exam. I am back on the bike. Over the past few weeks in various conversations I was asked if I was riding and running a lot, since - you know, I'm not working. My reply - that no, in fact, I haven't been on the bike at all to speak of, and the running has also stopped - each time evoked a physical response of surprise. Interesting. Peoples' mouths have gone agape (this really happens; it's unexpected, like when someone is literally stopped in their tracks), a couple of people flinched. A few found words to probe. This was all instructive to me, and I finally had to admit that all things considered, the dropping of my best "hobby" was probably a function of some low-grade depression. So . . . back on the bike, albeit indoors, and with a winter goal to hit. I also have a running goal, which of course as always will properly take a second place to the bike. But there we are. Balance, we are about to be restored.

Grown children come with their own sense of adventure, and they increase the awesomeness of our adventure. Sometimes scary, sometimes hilarious, and often just nice. We had a long Christmas weekend with all but our Army Captain with us. And he joined us on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning via Skype. Nice technology, that. On Christmas morning we had him on with us for nearly three hours, "in the circle" and taking his turns giving and receiving gifts. He had sent everyone's to our home, and we had all sent his to him. As a way to celebrate a family Christmas, it was a distant second to having him home. But he could not get leave because he had to "hold down the fort" while the soldiers going back to A'stan got leave. OK, well, given the alternative - that is, since this means he won't be going back - we were content. Karen and I got down to see him this past weekend, thankful for a posting that is within a day's drive.

As my Christmas break continues for a couple of weeks, I will be finalizing the description of my thesis, and expect to submit the formal proposal in January. There are also a couple of writing projects that I need to set my hand to. A recent flap in the Chicago Tribune, where the movie critic dared to pan "Les Miz" on cinematographic grounds, highlighted the whack aesthetic of popular culture. In short, the complaints to and about the critic amount to this: "How could you pan this movie? It made me cry, and at the end people stood up and cheered." Well, my friend, if you don't think this mindset is troubling church life and liturgy and music, stay tuned . . .

Meanwhile, life returns to "normal" for me and my Karen. I'll be looking for some part time work to help pay the bills during my last 6 months of studies, and we'll also be asking in earnest: "So, God, what is next, anyway?"

17 December 2012

Ten weeks

. . . being a bi-weekly report on self-imposed unemployment, scholarship, and vocational exploration . . .

Here I sit, in a study space that finally came together hours after I handed in the project that concluded one of my courses. Oh well, it has proved to be an effective space in which to prepare for the final exam in my other course.

We ordered the bookcases online to complete my study area. The desk is a huge bit of quarter-sawn oak that we found for an amazing low price when we lived in Minnesota. It was too large a desk for that house and it is too large for our present house. We often wonder if we shouldn't get rid of it, but just can't bring ourselves to let it go. When this current adventure began, it was fairly obvious that finally this expansive surface would be the place for me to study, and (God willing) to write a thesis.

We ordered the pine bookshelves from an outfit out East, then waited. And waited. And got the credit card bill, but still waited. We called and waited. The semester plodded along. The desk was set up for a work space, with boxes of shelf-destined books stacked to approximate the final project. At some point, it was apparent that the new ideal delivery date had to be after my term paper was completed. That day, last Tuesday, I said to Karen on her way to work, "In my dreams, I come home from classes today, find the shelves delivered, and get them set up before supper." Well, that didn't happen.

Instead, they arrived before I left for class. I dragged them indoors, finished printing the paper and dressing for my class presentation, and left with a shot of adrenaline that I badly needed to make a public presentation on less than 4 hours of sleep. (And yes, I am too old for that.)

I'm not great with my hands. I'm not even good with my hands. Building things is not something I do. Wood and I tend not to get along. So I wasn't as excited as I might otherwise have been, to take delivery of these boxes and realize that their proportions had to mean that these shelves were going to have to be put together. Well, to my very great pleasure, this turned out to be the best "kit" project of all time for me. It went together fairly easily, with good directions and extremely well made materials. The first unit took just under 1.5 hours, and the second in just over 30 minutes. By the time Karen got home from work on Tuesday, the shelves were up on a bare desk, and they met with approval. And mmm . . . they smelled good too! Fresh pine, unstained and unpainted. Love that.

The next day I unpacked the books that have been waiting to go on shelves, and there it was - a semester late, but with plenty more time ahead to enjoy it. I am now diligently using it to prepare for a final I will take in this space, online, Tuesday morning. Onward!

I still have not been on my bike or out for a run. But I have a plan, see, and this mild Chicago December makes it seem realistic. Studying is my job right now, and the exercise I miss will have to kick in during the semester break. But in such a way that I can keep it up when school begins again. One piece of that is definitely having my road bike on a trainer, just to the right of my desk. Yeah, like that won't be distracting. 

02 December 2012

Hurtling through Two Months

. . . being a bi-weekly report on self-imposed unemployment, scholarship, and vocational exploration . . .

Eight weeks. The first Sunday of December marks two full months of the adventure of uncertainty. Only it doesn't exactly feel like uncertainty, and if I was looking for adventure, this was a poor plan to find it.

As for "uncertainty," my day-to-day is filled with plenty of immediate and significant things to be done: reading, writing, practicing, and the normal stuff of being a homeowner and a husband. I have concrete deadlines for school, personal goals for music, and a commitment to not be preoccupied with either when Karen gets home from work.

And adventure? Funny thing. This adventure feels a lot like working, a little like worrying, and almost nothing like - oh, say, a bike trip!

Students are hurtling toward the end of the fall semester. As I round that corner, I have only two grades outstanding: a final paper in one course, and a final exam in the other. And yes, each will account for 40% of my final course grades. I like to think I know how this is all going to come together. If I'm right, I will find that I can make some progress on other important matters that should be settled before Christmas. If I've misjudged how these next two weeks will work, then I may get that scary sense of "adventure" after all.

One nice coincidence in the past couple of weeks: earlier this month I was given for my birthday the excellent recording (CD and DVD) of Osvaldo Golijov "La Pasion segun San Marcos." Try to hear it if you can. Hey, try to see it if you can. Picture the baroque passion tradition, reworked in 21st century Latin America. Can't do it, can you? Then check this out.

Well, I also was tapped to make a presentation on liberation theology and the Trinity. It provided my first opportunity to do a little cross-discipline, multi-media presentation in the context of my theology studies. So, that was fun. And pretty well received, as things turned out.

Karen and I decided to be wild, crazy, and irresponsible this weekend. We drove to Minnesota to attend the St. Olaf College Christmas Festival. This century-long tradition is something we have long held as the standard of Christmas programming for the church or the academy. What a joy to get there for this, our 4th or 5th experience of the Festival in situ. Need some rich sacred music in your Christmas? Count on St. Olaf! (And consider streaming the rebroadcast from Minnesota Public Radio.)

This quick round trip was made all it should be, by providing visits with some of our Minnesota friends. And we look forward to more of the season enriched by our Wheaton friends. Adventually.