Late Night Tonight

Throwback to an earlier final four!



Today’s a BIG day.
Women’s Final Four in play.
Hold onto your hats!

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Each Day

Woods

These walks in the woods
Small prayers to life and what e’er
The weather will bring.

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My Mistake

I thought March Madness
was about a Hatter and
a Hare having tea.

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Mastery

My Saboteur speaks
Sometimes out of the darkness.
I say be quiet.

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Catholics and Jesus Freaks

This post started out as my second post about Aunt Emma, but it got hijacked and I’ll return to Aunt Emma soon. For now, here’s more than you ever wanted or needed to know about my high school ‘spirituality.’ Read on at your own risk…

In late 9th grade there was an influx of Catholic kids into our public school. The parish schools only went to 8th grade. After that you could pay tuition to go to one of the Catholic High Schools, or you could join everybody else from Havertown at Haverford Junior High School. So 9th grade — 1966 — was the year Betsy entered my life.

Haverford Junior High School (now Middle School)

With her came the kindling of a nascent interest in religion, and in Catholicism, that would evolve through high school. And, just to be real, I need to also add that while Betsy‘s arrival on the scene kindled this spiritual interest, she also, importantly, introduced me to the Whopper and the Whopper-with-Cheese. (A perhaps similarly life-changing event!)

The interest in religion in general was fueled by a desire to understand and cope with the dysfunction in my home. But I also had an interest in questions of meaning that didn’t feel purely reactive. I’d gone to our Presbyterian Sunday School and church, but my questions weren’t answered there. And that being said, being drawn to Catholicism in particular was definitely reactive and rebellious.

My mother had railed against the Catholic Church from my earliest days. One thing she was most disturbed by was the ‘indoctrination’ that the Church practiced. Ironically, she had no qualms when it came to loudly indoctrinating us, starting at birth, about how evil that was.

By the time the Catholic kids, and Betsy, in particular, entered my life, I was ripe for explorations of Catholic spirituality. From 9th grade on, we were in dialog about questions of meaning and of spiritual experience. I read Martin Buber and Paul Tillich and other theologians whose names I don’t remember so well.

I visited the St. Jude Shop on Brookline Boulevard regularly, and grappled and questioned and tried to understand the ‘experience of God that Betsy talked about. (Side note: Back in the day, the shop was in a smaller storefront. Looks like it’s thrived and now expanded into the space that Martels — one of the small local supermarkets — used to be in.)

The spiritual experience that Betsy described was something I read about it in my books and thought about and valued. But I could not give myself over to an experience — any experience — as others, in those years, seemed to be doing. I was an observer who partly longed to step out of myself and be ‘included’ but was essentially and reflexively walled off. In retrospect I can see that as a totally understandable impulse of self-protection. At the time, though, it puzzled and frustrated me.

In my high school spiritual world there were two poles — the Catholics and the Jesus Freaks. The Catholics were represented by Betsy, for me, and the Jesus Freaks by two pretty active groups in my high school. One was called Young Life and the other was called Ranch and was connected to the Florida Bible College. Young Life was, and apparently continues to be, the more slickly ‘put together’ of the two. It was way too cool for me — and I was, in fact, very cynical about that group.

In the spring of my senior year it was like I suddenly became visible to some of the people involved in Ranch. I was flattered, because these were also popular people in my class of 700+ students and I had generally held myself outside of (and in my mind, honestly, above) all that. I never brought anybody home and basically kept to myself and a few friends.

But suddenly, there were people reaching out to me and I was flattered. Where the years of dialog with Betsy had involved grappling and searching in the intense and fervent way of teenagers, this new development was more about feeling accepted by popular kids. I tentatively felt good about myself, even while I still questioned it all, inside. It was a heady and confusing time.

I see now that I was basically a ‘commodity’ — someone to be ‘witnessed to’ and brought into the flock. The acceptance, while warm and enthusiastic, was conditional. I think I kind of knew that at the time, too. But I also remember dragging my friend CB to Ranch on several occasions — not sure exactly why. It’s something I felt vaguely guilty about, even at the time. But I still did it. And it’s not among my finest moments.

In college I was off and on drawn to the two poles of that old spiritual world, I gave my parents a scare when, during my freshman year, I thought I was being called to go to Florida Bible College. And honestly, how do you really know when god is telling you to do something? I remember the fear I used to feel, sitting in Quaker Meetings. I didn’t want to speak, but was terrified that the spirit would enter me and I’d have to. I’d spend entire meetings wondering and worrying about that.

Anyway, my father was instrumental in talking me out of going to Florida Bible College and, looking back, I see that as a bullet dodged.

As my friendships with the Jesus Freaks and with Betsy waned, so did my interest in the strains of spirituality that they represented. Evangelical Christianity has evolved into something so grotesque that it’s become anathema. But there are still aspects of Catholicism that I am drawn to. It’s where the contemplatives and mystics live — where the spirituality of western and eastern religions intersect.

And with that, I’ll call it a day…

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Aunt Emma — Part 1

In the long years of adulthood I’ve thought of Aunt Emma — Great Aunt Emma to be exact — as one of my saving graces. As a young child I was a little afraid of both Aunt Emma and Aunt Helen. They were sisters to my grouchy grandfather — oddly called Grindad — and they had very wrinkly faces – especially Aunt Emma. Aunt Emma also had a tremor that got more and more pronounced as the years went on. When I was little, that contributed to the slightly nerve-wracking mystery of her — and of Aunt Helen, by extension.

Aunt Emma and Aunt Helen lived in a part of Philadelphia called Germantown and we went there every year on New Year’s Day for dinner. This was a mysterious, magical, old-fashioned affair that involved creamed oysters on pastry shells and ice cream in a mold that Aunt Helen sliced and served. The occasion was capped by the lighting of real candles on the Christmas tree. Here’s a photo of me, clutching my stuffed animal very hard (and Christmas Tree in the background) as I meet a great great aunt on my very first New Year’s visit to Germantown…or maybe it was my second!

JordanCornblog meets Great Great Aunt Harriet

My mother had a sort of reverence for them and for the way of life they represented. Call it WASPish gentility. They were not wealthy, but they had that patina and seemed to live as if they were of another time. My maternal grandmother, Mimi, always felt looked down upon by them. I don’t know if it was true, but there was a tension there, mostly on her end, that I became increasingly aware of as I got older.

In our family of Roosevelt-hating Republicans, Emma and Helen were different. They were Democrats and went to plays and concerts and didn’t have a TV. The older I got, the more fascinating they became — especially Emma, who taught at South Philly Girls High and was the more worldly of the two, basically supporting Helen.

They traveled a lot, Aunt Emma and Aunt Helen. They’d go to Europe, not on prearranged tours but in inexpensive ways, like on freighters. And they’d stay for a long time, going to off-the-beaten-path-places and having adventures that seemed very brave and exciting to me. I remember one story they told of a train ride in Italy where they talked at length with some players on an Italian soccer team. And I’ve images of the two of them sitting in an outdoor cafe in Athens when the military coup there was happening in 1967.

I spent one weekend with them in late elementary school, and was very nervous about spending a weekend alone with them. These were, after all, people that I only saw once a year — maybe I’d been with them about 10 times in my young life at that point. They were kindly, wrinkly, and mysterious strangers.

The weekend was at once filled with activity and somehow quiet. We went to see The Taming of the Shrew — my first experience of a Shakespeare play. We went to a church fair in Germantown and went walking in the Wissahickon Park, where we serendipitously came upon an obedience demonstration by the K9 Unit of the Philadelphia Police.

The whole weekend was magical, perhaps most because it was such a quiet time in its way. I don’t remember conversations, though I know we must have had them. One f my most vivid memories is of sitting in their living room reading a book and drinking acrid Philadelphia ice water while they prepared supper, having refused my help. Supper, I’m sure, was simple, and the mattress I slept on, as I recall, was filled with horsehair. (Any chance that’s an apocryphal memory? Perhaps.)

Mostly I just remember the calm quiet, and the small surprise I felt at being able to navigate it all by myself. I felt more grown up when I got home — at once proud and relieved. A rite of passage and surprise of surprises, I had gotten through it and actually enjoyed the experience.

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Today






February morn
Grey and orange sky shines bright
temps are on the rise!

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Top 25

I stumbled upon this list from the NY Times this morning. It’s the top 25 books of the past 125 years, as nominated and voted on by readers of the NY Times Book Review. (The 125-year timeframe is a nod to the number of years the Review has existed.)

In October, editors at the Book Review asked you to help us choose the best book of the past 125 years. We received thousands of nominations — including novels, memoirs and poetry collections — from readers across the world.

We narrowed those submissions down to 25 finalists. It’s a list that reflects the submissions we received, with a few exceptions: Editors decided only one book by a given author could appear on the list, and didn’t count nominations for entire series, only individual books.

The winner was announced in December, and here’s a link to that announcement. (I never know if links to the NYT will work for non-subscribers, so (spoiler alert) the winner was To Kill a Mockingbird.

Here’s the list of the Top 25, in alphabetical order (click on the image to see a larger, actually readable, version):

I am toying with the idea of making my way through this list in the coming year. It scares me, and it’s not the sort of assignment I usually give myself. But there are so many books here that I haven’t read — some that I read many, many years ago — and, honestly, a few I’d never even heard of!

If we’re being honest, still, then I have to admit that there are two books on the list that stop me in my tracks — Infinite Jest and Ulysses. But at least there’s no Thomas Pynchon, so I guess I should count my blessings.

What do you think?

I’m scared…

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Wintry Mix

We’ve got a Winter Storm Warning here in Canterbury this morning. As I write, I can hear that the rain has turned to sleet tapping a wet staccato on the dark windows. Soon enough, it will be silent snow falling through the day. Here’s the National Weather Service’s take on what I’m hearing outside:

...WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 7 PM EST THIS
EVENING...

* WHAT...Heavy mixed precipitation. Additional snow
accumulations of 3 to 5 inches for a storm total of 2 to 7
inches, sleet accumulations of around 1 inch and ice
accumulations of around one tenth of an inch.

* WHERE...Portions of central New Hampshire and south central
and southwest Maine.

* WHEN...Until 7 PM EST this evening.

* IMPACTS...Plan on slippery road conditions. The hazardous
conditions could impact the morning or evening commute.

I work from home and we have a generator, so unless there’s an internet outage, I am generally unaffected by what the weather does. But this morning’s wintry mix has got me thinking about how my perspective has evolved.

I used to take some pride in going to work, pretty much no matter what. And I can recall quite a few more or less harrowing drives to and from Concord. Our driveway has a couple of curves and steep spots. I remember sliding off and down the field toward the woods one icy morning on my way to the gym before work. And changing my route home in blizzardy conditions to avoid as many hills as possible wasn’t unusual — although it isn’t easy to avoid hills around here. And there have been many occasions when I’ve gotten stuck, trying to get up our driveway after work.

I’ve never had a winter accident — or any accident in NH for that matter (knock on wood). Thinking back on my wintry commutes, though, it wasn’t for the lack of trying!

And writing here this morning, I’m struck by how much my perspective has changed. Ten years ago, I’d have headed straight to work. Today, as I weigh the pros and cons of venturing out into a wintry mix I hear echoes of countless grandparents through the ages saying, “Careful, you’ll poke an eye out!”

It definitely seems to be something that comes with age, this shift. And I wonder, is it about wisdom or fear? Or something else?

Here’s Mimi, entertaining our poodle, Clyde, and looking very UNworried!

The consequences of sliding off the road or having a fender bender just seem more real (and more of a hassle) to me than they used to. And that’s what I think it boils down to — awareness of consequences — and what you’re willing to deal with.

I’m the same person as the teenager who thought my grandmother Mimi was annoying and weird for all her worries. (She was sometimes often a little overboard with her angst.)

But now I see ways that I’ve become Mimi — and I have a bit more appreciation for her perspective. She and I are in sync this morning, as we both choose to observe this wintry mix from inside the house!

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Adulting



If you use trauma
to excuse yourself, my com-
passion’s hard to find.

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