Uh... Is this mic on?

Posted by Whit Barringer , Sunday, November 25, 2007 8:15 AM

Just wanted to send out an apology for all the double sends and reposts and such. I'm still getting used to the Blogger tools, which is apparently a painful process for us all.

When thought is the enemy.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, November 23, 2007 6:51 PM

Yesterday afternoon when we were about to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, my grandmother said, "Oh, did you hear about that new movie that's coming out that's atheist?" I could barely contain myself from making a snide Harry Potter comparison (“Oh, and Harry Potter had magic!”). I think I did more to hurt my grandmother’s feelings, as she was truly only trying to bring up a concern that she had heard in her church circles. But I had already heard it at school. There, we laughed about it. Here, I got serious glances. Perhaps my flippancy scared my grandmother, but I can’t help but feeling like no good could come of any conversation we could have about it.

The chain emails and religious media are focusing on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a children’s book trilogy written between 1995 and 2007. The Golden Compass supports atheism, they say. Well, I’ll let you read a couple of them. Quoted from Snopes.com (contains some spoilers):

[Collected via e-mail, October 2007]

There will be a new Children's movie out in December called THE GOLDEN COMPASS. It is written by Phillip Pullman, a proud athiest who belongs to secular humanist societies. He hates C. S. Lewis's Chronical's of Narnia and has written a trilogy to show the other side. The movie has been dumbed down to fool kids and their parents in the hope that they will buy his trilogy where in the end the children kill God and everyone can do as they please. Nicole Kidman stars in the movie so it will probably be advertised a lot. This is just a friendly warning that you sure won't hear on the regular TV.

[Collected via e-mail, October 2007]

I don't just generally dismiss a movie or book just because someone 'says' it's meant to be something else...but this is worth knowing if you plan to see it (or plan to take your kids).

"Hi! I just wanted to inform you what I just learned about a movie that is coming out December 7, during the Christmas season, which is entitled THE GOLDEN COMPASS. It stars Nicole Kidman and it is directed toward children. What is disturbing to me is that this movie is based on the first of a trilogy of books for children called HIS DARK MATERIALS written by Philip Pullman of England.

He's an atheist and his objective is to bash Christianity and promote atheism. I heard that he has made remarks that he wants to kill God in the minds of children, and that's what his books are all about. He despises C.S. Lewis and Narnia, etc. An article written about him said "this is the most dangerous author in Britain" and that Pullman would be the writer "the atheists would be praying for, if atheists prayed." Pullman said he doesn't think it is possible that there is a God and he has great difficulty understanding the words "spiritual" and "spirituality." What I thought was important to communicate is what part of the agenda is for making this picture. This movie is a watered down version of the first book, which is the least offensive of the three books. The second book of the trilogy is THE SUBTLE KNIFE and the third book is THE AMBER SPYGLASS. Each book gets worse and worse regarding Pullman's hatred of God. In the trilogy, a young girl becomes enmeshed in an epic struggle against a nefarious Church known as the Magisterium. Another character, an ex-nun, describes Christianity as "a very powerful and convincing mistake." As I understand it, in the last book, a boy and girl are depicted representing Adam and Eve and they kill God, who at times is called YAHWEH (which is definitely not Allah). Since the movie would seem mild if you viewed it, that's been done on purpose.

They are hoping that unsuspecting parents will take their children to See the movie, that they will enjoy the movie and then the children will want the books for Christmas. That's the hook. Pullman says he wants the children to read the books and decide against God and the kingdom of heaven.

If you decide that you do not want to support something like this, I suggest that you boycott the movie and the books. I googled a synopsis of THE GOLDEN COMPASS. As I skimmed it, I couldn't believe that in a children's book part of the story is about castration and female circumcision.

And so on and so forth.

Okay. I understand the kneejerk to this. “Let’s band together and boycott this picture for our children, because we are discerning parents who care for our children’s mental health (or souls, depending on how bold people are willing to be).” But there is a lot more to these concerns than simply being mad at Philip Pullman for writing “atheist” books.

I read His Dark Materials when I was in high school, and it was a crucial time for me to read them. I was just old enough to catch the themes in the book (while children are perceptive, I doubt they’ll be able to grasp all of the themes the book employs), and it was at a time when I was fighting with the world and with my religion. I didn’t know how to reconcile the two, because I felt I was losing perspective and the meaning of being Christian. Therefore, I read Pullman’s series at a time when it would mean the most to me. I was enthralled in its pages, and actually cried at its saddest moments. It meant more than anything I’d ever read, and affected me more as well.

Does His Dark Materials promote atheism? I’m hardpressed to make an argument that says it doesn’t, no matter what Philip Pullman or any of his fans have said on the subject. In fact, Pullman has said that he’s not promoting atheism in the books:

As for the atheism, it doesn’t matter to me whether people believe in God or not, so I’m not promoting anything of that sort. What I do care about is whether people are cruel or whether they’re kind, whether they act for democracy or for tyranny, whether they believe in open-minded inquiry or in shutting the freedom of thought and expression. Good things have been done in the name of religion, and so have bad things; and both good things and bad things have been done with no religion at all. What I care about is the good, wherever it comes from.

While Pullman establishes that kindness, democracy, and open-minded inquiry are good, the books lean toward making cruelty, tyranny, and shutting the freedom of thought and expression synonymous with religion. I am saying this as a lover of the books and believer in Pullman’s message as he states it in the quote above. I think Pullman’s message is quite clear, but that’s not all there is to these books.

Pullman’s books made me think. I was steeped in religion. I had perfect attendance at church for thirteen years. I lived in a very small community with churches galore, including three or four Baptist churches, a Presbyterian church, a non-denominational or two, and one Methodist church where I attended. I had constantly been trying to grasp why God didn’t speak to me like other kids my age. I read Pullman’s books and began to see that the world may be different than I had been taught.

Now, that may be exactly what Christians are railing against. They don’t want their kids to see the world in different ways because they believe the way they’ve taught is the only way. They don’t translate this to any other religious belief but their own (whether they are, Muslim, Jewish, other Christians, or card-carrying members of the “heathen horde”), and totally leave out that the founder of Christianity was known for questioning what he was taught when it enabled ignorance and harm. But moving on from this, there is still more at the root of this hullabaloo.

There are a lot of people in the world today who are scared by the idea of children asking questions, so they teach them not to. If they have questions, the answers are in the holy texts. If they don’t know how to read the texts or don’t know how to interpret them, then they are to have it interpreted for them. If they don’t accept the interpretation, then someone needs to explain why they should. The war on Philip Pullman and his books is not about Christianity vs. Atheism. There are a lot of arguments there, and these books are just indicative, a symptom, of the larger conversation. No, this war is about Thought vs. Insulation.

A parent’s first duty is to protect his or her child. There is no greater charge that a parent can have. But one has to wonder if shielding and insulating the child is truly protecting her. It is keeping her from experiencing the unexpected hardship of defending one’s beliefs with rational arguments. It is keeping her from understanding that the world is a curious place, not an evil one with an agenda from Satan. It keeps her from feeling the triumph of struggling with oneself over belief or non-belief – and winning.

Instead of these things, children are taught not to ask the questions and to keep them bottled inside. They are taught to be wary of their parents and the answers (even punishments) that they might receive. So they bottle up the questions and sit on them for years. Now there are quite a few people who make it to adulthood scarred but alive from these experiences as children. They are just as obsessive with protecting their children as their parents were, without paying any mind to the struggles that they had to go through.

But then there are those who bottle them up and have someone or something come along at just the right moment and uncork them. It could be anything from a sentence to a piece of art to a series of experiences, but it’s all it takes to totally leave theism behind and never look back.

If you are still wondering if you should take your kids to see the movie, I’d suggest doing so. Then discuss with them. Give them the books. Tell them the arguments. Don’t pretend that they don’t have the brains to cope with the message. Don’t act like children need to constantly have a guiding hand not only in their physical lives but their thinking lives as well. They needed to be treated intelligently, because they will know when they are being simultaneously coddled, dodged, and avoided.

Believe it or not, I’m speaking from experience. After I read His Dark Materials, I felt too distant from my parents to be able to ask them the questions I needed to. It didn’t help that when I did eventually ask, no one could give me a good answer. Because of this, I began questioning everything, not just the messages I had picked up on in the book. I found it hard to believe in anything because I was so incredibly skeptical of everything I’d been taught.

This type of situation can be avoided – not by burning the books and boycotting the movie, but allowing these things to run their course with careful discussion and a sharing atmosphere. As a result, a child raised in a theistic worldview will be able to approach the arguments and challenges to their religion and spirituality throughout their entire lives. If it’s not handled this way, it can be potentially disastrous. But that’s how it is with everything, not just a few books.

Obviously, this is my opinion. But I’m speaking from an experienced position. If someone chooses to wage war on thought, how can they honestly win? Thought and thinking should be welcomed, not shunned, so that children’s minds may be free to experience the world instead of being caged in a box of ignorance. Theism and thought, religion and philosophy, reason and belief -- they can all go together and make us all grow. To encourage these wondrous gifts that we’ve been given as humans into disuse is miserable, distressing, heart-wrenching.

Children should share in the world, not be taken from it. It is theirs to experience as well. Only responsible adults and parents can give them the facilities to appreciate the world and all of its wonder and mystery. Keeping them from seeing a movie or reading a book or asking a question is impulsive and suppressive, and can only do harm.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, November 19, 2007 12:15 PM

So I'm an excellent example of the "marathon paper writer," as I started a paper at 11:00 or so Sunday morning and, with only three hours of breaks, finished at 4:00 this morning. What is that? Fourteen hours? Not bad for an eight-page research paper that I went through three thesis topics for because my sources couldn't support what I was trying to argue.

The paper was over Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there. My original argument was going to be about "themes of death" within Looking Glass - an easy enough topic, even if it was perfunctory and bland. But when I realized that I was going to have to write an eight page paper with sources supporting a very one-dimensional thesis, and that my grade was at stake if I chose to take the less work/less points approach. So I went to the polar opposite, claiming that Lewis Carroll was to the literary Alice as Charles L. Dodgson was to the real Alice - not creation-wise, but as far as narration and voice. My argument was that Charles Dodgson, the man, would break through the Carrollian façade. When he did, I was to write eloquently, he wasn't speaking the the literary Alice, but to the real child Alice he had befriended so long ago.

Basically, I went from one-dimensional to über-dimensional and gave myself a doctoral thesis in one fell swoop.

So I decided to still write about the breaking through of Dodgson in
Looking Glass, but I would write about his typically Victorian sentimentality. To give another dimension, I tied this to his cautionary voice in book, warning against the dangers of the world. I realized I had thinned my argument out again and limited what I could use.

Back to the drawing board I went at around 10:00 last night. I had written the first paragraph and also the passages I wanted to use, but that was it. I was frantic, because I knew I could very well stay up until my class at 9:00 this morning and not have the paper done. But then it hit me. I ran downstairs after I got out of the shower and fell upon my laptop in a typing fury. All in all, I changed about six words.

My original title-

The Fragility of Living in a Glass World:
Charles L. Dodgson's Subliminal Sentiment and Cautionary Wisdom in

Through the Looking Glass

transformed into -
The Fragility of Living in a Glass World:
Charles L. Dodgson's Subliminal Sentiment and the Passage of Time in
Through the Looking Glass

Oh and for the world of difference.

Carroll's tales are fraught with strangeness and absurdity, and he achieves much of this by toying with basic conceptions of time. But I'm not talking about Carroll the riddler, but Dodgson the sentimental fool who could not let go of his friendships with children, and was constantly rejected by them as they grew older.

Now the psychoanalyst will argue that this proves Dodgson was a classic case of Freudian sexual repression, and on that, I might agree. Dodgson went his entire life befriending children, mostly girls, and never married. But I would stop at accusing Dodgson of being a pedophile.

There's an anachronistic tendency to point to Dodgson friendships and odd hobbies, such as his taking photographs of nude girls, as pedophilia. This is a good way to quickly misunderstand the Victorian era. It was contradictory and obsessive. Charles Dodgson was probably no more a pedophile than the average man or woman (which I would hope means that he wasn't). Victorians were obsessed with innocence - especially men to girls. When they are young, girls seem sexless as opposed to boys, whose sex is obvious when nude. That's why boys were not often used in nude photography because, as innocent as they were, their purpose, their
vitality, if you will, was outward, and girls' sexuality was inward and contained. Even with all of this talk of sex and perfection, Victorians were surprisingly prudish about it, and often didn't believe it should be mentioned - whether in polite company or not.

It's an incredibly strange era with its high ideals and romantic ideology. Let me make this clear -
I do not agree with this practice, but I feel it's necessary to defend Dodgson from so easily being singled out as a pedophile when he was one of many Victorian period English men who sought this kind of perfection in children.

But this isn't to say Dodgson didn't love Alice as he might have a life companion, and I have found many scholars agree. He was especially fond of her, and wrote of her and to her often. His continued love of her may stem from the fact that his most famous works that made him successful and wealthy were written about, dedicated to, and titled after her. Even if he would have tried to avoid his feelings for Alice, he would have been hardpressed to find a refuge from his work and her name.

There are about four different passages within Alice that are unmistakably the voice of Dodgson and his longing for days past and a lament on the cruelty of time. Here are a few, with contextual introductions from my paper, for you to see. However, it is certainly in a reader's best interest to read these magnificent works of literature, and see what evidence there is (or isn't) for herself.

In Looking Glass, Dodgson’s admiration of children, especially for Alice, can be heard within the first words of the book, which are written as a poem:

Child of the pure unclouded brow

And dreaming eyes of wonder!

Though time be fleet, and I and thou

Are half a life asunder,

Thy loving smile will surely hail

The love-gift of a fairy-tale.

In the last stanza, Dodgson’s sentiment is unmistakable:

And, though the shadow of a sigh

May tremble through the story,

For “happy summer days” gone by,

And vanish’d summer glory-

It shall not touch, with breath of bale,

The pleasance of our fairy-tale

It is probably no small coincidence that “pleasance” was mentioned in the last line, as it was

Alice’s middle name.

Perhaps one of the most obvious passages dealing with both sentiment and time is within the Looking Glass chapter “Wool and Water,” when Alice and the Sheep are in the rowboat, and Alice has reached for the rushes:

What mattered it to her just then that the rushes had begun to fade, and lose all their scent and beauty, form the very moment that she picked them? Even real scented rushes, you know, last only a very little while –and these, being dream-rushes, melted away almost like snow, as they lay in heaps at her feet –but Alice hardly noticed this, there were so many other curious things to think about.

In the chapter “It’s My Own Invention,” Alice finally meets the White Knight, who is so very transparently Dodgson. This chapter is the most allegorical of Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson’s personalities and relationship. The White Knight is portrayed as kindly, clumsy but well-intentioned, and eccentric. The most revealing passage Dodgson writes in Looking Glass is before the White Knight sings his song for Alice:

Of all the strange things that Alice saw in her journey Through The Looking-Glass, this was the one she always remembered most clearly. Years afterwards she could bring the whole scene back again, as if it had been only yesterday – the mild blue eyes and the kindly smile of the Knight – the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light that quite dazzled her…. All this she took in like a picture, as, with one hand shading her eyes, she leant against a tree…. listening, in a half-dream to the melancholy music of the song.

But the most poignant lies after the song when the White Knight and Alice must part:

“You’ve only a few yards to go,” he said, “down the hill and over that little brook, and then you’ll be a Queen—But you’ll stay and see me off first?” he added as Alice turned with an eager look in the direction to which he pointed. “I sha’n’t be long. You’ll wait and wave your handkerchief when I get to that turn in the road? I think it’ll encourage me you see.”

“Of course I’ll wait,” said Alice: “and thank you very much for coming so far – and for the song – I liked it very much."

“I hope so,” the Knight said doubtfully: “but you didn’t cry so much as I thought you would.

Based on the evidence I posted above, my conclusion is that Dodgson thought of the real Alice as a friend and as someone who could have chosen to spend her life with him. Dodgson's sentimentality is a mix between love and admiration for the child Alice. Curiously (or perhaps predictably), Dodgson's affections are almost always directed at the Alice that was, not the Alice that (would have been an) is.

No one has said it as poignantly as Donald Rackin in "Love and Death in Carroll's Alices":

The fleeting love that whispers through this scene is, therefore, complex and paradoxical: it is a love between a child all potential, freedom, flux, and growing up and a man all impotence, imprisonment, stasis, and falling down.

After all, from the beginning of Looking-Glass, Alice is meant to become a queen. This was set in motion far before she ever came across the White Knight. He was but a character in her story, in her dream, and, as dreams do, he was bound to fade from her.

The line in the title of this post is from the closing poem of Through the Looking Glass. It is in the midst of a poem commemorating the day that he began telling the story that became Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. He is remembering Alice as a little girl who would have been a young woman by the time he had written it. Already he had been left behind while in the throes of remembrance.

To close this entry, I'll quote from my paper again to give my final thoughts on Dodgson:

[It] speaks to the bittersweet emotion of yesterday’s memory long past and irretrievable to the man who wants them desperately.... [However] she was not to be stopped, and the White Knight is simply a casualty of her magnetic presence. The parallel is striking, as Dodgson always knew that Alice would grow older, and that she would ultimately leave him behind for those things she had always been destined. He was, after all, just a childhood friend.

I Brake for Pescatarians.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Wednesday, November 07, 2007 6:43 PM

Today is day one of my official foray into what may hopefully be a longer-than-a-day commitment to pescatarianism.

A pescatarian is really just a vegetarian with a side of fish. I don't feel like I can give up meat completely (mainly because I really don't want to), but I feel like I need a change. For those of you who know me, this might be surprising to you. It's somewhat surprising to me, too. But I have my reasons - which I will now give you the privilege of knowing. (I know you want to know.)

In the last few weeks I have been so sleepy that I feel absolutely drugged. It doesn't matter if I eat or not, sleep or not, study or not, play games or not - none of it matters. I am so extremely sleepy when I get up (anywhere between 6 and 8:30 these days) and I'm sleepy the entire rest of the day. I'm able to go to sleep for the night starting at 5 or 6 in the evening. It's pathetic, but I can't find ways to overcome it. No matter where I am, I feel the urge to fall asleep.

This all culminated into one of my more unfortunate accidents. I was in standstill traffic on the interstate, fully stopped. I've been known to nod off while I've been driving, and I'm always told that I'm lucky that I don't get in a wreck. Well, not this time. My foot was neither on the brake nor on the accelerator, and my car crept forward until I hit the person in front of me. It was a devastating 5 MPH car crash orgy. The ram's head on the front of my car is now missing a nose, and the hood on the passenger side is popped. It's a miracle I was able to walk from the wreckage.

Not only did this event give me just one more reason to hate my car, but it also gave me a reason to reevaluate the order/chaos of my life right now. I'm working nearly six days a week and taking fifteen hours, one of which is purely working on my thesis (fifteen didn't seem like a lot to me either - until I actually got into it). I'm constantly stressed out. But I've got bills to pay, just like everyone else. Quitting my job was not an option. So what am I going to do?

Well, I started looking at what I can change. I can't sleep twelve hours a day. It's literally impossible with all of my responsibilities. On top of that, sleeping for twelve hours doesn't guarantee anything but a headache because I've slept too much.

Taking a step back, I realized that, less than I ever wanted to be, I am far more the average American than I ever wanted to be. I eat out constantly, and I often eat poorly. I only look at my food long enough to make sure it will fit my loose guidelines for eating it. I sit for a very large percentage of my day, whether it's in the classroom, at my job, in the car, or in my room. But the thing is, I've known these things for a long time. What's really and truly changed?

Not much, actually. I suppose I'm just fed up with it all. Seeing as I a) want to feel better and b) can only really change my diet right now, the only real option seemed to be changing my diet so I can feel better.

Besides the basic premise, I have had ethical concerns about humaneness of animal consumption in our highly industrialized world. There's something deeply and disturbingly unnatural about genetically engineering animals to the point that they are so fat, they can't stand up anymore. Moving even beyond that (though it's hard to see how many people, including myself, have been able to), there is a serious problem with putting hormones in our food that pass on to us and change the way our bodies work. It worries me how willing we are to turn a blind eye to what's going on. Perhaps this is my chance to go against the flow and swim upriver. It will be hard, no doubt, but I can always tell myself that life will be better on the other end of it, right?

Today has gone pretty well. I stopped at a fast Italian place on the way home (it was my way of compromising and not going to a conventional fast food/deep fried joint), and got a dish with meat in the sauce without really thinking about it. But that was a slip-up, and I'm livin' and learnin' this new lifestyle thing. Day One has been a moderate success (hey, two out of three ain't bad).

See you on Day Two.

Nebraska? Never asked-a.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, November 05, 2007 9:00 PM

I'm doing the grad school shuffle, and I'm feeling a bit more pressure than I should (I think). I'm a junior, going into my sixth semester (third to last, if you want to look at it the other way), and I'm completely perplexed at what I'm supposed to be doing. I feel at once bogged down with possibilities and disappointed with the lack of them. Sure, I want to go to grad school for history, but dear God, what kind?

I've bounced among classical, Germanic, early American, Western, American Western, Central American, South American, ancient Chinese, ancient Japanese, American Indian, Southern, political, and military history, just to name a few. But, as I've been told before, it's not just finding the right program, but the right professor. That complicates things a bit, considering that I don't truly know what I want my discipline to be. I'm leaning toward the American West (which is why I'm looking at University of Nebraska at Lincoln right now), but it still doesn't seem... fulfilling.

I'm frustrated with the entire process, because I didn't want to do history forever. This has been further complicated by the relative satisfaction and disappointment I get from my museum internship as well as my thesis research. Anything you research enough can become the bane of your existence, and I've found that that has happened with nearly everything I've touched. By the time I'm done researching something, for whatever it may be, I have to suppress the desire to strike a match and set it all ablaze.

So I'm stuck considering places I thought I'd never go, languages I never knew existed, and subjects that seem so trivial that I would rather not even waste my time. I think that's why I gave up classical and medieval subjects in the end. Not that they aren't important, but that they've become over-studied to the point of triviality. Yes, it's important that many of our major documents are based on bits and pieces of those that came long before, but is it really crucial to our understanding of Etruscan culture to argue that they cut their nails in a square rather than a semicircle? The kneejerk answer is yes, of course, because without our retelling of the stories, those cultures are effectively written out of history without even a whimper. But that elephant in the room - the one with TRIVIAL and UNIMPORTANT written across its sides - isn't going away, and is only getting bigger.

Academia is competitive and territorial. Not only must you compete with others for the limited job prospects, but there is a imperialistic tendency amongst academics to grab the last bit of terra incognita and plant a tiny flag with pitiful fanfare. If I'm trying to find a piece of genuinely undiscovered ground, should I be reduced to studying the diets of horses before, during, and after the Revolutionary War? It almost seems that, to be a scholar, the question of Who cares? has to be tossed to the wind - along with caution and perhaps dignity.

This very competitiveness reduces Medievalists to Medievalists with a specialization in 12th century southeastern Irish female mercenaries (I hope that's an exaggeration). What's the point, really and truly? Yes, it was important someone. Yes, it's a part of our history. But how does that affect us?

Contrary to what this has sounded like so far, I'm not against this specialization. It does seem tedious, and it seems like it makes ingenuity and unintentional self-parody synonymous. But to dismiss it so quickly is to forget the reason for having historians in the first place - so we don't forget.

Humans have a depressingly short memory. Even with written language, what gets remembered is still privileged. Who survived the Classical era? Plato, Socrates, Aristophanes? You know them. You've heard of them. And think of how much they have affected our understanding of the world. Yet how much are we missing, because of great fires or bloody conquests? It is the historian's responsibility to find a way to preserve these ideas for the future, because history is the depth that we pull from, whether knowingly or not. To stop having these records, to stop digging, to simply give up on that which we know we cannot reach or rediscover, is to fail those who succeed us and to take away what could have been another layer to life.

Historians also preserve the notion that we are not special and that we aren't really doing anything new. The notions, thoughts, words, and actions have almost always been preceded by something similar, and hardly anything we do invents or reinvents, or even improves. To be a historian doesn't necessarily mean that one is humble (few historians I know would even bother describing themselves as such), but it means we are closer to the human condition than other professions. We see the patterns (as do most professions that have at least some historical basis) that link us to our ancestors.

That said, I still don't think I want to be an Etruscan toenail specialist. But I'll find my niche somewhere.

The Final Word - Almost Six Months Later

Posted by Whit Barringer , Saturday, November 03, 2007 5:58 PM

What happened to me? School, work, and, unfortunately, laziness.

There are actually about four days worth of posts missing from my trip to Italy, but it's really alright. They're some of the most vivid I had while I was there. I remember packing up everything and seeing the apartment for the last time, upset and relieved that I wouldn't be back. I remember trekking in the 100 degree weather with four (or five, if my roommate couldn't carry her fourth) suitcases and bags wrapped around necks, shoulders, and hands, and having to call for backup from our friends across the bridge (which is where we heading anyway - it was closer to the busstop to go meet them where they were and go from there instead of going the full distance at 2:00 A.M.). I remember the fireworks show the night before we left, and how it lasted for 45 minutes (American fireworks shows are around 1/4 of that). I remember my roommate getting sick and the rest of us getting her a 1 Euro gelato that started melting the minute it was slapped on the cone. We literally ran through the streets, hitting dead ends in our gelato-panic, dashing into the apartment and smashing in onto a saucer, and how we laughed about how much we cared to bring it to her.

That night, we wheeled our luggage to the bus. We were talking for a while, but we fell into reflective/sleepy silence. I tried to go to sleep, but my mind was whirring. About mistakes I had made, things I wish I'd done, experiences that I wanted back, laughter that I wanted to relive. I was utterly depressed, but I felt the ambitious pull of painting pictures and telling lively stories to my family and friends. And indeed I would do so. But it didn't keep me from feeling that I was losing a home.

I fell in love with Italy - its people, its culture, even its heat (which is amazing, considering most of my posts spend at least a few lines complaining about it. But often what we complain about becomes softened when we leave it behind). I learned a lot about myself, especially the limits of my endurance, strength, and patience. I guess that's the point - the heart, in all its intensity and stubbornness, travels as well.

Fast forward about 24 hours (after the airport lost all 40 of our bags and we had to spend 3 hours filling out forms - no, I'm not kidding) and I'm at home, giving out presents, telling funny stories, showing off my tan gained and weight lost, and dreading returning to work the next morning. I think out of the whole thing, that was the hardest part of coming back. There was no phasing in, no extra day off. I was yanked from one side of the world to the other by the computer screen in my cubicle. I shared a few stories, but already my experience was so far away that it felt like it had never happened. The evidence was only in my darkened skin, but I felt like I had always been that way. What had changed? Was I the same person? Was I truly unchanged by the incredible experience that was my stay in Florence?

I don't know that anyone can go somewhere and be completely be unaffected, not excluding the kneejerk unthoughtful "it was good" or "it was bad" responses. And certainly, my experience cannot be narrowed into something so shallow. In fact I would say that it was one of the single most important events of my life. At one point I would have called it a "long-term experience", which would at least imply that it was substantial and long-lasting. But it seems like it happened years ago, and has taken on the quality of "events" like "the ninth grade."

As I move away from the event, the more I see how it's affected how I think of the world. I can see more of the shape of the world because I've seen what the other side looks like. While I haven't been everywhere, my eyes have at least been opened a little. I can feel the pull of others to empathize - and now I have the absolutely invaluable ability to do so because I've at least seen, if not felt, what's going on.

On the other side of it is the encounter with man-made beauty. I was able to see the source of the Western model of beauty. It was like reading about the ancient gods and then meeting them, one-on-one, in all of their indifference to time and place (which is part of what makes them crucial to the beauty-paradigm, isn't it?). I saw David and Venus, two of the most adored works in Western history. I saw the embodiment of the ideals. I saw it, beheld it, and stood in awe of it.

As far as reflections go, this has been rather piecemeal and disjointed. But that's because I haven't found a way to combine all of my ideas about Italy into one session. I don't think I ever will. It's still molding, and changing me, stirring me. Thankfully, I don't think I'll ever make up my mind.

Now! Finally, I can write about other things.