"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August in Review

What a busy summer! While Joann has been on vacation, I’ve been working (the international school grows significantly during the summer, though our student population is finally waning). And with so many friends to see and events to attend and places to visit and goals to accomplish, we’ve been on the road nearly every weekend.

But the result of being active has been a flurry of great moments and memories. I’ve blogged about some of them from earlier in the summer (e.g., skydiving and reunions). But here are a few glimpses of what made August memorable...

Blackberries! They have been ripening on many of my walking, running, and biking routes. Last night I finally went and picked some, making for a wonderful evening dessert. But lesson learned: shorts and flip-flops were a bad idea. Most of the good berries were a bit hard to reach, demanding I trample deeper into the bushes. My legs and feet currently bear the battle scars. But...so worth it.

Goodbyes. Every week there are students leaving EF because their program has come to an end. It's a bit sad, but I'm getting used to it. A Korean student whom I’ve taught for three months leaves this week. She remarked that once she finished the program, we could be friends. And that she would start stalking me.

The bad thing here is the sometimes unfortunate but perhaps necessary distance between students and teachers, where any sense of friendship needs to be balanced with a certain professionalism. It’s healthy, I recognize; but I often find myself wanting more connection with my students, who aren't really that much younger than me.

The good thing here is that it always feels affirming to be stalked…so that’s something to look forward to.

Mad Men. Since being married Joann and I have watched several TV shows on Netflix or DVD. Our most recent escape of choice has been Mad Men. We just finished the final existing episode last night. I won’t say when we began the four-season series because, well, you might judge us.

It’s a brilliant show. Never have I been so captured by and emotionally caught up in a show that at times seems to move at a snail’s pace. Nor have I been so captured by a man’s smile as that of Don Draper, toward whom I feel much ambivalence. He’s so fallen, though maybe arguably a product of the fallenness preceding and surrounding him. And yet glimpses of goodness keep one rooting for him. Glimpses of goodness and that smile.

What is the What? I started this semi-biographical novel while I was in China, and just now finished it. I got distracted by so many other good books and my perpetual need to feel like I’m “studying” and making progress toward some of my academic goals. But “all work and no play” or something, so I went back to fiction.

It’s a story set partly in the U.S. and partly in Africa, told as a recollection of the childhood of a man who was one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. Amidst the recalling of his adventures and often-horrific trials and tragedies, a constant thread is this question of trying to figure out what exactly the “what” is.

The question comes from a creation myth of the particular peoples discussed in the novel, which as far as I can tell has to do with the unknown, possibility, and hope. Though, like the main character, I'm not sure that I know what the "what" is. I think my "what" is probably not the same as your "what"...or something like that. Maybe.

Though I think that’s the point—the "what" is mystery, unpredictability, what is beyond control, what awaits us, and demands hope, faith, and risk...rather than what is in front of us, tangible, certain, risk-free, manageable. The story seems to leave what appears to be a tension about how to approach one's life and future unresolved.

Mariners, new hope. We attended another Mariners game and another blowout loss. I blogged in April about the opening day Mariners game and about the significance and necessity of hope. Well, I suppose this latest loss helped me see that there are two different kinds of hope.

There is unrelenting optimism. When disillusionment or the foiling of plans or unmet expectations or tragedy strikes, one may simply, after some readjusting, find new cause for hope about what is to come. I suppose this is true for a Mariners team that was generally awful this year but had some bright young stars emerge that will undoubtedly make the team better going forward.

Then there is hope based on what has been revealed to us or is (or at least seems) guaranteed, which also informs the present. I look forward in hope to the end of the work week, to dinner time, to future academic and professional goals, and the vision of these things gives me joy and meaning now while also helping me consider how I should act now in preparation for those goals (e.g, do quality work I can be proud of, don’t spoil my dinner with a snack, study a lot).

I think the latter might be something like how I understand Christian hope, hope for what I believe our Creator has revealed and promised—a hope that should bring some sense of excitement and peace but also give direction to the character of our lives now.

Summer smells. Most notably, the smell of evergreen trees on a warm day. I’ve been biking a lot lately, and recently discovered the Chehalis Western Trail, a 20+ mile paved trail mostly through forest and countryside. There’s just something so invigorating, so calming, so healing, so clarifying about exercising in such a setting. I feel like every inhale of the fresh, sweet-smelling air adds a day to my life. A day which I then lose that same evening after a pizza and beer dinner. And least I’m breaking even.

One-year anniversary! Joann and I celebrated with a trip to the Oregon coast—one night of camping in Pacific City, two nights at a hotel in Lincoln City. One particular day was spent nearly entirely, save mealtimes, lying on the beach. I can’t recall a beach visit with such perfect weather as this one. Good food, good rest, good beach time. Bad experience getting “cannonballed” by a kid while relaxing in the hot tub.

And an odd experience camping that felt like a “Lost” episode, including a mysterious park ranger, a country-western performance at a strange lodge in the middle of the woods, and the threat of a bear sighting. All shared with my beautiful bride, Joann...whom I love more than blackberries or the smell of dry pine or Don Draper's smile.

My wife’s delectable creations. During the school year, I do slightly more of the cooking. But this summer the balance has shifted a bit, and with Joann’s more frequent cooking have come some new “experiments.” Some August successes were Pad Thai, quiche, tortilla soup, and the return of an old standby, cranberry pumpkin bread.

Olympia. While we’ve been gone a lot, we’ve also savored summer in Olympia. Long walks into downtown, greeted by the smell of salt water (love it); reading on a blanket at Capitol Lake Park; taking the children of other family and friends to splash around in the fountain; frequent and bittersweet visits to Borders to check on falling book prices; seeking refuge in air-conditioned Batdorf and Bronson’s; and my own bicycle explorations of before-undiscovered (by me) parts of town. It’s been a gorgeous late summer here; I’m not quite prepared for the cold and rain.

Portland. What would a month be without getting our Portland fix? Made the rounds one weekend and saw three-fourths of my wedding party in a day in three separate dates (breakfast, afternoon coffee, dinner/movie), along with the usual visits to the waterfront, downtown, cafes, pubs and Powells.

Thanks August. You were good to us.


joann renee said...


A few comments:

1. Really? "What is the What" was your return to fiction? Come on. It's more like "glorified fact". Seriously, give Harry Potter a try. It isn't that demonic.

2. You do have a thing for Draper.

3. You forgot to mention Cowboys & Aliens. I feel like that August experience deserves a bullet point all on it's own.

Matt Boswell said...

1. Fair enough. And I'm not exactly nervous about Harry Potter ruining me.

2. And you don't?

3. I don't know what you are talking about. I never saw that movie.

Ronald Cox said...

You should have also mentioned that this was the last month you would have to endure without knowing me.

Matt Boswell said...

You're right...I TOTALLY should have seen you coming.