bigger pond

Archive for August, 2007

Whittier v. Pinsky

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Pinsky has been here for five days now, and I am realizing just how unusual and ridiculous our experiences with Whittier have been. Pinsky’s approach to life and social integration could not be more different than Whittier’s.

Consider:

When Whittier first arrived in our home, she slunk out of her carrier and hid under a chair for two days. Growling.

When Pinsky first arrived in our home, she bounded out of her carrier and immediately began exploring the guest room with youthful enthusiasm.

Whittier has only occasionally deigned to play with toys, and then only when they’re white.

Pinsky immediately began wrestling her fuzzy-ball-and-spring doohickey. It’s green and blue.

Pinsky v. Fluffy Toy

Whittier responds to visitors — especially young children — by crouching down, growling throatily, and occasionally hissing.

Pinsky responds to visitors — even a three year old — by bouncing around their feet.

Whittier responds to mirrors by… well, by doing nothing. Perhaps this is a sign of hidden intelligence.

Pinsky responds to mirrors by dancing in front of her reflection and attacking herself with a flying leap.

Pinsky v. Pinsky

Whittier responds to meeting her new companion by bristling, rumbling, and running away.

Pinsky responds by cheerfully following the fleeing bundle of white fur.

This will all end tears in me doing a lot of vacuuming.

A House Full of Poets

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Most of you know are familiar with our cat, Whittier Anique, that fluffy, fully-declawed ball of terror who has a beautiful appearance and an ugly personality. Though the previous owner named the cat after the Quaker (read, ‘pacifist’) poet John Greenleaf Whittier, Whittier has never really evidenced much of a commitment to peace.

We adopted her as a teenage cat, but the relative solitude of her kittenhood had prepared her poorly for our frequent house guests. Her petulance is widely reported upon; visitors exchange tales of derring do regarding how close they were or were not able to get petting Whittier. She has bitten younger siblings, hissed at inquisitive neighbors, and once, upon her untimely escape from our Chattanooga home, dispatched a bigger alley cat by sheer fierceness of personality.

We told her that a change was in order. That she was not participating in our family vision to be a warm and hospitable home. That she needed to make an effort at sociability. Thus far, she has not responded. She remains a privately lovable, publicly cantankerous, ridiculously good looking cat.

whittier in the grass

And so, after some reading, we decided that it was time to introduce someone new to the mix. A cat with a resolutely amiable personality that will hopefully unleash Whittier’s inner social butterfly.

pinsky

Pinksy will be joining the Weichbrodt household this weekend.

Pinsky hails from a corn farm in Iowa, the childhood home of one of my fellow grad students. Her parents had a single abandoned kitten from a recent litter and they wanted to send her to a good home. After being assured that the kitten (a) had an extraordinarily people friendly personality and (b) color-coordinated with Whittier, we agreed to adopt.

You may be wondering, “Pinsky? Have the Weichbrodt’s no taste in cat names?” The answer may still be affirmative, but the choice is not without its reason: we were simply trying to thematize. Since we already have one female cat carrying the somewhat androgynous last name of a male poet, we thought we might as well keep things going. Robert Pinksy is the former Poet Laureate of the United States and the recent academic adviser for poet-laureate-in-the-making, R. David Macey. You may also recognize him as the moderator of the Colbert Report’s Meta-Free-Phor All.

It will be an exciting week of cat isolation, monitored visitations, and home exploration. There will be pictures. And stories. For what’s the point of having a house full of poets if you don’t get stories out of their residencies?

The History of Western Art, in Two Images

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Today, I was ‘oriented’ to my new position as Teaching Assistant. Yes, I, Elissa Weichbrodt, am about to be partially entrusted with the minds and grades of WashU freshmen whose parents are paying extraordinary amounts of money for their child to attend a top twenty school.

I’ll be TAing for our so-called “Intro to Western,” that strange beast of a survey class that covers everything in the west from cave paintings to last week in a semester. Yep, a single semester. Depending on the faith you do or do not place in radiocarbon dating, this means that we are covering 32,007 years of art in about twelve weeks.

As a scholar-in-training of contemporary art and theory, I find it hilarious to note the similarity between the cave paintings that we begin with:

lascaux horse

And the paintings we end with:

rothenberg

I realize that thinking this is funny rather than proof that culture has died simply underlines the fact that I am, indeed, a hopeless nerd. And that formal teleology is silly. Also that I’m a hopeless nerd.

Mirrors and Band-aid wine: Second shots at being friends

Monday, August 20th, 2007

While Noel and I sometimes joke that we are of that ‘rare breed’ of Covenant College alumni who move to St. Louis without plans to attend Covenant Seminary, the almost magnetic force of STL for CovCol grads is actually much appreciated.

april and all

For example: April has just made the big move for seminary purposes. While April and I were good ‘group’ friends in our college and Chatty years, I am now excited to forge a real I-like-you-by-yourself-too friendship. We spent roughly half an hour hanging a really heavy mirror in her new bedroom. And, it was level. I feel like trusting someone to help you hang a really heavy mirror is a pretty significant relational step; she even let me use my fingers — rather than a ruler — as a measuring implement. Like I said, trust.

suzanne

Now, while Suzanne did not move to St. Louis for seminary per se, the seminary is responsible for her husband’s enduring commitment to the city and their recent return. Suz and I were vague acquaintances in college and only really got to know each other in our post college Chatty years. Last night, the Chapells accompanied us to a wine tasting hosted by friends where we were instructed in the fine art of describing wine. Several sips of wine later, Suz and I decided that this particular variety smelled like band-aid. While this was one of the choices given to us on the tasting wheel, I’d like to think that this is, again, a sign of trust. One can’t just tell any old joe that a glass of wine smells like a band-aid. Clearly we’re moving forward in our friendship.
So, thanks, Covenant Seminary. Mirrors and band-aid wine are promising starts to new old friends.

Loving the City

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Prior to moving to St. Louis, I probably would not have announced any particular love for cities. I would certainly have told you that rural Idaho was not my schtick. I would probably have even proclaimed that large, mainland suburbs freak me out. Still, I would not have thought to tell you that I wanted to be an urbanite. Now, a year later, I have grown to love living in this city.

New Friend at the City Museum

(Loving a gargoyle at the City Museum)

I had a list of reasons for loving the city: the art, the food, the diversity of people, the energy, the accessibility. But those scattered perks had yet to coalesce into a coherent theology of living and investing in a city. Today, our assistant pastor (pulling from some of Tim Keller’s ideas on urban evangelicalism)gave me words for that.

A city, by its nature, is a place of refuge. Cities began as places of refuge, a place to be safe from the elements, enemy attacks, or hungry animals. Those who flock to the city today tend to be the impoverished, the homeless, the hurt, and the addicts, the refugees, immigrants, welfare recipients, and low-wage earners. They come because they need the city. They need a grocery store and a laundromat that is two blocks away. They need the concentration of minimum requirement jobs. They need wheelchair accessible curbs. Often, those who despise the city are those who are powerful enough to get along without it.

The city magnifies cultural development. Keller says that cities function like magnifying glasses, enlarging and intensifying all that the human heart contains. This, of course, includes both our divinely given, culture-making impulse and our inherently sinful nature. Cities thus become testaments of what God has called us to do and what he has forbidden.

The city is a place to meet God. The city is a place of spiritual restlessness. The crush of ideas and cultures packed so tightly together is unsettling. Rather than seeing the city as a place of spiritual decay, perhaps we can instead see it as a place of spiritual longing, a field ready to be sown and watered.

In Jeremiah 29:5-7, God tells His exiled people to invest — to make a home and a life — in a city they despised:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

It is in this context that He promises to give us a future and a hope. I want to think about the city — and our life in it — this way. Our little house, our mostly black neighborhood, the Eritrean restaurant owner who thinks Noel is a technological wonder, the Chinese architecture students who spent Thanksgiving with us, the university down the road, my friend Amy who lets me drop in her house just to visit, the black single mom that gives me fashion advice, the metro full of slightly smelly people, the workers who recognize me at the local coffee shop… this is our investment. It’s easy to romanticize the city, or to romanticize the impact that our daily, simple life has in the city. But all of this reminds me that I need other people. I am not — I cannot be — self-sufficient. And only when I am weak, does He make me strong.