Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fear monsters, an introduction

Before you correct me, yes, I wrote that correctly. I want to talk about fear monsters, not fear OF monsters.

To illustrate the difference, let's talk an actual fear OF monsters: ophidiophobia. Yes, I know some of you like, even love snakes. I know that snakes have a crucial role to play in the ecosystem (or so I'm told). Yet the mere act of typing the word gives me heebie jeebies. What's more, I don't think this is necessarily an unhealthy fear. What was coming out of Medusa's head, after all? Not fluffy bundles of cuddly cuteness. And what about Genesis? Whether you believe the Bible is God's word, a crazy story with a spectacular ending, or something in between, you have to admit that the whole Adam-and-Eve-meet-a-snake episode is rather terrifying, particularly its concluding curses. Then there is the here-and-now: copperheads who occupy a friend's woodpile, rattlesnakes that take over a highway rest area, cobras who spit, for crying out loud!

(start at 6:09)

The problem is, you can have too much of a good thing. Healthy, protective fear runs amok, and before you know it, you have a fear monster. Rather than simply give the copperhead-infested woodpile a wide berth, you stop a mile from the house, desperately hoping your significant other will answer the phone and assure you that there are no snakes in sight. Never mind that you are safely ensconced in your car. Never mind that you have seen snakes, probably the same snake, exactly twice in as many years. Never mind that said snake was a harmless, even beneficial, black snake. You are in the grips of a fear monster, and it is dictating your every move.

Fear monsters have stalked me a lot in recent months. Not so much over snakes –I moved years ago, and so far, they have kept a respectful distance– but just about anything else seems fair game. Home repairs. Kid tantrums. Car trouble. Health scares. Things that go bump in the night. These things usually a) aren't real, b) are real but don't apply to me, or c) are real and do apply to me, just not in any sort of life-threatening way. And rarely are they things I can even control. They are just there, trying to take charge, especially between 2 and 5 a.m., though they can grow unwieldy at any time and without warning.

The good news is, the fear monsters don't have to win. They may be legion and they may be tenacious, but we can cut them down to size. To find out how, stay tuned... The black cat will be back soon.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Think differently, part II

When I moved to Kentucky 15 years ago, I thought I knew a whole lot of things. Among others, I knew that coal was king, but the climate was changing and our addiction to non-renewable energy was driving the massacre of God's creation. Therefore, mining had to go.

Then the stories came, and not just the ones in novels. I listened to the retired miner who reinvented his life, leaving a good chunk of his health underground. I heard the engineer who fights tooth and nail for permits so the crews under her can feed their families. I got to know the security guard who works crazy hours so he can pursue his true vocation of ministry and service to others. Stories like these have turned my tidy, privileged worldview on its head.

Don't get me wrong. Climate change is still real. I believe with all my heart that we should not be blowing the tops off mountains or poisoning our water supply to satisfy our desire for more, more, more. But we need a better plan. You cannot end a chapter as big as coal without making a solid start on the next one. And you certainly can't expect individuals to walk away without giving them a place to go.

There are no satisfactory answers, not even in the 65-plus million dollars meant to create jobs and diversify our mountain economy. It might be a start, but is it enough? Did it get here in time? Why didn't we do that part first, before people got scared and began to lose hope? How can we bring one story to a satisfactory end without destroying the conclusion of so many others?

I wish I knew.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Soul food

At this time last weekend, I was sitting in an armchair, studying the intricate architecture of a tree as I listened to three Kentucky poets share their work. It was definitely one of my favorite parts of a much-needed weekend away from the daily grind. Of course conferences are part and parcel of an academic's work; they just happen to be one I enjoy. Here are five reasons why:

1. Hotel rooms.
Hyatt Place Bowling Green

I bet you didn't see that one coming. After all, academia and poetry exist on a much higher plane, right? Yet we all have times in our lives when we ask nothing more than a clean, quiet space that we don't have to clean ourselves (BTW: tip the hotel housekeeper. She's the reason you get this break!). After all the hectic preparation it takes to get to a conference, coupled with the socializing that takes place once I've arrived, I LOVE coming into the hush of a dimly lit room, turning on the coffee maker, and flopping down on the crisp, white bed. That this room provided the option of a sofa was icing on the cake.

2. The conferences I attend are entirely about words, language, and literature. I have been doing this for more than 20 years and I still feel like I have won the career lottery. If I had known as a child that there was a whole line of work where you could do nothing but talk books with people who share that love, I wouldn't have worried so much about that age-old question, "what do you want to be when you grow up?"

3. I'm good at it. I'm a pretty decent reader, occasionally even insightful. Plus I have the blessing of being able to read in three languages (and the accompanying curse of wishing it were closer to six). I like to talk books, and there are people in the world who actually want to hear what I have to say. The group I was with this weekend was gracious enough to let me have the floor twice, once as a presenter and once as president of the association. Again, I'm pretty sure I won the jackpot when I fell into this line of work!
KPA members and supporters at Lost River Cave

4. Socializing with people who get me. Yes, I am an introvert who gets burned out by too much interaction. At conferences, though, it takes a lot longer before I'm looking for the sanctuary of that quiet hotel. It is refreshing spend time with people who "get" me. We don't think alike -we are, thankfully, way too idiosyncratic for that- but we all share common ground.

5. Conferences feed my wanderlust. Truth be told, I often choose them more by place than by theme. They have taken me from Chattanooga to Chicago, from Frankfort (Kentucky) to Paris (France). I love that the KPA belongs to such a beautiful, diverse state and that I am blessed to call this state home. This time, the aventure du jour was Lost River Cave, an experience that pushed me ever so slightly out of my comfort zone. The ceiling was a little close to the boat for a few seconds, and I'm not a huge fan of tight, dark spaces. Yet much like a book that might get off to a slow or disconcerting start, it was worth it. After all, it's a privilege to travel to strange and beautiful new places, both in the real world and our minds.
Lost River Cave - Entrance