I can hardly stand to read the news these days. We're looking forward to spending some time with our non-U.S. friends and family soon, mainly because they are our friends and family -- but the most recent news has added to my list of reasons:
1. Western Europeans have had expensive gas for a very long time and simply don't whine about it. And they certainly don't whine about a few pennies of tax added so that the social costs of all that driving can be covered. (Yes, there are conservatives who want to scale back the social state, but things like road maintenance and transit are not on the chopping block). They are not environmental saints, but they are terribly practical when it comes to making life liveable on a threatened planet. Instead of whining, they've gone about building a society where, while plenty of people drive, the long list of those who can't -- and that includes children, seniors, and the blind, not to mention the poor -- aren't left out in the cold.
2. Nobody asks their candidates if they wear lapel pins.
I'm still reflecting on the orgy of words and thoughts from the Festival of Faith and Writing. I always come away from this event determined to read more and to write more, but it was wonderful to hear Katherine Paterson's closing charge on Saturday night: go play. Good advice for sabbatical, though illness this week -- our child's and our babysitter's -- has made some of those plans a little harder to carry out.
It's always fascinating how the in-person voices and egos of these writers compare with their writing. Generally speaking, it seems that the best writers (not necessarily the most successful) are the most likable and consistent with what you read on the page. I'm also drawn to the older ones, like Katherin Paterson, because in general they seem to have gotten over themselves. There's also, I have to say, a preponderance of Anglicans and Roman Catholics among these writers. Not so many Lutherans.
Yann Martel was the most memorable in speaking about claiming faith in a secular world -- humble, smart and activist in his own way. He has started a "book club of two" with the Conservative Prime Minister of Canada. Every two weeks he sends the PM a classic work with an explanation of why it is important. His argument: if we have the right to ask our leaders about their taxes and finances, we have the right to know what is informing their imaginations. Check it out here. (That's Stephen Harper in the photo, not Yann Martel).
I'm having a lovely time in Grand Rapids at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Great talks from Mary Gordon, Michael Chabon, Mary Karr, Franz Wright, Jon Muth. . .oh, my goodness, so much. It's like trying to get a drink from a fire hydrant.
One odd thing, perhaps a sign of how I should approach the sabbatical. . .
My cell phone -- newly replaced after Johann's attempted swim last week -- was working fine at home. Here, I can call, the call goes through, and I can hear my friends and loved ones on the other line just fine. But they can't hear me. Will just gives the report from home, and I have to hang up. My friends here at the conference tell me where to go to meet them. But I can't reply.
So maybe that's the point, for these first few days, at least: shut up. Just receive.
Tonight I walked out of church, intending not to be back until July. It's a very odd feeling.
Tomorrow I'm off to the Festival of Faith and Writing. It will be a welcome break away from routine, and with any luck I'll come back with renewed interest in writing for the next three months. At the moment, I just want to sleep and take a lot of long walks.
I imagine I'll have some things to blog about next week, but don't expect as much blog activity in the coming three months. I've tied myself to the mast on this sabbatical by limiting my technological options. I won't be hauling a wireless laptop around everywhere, for one thing. I think my larger project could benefit from more time away from the computer.
Spring is all around us now. Mergansers and loons have returned to Lake Calhoun and the ice is vanishing fast. It's a lovely time to be beginning 12 weeks of renewal. Peace to you all!