Pondering Eternity

Eternity, in regular parlance, is a state of being in which time does not exist. In religious circles, it is endless time without death. Those who are damned live in a state of unceasing agony and those who are favored live in perpetual bliss with God.

Are there any alternatives to these visions? Do I comprehend what eternity would mean? Do I want eternity? These are some of the questions I am pondering as I read Martin Hagglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom. His treatise argues for a secular faith that values time-bounded, fragile existence as an end in itself and not a means to another end. He argues that the things that make life so fraught, e.g., sickness, loss, failure, and death/mortality are the same things that make it worth living. In other words, the meaning of life is fundamentally tied to the risk of loss, the fragility of it all. He uses the works of noted philosophers, theologians, and other thinkers to make his point. I’m less than a third of the way through and am not ready to make many judgements yet.

What brought me to read this book was Hagglund’s interview on Chris Hayes’ podcast. My ears perked up during the conversation because I am engaging in some deep reflection about my beliefs and theology. I no longer have a handle on what I believe. Has my faith gone the way of unused languages: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” I realize this is a trivialization of faith and religious observance, but religious practice is filled with religious habits and disciplines like any other endeavor. For years now, I have not been part of a religious community or intentionally engaged in religious rituals and practices aside from praying. I aim to change that. The journey begins with a period of reflection and pondering those big questions. Based on where I am now, I don’t think what I land on will look much like joining a church and attending more regularly. The traditional models of Christianity don’t resonate with me anymore.

 

Killing Eve, Season 2 Finale: You’re Mine

Season 2 of Killing Eve is a wrap, and I am left with puzzling questions. My questions stem from points in the plot that don’t make sense to me.

Carolyn wanted Villanelle and/or Eve to kill Aaron Peele to protect MI-6 and to a lesser extent the world from his sneaky surveillance weapon. Through her psychological profiles of Villanelle and Eve and their obsession with each other Carolyn and Konstantin knew a kill was inevitable, it seems. Now that Aaron Peele is dead what is going to happen to the weapon? Why didn’t Carolyn try to take the weapon? It could fall into the wrong hands like maybe one of his associates? Killing Peele doesn’t really solve anything other than maybe protecting people he may kill in the future.

What role does the 12 play in this plan? Konstantin tells Villanelle that someone asked the 12 to delay killing her until after she killed Aaron Peele. Did Carolyn make the request or was it Konstantin? Here, I’m confused because I thought Konstantin was on the 12’s kill list, thereby, squashing any chance he could negotiate with the organization. Carolyn seems like the only person with enough cache to make such a request, but why would she do this since she’s trying to make it look like the 12 killed Aaron Peele?Through this season, the 12 seems like less of a real organization than a useful plot point the writers use as a catchall answer to any unanswered questions: “Why did x happen? It’s the 12.” I need more concrete information about Carolyn and the 12 to keep the plot from falling apart for me.

The season finale opens with Villanelle snooping around Aaron’s palazzo seemingly alone. She ventures into a room with a door that is ajar obviously for her.  I find it hard to believe that Aaron left this door unlocked and open since it holds his surveillance equipment. But oh well. Villanelle finds three monitors and videos that are catalogued by name. The one of Matilda reveals her gruesome murder–she bears a striking resemblance to Villanelle–at the hands of a man in black dressed like a butler, wielding a blade. I agree with the assessment Villanelle gives later about the video. It lacked narrative.

When Villanelle joins Aaron for breakfast he tells her he is expecting more potential buyers and thus he is snooping around in their “knickers” to find dirt. Villanelle gleefully asks to see–I assume she wants to see the dirt he has found on them–but Aaron shows her a picture of Raymond. Villanelle immediately uses the safe word when she nervously quips, “What a weird-looking gentleman.” I think I get why Villanelle uses the safe word. Raymond is her former handler from the 12 whom we have learned wants to buy the weapon. Is Villanelle afraid Raymond will try to kill her or blow her cover? At this point in the show, I am lost as to Villanelle’s association with the 12. She had essentially left the 12 and escaped with Konstantin to become an independent contractor. Konstantin had left Carolyn’s protection from the 12 to become Villanelle’s partner. The more I dig into this the more I get lost in the details and the plot starts to break down for me.

Meanwhile back at mission control, Hugo is still throwing shade at Eve about the previous night’s lovemaking by proxy session, calling her Mrs. Robinson, referring to Villanelle as Eve’s girlfriend, and giving Eve tepid coffee. He leaves the room as he phones Jess. When Eve hears the safe word, she springs into action, calling out to Hugo just before gunshots ring out. Hugo has been shot in almost in the same spot Eve stabbed Villanelle last season. Are the writers fixated on the lower abdomen or what? Why was Hugo wounded and not killed, though? Seems like sloppy work to me. Were the assassins in such a rush to find Villanelle that they couldn’t properly kill Hugo? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I wanted Hugo dead, but it just doesn’t make sense. In my first viewing of the episode, I thought his shooting had been staged as a sort of prop for Eve, but later it seems obvious the shooter was from the 12 and not MI-6. Eve tries to help Hugo by applying pressure to the wound, but she she leaves him (to attend to his own wound–cold-blooded, Eve!) despite his calls for her to stay with him. Her fixation is on rescuing Villanelle by herself, a risky move, right? MI-6 should have sent trained agents to burst in for the save.

Eve rushes to the hotel lobby to find it abandoned. She dials 911 and then I think 999, but gets no answer. I checked and found that 112 is the emergency code used in EU countries, but anyway… Eve is interrupted by a goon who is looking for the other goon that earlier caused Eve to hide under the bed. I can’t believe he didn’t look under the bed first! That the goon didn’t know who Eve was leads me to believe the 12 wasn’t trying to kill Eve. The exchange that ensues between them with Eve playing the amiable Front Desk Agent and the goon asking her out on date was that distinctive KE comic relief. It must be hard find competent assassins. These two are clueless.

After agreeing to a meet up at 6pm–also surprised she didn’t use military time–Eve changed into a maid’s outfit and jumps into the role of diminutive, foreign domestic (like the Ghost) as her disguise to get into the palazzo. She bursts into the room amid Villanelle’s laughter wielding a letter opener. Why didn’t Eve sneak in or put her ear to the door? Did she think Villanelle was in immediate danger? Bursting in half-cocked is such a rookie move for Eve. She’d done it before though when trying to give Villanelle the earpiece. She also made a move to intervene to help Villanelle during “family sups” with Aaron and Amber. Eve is so eager which is probably why the psychiatrist suggested she be pulled off the case. That Aaron greets Eve using her full name signals that he has probably been surveilling her. It was like he was expecting her.

That is when he reveals what this trip to Rome has really been about: a job interview for Villanelle. He wants her to help him feed his voyeuristic obsessions to create his own video library of murders to look at when he wants some stimulation. Is that why he hired the Ghost? How many other killers has he hired to do this? Who was the killer in the Matilda video? How does he find his killers? How did he find Villanelle? I mean he had to find out about her particular set of skills before or shortly after she met Amber at AA meetings.

Thus begins Aaron’s pitch to Villanelle to join him. An offer she really considers when he says he will give her “everything”? She gets super excited about having everything. What does everything mean to Villanelle. During the night Villanelle came to kill Eve after she had put a hit out on herself, I remember Villanelle asking Eve if she would give her “everything” she wanted if she agreed to help her find the Ghost. Eve agreed, but I don’t know what that meant. I thought it meant she wanted to sleep with her that night, but it was never revisited. At this point, I know something is about to go down but it is most definitely not what Aaron thinks when he suggests that Villanelle kill Eve right there. Aaron has a look of someone watching porn and loving it. Unfortunately for him, he miscalculated the situation and found himself neck deep in the blade he thought Villanelle would use on Eve. The smile on his face as he watches the blood stream from his wound while Villanelle holds him in front of the mirror most certainly means he died orgasmically happy.

Villanelle seems happy too since all these events have placed her where she wants to be: on the run with Eve. But Eve is in shock and after a sound slapping from Villanelle she stops nagging her about the perilousness of the situation. I loved it when Villanelle said she slapped her to give her shock like when you have to get rid of hiccups. The episode then transitions to Eve gleefully looking forward to her “normal” life with Eve while Eve swings between disbelief, disgust, dismay, and daring. Refusing to leave without gathering the tapes of Aaron Peel, Eve agrees to meet Villanelle in a getaway car outside the hotel. They separate after a mutual, “See you soon.” I’ve been wishing for them to get together all season in some form so that Eve can indulge whatever she’s seeking from Villanelle. But I quickly tired of Villanelle begging Eve to go with her. Villanelle indulges her like an understanding lover who knows Eve is trying to process all the gory events. Despite this, I’m not used to Villanelle begging so much.

Konstantin finds Villanelle trying to steal a car, and he once again tries to save her, this time from Raymond who is due to kill her soon. They are at odds again when Konstantin’s life line doesn’t involve Eve. Again he is puzzled about her obsession with Eve and asks Villanelle about it. She says it is because they are the same. Villanelle will do what Villanelle wants so she rejects Konstantin’s plea that she leave Eve. She also threatens to find him and his family which he blows off as he walks away. This scene mirrors the one Eve has with Carolyn when she reveals the ruse that led Villanelle and Eve to do exactly what they wanted. Carolyn wrongly warns that Villanelle wouldn’t have saved Eve, unaware of Villanelle’s refusal to leave without Eve. Carolyn becomes all the more shady to me in this scene, though it was obvious in previous episodes she was setting Eve up for something.

In the next scene, she shows her willingness to fight for Eve. The standoff between Raymond and Eve presents the perfect opportunity for Villanelle to get Eve’s hands dirty. Sure enough, she goads Raymond into putting down his axe and underestimating Villanelle and Eve for that matter. They fight and Raymond resorts to his preferred form of intimidating Villanelle, asphyxiation. Remember, he chocked her out in the car when we first met him earlier in the season. Sure enough, Eve falls in line to save Villanelle when we know there is a gun at the ready. Villanelle has the same look of pleasure (that Aaron had, though more giddy) on her face when Eve inefficiently buries the axe in his shoulder, pulls it out, and then finishes the job with a few more whacks. Villanelle was eager to give Eve killing pointers and real assistance like a kill coach. Villanelle obviously is the true kill commander.

As they escape, Villanelle is preoccupied with what they will eat for dinner. Eve suggests spaghetti as she walks around in a haze. Villanelle then starts to talk about where they can live and how she will care for Eve. The birds startle them and Villanelle brings out her weapon. This changes everything for Eve. She surmises that Eve orchestrated the Raymond kill and then their argument begins. Villanelle wants the object of her affection to be in her possession. Eve is now seemingly come to her senses, I guess, but she still isn’t thinking straight. She forgets who she is dealing with and turns and walks away. Villanelle raises the pistol and shoots. We don’t see the shot, but we see Eve’s body prone on the floor of the beautiful ruins.  We have come full circle. Season 2 ended in the same way as Season 1. One main character on the receiving end of violence at the hands of the other. Villanelle walks away coldly, unlike Eve who last season tried to render aid. We already know Sandra Oh isn’t dead. It’s still Killing Eve, not Killed Eve. 

I really like this show, but I didn’t like this ending. As I wrote earlier, the 12 and its connection to various characters is disjointed. Since the show was intent on creating the sexual tension and obsession between Eve and Villanelle, why are they now veering off that path. I want Eve to truly process her feelings and decide whose side she is on. I wish she would acknowledge her attraction to Villanelle and make a concrete decision to reject or accept it. Yes, I guess she did that at the end when she turned her back on Villanelle. But this decision was more petty anger at Villanelle for manipulating her. Isn’t that was psychopaths do, though? Villanelle has been the queen of manipulation in plain sight of Eve. In the last episode she said she was wide awake. Hmm. I don’t think so. Maybe if she just had sex with Villanelle she would get it out of her system and could stop making such rookie mistakes or at least make a clear-eyed decision.

I’m looking forward to next season. Too bad it won’t come back in the Fall like most shows. I hope the new show runner can give some concrete answers on the 12 and find a way for Eve to contend with her inconsistencies.

Model Homes

People don’t sit outside their homes anymore.

I’ve always loved houses with wraparound porches, but what’s the purpose for those anymore? Sitting outside, enjoying the view from your street just seems strange. When I walk through my neighborhood, I occasionally meet another walker, but for the most part, I rarely see anyone outside their homes. When I encounter humans outside their homes, they are either landscapers, or homeowners, checking their mailboxes. I mostly see people coming or going home.

My neighborhood is quiet, interrupted by a barking dog here or there–sometimes my dogs–or the muted sounds of a car engine. Aside from that, it seems pretty deserted. This appearance is deceiving because there are people living in the houses. The houses and lawns are well-maintained. It’s just not customary for people to “live” outside. It’s not just my neighborhood, but this is common in many, if not most, neighborhoods across America.

Even as I lament about this absence of “outside living,” I wonder if I’d like it. Probably not. I don’t interact with my neighbors that often aside from a wave so I don’t know how I’d feel seeing them sitting outside. We planted trees in the backyard so we could sit on our deck in privacy.

Model homes are used to sell properties. They are staged with furniture but not with people. When people move in, they stay inside.

 

Learning Languages

In addition to tutoring students in a variety of subjects, I also provide English classes to adults and children. I, too, am a student, having signed up for a six-week course to learn Spanish using graded readers. The more I explore language teaching and learning, I am intrigued by the similarities and differences between them. I am primarily speaking of English vis-a-vis Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Russian.

In high school and college, I took courses in French, but as is the case with many students taking a foreign language: if you don’t use it, you lose it. I rarely used French. I am most familiar with French and Spanish. Based on my current experience, I think I am further along in Spanish because that is what I am currently learning. Pronunciation in Portuguese is challenging for me, but I am totally lost when it comes to Russian. I’ve never studied it nor Portuguese for that matter. I can’t even use my translation app with Russian because I don’t know the Russian letters. I have one kindergarten student who is Russian, fluent in conversational Russian and English.

It is challenging for my students who speak Portuguese to navigate the vowels or where to place the stress on a word. English is difficult in these two areas. There are no accents for guidance and the vowels in English do unpredictable things when they get together. I incorporate reading literature in my English classes. Reading aloud allows for repetition that helps with these skills.

I also think about word order and translation. I wish I could find a literal translation of Spanish texts to get a sense of the sentence structure flow. This would help me to create sentences in Spanish that are not a direct two-step translation from my mind. I this would help me “think” in Spanish.

The language teaching and learning continues…

 

 

Demo Masters

We are in the throes of a home renovation. I know it sounds dramatic. It is. We are remodeling three bathrooms, replacing all the fixtures, tile, tub, shower, and accents. Whew! This week the actual remodeling work will begin, but we’ve been working for about a month on the demo.

When you say, “demo” in place of “demolition” you have graduated to a new dimension of diy home improvement. We are ready to start our own show on HGTV.

Not quite. Other than the demo and painting we have hired others to remodel. This process has given me a greater appreciation for plumbers and contractors in general. It was difficult to find a reputable company who could do what we wanted. Some companies wanted to do everything so they could charge 20-30 thousand dollars. I hope it goes well. I’m looking forward to the finished project and especially using my freestanding tub.

Death, a thought.

Today while sitting at a stop light on the way to a tutoring session, I was gripped by the reality of my impending death. I was mindlessly listening to an interview on NPR. Incidentally, it was a repeat of an interview I had heard the morning before. A few stop lights back, I had wondered if NPR replayed interviews. This was an interview with a candidate for governor who was waxing and waning on about his view of the issues. As he remarked how in 150 years, some issue would or wouldn’t be on the minds of people, I had a palatable sense that I was going to die one day.  I became very uncomfortable and filled with dread.

It’s not like death had not crossed my mind before. For some reason, I felt the pull of it very clearly. Well…not the pull of death so much as the stark realization that death was coming one day. I felt slightly claustrophobic and alone at that moment. I then thought that my life was somewhat insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I’m a regular person with an outsize imagination, but regular nonetheless. For some reason, I thought of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince and his death. He was known, loved, and revered by many. After his death, many mourned, but life went on. Other famous figures crossed my mind, and I thought the same thing. The light changed to green and then I thought that death was just that a thought. I had students to instruct and appointments to make. I entered into the intersection and made a left turn.

To Not Working a Day in My Life

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. –Confucius

 

How do you combine a love of teaching, a penchant for writing, and a skill for formatting documents into highly stylized arrangements of spaces, footnotes, and punctuation? I am trying to figure it out.

I am a tutor, an independent ESL instructor, and a copyeditor. Writing is the only activity that does not generate revenue. After being a classroom teacher for almost a decade, I began tutoring full-time both in-person and online. I started copyediting, mostly dissertations, before I left classroom teaching.

This work is extremely rewarding. Working one-on-one provides the opportunity for me to get to know my clients and their unique learning needs. It is truly a journey, especially with my clients in kindergarten through 1st grade who often greet me with pouts. They would rather play than work on skills that cause them to struggle. During those first couple of sessions, I am a detective trying to figure out a way in. As if by magic–really perseverance–they come to enjoy our sessions and that is when the progress begins.

My adult clients are interesting people. Many of my ESL clients have come to America due to a family member’s job relocation, leaving close family and friends. One of my clients has been in the states for decades and is a widely respected dancer in her community. In the dance school she founded, she is the guru to the students who attend her school. I was honored to see the recent dance production by her students. It was heartening to see her life’s work on display.

Because most of my copyediting clients are not local to me, I never get to meet them face-to-face. Reading their research gives me a window into their motivations and the research interests they have invested a great deal of time studying.

I feel particularly fortunate to have this space and time, this flexibility. I hope to use it to devote more time to write during those days and weeks that are not filled with appointments. This work is not work in the sense of something you dread facing on Mondays. It is that work that gives me the opportunity to be of use as illustrated in Marge Piercy’s poem so named.

No Service

I wonder about institutions or the people in them. Do individual people create the ethos of an institution or is it the other way around?

I’m thinking about this in relation to the dealership where I bought my car almost 2 years ago. On the day of the sell and for about two months afterward, I felt like that institution really valued my business. When I had a question about the interworkings of this fully electric vehicle, I would send an e-mail to a specialist and he would answer my inquiry quickly and expertly.

The problems began when I started taking my car in for service. That valued customer feeling began to wane quickly. The service advisors as they call them seemed to be glued to their computers as if by their own effort they were servicing everyone’s vehicle with a mouse and the power of their concentration on the screen. After they would call me to pick up my car, it would take another hour before they could see me once I arrived. Looking around the dealership, I began to see that turnover was high. Those that took the jobs were functional yet indifferent to me as the customer.

While you wait, there is a cafe staffed by two of the sweetest women this side of Church street. Their service could almost make up for the service advisors’ nonchalance. “Can I get you a beverage and a snack?” they ask. I smile, accept, and drum my fingers while flipping through my cell phone to read an article or send a frustrated text message.

Recently, I contacted them to set up a complimentary rental. When I bought my fully electric car, my sales person told me I could rent a car from the dealership twice a year for a road trip. The receptionist promised she would have the two sales managers call me about this. I called back in an hour and was told they were looking into it and would get back with me. I know they will not call me back. I will not call back either.

The answer to my question is both. An institution sets an ethos and the people reinforce it (or not). Sometimes one person can make a difference. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will occur at this place. In short, if you are thinking about a BMW, pass Nalley BMW in Atlanta by if you want good customer service.

What Wakanda Means to Me

“Black Panther.”

This will be the answer I give when anyone asks me to name my favorite movie.

Black Panther was more than a movie. Watching it was an experience. I was immersed in a different worldview and aesthetic where people who look like me were not marginal  but central.

This is a rarity in movies as illustrated by the thirty minutes of movie previews that ran before Black Panther aired. During my first airing, the only movie without an entirely White cast was the preview for A Wrinkle in Time.  My second airing included a promo for a television series starring Tracy Morgan, The Last O.G. This sort of erasure of black bodies from the mainstream is as old as dirt.

But I did not fall in love with this movie from a point of scarcity. No, the movie was a masterpiece on its own merit. It had action, drama, suspense, romance, history, comedy, and political commentary.

When the father tells his son the story of Wakanda as the film opens, I had no idea this was Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). I assumed it was a younger T’Challa and his father. When the movie revealed this nugget, it made the story more significant. That was how N’Jbou passed down the story of Erik’s heritage and made him into the child from Brooklyn who “believed in fairytales.” These sorts of clever plot devices filled the movie.

Every article I’ve read about this movie has stressed that Wakanda is a fictional place. That may be true, but it is a real place to me. It bridges the gap between my past and present. Slavery robbed African people of their homeland, language, history, and cultural heritage. They were not immigrants. There was no true homeland. In the transition from African to African American, blacks were dispossessed and universally maligned. Chadwick Boseman (Prince T’Challa), in an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, spoke about how this movie gave African and African Americans a sort of common story. I wholeheartedly agree.  Many movie goers wore African attire. I donned my earrings and necklace made of cowrie shells and an African print stole.

For me, Wakanda inspired in me a deep pride in my heritage even though I do not know the details of my African ancestors. Wakanda is a metaphor for my heritage and bridges that gap. I am like Erik Killmonger, believing in fairytales.

On the cusp of another school year

Only a couple of weeks separate me from the beginning of preplanning week, the week prior to the first day of school when teachers return. Usually around this time of the year, I am ready to return to the breakneck pace of full-time elementary school teaching. This year, however, I am anxious.

The difference is that I will be both a full-time teacher and a full-time PhD student. Can I juggle all the competing priorities? Will I be able to maintain the level of intensity and quality needed to do well in my classes while fulfilling my role as a proficient teacher? (I no longer seek to be an exemplary teacher according to the district’s definition. I have found that the evaluation system is highly subjective.) I am hopeful about my ability to do the juggling, but my anxiety remains. I’ll have roughly a month before my PhD classes resume. My plan is to immediately carve out protected time for my PhD reading and research before classes begin.

I enjoy classroom teaching, which is both a blessing and a curse. While I’ve pledged allegiance to certain slogans for this transitional period–keep it simple, work smarter not harder, leave school on time–I am easily derailed by my “bright ideas,” which usually lead me down a path to overextend myself. Thankfully, I’ve given up my extracurricular activities (e.g.,  planning grade-level field trips and serving on various committees).

I’ll be back periodically to blog about my experience.