Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Guide to Online Dating Profiles

OK. I was checking out profiles on some online dating website things. I do this about twice a year to make sure I'm not missing out on anything by not making an effort to meet people and date. I'm not. There's no one in a 25 mile radius that I would want to even have a first date with. But the process of looking always manages to get my ire up. There are a few things that tick me off about how men do profiles. This might be how women do things, too. I'm not trying to slam on men particularly, but I don't look at girl profiles, so I don't know about them.

Stupid Sports Stuff

OK, so there are plenty of girls who know sports stuff and like sports stuff. But there are also a lot of girls who don't. So if you're choosing a screen name or an opening line or a list of favorite activities to describe yourself to a potential mate, you might want to make it intelligible to a girl who isn't into sports. Sure, most sensible women will respect your sports insanity. A few might even share it. But most of us don't want to hear about it. If you put that your favorite activities are listed as "watching sports with the guys, playing team sports with the guys, reading sports magazines in the bathroom, and scratching myself," I'm kind of left wondering whether you are actually looking for a girlfriend or just for someone to have sex with when you're not hanging out with your guy friends. If you are that sporty, you should really say "I'm looking for a girl who will share my fabulous sports obsessions with me." And you should really only say this if that's a deal-or-no-deal sort of thing. That is, is this the sort of thing that is so very important that you'd be willing to give up the prospect of having regular sex if you don't find a girl who loves sports?

Spooky "Submission" Stuff

There are a lot of Christian guys who write things like: "I want a Biblical marriage" or "I'm looking for a submissive wife" or "I believe the husband is the spiritual head of the family." -- [deep breath] OK. I was brought up fundamentalist. My mom and sister are way more conservative than I am. All three of us agree on one thing: statements like these are code for "I am an abuser. I intend to hit you and demand sex whenever I want and control our finances and make you my brood mare, keeping you perpetually pregnant until you have birthed my 14 children (which you are almost completely responsible for raising except when I need to take them out to the woodshed and discipline them), and not let you out of the house because you must be there keeping it spotless and making me three fabulous meals a day which you must figure out how to do for our little family of 16 on the grocery allowance of $11.37 which you are allowed per day."

Let me say something in defense of the whole "spiritual headship" thing (which will surprise the heck out of everyone): being the spiritual leader does NOT depend on the submission of your wife. You want to be the spiritual leader, buddy-boy, then start being spiritual. You get yourself holy and humble and faithful; you get responsible and do-or-die integrity driven and passionately intent on submitting yourself to Christ (rather than focusing on how well someone else is submitting to you) and you'll be the sort of person that a woman can trust enough to defer to a good bit of the time. Because -- damn! I'd love to find someone who I could trust would be completely committed to trying to discover and advocate and do the right and faithful thing (and who had half a clue about what it was). I'd probably be so absolutely thrilled that I wouldn't care if he left his clothes all over on the floor and the toilet seat up sometimes. But the guy who is that into discerning and desiring the right thing is way more interested in pursuing God and wisdom than worrying about whether his wife is going to do what he says or not. Any decent Christian is going to be a bit more worried about whether they're actually advocating the right course of action than about whether they're going to be obeyed without question.

And if you know that you've put a lot of thought and prayer into your position on some decision, why is it you don't want to explain or justify it? Either you think your wife is basically spiritually inferior (in which case you should certainly try to educate her -- and why did you want to marry her anyway?) or you don't care if she has seen something you haven't and you'd rather be obeyed than to actually do the right thing if doing the right thing means that she has any part in your decision making. Oh, and you might want to take a hint from Jesus and think about the good of the other people you're planning to be providing "headship" for. And since you, Mr. Spiritual-Head-of-Household, aren't actually God and don't know what's good for them in all circumstances, you might want to ask them. It's kind of crazy, I know. Just a thought.

Better way to spin this in a personal ad: "I want to follow God and I want to seek what God wants me to do to serve Him and to serve those with whom I am in relationship. I will put all of my spiritual energy into being faithful to God's will in every area of my life, including my dating relationships and marriage. I hope to eventually marry a woman who shares these commitments." Look how less abusive that sounds!

Oh, P.S. -- Don't say "I want to find a wife". Christian men say this all the danged time, trying to show how ready they are for commitment. You find a woman. Then you marry her. Then -- and only then -- is she a "wife". Otherwise, it looks like you're looking for someone who is already a wife -- to someone else. And that's a no-no. But it does make me giggle since I know you're trying to look all serious and chaste.

Spooky Chivalry Stuff

This is a bit different than the above. I have no problems with chivalry. I like having the door held open. What worries me are the men who promise the moon and manage to make you sound kind of skanky at the same time. These are guys who say things like, "I want to treat my lady like a queen" or "I want to snuggle and buy you flowers and jewelry and worship the ground you walk on and then rub your feet." It's like the opposite of Stupid Sports Man. And it's just creepy.

For one thing, it makes it sound like you're very... ah... "experienced". How many other ladies have you been treating like queens? Are you a gigolo? Are you unemployed and looking for a sugar-mama? Are you looking for needy women with low self-esteem because there's something really wrong with you? You manage to make it seem like you're hiring yourself out. Basically because you've said nothing about yourself except that you seem to derive every bit of your sense of self-worth from fawning over your "lady". Your hobbies are "taking my lady to the beach, cooking her a gourmet meal, watching romantic comedies, listening to my special lady talk about her day and her feelings...."

We the special ladies are suspicious. What do you do when you aren't in a relationship? Are you ever not in a relationship? Do you measure your relationships in weeks? days? hours? -- Forgive us if we don't quite believe you that you want nothing more on earth than to make us happy. But that's a lot of a burden to put on your "special lady." What if we'd really like you go have another hobby besides us so that we can have another hobby besides you? We are worried that you would cry about this and we would feel really guilty and uncomfortable. Because you know you're a real bitch if you make a guy cry who enjoys rubbing your feet.

Stupid Religion Stuff

Why does someone put down that they're a Christian and then say "I don't go to church, and I don't believe anything in particular about God, and I'm open to all faiths. I think there's some reason for how things happen in the world and that we should all be nice to each other." OK.... So I guess "Christian" now means "white"?

Or what about the guy who puts that he is "Christian" and goes on and on about how "Jesus is #1" in his life. He says that he wants a girl who "believes in Jesus Christ and is trying to be a Godly woman" but then in the requirements bit puts that he's looking for someone who is "Hindu" or "Spiritual, but not religious"? (I'm so not making this up.)

And then there are a bunch of people who put "Christian/Other" (as opposed to /Catholic or /Protestant or /LDS) and then say that they're Baptist. Or Presbyterian. Either they're some "special" non-Protestant version of Presbyterian or they have no idea what "Protestant" means. Neither bodes well....

Stupid Stupid Stuff

The big one that irks me: the education preferences. Guys just don't want to date smart girls. They do want, however, to say that they want to date smart girls so that they don't look superficial. And I should mention that I was specifically looking only at guys who have advanced degrees.

So here is what they do: they ramble about how they find intelligence a turn-on and love witty banter and high culture. They talk about all their degrees. Then in the "About my Date" bit, they put that they're looking for someone with an education of "high school--Bachelor's degree". Yeah. You've got a PhD and you're looking for someone intelligent who maybe just completed high school. Did you actually go to high school? Did you perhaps just repress memories of the general intelligence level of high school students because you were so traumatized from having your head flushed down toilets because you were a huge nerd? Did you go to a special high school just for people with genius IQ's? Or did you just get your PhD online?

No, it's actually because you, Dr. Smarty-pants, want a stupid woman. Why? -- Because you want to feel smart by feeling smarter-than. Despite having earned a doctorate, you are deeply insecure about your intelligence. Maybe you plagiarized your dissertation. I don't know. But it makes me insecure about your intelligence. I'm starting to agree with your evaluation of yourself and I haven't even met you. I couldn't date you because I'd be wondering, "Really?! They gave this guy a PhD?!" So you should date high school grads. They won't know the difference.

The only thing funnier was the guy who had a PhD and said he wanted a woman with "some college." That was the only option he chose. Not high school. Not a B.A. Just some college. -- What's that about? Just enough education so she isn't banal but not so much that the lovely bloom is off the rose of her ignorance?

Also interesting: guys who say they want a really smart woman and that they themselves are really smart when they have only a high school education or community college and are 40-50 and cannot spell, use proper grammar, or words that aren't text-speak in their personal profiles: Rilly, u no wt i meen? i jist wan 4 u 2 b w/ me b/c idk y prolly they're brain but intelliegents girls turns me on alots -- srsly LOL!!!!!

Of course, I have seen a couple of people who had advanced degrees and wrote like this, which is even scarier. I feel glad I didn't have to read their theses. Perhaps they had someone help type up that business. But if they're really serious about finding a date who is an "intelliegents girls" then they should have someone help them type their profile. If you are 45 years old and you are writing this to try to get someone to date/marry/sleep with you, you are either a pedophile or should be ashamed of yourself. Or you have a disorder and you might want to mention that. I have disorders. I'm cool with disorders. However, this disorder seems to be a textually-transmitted disease. That guy and his iPhone/Blackberry/3G-whatever are NEVER getting my number.

To aid in all this craziness, I have devised a new system of intelligence indications for dating websites.

Here are the categories for describing oneself:

  • "Average" (because very few people will admit they're dumb) -- I read books sometimes. I can add.
  • "Street-smart" -- I can't add. I might look at a newspaper or the comics. But I can drive a car and I've managed to make it this far without dying or being imprisoned for life.
  • "Sweeter than smart" -- I am mentally challenged, but I have other gifts.
  • "Unique" -- I am artsy or musical or a computer whiz, so I'm not really stupid. I think I have important ideas, but I don't really have much of an education.
  • "Intelligent" -- I've been through college. Maybe a professional degree program. I have read a lot of books. I think I usually have decent ideas. A couple of them actually are decent.
  • "Genius" -- I'm very intelligent and well educated in a wide array of subjects. I read in multiple disciplines and genres regularly. I have advanced degrees. I might have a bit of an ego problem.
  • "Scary-Smart" -- I have multiple advanced degrees, a good breadth of knowledge and a terrifying depth of knowledge about one or more subjects. My mind works very fast and most people think I'm weird.

And then, there can be several options for what you're looking for.

  • Dumber than me -- I want someone who will make me feel smart and special and who will defer to me as smarter.
  • Smarter than me -- I want someone who will let me out of having to be smart and I am willing to make "ooh! ahh!" sounds as appropriate.
  • Let's see who's smarter! -- I want someone about as intelligent as I am, but I am fiercely competitive and/or insecure and/or narcissistic. So I will always be trying to figure out which of us is smarter and trying to convince you that it's me. This will mean lots of fighting and insulting comments.
  • About the same -- I want someone who is about as intelligent as I am so that we can converse on the same level and keep each other sharp.
  • Who cares? -- I am hoping for a purely physical relationship; I don't care if you have a brain as long as you're hot.
  • There are deeper things than intelligence. -- I am either really into something spiritual, have been abused in the past and now just want someone nice, or I am hoping for a purely physical relationship but want you to think that I'm deep.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ADD, brain wave frequencies, and binaural beats

I've realized that I'll probably never be able to get an ADD/ADHD diagnosis. Partly this is because they tend to look at your grades (especially those in childhood) to determine if you've done poorly enough to qualify for the DSM IV criterion that the condition presents a "serious detriment" to your life. So, basically, a combination of natural ability and sheer tenacity seems to have condemned me to a life of dogged exercise of sheer tenacity. Great.

Of course, even if I could find a doctor who didn't just think I was a grad student trying to score some Adderall, it would mean finding time to schedule an appointment. And make phone calls. And get my medical history together and my insurance information and fill out forms. And I am really bad at these things, because I have ADD. Correction: I am really bad at these things and having to do them makes me want to tear my skin off and stomp and yell.

And in addition to this, I'm concerned about the drugs. ADD meds are mostly stimulant medications. I'm already drinking a rather insane amount of coffee to try to keep my mind calm and focused. The scary thing is that it does work; I can tell that I'm more sedate and "normal" on coffee. Certainly, this fact will terrify anyone who knows me with unthinkable thoughts of how crazy I would be without the coffee.... But I am not really eager to get drugs which have side effects like "stroke" and "heart attack" and "death". Not that the non-stimulant ones are much better; they promise the usual digestive cocktail of nausea, vomitting, diarrhea and constipation. This would be on top of all the regular fibromyalgia tummy upsets.

So I despaired of a solution and told myself I'd just have to try harder. The problem with this is that for ADD people, trying just makes it worse. But then, completely by chance, I discovered the spiffy brain-wave research on ADD/ADHD.

Spiffy New Brain Wave Research

This is actual research, but I don't feel like linking to the medical articles. Also, you all probably don't feel like reading them. They're rather boring (unless you're a neurologist or a medical-type person). So here are the highlights:

Our brains oscillate. The little cells up there vibrate when our brains are doing things (which is all the time unless we're dead). And they vibrate at different frequencies depending on what we're doing. Or, rather, different frequencies of vibration help us to do different sorts of things. Most people's brains self-regulate: if the person decides to relax, their brain wave frequency decreases in response to their intention; if the person decides to concentrate, their brain wave frequency increases as needed.

Waves are classified by little Greek letters (which makes me like this science better). And since I'm sure you would feel unfulfilled if you didn't know this stuff, I will tell you about the different frequencies:
  • delta waves (1-4 Hz) -- these are for deep, dreamless sleep
  • theta waves (5-8 Hz) -- day-dreaming, drowsiness, have been linked to long-term memory, intuition, self-awareness and creativity
  • alpha waves (9-14 Hz) -- these occur during relaxation or meditation and are, to a lesser extent than theta, linked to creativity, visualization and cognition
  • beta waves (15-40 Hz) -- these are the normal alertness brain waves; at the lower end they pertain to focus and concentration on normal tasks and linear, logical thought; frequencies at the upper end of the range are engaged during worry, anxiety and hyper-vigilance and provide for faster reaction to the physical environment
  • gamma waves (40-70 Hz) -- these are the most recently discovered frequency group; they seem to occur in peak-performance situations; scientifically they have been shown to be linked to leaps of insight and higher problem solving -- as well as anxiety, hyperactivity and schizophrenia. Less scientific groups are deciding that gamma is a sort of "Buddha" frequency which characterizes master gurus and transcendental states of consciousness. Which, presumably, would indicate that the Buddha was schizophrenic. [Oh, the things you learn on my blog!] These frequencies are unable to be sustained for long periods of time and will actually cause your brain to hurt.
The neat thing that scientists have discovered is that ADD/ADHD people can be characterized by their brain wave production. Most people spend most of their waking hours in beta states with occasional drops to alpha (during moments of relaxation) or theta (during repetitive tasks). ADD people spend most of their days vibrating at theta frequencies. That is to say, we are as close as you can get to being asleep without actually being asleep (since if your brain is vibrating at delta frequencies you are, by definition, asleep). When ADD/ADHD people try to concentrate, they generally skip the lower beta frequencies and spike into higher beta and lower gamma (the realm of hypervigilance, hyperactivity, stress, and anxiety).

No dark cloud lacks a silver lining. People are trying like crazy to get into gamma and theta states because of the supposed pay-off for intuition and insight and vivid dreaming and all the stuff that sounds really fabulous to New-Agey generic-spirituality buffs. And yet, theta and gamma are basically where I am all the time! So, my lack of ability to focus is supplemented by whatever benefits there actually are from the processing done at those frequencies. Still, I'm not a fan of the high-beta stress and hyperactivity. And sleep-walking through the day is rather difficult, even if it makes me more "creative". So it seems that what I need is a way to make my brain vibrate at lower beta-range frequencies.

The New Treatments

Neurologists have begun to use this new information about brain waves to develop non-medicinal protocols for ADD/ADHD. One of these is neurological biofeedback (or "neurofeedback") in which the patient is hooked up to an EEG and gets to see his/her brainwaves in real time. The idea is that we can actually control our brain's frequency consciously but need to learn to do so by trial and error with instant "feedback" to self-correct. The problem with this (for me) is that you need a diagnosis, it takes a lot of sessions over a year or so to train you to do it on your own, the sessions last 45 min or so and cost about $100 a pop. Try getting an ADD person to be able to schedule all that stuff without going postal.

The other treatment is a bit easier and more accessible, if a little harder to check for efficacy. This is binaural beat therapy (along with isochronic tones, hemispheric synchronization, and all sorts of other scientific sounding stuff). It basically involves listening to some audio.

The way it works is that two frequencies are played, one for each ear (hence, "binaural" -- two ears). So you need stereo headphones. Each ear drum vibrates at a different frequency. The brain's frequency can be influenced by this external stimulus, but the natural frequencies we're aiming at are too low for the human ear to hear. However, the brain detects the difference in frequency between the sounds in the two ears and so the difference between the two is set at the frequency at which you want your brain to vibrate. The differentiation between the two sounds creates a pulse and it's often best to combine this audio with white noise, pink noise, some nice nature sounds or music.

So, you can find binaural beat files in different frequency ranges online. Or you can download software to make your own mixes. Or you can splurge and buy nice CDs or mp3s that have pretty music and special stuff with the isochronic tones (no idea what these do) or hemispheric synchronization effects (which make the two hemispheres of your brain harmonize). Speaking of hemispheric synchronization... another fun fact is that beta frequencies provoke more left-brain action than any other frequency (since it's useful in linear thinking). Basically, my brain very rarely does much positive left-hemispheric cognitive activity. The only time I'm in the beta range with my left-brain "on" is when I'm anxious and hyperactive (which is very tiring). So I'm wondering how much averse association I may have developed toward higher brain frequencies (which would maybe reinforce unconscious selection of theta waves... could be a factor in ADD... who knows?)

My Test Run

I got some of these beta/gamma beat files and had a listen this afternoon. Here's how it went.

At first, I didn't notice much of anything. I was trying to do some reading. I didn't get as grouchy as I usually do when trying to concentrate, but I wasn't particularly focused or retaining information either. After about 10 or 15 minutes, my mind was way more "on". I didn't feel any sort of magical tingling like some people on the ADD forum had described, but what was really amazing is that my mind didn't wander. It was a bit odd, because I'm used to looking for connections when I read -- which is good, because it integrates the new stuff, but bad because I can get totally distracted with the thought of the matrix of ideas and some other project I could do but, darn, I still have to do grad school applications and other reading and it's getting late and what's for dinner? and man, I feel stressed, I must have been working hard and have clearly earned some TV time, and gosh my cat looks cute....

But this time, I didn't get distracted. I noticed I wasn't distracted and tried to let my mind wander. And it didn't. I was into what I was doing -- although it wasn't particularly interesting. And I didn't feel particularly "sharp" or super "on" like I do when I'm having lots of ideas. I was calm, but not falling asleep. So that was sort of nice. But I'm not sure it actually helped my retention of the material I was reading. Further tests will be required. Anyway, the recording lasted half an hour. For about 5 or 10 minutes afterward, I felt the same. And then I started to feel really, really tired. I think what was happening there is that I was coming back down to my normal quasi-somnolent theta-wave state. But I managed to read straight through for 30 minutes without having to take a break or getting distracted and without feeling like climbing up the walls. So that in itself is a pleasant change.

I just need to test to see whether my usual methods work better for knowing material or not. Usually, I manage to work in 5-15 minute stretches of what might be crazy-fast reading with crazy-fast brain-storming of connections, if by sheer luck I'm interested in what I'm reading and feel particularly energized. If I'm not interested or energized, my work time is characterized either by extreme sleepiness or extreme crankiness and inner "boiling" as I try to make my brain concentrate by sheer force of will or serious distractability if I'm less strict about making myself concentrate. And if I'm doing something really long and less "original" and creative that is on a time limit without allowances for breaks (like writing final exam essays or doing footnotes for a paper), I tend to alternate between cranky and drowsy. And when I say "cranky", I really mean "angry at the world and should be kept away from sharp objects, dull objects, or any objects with which I could either end my own misery or take out my rage on anyone who so much as coughs and disturbs my train of thought (which it will take me about 10 minutes of serious effort to regain)." Wow. Whenever I think about this, I have no idea how it is I manage to get through my exams. I have particularly horrid memories of the OT 12 exam last spring. I was bringing every shred of my habituated virtue to bear (and praying ceaselessly for mad grace) in order not to throw a full-scale 2 year old temper tantrum and scream some really dirty things about Eccelsiastes and then hit people in the middle of the Divinity school. My essays were basically illegible. But I passed.

Still, I'm such a nut that I'd rather go through all that angst rather than be able to concentrate painlessly and easily at the expense of the capacity for the sort of cognitive processing, intuitive understanding and relational big-picture meaning-making that I'm accustomed to. Go figure.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fake Languages Hit-List: Koine

My background is in Classics, so I have a lot of angst with the seminary culture of "Koine Greek".
I'm sure many people think that this is just snobbish of me, that my reservations are some sort of katherevousizing complex, but this is not the case. OK, I just used the word "katherevousizing" which refers to a classical revival in Modern Greek which sought to purify (katharos) the language of more recent additions (including Slavic vocabules), so obviously I'm a bit of a snob. Or at least, a total geek. But the deep antiquarian delight in more ancient forms of a language is not why I hate Koine. If it were, then I'd insist we toss Attic Greek for Mycenaean. In fact, since the alphabet itself is a later Semitic borrowing, I'd insist we go back to the Linear B syllabary. But that's not my problem with Koine.

My problem with Koine is that it is NOT a language!

I keep hearing people talk about "Koine Greek" as if it were a language. Koine is NOT a language. It's a dialect. The language is Greek. Yes, I've taken linguistics courses and yes, I know that the line between language and dialect can get very blurry. But there is a line. I just want there to be a little bit of respect for the line and for the Greek language in general. So here's a little history/historical linguistics lesson (with my running cranky commentary). If you know all about the history of Greek, then you can skip this and go to the proper part of my rant.

History of Greek and "Koine"

Once upon a time, there were some folks hanging out on the Balkan peninsula. This was a long, long time ago. We have no idea what language they spoke or what language family it was in. Then some other guys showed up from the steppes of Asia who had an Indo-European language. They liked things like horses and cows and kings.

Anyway, these Indo-European folks pretty much started dominating. And their language is more or less what can be called "Greek". This language pretty much broke down into three big dialectical groups at a pretty early period: Doric, Attic-Ionic, and Arcado-Cypriot. There is a bunch of debate over when -- whether there was a Dorian invasion, Dorians in the Mycenaean period, etc. etc. -- But this is a short history lesson. So basically around 800 BC we had these three big language groups. All three of them are still Greek.

How are these dialects different? Mostly really little ways. Like, Attic-Ionic likes a long eta (ê) where Doric and Arcado-Cypriot like long alpha. They do different things with dentals -- alternating s and t -- that sort of thing. There's some difference in how labio-velars developed (that's an original kw sound that comes to be a plain old plosive -- t or p or k, depending on dialect and on what kind of vowels are around it). There are variations in aspiration (where you get breath or h sounds) and in really basic words like prepositions and particles (ei, ke, an, etc.)

That's pretty much it. Now, granted, in some of the sub-dialects, things can get pretty freaky. Reading Sappho's Lesbian Greek throws a bit of a curve to someone who's only done Classical Attic Greek. And don't get me started on Boeotian. Boeotian is just *special*. But if you know one dialect really thoroughly, you can learn the others lickedy-split.

So everyone in the city-states is going along, speaking their dialects for a few centuries. They can mutually understand each other (except Boeotians) and laugh at how people from other poleis (plural of polis; there will be a quiz...) talked funny. Life was good.

But then around, oh, 350-300 B.C. things started getting bad. The Peloponnesian war never got resolved and the crankiness between Athens and Sparta meant that everybody got pulled into it and some new major players started emerging. Like the Thebans (who were Boeotian, but that actually doesn't matter). The real problem was the Macedonians.

The Macedonians were up there in Thrace. ("Up" as in "north" and as in "there are some mountains"). They wanted to be cool, but basically they were barbarians, meaning that they didn't quite speak Greek. Thracian was different enough to not count as Greek. They also had blond hair and horses. But they were all like, "Hey, the Greeks are totally not up to being cool anymore, so we can be cool. Let's get cultured and out-Greek the Greeks. And then let's conquer some stuff."

So that's what they did. They brought Aristotle up to their capital at Pella to educate the royal prince Alexander. The cultural education part didn't quite take -- except for homoeroticism and a bit of mythological veneer. But the conquering part worked out well. He had to do it fast, because the Macedonians couldn't keep their act together long enough to sustain a lengthy plan of world conquest. So he conquered most of the known world and a some of the unknown parts. He probably would've made it to Alaska, but it got cold and he got sick and he died.

And so there was suddenly a whole bunch of turf that was nominally Greek, with lots of cities named "Alexandria" (because if you're conquering the world, then, by golly, you want to make sure everyone knows your name!) And the people left in charge of stuff were Alexander's old army-buddies from the washed-up remains of the Greek city-states of yore. So, people had to start speaking Greek.

But they didn't know Greek, except perhaps a very little bit for trade. They had no ties to any of the particular city-states with their particular dialects. So they spoke a pretty watered-down version of Greek. It was mostly Attic with a few Ionic and Doric elements thrown in for size. But they dropped some of the more "precise" bits of the grammar. After all, how often do we really need a future perfect? And we can certainly be a bit lax about what's a job for the subjunctive and what is optative territory, can't we? Sure. And different areas will throw in a bit of their own stuff. Everyone does that. If you go somewhere and they've got some kind of fruit you don't have, you don't say, "Stop! Hold everything! I need to make up a new name for this fruit in my own language!" You just start talking about "papayas" and "mangos". No big deal.

The Pure, Unadulterated Rant

This, my friends, is Koine. It's a homogenized and diluted version of Classical Greek dialects (primarily Attic like they spoke in Athens).

Koine is not, contrary to the opinion held by Biblical scholars (that erudite and over-Germanicized bunch!) until quite recently, "a special wonderful religious language made up by God just for the Gospels!"

Koine is not to be listed as a separate language attainment alongside Classical Greek. That's what Special-Semitic-Languages boy did in one of my classes, boasting that he knew "Greek, Classical and Koine". And I was there debating about taking him down by piping up, "Oh, I should correct myself then. I said I knew Greek -- what I meant was: all the Classical dialects, Koine, Byzantine, Mycenaean, and the Homeric Kunstsprache." But the whole point of graduate school is to teach you not to do undergraduate crap like that.

Koine is also not to be pronounced much differently than Attic Greek. There are three differences. Count them. Three:

1) You can make the aspirates into fricatives. People do this on classical Greek, too. It's annoying, but permissible. This means, that the phi, theta, and chi -- which were originally pronounced as p, t, and k with a little puff of air after them, just kind of breathy (hence "aspirate") can sound like the English fricatives f, th, and German/Scottish ch. These changes actually happened during the period in question when "Koine" was spoken.

2) You are permitted to drop iota subscripts on long alpha, eta, and omega and just say "a", "ê" and "ô". People doing classical Greek do this, too. Which is also bad. They were diphthongized in the classical period and you could hear the "i". But you can do this and I won't get ticked at you, Koine-learners.

3) You can treat the accents as stress accents rather than as pitch accents. This means you can just stress the syllable with an accent on it. Earlier, it indicated the rise or fall of the pitch of hte voice. Again, this is something people do with classical Greek that probably they shouldn't. There is no clear evidence for the switch from pitch to stress until the 4th/5th c. A.D. with Gregory of Nazianzus' poetry and Nonnus' Dionysiaca. [Trust me. I know this stuff.] Still, I'm more tolerant about this because very few people do the pitch accent. We're rarely taught and so it just confuses people. I always do pitch accents with Homer, but the rest of the time I'm pretty lax.

Here are things that people keep doing with the koinê that really really irk me. I am warning you. I'm about to start being the Greek police and giving you citations in the halls. And don't tell me that your happy grad-student Greek teachers are telling you to do this. I will happily give THEM citations, too. I will give professors citations. Because this isn't about some little adiaphora matter-of-opinion stuff. This isn't theology. This isn't happy-sappy me-and-my-Jesus hermeneutics. There's a right and a wrong here. This is Greek.


Here's what you had better quit doing:

1) Stop calling the Div-School class "Hellenistic Greek". Seriously, can you read real Hellenistic Greek after this class? Can you sit down with some Callimachus? Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica? I don't think so. Are you reading a bunch of papyri or non-literary Greek? I don't think so. Just suck it up and call it "New Testament Greek" or even "Biblical Greek" (on the assumption that you'll be able to hack the Septuagint and non-canonical works).

2) Quit pronouncing things wrong. Really. I know why you do it, but there's no real excuse. In the textual transmission of the Bible there is ample evidence that some of the vowel levelling that happened to make Modern Greek what it is was going on. You know -- how almost all the vowels started sounding like "ee"? The fancy term for this is itacism. I don't like it. Not only that, but it's a much later phenomenon. We're talking early middle ages. It affects the transmission of Biblical text, yes. But no one was talking like that in Bible times. Upsilon does not sound like eta. Eta does not sound like iota. Upsilon does not sound like iota. Omicron-upsilon sounds different than just plain upsilon. -- But epsilon-iota does sound like eta. That's it. One sound-alike. That's all you get.

2b) And what the heck is your beef with omicron??? Poor little omicron, he is so mightily abused! Everyone seems to want to say the "o" vowel like it's an "a". I think this might be an American problem. We just can't say "o" properly. And the pronunciation guidelines for Greek in books stem from guidelines given in British school-texts. But British kids actually say the vowel in "not", "caught", or "ought" as "o". And so do I. But most Americans seem not to. At the Wells' house, I asked for coffee and Sam said, "Oh, you want coffee then, and not caffee; brilliant." I said, "What is caffee?" He said, "I'm sure I don't know, but a lot of people seem to want it over here."

Basically, "omicron" is a "little o". It's the same "color" vowel as "omega" (which means, literally, "big o"). It has the same place of articulation as the big o, but it doesn't last as long. Either make a short version of omega, or at least say omicron as "awww" with lots of rounding of the lips. As it is, when all you Koine-people read Greek out loud I have no idea if you're saying alpha or omicron. It's really very bad. This one might be worth a double-citation because someone has to stick up for omicron. Poor little guy....

3) Don't be a tool. This goes for people who know start with Classical and people who start with Koine. Think of Classical Greek as... oh, say... Samuel Pepys. And think of Koine as "Dick and Jane". -- OK. That's not quite fair... More like Goodnight, Moon. Obviously, the kids who read Goodnight, Moon are reading the same language as Pepys; there's just a lot less of it -- less vocabulary and only the simpler parts of grammar. But it's not a different language. Still, if you can read Pepys, you can definitely get through Goodnight, Moon without batting an eye. But people trying to read some Patristics or Plato after a year or two (or three, or even four) of Koine are really going to have their work cut out for them!

I'm irked by everyone here (which makes me suspect that certain people will be deeply irked by me -- oh well). I'm annoyed by people who do Koine for a year or two or three and then waltz around feeling very special about their Greek. When I say I studied Greek or know Greek, they say, "Oh, me too!" I feel this way also about doctoral students who do New Testament and feel spiffy about the Greek. I totally respect your Bible-reading skills. But being able to read one book in a foreign language isn't the same thing as knowing the language. Sorry. Once you're reading some things that aren't in Goodnight, Moon language (earlier stuff, literary Hellenistic stuff, later Patristics stuff), then I will give you Greek props.

I'm also ticked off by the people who have done classical Greek and feel vastly superior to the world. Guess what, classics people: you know more than the Koine folks because... they're only learning Koine! You are only special to the extent that everyone else is deprived. It's sort of like saying, "I got creme brulee and that beats the rice krispies bar you got! I am better than you! I win!" Seriously. Don't be a tool.

Especially because my Greek beats yours, classics undergrads. I've read Greek as a large part of my life at a very high level for a good chunk of time. I edit the translations of classics professors. I eat your lexica for breakfast because I don't use them to read but only for research. The strong undergrad-level Greek student's work looks kind of like macaroni art to me. Sorry, but it's true. Please quit bragging to me. It hurts to listen and have to refrain from squashing you.

And also, please tell everyone you know here that I know Greek. Can we just have a little notice on the website that says "Jen is resident student Greek and Latin expert"? It's not to stroke my ego -- it's that I really hate having people offer to help me with my patristics Greek stuff because they're taking or have taken "Koine 101" or some undergrad Greek classes. I know they mean well and that not everyone doing patristics really knows the languages. I know they're trying to be all ministerial with their mad Greek skills. It's very Christian. But it feels like having someone offer to help me use the bathroom. I can do it myself. Really.

Sorry that I got snarky there. The point isn't how special I am. It's how very relative "special" is. If I weren't here, someone else would be "most special at Greek". So what? Why don't we infuse some specialness into the SYSTEM where everyone can enjoy it? How about that?

I wish I had power. I want to stage a coup of the Greek classes. Except that I know the grad students teaching "Hellenistic Greek" need that stipend money to put food in the mouths of their wee, starveling children/dogs. I want Greek to be taught in such a way that: 1) it gets done properly (with people not dissing my buddy omicron), 2) it is easier for people who just want to do Bible, and 3) it makes going further easier for the people who want to do more than just Bible. Classical language pedagogy is very, very fraught. Even the usual trends for correcting it are also fraught. I would love to fix it all, but even with my mad language skills, I'm just one little voice crying in the wilderness -- without a PhD. It's not your fault; it's not your teachers' fault. It's probably not even their teachers' fault. The fraughtness goes way, way back to British schools where boys were seven when they learned Greek and Latin and could be beaten when they bungled a paradigm. Seriously. This is where most of today's methods come from. The "newer" methods just put some liberal Romanticized veneer on top of this in the optimistic belief that a person can just look at Greek or Latin and magically read it as long as there are some pictures. This is how it is. And it's pervasive. We can only do what we can.

...But don't diss the omicron anymore or there will be consequences. You've been warned.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dr. Strangelove (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and "Enjoy" Augustine)

I have had a nearly infamous love-hate relationship with Augustine of Hippo: I love hating on him. I will not pass up an opportunity to make a snide comment about Augustine and if his name is mentioned, I cannot help making a sour face. This is because I have a long and injurious history with doctrines of predestination and I think some of his ideas (like the "will" and his Modalist Trinity analogy and his traducian doctrine of Original Sin) are just silly or bad or both. So I like to give Augustine a hard time and make my opinion known, and the rest of this very Occidentally inclined Divinity School like to give me a hard time about not liking Augustine. It's a bit of a meme; it works for me.

But today I was forced to admit that I'm coming to love Augustine. A little bit. With reservations and qualifications. But, yeah... OK. He's kinda cool.

Of course, I couldn't manage to finally be "in" with the Augustine-loving crowd as I was converted to Augustine-fandom; rather, I realized the depths of my feelings for Augustine when the rest of my seminar on Theology and Language united in the first time in DDS history to attack what they judged the most horrific doctrine Augustine has ever advanced. And I -- I who had reviled him so oft -- was now the chivalrous defender of the bishop betrayed by his erstwhile devotees. It got heated. People were making all kinds of personal attacks on poor Augustine in absentia; if he'd been there, they might have tarred and feathered him and run him out of the Div School on a rail. It was a little intense.

You might be wondering what Augustine said that so outraged everyone but which inspired me to defend the theologian I love to hate.

This was it: We should use people rather than enjoying them for their own sakes. (De Doctrina Christiana, book 1)

Everyone hated this. Here is a compilation of the conversation.

Augustine-Attacker #1: We can all see how obviously bad this argument is. How can we love our neighbor if we're supposed to not love them for themselves? I mean, he just puts this out there without even backing up this argument. Then he starts equating "use" with "love".

Jen: Well, we've got a lot of baggage with the word "use" such that it means "objectify" or "abuse". Latin wasn't like that. The difference is that it implies instrumentality whereas "enjoy" implies that something is ultimately sufficient for enjoyment in itself. Since God's immaterial and self-existent, people get their goodness *from* God. So they are proximate and contingent goods. But God is the ultimate and non-contingent good. See? It's a language thing.

Attacker #1: It's just not loving someone if you're using them -- even if you're using them to get to God somehow or to enjoy God through them.

Jen: No, no! It would be bad if you "enjoyed" people. It's not like "use" is totally devoid of any delight or relishing or what we would call "enjoyment". For Augustine, "enjoy" is where you stop -- what in itself is ultimate and sufficient. People aren't that. Only God is that. People are finite and material and created.

Attacker #2: Nobody can call themselves a Christian if we act like this today. We're supposed to love each other. Augustine even goes so far as to say that we only love the human part of Jesus as a means to an end -- to the immaterial God part! We don't love Jesus for his humanity and his body! I mean, we can all see how bad that idea is. It's just... gnostic!

Jen: No... there's context here... it's sort of given that immaterial and eternal is good and transient and finite is less-good. It's culturally assumed... but maybe, you know, it's also actually faithful and stuff, to the Bible and who God is... right, guys?

Attacker #3: Yeah, we have to remember the historical context. I mean, Augustine wasn't so great in the whole marriage department. He had all those relationship problems and sent his baby-momma away and all that.

Jen: He was trying to be chaste!

Attacker #3: And he never did get married after that, so obviously he had some deficiencies when it came to loving and relating to people. He was nasty to the Donatists, too. So, we probably shouldn't pay too much attention when he talks about love and using people.

Attacker #4: Yeah, like, are you going to tell your wife that you're only loving them as a way of loving God? You enjoy them, but only by themselves, only in some relation to God?

Jen: (is thinking deeply about her own singleness with lots of shame and embarassment). Yes! I mean... even married people, you don't stop and just say, "You're all I need; I'm just going to enjoy you and not keep moving toward God" because that's idolatry!

Attacker #4: No, not idolatry -- it's like, people get married and they can practice enjoying God so that then in the eschaton they know how to enjoy God for real.

Jen: !?!?!?!?!?! (struggling not to have fit of apoplexy)

Geoffrey Wainwright: We'd better take a break and then we can move on to discuss Athanasius.

Seriously: "practice"?! Why? Because we can't start working on enjoying God now? We have to wait God's not available yet?And what is this "enjoying God for real" that we have to practice with spouses? I'm having Cappadocians sexchaton debate flashbacks and lots of uh-oh feelings here...

I need to wear a sign that says, "Before you say, 'Of course, today, we don't believe x,' when we're reading the Fathers, there's something you should know : I'm a Platonist, too." (Will someone make me a sign?)

So Augustine and I have made it up. And I've decided that if I ever get married, I want it written into the vows that we promise only to "use" and not "enjoy" each other. It would totally scandalize just about everyone in attendance, but hey -- you can't please all the people all the time.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Death, Language, Theodicy

Some of you may know that my grandmother died this summer. And my cat has been sick. And yesterday, my cousin died of an inoperable tumor. I don't mean to blog this all up into some confessional, maudlin affair, but I fear I am disconsolate. Not in the sense that I am deeply grief-stricken; I won't pretend to that. I mean the term more etymologically. I am difficult to console.

Somehow it seems that loss just makes me hyper-critical. People (including those whom I respect and whose words I usually hear quite gladly) offer well-intentioned expressions of sympathy and I find myself analyzing and dissecting and evaluating every word and phrase. And it's not a defense mechanism, a deadening of emotion or a suppression of vulnerable feeling beneath the hardened exterior of cold, dry logic. Rather, the experience of loss is so complex and varied, so compellingly present, that I need the truth of it.

I'm in a course called Death, Grief, and Consolation this semester and part of the requirement is that I write a sermon which is to be graded not only on its theological foundations but also on its ability to offer comfort to the bereaved. I'm a bit worried about this; I don't seem to be comforted in the same way that normal people do. At least, not if the usual tropes of condolence are anything to judge by.

How can we make bold claims for the power of proper doctrine (e.g. "People are not comforted by specious fictions, but by truth") and then hedge round our truth with euphemism? How can we say that someone has "passed away" when the incontrovertible truth is that they died? Yes, we believe in the resurrection, but what great miracle is resurrection if the preceding death is not truly death but only some vague "passing away"? But perhaps I should be more kind in my reception of these words. The only way I can redeem them is to remember that we do, indeed, "pass away" like so many shadows.

Grieving What is Lost and What is Left Behind

And part of the problem, again, is that not all grief is quite the same. I do not grieve the loss of the people who have died this summer as much as I have grieved for others. Losing my maternal grandmother 10 years ago was harder than losing my paternal grandmother this summer. I was closer to one than the other; I grieved the loss more specifically. My grief now is more generalized; I grieve for my family and for what it is to be a family. We often say things like "blood is thicker than water", but blood is thin and family is a fragile and tenuous thing, knit together with spider-threads. It is tragic that we ourselves are so fleeting, so easily dissolved and yet what remains is so often injury, the warping of each successive generation as we struggle to give to one other while our self-focused pain and blind ignorance makes us instead rob and maim the hearts and souls of those we wish to love. What survives in families? Brokenness or wholeness, what we give and what we take. And, so often, we do not know which we are leaving behind us.

As for my cousin's death, I grieve for what is being born of it. Ten years ago (the same year my grandmother died -- and my cat; it was a bad year), the cousin's son was killed at college. The death was something in the line of "manslaughter" and the killer was another student at college, on a sports team. He was subject to no legal penalty and was neither expelled from school nor from the college sports team. The family, already bereft, grew bitter. And now, the cousin developed cancer. It was treated, returned, treated, returned, metastasized, became inoperable. Some of the family finds this incredibly "unfair". Why is it that they have suffered so much? His wife is angry, and (one could argue) this reaction is fully justified.

A Share of Sorrow

My sister feels that our cousin's wife should be angry, that it is unfair. I disagree. And I found myself thinking about this when someone, expressing his condolences, told me that my family had received more than its share of sorrow this year. The whole shape of this way of thinking makes no sense to me.

What is an appropriate or "fair" share of sorrow? Is there some justifiable allotment per annum that should not be exceeded? How much should we just expect and how much is de trop?

What would be my "share" of sorrow, for instance? There are others I could lose whom I would miss more personally. And all their deaths are owed on my "account", waiting to be paid at some time or other. If I lost all my dear ones -- family, friends, cat, sister, parents -- it would be no more than my "share". And then there is my own life, the things I possess, what health I have, what hope for my future in this life. If we are to love at all, we have much to lose. Nothing is ours to claim by right; all the things and people we treasure are owed. I am not Job to demand that God answer me if He should take all of them in a single hour, let alone a year.

Ah! but as the Soul Grows Older....

If I begin to think back over my life, I know I hThat ave lost much -- but that is less surprising the older I get. We move through life with holes in our pockets, continually losing all we think is ours -- family members, friends, relationships, opportunities, innocent illusions, misplaced hopes, cherished dreams -- that if we should stop to tally it all up, we would then have to begin again to add in what slipped away while we were counting. How do we face this? Rail and grieve constantly? When we can all think of others who have lost more (or had less to begin with), doesn't that seem simply presumptuous? Don't our vain protests seem at a certain point only to be bombast, sound and fury? Doesn't our indignation signify only that -- despite our fragility, proven by constant and uncontrollable loss -- we still think we should have some imperium, some right to command and have our demands met?

When I think of sinking into grief, I feel only tired -- as if to begin at all would be to grant that it would never end. Instead, I find that close on the heels of every maelstrom of anxiety and every weeping grief over what has been lost, I feel "old". That's the most fitting term for it. I feel something more akin to nostalgia than to true gut-tightening grief: a bittersweet sadness for what has gone or never arrived, a pang of tenderness for human beings, we who let so brief a span as a lifetime demand our rapt attention, our passionate all. It's a tenderness for myself as well; I am no sage. I have been so enveloped by cares this past week, worries for my present, my future, my past catching up with me and catching me out. But what is this immeasurable and ultimate thing that so consumes me? My "momentous" life is but momentary --the blink of an eye, a match igniting and flickering out -- dwarfed by previous generations who were born and died, to be forgotten by the generations who will come after.

I just keep thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "To a Young Child, On Spring". As best as I can remember, it goes like this:

Margaret, are you grieving
over Golden-grove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
with your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah, but as the soul grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.
Yet you will weep and will know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same,
nor mouth had -- no, nor mind expressed
what heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight that man was born for.
It is Margaret you mourn for.

The Blight That Man Was Born For

Or have I grown too resigned? Have I missed something vital? Am I not raging sufficiently against the dying of the light? Is death truly the blight that man was born for?

I think, rather, that death is the blight that man is born to.

Our bodies are frail and fragile; they hang to life precariously. There is nothing there to argue against death. We are not exempt from entropy.

But, of course, I am a Christian. I do not believe that the world simply came to be and will simply pass away; I believe it was created -- from nothing, from the absence that God permitted there to be so that He could make something that was not Himself. I believe that it is because of our origins that we teeter on the edge of death, transience, and non-being. Simply by existing, by not being God, we are susceptible to death and dissolution. But we were not created to die; God did not bring us into being to sit back and watch us dissolve into nothingness again, like a child blowing a myriad bubbles to watch them float and fall and finally pop of out of existence.

Given our origins, death is no surprise; given our Creator, death is a monstrous kindness. It is monstrous, illogical, truly atopos that the One who is Life itself, who brought a universe into being by His will and His Word should allow it all to perish and dissolve! But it is not cruelty but terrible and exquisite kindness that He should place so much of His creation in our power, letting us decide to remain in life by remaining in Him or to choose our own deaths. For this is what we have chosen.

It is tempting to pass the buck back to our primeval parents, to blame Adam and Eve and a smooth-talking snake and some fruit. But we choose death anew each day. We see others wither and die and we cling more fervently to death. We prefer fellow souls perched precariously on flesh to the very Source of their life and ours. We fear our deaths and snatch at goods more ephemeral than even we ourselves. I catch myself in the midst of doing it before I know what I have done. I have found myself recently clinging -- even for the sake of God -- to what is not God. And God, in deference to our folly, allows us to err, to choose our own demise. It is the very love of God that gave us life that also gives us the choice of death. And the abasement of God's self-giving knows no bounds; He not only let us seek what we desired, but joined us Himself in death.

What is Man That Thou Art Mindful of Him?

It becomes easy to consider death as God's judgment and to condemn Him on those grounds as a false lover. But is it not overwhelming that the God of such might would release so much to a creature? That He should allow us to take His gifts of existence, of His very image, and despise them, put them to naught again, undo the very work of His hand? Of course, it would be a sad (if poignant) story if God's ungrudging charity should be, at the end, mere Liebestod. And such a God would seem to outwit His very nature -- His very Love -- by loving His creation.

It is a surprise that we should live, being essentially nothing. It is a surprise that we should die, since God is all-powerful but chose to gieve us both life and the choice to remain in it, in Him, or to turn away. Still more surprising and miraculous is that we should taste death and live again. We by our actions overturned the order of God's creation; the death and dissolution which God did not create in this universe are now, somehow, "natural". And yet, God by His gracious actions in this very world of passing away, has provided for restoration. God has again declared creation good. He has taken for Himself the death we chose instead of Him purely to woo us back to Life. And we, who have no inherent right to life, can boast and vaunt over death as over a vanquished enemy.

Yes; it is right that we grieve. We are to love these others, as flimsy as ourselves. We declare with God that the work of His hand is good, that it is (in some mysterious equation) worth the incarnation and passion and death of the God who is Life. Not to grieve the loss would be to gainsay God's valuation of this world He created. We are pained by the loss of what we love and we are called to love the world. And death must be denounced; for we do not wish to say that God delights in the destruction of the ones whom He has cherished in His mind and brought to birth by Word and Spirit. But neither should we rage against death as if it has not been conquered. Neither should we join in the deaths of those we love by thinking that the loss of them is the loss of our Life. This death, this rip in the faultless fabric of creation, is temporary. And it is the consequence of our contempt for Life and the true Source of Life. So death is indeed our ineluctable inheritance. But the miracle is that Life is also ours to inherit, if we are not so enamored of this little life so hemmed round with death that we neglect Life and rather fawn upon the death we wish to flee.

And so, I am disconsolate, for there is little I feel which needs to be consoled away. My heart has been broken many times and knit back together. And more people will die or leave and my heart shall break and mend again. More than anything in these times of loss, I want to think on what is true, what cannot be lost, the deep and beautiful ways of God that even death and the grave cannot thwart or overcome. Certainly, it is painful and bad, but so much in this life is painful and bad -- this is certainly no worse than the rest of it; the painful bad parts just move closer to us or farther away. So, I will learn to be comforting to others; but to anyone wishing to comfort me, I can say only this: Do not make a sugar-coated confection of death lest I fail to give glory to the One who has overcome death. But do not make loss or death seem the ultimate, terrible, final undoing lest I forget that death has been overcome and begin to think this life more precious than that Life which I must hold to and hope for.