Jay De Man

micro blog: rad day edition!

Bad corporate brew from the Jellema Room, where philosophy majors, professors and thinking things everywhere gather, made more quick my sluggish faculties on a cloud-dashed, snow-spitting morning. I met with Professor Chad Engbers this morning to work over an English paper in his wedge-shaped office. We talked about translation, and agreed that translation is always a chance for a text to "breathe again." 

Buoyed by a renewed sense of the worth of the difficult task at hand, I parked in the classics department seminar room, and fought my way through a section of Tacitus' sharp, clever Annals Book XV. Despite all his devices, Nero simply could not shake the lurking suspicion of the people, that the Great Fire of Rome had been set, that it was no accident. 

Perfectly quiet in the early parts of the morning, and well out of the aggressive fluorescents. 

Perfectly quiet in the early parts of the morning, and well out of the aggressive fluorescents. 

I cleaned up a paper on An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, and delivered the same for Philosophy 252, History of Modern Philosophy. Dr. Lee Hardy is a wise and gentle teacher. He continues to push me to untangle my long and snarled sentences. I resist. 

"When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion, that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived?" Hume, from the Enquiry, Section II: Of the Origin of Ideas. 

"When we entertain, therefore, any suspicion, that a philosophical term is employed without any meaning or idea (as is but too frequent), we need but enquire, from what impression is that supposed idea derived?" Hume, from the Enquiry, Section II: Of the Origin of Ideas. 

To cap the day, a visit to Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff's personal library with the opportunity to purchase books. It was a significant honor. Among other students, it was a pleasure to spend time in the renowned philosopher's home, view his library, and take home a few choice volumes. I went straight for the Gadamer (as I am sure you would have too). 

In the throws of anxious selection. 

In the throws of anxious selection. 

Also, Lorde released a new single today. Go, listen. 

becoming

College life is not always and all the time sunshine. I sometimes wonder how to approach this blog. I write to invite you here, hoping that the broad base of my experiences will show you the wide range of joys I grow in knowing, joys I honestly attribute in whole or in part to Calvin. And I write now, supposing it is true that if I am seeking to show you how joy propounds throughout, that message is not lessened (rather, it is increased) in making you aware of the complex realities here. 

It is a convivial thing to be here, living together. The confluence of factors which produces Calvin (only Calvin when in motion, remember?) has not only its positive result (Calvin!) but also its negative result (what Calvin is not, for what Calvin cannot account). It is those very things that make college distinct, that round out the dome of its bubble. These also mark out the places of pain, challenge, disharmony. When something is chosen, what (we must ask) is not?

I sat with a dear friend last evening. Both of us had heads throbbing from the thousands of words we had read, and some yet more to read. However, the story in eyes required its own space, and so, torn from texts, we took time to speak with each other. And in this, those negative conditions (what, we ask, is not chosen?) came into their fiercest force: the grief of what cannot be, ought not be, that itself we imagine as lovely. The grief of decisions made and unmade that introduce uncertainty.

Grand Rapids, in preparation just before our new autumn. 

Grand Rapids, in preparation just before our new autumn. 

My floor, my beloved floor is ablaze in spirit: that particular incandescence which shows the conversion of flowing time's current into illumination for all; it radiates from these bodies. That spirit does not easily let run fresh water through cupped palms. We spend time with buckets for retaining the truth, sharing with one another. And so I see in them that fierce desire to not let anything run past, to always be becoming with all energy. Where this strays into idolatry, where hard choices must be made about what to study, who to spend time with, what to cultivate—a weariness and grieving may begin.

The pain of choice without perfect knowledge demonstrates a need for lament; the privilege of decision creates the conditions for confession. We neither know how to make much of what we've been given, nor do we know how to choose what is good. Pain reveals a warp, the weft belongs to hope. Pain shows by position the unfilled spaces another love than self ought to occupy. 

So as I spoke with him, receiving the weight of his desire to serve, hearing where he had erred, I came also into my own pain. How often do I desire to do well, but receive the reasons for this desire from my own fear of amounting to anything at all, rather from that perfect whisper, that pristine call to only following? And when I feel the weight to determine myself, do I turn to confession, do I despair? 

From Julien Baker, an artist who recently graced Calvin with such lamentation and confession:

But I think there’s a God and he hears either way when I rejoice and complain
Lift my voice that I was made
And somebody’s listening at night with the ghosts of my friends when I pray
Asking ‘Why did you let them leave and then make me stay?’
Know my name and all of my hideous mistakes
But I rejoice. I rejoice. I rejoice. I rejoice.
— Julien Baker, "Rejoice"
At the end of everything, there is always a cat in the art gallery. 

At the end of everything, there is always a cat in the art gallery. 

a study in studying

A new semester brings opportunity to become reacquainted with something I've come to call the study nest. A study nest has a few defining traits. First, it must have everything needed for study within easy reach and support those materials with room to spare. Second, it must meet the aesthetic needs of the person using the space (we are visual creatures, after all). Finally, it must be an expression of personality.

I found a few of my friends' favorite study spots and interviewed them to discover what they need of a prime study nest.

First, a typical setup. If you come to live here, you'll see these in spades. This study nest clearly has near everything imaginable within reach: craft supplies, notebook tabs, markers, paperclips, spare pencils and paper round out the at-hand necessities. Also notable: Ethernet, a technology I thought surely outdated, here makes an appearance. Though I thought he was crazy to take the time he did to set up a hard connection to the internet, it has proved a valuable gift to him in times of WiFi sketchiness (a fairly frequent event, what with so much Netflix on the weekends). When I interviewed the owner of this particular set-up, he said that the brightness of the space helped him combat any sense of sleepiness, even when accomplishing the most demanding of assignments. The combination of fluorescent and halogen bulbs helps provide a rich, focus-creating color palette, sure to flatten out the most aggressive circadian rhythm.

Simple, utilitarian, clearly used frequently. Note the stuffed animals for emotional support.

Simple, utilitarian, clearly used frequently. Note the stuffed animals for emotional support.

To illustrate an extreme, I sourced the floor's resident stand-up study-nester. This unorthodox approach has some unique benefits. By standing, the body's metabolism rarely comes to full-rest, helping to stave off lethargy. Further, without the added thermal efficiency provided through sitting, the stander is more sensitive to ambient temperature: in the outer lobby, where this photo was taken, people traveling to-and-fro bring with them the cold of the outdoors, as well as the warmth of the inner lobby, creating variation suitable for staving off ever-lovely, ever-seductive sleep. Finally, her location near our (admittedly bedraggled) floor sign gives her an artistic reminder of the noble call she upholds: the intellectual wealth and vitality of our floor. With such a sense of floor-ism, who could be deterred from study?

The blazing lights overhead lend a sense of celestial presence – or I egregiously overexposed. Also, note the plant life reminding growth in the barren desert of formica, metal and wooden surfaces.

The blazing lights overhead lend a sense of celestial presence – or I egregiously overexposed. Also, note the plant life reminding growth in the barren desert of formica, metal and wooden surfaces.

Lighting, it seems, is a highly common theme from nest to nest. Nigh everyone I asked claimed some kind of special illumination for their space, something I found vaguely poetic as we study in order to illumine our minds. Commenting on this topic, one of my suitemates said without his Christmas lights, he would be lost. Their soft, ambient light and pointed individuality calms him as he goes about the troubling work of economics and business. At the mere suggestion of stress, he simply gazes upward to their (perhaps even twinkling?) majesty, to find himself soothed. The stringy constellation of dangling bulbs lofts the mind, excelsior. 

Over and underexposure were a theme for these shots. My iPhone strained at the night, came up dry, yet clearly seen: the lights on high. 

Over and underexposure were a theme for these shots. My iPhone strained at the night, came up dry, yet clearly seen: the lights on high. 

Finally, I want to talk of details. Details in an otherwise complex interrelation of cables, books, writing utensils, loose change, keys, hats, generic decongestants (cold season!) and sometimes laptops can save the day for the mind. With a thing here or there visually interesting enough to provide relief from the miasma of useless visual information, that very vital thing — a sense of importance, history and tradition — is restored. For this, I present objects from my own desk. Though these may seem to be clutter, I assure you, it's intentional. No, truly, I am not a messy person, I just can't bear to not see all of my things at every moment of every day.

Each object has a history, and as I reflect on how they came to be, I find the energy I need for whatever it may be that needs attention.

I do drink out of a beaker. I also can't bear to type with my watch on. I am fickle. 

I do drink out of a beaker. I also can't bear to type with my watch on. I am fickle. 

So what we've accomplished here is a brief depiction of the study-nesting habits of students at Calvin. As I excitedly move into a semester rife with translation, dissection, careful reading and numerous papers, I am finding the spaces in which I work even more important than before. Writing this helped me understand a little better what's what — hopefully it will do the same for you!

a marvelous winter

Before I show you a rarity encountered, I desire you to detach from common themes of wintertide feeling. 

The somewhat bleak prelude to a truly marvelous nature preserve. 

The somewhat bleak prelude to a truly marvelous nature preserve. 

First, divest yourself of the idea of inconvenience: there is only opportunity. Each of us understands the embittering cold through tacit intelligence provided in fingers gloved and feet booted, but some add on to the truly simple binaries of winter (warm and cold, dark and light) ideas of personal affront: the contempt of nature against us each as individuals. Though not a season of suitability for growth, winter affords a long gaze into the components most human. Even in the age of the Moderns, we are given an opportunity to re-experience necessity in each movement between buildings as frigid air outlines lungs, ice troubles balance. 

Second, the fruits of harvest are most evident when they’re relied upon to the exclusion of nearly all else. Though we’re largely separated from the experience of natural rhythm in our amenity-rich lives (a blessing, make no mistake!), the opportunity to recognize even that we bear more easily the gelid when we remember the summer is one which restores a truly Christian understanding. For, we do truly understand our own lives in light of eventual restoration and redemption: likewise, winter affords trial, trial more easily traversed in view of eventual peace. 

Third, though when viewed in the frame of warmth we do await spring’s redemption and summer’s fulfillment, let’s not forget winter is a window into true quiet and rest. Acoustics of a world lined in concrete, resounding in friction, controlled explosion, and ambient whirr really only change when they meet adequate damping: the wooly perfection of sparkling snow. This anechoic coat lets itself over everything, delivering us of the soft tyranny of constant noise. I find myself uncomfortable when I allow myself outside to pause: the crunch of snow beneath my feet no longer gives the illusion — instead silence abounds.

At the instant I discover that moment when it is a delight, hope, and rest to know winter however it may manifest, there is marvel. Truly, we dwell among wonders. Here are some scenes just before the first true snowstorm of the season. These mark not only transition, but transience as the natural world shifts in response, only changing always. I savor routine walks at Calvin, because sometimes I catch these delightful moments of rare beauty.

the best part of returning

Break was magnificent, truly. The opportunity to read, rest and enjoy the holidays in post-exam weariness was well-needed. Though good, and a worthy use of time, I found myself wondering toward the end: Just how long until I can return? 

It turns out that the sound of people going to-and-fro in the halls leaves an imprint on your mind. At any given moment, it’s easy to hear the sound of laughter and conversation from one of the surrounding rooms and lobbies. In these short January days, a warm, yellow glow from the buildings suggests motion and vitality. Sojourns outdoors are brisk and wet, so some bravery is required — but the reward is a landscape showing signs of the season. Overall, the familiar rhythms of Calvin became something so integral to how I viewed myself that to not daily be outdoors, have no classes, and little by way of constant community left a distinct sensation of silence. For reflection, silence is perfect, but I found a hunger for return. 

This is, after all, the place I work and rest. It’s also the place I eat. 

These are my lovely people! 

These are my lovely people! 

I love the expectation of community. To be able to know that one will come in contact with dearly-held friends adds a concrete point of reference to the day, giving energy and hope no matter the challenges faced. At Calvin, I’ve been blessed by floor dinners. 3rd vR has truly made a point of always coming together each evening to eat and enjoy conversation. It’s one of my favorite parts of Calvin, one that I missed during break. 

At this point in the academic calendar, we’ve just completed the first week of Interim. Everyone has come back from all the various parts of the world they’ve been scattered, and after a brief interlude it’s off to a somewhat gentle re-acclimation. Classes return, the January Series (another favorite part of Calvin!) is in full swing, but I gotta tell you. 

I love dinners with my floor. For all the rhythms and steady parts of life here, the one I have most enjoyed in return is dining with the attentive, funny, joyous honors living-learning community.