Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Saint Gelasius, a few blocks south of the Midway (and the location of the neighborhood food pantry), is no longer about to be closed. Intead, the Institute of Christ the King is preparing the building for the Tridentine Mass. Neat, though neither Alice nor I will be in Hyde Park when it's done three years from now.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Happy Feast of the Nativity!

Again, all of you are in my prayers. I've been blessed to know an abundance of good and interesting people, most of whom I don't spend nearly enough time with.

Christmas morning was just fine (Katie: "Wow Pat, they got you all that new luggage– they must be ready for you to leave now!"). Now we're preparing to leave for Jill and Larry's, where at least three pies and many cousins await us.

Applications:

NSF Fellowship
DOD Fellowship
Princeton
MIT
UCLA
Berkeley

Minnesota
Michigan
Wisconsin
Texas


Finally reorganized that blasted Personal Statement, though I may reevaluate it before using it on Princeton. However, this marks a milestone: the first time Patrick has finished an application by himself on a day previous to the deadline!

Merry Christmas. May we know this day what makes for peace.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Vigil Mass -- The Nativity of the Lord
Readings:
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29
Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
Matthew 1:1-25

This Gospel is about a failure.

I can't let my nice, clean Nativity set fool me. Joseph and Mary were nobodies, lost in a backwater town that the one had left as a child and the other had never seen. The animals in the stable stunk like farm animals do today, if not worse. The shepherds were filthy after wandering with their flocks for weeks. The Magi were out of the picture: still sitting comfortably at home in Persia, just beginning to see that new star. The scene at Bethlehem resembled a group of refugees far more than it did a Christmas special.

The first two readings speak of light, freedom, glory, and joy. But the most striking thing about the Gospel is colossal, embarrassing failure. This is about a failure, one like the failures in my own life.

This is failure. This is my great plan that never actually happened. This is the test I honestly studied for, and still screwed up completely. This is the football that slipped through my hands with everyone watching. This is the prayer that was never answered. This is the argument I won, only to lose a friend. This is the rejection letter from the school of my dreams. This is the birthday when nobody came to my party. This is the breakup of the relationship I poured my heart into. This is the fear I feel when someone brings up religion, the fear that someone will mock me for taking God seriously. This is the advice I gave my best friend, only to watch them ignore me and see them get hurt. This is the idea I had but could never explain to anyone else without confusing them. This is watching the person who has everything, and seeing them get still more than me. This is the day I let down someone I care for, as much as I tried to deserve their trust. This is the laughter around me when I've just made a mistake. This is the realization that I probably won't ever be as successful as I've always dreamed. This is my attempt to be a better person, when I end up acting stupid and selfish again- just the way I always do.

This is Joseph, who finds out he's too poor and too late to stay at the inn, so he has to lead the woman he loves to a disgusting stable. She's giving birth and Joseph can't afford a midwife, can't wrap the newborn child in a proper robe. Joseph wanted all the best things for this baby, the child whom an angel told him to protect; but he has nothing to offer for the Son of God at His most vulnerable moment. Joseph is ashamed.

This is Mary, who heard the gossip for nine months: that she was crazy, or a liar, or worse. Mary knows that it is the Messiah who has to lie in this feeding trough. She has prayed to be ready for this day, and yet her hour comes at the worst time- far from home, with only Joseph to be near her, in this putrid stable. God seems to be mocking her.

This is the one whom Isaiah calls "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace," born into humiliating poverty. This is the man whom, in today's Psalm, all nations and all creation shall one day praise, now seen only by a few unwashed and bewildered shepherds. This is "our great God and savior Jesus Christ" as described by Paul, unnoticed in a dirty shed in a small town in a conquered nation of no account. And this is how Christ Himself chose to enter our world- through failure.

God freely revealed himself in the ultimate failure, and it is because of this that He is with me in my failures. If I only ask Him, He takes me beyond my fears. When I stop asking Him that I not fail, and start asking what He wants of me- failures or not- then He can do miracles in my life. I don't have the strength to try when I think it's futile, but He does. He moves me to apologize to my dad when I don't think it will do any good. He moves me to write that next paper, when I did so badly on the last one. He moves me to talk to someone new, when I'm sure they all think I'm a loser. He moves me to go to Confession, when I'm embarrassed I have all the same sins I confessed the last time. He moves me to do what is right, when I don't want to do it any more. And with Him, suddenly my failures are not the end- they are not as terrible as they seemed in my mind. My nearness to Him is stronger than my fear, and I am free of the power of failure.

And this is the great mystery of Christmas- that there is joy in that failure 2000 years ago, and that there is even joy in our failures. For in our failures we can most discern that God is near to us in our suffering. And the only failure more colossal than the squalid and unheralded birth of Christ was the monstrous folly that was to happen, thirty years later, on Calvary.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Nothing to Say, but It's Okay

Still rewriting that personal statement. It's tough to convey my "sincerity, motivation and expectations" about pursuing graduate mathematics. Okay, I know it's tough for everyone. I'm over it.

Christmas Eve, I'll post the reflection I wrote on the Midnight Mass readings. I was assigned to write it for teenagers as well as adults, so it's not an intellectual piece. I do like it, though, and I think that what I wrote is true (otherwise, why would I have written it?).

Friday, December 17, 2004

Shedding All Pretence of Being An Intellectual Blog

I almost never have (or, rather, I almost never remember having) the standard sorts of dreams: falling from a great height, being unprepared for the big test, flying, etc. However, this morning I awoke from a very realistic dream of finding myself naked on the University of Chicago campus, running through Eckhart (the math building) trying to find my clothes, and realizing that my dorm was a good mile away.

Actually, it wasn't the standard naked dream. After all, I wasn't totally nude; I was carrying a large pair of scissors.

These allowed me some modesty; I held them in front of myself as I desperately searched for clothing. More importantly, the scissors enabled me to break the tension with all the people staring at me.

"Don't look; I'm running with scissors!"

In my dreams, people laugh at my jokes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The geometry of innocent flesh on the bone/
Causes Galileo's math book to get thrown/
At Delilah, who's sitting worthlessly alone/
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter...


We have a Christmas wreath on our front door. Recently, a pair of birds (sparrows or wrens, perhaps) have taken up residence there. Only problem: the door opens inward, so a door opened too quickly results in a very confused small brown bird swooping wildly through the corridors of the house. This happened yesterday evening, as I was sitting in the family room with Alice.

As the strong, unflappable man I am, I decided immediately that the best course of action was to run around madly, ducking and confidently shrieking "BIRD! BIRD!! BIRRRDDD!!!"*

The bird eventually found its way out at about the speed of an unladen swallow, and Alice had yet another laugh with the rest of my family.

In other news, it was wonderful to have Alice here for my birthday. My family, Alice and Cory came with me to dinner at a Mediterranean restaraunt/winery, where I sampled with my dinner three short glasses of different white wines. Quite a nice experience, though I'm sure I'll forget which one was the Sauvignon. Everyone got along fabulously, as I knew they would.

Alice did me the great favor of reading to me some of G. K. Chesterton's Club of Queer Trades stories. I'm glad to say I finally appreciated his sense of humor (neither The Napoleon of Notting Hill nor his biography of Thomas Aquinas had impressed me much) and am eager to get into the Father Brown mysteries.

I think I may not have made the A in Graduate Analysis. This is bad, and not just a whine, for two reasons:
(1) The grading policy has been stated as such: "If you know something, you will get an A. If you do not know something, you will get a B."
(2) If I get a B, PS2 won't allow me to take the second quarter.

Oh well. As consolation, I found out today that my Math GRE in November went well enough not to disqualify me.

Applications:

NSF Fellowship
DOD Fellowship
Princeton
MIT
UCLA
Berkeley

Minnesota
Michigan
Wisconsin
Texas


Yeeargh. Why is it that I can't get motivated to write an application essay before the day I must send it in? The West Coast schools were due today, and the parts that had to be mailed were sent out with only 15 minutes to spare before the Post Office was to close. I'm going to spend tomorrow working on MIT, which is due around New Year's Day. Maybe then I won't wait till the deadline.

*The passage was altered slightly after original posting. Others' memories are better than mine, and I was duly corrected on the facts of my heroic response.

Monday, December 13, 2004

VIGINTI UNUS

Now with Santa Lucia buns!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Socrates' Daimon, Begone!

For the prophetic voice of the daemon, which opposed me in the most trifling affairs, if I was about to act in any thing improperly, prior to this, I was continually accustomed to hear...

So last night, I was writing my paper for History of Philosophy on the Stoic doctrine of lekta or "things said", which are the fourth kind of incorporeal (all things are either bodies, or time, or place, or void, or lekta). I had a thesis– that the lekta were invariant under rewording, and actually expressed certain relations rather than simply describing them. It was a good thesis. It would have made a nice paper.

But then I got stuck. For hours. On the first page.

I was just incapable of writing the paper. Then, at about 11 PM yesterday (the paper was due at noon today), I had the realization that my thesis was wrong. It was Socrates' daimon preventing me from writing anything false. Nice. Except that meant I couldn't bring myself to BS a paper with an incorrect thesis.

So I changed my thesis and wrote a poor but correct paper. I'm worried that I would have done better writing a paper that was wrong but at least carefully written out. Aargh.

Yes, I know that this grade doesn't really matter, but I wanted to write a good paper because I liked the class. Maybe over break I'll write a better one. But I'm lazy.

And I'm tired now. Five hours of sleep is worse than four. Don't ask me why, because I have a theory and it will bore you.

Oral final in Graduate Analysis coming up in 23 hours.

But hey, I'll be home at the end of the week, Alice is coming to Saint Charles again, and it will be my birthday on Monday. So it's all OK.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Applications:

NSF Fellowship
DOD Fellowship
Princeton
MIT
UCLA
Berkeley
Minnesota
Michigan
Wisconsin
Texas


I thought the NSF was due December 7 and DOD January 2. Alas, it was December 2 and January 7. I've written four essays today- two personal statements, a description of research and a plan of future research- all for that application. I like the one I wrote about mathematical intuition as a sixth sense. I think I like it. I'm tired.

P.S. Thanksgiving was great. I should blog about it sometime. I brought Alice home with me. Alice, you should at least mention the Art Museum on your blog. If not the cookie fiasco.