Labor and Automation

I’ve been reading up on changes in labor and automation lately, and am pretty interested to see where this is all heading in the next couple of decades. After leaving Peace Corps and having some difficult work experiences, I realized how very ignorant I am about what kinds of work people do outside of education and food service.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good source for a general answer: “what are people doing right now?” “What will we be doing 5 years from now if the changes that have been happening for the past 10 years continue in a similar direction, and at a similar rate?” It is, as expected, full of lots of statistics on what kinds of things large segments of the population do. It’s not super helpful for spotting trends and attitudes, however, or asking why so many people seem to be angry and scared of those trends.

Huffington Post has, somewhat oddly, curated a collection of testimonials by lower income workers on how hard their lives are, starting with Linda Tirado, who caused a bit of a stir a few years ago with her article on “why poor people make bad decisions,” which are explicable enough when unhappy and exhausted. Ms Tirado’s impoverished persona might make a good Dostoyevsky character. “Cooking attracts roaches. Nobody realizes that. I’ve spent a lot of hours impaling roach bodies and leaving them out on toothpick pikes to discourage others from entering. It doesn’t work, but is amusing.” I imagine her sitting there in a rather dingy little apartment she doesn’t want to become too attached to, in case she’s evicted sometime, trying to study something at one am after putting her kids to bed, running on three hours of sleep, caffeine and nicotine, impairing those roaches. Why the heck not? If you’re tired and giddy enough, impairing roaches with toothpicks can seem more achievable than cleaning the kitchen.

The comments sections of these stories are filled with a predictable collection of opinions about how fast food work is most suited to teens looking for a first job and some references, not middle aged parents trying to support a family: why can’t those people get better jobs? They’re filled with angry proletariate feeling misunderstood and judged, defending their career and consumer decisions, while others continue to judge them.

Another group of articles argues “low skill” is a misnomer — cashiers, waitresses, and baristas do in fact have skills. It’s not clear who said they don’t, but people argue passionately and indignantly those people are wrong. They have skills, and those skills should be valued more highly. They aren’t valued because of corporate greed and wealthy middle aged white men, who don’t appreciate how hard their employees and servers work.  They can be interesting to read and well written, impassioned articles, but not very convincing. I don’t actually think anyone is saying people in those jobs don’t have skills — just that they have skills that can be learned by almost anyone, and are therefore not very highly valued. A great cashier will only earn their company a tiny bit more than an average cashier, and bad cashers are easy to replace.

Writers who are more interested in large scale economics provide a welcome relief from the tumult of accusations. The market is mostly just doing what it does, but faster, because of increasing automation, they explain, neutrally. If it didn’t, the problems would be even larger and more entrenched, as happens in communist countries. Those jobs at Burger King and Walmart are low wage because they can be done by almost anyone, driving wages down. There’s an enormous supply of people who can do that work, and only a moderate demand that’s falling as self-checkouts and robots replace workers. That pressure to find a different kind of work is a feature, not a bug. If people want to go to a local cafe that charges more but employs humans at decent wages, they should do that. People are being pressed out of clerical positions as well, since computers do a bunch of the work they used to have to do. It’s how free markets get people allocated to the most effective positions. But, yeah, sometimes it’s painful for the person. That’s what social services are for, but they tend to be buggy and demeaning, and need to be updated. It’s a bad idea, for instance, to structure cut-offs for services in such a way that earning a little money is economically worse than earning no money at all, and that apparently happens sometimes.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which revolves around one group of people arguing that it’s hard to live on the current minimum wage, and so more is needed. Others argue it would simply price the lowest skilled workers out of the market altogether, raising unemployment substantially. Some suppose they’ll be locked out of the most common jobs by technology in a decade or so anyway (for instance, if the transportation industry automates), but why rush things? Might as well spend that decade figuring out what to do next, rather than being unemployed on the currently rather poor set of public services (at least relative to the more robust services of Scandinavia).


Back Home

For those of you who don’t know, I’m back in Santa Fe, with my beloved community here. So, first, something fun: my friend Valerie is organizing an Orthodox Young Professional Retreat in Santa Fe October 16 – 18. If two or more of those descriptors apply to you, you want to hear some great Orthodox speakers, and would like to spend time with some great people in beautiful Santa Fe, join us!

Meanwhile, Kosovo and I had a falling out. Maybe I’ll write more about it sometime, but not right now. I don’t regret going there and serving as a volunteer for a year; I learned interesting stuff, had some good relationships, and I hope was a good influence on some of my students. If you do want to know some details of what happened, please send me an email.

The blues are always vamping

Spring is beginning to creep in, slowly, with some setbacks. I spent several days wandering through grassy fields, picking little yellow flowers, and sat on a hillside with sunlight on my bare shoulders. I keep meaning to actually learn the songs I like to sing, but haven’t managed yet. Leaf buds are starting to form on the ends of branches.

Since then we’ve had a week of late winter snow, which is pretty, but wearing out its welcome. It’s still not very cold, so I went for a hike in it, and it was magical. Then I went down to Prizren for a Teacher’s Day celebration, with an awards ceremony and student dance groups at a theater, followed by lunch with the other teachers from my school. Last Saturday I went to Ferizaj to visit a friend, and cafe hopped because it was too slushy to go anywhere else. I didn’t even go into town last Sunday for St Gregory Palamas and Shqip tutoring.

Today was a holiday, “Summer’s Day,” in the Sharr mountain region. The kids decorated eggs, and I joined my neighbors for a walk and little picnic on a hill. They sang, made a rope swing, ate sweets and snacks, and rolled the eggs up and down to one another three times before eating them. Because everything needs to be done in threes, even in muslim villages. It was chilly, but fun. They were going to just leave all their trash sitting around on the hillside, so I brought it back. On the way back half a dozen people told me to just throw it down into the trees by the road or someone’s field, but m host sister stood up for the reasonableness of not littering.

A few nights ago I finished reading Jane Eyre (spoilers follow). It is, of course, romantic, gothic, and deservedly a classic. What struck me most, though, is the narrator’s capacity for judging the character and abilities of those she lives with. She, like Jane Austen, is quite pilling to categorize people based on education, breeding, tastes, convictions, and general fineness of feeling, whatever that entails. For instance, Jane says of her pupil, Adele, “She had no great talents, no marked traits of character, no peculiar development of feeling or taste which raised her one inch above the ordinary level of childhood; but neither had she any deficiency or vice which sunk her below it. She made reasonable progress, entertained for me a vivacious, though perhaps not very profound, affection; and by her simplicity, gay prattle, and efforts to please, inspired me, in return, with a degree of attachment sufficient to make us both content in each other’s society.” She realizes that it sounds like a very cool description of her sole charge, and seeks to defend herself by saying that she’s just giving a just account. Later: “other members of the household, viz., John and his wife, Leah the housemaid, and Sophie the French nurse, were decent people; but in no respect remarkable; with Sophie I used to talk French, and sometimes asked her questions about her native country; but she was not of a descriptive or narrative turn, and generally gave such vapid and confused answers as were calculated rather to check than encourage enquiry.” She is fairly harsh to Mr Rochester’s house guests as well, saying of one of the young ladies, for instance, that “Mary was deficient in life: her face lacked expression, her eye lustre; she had nothing to say, and having once taken a seat, remained fixed like a statue in its niche.” Then, of that lady’s sister, that she was “showy, but she was not genuine: she had a fine person, many brilliant attainments; but her mind was poor, her heart barren by nature: nothing bloomed spontaneously on that soil; no unforced natural fruit delighted by its freshness.” Of another guest she finds that “his features were regular, but too relaxed: his eye was large and well cut, but the life looking out of it was a tame, vacant life.” Mr Rochester trivializes people, especially his former lovers, in a similar way.

Meanwhile, several of the people she really does like, including Mr Rochester and Mr. St. John, strike me as being at least problematic, if not downright bad people, despite Jane’s insistence that the first is amazing (of course, she’s in love), and that the latter is a good man. Mr Rochester basically stalks her in her own house (watching her without her knowledge of his interest for months), manipulates her into jealousy and toys with another woman in the process, denigrates his former lovers, flaunts his more powerful position, and lies. When his crazy wife invades her room in the middle of the night and rends her wedding veil, he suggests that Jane is hallucinating, and never properly apologizes. She trusts him so little she chooses to risk death by exposure wandering alone and friendless on the moors, rather than simply ask him to recommend her for another position. Secrecy is more important to her than either her physical needs, or her dignity as a respectable teacher. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a healthy relationship. Run Jane! But do bring more food with you. And don’t come back just because his folly has led him even deeper into misery.

But instead the book blames his misery on his wife, who is insane, despised by her husband, brought half way across the world, and locked away in a single suite of rooms for a decade. No, Rochester, your misery is your own: you should not need a bright, innocent girl less than half your age to save you.

As for St John, Jane calls him a good man too often, as though she’s trying to convince herself and her readers, but tells nothing of his goodness other than an avowably ego driven decision to become a missionary in India. He is cold, harsh, has no respect for other people’s feelings or inclinations, and finally tried to talk Jane into marrying him despite not loving her, nor she him. He is manipulative and demanding to someone who considers herself in his debt but has already refused him several times, and his cold furies and threats of hell fire suggest that if he did marry her he would not only be demanding and unloving, but what modern women would consider “emotionally abusive.” He’s intelligent, hard working, and persevering, but he is not a good man.

Jane Eyre is a good book, but I don’t necessarily trust Jane’s judgement. For all her principles, she seems too infatuated with brilliance, passion, and suffering, and judges those who do not share her tastes as dull and shallow.

I also finally finished reading Notes From Underground. While Jane’s dubious judgement is offset by her morality, self respect and orderly, industrious way of life, the Underground narrator possesses no such virtue. He sits in his mouse hole fuming and raging; intelligent and well read, but crushed by what the Church Fathers would call “fansasia” and “logismoi” — sick, nearly crazy daydreams and restlessly spiteful thoughts. He uses the “sublime and beautiful” only as a balm for his imagination, while hating the real human beings out in the real world. He has never fit in with them, and show their indifference by walking straight on while he scurries around them. They, like Mr Rochester’s guests, care very little for teasing out the inner workings of another’s mind, nor for the “sublime and beautiful.” Of course, the narrator shows them nothing worth teasing out, except once, toward a prostitute he has already bedded, and then he regrets it, and shortly despises both her and his own compassion. He’s also a good example of the saying “as you judge others, so too will you be judged” — not only by the world, but even by his own sick conscience.

Dostoyevsky is a brilliant psychological writer, and, extreme as he is, the underground world is still closer to mine than Bronte’s: the crazy miserable person is not locked up out of sight in the attic, but is a colleague, a family member, an inner demon — calling out, clamming up, cutting capers, demanding sympathy and then despising that sympathy.

Having consumed my entire life in procrastination…

My 9th grade class

My 9th grade class

We’ve been at site for 6 months today. Lent starts Sunday.

Kosova is very seasonal, especially in the villages, and we’re all waiting out winter. The weather keeps taunting us with spring, but doesn’t actually thaw anything. The snow thats been sitting in the shadows for the past two weeks. The unheated bedrooms. The blocked water pipes, which we forgot to leave running a few days ago.

Reports of pre-industrial Europe are basically Game of Thrones without the dragons. While the warrior class killed one another, peasants hibernated through the winter, sleeping together under heaps of blankets on floor pads, and eating pickled cabbage and stale bread. Not much happened in the winter. Ladies might spin, knit, and bake. Men might drink hot ale and fight. Post-industrial Europe is still like that is in poor rural areas, only with electricity, running water, and television. So much television. And much less spinning. Only the machines spin, which is convenient, but also something of an impoverishment. When I made a seasonal schedule back in pre-service training, January and February had “school” and a picture of a cup of macchiato. That was it. In villages without cafes, there aren’t even macchiatos.

When I went to one of the big tourist cafes downtown, I was surprised and perplexed to encounter a colony of rabbits, hopping about under the tables and in the planters. They were a sorry lot, all damp, greasy, probably living off of leftovers too rich for them, kicked and dropped, held by their ears and given to clumsy children. Still, there they were, coming up to and under tables, foraging for treats. I had just bought some oatmeal, which was tucked into my bag, and at one point there were ten little bunnies nosing the bag to see if there was anything for them. I tried asking the waiter, but he either didn’t hear, or chose not to. So it remains a mystery. Last time I was at the restaurant, drinking a macchiato and writing, the waiter traded pens with me because he liked the translucent blue on my credit union pen, and has a whole collection of pens at home.

Today our school had a little three dog circus, where the showman juggled (rather poorly), and got the dogs to jump through hoops, roll cylinders, ride a tricycle, walk on their hind legs, and jump over or push children and one another around.

Last Sunday was the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and it was pretty festive. There was a choir and some others visiting from Belgrade, singing beautiful Slavic harmonies during Liturgy. The church was a little heated, and my feet didn’t go numb, even though we were in the spacious cathedral. The bishop of Prizren was there for the first time since I’ve been going. Afterwards, we all went to the giant new guesthouse at the old Archangels Monastery just outside of town, and had a festive meal featuring, among other things, wine, rakia, and pork. The choir sang hymns, and some of the boys played folk songs on accordion, drums, and violin, and people danced in the isle. They found me an air traffic controller to sit across from and speak English with. It was lovely.

We had another Peace Corps training last week. It was nice to see the other volunteers, but I otherwise didn’t get what I had hoped out of it.

Social life is hard. Not so much in the cities. There we can have mixed groups of Americans and Albanians, sometimes Serbians, speaking mostly in English, with some Shqip mixed in. It’s hard in the village, where every visit is an inter-generational house visit, entirely in Shqip. The most unexpectedly difficult thing about social interaction is how difficult it is to even want to hang out with people when the TV is on all the time. And it’s on pretty much all the time, in every house I’ve been in.

After several years of meaning to, I finally finished reading The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemingway. Mostly it just made me even more tired and apathetic than I already was. Outside the context of the communities in which they are celebrated, fiestas and cafe hopping are, as it turns out, much less interesting than one would hope. Meet some people, get drunk with some other people, get in a fight, make a short term friend, drink some more, make some poor relationship decisions, drink a lot more, run out of money, pretend like you haven’t. There’s so little context for any of what’s happening, aside from the fact that none of it matters very much. I can’t imagine from what context this book would be a good one. If you’re already living this cycle of superficial friendship out, it’s depressingly familiar, and if not, it’s a rather dull story about directionless people.

At the recommendation of a friend, I also read Foreign to Familiar, a short book about the general distinctions between “hot climate” and “cold climate” cultures, terms which are a little misleading, since Northern tribes are “hot climate,” whereas large cities anywhere tend to be more “cold climate,” regardless of the climate they live in. It’s pretty good for what it is, though not so revelatory as the author sometimes makes it out to be. It covers some of the basics: in some cultures politeness might require you to defer a few times on invitations, while in others you won’t be asked a second time. In some cultures you’re expected to get right to work on projects or meetings, and in others you’re expected to socialize and create positive feelings first. In some, you should get to events right on time, where in others, you should start getting ready at the announced time. The relational/time flexible values tend to clump together in “hot climate” cultures, whereas the task oriented/time specific values tend to clump together on “cold climate” cultures. It’s a good generalized guide to some of the different cultural styles in the world.

If you’re wondering about the post title, it’s from the lovely Triodion hymn, Open to me the doors of repentance.

Reading the Internet

We have a lot of time in the winter for reading, crafting, and generally being homebodies. I spend a lot of that time reading articles online, and do not approve of my reading choices most of the time. I’m only on page 20 of Jane Eyre, page 0 of Plaku dhe Deti, but probably page 2,800 of io9.

Also not on the reading list, but read anyway:

Lifehacker, because it’s somehow reassuring to know that someone, somewhere (probably in California) is getting up at 5 am to the soothing artificial sunlight of his alarm, practices some yoga, and reviews his super mindful daily activities with intentionality, while I poke my nose out from beneath my three blankets and wish I were in Africa.

Watchmen is arguably the best graphic novel ever produced, in its own weird, distressing way.

Darcy, a homeschool graduate, who’s family was heavily involved in some of the more problematic parts of conservative homeschooling culture, has some beautiful reflections on her experiences growing up, and eventually away from that sub-culture. I grew up somewhere between mainstream America and Darcy’s homeschooling “cohort,” and probably knew some girls like her. I remember some of the same things, but presented much more mildly. It’s interesting hearing her perspective as an “insider” on some of the stricter manifestations of gender essentialism, “clean romances” of dubious quality, practical but frumpy clothing, and so on. Moderately conservative Muslims may actually have better clothing options than many very conservative protestants, because their hijabs and long fitted coats are mostly pretty beautiful. I hope it’s presented that way to teenage girls, and not primarily as a defense against the lustfulness of men. Perhaps I have some of those girls in my classes even now, since I’m living in a conservative village where fewer than half the girls graduate from high school.

I was recently lured back to Donald Miller’s blog with an email and attractive e-booklet of things he has learned about living better these past few years. It was predictably mediocre. At one point he recounted an exchange with someone who “missed the old Don,” the one who wrote Blue Like Jazz. I’m assuming this was a reader, not a personal friend. Don used this to make some point about how change is good, and it’s good that things are better for him personally now than they were back then. Now he’s happily married, a successful businessman and conference organizer, has some employees, and so on. He seemed to think there was some contradiction there. There isn’t. He really was a better writer when he was less successful and more confused. He rocks naive confusion. Self help, not so much. Not that he’s exceptionally bad at self-help. That would almost (almost) be better, because at least it would give the reader something to latch onto. There are no latches in saying generic stuff like that it’s helpful to think of life as a story, people change throughout their lives, and if your friend is a bad influence, perhaps you oughtn’t spend so much time with that friend. I wish I could say his nicely maintained website and attractive PDF are fooling no one, but obviously people keep taking the bait even when we should know better.

Through some progression of links I ended up reading this, and enjoyed Glennon’s cheerleader attitude, and how she flirts with over cutsiness, while still remaining mostly fresh and charming. Perspecticles. Hehe. Her TEDx talk is also quite good in its way. And posts like this. She has a very distinct authorial voice. In fact, her writing is almost entirely voice. I can’t read or listen to her too much, or all her idiosyncrasies kind of overwhelm me (and I really don’t care very much how she’s raising her children, which is 2/3 of her posts). The most interesting thing about Glennon’s writing, for me, is getting a window into someone with a completely different temperament than I have, and what it might be like to go through life as a sensitive feeler. When I was a teen I would regularly go to Christian events where people were invited to get up in front of the group, and tell us what they were thinking, and — mostly — feeling. There were some little Glennons at most of them, with their tumultuous feelings, spiritual/emotional highs and lows, experiments with drugs, alcohol, and sex, tears, attention seeking, and whatever else. Because it’s not hard to find messages from both sides, while she was trying to pretend she felt less than she did, I was frustrated because I felt like I was supposed to be much more emotional than I was. I would have found her threatening, like her problems and feelings were this huge thing that was taking up all the emotional space, and I should become as small as possible to make room. There’s one point in the video where she’s talking about how in high school it seemed impossible to think about ancient Romans or geometry when it was so overwhelming just to make a friend or deal with feeling oily and vulnerable all the time. Meanwhile, I relied on those Romans and other dead white guys to provide something to talk about, so that I could try making some friends, with mixed success.

Speaking of people who absorb all the emotional energy they can, The Depressed Person is an excellent, insightful, and… depressing… essay by David Foster Wallace.

Winter Festivities

Winter is tough. We don’t have a cafe in town. Even if we did, only men go to the village cafes. So I can go into Prizren and meet an English speaking friend there, or I can stay in the village browsing the internet and feeling guilty for not being more social, scholarly, and industrious. It’s mostly been pretty cold and icy for the past month, but we had one gloriously sunny day last week, when everyone in Prizren walked about on the path by the river and basked in the sunlight at outdoor cafes.

Winter break was nice — I went to Kotor, Montenegro with some other volunteers, where we climbed up to a ruined fortress, walked along the sea, and explored the lovely little walled city. Montenegrins had nature on their side in building impregnable fortifications.

What I’ve been reading:

The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo, by Paula Bowlin Huntly (2003), is adapted from the author’s journals while she taught a private English course in Prishtina shortly after the end of the war in 1999. It keeps the format of dated journal entries, and is fine for what it is. She captures a lovely relationship with and appreciation of her students, and their gladness to finally have a teacher with time and desire to invest in their education to the best of her ability. Her descriptions of bleak, trash filled, bombed-out, yet lively, post-war Prishtina, and the contrasts between her privileged upper middle class American life, and life in a country in the midst of being rebuilt are also observant and sometimes poignant. At the same time, Hemingway Book Club didn’t resonate with me. It’s not Mrs. Huntly’s fault that I tend to feel ashamed and jealous in the face of educational gushing, or that her students look down on my students. But it does make this book not very helpful to me.

In Why Kosovo Still Matters (2011), British politician Denis MacShane draws on his experience as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with responsibility for the Balkans from 2001 to 2005. He is a lively, opinionated writer, who helped shape the actions that he describes on the part of the United Kingdom and NATO. At the same time, he’s so opinionated as to come across as an unreliable reporter, which is not helped by his conviction of fraud in 2012 and had to resign from Parliament.

Sworn Virgin (Elvira Dones, 2007; translated 2014). follows the story of Hana, who chose to become a man socially after the death of her closest family members, because it was unsafe and socially unacceptable to act as head of her household as a woman, and she didn’t want to get married and be a housewife. Fourteen years later, she moves to America to live with her cousin, and reclaim her female identity. Hana came of age during Enver Hoxha’s disastrous regime, and was a bright, interested student at the university of Tirana, when her uncle’s illness forced her to return to their small mountain village in Northern Albania. Dones bases Hana’s story on an old Albanian custom dictating that a woman can choose to “become a man” in the eyes of the community, dressing, smoking, and drinking with the men, and taking on male roles and responsibilities. There isn’t a place for a strong, single woman in village society, so everyone agrees to pretend she isn’t a woman at all. Life is lonely and difficult for Hana, but she doesn’t regret her choice. She does, however, want to go back to life as a woman (slowly) when she emigrates to America, and her cousin is there to guide her through that.

It was an interesting read, and brings up a lot of themes that are promising, but never satisfactorily explored. Dones is a solid writer, but not fantastic, and I was left wishing she had spent more time on descriptions of the tough, violent, pragmatic villagers, and less time on Hana removing her underwear and gazing at her female body in a mirror, or her odd, charged relationship with a man she met on the plane and then didn’t call for most of a year. I appreciate the way it handles gender inequity without being too preachy, along with providing some insights into the roughness of rural Albanian life will into the modern era. It would be a good book club book.


We had an In Service Training last week, and it may be my favorite educational IST of all time. Usually I’m vehemently anti teacher trainings. The thing they did right was to give us enough time to just talk about our experiences and compare notes without necessarily forcing them into the paradigm de jour. It certainly didn’t hurt that they put us up in a nice hotel with good food, either. It’s also easier to be charitable with presenters one already knows, and they had volunteers lead several of the sessions. There was a good “we’re all in this together” quality to it.

My father is right that when I try to go into details about educational things I’m usually no fun to read, talk to, or even be around. There’s something unpleasant that happens in taking a deeply ingrained, complex, implicit skill that’s bound up with personal identity, such as reading or writing, and making it explicit. It doesn’t happen so much with weaker skills like art or website making, unless it becomes completely overloaded with meaning, like my lesson plans did in college. In that case, it’s usually because I’m working at the edge of my own understanding, so that I can hardly communicate what I mean to anybody, in any form, and it completely disintegrates when I have to try hammering at it day after day, as one does in the classroom.

Language is a difficult subject to get a grip on, at least of me — both to learn and to teach. You’ve got some bit of text that’s easy to read and clear. For instance: “Tino Martinoli works every day at his father’s restaurant. He’s very friendly and smiles at all the customers. Tino’s friends often come and see him at the restaurant. They usually talk about sports. At the moment Tino is playing tennis with Jeta and he’s losing.” So you read it, try to understand it — the words, the grammar, the meaning of the whole. Then, if you’re me, you should probably write or say a little introduction to someone else, perhaps a friend or family member, with a similar structure, so you can rely on the patterns you just read, and also express something about yourself and those you know. But composition is its own skill, and needs a lot of time to teach. If I don’t have a strategy ready, or if I’m not willing to fight for that time and space, inertia will have us rolling through the chapter, altering tenses here, choosing pronouns there. There’s nothing wrong with any of that stuff. It’s just boring and a rather poor use of class time. Those are the exercises I skip when I’m studying Shqip, but we spend most of our class time on it. Because it’s easy to manage, and when you’re teaching 40 minute classes at 7 different grade levels easy is important. We can’t do anything that relies on me remembering and communicating a complex plan that changes from one class to the next.

I’m actually beginning to appreciate some of the things they teach in Education courses in the US, even if I haven’t managed to use many of them yet. Objectives, for instance. It’s all very well, if you know that everyone is a good reader, and will get something out of the text simply by running their eyes over the page, to go ahead and let things take their course — but if you’ve got limited time and words or grammar, if uncaught, will disappear into an irretrievable void, it’s better to have some idea what everyone’s supposed to know, and how you’re going to know that they know. Especially in language, where it’s extremely difficult to express what you know or don’t know out of context. Where the question isn’t so much what you know about your subject, as what you can express through it.

It’s been drizzling rain for the past two weeks, so it’s cloudy, misty, and dark all day, then the sun disappears behind the mountain at about 3:30. We have tinted windows, so even though school ends at noon, I haven’t been experiencing much in the way of visible daylight.

Decani monastery’s feast day was a couple of weeks ago, commemorating their founder, King Stefan, and I got to stay there for vigil and Liturgy. It’s one of the best known Serbian Orthodox monasteries, and they had around 1,000 visitors there to celebrate. I stayed in a gable room of the Patriarchate of Pec, about 45 minutes away, with some Serbian ladies. It’s also a very beautiful medieval monastery, with an interesting church layout, where three churches were built side by side, and later connected with a single narthex. Like Georgians, medieval Serbians built tall, solid stone churches, which means that many of the folks with no liturgical role end up standing behind a pillar for most of the service, getting jostled by people trying to get by. They are not so enthusiastic about mounds of little candles, though, which caught down on the milling and dodging somewhat.

A vigil is a combination of vespers, midnight hours, and matins, which in this case had an additional section where we all flowed into the (fortunately rather spacious) narthex to chant and await the Serbian patriarch for 20 minutes or so. It’s also a service where I stand behind a pillar for 3 hours looking at the feet of an unknown saint, listing to lovely and unintelligible chanting, and try to remember God. They’re beautiful, full of incense, candles, shadows, and mystery. They’re also difficult.