Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wisdom from Dallas Willard

"When we are alone, do we constantly recognize that God is present with us? Does our mind spontaneously return to God when not intensely occupied, as the needle of a compass turns to the North Pole?" Dallas Willard, Hearing God (p. 153)
In September, God brought to my attention that I was living with a very self-centered mindset. Selfishness is not something that I thought I struggled with. Pride, yes. Selfishness, not particularly. I give to people: time, gifts, energy. But I've been convicted: I am selfish. I live with the desire to fulfill my own wants and look out for my own rights, the compulsion to take care of myself first of all, the fear of risking my comfort and security. And that is not who God made me to be.

I am called to die to myself. What? Die? "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). I don't understand what that really means, but I understand that I'm not doing it now, and that God is at work to make it true in me. (Thank God I don't have to do it myself, because I can't!)

And so these questions from Dallas Willard are great, because they are the complement to the negative of "Don't be selfish." Here is the positive space: Be centered on God. Turn to Him as naturally as a compass needle turns north.

Fill me. "I am wholly Yours."

Friday, December 11, 2009

[Question 3: What are you doing to reduce the level of stress in your life?]

Listening to the little whispers that could be God guiding me in the right direction. Trying to yield to the nudges that tell me, "Contemplate this," "Read that later," "Sleep, not Facebook." Keeping my journal. Trying to eat right and pause beforehand to appreciate everything.

Praying to God about Who He is, not about what I want or worry about.

Feeling the wind as I walk home. It's frigid but it shouts to me that I'm alive, alive! As my face freezes, I am aware, suddenly, that I am wrapped in skin. I am living in this body and this physical existence is a gift. And yet I am more than this moment, more than this body. I am in God's hands, and that is the only peace that matters.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Crucified, Died, Buried, _____

Tonight was Intervarsity's last meeting of the semester, and we spent it in prayer and worship, which was definitely good. The leaders had good things to say about letting go of all the things that may come between us and God, and focusing on Him, and trusting Him. And of course, praising God always does my heart good. "How good and fitting it is to sing praises to God," we heard (Ps. 147). Amen.

But something later on confused and troubled me. The night was split into times B. titled "focus," "reflection," "worship" and "love." Focus and reflection were so on target. To start the worship section, B. read Phil. 2:9-11 and Isaiah 53: also good. But then B. launched into a graphic and painful description of the physical agony of the cross. The nails, the blood, the suffocation, the splints, the scourging. I began to feel sick.

I don't watch zombie movies or suspense movies, and I do not know if I will ever bring myself to watch "The Passion." There is a reason for this: I have a very low gore and distress tolerance. Granted, a 3 minute verbal description is nowhere near as intense as a 3 hour movie. But still, it's disturbing. And I was disturbed, partly on a gut level, that twisting sensation. But partly also because I felt bad that I was feeling sick hearing about the crucifixion, that I wanted to get up and leave, that I wanted him to stop talking about this, stop! This was the "real worship"? I had this interior debate--
"I don't want to hear about these details. I know them. It's not good to meditate on disturbing and wrong things."
"But what about the Good Friday service? That's all about the crucifixion."
"But... that's different."
"Is it?"
"I don't know! ...I don't want to hear this."
I didn't get up. I agonized in my seat and waited for B. to talk about the triumph at the end: that Christ suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried; but that on the third day he rose again! I waited for the good news.

But B. never got to that part. The entire "worship" section focused on the crucifixion with absolutely no mention of the resurrection.

Is it just me, or is that screwy somehow?

Moreover, B. only invited us to meditate on the physical suffering of Christ. But the physical suffering and death of the crucifixion were nothing special. Hundreds or maybe thousands of criminals experienced that torture. Christ's suffering is different because of its spiritual dimension: the devastation of being separated from the Father with Whom Christ had been in perfect union for all eternity.

And even more important, Christ's death matters because He was innocent. Unlike all the other people who experienced the nails, the whip, the blood, the cross, Christ did not deserve his punishment. He bore our punishment. "The chastisement for our peace fell on him. And by his stripes, we are healed." Our healing: that's the point of the cross. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, [...] if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things." The torment of cross was not good. But forgiveness and reconciliation to God certainly are! Think about these things--who Christ is, why He died, what His death accomplished.


Or am I just shrinking away from the pain of truly contemplating Christ's pain? Am I citing Phil. 4:8 just for my own ends, to block a difficult emotional encounter with God?

Or maybe it's both. I need to die to myself and be willing to experience emotional turmoil. I need to be willing to be in pain for the right reasons. But B. also should have placed the focus elsewhere. Most of all, B. shouldn't have left us at the cross, Christ's blood dripping on us as we stare in horror. He should have led us down from Calvary and taken us to the empty tomb, or to the closed room into which Jesus appeared, or to the road to Emmaeus--or back to Phil. 2:9-11. Christians are supposed to be a joyful people (not that we can't or shouldn't mourn, but that Jesus came "that your joy may be full") because we rejoice over God's triumph. God is the victor in any and every circumstance, and my mind should be fixed on Who God is, more than anything else.

What do you think about B.'s focus / message / section title? What would you say a Good Friday service is for?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

(De)Compression [Question: How does your personality change when you feel under pressure?]

[Another question from the Ten Thousand Questions blog.]

When I'm under pressure, I tend to shut out everything else and just get things done. I wake up and think immediately of the next task to accomplish. I stop getting enough sleep, I don't hang out with friends. I keep reading the Bible but I don't spend the time to really absorb, to really listen. I don't invest the time and energy it takes to seek the truth, whether via Scripture or simple reflection, prayer and a pen. I compress the tangled expanse of myself into a compact ball, and go bouncing from appointment to assignment to accomplishment. I ricochet off deadlines and collide with my body's needs. With my person crushed into a sphere, life is so much simpler.

Of course, it's not real life, either. With enough pressure, I begin to fall apart. After too many collisions, my compacted personality begins to unravel. I have to untangle myself. I tease out strands and lay them out carefully on the table, following each to its end and easing out all the pieces connected to each. Everything is crinkled and bent. Decompressing, unfolding, I smooth myself out and look for the patterns. . .

Monday, December 7, 2009


Scream to me, wave your hands. Grieve out loud about the injustice of it all. You apologize for being upset and I tell you: No, you should be upset. This is wrong. They are not being fair to you, they are wronging you. This is not the way the world is supposed to be.

Stand up and reach out for me. I'll wrap my arms around your thin body and hold you tight, as you cling to me, collapsing, bent. Your head is heavy on my shoulder. You shake in my arms, in this storm of sobs. I will hold you as long as you need. . . Come, sit with me.

Tell me. Tell me your sorrow, your dreads, the grief that stalks you even in the sunshine, the fury that throws you directions you don't mean to go. You end up on unfamiliar paths, unsure of your footing. I don't know where to turn, you say. I feel so stuck. All I can do is listen, twine my fingers through your hair and hold your hand. Lean on me, cry on me, hide your face in me: I'm here with you.

I want to say I'll always be here for you, but only God can do that.

And God, where are you in this? If your eye is on the sparrow, why does the sparrow fall in the first place? What good is it to be watched by your loving eye, if your hand doesn't reach out?

Dear one, cry, it's all right. Selfish? You? We all are, I suppose, but to rage or grieve over injustice and brokenness, over betrayal of someone you love, over betrayal by the ones who are supposed to keep you safe, that is not selfishness. Grieve. Let it go. . . Release the guilt, please. It's not your fault. You're not in the wrong.

I want to rescue you but only God can do that. But I can hold you and love you and whisper truth to you as God gives it to me, and that is enough. The best I can do is enough. The best you can do is enough, I tell you, and you cry some more. Eternity is in this moment, when we cling to each other. Touch is the most fundamental language, and I am telling you: It will be all right. I am with you. I will not abandon you. You are loved. I love you. (Is this enough?)

There is hope. But how can I make you see it?

I can't. Only God can do that. But I can love you, and that is enough. By the grace of God, we are both doing enough.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December Rain

The rain is very cold tonight, a chill that seeped through my coat and spread across my skin. The starless sky is weeping, I fear. But inside, the lights are on and the air is dry. Back from a concert that I fell asleep during; away from the cold and the rain and the dark; out of the mass of people: I finally stripped off my wet wool coat. My feet escaped from their black boots. I struggled out of a wet clothes and put on freshly laundered pajamas. The world seems so much friendlier, the dark so much less daunting, when I'm warm and dry. Is my soul so intimately tied to this body that I need those outer protections to find inner warmth? But I do have these material wrappings, and I can be grateful for them.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Not Pretending [Question 1: Today's New Experience]

So I randomly found this blog that gives you a question to reflect on every day, and today I actually felt like answering their question, which is:
Every day brings new challenges and new experiences. What is something that you did, yesterday or today, for the first time ever?
The short answer: For the first time, when feeling troubled about a romanticky relationship, I didn't pretend to the guy that everything was okay or try to make him feel better about where things are and the fact that I'm unsettled. I am letting uncomfortable, unwelcome feelings stay, and I'm not pretending to myself or him that they aren't still with me.

Of course, I need to work through them and really bring everything before God so His light can illuminate the dark corners and creases in my heart.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Avoidance Strategy

I never want to deal with the cup of pain. When I've taken a sip and recognized the sour taste, I put it down on the table straightaway. (Its bottom clanks against the solid wood. The collision shakes the table, just enough.) Instead of thinking about the nuances of its flavor, the way it flowed through my mouth, in the crevices of teeth and tongue; instead of tasting its residue and pondering the places this brew must have come from, the barrel it was brewed in; instead of remembering the micronutrients this cup contains, remembering that it's good for me: instead of pursuing any of those paths of thought, I launch myself into demanding, to the empty room, who gave me this. Who poured me this cup? How did it get into my hands? Why is there pain in my kitchen in the first place? Where did the bottle (if it came from a bottle) even come from?

I should know at least how the cup came into my hand, but mostly I don't ever remember that much. As in a dream, I simply look down at my hand and find it there.

Having set the glass down, I am loathe to pick it up. If I leave it on the table long enough, all the liquid will evaporate. The cup will be empty. (Nevermind the stains and stickiness that will remain inside.) I should drink this, drain this cup, I know.

And so I sit at the table, pondering, in the vacant room, staring into the cup, trying to see my reflection in the pain inside.

{Thanksgiving: not because I feel like it but because I should}

So many good things in my life, things I am grateful for. But everything good here holds a seed of complication. Does the seed sprout because my character waters it, nourishes it?

I hate that I am finally getting around to writing a complete (if brief) post only now that I am upset. But this is my confession, my record of where I am, my bare heart, turning toward the One Who made it. "Why are you so downcast, o my soul? I will yet praise Him, my Savior, my King."

So many good things in my life. Thank You, Lord, for sunshine, for safety, for fresh food, for garlic and green pepper and lentils and onions. Thank You for the crashing waves, the green and blue water roaring shoreward from so far away, the foam riding the muscles of the ocean. Thank you for the reflection of the sky on the wet sand, for the resplendent clouds mirrored on the earth, for the grit of silicon between my toes, for the stretch in my legs and in the arches of my feet as I walk along the beach. Thank You for my family walking beside me, for the joy we find in each other's company, for the love that binds us, for the plans you have for us, to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. Thank You for Your mercies, new every morning, for Your faithfulness when I am blown and tossed by the wind, tumbled by the waves.

Uproot the weeds in my heart. Wash me in Your water.

Let me praise You first. You are first and last in my life: be the first thought in my mind when I wake, the last before I slip into sleep; be the first shelter I run to, be the last home I return to; be Alpha and Omega, Creator and Judge; be Who You Are. The great I AM. You are God, and You are good, and You are more than enough.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"There's no place like home for the holidays"

It's that time again: time to go home. In 19 or 20 hours I'll be gathered back into my family's arms, where the sun sets over the ocean and dawn breaks over the mountains. I'll be back in the house that I know and don't know, back to the dog that is mine and not mine, the room that is full of my things, but only of things that I don't use these days. It's time to return to the familiar and find it changed, time to re-place myself and find my old self replaced by whoever I've become in the intervening months. Homecoming is a rediscovery every time. What will I find tomorrow?

When I walk through the door into my room, I'll be back where I was at the end of August. Time-warp: what identity-warp comes along with that?

I guess I'll find out soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Word of the Day

Zwitterion: the dipolar structure in an amino acid resulting from the acid-base reactions between the basic amine group and the acidic carboxylic acid group, which is a salt-like substance. From German zwitter, "a hybrid."

[Yay chemistry!]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands"

Last Wednesday and Thursday were tough, especially because I had to admit I had been ignoring a problem for a while. But I "let go and let God," and He demonstrated His goodness again and again. He gave me peace, and He let me be part of His work, and when Sunday night came, this song filled me:
There is an endless song
echoes in my soul
I hear the music ring

And though the storms may come
I am holding on
To the rock I cling:

How can I keep from singing Your praise?
How can I ever say enough?
How amazing is Your love!
How can I keep from shouting Your name?
I know I am loved by the king
and it makes my heart want to sing.
I want this song to always "echo in my soul." The joy of the Lord is my strength. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Let that be sewn into the quilt of my thoughts. Let me wrap myself in it for warmth and comfort and cover. God, You are good, all the time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wind and Waiting

When I come to the blogger page, there is such a temptation for me these days to just look at the list of updated blogs I follow, and go read all the new posts, go benefit from all those people's thought and effort, and then not write anything myself. Why is it I don't want to write?

It's because I don't want to answer questions. I'm not in the mood for statements. I'm uncertain. Walking alone, I close my eyes to feel the wind better, because it is strong enough to lift me. I lean into the press of the wind. Will it sweep me away? Will it carry me far from here, into the distant blue? If I gave myself to the wind, it would set me down in a stranger's story. Facing someone else's problems, I would spend my confusion on puzzling out the facts, the history.

As it is, I am embedded in my own story still, and I need to be puzzling out the present and the future. Where do I go from here? More to the point, where exactly am I now? I keep wanting to step around the issue. My eyes slide over it, my feet sidle past it, but it keeps reappearing in my path. The wind won't pick me up and lift me over it. The wind won't even blow it out of the way for me.

When Elijah was discouraged and lost, despairing and demanding death, God set him on the mountainside. Then
a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
I am feeling the great wind rush across me. I am feeling the trembling of the earthquake, rattling my bones. I am feeling the fire burn in my mind. But after the fire, a gentle whisper. (A still, small voice, to use Dallas Willard's terminology.) I am waiting for the gentle whisper.

Pause. Breathe. Listen.

When the still, small voice spoke gently to Elijah, it asked him a question. And if God asks me, "What you doing here?" what can I answer? Elijah answers from the depths of his despair, without sugar-coating.

What am I doing here? I have tried to seek Your will. I want to believe I have been zealous for the Lord--not working miracles like Elijah, but speaking what I know of the truth, giving what I can. I believe Your word: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come." So why do the words of Sara Groves' song echo in me?
Feels like I have been waking up
only to fight with the same old stuff
Change is slow and it fills me with such doubt
Come on, new man, where've you been?
Can you wriggle from this self I'm in,
leave it like a skin on the ground?
That's all I can say. I don't really understand where I am, what I'm doing here.

But after Elijah says,
He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."
God speaks to him again. God gives him direct instructions about where to go, who to speak with. God tells him the plan that's going to unfold, and God tells him that his own dismal assessment of the situation is, thankfully, wrong. Elijah is not actually the only one left; in fact, God says,
Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him. (1 Kings 19)
So I am waiting, if I can only be still enough, to find out the plan. Where do I go from here? Thank God Almighty, I don't have to decide that by my own wisdom.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm back here again, wondering again how I wandered in a circle. Is my life really this patterned? Could I cram it into a regular expression and predict my emotional state next month, next fall, next stage of life? I don't want to loop between a finite number of states in neat patterns, tracing and retracing predetermined paths. I want to move forward, grow deeper, stretch skyward, become more than I am now. I don't want to live like a finite automaton, I want to live like a child of God.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Walk with me quiet, walk with me slow"

Incoherent negotiations, a hug goodnight, and I'm out the door, down the stairs, pulling on my jacket. Night soaked up the day's warmth while I was inside, and, still thirsty, it sucks heat from me. The campus is deserted at this hour on a Monday, and the unexpected chill of the air matches the unexpected unease that seeps into me. Here I am alone, walking in the dark. The streetlights cast my shadow on the ground before me, a slight figure fringed by the shades of my hair fluttering in the cool.

Under the lamps, boys in baseball caps and backpacks wait for the bus. My road leads away, half a mile between the trees. I shiver, and wish you were with me. Irrational, but I feel abandoned. What's the use of a warm hand on my back when we're inside in the light? Now that the cold has wrapped around me, I need a warm arm, a solid presence. But you are back there in the building, so I walk home alone. I feel so small in this vast night.

But I get back safe, and later you apologize for not looking out for me, and I know that in the bright morning, the fear I felt walking tonight will seem as distant, as inconceivable, as the darkness that permeates the world now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Libera et cetera

I haven't written anything post-able lately, but here's what I've been reading:
  • Reinhold Niebuhr, The Self and the Dramas of History
  • Calvin Miller, Into the Depths of God and The Singer
  • Dallas Willard, Hearing from God (I've been reading this since before school started. Fail.)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer (So good! but so hormone-saturated.)
  • T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems (one or two poems on a good week)
  • August/Sept. issue of First Things
  • 2 Samuel, Exodus, the gospel of John, Daniel (still trying to read through the whole Bible before the end of the year...)
  • tutorials for GIMP, Python and Django (for the c.s. project that has been eating my life)
  • recipes for pumpkin (because I still haven't done anything with half of the pumpkin I roasted a week and a half ago) and white bread
  • Chemistry: the molecular science (textbook that doubles as my weight-lifting)
  • Carnie's Syntax
  • essays on trust and expertise (for a class entitled "global issues")

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

I'm not going to invest the time to comment on this because I need to sleep, but here is a fierce paragraph out of David P. Goldman's essay "Hast Thou Considered My Servant Faust?", which uses Faust to shed light on Job:
Complacency is the characteristically modern sin. The human condition has not changed, nor can it, so long as men must die. But modern man is more susceptible to the illusion that he can mold his own identity and make his own destiny. Modern man can persuade himself that he is alone in the universe, improvising his ethics and identity as he goes along. He can fancy himself master of the universe through science. He can even imagine that brain science eventually will resolve the existential questions that have troubled his kind for millennia. Underneath this complacency lurks an antipathy to life, articulated wittily by Goethe's devil.
This accusation of complacency is especially striking in light of some essays I've been reading lately that forecast such great things from technology. Scientific advancement as the panacea! Don't get me wrong, science and technology are great. But they are also very distracting and good for letting people avoid the deep questions.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Just some lines, an unedited poem

Unfold yourself to me
in silent conversation
as night embraces the world

Open your pages so I can read
lines penned long ago, find
leaves from faraway falls

Uncreasing yourself, you'll
increase in my eyes

When you fold yourself together
slip me between the sheets this time,
press me into your pages.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I had to shove the knife hard to get it through the orange rind, but then it slid in sweetly and refused to come back out. I wrestled it in and out, pressing always downward, to sever this pumpkin. The cuts curved and did not meet, so I pried the two sides apart by hand. The pumpkin snapped when they finally separated. Fifteen pounds of golden flesh lay there, dwarfing the cutting board. The shattered edges of the broken globe begged to be carved, shaped, like a block of marble waiting to become a sculptor's vision.

After an hour in the oven, though, the pumpkin was transformed. The rind darkened, the flesh brightened. Fluid had oozed out and now pooled in the bottom of the pan. The yellow marble had melted into orange flesh. Now my fork could pierce it and slip smoothly out. I left the pumpkin to cool.

When I scooped and scraped the flesh off the skin later, the pumpkin was still warm. I was eviscerating this vegetable, and it was even bleeding hot juices into the pan, spurting all over my hands. The yellow flesh scrolled up before my advancing spoon. It piled up inside the uneven half-globe, in curls and chunks. Setting aside the spoon, I plunged my hands into the warm pumpkin innards and squeezed. Yellow spurted out between my fingers; the chunks yielded to my grip. The pumpkin was hot in my hands. As I squeezed it, it slithered across my skin, oozing warm water filled with yellow strands. When I opened my hands, the pumpkin lay on my palms in a golden lump, ridged with the relief of my fingers.

Some things never change. In my mother's kitchen, I was a child who played with the egg yolks, loving their silken slide across my skin. In my own kitchen now, I am still a child playing with the pumpkin, loving its lumps and slime and its golden hue. The pumpkin needed to be puréed, smoothed, homogenized; my hands needed to squeeze, press, touch. Yes, I can rationalize this tactile extravagance. Thank goodness I don't have a blender to steal the joy of feeling my food.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Snail Trail

The snail trail across the sidewalk glitters in the moonlight. The leaves scattered across the ground are blots of black, like ink. But the snail's path shines silver, like the tail of a comet. I never see snails moving along the ground here. They are secretive, emerging only when they have the world to themselves. Languorously, their silken bellies slide across the hard ground, swayed this way and that by their shells, like mountains on their backs.

If I were a snail, I would be gliding, dragging my whole house, all I could ever care about, this burden and treasure that I can never leave behind. It would be more honest to carry it all on my back. As it is, I carry pains and joys and plans in my heart. Sometimes they are just as cumbersome as a mountain of spiraled shell.

Instead of pressing shoemarks into the mud, I would like to trace a trail that shimmers in the moonlight, like a wet finger drawn gently across the ground, leaving luminous loopy messages.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Late night interlude

When you sat in silence, I was tempted to fill the space with words, or at least thoughts. Instead I tried to stay. Still. To fill my mind only with the present. Your face, frozen, veiled behind auburn hair, was squeezed by pain's fist. The words that trickled from your lips dropped, one by one. They soaked into the silence and left it as dry as it had been. And yet they made thoughts sprout in the soil of my spirit, and so I spoke, hesitatingly. Word by word. The room was small, but we were so far apart. The words should have echoed as in a great cavern. The walls were white, the decorations bright, but when I shut my eyes, we were in the dark, in the cold, shut away from the sun.

Is this where you live? I could never stay here.

"I don't want to be here," you said.
"Where do you want to be?" I was sitting on the floor, looking up at you. Your feet, in clean sneakers, dangled at my eye level.
All you said was: "Not here."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Relationships are like Molecules

[because people are like atoms: you shouldn't cut them into pieces. (just kidding, that's not my rationale)]

In chemistry, there's the notion of resonance structures. The Lewis dot diagram can't actually capture a molecule's spirit, because it simplifies too much: flattens, and makes arbitrary decisions about where to put the double bond that has to take up the wandering orphan electron. Sometimes there are two or three equally good (and equally inadequate) dot diagrams of a molecule, and the molecule is said to "resonate" between those structures, because while no single one of them expresses the molecule alone, the real molecule is somewhere between all of them--not quite a sum, not quite an average.

"Resonance" arises as an artifact of having to diagram in two dimensions what lives in three dimensions; it isn't a real phenomenon in the sense that the molecule doesn't actually alternate between those structures. However, the concept that underlies it is real: that realities transcend all representations of them.

And your point is? you may be asking.

My point originated in a comment from my friend O. about being most comfortable switching at will between orthogonal tones (my phrasing, not to be blamed on O.)--from silly to serious, from flippant to enigmatic--which sparked the thought that those spontaneous switches of tone are the thing that characterize a really comfortable relationship.

See, we all have a collection of faces we can present. Reliable, intelligent, well-behaved, adventuresome, empathetic, aloof: A person who embodied one of those characteristic faces could not also wear any of the others. Like the distinct diagrams of resonance structures, they are mutually incompatible. Moreover, no single trait adequately describes a person, just as no single resonance structure accurately describes the behavior of a molecule. Like molecules, our personalities are multidimensional. Our different faces appear and disappear in the context of interactions with other people--the souls we're bonded to, the spirits we're close to.

Moreover, a real relationship has many dimensions to it. You don't just talk about class, you also talk about philosophies. You don't just talk about abstract ideas, you talk about realtime emotions. You don't just know what the other person thinks about the deep structure of life, you know about their day to day experience. All those domains flow into each other, like trees with intertwining branches, not like rooms in a house. You alternate between topics in the verbal representation of your bond (i.e., the conversation), but underlying all the words that code for concepts is the understanding that every layer of meaning is present at the same time. When my friend starts talking about the spiritual significance of Jesus's solitude, I don't assume the idea sprung into existence on its own like Athena sprouting full-grown from Zeus's head. I know there's a good chance that some emotional experience fertilized the blossoming ideas; I know the meaning my friend conveys isn't all in the words or even in the topic. It's embedded in the relationship, in the bond.

And how would I characterize that bond between good friends? It spans the levels of understanding, it resonates between them. Catch the spiritual implications of the mundane, and the concrete implications of the abstract: the conversation doesn't alternate between them as though between discrete states, but rather has all of them present at the same time, because they are all aspects of the relationship. With a friend, I am more fully myself, because together we each resonate through our whole self. And with a friend, I am more than myself, because we each resonate through each other's self. A friendship and a soul, both are more than the sum of their parts.

A relationship is about understanding, having one mind, shared thoughts and energy. It's about functioning together, as a unit. Alone we are atoms; by caring about each other, we join ourselves together into complex structures. These molecules are dynamic, shimmering; they are real, and they transcend the descriptions by which we attempt to portray them.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The streetlights were orange punctuation in a black and blue world as I walked home tonight. Occasional raindrops speared me with cold and spattered on my glasses. Through my little phone, I listened to voices from three thousand miles away, where the sun was still up. Sound from one lifetime, sights from another: it's a wonder I can function with my soul skipping from coast to coast.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Walking home today, I wanted to rise to join the clouds. Above the buildings on the horizon, a sliver of the sky glowed pale gold. A layer of cloud blanketed the rest of the sky, softening it. Sometimes the blue vastness seems hard and dauntingly empty. Under the cloud ceiling, though, the earth felt more like a home, less like a speck in the vacant blue.

More puffs of cloud were floating on the soft sky. If I climbed a tree or maybe a few flights of stairs, I could reach out and grab one. A handful of softness would come away, trailing wisps of white and gray. The fringes of the cloud would gradually reform themselves to restore that neatly rounded edge.

But I didn't reach for the clouds once I had climbed the stairs. I didn't want to disturb their quiet contentment. Instead, I let myself into my little apartment. There, hot soup and tea were waiting to warm me, to round my edges, to set me against a soft backdrop, to raise me into the sky where the light of the setting sun turns all things gold.

Monday, October 5, 2009


In chemistry class in middle and high school, we drew lots of nice neat diagrams of molecules. Lewis dot diagrams, structural diagrams: count the valence electrons, draw the line segments, and there's the molecule. It's a bit of a puzzle, not just a straightforward recipe, but there are wrong answers and one best answer. I always thought of chemistry as something clear-cut. The periodic table is so organized, forests of facts packed into stacks of boxes. The way I tend to see it, the periodic table is hoarding all the answers.

But I just read that those precise little line and dot diagrams don't correspond to experimental results. It's not just that the real molecules have three dimensions and don't appreciate being splayed out and pinned to the page. It's that they won't even hold still enough to be drawn.

So we talk about "resonance structures"--two models that the molecule somehow straddles. Okay. That's like how light is a wave and a particle (though really I am far too blasé about that idea!). Two flat pictures combine to describe a real space-filling thing. That's like how blueprints describe a house someone other than A. Square can inhabit.

But then I kept reading. The books tells me, now, that the bonds in an oxygen molecule can't be single bonds, but they can't be double bonds, either. Our diagrams fit badly, like a too-small jacket. The lines in the diagrams are always crisp and straight. But in a living molecule, the bonds aren't static and clean. The electrons flit and flash everywhere, and they squirm out of their prescribed paths. They go wandering.

I thought chemistry meant knowing the proportions and the way they combine, knowing how to read the periodic table. But it seems that even on the level of atoms associating with each other, living together, getting married (to have all things in common?), nothing is completely known. Uncertainty lurks in the very air we breathe. How many mysteriously structured oxygen molecules flooded into my lungs just now? and how many did I breathe out?

And how often do I leave my orbit?

And what else do I assume I can diagram and label, when really it's a cloud and a dance and an animated creature, not a cadavre to be dissected, not a line to be drawn, not a road to whiz along?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I ran into this article about self-control a few days ago, and so self-control as a virtue has been jostling around my head since then. Discipline isn't a common topic of discussion around college campuses these days (at least, not mine). The cultural focus is on self-actualization / self-realization / fulfillment / happiness: the self as god. Self-control postulates the reverse: self as servant to ... what? Higher goals than one's immediate desires, anyway.

I am pretty disciplined about getting my homework done, waking up on time, eating healthily, holding my tongue, showing up to meetings. People consider me responsible. And yet I do things like spend the majority of a three-day weekend reading a novel (and now it's Tuesday night and I'm still in Cryptonomicon's thrall), or eat half a bar of dark chocolate in a sitting, or wander around day-dreaming of fairy-tale love. I indulge in mid-afternoon planning sessions, trying to map out how many requirements I've fulfilled and how many are still lurking on my path, checking off completed classes like I'm collecting scalps.

This is a darker temptation: the need to justify my existence to myself. The need to pass my own standards, to surpass onlookers' expectations. The compulsion to make a good impression, most of all on myself. The drive to be good enough.

In I Samuel 18, everyone loves David, and no one cares about Saul any more. [Now if you'll just bear with me for a moment... (I promise I'm not doing this!)] My Bible study is doing a character study of David, and this is the chapter we're reading tomorrow. But this chapter seems more Saul-centric. David may be the main character, but the emotions we hear about are all Saul's. Saul is very angry, he's galled (v. 8), he's jealous (9), he's afraid (12), he's still more afraid (29). Why is Saul so upset? All his angst comes out when he realizes that "the Lord is with David," and it gets worse and worse as more and more people switch to David's side (that's how Saul perceives it, at least). So is he upset because he's unpopular? I think his loss of popularity is just an exacerbating factor. The actual reason for Saul being so disturbed is that God isn't with him.
Problem: Saul is far from God.
Remedy: (A) Saul should try to kill David because God is with David.
(B) Saul should approach God.
Hm, which one is a better solution? If you ask Saul, the answer is (A). Clearly there's a disconnect here: Saul is disturbed because he's far from God, but the way he deals with the problem is to take actions that increase his distance from God (i.e., attempt murder). What's going on in his head?

I think Saul is in a state of mind where he can't conceive of humbling himself. He's the king of Israel, he's powerful, he's a head taller than everyone else, he's on top of the world--at least, he thinks he should be. He's relying on himself. And that's why he's so afraid. Losing his reputation, losing his kingdom, these losses would destroy him, because those are the only things he has.

A kingdom, and a family, and a reputation are not trivial. However, they are not a reliable foundation for an identity.

Here's the issue: I keep thinking like Saul. Self-reliance is a deadly temptation, and it comes with a complementary poison, self-absorption. The kid's computer game Jumpstart 3rd features a bratty girl who redraws the solar system as the Polly system, with all the planets orbiting around her face. That's my mental image of self-absorption. It's so easy to start thinking as though the whole system as orbiting around my own little notions.

But that's not how it is. In reality, my self-condemnation doesn't count, because God is the real judge, and my self-vindication doesn't count either, because God is the one who gives worth. Worth is all relative (an item is worth something to someone or for some purpose, not just in a void), and God is the agent relative to whom real worth is calculated. I need to have that larger perspective, to see myself in the light of His evaluation and as part of a larger system than my immediate surroundings.

Mental Virus

From Cryptonomicon:
The virus of irony is as widespread in California as herpes, and once you're infected with it, it lives in your brain forever. A man like Prag can come home, throw away his Nikes, and pray to Mecca five times a day, but he can never eradicate it from his system. (387)
Oh Neal Stephenson, you slay me. You write these brilliant books, with hilarious lines, and how long do you make them? Yes, 900 pages. Who writes books that long? I start reading and then I just don't stop. Suddenly it's 2am and my chances of resisting swine flu have plummeted. If I get sick and die, I would like just a little bit of the blame to go to you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


My friend fed me tonight. I dropped by her room, several hours after I normally would have eaten dinner, 30 minutes before she had to leave for a meeting. Within a minute, she handed me a plate piled high with spaghetti and an amazing tomato-garlic-sausage explosion. Needless to say, it was delicious.

She sat next to me on the couch and watched me eat, as though she was doubting whether I liked the food. (I wished she wouldn't watch, though, because I was splattering tomato sauce all around my mouth as the noodles whipped around and tried to slip off the fork.) "Isn't the sausage good?" my friend asked. I told her it was delicious, that everything was delicious. "I thought it was really good sausage. I gave you a lot of it, I don't know if you want it all. But I figured since you don't buy meat,* I should feed you some."

It was a lot of meat, more than I would have served myself. But I ate it very happily, because she had given it to me, thinking of me. It felt lovely to be taken care of. I do enjoy living away from home, cooking for myself, setting my own schedule--but sometimes independence becomes empty. When you share a meal with someone, you commune on a level deeper than words. When someone voluntarily cooks for me, I know in my bones and gut: that person cares about me.

When I finished the pasta, my friend served a scoop of ice cream, swimming in homemade caramel sauce. The sugar sang in my mouth.

Sitting with my friend, letting the conversation slip by, sweetened my soul. A friendship is built on a million moments like that--just living together. Talking is good, too. But conversations are captions; the pictures are the important part.

*I love meat, but I don't buy it because the meat that my conscience finds acceptable (free-range type stuff (though the terms are so fuzzy that it's hard to know)) is not at all acceptable to my pocketbook.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Adulthood eludes me.

"Your shoelace is untied." "Oh, whatever. I'll race you!" So we dashed up the black marble stairs, leaving the cavernous building with its roaring fountains. M. crashed against something but I ran past him. I shoved the glass doors open and burst into the night.

M. called my name as he ran after me. "I almost broke that sign! but it wouldn't be the first time I broke Wang Center property. But that other time I wasn't alone in the breakage! I couldn't have folded the boat myself." "The fountain was your fault! You're the one who put the boat there!" And we ran through the campus. Our feet pounded between the buildings that loomed, silent and empty. I'm sure they wondered why we were laughing so hard. Maybe I'm supposed to be too old for this.

But who cares?

The stars don't mind, and neither do the crickets.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Summer is over.

The rain has arrived. I woke to silver light, too silvery to read by, and when I ran outside, I found the grass and trees and pavement silver, too. With the insistent grey clouds looming everywhere, yesterday's blue sky seemed like a fantastic dream. The sky--the vault that feels so empty, the vastness of space--doesn't exist, when the clouds come. Instead, a veil of water and shadow swathes the island. The distant sky is replaced by an intrusive and inquisitive cloud, whose wet fingers poke and prod and prickle and caress, and whose vague face watches from above.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Interior Decorating

I am addicted to comfort, and afraid of hope. I quash my imaginings, fold them up neatly and layer them in the bottom of an empty drawer. Occasionally one wakes up and batters itself against the inside of the dresser so the drawer clunks back and forth. The shaking rouses all the other visions and dreams, too. They flap and flutter, and at least one escapes into the open air. It follows me around, getting in my eyes, casting flitting shadows that distract me from whatever I'm looking at. Every time I put something down, I'm afraid I'm about to squish it into a stain on my book or bag or butt. I don't want to smash those dreams, really. I want to have them around. I just don't want them as a real part of my life. They're too dangerous. Following a butterfly will get me lost in the woods.

Instead of gazing at my dreams, I pore over memories. I sort through filing cabinets and pull out my favorites. Those hang on the wall to constantly remind me: those good times are real. They happened once, so they can happen again. But my imagination is too stunted from being kept in the drawer, too afraid of being shoved back into that small orthogonal space, to take any risks in envisioning the repetition of a good moment. My imagination doesn't dare translate a situation to a new cast of people or a novel location. It keeps the plots tethered to their characters and setting. My imagination plays slide-shows of memory's photographs, instead of painting pictures of its own.

I live in a house wall-papered with memories, with the curtains shut to keep out the brilliant light of the future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


This morning, the drops of water hung on the ornamental grass by the sidewalk, like tiny beads of silver or glass. Pearly light drifted down through the clouds and landed on the water droplets. The light's caress polished them. They gleamed. Dangling, luminous, they transformed the grass, cast a spell over the whole scene.

That ephemeral beauty stopped me in my tracks. But the path shook me along, past the enchanted grasses, and I went about my day. The sun and wind dried the grass back into ordinariness. But the water still glimmered in my mind. If I could, I would wear a necklace of those water drops (shining in the fog, soft as the morning air), and I would ignore all the world's diamonds.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm back on the east coast.

This afternoon as I walked home, I heard the crickets in the little flowering plants along the path, like hundreds of chiming bells. The sun was finally shining, and the perfume of fresh-cut grass drifted into the air, and I knew summer hadn't let go yet.

Now I'm in bed, but the crickets are still singing outside my window. The woods ring with their chorus. Trees make the best concert hall.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


In these moments when the fragile tangle of our love unravels, I retreat from your pain. I continue the patterns that began before we tore ourselves apart. You, you are crying in bed. My words of comfort run dry, and I run away, back to the kitchen where life follows a recipe. The ingredients are combined already, so I have only to stir, and stir. Butter and sugar and egg and flour, cocoa and vanilla and leavening, they combine into this sweet dough. It clings to the metal bowl and licks my fingers, leaving them greasy. The pressure of the fork forces dry and wet together. Dusty dry ingredients try to escape the mixture, but this is my mission, a task I can actually accomplish: I will leave nothing out, allow no imperfection. Stirring is simple, the same gestures over and over.

And you, meanwhile, are asking me questions I cannot answer, those questions that pivot on "should" and "why." I keep stirring. My fingers are only equipped to grasp spoon and fork, not to reknot these tangled threads. Besides, I can only see them when the sun shines just so. How can you ask me to tie things back together?

And you, you ask the dog if she wants to go out, you finish cooking the rice balls, you wash your dishes. Your silence: it is the wish that this web were not so fragile.

The oven finishes preheating, the balls of dough are arranged on the cookie sheets in orderly rows. I know the cookies will come out in perfect circles. The dough melts uniformly, and solidifies where it sank. The cranberries and pecans stand out like boulders in the sea. But cooking proceeds as prescribed, and no one can complain about these circles of sweetness, right? If I do the dishes now, maybe I at least will have played my role right. I wash everything. Watching the soap and sugar swirl down the sink, I wait for the kitchen to be restored to order.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hiking with K.

Turning a corner, we passed the trees whose branches had constrained the horizon. The vista unfolded before us. Hill layered beyond hill. Trees clothed each ridge in green, but the distance veiled the mountains in blue. The closest hillside glowed green, but the farthest lines of the earth were deep blue like the night sky.

The hills rippled below us, an ocean of rock and trees, limestone and pine and oak. I wanted to sail across that sea, to rise on the wings of the dawn, to drift on the air currents like the hawk that floated below us. We never saw it flap its wings. It only drifted in gentle circles, spiraling like our conversation, which rose and fell from the present to the distant past and into the near future, glided peacefully from the mundane to the profound.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lauren Winner on Clothes

From a theological (though also practical) book with a scandalous title:
The power of dressing is also the power of narrative. For our clothes tell stories, and it would be naiive and irresponsible to pretend otherwise. [...] That is why we enjoy clothing so much, of course--because we reinvent ourselves and our narratives when we try out a new look. So the question for the Christian is not an absolute one about skirt length, but rather something about communication. What kind of stories do we want to tell ourselves and others through our choices of clothing?
(Lauren Winner, Real Sex, p. 77)
I've thought before about the fact that clothing is a message, but I'd never phrased it as a narrative, which is a more meaningful notion. Yes, a love letter is a message, and the gospel is a message. But a stop sign is also a message, and the recording on your phone is a message, and the words repeated over and over again by the bored train announcer, "Mind the gap," are a message. A message can be utterly trivial and mundane. A story cannot. A story has to have some person or people who do something: characters, action, conclusion. It can be a bad story, a pointless story, but the minimal story is more complex than the minimal message. The false story that the Tooth Fairy comes still means more than the true message that the toothpaste contains fluoride. If my clothes are a story, not just a message, they matter more than I want to admit they do.

Because, in fact, I don't like to think about what my clothes are saying. One day I want to just put on the first thing in the drawer, whatever fits most comfortably; another day I want to dress up and look good, for no reason. I don't want my clothes to give away stories about me, to tell my secrets. When I'm wearing an old t-shirt and unflattering shorts, I don't want people to decide I don't know how to dress, or think I'm lazy or childish or careless or unaware. When I'm wearing a fitted shirt and an interesting necklace, I don't want people to assume I'm dressing up for someone, or that I'm overly concerned about my appearance, or that I'm looking for attention.

I don't want my clothes to say anything. I just want them to be fabric sliding across my skin, curtains covering me, colors reflecting the light, patterns for my eye to wander across, shadows and shapes.

I don't want to be judged. I want to slip by on the sidelines, fade into the forest. I want eyes to slide across me without sticking. I don't want the whistles, and I don't want the whispers.

But at the same time, I want the acknowledgment and affirmation of the people I love. I want you to see I'm ready to face the world. I want you to see I just want to lie on the grass and climb the trees and absorb the sunlight. I want you to see me as an adult. I want you to see me as beautiful. I want you to see me.

I'm afraid to believe I'm inventing a story of myself every time I dress. I'm not responsible enough, conscientious enough, to decide what identity I ought to convey. I know myself, but I don't know myself in a way I can summarize. I know myself the way I know California: I recognize city-names, I've driven up and down the state, I feel the pull of home when I see the golden hills and the fog-covered sea; but I couldn't draw you a map or tell you the population or the distribution of economic activities or the specifics of the government. I don't have the kind of declarative knowledge it takes to distill a self-portrait, much less transmute it into a style of dress. I don't want people to decide who I am based on the story I make up for them: I want them to watch how I live and figure out who I actually am, because I don't trust my capacity to tell them what they need to know.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Random quote of the day

"Japanese orthography shares with English the distinction of being the worst of its class, except that instead of being the worst of a good lot, it is the worst of a bad lot." Wm. Hannas, Asia's Orthographic Dilemma (p. 27)

Comments like this one make me feel justified in having failed in Japanese elementary school. There are just so many characters to memorize and to copy over and over and over. As bad as I am now about coping with boredom, I was far worse as a kid. Not surprising, then, that I couldn't finish homework that was to copy x number of characters 20 or 100 times each. Ah, what fond memories of first grade...

Anyway, Hannas's critique of the Chinese writing system makes for a fascinating and entertaining read, partly because he is so vehement in his vituperation. He speaks of the Chinese characters having distorted and imprisoned the languages that use them. Because of the kanji, he claims, "the Japanese language itself was bent out of recognition" (39). If I recall correctly, he also says that all the memorization of characters impedes the scientific and academic progress of Chinese scholars. Hyperbole, just maybe? But so many Americans think all Chinese characters are just so cool and efficient and logical that it makes me extra-happy to read a book that vigorously rejects that idea.

Friday, August 7, 2009


One minute I'm biting into a red and green globe, piercing the striped skin to slice through crisp white flesh inside. The apple cracks and splits, snaps into chunks that crunch apart between my teeth.

Moments later, the twisted core lies between my fingers, yellow and brown and soft. A seed slips into my palm. Its dry surface shines.

How can these both be apples?

Thursday, August 6, 2009


It is too easy to drift through a day thinking about other places and times, barely seeing and hearing the immediate world. Smells, though, I can never ignore. They root me in the present moment. Today, starting a pie, I cut two sticks of butter into cubes. When I picked them up to add them to the flour and sugar, the cubes left my hands shiny and butter-scented. I rinsed off the grease, but the smell of butter stayed with me as I mixed together the tart dough. The recipe called for whipping cream, so I pried the carton's mouth open. Even before the silken liquid poured into the light and air of the kitchen, its perfume drifted up to mingle with the scents of butter and flour. Subtle smells, but they drew me deep into their realm. I thought of nothing but pie, pie, pie.

The dough mixed and rolled out, the peaches and rhubarb chopped, we arranged everything in the tin. The fragile dough had to be treated gently, but the fruit didn't suffer from being jostled. Golden chunks of peach tumbled into the pie shell. They glowed with nectar. Sections of rhubarb, polished by juice and sugar, tossed themselves among the peach cubes like rubies. The other circle of dough settled quietly over this mound of treasure, and we pinched the pie closed.

Then the pie squatted in the oven for an hour, sending out the aroma of cream and peaches and butter and sugar, in irresistible clouds of scent. The smell of a baking pie is not subtle. It filled the kitchen, and my mind. Nothing else mattered. I would have been content to spend that entire hour staring into the oven, drunk on that golden smell.

Hours later, I've tasted the pie, eaten it. I can feel it still in my belly. It is a comforting presence. The memory of its smell, though, tantalizes rather than comforts. I will be haunted all night by the ghost of the scent of pie.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Quote from David McNeill

"Communication [is] a matter not only of signal exchange but of social resonance and inhabitance in the same 'house of being.'" David McNeill, Gesture and Thought.
To communicate, you have to inhabit the same mental space as your interlocutor. Set up camp there, unpack your suitcase. Make it your home: learn where the silverware is kept, find out what time everyone wakes up, operate the microwave or, better yet, do a load of wash. You have to feel the nuances that shape any particular word. Learn the stories whose light illuminates the world for that person you want to communicate with. To really understand someone, you can't just drop by and chat. You have to inhabit--stay in--their home: in their structure of existence, their safe retreat, the place patterned by their habits and filled with the objects they treasure. You have to be a guest in their mind.

And that is why we don't usually communicate deeply. When we don't resonate with each other naturally, it takes a great deal of effort to interpret the signals we pass back and forth between our distinct houses of being. Often it's impossible. Which I suppose is why, when I meet someone with whom social resonance comes easily (someone whose 'house of being' has a similar floorplan to mine?), I am so anxious to stay in communication with them.


Sunday morning is always for church. But what is church for? Sometimes I just go and evaluate, and nothing real happens in me. I fidget: twist a strand of hair, look up semi-relevant Bible verses, pick at my fingernails. I can't keep my body still, much less my mind. I'm not really there, I just wake up for a couple of good songs and then fade back into restlessness.

But there are other days when the reverberation of the organ infiltrates my bones, when my gaze clings to the stained glass windows, when a word from the pastor takes root in my thoughts. Stillness seeps into me. I wake up.

Sometimes I open my eyes to joy that I have been rushing past. Sometimes I wrench the blindfold off and my eyes burn in the light. Sometimes, instead, they burn at the darkness in my heart. But tears wash away the scorch marks, because the whole church reminds me: love is not a function of my achievement or failure.

The sermon today was about unresolved conflict. I am very good at avoiding conflict by forgetting what I want and need. A day or a week or three months later, I finally understand that I can't go on like this, and then I have to unwrap the conflict, deal with it. Another quarter of the year later, I finally begin to realize how much I am hurt from that season where I folded up my soul and put it away in a drawer. I had to face that hurt today. I don't like that I am still hurting from things that (I think) shouldn't be on my mind anymore. I don't like that burying pain hasn't made it disintegrate and sprout into something new and beautiful. Instead it is still lying under the surface. When I try to plant something else, the shovel runs into it.

But I don't have to heal myself. My survival is not contingent on doing everything right. God is not contingent on anything. We sing in church, "Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens. Your faithfulness stretches to the sky." I need to keep singing that song.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dominique on Freedom

I've been reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, which is a lot more absorbing than I expected. It goes by much faster than Crime and Punishment, anyway, perhaps because Crime and Punishment doesn't really offer you anyone to sympathize with, only a horrified fascination with the main character's sickened mind... The Fountainhead, on the other hand, has Howard Roark, "the ideal man," if I interpret the author's introduction correctly, with whom it is hard to empathize but easy to sympathize--or easy to admire, at least. He is an architect who lives with absolute conviction and uncompromising ideals. Those ideals deal primarily with architecture and aesthetics, though, and I can't easily connect them with my own thoughts.

But I heard my own musings echoed in the voice of Dominique. Her father, a rich man, breathes and soaks in society's ideas as a fish gulps down the water that surrounds it and fills its gills. But Dominique herself lives cut off from society. Her isolation is not physical or social, but emotional. Every man falls in love with her impervious beauty, but no touch can penetrate her cold command of herself. She refuses to be affected by anything, because she values her freedom above everything else. To love anything, even to want anything, is to become vulnerable. Dependent. So she cuts her heart out of the world. She explains to her uncomprehending friend Alvah,
If I found a job, a project, an idea or a person I wanted--I'd have to depend on the whole world. Everything has strings leading to everything else. We're all tied together. We're all in a net, the net is waiting, and we're pushed into it by one single desire. You want a thing and it's precious to you. Do you know who is standing ready to tear it out of your hands? You can't know, it may be so involved and so far away, but someone is ready and you're afraid of them all. And you cringe and you crawl and you beg and you accept them--just so they'll let you keep it. (143-144)
Cynical? Sure. I disagree completely with Dominique's choice of how to deal with the dilemma, but I agree with her analysis of how humans tend to work. She has caught the central insight that we hate: everything affects everything else. If you care about anything, you can't be perfectly free. The only way to approximate independence is to eliminate desire, to seek the nirvana of a desolate emptiness. With these priorities, as Dominique sees, the only option is to demand either perfection,
--or nothing. So, you see, I take the nothing. [...] I take the only desire one can really permit oneself. Freedom, Alvah, freedom. (144)
Alvah, naturally, questions the nature of such a freedom. But Dominique knows and admits, it is a freedom "To ask nothing. To expect nothing. To depend on nothing."

It is a miserable freedom. A miserly freedom. You guard your heart and soul. You never give anyone the power to hurt you. But the way you render your heart invulnerable is to kill it yourself. You never expect joy, so you can never be disappointed when it never comes to you. You keep every pain and pleasure locked up inside. You keep yourself to yourself.

Actual freedom comes from giving yourself away. The freedom that sets your heart free is acceptance of the fact that you'll get hurt, and trust that things will still be all right.

It's easier to ignore all the causal links and pretend you're independent without actually imprisoning yourself in a quest for freedom from pain, than to admit that you're actually vulnerable, not in control of your fate. It's easier to care for nothing, than to allow yourself to care, knowing you'll get hurt. It's easier to live in impermeable despair than in fragile hope.

I am trying not to take an easier route.

[p.s. No idea how Ayn Rand is going to judge Dominique, in the end. 500 pages can hold a lot of plot.]


"Consciousness is reflected in a word as the sun is reflected in a drop of water. A word relates to consciousness as a living cell relates to a whole organism, as an atom relates to the universe. A word is a microcosm of human consciousness." --Vygotsky, Thought and Word, 1932

(Rather an elevated notion of words... Perhaps I should take more care with my diction.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Berkeley

I walked uphill through the dusk. The leaves overhead were silhouettes, and the windows in inhabited houses glowed yellow. At one corner, a small gray cat turned and looked at me, plaintively. At another, a girl's voice floated out onto the street. "But then what?" rang out, three isolated words. Mostly the street was silent, though. I startled when a cricket shrilled.

As the sky darkened, I arrived back at the house without any wrong turns. Through the shadows, through the unknown streets, between the sleeping houses, under the silent trees--I am learning to find my way.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ecuador &c.

I'm back from Ecuador!

I've been home for 8 days, actually, but I have been avoiding the computer. It feels unwholesome. And a few blog posts absolutely cannot capture 6 weeks worth of trees and Spanish and people and mountains and almuerzos and waterfalls and rain and mud and solitude and bus rides, so I have been putting off my I-am-back post, because there is so much to write about and yet I already wrote about all of it in my travel journal. I bought this notebook right before I left, and it's full now. 120 sheets of paper, all covered in my handwriting. Loops and lines of blue ink, swirling and tangling all over the pages. I also took 590-something photos, so I don't feel compelled to describe the layers of leaves in the cloud forest, or the rush of the river below the bridges I jumped off of (with a harness and rope), or the barrage of color and texture at the market at Otavalo. Having written it all down once, I am reluctant to write about it again.

Instead I shall post 4000 words worth of pictures:

I had a lot of adventures, learned a bit of Spanish, had many lovely mornings waking up slowly and writing down dreams, got good at hoeing around coffee plants, and lived in the present for the vast majority of those 6 weeks. Life is good when you're not fretting about the future and wondering how else you could be spending your time now, or what you're going to do next. I want to live like that more often. Be less distracted. Not worry about finishing my sentences properly. Or doing things quite right. Or seeing all the people I "should" see. It's okay if I spend a week lying on the grass in the backyard reading and drinking tea. It's okay if I wait another 8 days to update my blog, and it's okay if I never type up my adventures for the world to read. The world doesn't really need to know. Even if I don't write about the experience, it is still real. More importantly, even if no one but me reads my writing, I still wrote it.

My life was simple when I was in Ecuador (not to say it wasn't exciting or eventful, though), and I don't want to lose the peace that simple-mindedness brought me. I don't want to be in a hurry, and I don't want to be eaten up by a to-do list. I don't want to budget my every minute. I want not to catalog every sensation, but to feel it. I don't want to ponder the past but to drink in the present.

All that to say: if you want to know more about my trip, you'll have to ask. :)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Goodbye for a while

I think the vast majority of the people who read this blog already know this, but I'll be in Ecuador for the next six weeks, learning Spanish, volunteering in the cloud forest, being a tourist, and finding out what it's like to be a translator with Wycliffe. Thus, there will be no blog posts until at least July 17.

If you are a pray-er: please pray for my peace and safety, and that I would be seeking God's will and viewpoint, instead of just getting caught up in my own thoughts.

Have a good June and July!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Knowing God

What does it mean to know God? How can one know someone who cannot be so small as to be completely knowable by limited human minds (since, by definition, he is so great as to deserve to be worshiped)?

I have no delusions of being able to comprehend God. But does that mean I can't know him? I don't believe that I truly comprehend my best friends, either, but I would certainly say that I know them--even that I know them well. So how can I get to know the invisible, omnipotent, inaccessible Ruler of the Universe in the way that I know my friends? I can't really call God up to come over to my house and sit around and watch movies or play "Would you rather?" The stereotypical churchy answer is something based on "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

Seek God by praying, and reading your Bible, and singing hallelujahs and paying attention in the quiet moments. Stir well, season with Christian community to taste, and cook for five to ten years (cooking time varies depending on your life-oven's spiritual background). Ta-da! Recipe for knowing God. But formulae ought to be questioned.

I was reading several chapters earlier in Jeremiah, and came across this: "'Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 22:16) What does it mean to know God? This verse has God's own answer to the question. Here's the whole verse:
"He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:16)
Funny--it doesn't say anything about the regularity of one's quiet times, or the dedication of one's prayer life, or the number of scripture passages one has memorized. "What it means to know [God]" is to have "defended the cause of the poor and needy."

How disquieting! How inconvenient and unnerving. I can't just ensure social justice from the comfort of my home with ten minutes every morning. I would like knowing God to be a nice, safe, step-by-step paint-by-numbers type of process, but this verse says it's about taking real action. Nothing that sounds religious, really. Defend the cause of the people who need it. Social justice--isn't that for those liberal atheist Democrats? WRONG.

How extremely, extremely inconvenient.

But a God who works based on what's convenient for me would be no God at all.

p.s. It's not just that one verse. In Colossians 1:10, doing good works and growing in the knowledge of God are paired, as though they happen simultaneously; and 1 John 2:4 says it's impossible to know God without obeying his commands.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Crusades

How weird is this?:
"All the Crusades met the criteria of just wars. They came about in reaction attacks against Christians or their Church. The First Crusade was called in 1095 in response to the recent Turkish conquest of Christian Asia Minor, as well as the much earlier Arab conquest of the Christian-held Holy Land. The second was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Edessa in 1144. The third was called in response to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem and most other Christian lands in the Levant in 1187.

In each case, the faithful went to war to defend Christians, to punish the attackers, and to right terrible wrongs. As Riley-Smith has written elsewhere, crusading was seen as an act of love--specifically the love of God and of neighbor. By pushing back Muslim aggression and restoring Eastern Christianity, the Crusaders were--at great peril to themselves--imitating the Good Samaritan. [...]

The cost of crusading was staggering. Without financial assistance, only the wealthy could afford to embark on a Crusade. Many noble families impoverished themselves by crusading.

Historians have long known that the image of a Crusader as an adventurer seeking his fortune is exactly backward. The vast majority of Crusaders returned home as soon as they had fulfilled their vow. [...] One is hard pressed to name a single returning Crusader who broke even, let alone made a profit on the journey. And those who returned were the lucky ones. [...] One can never understand the Crusades without understanding their penitentiary character."
From Thomas F. Madden's article "Inventing the Crusades" in First Things (June/July 2009, Number 194; pp. 41-44).
This take on the Crusades is completely new to me, especially the remarks on the cost of crusading. Now that I think about it, the expensiveness of a long journey should perhaps have been obvious. The cost of plane tickets today ought to have brought that notion quickly to mind. Also, I'm sure my middle school social studies textbooks mentioned the historical context for the launching of the Crusades, rather than listing them as completely isolated events. Nonetheless, as long as I have known about the Crusades, I have had the impression that I as a Christian ought to be ashamed of them, that the Crusaders were acting completely wrongheadedly and destructively, and that I ought to utterly disown them. When my agnostic friend demanded an accounting for the misdeeds of the church throughout the ages, and listed the Crusades as the spearhead for the critique, my response was not to correct her impression of history, but to avert my eyes and chatter about how Christians continue to make mistakes and how their actions do not reliably reflect the religion--or better yet, faith--as a whole (a line of argument which is valid only up to a point, because if adherence to a religion doesn't actually change the way you live, then what's the point??)

But having read this, I can breathe a sigh of relief. It makes sense that Catholic powers would send aid to their allies, even though this pluralism-obsessed day and age don't customarily consider religious ties to be the foundation for political alliances. It is understandable that the promise of forgiveness for sins one was acutely aware of would motivate going to war. It is hard to argue that any war is free from atrocities, whether the war itself is justified or not.

To my mind, the idea of an indulgence is completely wrong-headed, and the notion that fighting and killing people could earn your forgiveness is a distortion of Biblical doctrine. Still, it's good to know that the Crusades, whether actually justified or not, are at least justifiable.

Ethics of Violence

So I was reading Thomas F. Madden's article "Inventing the Crusades" in First Things (June/July 2009, Number 194; pp. 41-44). Curiosity-provoking title, right?

This section on the Christian attitude toward violence intrigued me:
One of the most profound misconceptions about the Crusades is that they represented a perversion of a religion whose founder preached meekness, love of enemies, and nonresistance. Riley-Smith reminds his reader that on the matter of violence Christ was not as clear as pacifists like to think. He praised the faith of the Roman centurion but did not condemn his profession. At the Last Supper he told his disciples, "Let him who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, And he was reckoned with transgressors."

St. Paul said of secular authorities, "He does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer." Several centuries later, St. Augustine articulated a Christian approach to just war, one in which legitimate authorities could use violence to halt or avert a greater evil. It must be a defensive war, in reaction to an act of aggression. For Christians, therefore, violence was ethically neutral, since it could be employed either for evil or against it. As Riley-Smith notes, the concept that violence is intrinsically evil belongs solely to the modern world. It is not Christian.

I've been discussing the intrinsic badness of war with a friend lately, so I was particularly interested to see this commentary. Previously, the main reference I had in mind for the topic was from C.S. Lewis's (brilliant) Screwtape Letters, in which the senior demon Screwtape's instruction to the junior Wormwood to
get it quite clear in your own mind that this state of falling in love is not, in itself, necessarily favourable either to us or to the other side. It is simply an occasion which we and the Enemy are both trying to exploit. Like most of the other things which humans are excited about, such as health and sickness, age and youth, or war and peace, it is, from the point of view of the spiritual life, mainly raw material.
The line from Ecclesiastes that there is "a time to kill and a time to heal" also supports this idea. I remember being alarmed when I first read both of those lines. The idea of a "time to kill" particularly shocked me. Killing is bad! How could there be a time for it? I thought. As my father pointed out at the time, though, even a doctor sometimes has to kill. I think he used the example of putting a sick animal down. (Of course, euthanasia of humans is a separate controversy in itself!) Or to take an example from science fiction--say you are Captain Picard, fighting the Borg who have invaded your ship, and you see one of your crew members get caught and begin to transform into one of these evil "cybernetic zombies" (Lily's phrasing in "First Contact"). There is no way to save him, and if you just leave him, he will become, against his will, part of the Borg. It is better to shoot and kill him than to leave him to that destiny. There is "a fate worse than death"!

So this perspective does make sense to me. Though it appears at first to imply that morality is purely contextual and therefore relative--obviously problematic for people who believe that moral absolutes exist--the idea that "violence is ethically neutral" or is "raw material" that has its own "time" does not actually say that violence is ever good, but only that it is sometimes right. In a world full of problems, the choice is rarely if ever between a perfect option and an awful option. Rather, we are confronted with the choice amongst an array of imperfect options, each of which is broken in a different way. We have to find the best option, the right choice, but the right and the best are not guaranteed to be unadulteratedly good. So the fact that violence can be the right choice--and, therefore, the effectively good choice--does not mean that violence would be a part of a perfect, unbroken world. That is, violence and war can be intrinsically fallen without being intrinscially evil.

Addendum: C.S. Lewis's term "spiritual raw material" does not clearly convey these ideas when taken out of context, and speaking of the relative and contextual good/evil of an action gets murky as well. None of those terms are defined! In the future, I'm going to keep in mind Madden's succinct phrasing "ethically neutral" instead, since ethics deals with actions and choices, rather than fuzzy inherent properties.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hello again

I carry on this conversation, hopeful. I can't make up my mind how far to let down my guard. When will the sting come? Where will the stab disable me? As we drift into old topics, my eyes begin to dart.

I try to watch your hands, but they are in shadow. Are you holding a weapon? I keep my distance, because I cannot see (because I cannot--should never have trusted you). I still have those scars, you know, from last time, and all the times before. But I won't show them to you. This armor will not come off. Still, I don't really want you to see the shield I have to hold. I will stand in the shadows, too, and pretend I'm not on the defensive. I will conceal my armor, just as much as you conceal your weapons.

And maybe, when the sun blasts away all the shadows, its burning light will reveal your hands empty (despite all my fears), and my heart exposed (despite all my caution).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Neighborhood Rhythm

At lunchtime on this summer Wednesday, tranquil sunshine washes across the neighborhood. The trees cast dappled shadows on the street, and sway in the gentle breeze. The weather is calm. But the neighborhood is shaking.

Boom, boom boom, boom-boom boom. This neighborhood is all about drums and bass. The house next door is the epicenter of the music-quake. The vibration penetrates the walls of sleepy houses. Sitting inside, I feel the couch quiver beneath me. The persistent bass from next door sets my eardrums buzzing. I can feel the music ricocheting through my skull.

Melody does not travel well. I cannot hear the voices or guitar chords. But rhythm! Rhythm invades. It doesn't need to slink under doors or pry windows open, no, it bursts straight through walls. It pulses through the ground. The sidewalk dances, the asphalt road buckles. In the veins of the ferns and pines that seem so still, the beat disturbs the sap, casting waves. Boom--boom--boom, boomboomboom, boom. The sonic energy insinuates itself--into my bones--my lungs--the tips of my fingernails. This, is irresistible pulsation. This, requires no musical chemistry. Physics imposes this rhythm. Anywhere its energy carries it, every molecule will harbor its vibration.


I keep meaning to write but when I haven't taken the time to deepen the joy of gallivanting about into the peace of being in the right relation to things, the words don't come. I need to confess, to unburden my heart, or else I will never be able to write the way I mean to, the words pouring out smoothly in a steady stream, the way they do when every image is a spring that cannot run dry. All I have to do is direct the flow, when my heart is in the right place.

But instead, when I pause, I find I am restless. I have to work to punctuate a sentence, because the ideas I do have to write want to stream out all at the same time with no breaths between them so that reading the line is as exhausting as having thought it-- Stop. There is no stopwatch, these days, but my mind is racing anyway.

A confession--there is something wrong, and I don't know how to fix it. And another--as long as the sun is shining, I can make myself believe there is nothing to fix in the first place.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Home is where the familiar is

Home is this place where I ride my bike to the grocery store without bothering to put on real shoes, and where, as I am buying a dozen apples and a block of sharp cheddar (because there is a refrigerator to keep these sorts of things in), the cashier asks me not just "How are you today?" but also, "Español?"

And yes, I've come home.

I never considered the availability of crackers and cheese, or the likelihood of being mistaken for being Hispanic, or the feasibility of never wearing shoes and socks, to be an integral part of Home, when I lived here. The mariachi music my neighbors blast used to annoy me; the hip-hop bathing the street on a Friday morning evoked my disdain. This morning, though, these little things (the grit of my neighborhood) root me more firmly in the familiarity. I feel like saying: This is my neighborhood. This is my place.

Coming back here for the summer when we lived abroad was wonderful, but it was never home. Then again, neither was going back to the house on the other side of the Pacific. When we moved back here for good, that wasn't home, either. Nothing was safe and comfortable. New and Exciting aren't inferior, but they aren't Home, either.

I didn't feel a sense of home until I was older. Maybe you have to be an adult with a history, an agent in control of your circumstances (at least to a greater degree than you do as a child), a mind with an understanding of the larger environment, to really recognize: this is home, this is not.

I know now, though. Here, I am at home.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rain at Midnight

When the rain falls this hard, it sounds like the wind blowing downward, flattening everything.

It sounds like all the trees and buildings and rocks muttering. I wasn't paying enough attention to hear the alarming announcement they are discussing so furiously. What did I miss?

It sounds like a conversation between the sky and the ground. Family business needs to be discussed, but not so the children can understand. Sky and Earth are the parents talking downstairs so their voices hum throughout the walls and floor.

It sounds like a giant just dropped the world into a frying pan so the hot oil sizzles and pops. Soon we will be crispy to the core.

It sounds like a long shower at the end of the day, like the ocean just around the corner, like the orchestra from outside the concert hall. It sounds like the confusion of voices in my mind, like the clattering of emotions when I try to sleep, like all the things I need to get done (by that time, before this time), tumbling together. It sounds like minutes rushing by before I can catch them. It sounds like memories washing across my face.

--and it stops. Nighttime silence falls instead. The world is still. Now I remember: those things can wait. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ice Cream

I finished my paper! (It's about parentheses. (They are my favorite form of punctuation.)) And I need sleep.

But the weather was lovely today, and I supplemented it with ice cream on a sugar cone, flavor selected for its intriguing name (Hotel black bottom pie). I sat outside in the warm dusk with two good friends (the intentional kind, not the clicking kind). As the ice cream melted, the chunks of chocolate stuck out of it like stones from the ground. The people passed by talking about nothing, and the children wandered around enjoying everything, and I sat there licking my ice cream, and the world was lovely.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Brief Comment on Our Society

Some facts (or things I think are facts, anyway. I have not verified these rigorously.):
1. People in societies where starvation is a serious problem do not have bulimia or anorexia.
2. People in environments where there are a lot of deadly diseases don't have deadly allergies.
3. People in time periods where they had to struggle just to survive didn't get paralyzed by depression and commit suicide nearly as often as they do in ours.
In my mind, these problems all go together. The common theme is that when humans are not facing any real dangers, they create deadly dangers for themselves, somehow. When outwardly imposed starvation is not a threat, we impose starvation on ourselves through tortured psyches. When death from the outer world is not a threat, we kill ourselves. We need danger, hostility, opposition, struggle. When the world immediately around us doesn't force those things into our lives, we dig them up from our hearts or create them with our culture or bring them into being through our own technology and carelessness.

Obviously, a possible viewpoint is that in those other situations, the people who currently have these unnatural afflictions were weeded out early. Yet another is that those people were around and just not diagnosed. Either of those explanations still leaves the fact that modern Western society is plagued by these issues that do not plague less materially comfortable societies. When the real problems go away, new ones will show up.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Walking Home

It's that time again: time for taking twice as long to walk home at night; time for fixing mesmerized eyes on the skies; time for darkening the streetlights and welcoming the shadows. This moment always sneaks up on me. I am rushing from place to place, checking things off my list. Then suddenly, I see what I have had dozens of chances to anticipate--for the moon is full again.

Tonight, the mist is moving restlessly, migrating and fidgeting. But the moon is steady behind the clouds. The orange streetlights make the trees' new leaves glow gold, and the silver moon shines through them. Her face is dim, compared to the lights we have hung on the buildings, along the paths, and the mist obscures it even more. But I cannot tear my eyes away from her.

Finally the clouds cover the moon completely. The spell broken, I uproot my feet and move homeward. But I keep looking over my shoulder, waiting for that pale disk to gaze at me once more.

The moon is an enchantress. I meant to try to find word for the music I heard tonight--the vibraphone and marimba and clarinet and piano and cymbals--but once I looked the moon in the eye, I was her creature, fit for nothing else.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In and Out

I am the crocodile-dragon-creature in Escher's print Reptiles. In the confines of the flat paper world, my every edge is a neighbor's beginning, and I am neither positive nor negative space, but a piece of the pattern, perfectly fitted and entirely delineated. So I extract myself. I escape into the world of up-down, forward-back, side-to-side.

Space yawns around me. I can move, go anywhere. I am expanded--expansive--experimenting, experiencing. Everything is new, so I go exploring. Breath in my lungs is the most beautiful piece of the universe. I exhale exuberance, puffs of smoke.

But then I find myself crawling downward. I am not sure where to go. The vagueness of liberty disorients and disturbs. Where do I fit with the objects around me? They do not respond when I move. I grow tired of being lost and alone, and of being bombarded with sensations.

The paper is before me, so familiar. I lower my head to it, and rediscover my old perspective. Slipping forward, slipping flatter, slipping away from the unknown world, I slip away from experience and sensation.

A moment later, I am pattern on paper.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"Good Morning"

Here I am, sitting in my pajamas, and still waking up. In real life, no one I don't live with will be trying to talk to me, unless it's an emergency. But the internet eliminates not only distance, but space itself. There are no walls to keep people out, only corners to hide in; no locks on these doors, they swing open whenever someone pushes on them. I don't want to talk to you, but somehow I have signaled that I am available. You owe me nothing, but somehow you believe it would be good to check up on me. Why? I don't want your protection or attention. I don't want you to take care of me.

Didn't the lines I drew between us tell you anything? What have I done to make you think I want you to be the one to check in on me? You are not my father, not my brother, not my husband, not my lover. You have no right to my morning.

And yet I cannot ignore the salutation, cannot leave the question unanswered--"Good morning. How is the paper coming?" I cannot help replying. I tell myself it is more loving to be at least minimally polite. Small matter if I cannot summon up a smile to go along. He is not physically present, at least, to see my irritation. It is easy, so easy, to hide feelings behind words. Words shine lights and cast shadows, and I can leave the feelings in the dark places where they will go unnoticed. Already my feelings tend to cower in the corners. The hard thing is to use words to light up the dark places, to reveal, rather than conceal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

QCR (for the one person who knows what that stands for)

"Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be." --Valentine Wiggin, from Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.

Scary thought, right? the thought: that the mask I wear will become my face, if I leave it on; that my identity is not a fixed crystal that I can choose to hide or show, but a construct built of reflections and shadows; that the external me will inevitably permeate into the core that I think of as untouchable. . . that I am what I act like.

But what if I pretend to have it all together all the time? Will I actually become a perfectly composed and coordinated person?

So far, it's not working.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In which I am a bizarre specimen of humanity

In the past few months, I have frequently spent two or three hours talking over dinner. I have left several of them feeling bitter about the amount of homework I should have gotten done during those hours. Others, though, I left feeling pleasantly rebellious against the world of productivity. Some of these long conversations were fun, some useful, some informative; some were a combination of two or three of those; some were simply frustrating or unsatisfying.

The one I had today revolved around the definition of a (mathematical) limit. (". . . such that for an arbitrarily small epsilon, there is a number delta such that the value of the function falls within epsilon of y for every x within delta of a." "This is music to my ears!")

Based on a comparison of my feelings toward today's long conversation to previous ones, I think I can conclude that I would feel more connected in a relationship (of whatever sort) where we spent hours talking about math (or other abstractions) than one where we spent hours talking about the relationship.

What the heck does that say about me?