Thursday, December 30, 2010
This is the mucus time, the mucky time. We are all coughing, choking, sputtering. The phlegm leaps out of my throat, or it threatens to explode my skull. The words do the same thing. They take possession of my tongue and spray out into the kitchen or the living room. Sometimes they collide with someone's face. Sometimes they look like tears when they land on skin.
This year they seem to dry quickly though, and it seems more and more plausible that the words were never actually visible, that I am imagining them, that in fact the world is quiet and still.
With the cold, peace is burning through the murk and muck. Delusions and deceptions are being ground away, leaving the truth to gleam in the winter sun. The pile of dirty tissues is getting higher and higher, but someday soon, I will be able to breathe. I believe.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Or my smile is the horned moon when it has slipped sideways--light through the latticed trees. And when I look away, I am an image like a painting on the wall in a museum, in a gilded frame. My face is the object of admiration, not analysis.
And all of this is a reflection of a reflection -- the reflection in your eyes, reflected in my words. I see myself in a dark window-pane, as I sit inside this lighted train, speeding through the night.
I have to shatter the air to breathe. The crystalline shards pierce my nostrils and lungs as I inhale. (I wonder, will one find my heart?) The sun slices through my eyes, and through the few remaining leaves. The naked trees stand bravely, but I tuck my chin into my scarf and scurry toward shelter.
Winter has descended, turning all things sharp: the tree branches, the blades of grass like swords; the passage of each minute as we tumble toward the precipitous drop from this year to the next; the rays of the brilliance from our star; the crescent moon; my words. Each movement crushes a thousand frozen structures, the dirt, the air. The wind moves in unison, an army of air, marching in perfect step, even running, graceful as dancers who have been practicing together for thousands of years.
Monday, December 13, 2010
"Practicing Sabbath rest is one way of exercising humility, but we do it very, very poorly in this country."I've never thought about it that way. Sabbath as tithe, Sabbath as discipline, Sabbath as a fast, Sabbath as simply following a rule; Sabbath as gift and blessing, Sabbath as "joy-day" (in John Ortberg's parlance); Sabbath as breaking the bonds of putting faith in work and achievement, even Sabbath as an exercise in trusting God, which comes closer. But not Sabbath as an act of humility.
My relationship to the Sabbath has gone through a lot of different phases. When I was little, I never thought about it. Then there was a long period where I fasted from novels on Sunday (though I didn't think of it as fasting, at the time). Then I went through a phase where I tried to get all my homework done on Friday and if necessary Saturday; then some time after getting to Stony Brook, I started counting the day of rest as being from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday, with the result that I would end up staying up really late Sunday to get homework done. I was keeping the Sabbath rigidly, in a practice that was still good but definitely tainted by a mix of fear and pride.
Then my attitude changed a lot, because I was absorbing the truth of my freedom in Christ. I think I was reading Hearing God and maybe also Celebration of Discipline or Into the Depths of God, all of which discuss listening to the Spirit instead of being tightly and mindlessly bound by rituals (which is what my personality drives me to). No longer knowing how to motivate Sabbath-keeping, I stopped altogether.
Then I went to IVCF's missions conference, Urbana, and read Mudhouse Sabbath, which talks about how the Jewish Sabbath is a day of celebration and community and good eating (not of austerity and fasting and constraint, as in traditional Protestant practice). That was an eye-opener, and it built the bridge in my mind between the teaching I've heard about taking a "joy day" and the Bible's descriptions of the Sabbath.
Lately I haven't been consciously practicing a day of rest. I have effectively been keeping a day of rest from work, because I spend almost all weekend with O., talking and reading and eating and cooking and sometimes watching movies (and last weekend, our (dating) anniversary, going to the Guggenheim and being enthralled by Kandinsky's colors). But I hesitate to call that time a Sabbath because it's not time devoted to God per se. Moreover, I'm not sure I can even call it a day of simple rest, because this semester, Saturday has often brought some emotional stress. Relationships are not about work, but they do require work. (So many intense conversations: sorting things out, finding out how much fear colors my emotional experience.)
Trusting God: that theme keeps coming back this semester. Trust and fear, the opposites that push me back and forth. I'm afraid of judgment, afraid of failure, afraid of being a bad person--and so I keep the Sabbath as an attempted good work. Or: I trust God to take care of my work, I trust God to know what's best for me, I trust God to give me good gifts--and I keep the Sabbath as an act of intimacy with my Father in heaven.
If anxiety is really about arrogance ("this has to happen my way, and what if it doesn't?" in Oswald Chambers' model), is there an element of pride in all my fear? Is my fear the fruit of trusting my own understanding rather than God's revelation? Maybe all trust is predicated on humility. To trust someone else, even God, is to submit myself to their reasoning and decisions, to believe they know and speak the truth. To trust God means to believe His statements about Who He is ("the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness"), rather than believing the lies about Him that my own faulty understanding spews forth.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Like the smell of the grey sea when it races
up the shore, when it throws uprooted seaweed
onto the sand, when it sprays the cold boulders
and the sea gulls float on it, white birds buoyed
up and down, but not carried by the waves--
and like the smell of the damp earth
when the spade crunches into the soil
and lifts a dark mound into the sunny air
and the dirt tumbles down, black, and the worms
hide themselves futilely, as the gardener loosens the roots
of a chrysanthemum to plant it like a flame
burning against the black earth--
and like the smell of animal fat in the fire,
a sausage smoking and the grease dripping--
like salt and seaweed and decay
and like roots and earth and growth
and like fat and flame,
persistent as smoke in my hair and clothes--
Like that, crimson, the smell
of the moon's rule.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Inside, I am hanging, too, suspended in time, not space. When I feel this alone, I am not sure who to tell. When will you come? This is Sunday, but for me it is a cloudday. My tears have dried. My face, like the ground outside where the rain has not fallen, has clouds, fringes of sunlight, cracks of blue sky. But there is salt here, and the seed of a headache.
And finally, you have come, and now I do not know what to do.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
"Why sex plays such a large role in Catholic doctrine is a deep puzzle."Posner makes this comment in a blog posting that deals with Catholic policy & doctrine regarding contraception, and which treats the Catholic church as a "corporation" with "customers." In his essay, he remarks on several aspects of Catholic policy of sex: prohibition of contraception; belief that procreation is the primary reason for sex; requirement of abstinence for priests, nuns and monks; prohibition of "unnatural sex." He analyzes the development of Catholic doctrine as having evolved purely out of economic pressures, i.e., pressures to compete, attract and retain "customers," etc.
(Richard Posner, "Contraception and Catholicism")
Posner's take is an interesting way of looking at it. But from my perspective as a Christian, it ignores the central fact that motivates Christian doctrine: the reality of God and of His revelation to humankind. Of course, the other dimension to my perspective as a Protestant Christian is that it seems totally plausible to me that many of the areas where Catholic doctrine diverges from my own beliefs have human/economic motivations behind them.
That said, I'd like to address the comment that I quoted at the start of this post, in which Posner makes the following claims:
- Sex plays "a large role" in Catholic doctrine.
- This large doctrinal role of sex is "a deep puzzle."
One way to look at the first question is to reframe it as: Is the role of sex in Catholic doctrine unusually great? So Catholics have many constraints around sex. Protestants do too! (The conservative ones, at least.) Jews do too! Hey, if we're going to complain about the Catholic endorsement of the "rhythm method" of contraception (avoid pregnancy by only having sex on infertile days of the month), what are we going to say about Orthodox Jewish laws about "family purity"? Would Posner say, "Why sex plays such a large role in orthodox Jewish doctrine is a deep puzzle?" I have no idea. Moreover, Muslims also have a great deal of doctrine related to sex. Ahem: Does Catholicism promise 40 virgins to the martyr in Paradise?? If we're talking about larger-than-average doctrinal roles for sex, don't you think that using sex as a motivation for martyrdom and entry into heaven is more remarkable than putting sharp constraints around the implementation of sex during life on earth? It seems far from clear to me that the role of sex is greater in Catholic doctrine than in other religions. (Which is not to say that the religions I just listed are a representative sample. They are the religions I am most familiar with. Feel free to comment on the role of sex in the doctrines of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Scientology, etc!)
In fact, the one standpoint from which it seems most clear to me that Catholicism's doctrines of sex would seem notably important, and surprisingly so, is the perspective of modern secularism. This is the perspective from which any doctrine pertaining to sex seems strange, intrusive, a relic of another era. This is the perspective in which sex between consensual adults is no one else's business. This is the perspective in which sex is all about personal pleasure and fulfillment--by which I do *not* mean that sex in this perspective is only about the physical; the pleasure and fulfillment could also be about emotional and social experience. The point I mean to make is that modern secularism provides the perspective in which sex is dramatically divorced from the family and from God, and thus the perspective from which sex seems irrelevant to religious doctrine.
[I wrote this all yesterday and then didn't post because I hadn't dealt with the 2nd issue: of whether it is "puzzling" for sex to play a large role in Catholic (or really, in any) doctrine. But I'm going to just post this now and write up the rest of my thoughts in a separate post.]
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Do you sometimes dream about your own death, or about facing life-threatening situations? What deadly perils turn up most often in your dreams? Do these dream perils overlap with your daytime worries, or do your dreams have their own special dangers that don't occur in the dayworld?YES. All the freaking time. Scary people are constantly chasing me in my dreams, and I don't appreciate it!
Last night's dreams weren't nightmares per se, but there were definitely some nightmarish bits. For instance, I and some other people were being taken into the bowels of an aquarium because some friend who worked needed us to help him out with some unspecified thing. So we were walking through dark corridors, and passing through exhibits, and then we came to the exhibit for a giant spider. Why the aquarium had a giant spider, I have no idea. But there was the huge room for it, filled with a web made of ropes, thick black cables, and it was all dark, and we all just walked in.
The spider never actually made an appearance, but we stood around there for quite a while, and everyone else was totally nonchalant about it, but I shifting nervously, peering around but seeing nothing in the darkness, starting whenever the air moved.
And then we walked out without closing the enclosure behind us, and I encountered a magic lamp thing and a bunch of ink that had to go in it, and an eye-dropper, and a strange guy in a top hat who was associated with the lamp somehow, and it turned out that one of my companions was pretending to be someone she wasn't, and ...
So yes, that's how my dreams go. The perils in them are decidedly dream-dangers, though they never fail to convince me of their terrible reality.
It makes waking up a pleasant surprise, anyway.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
"Part of the problem is that as countries go their own way, they are each arguing that they are acting for the greater global good." (From the NYT, "Challenges Await U.S. at Group of 20 Meeting")Isn't that what we always do? We need to claim we are doing the right thing to draw others to our cause; we need to claim to be doing the right thing even to fully believe in our own cause. Justification is the foundation for any rhetoric, isn't it? Today in my English class, we were looking at the first book of Milton's Paradise Lost, in which Satan is rallying the fallen angels to "awake, arise" from the burning lake, and he announces his purpose to never do any good, only evil. My professor pointed out that in using the pre-established language--English, in Milton's poem--Satan can't help undermining his own argument. The language reflects the position (the reality) that God is good and Satan is choosing evil instead. Satan would be more insidious if he camouflaged his goals. Deceptive idealism is more potent than honest evil, methinks.
There's another issue with Satan's rhetoric, too. Satan says he is choosing to be always "contrary." This undermines his authority: if your identity and decisions rest on doing the opposite of what the other side does, then you are effectively still passive. This is an idea I've thought about quite a bit on my own, so it was great to hear it articulated by a professor in connection with literature! (I believe I've made the point before on this blog, with regard to stereotypes. If I refuse to do something purely on the grounds that it fulfills a stereotype about women, then I am still being controlled by sexism.)
Aaaand I have to go back to working on my thesis and reading the newspaper and buying groceries so I will conclude this rambling commentary.
Monday, November 8, 2010
To clarify: it wasn't an unusual way for a photographer to take a picture; it was an unusual way for me to have my picture taken. You see, my darling sister is taking a photography class, and I was visiting her this weekend.
"Can I take photos of you?" she asked me.
"Sure!" I said.
At which point she added, "--naked?"
As it turned out, "naked" meant 'shirtless but covered with a shawl.' So it wasn't the scandal she initially phrased it as. My innocent little sister, talking about naked photos and asking her subject if she was ready to strip...
We were in the studio at 10pm on a Saturday, after watching an artsy and quite lovely show on campus ("Dead Man's Cellphone"). The little college was quiet, and the first door we tried for the arts building was locked. When we did get inside, S. flicked on lights as we walked between walls covered in photographs, paintings, prints. In the studio, she turned on the lamps like giant flowers, unrolled a black backdrop, attached the camera to the tripod. Shirt off, scarf on; door latched, overhead lights off. It was cold, the air on my bare back. The black scarf was softer than I expected, and it draped nicely. I couldn't see too clearly with my glasses off, and perhaps oddly, this half-blindness made me feel more naked than my half-dressedness.
So I clutched the scarf, and peered around, watching my sister fiddle with the camera, and not quite being able to see what she was doing. Click, click, click. "Turn... Can you... Oh, right there." Click. Click. The studio and the set-up were foreign, but my sister with a camera? Entirely familiar. So, shirtless and scarf-wrapped, a camera capturing my naked back, in the winter studio, I was still at home. S. was taking pictures, and I was just the subject. The photographs would not be about me, but about the pictures they portrayed.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
And yet it is so hard for me to have faith in my chapter of Intervarsity. It is so hard for me to expect that I can receive or give anything at the large group gatherings. Why do I go to them? Is is routine? others' expectations? a sense of higher obligation? I can't say. Surely it's some combination of those, and other factors I can't really pin down. But as I have been freed, subtly and gradually, from the crushing sense of duty that circumscribes my actions so often, I have come to see how little I believe in the large group meetings. The fact is, I don't trust them. I don't trust that I will meet God there, I don't trust that the teaching there will be sound, I don't trust that I will even have meaningful interactions with people there.
I persist in believing and proclaiming that it is good to go there, and yet I can't say what I am so sure is good about it. Going to IV large group is an obligation for me. It is the Law: fellowship and corporate worship are good. But the Law is a burden, producing fatigue and resentment. I am not under the Law but under the Spirit, and yet the Spirit certainly has not transformed my attitudes and feelings in this area.
I used to feel that large group was good and enjoyable and that I learned things there. Now I am disenchanted with it and I can't really pin down why. I am afraid of the crowd of people, afraid of not knowing my place, afraid of judgment. And so I am afraid to give, lest everything be taken from me, and I don't even want to pray for God's blessing on the fellowship because I can't find it in myself to believe that He is present there.
Yet I know God is present, and I know He works there. I can't find it in myself, but all things are found in God. Help Thou my unbelief. Lord, teach us to pray.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Many of the poems are striking. Some of them are particularly evocative because they are damaged. The manuscripts were burned or broken or otherwise maimed, so the translations have brackets everywhere--all along the left side, for instance, or sprinkled liberally throughout, as though the speaker were too shy to say everything out loud. Here is Guy Davenport's rendition of one fragment (§85):
heartThere is so much mystery in the ellipsis, like the mystery in a haiku. Reading these fragmented poems reminds me of trying to form an impression of person by overhearing snippets of their conversation, and by glimpsing them as they go about their day, but never sitting down with them to hear their story. Through the fragments, we see Sappho moving back and forth through life. We hear her cries, as though hearing a neighbor through the wall. We see her spinning and leaping, but only through the gaps in the fence. We can't see the pattern of her steps, and we can't ask her why she is celebrating. But we can see that she is dancing.
may be for me
throws back the light
And then there are a few poems without any holes torn through their text (I think the introduction said we only have three complete poems of Sappho's), which are like brief, brutally honest conversations with a stranger who will tell you exactly how she is feeling right now, but doesn't trust you to actually care. Or they are like conversations with a dear friend who leaves out all the explanations and cuts to the chase, because she knows you know exactly what she is talking about.
I love them all. Some of them scare me, some of them charm me. Some of them tell stories that I don't have the courage to tell for myself. §65 from Davenport:
I.How clearly she speaks! And yet her gods are not my gods, and she doesn't speak my language. She is a wild sister I can never meet.
Percussion, salt and honey,
A quivering in the thighs;
He shakes me all over again,
Eros who cannot be thrown,
Who stalks on all fours
Like a beast.
Eros makes me shiver again
Strengthless in the knees,
Eros gall and honey,
"You, however, are controlled not by the flesh but by the Spirit... Those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God." There isn't supposed to be a Spirit-led part of my life and a self-led part of my life (or rather, an anxious part of my life). If I really let the Spirit lead me, God will also lead me about how much sleep to get, whether it's really a good time to cook dinner, how long to study for Arabic quizzes, and whether to hang out with someone when really all I want to do is get some time to be still.
"Just a closer walk with Thee"--All I need is You, Lord, "and all these things will be added to me as well."
[This blog gives such a bipolar depiction of my life... Oh well, it's the nature of a fragmentary record.]
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
[I had Arabic homework to watch two YouTube videos about the street food in Fez, Morocco, and comment on various things mentioned. For whatever reason, I felt like posting what I wrote up in a place that someone would actually read it... Is it strange that I do a better job on the writing for assignments like this, which assuredly isn't going to be graded on its writing quality, than on assignments like my psych paper (well, a 2-page summary & reflection) where it seems like the writing quality should actually matter?]
These two video segments introduced a number of Moroccans from every walk of life: from the professor of linguistics and gender studies (Dr. Fatima Sadiqi) to the man who started selling street food because he couldn't find any other job (Nourdine Alyazami); from the women supporting their families by working in bakeries (such as the bakery run by Soumaya Benkirane), to Jean Pierre Dehut, the largest wine-producer in Morocco; from Danielle Mamane, a Jewish woman whose family fled the Inquisition in Spain, to the Sufis who sit in a circle representing the universe, with the couscous they are all sharing placed symbolically in the center.
Each of these inhabitants of Fez showed some distinctive Moroccan dish, whether it was Lahcen Beqqi's lamb tajine (which looked delicious), the Sufi gathering's couscous, the traditional Jewish Sabbath meal (chickpeas, potatoes with eggs, two or three types of meat, rice or wheat), or the dried meat topped with grease that the rapper Adil Idrissi pointed out to the video's hostess. These diverse encountered illustrated the rich variety in history of Fez, a city where ancient and modern mingle. Fez was established at the end of the 8th c. by the great grandson of Mohammad, and it was the capital of Morocco until French colonial authorities relocated the central government to Rabat. Today, Fez is considered the "culinary capital" of Morocco, as well as its "spiritual heart," according to the video.
Despite its rich heritage, however, Fez today is economically strained, with a very high unemployment rate. Some inhabitants of Fez have found a source of income from food: they sell street-food, or they work in bakeries, or even in the incongruous wine-industry. Others work in the foul-smelling but high-paying tannery, where cow hides are softened with pidgeon dung and dyed with mint, henna, saffron.
The comment on gender-roles was very interesting to me--that women are breaking out of their traditional confinement in the home, but without breaking out of their traditional role as preparers of food, nurturers. This struck me as a graceful transition, contrasting with the aggression and discontentment that seem to me to characterize American feminism. (Granted, there wasn't an extensive discussion of this issue in the video.)
The Sufi circle around the round plate of couscous was also very interesting to me. I thought it was really poignant that they feed each other. The symbolism is its own spice and savor, I think: if I were to taste just one of the dishes in the video, I'd like to try that couscous.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
How It Feels to Need Solitude
The messages never stop
flying in and out,
always in my eyes
so I can never see
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Where did you come from? I have asked. Why are you here? No reply comes. Instead, Longing wraps its arms around me, and rests its head on my shoulder. I can shake free of it for now, but I know it will curl up with me later. It will come to me as I sleep, like a cat that always shares the bed, and I won't have the heart to shove it away when it leans against me, and purrs.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Like Hunger Games, it was hard to put down. The novel is written as the journal of Miranda, a Pennsylvanian sixteen-year-old whose name inevitably reminds me of the ravaged planet in the movie "Serenity." This is a fitting association for a book about the disintegration of life on Earth when a stray asteroid strikes our own Luna, sending her a shade closer to the planet. The moon looms grotesquely and menacingly large overhead, as though it is about to fall out of the sky. It is a relief to Miranda when the vast quantities of ash from the volcanoes that spring up everywhere on the destablized planet obscure the sky entirely. When the ash is thick enough, she can't see the moon's threats. Meanwhile, there are plenty of more direct physical threats wreaking havoc all over the planet: tidal waves, earthquakes, epidemics, food shortages.
This is a book about the narrowing of a life, the shrinking of the known world. This is a book about deprivation and death.
It's also a book about appreciating the little you have. But that appreciation comes only through resignation. Joy sprouts from accepting that things can't better, and in fact they are going to get much worse, so now is the time to extract the little life you can out of the shriveling, withering world. This is a book about hope that comes through blindness, about stripping away false faith, about salvation through asceticism.
Reading this book felt like drowning. When I rose to the surface--when I closed the book and opened my eyes to the clear blue sky and the sunshine streaming down like it would never ever run out--I gulped reality, gasping and heaving, and coughed up despair like water from my lungs. Drowning makes you appreciate air, but that doesn't mean almost drowning is good for the soul. I don't intend to read the sequels to Life as We Knew It. Despair is enough of a temptation in my own world of abundance and faith; living in the head of a teenager in desperate circumstances that cannot improve (in her world) does nothing good for my emotional stability. Distant as the moon is, I am enough of a lunatic.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I close my eyes, but the leaves keep falling, falling. I can't stop them. Suddenly gravity is calling, and every leaf is falling. Who am I to sing over Gravity's endless music?
Eventually the trees will be sleek and bare. Their spare lines will slice the sky, while their lush leaves fill the earth. Such extravagance, the bright leaves that fall, like expensive gowns shrugged to the ground. Scarlet, violet, russet, gold. So much color spilled heedlessly, because the trees know: When spring comes home, the leaves will grow again. Then no branch will lack for its emerald cloak. But winter is the time for dancing naked.
Why do I keep looking for a rake? What am I really looking for? A mountain of leaves, a landslide of colors. A place to leap.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
How well does your pace of book purchases match up with your pace of reading? Do you read books as soon as you get them home, or do you have a growing stack of books that you're hoping to have time to read someday? If you had to guess, how many unread books are there in your house?My confession is this: no matter how hard I try to stem* the flow of books into my room, I can't. The tide of words keeps rising. The words flood in through armloads of library books, they rain down from the internet (stormbursts of blog posts, New York Times articles). The words keep flowing in, and I can't drink them all.
To answer the questions more literally: My pace of book-buying matches my reading pace all right now, because I pretty much stopped buying myself books a couple years ago. (This drastic step was only taken after I bought over a dozen books really really cheaply at various school library sales, didn't read most of them, and had to conclude that I have an addiction to buying cheap books...) However, people give me books, and I get books from the library, and then there are all those books available for free online. So my reading pace really does not match my book acquisition pace at all. I probably have at least 10 unread books in my dorm room (although to be fair, some of them are for class!), and then 20 or 30 more in my room back at home.
"Quot libris, quam breve tempore."
At least I can say I've read all 66 books in the Bible! as if that were relevant. I delude myself.
*I got distracted wondering what the origin of that expression is, and the OED informed me that the verb meaning 'To stop, check; to dam up (a stream, or the like)' shares a root with the verb "stammer." Cool!
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
And then what do you do when, peering through the peephole, you see that the person on the other side of the door is a friend that you've heard did some terrible things this summer, which he has concealed from you and which you do not intend to bring up? What do you do when you look at your friend, and you see him through a cloud, a shifting fog, a cold mist? and when you hear his name, and the sound in your ears is accusing voices and the weeping that follows betrayal? and when he reaches out to hug you, because you are sick, and his touch feels cold because he has become a frozen wasteland to you--because of one story, because of a few minutes' telling?
But it's not because of a few minutes, not because of one story. The wasteland was revealed in that rapid parting of the clouds, in those lightning flashes that lit the barren landscape. But the transformation came day by day, in the accumulation of decisions: conscious decisions, clear decisions, irreversible decisions. The deceptions fell on the land like a million, billion snowflakes. Each lie is different, but each lie freezes in the same way.
What do you do when the friend is not the person you believed him to be? What do you do when a head-cold intersects with a cold heart? How do you thaw the tundra?
Friday, September 24, 2010
[I'm taking an Arabic course, and one of our recent assignments was to watch and comment on this video. It was a really interesting experience. Here's the part of my personal response that I actually wrote down:]
I found this video segment fascinating. There are so many things to comment on that I'm not sure what to put in this post. There is an image that particularly struck me and which I think captures the central contrasts in the video: a satellite TV dish in the foreground, and a weathered pyramid in the background, against a cloudless blue sky. This image juxtaposes the old and the new, the monumental and the trivial, the artistic and the technological. These juxtapositions run through the video, because the video speaks about the modern incarnation and experience of an ancient tradition that is still vibrant but which has changed immensely since the days of its inception.
These contrasts are particularly powerful because of the remarkable contrast inherent in Ramadan itself. Ramadan originated as a religious discipline and festival together, characterized by spending the day in fasting and the nights in feasting. Fasting is self-denial in a primal and powerful form, whereas feasting is a celebration that sets moderation aside for the sake of something greater. Today, so many other layers of juxtaposition are also included in Ramadan, particularly in the television of the season. Religion and entertainment rub shoulders. The local community experience of watching TV in a room together melds with the global community experience of talking to your mother in Cairo who has been watching the same silly soap opera as you, for this special month. That ridiculous soap opera stands next to the serious social commentary of Ahoor Al Ayn, a show to bond over but also argue over.
The primetime TV experience of Ramadan seems to supplement the religious tradition in many enjoyable and worthwhile ways. But at the same time, modern life inevitably detracts in some ways from older ways. The TV programs allow for globally shared storytelling, but at the cost of eliminating the local and personal storytelling that used to be so prevalent in cafes during this season of communal celebration. The price of global bonding is the loss of specific local bonds. The tradition of storytelling lives on, but the storytellers, as people you could actually run into on the street, die out. You can probably tell that I find this sad.
But at the same time, there are lots of things to admire about Ramadan primetime. If a society is defined or revealed by its television shows, I might rather be part of the society of the Ramadan primetime shows in this video than with the society of the primetime shows that appear on my television.
Japan has an especially good climate for planting and growing anxiety, but it will grow anywhere. It's a hardy weed that shoots up quickly and comes back after you cut it down, because its roots go deep into the secret places in the land, and they grip the soil with matchless determination. The stalk breaks before the roots let go; your hands slip, torn by the thorns, before the roots give up.
Plant peace, water it diligently, but none of its flowers will open if anxiety flourishes around it, blocking out the sun. Peace bears glorious blossoms, but its petals tear on the thorns of the weeds, and its leaves need the Sun. Peace will die in your garden if you keep growing anxiety.
Monday, September 20, 2010
The truths in the music, the words in the Book, roll across me. They slide away before I can absorb them, water-droplets on a windshield, leaving lines of water like messages in a script I can't read. My mood is the color and shape of water. In the time it takes for the clouds to dissolve and then rush back together, this shallow pool of water shows a thousand images, a million colors. My mind is the sound of the wind through the leafless trees, lines and scratches that bear no fruit.
"I need Thee every hour."
Thursday, September 16, 2010
The steps combed through the words, untangling some sentences and ripping out others, which drift away across the night air. When my feet stop moving, the words have all been brushed out. The sentences lie neatly, smooth and glossy. The conversations are in order. I can look in the mirror and be pleased with the light that reflects into my eyes.
I took so many steps today, without traveling anywhere. But I am happy to be where I am.
Monday, September 13, 2010
From this sharp piece by Thomas L. Friedmen:
“The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation,” wrote Samuelson. “Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a ‘good’ college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong, he said. “Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited ‘student apathy.’ ”Makes me wish I'd read a book that my dad often cites, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, because I have a feeling this would be apropos...
There is a lot to Samuelson’s point — and it is a microcosm of a larger problem we have not faced honestly as we have dug out of this recession: We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.
But doesn't this sound more like something you'd see in a conservative Christian magazine, ranting about the disintegration of a nation that was founded by great men, than like something you'd see in one of the country's largest newspapers, published out of the city known for its rich diversity? New York Times, you surprise me.
On a more contentful note: I think the real epidemic is a shortage of purpose, and a surplus of despair and boredom.
In primary school, kids don't participate in class because they're thinking about their future careers--they participate because of much more immediate effects, such as: having fun, wanting the approval of authorities, being interested in the world. Again, in secondary school, students don't become diligent in school because they want to get rich later--they work hard because they believe in something, whether it's environmentalism, preservation of historical artifacts, good-student-ism.
Without a sense of purpose, without a narrative for your life, what's to structure your time and thoughts? You'll be pushed around by your moods and your circumstances, and sometimes, class or work or marriage or whatever just won't seem worthwhile, and that will be all the loss of incentive it takes to let it gradually fall apart. If you don't have a sense of what the whole show is about, nothing in it will hold your attention. That's what I call a breakdown in values.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
When the sunbeams fall
on the trees like a rainstorm, and
the breeze brushes
the green leaves, and
a buzz begins,
and boils up--then
under the humming maple,
I am the silent audience
for summer's symphony.
Oh, I could list so many. But here are just a few:
- The Hounds of the Morrigan
- Watership Down
- The Lions of Al-Rassan (Thanks, Tia!)
- The Neverending Story (If only it would live up to its title! But its point is that life is the best story, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.)
- A Man in Christ (the only non-fiction I'm seriously listing)
- I almost want to list Anathem, but that book was definitely long enough (at 928 pages) even though I wanted the story to keep going. 1,856 pages would be far too many.
- I also kind of want to list Letham's Trinity, because I got so much out of every chapter of that book, but as above, the book was long enough (800+ pages), and it would have been seriously demoralizing to take 8 years to finish a book. Four years is long enough.
- Tia's novel!!! Only half of it was finished so of course when I got to the end of it, I was quite sorry, and wished for the other half of the pages...
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
But eventually, she has to sleep, and when she does, she dreams.
She sees the wildfires through her eyelids. Before she even wakes up, she is running. Before the spark is even struck, she is running: all it takes is the tinderbox, the flint. The grass on the golden hills is dry. It rustles and cracks as she passes through. She sprints across the slope, staggers, sobs. The heat of the sun is strong on her skin. Summer is stuck here, caught in the long grass. The sun is a hole burnt through the hard blue sky.
She doesn't look back, the girl who keeps running and tumbling, squeezing her eyes shut. She doesn't want to see. She hears the roaring of the conflagration in her ears, though she's not sure: is it her blood pounding, her heart crackling? The merciless sky doesn't soften. She feels it glare down on her, and she won't meet its gaze. This is another reason she keeps her eyes closed, when she can.
Finally she falls. Scraped palms, scratched knees, lungs grabbing the air, she finally opens her eyes. Heat waves squiggle over the hills behind her, and a haze of cloud drifts there. She is too far away now to see if the cloud is smoke, if heat is streaming up from licking flames. She is too far away to tell if the fire she saw with her eyes closed ever burned through her skin to set the hills ablaze.
She blinks, and the flames kiss her again, and she vows never to sleep anymore, or at least not to dream. But you can only watch for so long. The spark will fly in her mind again soon, and she will wear her feet out running.
Monday, September 6, 2010
It all depends on what kind of energy we're talking about... Let's just say it's my subjective sense of energy.
But it still all depends. Who am I hanging out with, and what have we been talking about? (If it was a group, my energy level has probably plummeted--or rather, a foot-tapping and chocolate-eating kind of anti-energy has probably polluted me.) How much did I sleep, and what did I dream? What have I been eating? (If it was all vegetables and fruit, with healthy doses of spice, I should be feeling great.) Is it sunny outside? Does my apartment feel inhabited?
I don't think that my identity/self/soul has an energy level, as though the essence of my being were an electron getting bumped up and down the orbitals as it spins wildly around the nucleus (the kernel of life?). No, neither lethargy nor euphoria are intrinsic to who I am. I think that what is intrinsic to who I am is, rather, the predictable ways that my energy level rises or falls in response to particular situations.
As far as outward manifestations of that energy level, though, I am consistently closer to "calm and quiet" than to the loud, fast-moving energy that I associate with a sugar-high. When people try to say what kind of animal I would be, they never name the twitchy, jumpy animals, like squirrels or frogs or dalmatians or gazelles. Instead, they tell me I am a pony, or (my favorite) a red panda.*
*and then there's the one person who has called me a whale and a stegosaurus... but I'm taking those out of context.
Art refers back to other art, and literature is no exception. Literature written in English rests on a canon not only of other English writing but of classics from the Greeks and Romans. The Iliad and Odyssey, ancient Greek epics, belong to the body of literature that has deeply shaped English writing, past and present. A knowledge of these poems and the mythology that accompanies them can enrich a reader's experience of a much greater body of literature, from the Roman masterpiece the Aeneid, to Dante's revolutionary Inferno, to modern books like James Joyce's Ulysses.
Moreover, these epic poems describe timeless human experiences: patriotism, friendship, love, voyage into the unknown, the return home after a long absence. In exploring ancient accounts of these experiences, the modern reader can find that the writing still resonates with present-day emotions and events. Subsequently encountering those experiences in personal life, then, the reader can recall the attitudes and expressions given to the experiences by the ancient writer. This recollection can add new meaning to events that might otherwise seem mundane, or bring comfort in the face of daunting challenges. These poems can thus add another dimension of meaning to personal experiences. In the case of the Iliad and Odyssey, the discovery of this resonance is particularly powerful, because the original author and audience are so far removed in time and space. The writer/reader intimacy, forged across so great a contextual gap, roots the modern reader in a broader human identity.
The surest way to really know an artwork is to imitate or respond to it. For my thesis project, I propose to read the Iliad and Odyssey closely, and write a collection of poems responding to the epics. By interacting with them this way, I hope to absorb their literary and emotional content, to carry with me into the rest of life and into the rest of literature. In addition, I will create a small body of my own artistic work that interacts with the larger body of literature as well as expressing some of who I am at this moment in life, when, like Odysseus preparing to set off for the Trojan war, I am poised between my “home” of [insert college name here] and the voyage of graduation and entrance into the world at large.[Apparently I am one of the very few students from the honors college who got cleared to do a creative project... I am grateful.]
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Personalism is the discovery, the respect, but not the cult, for this deep reality. [...] The great paradox of Christian personalism is this: it consist in something more than bringing to light the unique and irreplaceable element in the individual Christian.This comment about "the inmost secret of our being" brought me relief in an area that I hadn't even realized I was feeling tension. The goal of self-knowledge always seems desirable to me, because understanding myself has often brought me clarity and peace--or at least calmness. The untangling of my emotions has brought the stillness and emptiness which together allow for a dreamless sleep, and which I have often sought.
On the contrary, Christian personalism does not require that the inmost secret of our being become manifest or public at all. We do not even have to see it clearly ourselves! [...] Christian personalism does not root out the inner secret of hte individual in order to put it on display in a spiritual beauty contest.
But seeking has not always meant finding. Unwinding the knotted threads has not always brought understanding, which often seems too slippery to grasp. Moreover, even if understanding somehow falls into my open hands, and does not pour out through my fingers, communication may prove impossible.
This predicament is made worse by the feeling that knowledge I can't express is no knowledge at all. What good is reflection if it doesn't bear fruit: actions or at least words? If I can't make myself understood, or if I can't even understand myself, I have failed. At least, that's how I tend to think. Hiding and secrets come naturally, and so I've struggled against them and treated them as the enemy.
But Merton sanctifies secrets and mystery. He places mystery at the heart of holiness, and secrets at the heart of personhood. In that light, I can stop struggling to smooth out the shadowy folds of my self. It's okay to be a secret; it's okay that God only knows me through and through; it's okay that I don't understand.
Friday, August 13, 2010
I need to snap out, snap open like a sweet peapod bursting and showing its seeds into the light. I need to wake from the dreams of distance. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek speaks for me:
"Our God shall come," it says in a psalm for Advent, "and shall not keep silence; there shall go before him a consuming fire, and a mighty tempest shall be stirred up about him." It is the shock I remember. Not only does something come if you wait, but it pours over you like a waterfall, like a tidal wave. You wait in all naturalness without expectation or hope, emptied, translucent, and that which comes rocks and topples you; it will shear, loose, launch, winnow, grind.Winter is the season for feeling that clean and cold, but the frigid Pacific and the chilling fog give me winter in the midst of summer. This purity is the prize, for surrender to the sea. This wakefulness is the reward, this out-of-body experience. The cold crashes over me, splashes in my eyes, tangles in my hair: every thought is washed out of my mind. I come running out of the waves, so awake that my body itself is a dream, dissolving in the bed of the world, when I am awake in the morning of joy.
I have glutted on richness and welcome hyssop. This distant silver November sky, these sere branches of trees, shed and bearing their pure and secret colors--this is the real world, not the world gilded and pearled. I stand under wiped skies directly, naked, without intercessors. Frost winds have lofted my body's bones with all their restless sprints to an airborne raven's glide.
And what if those grasshoppers had been locusts descending, I thought, and what if I stood awake in a swarm? I cannot ask for more than to be so wholly acted upon, flown at, and lighted on in throngs, probed, knocked, even bitten. A little blood from the wrists and throat is the price I would willingly pay for that pressure of clacking weights on my shoulders, for the scent of deserts, groundfire in my ears--for being so in the clustering hick of things, rapt and enwrapped in the rising and falling real world.In the copy I'm reading, my mother has marked exclamation points in the margin of this paragraph, as though the image is entirely alien, or the desire expressed is incomprehensible. But Dillard's words resonate in my ribcage. They curl around my wrists like bracelets: someone else has felt this way! I will gladly pay a penny of pain to participate in the world with my whole being--to know I belong on this planet--to step into the ceremony instead of watching from the pews, even if it means I must be the sacrifice on the altar.
And Dillard has a quote for that, too, at the end of the next chapter, after she has told us about the myriad parasites that are eating the world:
I am a sacrifice bound with cords to the horns of the world's rock altar, waiting for worms. I take a deep breath, I open my eyes. Looking, I see there are worms in the horns of the altar like live maggots in amber, there are shells of worms in the rock and moths flapping at my eyes. A wind from noplace rises. A sense of the real exults me; the cords loose; I walk on my way.The wind is the body of mystery, and its breath is a benediction. I receive it with open hands and closed eyes, and like Dillard, the prophetess, I walk on my way.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
This year's tomatoes have stubbornly remained green. The pendulous roma tomatoes wait, and wait, as though immune to the sun's rays. They begin to blush, but refuse to deepen in color. I sit staring at them, as though I might embarrass them enough that the blood will suddenly rush to the surface and transform them to that rich tomato red, to that fiery color that glints golden in the summer sun, as though the flesh were gold under the translucent, sanguine skin. But regardless of my staring, the roma tomatoes resisted the red. It's the sun's eye they need, not mine.
A few days ago, though, two of them had gone dark enough to pluck, finally. Today I ate one for lunch. I rubbed my nose on it, but this oblong fruit did not have the tomato perfume I craved... I even tried biting straight into it, but though it was certainly a tomato, the roma did not feel like a summer tomato. At last I sliced it up, along its latitudes. The circles were neat and pretty, like three-spoked wheels. I laid them on bread, with parmesan, and it wasn't the tomato I dream of in the wintry grocery stores. But it was summer enough.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Life in the modern metropolis [...] denaturalized language. Where there are many languages in use, language comes to seem arbitrary rather than natural--as the product of convention. Not as something you're simply born into, but something that is learned. Something that is made, and that can be re-made.And so modern poetry is a re-making of language? Hmm. I can certainly see that with, for instance, e.e. cummings. Or T.S. Eliot's language-blending is a kind of language re-creation, too.
Maybe all poetry is a remaking of language, because it restructures the sentences. A natural sentence can have many different skeletal shapes, as can a poetical sentence, but the sentences (when they are sentences) in poems take on different forms, as though their bones have been removed, or taken apart and put back together in new ways.
A poem asks you to look at the lines and see the words themselves, not just their sense--the way a painting of a nude asks you to look at the body and see the skin and shadows, instead of going straight to seeing the person. The painting remakes the body and thus remakes the person; the poem remakes the language, so as to remake the meaning.
Because really, a poem isn't about the words. It's a portrait of a piece of life, and language is just the paint.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Anyway, I am obviously not a professional psychotherapist, but I am really excited because what I have read so far resonates so well with ideas that have been slowing blossoming in myself. In the poetry anthology I'm reading, Helen Vendler says that the greatest joy that comes from a poem is finding your own thoughts and feelings expressed by someone else; I think the same can be true in other genres of writing. In particular, here is an insight (or "upsight," in the language of Anathem) that expresses something I have been fumbling towards for years but have never grasped well enough to name or express:
I find I am more effective when I can listen acceptantly to myself, and can be myself. I feel that over the years I have learned to become more adequate in listening to myself; so that I know, somewhat more adequately than I used to, what I am feeling at any given moment--to be able to realize I am angry, or that I do feel rejecting toward this person; or that I feel very full of warmth and affection for this individual; or that I am bored and uninterested in what is going on; or that I am eager to understand this individual or that I am anxious and fearful in my relationship to this person. All of these diverse attitudes are feelings which I think I can listen to in myself. One way of putting this is that I feel I have become more adequate in letting myself be what I am. It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function.I think this "acceptance" isn't about tolerance, that it isn't about accepting that this is how it is and therefore this is how it must be. I think it is simply about seeing: this is how it is, right now. I see this as being about integrity, in its original sense of wholeness, because if I don't see or accept or recognize something in myself, even though it is there, then I am cutting off that part of myself. I am dividing myself. Division is the opposite of unity or wholeness or integrity. Dishonesty, even to myself, leads to a fractured soul...
This must seem to some like a very strange direction in which to move. It seems to me that have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change. I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience--that we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed. (p. 17)
Another way to frame this: Life is a journey, right? and sometimes we get lost. Suppose I get lost, but I have a map so I can figure out where I should be. But suppose that I refuse to accept where I am on the map, because it is not where I want to be. Then when I plot my route from the place that I claim to be, to the place I actually want to go, that plotted route will be useless, because it has an inaccurate starting point. If I don't accept where I actually am, I can't even figure out how to go anywhere else, much less how to arrive at some particular other destination.
So I am really happy to see this articulated, especially by someone other than myself. Something I want to add, though, is that in my life such honesty and acceptance has been most fruitful and least painful when it takes the form of confession--just a brief prayer to God saying "This is how I am feeling, and I don't want to feel it. Help!" And then freedom comes, to replace guilt and fear.
In the words of Sara Groves: "Oh honesty / the truth be told / for the saving / of our souls."
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
For that forty minutes last night I was as purely sensitive and mute as a photographic plate; I received impressions, but I did not print out captions. My own self-awareness had disappeared [...] I have often noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves. Martin Buber quotes an old Hasid master who said, "When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you."I love this image of sparks that fly off of souls and cling like static, like burrs on your clothing, like a child in your arms. And as for wasting my energy, and scattering my soul to shards, by saying hello to myself: Yes. I would like to stop. How, I don't know. But stop: stop. Stop chewing the inside of my lip, stop picking at my fingernails, stop holding my jaw tight. Stop running back and forth like a squirrel, and learn to stand in the wind like a pine tree. Then the sparks will land on me and set me aflame like the burning bush, and I won't have any sandals to take off on the holy ground, because each foot will be a buried root.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I woke up bound to someone else's ideas. I woke with someone else's worry tightening my shoulders. The shoulder blades lie uneasily under my skin: ready to explode into wings and feathers, ready to shift like tectonic plates, like Africa and South America in their continental dance.
I woke in the blue light, in the cloud hour. Green leaves hang from the trees outside my window, but at dawn, all the leaves were silver and blue. The little dog's barking had broken the calm of my sleep, but when I drifted to the surface, all the sharp sounds had ceased. I woke to stillness, I woke to the silver noise of the cars floating by.
I woke, and I bobbed up and down through sleepiness, till I settled at the surface, floating on the silence. Through the dark hallway, into the empty kitchen, into the cool dawn that poured through the windows: the house was asleep, and I was barely across the border into waking.
I stared down into my mug at the minute bubbles sizzling up through the tea, but the hot liquid couldn't soothe me. I stared up with inner eyes, but morning imagination failed. I saw only the ceiling.
Meditation: what am I thankful for? what do I want? So crude, to want, but in the end, I am not a creature of the dawn, with mere blue wishes and dreams: I clutch my desires with curled fingers. Where did I experience God's love? where did I ignore God's love? today, how will I allow God to lead me into tomorrow? I am thinking about a day, just one day, but 24 hours is a million moments, uncountable thousands of thoughts.
Wrapped in a blanket, I fell asleep on the couch. Later, the poodle's nose prodded me awake, and she leaned up against me. We slid into sleep, in concentric curls.
I woke again, slept again, woke, slept, bobbed in and out, till finally I washed up on the shore in the full light of day. The moon was gone, the dawn had drained away. In the kitchen, my mother and I ate marionberry pie. I opened my battered Bible and read Psalm 44 (For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.): We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
In the light of day, in the light of your face, I cast off worry. I cast my bread upon the waters. I bade my worry sink in the lake of sleep, where the dreams lie in layers on the bottom and the silt settles on them softly. Having woken a hundred times, I woke yet again, and now I can go out to live.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Pidge and his little sister Bridgit have no idea what they're doing, but help always shows up, because they are under the protection of the Dagda. While there are several gods and goddesses in this story, not all of them good (i.e., the Morrigan, the goddess of battle and destruction and rot), the Dagda seems to be a class above the rest.
In fact, it's easy to read the Dagda as simply God... I don't recall noticing much about the character of the Dagda, or about Pidge and Bridgit's relationship with him, when I read this book before, but on this reading (2nd? 3rd?), I paid more attention to the writing style and the themes and characters and such, which was all quite lovely. Anyway, I wanted to type of a scene from the beginning, when Pidge first meets the Dagda, whose voice whispers to him:
Pidge froze into a statue of himself. He didn't dare move. He sat with his eyes staring straight ahead not seeing anything, but feeling with the back of his neck. After a long, long moment of this, he tried to make his head vanish inside his body like a tortoise pulling into his shell.This scene is lovely in itself, and even better in the context of the story. But I think it's also a great depiction of what our interactions with the real God can or even should be like at times. It's so easy to lose the sense of wonder and pleasure, and get caught up in duty and guilt.
It was as though he were getting ready to receive a blow on the head.
Don't be afraid, said the Voice. I am your friend.
Oh, what'll I do, thought Pidge fearfully.
Am I hurting you? the Voice asked with infinite gentleness.
Believe in my friendship.
"But, I'm afraid."
Listen! said the Voice.
Music flooded down the chimney as if it were water surging over the edge of a fall. It hushed--and there was a down-pouring of perfumed light, in accord with the clear and perfect notes of a solitary flute, in which the light rejoiced and danced.
It all faded and whispered away.
Pidge looked up and saw the night-time. It was filled wiht glittering stars.
I write my name, said the Voice.
Out of the multitude, the biggest and brightest of the stars formed the word: DAGDA.
But the truth of the relationship, the heart of the matter, is the music and the mystery, the stars rearranging and the world seeming safe, beyond all reason. It's the quest and the questions, and not needing the answers because you know the Person is with you.
That's all for now! I think I'll be typing up some long chunks of it though for further digestion and general spreading of insight and understanding and amazingness.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Beauty itself is the language to which we have no key; it is the mute cipher, the cryptogram, the uncracked, unbroken code. And it could be that for beauty, as it turned out to be for French, that there is no key, that "oui" will never make sense in our language but only in its own, and that we need to start all over again, on a new continent, learning the strange syllables one by one.I've never thought of beauty as a language, but I can see it now. Beauty is a message and a meaning and a moment. Beauty needs to be learned, needs to be absorbed. When I was little, my mother would point out landscapes as we drove by. I just wanted to read my book. Why look at mountains or green fields? I only knew how to read stories, read motions, back then. These days, I am learning to read beauty: poems and still-lifes and flowers and the light. Someday I'll speak the language.
Monday, July 12, 2010
I was at the beach, as the fog drifted by and the paragliders floated overhead. I was in the Pacific, getting sand in my jeans, getting salt in my hair. (In the evening, the dog licked my leg, and tasted the sea.)
I was in Haight-Ashbury today. I was eating coffee-malt-English toffee-whiskey ice cream from Ben & Jerry's ("Peace, love & ice cream"). I was in a vintage store, making my boyscout friend wear a giant floppy burgundy hat. In the photo, the hat has draped over his eye, like a veil. His face is hidden, and he says he's glad.
I was walking a dog today, a sturdy black terrier. He barks, he jumps, he races out the door. I walked him for an hour as dusk descended, and he left his scent on every corner. There are secret messages for him all over the sidewalk and the ivy and the posts that hold up the mailboxes. I watch him get the messages but I never know what they are saying to him.
I know what was being said to me, though... I was on the phone today. I was sitting in a stream of words, letting them flow over me, even as I walked down the tree-lined lanes and tugged the terrier out of the street. The stream flowed from far away, but the water was just as fresh as if I were at the spring itself. Listening is good. Later I spoke, and that was good too. (You thanked me for my words, and your gratitude was a blessing. To refresh you refreshes me...)
I was at church today. A visiting pastor, who had conducted a 24-hour funeral, sang to us, about the new Jerusalem. (I thought of you, how you would close your eyes if you were there to listen.) The pastor spoke about prayer, about God's heart for us, about disappointment, and the words rolled over me but they didn't sink in. My friend's words sank in, though: "We need you." Someone is badly sick, and the crazy hectic amazing day camp for a hundred kids is starting tomorrow, 9am. So: I'll play Sally a few mornings. I'm here, I can help--because I chose to rest this summer, instead of trying to fulfill some imperative to be productive. They thanked me, over and over, and I could genuinely tell them, "I'm happy to help."
Blessed to be a blessing, my pastor says. To be a blessing is to be blessed, some days: today. I am blessed. Here is my note of gratitude, and here is my note of apology for the days I despair. Thank you. Life is beautiful, and I am so glad to be here.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
It's the smallest seeds that grow into those pernicious plants with their poisoned fruit. It's the comment, "That bread will be good today and tomorrow but it will be stale after that." It's the wall behind the words, "I guess it's okay if you go out"--the dam I feel holding back some river, though what flows down the river, I don't know, whether the water is potable or poisoned. It's the edge that flicks out of "I'm really busy right now."
No one plants those seeds. They just fall. The wind blows them in. Summer, the dry season: on all the hills, the grasses are golden and light. The grasses, the weeds, have died, but they are still standing. Their skeletons rattle, pale yellow, light brown. Their seeds wait, dangling from dessicated stems. The wind will pluck them and sweep them into the sky.
The seeds soar across the blue. Drifting, dancing, they travel.
Then they land, they prick. They burrow into the dirt. They wait again, for water. Summer, the lawn season: the grass in the green lawns needs watering. The sprinklers play at any hour of the day, and if I were still a little child, I would be playing in the falling water. As it is, I can only think about the waste, all the precious water escaping into the sky--evaporation, that thief! And age is just as much a thief, to replace joy with judgment.
The water falls, whether from sprinklers or from tears, and the weed seeds grow. I haven't been weeding lately. Summer, the hot season: I don't want to kneel on the ground and look for the problems. I don't want my neck to redden, I don't want the sweat to drip. Besides, I can't see the weeds from where I stand. I would rather assume they aren't there.
Also, if I stay out of the yard, I won't get scolded for being dirty. I can stay inside, like a good girl, and put the dishes away in the kitchen. Stack the plates, nestle the cups together in the cupboard. I can answer when I'm called, speak when I'm spoken to. Outside, I don't always hear my name. You call me, and I don't respond, and that never ends well. Fearing this, trying to do it right, I stay in.
Outside, neglected, the weeds grow.
Monday, July 5, 2010
You won't be mad at me?
Someone keeps telling me that this doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus says that the Martians had a win-lose philosophy (I will win even if it makes you lose), and the Venusians had a lose-win philosophy (I will lose so that you can win). I am learning: God doesn't work that way. He doesn't resent giving me things. He doesn't invest in me coldly, waiting for it to pay off, cursing when the stock goes down as I get worried or impatient or sick or side-tracked. He doesn't wish He hadn't lavished so much on me to get so little in return. He doesn't think that I already have my fair share, I can't possibly ask for more.
I'm the one who thinks those things. I'm the one who draws those lines, lines on a graph, trying to quantify, or at least develop a model of myself relative to the people around me--or no, that's bad! A model of myself relative to the self I was in the past. That's good, right? I just need to know what's expected of me. I just need the syllabus for life so I can tell if I'm doing okay. Just the syllabus and my grades. Professor, I don't need your time, I don't mean to bother you. I know it's not your office hours right now. I just want this little thing: tell me I'm all right.
I just want to know what's expected of me? No, I am just want to know what to expect. I am so afraid to hope and be disappointed, I am so petrified by the idea of asking and being turned down. So I stop hoping, stop asking.
But this isn't the season for scarcity. Life isn't a bowl of waxy apples being passed around the table--only take one, there aren't enough. Life isn't a pile of cold oranges at the grocery store, stacked in a giant pyramid, $1.29 / lb. Count out how many you'll eat this week. Don't buy too many, they're expensive. Besides, who knows if they're any good. They're not in season.
Life isn't even the overflowing boxes at the farmer's market, the little trays of samples, the earnest sellers who tell you, Those are sweet, those are still crunchy. Try this, you'll like it. Discount if you buy five pounds! The sun shines on the people and on the canopies. In this little island of shade, the scent of summer wafts up from the peaches and nectarines, the plums and tomatoes.
For the season is summer. Winter has passed, the pale creature. It has stalked off into the night. The season has turned.
We are staring into the sun, as it pours down on us sunbeams without number. Who could count them? Who would want to? Abundance is the sunshine streaming down. Abundance is the tree in the yard, laden with fruit, a hundred jewel-toned globes like Christmas ornaments. Two hundred. A thousand. The apricots fall to the ground, ooze underfoot. The ants swarm around. But no matter how many fall, the tree has more. We climb the tree, plucking the fruit one by one. We pass empty baskets up into the tree, and lower them full and heavy and piled high. We look for people to take fruit from us. We thank them for receiving it. We are so happy to give it away. We just want it to be enjoyed.
That is abundance. That is life.
"If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" Jesus said. Someone keeps telling me to ask. Someone keeps telling me to hope--Someone keeps telling me to live!
It takes practice, asking. Let me start out small: God, please give me a good summer.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayers.
[In reality, apricot season hasn't come yet. But that is irrelevant to this post, irrelevant to this point.]
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
we sit on the couch, and you say
The writing is on the wall.
What do you see written? I ask.
You answer: Collapse.
We speak of wires tapped,
homes invaded, citizens dragged
off to concentration camps,
The smell of yeast drifts
to our nostrils. We lick our lips--
lips from which
words of war, rebellion, disaster
How swiftly present scent
so that all that can matter
is bread, butter, laughter.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
And the waves licked the shore again, and again. The water rose around our legs, and we sloshed through the tide as the sun turned the sea to silver and fire. The water kissed the sand and ran away, and crept back for another embrace--and eased away again--and slid forward again, and then back--and then forward, again, again. We splashed on: shoes in his left hand, sandals in my right; my dress dancing with the wind, his rolled-up jeans fearing the water that swirled around us. The waves and shore kept parting and rejoining. Meanwhile, our hands flowed together, our movements mirrored each other, like the sand-patterns shaped to the sea's caress while the sea's flow reflects the sand.
Friday, May 14, 2010
The syntacticians wander through the woods, wondering at the strange plants they find. Which surprising branches split and split again? Which twigs can we break off and take home? We will keep them in our pockets as charms against the beasts that might wander these dark woods.
The forest floor is strewn with the dried leaves of theories that once hung from these trees. Old transformational schemes crackle underfoot. Roaming about, we forget that under the ground there are real words, buried out of reach. The trees come to life: they are structure and shape, not dull diagrams. Growing far beyond the words they sprang from, the trees stretch skyward, and they branch and branch again. They explode out of the confines of minimalist theories, and into the blue space above. Their limbs reach for the light, like yearning arms. Twigs open outward, fingers ready to receive the sun.
As spring comes, who knows what flowers might blossom from these dry woods? And what mysterious fruit might follow? From these trees of words and ideas, understanding will someday grow.
And words and feelings flow through me during every moment with you--some of them yours, some mine. The line that cuts between you and me is not as sharp as it was once. The edges aren't clean now, but rounded, softened. I can run my fingers along the border, and I do, because sometimes I can't see it there. I need touch to confirm the existence of that boundary. Secure in where I am, I play my fingertips along the edges. . .
I am filling up with ideas and thoughts, sentences, phrases, strings of words, graphs and charts and diagrams, songs, conversations. They stack up, every-which-way. As the piles get higher, they begin to waver. I am afraid to brush by them.
("Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words. I get words all day through, first from him, now from you," sings Eliza in my head.)
So I must sort them all out, use them up. How much will I need to write to set my life to rights? I've got to be right side up. I've got to extract individual moments and sentences, and arrange them sensibly. I need a very large table in a quiet room, without wind to ruffle everything and blow the slips of memory here and there. I need a calm expanse of time with no currents to sweep me away. I'll sit down and put everything in its place. When the pattern emerges, I'll breathe a sigh of relief, seeing the whole. Then the papers won't matter any more. I'll throw open the windows and run out the door, and let the wind carry the words away.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
I can't sleep. I am so frustrated. I shouldn't be awake right now, shouldn't have been awake for the past several hours. But I can't make myself go to bed because I haven't gotten anything done. It feels like a waste of the lost sleep if I give up without figuring out what is broken.
I pin my identity on every problem. Then the problem runs away from me, and I chase after it, because I am tied to it. I grow weary of running, but cannot stop. The problem pulls me onward... When the solution eludes me--slipping through the shadows, dancing in the darkness (like the smokers partying outside)--I feel abandoned and lost. I've come so far, but arrived nowhere.
Meanwhile, the music outside ebbs and flows like the tide, like the ocean. It washes over me, but I can't swim tonight. The pounding waves of sound break over my head. I gasp, and breathe in saltwater. Choking, I kick myself to the surface, just in time for another wave.
The person I wanted to be stands on the shore, silently watching. Is she smiling, laughing even, as I flail? Impossible to tell from this distance, with the water spraying in my face, the salt in my eyes. I want to scream, but the sea rots my voice. Only a gurgle escapes me.
Another wave comes, and another.
Maybe one of them will sweep me, kicking and coughing, into sleep.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
It turns out that in Italy, you don't ask "What are they showing at the theater?" or "What's playing?" or "What's being done?" Instead, you ask, "What are they giving?"
So a play is something that the audience receives, like a gift. The actors and director and tech crew present it to those in the seats.
The people sitting there, dressed in their finery, cleaned up and made up, take in the play. They hold it in their hands, look at it, turn it over and around. They take it home with them. Maybe some of them put in on the shelf, but maybe one girl puts it on her dresser, next to her mirror. Every morning, she sees that gift sitting there. That bright and unforgiving surface keeps showing her a cold portrait. She stares and wonders how the world will see her face, evaluating proportions and angles and colors. But as her vision narrows to magnify the pits and imperfections in her skin, in the corner of eye she catches sight of the play. The story flashes across her mind like lightning, and suddenly her inner climate changes.
She's on the set, and the story is unfolding around her, and wrapping her up in gentle folds. They gave her this play, at the theater that night. She received this story. It's hers now, to keep.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
We talk about "listening to your heart" and "following your dreams", but when do we talk about listening to our bodies? We try to dominate them instead: to squeeze them into the shapes we think they should have, to work them till they rebel against our mastery, to feed them only what the researchers mandate, to dress them according to the dictates of fashion.
"Have you heard the word / of my body?" asks the girl in Spring Awakening to the boy who breaks her. But I ought to be asking myself that question. Have I heard the word of my own body? If I don't listen, I will be the one at fault when my body breaks and my soul spills out.
And yet I press on, demanding more and more, unable to understand why I am suffering.
Knowing how to take care of other people, that's easy, compared to knowing how to take care of myself.
Friday, April 9, 2010
In my existence, downtime isn't something to cope with or suffer through. It's something to savor. Those layovers in airports, those long transcontinental flights--those gaps between classes--those train rides: I treasure them. The airport and trainstation, these are a between-places, non-places. Time stops there. Waiting, I am entirely uprooted. I am being transplanted. There, as a million people murmur around me, silence reigns inside me. I open a notebook, and just pause.
The pen-tip touches the paper, but it is waiting, too. Like me: this is a waiting time, and I am soaking it in.
Finally I write. The words seem to slide onto the paper, and gently come to a rest there, instead of tumbling over each other in my mind and spilling out haphazardly in their mad rush from the pen. The page has a curious stillness, when I write at the airport. But perhaps not so curious, if the page is a mirror for my mind.
But curiouser still: Why is my mind still when all around me is in motion? The announcements blare every few minutes. Children squirm and run away. Their parents rub their temples, trying to keep their patience. Grim businessmen tap away at their complicated phones.
I feel sorry for them. They are tethered to the world, even here. But I am cut free, drifting away. I am about to float into the sky! Here, I don't have to pay attention to anything. When none of the sounds are relevant, there is no noise. When none of the motion matters, nothing is moving. At the airport, I am above all the paths I am normally running down, all the rooms where I have responsibilities, all the information I am supposed to retain, all the people to listen to.
This is why I am still, why my mind's surface smooths itself like the surface of a pond on a windless day. Glassy, shining, silken. I am still because all the wind and rain is down inside the map that I am looking at. When I step back, step out, I am no longer hiking the hills, panting and sweating and getting dirty. I am looking at the trail map, and I can see how far I've come.
But looking at a map doesn't give me the blazing sun or the roaring rivers. It can't open the sky for me and spread out the landscape like a tablecloth. It can't sing to me like the birds, and the rabbits never dash across it, even at dawn and dusk.
So I don't stay here, in this un-place, this wood between worlds. But while I am here, I will soak in the silent loudness and marinate in the motionless bustle.