Thursday, February 24, 2011

"All I need is You, Lord"?

"The Christian who has a solid relationship with God doesn't need anyone/anything else." True or false?

[My answer, when this question came to me in an email:]

There have been solitary monks who found fulfillment only in God, without human company. But as far as the Bible says, we are supposed to be in community. For the Christian who does have the opportunity to spend time with people, it doesn't make sense to distinguish between getting fulfillment from a solid relationship with God and having good relationships with other people. If you have a solid relationship with God, that will draw you into deeper and more meaningful relationships with people. A solid relationship with God makes you more and more the person that He made you to be. And as in the quote you cited, "It is not good for the man to be alone": humans were made for community. So in general, it doesn't make sense to imagine being in a close relationship with God but not being in community with other Christians. We are called to become "one body"!

Read 1 Cor. 12. We need each other.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Speak Up

What is it that drives me not to speak, to hold back the naming of my desires? Whose role am I playing? When did I pick up a script, when did I memorize these lines so thoroughly that, speaking them, I don't even realize I didn't write them myself, am not making them up on the spot? Speaking them: there are the things I say, and the things I don't say, and the things I don't even realize I'm not saying.

I hold back out of fear, but what am I afraid of? Is it you I fear, your judgment, condemnation? I remember: past reactions, upsetting you without intending to, the delicate work of smoothing things back over, finding out where we diverged. So much retracing of paths, such wanderings in the woods.

Or is it my desires themselves I fear? They grow out of my own self, yet when they are born, I am reluctant to acknowledge them. Sometimes I disown them, like children whom my tendrils of communication cannot reach. "Never come home again," I tell them. Yet they lurk just outside on the sidewalk, and their faces haunt me.

Then I blame you for not asking me, when the truth is, you've asked and asked, and I have refused to speak. The truth sticks in my throat, it catches in my teeth. I am afraid to let it out so it flaps and flutters in my mouth. A few feathers fly from my lips. If I just open my mouth, it will burst forth and escape, and then who knows what it will do? I'll never catch it again. If it flies at our faces, if it attacks our eyes, what will we do? I will cower in a corner, I will hide under a table.

To speak is to be alive, to be a person. It's so much safer to be a statue--silent marble, gracious and inoffensive. But it is so cold. O Lord, teach me to be human.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Comfort Food [Question of the Day]

Today's question: What foods do I turn to for comfort?

It's funny that they should ask that particular question on this particular day when I ate about 8 squares of dark chocolate with roasted almonds, accompanied by several dried apricots. I normally don't eat more than a square or two of chocolate, but I decided to finish the rest of the bar today.

Even after my original desire for chocolate had been sated, I continued to melt square after square in my mouth. When the chocolate succumbed to erosion, the almonds remained like rocks, sitting on my tongue, until they were crushed in the rapid geology of my mouth.

(More pertinent to the original question: tea. That is my go-to for calming myself. Chocolate, though, is the thing I turn to before I realize I need to calm down.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011



That time of year thou mayst in me behold
when timid leaves, pale green or red, do sprout
from tree-tips stretching skyward as the cold
winter withdraws—Spare elegance, I leave thee.
Grace of branches bared to the blue sky,
I leave thee. Leaves shall clothe me:
chaos of foliage, riot of increase, of life
profuse, protruding—extending, exploding—
growing greener, greater, and singing in the wind
and sun, as spring comes, comes out shyly
from the tender tree-tips. Crisp blank snow,
silent still ice, I leave thee; creeping greening
bursting beginning rustling hustling
falling flying Spring, I greet thee.

I'm taking a poetry workshop, and for this week's assignment, I ended up writing three independent poems in the process of trying to express the idea I had landed on--singleness as "that which I must leave ere long." As given away by that quotation and by my poem's first line, Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 was echoing in my head as I wrote this. And then it worked out that it has the requisite 14 lines to be a sonnet.

I didn't bring this poem in to workshop (it was draft 2 of 3), but I showed it to my professor and he called it "good exercise," which (like his lavish compliments of draft 1, not posted here) was an unexpected reaction. He says writing to the seasons is something that one should do, especially if one is a Californian living temporarily in a place with real seasons; but he seems to think that seasonal poems are not poetic/personal/ownable or something in the same way that properly lyric poems are...

Anyway, there is my spring poem, rippling along the surface of my feelings about the major life changes that are coming, as surely as the seasons.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Transition Point

When does a meal with a few friends turn into a meal with an entire group? They say that two is company and three is a crowd, but I don't think of three as a crowd. Three is a small group, but it is still intimate; four can be very close too, though there is a potential for two conversation threads running in parallel and never touching. But five... Five people is definitely a group. It can still be good, but it takes another level of involvement for me.

I like people, I love my friends, I enjoy spending time with them. But innately, I don't like groups. Or rather, I can and do enjoy groups, but they do not feel natural to me. I get overwhelmed. My focus shifts from the specific people I am interacting with and being intimate with, to the overall dynamic of the group--what kind of conversation we are having (not who we are), who is talking more or less (not what they are saying), how the different members in the group are connected, and who is more closely connected to who... It's hard for me to be fully present in a group (without some activity going on).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

[still more things I just don't want to lose]

"Duty is a choice." --PM, on the Aeneid.

And then I wrote this which is totally unedited but here it is anyway:
Duty is a set of strings
taut with my weight
as I dangle, my feet
just off the floor
In that empty space
so much feeling teems
But the strings shift
and I dance
to music not my own.
--thinking of Aeneas's line as he abandons Dido: Italiam non sponte sequor, "I follow Italy not of my own will."

More quotes: Snake

I was about to throw away the aforementioned piece of paper when I found more things written on it that I want to keep/remember:
        The snake is deeply troubling because it has no form.
Scrawled next to this, the word protean. PM also said that the snake evokes for humans our own viscera, and thus distresses us:
        What should be on the inside and hidden [guts, intestines] is,
in the snake, on the outside.
This exposure, this violation of boundaries, disturbs our sense of security and stability.



I've been trying to restore order to my life by restoring order to my room, which entails clearing off the layers of paper from my desk and making all the books stand up instead of slouching everywhere. One of the papers had, amidst a bunch of messy syntax trees from when I was tutoring last semester, a quotation that I wanted to preserve. For your enjoyment and my future ease of finding, here it is:
make it possible to bear sorrow,
make evil intelligible,
make justice desirable,
make love possible.
My thesis professor cited this in class during a lecture last semester. (He mentioned the original speaker as a colleague whose name sounded something like Rosenblatt but whom I can't really identify, so... Original author, please don't be offended or feel plagiarized. I just want to remember what you said and share your insight with ten or so people who read this blog.) My professor applied these claims to Paradise Lost, saying the poem aims to make it possible to bear the sorrow of the Fall, to make Satan's evil intelligible (a task at which it is perhaps even too successful), to make the justice of God's intention desirable, and to make the love between Adam and Eve seem possible.

I don't want to be Milton, but I hope I can be this kind of writer.


All my time lately is with people. It begins to feel as though time in class is downtime. Classtime is when I don't have to be fully engaged, when I can think some of my own thoughts. Classtime is when I can explore someone else's ideas without any thought for their emotions or personhood, because that someone is not present and very likely not even alive anymore, and their ideas have taken on their own life and they stand before me, strong on their own two feet, and they talk to me whether or not I listen. I don't have to encourage them, to ask the right questions, to offer to pray for them. I can check in and out, and hear enough, and my professors will still think I am a great student and I will still learn.

Meanwhile, as the professor talks about the stages of compilation (lexical analysis, syntactic analysis, ...), I am writing a poem about Andromache weeping on the walls of Troy. As Herr Bloomer chatters on in Deutsch, I am writing about tears running down the armor of the Greek soldiers. As vocabulary about the types of deixis flies around me, I am planning: how many books do I have to read this week, how many poems do I have to edit? As I hear, for the thousandth time, detailed instructions on how to format an academic paper, I am writing about the shorn hair falling on the corpse of Patroklos, about Achilles dreaming of his lost friend, and the spirit vanishing into the earth, like vapor.

And as soon as the lecture ends, the ghost of solitude that has accompanied me vanishes like vapor. My classmates speak to me, I smile back. We walk together, I ask them how they are, where they are going. I meet someone for lunch, someone else for Bible study planning, someone else for a programming project. All the while, a list of things I have to get done is clattering around in my skull and the wind is trying to freeze my ears off and draw frost-patterns on my scalp. And then it's off to small group, and we. Pause. Pray. And then talk talk talk. And then it's a ride home in a crowded car and I hear myself chattering but I can't stop it.

When I get home I shut the door to my room and it's time to write. Count the words (249 of them), make every point (all the reasons I am "excellent"), collect all the supporting documents: I've been nominated for an award, apparently it's significant, I have to "hold up my end," as my professor said. As midnight creeps closer, I wrap up those cumbersome sentences, the boasts wrapped in gauze and tied with pretty ribbon. Finally I throw it out into the internet-void and hope it flies.

And now it's long past midnight and I haven't had a free thought since... How many days ago?

When will I slow down? My suitemate claims solace and solitude are related. I can't speak for the etymology but I have to agree about the semantics. Silence must be a close cousin, and slumber.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


A few days ago, everything was ice. The snow was a sheet of glass, icicles dangled from the streetlamps. The sidewalks were scarred with salt.

Today, everything is melting. "It's spring, and the world is puddle-wonderful." Mud smiles everywhere. For the first time in months, the grass sees the sun. The snow is naked again. It is disintegrating into heaps of lace.

It's still weather for a wool coat, but it's time to throw it open and welcome in the wind.


It felt strange at first. My fingers are used to being free. Even nail polish is a burden. And this, could this really be mine? This shiny thing, this sparkle ring? Me in my thrift-store clothes, my five-year-old shoes, jeans with the hem rolled up: everyone will wonder at the incongruity. It was too big for my ring finger. It wasn't that it didn't fit me but that I didn't fit it. It was beautiful, gorgeous, fantastic, and I was an unpolished little girl. It caught in my hair, on hand towels, on stockings. I couldn't decide if I should take it off to wash my hands and to cook and to do anything, really, with my hands. What if I damaged it? But I didn't want to keep slipping it on and off, as though a promise and a dream could slide on and off again.

(The sun fell on it, and sent pricks of light dancing on the page, and even on the walls and ceiling. I could see the rainbow condensed into a point within the diamond.)

My hand didn't know what to make of it. As my feet carried me about, every so often my finger would comment again to me: I'm encircled by a ring! Sometimes it was just a comment, sometimes it was a complaint. Let me out!

Eventually, we took it to be resized. We handed it over to a lady behind a glass counter, and walked out of the store full of flashing stones.

My left hand had returned to its old, familiar state of ringlessness. My hand was exactly as before, but now it felt naked. What had happened?

School started, I carried books, I cooked for myself, I walked back and forth on the salted paths between snow mesas. Every so often, in the midst of the movement, my finger would comment to me again: I'm not wearing a ring. Something is missing. I feel unclothed.

And now, the ring is back. It is snug on my fourth finger. Now it just feels right, like it belongs there--which it does, the way I belong in the circle of O.'s arms.