Thursday, October 27, 2011

For K.

Phone fragments       (135/160)

form our friendship     now
Words so freighted     a decades memories
hang from                   a bright screen
small as my palm       A pocket stone 
sings                          days gone by

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The air is crisp now, and cold, and the flowers are all flame-colored. These are chrysanthemum days. They burn against the cold. They wait for winter.

They bloom among leaves like stretched hands, peach-fuzzy. They grow on stems whose innards are dry and spongy. They are gold and ruby and topaz.

Here on our dresser, they are amethyst. Here they are concise, precise, with pale centers glowing like the cool sunlight of today. Here they face ceilingward, skyward, heavenward, looking up from the ends of their long, long stems. I tied them with a silver satin ribbon, one of many that wrapped around gifts to us from our friends. The glass vase is from our wedding, too.

Three wedding things in one simple arrangement of hope: symbols of ceremony, communal blessing, a celebration that continues, punctuating the passage of months. Frost is on its way, but flowers are still opening.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Quote from many days ago: Ballet as Religion

From this NYT article on Natalie Portman training in ballet for the movie "Black Swan":
Ms. Portman’s experience gave her a taste not only of the physical sacrifices, but also the mental ones. “It was very religious in my mind,” she said. “The ritual of, like, breaking in your point shoes and getting them soft, all of that, it’s almost like tefillin wrapping in Judaism, this thing you do every day, this ritual.”
Portman's comment evokes for me the ideas of Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness. In this book, Alva Noë argues that consciousness and self are more deeply intertwined with bodily existence, physical action, and the surrounding environment than we typically admit. Identity doesn't reside in our skulls.

There are two connections here to ballet as religion. The first connection is dance. Noe says that "dance [is], for me, the perfect metaphor for consciousness" (see this interview). The second connection is religion--not that Noë speaks specifically about religion (as far as I remember). The connection is in Noë's ideas and the claims of religion. I won't try to speak for all religions since I am only immersed in one, but Christianity at least has been telling humans that their identity doesn't reside solely in themselves, much less solely in the way they think or worse solely in their brains, for thousands of years. Rather, it resides in our relationships, to each other and to our Creator.


Temptation: to bury the confusion in my heart under a layer of television; to cut consternation off from my consciousness; to shelter my mind from the visceral knots by thinking hard about other things, or by not thinking at all--

(Somewhere along this road, I stopped being the stable person I thought I was. Maybe my bike got a flat tire. Maybe it's a cobblestone road now, and I was only good at riding on asphalt. Better yet, I'm biking down a mountain trail. Rocks lurk under the dust and sand, and the trail writhes back and forth between tree roots. The trees themselves are prickly, the live oaks and pines of my hometown hills. I careen down the hill, occasionally falling off my bike and into a bush. So far I've avoided the poison oak, thank God, but I've gotten some nasty scrapes. I am trying to get out of these hills by sunset, when the mountain lions prowl.

(I am not accustomed to riding alone. My partner keeps disappearing around bends, and I keep thinking I am about to be left behind, if I haven't already been abandoned. Maybe the momentum is just too much for him, and he can't wait for me. I skid and scramble to catch up. So far, we are still on the same trail, anyway; we will come out in the same place, may it please the Lord.

(I would like to get off this bike, and walk, slow, taking in the sights. I know there are birds here, and deer, and at dusk there are rabbits. And even sunset's scarlet, with your hand in mine, could be the flame of the rose, and not the blood of the pumas' victims.)

--Always I expect peace to sprout from understanding, but the lesson keeps coming to me, persistent: peace transcends understanding, and I must surrender to not knowing. I must accept the place where I am, before I can walk safely out of it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Home-making, or Nest Building

Three months ago (give or take, depending on how you measure), I moved into this apartment, which O. had been sleeping in for two months already. I can't really say he was living here, since he didn't eat here or spend his weekends here. This explains--or perhaps is explained by--the fact that when I arrived, the floors were too dirty to feel good about walking on barefoot, and towers of boxes loomed in the center of the living room and the corners of the dining room. At the edges of the living room, misplaced furniture awaited its new home. In every corner, boxes of books languished. Furniture that was in use was: a bed, an air mattress, a plastic set of drawers which complain alarmingly every time they are pushed all the way in, and a card table littered with mail.

Anyone wondering if I am a neat freak would have received affirmative proof had they been present for my initial arrival into this labyrinth of boxes and dust balls. I groaned, I yelled, I cried. I went silent. I shoved the boxes around, restacked them against the wall, stacked the mail into precarious piles. Space: I breathed again.

The weeks passed and we acquired furniture and unpacked boxes. (Most of their contents went on the bookshelf, no surprise.) The furniture has come from a variety of sources, not all of them entirely orthodox. Below is a graph for your amusement:

Packaging material? Yeah... That's cardboard boxes. 

We also considered making a couch out of the super-bubble-wrap from Macy's, whose chambers are interconnected so that it's almost impossible to pop them without a sharp object. It would have been too slippery, though--unless we used duct-tape. :P

Quote of the Day: Real World

From this long but insightful and interesting interview with travel-writer Pico Iyer:
I try not to think too much about writing as a business. For me, all the joy comes at the desk and what comes after is a kind of sales tax and is what you have to do to pay admission to this otherwise wonderful career. So I live in rural Japan, and I have never really been on the world wide web, and I live very far from New York, and, from, I suppose, the day-to-day real world details of publishing. But that’s a conscious choice. It was almost a choice between, I won’t say happiness and success, but between being very plugged into that world or being plugged into the real world, and I figured I didn’t have enough energy for both, and I got more satisfaction from the real world. I did, after all, move from a 25th floor office in Rockefeller Center to a Zen temple on a backstreet in Kyoto when I was in my late 20s.
I'm glad he didn't use the words "authentic" or "experience", which are all glossy and plastic now from being mass-produced. Real world: he goes for the jugular. "Authentic experience" is marketable and inoffensive. "Real world" is a judgment and a challenge.

What is the real world? It is not the world where you worry about paying your credit card bills on time, or the world where you have to know how to tie a tie properly to impress the right people, or the world where no one will look out for you and you have to take care of yourself by yourself, or the world where being 15 minutes late will ruin your life. That is the world people here mean when they say, "In the real world, that just isn't going to work."

No, the real world is the place of life. Depth. Breathing slow. Green leaves, a wind untainted by exhaust. Light on the water. Peace in your heart. One thought at a time.

I wish I lived in the real world all the time. I don't. I live like a squirrel, chittering and skittering, collecting acorn after acorn, burying them, forgetting where they are. Sometimes I am so happy as I run and leap. Other times I am frantic, and I can't make up my mind which side of the street I should be on as the car zooms closer.

But there is peace, there is joy, there are full stops instead of restless commas. I can end my sentence; it doesn't have to continue with a semicolon--a dash--one more thought. . . I can slow down. Isn't that what this time is for? For rest, not restlessness. Peace of mind, not a mind in pieces.

Breathe. Breathe. This is the real world.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In which an unknown blogger/author expresses my thoughts for me, and I add a barely related parenthetical post-script

From this blog post on Sci-Fi and the Technocratic Impulse:
When we pursue advancements through technology we surrender something in the process. It’s obvious that a device such as the iPhone is more than just a communication tool. It is a culture-shaping tool that can easily master its user if not used carefully and reflectively. It has the power to disconnect and isolate as much as its power to connect.
EXACTLY. I have been thinking this thought for ages, but in an inarticulate way--like a cloud of feeling-droplets condensed around motes of ideas. Every time I attempted to express it (especially in the face of O.'s spiffy smart phone), I ended up sounding like a Luddite. Perhaps I am a Luddite--but I don't think so. I think I just end up overstating my case when it seems like the other party, or perhaps the whole world around me, is rushing headlong into a tech-enabled dystopia. Thank God for other people's writings that say what I want to say but can't!

Another comment as counterpoint: I usually speak in technology's defense when I hear people saying things like "Facebook prevents people from having in-person interactions" and "You can't have a meaningful conversation over IM." I don't think those statements are true--not because I think Facebook and other tech-enabled communicational media don't have inherent limitations (on the contrary, they absolutely are limited) or that they are inherently good. Rather, it's because I think all the agency still resides with us, the users and abusers of technology. Technology doesn't create in us character-traits ex nihilo: it only exposes and fertilizes what was already there.*

(In that sense, technology is like suffering. It is a test of sorts. Suffering exposes weaknesses in my character, and seems to be bringing them into existence. In reality, those problematic beliefs were there in me all along, and it's not the fault of my circumstance (suffering, technology) that I am full of fears and doubts and lies (or shallow communication, self-absorption, etc), but the fault of the sin in me. I should give thanks for the light that comes through the cracks made by the blows of suffering, instead of screwing up all my energy into experiencing the pain.)

*Not to imply that technology is crap. :P

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kitchen Gratitude

Some things in my kitchen that make me happy every time I use them:
  • garlic press
  • attachment for garlic press that pokes through the little holes and cleans it
  • stainless steel strainer so I can drain pasta and not worry that the plastic is going to melt like the plastic spoon that my sister stirred hot rice with and which, curved in ways not intended by its designer, is now part of an artwork on our wall
  • ladle for the soups that are half my diet
  • actual hot pads, crocheted by my aunt
  • a wok that is finally developing its non-stick coating, now that I know not to wash it with soap, as per this advice
  • a proper set of silverware, rather than the mismatched collection of yesteryear
  • cooking chopsticks, long enough to save my bare arms from flying oil drops
  • a second mixing bowl, which I originally did not appreciate but which I now rejoice to use, especially when the first one is already full. I especially appreciate that it is large enough for four pounds of bread dough!
  • a sauce pan: I've been cooking for myself for 3 years with only a stewpot, a wok and a cheap frying pan. This little sauce pan charms me every time I use it, whether for rice (which really doesn't belong in the huge stewpot), sauce (which spatters all over the stovetop if cooked in the frying pan), or hot chocolate.
  • steamer that is prettier and more effective than steaming things in Tupperware in the microwave
  • bamboo cutting boards with little feet, the wood sleek under my fingertips, natural and almost alive
  • orange heat-resistant spatulas! in three sizes! [added 10/21]

Refrigerated Rice and Its Redemption

My father has always spoken of refrigerated rice with sorrow in his voice. Fresh sticky white rice is ambrosia, as well as a necessary accompaniment to any true meal. Refrigerated rice, however, is a dessicated record of what once was: still food, but to be endured, not enjoyed. If at all possible, rice should be consumed within 24 hours of being cooked, such that it is never desecrated by the cold and dryness of the refrigerator. Refrigerated rice is irredeemable.

So it was with sadness that I contemplated my rice options for lunch today. Having tarried overlong in looking at papasans (my new favorite word!), I was already hungry when I started to stir-fry string beans and green pepper. As the aroma of fish sauce and curry paste rose from the wok, I suddenly realized that to have fresh rice, I'd have to wait almost half an hour to eat. On the other hand, the cooked rice on hand had already been frozen once, and since being defrosted three nights ago, it had been sitting in the refrigerator. Surely it would be barely edible.*

Nonetheless, my impatience trumped my rice-snobbery. With some trepidation, recalling the last time I combined refrigerated rice with a fresh stirfry and regretted it, I toss the old rice into the wok and stirred it in. To my delight, it soon absorbed enough soy and fish sauce to turn it a warm brown, and it plumped up, probably because of the excessive olive oil** in the wok. When I ate*** the whole concoction a few minutes later, everything was delicious. It is with no regrets that I say: I ate month-old rice today.

*This sentiment: only one of the many obvious indications that I am part of the "first world." 

**I know this is the wrong oil for a stir fry because of its smoke point or whatever, but it's all I had after the (mostly failed) falafels consumed my meager supply of canola oil!

***Using chopsticks at first, but quickly succumbing to the convenience of a spoon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


[something I wrote a week or so ago and forgot to post]

Having breathed water into my lungs in the deeps, have I retreated, choking, to the shallows? So much writing, reflecting, weeping, last week. And this week? watching "Castle" and researching monarch butterflies, making multiple trips to the grocery store each day. But no, this week has been phone calls and emails, Skype and Facebook, dinner with the pastor, discussions of Nahum and Ruth, meeting new people. The water temperature has changed, but I am still treading water. My feet never touch the floor. But even if I tire, I will not drown. There are hands to hold me up, there is a voice to call my name and bring me back to life.

Things I love about living here

[Thanksgiving is coming up, and I am going to start making lists and lists of things I am grateful for. Because of my compulsion to be thorough, they are all going to be themed so that I don't get overwhelmed trying to cover everything.]

I love...
  1. the toaster oven and its broiler pan. Lunch today was a taste from my childhood--the tuna melt. Multi-grain bread best eaten toasted; half a can of tuna left over from putting tuna in my mac and cheese*; thick slices of a tomato that had been begging to be eaten; extra-sharp cheddar on top: stack 'em up, stick them in the toaster oven, broil for 10 minutes. The cheese boils and bubbles into something supremely delicious, and the hot tomato and bread with a layer of tuna hiding between meld into meaty succulence. At SBU, toasters and toaster ovens were contraband, to be hidden under a bed or even in the bathroom during the monthly dorm inspections. Not so here!
  2. shutting off the smoke alarm. It is such an immense relief that the smoke alarm's hypersensitivity doesn't result in the building being evacuated and the fire department whirling in in a blaze of sirens. I can just slam on the button to shut the thing up, and knock out its batteries. (It's brutal treatment for an object that is trying to save my life--but hey, I don't need to anthropomorphisize the smoke detector.)
  3. the freedom to be unclothed. When I come home sweaty and sticky, I can close the curtains and peel off my clothes. There is no one to see me walk to the kitchen or the bathroom, or when there is someone, it's my husband, and that's even better than no one.
  4. the sound of church bells ringing the hour, calling me to worship. The song drifts across the rooftops. It floats over the engine noises and the exhaust. It softens the chatter of the crusty Italian men across the street. As my sister says: The bells remind me I'm not alone.
  5. striking matches and lighting candles. I love candle-flicker and scented air. I love wax melting into clarity, spilling like a waterfall, pooling and cooling, reshaping itself.
  6. the panting golden retriever that lounges downstairs. He lives with the landlord's nephew in the basement apartment. Today when I came home, the dog was sleeping in the sun in front of the building. He smiled at me and waved his tail a little, though he didn't come to the fence when I called him.
  7. the roof with its sprouting chimneys. I slip out the window on to the fire escape, then climb up the rickety ladder, praying it holds together. And then I stand on the sloping silver-painted roof. I feel like Mary Poppins up there. The setting sun makes the sky blush. As darkness drifts down, a hundred windows light up, golden in the blue twilight.
  8. having the refrigerator to myself. O. and I have the whole refrigerator! Not just one shelf and one drawer. All the food there is ours, and no one is going to steal any of it. If something is going bad, I can make sure to use it up in time; or I can throw it out, without having to ask five other people if they know whose this is.
  9. using all the cupboard space, all the counter space, all the pantry space. I loved living with friends in college, and I even loved sharing the kitchen with them and cooking together, but I am definitely loving how I have this whole space to myself. As I realize more and more that I can't tame my emotions and have them happen at convenient times, I appreciate the areas of predictability and control more and more. The kitchen is one.
  10. our huge bookshelf. After four years of stacking books to unsafe heights on my desk, now I have them arranged, orderly, vertical, alphabetized, categorized, looking happily toward me when I walk in the front door.
There are more things I appreciate, I know, but ten is a good number for the moment. Much as I flinch when I notice how the walls and ceiling slant at various angles, much as I groan every time the mold resumes its conquest on the shower tiles, I am still so grateful to be here, and to be here with the best person, and to have a place to make our own.

*Another nostalgic meal, this one recalling nights with a baby sitter while my parents snatched some couple-time. I only recently found out during college that other Americans apparently don't combine those flavors.

[Added 10/17/11]
For anyone concerned about the safety of my rooftop explorations: I hereby inform you all that the roof being walked about on is neither steep nor slippery, but on the contrary is sticky and flat, if somewhat slanted (estimated slope: 10 inches of vertical change over 30 feet of horizontal space). Moreover, said rooftop is surrounded by a low wall, such that falling off accidentally would be a challenge. This is a rooftop begging for a garden and a lounge chair (and possibly a new paint job).

Friday, October 7, 2011


From Ten Thousand Questions:
If you had to pick one of the following words to serve as the central theme of the next chapter of your life, which would you pick: tranquility, prosperity, triumph, or healing?
Healing. I didn't recognize my sickness, my scratches and scars, until this season started. When did it begin? At the altar when we vowed forever and evers? That winter evening when I made a promise? A year ago, when I was crying every weekend and it seemed for a time that there was no way out?

How far from that I feel. We are in a different place now: married. Time together is still a limited resource (that, if nothing else, I learned at breakfast today), but we aren't suffocating for lack of it. We are thirsty for more but we are not parched, and the rains fall regularly.

Yet it was in that time of stress and distress that I found myself vulnerable: woundable, and in fact wounded. It forced me to see my wounds, so that I could begin see my healing.

I had learned, once upon a time, not to rely on Another. I learned this so long ago that I cannot say what book or teacher told me. Was it stories, was it disappointments? my mother, my father? the very nature of the world? --was it whispered to me by leaves dying from the cold, then by the melting snow? I used to think I could preserve myself by growing in the right shape, with a shell around me like an oyster, or like an insect with its jewel-hued armor. I used to think I could have everything I needed by taking so little from each one that none would run away from me. I used to think you would all run, if I leaned too hard: or if not run, then fall; or if not fall, then attack.

I am trouble. This also I learned, and I locked it up inside and then I lost the key. How can I take it out of myself?

Healing. Already this has been a season of healing. I had to be healed and I had to unlearn and be sliced open by truth till I bled relief and I knew myself anew.

I have oozed other things, along the way. Self-pity, self-hatred. Condemnation, anger, judgment. Confusion. But I am coming clean. This is the season, the season of healing, the season of soothsaying.

 Say to me forsooth, the truth. Pull away the supports that have me leaning all the wrong ways, and settle me on the firm foundation. Unbandage me, and let the sun sterilize my skin. This is the season of straining and growing. Let this be the season of healing.