Monday, April 30, 2012

Photographs at the Guggenheim

I love to take pictures of the reflections of museum-goers in the glass that covers photographs. I think this makes for fascinating images. For instance,

Art museums inevitably prohibit taking pictures of exhibits, but I do it anyway, surreptitiously. I justify it by saying that I'm not trying to capture images of what's being exhibited, so why should it matter?

Last week I was at the Guggenheim with my friend A., and I took this picture without anyone saying anything:
The photograph whose glass the figures are reflected in is by Francesca Woodman (the exhibit was very thought-provoking for me, and very intense), as are the photographs in the reflection. (What does this image mean? I really haven't reflected on it (ha), and really I feel that I should have to imbue it with meaning. I think it can just be interesting and perhaps beautiful.)

Then I took this picture, pointing the camera down over the railing--

--and an elderly lady yelled at me in accented English for it--even though it wasn't of the art at all, but of the party being set up on the ground floor. I really don't understand what bothered her so much about the fact that I took this photograph; presumably she simply felt that the rule must be followed exactly as written: "Picture taking prohibited above this [the ground] level."

If someone had come up and told me I shouldn't be taking pictures of the art on display, I would have understood and felt that they were in the right and I was most likely in the wrong; but as it was, I was only irritated, not abashed. I don't suppose this says anything good about me. But at least I have the pictures to show for the experience.

In which the rabbit is horny and I am a bad pet owner

Our friends from church keep rabbits, and a month ago they had a litter of baby bunnies. Around that time, we got Pipkin and started reading more about rabbits. One thing I found out is that it's apparently much better to keep them in pairs: they are happier and longer-lived this way. So O. and I decided to adopt one of our friends' baby rabbits as a friend for Pipkin.

Yesterday at church we mentioned to our friends (J. and G.) that we'd decided to adopt one of their rabbits, and J. invited us to come see them. So we went to their house, walked out onto the roof, and came to the hutchful of rabbits--furry bundles in various shades of brown and grey, with huge adorable ears and very round eyes. We held them; they squirmed a little and consented to be cuddled. And then we brought one of them home in a cardboard box. She is a little young, but J. and G. said the kits haven't been drinking their mother's milk in a while, so it should be okay.

Here's the adorable baby, about to pee on our couch.
I thought we were prepared. We have an extra cage (actually a gigantic dog crate to be converted into a two-story rabbit home) and litter box, and I had duly read up on how to introduce rabbits so that they won't fight and have territorial issues. Introduce them in neutral territory; have a spray bottle on hand to break up any fights; some mounting is fine; etc.

At first everything seemed to be all right:

 But very quickly, Pipkin grew bold and brash. I was about to be confronted with the fact that his adorable and gentle looks are only incidental. In his essence, he is an animal. Worse, a male adolescent animal. He mounted the little girl rabbit and started humping her vigorously.

This was a little disturbing for us to watch--her so young and him so insistent. But she didn't try to get away or fight back, and mounting doesn't have to be sexual, it could just be establishing dominance, which is fine.

But it went on and on. Sometimes he humped her head or her side. Sometimes it looked like he was biting her, and we pulled him off, and his maleness--if it had ever been in doubt--was vividly established. "We definitely need to get him neutered," we said.

Eventually we felt it had gone far enough, and separated them. Now the little girl rabbit is in Pipkin's previous cage, and Pipkin has taken up residence in the dog crate. We shall keep them apart until he gets neutered. Re-reading all those articles about introducing rabbits, they all say both rabbits should be fixed, otherwise the hormones will drive them both crazy. I should have paid more attention on the first read!

I can't tell how the baby is feeling. She seems to be all right--curious, hopping awkwardly around (her feet sliding on the plastic floor), munching on hay. I hope she isn't traumatized. (And I really hope she isn't pregnant--but she shouldn't be able to get pregnant yet.) Pipkin, on the other hand, is definitely frustrated. We put the girl's cage on top of the crate, where he can't get to it, but now he is spending a lot of time staring into it from the back of the couch.

A few minutes ago, I took the baby rabbit out to hold and pet for a bit. She sat placidly in my lap. Pipkin stared at us from the floor, then ran up and got on the couch. When he moved to climb into my lap as well, I put her back in the cage. No repeats of yesterday's rape scene today, please! The hilarious and somewhat disturbing thing now, though, is that Pipkin is fascinated and obsessed with the smell of the girl rabbit on my hands and clothes. He has come into my lap of his own accord, which never happens. He sniffs my clothes, sniffs my hand all over, presses his chin glands on it. All the while he grunts softly. It's like a little song--a song of lust.

It's spring, it's sunny, the rabbits are young. Pipkin is in love/lust. He wants that little girl, and he wants her badly. I know I can't expect a rabbit to adhere to human morality, and I don't censure Pipkin for his obsession with an underage female. But it has to stop.

Snip snip! It's time to call the vet. This boy has got to be neutered. A month from now when he's not fertile any more, maybe they can be friends--or lovers. Whatever.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


 Marriage seems to be a state of alternating between deeply fulfilling intimacy and piercing loneliness. I never experienced loneliness as an important emotion until we got married. As an independent-minded introvert, I have always been content to spend many hours alone. Solitude does not in itself make me feel lonely. Moreover, I have had, and continue to have, ample companionship. I am blessed to have a dozen people I count as close friends--people I can confide in, people who know me, my stories and my problems, my wounds and my glories. With such good friends, how could I be lonely? And now with such a husband as O., how can I be lonely?

I think loneliness comes from unanticipated solitude. I am lonely now because I expected to be spending this evening with O.--being together, learning about each other--and instead I am alone in the living room with the rabbit. The rabbit is cute and a good distraction. But I was expecting more than the rabbit, more than the sunset, more than a video chat with my parents.

Marriage leads you--or leads me, at least--to expect companionship at times you wouldn't have expected it before. When this expectation goes unfulfilled, disappointment strikes. It brings confusion, then sadness. Finally loneliness settles over me. The problem is compounded by my reliance on ritual, repetition, tradition. Sunday night is together time. Actually, all of Sunday is together time, in my mind. This is the tradition, this is how it has been. How could the future deviate from the past? The expectation is buried in my mind, fossilized.

Does adjusting mean letting go of expectations? learning to ask directly for what I expect? communicating more explicitly about what the expectations are?

In marriage I have more companionship than I ever had before. When I wake up in the morning, O. is there beside me. When I eat breakfast, he is at the table. When I am brushing my teeth, when I settle into bed, when I fall asleep, he is there. From these patterns hatches a flock of expectations. Subtly, the idea that he is usually there or has always been there grows, sheds its pinfeathers and gets pinions. It flies into my picture of the world as the promise that he will always be there at those times. Then two or three days in a row things don't quite line up and he isn't there at all those times, and I fall apart.

And then I write a poem and an essay in an effort to put myself back together. I cry and I pray. Eventually O. emerges from his notebook (or his unintended/unannounced nap), and the lonely moment is over.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Light at Dusk

The sun just broke through the blue clouds and smote me. Suddenly I feel alive, as I had forgotten how to be. The blaze of light lasted only seconds, but it infused me with an energy I cannot conjure up on my own. The day is fading, and the clouds are all blue and mottled, like the sea on a cold day, but the sun is still there, burning, brilliant.

Yes. The sun is still there, burning, blazing. It is always there, no matter how many clouds and curtains, no matter how many walls or how many miles of earth, intervene between my eyes and that never dimming brilliance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


What is my calling right now?

Watching this video a minute ago, I was struck by the first artist's comment that every minute I invest in Plan B is a minute taken away from Plan A. Generally speaking, I often fall succumb to the temptation to work on Plan B, "just in case." It often feels like a responsible and productive thing to do. But the artist Propaganda (I think that's his name?) is totally right: working on Plan B when God is calling me to Plan A right now is not productive and responsible. It's just disobedient and silly.

The question is, What are my Plan A and Plan B right now? What is my calling?

I think Plan A right now is: Be married. Be a wife. Love my husband, and love him well.

Plan A usually doesn't feel productive. What do I do all day? Oh, I keep the house, I cook and clean and buy groceries and do laundry, and I take care of the rabbit. I read some interesting things. But the important thing that I do while O. is at work, is processing my thoughts and emotions. I need to journal, write poems, pray. Cry. Forgive. Repent. This is fruitful and productive and responsible, this is my calling right now. But by the world's standards, it isn't much of an occupation. So I flirt with Plan B.

Plan B is prepare for graduate school. Research. Figure out what to add to my resumé. Plan B is anything that would look useful by the world's standards.

(Of course, there's also Plan C, which is: do whatever feels good right now. Watch TV. Read sci-fi. Eat cookies. This is largely useless, although not always bad. There is a place for play and for rest. It's just that those aren't my calling.)
If I traded it all,
if I gave it all away for one thing,
just for one thing--
if I sorted it out,
if I knew all about this one thing,
wouldn't that be something?
                   (Finger Eleven, "One Thing")
 I want to live in "the perfect freedom of a single necessity" (Anne Dillard). I want to be totally devoted to one God, one Master. I want to follow just one voice, listen to just one calling.

O God, give me an undivided heart.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spring Showers

On the city streets, the sidewalk trees are white and green. Their flowers are falling now. Every eddy of wind brings down a new drift of white petals. These settle slowly as snowflakes, strange in the sunlight. The day is bright and warm, weather for bare arms and bare feet. Yet drifts of white lie in the gutters and swirl in the street--spring's farewell to winter.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Downcast eyes. Sniffle.
"You know what?" Hug.
Snuggling in: "What?"
"God loves you."
Looks up, looks away. "It's so hard for me to believe that."
"Do you know why God loves you?"
"...Is it because I'm His child?"
Pause. "Well, you're adopted as His child because He loves you."
"Then why does He love me?"
"God loves you because He is Love."

Couch Rabbit

The rabbit has taken to pooping on the couch. Fortunately it's very easy to clean up since his scat is hard and dry as beads, but it's still unpleasant. The internet tells me Pipkin is probably marking the couch as his territory (high ground is desirable). Hopefully neutering him will help...

In the mean time, I have to become an expert at rabbit posture. A subtle change to the curve of his back and the height of his butt indicates that it's time to shoo him off the couch. He hops off indignantly, leaving one or two little brown balls in his wake (or a dozen of them if I wasn't fast enough).

I hope O.'s parents don't find out about the defilement of our couch for a while. We always put a clean sheet on the couch before they come over, so it really shouldn't matter, but it might freak them out anyway since the standard of clean/unclean that they gravitate toward exceeds even levitical standards.

Pipkin, you need to learn to share. Everything in the house can't be yours!

Reflective Listening (Literal Edition)

Yesterday, I invented a new technique for communication in our marriage: the hand-held mirror.

The need for a mirror arises from the fact that people are not always aware of what their facial expressions look like. We may not even be aware that our facial expressions have deviated from neutral and relaxed. In these moments, it may be helpful to literally reflect the face to the face-maker. Enter the hand-held mirror.

O. and I are both guilty of making daunting faces without realizing it. For instance, I sometimes make faces that seem condemning or judgmental to O., and scare him. But it's more common for O. to inadvertently scare me with his face. I believe this is due to O.'s expressive Mediterranean features: eyebrows that like to spend a lot of quality time snuggled together, nostrils that take in all the scents of the world. Strong jaw. Any tension draws O.'s eyebrows together, flares his nostrils, and tenses his jaw. From his innocent inner perspective, he is making Stone Face, which is stiff but not threatening. But the outward reality is that this facial expression would be, for anyone else, an Angry Face. And actually, since O. tries not to scare me by making Turkish Angry Face ("I kill you now!") when he is angry, the face he makes when he is angry is typically the so-called Stone Face. In other words, Stone Face is Angry Face, even if that's not how O. intends it.

O. found it hard to believe that Stone Face was scary looking. So I whipped out the hand-mirror. Hilarity ensued as O. tried to construct his typical tense face. I was focused on the eyebrows, which can be quite terrifying by themselves, but O., perceptive man that he is, remembered the contribution of his nose. "Do I usually flare my nostrils at you?" Adding the flared nostrils, O.'s countenance became truly fearsome to behold. Up came the mirror, and O. beheld Angry Face.

"Wow, that is scary!" he said.

Then Angry Face collapsed and was reborn into Laughing Face, and we burst into giggles together.

Thank God for mirrors. We're going to keep this one by the couch now, and in scary parts of the conversation, when I am choking for words because my body has gotten too tense to think anything except shhh-- be very quiet-- don't move-- maybe he won't see you-- (a reaction which only makes O. more upset), I won't have to think of words. I will grab the mirror and let it reflect O.'s face to him, and then I'll just listen for the moment when he realizes how scary his face has gotten, and laughter replaces tears.

We'll see how this goes.

[p.s. The Angry Face is compounded by way O.'s voice drops an octave when he gets angry or defensive. Unfortunately it also drops when he is nervous or concentrating hard, giving my Anger Detector a lot of false positives.]