Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Disjointed Observations

I'm still toiling away at my statement of purpose. When it becomes more presentable I'll share parts of it here...

November is one long series of sniffles and sore throats for me, at least in New Jersey. I don't remember being sick like this at Stony Brook--dragging on and on and on.

The amaryllis blossoms are fading. They have lost their gloss. Their edges have purpled and withered. But the second stalk has thrust its head high, and two of its buds peep out from the green sepals.

Hazel has come of age and is determined to mate with O.'s slippers, which are fluffy black bears wearing red hats. The rabbits take turns rubbing their chins on them as O. travels back and forth between their territories.

Is that a third slipper?

O.'s last day of work was a week ago, but Thanksgiving immediately followed, so it's only sinking in now. This is day three of his unemployment, and he has been lovely around the house, baking bread studded with sesame seeds, doing the laundry, and starting the dishwasher without being asked.

He also scheduled Hazel's neutering appointment, thank God and the NJ House Rabbit Society, who supplied us a voucher for an affordable neuter procedure ($75 instead of $200+). Hopefully we can rebond the bunny boys soon after that, and take down the wall that has divided our kitchen and living room these past five months (Has it really been that long?)--"the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Letters of recommendation

I'm working on applications to graduate programs in linguistics right now, and I secured recommendation letters from three of the professors who know me best before Thanksgiving. But this weekend, one of them suggested that it would be good to get another recommendation from a linguist (since my current recommenders feature one linguist, one psycholinguist, and one English prof). And this after she had also suggested it would be good to get a letter from a professor in computer science! (my minor, which I don't intend to pursue seriously in the future).

So tonight I forced myself to ask and ask and ask. I just finished writing four emails to professors to whom I haven't talked in at least a year and a half, or two and a half years for some. Please write me a recommendation letter! I need it a week from today!

Surprisingly, the emails to the professors I know better (the three I asked originally) were much harder to write. Tonight's emails felt rather low-stakes: the worst that can happen is that I embarrass myself a little.

I hope at least one of them says yes!

Friday, November 23, 2012


A month ago, looking for rabbit-barriers at the hardware store, I bought an amarillys bulb on impulse. It took me weeks to free it from its plastic netting and plant it, but even as it waited without soil or water, it grew. Finally I planted it, and within a few days, buds appeared.


Layer upon layer

One day, one flower opened. The next, two more. Soon after the fourth blossom opened, I had to stake the heavy stalk with a stick from outside and the leftover purple yarn from a failed crochet project. The amarillys stands by one of S.'s collage-paintings.

Flowers, shadow, and collage

As winter presses toward me, I am comforted by the presence of living, growing things in the house. There is still color in the world.


In which I give thanks and remember

For basil plants growing on my windowsills despite the cold outside;
for a well-stocked and orderly bookshelf;
for the amarillys on my counter, with four glorious red blossoms open:
I give thanks.

For summer at Berkeley four years ago,
sleeping on my friend K.'s tile floor and baking peach & plum pie;
for a midnight walk and a young stag that bounded across the sidewalk and the street,
into another garden--

For the Linguistics Institute, three weeks of glutting myself on ideas;
for dozens of papers read and learned from,
for classrooms full of linguists (students and professors)
from all over the country, gathered in one place--

For naps on the lush green lawn in the golden sun, between classes:
I give thanks.

That I can remember so clearly, that I can remember at all--
I give thanks.

For pumpkin pie and knowing how to make it, confidently;
for my mother's expertise in the kitchen
and her persistence in passing it on to me:
I give thanks.

For my own kitchen, and a house to myself,
shared with O. and the bunnies and no one else;
for O.,
for rabbits--

For friends we shared the house with
and for friendship surviving ten weeks of sharing
one bathroom and one refrigerator--

For a marriage that is so much easier and happier this Thanksgiving
than it was a year ago:
I give thanks.

For two casserole dishes of borscht in the refrigerator, and a huge pot of turkey juk,
so that I won't have to cook for days;

For Pastor T. who invited us to his Thanksgiving,
and for all the church friends there (especially the vibrant single people),
and for the scrumptious turkey and potatoes and carrots and even parsnip we ate;
for the turkey skin and bones and scraps of meat that T. did not want,
which I brought home and boiled into juk;

For the telephone that let me call my father and mother to ask for the juk recipe;
for my mother, for my father:
I give thanks.
* * *

I feel the abundance in my life today, and felt it yesterday, and will feel it tomorrow. The season is turning. It will be a strange season, but it is familiar this year. I remember the leaves changing last year, I remember the furnace we struggled to ignite. I remember learning to sleep in the same bed as O., how to regulate my body temperature so I wouldn't wake up drenched in sweat as I first did when I wore the warm pajamas I depended on during all the winters before. I remember Thanksgiving on the east coast, far from my old friends and the places I called home. Now I call this place home, too, though in my dreams I am always in California.

I remember, not so long ago, when I organized my own life without consulting anyone about my schedule. I remember feeling my life was my own. I remember watching my money carefully because there wasn't any coming in. That season has come back. Wednesday was O.'s last day of work and now we are living off of savings and my small income. Suddenly the money I bring in babysitting and working for the church really counts, and suddenly I feel so much more confident of my place in the household economy, more entitled to my opinion and my decisions. The season of confidence and independence is returning, and I am grateful (though I know something is off in my emotional logic).

Also I remember, not long ago at all, writing essays, emailing professors, impressing people. I remember understanding, teaching, explaining, leading. That season is coming back, too. I am writing my statement of purpose and remembering I've done lots of awesome things and I really am qualified, and I'm scanning and uploading my transcript and noticing with pleasure how monotonously perfect the grades are (marred only by one A-, the semester I started dating O.). I'm corresponding with my favorite professors and feeling their love. This is strange and it is familiar, and it is a promise of things to come. I do want to go to grad school. Learning is what I was made for.

The leaves have changed and they are beautiful. Soon they will fall, but when they do, I will be grateful for that beauty, too, and I will remember that the season will change again, and spring will come. It is already on its way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Irony vs. Sincerity

Just read this essay from Christy Wampole, "How to Live Without Irony," and loved it. Below are three of the paragraphs that most struck me.

On the social consequences of the pervasive "ethos of irony":
While we have gained some skill sets (multitasking, technological savvy), other skills have suffered: the art of conversation, the art of looking at people, the art of being seen, the art of being present. Our conduct is no longer governed by subtlety, finesse, grace and attention, all qualities more esteemed in earlier decades. Inwardness* and narcissism now hold sway.
[*I have my doubts about the sway of inwardness, because it implies a reflection or contemplation that are lacking from the ironic culture Wampole critiques. In my opinion, it's shallowness, not inwardness, that is in power at present.]

On an alternative and a solution to the alienated and ironic life:
Observe a 4-year-old child going through her daily life. You will not find the slightest bit of irony in her behavior. She has not, so to speak, taken on the veil of irony. She likes what she likes and declares it without dissimulation. She is not particularly conscious of the scrutiny of others. She does not hide behind indirect language. The most pure nonironic models in life, however, are to be found in nature: animals and plants are exempt from irony, which exists only where the human dwells.
What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.
 Thank you, Christy Wampole and New York Times, for this.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Friday's question at Ten Thousand Questions:
In your memories, what song is inextricably tied to a particular group of people or an activity that you participated in years ago?
This song by Death Cab for Cutie:

--and this song (and every other by Postal Service), reminding me of a boy years ago who was so proud of his musical tastes, telling me he liked Postal Service and indie bands and hated pop, telling me he felt so vindicated when he visited a friend at Berklee and found the music students all liked the same music he did:

He quoted from the first song to me--
Sorrow drips into your heart
from a pinhole
just like a faucet that leaks
and there is comfort in the sound
--and I said I didn't understand. How could sorrow be comforting? It can get addictive, he said. I was eighteen, and innocent. That was February. At the end of May, with regret and shame leaking through pinholes into me, I understood.

That summer, interning in children's ministries at my church at home, I cried on the stairs before work, after the worship services before putting on a costume to lead Sunday school, at home on my bed when my sister wasn't in the room. In the fall, back at school where I might run into him, I stared around me into the shifting crowds, hoping for and dreading a glimpse of him. Every navy-blue jacket, every tall slumped dark-haired figure--I would stare, blink, run away.

Listening to those songs, I am right back there sitting in the cafeteria with him as he mocks me over pizza and makes innuendos that I am unwilling to understand. I am back under the low ceiling in the other room of the cafeteria as he tells me he never talks about his relationship with his mother, how she's an actress and so dramatic. I am back in my darkened dorm room reading his instant messages on a glowing screen.

I wonder if he is still as sad and mistrustful as he was in those days. It is four and a half years later and the songs he listened to still fill me with melancholy. When I hear Postal Service I pray for change in his life. I hope it has come.

As for me, I am happy and grateful where I am now, as I was then before I met him, and I never seek out Postal Service.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Selçuk and Sherbet [Turkey, pt. 3]

From Bursa, we drove all the way to the sea. Selçuk is a tourist town, it seems. We stopped at a promising little inn. Pulling the huge van into the strip of gravel that served as a parking lot, we filed out past a hedge of towering oleader bushes. I thought of Hawaii, and my father's childhood; of highway medians in California, full of the same pink and white blossoms and tongue-shaped green leaves.
The garden of the inn, as seen from my window
Down a little winding brick path past an old lady on a bench holding a hand-woven something-or-other, into a cool dark room with a glass cooler full of a liquid the color of hibiscus. An English speaking couple was on their way out the door. The parents spoke to the man at the counter; my sister S. and I sampled the small scones on a plate by the cooler. They were buttery and tasted of cheese and herbs.

The initial discussion over, we were released to wait in the garden. O.'s mother drew some of the red liquid into goblets for us. "It is sherbet," she told us. "Something sweet and cool." Punch, I thought, and took a sip.

It was not punch. At least, it was not a fruit punch. Everyone was taken aback by the intensity of the flavor. It tasted of cinnamon and... something else, something harsher and less sweet. Weeks later, we looked up the translation of the Turkish word. Cloves. This was essentially a clove tea, beautiful to look at, especially in the crystal glasses it was served in, but too strong for me to enjoy, like drinking incense.

After a few minutes, we were given keys and led through a garden of roses and luxurious greenery to our rooms. Later, S. and I were to discover tortoises roaming through the roses, confident enough in their shells to defend their territory against us interloping humans. One of them bit my toe when I blocked his way. They were oddly self-conscious though, and would stop munching on weeds when they noticed us staring at them.

S. with tortoise


Last night I dreamed of floods. The waters rose and O. and I took refuge in a cave at the back of our house, which was set into a hill. It was just barely deep enough for us to lie down, facing outward.

We survived that flood, but later in the dream the floodwaters rose again. We saw them creeping toward our house, measured how high they would come, and knew they would overwhelm our refuge.

So we took to the hills, to the house my mother's mother lived in, with its apricot tree and walnut tree and apple tree and peach tree, and its blackberry bramble and its rose garden. In the dream we looked up its elevation on Google maps, and found out it was 465 ft above sea level. Good, I thought. When the ice caps melt, this will still be above water.

When I woke, my mind was full of mud and damp. But it is a beautiful clear day, and the sun is shining.

"Let everyone who is godly seek you, while you may be found. Surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him."

Thursday, November 8, 2012


So many things to worry about today, but I will choose not to. First things first, and all the rest will follow.

At Sunday school a few weeks ago--in the middle of the "Will O. quit, or won't he?"--before the retreat, before the hurricane: that quiet Sunday morning, our leader, G., read to us from Matthew 6 in his lovely Southern accent: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well."

I started thinking about first. Seek God first: first in importance, first in line, first in the day. "Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God." "But I have this against you: you have forgotten your first love." "We love because He first loved us."

Another one that I didn't think of at the time: "In the beginning was the Word." He was here first, before there was a here. God is first. ("You shall have no other gods before Me.") Everyone else's opinion can come last.

May I live this today.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


A frenetic day of sending emails of all shapes and sizes, and updating Facebook not as myself but as a representative of an organization: Dislike.

The day started out well, with getting the house in order. Today O. actually left the house to work at the office, for the first time since Hurricane Sandy. For the first time in almost two weeks, I was alone in the house for most of the day. It surprises me every time, how different the house feels when O. is gone for the day: free, peaceful. Not that it isn't peaceful with O. here, not that I'm not free. But what do I mean?

I mean the release of my attention to be fully located within my own body, in the here of my hands and feet and back, the here of my eyes and fingers--not my ears, they are never paying attention to this exact place, they are always listening for things happening elsewhere. They hear not-here.

When O. is here (in the house, I mean), the house becomes my body. Some thread of my consciousness keeps snagging on his presence. I am interruptable. I am listening. Attending. Waiting, that would mean, if "attend" in English meant what it means in French. Yes, I am waiting: for him to say something to me, or say something at all; for me to say something to him, or say anything at all. An audience: that is the difference. Life does not become a performance but it becomes something listened to, something interactive, a multiplicity, a web with two centers, a binary star--two flaming lights orbiting some common center, located somewhere between them.

Sara Groves sings about living for an audience of one, breathing for an audience of one. She means God. How often do I think only of the Divine audience, disregarding entirely my own judgment, truly oblivious to the audience of whoever else is "here" (wherever here is)?

Probably never. Not completely, I mean.

"It is not good for the man to be alone"--but what about the woman? I come closest to that single Audience when I am alone. In the language of Anatomy of the Soul, it is in solitude that my left brain is most offline and my right brain has freest reign, to live an unexamined life--which is worth living, I contend, more than the obsessively examined life. Because what is examination, analysis, but distance? You cannot really live at arm's length from the mud, the penetrating wind, the smell of baked beans which drifts (at last) from the oven; the flavor and texture of fresh bread on your tongue, between your teeth; the rabbit that scratches you as he leaps out of your lap, the husband who cradles you when you crawl into his. You cannot really live, at arm's length. But the arm's length is what you need to analyze, and so those necessary periods of examination are periods of pausing your experience of life... Point being, my focus is less divided when I am alone. I am more embodied, my experience is more direct, when no one is watching or listening. Sometimes it is good to be alone.

Of course, the healthy alone of the morning was devoured by the pseudo-alone of emails and Facebook all afternoon. I did not protect my solitude as I might have; I bowed under the weight of my job, all those expectations (such a large audience).

And now I am ready for O. to come home. It is evening, dinner is ready. The sun vanished long ago, first behind clouds and snow, then below the horizon. The snow is still falling, and O. is trapped on a train platform on the other side of a mile-wide river, and all the trains are full, and I am not fully present here because my spirit goes out to him where he is.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Remember, remember [an eclectic post]

I write this with a lap snuggled full of rabbit and a belly laden with pumpkin gnocchi. I made the gnocchi from scratch following this genius recipe and they were delicious! and easy to make though a bit time-consuming.

The rabbit is here because he was chewing on the filing cabinet.

O. separated the egg for the gnocchi for me, and then decided to make meringues with the whites. They are still in the oven because they are supposed to bake for three hours.

We were planning to re-watch "V for Vendetta" tonight (it is the fifth), but it has been postponed due to pumpkin deliciousness.

We were remembering, over dinner, where we were a year ago: living in a small, moldy apartment--misunderstanding each other all the time--just getting over a brief pregnancy scare--my sinuses chronically infected. We still have a long way to go, marriage-wise, but we have learned so much in a year. Thank God.

O. washed the dishes while I was cooking dinner, without being asked. That, more than anything, feels like a sign of change to me.

I am reading Anatomy of the Soul, wherein the Christian neuroscientist author discusses remembering at length. I had one of those "aha!" moments, reading the chapter "Remembering the Future," because he cited Psalms and discussed the moral dimensions of remembering--which is something I've been thinking about for a while. I even blogged about it (posts months in the tweaking). And then he goes beyond everything I had thought about and talks about the neurological consequences for remembering, and it's awesome. I will write about it sometime soon.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Life update

Recent events, in chronological order:
  1. Hurricane Sandy, about which I have already written. We have been incredibly fortunate in that its effect on us was limited to keeping O. home from work.
  2. O. quit his job, with the intention of working part time or not at all for the next several months, and then finding a new career (which in all probability will not be as lucrative as his previous job because what pays better than software engineering?)
  3. L. & J., who had been staying with us since late August, when the apartment they were renting was revealed to have a sewage leak as well as black mold, have (finally) moved out. Their cats will never return to destroy my health! Six weeks of living with cats has increased the intensity of my allergy ten-fold.