Friday, December 28, 2007

Year in Review Part Two

This morning I woke up and read my blog. The whole thing. Despite being an avid journaler (is that a word?), I've never really had such a record of my thoughts throughout a given year--which tells me that reading has given me the windows that I so craved when I started this a year ago. There are a few things that I took away from it all:

1. Good reading is necessary for me to function. In the past month I told one of my best friends that my reading life was stagnant and that it was affecting my quality of life. I realize I'm both ridiculous and a dork, but stay with me. I was reading a lot of Young Adult fiction, which is great for entertainment and my job, but not necessarily for me as a person. I attempted to read The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara, but couldn't get through it. I had some great writers of faith on my bookshelf and some interesting collections of essays, but none seemed to satisfy my need for a quality story. Which resulted in a feeling I can describe as lonely? And my room was a mess. A visual representation of my mind. I partially blame my bookclub for disbanding. Just kidding. The bottom line is that I am not myself if I don't have a story to get lost in.

2. Good reading is necessary for good thinking. One of the most interesting things about teaching reading and writing to 8th graders is that it's your job to teach them how to critically think. A part of our curriculum this year was Banned Book Clubs--meaning, yes, I was passing out copies of some of the most famous banned books of history: from "Forever" by Judy Blume to "Matilda" by Roald Dahl to "Gossip Girl." This year forced me to consider my position on reading as a professional...and to be ok with the fact that my opinion might be controversial. But if you could only overhear some of the conversations going on in class and see the way they want to devour books.

3. Reading forces me to think about the world. Some of the themes that have challenged me have been what is authenticity? What is real? What is selfish? What matters enough to make me change? This is why I love books. I'm excited about the lineup that I have for early 2008...

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss

Year in Review Part One

Top Ten Books of My Year (in no particular order)

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan. This book has so much to say about writing and fiction and life while at the same time being a fantastic period piece with incredible characters. A must read before you see the movie (which was well done).

2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer. This book is amazing. Period. Foer's post modern style is ridiculous and his characters so endearing. A unique, poetic treatment of 9/11.

3. Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen. This is a surprising choice for my top ten, but. The themes that come out of this book as well as the chronicles of a slice of U.S. history are quite thought-provoking.

4. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. Hearing a first person memoir about what has been happening in Africa was staggering.

5. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Simply the most poetic book I have ever read.

6. Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda. A quick read with characters I want to be friends with.

7. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. A book that completely challenged me and my faith in so many ways.

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. There aren't words:)

9. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. This was, I think, the most thought provoking book I read all year.

10. History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Another fiction writing poet, this story just makes your heart ache in the best of ways.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm just saying

This movie really is great.
Especially when George and Mary jitterbug into the pool and all the way home.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

not so much reading as thinking.

this week
makes more sense
than photographs
my nightstand is covered
half read books
my mind stewing
half made plans
i can't decide if that's

Sunday, December 2, 2007

fall becomes winter.

last week's leaves
from branches
dwindling boldly
in yellow-
calling me to stare
begging me not to turn away
because they wouldn't be

this week some snow
coated the steps
repainted the rooftops

and stole my attention.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears

The New York Times Magazine ran an article today about the growing problems with the population growth of bears in the United States and Canada. If you have ever been camping or talked about camping with me, you probably know that the sole reason for me not wanting to go to Banff Canada is because I am deathly afraid of grizzly bears. Granted, this article was about black bears, and I may have, just in May, talked trash about how I'm not afraid of black bears. I have never run into one, but that is besides the point.

The article addresses the complicated issue of bears becoming more and more visible in suburban settings. Some people just want the bears to be gone, by any means possible. Some people fight for the rights of bears, and of course many lie in between the two sides. Here's the line that stuck with me, though, that addresses the attitude that people long held, and a possible reason for some of the current problems:

"For two centuries, as European immigrants moved west across North America, they sought to rid the landscape of any possible threat to themselves, their crops, their livestock; anything with big teeth — bears, wolves, cougars, bobcats — received a lethal round." And as much as I could talk about bears, this struck me as a profound metaphor.

I suppose that it makes sense that when a person is threatened, the most logical answer is to remove the cause of the threat. But at the same time it seems like that just places us within a nice, neat fence with everything that could potentially cause us to hurt--or even feel--at a safe distance. In some ways this sounds appealing: ultimate safety and protection. But in others it sounds more dangerous than the threats themselves. If I am destroying or ignoring everything that might be difficult--be that relationships, honesty, poverty, the list could go on--then I am ultimately remaining unchanged, then I think

I think

I think

is worse than the pain that I may have endured for a short while.

(Now, if you are out camping and see a bear...take this out of a hypothetical metaphor. Obviously.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

walking in brooklyn
before sundown
makes me wish
to be in london
along the thames
a firelit pub
at evening.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

walking home on tuesday nights makes me notice things.

the heaviness of days
of passersby
pressed the leaves
so close
to the shining-from-the-rain-
that they were almost one
except for the delicate veins
reaching out
wondering where
they had fallen

Monday, November 19, 2007

the best kind of monday morning

when i hear the rain
on the fire escape
and on the roof
i am glad.
for my fourth floor walk up
and the layers of down
that i am curled beneath.
for early early morning quiet
(except for that rain out the windows)
and eyes
not quite asleep.
but quite aware.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

To be heartbroken and staggering. In the best of ways.

I am trying to wrap my head around "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." It is a sad story. Dave Eggers writes what I think can be called a memoir, about the death of his mother and father and raising his 8 year old brother, all while in his early twenties. My thoughts are incomplete, and in order to complete them, or at least progress, I have to write. So. First, he brilliantly and honestly chronicles his thoughts into a piece of art:

"They are scared. They are jealous. We are pathetic. We are stars. We are either sad and sickly or we are glamorous and new. We walk in and the choices race through my head. Sad and sickly? Or glamorous and new? Sad/sickly or glamorous/new? Sad/sickly? Glamorous/new? We are unusual and tragic and alive." (p. 96)

"How lame this is, how small, terrible. Or maybe it is beautiful. I can't decide if what I am doing is beautiful and noble and right, or small and disgusting. I want to be doing something beautiful, but am afraid that this is too small, too small, that this gesture, this end is too small...Or beautiful and loving and glorious! Yes, beautiful and loving and glorious!...I know what I am doing now, that I am doing something both beautiful and gruesome because I am destroying its beauty by knowing that it might be beautiful, know that if I know I am doing something beautiful, that it's no longer beautiful...and worse, knowing that I will very soon be documenting it, that in my pocket is a tape recorder brought for just that purpose--that all this makes this act of potential beauty somehow gruesome. I am a monster." (p.399)

It is so rare to come across someone who is willing to actually spell out these inconsistencies within himself in an honest way. I feel like most of us have the gruesome part buried somewhere, scared to admit to it beyond the space of our own mind: we keep our faults and secrets buried way beneath the cranium, letting no one know what exists there, and not wanting to admit it even to ourselves. I admire his brutal honesty.

As for myself, despite my better knowledge, sometimes I pretend that it's possible to really have my act together in every way: that it's possible to live at all times filled with passion, energy, reflection, noble priorities, etc. etc. etc. This is one of the most exhausting myths. Something that my pastor repeats quite often the hope that Christ offers: "you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet you are more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope." This is the beauty of the gospel, and I'm pretty sure the only reason why I'm still sane. Not that I remember it all the time (as long as we're on the honesty kick), but the moments that I am feeling most monstrous, I realize that I don't have to drown in it or be devoured by it.

Second, what I think is most interesting, and important, is thinking through how we are dealing with the monstrous parts of ourselves if we are forgetting the loved and accepted part.

Eggers and his friends started a satirical magazine, which is birthed from: "We need to change him. Inspire him. Him, everyone. Get everyone together. All these people. No more waiting...It's criminal to pause. To wallow. To complain. We have to be hapy. ..We must do extraordinary things. We have to...A collective. A movement. An army. All inclusive. Raceless. Genderless. Youth. Strength. Potential..." (p. 148). They start the magazine and have some mild success and many good times, but soon enough it becomes: "ever more depressing, routine, improved only by the occasional near death experience...I am at my desk, working on a spread debunking races, one in a long line of contrarian articles pointing out the falsity of most things the world believes in, holds dear. We ahve debunked a version of the Bible written for black kids. We ahve debunked the student loan program. We debunk the idea of college in general, and work in general, and marriage, and makeup, and the Grateful Dead--it is our job to point out all this artifice, everywhere..." (p. 304)

This is quite possibly the most depressing description I have ever read. To think nothing as sacred. To think of everything as deception. Life becomes satire. Nothing is real or true.

Clearly, this is not to say that I don't take part in (or at least watch others and laugh) commenting on the ridiculous aspects of our culture (much to the thanks of my brother and the Simpsons/Southpark episodes he makes me watch everytime I see him). But I'm becoming more convinced that without the knowledge that we are imperfect and loved, the result is hollow, passionless living...which is the opposite of what everyone was striving for to begin with.

I'm not sure if this makes any sense at all. But. We need to not hold everything at arm's length to prevent injury to body or soul. I just think that there is so much goodness and truth out there that we miss out on. That is heartbreaking. I can only hope that it causes me to stagger to the point that I have no other choice but to be honest with myself.

Friday, November 16, 2007

This is dedicated to a joy of life.

I get to hang out with Kendra Marie Bloom in two weeks. I am really lucky because she is really great. We are going to do some cool things like ride a city bus and maybe go ice skating. She makes me laugh, like in this picture.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

it got dark at 5 today. but.

tonight i walked home
and i noticed
that the seasons changed.
i was thankful
for my mittens
and thinking it was time
for a hat perhaps.
and i wasn't scared
of the cold wind
maybe because in my neighborhood
i can smell fire places
and the trees cover the streets
and the leaves falling down
are more of a dance
than a goodbye.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Greater than.

"The reason that we are not fully at ease in heart and soul is because we seek rest in these things that are so little and have no rest within them, and pay no attention to our God, who is Almighty, All-wise, All-good and the only real rest...No soul can be at rest until it has judged all created things as nothing." Juliana of Norwich

These words have been in the back of my mind for weeks, begging me to sit down and actually reflect on what they mean. They come from a woman who lived in the 14th century who prayed that God would give her "the wound of true contrition, the wound of natural compassion and the wound of fullhearted longing for God." The choice of the word "wound" sticks out to me so much because why would anyone wish ill feeling upon herself? Isn't it easier to be comfortable? Spiritual, yet not overly involved in matters that hurt? Splashing around in the shallow rather than wading into the deep, swift and cold?

This is what I have been thinking about lately as I've tip toed through the shallow waters, wanting to be warm and comfortable and safe. But tonight on the steps of an altar in a church near Gramercy Park, I was blessed to talk and pray with some women who don't want to choose the shallow; who don't want to settle for beauty that doesn't satisfy; who want to weep with the weeping and spend themselves on the behalf of others.

I just pray tonight for a heart that doesn't covet what the world gives; for a heart that aches with joy and for beauty and for restoration. I want to taste what it means to be fully at ease in One who is so much greater than I and all the flippant little things I find myself chasing after.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Kristen Sometimes.

"It was after this that Charlotte began to dream she was fighting to stay Charlotte, and one night woke from such a dream struggling, even crying a little. When she was calm again, she did not feel sleepy at all, so she lay still, carefully and deliberately making herself remember Aviary Hall, object by object, room by room. Also she made herself remember things that had happened to her as Charlotte, but it was alarming how the details seemed to slip away from her."

I stumbled upon a new edition of my favorite book from third grade--Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. A girl in 1940's England begins boarding school and finds that she travels through time and switches places with a girl similar to herself, only in 1917. In the middle of the book, she she becomes stuck in the past and has a hard time then remembering who she really is. The passage I quoted above has haunted my thoughts for quite a while now. I began to think about how easy it was to become so preoccupied with life that your identity gets lost in the mess of daily life and gradually becomes less and less impassioned.

I have felt that way lately, which is incredibly tragic because fall is the time when my senses are most awake and inspired. I have found myself needing to set aside the piles of grading and planning and to do lists and phone calls I should make and remember, "object by object" where my heart actually lies, before it slips away and life becomes just motions.

At the core, this is a spiritual issue. When I forget that I am loved, forgiven and lavished with grace I begin to live in a way that calls out the world to give me meaning, which is so hollow...but also an attractive hiding place. It blocks my view of Jack Kerouac's haikus, and walks through tree lined streets and laying on my bed listening to La Ciengna Just Smiled and eating banana bread with neighborhood kindreds.

My lack of posts is due to this perpetual list making that cuts off the passion. But I'm working on remembering object by object, room by room...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Tip toes.

We finally got the rain showers that I have been hoping for ever since I moved into an apartment with a 4th floor bay window. All I have wanted to do is sit with some tea and watch it all fall down. Sadly though, or so I thought, the rain fell down while I was still at my friend's apartment (though, I must say that her bay window is quite cozy, too). For a split second I wanted to call a car to drive what would be a ten minute walk. Then I realized the ridiculousness of that thought and hiked up my jeans, borrowed some flip flops and headed out the door to frolic home. However. There is a difference between a frolicking rain and a tip-toeing rain that I just learned today. The nightime downpour had created these miniature rivers that overflowed onto corners and gutters that were surprisingly beautiful with the first of fall's leaves stuck between the grates. As I walked down the brownstone lined streets, the lamps cast a glow that made me feel like I was intruding on a poetic moment...but had somehow been granted permission. Permission to smell the stones of the church buildings wet with the rain and their red doors being pounded on by the drops perhaps in incessant, urgent prayer. The delicate piano music of the Credits (yes, Pride and Prejudice soundtrack--is there really any other one worthy?) slowed my pace to the point where the music and the rain created this certain silence that wasn't quiet. The intermittent thunder was welcomed and contradictorily beautiful and beckoning. So now I'm sitting at my own bay window, sad that I should probably drift off to sleep soon. I don't really want to miss out on the storm.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Let Not Men Triumph.

The fact that beauty is so fleeting literally causes my heart to ache. It frustrates me that I cannot bottle it and wear it around my neck or hold it in a closed fist without it seeping through my fingers. I listen to music that is indescribably beautiful...but it is constantly moving. It isn't possibe to place a moment on repeat, because it builds and falls. So I watch the sunset out my window, or if I'm lucky enough behind a cornfield somewhere and want to freeze it so that the evening light can hold and the tones of the color can just seep into my being, but it seeps into night all the while. So I look at a painting, these incredible partially impressionistic landscapes, and even though it is still and unfading it still doesn't fully capture what I'm looking for.

But it's the impressionism that caught me tonight...and the beauty in it's imperfection. It is not the *real* thing; but somehow it almost is better than the real hints that perhaps there is even more depth and beauty than what I ever imagined. And I suppose that all of these things that capture my heart are the same way. It is imperfect beauty that speaks volumes to me.

Let me get to the point of how this changed me tonight. I am a micromanager of my own life. I feel as though I have a pile of post it notes stacked in my rib cage and I'm unable to cross off enough items to even make a dent of progress. This entire week I have felt in bondage to my inability to keep up, my inability to please everyone, my inability to love people the way I want to, my inability to...well, you get the picture. In the same way that there is an indescribable beauty in things that I cannot tangibly hold onto, there is an indescribable beauty in the way that Jesus' power is made perfect in my weakness.

I constantly want to clench hold on so tightly that all my muscles begin to ache, literally, in my attempts to control. But there is a beauty that can free me from that...Jesus who calls me to cast my cares upon him--and in the ultimate miracle of existence actually takes them. He promises freedom from captivity to the world and he promises freedom eternally where grace abounds and shackles are nonexistent. Once I begin to see this as the most beautiful thing on earth, the desire to control so much of my life will wane. I think it is the challenge of my life to actually trust in grace and *actively* believe in His Truth. The prayer my heart must constantly remember is Be still and know that I am God. He is God. He is God.

The verses that popped out most to me today are typically my prayer when I get nervous about the state of the world. But they were transformed into something more personal tonight, after I had to take an hour to stretch and pray and breathe deeply because I felt so overwhelmed...

Arise, O Lord, let not men triumph...Let the nations know they are but men. Psalm 9:19,20

Besides the fact that it reminds me of something that some fantastical hero in literature might say, evenmore so, it is my literal Savior in everyway telling me that I am not God. I am a daughter. I need to let the beauty in front of me point me to the one who is the Lord of Life...and let that familiar ache send me straight into prayer and praise that one day it will last forever, and the fact that it aches to begin with is just a sign of the Life that is Truly Life that is to come.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

New Windows.

Maybe it's autumn. Maybe it's Brooklyn. Let me back up.

Last January, my first post on this blog was about how I wanted to write about the books I was reading and how they caused me to look differently at the world around me. Since the summer, I have been on an unofficial blogging hiatus (and let me just say that I love that I can use the verb "to blog" in my life. ha.) Somewhere in between relocating to Brooklyn, friends leaving the city and teaching a new curriculum, my writing has waned. In the midst of life changes, I feel it is easier to be busy than to sit and think. But that's no way to live. So.

I kind of need to reinvent my blog--mostly because I'm feeling this creative pull in more ways than reading and writing. Perhaps part of me is being reinvented. It's still a library...but just as in the Borges quote, it's a *kind* of library that may now be responding more to the life that my senses imprint on my mind. We'll see where it takes me.

Here are some views from the literal new windows. I look like a fool with my camera out the window of my fourth floor apartment, but the light is so lovely I can't help myself.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Not yet.

I feel as though I have been absent from my life for a few weeks. I'm definitely moving forward (this is the weekend of apartment, new borough, a wedding, new school year) but I feel so busy that I haven't really stopped to think about much.

In light of that I've been amusing myself with a little Young Adult fiction. For those of you not in education, those are books written specifically for middle/early high school students. (I did read "Everything is Illuminated" but I need a bit more time to think through that one...please read Jonathan Safron Foer, I beg of you)

The 8th grade distraction is called "Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow CIty." It's about six 12 year old girls who stumble upon a secret city that is far underneath Manhattan. They are smart, adventurous and confident...

"To those of you who are sticklers for safety and approach life with all the caution of amateur beekeepers, I can offer no excuse for what I did then. I'll admit that a more mature human being would never have let her curiosity take control."

...exactly the kind of girls I want my students to read about, rather than all the "Clique" trash they usually read. I cannot wait to recommend it to my students.

Give me a week or so for some real thoughts. This weekend I'm travelling to Wyoming and I've packed "King Dork," "Swallows and Amazons" and Harry Potter en espanol, all young adult titles. Am I trying to avoid real life for a while? Yes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

And the greatest of these is love.

I finished two books this week and they have unintentionally had a lot to do with each other.

"The Known World" by Edward P. Jones an epic of sorts that follows the life of a slave owning, black, plantation owner and all of the people connected to him directly or indirectly. The most interesting aspect of the craft of the writing is its lack of linear form. The 3rd person narrator is like a god of sorts, who can see the past, present and future and tells the reader about each in no particular order. Beyond that, the most interesting aspect of the story itself is the complexity of morality and what motivates people into action. The reader is given a glimpse of the sacred humanity in each character as well as the broken, sinful darkness. There is at once incredible artistry within these characters, pivotal misunderstandings and a lack of eyes to truly see outside of what the culture prescribes. Tragedy litters its pages as a result, in large and small ways.

"The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne is nonfiction and basically calls the Christian Church to take a solid look at how Jesus lived and begs them to do likewise. He presents the values of Christ that are completely upside down in comparison to the western world and challenges people to take them seriously--to step out of complacency and comfort zones to simply love; to look our fellow human beings in the eyes and actually see them rather than looking at life through the lens of ourselves.

I have been wondering why Jones called his book "The Known World." One conclusion that I have come up with is that maybe wanting the best for ourselves only is all that we know. It broke my heart to read about the characters who killed without thinking, enslaved without thinking, belittled without thinking. But then I have to turn and look at myself in the mirror--what kind of world do I want to know? Am I living in a way that shows love to the people I encounter? Am I pointing the finger at others? Am I turning my eyes from injustice in the name of comfort? Am I accepting of apathy?

Claiborne's book has challenged my thinking in an incredible way. All I can think about now is rereading the gospels and looking for the Truth. What was Christ about? And what am I justifying in my life so that I don't *have* to be about those things? So please, read "The Irresistible Revolution" and read the gospels. Look at the world around you. I am hungry for your thoughts and conversations.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Reading Without Words: Why I Love the Midwest.

Last Sunday I drove south on 71 for a few hours, on my way to Louisville from a 40 hour trip to southwest Ohio. Being a subway rider, the tiny gas station I stopped at seemed like a novelty, with its four pumps and view of a dilapidated clapboard house. I do confess that I'm a Louisville fan, where my parents have moved, but there is something about those pockets of rural Ohio. Somehow the fading evening light and lightning bugs and overgrown grass just feels so comfy. I stood at the gas station for a few minutes just looking and decided to drive back with the windows rolled down so that I wouldn't miss out on breathing in the cornfields and woods.

Just outside of downtown Cincinnati, I glanced over and the moon caught me by surprise. It wasn't quite a harvest moon, but golden orange that seemed to announce the arrival of high summer. It fell behind the bars of the bridges and a few buildings, but sunk elegantly into the landscape of Northern Kentucky. This combined with the piano and mandolin on the stereo, and you can understand the sweet melancholy running through me.

But what made the drive even better than all these atmospheric invocations was thinking about the people with whom my path crossed who are the truest essence of why the Midwest is best. (Yes, I believe that rhyme is sweet.) So here is my list of highlights, in the hope that one of them might read this and know how awesome I think they are and how much I appreciate them carving time out of their schedules to hang out:

Alison. Talk about the joys of having a kindred spirit who is also a Miami U English major. Coffee with you is always the best.
Abby. There is no one better to talk about Harry Potter with. You are a constant reminder of the Kingdom to me.
Jenna. Sigh. What more can I say?
Julia. You were a beautiful bride. What a blessing to watch you get married. And Arnie's pretty great, too.
Mark. One of my most favorite co-leaders. Always a pleasure and a challenge to my thinking.
Melissa. Saralyn. Missy. Your faith inspires me.
Kyle. There is nothing better than laughing with old friends.
Jana. Katy. Lal. Jill. Annie. Liz. How I long to visit the days of living in the House of Mud. Your conversation is so refreshing and encouraging. And the brunch was ok, too:)
Kendra. My visit would be incomplete without eating ice cream at the K with you. I adore you.
Mom. Dad. Frankie. I love our deck and Kentucky's not bad, either.

If you made it this far, I commend you. There are a few more things besides the residents that make the Midwest an amazing place, despite the disagreements that may come from those unfortunates who have never experienced it:

1. Mom and Pop Ice Cream, i.e. The K and W in Springboro and The Dairy Shed in Bellbrook.
2. Cornhole. Glorified bean bag toss that, yes, really is entertaining.
3. College Football Fans. They're everywhere.
4. Hometown Football Fans. Go Elks.
5. Corn and Soybean Fields.

So, needless to say, I didn't read words too much while I was away, (excluding Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, of course) but I did read. And I highly recommend.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Self Diagnosis: I'm a Reading Mess.

In the same way that I cannot make my brain think linearly, I cannot read linearly. I was excited for the freedom of summer because I really believed that I would read one book, start to finish, and then begin the next one.

Well, that was a lovely thought.

It started reading Harry Potter at night because they were too heavy to carry around. Then I read Gilead, (diverting from my summer list, but checking a book off the shelf of books I own but haven't read) but wasn't as engaged so when I got bored, I'd read a short story by Alice Munro (also not on the list, but on the shelf). I finished Gilead and my book club started The Known World. Well. What about Alice? And what about Shadow Cities? That one is half way done, too. Not to mention the excerpts I've read this week from Surprised by Joy (CS Lewis), The Magnificent Defeat (Frederick Buechner) and Reading Like a Writer (Francine Prose). Aye. I think it's just that there is so much that I want to learn and think about. It's overwhelming. In a good way, I guess. I just want to devour and process and talk about so many things--and the rate at which great things are published doesn't help!

I suppose that I just need to come to grips that I am not a linear person. At all. Sometimes that really stresses me out and I try to become a person who doesn't operate on a completely web based design. (Old school web, that is. Think circle in the middle of your paper with lots of branches.) But without fail, I return to my ways of overstuffed bookshelves and piles waiting for me and I dabble in all of them until I finish. Whenever that may be. And I usually do. Finish, that is.

And that's ok.

That feels therapeutic to type out.

Interestingly enough, (well, interesting to me and maybe 2 other people) I am a person who likes my apartment to be orderly and my classroom to be without clutter. I may or may not organize my sock drawer. How does that fit into my reading tendencies? Seriously. Ha.

Friday, July 13, 2007

More thoughts on Dumbledore: How he encourages my belief in God.

If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, do not read this. Please. I beg of you. If you haven't already read the Harry Potter series, read them. Please. I beg of you.

Anyway, everyone knows about the cultural event that occurs just one week from today: the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I day cultural event, because no other series has caused children to read hundreds and hundreds of pages. No other series has caused both young and old to absolutely fall in love with it. I've been rereading the series the past few months in order to prepare for it's release, and to gather more thoughts about the character of Snape. I've tried to find hidden or forgotten insight as to his true character.

On Wednesday night, or I suppose Thursday morning, I finished "The Half Blood Prince" at 12:30 am. I knew the end of the book. I remembered it as Harry and Dumbledore are searching for the Horcrux near the end of the book. But then the truth of what happens hit me hard, and I still have the emotional scars to prove it. Crying, I laid in my bed, wide awake. I listened to music. I tried to read online--anything to get my mind off the reality of what the inhabitants of the magical world just experienced: Dumbledore's death. Sigh. Even typing it out hurts my heart.

I realize that many people may believe that this is over the top; after all it is only a story. But the bottom line of my life is that it is never just a story. There is no one else like Dumbledore: no one with his power, his wisdom, his ultimate belief in love, his discerning care for even Malfoy. So the only thing I can do is refuse to believe that he was wrong about Snape. There has to be more than what we know or are capable of understanding. There has to be.

This kicked me in the rear this week when I realized the absolute faith I have in Dumbledore might be greater that the absolute faith I have in God. I know God. I know his charcter. I know his actions. Why can't I, then, trust in Him with all my heart? Afterall, even though I hate to admit it, Dumbledore is a fictional character. God is real. Real real.

Among other things, that is what I want to work on: trusting in the Rock who is my God...and letting my passion for story and heroes roll over into my passion for Him.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

How Postmodern Narration Makes Me a Better Person.

One of the most heartbreaking things in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” was all of the miscommunication between the characters in the story. One character doesn’t talk, but only writes. Other relationships literally go unfinished. Adults don’t trust children with their innermost thoughts nor children adults, even though both sides feel the resulting disconnect. And I suppose that disconnected really is the best way to describe it because lonesomeness is the only thing that can result, even if one is surrounded by people.

I realized how often this has run through my mind when I finished rereading “The Catcher in the Rye” about a month ago and when I started “Gilead” last weekend. Both of them have one narrator who tells the length of the story through his (in both cases) point of view. Therefore, the reader gets a thorough understanding of how he sees the world and the particular situation around him. And this is what I love about literature…the way I can get inside someone else’s head who doesn’t think the way I do.

If I look over my reading list from the past six months or so, many of the books I have read have abandoned the notion of having one narrator who tells the story through his or her eyes for multiple narrators who show different interpretations of the same events. It’s almost a trick for keeping the reader on his or her toes. It’s easy to cheer for the narrator when his or her opinion is the only one that you know—as the reader you often see the story with the same convictions and prejudices. The narrator’s heartbreaks and judgements become your own. But what about when you read multiple points of view? When you see two sides of a divorce? When you understand how both the child and the parent feels? When light is cast on a conflict you were convinced could only be seen one way?

It is almost as though you have this amazing moment of understanding because you realize that each pair of eyes interprets the world in its own way. All of a sudden you find yourself sympathizing with both sides of a conflict. The conflict becomes secondary to the hearts of the people, the faces, the hearts involved. An issue is no longer black and white.

This is an amazing challenge. This kind of reading forces me to consider people. People with individual stories. People with individual feelings. The more I think about it, this is the way that I want to look at the world. Change in any situation is not as likely to happen if you aren’t invested in the people. If I were to look at my students just as a group of 13 year old students, I would miss out on so much, and my teaching would show it. If I keep poverty and injustice as abstract concepts in the back of my mind, that’s all they will remain.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love this postmodern take on narration and what it can do with my own thinking. “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” deals with the aftermath of September 11th through the eyes of a child who lost his father, his grandmother and his estranged grandfather. Foer pulls the reader in a way that causes the heart to ache with empathy and poetic understanding of how individual people deal with an overwhelming amount of grief. Life almost becomes a little more whole as you take on someone else’s point of view for a while. This is true in real life, too. As far as the miscommunication and disconnect is concerned, the entire time I was reading I was almost shouting at the characters to tell the others about what was actually going on in their heads: “Look at one another and speak what is true! Listen for just a second! Ask him what’s actually going on! Tell him your heart!” Sigh. I always feel the most humbled when fictional characters shout the truth at me.

(Recommended books with multiple narrators: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, History of Love, Atonement, Inheritance of Loss, The Memory Keeper's Daughter)

Sunday, July 1, 2007


I spent a half hour a few weeks ago talking about the delicate art that fathers have: carrying sleeping children from the car to their beds. The image of it all is seamless…your little head falls onto his shoulder into a sleep deep enough to feel like you are still dreaming but light enough to know that you are in your dad’s arms. Sheltered. Protected. As he places you onto your bed and pulls your shoes off, you barely know what is happening. All you know is that you don’t have to worry; you are safe.

I have lived in the city for 4 years and finally feel like I can call it my home, not just a temporary stop on my way to Real Life. At the same time, the nasty word of change is whispering into my ear. As I commit to this city I love, that means I become of fixture of watching the change that is synonymous with New York: losing friends to other cities, testing the outer boroughs, finding an affordable apartment, did I mention losing friends to other cities? Despite my love affair with New York, lately I’ve wanted to close my eyes and transport myself to the safety that accompanied childhood: knowing that I could fall asleep when I got tired and be carried up all the stairs and tucked into bed without a worry.

I feel like my reading life and actual life keep overlapping. I connected more this week with Oskar Schell, age eight of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close than any actual person in my life. Yes, he is eight. But a very precocious and articulate eight. The book chronicles the days of his life when he is first separated from the blanket of security only found in children who play and imagine away and leave all the heavy thinking up to their parents, who carry them through it all while they sleep.

Oskar lost his father on September 11. Clearly, his weariness goes much deeper than I can imagine. His poignant story, overlapping with those of his grandparents, pinpoints the devastation of loss. The degree of devastation that Oskar has experienced I have not. But the feeling of being a bit lost in a world that all of a sudden seems big, unpredictable and dangerous I have. And sweet Oskar, despite his fear of what he knows and what he does not know does his best to be brave and trust in something bigger than he.

And I suppose that is what adult life is about…making my way in a world that I will never fully understand. But I wonder if I am not alone in my longing to escape just for a little bit. To forget what I know about heartache and tragedy and just be carried. But to do so would prevent learning or growth or process. To do so would be to miss the small beauties of life.

So, for now I will let the smell of the soil on Rector Street (I promise it really is there) take me back to summer nights in Centerville, Ohio. I will allow the sleepy kids I see remind me of the trips from the garage to my bed. I will be thankful that I have known safety and I will do my best to trust in what is Good and True and Real.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Summer Reading List: because for me, today is the first day of this glorious season of TIME.

Fact: Summer vacations are more for the teachers, than for hte students.
Fact: If summer vacation didn't exist, I would run out of all creative steam.
Fact: Without summer vacation, there's a chance I wouldn't love middle schoolers as much as I do.

Here's the summer reading list so far (and yes, I may have been compiling it since January). I am so excited to read without feeling guilty that I should be a) grading papers or b) getting more sleep.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. See #2 for explanation.

2. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. This has been the number one recommended book by all my reading friends. I just finished History of Love by his wife, Nicole Krauss and loved it. Apparently those who have read Foer didn't love Krauss as much. Also, those who read Everything is Illuminated didn't love Extremely Loud. My friend who has read Extremely Loud only loved it. Therefore, I am reading them in backwards order, with the hope of appreciating each one.

3. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. My other goal for the summer is writing. So. That makes sense. Also, this is the basis for how my department teaches writing. So it's fun+work at the same time. Yes!

4. Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosifal by JK Rowling. Harry Potter #1 en espanol. Trying to work on my understanding of my second favorite language.

5. HARRY POTTER 7! At first I was depressed about the series ending, but since I've been rereading them, I've realized how much I like them even more the second time through. Therefore, all is not lost, because I can transport myself to Hogwarts whenever I want and rereading is a beautiful thing!

6. Shadow Cities by Robert Neuwirth. Neuwirth lived in 4 of the biggest what we would call slums in the world and wrote about it.

7. Planet of Slums by Mike Davis. Thinking through the urbanization of the world, especially the developing world and what that means.

8. The Christian Imagination, edited by Leland Ryken. A collection of essays on the intersection of faith and creativity. This also goes along with writing goals for the summer.

9. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez. This is to be our read aloud for the fall about gang life. If I'm going to teach it, I'd beter read it.

That's it for now. Thoughts coming soon. Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"It is my belief... that the truth is generally preferable to lies."

~J.K. Rowling, "The Beginning," Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000, spoken by the character Albus Dumbledore

Devouring is probably the best verb to describe my current re-reading of the 5th book in the Harry Potter series, The Order of the Phoenix. Without fail, these books literally transport me from whatever else I am doing into the world of magic. This may be to a fault, though, because there's a chance that I may or may not, sometimes, use them as an escape mechanism or at least read well past what should be any teacher's bedtime.

A friend of mine recently said that what she likes the best about book 5 is the community that is within it. I haven't stopped thinking about it since (see above and my tendency to be dragged in). However, rather than bordering on obsessive, it has reminded me of the importance of being surrounded by people who are fighting your fight with you. In the book, the adults who know the truth about Voldemort have banded together as The Order of the Phoenix to share that truth and to work against him. At Hogwarts, Harry is finally able to find comfort in the DA-a group designed to teach students to protect themselves against Voldemort. This is the only place where Harry does not feel like a crazy person; where he knows that there are people who believe him and who are rallying for truth. I've noticed this in my own life, as well. When I spend time with people who want to live life differently than how popular culture tells us to, I find myself more secure in my desire for that as well, and more energized to actually follow through.

I've also mentioned before my love of Albus Dumbledore. He is the headmaster of Hogwarts and the only wizard Voldemort is afraid of. As the series progresses, he does more and more things that seem outrageous and appear not to make any sense. But Hermione says it best: "If we can't trust Dumbledore, who can we trust?" Like Hermione, Harry and Ron, I have found that I love the feeling of being safe even when life is swirling and not making sense. I love knowing that someone True and Real is taking care of the bigger picture.

Sigh. It is 10:35 have been reading since about 7:30. (And yes, this is one of the most perfect ways to spend a Sunday night.) That being said, I'm going to end my ramblings here. I could carry on for quite a while, though. But seriously, I just needed to share my love of Harry with you.

Monday, June 11, 2007

In Remembrance of the Nineties.

Gen.u.ine. Adjective. Truly what something is said to be; authentic.
Au.then.tic. Adjective. Done in a way that faithfully resembles an original. (2) based on facts; accurate or reliable.

The past few weeks I have indulged in some greatnesses of my adolescent experience, including starting this post with the most basic strategy to start a paper, also reminiscent of sophomore Honors English circa 1996.


The Catcher in the Rye. Quite possibly the book that made me start thinking about what I was reading. Haven’t read it since. What that says about me, I’m not sure.

My So-Called Life. I really think Angela Chase’s voiceovers are the most accurate picture of being 15. And although this will be mostly based on Holden, as I was thinking about what I wanted to say, Angela Chase (via Claire Danes) is in the midst of an identity crisis. If you don’t remember, she has recently made new best friends, moved on from her old one and to represent it all dyed her hair. Her neighbor has a particular problem with this and in his infinite sophomoric wisdom (speaking of, weren’t you insulted when that showed up on SAT vocabulary lists, but see it’s brilliant value as an adjective now?) tells her that it’s all an act. Angela responds that everyone is an act. Interesante.

Holden Caulfield feels the same way. We get inside his head in a way not all that different than Angela—on a higher literary note, yes, but his narration takes you inside the head of someone wrestling with the world. Holden’s biggest complaint is that everywhere he goes, people are just a bunch of phonies:

“Lawyers are alright, I guess…I mean they’re alright if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot shot. And besides. Even if you did go around savings guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddamn trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is, you wouldn’t.”

The great irony is that, to me, Holden is a phony himself; wanting to do noble, true acts, but finding himself completely unable.

So I guess what I’m thinking about is what does it mean to be genuine? (Note the definitions now…the one for genuine is rather circular.) Authentic? Here’s what I love. The idea of resembling an original…who I was created to be by my Creator, rather than who the world wants or tells me to be. Even more so, being based on facts. And to me, the facts are that I am human. I mess up. A lot. I want to be transparent about that. I don’t want to try to cover that up and pretend to be something I’m not. I don’t want people to think that I’ve got my act together because I don’t. But the other fact of that matter is that I am loved. Jesus looks right at my messiness and loves me anyway. I am amazed at the beauty of grace. Because isn’t that our fear, anyway? That people won’t love us if they see our true selves? What a lie. The other fact is that I am blessed. There are so many hearts who mean so much to me, from Kentucky to Kenya, that I am literally overwhelmed…that my cup does indeed runneth over, which was the only feeling that rattled in me last weekend. (see last post...sigh)

So yeah. I just want to be free.

My Cup Runneth Over.

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19.
That basically sums up everything I would want to say.

Sigh. Old friends. Dear hearts. Sweet Ohio. Doesn't get much better.

Monday, May 28, 2007

It's not all about the books: How to read the oceans of trees and lakes of mirrors.

So my weekend was more about reading the land, and less about reading a book (although I started rereading "Catcher in the Rye" and laughed out loud at Holden Caulfield). I went backpacking in the Adirondacks for the long weekend with the roommates, are here are a few of the favorite things that I read:

4 kids fully outfitted with mini packs, walking sticks and bandanas walking far enough ahead of their parents to feel completely independent and for their pretending to seem real. I turned around to watch them tackle a huge mound of unmelted snow and was reminded of my own adventuring of the sort...and daydreamed about that and "Swallows and Amazons" (the best kid adventure book other than maybe Narnia) all afternoon.

Keeping my eyes open for bear tracks and imagining stories about what would happen if we saw one (and feeling ready, I might add. if this were grizzly country it would be another story, though.)

The peeling sycamore bark that was scattered all over like paper shavings, as if they had a story they wanted to tell.

The scent of fresh pine. It hits the heart directly.

Watching the light change over a lake; both in the eveningtime and in between rainstorms.

Contemplating a graveyard, as Sarah aptly named it, of trees that lie at the base of a mountain after an avalanche brought them down. Thinking about not having the ability to get up after a fall. Thinking about how the way we view life (from the top of a mountain or the bottom) can impact our vision.

And of course laughing with these favorites:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"From Here You Can Almost See the Sea"

Seriously: (In the background) Firth of Forth (Scottish Gaelic: Linne Foirthe) is the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea between Fife to the north, and West Lothian, the City of Edinburgh, and East Lothian to the south. And can I just say how happy it makes me that there are real places with names like "Lothian" and they don't just belong in books?

Literally: One can almost see the ocean from our terrace with the view of the New York Harbor.

But even more than the literal sea, let me say this:
(and by "this" I mean quoting my dear Clive Staples Lewis)
Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring and which beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for?

and maybe one more...
"For all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort: It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?"

That's all.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Maybe the best of things.

And yet. These two words might be my new favorites. They are often on the lips of my new favorite fictional grandpa, Leopold Gursky in Nicole Krauss' "The History of Love." We meet him in present day New York City without family, many friends or really much to look forward to. He is at once waiting for and painfully scared of death. During his youth in Poland he wished to be a writer--before the war pushed him to America, where he became a locksmith. He tells his story of lost love with poignant detail and unlocks the poetics of human longing. "And yet." is the most often repeated sentence...well, no grammarian could call it sentence. And yet. They are the Leopold's most profound words. A string of hope is woven through the lonely events of his life and I love him for that.

The word yet is kind of funny. One of those that if you repeat it over and over again it loses all meaning, which happened to me as I was thinking of what to type. The OED lists it as meaning "nevertheless; in spite of that." I love the idea that hope can still come, nevertheless: in the throes of loneliness and desperation, or quiet, or anger. It kind of makes me want to write my own poetry of "and yets."

the city is concrete
and yet
glazed by light

Those words change everything, and become strikingly poetic when the second half conveys a different kind of beauty or scent of humanity. and yet. It makes me think.

and yet

I found another place:

"dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." 2 Corinthians 6:9-10

let's be and yet kinds of people.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Waking Up.

Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen is a nonfiction account of the Chicago World’s Fair at the turn of the century. It’s title states the premise: it follows the amazing story of the vision of what Chicago wanted the fair to be—a miniature version of a perfect, beautiful city—and juxtaposes it with the crimes of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer in Chicago at the time.

The city’s and country’s best architects and landscape artists created what was called “a Dreamland.” They had created a place that defined grandeur, elegance and beauty upon the shore of Lake Michigan.

At the same time, H.H. Holmes was luring women into his life, making promises he would never fulfill and killing them in the most grotesque, twisted ways. He murdered children without giving it a second thought. These two things existing side by side, each one not paying attention to the other became quite symbolic for me as I read.

Absolute beauty and absolute darkness are living side by side everywhere. What struck me the most while reading this is how it is easy for me to get caught up in the beauty of things and forget about the reality of darkness. It is easy to walk through the streets of New York and be amazed at the architecture and the fashion and art. I can ride my bike beside the Hudson River and smile while the sun is setting and the lights in the buildings become slowly visible. I can sit in my favorite café and write on my laptop or read my book.

But if I open my eyes, I am faced with the darkness alongside of it: homelessness, injustice, hunger, poverty, crime, drugs, trash.

I feel like we are constantly trying to build our own “white cities,” mentally and physically. And part of me has to wonder who we are leaving out or behind in our quest to do that.

Wait a minute. I need to make this personal. I can’t make this something that an anonymous conglomerate is in charge of. Albeit, it is easier to think about this terms of “we” and “us.” But. I wonder what my definition of “white city” is. It is a place where I am working to live a life surrounded only by beauty for myself and others like me? Or is it a place where I’m working for everyone to experience it? A different kind of beauty, perhaps. A columnist wrote of the Chicago fair site once it was over: “It is desolation. You wish you had not come. If there were not so many around, you would reach out your arms, with the prayer on your lips for it all to come back to you. It seems cruel, cruel, to give us such a vision; to let us dream and drift through heaven for six months, and then to take it out of our lives.” Perhaps because it was the wrong kind of dream? A mis-picturing of heaven?

And obviously, if you’ve talked to me or read anything I’ve written, you have to know by now that I think beauty is one of the most engaging things that exists. It motivates and encourages in ways nothing else can. But I’m just saying that maybe beauty doesn’t equal luxury. Maybe it doesn’t equal stuff I can buy.

I don’t want to set up a life for myself where I’m ignoring the darkness. I want to set up a life for myself where I am a part of its restoration. I’m not sure if this is even coherent—mostly because I have no answers, just observations. Observations that I hope will turn proactive.

This post was supposed to be about the ache of beauty and it’s grandeur and my inability to know how to respond to it. But maybe it is fitting that this is the in between post. I think it will only be richer once I consider all of this.

(The other book I was/am reading beside this that has influenced my thinking is “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah. An account so mind-blowing of the reality of the darkness of the world, that any words I have would only sound trite. Read it.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Just for the record. No reading involved.

I love this city:

I love these friends:

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Prequel: What You Need to Know to Get What's Next (even though I feel like I've covered this before)

Now that my title sounds like it was modeled after Sufjan...I recently finished the best book I have read in a long long time. I realize that is a big statement, but seriously, “The God of Small Things” is fantastic, fantastic writing paired with a story that still resonates in me. Arundati Roy is able to capture some heart-breakingly beautiful moments. And you have to read it to get it. Explanation will cause it harm.

Besides just sweeping me away, though, the book reminded me of the small beautiful moments of life that are so easy to walk right past. I’m not sure how I forgot to look for them—but I blame the winter, namely. Before I go on a tangent about their significance, I want to define it as best I can—which, not surprisingly, is by quoting other people’s writing:

“Alone, in the huge apartment, with a glass of ambrosia in her hand, Camille listened to the voices of angels. Even the crystal pendants on the chandelier quivered with well-being…she must have listened to track number 5 at least 14 times. And still, even the fourteenth time she heard it, her rib cage shattered into a thousand pieces.” (Hunting and Gathering)

“I didn’t know what to think, but what I felt was magnetic and so big it ached like the moon had entered my chest and filled it up. The only thing I could compare it to was the feeling I got one time when I walked back from the peach stand and saw the sun spreading across the late afternoon, setting the top of the orchard on fire while darkness collected underneath. Silence had hovered over my head, beauty multiplying in the air, the trees so transparent I felt I could see through to something pure inside them. My chest ached then, too, in this very same way.” (The Secret Life of Bees)

In another top ten book, “A Severe Mercy,” Sheldon Vanauken says the following:

“Then—then she said something about how beauty hurts. ‘What! You, too?’ I exclaimed, in effect. ‘You know that? The pain of beauty? I thought I was the only one.’”

My hope in writing this is that there will be a handful of people who get what those passages are saying. That’s they aren’t just pretty paragraphs, but that you have your own moments that you have folded up in an envelope inside of you.

The only thing that I can attempt to do with this ache of beauty is capture it, and even that is elusive. It ultimately leaves me with my eyes facing eternity, when I have no doubt the longing to be a part of it will cease, namely because somehow we will an actual part of it. But until then, my struggle to capture and hold on to the beauty persists. Sigh. But I guess I’m doing my best to follow Sam’s example in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“Sam saw a white star, peeping among the cloud wrock dark high up in the mountains, twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cloudy Sky Spring.

Last night was the first true true thunderstorm of the season. I felt lucky to be outside right before it started. Even in this concrete city, the air still foreshadows what is to come, in this case, right off of the tall trees of Riverside. Then as I emerged from the subway, the scaffolding that surrounds nearly every building downtown these days wasn't its usual oppressive self. It offered me an amazing view without getting literally soaked (though perhaps I was metaphorically so). Amanda and I took up that offer and breathed in the spring rain.

Today has the same kind of feel, except without the rain, though its promise still lingers. The cherry tree outside my classroom window is bursting with pink blooms that seem more colorful against the cloudy sky. The wind is shaking the bradford pear blooms down--causing the white petals to dance in the air for a while. Sigh.

I love the days that make you look for the secret things.

And this poem just seems to be the great thing ever to me today. Maybe read it while listening to "Comptine D'Un Autre Ete" by Yann Tierson from the Amelie soundtrack.

Like You by Roque Dalton (translated from Spanish by Jack Hirschman)

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.

And that my veins don't end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's been a while...

...since I last wrote. There are a few in the works. Until then, here are some of the joys of life I've been spending time with in between posts.

(Comiendo con mi madre y mis amigas favoritas de Nueva York en Tribeca. Mis amigas mejor de Centerville en la jardin de Brooklyn. Comiendo la comida muy muy buena de la taqueria con Beth, Liz y Amie en Nolita. Necesito practicar mi espanol, si, pero lo amo)

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Let's Be Honest.

I couldn't sit here and be ok with myself leaving you with winter poetry (see below). Here's one from Pablo Neruda. sigh.

Stop cursing the cold and breathe this in and think about summertimeeveninglight--yes, that's one word. My picture is of summertimeeveninglight in Hardington, England. Enchanted is the most perfect word for this. And an overflowing glass a water? There isn't a more accurate description. So read at your own risk, I guess. It just might affect you that much. Especially if you are living in the April freeze like I am. And for those of you who lived through the last round of cicadas, just imagine he's talking about crickets.

Ode To Enchanted Light

Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
like a green
latticework of branches,
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
white sand.

A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air.

The world is
a glass overflowing
with water.

So Beautiful It Hurts.

The irony in the poem I am about to type out for you by Gwendolyn Brooks is that it encapsulates the beauty of...snow. Yes, it is April. Yes, my insides have been screaming for the long days and flip flops and hyacinths of spring. But somehow on a day of 30 degress in April, a poem about snow brings out the phrase 'it hurts my heart." I have been criticized in the past for using these words together--people claiming that the verb needs to change; that hurt is all wrong for beauty. But I cannot. I wrote on Thursday about the longing feeling that grabs my heart...and a beautiful ache is the only way to describe it. Something that reaches so deeply into who I am or things I love that it literally does hurt.

And I love when I come across people who get that. Who have felt it, too, and don't think I'm crazy. And today, a day that I want to shove my winter coat in the garbage can, i a poet writing winter got it. I suppose it is beautiful sometimes, afterall.

Cynthia in the Snow

It hushes
The loudness in the road.
It flitter-twitters,
And laughs away from me.
It laughs a lovely
And whitely whirs away,
To be
Some otherwhere,
Still white as milk or shirts.
So beautiful it hurts.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

On Faith and "East of Eden"

Liza Hamilton: immigrated with her husband to the Salinas Valley of California from Ireland, bore a huge family, the epitome of the “no nonsense” woman. She pursues her life with militant regularity: cooking, cleaning, reading her Bible.

Samuel Hamilton: a thinker. Cheerful. An animated storyteller with a listening ear. Samuel laughs loudly and feels the life in his bones deeply. The only regularity in Samuel is that neither his land or his brilliant, patented ideas are fruitful.

When one of their daughters dies, each one reacts in a completely different way. To Liza, death is a part of life. She feels no true attachment to anything on earth. Though naturally sad, she continues her life the way she always had: people still must eat, and they still make messes. Samuel is completely wrecked. He has no idea how to handle or comprehend the loss. From this time on, he is a little less himself. Though an old man, he starts to “seem” old. He laughs only for others’ sake.

At my book club, we were discussing our initial hatred of Eliza and how cold her laughless, practical life seemed to us. But at the end of the conversation, it turned to admiration and a declaration of her amazing strength, in light of her daughter’s death. My friend asked, “well, isn’t that what great faith is? Not having any attachment to this world?” We all slowly nodded our heads. Walking down the street afterward, though, I couldn’t get Eliza as the model for great faith out of my head. All I want is faith that runs deep, but I want nothing to do with her passionless life!

In “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” This concept changed my life. The deep longings that I feel to be—quite literally—a part of the beauty I find in front of me or to draw the depth out of some piece of music or to live inside a great story I’ve read show me that I am longing for things unattainable in this world. I learned I am not longing for the travel or the sunset or trees—not the thing itself, but for eternity: all its beauty and fullness and depth that are completely satisfying. This alone completely reordered my life. So, yes, Liza. Heaven is home.

Why, then, am I so drawn to Samuel? I think it’s because he exemplifies what Jesus meant when he said “Thy Kingdom come.” Samuel brings Life (with a capital “L,” my dear Springboro ladies) into his corner of the world. Samuel draws out the laughter. He draws people into the story. People walk away different. Samuel listens. He calls people out to be better versions of themselves. Yes, hope in eternity. But listen. It on the wind here.

I want faith that incorporates both of the Hamiltons.
I want to place my hope in heaven. I don’t want to be completely wrecked when the world breaks my heart.

But at the same time I believe that the story of redemption starts here.

I want to be a part of that.

I want to see more of the Kingdom in my corner of the world.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

I Heart Atticus.

There are certain books that everybody probably "read" in school (as tragic as the idea of "reading" in quotations is to me) that they need to take a second look at as adults. Today I am plugging "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee for the following reasons:

1. It is the most beautiful rendition of growing up...especially if you were the kind of kid who sought high adventure in the creek by your house or made up stories to make life more interesting.

2. Published in 1960 and taking place in the 1930s, its treatment of civil rights and justice is poetic.

3. Atticus Finch is my hero and maybe he should be yours, too.

Anorexia of the Soul?

It is always interesting to me when all sorts of texts in my life start overlapping.

This morning I read an article in the New York Times called “For Girls, it’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too.” The article chronicled the lives of a few girls who live just outside of Boston in a prestigious community and have the luxury of attending one of the best public schools in the country. The premise of the article is that girls now have a freedom that wasn’t open to even just the previous generation of women. This freedom has opened up so many opportunities for young women to explore and pursue, but also begs the question at what cost?

The girls in the article are juggling AP classes, extracurriculars, community service and social expectations. The message that is understood, the title of the article, is that they should be themselves—pursue what moves them and excites them—and at the same time make sure that they land A’s in all classes, nail the SAT’s, and have all the right extra activities that will bolster their resume for college application. On top of that is the message that being pretty counts. Aye.

One of the mothers made an extremely interesting comment: “You just have to hope that your child doesn’t have anorexia of the soul.” That idea is devastating—to starve the part of you that makes you truly live; to push that part of your identity to the side in the name of success or achievement or acknowledgement.

I also had the privilege of watching many of my seventh graders perform Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” this week. I studied this book in college, but forgot how powerful a metaphor it was. Victor Frankenstein dedicates his entire life to studying science, forsaking relationships to the point that he misses his mother’s funeral. Eventually, he is on the brink of his educational quest: to bring to life a creature made from various parts of dead bodies. Disgusting, yes. But so is the way that this parallels so many lives. The creature becomes the physical manifestation of Victor Frankenstein’s inner life. The moment it comes to life, he is so disgusted by it that he wants to kill it. The creature gets away, and despite its desire for comfort and love, does not know its own strength and becomes responsible for the deaths of many close to Victor. By the end, Victor’s entire family is lost, including his fiancée. Victor then dedicates his life to chasing down his monster, only to realize that he himself cannot kill it. Then he dies.

The final link in all of this is a question that my pastor, Tim Keller, repeatedly talks about in his sermons: What is your ultimate identity?

This is where the phrase “anorexia of the soul” sticks the most. Am I living in a way that is taking the literal life out of me? Am I pursuing things that will ultimately have the metaphorical equivalent of Victor Frankenstein’s creature?

Jeremiah 17: 5-6 Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

This is where I picture Victor Frankenstein. This is a visual of anorexia of the soul.

Jeremiah 17: 7-8 But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

This is where I want to find my ultimate identity. In something that gives life that is truly life.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

On Memory, Part 2

The premise of this post is that we all have a story. I find myself wanting to collect the bits of stories that are a part of my past and my family's past and humanity's past. Then I'm not quite sure what to do with them.

Ironically, my reading lately has spoken to this very thought.

“There were other parts of the tale that none of them would be able to piece together, of course, for some of the narrative had been lost, some of it had been purposely forgotten.”
-Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss, page 31

It is hard for me to accept losing the narrative. Love of story takes over my brain and I wonder if forgetting (or not telling) our narratives is ever a good thing. The most poetic moments of life are found tucked into the small details.

This is a theme that I keep coming across in the books I’m reading. I just need to throw it out there…to use typing as a means of processing. Just know that these thoughts may not be coherent; they may just pose more questions.

“Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, page 1.

Not being paralyzed by one’s past is a good thing. Moving forward with courage is admirable. Perhaps this asserts a freedom that allows people to truly live. The pattern I’ve noticed in myself is that I remember nostalgically—somehow a lot of the pain has faded. Bitterness and the inability to forgive trap the present and the future with the past.

“Ashes have no weight, they tell no secrets, they rise too lightly for guilt; too lightly for gravity, they float upward and, thankfully, disappear.
These years were blurry for many, and when they came out of them, exhausted, the whole world had changed, there were gaps in everything—what had happened in their own families, what had happened elsewhere, what filth had occurred like an epidemic everywhere in the world that was now full of unmarked graves—they didn’t look, because they couldn’t afford to examine the past. They had to grasp the future with everything they had.
One true thing Jemubhai had learned: the human heart can be transformed into anything. It was possible to forget if not essential to do so.” –Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss, page 338.

Here are my questions: If we forget everything that was bad, how can we shape the future? If I see pain and then forget about it, how can I help it cease? If we, as a people, forget what we know has happened, does that help us move forward? Is it different for individuals versus the collective? Can we move on from hurt, but still gain from the scars?

I am haunted by that excerpt from The Inheritance of Loss on so many levels: personally, globally, spiritually. I guess the idea of the human heart being transformed into anything is a scary thought. I kind of think that’s why it’s important to remember. Aye.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Top O the Mornin'

Today’s post is dedicated to a few things:

1. The huge window I am writing in front of…especially after a week of being sick and feeling trapped in the natural light-less bedroom and living room I occupy.
2. The Irish

About a month back, Julie and I downloaded quite a bit of Irish music after watching the fine movie “Waking Ned Devine” and reminiscing about the perfect night we spent in Dublin at the Temple Bar, listening to 3 sets of traditional Irish music with locals and tourists, Guinness and Bailey’s, clapping and laughter. I played these songs for my sweet roommates yesterday morning, the day of my people, and danced until we had to leave. To my excitement, the dj at the wedding reception we attended had the good sense to bring the Irish spirit to the dance floor. It may be true that there were all of 4 of us taking advantage, but still. The air was also filled with musical gems from Donna Summer, Paul Simon, Gnarls, Justin and Nelly as well, which lent itself to a celebration with old friends that any Irish would have appreciated.

It was no surprise that the spirit of Ireland was still with me this morning, so as I was writing I listened to “Appalachia Waltz,” an album where Yo Yo Ma, Mark O’Conner and Edgar Meyer combined their talents in tribute to American mountain music. I think that this is common knowledge, but I have my “History and Culture of Appalachia” class senior year at Miami to thank: the roots of American mountain music are found in the folk songs of the countries people left behind. This is what I actually want to write about today. Before you read on, I strongly suggest you download (seriously) the following two versions of the traditional Irish song “Star of the County Down:”

1. performed by Emerald Rose on the Celtic Crescent album, a common version similar to what you might hear in an Irish pub
2. performed by Yo Yo Ma, Mark O’Conner and Edgar Meyer on the Appalachia Waltz album that I mentioned earlier

I have spent a good bit of time dancing and laughing to the traditional version of “Star of the County Down.” It is the essence of laughter with friends. My further confessions are as follows: I have attending a “Britsh Isles Festival” in rural Ohio, coveted Julie’s “Ireland Forever” shirt. I am a direct descendant of the proudest Irishman I have ever come across. I have memories of my grandfather playing songs like this one while driving us around in his pickup truck, pretending to hate it along with my brother and cousins, but secretly loving my family’s heritage. My brother and I have outgrown making it a secret. In fact, he sent me a text message just the other day: “And goddamn I love being Irish!” This is the essence of the traditional version. You can’t help but want to dance and laugh.

The Appalachia Waltz version is a completely different story—literally. This story comes from an old Irishman remembering home. His melody is mournful as if his very heart is being pierced by the memory of family and friends and laughter. The intensity increases as the memories are lying on his heart, too heavy to ignore; he can do nothing but let them run through his veins and feel the intense beauty of it all. Toward the end his notes lift a bit, with closed eyes and a quietly smiling mouth; fully aware of his inability to cross the mountains and the ocean and rejoin that original song. But I picture him. Sitting, rocking; steeping in the fullness of home.

The window I am in front of right now gives me a view of sunlight and sky, a commodity in my life. I am not completely fooled, though; a 40-story building and industrial Jersey wave to me from across the way. My westward gaze is not toward what many would call grand, but its smell of soil and corn and wild flowers by the creek haunt my mind nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


Every now and then, even an English teacher feels that paragraphs are just too much.

List One: I feel compelled to share the reason for my prolonged absence. The reasons include, but are not limited to:
1. The pile on my desk that had 90 literary essays, 90 book responses and 90 memoirs all written by my darling 12 year olds.
2. My inability to ever say no to anything. (I have made progress on this, hence the reason I am writing this now.)
3. A roommate transition here at 90 W.
4. The planning involved in teaching the youth how to read and write well. (Meaning remembering to capitalize names. Seriously.)

List Two: Things that have happened today to allow me to write even this post:
1. Skipped basketball practice.
2. Skipped book club.
3. Skipped X rays.
4. (Regretfully but necessarily) skipped dinner with a dear friend.

List Three: Joys of this evening:
1. Getting the last of the literary essays graded.
2. Grading 30 of the book responses.
3. Making a real dinner.
4. Listening to "All at Sea" on repeat (yes, Jamie Cullum. yes, I love it) and wishing I were on a plane to Ireland.
5. Talking to one of my best friends from high school about my trip to the great state of Ohio this weekend!

That's all I got. If you are looking for something literary and/or deep, you will have to wait a little longer. I'm not short on ideas, just time.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stop Scuttling!

(If you plan on reading The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, I recommend that you don’t read the following. The ending of the novel is at once incredibly abrupt and incredibly poignant, and I don’t want to assume responsibility for anyone missing that.)

The Inheritance of Loss was a book that didn’t envelop me in its characters or sweep me away with its story, but rather painted pictures of some of the hardest questions that people of modern times are faced with: What do we do with the life we inherit? Does everything come down to economics? Do people actually believe in justice? How can we establish authentic identities? How do we confront poverty? War? Injustice? Selfishness? Racism? Aye. It’s overwhelming.

That word is really the only way I can describe my reading experience of this book. It is a story of interwoven tales in India: a poor boy given the chance to go to America, his father, a cook, who places every ounce of hope in his son. A retired, hard-hearted Judge and his unredeeming back story of why he is so cold (or does it come redeemable if it is the result of forces beyond his control?). His westernized granddaughter, Sai, and her adolescent love affair with her tutor who goes home to life in a hut, who eventually turns on her in the name of rebellion.

It is through the stories of these characters that I, a white, educated American peeked into life in the aftermath of colonialism. For the past month, so many different thoughts have been swirling in my mind and I am uncertain of how to process through and deal with them all. At this point, I have only my thoughts, which I would like to spring into action. At this point, all I can ask is for you, too, to give it some serious thought. There are countless passages I could bring up, but for time’s sake, I will focus on just this one:

“He knew what his father thought: that immigration, so often presented as a heroic act, could just as easily be the opposite; that is was cowardice that led many to America; fear marked the journey, not bravery; a cockroachy desire to scuttle to where you never saw poverty, not really, never had to suffer a tug to your conscience; where you never heard the demands of servants, beggars, bankrupt relatives, and where your generosity would never be openly claimed; where by merely looking after your own wife-child-dog-yard you could feel virtuous” (page 329).

Here’s what I’m thinking. I have spent a lot of my life avoiding need in the world. It is so easy to put on a mindset of “if I can’t see it, then it must not exist.” And I have to say, that ignorance is often bliss. The longer I live in New York, the harder it is for me to ignore that poverty is real—not only here, but in the global community. I am faced with homelessness everyday. It has to be my choice to deal with it or ignore it. The longer I am a teacher, the more intertwined I have become in the actual lives of kids growing up without parents, without money, without support, without feeling valued. I don’t want to be in a place where I am ignoring reality and scuttling to places, either physical or mental, where poverty doesn’t exist. This is where I am right now.

I mentioned at the beginning that the end of the book is incredibly poignant. Biju is the poor young man who left his father to go to America. His experience in America includes working ridiculous hours in restaurants and sleeping in basement apartments with a dozen other people and rats. Unbeknownst to him, the land where he has grown up becomes ravaged by violent rebellion. Eventually, he decides that he must see his father again. Against the advice of his friends in America, who say that he won’t be able to come back, he returns to India. On his way home, he has to pay off the rebels, who then strip him of all his luggage, earnings and even clothes. He is left to walk to his father in a woman’s night gown. He finally makes it to his father’s:

“Kanchenjunga appeared above the parting clouds, as it did only very early in the morning during this season—
“Biju?” whispered the cook—
“Biju!” he yelled, demented—
Sai looked out and saw two figures leaping at each other as the gate swung open.
The five peaks of Kanchenjunga turned golden with the kind of luminous light that made you feel, if briefly, that truth was apparent.
All you needed to do was reach out and pluck it” (357).

This is the immaterial joy that resonates only from love. This is the immaterial joy that can exist even in the most grim situations. Sigh.

So this is what I’m suggesting:

1. Remember the poor to the point where it forces you to take some proactive steps. Whatever that looks like for you.
2. Treasure your relationships, not your things, most of all—and take the time to examine your heart and mind to the point where you really place people above (fill in the blank).