Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year in Review Part Two

My job affords the luxury of having a ridiculous amount of time to do nothing. (Being a teacher is hard work! Please note that the 8 weeks of vacation I have each year are absolutely necessary to my sanity!) A first, I took no work home to Kentucky with me this year. I have spent my long mornings (well, technically shorter, I guess, as I haven't set an alarm clock. Long in the time spent in my pajamas before I get dressed for the day) reading the Times, New York Magazine and every blog entry from 2008. The interesting part is that I have 96 posts in comparison with 2007's 53. I did start posting poetry this year, which can account for a bit of the increase of posts. I have also spent less time writing in my moleskin journal this year than any other year in the past decade (it feels weird to be able to say that), so for better or worse, I have reflected on life with reading as my main vehicle. As I was reading--and thinking--this week, I remembered one of my favorite movie scenes of all time: when John Cusack's character in High Fidelity organizes his music collection autobiographically. It was interesting to consider my reading life this year in the same manner. Here's what I've found:

1. Nonfiction was an education. I've read more nonfiction this year than ever before. This has been a year where I've discovered my own opinions and have tried to wade through the social and political issues and complications that plague my mind and weigh heavily on my heart. Reading books like Blessed Unrest, Not for Sale, and Jesus for President were an incredible way to learn and to process.

2. Fiction was a means of escape. Comparing my writing style this years to last was telling: somewhere along the way--actually, in November--I realized that my posts were more "review" and "recommendation" style rather than delving into the issues or complicated emotions found in fiction that I typically, and previously, like to unearth. Two things precipitated this reading as escape: one, it was a year of watching friends move (or missing the ones who left in 2007). For as long as I can remember, I have had a-maz-ing girl friends, and for much of this year I felt like Carrie in Sex and the City when she was in Paris looking through the windows at girl friends having brunch. Books became a distraction, especially in the summer when I had nothing else to do and didn't feel like thinking.

3. Poetry was an attempt to crystallize and capture the moments when for a split second everything seemed clear. It is cathartic to record them in writing, and to revisit.

4. The weather has a huge impact on my thought life.

5. Writing with links and pictures and referencing old pieces of writing reminds me of my capstone lit class at Miami. We studied the definition of modern and post modern and the role that technology has in our ability to tell stories. It all seems to follow my ongoing frustration that sometimes there just aren't words.

I haven't done a "favorite people of life" post in a while (see sidebar labels: all posts including pictures of great friends). Here are some of the faces New York City misses:

The hope is that 2009 will bring more in depth reading, good times with new friends, adventure traveling with the old and the ability to read Harry Potter in Spanish. Books on deck:

The Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
shoot. That's as far as I've gotten. Suggestions welcomed. Book partnerships adored.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year In Review Part One

My Top Ten Reading Experiences of 2008, in chronological order:

1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

2. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

3. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

5. Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

6. The Summer Book by Tove Jansen

7. Amulet by Roberto Bolano

8. Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson

9. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

10. Not For Sale by David Batstone

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Slavery Still Exists.

I can't say much about this book beyond strongly recommending it. Written in an extremely readable fashion, this book introduces the reader to the issue of human trafficking across the globe--including the United States. It sickens me not only that human trafficking exists, but that so few people are aware of it. It sickens me that women who are trafficked into slavery are treated like criminals when brothels are raided, while johns barely have any legal punishment. The upside is that there are many organizations fighting human trafficking of all kinds, many of which are listed on my sidebar.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I Heart NY.

Flying over the fine city, on my way out--and moreover on my way home-- just reinforces it.
Here are some amusing reasons why.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Studying Sex Trafficking while Watching Gossip Girl. The Reality of the Pendulum Swing of my Life.

One. I just need to share the current view from my couch outside my bay windows: my across the street 4th floor neighbor salsa dancing solo while Christmas decorating. So wonderful. Had to share.

Two. Onto the reading. I finished The Emperor's Children last week and have been drafting a post ever since then, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say about it. I'm not sure I know what that it, but I'm going to attempt. My apologies if its scattered and not well written.

Moving On. It is the story of three almost-thirtys in New York City and the people who step into their respective lives relationally. I was looking for rich characters; people I'd like to join for dinner and talk about what it's like to live in New York past the post-college years and laugh. The sad news is that I was mostly disappointed in them. (Note: this is not to say this isn't a well written look into pre and post 9/11 in the city that makes people question and think.) Somehow all of their problems seemed shallow and I couldn't garner any empathy whatsoever.

This could have been purposeful, though. The title references one of the character's books in which she studies the cultural value and lack thereof in dressing children. The "emperor" is an allusion to "The Emperor's New Clothes." Perhaps these thirty-somethings are the emperor's children: completely unaware of their shallow lives...inevitably until 9/11 happens.

I guess the question is whether we allow our lives to be permanently changed when we are faced by heartbreaking realities, or do we wait around for a while until we can embrace life as normal again? I've decided I hate un-change, while I confess that I fall prey to it all too often: I read, see, experience something inspiring and two days later I'm spending my time watching mindless (though hilariously satiric! ha.) episodes of Gossip Girl.

I realized that as I hated the characters' elitist, entitled and self absorbed attitudes, that I harbor my own versions. As I wanted to scream at them to get their acts together, I had to laugh at myself. I've realized over the past two years that "getting my act together" is a near impossible feat. Whereas I do think it is possible to be purposeful, loving and intentional, I think it is impossible to have a life where I make every right choice at every opportunity, or use all of my free time to be "productive."

So maybe there's a balance? Realizing it's ok to have mindless outlets while attempting to grow in truth? Having grace with oneself and in turn with others? Laughing. Reading. Crying. Dancing. Hurting. Running.

I guess for me it comes back to being authentic: to just say out loud that we (I...) are a mess? I feel that for years I had this misconception that it was possible to miss the messes in life...I could carefully clean up and walk in a straight line and everything would be fine. The problem was that "everything" is a very broad term and careful living isn't preventative, productive, or necessarily good.

But one day I will figure out this mess! All will make sense! Ha. I think it is the mess that keeps me thinking, and without it I might get lost. Aye.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I spend my days with thirteen year olds. Most people make very strange faces at me when I tell them this, followed by some sort of apology. This post is dedicated to all you cynics out there. 8th graders rock and here's why:

Yesterday my student teacher was running the class. His back was toward all of the windows. All of my students and I were facing him--and all the windows, obviously. All of a sudden, the little, teeny snowflakes that had been falling all morning turned into these enormous near-hyperbole snowflakes falling from the sky. I noticed my students drifting away and staring and then I, too, got distracted. I had to ask my student teacher to stop so that we could have a two minute celebration: literally all my students rushed to the windows and I couldn't have wiped the smiles from their faces if I had tried.

This. Is why I love my job.
This. Is proof that 8th graders don't always want to be jaded.
This. Is what helps me appreciate the winter.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Good and the True. Nostalgia and Longing.

Sometimes. Most of the time. I forget. I make life out to be so so complicated. I'm not quite sure what it was that made me start laughing at myself tonight, but it has been one of those evenings where I've remembered all that makes my cup over. I will attempt to bring you through the narrative of my current state mostly because I have to have some kind of outlet for the overflow.

First, the Good: Mary Chapin Carpenter's alto voice. The toy piano sound in Sufjan Steven's "Lo, Er a Rose is Blooming." The classical bass in Trinity Grace's version of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" that cuts. right. to. my. heart.

The True: My pastor this weekend talked about how the season of advent and its waiting are meant to wean us away from that which is instant. I'm not sure if it's my ipod, my netflix or lack of dependents, but I have gotten pretty used to doing what I want when I want...and this is not a good thing. I would please like my life to be simple, organized, physically and emotionally healthy and productive. Today. Aye. I think I am finally truly learning that life can not always be neat, packaged and well designed; and that it is probably better that way.

The Good: following my mom's recipe for chocolate chip cookies and listening to Christmas music. Laughing (and dancing) to Sufjan's "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance" (especially the line: your sister's bangs, she cut them herself).

The True: Today my school had two speakers come and talk to our kids about social action. Both are individuals who had completely different, but difficult stories: one from a broken, broken family in the U.S. and one a former child soldier from the Congo. Their passion ignited my homeroom...they all came back to class as if they had finally woken up, and it was impossible not to be teary at their earnestness. Talking with 13 year olds about how life is not about the stuff that we own is pretty powerful.

The Good: sitting and listening to Christmas music with old, good friends at Rockwood Music Hall and the Gregory Brothers' rendition of "The Gift of the Magi" and Sarah Fullen singing "Go Tell It on the Mountain."

The Nostalgia: I'm not quite sure what can account for my deep longings lately. But my heart was aching for England, so I looked through my pictures and just sat and remembered. And this was good for my soul. How is it even possible to become so mindless that we forget the good and the true? I'm not sure, except that I do it all the time. But. I'm happy to report that I'm feeling like myself. And full. And thankful.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Hey guys, it's snowing."

espresso machine
laptops open
a saturday evening mix
of social and scholarly.
words and a cold wind grin
through the door

Sunday, December 7, 2008

advent. and wanting to find hope in the lonely exile.

I recently read an article in New York Magazine that quoted one of my favorite short stories: "In J. D. Salinger’s 1952 short story “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period,” the main character observes that wishing to be alone “is the one New York prayer that rarely gets lost or delayed in channels, and in no time at all, everything I touched turned to solid loneliness.” Interestingly enough, the article's thesis is that the aching loneliness that many associate with urban life is actually a myth.

Nonetheless, the Salinger quote got me thinking about the way people in New York interact. The great thing about living in this city is that it is nearly impossible to completely ignore the brokenness, whether that is in the hungry and homeless, the consumerism or the selfishness. Yes, I think this is a great thing. It is so easy to live an isolated existence where real need seems distant, impersonal and far beyond our thoughts and daily lives.

I wrestle so much with the broken state of humanity. Its immensity weighs on my heart and traps my thinking. Today's message and music at church, though, offered a glimpse of hope--of the truth that gets eclipsed way too often in my mind:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The music in the first lines of the verse seem mournful themselves. I wish I could type the way the violin and classical bass sounded this morning. Lonely exile seems is not as it should be. The last two lines have so much hope, and yet they still have a tinge of the current reality of brokenness.

So. Despite my sometimes-tendency to be a homebody and hibernate in my apartment (especially in the winter) I want to be an active waiter in this advent season: knowing that ultimately there will no lonely exile and doing what I can so that people don't feel the lonely exile quite so much.