Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I am not Lady MacBeth. I am not Lady MacBeth.

A friend recently described me as tormented...no, not in the crazy way, per se. But if you read my last post about "The Poisonwood Bible" and any other posts that talk about living justly you will catch threads of it. My mind never totally stops thinking about major issues in the world and my inability to fix them. I finally received a bit of peace about tonight in the most roundabout of ways.

My fellowship group is studying the book of Acts and we read tonight about how God began to change the hearts of the Jewish Christians toward Gentile Christians, as there were huge cultural gaps between them. In chapter ten, in relation to the Jewish law and the customs about what was deemed clean or unclean, God talks about how *He* makes things clean. All of a sudden, pieces started falling together. Stay with me.

Lady MacBeth is the mastermind behind her husband's violent, short lived rise to power in Shakespeare's MacBeth. The most telling moment of the play is when she stands alone on the stage, tormented by her actions. She speaks to the blood that is metaphorically on her hands: "Out damned spot!" But she can't cleanse her mind of what she has done.

No, I'm not in the same place as Lady MacBeth, but the parallel is striking in this: I keep thinking that somehow I'll get my act completely together and be able to live a life that looks exactly how it is supposed to look: loving unconditionally and giving sacrificially to all. This kind of standard would torment anyone because it's impossible. I was listening to Sandra McCracken's version of "Thy Mercy" today and realized that I forget about the beauty of mercy and grace. I forget that I don't have to make myself clean. I forget that I can fall to my knees and admit that I don't have anything figured out. The end of the song is the repetition of "Hallelujah" in the most beautiful and haunting, yet confident voice.

"Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground/And weep for the praise of the mercy I've found." This is peace. This can change me. This can dissolve the weight that has been on me. And point my life and my heart in a direction not founded on guilt and falleness.

Hallelujah. In every sense of the word.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Knots in my Stomach

"Until that moment I'd always believed I could still go home and pretend the Congo never happened. The misery, the hunt, the ants, the embarrassments of all we saw and endured--those were just stories I would tell someday with a laugh and a toss of my hair, when Africa was faraway and make-believe like the people in history books. The tragedies that happened to Africa were not mine. We were different, not just because we were white and had out vaccinations, but because we were simply a much, much luckier kind of person."

This is Rachel, the eldest daughter from "The Poisonwood Bible." She's the one I love to despise for her selfish, overly girly ways. She's the one who disgusts me in her concern for sweet sixteens and match-set sweaters when the people in front of her are starving and sick. But she is the one who I see glimpses of myself in, despite all attempts to will it out of me.

I know that one human person cannot change the world, as much as I would like to believe otherwise. I have had countless conversations about building into the corner of the world that is your own and not being overrun with guilt for what I cannot do and for the justification of what I will not do.

What brings me back to Rachel is the fact that I have had the conversation about the poor and homeless in New York City for the entire four and a half years that I've lived here. My conclusion is always "I have no idea what to do." Then I go on with my day. The images of the people I saw fade from my memory as I move onto my responsibilities [and I could emphasize both the word "my" and the word "responsibilites" with air quotes] for the day. What are MY responsibilities? What are my RESPONSIBILITIES? Is it human nature to want to make suffering "far-away and make-believe?" Am I a "lucky" person, and if so, what responsibility comes with that?

Are not all the tragedies of the human race partly my own? Does saying that or thinking that seem trite or pompous at the same time, since I have not truly felt them with my own body?

Part of me wants to apologize for this rant that I seem to continually be on about the topic, but I can't do that either. It wrecks me. The one hope that I have been able to cling to and rest in a bit was from 1 Corinthians 15, read in church last Sunday:

51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."[g]
55"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"[h]
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The definition of "restoration" is "the action of returning something to a former owner, place or condition." I love that this is God's vision for earth: that all would be restored from its current broken state. Even this thought is so complex, mysterious and seemingly far away from so much of what I see, hear and read about.

My prayer for now is that I can actually trust in this when my stomach is in knots. And be in an ongoing conversation about how I can be more of a part of that restoration.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Driving on the kind of night
where you think you see
a harvest moon
sitting on the horizon
reigning orange immense
to stay within its gaze.
But as you draw closer
you laugh in the irony.
It is nothing
than an illuminated
Shell Gas Station sign,
and you vow
to get your eyes

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Clenched Hand

Staring out the café window, I was waiting the rain out but pleased to have the stolen time and an excuse to be absorbed in my thoughts; it was coming down with a cold, beautiful passion. Without book, friend or phone to distract me, the city actually felt like home. I lost my broken heart in the pace of the traffic and hundreds of passersby, each with their own agenda for the day. Manhattan was mine to get lost in, but not physically like in the days when it was new and huge.

I think this was about the time I began to notice my magnetism to small objects with great detail; ones that I could hold in my hands, solid and silent, and yet write their narratives in my head for hours. Old typeset letters in baskets. My grandmother’s china. The brass buttons holding upholstery. I am haunted by their stories and memories and try to will them to talk to me.

What letters were written, or stories, perhaps? Did they wrestle with words and giving voice to complex emotions that beleaguer their insides? Does someone still remember them in quiet moments, with just a teacup and a window for companions? Who chose the intricate gold on the turquoise rim? Who came to the first dinner party in the late thirties? Do shadows still dance on the inside of her mind, remembering? Did anyone count the buttons on the chair, to have something to do while waiting, waiting for word to arrive? What was it like to feel the pressure of those nervous, frantic fingers? Sigh. It all eludes me.

These were the things I was wondering about as I stepped out of the subway at the southern end of the island, wind blowing as it always does. The shrouded Deutsche Bank building is in front of me, as always. It was supposed to be demolished years ago. Lights hang on the skeletal stairs, so that people and planes know it’s there. I feel akin to that building sometimes—like I have little lights hanging on my wrists and the back of my knees so that people don’t run into me.

I breathe deeply like I always do passing the cemetery. One of the only places downtown where I can smell real dirt, I gulp it in—slowly, though, if you can imagine. Each day I mentally keep track of hostas, as if I carefully planted them myself. Without fail, their daily progress and the way they cause the pocket of financial district air to smell like Midwestern evening nearly stops my heart in the best of ways. Next to the church, it is nearly too much. How do you name the combination of beautiful, thoughtful and prayerful?

Lights dance
on stairwells
of emergency exits.

Shadows play
behind old graces,
taunting me

Estranged lives
alternately fading
Or growing.

Even in this city
flowers perfume
the night air

And sometimes
I try
to hold it
in my hand.

An explanation? A refocus? Or new kind of focus? Something like that.

I've been writing a lot lately. For years I tried to put it off, but it is something that I can't avoid anymore. I admit that I was afraid. I can't tell you how many notebooks I've started with passion, but have left unfilled. Starting this blog a year ago was my first jump in forcing myself to feel comfortable with other people reading what I wrote. So. It's time to experiment a bit more and move beyond missing my years as an English major. Not that I will stop writing about reading...I can't help it. But I am going to start sharing some of my other stuff for about the 4 people who read my blog...but this is still scary, and I need to explain a few things.

1. Nothing posted here will be in "final draft" form per se. I am a ridiculous revisionist...perhaps to a fault.

2. It's experimental. The genre that I like to work in isn't exactly defined. Influences include Jack Kerouac's definition of the modern haiku, poetic writers like Jonathan Safron Foer and Arundati Roy, and subtle conflict that speaks to inner tension. Multi-genre writing.

3. Most of what I post for now can be described as a "small fictional moment" trying to incorporate all of the above. Things may or may not have been inpired by what I've seen or done, but are fictional in nature. "Small moments" actually comes from the lovely Teacher's College and is part of what we try to teach our students. My professional goal has been to practice what I'm asking my students to do.

4. I'm in the process of trying to develop a unique voice and confess that I feel sophomoric in my attempts. This is not easy for me to do, but it is good. I think. I'm going to start labeling my posts, and these will be called small moments.

Ok. Just needed to say that. Gracias.

A Confession. Of sorts.

My book club is reading "What is the What" by Dave Eggers and I've already read too far for Wednesday's meeting. So you understand the predicament I was in on Thursday--something in my brain doesn't let me fall asleep until I've read for at least a half and hour before I go to bed. I didn't want to start another intricate book, fearing it would distract me from our book club choice. I decided to consult my classroom library and went in search of a Young Adult novel that could hold my attention for a few days. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer was recently recommended to me because it follows many of the same themes that are in Romeo and Juliet, which is the next unit I'm teaching. This book also incredibly popular with my students, so I thought I'd check it out. It's over 400 pages, so I thought it would hold me over for a while.

Hmm. Yeah, it didn't. I became completely engrossed in a Young Adult, Teenage Vampire Romance. A new genre for me, so I don't know if it stacks up to other vampire stories, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Since I was reading it while actively studying Romeo and Juliet, I was able to pick up on a few interesting themes--otherwise, the fast paced plot and new world of vampires would have distracted me entirely.

I'll just mention one, mostly because my literary conscience is laughing right now. The complication of forbidden love is what stood out to me most. Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed because they hail from feuding families. Edward and Bella are star crossed because he is a vampire and she isn't... just a small conflict of interests. Their relationship is quite thought provoking, as well as heart breaking.

But I have to say, that while I was reading this book I was in "the zone," (Michelle? Kate B?) a term coined by the master English educators, who claim this is the goal of teaching reading workshop: to get kids reading books that transport them somewhere else as they are turning the pages. So if nothing else, I have met the standards of a middle school reader over the past 2 days. Lucky for me it's a series, so the next time I want to lose myself for a while, I may have to pick up the next one.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Micah 6:8

Reading "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver has left my mind running in a million different directions. It is the story of a Baptist minister-turned-missionary from Georgia who takes his wife and 4 daughters with him to the Congo in the late 1950's. What they thought would be one year in Africa followed by a return to "normal life" back home had a drastically different ending. And though the writing at times has a manufactured, over-telling feel, at other times it is quite insightful and poetic. Barbara Kingsolver tells the story from the perspective of the 4 daughters and their mother, each with a distinct voice and personality. But the craft of the writing wasn't what interested me the most. The topics that it addresses fell heavily on my heart, as they overlap a lot of the thinking I've been doing lately. There may be a few posts about this book, just so I can flesh out and process some of my thoughts.

Rachel is the oldest daughter and not excited in the least about spending her sixteenth year in Africa. One of her observations early on is in response to learning about the diamond trade and thinking about Marilyn Monroe's exclamation that diamonds are a girl's best friend: "Gee, does Marilyn Monroe even know where they come from? Just picturing her in her satin gown and a Congolese diamond digger in the same universe gave me the weebie jeebies. So I didn't think about it anymore," (127). I considered writing this is the third person, talking about "people" and "Americans" in general, but.

I hate that I can walk about my life and forget about what is going on in the rest of the world. Yes, I'll go home and read the New York Times and be reminded. Yes, I'll pray for peace and healing in the world. But what about those who don't have that luxury to forget? I read Rachel's declaration of not wanting to think about the inequities in the world and cringe at her lackadaisical attitude about it, but I have to confess that I share the same one most of the time. I don't want to think about what is going on in the lives of those who face incredible hardship. And when I do, I become so burdened that I don't know how to handle it. But that can't be right.

The reader learns early on that the family loses one of the girls to death, but doesn't know who until closer to the end. I won't spoil it for you, but the mother's reaction seems to be what speaks to me the most in this confrontation of my human selfishness: "Once I'd moved our table outside, with my baby laid out upon it, I could see no sense in anything but to bring out the rest. Such a bewildering excess of things we had for one single family, and how useless it al seemed now. I carried out armloads of fabric and wood and metal...and marveled that I'd ever felt comfort in having such things. I needed truth and light, to remember my baby's laughter. This stuff cluttered my way. What a relief, to place it in the hands of women who could carry off my burden. Their industrious need made me light-headed..." (382).

I constantly struggle with my desire for more "stuff." And usually my head can be convinced that I don't need it, but somewhere in the greediness of my heart, I can justify it all away. And I don't think I fall into the camp of thinking that having "things" is wrong. I guess I think that it depends on the state of my heart. My pastor talks a lot about when "good things become ultimate things" (which I've referenced many times) and I really just want my ultimate things to be the things that actually have worth beyond their dollar value. Why is it so hard to remember that each day? The only place that seems to shed light on this is the cross and remembering he who gave all for all. Remembering he who forgives. Remembering he who heals and he who says that the story is not over.

Micah 6:8
Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Better View of Winter?

In college, I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Online. By my roommate. What?

Since then, I have experienced the symptoms of this disorder every winter. The effects are mostly due to the lack of sunlight that people experience in the winter, when the days end at 4:30. To make matters worse, for the past 2 years I lived in a bedroom with no windows. Zero natural light. This was ok when I got to sit on the terrace in the spring, summer and fall, but come winter and I became a different person. But this year, I have two (two!) windows in my bedroom. We have bay windows in the living room and since we're on the fourth floor (and in Brooklyn where that means something), fantastic light is let in for the sunrise and sunset. My goal this winter is to be less affected by the lack of light. The good news is that the longest night of the year has come and gone. And we are less than 2 months away from daylight savings time (March 9 if you are curious).

Another friend from college recently sent me an essay called "There is a Season" that uses the season changes metaphorically. The author offered some really interesting insight into this season that I dread: "It is a season where death's victory can seem supreme: few creatures stir, plants do not visibly grow, and nature feels like our enemy." Yes. This is the exact mindset that I have in the winter. So many days I just want to curl up on my bed and hibernate. (I do thank God for the invention of the ankle length down coat. It truly is a life changer.)

The author of the article is of a mind not as bleak as mine, though. She says that with winter comes "utter clarity: it comes when the sky is clear, the sun is brilliant, the trees are bare...one can walk into woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground they are rooted in...Winter clears the landscape, however brutally, giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being." The fall and the holidays are generally so crazy that I barely have time to breathe. Life seems like a blur and I always finding myself lacking the time to sort through all the things running around in my mind. "A daily walk into the winter world will fortify the spirit by taking you boldly into teh very heart of the season you fear. Our inward winters take many forms--failure, betrayal, depression, death. But every one of them, in my experience, yields to the same advice: The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them."

So, my goal is to walk boldly into winter and not let it get the best of me (while talking to my mom about how spring really will be right around the corner...aye!). I have started running in Prospect Park, I found this week that I can see through the trees to all the streets neighboring the park, and it helps me know my new borough a bit more. I was sitting on my bed last week and realized that without the leaves, I can see the midtown skyline through the window. I hope that as I see these physical things more clearly, it will bleed into my interior life, that is filled with so much I am longing to sort through.

You'll know I've had it when I start listening to Jimmy Buffett on repeat or making mango salsa or gazing longingly at the flip flops in my closet or cry when the flower shops start putting potted hyacinths outside in February. Sigh.

Oh, let there be light. Just kidding. Sort of.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Design and Life: I've been reading too many magazines

Somewhere in the past few years I've developed a love of interior home design. Actually that's not true. I made dozens of sketches of my ideal bedrooms growing up and constantly redid how I decorated my high school bedroom (did anyone else go through a phase in middle or high school where every single memory had to be displayed...it exhausts me just thinking about it. I now sympathize with my mom who hated it, but appreciate her letting me go through my various phases of "self-expression") After high school I had a spell of scouring Pottery Barn magazines. It's funny how you can finally land in a place (or space) in life where you can actually define yourself. Interestingly enough, my roommate just came in with pictures of us from 2003-2004. I totally didn't get it then. Scary. But maybe this is the upside of entering the late twenties, as my younger brother so lovingly calls them.

If you've known me only pre-(or even early) New York City, this may come as a slight shock, because it certainly did to me. But. I think I can best describe my design taste as Vintage Modern. I'm sure that there is a more "correct" way to describe this that already exists, but it's the best I can do. I kind of see it as a merging of two opposites that work together poetically. I am drawn to objects with histories that whisper stories. But too many or unpurposefully placed and it becomes overwhelming. What I just realized is how much I appreciate clean lines and spaces and color.

I crave the creative brainwork it requires to meld these two things together. I had a moment of clarity today when I came to realize that it is essentially the way that I live. I literally live in New York City and breathe in it's energy and diversity, drive and creativity. Figuratively, though, I live in a way that is somewhere in between urban and midwestern. I'm incapable of pulling off that put-together look of city girls, but thinking about it, I'm glad that my midwestern roots are still alive and well. I crave the countryside and the smell of the air after it rains, but can't imagine leaving the vitality and ideas that are the city. I will listen to bluegrass, old country and new country all night and the next Sufjan and then Alicia. My reading is the same way: I could live inside a Jane Austen novel or Jonathan Safron Foer's postmodernism.

So. As I mentally decorate the space I don't yet live in, (or even the space I currently inhabit) I plan on a bowl of vintage typeset keys, framed prints of Neruda covers and an antique makeup tray--but placed carefully without clutter so that the objects have purpose, meaning and space that is not impeded upon by an abundance of stuff. Yuck. That word itself is imposing.

Anyway. I added some links that I frequent that feed my brain a mixture of the old and new if you feel like browsing. If I ever find the funds to finance any of my brainstorming, maybe I'll post some pictures. Until then, this teacher salary has to rely on imagination.

Friday, January 4, 2008

If you like music you need to go rent this movie. Immediately perhaps. I'm completely serious.

It is at once a movie and a song and makes your heart hurt, in the best of ways and in the most painful of ways. But don't watch it too early in the day, otherwise you won't know what to do with yourself until you go to bed because it will haunt your thoughts. But there really aren't words, so that's all I can leave you with.