27 December, 2007


Best of Christmas 2007

Best food: my grandmother’s famous potato casserole

Best discussion: on Republican presidential candidates and Japanese culture, with my grandfather

Best solitude: praying alone in the field after my run

Best accomplishment: finishing three books (Siddhartha, Me Talk Pretty One Day, French Women Don’t Get Fat) and starting a fourth (Howards End)

Best game: playing frisbee golf with Dad, siblings, cousins Matt and Emily; a course we invented that snaked throughout the field and forest and around the lake.

Best quote: “Glitter is a menace.”—Dad, following Sam’s bizarre freak-out, which was induced by the glitter which had covered his sweatshirt.

Best gifts: long desired and longed for Canon PowerShot SD750 and dark green “poet pants” from Anthropologie.

Best post-Christmas conversation: with Anna, who reminded me about what matters

Best Christmas spirit: youngest cousin, Mary Elizabeth, who opened every present and declared, “It’s AWESOME!” while hoisting the gift over her head and marching triumphantly around the room.

Happy Christmas Chaos
Grace: A Photo Shoot

21 December, 2007

winter gray

In my opinion, it's been too busy this week, but I am too occupied with things to care very much. I worked at mom's store MTW, made bearable on M and T because Elisabeth was there and we could ride the bus together and exchange knowing smiles over the counter. W night I got to have dinner at Brixx with Eva, Tara, and Emily and we laughed and marveled at our changed lives: two of us at university, one about to enter seminary, one married. Paul, Patrick, and Troy joined us and ate dinner after we finished ours and then we all went to Barnes and Nobles and walked in aimless, food-heavy circles. I enjoy the safety and comfort of old friends; like Elizabeth said, being around people who know your history.

Seeing "new" school friends is good, too: Elizabeth and I did our Charlotte tour yesterday and it was so refreshing to spend time with her. She's so brave, hobbling heroically on crutches while navigating Tyvola traffic and the madness of I-77. She took me to a spunky bagel shop and a fine art gallery and then we came back here and saw the bookstore and coffee shop and had dinner with the family. I love Elizabeth because she isn't like anybody else I know; she possesses this great spirit that I can best characterize as compassionate eagerness.

I was planning on starting and finishing my study abroad application for Tokyo over the break but I haven't written a word yet. Figures. I'm just really stuck with this one essay in particular, which asks me to write an essay as if I were an ambassador elucidating on what Japan could learn from relations with the U.S. This is especially difficult for me. I think we "North American scum" (song by LCD Soundsystem) could learn a lot from Japan; I can't think of a single thing they could learn from us. If you have any ideas, I'd seriously like to hear them. Because I am clueless.

"Your mind is racing like a pro now..."

I like watching people talk to each other. Blink your eyes like dropped feathers. Smile insipidly. Your eyebrows are listening but your mind isn't. I am so often guilty of these tragic communication lapses. Too self-absorbed!

Best line of the day, courtesy of Michael Scott: "I just hate so much of what you choose to be."

Listening to: "Peace Beneath the City" - Iron and Wine; "The Other Woman" - Devendra Banhart (thanks, Eva)
Reading: Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris
Consuming: black tea and an everything bagel
Thinking: what a short winter day

Happy Christmas, friends. I hope you all have great peace and rest; I'm getting there!

16 December, 2007

no pills for what i fear

Coming home is like being recalibrated. All of my emotional levels that I have so carefully groomed and stabilized are knocked off their orbits when I come home. I don't relate to people the same way anymore; I can't. All of my guards are down, all of my façades have been stripped away; they know me too well. It's like returning to your first self, the truest part of you, and often it's not pretty. Not pretty, but necessary. Why family exists. And so I am happy to be back, even if the reintroduction-to-self business is unsettling.

Tonight we are having a Christmas party for the families who live on our street; families whose parents are mostly professors and artists. Even though I don't really know anyone, I am looking forward to it because I like hobnobbing with adults from academia and art; they are always violating common social norms and saying strange things. Simply, they're just more interesting than most of the people I know.

Reading French Women Don't Get Fat is merely an affirmation of all that my mother has taught me about food life. Like Mireille Guiliamo, my mother says you never have to diet, you just need to make the right choices. Choose smaller portions, healthier selections, nothing processed, nothing with too much sugar or starches. Don't count calories or pounds; eat what you like but always in moderation. Food should also be visually enticing; the presentation is half of the joy. Food is consumed with friends and family, sitting at a table, never never standing up and never never on paper plates. Chew slowly. My mother is secretly French, I suppose. The book makes me wish I had more money to buy good food and more time to cook at school. One day...

I realized this morning, listening to Pastor Barber speak about Christ and Colossians, that I think of Jesus as an idea instead of as a person. I haven't seen Him or heard His voice; all of my "experiences" of Jesus are metaphysical, so I suppose it is natural that I regard Him primarily as a concept. But they say you need to understand and relate to Him as a person, Son of Man, Son of God, and have a relationship with Him. How do you carry on a relationship with an invisible Person who also happens to be the God of the Universe? This is a whopping problem to my heart today. I am weary of not having any answers. But maybe this is the question I'll be asking the rest of my life.

11 December, 2007

overheard in chapel hill

This is why sitting outside all day long is beneficial.

Blonde girl: "Why is it a beautiful day?"
Brown boy: "Because I'm wearing shorts. I mean, that's not why it's a beautiful day..."

Former homeschooler: "People go to grad school to obtain very specific careers, Anna. But do you really want to be the Queen Librarian of Arkansas?"

Redhead with piercing: "Let me tell you, medieval prostitution was HUGE. Explosive. All those popes running around, you know."

Hot Asian girl: "When did you see him naked? Wait... are we talking about the same guy?"

Girl: "Girl, you are blocking my periphial vision!" (As opposed to "peripheral"...)

And my personal favorite...

Frat boy: "I get in fights all the time. That's why I carry a knife with me wherever I go."
Frat girl: "Really? Isn't that against the Constitution?"

10 December, 2007

i used to try

This week I discovered (and Catherine and Alex confirmed) that one of my eyes is bigger than the other. This is causing me a lot of psychological distress.

I have the best end-of-the-semester tradition, let me tell you. After classes are over, I walk down to the bookstore beyond Granville and sell my textbooks back. Then I go and spend almost all of the money I get back on used books from the The Bookshop. The lovely Sarah H. joined me today and we had a grand time. I walked away with seven gems: Three Lives (Gertrude Stein), C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce and Reflections on the Psalms, joined by Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy, Kafka's Metamorphosis, and two Chekhov collections (7 Short Novels and Collected Short Stories). I am going to save these fresh seven for spring semester, most likely. Winter break reading plan: finish Beloved and The Four Loves and then check out Atonement and Eat, Pray, Love from the library and consume those too. (I'm so excited.)

T.S. Eliot gives me shivers and makes me shriek with amazement and I fully expect him to have the same effect on others. I read "The Hollow Men" to Alex yesterday in the quad while the fat black birds swam through the air. When I finished and it hit that perfect, perfect crescendo
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper
and I started waving my hands excitedly and exclaiming unintelligble things and he just looked at me and said, "Stop being so emo." Way to kill the poetic fervor, snarky Brit.

Best song of the week: "Only At Christmas Time"-Sufjan Stevens

Deep communion with God in prayer works wonders for spiritual dryness. He does meet you when you are trying to find Him. I usually don't try hard enough. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls...

I have two exams on Friday and so I get to laze around and enjoy this quasi-spring weather all week. It's very leisurely and strange but also a little lonely since everyone else is holed up in the bowels of Davis. At least I have things to do--like enjoy Toni Morrison and my music and play guitar and write haphazard letters and eat chocolate. I have productive and highly self-indulgent fits of solitude.

I decided this morning that I don't like grad students. Or, rather, I formed a prejudice based on overheard conversations outside The Daily Grind. Could you be just a bit more sopping in pretention? because I don't think you've used enough five-syllable words in that sentence. Remind me again why you are smarter than your parents and all of your professors and Carl Jung and John Stuart Mill, because I'm not sure I caught the jist of it the first six times. The part where I almost laughed out loud was when Grad Student A, who kept saying he wrote this great blog that one of his advisors praised "consistently," ended the conversation with Grad Student B this way: "Yes, it was good to see you, too. If you want to keep up with me, you should visit my blog. I'm sure you'd enjoy reading it. I do my best thinking there. My professor said he was impressed with some of the concepts I've been generating lately, but I'm just spilling out my thoughts... although I suppose they have the tendency to turn into manifestos and theoretical homilies! Haha. Yes... well, shall I write down the URL for you? Do you have some paper?" "Oh... um, why don't you email it to me?" Grad Student B says unenthusiastically. "Yes, capital idea. I will do that. And," he pats him on the back, "I expect a comment from you!" Wry chuckle, limp half-laugh in response. Uuuugh. I'm choking in smarm.

05 December, 2007

when life sank down for a moment

Because my eyesight has become increasingly poor and I only wear my glasses when I’m in class, out of necessity I have developed a new skill: recognizing people by their gait instead of their face. Since faces are increasingly difficult to distinguish at a distance, I’ve learned to identify people by body shape and characteristic movements. I think the way people move is highly indicative of disposition. You’d probably be surprised what I’ve surmised by your gait, courtesy of my happy partial blindness.

For the majority of this semester, I have hated being alone. It is rare that I have wanted solitude, although I’ve found myself more alone this year than I’ve ever been before. However, this morning I went to get breakfast at Lenoir by myself and was distinctly (and unusually) happy about it. I brought a bag of white tea and my Bible and sat in the sunroom watching sleepy students mill around the Pit and I considered how there is a gravity to aloneness. I feel, naturally I suppose, closer to myself. I am so much nearer to my thoughts, which is really the reason why I have tried to avoid to solitude most of this semester, if you want to know the real reason. But on this gray morning I was content to be with myself; content to be separate from people, to live entirely in the mind and the soft, inexpressible observations.

Woolf, of course, describes this sensation of solitude perfectly:

“For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of—to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. Although she continued to knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless.” -- To the Lighthouse

Kathryn gave me my first ever cup of (black) coffee yesterday. Guys. Why do you drink this stuff. It tastes like battery acid.

CUAB was going to bring M.I.A. to Memorial Hall for a concert but they couldn’t afford her. That makes me awful sad.

Since everyone else is doing it…
My favorite Christmas CDs:
1. December, George Winston
2. Songs for Christmas, Sufjan Stevens
3. Home for Christmas, Amy Grant
4. Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew Peterson & Friends

Are men more inclined to be spiritual loners than women? (Using the term “spiritual loners” to mean they would rather find God on their own, without any assistance; tending to shy away from social functions of religion.) Is it that they are more fiercely independent? And it is unmanly to share something so deeply intimate with others? To me, this could potentially explain the (terrifying) scarcity of men in churches and Christian organizations. Or are there just more Christian women than Christian men? Anyone know the answer? This isn’t even a hypothesis yet. I may develop it more fully later, but I’m still trying to determine if it holds any water. Any thoughts?

30 November, 2007


So I have this crazy, obsessive idea; it’s all I could think about today, really.

I am getting a beautiful little camera for Christmas and I am so hungry for it. I’ve missed photography in a big way since coming here; I had to leave the camera I used almost every week at home since it didn’t belong to me. Although I took a photography class at the community college, I am not very experienced or talented photographer. But I love love love it; taking pictures is a strange, inexplicable release for me. (Photographing people is the best.) I am so eager for this camera that I would buy it myself tomorrow, if my parents weren’t paying for part of it in lieu of Christmas presents. So I have to wait. Pooh.

Last week I conceived this idea, just picked it right out of the troposphere, and it has been possessing me ever since. I want to take one photo every day for one year.

Weird, yeah, but it’s the kind of challenge that makes me really excited. I don’t know if I have enough discipline to do something like that, but Kathryn told me this morning that I did. I guess I can believe her; she doesn’t lie very much. So, beginning January 1, 2008, I am going to do this. Calling it The Shashin Project (“shashin” is Japanese for photograph).

I think I’m like my father in many ways; all this reminds me of one specific way we are similar. Dad chooses an obsession (I’m not really familiar with his process of selection) and then he becomes one of the best in that field or does the most he can until he tires of it and picks a new obsession. Some examples: when he was in high school and college, the obsession was running. He won scads of races and broke handfuls of records at Purdue University, eventually culminating in winning the Big Ten award. After he blew out his knee, he took up volleyball and surfing and competed in tournaments on the beaches. Then it was tennis. After teaching himself how to play, he gradually become one of the best men’s singles players in the state. Then it was model airplanes. (I have no idea where this one came from.) He built these strange wooden things and flew them in air shows in the Midwest. Then it was piano. He taught himself how to play piano and read music when he was 40; he bought a baby grand. Then it was guitar. He got me hooked on it and now we both play. Today’s obsession is hockey. He plays for a men’s league and coaches several different teams and plays in tournaments all over the place. Mom calls him, very appropriately, her Renaissance man.

Considering all that he’s done, now I realize that I’m not that similar to him. I’m not universally amazing at everything; that’s his and Kelsey’s realm. But I guess the connection is that we both tend to get very easily obsessed with ideas/projects. In middle school, it was dogs (I read every book about dogs in the library; I can still tell you the temperament and weight of almost any dog breed) and writing novellas. I was obsessed with creating good characters, so I read baby name books to find perfect names and, to visualize characters, I kept a notebook full of faces I had cut out of magazines. In high school, it was debate and guitar. I had to become the best speaker in our region and I had to learn to play more songs than you. (I didn’t become the best speaker in our region, but that was the goal. Maybe it’s just a pride thing?) My obsessions now: buying used books, the New York Times Book Review, and writing English papers. I spend an exorbitant amount of time preparing for my papers; really, it’s excessive. I am so inefficient: I almost re-read the whole novel and then take more notes and collect quotations and write about five possible thesis statements until I finally settle on one that satisfies me.

It’s an exhausting personality trait, I suppose. But it also means that life is never dull. It can’t be, not when you have a plethora of absorbing (albeit useless) interests. So, new obsession, welcome to the family. January, come quick!

29 November, 2007

will it make you grow numb

Yesterday I ran into J.Hecht while leaving Shakespeare and it was the highlight of Wednesday. He was dapper and cheery and gave me a hug and said, surveying my clothes, "This is great, this is great. You look so good!" Getting fashion approval from Jonathan is like getting a compliment from Armitage on your essay: these little gems are very rarely distributed, but when they are, you know they're sincere. And so it means that much more.

Because Elizabeth asked: The brief story of what happened to Chuck Norris/Oliver. Apparently, he was not abandoned; he actually belongs to some people down the road and he ran away from home when they got a puppy. The reason why he looked strange and walked crooked was because he was sixteen years old and had a brain tumor and rheumatoid arthritis. Hehe. Oops. (Dad put a splint on him, thinking there was something in his paw. Turns out he’s just old and creaky.) His real name is Rambo, so Sam wasn’t too far off with Chuck Norris. To Dad’s sorrow, he was returned to his joyful family this week. Thus ends the first and hopefully last experience of feline ownership for our family.

I don't think I write very well anymore. Particularly when compared to the rest of you. I mentioned this to Nick and he says it's the fault of the DTH. Probably. Journalism is not much concerned with style and beauty; economy above all else!

I hate having to choose schoolwork over people. Like yesterday, when Catherine, J.Clem, and Kathryn were here and we were watching David Blaine spoofs and talking about how we were friendless losers as children. I really wanted to stay and talk with them for another hour but I went to the library to study for tomorrow's geology test (gross). Kathryn and Betsey would say this is not a choice that I should ever have to make, but I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't prepare for these monstrous exams. Balance, balance. It's so hard to find.

"You know how I love demeaning deep theological issues..."--Kathryn, the other night

And that's it. I am fairly empty this morning but this does not trouble me as it ordinarily would. Pressing thoughts burn too many carbs.

24 November, 2007

the heart will always go one step too far

I think we got a cat. Or, at least, Dad thinks we did. Last night, while Grace was putting up the Christmas tree, Dad announces that he found a stray cat living in the basement. He gave it leftover turkey and a bowl of water and then—to Mom’s chagrin—brought it inside. This is not a small cat: it’s a big yellow thing with scruffy long hair and an angry face. He (it looks like a boy, but we’re not sure) has a large frame, but he is very thin and you can see his spine when he moves. The cat was very comfortable with all of us, though, and seemed pleased to be indoors, receiving attention. He sat in the middle of the floor and kneaded the blanket with his paws, looking around at all of us with half-closed eyes.

Mom named him Oliver but Sam said that was lame and renamed him Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris/Oliver obviously couldn’t sleep inside—being “almost certainly infected with fleas and rabies and mange,” according to my grandmother—so Dad said he would go in the basement and make him a bed. “You’ve never made me a bed!” Mom exclaimed. Dad shrugged and laughed. “Why do you love this cat so much?” She asked, knowing he’s not much of a cat person. “Oliver is the only one in this family who’s never been disappointed in me,” he said with a smile, cat in arms.

Who knows if we’ll keep Chuck Norris/Oliver or not. Dad said he is going to pick up some cat food after he gets his chin sewn up (apparently, it got split open today by a puck). This family of mine...

My legs are still whining about what I made them do on Thanksgiving morning. If it weren’t for Elizabeth, I probably wouldn’t have run all five miles, but I did. We hit the four-mile mark and I was feeling ready to quit. She looks at me with a bright smile and says, “We’re almost done. Hope gives energy!” This is true. What would I do without my Shetland pony? (Love you, Elizabeth.)

The Flems gave Kelsey this great little gift for her birthday: it’s a box of cards (called Table Topics) with excellent questions on them—stuff like, Would you rather be smarter, better looking, or more athletic? Or What is your definition of integrity and do you have it? Or What wild animal would you tame and keep as a pet? We were playing at dinner and the question was, “Which family would you choose to live with for one year?” At the exact same time, Grace and I say, “The Hyltons!” That would be a pretty fun year.

Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 24:14

This verse, which I prayed over this morning, implies that there is some connection between having wisdom and having hope. If you find wisdom, you will have hope. It's not even if you "have" wisdom--you have to find it; you have to look for it, seek it, pursue it, chase after it. This makes me consider that I give up my pursuit of wisdom too quickly. The last phrase especially intrigues me: "and your hope will not be cut off." What does that even mean? But if I don't have wisdom, my hope will be truncated? I have nothing profound to say about this verse; just a lot of questions. (What's new...)

The shiny black crows are screaming and fighting over the pecans in the backyard.

Coming back to school tomorrow... (I kind of don't want to.)

19 November, 2007

empty yet cluttered

Home is perfect... listening to a deep, dragging cello, sitting on my bed. Grace painted my nails the color of dark red wine: it makes me feel serious and full of weighty emotions. But I'm always cold when I'm home, even in my new emerald green pashmina, inspired by C.Sted, which I plan on wearing every day for the next two months.

Emily's wedding was so lovely; I was so happy to be there, to see her, to see old friends. She was radiant and joyful; he was dashing and eager. I couldn't be happier for them. (And I'm sure they are having an exciting time in Blowing Rock now...) My photos can be seen here, and you can see the gorgeous professional shots in a slideshow here.

Plus, Kels turned 18 yesterday. Dad surprised her and got a sweet, 1970's limousine and we went and picked up Maria and Sarah. We had to go to his screen test for his potential television show ("Tech Time", to be broadcast on one of the local channels), but afterwards enjoyed a snazzy dessert at The Melting Pot while swapping memories and stories about skinny dipping.

In the limo, Mom was telling me about how my extended family is preparing to excommunicate me because I am supposedly "liberal" now, compliments of my outrageously leftist university. While I was hotly arguing how infuriating I found political labels, Sam touches my arm and says, "Abby, even if you are becoming a liberal, I'm still glad you're home." I have a sweet brother.

"You're so e-mo-tion-nal..."

Tonight we played ultimate on one of the campus fields with Dave. We played every possible pairing among the six of us, but the best team was Grace, Sam, and I. We called ourselves "Sibs in the Crib" and dominated Dad, Kels, and Dave. It was glorious... that last catch Grace made in the endzone: perfect.

I am one vast need:

“Our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose.”—C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

15 November, 2007

so much past inside my present

One of my best friends from high school, Emily E., is getting married this weekend and I couldn't be more excited. And it's Kelsey's 18th birthday. And it's Thanksgiving. And I'm not coming back to school for Monday and Tuesday of class. Things are looking UP!

I did go running yesterday. But Elizabeth and my sisters are still going to kick my butt in that 8K on Thanksgiving morning...

I called mom yesterday while walking to class. "I just want to leave here and never come back," I blurted out. I stopped, surprised at myself, not really sure where that statement came from: I wasn't even prepared for it. I've never felt that way about this place before. She was surprised, too; usually I'm peppy. Usually I'm delighted with this university. I don't get dissatisfied with my current position in life. That's just not me. "Wha... honey, what what do you mean?" She stammered. "I don't know; I'm just so sick of it all. I want to come HOME." But the feeling slides back to wherever it came from. Gradually. I don't even know what I would do if I didn't come back here. I just didn't want to be here. But it gets better. Pockets of sunshine, you know?

How nice it would be to sit back and let somebody else row.

I like being a low-ranking faux journalist. The Daily Tarheel is an exciting place to be.

"Why does journalism have to be so cold? Le sigh."--Eva, in a recent letter

When I walk around this campus, I want to stop people and say, Tell me your secret sorrow. Tell me about the things I can't read in your face. I want to know; I care! I care!

I tried rewriting the 10 commandments yesterday. Not rewriting as in creating new ones, but in rewording to draw out the meaning. Since I've been studying Exodus, it was very helpful to realize that God has high standards. And it's not just that He wants us to live moral lives; He wants us to live in a way that honors Him, so any moral behavior that we exhibit should flow from that intrinsic desire to honor God. Most of the time, it's hard to believe that it's not just a list of rules, but this exercise helped point me in the direction of original intent.

I've been receiving lots of random hair comments lately. Usually positive ones. But I'm not really sure why, because I'm frustrated with my hair. It does not possess any variability. It's curly and either long or somewhat long. That's about it. I have random fleeting urges to shave it.

I am going HOME tomorrow...

12 November, 2007

the last living southern belle

I feel dumb, trying to keep little tears from seeping out here in the bowels of Davis Library. Kathryn and Miguel looked at me and said, “You look really sad,” and then I started to talk about her—Lib—and then on come the tears.

I just finished writing a eulogy for my great aunt. And it hurts. More than I thought it would. I can’t be at her memorial service this weekend, but I was asked to write something for the service so that is what I am finishing up. We were very close, which may sound surprising, since your great aunt isn’t usually your chum. But she was one of my most treasured relationships. I exchanged letters with her since I was twelve, right up to the present year. She was the relative that I was the closest to, apart from my grandparents. It’s the remembering that makes it hurt. I was composed when I found out that she had passed away. But it’s the digging and resurfacing and shaking up the memories that rakes the wound. I loved this woman. More than I have the skill or ability to say. If I turn out to resemble her in even the slightest way, I will have lived well.

"Abby, dear," she once told me, "You haven't lived until you've had a Yankee boyfriend."

In happier news, Betsey and Emily are the reasons I get up on Monday mornings.

Kathryn and I went to Catherine's house this weekend and it was so peaceful and perfect. We had such excellent food, watched six consecutive hours of "America's Next Top Model" while wrapped up in blankets, made sushi, went to Vintage, &c. On Sunday afternoon, Catherine played beautiful selections from Vivaldi and Bach while Kathryn read and I drew (the first time I've tried to draw in years and it was exhilarating). Ideal, quiet weekends.

Today during geology, uninspired to pay attention to the divergent plate boundaries, I read some articles from The New York Times online about the most recent Palestinian turmoil. Intrigued, I then did some research on the differences between Hamas and Fatah because I didn't know. I like learning new things every day; it keeps life fresh.

My life is very small. In the whole course of it, not many of these things that I currently fret about matter.

07 November, 2007

i wish i was the moon

Today I feel very blank. One of those days where nothing much matters, so I take a long time to do simple things. For instance, I spent about five minutes washing grapes. It could have taken me about thirty seconds, but I was inwardly compelled to devote myself to a meaningless task; somehow it was fulfilling. I was satisfied with underachieving today and it was unusually refreshing. I just wish I had my thoughts back, for they at least amuse--if not entangle--me. If you could read my mind today, it would look like the page of a Samuel Beckett play: short words chasing each other in circles.

"I may get through this semester without dying, but don't put too much money on it."--Armitage, following a fit of coughing during a discussion of King Lear.

My geology professor told us that if we sent him a photo of our Halloween costume, he'd give us a reward. I'm thinking, "Extra credit, score," so I send him the photo of me and my fellow magnetic words. Today there was a vote held in class and magnetic poetry got 2nd place. Woo! But what do I get? No extra credit, but a bar of Toblerone chocolate, which is at least better tasting than extra points (though probably not as enduringly satisfying).

I've been afraid of journaling lately. I'm afraid of the ugly things it brings to the surface.

You hem me in, behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.

Had dinner with Catherine on the floor of our room with the big fluorescent light turned off. We ate sandwiches and the meticulously-washed grapes and drank hot chocolate and talked in quiet voices, listening to Feist. "What is your ideal job?" I asked her. She started laughing and covered her mouth with her hands. "I don't know!" she laughed, shaking her head. We tossed around a lot of ideas but came to the conclusion that we have no idea what to do with our lives.

Most days I feel like writing is just acting.

02 November, 2007

don't you know eggs are poison?

Some people never grow up. And that is not a compliment.

For Halloween, a bunch of pretty witty gals and I went as magnetic poetry. We walked down Franklin and stood around while mostly inebriated boys tried to arrange us into coherent verse. It was fun. Kudos to whoever had the idea; it was great, see? See what fun and sketchy poems we make?

George Eliot explains why no one ever writes stories about perfectly happy women (Quote of the Day):
"For the happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history." - The Mill on the Floss

To the person who sent this to the Kvetching Board in today's paper, THANK YOU. I want to find you and give you either an elated hug or a nod and knowing smile. I could not agree more:

"We all have work, such is the nature of college. Your life is not hard. Neither are your classes. So stop procrastinating, start doing your work and please, for the love of all that is holy, QUIT COMPLAINING ABOUT IT!"


P.S. The deserved points go to Rachel, who properly identified the photograph of the beautiful and the damned: Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. (I wish I had the face to get her kicky little haircut--both Zelda's and Rachel's!)

28 October, 2007

all the glory that the Lord has made and the complications you could do without

Hast thou not seen how thy desires have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

These lines from the hymn this morning struck my heart. I sang with a sideways, wry smile, for they were so clearly revealing, so directly pointing to my deceitful self. Willingly or unwillingly, I haven't seen how my desires have been granted in what God has ordained. As we left, I thought, "Actually, self, I've been praying for this for a year. God answered. Not in the way I wanted Him to. But He did." A hard thing to believe: an even harder thing to realize.

A weekend of highs (laughter) and lows (feeling very, very alone). The lows aren't worth dwelling on, but the highs are: running in the downpour, chasing Alex who took off with my umbrella. Talking with Elizabeth for an hour at the Union, pretending to be studious. Church; Tyler's hard -hitting but much-needed sermon (What do I actually worship? "We make sacrifices for the things we are devoted to."). Getting all of the classes I wanted. Playing guitar on my floor in the dark. Rediscovering great songs.

A new favorite website: Found. Makes me want to leave random slips of paper around campus. Or, even better, to find such little gems myself.

This is a good game. Mr. Capone gets the promised points for the correct identification of Carson McCullers, author of one of my favorite novels The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Who is this famous couple?

23 October, 2007

light gives heat

I forget about the rest of my life when I play frisbee. I'm not thinking about homework or exams or relationships or all of the variegated problems of the day; I am totally zeroed in on where I need to be and who I need to cover and whether or not I appear totally incompetent. (I was glad I went last night; everyone is so kind.) Now I know why so many of you are so religiously fanatic about it: it's a much-needed escape.

We have to invent new phrases to describe beauty--like that magnificent sunset the other day--for fear of sounding like a collection of Hallmark card clichés. That irks me, but I understand why.

The things that made me happy today:
  • Catherine calling me an "edit-trix" (think: dominatrix + Anna Wintour) today.
  • Finding a crisp one dollar bill in the copy of On the Road that I bought a few weeks ago. I feel like Dean Moriarty left it there just for me; it's something he would have done.
  • The middle-aged couple sitting near me outside Lenoir, sharing a bowl of pasta and smiling at each other while they chewed.
  • Grace's drawing of the scene from the last book in The Wizard of Oz trilogy (yeah, you didn't know there were three books, did you?) with Billina the chicken defeating the Nome King. "Don't you know eggs are poison!?" It's taped on my wall.
  • Watching the orange leaves spinning to the ground from the window in Lenoir.
  • Alex Shearer
  • Zoning out during the 19th-century British Novel class; writing instead about Poet Lad and childhood memories (the day we sent our dog away) and stupid phrasing.
  • Chance meetings of friends on campus (today it was Brittany and Sam and Rose and Erin)
  • It wants to rain.
I just love this photograph. Whoever knows the identity of this author wins 250 points.

18 October, 2007

i'm a terrible lover

Home. I don't realize how much I miss it until I'm here.

Kelsey and I watched a flock of geese arrange themselves into a V last night while the sun was setting over Davidson. At first they looked like a cloud of black wings, messy and scattered. And then one would drop back and one would push to the tip of the V, and then another would swing to the back of the flock, continuing this smooth choreography until they had fit themselves into that familiar aerodynamic structure. I don't know why it made me so happy to see that; it just did. (Perhaps it's remembering that even the birds have patterns. Even the birds know there is a right and wrong way to do things.)

John (as in the writer of 1 John, which I've been studying since the beginning of the semester) is so aggressive and black-and-white. I am almost weary of his unflagging adherence to absolute truth. (Silly. I know.) But 1 John is all about being this or that; you can be nothing in between. He does not believe in middle ground. You either know God or you don't. You either love your fellow man or you don't. You are either perfect and sinless or a condemned sinner. You are either in darkness or you are in light. You cannot exist in shadows; you cannot dwell in partial lighting. I am struggling with this now; life doesn't look that easy to me. Is there something I am missing from 1 John? Or am I just reluctant to take it as it is?

My family is exquisite; I love them tremendously and cannot thank God enough. I will be happily occupied here until Sunday. Until then...

11 October, 2007

this too shall be made right

People keep telling me things I need to hear. Though occasionally jarring, it's always beneficial in the end. It is very healthy to have people like this in one's life: those who will get up in your business and look you in the eye and say, "What are you doing? What masks are you hiding behind?" I have had an abundance of these penetrating, earnest conversations these past two months that I almost don't know what to do with them; it's still so fresh to me. These sorts of meetings (collisions of spirits, really) have happened to me almost every day this week, through various methods through various people. And it is good. And I have needed it.

For example, Alex's talk tonight at IV was reassuring and challenging and appropriately aggressive. I am thankful that he isn't afraid to tell us where we need to repent, as so many Christian leaders seem to be loath to do these days. He said many true things, but the one that stuck in my mind like a briar was this one: "Busyness is a breeding ground for loneliness." So often we think the opposite, that busyness is the antidote to loneliness; that if we only have enough things to do, we won't feel the oppressive isolation, we'll somehow forget the lack of meaningful relationships in our short lives. I believe this lie. I am still learning to let it go. But I am heartened to see the gradual progress I have made in this area. Slowly, slowly, I release it; slowly, slowly I turn...

"KEEP ON loving each other as brothers and sisters." (Hebrews 13:1)

Taking a stroll around Gimghoul with my lover a few days ago...
Me: What are you going to do after this?
Catherine: I don't know. Run around. Start a fire in the forest. Incite revolt.

Tonight one of the women in IV encouraged us ladies, due to the excessive drought that our state is suffering from, to stop shaving to conserve water. I am totally down with that.

(I am re-learning how to be alone.)

Two song lyrics that have been absolutely killing me lately: Such brilliance!

1. "Oh, I don't know suffering; not even outside my front door / And I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore / And I'm trading for comfort for human life / And that's not just murder, it's suicide / This too shall be made right."-- Derek Webb, "This Too Shall Be Made Right"

2. "And the string section's screaming like horses in a barn burning up..." -- Josh Ritter, "Rumors"

I cannot contain my excitement about going home for fall break... I even dreamed about it last night...

04 October, 2007

the popularity of charity

All of the sudden, it’s cool to be interested in stopping genocide and saving lives in Africa and feeding the poor and adopting orphans. This is a very good thing to be “cool.” How refreshing to have a positive cultural trend. I am simultaneously thrilled and perplexed about this philanthropic rage, though. The trend itself is not what I’m questioning; it’s the motives behind it.

I read a really striking (and personally convicting) book review in my beloved NYT Book Review this week that made me start thinking about this. Paul Theroux, reviewing a new biography of Henry Morton Stanley, wrote about the types of people who go to Africa. This is what he had to say: “A common denominator in this assortment of foreign visitors—high-minded pests and exploiters alike—is their wish to transform themselves while claiming they want to change Africa.”

Is this true of us? Why do we really want to “save” Africa? Is it really because we need saving ourselves?

Theroux also quotes Thoreau, who said, “Now, if anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions… if he has committed some heinous sin and partially repents, what does he do? He sets about reforming the world.”

So here’s my question to the Church. Are we compelled to jump on this charitable bandwagon out of guilt or sincere love? Do I really want to love Africa or do I just want to make my life seem more meaningful? To elevate myself above my ignorant countrymen who do nothing?

Motives aside, I doubt we can ever be truly altruistic. From what little I know of human nature (being very young and arrogant), I believe no one does anything without thinking of themselves first. I act because I am going to get something out of it. Are Christians freed from this? I don’t know. They don’t seem to be. I don’t seem to be. Paul seems to subtly admit this disposition when he says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Somehow I’ve always read this verse as saying: You are going to think about yourself, so do that, but don’t forget to think of others and their interests.

Is it possible to look to the interests of others while abandoning our own? Can the two ever be divorced? Or are we all just guilty, insecure people masquerading as humanitarians?

01 October, 2007


I didn’t do any homework this weekend, but I DID…
… get my blog satirized
... have a song written about me
… get featured on the famed Madras & Mustard
… have lunch with my sister
… go to the future Mrs. Skolrood’s bridal shower
… eat at the Mediterranean Deli with some of my favorite people ever
… wander through The Bookshop with friends and treat myself to four new titles
… go to Vintage21 and love it
… lie in the grass
… acquire a sinus infection
… have dinner with Quentin, Dominic, and Paul to celebrate Paul’s 21st
… read To the Lighthouse and Reading Like a Writer
… go to Compline
… finish the journal I’ve been keeping since June 16, 2007

So I didn't feel entirely worthless.

27 September, 2007

for in a minute, there are many days

Thank you, global warming, for this lovely day. It seems that summer is loath to leave us, for here we are on September 27 with cheerful temperatures in the 90's. I'm okay if you stay, Summer. Just so long as you promise to leave by October and drop some red and orange and gold leaves behind you.

"Guys, what if Satan sent text messages? That would be so freaky." -- Catherine

"I want to be a mad, frenetic theorist one day and sit around spewing ideas and philosophies and drinking vodka and eventually getting syphilis. Yeah. That's what I want to do." -- Poet Lad (Did I peg him or did I peg him?)

"Yeah. I'm getting married." -- Betsey (BETSEY AND LUKE ARE ENGAGED! I seriously do not have enough words to contain my excitement!)

Now I'm overcome...

After much vacillation and prodding from my athletic, victorious girl friends, I went to frisbee Wednesday night. It wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be; the guys on my team were especially kind and encouraging and even threw to me--despite the fact that I possessed the two great curses to frisbee success, being both new and a girl. So that was a big step. I really appreciated Meghan, too; I just met her about a week ago, but I already like her. We randomly passed each other on the field last night and very smoothly and naturally fell into a side hug and she looked up at me and said, grinning, "How's it going?" That was probably the best part of my day.

I'm reading "Richard III" now and it's very complicated, particularly since my knowledge of the British tango between queens and kings and dukes and lords and whatever else is poor. But I really like how bold and plainly evil Richard is; it's more heartening to meet true villains in literature than to try to point them out in real life. There are gradations of wickedness in reality. But not in drama! No, we have pure, untouched evil. I enjoy that because you can point at a character and say, "Now this, this is evil." It's rare to get that chance in life. Wow, get this: "And thus I clothe my naked villainy/with odd old ends stol'n forth of Holy Writ,/And seem a saint when most I play the devil." That's so clever and delightfully malevolent; you almost admire him for being such a demon.

Listening to Josh Ritter, whom I love... It's 12:03. I have an advising appointment tomorrow morning. And a quiz about Hiroshima that I should probably be studying for... but I feel so peaceful and so uninspired to do anything productive. Not sleepy at all. That mug of white tea probably won't help much with the whole sleep thing.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

I am trying to learn more about forgiveness. How to practice it, what it looks like, who I need to show it to. It's tricky. "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have someone to forgive" (C.S. Lewis). I'm still not convinced that I know what to do about forgiveness. How do you make your heart feel something--namely, forgiveness--that it doesn't want to? Or is forgiveness a feeling? And can it be forced? Or is it something that we have to rely on God to do through us, because on our own strength we couldn't actually forgive anyone at all? Too many close questions; too many far away answers.

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:14

24 September, 2007

a penny for the old guy

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men

My Shakespeare professor is right; Emmylou Harris does drop off the end of every word when she sings... sitting here, sipping white tea now gone cold, listening to Feist and Fiona Apple and Explosions in the Sky. It is a languid night, a peaceful one. (Praying with my small group always lends a considerable amount of gravity and contentment to my Monday evenings.)

I went home this weekend with Emily; drove Rachel's own Mary Margaret and made it without problem (despite everyone's insistence that I "probably didn't know how to drive" or "couldn't find my way home"). Long conversations in the car were so excellent: we talked about everything and with every word, I felt like I was getting closer to her. Covered women, motherhood, love, paradox of action, Ireland, foolishness, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our future lives, model U.N., the husbands we want and doubt (hope?) are out there, Islam, debate, relationships past and present... she is so beautiful! Every time I look at her, every time I hear her speak, I am reminded of that. (And if you don't know her, the photo below can prove that to you.)

Home was perfect: bright and clean and safe and welcoming. Laughing with family over good food. Watching two very different and very excellent films: "A Very Long Engagement" and "Blades of Glory." Reading poetry on the couch. Frisbee in the front yard. Lunch with old friends at Brixx (that got mysteriously paid for)--remembering why I loved them and how they've changed and how I've changed. Walking pointlessly around a mucky reservoir in the blistering heat. Going back to Harvest (how I miss my church!): "A heart committed to eternal things will be a heart committed to prayer."

Emily, I love you. Thanks for being in my life. And for coming home with me. Let's do it again.

When we got back last night, I tried to plan out my week before going to Compline. (For the unfamiliar, Compline is a prayer/meditation service put on by the Episcopal chapel on Franklin Street. They burn incense and turn down the lights and a choir sings Gregorian chants. A handful of my friends and I have been going on Sunday nights since last year. It's an important part of my week: a time for solitude--and incense--and aloneness with your heart and God.)

So I went to Compline--they were robust last night--and struggled at first to focus. I kept shifting my body: head in hands, head on pew, kneeling, arms up, arms down... I did make it through the restlessness, though, and was finally able to pray. I thought, "Compline is a place to untie things," and I saw an image of my thoughts being untied like a knot of white rope. Not that I reached any conclusions last night, though. Not that I am certain of things. But it was calm. And I welcomed the quietness and the cold and the English tea and talking to Mr and Mrs Steddum afterwards. And so another week begins. (Where am I going? What am I headed towards?) I am learning to be okay with not having the answers. Emphasis on "learning."

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

19 September, 2007

"I feel fat and my legs itch."--Kathryn

May 31, 1988 - September 19, 2007

This post is dedicated to the glory that is my roommate.

She may be dying soon, so I thought it would be fitting to provide you with an obituary of sorts. We are "studying" right now in a random corner of Hamilton Hall, quite possibly spending our last moments together.

This afternoon she asks me, "Hey, have you ever had milk before that tasted... fizzy?"
"Um. No. Definitely not."
"Well. My milk was carbonated when I drank it this morning."
"Kathryn. That should not happen. Milk should never be carbonated."
"Well mine was! When I opened the lid, it made a popping noise, like when you open a soda. And then there were little bits of fizzy things on my tongue."
"That is not right."
"I know."
"You are probably going to die."
"Yes, yes. I probably am." And then she looked at me with deep and sincere eyes and said, "Don't forget me when I go."

And I am here to say, to my one and only Barge Train, I will not forget you when you go, as you are certainly about to do, judging from the itchiness of your legs and the general restlessness of your person. I cannot forget you. How can you forget someone who hates everything that you eat? How can you forget the girl who has suffered the pains of folliculitis for her whole life? How can you forget someone who drinks orange juice straight out of the bottle as if it were gin? How can you forget the late nights of laughter and insanity and "Shure, Daddy, shure"? You cannot forget such a life. You cannot.

And so here is my eulogy, for my beloved, beloved Kathryn Randolph. I will simply stand at the front of the church, as she lies--beautiful in death as she was beautiful in life!--in her coffin, as rows and rows of weeping family and friends look at me with tear-stained faces, and say:

"Milk was a bad choice."

18 September, 2007

signals cross and love gets lost

A volatile day.

Walking to the DTH this morning, crossing the street, my driving mocs soft on the pavement, I was thinking, “thy mercy my God is the theme of my song, the joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue.” As Rachel so perfectly says about this weather, “just breathing is worship.”

I love getting to that point in a friendship where you can be totally uninteresting, not supplying any conversation, and just sit and be content. Cat Klaw and I have reached that point. Catherine comes to our room and rolls around on our carpet as our three lamps provide some quiet light. Sometimes I play guitar. Sometimes we eat. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we don’t. Whatever happens is okay. I am especially grateful for this phenomenon of friendship in my life.

I talked to Paul on the phone for about half an hour today. I asked him how he was and he said, “I’m standing on my balcony and the sun is shining and the leaves are blowing and it’s heaven. I’m happy. I almost expect a seagull to fly by.” We talked about his recent job—juggling on a cruise ship (“The cruise line was mostly senior citizens,” he said, “and so by the time we returned to Vancouver, half of the ship had died of natural causes.”)—and his eagerness to succeed. “I’m a slave to the whims of celebrity,” he merrily confessed. We talked about the Alaskan landscape and love won and lost and the faithfulness of God. Paul can always draw some laughter out of me; it is always good to talk with him.

Sometimes self-sufficiency anchors you to despair. It’s a strange pairing, but today it seems true.

Really interesting article I read yesterday on Boundless: “Becoming a Godly Woman.” This is something that’s been a recent topic of conversation among myself and my girlfriends and so I was particularly curious when I found this. (I especially like the point about wisdom in Watters’s response.) I am relieved to know—and to convince myself from the portraits in scripture—that a godly woman is not a meek, pot-scrubbing doormat.

Listening to: “Ghost” by Indigo Girls; “Tables and Chairs” by Andrew Bird
Reading: To the Lighthouse (Woolf), Wuthering Heights (Bronte), and Reading Like a Writer (Prose).

"I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name." 1 John 2:12

14 September, 2007

keep on doin' my thing

The thunder! It rages! I am listening to Bjork right now and somehow she seems eerily appropriate to the violent weather.

Today I bought myself a book because I felt like I deserved it. Though initially overwhelmed by the vast number of titles begging for my attention (Kerouac! Marquez! Chesterton!), I made my choice and am very happy with it: Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer. I've desperately wanted this book since it came out last year. It is safe to say that Francine Prose is my vocational idol; I want to BE Francine Prose in thirty years. She writes the best reviews for The New York Times Book Review and never fails to amaze me with her skill, her observations, her light and incandescent diction. I cannot wait to start reading it. I'm not sure when I'll make the time -- juggling the new duties of being a journalist for the acclaimed Daily Tarheel with being a mildly successful student has been more of a struggle than I thought -- but I am going make time.

Recent exchange in our room:
Catherine: "God will spite you!"
Me: "No, He won't!"
Kathryn: "What?"
Catherine: "Psych!"
Check out Cat Klaw; it will probably change your life.

*Addendum. Kathryn and I just had a knock-down, drag-out fight about the spelling of "psych." She insists, along with Urban Dictionary, that it is spelled "sike." Which I think is ridiculous, because Merriam-Webster spells it "psych" AND! Furthermore! Urban Dictionary has an entry just below "sike" that says it is the "misspelling of psych." "Miss English Major over here thinks she can put slang in grammatical terms," she says, snarkily. Slang can be spelled correctly. Just because it's slang doesn't mean you have to spell it like garbage. I'm right. She's wrong. End of story.

We're going out now, venturing into the dark rain, looking for people to call friends...

11 September, 2007

that mean-spirited heart? it's mine

I had an embarrassing episode in class today. Embarrassing only to me, but I guess that's what makes it embarrassing.

Before I relate it, I have a confession to make. When I am not paying attention in class, I write little vignettes in my notes about my classmates. I give them pseudonyms and make up all sorts of insupportable things about their unknown lives. It's a dreadful and addictive habit and it's a wonder I've managed to make good grades.

So there's this kid in my class. I call him Poet Lad. He likes to wear loose button-down shirts and colorful pants and black-framed glasses. And he waves his hair. ("Never trust a man who waves his hair, old boy."--P.G. Wodehouse) According to my notes, he listens religiously to indie music and likes to draw spiritual parallels out of lyrics. He smokes cigarettes under trees and pretends to love Thai food and the representation of the sublime in modern art. Poet Lad likes to talk a lot. He especially likes to talk in that winding, intellectual fashion representative of his class. You know what I mean. It's the kind of speech that is peppered with references to all of the obscure literature he's read and all of the deep, probing theories he knows. Brevity is a stranger to him. His insight runs in free circles, never reaching an intelligible destination, but seemingly content to wander and spew ideas.

I have to temper my portrait, though, lest you take it too harshly. I actually like Poet Lad. Somedays I admire his pretentious loquacity. He seems incredibly interesting, for all of his posturing, and I think we ought to be friends, because I have a hunch we'd be good ones. But today I was getting tired of his affected comments.

I was writing some snarky remarks in my notes about him, because I am unkind, and then he raises his hand to make a comment about the novel at hand. He said something that sounded like this: "I just wanted to make a point, or, rather, pose a question. Do you think that this passage is indicating the emergence of the early structuralist philosophy? Possibly with some Hegelian reactions, at least, that's what I'm getting here. The obvious humanism is overpowering to the context of the novel blah blah yes, that's clearly the intention blah!" (He seriously used those words. I wrote them down.)

And as soon as he opens his mouth and all of this tumbles out, I react. Involuntarily. Horribly! My face twists into a strong and very clear grimace. The whole scornful lip curled up. I scowled at him. Utter disdain written all over my countenance. As soon as I realized what I was doing, my stomach dropped. I could have just died that I couldn't control my face. I wiped it off as soon as I realized what I was doing. I hope no one saw me. Especially not Poet Lad. Because I do want to be his friend. Repentant, afraid, I began writing real notes.

This seems like a very insignificant incident. Maybe it is. But I was so mortified and so alarmed at my visceral reaction... at my lack of self-control! It is proof that I am far too critical; it is proof that my heart is black and cold. Out of the overflow of the heart the face moves?

That's all for tonight. Maybe soon I'll write about my perceptions of being a "journalist" and Owl Glasses and the spectre of doubt. But soon is not now.

05 September, 2007

numbering the days

Yesterday I went for a brief afternoon run through the Gimghoul Historic District, down that shady road across from the theater. There weren't any cars or people and it was so calm and beautiful; I felt as if I'd discovered a treasure all my own. The houses are grand and self-contained; they look as if they were acutely conscious of their vastly high real estate value. It is a heavily wooded and secluded landscape. The trees and the gardens and the grass were so fresh and inviting that I think I could have been content to run for hours (had it not been ninety-three degrees). I'm not entirely sure why, but being there brought considerable joy to my weak little heart. I felt hope; I felt the sovereignty of God. As I ran, I chanted the first few verses of Psalm 23 out loud in a gasping rhythm. The Lord is my shepherd inhale exhale I shall not want inhale exhale He makes me lie down in green pastures inhale exhale He leads me beside quiet waters inhale exhale He restores my soul. I prayed and I rejoiced. I knew, with a throbbing conviction, that there is a Living God.

To cool down, I walked through the graveyard behind my dorm, which is my general practice after a run. It is a peaceful place to me. Yesterday in particular the graveyard held a strong gravity: it refocused me, reminded me of the triviality of my problems in the scope of eternity. As I stepped between the headstones, crouching down at some to read the names and the dates, to imagine who these people were, what lives they must have led, my heart quickened and I prayed, Let me not leave only dirt behind. How I fear the wasting of my life! It is so preciously short, Father; forgive me for what I have wasted even now. My life is so short; I grow closer to death with every passing day. Thus do not let those days pass without meaning. Do not let me squander them as I am so prone to do; do not let me become so consumed with myself and my infinitesimal world. Whom have I in heaven and on earth but you? From everlasting to everlasting you are God.

It is good to be reminded of such things. I do not think it is a morbid propensity; rather, it is a much needed reminder of mortality. College so easily makes one passionately self-centered and freely deluded that you are indestructible; you cannot die, there are a thousand promising years stretched out before you. It's a seductive lie and I've believed it. I don't want to believe it anymore. We pass away too quickly to believe such dangerous things.

"The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:10-12

03 September, 2007

"Well, I didn't do much today. But I WAS blogged about!"--Kathryn

Washing hands with a bar of white soap. Eating off fiesta ware. Open windows and blinds that sway with the breeze. Laundry hanging on a line. Singing loudly to good music in the car. Laughter. The God card. Fine, organic, natural food. Genevive. “America’s Next Top Model.” Reading outside under the shade of the gracious trees. Climbing in the hammock and telling prophecies of our future lives. French words. The New York Times. The compost pile. Refined language. Shucking corn. A doe and her fawns in the front yard. The quietness of the soul.

These are the images from my Labor Day weekend; I went home with Catherine, joined by roommate Kathryn. It was a lovely and peaceful day and a half. Staying with the Steddum’s was the ideal sojourn from a thoroughly demanding start to my sophomore year. I haven’t felt that peaceful since I came to school.

I am sitting at Caribou (in the fish room) with Kathryn and Catherine now (the three of us have been inseparable since school started, give or take a few hours). We’ve been here since I don’t know when, but it’s been a long time. As Kathryn asserts, “If you want to get anything worthwhile at college, you’ve got to get up early.” So we woke up earlier than we normally would on a school-less day and hiked over to Caribou since the Union and all of the libraries are closed. Now the two of them are standing up and pounding their thighs with their fists. Kathryn explains: “It’s the poor man’s massage.” I have no idea what is going on with the two of them… now they’re talking about microwaving rocks. And, “Do your muscles ever itch?” “Nope. That never happens to me. It only happens to psychos.” They giggle. Now they are hitting their legs and trying to get each other to guess which song they are beating out. Oh. My friends.

Yesterday morning we went to Vintage21 (creators of the entirely amazing Jesus videos) for church and I really enjoyed it. I confess I went there with preconceived notions. I went there expecting it to be just another GenX, yuppie church catered to seekers and twentysomethings, complete with performance-like rock music and a watered down Gospel. While they did clearly cater to seekers and twentysomethings, they didn’t dilute the Gospel. On the contrary, the flat out preached it, with fervent sincerity and faithful incorporation of scripture. I was sincerely touched by the message and it cut my heart. Rob, the visiting pastor, spoke about 2 Corinthians 5, being ambassadors for Christ. It is a passage that could have easily slipped into clichéd Christianese, but there was such authenticity and such zeal in his words—the Gospel was real to him. It colored his world. And as he spoke I longed for it to color mine. I would like to go back again, if providence allows.

Tonight we have our first small group for freshmen women. I am very excited, but also nervous. What if they don’t like it? What if no one comes back? Many fears dart in and out, but I rest in the Lord’s strength, as I have been more than ever these past two weeks. I cling to His promises. He will not abandon the works of His hands.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4

24 August, 2007

in God we trust

Overheard today in Chapel Hill:

In our room
Kathryn: "Whoa, there are dried grapes in here!"
Me: "You mean RAISINS?"
Kathryn: "Wait... raisins are dried grapes??"

Two guys in class
"Dude. Our teacher has a lip ring."
"And that's what makes him awesome."

Professor Armitage, on latecomers
"And here we have some stragglers, slouching towards Greenlaw to be born..."

The guys who wear too much cologne. Constant murmurs of complaint. Girls who chew gum too loudly. The endless stream of vapid girls with heavy mascara and the boys with the half-lidded eyes and slightly open mouths. Taking notes. Reading textbooks. Crossing the Pit. Hundreds of vaguely familiar faces. Welcome back to the University. It is good to be back, though it is profoundly different. People and perceptions have changed, and so it is great solace to remember that God is constant. ("Living in fear will drive you mad...")

Last night, after our first IV large group of the year, Matt, Kathryn, Catherine, and I came to our room for an hour or more of honest prayer and repentance. How boldly God met us there! Our prayers for one another brought such unspeakable joy to my heart. God's peace transcends our inadequate words and the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so faithfully; I know this is true because of last night. Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens, who listens to and answers our cries. Praise Him, also, for friends like this.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble. Psalm 90:14,15

21 August, 2007


Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.
Psalm 86:11-13

Maybe one day soon I'll write something more substantial. For now, however, this says everything so much more fully and perfectly than I could.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

11 August, 2007

so life fills my veins

I finished The Waves two nights ago. It was brilliant, astonishing, everything I dreamed it would be. I can't imagine having a mind that facile; to be able to conceive of such radiant phrases and such thin yet durable connections between people and perceptions and the spirits of life and beauty and death. I wrote up six pages of passages that I loved, but here's a brief spattering of the outstanding ones:

“I know what loves are trembling into fire; how jealousy shoots its green flashes hither and thither; how intricately love crosses love; love makes knots; love brutally tears them apart. I have been knotted; I have been torn apart.” Neville

From Jinny:
"Thus, in a few seconds, deftly, adroitly, we decipher the hieroglyphs written on other people’s faces.”

And, finally, Bernard:
“That is, I am a natural coiner of words, a blower of bubbles through one thing and another. And striking off these observations spontaneously I elaborate myself; differentiate myself and listening to the voice that says as I stroll past, ‘Look! Take note of that!’ I conceive myself called upon to provide, some winter’s night, a meaning for all my observations—a line that runs from one to the other, a summing up that completes. But soliloquies in back streets soon pall. I need an audience. That is my downfall. That always ruffles the edge of the final statement and prevents it from forming.”

Some time soon I'll try to write something more substantial--if I can catch a spare moment between teaching essay strategies and packing and spending my last summer days with the family... (writing might not happen as I'd like it to.)

God has met me strongly this past week, which has been a difficult one. I don't, as a general rule, have difficult weeks. I do not know how to persevere in trials, and I especially don't know how to consider them "pure joy." But the Lord has been infuriatingly faithful and has met me every morning in His Word. Whether I want to see Him or not, He's there. Staring me in the face. I can't forget this reflection; it's idiocy if I do (James 1).

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And being with you, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25, 26

25 July, 2007

the vulnerable prayer

Today I babysat my former youth leader's daughter. Taylor is almost two and pure energy and joy. She is beautiful and precocious and lots of fun to hang out with. This morning, we were bouncing on the couch and she's giggling, perfectly happy. Suddenly, in mid-bounce, she turns around and rushes at me, shouting, "Miss Abby! Give me a HUG!" She wraps her little arms around my neck and kisses my cheek. Commence melting. Little girls are pearls. I wouldn't mind having a few. (Not... now... though.) I taught her how to say a few phrases in Japanese, too: like "Good morning, mama," and "I love you." After giving her some "frootschnacks" (fruit snacks), she beams up at me and says, "Aishiteru!" I smile, so proud of my little scholar, and say, "Taylor-chan, aishiteru mo." I love you too, Taylor.

While Taylor was napping, I finished Gone with the Wind. Mitchell was at the top of her game towards the end of that book; the conclusion was so perfect, so moving. I almost cried when Melanie died and felt a bitter triumph when Rhett delivers his classic line: "My dear, I don't give a damn." Scarlett's tenacity never wavers; you learn her vicious temperament so perfectly by the end of the book that there are few surprises, yet Mitchell has shaped her so that Scarlett still evokes interest, delight, and disgust. Her characterizations are so full, so robust, so complete. To have an imagination like that! It was the ideal summer book and I'm glad I finally read it. Woolf's The Waves is next, to be read, quite appropriately, while I am at the beach.

"You are not the God we would have chosen." -- Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth

Read this quote in a magazine today and it pricked me. He is not the God we would have fashioned if we could have fashioned Him. He is too unpredictable, too dangerous, too mysterious, too faithful, too difficult to pin down, too full of a ridiculous, all-consuming love. I would have made Him plainer, easier to understand. But when I think about it, really think about it, would I want a God any other way? No. It is somehow a paradoxical comfort to have a God beyond Reason. A God who startles us every morning with His faithfulness. A God with a savage beauty and a jealous love. A God of peace and wrath. This is our God. And even though He would not have been our choice, we were His.

I'll be wandering around the Outer Banks with Nick, his family, and a delightful assortment of friends until Aug. 6 or so. Hope you are all enjoying these last dregs of summer...

22 July, 2007


To a God nearby.

Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. The concept of a Living God who shakes the earth and yet stirs the soul is difficult to believe. On this bright afternoon, with the rush of cars like the waves of the sea, I feel like God is distant, bound up in the neat lines of my Bible or tucked away in the fuzzy corners of my mind. That He is not, somehow, despite this tale of His omnipresence, nearby.

The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Fear. I lack fear. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. But how does fear make me feel His presence? Mysteriously, this fear is what God will use to confide in me, to reveal Himself to me. Reverence is the hardest thing to conjure up. I don't think it can be faked. Something John Piper said yesterday in a sermon has haunted me: "Yesterday's record of life is enough to send you to hell. If you don't believe that, you don't know how holy God is." He's right; I don't.

But I can't stop there. It's tempting to throw up my hands and say, "It's too distant, too difficult, this knowing God business. Really, it's just impractical. God is infinitely beyond Reason. What can I know?" Not much. I know there are too many mysteries for me to comprehend. And yet, through it all, I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. The Living God comes to a living people. I am also confident of this: that I won't get to know how holy God is by resignation. I have to be so saturated with His word and so devoted to prayer that I can't help but have my mind captured by His character.

On God's character: I was blown away by what I read in 1 Timothy 6 this morning. Paul is closing up his letter to Timothy and writing a powerful summary of all that he has commanded Timothy to do. Verses 11 through 14 cover the exhortation, outlining what Timothy needs to DO: pursue righteousness, godliness, fight the good fight, hold on to the eternal life to which you were called, &c.

But then 15-16 changes the tone of the passage. Paul begins to list the attributes of God: He is the blessed and only ruler, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the only immortal, the One who "lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen and no one can see." He ends the exhortation with this: "To Him be honor and might forever. Amen." At first, it would seem like Paul got sidetracked; as if he forgot he was supposed to be giving Timothy his last and most important words of advice. But I felt, suddenly and strongly, that Paul knew exactly what he was doing. With these descriptions of the sovereignty of God, he was providing the reason, the ultimate justification WHY Timothy has to do all of these things. I felt like Paul was saying, "Timothy, follow these things in this letter not because I told you to. Not because it will make you a more effective leader. Not because people will praise you for your virtues. Not because it will make the church at Ephesus run more smoothly. Instead, do all of these things because God is God. Because He is who He says He is. That is why I wrote you this letter."

That is why I'm not entirely dejected by the feeling that God is far away. Sometimes He is. But His character is beautiful and strong and true and it is revealed to us in His word. That's amazing to me today.

20 July, 2007

when the tea gets strong and bitter at the end of the cup

I’ve been having complicated thoughts about people lately. (Let’s see if I can try to explain them without tying myself up in knots.) Preface: I don’t have any exclusive friends. Basically, everyone I know is friends with all of my other friends. This means I know about three hundred people who can be called “mutual friends.” Fuzzy Explanation: Because of this defining quality of my relationships, everyone likes to talk about everyone else. What’s been so strange for me lately is to notice the conflicting viewpoints you get from people on the same issue. For example*: A and B are both kind of frustrated with each other. A calls me up and says that B is simply being awkward and overly sensitive about everything and practically ruining a once perfect relationship. I talk to B a few days later about the same issue, and B insists that A is immature and too emotionally dependent. Or then there’s X and Y. X is really excited about hanging out some more with Y, but Y has told me that X actually gets on its nerves. Conclusion, at last: It’s fascinating how dishonest we have to be to function, to actually get along. What would our relationships look like if we really told each other what we thought? We probably wouldn’t have relationships, come to think of it…

(*Mutual friends, hear me! These are all purely hypothetical examples. I promise. So don’t get all huffy and go start grouching to X and B that I outed you. Because I didn’t.)

Kelsey and I have to work tonight at the bookstore for the greatly anticipated Harry Potter release. The store is having a party and we get to hand out “bubbling punch” and give Potter tattoos to the little Rowling rats. We have to be there at 10:30p and won’t leave until probably 1:00a. It’s not that I really mind; I love being in the bookstore and I like children. It’s just… I feel slightly traitorous because I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books. I confessed this to one of the customers yesterday, and I thought the woman was going to slap me in the face. She flushed and sputtered and stammered, “Wh… what's... what’s WRONG with you?” As if I had recently acquired a third nostril or something. I just never got into Potter. I think if he had come earlier, I would have. By the time the first book came out, though, I had moved on from fantasy books to Edith Wharton and J.D. Salinger and Charles Dickens. Pretentious homeschooler.

Listening to Third Eye Blind is such a great throwback to my childhood. I had no idea what they were singing about (I probably didn’t find out what illegal drugs were until I was fourteen), but I liked them anyway. Old music is fun to relive. As Paul would say, “God, why did you have end the 90’s?”

Today’s passage for The Gospel:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

19 June, 2007

a word of truth

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.