31 January, 2008

like water spilled on the ground

If I had to name my sophomore year thus far, I would call it “the overthrow.” Or whatever is an appropriate word for the upheaval of one’s previous conception of Life.

Perhaps it is just a symptom of being a sophomore, but everything I thought I knew has gradually been revised this past semester. Along with my understanding of People, my concept of God and His character has been drastically upset. I thought I had God figured out in high school. I knew the Bible fairly well and knew all of the “right” answers to any question you had about the way He maneuvered. I prided myself on knowing exactly who God was. This naïve assurance was due, in large part, to the benefits of a life of sheltered happiness (actualization of ignorance as bliss).

And then you come to university and realize the world is not as happy as you thought it was. This past semester has taught me that people are sad and people are in pain and that sometimes God doesn’t seem to listen.

I became very frustrated because God was no longer fitting into the compartments I had once used for Him. He seemed to delight in defying my previous definitions of Him. His judgment was impossible to reconcile with my former understanding of Love. His spotty, seemingly random sowing of blessing was irritating. His silence was the most infuriating of all.

Doubt trickles in and you begin to wonder if it is just mythology after all.

But then you have a day like this one. A day where a word, a shudder of the heart is flooring—because it is an aggressive reminder that God is incredibly, impossibly real.

That moment for me today was reading this verse. These are the words of the wise woman from Tekoa who has been commissioned by Joab to persuade David to bring Absalom back. Though the majority of her speech is telling David a parable, she breaks off from the story to add this little observation.

This is what she knows about God’s character:

“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” 2 Samuel 14:14

Today this is all I know about God's character: He will make a way to bring me back to Him. This is a crazy idea for me tonight, but it is a sustaining one. And so I am okay with a God that I cannot understand. But even though He persists in mystifying me, I will unflaggingly pursue a more intimate knowledge of His nature. I think that’s all He really wants from me in the end.

28 January, 2008

because homework is way less fun

If my blogging friends were celebrated authors... Jonathan: Ernest Hemingway
Jonathan and Ernest: simplicity, strength, and a good bullfight
Elizabeth: Emily Brontë
Elizabeth and Emily note the intricacies of emotion that everyone else misses.

Brittany: Carson McCullers
Brittany and Carson are plucky and adventurous; they use athletic, raw language with delightful adeptness.

Catherine: Joan Didion
Catherine and Joan are chic, strong, unafraid of grief.
Kathryn: Zelda Fitzgerald
Kathryn and Zelda are kicky and cute; loyal and yet idiosyncratic. (E.g., Zelda would probably drink milk out of a box, too.)

Nick: G.K. Chesterton
Nick and Gilbert preserve a detached exterior that conceals a rich soul. (Though, Nick, take G.K. as an example that too much philosophy leads to too many pounds.)

Rachel: Edna St. Vincent Millay
Rachel and Edna catch supple language and use it freely, binding reality and emotion with breathtaking skill.

Emily: H.D.
Emily and Hilda are fierce and beautiful poets; women who prove that being ardently feminine does not mean you write wimpy poetry.

25 January, 2008


A memory:

Lunch time at 6206 Ash Cove Lane. 6206 was the open little ranch where the majority of our innocent, happy childhood was spent. Lunch time was a regular routine and it changed only slightly over those thirteen years. This is how it went: We took a break from school and the five of us sat together at the long beaten cherry table. Mom always sat at the end closest to the kitchen. (I was usually sitting at her left-hand side.) While the four of us kids were eating and telling stories and bickering over the last slices of apple, Mom would occasionally—just for a minute or two—slip away from us. Her sandwich suspended in her hand, she would stare blankly into space, focusing on nothing in particular, seeing nothing. She would enter into this temporary trance and would not seem to hear us when we asked her questions or demanded another half of a sandwich.

I remember, as a child, looking at her and wondering where she went, wondering what on earth she could possibly be thinking about. (Even now I have no idea.) It was as if she was not there with us. Now that I am older, I can finally understand why this happened. Lunch time was the only precious moment that she could “escape” from us. She needed to escape not because we were monstrous children or because she was miserable with us, but because all day long she was not an individual with her own desires and needs: she existed only to take care of us, feed us, grade our science tests, vacuum the rug, wash the clothes.

And so at lunch—the one moment during the whole day where she could sit down for more than five minutes—she would slip away; now she could be “alone” with herself for just a minute. And it was only a minute. Because then we would jar her out of her solitude, begging, teasing, “Mom! You’re doing that thing again!”

It would take her a few moments to hear us. She would blink slowly once or twice and look at us like a dreamer rudely awakened. “Oh… what? What thing?” “You know—that thing where you just stare off into space.” “Was I?” She would say, shaking her head. “I didn’t realize.” She would put her sandwich down and look at us. “Does anybody need anything else to eat?”

This memory was induced by my reading of Lyndall Gordon’s Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life. The chapter about Virginia’s relationship with her mother (and, subsequently, how Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse symbolized her mother) made my mind turn in this direction. As Woolf noted with Mrs. Ramsay, there are innumerable moments when mothers are simply invisible. Mom’s brief retreat at lunch time was an extension of that unnoticeable quality of motherhood. Two minutes—a luxury!—to think her own thoughts.

I think I’ve quoted this once before, but it illuminates so perfectly what I’m feebly driving at. Virginia can always say it better.

“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

Something unrelated: I saw this last week on PostSecret and had to save it because it was such a perfect description of what I feel:

So I straightened my hair today.

19 January, 2008

just before the night falls

Sticky wet snow! Sarah came over to the room to keep me company and we laughed, studied, and ate goldfish crackers. (She gets to be Photo of the Day because I didn’t want to go outdoors to document the first snow of the year. Not worth it.)

When I study difficult and confusing books of the Old Testament, I always try to keep myself on track by looking for aspects of God’s character. This helps me remember why, for example, Leviticus matters: all of those rules show God’s specificity and the difficulty of holiness—and teach me a lot about gratitude to Christ for freeing us from the law. The minor prophets show me a redemptive pattern of God’s jealousy for His children, and so on.

But I am studying 2 Samuel now and I’m having trouble discerning the goodness of God; I’m not sure what I’m supposed to glean from this book. Par example: Soy pissed about King David this morning. In chapter three, David took Michal (Saul’s daughter) away from her husband, arguing that he had paid for her with “a hundred Philistines foreskins.” I don’t understand this man. Who buys other men’s wives with pagan penises? What really got me, though, was this verse, describing the abduction of Michal from her husband: “So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim.” That image—of a man sobbing and stumbling behind a chariot, mourning for his wife—was very touching to me.

So I was upset with David and told Kathryn about this. She agreed that it was not cool, but said, “I guess that’s weird. But David is a man’s man. That guy conquered armies and wrote poetry. He could do whatever he wanted.”

I guess this is what irks me about David. Why did he get to do whatever he wanted? Just because he was the Lord’s anointed? Not fair. Maybe what I’m supposed to learn about God’s character is that He is not fair. But I want Him to be.

Because it’s cute and funny and it’s election season (and those adjectives rarely describe this time of year): The Baby Primary: one father’s quest to have his 5-month-old daughter photographed with every presidential candidate.

In my Math for Dummies class, we are studying election math. Most of you wouldn’t even consider it math, and it must not be, for I find it interesting and relevant. I just finished doing a few pages of homework and it was a little exciting.

I feel like I have not been myself in four or five months. I want to resume normalcy but I can’t even tell you what normalcy looks like. I want to rejoice in the nearness of God and trust in His goodness. I want to return to joy. Can you force yourself to believe?

Reading: Three Lives, Gertrude Stein
Hearing: “Love Throw a Line,” Patty Griffin
Eating: little pressed fig cakes
Feeling: small and vague

14 January, 2008

l'art pour l'art

I think it has been a complex and variable day, but it went by so fast that I am not entirely sure of that statement. I am sure, however, that I did hear many wise words from three wise women; those risky, honest things that are so healthy to receive, even with stiffened posture.

While I am trying to research what the heck the State Personnel Act is and why it matters to the average UNC student, I wanted to stick up these few thoughts about art in the age of mechanical reproduction.

This post really ought to be titled, Why Blogs are Bad, Or, Hypocrisy.

For this is one of my many grievances against the 21st century:

In this lightning-fast, technologically fixated epoch, anyone (myself included) can write anything they please, publish it, and have a responsive audience. Instant authorship is gratifying—which explains the explosion of the blogosphere in the past decade—but it also inevitably and simultaneously degrades art and muddles its definition.

Walter Benjamin, a German literary theorist, had this figured out long before the Internet even came to be. He prophesied this phenomenon in 1936 in a great little piece called “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” (I am reading it this week for my Literary Criticism class.)

He writes:

“With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers—at first, occasional ones. It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for ‘letters to the editor.’ And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. … At any moment, the reader is ready to turn into a writer. … Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property.”

Two years earlier, Aldous Huxley wrote along the same lines in Beyond the Mexique:

“Now artistic talent is a very rare phenomenon; whence it follows… that, at every epoch and in all countries, most art has been bad. But the proportion of trash in the total artistic output is greater now than at any other period. That it must be so is a matter of simple arithmetic.”

All I wanted to say is, Yes, I agree. And yes, I am contributing to the proportion of trash. But it does irk me—to watch literary standards slip because anyone can publish whatever the heck they want on the World Wide Web.

And there’s your daily dose of irony.

09 January, 2008

why waste more time, time is all you have

The first day of classes is always thrilling to me. That initial assessment of professors, classroom atmosphere and location, discerning which classmates are going to be obnoxious or friendly, sizing up syllabi -- all of it is exciting because it is new.

So far, I like three of my six classes. My News Writing professor is quick and energetic and certainly knows her stuff. It will be a demanding class, but I like having a real reason to read The New York Times all the way through every day. Japanese IV is the same mix of strange, strange people, but it's by far the friendliest class I've ever taken. My math class (Math for Dummies!) lasted all of 3 minutes because the teacher was taking an exam or something. This class will be bearable if Catherine and J.Hecht can get into it.

Things feel strange still. Everyone is the same... but not. Fall semester changed us, I think. The changes rise to the surface when we come back and have to learn to get along with each other all over again.

Kathryn's new haircut is annoyingly cute and she looks good ALL THE TIME. This is simply unacceptable roommate behavior. It's too hard to keep up.

I am becoming incorrigibly obsessed with all things journalism; it's all I've been reading and thinking about this past week. But I am so excited to finally be doing things and taking classes that will actually help me later in LIFE. I can't stop. It gives me the delusion of being important, so I'm going to hold on to that for a bit longer, thank you.

Entries will be getting shorter. 17 hours of classes + DTH + small group + IV + having friends and a life = not much time. But I am still taking photos every day, so you can keep up there.

(Title taken from a Rosie Thomas song.)

Hearing: "Lover" by Devendra Banhart and "Boyz" by M.I.A.
Reading: Today's Times and The Elements of Journalism and boring Media Law stuff
Eating: a little square of dark chocolate

05 January, 2008

and life steps almost straight

(I don’t know why this moment made my day, but it did.) Grace and I get in the elevator this morning with three other people: an older Charlotte man and a young couple speaking to one another in some Western European language. The Charlottean, with typical city charm, says to all of us, “Brr! Is it cold enough for you? Winter is finally here!” Politely, we nod. But the young man draws his eyebrows together. “No. Winter is not here,” he says decidedly, with what Grace calls “a very sexy Russian accent.” The Charlottean seems put off for a moment by his brusqueness, but responds with a chuckle, “I guess it depends on where you grew up. Where did you grow up?” The young man looks him squarely in the face. “I grew up in the northern part of Siberia. This is not winter.”

My sisters and I have watched a lot of good movies in the past two days:

“Blood Diamond.” Djimon Honsou is beautiful (oh WOW). I generally don’t like Leonardo diCaprio, but I liked him in this film; his accent was great and added credibility to his character. Gripping. I don’t want a diamond ring anymore.

“The Hours.” I mean, if you want to try to capture the brilliance of Mrs. Dalloway in a film, I guess this is the best way to do it. Still, it comes nothing close to the real thing. Meryl Streep is always good and Kidman presented a difficult and likable Woolf. The music, which I know because it’s Kathryn’s exam time music, is beautiful.

“Juno.” Quirky and cute; genuine. Ellen Page is perfect and Michael Cera is his delightfully awkward self (just a slightly modified version of George Michael Bluth). The film made me burst into a tirade afterwards, though, about the general unfairness of pregnancy and how men who shirk marriage/parenting responsibilities perpetuate cycles of poverty. This is probably the topic that I get the most angry about, so don’t bring it up unless you’re looking for a tsunami of rage. Juno is shamed for being pregnant while Bleeker is congratulated; her father says, “I didn’t think he had it in him,” while he says to her, “I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.” The woman bears all of the consequences of sex. Juno has to explain this to Bleeker at school: “You don’t have to wear the evidence of it under your sweater.” The woman carries the baby, delivers it, and raises it. Meanwhile, the man can do whatever he damn well pleases; he can leave her and go mess around with someone else. Unfair! Unjust! ... I can’t write about this anymore; it makes me far too angry.

Sigh. Onwards into other struggles. This break has been marked by a doubt that transcends almost every area of life. Usually, when I read my Bible in the mornings, I meditate on the passage and write down some observations. Lately, however, all I can write are questions, dozens and dozens of questions that don’t seem to lead to any answers. I have to be reminded that God is faithful; He will not abandon the work of His hands. But that is hard to believe. Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.

In this state of wandering cynicism, I read the following Dickinson poem and it meant a tremendous amount to me. Now all I want to know is, When will Life step almost straight?

We grow accustomed to the Dark—
When Light is put away—
And when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye—

A Moment—we uncertain step
For newness of the night—
Then—fit our Vision to the Dark—
And meet the Road—erect—

And so of larger—Darknesses—
Those Evenings of the Brain—
When not a Moon disclose a sign—
Or star—come out—within—

The Bravest—grope a little—
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead—
But as they learn to see—

Either the Darkness alters—
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight—
And Life steps almost straight.

02 January, 2008

to live by proportion

Started the Shashin Project: one photo every day for one year. I hope I can keep it up! Link to the right or here.

Reflections from the party:

So wonderful to see everyone! Catherine, Jonathan, and Matt came up around 10 and spent the day with all of us and it was terrific to have them here. We had a great lunch and then a fun excursion in Charlotte, where we got lost before coming back just in time to meet Alex and Lydia. It was great to have them here for a while before everyone else arrived. The melding of old friends and Carolina ones was fun and interesting to observe. Though I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I think it all went off successfully.

I was reminded, though, of why I only throw these sorts of events once a year. I feel personally responsible for everyone’s happiness. If people look bored, I feel like it is my fault. If someone is left alone in a corner, it’s my responsibility to talk to them or find someone who will talk to them. If no one likes the game, it’s my job to either make it fun or come up with something else to do. A whole night of this kind of thing and you’re mentally and physically exhausted. I have to say I was happy when it ended and it was just my sisters and Alex and Lydia on the couch, sighing.

As some have told me, I am not a very good hostess. I get frazzled too easily and I grumble about people. I love hosting gatherings like this but I’m sure I have a lot to learn about doing it gracefully. I was trying to organize a chaotic round of the Hat Game while some other people were dissatisfied and urging people to play outside instead. My nerves were reaching a refined pitch of strain, I admit it. Matt was sitting beside me and, like his usual perceptive self, could tell that I was irritated. He patted my knee and said, “Hey, it’s okay. I’ll help you; don’t be stressed out.” He got everyone’s attention and they listened to him and I was so grateful. It is so heartening when someone observes you are distressed, but more than just mentioning it, actually does something to help.

Photos from the party:
New Year’s Day Soiree

To close, this great quotation from Margaret Schlegel in Howards End:

“Life’s very difficult and full of surprises. At all events, I’ve got as far as that. To be humble and kind, to go straight ahead, to love people rather than pity them, to remember the submerged—well, one can’t do all these things at once, worse luck, because they’re so contradictory. It’s then that proportion comes in—to live by proportion. Don’t begin with proportion. Only prigs do that. Let proportion come in as a last resource, when the better things have failed.”