30 December, 2008

the divine assails us

While we were hiking in Asheville today, I thought about solitude and leaves and what it would be like to be walking this trail alone. How easy it would be to do business with the self; it seems that all of the anxieties and hopes and fertile ideas would rise to the surface voluntarily out there, in the quietness of the woods.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man." (Revelation 21:3)

I was also thinking about solitude while I was riding the bus. I've been riding it a lot lately, back and forth from work. And I do think it is my favorite part of the day--the chance to sit, silently, and watch the trees pass and all of the people in their cars, lips tight (because no one smiles when they drive), fixed on the next task, the next best thing, and think. I get two hours just to think each day--one hour there, one hour back. And I think about many things: the end of the world, Flannery O'Connor, the way customers hand you change, why America is a Christian nation, how I'll survive in Denver, all alone out west, whether anything can be done to halt cycles of poverty in our city, roadkill, the fountain that never runs, a hawk on a billboard.

"Sometimes God moves loudly, as if spinning to another place like ball lightning. God is, oddly, personal; this God knows. Sometimes en route, dazzlingly or dimly, he shows an edge of himself to souls who seek him, and the people who bear those souls, marveling, know it, and see the skies carousing around them, and watch cells stream and multiply in green leaves. He does not give as the world gives; he leads invisibly over many years, or he wallops for thirty seconds at a time. He may touch a mind, too, making a loud sound, or a mind may feel the rim of his mind as he nears." -- Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

Guion's sinuses were cleared today and, hopefully, the quality of his life will dramatically improve. When I mentioned this in the car today, Grace exclaimed, "He's already a happy guy; can you imagine how happy he's going to be NOW? He's going to be so happy he'll be almost unbearable!"

Raymond Carver was underwhelming and I'm afraid the best I can say for Wise Blood was that it sparked in places and collapsed in others (only two scenes stand out: the man selling the potato peeler on the street and when Enoch goes to shake the gorilla's hand). To restore my faith, I picked up where I left off in vol. I of Virginia Woolf's diary (1915-1919) and started The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, which I bought at the Carrboro thrift store with J.Clem, who was very excited about it because Guadalupe was on the cover. It's very good so far; I've already fallen for Greene's prose. It reminds me of Shusaku Endo's Silence, only in Mexico. And about 350 years later.

"By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers." -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French paleontologist

We visited the Hyltons for a handful of minutes before leaving Asheville; ate Emily's excellent baklava and watched Cider do some of her famous performance art and move her head sadly back and forth. And I thought about them in that house, doing Hylton things like making baklava and tea and putting flowers in vases and renewing old friendships, and thought, Such a very lovely, graceful family.

I've been thinking about God more often this week and I want to know where the divine touches the common life. Where does it dip into my day?

The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.

I miss the stirrings of God's voice. I haven't been listening very well.

22 December, 2008

darling scandinavians

There is something very spiritual and grounding to me about opening a pomegranate. Mom bought one at the grocery store on a whim and asked if anyone knew how to open one, much less eat one. Gratefully, Emily showed me how to do it at Bolin Heights, in a bowl of warm water, gently, slowly, and I thought of her yesterday as I separated the ruby gems from the white membrane, watched them sink as shiny red kernels. It is deeply satisfying to peel open and look at; Grace says she's going to try to paint one soon.

While I was working at Main St. Books yesterday, a family came in, speaking a language I could identify as European but could not discern which one. My first guess was a Scandinavian language, but then I thought that was too unreasonable so I thought it might be German. The older couple was followed by four young adults, who all looked around the same age, late teens, early twenties. The boys were talking about Davidson College basketball (I heard the name "Stephen Curry") and I heard the white-blond girl say, "Middlemarch" and "Daniel Deronda" in the back. I listened to them talking and then one of the boys came up and asked, in a perfect English voice (sounded more British than anything else), "What is this music you're playing?" I told him it was the local classical radio station. "It's lovely," he said. "It sounds like traditional Swedish music, like we have at home." I lit up. Swedes! Darling Scandinavians! I was right. I wanted them to stay, to talk to me, and they would reminisce about the rough winters and the beautiful landscapes and we would laugh together and our cheeks would flush and we would become bosom friends and they would invite me to stay with them when I came to tour Scandinavia... but that didn't really happen. The family left, I waved. After they were gone, the radio announcer said, "And you were just hearing a folk ballad from Norway..." He was pretty close; just next door.

It made me wish I could speak to them in Swedish. I have an irrational desire, when I hear people speaking other languages, to jump in and say a few words in that language. I wish I spoke, understood more. My opportunities for doing that here are very slim indeed. (Although, thanks to Guion, I got to utter a few phrases of Japanese last week.)

I'm reading Wise Blood (Flannery O'Connor) now. I think I must have read part of it before because I know this storyline: the cantakerous protagonist, the "blind" street evangelist and his sketchy daughter, etc. But it's O'Connor and she's always rewarding. I am also reading For the Time Being, Annie Dillard's attempt to explain God and eternity through Emperor Qin's terracotta soldiers, French paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, sand and the maternity ward of a hospital. She is delightfully strange and swift and hard to keep up with at times. But I really like her. And then there's Matsuo Basho, perpetually fresh and brief. I am about to start Raymond Carver's prized collection of short stories, Cathedral. It will likely be my unseasonable Christmas reading.

Rachel's novel, Noise from Babel, is really good. You should read it, if she'll let you.

I think that's all I had to tell you tonight.

P.S. No! I lied! There are two things I need to tell you still:

1. Craziest thing happened at The Beehive today. I'm ringing up a customer, a man in his thirties. While I am swiping his credit card, this tiny older woman with long stringy grey hair and big glasses is looking at me, and then back at him, and then some more at him. I don't know what she wants. Suddenly, she squeaks at me, pointing at the man, "Is he your husband?!" My eyes widen and I laugh. So does the man. "My husband?" I ask. "No, no, he's not my husband." She looks back at the man and then says. "Oh, good! Because I'm INTERESTED." The man looks at me, terrified, and says, blushing, "I'm married." Her face falls. "That's a pity. Because I was definitely INTERESTED." And then she walks out of the store. That poor man looked scared to death. It was a nice laugh.

2. http://www.blogotheque.net/Fleet-Foxes,4521

18 December, 2008

this shall keep me safe from the hot mexican sun

I think I've said this before, but I am deeply upset at the fact that Polaroid cameras will soon be extinct. (The film is being discontinued. Curses on all digital cameras! They're doing for film what e-mail did for letters.) Polaroids are so beautiful. I hate that they will soon be no more.

Grace claims that everything Dan Haseltine sings echoes. But this is coming from a girl who is reading The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria for funsies. So I wouldn't take anything she says too seriously.

So I finished this month's short story today, remarkably ahead of schedule. Therefore I think it would be a smart move to go ahead and start working on January's short, but I have no idea what to write about. Not even the slightest hint of an idea. I want to try something a little gutsier, without any characters so heavily based on people that I know, and maybe even try something as adventurous as a plot, but I just don't know. I don't know how much my lazy muse can handle.

I also finished Drown today, Junot Diaz's debut, a collection of gritty, lovely short stories about a family from the Dominican Republic and the disillusioning American dream. He's great. I want to read his latest, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Southern Pines was just perfect; I do so love that family.

I found an old notebook of mine today, my speech class notebook when I was 15. I covered the front and back with quotes from my favorite authors at the time. Judging from the notebook, my favorites were Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse, Shakespeare, and the French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco. I forgot about my teen obsession with Ionesco. Such a random one. I read almost all of his plays and a good number of his essays; I remember particularly identifying with his dislike for Victor Hugo. He was a funny one.

"One can prove that social progress is definitely better with sugar."--Ionesco, "The Bald Soprano"

Our house won some architectural award and while I was upstairs, ironing napkins, I reflected that Mom had made the place look like a page straight out of "Southern Living." It did look pretty today. Kelsey and I hid in the closet, watching "Arrested Development," while people walked through the house, trying to stifle our laughter. One woman burst in on us in the dark and said, "Girls! What a lovely room... oh, dear, well, bye," and then left awkwardly. I don't know what happened.

Grace does not believe that John Jacob Astor went down with the Titanic.

(Title: Buster Bluth.)

15 December, 2008

i killed my dinner with karate

Headed off to Southern Pines to visit the Pratt family for a few days. I am going to be driving the Papa John (a.k.a. the PJ Fars, or "I hate this car!"), which only has a radio (not even a tape player). And so I have become well acquainted with the grave deficiencies of North Carolina radio stations, particularly where I live. Sometimes I just turn it off and listen to nothing. Or talk to myself. Or pray out loud. It's very quiet in that little silver box. The dashboard looks like it belongs in a toy car; there are only three dials on it. Despite my well-voiced complaints, if and when the PJ starts, it's actually quite a nice little thing. It gets superb gas mileage and it's very easy to drive. It gets me from point A to point B. Most of the time.

I found out a few days ago that I was accepted to a copy editing internship and that I have been placed at The Denver Post for the summer. It was an overwhelming discovery, because I had to decide if that was what I wanted to do in a matter of hours, but it is a fabulous opportunity and I feel very honored. Plus, Denver has got to be one of the coolest cities in America, and I've been saying for months now that I really want to live in Colorado someday. I guess this will be my trial run.

Being home has been nice. I've read a tremendous amount, written some, worked, watched good and bad movies.

A fuller entry will come later. For now, I'm off!

(*Joanna Newsom supplied today's title.)

10 December, 2008

shooting down all my dreams

Home for winter break now. Reclined on the couch, trying to eke out a few pages of another story--progress that is slowed by constantly pausing and asking my mom for details about growing up in the South, and whether or not Southern people ate these kinds of things--listening to Sufjan's Christmas songs. Grace is reading a thick anthology of English literature on the adjacent couch, clicking her pen. Kelsey and Sam are playing a raucous card game that involves slamming one's palm down on the table and screaming victoriously and Mom is chopping some kind of pungent vegetable that I can smell from here.

All of the women in the family ridiculed me today when I announced that I wanted to start a garden. Yes, I do not know the first thing about gardening, but I do have Mom's "Organic Gardening" book from D.K. and I think I can learn. I am rather dismayed that things take so long to grow and that late winter is not a particularly fine time to start a garden, unless you want to grow a variety of lettuces and pansies. I am thinking I will start small. A few herbs, maybe. Rosemary, thyme, basil, perhaps some parsley. I would like to prove them wrong. (They also had the same reaction when I told them today that I liked the idea of natural, at-home childbirth. "But you are terrified of pain," my mother insisted. True, but I did say the idea of natural, at-home childbirth, didn't I?)

After working at Main St. Books for a few hours this afternoon, I went to the library and picked up the first two books of my break: The Russian Debutante's Handbook, by Gary Shteyngart, and Drown, by Junot Diaz. Francine Prose recommended both of them in Reading Like a Writer, a list that I am constantly trying to work through. I've read Shteyngart before (Absurdistan) and think he is absolutely delightful. I mummified myself in a blanket after work and read a hundred pages and I like it so far. Immigrants are a perpetual favorite of authors, particularly recent ones. I'm not entirely sure why this is, but I think it has something to do with the fact that they possess a malleable identity that is struggling to define itself while being grafted into an unwelcoming new culture. Even though society may not, literature embraces the helpless alien. And Shteyngart does a masterful job of embracing him, too.

Kelsey just called the four of clubs "the four of clovers." Homeschool. Mom quickly corrected her, adding, "I just don't want you to embarrass yourself when you are playing with your friends."

I remembered the bag of yen that I have stashed under my bed (remnants from the Narita Airport, when I didn't have time to change out all my coins back into U.S. currency) and found an old 5 yen coin, which is not being circulated anymore, and put it on a chain. (The 5 yen coin is a dusty golden bronze and has a hole in the center of it.) I am wearing it as a necklace now and it makes me think of the train and miss Japan. Yes, I even miss the train.

Father is lonely in Atlanta. He keeps calling and asking to talk to the family for no particular reason. He hangs up abruptly whenever someone enters his temporary office, saying, "Bye, there's some loser coming in." Professionalism is not high on his list of priorities, but we love him for it.

One of the best perks of working retail is complaining about unreasonable customers with one's employer.

Christmas is coming very swiftly this year. I think it is because I am getting old.

02 December, 2008

an ending of a kind

There was a bearded man smoking a cigar in the Pit today. He paced in sweeping circles, jingling a jar of coins and holding a sign that read, "Will Work for Caviar." I just don't even know...

Approaching the end of a semester fills me with a shimmering sense of accomplishment; I was thinking about this while looking at the circle of smokers around the flag pole in the quad. Even if my exams are less than perfect, or there are still loose ends to be tied (such as, where am I going to live next year?), I always end a semester with this drumming feeling of aging, growing older, moving on. It would cheapen it to call it strange; it's more chilling than anything.

This was an outrageously good semester overall; the happiest of my college career. I am going to miss it: these four classes, being able to read poetry as an assignment, re-reading novels I read in high school, having free time to just read, finishing articles at the DTH, becoming decently adept at copy editing, getting a story published, having class with Angela every day, Monday Snax every week with Catherine and Emily... I will miss all of these things very much. I am trying to keep myself from a dark and growing dread of next semester, but it seems a futile battle. Next semester is going to be rough for a number of reasons.

"Majesty, Snowbird," is a lovely, triumphant song.

One of the many reasons I like finals week is that I always make time to read for pleasure. This semester's finalists for Books of the End: The Duel, a novella by my forever-beloved Anton Chekhov; Seize the Day, by Saul Bellow, whom I read for the first time in Tokyo this summer; and Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov, which I chose because it wasn't as long as Lolita. (But I will get to her sometime.)

If you know of a decently priced house around this campus that can house 3+ senior women, let me know. I've been having nightmares about what might happen if we don't find one soon (e.g., sleeping in the pantry room where Cider's gargantuan bag of dog food lives).

Going home Tuesday!

(And the earth is warmer when you laugh.)