27 January, 2009

carrying seed to sow

"The moment was stabilized, stamped like a coin indelibly among a million that slipped by imperceptibly." -- Woolf, "Street Haunting"

It's been an exhausting week, in almost every way it could possibly be exhausting; days of upheaval, I told Emily. I am very tired. But hopeful. Hopeful for that moment when God lets your life work out. I think it's coming, somewhere down the road.

This week I've been trying to wake up earlier than I need to. Even though I hate it, I have to admit that I am enormously productive in the morning. If I wake up at 9, I feel like my whole day is shot and I just sit here at my desk, looking at other people's Flickr photos and dreaming about dogs. But if I get up at 7:30--there are endless possibilities for accomplishment. Yoga, prayer, breakfast, shower, reading, writing. All of those little things that need to be done at some point during the day. They just unfold better in the morning. I like it. The first flush of consciousness when you wake early. The promise of a blank morning.

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:6)

Rachel wrote a beautiful post about healing and community; "Thaw."

Nat King Cole is singing "The Christmas Song" right now and for some reason I am disinclined to turn him off or switch to another song.

Walking to class in the rain has to be one of the worst things ever. But at least I have my Women of Literature umbrella with the wooden handle. ("The ugly women umbrella," my dad calls it. Hey. No one ever said genius was pretty.)

19 January, 2009

dog lust

The inauguration of Barack Obama and the potential of snow are tomorrow's two most exciting things.

I finished The Unbearable Lightness of Being today and still hold to my previously expressed opinion that it was very, very well done. Airy and surprising. Kundera doesn't ever let you get comfortable with his style, but I think that's one of the reasons I liked him so much. He's not gritty and grating, but he is constantly eluding one's expectations. Next on the reading list: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, found in a used bookstore in So. Pines with Guion.

This has been a week of dog lust, specifically Australian Shepherd lust. I showed Guion videos of them catching frisbees and being generally awesome until I had to cover my eyes because I was getting so excited. And this morning, while I ate my grapefruit for breakfast, I watched a photo slideshow of Aussies. Upon confessing this to Emily, she said, with a leveled, extremely serious voice, "We need to talk about this." (She gave me a swift veto today when, upon visiting a house showing that had a fenced yard and permitted pets, I asked her if we could get one.)

I have not changed since I was a little girl, when my heart would beat faster and faster as I paged through my beloved dog breed encyclopedia, when just the sight of leashes and collars hanging in the grocery store made me long for a furry little neck to adorn, when I dragged my family to local sheep-herding competitions just so I could socialize with the Australian Shepherds and Border Collies. Yes, I know, it's a problem. One that unfortunately cannot be remedied since I am presently living in a dorm. So the question is, What will it take to soften Emily's resolve?

I bought a fat thesaurus last week. This is mainly because every online thesaurus I have ever used is notably horrible. The paper edition is the real thing. I hope I will get in the habit of using it more often. But even if I don't, I just like looking at it on my desk.

Also, I hope I look like this when I am seventy: (credit: The Sartorialist)

15 January, 2009

fear no more the heat o' the sun

"The cold," a potential frat boy said, "it cuts through your fingers," looking down at the homeless man on the bench, the bearded old man who plays guitar in the early evening on Franklin Street. He looked up at the frat boy and nodded. I saw it as a little act of mercy.

Things are more or less falling into place, but I still feel like my life is drawn out in a thousand different directions, scattered like bits of paper in the street. (We still don't have a house.) Thoughts swirl around and refuse to be quieted. It's only the first week of the semester. I haven't even really done anything significant and my mind is racing, panting.

I think girls who wear backpacks and then carry a purse are silly. And I want to tell them so.

The Lord watches over you--the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. (Psalm 121:5,6)

All I really need is to believe this today.

I wrote this on our door last night, because it felt connected, relevant:

"Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking." (Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway)

Re-reading that book (admittedly for the fourth or fifth time; Emily rebuked me for it) is bringing me an ineffable amount of joy this week. I hope it never ends.

12 January, 2009

a compassionate palm

First day of classes. Still a bit surreal. It's so strange to be here again, to be waiting to cross Raleigh St. at the same place, to walk past the Union, cut through the Pit, sit in class. Last semester of my junior year. Somehow I never imagined myself actually living through this; the kind of time of your life that you never actually imagine is coming; for some reason I thought I'd just be in the state of mind of the eternal freshman.

On Saturday morning, I took an hour-long intermediate yoga class with Grace at the Y. Even though I was the second-worst participant, it was an inspiring hour and I felt very motivated to become at least marginally good at this bending and stretching and rhythmic posing thing. (I even brought a mat back with me.) Watching Grace is just inspiring, too; she's unbelievably good; her body is so toned and perfectly harmonized. I hope she does get her instructor's license soon.

At the end of the hour, when my muscles had started to quiet down, we laid on our backs in the savasana pose, palms facing up. (The most unbelievably calming feeling washes over you after an hour of contorting the body in unnatural shapes.) And so I lay there, eyes shut, for a good five minutes. The instructor was walking softly around our heads. She came over to me and crouched down beside me. My eyes were still closed. She put her hand over mine and I was surprised at how warm it was and for almost a full minute, she just pressed my palm into the floor. It was oddly reassuring. I feel like it was her expression of compassion for me, the second-worst yoga student in the room.

I like meeting someone's eyes and being able to laugh without having to say a word, because you both already know that you're thinking the same thing.

"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories." -- Ursula K. Le Guin

Still enjoying The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I think it would be a great and fun exercise to try to write in Kundera's style. I like the way he moves between characters and refuses to give you conventional answers.

I read some verses in Deuteronomy 6 this morning. With Moses as his mouthpiece, God told the Israelites to remember one thing. Once they settled in Canaan, the land that oozed milk and honey, had children and grandchildren, harvested grapes, made new wine, lapped up the fountain of prosperity, they just needed to remember one thing: to be careful not to forget the Lord.

I can't think of a food more divine than fresh raspberries. I love how they gather water in the center and bleed on your fingers. I could eat them all day long.

One of my favorite devices that Kundera's been using in the "Words Misunderstood" chapters is the running list, A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words. He picks a simple word or concept, such as "parades" or "strength" or "the old church in Amsterdam," and then talks about how Sabina and Franz don't agree on what those words mean. It's such a terribly clever way to breathe life into a character. I wish I had thought of it first.

08 January, 2009

drown, brother, drown

A new year, a new face for the blog. It needed a makeover. Plus, I think Edward Hopper makes me look marginally more intelligent. And if not that, at least more artistically savvy. He's great; Grace approves of my choice for Selections' art mascot.

I feel very honored; I am now a character in Angela Tchou's cartoon universe. She also posted a bunch of great new stuff. I especially like these two. I delight in my talented friends.

Two people miss the 366 Project: my mom and J.Hecht. I think they're the only ones. From my impressions, everyone else is very thankful I've put my camera away for a time. I'll admit, it's kind of nice to live without the challenge of taking a photo every day. But, qui sait? I might take it up again one of these days. In the meantime, I'll be posting remnants (the ones that got away) on Flickr for a few weeks.

I started Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being last night. I like it. It's like reading a novel written by a philosophy professor or a scientist. Mostly strange, occasionally endearing, highly theoretical and hypothetical and self-referential. Those don't sound like fun things, but it is good. I don't know why this word comes to the surface, but I feel like his style is translucent. I can't explain it; those who've read Kundera can maybe understand what I'm trying to say and appropriate a better name for it.

Yesterday we had a joint family outing (us + the Flems) to dinner and to see "Marley and Me." Dave and I agreed this was probably one instance where the movie was better than the book, even though we both said, with scrunched, scornful noses, that we hadn't read the book. We're still probably right. It was cute, though. And it made me think about how labs are America's favorite dog and wonder about why we love animals so unconditionally. It also made me really, really want a dog. Not that one. But a dog. Or maybe I just need to hang out with Pema more...

Watching the news makes me want to talk and rave with Emily.

I remembered today, by some flicker of chance, how much I loved Anton Chekhov and how much I missed his presence in my life. Or at least the presence of some Russian. I think I'll read Tolstoy's short novels next. But Chekhov, oh, Chekhov has always been so good to me. And I remembered what Von Koren said about Laevsky in "The Duel" and laughed:

“If that sweet boy were drowning, I’d push him under with a stick saying: ‘Drown, brother, drown…’”

Which makes me think of Graham Greene saying that hate is just the failure of the imagination; failing to imagine people as people. Which makes me think of Gaza. Which makes me think of Emily. Which makes me think about the fact that we don't have a house yet for next year. Which makes me think about getting stabbed while taking out the trash... you could play this game all day.

This morning I asked the Lord to lead me into a wide place.

06 January, 2009

it loosens the ligaments

I got back this afternoon from Southern Pines, from what was easily the most restful and content part of my winter break. Moments of being: making shrimp and grits; stroking Aoive; reading books around the fire; listening to Guion on guitar, piano, charanga, and Win on drums; giving the former a sound beating in Trivial Pursuit; watching "Paris, Je T'aime" and "Le Chinoise"; driving around town; scouring local bookstores; looking through piles of old photographs; taking a walk around the neighborhood with Mrs. Pratt and Aoive when the sun was finally cracking through the clouds. I do love being there with all of them.

Used book hunting with Guion is always successful, and yesterday was no different. To my utter amazement, I found The Marquise of O- and Other Stories, by Heinrich von Kleist, which I have been looking for, without any luck, for almost two years now. And it cost me a mere dollar. I also managed to walk away with The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories (Tolstoy), The Queen of Spades and Other Stories (Pushkin), The Shipping News (Annie Proulx), and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera). I have much reading to do.

Which makes me think of these, my Resolutions for the Year of 2009, which I have decided shall be the Year of Discipline.

  • In the absence of my 366 Project, I feel somewhat at a loss for what to do every day. To fill this void, I have decided that my next assignment is to write a journal entry every day for a year. Fortunately, you won't get to read them, but they'll be there just the same.

I think of what Woolf wrote in her own diary, April 20, 1919, "But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practise. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them, and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink."

  • Exercise at least three times a week. Particularly, run.
  • Study and practice solitude and meditative prayer. Read people like the early church fathers, Nouwen, Merton, and Buddhist thinkers who were good at this. (Thanks for the head start, Mr. Pratt.)
  • Read through the entire AP Style Handbook before going to Denver.
  • Survive in Denver.
  • Read more.
  • Keep writing book reviews, if you can call them that.
  • Practice writing fiction on a monthly basis. Get feedback from writers whose opinions I respect. Edit.
  • Garden. Something.
  • Save money. Stop buying clothes.

More will inevitably be added to this list, a running register of Things to Accomplish.

Abbot Palladius said: The soul that wishes to live according to the will of Christ should either learn faithfully what it does not yet know, or teach openly what it does know. But if, when it can, it desires to do neither of these things, it is afflicted with madness. For the first step away from God is a distaste for learning, and a lack of appetite for those things for which the soul hungers when it seeks God. -- The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers, transl. Thomas Merton

This morning at breakfast Guion and I had a long and fruitful conversation about the essentials of faith, denominations, and the schism in the Anglican church over the gay bishop. He also detailed his conception of God's own conception of time and he said something very good which I regret not scribbling down, because now I don't remember it. Something like all moments being concentrated into one moment that IS and there is no past or future. I'll have to ask him about it again.

Last Sunday at church, a young Nigerian named Ibrahim told us a story. He was walking down the streets of downtown Chicago with some friends after dinner. A homeless woman suddenly came up to him and grabbed him by the shirt collar. Startled, he said, "Um, do you need something?" She looked at him, still gripping him, and said, "No, but do YOU need something?" And she proceeded to tell him everything that he had been asking God.