Reflections

lists

This morning I resolved to ride my bike- just in the neighborhood, to check its alignment before I frighten drivers on busier streets. But now rain streaks my windows and drools out of the gutters, so I sit squinting at IRS forms and thinking of poetry.

You asked why I don’t write more poems.
Quite actually, you didn’t, but there I’ve beaten you to it,
and in bending the truth thus, accomplished that subtle
weave of fact and feeling that I associate with poetry.

But I undid the threads. The truth is, I have internalized Rilke
when he said that perhaps we are here simply to make lists:
House. Bridge. Fountain. Gate. Pitcher. Apple tree. Window.
To say things as they are in their integrity, without embellishment.

So every night at 9:50 I add to a list: Train going by in the dark.
Small singers’ hugs. Kitchen table. Two hawks. Dent in my car.
One huge arched cloud trail. Skeletal trees.

I notice the way the rain envelopes and becomes the sky, content to sink through the earth and change its form, abandoning flight and keeping me indoors, where I sit like a reservoir of simple things, making my lists when I ought to be doing my taxes. Rilke says we ought to speak the lists aloud, or write them, as the most fitting beginner’s form of poetry. “There are the hurts,” he writes. “And, always, the hardships. And there’s the long knowing of love – all of it unsayable. Later, amidst the stars, we will see: these are better unsaid.” So I write: the soft way light reaches through the window to rest in stripes on a girl’s brown hair during church. A friend talking about Paris. Unexpected meetings and free food and my hand out the window to feel the warming air and, of all things, Call Me Maybe on 95.5.

These are no more than fragments that I, in listing them, weave into a body. Rilke, again: “And the things which, even as they live, pass on – understand that we praise them. Transient, they are trusting us to preserve them – us, the most transient of all. As if they wanted our hearts to transform them into – o endlessly – into us. Whatever we are.”

I cannot yet call that transformation Poetry. I slowly fulfill my human duty to name things, but it is ironic that I have no name for the Opus that results. There is great and solemn joy in the mystery. To all the spoken and word-upheld world, I say: be.

This post appeared first on torreygazette.com


choruses

urban light

This week I sit curled up next to family, watching small siblings opening gifts. I lie on carpet squinting at economics and algebra textbooks, and watch the pilot episodes of a couple of shows people have instructed me to see, weighing whether I can sustain the commitment to finish their stories. I wake up late. I run. I sit cross-legged on my bed in the temperate glow of my single strand of Christmas lights and ponder things. What am I looking for? What do I need to manufacture for myself vs. find outside of me? What duties/joys am I shirking and why? Where am I needed? I read T.S. Eliot:

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

There are things you lose when you pursue a career: Worship as an obvious chief vocation. Time to be still. Motivations unaffected by the hope of rising higher.

O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

I have lost the easy stride of a worshiper. I am like my brother who, untrained at piano, can play hymns in full harmony by ear– but when I straighten his bench and sit down to teach him note names and fingerings, inspiration is forgotten and he languishes in a tangle of thumbs and accidentals.

I am that child. Learning technique. Questioning my choice of direction and reminding myself what I leave behind. And still, still drawn to my work. But the work and the life get confused often because I think about density and walkability and sustainability and ecology and community and bake myself into a buzzword pie but forget to till my own land and speak to my own neighbors.

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.

And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.

I have given you hands which you turn from worship,
I have given you speech, for endless palaver,
I have given you my Law, and you set up commissions,
I have given you lips, to express friendly sentiments,
I have given you hearts, for reciprocal distrust.
I have given you power of choice, and you only alternate
Between futile speculation and unconsidered action.
Many are engaged in writing books and printing them.
Many desire to see their names in print.
Many read nothing but the race reports.
Much is your reading, but not the Word of God,
Much is your building, but not the House of God.

And the wind shall say:
“Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

I fight suburban sprawl and automobile-oriented environments. But imagine I win; who am I then? A decent godless person: her only monument the pedestrian-oriented streetscape and a thousand lost souls?

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

So I hear the questions and I am afraid because it turns out I am not good at walking this path, but I refuse to turn back. Like a fool, I wander forward into the unknown because I just want to HELP, but I don’t know if I will. I want to be important, but I’m afraid it would destroy me. I want to be independent but I don’t want to be alone. I want to worship AND be accepted in a secularized city. So it’s a mess. But I believe I’m meant to wade through it.

In spite of all the dishonour,
the broken standards, the broken lives,
The broken faith in one place or another,
There was something left that was more than the tales
Of old men on winter evenings.

I believe Jesus will be faithful to complete a good work in and through me. Halfway in and halfway out of the dark, I will keep Christmas.

The work of creation is never without travail;
Lord, shall we not bring these gifts to Your service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order.
And intellectual pleasures of the senses?
The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.

(Poetry taken from Eliot’s Choruses from “The Rock”; I recommend the entire poem.)


The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

atx-pano

Every Monday night, I take a detour on my way home and drive through the heart of downtown Austin. It lures me like I imagine an anglerfish entices prey in the deep sea depths; a sinister analogy, but oddly applicable to how I feel when I’m drawn to those bright streets. I vary my route each week, watching business-suited pedestrians and party-goers share the night with cars and motorcycles and glittering buildings. It’s a vibrant nightlife that, come morning, will transform into a vibrant workday. It’s the sort of place you want to drive through slowly (or ideally walk)– becoming a participant.

janejacobsThis diverse and energetic city atmosphere is enthusiastically supported by Jane Jacobs in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Since its publication in 1961, it’s become a classic in urban planning and has exhibited impressive influence up to the present day; influencing city planners across the country and such movements as The New Urbanism. I read most of Jacobs’ book on vacation at the Frio River– about as far from city life as you can get, but even there I was struck by its pertinence. Not only is it searingly applicable to our problems as an increasingly urban nation, but Jacobs has masterfully woven personal experience, opinions and second-hand anecdotes together with hard statistics and history in a way that kept me turning pages and underlining passages even in sections dealing with amortization periods of mortgages, which is normally hard to do.

Jane Jacobs loved cities. She loved cities because she loved people and was endlessly captivated by the life of individuals, especially the ways those lives could be shaped and changed by the lives of other individuals or the places that framed them. I’ve thought a lot about the influence of Place recently, especially since traveling to England last year. What makes a place conducive to human flourishing? That question is a bigger one than Jacobs asks in Cities, since she deals primarily with urban centers rather than suburban or rural life. But in those urban centers, she calls first and foremost for diversity. “Without a strong and inclusive central heart,” she writes, “a city tends to become a collection of interests isolated from one another. It falters at producing something greater, socially, culturally, and economically, than the sum of its separated parts.” Because people are always changing- whether by aging or because of fluctuations of income or interest, monotonous areas become permanent way stations. People want to live in places that reflect their own lives, so what multifaceted person would choose to spend his life in a one-dimensional neighborhood?

Diversity is key to lively cities, but cities do not automatically generate diversity. It forms because of various economic pools of use, which draw different sorts of people, who create smaller elements of diversity in an increasing cycle. That cycle of flourishing is a lofty and complex goal, but Jacobs proposes four necessary conditions for diversity that help break the issue into smaller, more attainable parts. (I highly support reading the book since this brief overview is really inadequate.)

First, districts must serve more than one primary function, to draw people into the area at different times of day. Primary uses are ordinarily places of work or residence, or anything that draws people for its own sake, such as a successful theatre.

Second, most blocks must be short to encourage commerce and “intricate pools of cross-use.” Long streets cut people off from other areas. If a city were a quilt, short streets would be like stitching instead of basting in the fabric of diversity.

Third, buildings must vary in age in order to accommodate businesses of varied means. Aesthetically, a street that mingles old and new buildings looks more diverse, and can attract real diversity by offering accommodation to established businesses and small start-ups simultaneously.

Fourth, the population must be sufficiently dense (density is determined by dwellings per acre, not to be confused with overcrowding which is determined by people per dwelling). In areas where people are spread thin, only businesses supported by the majority can turn a sustainable profit. Only dense areas can meet the demands of the minority. At a lecture on urban design last week, I met a developer who chose the following quote from Jane Jacobs as a motto for his real estate consultant firm: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Further in her book, Jacobs delves deep into the nature of cities and issues such as the self-destruction of diversity, border vacuums, the role of automobiles, and various tactics to improve the functioning of everything from subsidized housing to city government. Particularly because I’ve experienced European cities and older American ones that were built around the pedestrian or horse and carriage rather than the car, I was fascinated by Jacobs’ diagnosis and prescribed cures for the (in my opinion) inferior urban planning movements after World War II. The sentiment is shared by the authors of Suburban Nation, another book on urban planning I finished recently, as evidenced by the choice of quote here:

city

Since Jacobs published it in 1961, the logic and sentiments behind her work have taken root in many city development departments and produced improvements that I hope would encourage her today. They certainly encourage me. But there’s still a long way to go. When I drive through downtown Austin, I’m thrilled by all the diversity I see in action. But a few miles out, the suburban neighborhoods are populated with bleak business parks and wide highways that speak of an environment built for machines instead of bodies. As ever more Americans (especially millennials) flock to urban centers, it is ever more important that we build them well. At the beginning of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, there’s a note about illustrations that has stuck with me: “The scenes that illustrate this book are all about us. For illustrations, please look closely at real cities. While you are looking, you might as well also listen, linger and think about what you see.”


there and back again

8/30/14 – 1:49pm Greenwich Mean Time

We took off about half an hour ago. Goodbye, Britain. It’s been historic. I have new favourite places all over the country. When we first got to London, I didn’t really like it. But I think it was mainly the culture shock and fatigue. Even though we speak the same language, there are innumerable small differences between America and Britain that take adjusting to. It smells different, for one thing! The cities smell kind of like coffee and smoke and something else I can’t describe. The rural areas don’t have the same smell, though- I guess the wind that blows through the world kind of universalises the smell of the outdoors. They do have lots of flower smells of which we Texans are regrettably deprived. Sometimes I would just be walking along a street and smell lilies. Once I smelled honey comb waffle cereal and I am still baffled by that! Anyway, London was just so big, crowded, and different. But when the culture shock wore off, I enjoyed the city quite a lot. It’s so diverse- it should be nicknamed ‘the city of endless discovery’, because every corner you turn, there’s another ancient church sandwiched between two modern buildings, or a lady playing classical violin in a square, or a little independent shop that sells paints, or yet another antiquarian bookstore. I like best to stroll along the Thames, seeing two vast swaths of city and a swirling crowd of humanity divided by the river that creates enough space for reflection. When I come back to England (and I do hope to!) I think I would do London in the middle of the trip though, not the start and finish. I might start in Oxford! Oxford was definitely one of the best places we visited. It’s impossible to pick a favourite, though! Canterbury, Dover, Salisbury, Oxford, the Letcombes, Wantage, York, Alnmouth, Alnwick, Edinburgh, Inverness, Glencoe, Keswick… out of all the towns we spent much time in, it would probably be a contest between Oxford, Dover, Salisbury, and Keswick. But the most jaw-dropping scenery was in Scotland for sure. I totally fell for that country. We’re up above the Atlantic, and the cloud-trails of other planes stream like kite tails beside us. It is something to be PART of the sky I always crane my neck to see. And it was SOMETHING to be part of the country I have always dreamed of visiting.

st pauls


tree trimming

I’m always the one who puts the lights on the tree.  The task used to fall to my mom, but once I got old enough to have an eye for that sort of thing, I took over.  I wanted it to be me hanging the light.

I play Christmas music and I start with garden shears.  Giving myself a hand cramp, I squeeze the shears and bite off the branches that are going limp or yellow.  Then I sit back on my heels and size up the crowded mess of fir, deciding where to make holes.

Needles fall thick.  Sections of the trunk appear.  It seems wrong to trim perfectly good branches but the tree is so stuffed with green that there’s no room for light.  I can’t hang the lights until there’s enough emptiness for them to fill.

The tree looks hurt when I finish.  The holes I’ve made stare at me accusingly.  I start unwinding the strand of yellow lights and twisting them around branches.  I cluster light in the holes I made, all the way up the tree.  My hands get splotchy with sap.  When I’m finished, I step back.

The once-bare places shine.

“and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?” -Herman Melville

Light cannot enter us until there’s enough emptiness for it to fill; until we are scraped empty and trimmed bare.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9

bokeh christmas


how to hush a poet in three easy steps

Walking through the fields under a bleeding sunset, I forget to hold my peace. Frankly, when there is extraordinary beauty flooding the top half of the world, I have to exclaim over it. I feel like that’s who I’m meant to be: a curator of the universe’s artifacts and a proclaimer of ordinary astonishments. And the sky was pink tonight. Oh, you saw it. It was out there for you. But I guess it was inside me because I spilled words and then I had to clean them up.

“It looks like horses ran through pink whipped cream.”

And you asked what I’d been reading, drinking, and smoking. Heh. I should learn to keep my mouth shut because everyone sees the sky their own way, I guess. I said I liked to give ordinary things unusual analogies, because it might make somebody look at the mundane again and see it with fresh eyes. “And you sound like a four-year-old,” you replied.

I don’t know how to be who I am around you- around any of you. I don’t fit in your world. I have been silent beneath the stars and said little in the rain. I’ve shut up about stories and I have tried to keep quiet under sunsets, but once the sun fades, the sky will never, ever look the same again. You get it once. That’s why I write, you know. Because clouds rain away and trees fall and buildings crumble and people die, but words stay alive. I write to save the sunsets and make people look twice. But you said the aim of poetry is to draw attention to the writer.

I always thought it made sense, poetry. Not the poetry itself (that can be complex), but the object of it. To shine beauty around the edges of ugly things and to give more facets to the beautiful, like cutting a rough gemstone. To grab people by the back of the head and shove them into new light saying, “Look at the world! Look at it!” But I guess it’s just some people who view art that way. Human creation ought to draw attention to an artist, yeah. But not a human one. Can I make you believe I write for the love of words and the God-written world?

The sun was fading away as we argued; above our heads cloud-scales lost their sheen like a great fish dying. Near the horizon, the sky glowed gold. And nobody was looking.

look behind you


shaken and kissed

it’s hard to know exactly what you’re made of
but I am somehow connected to frost on the mailbox
and dozens of library receipts
airplane turbulence and philosophy lectures
the jump to the heart when a deer blows in the woods
and christmas lights
twenty-one years and still I am barely acquainted with wisdom
but the key (one key) is this:

the key is to stalk the planet like it’s a celebrity and you’re the paparazzi.
the key is to live as though you are begging the universe for an autograph.
and in the indian drum thunder or the blue cedar berries dripping dew
the question of a God-breathed child and the gravity that brings you back around
the universe takes up the pen

watch and pray


good times

To my adopted extended family,

It’s funny, because you’re sort of my real extended family because Michael married Emily. So since he’s my brother-in-law and you’re his family, it’s like we’re family-tied. I have the hardest time trying to explain that to people. But my heart really gets it.

I guess it’s kind of weird that I’m almost 21 and yet today I was playing leapfrog with you. It’s a weird I can live with, though. Because you are some of the best things in my life. And when I say “my life” I don’t mean right now. I mean ever. Always. You are the best. I never could have imagined our current situation- you and me and Michael and Emily all living on the same property, two minutes’ drive or 6 minutes’ walk away. It’s just one example of how God takes things that scare me (moving to the country) and turns them into things I adore.

I’m so sore right now. When someone suggested we play football on our knees, I had this thought that I probably shouldn’t ruin my jeans. But I played anyway. Because I can buy new jeans and my sore knees will be back to normal tomorrow. But this? This absurd experience of scooting across a sandy field on our knees and looking laughably stunted as we tackle each other is going down in the venerated book of Good Times.

When we played Red Rover (my first time since age 8ish), I squeezed your hands tight- partially to keep our chain together, and partially because you are my favourite kids and I love feeling like your sister.

When we made hot chocolate from scratch, I sang Pompeii with you and was glad of the cold weather and warm friendship.

I’m just so thankful for you. My family and your family and the joining of us through Michael and Emily. Thanksgiving isn’t for few weeks yet, but I find myself feeling this way all the time. When you hold my sister close, Michael. When you show me how itunes works, Josh. When you break the line of scrimmage to run and keep Caleb from shutting his fingers in the car door, Andrew. When you half-hug me whenever we pass, Sam. When you quote the same phrase 3 times in a row, Noah. When you show me sandcastles, Abby. When you say “Grace! You’re home!” when I get to your house, Caleb.

I love you. I don’t always tell you stuff like this because I guess I’m afraid you’ll think I’m sentimental. And I am. But I don’t care. I look at your dirty faces and I see your patchwork hearts and I love you with everything God has made me and all the ample love with which he has deluged my soul. I don’t know what time will do to us, but I hope to keep you close. You are my family now. You and your parents and the new baby who has yet to make an appearance. The Lord has done great things for us and I hope you notice even the tiny ones- the brightness of the day-moon in the afternoon sky and the sprinkling of leftover cocoa powder on the counter and the way people laugh when they feel secure. I notice them and I remember them and I keep them locked up inside me so that whatever happens, wherever we go, whatever we become, I will always have a piece of you with me.

Good times indeed.

riverbend


going, going

there I was lying on the carpet,
raised on my elbows, making bookmarks
precision knife poised like a tiny javelin
red squeeze marks on my knuckles
the promise to come downstairs electrified solitude
and as my bedroom reverberated with strains of his symphony
Tchaikovsky cradled loneliness with reverence
like me

there were the Proms in their last week
and I leaving for a two-week vacation,
voices and orchestras made me fade
blowing wide their memory
the anticipation of leaving intensified festivity
and as the walls reverberated with strains of applause
Petroc Trelawney described the Albert Hall with reverence
like me

there you went leaping over garden rows
spiking the volleyball, sipping your milkshakes
fresh haircuts, tan and taut legs
stretching my heart
and the thought of me ever going from you- or you from me- energised camaraderie
and as the Honda reverberated with strains of your mirth
no one listened to your laughing with as much reverence
as me


monday

I just have something to say to myself real fast.

When you feel like a failure because you’re not good at cards or parkour or video games or comebacks, stop.  Dunk your head in water or something and wake up and remember:

“Our greatest fear should be not of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” -Francis Chan

And I have something to say to you now.  You fail at stuff sometimes.  Forget it.  Move on. Sometimes it’s more dangerous to succeed.  Guess who Jesus said will inherit the earth?  The skilled?  The talented?  The popular?

The meek.  The meek shall inherit the earth.

And in 1 Corinthians 13, is love described as clever? important? game-winning?  Nope.

Love is kind.  Love does not envy or boast.  Love is not arrogant or rude. When you lose, you don’t have much of a chance to become arrogant.  Oh, but when you win, you do.  So which is worse: losing or arrogance?

God seems to have a lot more approval for the former.

Note to self:
if you stand, take heed lest you fall.
if you win, shut up.
if you lose, laugh.
let another man praise you and not your own lips.
if you succeed, give thanks.
if you fail, give thanks.

give a lot of thanks.

if it kills you


1999

She wedged the box against the wall as she pried open the door. The stairs were steep and she couldn’t see past the cardboard. But she made it to the office and she set down her burden and she told her story.

14 years ago, she gave birth to quadruplets. 4 screaming armfuls of wrinkly red skin. It was harder than she had imagined it could be. But there they were in the world, hers. And as she soothed them on the way home, she knew it was worth it.

That was the end of the part that makes sense.

They died. All 4 of them. I don’t know how- 14 years was not enough to swallow the pain and let her be candid with strangers. 14 years since her heart was drawn and quartered.

She reached down and opened the box. She let us look, but kept her eyes away. Baby clothes, never worn. Terry cloth onesies. Socks still in the package. Spoons. Matching blankets. For 14 years she saved what she had bought for her babies. But today she gave it to us. I volunteer at a pregnancy centre where we keep a room full of clothes and helpful tools for new mothers. And today we received a precious gift, 14 years in the making. A box of what could have been.

I sorted the items, hanging matching sleepers side by side, stacking identical pairs of booties together. At the bottom of the box I found a cassette tape of lullabies. Its cardboard sleeve had never been chewed by drooling mouths or ripped by chubby hands. Never played, it had waited at the bottom of a cardboard box for 14 years. I set it on the director’s desk and my heart asked why.

Why do those who desperately want their children live in grief for 14 years while there are people in the gallery of the Texas legislature shouting for the right to kill?


next stop: everywhere

I hardly ever watch television. There’s not even a TV in my house. But through a series of very unlikely occurrences there is one show that simply captured my heart (or hearts, if you know what I mean).

what makes you think I would ever give you back?

Doctor Who.

A British series about an ancient time-travelling alien who flies through space in a bigger-on-the-inside phone box; saving worlds, having adventures, meeting friends, and losing them. It sounds bizarre, but there’s a bit of the bizarre in me as well, so I like it. I mean, it’s wonderful. Okay, basically, I love this show. (I could talk a lot longer about its nuances, but as we joke around here… it’s not in the cards.)

The next instalment premiers on Saturday. And I, in all my Whovian splendour… will not be watching it.

Yeah, so that doesn’t really make sense. When I love something to the point of distraction, why would I choose to keep it at a distance? Because there’s a danger in distraction; a threat inherent in pleasurable diversion. I’m not really sure why I’m telling you this, but perhaps it’s because I still don’t understand it all myself.

I have this way of loving sometimes. There are a lot of passion-channels in my heart, and my feelings flow like sand to tip scales and power my days. I tiptoe like a tightrope walker trying to balance it all. Open a channel wide enough, and all the energy of my soul comes pouring through; the sand piles into dunes and the sea comes striding in with a roar. Sometimes I need that oceanic passion- that biggerontheinside vortex that sweeps me high and fast beyond the world. But sometimes… sometimes I need to calm my starstruck eyes and remember the world. I need to balance. It’s good to give passion the reigns on occasion, but it’s important to make sure it’s not wearing blinders.

People and causes, beliefs and ambitions… my passion has focused on many of these. There were the summer musicals which made me want to only ever be at practice. The tournaments that left me lonesome. The friends, the plans, the wishes, the wanderlust. But then there were the stories. Stories that fill and burst and grow and make me hurt inside. Stories that are alive. It began with The Chronicles of Narnia and imagining Aslan leaping out at every deer crossing. My mom read aloud to us and I listened with every single cell I possessed and sometimes after she had finished I snuck to the shelf and read ahead when she wasn’t looking. When we finished the series I bought my own set of the books and read from it almost daily for I don’t know how long. After that, it was The Lord of the Rings and pretending to be Elvish and writing my name in runic letters. I devoured the movies, the music, the Silmarillion, the Books of Lost Tales, and took dictation from recordings of Tolkien reading his work. Stories get inside me and never leave, never die. Peter Pan, The Borrowers, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Phantom of the Opera, Robin Hood…. I’m a writer, but I don’t write stories; they write me. I’ll bet somebody’s said that before.

Anyway, it’s kind of weird. I can cry myself to sleep over fictional characters because there’s a part of me where they’re always real. I write poems about them, I sketch them in my journal, I follow them to see what happens next. Doctor Who is a heart-pounding, heart-warming, heart-wrenching story; full of characters that are so alive a single glance can make me sob or soar cloud-high. Joy and sorrow are woven inseparable and it’s beautiful, awful, masterful. And so different: most stories see the characters through a few trials and suffering and pain, but you know that in the end, it’s going to be happy. Doctor Who sees its characters through some excitement and camaraderie and happiness, but you know that in the end, it’s going to be sad. You end up asking yourself the question asked and answered by the Doctor: “What’s the point of them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later? And the answer is, “Because they are going to be sad later.”

It hurts. It’s brilliant, but it hurts. And that’s why people like it- because it makes you feel. But for me, a few feelings are the few grains of sand that trigger an avalanche. And while it’s exciting to live so many lives, I don’t want to do it at the expense of my own. When the floodgates of my passion are let loose, when so much soul-energy pours down one channel, I forget. When I’m mentally travelling in the TARDIS, I forget to watch my baby sister grow up. While I’m musing over the significance of mysterious characters, I forget to study the people I see every week. While I’m saving worlds with the Doctor, I forget to save my own.

And so it’s all about balance, once again. Loving the stories but living MY life. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “I am all for going to fairyland, but I am also all for coming back. That is, I will admire, but I will not be magnetised, either by mysticism or militarism.” And that’s why I’m taking a break from Doctor Who for a while. Learning what it means to come back.

you'll see me again soon.


white whale

I finished reading Moby Dick today. Sometimes I pick up a book and several hours later I slide it back onto my shelf, completed. It wasn’t like that with this monstrosity of a novel. (If there’s someone alive who’s read Moby Dick in one day, you’re doing it wrong.) Last September I found a beautiful online project commemorating the 150th anniversary of the book, which featured the book itself read aloud and offered a new chapter a day from “Call me Ishmael” to the epilogue. Each chapter was read by someone different, and the readers ranged from famous (David Cameron), to talented (Benedict Cumberbatch), to so bad that I found myself reading aloud in my best British accent to drown out the horrid monotony.

For as long as I can remember, Moby Dick has been sitting on a shelf in the living room, gathering dust and the sting of being adamantly and thoroughly ignored. You know how it is. “Oh, there’s Moby Dick,” says the would-be reader. “One Hundred and Thirty-Five chapters about the anatomy of the whale. How enticing.” And they push it aside in favour of something less… salty. This seems to be the general opinion about Moby Dick. When I tell people I’m reading it their eyebrows go up like a whale’s twin flukes and on their face is clearly written their fear for my sanity. And as long as I continue to use cetological analogies, that fear will probably persist. I can’t blame them, because when I was younger I twice attempted to begin reading the monolithic book and was unable to get past the first page. “Five Hundred and Twenty-One pages of THIS??” thought I. “Not a chance.” But with the discovery of the afore-mentioned website, I decided to give it another go. And, despite a few droning readers, I’m incredibly glad.

Melville’s book is a labyrinth, a sunken shipwreck glistening in divers’ torches, a hedge grown carefully to form a maze. The problem with reading a labyrinth, a shipwreck, a hedge maze, is that it takes so long to reach the centre, the treasure, the way out. 135 chapters there are, and not until chapter 133 do we meet the whale who lends the book his name. On the way, Melville takes us on innumerable different tangents; we study the history of whaling, the boatmen of the Erie Canal, the meaning of life in abstract, differences between species of whales, the life story of the ship’s carpenter, what happens if you fall asleep at the tiller, and, yes, the anatomy of the sperm AND right whales. The book is a maze. Ah, but the book is AMAZING. You see, we’ve become so obsessed with Destinations and Results that we forgot the excitement of exploring along the way. We push and prod our stories to fit the Perfect Story Arc and we start to think it’s the only way to go. We don’t remember that there’s a Character Development Story Arc and a Let’s Confuse People For Fun Story Arc and an Epic World Creation Story Arc and more. Each serves a different purpose and each is valuable for a different reason.

A one-legged captain with a soul, he says, that is a centipede. A mate torn between two loyalties. A ship that tows its wake around the world in search of a white whale.

It’s so hard to choose between pointing out the masterful plot points and allowing you to read the book yourself and be surprised! It’s absurd how many people have not read this book and yet think they have a decent grasp of what it means. I would love to cast all mistaken opinions overboard, but there are two reasons why I am not going to do that. One, it is very difficult to claim to be “right” about this book. There are many possible interpretations and that’s the beauty of it. Two, because you should read it yourself! Spend a year at it if you have to. It’s a masterpiece full of fabulous ocean analogies and characters as multi-faceted as the waves. It is a book of ardent belief, much of it contradictory. (In fact, it really feels as though Melville just sat down and wrote the whole thing from start to finish without bothering about continuity of opinion. That’s not the case, though; he wrote multiple drafts of it before he was finally satisfied. So the contradictions are purposeful and rather spectacular in the way they tug at your mind and pull you into bouts of thinking.) It’s a work of art; a study of humanity and madness; a celebration and a condemnation of the sea.

This is one of my favourite chapters. It’s only a few minutes long and it’s read by Benedict Cumberbatch (who, for those of you who aren’t familiar with him, is a phenomenal actor with a rich voice). You should listen.


life, the books in verse, and everything

You know when you’re stopped at a red light and you’re singing along to This Is Home or drumming the piano part from something by Michael W. Smith and for some reason you glance at the person driving the car next to you? And she’s wearing a snappy cardigan and biting her lip trying to make sure the windows are rolled down evenly and you just think- hey. We would be friends.

Or maybe you’re in the 10-items-or-less line at Walmart and it’s 10-people-or-more longer than the lines at the other registers and the guy in front of you is waiting to buy two bananas and a composition notebook. And what a coincidence, because you’re holding vanilla wafers and a package of pens.

You probably have so many friends you’ve never met. I have. I see them everywhere, but mostly I see them at book stores  Half-Price Books is my favourite (along with a musty little shop in Boston) because, well, it’s half-price, and because they sell the tried and true books (which sometimes have train tickets belonging to someone named Hanson stuck inside). I spend too much money there. And while I’m shuffling along, head aslant, looking through the works of Ray Bradbury, I see shoes to my right, shuffling like mine. I glance. A glance is usually all I need to tell. And he’s thumbing through the Tolkien section, brow knit, wearing argyle, looking thoughtful. I go back to my Bradbury, grinning. Found another one. That’s two today, because I’m also counting the girl who walked in earlier and exclaimed to her friend, “It smells so good in here!” Yes it does, new favourite person. And I want to buy everything they have.

There is so much, so much to read. So many words to make you think and feel and rejoice and hurt inside. I was wondering how I’ll find the time. I need a lifetime. But that’s what I have, if Jesus asks me to wait for Him. Maybe He’ll bring me home soon (and that would be the greatest joy of all). But if I stay, if I remain a sojourner, there are treasures for me to find and maps for me to follow and wisdom and peace and happiness for me to chase. So I buy the books. This time I found a gorgeous hardcover copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, “What’s Wrong With the World” by G.K. Chesterton, a biography of Margaret Thatcher, “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells, a book on the art of writing by Bradbury, and a Latin-English dictionary. I was looking for the Vulgate, but that quest has proved more difficult. Quests do that.

If my name was Wordsworth
could I be worthy of the words I clutch?
If I was called Caesar
would they render to me the worlds I touch?
If I was christened Crusoe
could I leave to explore those lands alone?
If my name was Churchill
could I use my words to make them bold?

Oh, life. Everything good in this world is merely a breath, but those are breaths of fresh air. Life is a vapour and there is not one happy thing in it that cannot also make you sad. But sad is happy for deep people. Sometimes. There’s the sadness of dusty antiques and memories long forgotten by everyone but you and empty diners and books well ended. There’s the sadness of the Doctor’s goodbyes which hurt so illogically you can’t even watch those episodes without sobbing, which is ridiculous because it’s not even real. But there’s also the sadness of letters returned and dreams that you killed and driving home crying because you know. And it hurts. It hurts because you’re alive. So I live the life and I smile the joy and cry the tears and I drink the tea strong. I say the hellos and I whisper the goodbyes and I pray the prayers and I set my spell-checker to UK English.

And I read and write the words.

through it all


non-communist manifesto

A while ago (10/9/12), I got this idea from The Art of Manliness. (which is weird because I am not a man. but I can be okay with weird.) I do my best to live by it. I fail, but I try. And honestly, life is not even about success. Life is about the trying. I’ve been planning to print it out and frame it in my room so I can see it every day because it’s easy to forget. But today is the first of a new year, and this is who I want to be.

Personal Manifesto:

I will put others above myself, knowing that greatness is found in service.

I will serve, not out of obligation, but out of love. In my service and my sacrifice, I will emulate Jesus who did as much and more for me.

I will not view myself as entitled to any good thing, but remember that each day is more than I deserve.

I will not speak ill of anyone out of senseless annoyance.

I will be kind rather than clever.

I will walk with open eyes to see the beauty all around me and I will praise its Creator.

I will use the talents God has given me to bless others and bring Him glory; I will not allow them to gather dust due to fear or apathy.

I will not make decisions designed to put myself in the spotlight.

I will surround myself with depth and wisdom in literature, films, and friends; I will not be trivialised by this culture.

I will not be deceived by the ideals of the world. I will not look for happiness in money, fame, men, opportunities to do what I love, or any of the desires of my fleshly heart. I will seek and do the will of God and remember that real happiness can only be found in the center thereof.

I will do all through the strength of Christ, knowing that I am too weak to win my battles alone, but that He has already won the war.

Other plans for this year include:

Taking a class on Latin

Intensive reading (my list is so long that I don’t have time to post it)

Selling my art on Etsy in partnership with my talented sister

Saving all my money for future travelling adventures (i.e. England…)

Volunteering at a local pregnancy centre

Coaching speech and debate and chaperoning my sister at tournaments

Running

Writing every day when possible (“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” -Ray Bradbury)

There’s a really fantastic quote by Hemingway: “Courage is grace under pressure.” I’ll probably be writing that on my arm a lot this year.

structure on change


three wishes

Hello, Stonehenge!

I haven’t written in a while and the words aren’t sliding right. My flow of consciousness is a frayed string and words are beads that don’t quite fit. The string needs licking. The bead-words need coaxing. Come on, recalcitrant vocabulary. Here, boy.

I have legitimately never before thought of my vocabulary as one entity in possession of a gender. That was weird.

But anyway, skybound audience, I thought you might be interested in my dreams. Don’t psychoanalyse me, if you please. Keep all that Freudian nonsense to yourself. I don’t mean my night-dreams, when the heater’s on and the computer’s on stand-by and the Cheshire cat hovers at subconscious cross-roads, telling me that it doesn’t very well matter which road I take, since I don’t very well know where I want to go. No, I mean my  “unfulfilled ambitions”. Of life, you know. Wendy said hers is to write a great novel in three parts, about her adventures. Mine also include writing. And lots of stairs, actually. I just noticed that tonight.

1. My number one Most Exciting and Dearly Beloved dream and ambition is to own a bookstore in Boston or Britain; a bookstore with an upstairs apartment where I can live and write books or articles or poems or anything verbose.

2. My number two Almost-As-Exciting and Beloved ambition is to live in a lighthouse. With a massive library. And write books, etc.

3. Also, I want a corgi.

As far as fulfilling these ambitions go, I lack only, eh, about 7/10ths of a fortune.

Sometimes I feel like a hitch-hiker without a backpack.

Here’s a thing, though- I wasn’t meant to have everything I want. (hey, how about that!) Man does not live by bread alone, and Grace does not live by travel and libraries and songs alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

“For when dreams increase and words grow many there is vanity, but God is the one you must fear.” Ecc. 5:7

Let’s have adventures everywhere. But especially? Let’s have them here.


good as new

To be fresh as frosted sunbeams, to be newly alive every morning, to choose the hope of a child-heart when the days are piled like Babel and strength grows too strong to fight terror without being it, this my aim. To ride the crest of the life-wave and cling lightly to the sea skin when it’s ground into sand by a heavy storm. To be like the recycled breeze that stirs through the darkest corners and sees the pollution of humanity; the wind that carries scoffing across a campus, chaperones the fog in inner city bars, hears the cries of innocence raped behind dark curtains. Sees, blows, hears the pain world. But blows the hope. Once in hurricane, once in tear-brimming alleyway, once in smoker’s lungs, once in flickering Paris trees, once in stifled Asia streets, now in blessed Texas sun, blowing, not the pain, not the despair, not the evil. Blowing fresh.

 

 


in defense of gaiety

Socialism. Abortion. Fornication. Hate. Apathy. Adultery. Profanity. Sodomy. Sin.
Weighty words. Weighty evil. It makes me angry and it makes me sad. It makes my shoulders slump and my soul kneel, panting, in the dust.
It’s a dark and devilish world and there is so much to fight.
It’s enough to turn me into the worst of cynics. It’s enough to make me despair.

Almost enough.

A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity and art admired decay;
The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay.
Round us in antic order their crippled vices came–
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named:
Men were ashamed of honour; but we were not ashamed.
Weak if we were and foolish, not thus we failed, not thus;
When that black Baal blocked the heavens he had no hymns from us.
Children we were–our forts of sand were even as weak as we,
High as they went we piled them up to break that bitter sea.
Fools as we were in motley, all jangling and absurd,
When all church bells were silent our cap and bells were heard.
-G.K. Chesterton, from the dedication of The Man Who Was Thursday

I cannot fight evil with cynicism.
I cannot fight demons with despair.

“Take heart”, Christ declares. “I have overcome the world.”
Not, “I WILL overcome.”
“I HAVE OVERCOME.”
It is finished. Done.
OVERCOME.
We are fighting, but the war is won.
Sin does not rule this world. Love rules this world.
He is not sleeping, nor is He silent.
He is strong. He is sovereign. He is supreme.

We can only see the shadows because the Light has risen. The Light commands them, “This far and no further”. They are subject. They are defeated. The Light is eternally shining. “God’s in His heaven; all’s right with the world.” All’s right. The command is His. All’s right. He controls the dark. All’s right. Sin pays tribute.
“Where, O Death, is thy sting? Where, O Grave, is Thy victory?”
In other words, HA! And let the Church take heart! For Her bridegroom has overcome the world.

I can fight evil with exaltation.
I can fight demons with delight.
Because He has already declared the victory.

Blessed are they who did not see, but being blind, believed.


the born-again identity

Sometimes I try too hard to find out who I am. I study myself, I look for patterns in my likes and dislikes and experiences, but the answers I find are only illusions.

Because my identity is hidden in Him. I am His, and nothing on this fragile, transient earth can define me. I am not defined by my talents. Or my clothing. Or my friends. Or the books I read. Or the movies I watch. I am not a singer, a writer, a dancer, a geek, a grammar nazi, an anglophile, a cowgirl, a Chestertonian, a poet, a friend, a speaker, a wearer of pearls, or a bearer of words. I am His.

And that is the only answer that will ever satisfy. It’s the only category in which I will ever belong. Everything else is a mask, a costume for my short time on life’s stage. Everything else is a lie.

He is, therefore I am. I am His. I am His. I am His.

“I am in Love, and out of it I will not go.”


skybound

The following disconnected narrative was written on my way home from Montana, some on the plane, but mostly as I sat in the airport. It’s largely unedited, and it reads a little bit like a Tumblr blog, so prepare yourself.

Long valleys sprout veins- erosion paths in the plateaus that cradle creeks and rivers. They look like cracks in a hard-set Jello sculpture. I can see the rims of mountains stretching around the side like tree-less ribbons. There is a canyon like a spine sunk into the yellow earth, and its tributaries are red like Mars. If I was a bird, I would fly down and find out if that’s really snow I’m seeing.

It’s all so different from the air. When I’m down on the ground, I look up at the mountains twirling into peaks like full dance skirts, and I feel so small. But when I’m in a plane, I look down on the same mountains and now they’re the small ones. All that snow is a very long way down. If mountains that dwarf me are looking so tiny and far away, think about how small I really am. The Bible says man’s life is like a vapour. I am the chilly spray thrown by the magnificent waterfall cascades I saw yesterday. I am mist tossing on a river of holiness. I am a feather on the breath of God.

There are so many people in the Denver airport. So many different kinds of people. I was one of the last people to get off the plane, and walking up through the empty cabin made me a little lonely. Not a really sad kind of lonely, though- it was the emptiness of a screen door left ajar and an abandoned cup of coffee on a clean white counter. It smelled clean- not like bleach or anything, just cared-for. I was a little bit surprised that it wasn’t more impersonal, but it’s hard to repress the character of all these people who pass through here. The airport itself smells emptier- like Mrs. Baird’s bread or something. But the people are fun to watch. I’m sitting across from my gate (its own seating area is filled with people ready to board an earlier flight to Bozeman, MT), separated from it by one of those conveyer belt walkways, on which people are walking unnaturally fast; almost gliding. I didn’t use it- I used to love those as a kid, but now I prefer walking at my own pace. I’m not in any sort of hurry, anyway. I’ve got a four-hour layover.

A young guy just walked by in a dress shirt and a tie, but his tie was loose and so was his expression- looking around, wondering. He was carrying a big brown backpack and a thick book I didn’t recognise. A backpack plus a tie is a bit of an odd combination. I wonder if he was going to or from home.

Another fairly young man walked up to the beginning of the conveyer belt with his little son. The boy took off down the belt in a fit of excitement, and his dad grinned a grand smile and waved before playfully chasing after the kid. People with kids are the only adults who seem to get excited by airports. When you show something to a child, it’s almost like seeing it for the first time yourself. I saw a lady sitting on the floor with her kids, dealing out cards for a game of (probably) Go-Fish. There are quite a few families sitting on the carpet in friendly circles, eating airport food and wearing Disneyland hoodies.

A few seats down from me, an Asian man is yelling into his phone at 100 miles per hour, clearly incredulous about something.

I just looked up and made eye-contact with the boy across from me- a basketball-shorts-wearing dude with a red Nike shirt and blue, blue eyes. Other than his eyes, there’s not too much to be said for him. His earbuds appear to be glued in. I smiled at his dad, who only stared at me. I like it better when people smile back.

A lot of people here are dressed the same. Polos, t-shirts, Aeropostale shirts, jeans, cargo shorts, backpacks. Sometimes I see someone wearing something really unique, like the lady in the sundress that was longer in the back than the front. She was accompanied by a little girl in a similar dress, and both of them looked like they had come from the Bahamas.

There’s a woman pushing two strollers at the same time. I do not envy her. I remember dragging two roller bags around Boston a few years back, and that’s not at all my favourite memory of that trip.

There’s a guy with a musical instrument case of some kind. I can’t tell what instrument it is, but its small, rectangular surface is covered in vibrant stickers.

Airports are always such hubs of action. It’s almost overwhelming. One could come here to escape from life, and I wonder if some people are trying to do just that- they look so defeated. Here I am watching humanity stream by- hearing the rumble of suitcase wheels and the “ding-ding” of cellphones, watching the rush, the energy, the importunate crowds, and I wonder what the hordes of humanity think of me. I know the answer to that already, though: they don’t.

—-

I went to buy a sandwich at Schlotsky’s, which was nearly twice as expensive as they are outside of this transport trap. There was an old man in line behind me carrying a box from Build-a-Bear. He said he bought it for his grandson. He also had a wad of $100s in his money clip.

Another man in this waiting area is playing rock music on his ipod, out loud for all to hear. He’s sort of singing along, too. That’s more something you’d expect from a teenager instead of a middle-aged guy.

I should write about Montana, but airports are so intriguing. Every time I look up, it’s something else: the lady and her daughter hopping like rabbits down the conveyer belt, the girl wearing multiple scrunchies around her ponytail, the man laughing at his wife because she’s going to buy a Colorado magnet despite the fact that they’re not even leaving the airport, the guy who looks just like Michael from the back, the little girl in the sparkly tutu, the European man wearing white linen pants (ew?). I’d like to see all these people in their natural habitats. I’d like to follow them around the world.

Remembering the highlights of my glorious week in Montana, I think the drive up to the pass on the way to Yellowstone National Park was the most gorgeous thing. We climbed that steep, winding road like trout zig-zagging upsteam. And suddenly, there were no more trees. And suddenly again, there was snow. I waded through it in my shorts and cowboy boots, ducking Alison’s little brother’s snowballs. And it was all so huge up there. Looking down was like looking down into another world. Mountains awaken my soul to sing. The week I spent among them was exciting and rejuvinating, filled with hikes up to cascading waterfalls, wild raspberries, rafting, s’mores toasted over the gas grill, Doctor Who marathons, and small-town charm. I had incredible hosts and incredible adventures. The only negative elements of the trip were the massive mosquitoes (you think everything’s bigger in Texas? I’m afraid not.) and the sunburns. Oh, but I won’t even remember the negative things. We had a brilliant time.

Favourite quote of the trip, an exchange from when we were stopped in a long line of cars for two hours in Yellowstone because a massive herd of bison was traveling along the road ahead of us:
Ali: What if we’re stuck here all night?! Where would we sleep? What would we eat? Where would we go to the bathroom??
Mrs. L: That tree. For all your questions.

Now here I am on a plane to Austin, drinking Pepsi without ice, ignoring the endless car commercials on the tiny television screen in front of me, and wearing a jacket. I’m going home to Texas and I’m wearing a jacket. For some reason, that’s amusing. I finished reading “Catcher in the Rye” a few minutes ago, which starred a boy with a pointless life. His pointless life was probably the point of the book, but I was unimpressed, except by the writing style imployed by Salinger, which was detailed and interestingly cynical. But like “Gulliver’s Travels”, the book was just too annoying to be enjoyed, and it didn’t resolve, and it had too much language.

Another airplane just flew under us, looking very tiny. The funny thing is, it was flying sort of horizontally. It looked like it was being blown off-course, following its pointing left wing. I hope that’s supposed to happen. I’m told it has something to do with physics and relative distance, which, although I did study it once upon a time, is endlessly intriguing and confusing.

The only bad thing about window seats is that, if you’re on the 3-seat row side of the plane, you would have to crawl over two people if you had to go to the bathroom… or, I should say, the “lavatory”. I wish they wouldn’t say “lavatory”. It sounds snooty. Is there something wrong with just calling it the restroom? Or you might as well call it the “loo”. At least that’s British.

There’s a picture of an ermine on the wing flap of this plane.

I forgot one thing I liked in “Catcher of the Rye”. A quote by psycho-analyst Wilhelm Stekel: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” I think that’s very true, and sometimes very hard to take. Sometimes, dying is easier.


yes or no

He only wants yes. And he’s willing to throw his 4-year-old weight around to hear it. He begs, he whines; he even tries to make use of logic, which is always amusing.

“I want it. I neeeeeed it.” But sometimes the answer is no. And today, when the answer was no, he groaned and said, “But that’s not being sweet!”

Oh, wait. He thinks kindness equals yes. He thinks that if I don’t give him what he wants, I’m not being nice. I’m not being courteous unless I capitulate.

He doesn’t understand yet. He doesn’t realize that a closed door directs you on to a better house. He doesn’t realize that sometimes, “no” is the nicest answer I could give. Sometimes, “no” is neither noxious nor niggardly. Sometimes, “no” is nutritious.

When he wants to watch yet another movie. When he wants to go outside alone. When he wants to eat Cheez-Its for dinner. No is nurturing.

But he doesn’t understand. And, often, neither do I. Or, rather, I forget. When God doesn’t affirm my wishes, I stand wistfully in front of locked doors and wish there was a way; neglecting to turn my head and see the welcoming lights shining from the house down the street.

I want yes. I beg, I whine; I even try to make use of logic, which must be so amusing. But sometimes the answer from on high is no. And when I hear it, I groan. I equate kindness with “yes”.

But sometimes, “no” is the kindest answer He can give. Sometimes, “no” is meant to drive me on to something noble. When He says no to one of my wishes, He’s saying yes to one of His. He’s taking the rough draft of my life and rewriting it- taking out paragraphs I thought were important and replacing them with unsuspected plot twists and adventures that jump out at me from behind. He’s replacing all of me with Himself.

And it means that sometimes I find myself yanking on a locked door like a disappointed child.

But I cannot beg, whine, or reason myself out of the fact that kindness does not equal yes.

Affirmation does not lead to affluence.

And sometimes, nothing is more nourishing than “no”.


Eo Ire Itum

{photo credit}

Three days after the wedding, we’ve finally cleared most of the evidence off the dining room table. My sister and my new brother are in Colorado on their honeymoon. I’m sure they’re having a beautiful time, and it makes me so happy to think of their happiness.

But you know what?

I miss her. I miss her desperately. I stood next to her and held her bouquet as she pledged herself to her man, and as they both dedicated their marriage to the Lord “for as long as we both shall live”. I smiled and cried. Because it hurts to let her go. “For as long as we both shall live”, we’ll never share a room again. “For as long as we both shall live”, I won’t wake up to her tiptoeing up to bed at midnight. “For as long as we both shall live”, I won’t have to sort her laundry. “For as long as we both shall live”, her towel won’t hang next to mine on the bathroom rack. For as long as we both shall live.

Saturday was a joyous occasion, full of hope for the future and gratefulness for God’s graciousness. The man she married is noble and wise, and I trust him to take care of my baby sister. She never looked so beautiful as she did in that pure white dress, in that pure white church, with her pure white heart.

I’ll miss her borrowing my clothes. I’ll miss sorting through her sheet music to find my own. I’ll miss laughing when she jams the sewing machine. I’ll miss talking until 5 in the morning. I’ll miss how she threw her laundry down the stairs, the way we absentmindedly harmonized in the kitchen, the living room, upstairs, outside. I’ll miss waking up and seeing her asleep in her bed, so exhausted from the day before, looking so adorable. I’ll miss the way she always asked me to scratch her back when she had asthma.

Now I can put my extra books on her vacated shelves. I don’t have to worry about her hearing me talk in my sleep and what I might say. I can keep the AC at whatever temperature I like. I can talk on the phone late at night. I don’t have to wait my turn for the bathroom. And if I cry myself to sleep, I don’t have to do it silently.

But I miss her. I miss my precious baby sister. I miss having to be strong for her, even when it hurt. I miss seeing her beautiful face every day.
She won’t be far.
I can still see her any time I like.
But “for as long as we both shall live”, it will never be the same. Sometimes, I don’t mind. I know that, in many ways, the best is yet to come.

But sometimes I miss her.


times of our lives

“Long live the walls we crashed through! I had the time of my life with you.”

What with having graduated last May and all of my family’s <british accent> mental </british accent> activities this spring (read: baby sister born in February, slightly-less-baby sister getting married in two weeks), I found myself whizzing through the semester with a sorry lack of NCFCA. I had all these plans last year… plans to coach speech and debate, plans to go to as many tournaments as I could… plans. We plan, God laughs. But as it turned out, even though I didn’t get to plug into the league as early in the year as I would have liked, I was able to attend the two last Region 4 tournaments of the year, as an alumni judge. And oh, blimey, have I missed this. Walking around in the same facilities in which I competed just last year brought back so many memories. I have three years’ worth of those memories. When I was competing, I kept a document solely for the purpose of chronicling some of the small ones, the unimportant ones, the kind of memories that spin the world. Perhaps now is a good time to revisit them. But prepare yourself: there are quite a few.

Warm-Up, 2009-

First tournament ever! I did NOT like my clothes, especially one day when I wore a maroon-ish argyle blouse. =P

My first speech ever in this league occurred on the third floor in room #360.

Christina Hastings and I were constantly quoting Wall-E at each other… specifically, “You look GORGEOUS!”

With little practice, no feedback, and no club to call my own, I managed to break at this, my very first tournament.

National Open, 2009-

I got my first 1st place ballot at this tournament. In Apologetics. I remember being shocked.

Since I didn’t break, this was the only tournament ever when I timed a semi-finals speech round.

Alamo Qualifier, 2009-

Late one night, at our host house, I was getting ready for bed when the power suddenly blacked out. Completely and totally. I brushed my teeth in the light of my cell phone. And it was freezing cold, just as a plus. Turns out, someone turned on the microwave and for some reason it shorted the system. I believe that Mr. Hastings had to go outside in the freezing cold (and rainy) night to flip it back on.

This was the tournament when I tried to take lots of pictures of people who matched each other. (partners or otherwise)

Paul Putman and I walked through the halls singing songs from Mary Poppins one afternoon!

The four Pevensies were created. ❤

Regionals, 2009-

Sometime during prelims, I wrote my first ‘Timing TP’ poem while timing Maisano/Upham against another team I can’t remember! They’re probably in my records somewhere.

The gym was on the second floor, and it was often in use when we were competing. NOT a brilliant plan on the part of that church. =)

I was so tired on the last day that I literally tried to take a nap under the stairs. But people found me, and we ended up taking an awesome group ‘sleeping under the stairs’ picture.

Frisco practice tourney, 2009-

Here is where I learned the ‘Roll’ game, where you can get people to roll on the floor if they’re not doing the ‘block’ properly. The things we do sometimes… 😉

It was so frigidly cold during the tournament. And since we had two competition buildings, we students perfected this sort of mad dash from one to the other, holding our suit coats tightly closed.

DFW Qualifier, 2010-

One of my HI judges at this tournament wrote that I should consider wearing a more generic outfit to fit my performance. I had been wearing a grey pencil skirt, a white button-down blouse, and black heels at the time. How much more streamlined can you get? =)

During lunch one day, Paul Hastings came over to finish my leftover food, and he tried to force me to write cryptic notes to place in Owen Stroud and Nathan E.‘s instrument cases. I actually gave in… but I made the notes less cryptic than he had intended, i.e, “You did great in extemp (he wasn’t doing extemp). Love, Paul Hastings.” Paul ripped out his name, and put it in anyway. 😉

There was an incredibly tempting grand piano in the foyer that we were told not to touch. That was a trial. =)

It’s hard to believe something could be so convenient, but there was a room PERFECT for dancing and containing an upright piano :right: next to the fellowship hall. We taught the Virginia Reel and the Patty-cake Polka and the broom dance, and more! Plus, the vivacious timer lady sang with our live accompanists. What fun.

National Open, 2010-

During the accidental break between LD and TP finals, I ate dinner at the Pei Wei about 3 blocks and 4 parking lots down with a bunch of friends. When we got done, we walked back in the dark. And it was incredible.

Timing TP 2 was written at this tournament. Little did I know what would happen to it!

I learned the Highland Polka during TP finals. =)

Regionals, 2010-

Tim taught me how to two-step in the hallway, much to the amusement of the hall monitor.

The tournament staff had warned us to look out for snakes on the campus (Concordia). And one day when Owen and Molly and I were meandering along the paths for some reason, we spotted one eating a lizard. It wasn’t very big at all, but Molly and I still kept our distance. I had my back to Owen while I was watching the snake, and he suddenly lowered his voice and said, “Grace, don’t move.” So I didn’t. =) But I barely had time to register his urgent admonition before he laughed and said ‘just kidding’. =D

Tim told Caroline and I the ‘awkward waiter’ story. Historical moment. =)

Caroline brought her pink bubble wand… and… we used it. “You two will be the death of me!” -Tim

Nationals, 2010-

At the hotel on the Navy base, we had a large bag of sour skittles. I ate many. And read someone’s book about dragons at the same time. 😐

Also at this tournament, I nearly forgot to give my speech during a round. I was sitting around talking blissfully, when Christina came up and announced happily that she was done for that round. I was all like, “oh, yay!” until I realized with an audible gasp that I WASN’T done, and the building in which I was to speak was all the way at the other end of the campus (Regent University). I ran all the way. (and I wasn’t late, after all)

Their library was directly adjacent to the fellowship hall. I had the best of times foraging through all the books.

I did not participate in the massive game of ‘Ninja’ which happened on the last day and filled the entire front courtyard area! I did, however, dance the polka and Posties Jig with members of various regions.

Warm-Up, 2011-

It was myself and about 5 young men, standing in the chapel on the second floor and exchanging stories of how we had almost died.

While executing a particularly difficult move in my HI, I stumbled and almost fell flat on my face. That’s never the best thing to do when you’re worrying about whether your judges will penalize you for it. None of mine mentioned it, though!

The first day ended so early (8:00pm, I think), that a lot of us stayed to dance the Virginia Reel for another hour or so. =)

National Open, 2011-

A little timer gal asked Ben Amason what she should draw. He suggested Grendel from Beowulf. But at her protests that she couldn’t draw a ‘monstrous spirit’, he told her to draw a bunny. A few minutes later she came back with a picture of a cat sitting in a tree. =P

“Breaking in Extemp…. Brandy Clayton.” -Mrs. Hudson

Right before the awards ceremony, Sarah Maddux had to leave to go back to A&M. She had a few guy friends with her, and I was teasing them about not letting them take Sarah back. Abruptly, this one guy says to me, “We will pay you some really wonderful compliments if you’ll just do us a big favour. Can you let us know who won TP finals?”
“Oh, sure! I’ll text Sarah.”
Then this guy whom I’ve never seen before in my life begins to shower me with the most extravagantly exaggerated compliments:
“Thank you so much! Your eyes are like twin amber sunsets over stretches of misty forests….” etc. and so on. He took my hand dramatically as he continued. How he was coming up with all this off-the-cuff, I had no clue. He must have used this tactic on others before me! I was laughing extremely hard, but I managed to get into the part a bit, fanning myself with my hand, and acting faint with happiness. It was some kind of hilarious.

I still can’t believe that I got 2nd place in OO and thus qualified to Nationals. So flooring. Also, I picket-fenced two rooms: OO and TI.

After the awards ceremony, ARC had planned a ballot party at our hotel, but Kathryn, Anna, and I wanted to go to IHOP with YSA and LOGOS and 19:14. So we convinced Mrs. Macdonald, and lovingly ditched ARC for the time. That night was amazing. We stayed until at least 1:20, laughing our heads off about everything.

Austin Qualifier (TX State), 2011-

What do Predestination, Catholicism, Science, and the 4th Dimension have in common? They were all exciting conversation topics when Avery and Nathan and I sat around a table for the better part of 2 hours. It’s unbelievably wonderful how we can be kindred spirits and true friends even when we disagree.

Jason Halvorson was happier than I was when my DI advanced to finals. The kid is adorable. I love him a ton. Also, he sent a bunch of us into spasms of laughter when he jumped into our conversation circle (sitting on the sidewalk outside before awards) and dealt out high fives, saying, “Hey, it’s all my homies!!”

I literally sobbed through the entire last half of my DI in semis. I love crying in dramatic productions.

Owen and I went into a back room with Molly to practice the Timing TP song before performing it for everyone, and we had the BEST time singing it in ridiculous operatic voices.

Having never received a 1st place award in speech before, I was thrilled to get 1st in OO and TI. (Because of this, I received an invitation to the THCS banquet in Austin, which was a formal affair with disgusting salad and hanging out on balconies.)

Abilene Qualifier, 2011-

I began to feel pretty sick on Wednesday night during script submission, and it worried me that I might have to pull out of multiple events. But God was so amazing and He pulled me through it.

Debating (only time ever) was such fun. Mostly. I went against some super fun and skilled people, like Kelton Brisack and Graham Wegsheid and Brady Clayton. How I ended up with 2nd place speaker, I have no idea?

Alison L. and Elizabeth C. appointed themselves to be my ladies-in-waiting. =) Alison: “Grace, you are going to have all the nations fighting over you. Can I get front row seats?”

The gym floor was a slightly rubbery surface, and I was quite excited when I discovered that marbles could bounce super high on it.

Brooks Clayton was my trash-emptying buddy. =) We made all the rounds during TP finals.

I got a 2nd, a 3rd, and a 5th&below in every impromptu room.

Regionals, 2011-

Saw on a white board: “Wear short sleeves; support your right to bare arms.”

Alison guarded me from men a lot. Whenever she saw me in a group of mostly guys, she got all defensive and hilarious. Apparently, I am very vulnerable according to her. 😉

Caroline came to see me, and we sang Broadway songs outside for roughly an hour. ❤

Got first in Thematic for the 3rd time in a row… ((what? cool.))

My last tournament in Region 4, and I was still meeting people! Worthless? Never.

Nationals, 2011-

You can read about my experiences at Nationals here. =)


of recreation

My head was spinning faster than the wheels of the truck as the country roads took me away from home. I forced myself to slow down on the curves and tried to remember if I was forgetting anything. The easiest item to forget is the cell phone charger, but even that was tucked away between a curling iron and a book I needed to return. My mind was parched for the purple scent of pine trees. They have this way of expanding the sky and putting parentheses around the stars and reminding me that I’ve forgotten the mountains.

~~

Sometimes I wonder why I’m the only one who shivers with delight upon entering that ugly church. I’d like to have it on a key chain, address it in diminutives, and write a song about each of the horrendously-painted walls. Exhilaration is sitting in a corner in the depths of its environs and listening to all the memories jostling each other above my head. “Hi, remember when we danced the Scottish polka and lamented the loss of those pointless hanging branches?” “Oh, yes I do, and don’t you recall walking through the hallways in hose and nearly falling down the stairs every time?” Are memories more indigenous to any other place on earth? The place was rampant with them.

~~

The clicking of a pink pen woke me up and I found that I was on the other side. Separated from my former self by a table and a judging philosophy, I told my face to be responsive and tried to look official. Several people felt the need to tell me that I looked closer to sixteen than nineteen, but I preferred to pretend I didn’t care. My name tag was blue, my Converse were yellow, and the world was at my feet for a weekend, even when I slipped on the stairs. Incidentally, there’s only one letter’s difference between “stairs” and “stars”.

~~

Strange Scottish accents kept us up until four in the morning, along with debates about debate, Whataburger shakes and way-too-loud-for-a-small-truck music. We reveled in each others company, and oh, how I had missed you all.

~~

And suddenly a new scene clicked into focus like a slide on one of those paper discs that pop into those hand-held magnifying picture things. I cannot remember what they’re called to save my life, but they’re made of plastic, and you squeeze a lever to flip to the next slide. I think you could get them at McDonald’s sometimes. At any rate, a new scene clicked into focus like picture on one of those enigmatic devices, and we were wandering around in the dust of a noisy carnival– petting baby alpacas, eating over-priced funnel cake, and watching people fail at impossible-to-win games. And we went to the auction and cheered and clapped and enjoyed the excitement for exactly twenty minutes… and then it was all just noise. What is it about a person whistling loudly enough to wake the dead that makes me want someone to hold my hand? A borrowed jacket and “camelot” written on my arm kept me sane.

~~

I personally don’t think it’s fair that Best Buy carries “Torchwood” and not “Doctor Who”. But eating Chik-fil-A fries while sitting on the edge of a potentially pretty landscaping plot which was flooded with greenish plants that dipped their fronds in our ketchup honestly made up for it. We toured the Conroe shops (I bought books), and then it was back to the carnival for dizzying rides and hanging upside down in our seats while taking iphone videos and bending a few rules on the ferris wheel.

~~

I think you’re all pretty sort of marvelous. You sweep away the dust of Being from my life and remind me where I’m going. You accost me on my journey and make it beautiful. It was a jolly holiday- worthy of British adjectives and accents. (Surely it’s not our fault if the Indian guy at the gas station was confused.) We’ll do it again sometime.

Or maybe we could go out sometime… for texting and scones.

(If you get that reference, I will hug you.)