Saturday, December 30, 2006

You Know You're Stressed When . . .

. . . your idea of relaxation is a foray into chapter 105 of Moby Dick.

Going back to work on Tuesday! Radio taping the following week! Need to withdraw from PHC! Oops--in the process of registering for a class at Regent, realize I have no way to pay for said class! Start filling out FAFSA! Give all my personal information to government! Need some kind of little object for my laptop so it will hook up to the internet . . . have four months to find new job . . . who cares about a new job, anyway . . . maybe I should plan my trip! But I keep putting money in my savings account, and still have creeping suspicion that I will end up stranded on the side of the road in New England when car breaks down and have no money for youth hostel. And will have to sleep in my car. And wild man with beard will probably try to break car window and steal all my gluten-free foods which I have to carry with me everywhere I go now . . . then I'll really be stranded . . . .

Think I'll go read about men trying to kill whales.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Quote Door 2006

Dove chocolate wrappers
"Buy yourself flowers."

"It's definitely a bubble-bath day."

"The best things in life are chocolate." "Chocolate. Always your Valentine."


Quotes associated with the Dove chocolate wrappers
"Security is mortals' greatest enemy." Shakespeare

"Now you have almost everything--flowers, a bubble bath, and chocolate! But just no security." Grace


Fortune cookie fortunes
"Bide your time, for success is near."

"Nine tenths of education is encouragement."


People I know
"And we have had our morning tea, so the world is decent again." Jenny N.

"Dear small one, What you lack in height, you make up 4 in PERSONALITY!" Abigail to me

"You're very Hegelian." Abigail to me


Someone I don't know
"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." G.K. Chesterton


Cartoon
Dilbert's co-worker to Dilbert's boss: "You're creating a hostile work environment. It's like there's continuous pressure on me to work. But I'm only one person; I can't work and drink coffee! [Coffee is here struck out and replaced by the word tea, courtesy of my boss.]

Dilbert's boss: "I'm cutting you back to forty cups a day."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's Spring--For Real This Time

The weather is unseasonably warm. Cherry trees and geraniums are blooming. People walk around without coats. It feels like next spring (strange, to remember backwards!).

Every spring, I experience a poignant stirring of my emotions that brings to mind all past springs, yet makes me dream of the future, and in the remembrance of the past I also remember my past dreams and find myself caught in a painful awareness of time and timelessness, of hope and disillusionment.

As I walked back from biology lab to my office building a few moments ago, I thought how strange it is that this false spring feels more like a real spring than I have experienced in many years. For once, I am looking more forward than back.

I always dreamed of touching the universe, of dogging an idea until I understood it, of finding words for my questions and pursuing the answers into every corner of life. I wanted to follow those elusive moments of beauty: the breath after a song ends, the final ripple on water. But in my fear of looking life in the face, I built a cage for myself--a place where no creature belongs.

This spring, I'll be flying free.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Blurbs

An unpublished poem by Robert Frost was recently discovered.

Why it was smart for me to apply to Regent: 79 of my 81 PHC credits transferred.

After driving my car home from the shop (wheel repairs that seriously depleted my finances), it refused to start. The next morning, I had no choice but to have my car towed back to the shop. I also had no way of paying for major repairs. Final diagnosis: the car part at fault was defective and still under warranty. I didn't even think to pray for that!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lady in the Water

I finally bought the soundtrack, and as I lay in bed last night listening to it, I tried to figure out why I am obsessed with Shyamalan's movies despite their significant artistic flaws. I think the answer is that each of Shyamalan's movies can be boiled down to very basic human questions. For instance, Signs asks, "Why do we suffer?" The Village asks if we can escape evil, and Lady in the Water asks if what we do is significant. The movies do not promise to definitively answer any of these questions, but they do explore possible solutions. Also, they operate out of a transcendant worldview--there is a meaning outside of ourselves, a coherent universe. In other words, the films give us a voice and offer us hope.

Shyamalan's talent is in bringing his films to an emotional climax. Despite the awkardness he sometimes achieves in dialogue, setting, characters, and plot, he manages to bring these elements flawlessly together at certain points in the movie to ask the crucial question. You don't realize that there are words to the question until you think about the movie later. This is why Lady in the Water moves me so deeply. Yes, it is a hodgepodge of Eastern mythologies and pacifism and trite sayings, but there is a particular scene in which one character says, "But the rules have to work!" Shyamalan has set the confused, frightening little world of the apartment complex against the larger, yet fuzzier world of creatures and prophecies. This is such a human conflict. "What are the rules?" we ask, in desperation--because if there are no rules, or the rules do not work, then the universe is a cruel and random trick.

I think that Shyamalan is a useful reminder, to Christians especially, that art (or more broadly, beauty and aesthetics) cannot be interpreted solely with the mind. The heart and the emotions must be deeply involved or we will be desensitized to many of the implications of the questions we are asking. I think it would be easy for a Christian to criticize Lady in the Water for its structural incoherence, and fail to grasp the overall point of the movie, which is conveyed through aesthetic (wordless, sensual) means.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Forest

Two people have commented on "the forest" from my last entry. I'm intrigued that nobody's mentioned the cottage or the castle. It makes me wonder--

What does the forest mean to you?

To me, it simply means the questions I've been too afraid to ask. Is God good? Does He love me? For years, I was afraid to ask those questions because I was afraid that the answer would be no. The deeply terrifying possibilities in those questions taught me to make choices and build walls and fortify myself against disappointment in a way that literally cut me off from life. I was trapped--so afraid of the answers that I did not ask the questions.

Obviously I would not be writing this entry if there had not come a point (this past summer, in fact) when God helped me to see my absurd position. Interestingly, He didn't give me any answers--He just gave me a choice: take a step in some direction (in my case, ask the questions) or remain riveted in fear.

So that is my forest. What's yours?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a princess who was not a princess yet, because she lived in a tiny brown cottage with tall narrow windows between an ugly village and a scary forest. Until one day a herald came to her door and told her that the king wanted to adopt her. According to the herald's scroll, if she signed the dotted line at the bottom, she would be allowed to move into the palace. This was a very good bargain for the girl. So she signed the scroll, received the carbon copy, and became a princess.

On the back of the carbon copy were the directions to the castle: "Go outside and start walking down the road." It did not say to go north, south, east, or west. It didn't tell her what to pack or how long she would have to walk. This was a very weird first step. Besides, walking meant probably going through the scary forest. So the girl stayed in the tiny brown cottage. The problem was, the girl started to feel trapped: between the scary forest, the ugly village, and the cottage. When she was inside the cottage, she wanted to get out. When she was outside it, she stood frozen on the doorstep. When she was in the village, she looked longingly at the forest. And she never went in the forest. She started to hate everything and everyone. Really hate them. And she hated the world, and life in general, and the stupid piece of paper with her signature on it. And then she hated herself, for being trapped.

Until another day when she came home from the village and reached her hand to the doorknob of the cottage and found it was locked. There was a sign on the door that read: "I'm putting my foot down. You've dillydallied long enough. You have a choice: Start walking, or go in your tiny brown cottage and possibly never come out. Signed, The King. P.S. This door will unlock in three minutes."

The girl realized then that she had only three minutes to make a very important decision. And she also realized that the reason she had never taken the first step into the woods was because she was afraid that the piece of paper was a scam, the directions would make her wander in the wilderness all alone for years, and that when she finally arrived at the castle, the king would say, "I'm sorry, my dear, it was all a joke. You don't belong here in my special world. Go back to your ugly, nasty little world where you came from and think about your miserable life and how you can never get out of it."

The girl had three minutes to make her decision. She turned her back on the cottage and started walking.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Questions on My Wall

1) Does beauty matter?

2) Are there answers?

3) Am I chosen?

Make of these what you will. However, no pat answers are allowed. Also, no strictly anonymous comments (please include your name if you do not have a Blogger account).

Friday, September 01, 2006

What I Did This Summer

1) I did NOT finish my writing project. I abandoned it entirely. I am free, weightless.

2) I read Far From the Madding Crowd (beautiful) and Cold Comfort Farm (hilarious). Unfortunately, I'm stalled in Under the Greenwood Tree due to its incredible boringness.

3) I planned my future--about 38 times. What I actually end up doing in 2007 will probably be entirely different from anything I imagined this summer.

Here are the things I didn't predict I'd do this summer:

4) Take a counseling class. If you've never done this, do it. It will change your life.

5) Read Blue Like Jazz. If you've never read this, read it. It will also change your life.

And, here is the thing that my whole family was expecting but that was still incredibly hard:

6) My little brother went off to college.

Due to (4) and (5), I'm hoping that this blog will be a much more transparent account of myself during the coming year. I hope that instead of contriving to present an image of myself as I want you to see me, I will honestly share with you. And due to (6), I'm hoping that this blog will be a nice little nexus of the crossed paths of my family as we scatter to the corners of the earth.

(Oh, and check out my bug watch in the sidebar and my tweaked template. I'm finally figuring out HTML!)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ciao for Now

I hereby declare today the beginning of my blog's summer vacation!

I have lots to do this summer. For instance, finishing a writing project, reading Thomas Hardy and Cold Comfort Farm, planning my future (okay, maybe just 2007), going on a vacation or two, staying connected with my family, and making regular trips to the mall and coffee shops.

Now, can I find some lines of poetry that won't mold between now and September? I'll give these a try:
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life.
.............................
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

~from Tennyson's "Ulysses"

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Yet Another Music Post

Okay, so I listen to Barbra Streisand. I play her Broadway Album every single day at work.

The best, the absolute best, song on the album is "Somewhere". I've heard it probably a million times, ever since I was six years old and my mom would play the West Side Story soundtrack on our record player. It's one of the saddest, yet most hopeful songs ever written. And Streisand's version combines a new musical setting with her absolutely stunning voice. When I listen to it, I think of heaven, and all the sad memories of earth are fading out one by one.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Rejoicing in the Ordinary

C. S. Lewis wrote a poem called "The Day with a White Mark," about an ordinary day in which everything became unpredictably beautiful. This weekend I realized (don't know precisely when or why) how my resentment of the ordinary is like slapping God in the face.

I want life to be huge and spectacular and meaningful. I resent the nine-to-five grind, I resent the whole concept of college, I resent flourescent lighting, shopping malls, taxes, compulsory education, and the overwhelming necessity of constantly planning for, purchasing, preparing, and eating food. In fact, I resent so many things that I could just talk about how lousy life is and never run out of things to say.

That's pitiful. Why don't I cherish those tiny, tiny details that seem so meaningless? Waking up in the morning to Beethoven's Fifth. Making breakfast. Deciding what to wear. The smell of shampoo. Driving to work in my very own car . . . having my own office . . . the "I Proverbi Italiani" poster on my wall . . . brainstorming cover story titles with my coworkers . . . talking with friends . . . calling my mom . . . checking the mail . . . reading in bed. This is the life God gave me, and I'm kicking it right back at Him. And here's the thing: if even these tiny building blocks of my life--the smallest components of who I am--are so beautiful, what do I have to complain about?

Here's what Lewis wrote:
My garden's spoiled, my holidays are cancelled, the omens harden;
The plann'd and unplann'd miseries deepen; the knots draw tight.
Reason kept telling me all day my mood was out of season.
It was, too. In the dark ahead the breakers only are white.

Yet I--I could have kissed the very scullery taps. The colour of
My day was like a peacock's chest. In at each sense there stole
Ripplings and dewy sprinkles of delight that with them drew
Fine threads of memory through the vibrant thickness of the soul.

As though there were transparent earths and luminous trees should grow there,
And shining roots worked visibly far down below one's feet,
So everything, the tick of the clock, the cock crowing in the yard
Probing my soil, woke diverse buried hearts of mine to beat . . . .

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Reasons to Be Happy

Sometimes the world spins too fast to write coherently. That's how I've felt lately. So, in this last post before Easter, I am going to slow down and contemplate the small but beautiful things that make life worth living now:

It's Easter! I have a long weekend. Tomorrow I am driving home by way of Skyline Drive--an expensive, slow, circuitous route, silent and restful, beautiful and surprising, a ride that unwinds moment by moment and mile by mile and view by view. I'll listen to music, get my snack at a camp store, and maybe walk a bit on the Appalachian Trail.

When I get home, the windows of the house will be open and I will be able to hear their voices as I get out of my car. We will talk (a lot), drink tea, eat dinner, and sit around the table laughing and probably arguing, too, because that's what Italians do, only you call it a "discussion."

My housemate is coming on Saturday to spend Easter with us. Maybe we'll watch Pride and Prejudice (still haven't seen it!). On Sunday, we'll go to my grandmother's for a last Easter dinner in her house, because she just sold it--after 30 years--and is moving to her hometown of Pittsburgh.

Happy Easter, my friends!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Heard Driving Home from Work

And you thought country music wasn't profound:

Phone rings, baby cries, TV diet, guru lies
Good mornin' honey
Go to work, make up, try to keep the balance up
Between love and money

She used to tie her hair up in ribbons and bows
Sign her letters with X's and O's
Got a picture of her Momma in heels and pearls
She's trying to make it in her Daddy's world
An American girl
An American girl

Slow dance, second chance, Momma needs romance
And a live in maid
Fix the sink, mow the yard, really isn't all that hard
If you get paid

She used to tie her hair up in ribbons and bows
Sign her letters with X's and O's
Got a picture of her Momma in heels and pearls
She's trying to make it in her Daddy's world
An American girl
An American girl (Trisha Yearwood)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Be of Good Courage

This blog is read by a very small group of faceless people with whom I occasionally interface by phone, email, or letter. Let me tell you, writing to a cyber-audience is one of the most frustrating things I've ever done. However, I feel I owe it to you to write a sequel to my previous post, even though I really don't know what any of you thought of it and I'm not going to tell you why I felt so crummy.

I a little bit hate the universe right now. But I am pleased to announce several truths that do not fade even when my belief in them does:
My mom loves me!

The birds sing in springtime!!

Dorothy Sayers still rocks!!!

Roadtrips still happen!!!!

God hasn't fired me yet!!!!!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Time to Pull Out the Michael Card CDs . . .

Right now, I feel like a patient in a hospital in a Pee-wee Herman movie and the nurse is reading my vital signs and writing on a chart,
Heart: Appears that it is being used for target practice.
Body: Demonstrating symptoms similar to that of a CDC lab rat.
Right brain: Holding left brain hostage.
Soul: Is either a little, wrinkled gnome or a dung beetle. Biopsy necessary to determine which.
Then, when I ask her for morphine, she says it's against the doctor's orders.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nanny McPhee

I'm not going to tell you whether to watch it or not, because it's the kind of movie that only appeals to a certain type of person. If you are offended by vulgar humor, a witchlike nanny, gruesome and exaggerated characterizations, revolting sight gags, randomly lovely scenes, and the moral ambiguity (and innuendo) of recent movies such as Peter Pan and Finding Neverland, you will not like Nanny McPhee. Reasons to watch it begin with Emma Thompson, end with the artistic final credits, and encompass such remarkable elements as the absolutely stunning design (the vibrantly colored house and clothing contrast with Nanny McPhee's black garb and the snow-in-August wedding scene), the bizarrely satisfying British humor, and the fairytale plot. I loved it, and berated myself for loving it at the same time.

The puzzling paradox of children's movies that shouldn't be shown to children has been turning in my mind ever since my friend and I left the movie theater last night. Peter Pan and Nanny McPhee go in that category. Now draw a Venn diagram in your head, linking Nanny McPhee with Finding Neverland, a movie about parentless children in Victorian England; Finding Neverland should of course be classed with Peter Pan; draw a circle around Finding Neverland, Dear Frankie, Nanny McPhee, and Second-Hand Lions (parentless children learning to cope with life); factor in Holes (which fits with all the movies about coping, but whose protagonist has two parents).

All of these movies, to a greater or lesser degree, have a distinctly fatalistic quality. The plots are so tight that they result in a simple formula: everything that happens + everything else that happens = meaning. If the scullery maid is reading a fairytale at the beginning of the movie about a prince who marries a plowgirl, then be assured that the scullery maid will marry a rich man by the end. Although comforting in that no stitch is dropped, the plots are almost mechanistic. If a child is angry at his father, you have only to help the child realize why the father behaved the way he did for the child to become sweet as a lamb. No room is left for children to be just plain perverse. What would happen if the children in the movies didn't accept the grownups' coping mechanisms? What if little Peter in Finding Neverland stubbornly refused to believe that his mother was floating about in Neverland after she died? What if little Frankie became an axe-murderer? What if the protagonist of Second-Hand Lions kicked his mother in the head?

Victorian children's literature (such as Alice in Wonderland), for all its flaws, at least reflected life's seeming randomness. And before that, fairytales did the same. What we have now is brilliantly executed movies that imprison their child characters in terrifying worlds that only become bearable when the children learn the magic formula. And that is, I think, precisely why I would not show most of these movies to children. I can appreciate the difference between a comfortable, predictable world that I wish existed and the world that really does exist, but it's unfair to expect children to realize that difference. It's unfair to bill movies as "for children" when they are really for adults who wish that life made sense.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Spring Stream of Consciousness

Just as the weather is becoming winterish again, I'm thinking of e. e. cummings' "In Just-"; but if his free verse is not your style, try "This Is the Garden," a sonnet with a twist of Imagism. Speaking of which, you may enjoy Amy Lowell's imagery in "Lilacs" . . . for some more purple (plums, this time), "This Is Just to Say" that you should check out William Carlos Williams.

I think I've rarely experienced such poignant springs as when my family lived in the last house but one. Maybe part of the reason is that I spent my teenage years there, but I think the house had a lot to do with it--a white colonial with red shutters. The first flowers to bloom were the forsythia out back and the crocuses. Then, one after the other, the ornamental crabapple, bradford pear, and three ornamental cherries would bud and flower. We had grape hyacinths in front of the shrubs and in the round bed among the cherry trees were a variety of nameless pastel perennials. When summer came, the long-lived periwinkles, rose of sharon, and wild strawberries would emerge at the side of the house where the two big pine trees carpeted the slope with golden needles. Usually my grandfather came for a visit and to plant a vegetable garden by the basement door, where the sunlight was always bright. In the corner of the fence, across from the garden, was a rose bush with a lemon-pepper scent.

Spring has gruesomely sprung in my basement. Last week, I had a run-in with my first big spider in months. It had a long fuzzy body with an almost-as-long fuzzy head (if spiders have what can properly be called heads)--kind of like two black pipecleaners jointed together--and legs like unbent hairpins fanned out proportionally around its body, preserving the general oval shape. Unlike the slothful wolf spider of last fall, this one was skitterish and quickly escaped my stomping foot. Although it disappeared into the laundry room, my bold housemate later debilitated it with orange-scented bug spray when it emerged from a corner by the water heater.

Spring Haiku
once again
weapons of war just outside my bedroom:
bug spray and hair spray

Thursday, February 02, 2006

My Sense of Humor

If you don't find this funny, then do not ask me to marry you. No offense.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Careful Who You Listen To

This week, I unwrapped two Dove chocolate wrappers with questionable advice. One read:

Lose yourself in a moment.

I'm sure they want me to lose myself in the moment. But with my sense of geography, the misphrased motto takes on a sinister and superfluous meaning. I can get lost in less than a minute, thank you. Or perhaps I'm supposed to get lost in a moment? (Is a moment like a black hole? Will I spin throughout the universe, in and out of dimensions?) Maybe I should just get lost. Or maybe I should lose myself in the following experience, the rapture of which, to my mind, would be minute:

Send a love letter this week.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Working Girl

Do you ever catch a sudden glimpse of what your life looks like from a distance? The role you play, the stereotype you exemplify, the stock character you would be in a dime novel? This week, facing a massive deadline, the two other editors and I decided to trade in Martin Luther King Day for this Friday. We diligently toiled in an empty office all through Monday and stayed late. We worked late on Tuesday and came in early yesterday. The deadline met, we are now frantically catching up on other tasks in preparation for the next part of the project.

Now, normally, my mind is a far-ranging thing. Each moment I am thinking, daydreaming, musing, mulling, wondering, considering, and evaluating something or other, and it could be anything from what to eat to the role of women in the church to how in the world will I find a snazzy pair of boots that fit my feet and my pocketbook to whether Dorothy Sayers was a top-notch mystery writer or merely mediocre. It's an exhausting way to live.

This week, however, I have only been thinking about one thing: how to spend my day off. You would think I was one of those slaves from centuries past who only got one day off a year. The question has consumed my waking hours and has been lit up against the background of every other activity I've done like a marquee. I have brooded over it. It is a subject of as much importance as whom to marry or how to use a million dollars.

The challenge, of course, is to craft a day off that satisfies all my desires in a mere 24 hours. The sad thing is, my desires have imploded over the past two years of fulltime work. They now consist of the desire for sleep, solitude, and absolute freedom from the constraints of time. I feel like Meg Ryan in Kate and Leopold, uttering shrewish yet profound words: "I'm tired." I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired.

So, I tossed out the idea of taking a trip down Skyline Drive (I'd have a long drive back afterward), going to Annapolis or Alexandria (same objection), visiting my family (too much else to do this weekend), completely organizing my room (this is a day off, remember?), or hanging out with friends (I'm an introvert, remember?). Hunching over the remains of my day, I shaped it into a thing of jewellike precision:
1) Sleep in.
2) Slowly wake up.
3) Have a cup of tea.
4) Choose one or all of the following menu of options: hang pictures, organize a small part of my room, get a video from the library and watch it, read The Five Red Herrings. Wash down with a cup of tea.
5) Go shopping.
6) Go to Borders. Sit in the cafe and feel artistic. Drink tea because I can stay up as late as I want because the next day is Saturday.
"Traitor!" screams my idealistic self to my working-girl self. "What about your dreams? Your ideals? Your devotion to all that is beautiful and good, your service to humanity? How can you accomplish anything if your perfect day is summed up by being a lazy slob? Where is the poetry in such a life?"

Well, I've got news for you, Idealistic Self. Go take a hike. I've got better things to do.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Isn't It Lovely . . .

. . . to realize that there is always another book by C.S. Lewis? I finished The Great Divorce last fall and now I'm meandering through a collection of his poems. Yesterday, my coworker reminded me that I haven't yet read Pilgrim's Regress. Pleasure is wonderful, but unending pleasure more so.