9.28.2014

The Crack in the Tea-Cup and other stories

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
W. H. Auden, "As I Walked Out One Evening"

NB: I'm going to quote several parts of this poem, including its punch line, so if you want to read it in its entirety first, you can do so at poets.org.

* * *

LOOK what my piano teacher gave me.
My first month in Bellingham was mostly made up of September, and when I parked on the open top floor of the downtown parkade, I had a splendid view of fall color across the campus hill. The previous year had been spent in a brutal internal struggle I didn't yet have a name for—my first serious bout with depression—and I stood atop the parkade for a little while every weekday, letting brittle and frozen feelings be softened by red and orange and green leaves, sometimes blurred by fog; steely waters under woolly skies; and the damp, fresh, sour-salty breeze off the bay.

When my first boyfriend and I broke up, almost exactly a year later, I took similar comfort from a long afternoon walk in wind and occasional sputters of rain: over Taylor Hill, down along the beach at Boulevard Park, and back up through the university. That area, the south side of town, is arguably the most beautiful place I've ever lived, although the top of a foothill in the Bridger Mountains in Montana had a lot to be said for it.

This past week, the weather and color shifted to autumnal as, over and over again, I felt "the tears scald and start"—the natural consequence of lack of sleep, getting too obsessive about doing everything right in school, goodbyes, and other fun life stuff. I've been crying at weddings and blog posts and emails and Gospel readings at choir practice and music and random song lyrics, and sometimes I get choked up when I recite Auden's poem out loud.

Meanwhile, the vines on the parkade entrance wall have gone brilliant red. The silver dollar birches are all shades of orange, and the maples with the tiny leaves have started to take on their standard glorious wash of color. The bay has gone from blue and green to silver and gray, and the clouds are thick enough to need lamps on all morning and from late afternoon onward.

Seasonal depression is common enough here, but I find a lot of seasonal healing, too. I love this town, and never more so than in the fall.

* * *

"I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky."

(Best. Imagery. Ever.)
* * *

School pride. Go, Aggies!!!
* * *

Crazily enough, this was my fifth week of college.

It's a huge amount of work, but I love it. I love Utah State, and the fact that they're clearly determined to make me earn this degree. I love horticulture and English, and I'm quite certain I'll love Spanish when I can get to it (fortunately it's not semester-bound; considering my limited study time, the other two classes have proven all-engrossing.)

I love the classmate who made a rather public sacrifice for a friend and then told me about how she's felt publicly judged ever since. It makes me a little sad that we're not on campus together; I think we'd be friends.

Whether I would end up being friends with the classmate who referred to our textbook's nuanced essays on difficult topics as "whinny"—he meant "whiny," and I guarantee he's going to think that about my term paper—is harder to say. He does something like that almost every week; I've gotten so I look forward to his posts with affectionate trepidation. It's entertaining.


* * *






* * *

In the burrows of the Nightmare,
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadows,
And coughs when you would kiss.

* * *

USU makes all their students take this little interactive online course. I was pretty captivated by this screen. As you can see, I'm a Hufflepuff:

Yes, that's definitely my top value set.

Which would you choose?

* * *

All of my adult life, I've been telling people I was 5'11". A couple of weeks ago, a wellness screener told me I was six feet tall. I didn't believe her. She made me step out from under the bar and look.

Seventy-two inches on the dot.

What the ... When did I grow another inch? Has it stopped?!

* * *

Science class! I feel a little guilty propagating something that is apparently a noxious weed in both Washington and Oregon (English ivy), but I needed loads of something easy to propagate, and this is what I had loads of. If these take root, I'll put them on my desk at work.




They're completely adorable so far. I'm kind of proud of the little things.

* * *

O look, look in the mirror
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

* * *

This may not interest anyone except me, in which case you can all scroll past it, but I have been reading Mudblood Catholic's (Gabriel Blanchard) "Why I Am a Catholic" series (Part I here) hungrily, and when I say I cried over a blog post this week, it was his "Why I Am a Catholic, Part III: Apostate":
For it is the whole point of the book of Job that God, when He confronts both Job and Job's comforters, offers no answer, no explanation. He gives no account of Himself. As Charles Williams points out in He Came Down From Heaven, God's reply mostly only plagiarizes things Job has already said in his storm of accusation directed upwards. There is no theodicy offered there. 
Or rather, there is; it is that offered by Job's friends.
I don't talk much, either on this blog or with anyone except for a few dependable friends, about how hard faith comes for me. But keeping inner realities secret also comes hard for me, and Gabriel has spoken into some of my deepest experiences of this year.

As an agnostic who chooses to believe, by definition I am someone who has not been able to reason herself into firm conviction. The one apologetic that helps, lately, is the one that comes with its own uncertainty—the one that takes into account that the idea of suffering eternally for finite failures cannot, by any standard we know of, be characterized as justice; the one that recognizes that for some of us, Christian strictures turn out to be more severe than most of us would be able to bear; the one that sees the dark and complicated and horrifying sides of Scripture as clearly as its comforts, and knows that even today, tradition brings both beauty and cruelty into the world.

The apologetic that shows the cracks from bearing the weight of those questions, and that still can find no solution to life but to believe in Jesus, is the one apologetic that speaks to me of God in words I can comprehend.

I have no satisfying answers to these conundrums, and nothing but sympathy for those who find them too much for faith. Meanwhile, when I pray the Jesus prayer, I lean on the word mercy, and I pray it for all of us. But maybe the fact that I feel those cracks in my own soul, and yet have no other solution, and can sometimes still hear those words—maybe that means I'm more of a believer than I realize.

* * *

In a Facebook conversation with a friend recently, I recommended John Green's Looking for Alaska, which is where I originally met this poem; the bulk of Green's story is bookended by a single punch-packing couplet. The poem speaks less directly to me in its cynicism about love than it does in its darkly realistic vision of the brokenness of life, but this couplet is the redemption of both. It's a way for me, with all the bends and breaks in my soul, to move forward.

You shall love your crooked neighbor
With your crooked heart.

* * *

Back to good cheer, for those of you who made it this far! Favorite comment I've gotten all week from anybody: "Just what is a Hufflepuff?"


Me! I am a Hufflepuff. And here are twelve reasons why.

Much love, everybody!

7.19.2014

Things to Do When Home Alone for a Weekend

  • on account of being too creeped out in empty house to go to sleep, stay up till two a.m. reading a novel about ninjas
  • watch a bunch of school orientation stuff
  • practice the heck out of a couple of musical instruments:
Our friends left town and bequeathed us their piano.
I shot out my voice last night singing Evanescence to my own
accompaniment. It was thoroughly enjoyable.
  • give t'ai chi a try, with coaching provided by YouTube
  • do a week's worth of housecleaning
  • clean out the refrigerator
  • trim bangs and take selfies with Dante, Dostoevsky, Paolini, and Debussy:
Also, the corner of the piano.
Did I mention that I love this piano?
  • accidentally lock the priest out of the parish office (sorry, Father! I don't know what I did to the door...)
  • contemplate cleaning old clothes out of dresser drawers
  • contemplate the meaning of life (42) and sanity (the number's probably somewhere in the same range)
  • contemplate labels, goals, and other forms of life organization
  • spontaneously spend an evening listening to Nikki Yanofsky with birthday-girl sister and her family
  • do the laundry
  • listen to Enya, because seriously, Enya
  • listen to random CD bought off random guy on street corner during Lent because he "wanted to have a voice"
  • get a hard lemonade and a pint of chocolate gelato and start in on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
  • procrastinate on nearly all of the above by blogging
  • contribute to the internet's ever-insatiable need for cat pictures:

I miss Lou a lot, but at least I'm not bored. Cheers, everybody! I miss you, too....

6.23.2014

A Dance in the Wildwood and other stories

For when the heart goes before, like a lamp, and illumines the pathway,
Many things are made clear, that else lie hidden in darkness.
—Longfellow, Evangeline

* * *

A month's absence from the blog wasn't in the plans. Neither was the sheer volume of comment spam I've gotten on my last post, none of which should have reached the internet or you... unless you happened to be subscribed to comments, in which case, I'm so sorry.

Meanwhile, Min and I have been getting acquainted and liking each other very much indeed. She's friendly with my camera card, which helps. Brace yourselves. I've got a month's backlog of spring pictures coming your way.

* * *

One of the glories of this spring: the Don Juan climbing rose, which this year has recovered in great style from being treated like a Mr. Lincoln by mistake two winters ago. (The latter are hybrid teas, and like to be pruned way back in the winter. Climbers, not so much.)

It's hard to make the photos do it justice, especially since I haven't had time to do much better than snapshots.




* * *

Obligatory cat picture.
Why, yes, Maia is sleeping in a Kleenex box. It can't be comfortable.

* * *

Music of the week: My friend Fred is in a music video! He's the first person you see, the star of the frame narrative. Isn't he debonair? I love Fred. He always greets me with superlatives and a hug. You're stupendously marvelous, Fred. <3

Parents, you may want to watch this without any small fry to whom you are not yet prepared to explain the birds and the bees and lacy lingerie. FYI. Cool song and sweet video, though.




* * *

While listening to the radio in the car this weekend:

Me: "How did someone who sings like this ever get a job as a recording artist?"
Lou: “That’s Bob Dylan.”
Me: “Oh, well, I guess that explains it…”

...but it doesn't!

If I hadn't grown up almost entirely ignorant of pop culture and all relevant contexts, would I have understood?
"To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan.... "Nobody is ever told that."
* * *

Sunday afternoon I finished a work begun in, if memory holds true, sixth grade: that of reading Longfellow's Evangeline.

The ending made me cry, as I pulled myself away from "the wail of the forest" and back into the late afternoon sun in my own peaceful little yard. But the poetry was astoundingly beautiful, and some of the thoughts haunt me—a friendly haunting, usually, like the quote above, though there’s also being shadowed by a spirit of fury. Why is the world so sad and full of suffering? I'm not sure I'll ever understand.

* * *

That thought doesn't just come to mind when reading tragic literature. I thought about it for ten minutes straight the other night, while enduring a particularly impressive foot cramp. It was a much less poetic experience.

* * *

There’s a scene from the WWU performance of the Britten opera that, like Evangeline, has gone on haunting me. Late in the story, the fairies held a dance, contorting in wild and unstructured forms—and in the middle of them, in an act of choreographic brilliance, a single ballerina was spinning in place, in arabesque position. Demi-pointe, double turn. Demi-pointe, double turn. Demi-pointe, double turn, over and over and over again. She was placed on one of the dynamic points of the scene, spinning mindlessly, with all those fairies twisting around her. The effect was thrilling and profoundly unnerving.

I find myself referencing that image in thinking through life over the last few months. Everything changed at once: rhythm and routine, ideas and ideals, dreams and goals. Rites of thought, writing, and prayer—my usual ties to sanity—all snapped off like frayed kite strings, ends fluttering in the breeze. It's felt like the world has spun, writhing and morphing, around me—like perhaps I wandered into that fairy-dance as a human and found myself spinning, too, involuntarily and with abandon.

Masha and Christie have me retreating with them for a few weeks, seeking prayer, bringing in flowers for saints, and organizing thought processes into words and meaningful visions. It's apparently working, since I'm sane and settled enough to blog tonight.

Of course, one doesn't dance in the wildwood and go home unchanged. That, however, is as it should be.

* * *

You wouldn't think an ice cream labeled "Death by Chocolate" could be improved by pouring massive amounts of chocolate sauce on it.

Turns out, it can. Kathryn! I might need your grandma's recipe, if it be not secret. It's amazing.

* * *

Speaking of deliciousness: the nectar of the gods.
I'm pretty sure the only flavor to rival home-ripened strawberries
is fresh-squeezed orange juice from home-ripened oranges,
which, unfortunately, don't grow in Washington.
To be fair, neither do alligators and cockroaches.

* * *

Two rather dear young friends have passed me up in height this spring:

Cherry tree

Sumac
I believe Seth thinks I'm nuts for planting this tree,
and maybe I will agree in a decade when I have dozens,
but so far, I love the beautiful little thing.
The fig trees are still working on that goal. Grow, grow, grow, little figs!

You can do it!
* * * 

In other news: I am registered for my first classes—English 2010 and Introduction to Horticulture, the latter of which is a Breadth Life Sciences requirement that looked particularly life-applicable. I still need to register for Spanish, which USU is kindly letting me take from the University of Idaho since they offer only Italian online. (Italian: very beautiful, but not very useful in the Pacific Northwest.)

I like my job, and am addicted to the free coffee. I love both my piano teacher and my priest oh-so-much this week, both of them for extending lots of sympathy and mercy to exhausted and overwrought little Jennifer, on account of which, I am working very hard at this Bach inventio and at all the Christ-imitating Father asked me to do. I knew we had day lilies and rosemary in the garden, but the iris came as a surprise.


Blogging promises seem to be difficult to keep just now, but I'm not planning on abandoning this beloved little place. For today—I hope you're all well and enjoying summer!

5.15.2014

Electronic Seer and other stories

Where we write, linking up with Masha @ Cyganeria. Like anyone didn't know where I write:


On the couch, of course. Wedged into the corner.

But look at the new baby 'puter!


It's so little. Even compared to my beloved, bluescreen-happy old Dell.


I've used that old computer long and hard for five years. Now, as I go into online school, it seemed like a good time to buy one that didn't have a near-death experience every time it encountered the camera card or Skype.

The new computer wanted a name, so I called it Min, after Min Farshaw. I thought about going all out and choosing Elmindreda*, but Min-the-non-girly-visionary would not have approved. Hopefully it will be loyal and dependable and follow me everywhere and take delight in books and libraries—and if it prefers breeches to dresses, well, most days that makes two of us.

Anyhow, I'm fond of it already.

* * *

Right now I don't have a lot of words, except to be grateful for sunshine and warmth enough to bike to work in short sleeves and a skirt, and then to bike home and walk barefoot around the yard and admire the flowers.

The flowers can do the talking for me.

rhody

golden chain

stars of Bethlehem

columbine
Wait till our big climbing rose really gets going on the bloom. :)

* * *

I haven't forgotten about Harry Potter. I haven't forgotten about book reviews. I haven't forgotten about cat pictures, or blogging in general. I've just been needing a little time to recover my sanity.

So much neediness from Jenna lately... I know.

Oh, right—cat picture.

Blurry Maia, wrestling the arm of a chair and one of her socks
Back soon!

* I will not be referring to it as Doomseer, however. Tuon is such a pessimist.

5.03.2014

Unique in All the World and other stories

It's a quiet Saturday—thanks be to God—and I just opened up one of my novels. The story has been whispering in the back of my mind lately, obviously anxious to be told. I can envision it as it's meant to be; I can tell it's going to be beautiful, at least to me. Today, after months of inactivity, I brought up the document and started reading.

Within two paragraphs, I was nauseous.

Both of my stories are suspended in more or less the same place. I'm reaching out to these characters, these tales, through a sickening force field made up of exhaustion, a dangerous chemical combination of heavy-handed past critique and authorial masochism, and present internal strivings and life transitions.

I wonder if I could write those stories over from the beginning without looking at the old manuscripts, which are so full of painful memories.

It would be easier to drop both and start something new, but I love them.

Force fields be damned. Invisible barriers lose a lot of their stopping power when there's love on the other side.

* * *

Mint juleps are back in season. YAY.

* * *

Music of the week—or of the month, more like: a piece that is especially dear to me, as it involves the work of both my husband and a friend.

Jade Coppieters caught us after Mass a few weeks back and asked Lou to lend his voice to this art song. I was beyond thrilled. Lou's voice has warmed in tone over the last couple of years, and its natural strength has mellowed without losing its power; I'd be completely envious if I didn't love him so much. And Jade, as I believe I've said before, is an incredibly gifted composer—and one of my favorite people. :) We made an evening out of the recording event, and I loved every minute of the hours with Jade and his Sam and my Lou, making music and friendships.

I got to play sound engineer, despite only half knowing what I'm doing, so I've listened to the piece enough to decide it just keeps getting better with familiarity. It's your turn now, so here's "Requiem." Words by Robert Louis Stevenson (he wrote this as his own epitaph, which did in fact make it onto his gravestone). Setting and piano performance by Jadrian Coppieters. Vocals by Louis St. Hilaire.



* * *

It was too windy for photos outside today, but I planted cosmos by the front porch and watered the baby tomatoes. I've taken to walking the yard every non-rainy afternoon, watching the garden come wholly and enthusiastically to life.

* * *

Maia zonked out, comfortably and ungracefully

* * *

This commentary on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his novel The Little Prince, over at The New Yorker, sat open in my browser for several days before I got time to devote real attention to it. It proved worth the wait, even worth reading a couple of times. At first I was leery of what struck me as possibly over-exegeting a deliberately unclear fable, but a more thorough perusal cleared that up for me. The history is intriguing, and journalist Adam Gopnik captures some of the beautiful truth of the story.

He doesn't quote this part, which Christie reminded me of recently in conversation, but here's a bit of one scene I particularly loved.
"Men," said the fox. "They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?" 
"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean—'tame'?" 
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties." 
"To establish ties?" 
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world."
Much love, all of you. <3

5.01.2014

Rest in Peace, Uncle Pat

I'll miss your good-natured smile and your stories of a fascinating and far-reaching life. You could pack so much color into your chronicles with just a few words, a slow laugh. Maybe some of it was the way you'd glance out across the table or the living room, into our eyes or into the past, and your whole face would go bright with memory.

We will remember you.

4.28.2014

Ballet and Stars and other stories

Happy second week of Easter! It's been a rather lovely few days, despite the continued Maytagging and a sudden cold that consists mostly of feeling like someone scrubbed my sinuses out with a bottle brush.

At work, the Macintosh I have to do some of my editing on has had fewer laughs at my expense; my new desk is comfortingly secluded, and I got some decorations up; the talkative half of my department went out of their way to make me feel at ease this past week; and, emboldened by desperation, I finally found the espresso machine in the building where the Mac lives. Said espresso machine promptly broke, but it made Wednesday survivable first.

* * *

The star I wrote a book about was well on the way to its zenith when we came home from Easter vigil. It spends most of the winter rising close to dawn, so that was my first glimpse of it for this year. I spent a few chilly minutes out on the deck staring at it, unaided by technology; it isn't much through the telescope, but it's a beautiful thing through the eyes of my beloved A.D.

The vigil itself was splendid. Triduum was so exhausting last year that I was particularly grateful to be able, this Holy Saturday, to put Friday's Goth mood aside for candlelight and vivid color and the Gloria.

* * *

Also, I have discovered blue eyeshadow. This has proven difficult to photograph.


I tried shutting my eyes, but then my camera decided to take its own mirror-selfie.


* * *

I wore blue eyeshadow in some quantity Friday night to see WWU's performance of the Benjamin Britten opera A Midsummer Night's Dream. The play is one of my favorite Shakespeare works—I could mouth the words along with Helena when she sang
You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant
[and yet you draw not iron, for my heart / Is true as steel... why didn't you leave that in the libretto, Sir Benjamin?]
Leave you your power to draw,
And I shall have no power to follow you
and our friend Jade was harpsichordist, and it seemed like a good opportunity to make my husband take me out on a hot date. :)

Maybe it's that modern music and even—to some extent—magic and fairy tales are so new to me still, but my inner child sat up and paid attention, awash in wonder. My grownup brain could tell that the vocal work and choreography were challenging for the all-student cast, but grownup-brain mostly sat indulgently back while the aforementioned inner child bobbed up and down in the theater seat and wished all her fairy-tale besties were around to help her fangirl over the wild dark beauty expressed in set and scene, music and dance.

Lou and I once talked on the way back from some opera we saw—probably Tristan und Isolde—about opera's unique combination of various art forms. I thought back to that as I admired Greek and Hindu-inspired set pieces, lively comic acting, and ballet alongside the music. And such music! I had only a slight acquaintance with Britten, but I will be hunting out more of his music, oh yes.

Also, I just about cried laughing when the wall was singing.

* * *

I love it when the apple tree blooms.

* * *

Sunday I wore purple and pink eyeshadow, and after church I hopped on my bike in the sun and went to see a play my friend Pat was in: Deborah Brevoort's The Women of Lockerbie, which (fictionally, but loosely based on true events) depicts the intersection of grief and generosity between women from Lockerbie, Scotland and relatives of victims of the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 terrorist bombing.

It was quite the powerful story. I cried so hard that I felt awkward for the strangers on either side of me. Brevoort brought out the eucatastrophe, though, which—of course—was what really made me lose it.

Anyway, I love local music and theater arts. You can run down afterward and hug your performing friends. :)

* * *



* * *

Blog-friend Shallee MacArthur's sci-fi YA debut novel, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, is forthcoming from Sky Pony Press (cool publisher name to go with cool title). It has a gorgeous cover design (ballet and stars? Practically everything I love, right there); it has a highly suspenseful premise, and it currently has a live rafflecopter through which you can enter to win an ARC! I did.

Congratulations and more congratulations, Shallee!

* * *

Solomon's seal... and dandelions

* * *

I was born in #42, grew up in #24, live in #6, and—fortuitously—ended up with a university in #1. I call this moving up in the world. Here's to Nerd Heaven! And Cosplay Fridays! Now, how to sell my company on that one.... It sounds like fun.

* * *

Maia watching, always watching
* * *

Thoughts of the return of the Harry Potter Book Club have begun surfacing in my consciousness. Stay tuned.