Friday, December 21, 2007

Weird Dream

Last night, I dreamed that I was walking around a room full of people in brown trench coats. I noticed that as they came in the door, someone gave them a coat and as soon as they put it on, they bowed their head and started to cry. They walked around wringing their hands. When I asked, one of them told me that sadness was God's will for her and that suffering and struggle were signs of authentic faith. Ironically, not one of them questioned the fact that they came in happy and got handed something that made them miserable. Finally, I stood on a chair and said "Don't put on that coat! It's not even yours!"

Then, I woke up. And I wonder this morning how much of the current suffering I see literally overcoming the people around me is something they picked up at the door. Why do we so distrust our basic ability to know when something

Friday, December 14, 2007

Finished Finished Finished

I'm finished with my first semester at the University of Montevallo and I've had a beautiful time. Today, I'm going to bundle up my class notes and writing and store them away until I need them to study for comps. I am exhausted. There is a good chance I'll make a 4.0 this semester. I dare to hope.

Next semester, I'll be taking Post-Colonial Literature and Ecocriticism. This will be difficult and I will learn a lot. We're reading Salmon Rushdie and Wendell Berry (and many, many other people.) I've read Wendell Berry, but not in an academic context. This should prove to be interesting. (I am surprised to see him make the jump, frankly. Whereas some people read Wendell Berry and say "I love Wendell Berry!" English students are more likely to really dig into the text and not even talk about the author. You get at the knowledge from another angle.)

I've met many new friends that I hope to see over the holiday. So much diversity that is good for me. So many really kind people who have sharp minds and honest hearts. And who never ever ever talk about Red Mountain Church. (Or would really know what to say if they did.) And this is a pretty good thing. For the first time in a long long time, I'm being judged outside of a church context and it is refreshing to just be Susan the Person. Nobody cares where I go to church or where I went before that or before that. Susan the Person exists in the now.

Nobody ever says "grace" or "struggle" or "community." To be clear, I am desperate for real fellowship with other Christians, but I am much relieved to have an escape from that particular language. In some context, these words are devoid of meaning for me anyway and they taste like sawdust in my mouth.

And the most amazing thing is that I haven't met a single person who doesn't respect my faith. I'm not getting any of the Anti-Christian backlash I would have expected and I have almost decided that it doesn't really exist. Christians hate Christians. I'm working on personal integrity and the confidence to just say what I believe without fear of judgement. I am working on being an "integrated" person if that makes sense.

In our Bible study, we talked about prayer and how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with a language above and separate from human language. (Groanings too deep for words. Isn't that beautiful?) This is what I'm counting on. My faith has become simple and necessary. I have great need of simple things. And in some ways, while I'm more confident than ever before, I am also more aware of my fragility and my great need to be prayed for.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Proclamation for a New Year

Over the past few months, I've been ambushed by friends and encouraged by strangers. I've been the smart kid in the class and the scapegoat. I've been alone in community and a part of something in isolation.

I've learned that most of your friends won't stand up for you, but some of your enemies will.

 I've learned that most people prefer comfortable liars to a hard truth. I've learned that to follow your conscience is to shake hands with loneliness. I've seen the man behind the curtain. 

(There's someone standing behind him, too. And it's probably a woman.)

I've learned not to trust those people who declare themselves "leaders." They just want to put you on their resume.

I've decided that struggle is sweet.  I've decided that easy is almost always wrong and right is almost never easy. I've decided that no one is allowed to tell me who I am. I've decided to dig down deep and see what's there. 

  This year, I've reacted to unkindness with submissiveness because that's how I deflected heat when I was a child. It was a good way for a small person to survive. But, I'm not a small person any more. And when I was a woman, I put childish things behind me. I have no need to be afraid anymore. God's love has done away with my fear. 

I embrace radical un-niceness. 

 And I have been delivered from a fate that's worse than death. 

More than once. 

And I won't forget it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Worth the wait?

Also worth the wait.

Important Message

People I love

Because you're the wisest people I know.
Because you're prone to telling the truth. Because you're brave.
Because you're happy when I have good news. You have emotional integrity. And you just do what's happy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I'm back.

This has been the longest hiatus from blogging I've taken in quite some time. I don't know how productive I've been in the paper-writing department, but I think the break was good for my brain. Last night, I presented my "Wanderer" paper to some other graduate students, some faculty, and my sweet husband who took off work early and drove an hour to be there. I think it is no small feat to listen to academic papers being presented even if you love the subjects. I was glad to have him there because it gave him some kind of insight into this weird life I've been having without him. Afterwards, some of us went to this weird little coffee place/bar/bookshop. I think that David liked hearing the professors talk about their work and their students. It made me feel loved to have him be there and enjoy it.

Our little family is the only thing that makes any sense to me most of the time.

I am so grateful for so much.

I've been thinking about a church-service we attended on Sunday. It made me realize that the only thing that matters to me about a church is that it employs a pastor who has a high regard for the Scriptures. I love to hear H.R. preach for that reason. He takes the Scriptures and his responsibility to/for them seriously. He handles them like a scholar. I like to hear J.R. at St. Peter's for the same reason. So many preachers feel that they can't just present the Scripture to their congregation without doing something to make it "relevant" or "interesting." This makes their preaching silly and insipid. Like high school.

Several of the papers presented last night were about teaching long classic poems to high school students. (Why they were talking about classic poems is a puzzle to me being that the class was about 19th Century Romantic British poetry.) Anyway, the consensus seems to be that high school students can't learn classic poetry unless the teacher does something like equate it to Tupac Shakur or make it into a rap. Seriously? One of the papers even referred to 9th graders as "beginning readers." The horror of that! Our educational system is churning out some stupid people who go to school and become high school teachers. (Now, to be fair, several of the education majors at Montevallo are not stupid. I can think of three.) There are no "good" public schools. There are students who learn to take tests and do what the government tells them. This issue will stand like a flagpole on the grave of American democracy. Count on it.

And the same thing is happening in church. We can't study Romans anymore. We've got to study "hope" or "marriage." There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though! There are groups of people who are reclaiming their right to think! This is a good thing. Resist! Stand up to the forces of darkness that would consume your brain! I really and truly believe that there is some conspiracy a foot to turn all of us into non-thinking means of production. I really believe that. We've got to do something about that!

Just to show that some poetry-raps are pretty funny, here is an advertisement tourism in Cambria. This is where William Wordsworth was from.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sing your song, Margie

And when you ask them "How much should we give?" The only answer is MORE MORE MORE.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Last Word from Me for Awhile!

So, this week I'm going into term-paper hibernation and I probably won't be posting for awhile. This is good for me, I think. I'm a little obsessed right now with school and I don't want for all of my posts to be about that. I'm a girl with a one-track mind.

I've got a preliminary green-light on my thesis. Whoopeee!

This is the happiest I've been in quite some time, my friends.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Goodbye Portrait

Holding a note that reads: "I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!" Chris McCandless, August 1991

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Death from Above

In class yesterday, I was assigned the role of "major responder" to the paper of the unfortunate undergraduate student sitting next to me. Her paper was a brief comparison of the "Veiled Lady" in Hawthorne's "The Blithedale Romance" and the White Wale in Melville's Moby-Dick. It's a potentially interesting comparison that she wasn't quite ready to make. Her comments reminded me of Colonel Kurtz's monologue in Apocalypse Now.

Horror. Horror
has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.

Why does Melville's Ishmael paint a picture of the color white as horrible?

Because white is the color of hope, and when it belies a deep malice, it's truly an enemy to be feared. White belies the horror of a pastor who preaches hope and equality and intense community and leads his people to a cup of Flavor-Aid in a Guyanese jungle. White belies the horror of a marriage ceremony that ends in infidelity and immeasurable loss. White belies the horror of a nation who invades to liberate and instead rapes and tortures and kills despite its best intentions. White belies the horror of a Colonel in a jungle who set out to follow orders and ends up a demagogue in a self-made feudalism.

Thwarted hopes are the horrors of the world below.

And all of these things make us plead weak-kneed for God to make his face known as we sweat out those dark nights of the soul that give Evil an opportunity to whisper that it just isn't true. But hope, hope comes in the morning and with it comes courage to face a Red Dawn. Hope that will not ultimately be disappointed because, after all, has he not told us he went to prepare a place?

So bold I go before the mast knowing the sinking of the ship will be the victory of my soul. And if it is not, I cling bravely to the only lifeboat I know and face down the waves beneath the spreading sky.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Susanism for the Greater Good

I met with my adviser yesterday to talk about my "future." It seems funny to schedule an appointment to talk about your "future" on someone's office door in fifteen-minute increments. But, that's what happened.

We talked about my "safe schools." (And at this point, I realize that if it's going to amount to attending my "safe school," I might just skip it. I've had too many bad experiences with elephants if you get my drift.) We talked about my "reach school." And it's quite a reach. There are two other schools I'm interested in at the moment. I have three semesters left to punch up my vitae by presenting papers at conferences, making some really good grades and writing as much as I possibly can.

The good news is that my grades are (thus far) solid, I'm planning to co-write a paper for a conference in February for which I'll get a grant and I'm writing a prospectus for a conference at Tennessee Tech in March. (Cross your fingers for me.)

Here's an outline of what I've learned. Maybe I'll expand upon it later. It might be arrogant, but at least it's honest.

1. I like to work hard. I've had jobs that didn't require me to work hard. Sometimes, I kind of got in trouble when I tried. This gave me a complex. Hard work is more important to me than I realized.

2. I like to be challenged. I like to do my best and have to wonder if I'm going to fail or not. Safety is not as important to me as I thought.

3. I don't know if I'm a fantastic writer, but it's what I'm supposed to be doing.

5. I'm more of a feminist than I thought. (Or, maybe I'm just a Susanist.)

6. God cares what goes on inside the Ivory Tower. God is a passionate linguist and truly, truly, the Father of all kinds of Wisdom. There is no wisdom apart from him. He is generous with that wisdom, however, and he shares it with people who don't even believe in him.

7. I'm smart. I'm not the smartest, but I'm smart. I've finally started to wonder what was wrong with all those people at my old job who thought I wasn't, instead of wondering what is wrong with me. (I realize the wrong and I forgive it. This is power. And progress. And immeasurable joy. And gratitude to God who doesn't leave us where we fall.)

And to sum it up with what seems to be the end line of all my best writing ( you who would be joy-thieves):

Amen, Hallelujah.

(And gratitude to God who Does NOT leave us where we fall.)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I don't sleep anymore.

I don't sleep through the night anymore. I'm not sure why, but my brain can't stop it's buzzing buzzing buzzing with ideas old and new.

And the work I need to finish.

And the immeasurable joy of sussing something out for myself.

I lie awake and wonder about the people I used to know, some years and years ago, in other countries. And I wonder how they are. Hope they are safe. And warm. And I hope that they miss me somewhere in between the busy moments of their over-thought waking time. And I think they should. I made marks bold and bright. And I left some wounds, but time moves like a rake on the sand and smooths them out and leaves us with the tender moments we held like jewels in between those busy, rustling hours that made for us the better part of the seventies and the eighties and the nineties.

And we still hold them, because they can't be shared or leased or given away or left behind a trash can at the mouth of an alley.

And I rattle around this house like typewriter keys shaken in a jar. A student of letters. Learning how and why and where they fit together to make something sensible out of something that spans the length of centuries and has yet to be defined.

I trace the trajectory of my joy across a broad expanse of kindness.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Will Wonders Never Cease?

Yesterday, a student told me that Watergate was not only a scandal, but also a HOTEL! You're too young to understand, she said. Which was, for the first time in my life, actually more complimentary than offensive.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Selfish Selfish Selfish (Is this post)

Sometimes, I get the feeling that more people are reading this blog than I would have ever imagined. (Although, I never imagined many people would read it, so it's still not that many.) I'm fascinated by the dynamic created here. This is my scratch-pad. This is where I go to really empty out my head so I can play with my ideas. Insular ideas don't get shaped and molded. We really are social beings. We can't even think alone for very long.

Anyway, thank you for being here. I'm so glad you are. I wish I could have you all over for a big pot of soup and some really nice beer. (Alas, I am not a wine person. Perhaps it says something about my lack of refinement.) Would you like to come for dinner?

I also have very small and quiet thoughts that run around inside my head and never come out. Only God is present for those conversations and when I try and bring those secret things into the light, they fade away so quickly that they never get the chance to stew and ruminate and grow into something good. I mostly have that kind of thought when I'm driving home from school. (Montevallo is my school-home in a way that Auburn never was. Montevallo is a sort of sacred space for me. An oasis in the desert.) It's a kind of exercise in the sublime as I listen to the road pass beneath my tires and wonder (as I wander) about everything I wonder about. I pray and listen for the answers. And they come in surprising ways. Maybe I pray for you.

I think about what I'm grateful for. I'm surprised to be grateful for the ties I've severed this year. I'm grateful for the ties I've made. I'm grateful that as 31 screams down the pike for me, I don't have any children. I never thought I'd say that, and of course, if I were to get a "surprise" I would be thrilled. But mostly, when I hear mothers talk about their kids, they're complaining.
I don't sleep, they say. I don't get to have fun anymore. I saw a woman at the store last week with one of those gigantic baby strollers lumbering through the aisles. She looked lost inside her skin and I felt sorry for her as I walked unencumbered out the door. Maybe she felt sorry for me. (Why do babies need strollers as big as my VW?)

Now, this is a new place for me. And I wonder if I'm at all evil for being here. Maybe. But, the thing is that I have some freedom now. I have a little bit of money, and the time to invest the sense I've obtained in my thirties in something I love. It's a sweet setup, really. It's something I never would have if I had been given the life I planned. I'm grateful for this scrap of time I get to cherish. Thank you. Thank you, God, for this respite from a hard and weary year. If I were still at Red Mountain, I wouldn't be here. And that was good. But this is where I'm meant to be. It's a gift.

It's so weird how this stream of consciousness progresses. Sometimes, I think it is very beneficial to just start typing and allow the ideas that float around in your head to come as a surprise to you. All of these things are a great surprise to me. I'm reading what I'm writing here for the first time, too. (Wild. You've got to try this.)

I think I've had enough of Mothers and their Complaints. To be fair, I've seen Mothers tending to their little ones in surprising and tender ways. I've seen some Mothers glow in the knowledge that what they are doing matters. And not just to future generations, but on some deep spiritual and whispered level as if Heaven reaches down and breathes that what's going on here
matters. I mean really matters. (Maybe it isn't babies that we want. Maybe it's just the opportunity to matter like that.) But most often, I see Mothers who complain. I mean, a lot.

And I think about that and I get angry. Especially when I look at the little faces of their little ones and see the thumb print of God there. (Do they realize the situations of the people they're complaining to? No. What a silly question.) There's a woman in one of my classes with four children. One of them is autistic. She's carrying 16 hours this semester. (I'm carrying seven and I'm dying, for reference.) She doesn't complain. Why? I think it's because her children didn't come easy. So, if this not having children thing is going to help me not be a complainer, if it is going to help me value the small immortals I hope to be responsible for (after my thesis, I hope) I choose it. I actually step out and choose it. The hardest thing about "infertility" (can I even call it that?) is not the absence of children. It's hearing so many mothers complain about children that came so easy.

And as I write this, I wonder if I'm complaining about something in a way that hurts someone. I hope not. I
hope not. I hope not.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Natty Bumppo & The Mississippi Travelers

The makings of my first book? (Don't judge me harshly. I'm not a web designer.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Silent Night. Holy Night. I dream of a boy in the water.

It's cold today. In Montevallo, the trees are bent under the weight of rainwater in cupped leaves. The trees are changing colors. I can see them from the window on the third floor of Comer Hall. I watch the night come over the green space between the buildings and brush gold and amber across the shadow of the building on the pine trees. I think of swimming late in summer and I imagine someone from another country cutting broad strokes across the dark water away from me.

Last night, I woke in a start to the sound of silence covering the neighborhood like a wool blanket. No air conditioner. No refrigerator. No dog or husband snores. No sirens. No car alarms. No traffic on the street. No insects. The silence pulled me back into the world. Me. Who can sleep through a firetruck rambling down the street. A late-night band practice. It was too quiet to sleep. This is how I know the city has overcome my brain and made a home in my heart. The woods scare me, the concrete is comfort and people and move go move go throughout the silence of the night.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Houston, We have a Thesis (Topic, anyway)

For Three Years He Walked the Earth: Intentional Vagrancy Across Continents
An exploration of homelessness and travel in Wordsworth, Thoreau, Melville, Fenimore Cooper, and Kerouac.

And yes, I need a better title.

Maybe, "What would happen if Natty Bumppo met Chris McCandless on a bus somewhere off the Stampede Trail in Alaska?" (Well, for one thing, Sean Penn wouldn't have a movie. But Krakauer would have written a marvelous book.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

I need a phone call. I need a raincoat. I need a big love.

It's raining in Birmingham and the big black men at Dreamland have put the first rack of ribs on the fire. The smell of the Deep South comes off the asphalt and the concrete and the rooftops. Creosote and pork ribs and steel.

It's a hot October. The hot makes me crazy. Humans were meant to see a spring and a fall and a summer and a winter.

Last night, a car on the road abandoned, doors opened. We were afraid to look inside. I called the police. The man on the phone knew what I was afraid of and didn't make me say it. (I heard the story of someone from another country who was afraid to look inside. Couldn't finish his thesis. Couldn't see the point of putting theory on words on words on words on ideas. Moved back south like a falling star no one sees. )

October is the month of all things good and bad. October is the nexus of my life. All things start in October. All things end. I can't imagine it will pass me by.

The Southwest jets fly Birmingham to Midway all morning over my cottage. Southwest to Midway, United to O'Hare. Take the orange, take the blue to the heart of the Loop and find whatever it is you look for. Chicago beats a rhythm on the inside of my head.


Here I listen to the stories of coal mines and lynchings and steel mills and hospitals and lives made and remade in the shade of the honeycomb mountain. Home. Home. Home. Has a face and blue eyes and a red beard.

My house is haunted. My mind is free. My sadness is forgotten. My heart is hopeful. My head is sore. I need to come back down. I need to come back down. I need to come back down.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Drink. Blech.

I make hurricanes that taste like Robitussin.

Bold, but maybe wrong.

When we write, we breathe into being the unformed void of thought and make it tangible, accessible, relatable. Ideas, written, spoken and released into the world work to change it as they pass from paper to paper, classroom to classroom, student to student until finally, they are the discussion of the shoe-shiners and gas station attendants and butchers and housewives. When I was a student in junior high and high school, my teachers knew the dangers of ideas. So, they taught us to be wary of them. They served their truth cafeteria-style: two scoops of suspicion smothered in fear. Take what you can eat; eat what you take. I looked for an evolutionist behind every bush and at night I dreamed of long-faced Liberal Humanists with child-catching nets skulking behind me as I waited for the bus.

When I got to Hoover High School, Mr. Sturgeon, my social studies teacher asked me to stay after class. He looked at me through his round glasses behind the mask of his Princeton education and said, You know Susan, only the ideas you refuse to understand can hurt you. What you know, you can change. Have a great day. And then, he snapped his newspaper to attention. Conversation over. That is what teachers do.

When I consider how the greatest universities of the world were founded by the Church, I wonder what exactly happened to us that we would give away our love of knowledge and let our brains atrophy. We just got scared, I guess. I heard Nancy Leigh DeMoss on the radio as I was driving to Montevallo yesterday. Be holy! she said, the implication being that Christians should separate themselves from culture. And while I heed my mother's admonition to be careful on the thin philosophical ice I so love to glide across, I consider the alternative. I wonder about this "holiness." Should we sit in our own homes watching PAX television and let the heathens think for us? Is that what God had in mind when he told Adam to take dominion of the world. (William Wordsworth spoke out against the "savage torpor" that comes from consuming too much existential junk-food. And this, is where we find ourselves.) I don't know exactly what N.L.D. was talking about, but it scares me. I have a sneaking suspicion that I wholeheartedly disagree. I need to know more about this "holiness." I don't know that it has much to do with movies.

I don't like what I see when I see Christians attempt to "engage the culture." It seems we're stuck in this limbo of "engaging the culture" yet being consumed by the wicked and harmful ideas it has to offer. "Come savage torpor!" we say. We take it to bed and think we're open-minded. We court it and yield because the television tells us to. We're not fierce. We don't want to offend and we're scared of making people "feel bad." And yet, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and the fear of the Lord starts with self-loathing. At least it did with me. But this isn't something we can do corporately. This is something that starts with individual acts of boldness with love. Real love. Not the kind of love that seeks to illuminate sin apart from the magnificent hope we have in Christ. (Do we believe we have a magnificent hope in Christ? Do we believe he died to give us Life Abundantly?) I hope we can do this and cling to the knowledge that God fathered art. God fathered literature. God fathered creativity and we must humbly and boldly proceed in the paths of our callings knowing that it is a gift to reflect him with the work of our hands and minds.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

from an e-mail I sent today

Seven years ago (at almost exactly this date, actually) I was sitting in a little apartment in Auburn brokenhearted because of a broken engagement. I never thought I'd ever be happy again. But I am. And when I look back at him and at that time, I can't imagine that I was so upset over something that now feels like something I read somewhere. I realize that I don't remember most of the things that happened to me that broke my heart, but I do remember every single time God was faithful to me. All that hurt is gone, but the memory of a faithful God remains.

Anyway, I am humbled and grateful. God has got all of our hopes and all of our heartbreaks in his hands and He is faithful.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mantra Yields to Question

Someone is not stupid just because you don't like them
Intelligence does not necessarily decline in inverse proportion to arrogance.

But the wicked cavewoman who inhabits my interior keeps saying But yes. Yes they are. And yes it does. And the trouble is, most of the time, I believe her. And why is it, that whenever I think of such people, I automatically think of bad Thai food? Always. Curious.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Friday Quote

"And them that don't know him won't like him
And them that do sometimes won't know how to take him
He ain't wrong he's just different
but his pride won't let him do things to make you think he's right"

--Waylon & Willie & The Boys

True. True.

The-reaus in an American Landscape

Lately, I find myself spending a great deal of time thinking about this American desire to throw off material possessions and hit the road. I think of these Travelers who aren't satisfied with the comforts of a status quo. Who feel stifled by the comforts of American life. Who want to live just a little less well. It's an underground movement, of course. Always has been. The typical American is content to sit in his typical house (in the suburbs, of course), eat his typical food and show up at his typical job. Our bodies are only as fat as our minds. But beneath this Great Numbing Ordinary are rumblings of revolution that transcend time. All the time travelers run beneath the radar of popular culture trying to be different. Trying to find the Life beneath the confines of The Matrix. I think of these travelers as "The-reaus." They've taken some of these philosophies of Thoreau and Emerson in the U.S. and Wordsworth in the U.K. and made them real. Thoreau wasn't real. Emerson wasn't real. Transcendentalism wasn't real. But nobody told these guys. And it's interesting to watch the metaphorical rubber hit the theoretical road. I'm thinking Kerouac. I'm thinking Chris McCandless. I'm thinking Ed Abbey. I'm thinking me.

Across the ages we Beat Beat Beat on the constructs of civility. Give me life, not pleasure. Give me difficulty, not ease. "I want my happiness! Where is my happiness?"

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Friday Quote (on Wednesday, I know)

"All hail the Dominant Primordial Beast. And Captain Ahab, too."

"Alexander Supertramp"/Chris McCandless, 1992

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Rotten Apples, Rotten Pears

Lately, I find myself straining against the limitations of my own mental capacity. There is so much to learn and instinctively I know that with each bit of knowledge conquered, I'll gain an ability to learn even more. I've never had a challenge like this. I've never really come close to hitting the end of my intellectual tether. Not because my capacity is particularly vast, but because I've never tried. This is the first time my desire to know first, and then to use and apply has exceeded my ability. There is something to this, I realize. It is more than learning and then manipulating a jargon to sound knowledgeable. This is cool. I throw myself into deep waters with wild abandon. I have nothing to lose. I sink or swim. My instrument is yet untested, the limits of my ability unknown.

How much organic insufficiency can be surmounted with the will to work? Answer to follow....

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Quote

Bíonn grásta Dé idir an diallait agus an talamh
(The grace of God is between the saddle and the ground. )

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Some of My Most Brilliant Thoughts...Ever.

I've been thinking about Oklahoma State Coach Mike Grundy this week. This is probably the first time in ten years that I've given so much thought to football. And even now, I'm not really thinking about football. I'm thinking about the differences between male and female in 21st Century America. (That sounds more like me, doesn't it?)

Sometime last week, Coach Grundy unloaded both barrels on a female sports reporter after she wrote a somewhat snarky column about one of his players. I worked for a period of time as a newspaper columnist, too, and that experience taught me that snark is magnified in print. So, what I'm thinking about is not whether or not this reporter's column was appropriate. I don't think it was. I think it was unprofessional. (And that's my professional opinion, professionally. What do you think, C.J.?)

Coach Grundy's irritation was justified. But was his behavior? Here, I have to ask the million-dollar question. Would Coach Grundy have unloaded on a man that way? I don't think so, and here's why. (Bear with me, I'm going to be offensive.)

The field of sports writing is one of the last remaining Professionally Male Spaces. What I mean is that a woman cannot easily operate in the profession of sports writing unencumbered with some kind of secret weapon. And when we're talking about sports writing, that secret weapon is often startling good looks coupled with a projected (however so deceptive) sense of sexual availability. Have you seen the women reporting from the sidelines on ESPN? Yeah, me too. While I wouldn't say they are stupid, I certainly wouldn't say they are ugly. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive. They most certainly aren't.) And what happens to a woman who dares transgress the P.M.S. (AWESOME!) of sports writing without her secret weapon? Well, Coach Grundy eats her lunch on national television. I'll just go ahead and ask the question you are. Would it have been different if the reporter somehow projected sexual availability? Yes. It would have. And you can figure out why.

One of the first things Coach Grundy says to the reporter is "you obviously don't have children." That's a curious statement. I've often heard it uttered from one female to another or from a male to a female, but never from a male to a male. And what am I to take away from that? Well, at it's core it's an offensive statement. Whether the speaker realizes it or not, it calls into question the gender identity of the person spoken to. "You must not have any children" could just as easily be "You aren't a real woman (or man)." And I don't know that I would have recognized how loaded that statement is if I wasn't vulnerable to it. So, is that my bias interpreting that statement, or did my bias open my eyes to what it actually means? I don't know. What I do know is that I've never heard it said when the speaker wasn't already angry. And that means something. So why isn't that statement used between men? Because it's tantamount to saying "You don't have any balls." And that statement could easily erupt into violence, especially in a testosterone-fueled P.M.S.

Coach Grundy did what he did because he didn't have to worry about a violent retribution. And that's cowardly.

But this gives rise to another question. (Which I'll answer more succinctly.) Would the reporter have written a column like that if she were a man operating in a P.M.S.? I don't think so. He article is emasculating to the player she writes about. In it, she's basically making the same gender-questioning statement that Grundy is. And if she were a male, she'd have to be concerned with a violent retribution. But, because she's a female, she can avoid violence so she doesn't censor herself. And that, too, is cowardly.

See how much better the world would be if we could just beat each other up? Sometimes, violence is the answer.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Okefenokee Ritz

The fall is coming on little cat feet. And with it, comes a tender desire to steal some time away from the bond market and the university and the dingy city and sleep alongside the Tellico river under the Tennessee stars. This afternoon, we dug our tent and sleeping bags out of the closet. We sat up our tent and climbed inside. We hung our sleeping bags over the porch railings like limp, but colorful, children. The seemed to chide us for having been gone for so long. But, we're back now.

We spent our honeymoon in our little tent in the Okefenokee Swamp and it suited us more than the San Francisco Ritz. (Although, the San Francisco Ritz was pleasant to say the least. And the turn-down service is better.)

We think the first four years of our marriage were somewhat traumatic. We experienced job stress (in spades), church stress, major illness and something else. This year, is going to be better. And I can tell because we're starting to act like ourselves again. This Saturday has been like a slow sink into a warm hot tub. I remember who we were, and who we are. I'm looking forward to knowing who we will be.

I'm so glad to be here. With you. Right now.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Into the Wild

I heard about Sean Penn’s new movie, Into the Wild, on CBS Sunday Morning and I was captivated by the story. It’s a story that has pursued my heart, in many forms through many incantations down the trail of my life through the forest of my dreams. It’s a story of being different. Of walking off the path and seeing from a different perspective. Some of us are born on the trail.

I read the article that lead to the book that lead to the movie. Jon Krakauer wants to give this hero, Chris McCandless, some kind of excuse for shaving his existence down too much to the edge of the razor and slicing his earthly tether. It doesn’t work, but I admire the effort. I, too, want to believe that he was really killed by a moldy potato seed, but I don’t. It was a valiant attempt at Life Abundant.

As read Krakauer’s article, I’m reminded of Edward Abbey. I first read his stories as a teenager. I was an island at a large suburban high school and I needed these book-friends to reach out to me through their words. It was my foundation and in many ways, although my mother would have me forget it and although I would have me forget that time, it shaped me. And it continues to make me. Or break me. Every year.

And here is something of Ed Abbey to cherish:

One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. 
I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards."
-Ed Abbey

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I have a new Mac Book. Her name is Pam.

This is what she says I look like when I come home from class at night.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I've always framed myself--to myself--as someone who must take special precautions to prevent herself from being misused. I've recently had a bit of an epiphany, however, about this lie I've told myself for so long. And it happened at the Atlanta Airport. (As I'm sure, many epiphanies do. At least on television and in some IFC specials.)

My plane from SFO pulled up to the gate about forty minutes from the time my flight to Birmingham was supposed to depart. Forty minutes, at the Atlanta Airport, isn't very much time. Especially when you've got to wheel yourself from Concourse A to Concourse T, and that's the task I had before me. So bent was I on making my plane, that as I was jockeying for a place on that little subway train that moves you between Concourses, I locked eyes with a woman whose heart was also bent on the one (or two) spot(s) left on that train. With my eyes, I plainly told her, I am willing to fight you for this. If you want this spot, it's going to take a lot more from you than your kindergarten-grade intimidation tactics can accomplish. And, despite her fancy shoes and the superior attitude won for her by her shiny shiny hair, she stepped out of my way. And at that moment, I'd say she made a wise choice. Beware the Susanator. Especially on the Ides of March. Susan, armed with a wheelie and an entirely selfish mission, can be fearsome, I admit. Merrily, I sallied forth across an elderly English woman and a family of four as it dawned on me that I am, in fact, not as much of a weenie as I would allow myself (or other people) to admit. And perhaps (of course this is a stretch being that I'm just so darn sweet) I've misused some people in my life. And, frankly, I consider myself to be entirely justified, so long as they started it. This isn't how Jesus would behave in the airport. I'm starting to think that telling me what a weenie I am was a great way for Evil to hide from me what a weenie I'm not.

It will be interesting, for the next few weeks, to figure out where this ephiphanic episode will lead. In the meantime, enjoy the Violent Femmes.

and it's so profound

and I like its rhythm

and I like its sound

it's by a very famous poet

no critic can criticise

and then I pause a moment

and I start to realize

he's tellin'

lies lies lies...

The Violent Femmes

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Turkish Delight

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a little book called The Blithedale Romance about an adventure he had as a young man on a socialist commune called Brook Farm. He devotes his entire introduction to a passionate denial that the story is written from personal experience, but no critic has ever believed him, especially in light of the fact that many of his characters bear an absolutely uncanny resemblance to the original inhabitants of Brook Farm. As you can imagine it would, the Brook Farm experiment ended rather badly when Hawthorne realized the sheer volume of work involved in running a farm and sued the collective for his original $400 "buy-in" amount. He won.

There is a passage describing a certain man, Hollingsworth, who has committed his life to the seemingly noble cause of reforming prisoners. His singular devotion to this "philanthropy" puzzles the other members of Blithedale, being that they intentionally left society to escape the influence of such men. Hawthorne describes him as having taken a turn from his originally honorable goal and become so bent on "proselytizing" others and recruiting them into his work that his ambitions have ceased to be commendable and have instead become patently evil at the core. Hawthorne goes so far as to refer to Hollingsworth's state of mind as the work of a Deceptive Devil. If you join such a man for the first phase of his journey but refuse to continue on with him for the second and third, Hawthorne explains, his hatred for you will not know bounds. He will consciously seek to work you woe and extract a heavy payment for your desertion. It's a rather chilling passage.

When I read Hawthorne, I often want to jump out of my chair and exclaim Eureka! This is it! This is the ideal explanation for the woes of the world around me! Never has the work of any writer been so validating to my own observations as is Hawthorne's, and this is the basis for my love affair. Hawthorne's description of Hollingsworth's "bent," as I've come to think of it, strikes me in such a way.

In a religious context, I've often met men like Hollingsworth. At first (or second or twentieth) meeting, I perceived them as possessing a winsome affection for the people associated with their Cause. They might, as Hollingsworth does, nurse the sick with great tenderness, but it will always be with the goal of proselytising effectively. Once won, these modern Hollingsworths will, by the power of their fickle affections, make you feel accepted and complete. This, they seem to say (indeed they do say) is where you belong. And you believe it. Because you want to. Because all your life you've been wanting to belong. This insidious need to Belong is the Turkish Delight of Man's days Here Below. Though it might be Heaven's relic designed to guide us homeward, its charm is strong and we can't resist gobbling up a counterfeit should we be so fortunate to find one. And once so settled, it is hard to perceive that we are now entirely converted and equally monomaniacal in our aim and purpose to convert, by any means necessary.

But Hope Enters, stage left, and with a little clay and a little spittle opens our eyes. For a moment, we perceive that we aren't home. Like the missionary who arrived at New York from a long African deployment at the same time as a President and wondered why the celebration wasn't his, we aren't Home yet. Earth doesn't satisfy. In fact, our souls are often wooed to the desert intentionally, so we won't be deceived into settling for the false and icy palace of a Snow Queen. I've found that at the moment of despair, Hope comes like a cheerful father wanting to whirl me around with my eyes closes. You would think, says Karen Peris, that Hope would be tired. But it's alright. And it leads you away from the familiar, out of the boat, out of a comfortable home and places you on a path to Heaven. Hope holds my hand. Hope shines the way. Out of the crowd of Hollingsworths, Hope draws me away.

This has been a hard year, or three years, actually. When I look at my face in the pictures from our vacation, I see the hardness etched on my face. But I look carefully, and I see Hope, underneath it all peeking out like a row of women welcoming a war ship with flags flying out of the mist of the Golden Gate Bridge. You would think now that Hope would be tired. You would think now that Hope would be ragged and Oil Brown. But, it's alright. It's alright.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Grumpy Old Hippies and Dim Sum for Two

I landed in Birmingham last night, safe and sound. My father picked my up from the airport and I came directly home to write a paper. I didn't wake up until about ten this morning. My brain is still on the West Coast floating down The Embarcadero barking with the seals, flying over Alcatraz Island and over the Golden Gate Bridge. I love California. I love the health food stores, the excercise, the bright bay air and the green-thinking people. I even love Southern California with the beautiful beaches and high-breaking waves. I love that the people in San Francisco don't do the Chicago Walk down the sidewalk. (Although I confess, I DO perform the Chicago Walk down the street in Birmingham, in San Francisco, in Seattle, in Chicago. It involves looking over the heads of the people pushing past you on the sidewalk toward the place you want to go and sallying forth without mercy. The cardinal rules are as follows: Don't make eye contact with anyone. Don't change course. Don't break stride. Ever.)

I have a lot to say about my experiences in Sunny San Francisco, which is, incedentally the most beautiful city I've ever visited. I'm a little tired right now, though, and I've got to go outside and tend to the patch of weeds we call a yard before David flies home on Friday. I've lots of pictures.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wise old Uncle Nate.

The fibers and sinews of my brain are as limp and lifeless as soggy spaghetti. (And you can tell it's true because I just wrote that sentence.) For the past two days, I've closely read something like 10 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's shorter stories and essays, written a position paper and compiled some criticism for a graduate student-lead class that's going to take place on Wednesday. I'm loving being back in the classroom. It's been so long since I've had a conversation about literary criticism that I'd almost forgotten how useless it is, and how I love to discuss it. My mind is being scratched in places I didn't know it was itching.

I'm particularly loving Hawthorne. I don't think I've ever studied his work completely enough to realize how relevant it is to modern (neopuritanical) American culture. Here's an example. And here is an excerpt of my paper:

Here Hawthorne employs the curious appearance of a veiled Pastor Hooper not only as a metaphor for secret sin, but as a criticism of a pervasive Puritan culture that by a near monomaniacal quest for perceived piety would prevent Hooper from “showing his inmost heart” to his congregation, his “best-beloved,” or even to his God. It is the act of hiding sin, rather than the occasion of sin itself, Hawthorne implies, that forces such isolation upon the individual. By carrying these effects of latent sin in the form of a black veil, Hooper exemplifies to his nonplussed congregation the lonely consequence of proudly and intentionally obscuring personal shortcoming.

I'm not a theorist, but I love what Hawthorne is getting at here. When we hide our sin, we isolate ourselves. It's a theme I see over and over again in the work of the 19th Century masters, and it's something I'd love to think about more. There's something cleverly profound in Hawthorne's work that makes me think I've found a new favorite.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I wish I didn't enjoy blogging so much. If I didn't, I'm sure I would quit. I think that for every ten blog entries I write, I have to explain, or defend, at least one. (I'm sure that Brian T. Murphy is even less a stranger to that phenomenon!) And sometimes, even I can see several meanings for one sentence and I realize that defense is futile. Thus was the case with my last post, so I killed it.

And now, with 150 pages of Hawthorne waiting to be read, I'll check out of here for today. Public Library, here I come. But, take heart, I'm sure that my desire to share the adventures of my first day of school as an Old Woman will best my desire to just buy a notebook for Pete's sake.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What we need is a PUNK REVOLUTION!

Yesterday, I saw a Husker Du sticker on a Volvo stationwagon and just like that, I was again a twelve-year-old girl in the back of a 1988 Honda Civic hatchback on a fall afternoon. I remember the smell of horse (the smell of my childhood) on the saddle-blanket I was sitting on, and clinging to my best friend Erin as her older brother took too many turns too fast on the way home from the barn. Randall was a senior at Indian Springs that year, and he was determined to work some kind of corrupting influence on his little sister and her friend in revenge for being forced to pick them up. Listen to this, he said, and pushed a tape into the player.

What came out of the speakers and rattled the windows of that little car was Husker Du and Eight Miles High. I was consumed with terror, nausea and elation as I experienced my first taste of American hardcore punk rock. Certainly,this was forbidden territory for a sixth-grader at Briarwood Christian School and surely I was among some bad people. I was thrilled to near-death. This, I remember thinking to myself, is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. I didn't know Black Flag from Bad Brains, Husker Du from a hole in the wall, but I knew that I had learned something about myself and I knew that I couldn't tell anyone at school about it.

Over the years, I slowly figured out how British punk had given way to American Hardcore and learned to love bands from the post-punk era like Mission of Burma, Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxie and the Banshees, U2, PiL and The Church. As I got older, I loved The Cure, The Smiths, Sonic Youth and REM. Now, when I hear people talk about U2, I laugh. Your U2 isn't my U2, I want to say. I hid this obsession with "secular music" (you've got to screw your nose up to pronounce that correctly) until I got caught buying Disintegration in Turtles when I was on a Briarwood Raiders outing. My Raiders leader told my mom I wasn't "walking with the Lord." My mom told her off. And I went back to my closet obsession.

Now, when I think about fall, I think about Husker Du and I laugh to myself about how long ago this music was popular. When I hear young musicians talking about their influences, I get that weird feeling that I'm utterly out of my era. Sure, I like Patty Griffin. Ryan Adams isn't half bad on a slow day. And I can get into Reg's Coffeehouse, but nothing, no nothing, blows my doors off like Husker Du on a bright blue morning.

Oy. Oy. Oy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sweetness Follows

Readying to bury your father and your mother,
what did you think when you lost another?
I used to wonder why did you bother,
distanced from one, blind to the other.
But sweetness follows.
Listen here my sister and my brother
what would you care if you lost the other?
I always wonder why did we bother,
distanced from one, blind to the other.
But sweetness follows.
It's these little things, they can pull you under.
Live your life filled with joy and wonder.
I always knew this altogether thunder
was lost in our little lives.
But sweetness follows.

We Will All Go Together When We Go: Or, One Night in Manchester

Sometimes, I have a rare sort of emotional rumbling best described as a belonging feeling. I've had no more than seven or so during my life on earth, and they always mark some kind of momentous occasion. Like most of life's momentous occasions, I don't recognize them as particularly momentous until their memories have gone soft and sepia in the rock-turner of my mind. It's too early to tell, but I think I might have had such a moment on Saturday night at the Cracker Barrel in Manchester, Tennessee.

I was standing by a display of pumpkin-and-vine dishware when a six-and-a-half-foot man dressed in a polyester leopard print shirt loosely laced from his navel to his Adam's apple wove past a cotton-haired lady in a brown apron toward the hostess station. I'm not sure he could have drawn more eyes if he had come walking in arm-in-arm with a camel in hot-pants, but I am sure he left plenty of dropped toothpicks in his wake as the vast variety of assembled Bubbas stopped to stare, mouths yawning in shock and glee, as they struggled to discern an appropriate insult to whisper amongst themselves. The man didn't seem to notice that the narrow aisle between the jar candles and old-fashioned candy had become his catwalk as he pranced past the appliqued t-shirts in his own personal pride parade. This, I thought to myself, is going to be interesting. And it was. This evening, it seems, was destined to be a foray into the surreal.

It wasn't long after we sat down that I saw a tall gray man walk past the window. He wouldn't have been particularly interesting if it hadn't been for his flat-top haircut and his shirt sleeves. It seems that the sleeves of his white button-up had been cut and hemmed until they were only about two inches long. His jeans were rolled up to reveal white socks in brown dress shoes. I caught his message. This, he seemed to say, was who I was. It was me who picked your daughter up in a '55 Ford and made doughnuts in your soybean field. When my mother-in-law's huge blue eyes got a few times larger, I just looked back at her and said, Nice. Which is what I say when something is either not nice at all, or when I just don't know what else will fit.

Soon, a white Ford 250 pulled up and an entire family rolled out into the parking lot. The two women had masses of hair flowing down their backs past the elastic waistbands of their skirts. I call this particular kind of people Churchagods, because that's usually where you can find them on Sunday mornings. (It's at this moment that I want to be able to write something witty about them. I want to be able to make some kind of remark about this kind of subordination--do they feel subordinated?-- of women, that will make you laugh and dissipate some of the internal tension I feel when I try to write about them. There was a time when I stood before a group of people and pledged to submit myself to the all-male leadership of a church. In retrospect, I am altogether embarrassed to remember this moment. I wonder if, even for a moment, we stop and realize what it is we're actually doing when, as women, we do that?) So, this is all somewhat of an aside, but when I saw these women walk in, I started having that belonging feeling and I started to realize why.

I thought about the man in the leopard shirt and I wondered if it's hard to be gay, and not only gay, but OBVIOUSLY, FLAMINGLY, HOMOSEXUAL in a small Tennessee town. I imagine he's built up a kind of toughness that would easily surpass that of my friend in the cut-off sleeves. What must it be to be like that? What must it be to be the object of attention always? And then, I remembered that Little Richard (yes, that Little Richard) lives just down the road. And I thought it interesting that he would choose to return to his small Tennessee town. And I don't have an answer for this mystery other than that it is some sort of mystery that not belonging sometimes feels comfortable. So, it becomes clear to me: the feeling of belonging comes from a shared feeling of not belonging. Not belonging in your body, not belonging in your era, not belonging in your church, and not belonging, ultimately, on this planet. So, I think my point isn't that I am weird, but that we all are. Like puzzle pieces, we fit together in our differences. And the image that I'm left with is that of an entire nation of weirdos struggling together to find a normal that doesn't really exist.

Monday, August 20, 2007

On a Happier Note...

I start school on Monday. My parents baby-sat Corduroy this weekend so that I could have one last swimming weekend in Tennessee. In addition to T.S. Stribling's autobiography (!!!!!) , my mother-in-law gave me two giant Pink Pearl erasers. I kind of have a thing for Pink Pearl erasers. She offered me two zebra erasers, but I'm an Old Fashioned girl. Abby gave me a folder with puppies on it and four animal pencils that I can't wait to sharpen. David bought me a binder with flowers on it, lots of quad-ruled filler paper and a composition book (also quad-ruled)!!! I could die in school-supply heaven.

I've also been given some good advice like that from Amanda who said "Don't be that old student who makes everyone stay late." I have to admit, I probably will be.

Though my body is twenty-nine (or thirty) though my mind is an old thing, I am always beginning the world. Karen Peris

Update on Corduroy, Part Two

Corduroy's electrocardiogram showed a beautiful heart thumping bravely and regularly. The veterinarian, Dr. Ingrid Straeter-Knowlen, is also an M.D. who taught at U.A.B. medical school until she decided to see animals full-time. (And you can't blame her, can you?) She recently did the heart transplant on Babec the silver-back gorilla at the Birmingham Zoo. Unfortunately, Babec died, but he was a very old gorilla. All that to say, I felt pretty confident in Dr. Straeter-Knowlen's ability to examine one red Golden Retriever.

Dr. Straeter felt that Corduroy has a fungal infection, so we were back to our regular clinic that afternoon for a fungal titer and a round of anti-fungal medication. Fortunately, the survival rate for dogs in good health with fungal infections is almost 85% with treatment. Unfortunately, the treatment is not inexpensive. We should have the results of the blood tests by Wednesday and we're headed back to the vet this afternoon for another ultra-sound and some additional blood work. If the fungal titer comes back negative, we'll do a auto-immune panel to determine if Corduroy has some kind of auto-immune disorder. (I think the prognosis for those disorders is not good.)

If you have a minute, please pray that Corduroy's white blood cell count will be down and her red blood cell count will be up.

We Smiths feel hopeful. Corduroy feels tired of going to the vet and I can't say I feel any differently. I'm grateful for the great care of this small army of vets. I don't think I get better medical care than they are providing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Update on my Little Red Friend

Corduroy had the second series of x-rays today. When the sweet vet came back into the room, I could tell by the look on her face that things were pretty bad. Corduroy's spleen looked enlarged and her bloodwork came back worse than it had been before. She prepared me for the worst to occur in short order. David came from work to help make the decision. The vet ordered an abdominal ultrasound just to verify what she felt confident of seeing on the film.

Fortunately (and maybe miraculously) Corduroy's spleen looked normal on the ultrasound. However, the problem of white blood cells (way too many) and red blood cells (way too few) remains, so tomorrow, we're going to a vetrinary cardiologist for a thoracic electrocardiogram. We're praying not to find a tumor of the heart.

Things are not good for Team Smith. We are sad. We're not ready for our friend to go.

The only thing I don't like about dogs is that they never ever last long enough.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Weekend Happening

Last Saturday, David and I went to the downtown library. Doing so is a simple pleasure in which we often indulge. There's something about all of that information, categorized and numbered and read and treasured and useful forever that makes me feel civlilzed. Intellegent. Hopeful that I, too, can grasp education and self-improvement with the aid of that universal passport, the Library Card.

As we crossed the parking lot, a wizened man shot toward us like some kind of black rocket intent on shaking us down for a few quarters. "Help an old nigger out." he said. David and I cringed, humiliated by the painful surrealism of being two white people in a nice car being panhandled by an old black man in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. "I'll get down on my knees." As he stooped to do so, David grabbed his arm and set him on his feet. I was thankful. At that moment, I couldn't have stood it. This city breathes history from every storm drain. Like coal dust and foundry soot and iron ore, we'll never cast off the scars of freedom riders and firehoses and police dogs. We'd never be allowed even if we could.

When I saw how the heat beat his head mercilessly and recognized his t-shirt from a formal I attended something like ten years ago, the desire to ease this man's burden pressed my heart into turning his scarred hand over and pouring the meager contents of my wallet into his upturned palm. As I did, I put my hand underneath his to steady its shaking and because I somehow wanted to cover those track marks so Jesus wouldn't see. I don't know where my head was. "Heal it from the inside out," I whispered to myself in case heaven was listening. Of course, at that moment, I knew where my quarters would end up. For some reason, I didn't care. I just wanted to make it better for him even if it meant staving off nighttime for a moment or two. Afterwards, he rocketed off to parts unknown for purposes certain.

Ironically, we returned to the library the next day. As we pulled (in our nice car) underneath the electronic gate to the parking lot, a black rocket man popped up outside David's window. "Help an old nigger out," he sang. "We went through this yesterday, remember?" David replied, "And we don't have any more quarters." At that moment, a muscular black security guard emerged from the air conditioning and expelled the man from the parking lot with a shaking fist and a harsh voice. "You the niggers!" shouted the ousted man. "You the white folk, niggers!" he said as he rounded the corner and out of sight. With lowered heads,we went inside.

As we drove home, we talked about who we are and what we do. We counted our blessings, realizing all the while that we can't help who we are any more than we could change our race or erase the reality of our privileged childhoods. We just are. Blessed and grateful, but are just the same. So, home we drove, past the men sleeping in Brother Bryan Park. Past the men and women standing waiting for supper at Highlands Methodist Church. Past Chez Fon Fon and Starbucks and the health food store. Home. Where we belong.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Everyone who knew me before 9-11 thinks I'm dead. Sometimes, I wonder if they're right. In the evening when the sun sinks pink and the katy-dids start up, I sit on my front porch and think about that mystery: If every living link to your past thinks you're dead, can you really be alive? Sometimes, after a few drinks, I start believing that maybe I'm just writing now to satisfy some Celestial Jury in whose hands my Eternal Destiny has been placed. When I was little, I saw some movie on television about people who died and spent a week in heaven waiting on their final judgement. They rode on those open-door trains like you ride on in the parking lot at Disney. You know, the ones who are driven by the perky teenagers in flip-collard Polo shirts and white tennis shoes? If one of those things pulled up right now, I couldn't claim to be all that surprised.

If I had the chance to recast the past six years, I might. But then again, I've always heard the voice of destiny pushing me just this way. Destiny speaks with a voice you can't resist, even when you realize it might need a little help to keep turning the wheels it put in motion for you.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Far Too Close to the Bone

Corduroy Dog was sick this week. And not just a little bit. I plied her with scrambled eggs, lamb chops, turkey, peanut butter, leftover meatloaf, ham, hoagies, Parmesan and special (extra yummy, they say) dog food, but she only ate three bites in two days. She drank water, but couldn't keep it down. When we left the vet on Monday morning, I had to stoop and lift her compliant body into the car. Even her fur looked sick. Finally, her temperature is back to normal and she ate five hamburger buns, a chicken breast, seven green beans and a lamb chop before going to sleep last night. When she's finished her antibiotic, we'll go back to the clinic to have another x-ray and an ultrasound to determine if some suspicious-looking patches on her lungs are cancer or snot. Cancer or snot. That could be a metaphor for life. When we have bad things happen to us, we've just got to wait and see if they'll turn out to be cancer or snot.

Snot, of course, isn't pleasant and it can make us feel as if we're dying. But in the end, it's only snot, and when the ragweed dies or the virus runs its course, we'll be back to normal. Cancer, on the other hand, has to be dealt with aggressively and with determination to be cured. If it can be cured at all. I realize that what I've been dealing with for the past few months, that black cloud that's been over my head as I dwell contentedly in the quotidian* below, is probably cancer. I think my prognosis is good and my will to survive is strong, but it's going to take some effort to fully recover. I see signs of life when I realize I still do love people who I can't talk to anymore and when I realize that the hope that died has been replaced by a new hope I hold for myself.

When I went to Montevallo to register yesterday, there was hope. When I realize that the life I always wanted is starting to bloom around me, there was hope. When I realize that I'm still able to talk to God and that I still want to be part of a church family, there is hope. In spite of everything, while I no longer believe** people are good at heart (or anywhere else for that matter), I realize I'm still going to be able to love some of them and walk with some of them as a part of a church. And that, perhaps, is the greatest miracle of my life.

*The word quotidian is one of my new favorites. Elizabeth Dewberry used it in an interview I read recently (wow, Elizabeth Dewberry has had her business on the Internet lately!) when she was discussing her relationship to then-husband Robert Olen Butler. "But what I needed to know," she said, "Was how we would manage in the quotidian." It was so delightfully pretentious that I had to claim it as my own.

**Among the things I no longer believe are the notions that we were created to suffer and that God derives some twisted pleasure from seeing us thrown under the wheels of life. I don't know why I feel the need to add that. Perhaps it's because those ideas are also cancerous.

***It's sad that I make footnotes for my blog. I wonder what my thesis (which, by the way, I have to start working on NEXT SEMESTER!!!!!) will look like. I think I have a sad little footnoted brain.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Montevallo Confederation

Since David and I moved to Southside, we've noticed that a startling number of our dearest friends were students at the University of Montevallo. This afternoon, I was informed that I'll be joining their number later this month. This is a huge redemption for me. God is faithful to me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Thunder Storm

Today, I remembered that Friederich Burgmuller is good therapy. When I play alone, I sing along. One of my very favorite Burgmuller pieces is called "Ballade." When I play it I sing "NowI'mveryangry. NowI'mveryangry. Ha. Ha. Now I'm GLAAAAD!!! I'm GLAAAAAAAD!" (Here's a video of a little girl playing it, so that you can sing at home, too. Try it. It's good for you.)

My poor little piano hasn't been so abused in its entire life. I love my piano lessons because my teacher has an elegant grand piano that makes a beautiful sound--much better than my little spinet. Sometimes, my teacher plays her little digital piano and I play the big piano and we play duets. I love to see how loud I can make her piano get. I feel that if my piano was a person, she'd be a little old lady named Dottie and she would say, Do you have to mash my pedals so hard, sugar? My piano teacher's piano would be a man in a tuxedo named Captain Picard and he would probably, in an English accent, make fun of how poorly I play. Frankly, I find your Beethoven to be a bit twee, he would say. And I would say Shut up, Captian Picard, or I'm gonna mash your pedals.

P.S. They say that if you look into a mirror and say "Bloody Burgmuller" three times, a little Asian lady will creep up behind you and play a duet with you! I can't wait to try it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

“Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religiouscomplexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In itsstead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activitieswhich occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart.The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and theservile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testifythat we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcelyat all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must firstdetermine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as alwaysGod discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness from thewise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him. Wemust strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). Wemust put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor ofchildhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond. When religionhas said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. Theevil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in fullrevelation. In the “and” lies our great woe. If we omit the “and”, we shall soonfind God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives beensecretly longing.” A W Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 1948

Sunday, July 29, 2007

She's Filled With Secrets!

I've been writing a lot lately. I'm trying to put together some coherent body of work to use as a pole-vault to another goal. It's the dirt-work, if you will, of a greater ambition. It's good for me. It makes me feel like I have a purpose. And most of all, it makes me feel connected with other art. And that makes me feel alive. This weekend, David and I went to the Carver Theater to see the short films made as a part of the Sidewalk Scramble for the Sidewalk Film Festival. To be honest, we only went because our friend Jason had edited one of the films, but we ended up enjoying ourselves immensely.

This year, scramble participants based their five-minute films on the work of a particular director (Quentin Tarintino, Sofia Coppola, David Lynch, M. Night Shyamalan and Woody Allen), an assigned phrase and a particular object. With two exceptional exceptions (Jason's film and an interesting tale of corporate evil called "Branded") the Tarintino and Shyamalan imitations weren't very notable. Woody Allen had a good representation in a film called "Cutting Teeth." But my favorite films were based on those directed by David Lynch. Most of the directors had the same idea in copping the backwards-talking dwarf from "Twin Peaks," but one in particular had an irregular dream scene (what is a regular dream?) and even a reference to Garmonbozia! (You're gonna have to find out on your own. I really don't think I can explain it, except for that in my mind, it's going to be HARMONbozia from now on!)

Last night, I even had a dream about the Twin Peaks dwarf. He shuffled into our bedroom and said "This is where the pies go to die."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Sometimes, when people talk to me about theology, I want to kill myself a little bit.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Artist in the Art

Boom-Go-Round, Remy Hanemann (At the Harleyville Project)

This is a photograph from the Matthew Marks Gallery. (That's Nan Goldin's gallery representation in the U.S.)

I had an opportunity to see an exhibit of photographs by Nan Goldin at the Chicago Institute of Art back in November. I didn't like them. I dismissed her work as cheap porn shot in "available light." Her work is cheap porn shot in "available light." Some critics are quick to point out that she used a slideshow exhibition because museums and galleries weren't really interested in photography back in the late seventies when she began to work, and she could exhibit a slideshow in indie film festivals. I think that's silly. I think she exhibited her work at little sticky-floored porn theaters. I didn't know anything about Nan Goldin back in November. I know a little bit more now.

She describes her work best: Every time I go through something scary, traumatic, I survive by taking pictures. You also help other people to survive. Memory about them does not disappear, because they are on your pictures. It is about keeping a record of the lives I lost, so they cannot be completely obliterated from memory. My work is mostly about memory. It is very important to me that everybody that I have been close to in my life I make photographs of them. Because these pictures are not about statistics, about showing people die, but it is all about individual lives. In the case of New York, most creative and freest souls in the city died. New York is not New York anymore. I've lost it and I miss it. They were dying because of AIDS.

It makes sense to me now. I get it. In that exhibit, I saw pictures of beaten women, dying men, people in the shower, people having sex. She even took pictures of herself having sex. In a sense, she made a record of her life in photographs. And then, she shared her life in whatever way she could. Perhaps, and this is where I could go off the existential rails, she thought she would cease to exist if she couldn't show her work somewhere. Anywhere. I still don't like Nan Goldin's work. Sorry.

This makes me wonder about what draws us to art in the first place. I consider the work of two artists I admire. One of them made beautiful sculptures in public places. He made iron reflect the sky and interact with the environment in which it was placed. I don't know him, though. I just know his work. And I like it. Another, makes art from iron scrap that looks like various weapons of mass destruction. He makes crazy little bombs and missiles and adds wheels and tires and propellers. What he ends up with are wonky little vehicles that look like toys (if toys could blow up and kill you.) I like his work. But, I also like him. So, is it possible that I like his work because I like him? Can the two be separated? I'm not sure. It might be that this is a conundrum even more readily applied to writers. Maybe.

You know who I don't like? Thomas Pynchon. I think he's having a big laugh at us. Somewhere, nobody seems to know where, Tomas Pynchon is sitting in a fancy living room drinking Courvoisier giggling at all the academics pretending to get his work. The joke is that there's really nothing to get. Sometimes, the emperor really is naked. But then again, I've never read an interview with Pynchon. I've never seen a picture of him. He's never given any explination of his work. So, I look at it in a vacuum and I hate it. But would I hate it if I really liked him? I don't know.

How much of who I am goes into what I do? Can something be just craft, or do we fingerprint things in an unavoidable way for better or for worse? Is art really art if you don't know the artist? (And wow, could I go off on the theology of that. )

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Flotsam and Jetsam of a Life

November 1976: A Little Girl's Answered Prayer
January 1986: The Restlessness to Come/An Explosion in the Sky
September 1995: The Ugly Ducking Deceives Herself By Finding Something True
December 1999: The End of Something Big/The Despised Day of Small Things
September 2001: The Confusion to Come / An Explosion in the Sky
October 2002: Resolution
May 2003: Confirmation of a Course
February 2005: The Green Green Rabbit Trail to Boneyard Beach

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Let's Encyclopedia Brown This..Ahem...And Some Random Observations

I just saw 1408. I was the only person in the theater. I was so frightened that when it was over, I grabbed my bag and ran out of the theater waving my arms like a little kid playing Red Rover. Someone somewhere is laughing at the security tape of me sucking my thumb and running out of there. This movie is worth the $$ to watch in the theater.

Here are some things I've been thinking this week as I've been watching the Operation Rescue people protest. I haven't seen any NOW protesters. I heard that OR picketed Briarwood on Sunday and told the Birmingham News that they had permission from "a senior pastor." That turned out to be a lie, however, and apparently, no one from Briarwood was at all thrilled or inspired (to anything other than irritation) about the protest. This reinforces my belief that these people are crazy and tend to play a little loose with the truth. I'm also hearing that my neighbors who were actually here for the Eric Robert Rudolph bombing (it was about 5 blocks away from here) are a little traumatized by all the hoopla happening this week. And so am I, actually.'s some randomness.

I'm starting to believe that the end of the world might actually be near. I see the harbingers of that great Apocalypse in Revelation. And they aren't in the candidacy of Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton. They're in the church, in our homes, in the heart of Christians. Perhaps the black doom I've been taught to watch for on the news and in Supreme Court opinions has been hiding in the church all this time. "We're Christians!" We say. But we don't read the scriptures. We don't speak to God. We don't believe in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. We don't believe in anything but "Social Justice." And the problem is that we don't even believe in that.

Yesterday, I saw a woman blowing a ram's horn by the fountain on Five Points. This is a battle cry to end abortion! She said. I saw little children leaning over a wall at Vulcan Park holding a banner with a picture of an aborted baby for passers-by to see. End abortion now! And, I realize that this is the way the world has always been. Mothers have always sacrificed their babies to idols whether it be Molech or college. This is nothing new. What's new, I reason, is the flaccid response of the manic Christians who drive their cars with their pro-life bumper stickers and take pictures of grief-stricken teenagers being hauled into abortion clinics so they can post them on their blogs. The evil in America is us. The evil in America isn't the New World Order. The evil in America is us. And I feel crazy creeping through the streets like the black plague.

I need Jesus to return to save me. I need him to save me from sin. I need him to save me from Hell. I need him to save me from you. I need him to save me from myself before this world makes me stark raving mad.

T Minus 30 Years: Houston, We Have Liftoff

I always cry when I see yellow footage of the Apollo launches. It's something about American hope during that era. Maybe it grew from success in a collective push to defeat the common evil of Soviet communism. Maybe it grew from the naive ideas that America would always be for Americans, that our destructive impulses could never compete with Nature's power to heal itself, and that our consumer urge was propelling us toward greatness like a Saturn V rocket. Anyway, it makes me emotional. We don't hope like that anymore.

In my favorite view of what I think was Apollo 8, you can see the towers that tether the rocket to the launch pad give way in succession as the rocket rises toward the Wild Black Yonder in a cloud of fire and ice and steam. I don't know what those towers are called. My father-in-law, who is a genuine rocket scientist, does. To me, those towers represent fear. If my life were a Saturn V rocket, I would be prepared for liftoff.

If I were to name five of my greatest fears, I would realize that each one of them has come to fruition over the course of the past few weeks. I've faced demons and giants that have haunted me for years in a very narrow span of time. I've found them to be every bit as daunting as I imagined them to be, but I conquered them all. I'm left in the rather uncomfortable place of being without excuse. There really isn't anything left to dread. Of course,there are always unexpected disasters, but the old mountains, the really old demons, the fears I've treasured and fed and cherished all my life are conquered. I think there might be nothing left to do but launch.

And yeah, I editied this a lot. My previous draft really, really frightened me. And I try not to scare myself.