Friday, December 21, 2007
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 ...sucks?
Friday, December 14, 2007
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
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
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
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
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
Thursday, November 08, 2007
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
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):
(And gratitude to God who Does NOT leave us where we fall.)
Saturday, November 03, 2007
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
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
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
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
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
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
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
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
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.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
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
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
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
How much organic insufficiency can be surmounted with the will to work? Answer to follow....
Friday, September 28, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
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
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
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
Saturday, September 15, 2007
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
lies lies lies...
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Thursday, September 06, 2007
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
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
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
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
Go ANGRY TEAPOTS!!!
Thursday, August 02, 2007
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
Sunday, July 29, 2007
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
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
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
Thursday, July 19, 2007
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. Anyway...here'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.
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.