oh my soul

“But nobody said things were going to be easy. A taste for the sublime is a greed like any other, after all.” – Annie Dillard, “An Expedition to the Pole”

“A mustard seed was all I needed to sow a dream” – Chance the Rapper, “How Great”

“When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said, ‘My son Absalom, O my son, would God I had died for thee.’” – Eric Whitacre, “When David Heard” (2 Samuel 18:33)


Holy Week has just ended. The Church has collectively remembered that two thousand years ago we killed God and he loved us anyway. We said, “We have a law, and according to that law, he ought to die,” and so God died at our hands. God gave us a temple and we said, “We don’t need that, we have other places to go.” God said, “I’m here to talk to you,” and we looked behind us, around corners, over our shoulders like “Who? You must not mean me.”

Please don’t think me a good Christian. I don’t know what I am, but good is not part of it. Me, I’m confused. I’m pretentious. I don’t really doubt much, but I definitely do question. I hate to pray aloud. I am a judgy church-goer. I despise contemporary worship music. I’m terrible, really. I want everyone to believe in God, to know that there is more than just humans and our toils, but I am unwilling to evangelize. Sometimes I read the gospels and Jesus seems like a robot to me. Sometimes I don’t read the gospels at all. I feel embarrassed to tell cool non-Christians that I’m a Christian. I feel nervous about writing all of this. I fear that I’m not being humble. In fact, I know that I’m often either proud or mute and bashful or a weird combination of both.

But my soul belongs to God. I gave my soul away long ago, the most precious thing I own. I gave it back to the being who made it in the first place, and frankly I’m astonished that I was strong enough to do that. My faith is a fertile, fertile mustard seed, planted in my simple childhood, rooted and sprouting, irreversible, though my grubby fingers often try to pull it out of the ground and put it somewhere else for safekeeping. I’ve read the Bible, I love the stories and know them. I think the Bible is the most beautiful thing in the world and I also frequently think myself too cool to think about it very much. I have not been consistently attending a church lately because it felt socially exhausting, and our schedule has not allowed it. I am not a good Christian.

But I am one. All the way.  My soul belongs to God.

I spent Good Friday at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue thinking about Jesus, about sons, about death and fear and grief. About humans, mostly, and how heavy the weight of life is, how bad we are at living well. The words, “my son, my son, my son, my son, my son” rang in my ear, and I felt my future children stir somewhere in the half-light of another world and I grieved for their death, someday. Rachel weeping for her children. I don’t know Jesus because he was an actual human and he is no longer on earth, but I do know that love is stronger than death and nothing can make sense of the pain of being alive except God and his own grief. The choir sang this passage: “When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, and thus he said, “My son Absalom, O my son, would God I had died for thee.” At the end of the service, the bells rang thirty-three times and the lights dimmed in the cathedral until only the light of Christ was left, the candle, which was then snuffed out by the pastor, a woman. And for a moment, all was silent and dark on Michigan Avenue in this giant stone room, and I could hardly breathe.

And then everyone around me got up too fast, shuffling silently down the aisle, so pedestrian. And I still could not move, was angry that anyone had moved, wanted to stay suspended in the otherworldly holy darkness, God’s grief and mine too, black reverence, Jesus’ death. God’s son, God’s son, God’s son. Until I did. I got up and walked. A little girl walking beside me looked back at her mother and whispered, “Where’s my hat?” In the lobby I saw heavy rain out the door, busses roaring past, the John Hancock building. The world still zipping by though Jesus, who I do not live in the right time or place to have known personally, had died again and I had killed him, though all my future children will die too and I cannot save them, though children weep in Syria and everywhere, my son, my son, my son. And I too wondered, “Where’s my hat? Why didn’t I bring an umbrella? Where should I wait until my husband can pick me up when he’s done with work? What will I eat for dinner?” Feeling everything and nothing, simultaneously feeling silent in the weight of the darkness and getting up right away to shuffle on to somewhere else. I sat on the steps of the church under the eaves and waited for Isaiah to come pick me up. A homeless man asked me for money, and I lied and said I had none.

So complicated to be human. So complicated to belong to God.

The view from the steps outside Fourth Presbyterian church on Good Friday.

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Amy and I both have a penchant for making intensely manicured playlists corresponding to the shifting of seasons.  Literal ones, like spring and summer, not emotional ones.  (Though in college, that was not off the table and we have both also been known to make extremely long playlists corresponding to a singularly aggrandized moment.) (How clear is it that we’re 4’s on the Enneagram?)

Amy’s idea of upbeat music is Been to Canaan by Carole King.  We’ll just leave that there.  I almost never want to listen to “chill” music, ESPECIALLY not Bon Iver or something that sounds like you’re sitting in the woods for an unspecified amount of time. What is background music??? You can’t listen to music and not be listening to it!

Jess and Amy survey the ocean of difference in their perceptions of listenable music.

We have done our best to put our differences aside on this playlist of spring jams, which is surprisingly bereft of show tunes, our one great overlapping musical love (besides Joni Mitchell, who is present on the playlist).  We invite you to listen to it while picking wildflowers, going to the doctor, being climbed upon by a baby, traveling to Tulsa, opening a package from Amazon, or learning the trade of carpentry. We recommend listening in the order we arranged it in – this is not one to be shuffled! Srsly, you’ll get whiplash going back and forth between our yin and yang. Enjoy!

The Minutes, Pt. 5, 6, & Beyond!

Location: My house / Amy’s Nanny House

Duration: ~2 hours

Date: 2.21.17

On this day, Amy was trapped in a house with an ill toddler, so to promote health and combat adversity we worked from separate spaces in a flurry of phone calls and text messages, because we are living in a material world and we are two material girls. 

-Discovered we needed to credit darling Jack for his darling designs in a loud and very clear way on our About Us page.

-Credited darling Jack for his darling designs. Will fiddle with placement/finalize text before launch. (Did fiddle with. #nailedit)

-Texted back and forth over the funky winkerbeans re: tagging each stroke and making sure it links to the appropriate content.

-Texted back and forth re: pictures in every post. (We still do this because we still think differently about this concept in general and it will probably haunt us our whole Synchronized Swim lives.)

-Should we have a welcome post??? Or does the About Us section/ swim tabs sort of do that work for us? (It does, as it turns out)

-Sometimes it takes 2 hours to do 2 things because you are too poor to buy the WordPress site without plugins but goldarnit you are on your way!!!

-Re-finagled tagging each stroke and making sure it links to the appropriate content.

-Reconvened over questions of a From the Notebook series. (Coming soon!)

-Even during all this writing, managed to do a set of squats and lunges.  Who says writing is a sedentary life??? Also how do people have time to exercise every day? Do they get up really early? Help!

Later in the week…

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A Day in Bed

I was recently stuck in bed for about 3 days with a wound on my lower back that made it extremely difficult to sit down in any functional or familiar way, or move at all really. The injury had been getting progressively worse over a period of 2 weeks, culminating in me waking up with a fever from the pain and nowhere to go but back to bed.  Presently I live alone, which is both a blessing and a curse when you’re ill (especially when you have a wound that requires you to twist uncomfortably to take care of it) and do much of my work from home, which is also a blessing and a curse because it means I’m never out of the office.  Meaning–I had the liberty of staying in bed without much retribution, accompanied by essential oils and an intensely scrutinized interpretation of WikiMD’s diagnostic recommendations.

I spent the three days slowly flipping from my left side to my right, dressing the wound, watching the occasional episode of The West Wing, and not much else.  I didn’t crack a single book in my bedside stack, typically my first inclination when prolongedly sick.  I was too tired to take in any new information.  I did crack my blinds, watching the light shift on the walls as morning melted into afternoon. I could literally feel my entire body working towards making me better–white blood cells scurrying to fight the infection, sips of water rushing to hydrate and osmosify. We love you! they all whispered. We can’t wait to get you up and running! Thank you for letting us sleep in the mean time! My body wasn’t particularly interested in doing anything else.  So I let it.  I turned slowly, fed myself when I had to, dressed my wounds, and thought when my brain was up for it.

Something that fortunately doesn’t require much energy is my imagination, which managed to stay fully engaged in my sickbed.  I saw myself as one of the Brontë sisters, stuck in bed but somehow possessing all the secrets of existence, smiling absently to myself for no one but my dresses to see.  I saw myself as the prophet Jeremiah, doomed to spend three years on his side to carry the suffering of his people.  I saw myself as my own mother, trapped in bed for a year and a half with a persistent case of pneumonia when she was seven and eight years old, starved for company save that of her mother and tutor.  

Part of this tendency is my propensity for self-aggrandizement, but the other is my inability to fully imagine something in my mind without being completely still. Stillness is hard to come by these days, especially when my brain is at full-tilt 98% of the time, with worry and preoccupation masquerading as proactiveness and creativity.  Almost every time I fall ill (#highdrama), I marvel at how it takes my body shutting down to allow a prolonged moment of true rest. 

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Airplanes, a creativity manifesto

I copy poems into my journal intermittently, when I can get myself to read poems. I look at long streams of pictures, I read books sometimes, I dream, I stare into space, I feel worried about nothing and everything. I check if I’ve locked the car door entirely too many times because I can’t knock certain fears out of my head. I expect everything and nothing of myself. My fingers get itchy. I make a shirt, a quilt square, a sock. I reach for fibers. I knit things. I take pictures of all of it. I don’t quite feel real, so I make things to remember that I am, who I am. There, an answer. I’m real, a quilter, a sewist, a knitter, a writer. Something to point at, not perfect but viewable. Something almost beautiful, like something I saw somewhere else once. I see everyone else’s output and feel anxious but placid. Dumb, dumb Instagram. If they’re doing it, I can do it. If they’re doing it, I couldn’t possibly. Instagram makes it all more complicated. Jessie said it well once when she said, “You’re not supposed to know what’s happening outside your village.” It’s true. Knowing what people around the world are making, having that shoved into your face all the time, is unnatural. Crazy-making. But beautiful too. A cacophony of inspiration, multitudes, everything already done but space for everyone somehow?

I have to remind myself that the only way to be a quilter is to make quilts. Everyone who makes things had to start, had to make some first things, began with no ideas, no skills. I am so heartened by this thought, that making things, being an artist, really simply means showing up, committing. I can do this. I can commit. There’s no not-good-enough, there’s only not-into-it, not-going-to. “Anyone can whistle, that’s what they say, easy,” Sondheim said, wrote. He also said, “Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor not going left, not going right.” He also said, “The art of making art is putting it together.” He said so many things. Have I said anything?

I guess so, because here I am stringing words together on an afternoon where I feel particularly like a zero, even though I’ve published a blog post and I’ve written shreds of a bunch of other blog posts, and I have a quilt top all finished and pressed and ready for basting, for hand-quilting. I’m saying things, and that’s something.  

I’m here! I’ve shown up! Where’s my artist reward?

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Screenshot Shimmy

Do any of you guys take a zillion screenshots on your phone and then forget about them for a month or two? It’s basically my current way of cataloging information. Airline confirmation numbers, memorable texts, nearly every snapchat I receive, and all sorts of shots from other people’s instagrams. That’s the doozy. I basically have my own personal pinterest living in my iPhone memory.

This past fall, something happened in my soul and I suddenly became obsessed with textiles. Knitting, quilting, sewing, even weaving if I can ever get my grubby hands on a loom. I want to do it all. I want to make all my own clothes, and all of everyone else’s clothes. I want to embroider everything I own. I spent a whole month knitting a sock, just one! And now I have to knit the other one! And I’m so happy! You’ll be hearing me talk a lot about textiles and making things, because that is what I’m excited about right now. That, and this space. I’m clutching these two little morsels of hope to my chest and making a run for it, because being twenty-three is always confusing and often bleak.

On the off chance that you’re interested in textiles too (or are about to BECOME interested in textiles!!!), I want to share my little library of personal inspiration with you. I don’t throw the word “inspiration” around a lot because it always feels cheap to me, but I think it’s appropriate here. These people inspire me. They make me want to make things, to keep going. They remind me what is possible if I keep at it, if I tackle projects that seem too hard, if I keep on googling weird youtube how-to videos and gathering gear and figuring out what I have in me to make. They remind me that I’m young and I can do anything that I want to do. I have two hands and a brain and a heart. We all have two hands and a brain and a heart. And that’s all we need.

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The Minutes, Pt. 4

Location: House of the Seven Cheerios / Amy’s Nanny House

Duration: 2 hours

Date: 2.7.17

‘Tis but one installment left of this riveting and also exclusive look into the reality of self-promotion. Tune in next week to see whether Amy or Jessie gets the final rose on Season 47 of Millennial Entrepreneuses! 

Figured out how to separate author profiles.  Essentially, we had both been using the same login info which led to #confusion when we would try to publish a post because it would show up under the wrong author.  Ergo, make two profiles. Identity crisis created, IDENTITY CRISIS SOLVED!

Ate a lot of oatmeal.  No milk*.  Used water.  This is the life.

*would not be allowed to use milk even if available because of “alleged dairy allergy” / this is a cry for help and also dairy free                          recipes

Learned the ways of the “Read More” tag. A simple way to create suspense and also spatially useful, like a secret bureau found in IKEA. Yowza!

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I’m not sure if I accept this rose!

I honestly don’t know how so many of us normal, smart humans can handle watching and enjoying The Bachelor on a regular basis. Me! I don’t know how I do it! Seriously, I should not like this show, and yet this past season I got all sorts of giddy when I loaded it up on my computer week after week! What is up with that? Why am I okay with this crazy show that is looking for love in literally all the wrong places? Why are any of us okay with it? When I asked my friend Margaret why we watch it, she said that maybe it is the interest of watching people in situations they are uncomfortable in. That sounds like part of it, especially because I could never in a million years be a contestant on the show (and also am already married, ha!). I think I watch at least partly out of fascination. How do these girls do it? Why do they subject themselves to this very particular and unnecessary form of heart-torture? It really does take a certain kind of bravery, chutzpa, fame-seeking, or maybe desperation, to find your way there in the first place. In The Bachelor, we are seeing something completely unnatural played off as normal and maybe even exemplary, and for some reason we are attracted to that. Week after week. Season after season.

Pictured in this snapshot of my actual fridge is the valentine that Jessie gave me this year. I think she chose it for me because she had to hear me rant about The Bachelor a lot. Or maybe she is in love with me. Either way, I’m a little embarrassed that another human knew that this crazy show was on my mind enough to point it out to me via valentine. But is there any better way? A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, and bad television is part of what makes America itself. We are all here for it to varying degrees. Let’s unpack Bachelor Nation. Call us all crazy, but something about The Bachelor is working. And I’m here to find out what it is.

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A Close Viewing of Sleepless in Seattle

I am always in the mood to watch Nora Ephron movies.  At parties, alone.  In sickness and in health.  They are a dreamy combination of intelligent and emotional and often have extremely good soundtracks, and they make me think of all the friends I’ve watched them with. I normally revisit When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail with what should be embarrassment but in my brain is just liking something the way I like it (#therealfanswillknow).

HOWEVER – I recently rewatched Sleepless in Seattle for only the second time and began to reconsider my Nora hierarchy.  Meg Ryan may in fact be her fly-est in this one (though future posts will show that she has some stiff competition with her other selves – I’m lookin at you, Anastasia) (also French Kiss which Amy found on YouTube and shared with me and in which she is in top form)(“Beautiful! Gorgeous! Wish you were here!” she says to Kevin Kline, her French traveling companion whom she met on the train but it was the 90s so everyone trusted each other).  Her kitchen may in fact be the place I want to spend my waking and sleeping hours, and it may in fact be one of Nora’s only (the only??? fact check!) movies that does not take place in New York, which is sometimes a relief when you have anxiety about your future greatness and think it might be nice to just live near people you love in places that don’t have skyscrapers.

As I was watching, I found myself making a list of all the things I loved about it that I had never noticed before, which I pretty much never do because I am typically thinking about whether or not the costars enjoyed one another’s company during filming.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop, because there was so much to savor! What’s that? You want to read it? You flatter me!

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Laps, February 1st

Another stab at Laps, (the first, Jessie’s Valentine’s Day). Like Jessie said, here at Synchronized Swim, we are endlessly interested in paying attention to the quotidien, the way we spend our days. I know I live in patterns, swimming laps back and forth, little rivers digging into the dirt of me making snake-like switchbacks, I just don’t always know what the patterns are or how to name them. There are so many patterns that I hope for, that I intend to create but usually fail (morning pages, exercise, water before coffee, etc.) There are so many more that are deeply ingrained, but that I know nothing of, that pass unnoticed. So I intend to return to this same exercise every once in a while, once a month maybe, to swim my laps, to see about those patterns, where they are strong where they are weak, where they are real and true even when I can’t detect them in me.

Life is partially measured in empty plates, I think?

Laps of a day. It was a Wednesday in February, a day off work. Nothing I really needed to do, but expectations nonetheless. Wednesdays are a bit weird for me right now because they’re thoroughly sandwiched by work days–I’m a part-time nanny in the burbs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. So, Wednesdays are an island of sorts. Anything I start will not be finished until Friday afternoon at least, but Saturday more likely. So sometimes, especially toward the end of a Wednesday, I begin to feel set adrift, like I’m shoving off for a journey I didn’t quite choose, like the boat is losing traction in the sand whether I want it to or not. reluctant to put down all the stuff I’ve gathered into my arms in favor of spit up and incessant questions. Easier once I get there on Thursday, with babe in arms. Harder on Wednesday night with half a dress sewn up and a thousand ideas in my brain.

Alas, adrift or not, patterns abound.  Keep reading…