SYNC SWIM GIFT GUIDE 2017

Is Christmas about the gifts? Definitely not! Do we, here at Synchronized Swim, love to give and receive gifts? Definitely yes! I’ve been reading blogs consistently for a long time, and if there is anything I have learned from my dutiful readership internet-wide it is that gift guides are both ubiquitous and a huge indicator of taste / kindred-spiritness. I have always secretly loved holiday gift guides, and every time I read one I always secretly want to turn around and make one of my own — mostly because I often don’t find in the gift guides any of the sorts of things I would actually like to give or receive for Christmas.

My favorite kind of Christmas gift is the really lovely thing that you would genuinely love to own but would never buy for yourself. Not the things that might be nice to have, not the things that are just good to have around. No, the things that stick in your heart, the things that could fill a real empty space no matter how narrow. That, for the most part, is what this list is made of. I’ve kept many, many of the things on this list squirreled away in my amazon cart under the “save for label” tab or in a list called “Things I’d Love to Someday Own” in the notes app on my phone. These are the things I think about sometimes with a feeling I’m almost ashamed of, a feeling that is just a little smaller than longing. It’s funny how objects are not that great, really, most of the time, and yet our life is peopled with them. Slowly but surely, I’m enjoying surrounding myself with objects that I love and find to be useful, and I’m getting rid of things that do not fit that bill.

In order for me to want to own an object, three things need to be true of it. I need to feel like the object is beautiful, useful, and true. Beautiful meaning simple and lovely, with visual interest, clean lines, thoughtful construction. Useful meaning I can think immediately of how I would use the object or why it would be worth taking up space in my tiny home. And true meaning full, holding more than just the baseline of what the object is, carrying a little bit of extra meaning, story, care, personhood.

All of the objects on this list are here for a reason, and all of the objects are things that I genuinely would like to own and don’t already. They are not things that I need–now that I am an adult, I buy the things that I need when I need them. No, they are things that I genuinely want but probably will not buy for myself. They are things that you may also genuinely want and probably would not buy for yourself. In favor of full disclosure, this is basically my real-live Christmas list — because what are we doing here at Synchronized Swim if not trying to offer up what we have going on right this second in us as something somehow worth something. These are the things that I, Amy, would love to receive for Christmas or otherwise. These are the things that live in lists, waiting for some sort of someday, little object-dreams, little “maybe-somedays.” It is amazing how precious to me the things I use every day become. It is amazing how ordinary objects become sacred because of their having been touched by my own two hands over and over again. How the books I read become, somehow, more than just books. How the bowls I eat from become more than just bowls. The objects I live with become, in many ways, a part of me. As Isaiah and I packed up to move to the woods, it was so clear to us which things were important and which things weren’t. We knew what we wanted to have near us. Belongings are not nothing. We travel through the world with our bodies and our things. The physical stuff of life is worth paying attention to. It is good to make and keep beautiful things.  It is good to believe in what you own.

So, I suppose, here’s to more belongings that are not nothing. Here’s to gifts that are like real blessings. Here’s to pointing out what we think is beautiful, somehow, and seeing if other people agree. Here’s to offering what we have, and here’s also to not pretending we are experts on things we are not experts on (like what anyone but myself should want for Christmas!) I’m not going to tell you what your gift guide should hold, instead I’ll just show you mine and hope that someday we can dance together to ABBA in my kitchen after a simple/special handmade dinner in the light of a beeswax candle wearing wool leggings and shirts we maybe even made ourselves. Amen.


2017 SYNC SWIM GIFT GUIDE:

For dancing (with Jess) in the kitchen/living room/bedroom: ABBA: Gold on Vinyl

For taking your knitting/hand-quilting/embroidery to your pals house to work on while watching a weepy movie: Fringe Supply Co. Field Bag

For feeling like cooking is a real/possible thing to do (Sync-Swim-Snack-Mom Margaret approved): Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark

For taking half-way decent photos of the full moon during particularly spiritual moments that need to be documented right that second, obviously: iPhone X (cheeky, we know, but why not!)

For staying hydrated, which is truly so hard to do adequately: 12 oz Hydroflask

For accidentally weeping on the bus and then again later at the park: All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

For when you feel like moving to the middle of nowhere and farming for the rest of your life: The Art of Loading Brush, Wendell Berry

For keeping tools close at hand and debris far away while making stuff: State the Label Smocks

For waking up without your phone in your face: Analog Alarm Clock

For writing your life: Midori Notebook

For making impromptu gatherings at the table feel more legit: taper candle and candlestick.

For keeping legs warm because coats aren’t for legs and maybe they ought to be especially when you live in the middle of the cold snowy woods: Smartwool leggings

For mystics who need someone to tell them, “keep going,”: Magdalene by Marie Howe

For if you want to wear probably the best pants in the world: Elizabeth Suzann Clyde Pants

For eating your corn flakes in the most beautiful way possible: East Fork Pottery Breakfast Bowl

For a recycled / very lovely quilt experiment: Jamie + the Jones raw silk scrap bundle

For feeling encouraged by lovely people doing/making lovely things: Taproot Magazine

For wearing your heart/secrets on your neck: In and Of Silk Scarves

For learning about what is real and true: Chekhov plays

For turning your fabric stash into pouches eventually: Pink zippers

For little moments of measurement: sewing gauge

For snipping what needs to be snipped on-the-go: 5-in Gingher Scissors

For drinking coffee out of something that is (1) not from a thrift store, and (2) just so beautiful that you’ll want to stare at it the whole time you use it and absorb the color of it into your skin somehow: Ocean Mug

For when you’re feeling burnt out or are maybe going to feel burnt out soon: How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace

For sewing into a long-sleeve shirt ASAP: two yards of Cotton + Steel Cheshire Stripe fabric by-the-yard

For everything, forever (VERY IMPORTANT): Blackwing 602 Pencils

For learning about how plants are even more magical than we already knew they were: The Modern Natural Dyer

For keeping warm beautifully (with something that isn’t a quilt for once?!): Hillary Sproat blankets, Swiss Fields

For making your own jacket with your own two hands: Tamarack Jacket Pattern, Grainline Studio 

For first finding out that making your own clothes is easy/possible: Lotta Jansdotter Everyday Style

For REAL TRUE HEAVY-DUTY SELF CARE: Lush Bath Bombs, any/all

For feeling pretty: Marble + Milkweed Rosy Lip Tint

For adulting in style (because why have a million kitchen appliances if you can have one magic appliance that does it all?!?): Instant Pot

For blessing/acknowledging the year to come with something useful and beautiful and true: Sarah Parker Textiles Hand-Printed Calendar Tea Towel

 

Résumé

Education

observation, conversation, inference, repetition, failure

Cumulative GPA

results pending

Experience

riding on airplanes

sitting in libraries

reading the Harry Potter series four times through

trying

wearing headphones so people think I’m listening to music when I am in fact listening to them

existing

Special Skills

uncanny Keira Knightley impersonation

ability to use a blowdryer successfully

ability to identify songs in less than one second

good kisser

watched The Big Short and understood it

ability to walk into a room I am not supposed to be in and convince persons therein I am in fact supposed to be there

quick walker

good at locating best thing on the menu and proceeding to order it

curious

ability to look at a person and assess if their day is crummy, glorious, or woefully in-between

can apply makeup satisfactorily when given appropriate amount of time

good at making playlists

delegating

laughing at my own jokes

good at making points

loyal

can dance to express emotion

excellent Scrabble player

good at parties (if I want to be at said party)

steel trap memory

ability to be plopped into a new city and get from point A to point B

good at persuading other people to like the things I like (Madewell jeans, Sing Street, Nicolas Cage, The OA)

Reasons You Should Not Hire Me But Come with the Territory Though You May Never Actually See Them Because Women Are Excellent at Hiding

still not 100% clear on American geography

allow my own feelings to overshadow reality

subpar cooking skills

quicker to tell someone else they’re wrong than to consider I might actually be wrong

nosy

tendency to give the long version over the short one

incessantly pick my nails

put my own needs before those of others

don’t like being told what to do

hate showering (not because of cleanliness but because it takes a lot of time but either way bad at showering)

moody

laugh at my own jokes

a severely undercover fandom for the music of Selena Gomez (can’t predict how this will affect the workplace)

often run late

judge myself by my intentions and others by their actions

chronically dissatisfied

often accidentally shame people for not liking the same things as me

difficulty listening when I am thinking about something else (which is often)

Comments That Have Influenced My Work Ethic

“I was an English teacher, so I often wish people could express themselves more perfectly.” – woman talking to herself at library

“I just think things are gonna work out for you.” – my friend’s mom

“You smell really good, you smell like a combination of shampoo and pizza.” – my friend Whitney

Please find attached a photo that best describes said work ethic.

Thank you for your consideration, and please feel free to respond either by phone or email.  I look forward to hearing from you!

 

Island of Madness

“A woman carries her inner life–lugs it around or holds it in like fumes that both poison and bless her–while nourishing another’s inner life, many others actually, while never revealing too much madness, or, possibly, never revealing where she stores it: her island of lost mind. Every woman has one. And every woman grins when the question is asked, “what three items would you bring to a desert island?” Because every woman’s been, by this time, half living there.” 

This passage is from a book called Too Much and Not the Mood, by Durga Chew-Bose. I read it first on a Chicago bus on my way to work when I worked at the marketing agency sewing canvas bags. This is from the first essay in the book, which is altogether captivating. This passage grabbed me enough to make me stop reading and pull out my phone right away on the bus to copy it down into my notes app, and then copy and paste and send it swiftly to Jessie, who responded with something like, “YES.”

The island of lost mind. I’ve taken recently to streamlining it to “island of madness,” which is the same but different. I must have misremembered the phrase at some point and let the misremembered version stick. Or I let the “never revealing too much madness” seep in. At any rate, I understood exactly what the author meant. You’ll find me there, on my island of lost mind, of madness, at least half the time. I’m there right now, hormonal me, giant full moon above and menstruating and not afraid to tell you that, here today, because why not since we are all here together talking about my secret island — not so secret anymore or probably ever. It’s always strange when, every four weeks, I have to write an essay on a Sunday night that is right in the midst of a huge hormonal upswing, something vastly out of my control, that is so arresting for my whole body as well as my mind and soul that it sends me packing, riding a dinghy out to the island, relieved once I’ve gotten there where it’s warm and I can stretch out for a bit in the quiet and not be asked any questions except for the ones that lap at the shore like waves without my being able to stop them. Every four weeks I spend my whole Sunday feeling like I have nothing to write about, because I don’t, and then I show up to write and I write something that feels to me like it is so deliciously mad that I have to just impulsively send it out into the ocean like a message in a bottle. I am so delighted in those moments to be so utterly alone on the island in myself. Delighted and bewildered — fully aware that the dinghy won’t come back to pick me up again until the captain brings it back. Good thing I brought snacks: corn flakes.

I think I probably reveal my madness — but I think it is true that I keep it in a remote part of me. The island. I send postcards, but I never invite anyone to join me there, not even Isaiah, though sometimes it seems like he swoops over in a low-flying plane, perhaps to investigate or maybe even to scoop me up. My inner life is mine. I own it. It is precious to me, warm heat at the center, sometimes heavy and sore. On my island, I curl up in my inner life, let it unfold around me. I slip my arms into it, a coat, and walk around. I dance, I twirl, I kick around the sand. I swim for hours, remembering. It beats quicker and harder than my heart. It’s a tremulous and terrible thing, often kept sort of locked up for safe keeping, kept at the center of the crystal castle where God is also, hard to get to, remote. Except when I’m on the island, which is remote too, so all is well. All of me, remote at once. Hard to get to. Far away. Apt to jump up and down or snap or shout or close my eyes and breathe deep.

Hello! Hello from my island! The weather is sometimes stormy and sometimes clear, and I am fine with either since I have fantastic shelters I have built, full of quilts, piles and piles of them, the ones I make in my mind.

How’s the weather where you are?

I’ve been sewing all day, nautical signal flags. I’m tired — exhausted — and I wish I had another whole weekend in which to sleep, mostly, and read and think and spend a while longer on my island. The dinghy is coming back for me, I know it. That’s what Mondays are all about, the long dinghy ride back to wherever. You don’t get to stay on your island when you have to do such pedestrian tasks as going to work or talking to people who expect you to act normal. Sometimes I manage to talk to people while I’m on my island, which I’m sure is stranger for them than for me. For me, it feels like playing telephone, the kind with a tin can pressed to my ear and someone far away on the other end, sort of fantastically garbled. For them, it must feel like talking to someone either very distracted or very boring. I am sure I am both when I am on my island of madness. It’s awkward when I’m on my island and also in public, but I try to handle it gracefully. I keep quiet and watchful, try not to make any waves like the ones I stand in. I make it work, I come back slow, summon the dinghy, sail home without a fuss. Or stubbornly dig my heels into the sand, tie myself to a tree. I can’t really plan ahead or expect what I will do, it all unfolds so smoothly, gut-forward, propelling the fan-boat through the everglades toward the island or back home again.

I can do what I have to do. I can set my inner life aside for a while — lug it around and hold it in, and goodness knows let it bless me. I can leave it on the island, safe, till I come back again, get lost in the jungle, talk on the telephone with my sister and try to tell her what I know, make something to eat, slip on my inner life, silk lining slipping across my skin. Pure silk, dyed with indigo and madder root, painted with root systems and petals.

Hello from my island of madness! This via airmail, carried to you by a bird with much plumage. I’ve done so many things here, thought so many thoughts that I may never tell you about, or maybe I will. I’m productive on my island, and I dream the sorts of dreams that take years to unfold, I worry the sorts of worries that have flaky layers like a croissant, I imagine what I would wear to x, y, z and then wear it a while on the island, feeling so very beautiful. I carry every sort of writing utensil and coloring marker in my bag while I tromp and dance, stopping to mark something down for later. I shout to and at Isaiah in his low-flying plane, shaking my fists and then doing funny dances, singing songs that he might like. I catapult up a piece of toast with jam for him to eat if he wants. He catches it in his fist out the window. I throw a fit, I weep a while, I take long showers where I stand perfectly still. I work, hard. I close my eyes. I smile.

Hello from my island of madness. Thank you for reading what I write. I write a lot on the island, it’s where I keep most of my thoughts, the real ones anyway. Hello. Hello. Do you see me waving my arms!? That tiny speck, it’s me! Hello! I’ll be back soon, don’t worry too much.

Here’s to all the half-crazy women. I know how to live on the island, and by now I have learned, too, how to come back.

{P.S. If you’d like to order a set of hand-made-by-me nautical signal flags like the ones so masterfully spoken of in this essay by Merrit Tierce, and like I wrote about before and have been talking about nonstop pretty much ever since, send me an email ASAP at amybornman@gmail.com to ensure pre-Christmas delivery. I’m making them as fast as I can because I want folks to be able to own them and use them and love them like I love them. Signal flags to say how it is from your island to someone else’s, two ships in the night. Trying to say what we mean with what little we have, some flags, our storm-tossed bodies, our hands. When you email me, I’ll send you back a long list of fantastic phrases like “All well,” or “I will carry a light,” or “Weather is good,” or “The whole body is affected,” and you can choose what phrase-set of flags you’d like to wave. Only $20-$30 per set. I’ll be making them after Christmas as well, so no hurry if you’d like some flags for yourself. No better way to communicate how it is on the island today, how far away it feels from everything else, how much you want to say with so few ways to say it. It’s all connected, ourselves and our strange journeys within our own selves and our strange journeys to and away from each other.  Email me and I’ll come back from my island and I can make you some flags and we can talk all about it. “I am dazzled by your searchlight!”}

Cusped

Last winter, at the end of a texting conversation, my friend asked me to describe my current life in one word to get a head start on the catching up we had just planned.  I, of course, took this very seriously, and sat with fingers suspended over electric keyboard as I searched for the perfect word.

“Cusped,” I replied.

I come from a long personal history of heightened expectation.  I expect good things.  Big things.  I also expect heaven to touch earth semi-regularly because I have seen it happen as often.  And when I chose that word, it was with a very real expectation of some combination of the three.  Cusped.  Like the moon.  Like I’m standing on my toes.  The breath between warrior poses one and two.  The moment between the lean-to and the kiss.

I would still choose that as the one word of my life at the moment, but my expectation and understanding of it are different this winter.  There is a little more awareness of the waiting itself, and decidedly more mist around the thing waited for.  I was recently in my acting teacher’s office with Amy, looking over the finished product of the portfolio we put together for him.  I hadn’t seen him since July, and he asked what I’d seen on the road since I’d seen him.  I’m not even trying to be poetic – that’s what he said.  “What have you seen, Jessie, since I last saw you?” I cried a little, because he’s an extremely emotionally available person and has that effect on people, and gave a sort of cursory response in regards to the route, and then he asked what it felt like to come back home.  I didn’t know how to tell him about 3 months of my life, and so I said, “I used to feel stuck, and now I feel stalled.” He replied, “Well, maybe you’re just waiting.”

Cusped applies to both.  I felt cusped when I felt stuck, and I feel cusped being stalled.  But I mostly feel cusped in the waiting.  Poised for movement, but rivetingly aware of my own lack of motion.  Literally like the moon between phases, in the space between shadow and light.  Aware that things are moving, and I am not one of them.  It’s more amusing than anything else.  And it’s hard to write about, because there is less to say.  Waiting requires less words of me, because I don’t know what happens yet.  And, as a person who likes to learn the lesson without making the mistake, this is a good thing.  This first post about it is just that – a first attempt, an initial tapping into the thing that will surely be revisited as long as it needs to be.   Perhaps I may simply continue to say the same thing over and over again, until I figure out what it is I mean to say.  It’s only ever an attempt anyway.

Also last winter, I came across a book called Watch for the Light, a collection of Advent readings focused on the nature of waiting in general, and also in specific application to the waiting inherent to Advent.  My friend Bethany recommended it to me, after a Bible study where I read Luke 2 aloud and could not contain the tremor in my voice.  I cried where it says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It struck me then, only slightly, how wild it is to live in the thick of belief that a promise will be kept.  That something, even now, is being worked out that you cannot quite see.  That it will come to pass, has already come to pass, is happening even while you are waiting for it to happen.

I am not Mary, but I think part of Advent requires you to believe that you could be.  That an angel could conceivably crash through your ceiling and change every thought you ever had about your own life.  That there are things happening now and things already past that are actually beyond imagining.  One of my favorite Christmas carols is on Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas album, “Mary Had a Baby.” There’s a line in it that me and my mother love, where he simply says, “Moving in the elements, ah Lord, moving in the elements.” He never says what – but it’s moving.  Something is moving.  Oh, don’t you just wanna know what it is?! And I think that’s part of Advent, too – paying just a little more attention to what’s adrift in what we can’t see.  To be in a posture of waiting for we know not what, but somehow know has already happened.  To be in the shadow between the lights, in a profoundly personal but entirely cosmic way.

Keep reading…

Clothed with the Sun

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (Rev 12:1)

This, from the most mystical book of the Bible. This, returning to my mind day after day after day. A woman clothed with the sun, a woman clothed with the sun, a woman clothed with the sun. 

Earlier this past week, as I was returning to Chicago en route to Thanksgiving in Indiana, Jessie and I together found ourselves at the mall. We were there to fulfill a necessary errand but also we really like the mall sometimes. By and by, we went to Madewell. Oh, our hearts! Oh, our tender hearts! The problem with Madewell, silly silly Madewell, is that it ignites all of the envy and discontent our small bodies can hold. The problem with Madewell is that we like almost everything we see there, and we cannot afford even, really, a pair of socks. We walked through the store fairly briefly, allowing ourselves to touch and consider only a few things, looking at each other with bewildered, crestfallen expressions, basically speechless, retreating before our hearts wept too openly. We left feeling way more off-kilter than when we walked in. Full of hope, perhaps? That’s too generous. The feeling was  much closer to dread. It’s a feeling I’ve felt before, many times, while shopping at shopping malls or window shopping online. That vague, deep, confusing blueness, that dread. Why is it so hard? We laugh off this kind of sadness, this kind of confusion, but it’s a serious thing, I think. What is that melancholy I feel at the mall? That true sorrow? Seeing so many truly beautiful things, clothes that would look good on my body, whole other lives I could live if only, if only. It’s light, yes, just shopping, no big deal. But it’s also heavy. I feel this light thing heavily. Heavy for so many of us. We are young and poor, and yet everything tries to tell us to strive for the life we could buy with more money. We all know that this is a problem. We all, all of us, have this problem. But it eats at our hearts a little bit. We participate in it without even trying to. We go to the mall, even so! 

My clothes affect me deeply. Getting dressed is almost always fraught, almost always involves all of my feelings and senses. I am almost never satisfied with my closet, with what I own. I want my clothes to be as magnificent as my heart, I want my outward appearance to match my inward depths, I want to only be in the world in the fullness of myself. But we are so restricted by what we own, what is possible, what the day holds. I get so stuck in my days, so I get confused about what to wear. Because we talk about most everything, Jessie and I have talked about this before, finding common ground on two fronts: 1. That we almost always hate what we put on in the morning by the middle of the day, and 2. That we often find ourselves in seasons of wearing almost the exact same thing every day. Because nothing else will even remotely do. 

I’ve been having a hard time at my new job for a couple of reasons, and I think I’ve identified one of the biggest problems. I work in an active kitchen; I have to wear t-shirts every day. I get dressed in the morning and I have no space, really, to choose. I have to put on a clean t-shirt in some array of terrible bright cheap-cotton-knit colors and the same food-splattered jeans as the day before. I feel gross before I’ve even walked into work, a shadow of myself, someone else entirely. This wears on me. It shouldn’t affect me so deeply, probably, but it does.  I knew it would be a problem for my heart the minute my boss mentioned a loose dress code, the moment I realized that working in a kitchen restricted my clothing options. I knew it would be a problem, and it has been. 

It feels so silly that I’m troubled by the fact that I have to wear t-shirts to work. That I look at my closet full of clothes and still sigh with discontent. That I even walk into Madewell in the first place and look, outwardly, like I belong there. Such privilege! Such frivolity! I critique myself for my own feelings, I judge the things that catch my heart. I tell myself, “get over it!” But when the funk doesn’t pass, when the feeling comes every day, the shame I wear, for some reason, with the t-shirt, it becomes worth thinking about a little more deeply. This won’t go away, I guess. I have to wear clothes. This is something I have to reckon with and continue to reckon with day after day after day. 

This is something I want to pay attention to. 

Late in my college years, I almost completely stopped buying clothes from normal retail stores because it was too expensive and because I found that I liked thrift shopping much better – the challenge of it appealed to me. Since college, I have made “no new clothes” my standard, with just a few exceptions (#underwear), because shopping at thrift stores and making my own clothes is better for me in every way. Better for the earth, better for other humans, better for my heart, better for my creativity, better for my bank account. I’m proud of myself for keeping this up, and also astonished at how acutely weird I feel at places like Madewell. How deep the want is, how deep the roots of consumerism grow in me. How do I undo these things? How do I rewire my brain to be content with what I have, to wear things because they are beautiful and comfortable and hurt no one and nothing else? I work really hard at thrift shopping, keeping my high standards, searching the racks for natural fibers, paying close attention to fit and quality and wear, mending or altering what is torn or amiss. I am proud of the wardrobe I have created with almost entirely secondhand pieces, and yet. And yet. I still frown at my closet, I still want to change after half a day, I still yearn, I still feel microscopic in a room of beautiful new clothes. 

I don’t want to feel like that anymore. I refuse, or am beginning to refuse, that feeling I felt in Madewell. Extreme as it sounds, I think I need to make some decisions, even more strongly, more intentionally, about what I will and will not wear. If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and I believe that it is, then my clothes should reflect that. My clothes should be clothes of joy, not clothes of confusion or sorrow. Clothes as vestments, as temple garments. Clothed with the sun. 

Keep reading…

Thanksgiving

In case you are just now joining us (or in case you haven’t been paying attention), I love holidays.  All of them.  I used to say Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, until I realized I was saying every day was my favorite holiday (though to be completely accurate, it’s technically Valentine’s Day, as previously articulated) and thus I couldn’t call it my favorite holiday anymore.  But it need not be my very favorite for me to have many reasons to adore it.

Firstly, it’s a holiday that isn’t really celebrated all day.  On Christmas, you start as soon as possible.  On your birthday you do the same.  The celebration involved on Thanksgiving is inseparable from the event involved (i.e., the food), thus making it concentrated.  It’s a 3 hour window, so you better use it.  Second, at least in my family, it’s pretty transient.  My family is scattered literally from coast to coast, so however many of us can gather for it varies from year to year.  It’s the easiest to invite a friend to (because apparently some people feel “intrusive” when invited over for Christmas??? but not Thanksgiving???), and I wish all holidays were more friend-friendly, because I am constantly looking for nonchalant ways to get as many people that I love as possible into the same room at the same time to do the same thing.  Third, and perhaps best of all, Thanksgiving is the least disappointing holiday.  As a person who lives in a nearly perpetual state of heightened expectation, I can attest to the Christmas Eves and Halloweens (and, weirdly 4ths of July) that have gone by slightly less adorned than hoped for.  But Thanksgiving is simple, no trappings or high stakes.  You are simply asked to come eat at the table with as many people as you can find, and to call what is blessed by its proper name.

In my planner, there is a designated section to write down the sundry gratitudes of any given week.  There is never enough room.  And so, I am making a list of what I am grateful for on Thanksgiving Day, because running parallel to my love of celebration is my love of cheesiness and leaning in.  I’m trying to limit myself only to what I presently find myself grateful for, as I would surely drive both you and I insane if I tried any time period outside the present.

1. Swiss army knives, for when you move into a new apartment and lack most kitchen appliances

2. Lady Bird.  Haven’t seen it yet, but know I’m grateful.

3. friends, family, and kindred spirits smattered from coast to coast

4. Stranger Things 2

5. walking home at midnight down my street and feeling safe

6. meeting angels in grocery stores

7. Anton Chekhov

8. ”the gay great happening illimitably earth

9. the new Taylor Swift album (haters back off)

10. yams

11. that the farthest I have to walk to get water is to my refrigerator

12. the use of my legs

13. slats to hold my bed aloft

14. my janky window that lets the breeze come in from the alley

15. that I’m not working today

16. haikus

17. the peppermint milkshake at Chick-fil-A

18.  that God already knows everything there is to know about me, but still wants me to tell him

19. emails from my uncle

20. Spotify (zero percent irony – my day-to-day life would be significantly altered by its absence)

21. the fact that being sad about losing something generally means you had it to begin with

22. collaboration

23. “There’s a hypothetically bright future for everything / each wounded creature that is bitten, or bites”

24. prophets

25. savory hand pies

26. that it is genuinely possible to take a break from your own life

27. dancing

28. that sometimes I do the wrong thing and so far it hasn’t caused me to die

29. lakes

30. my own imagination

31. progress, no matter how slow, no matter the measure

32. basketball

33.  that there is a gap in my planner from August 5 to October 13

34. that everything that I see of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak

35. nightgowns, bathrobes, and generally all garments that have to do with sleeping and comfort

36. that I didn’t completely ruin my computer when I spilled water all over it

37. coupons

38. Love Actually (it’s so weird, why am I always so excited to watch it?)

39. Trader Joe’s.

40. that I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland 

I am grateful that the sum of my weaknesses is not the whole. I am grateful that there are days marked for gratefulness, days marked for mourning.  I am grateful that there truly is a time and a season for everything, and that the next one is only ever just outside my line of vision.  For the record, I’d love to know what you’re grateful for, too.  And I’m sure there are at least 3 important things I’m grateful for that I’ve forgotten to write down – isn’t that great?!

From tender stem hath sprung

Advent is swiftly approaching. Ordinary Time is coming to a close – how fantastic that it is called that, truly. I suppose officially there are two more weeks till Advent begins, but I am notoriously a person who needs quite a bit of time to transition, and better to do it now, early, than to miss the first two weeks of a season, trying to wrench my heart into gear.

The irony is that my heart need not be wrenched this year. It’s waiting at the door. I am waiting, anxiously, for Advent, where I will wait some more. I am, thoroughly, the girl who listens to Christmas music well before thanksgiving, who smiles at the store displays and old-fashioned tinsel snowflakes affixed to streetlights in small towns and big cities alike, the first hint of a bough of holly. I love special things, and Christmas is a special thing that everyone seems to agree on. But, beyond all the trappings, Advent is where my heart has been living for some time, without my asking it to, without any sort of tinsel, without the prompting of any sort of liturgy or black friday sale. The truth is that I was living my life in Ordinary Time, not entirely unhappily. But, like angel song, Advent just started happening to me and has gone on happening. I’ve been writing about it, I’ve been thinking about it, can’t stop thinking about it. I could tell you that everything has changed, but I think you already know that. I could tell you that a life, like a calendar year, like a church calendar year, has seasons, each season designed to nourish the soul in a different way, with varying intensities and focuses and sorrows, but you surely already know that too.

I take the church calendar seriously, or try to at least. My blossoming Anglicanism in college taught me to care about these things, to seek to invite them into my consciousness and muscle memory, illuminated the beauty of tradition, of certain colors at certain times, of keeping track, of letting reality be framed by something historical and a little bit impossible. It’s the project of practice, of ritual, of repetition to let something become habit. I’m learning more everyday how to let these rituals become postures for my heart, things to wake and sleep with, to carry around within, more than a thing to think on, words to say, a color to wear, a place to be. I’m learning more every day how to notice which season my soul stands in, both in and out of time. In chronos, chronological time, my soul is on the cusp of Advent, 2017, marveling at Wisconsin snowfall and Chicago store awnings sporting pine boughs, delighting in twinkle lights taking over. In kairos, God’s time, the time that holds everything, all at once, my soul is standing bewildered and strong in Annunciation, my soul is saying, irrationally, “here I am! send me”, my soul is scouring the sky for angels, my soul is carrying an impossible baby, in pain, in wonder, no place to stay, nowhere to go. My soul, wild, following a star. 


All at once, the other day, I remembered a book I picked up a year ago but never finished. Madeleine L’Engle’s 
The Irrational Season, where she, adopted godmother to my soul, writes warmly and honestly about the church calendar, about the very same things my heart keeps turning over and over. So I bought it used on amazon for $5 and it came without the first nine pages. Typical. I was sad about it for a moment, but then I snapped into action, deciding to find the book on Google Books, where the first chapter was completely intact and waiting to be received! (And where you too can read the first chapter, which is about Advent, if you’d like!) I sat and transcribed the first nine pages, typing each word, ingesting it a little differently than I would if I were simply rereading it again, one year later. In a way, it almost felt like I was writing it myself, fingers flying to keys to record a phrase held right at the front of my brain, moving on to the next thought before even considering everything, everything about the thing that came before. 

The next day, as I, for the first time in a long time, read some of the archives of my personal blog (which I’ve been sorely neglecting), I came to an essay I wrote just about this time last year. And, oh my soul. One year, and so much has changed. One year, and so many prayers answered, so many things written and strangely, with mystery, fulfilled. I was astonished to read my own words, so true and tremulous, so different from anything I would write today — and yet still so present, so poignant for me, even still. I am that woman still, astonished at all I must be missing, full of hope and faith for things not seen, desperate to be actually carried with everlasting arms, unaware of the signs and wonders on the way. Strange prophesy, the way I stood right on the edge of a new season without knowing it and lamented all that had come before, all the years waiting, all the knowing but not knowing. And now, what more do I know? Not much. But enough for everything to have changed. Enough that, somehow I’ve gone from feeling left out of the story entirely to standing smack in the middle of it. And that, I suppose, is a change complete. That, I suppose is a new season. The night, half spent, closer, somehow, to dawn. Lo, how a rose e’re blooming, see the bud? From tender stem, mine. Yours.

I am republishing last year’s advent essay in full below. In so many ways, it seems like I’ve hardly moved. I’m still sitting with The Irrational Season beside me on the desk. I’m still finishing up quilted things, still needing to run out to get more thread. Still looking for Jesus, still considering Mary every day, and yet, and yet. Everything is different. I live in the woods instead of the city. My heart has traveled miles on miles. I’ve seen, somehow, the angels — they’ve come for me with messages. I’ve glimpsed just enough, touched just enough of the edge of Jesus’ hem to know that I am right in the center of something unfolding all around me, within and without time and space. Advent, mine entirely. Yours too, with the end of time and the beginning all folded together into an impossible baby placed in our human arms for safekeeping. What has this irrational year taught me? That I am right in the center of God’s good will. That I don’t get to sleep through the night of Jesus’ birth. That the pain will be great but the star shines above. That though I am small, an angel found me still. That Jesus is, somehow, mine to carry. That though nothing makes sense at all, underneath are the everlasting arms. I still know nothing at all, but somehow I know these things, in all their wildness, all their IRRATIONALITY. I can’t question them anymore, I just have to figure out how to carry it all forward. I’m living there, in irrational advent, on my island of madness, a woman bereft and blessed. And somehow, I am so much more myself than I’ve ever been before. 

Keep reading…

Laps: November 15

7:30a – Wake, in current attempt to wake up at same time every day to combat continual lethargy.  Allow myself one snooze on timer before opening flurry of texts sent by my mother from previous evening.

7:39a – Hop out of bed.  Take my hair out from braid in light of bathroom mirror.  Marvel at cleanliness of own hair, marvel at how it falls just so when on so many days it doesn’t.  Toss it this way.  Toss it that.

7:44a – Make breakfast of sausage and eggs.  Realize sausage has gone bad and I failed to cook eggs fully, because all things are inherently imperfect and I am unable to contribute anything otherwise at times. Throw out rotten breakfast.  Make toast instead, which is what I wanted all along.

8:07a – Read today’s allotted Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner.  Kelly texts me moments after I finish with picture of same passage.  Feel warm knowing we are waking up and reading same thing, far away as we are from each other.

8:14a – Read section from one of five scenes that needs memorizing for Chekhov class.  Am pleasantly surprised that I know some of it.  Read it again.  Try to let it just be words and not all feelings that accompany it.  “Where is it? Where did it all go?”

8: 42a – Finish up writing Just the Facts. Am shocked that it’s second hour of day and have managed to not fall behind.  Enjoy watching Bruce Springsteen music video at 9am, and that it’s thing I get to do.

10a – Begin freelance publishing work.  Spend whole hour wishing I was packing up my car to head out on more exciting part of day. Remind self of bank account in order to rally.

11a – Put on makeup to sounds of Leon Bridges.  Enjoy taking my time to do so.  Locate sample of Smashbox Primer that really is as miraculous as advertised.

11:33a – Pack up various outfits for film shoot per Annie’s instruction. Pack bag, pack up Annie’s stuff left at apartment from overnight stay, pick up check from Boss #3 from mailbox downstairs.  Walk 3 blocks to where car is parked because it’s what I have to do on Tuesday nights.

12:04p – Head to first Kohl’s.  Listen to Showstopper podcast, because it is my ideal job.  Enter Kohl’s for first shopping trip for Boss #1.  Uneventful, but notice how much fun I have doing this particular job, which is objectively absurd.

1:12p – Put in second Kohl’s address in Google Maps.  En route, am arrested by sounds of Dog Days Are Over playing from radio.  Am always struck afresh by jubilance of said song. “Happiness hit her like a bullet in the back.” Have known that feeling.  Is miraculous.

1:17p – Stop at gas station because it’s right there and, well, I need gas. Head inside to maybe grab bottle of water, but store portion is roughly 20 square feet and has no water bottles, only bottled Starbucks frappes.  Finish pumping.  Back en route.

1: 32p – Enter second Kohl’s.  As I search for cart, old man working at register calls across foyer to me, “Welcome back!”, even though I have never set foot in here before.  He is in middle of transaction with other customer, but follows up with, “You light up the whole room!” which is arresting both in loveliness and unexpectedness.  Simply smile back in wonder.

1:37p – Am accosted by two old women in toy section, who ask me what appropriate clothing size is for 3-year old male toddler.  They clearly are aware that I don’t work here as I have cart, but ask me with full confidence as if I know answer.  I don’t.

2:22p – After locating what I came for, get in line.  Am helped by woman named Raj, who insists my coupons aren’t real but scans them anyway.  Look at her nametag and see that she has been working here since 2006.  Ask her where good place nearby is to get cup of coffee.  She conspiratorially tells me Whole Foods is nearby.  Best news.  Coupon kerfuffle forgotten in wake of coffee camaraderie.

2:34p – Head to Whole Foods.  Hear Whatever You Like on radio.  Love radio version, because actual version makes me blush.  Am hopeful to be subject of hip hop song at some point in life.  Am doubtful.  Wonder how many songs are written from experience versus wished experience.

2:38p – Arrive at Whole Foods. Have exactly 20 minutes before needing to leave for call time on set.  Head in, in search of Nitrobrew.  Am stalled by Califia Farms stand with Peppermint Mocha cold brew, which I promptly decide to buy on way out (and subsequently marvel at complete lack of self control that always comes over me at Whole Foods).  Find coffee stand.  Am directed to refrigerator. Locate Nitrobrew.  Pretend to have debate with self over absurd cost of coffee (exacerbated by fact that favorite cup of coffee is found at Fresh Market for literally fifth of price) all while knowing I will of course buy it because I came here for it and I feel slightly glamorous at prospect of going to film set.  Stop by cookie table, which I also never let myself do.  Pick up mysterious cookie that looks beautiful.  Make purchases. Head to car.

Keep reading…

Just the Facts: Courteney Cox

We have received our unofficially official third request for Just the Facts, and we here at Sync Swim rejoice because there are few things I love more than a niche portrait of a life lived in the 90s.  My friend Travis suggested this lucky number 3 to me as we walked to an overpriced pasta dinner, as he is a staunch fan of Friends but knows not much about 1/6th of that powerhouse that kept the 90s from crumbling (as if it was in danger) – one Courteney Cox.

It’s as though she’s saying, “Yes, fame was a surprise, but I brought a cardigan just in case it would be cold in the white lights.”

Her rise to fame is somewhat infamous.  Legend has it she was serendipitously pulled onto the stage of my birthday twin Bruce Springsteen during one of his shows, which resulted in her appearing in one of his music videos because that performance was being filmed.  If you want to watch Bruce Springsteen adorably not know more than one dance move then watch the whole thing, otherwise skip to 2:30 to see their truly meaningful eye contact, and 3:29 to see her be organically pulled on to the stage and do her best to appear carefree.

From this footage, she was spotted by an agent for her really excellent hair and clearly #freespirit (I tried to get on the stage of a Killers concert when I was 15 but instead got trampled by a slew of drunken college students and I’m honestly not bitter okay some people get multi-million dollar contracts others get crushed dreams, it happens!!!).  Friends was certainly not her first gig – she was in several TV pilots that have since been forgotten – but it is obviously her most notable.  It was the sitcom that defined her generation and arguably the one after it, as more 20-somethings binge watch it on Netflix while they make it through life in their first (non-rent controlled, non-NYC) apartments.  For those living under a rock or with a more cultured streaming palate, she played Monica – formerly obese, neurotic, the ultimate hostess, sister to Ross, and in my opinion the most endearing of the group.  Sad fact: she was the only member of the cast never individually nominated for an Emmy, which just seems mean and unnecessary.  Though Rachel is considered the most fashionable on the show, let’s take this moment to admire that Monica aka Courteney (surely through her own flair for style and not the help of a wardrobe department) was the true style icon:

Any time I go to a Goodwill, it is to look for this dress.
I made a Pinterest board to hunt down this outfit, named “I Can’t Believe I’m Doing This.”
Please forward information about this dress to synchronizedswimblog@gmail.com

Keep reading…

From the Notebook: Land Gap

[Amy in the passenger seat of a blue car, with Isaiah driving and three people from their HoneyRock Fellows cohort asleep in the back. The soundtrack from The Big Chill playing on a bluetooth speaker propped up against the dashboard, since the car is borrowed from camp and only has a cd player. Driving away from Wheaton, after a short weekend visit to officially learn more about Wheaton’s grad programs, and unofficially to visit all of the people and feel all of the feelings. Writing with a wobbly cursive in journal because computer is dead, trying, desperately, to figure out what to write about for the blog tonight, getting it all, everything from the weekend, out of head and onto page, realizing half-way through that maybe the writing was already happening. Rain on the dashboard, so cliche, so fitting. Husband beside, nothing necessarily right with the world – in between two places, really just nowhere. Life caught in a land gap, making a home there, making it beautiful, letting even the traveling feel a little like standing still.]

 

Is it possible to live in two places at once? Still so loved by people in Wheaton, but living, really, in Wisconsin. Where does that put me?

WHAT DO I WRITE ABOUT?

New dansko clog mary janes, thrifted across from apartments I used to live in but don’t anymore?
The rain?
How joyful it is to get to see children grow?
Measure for Measure?
Women and weakness?
Women and weakness in Shakespeare, specifically?
Land gaps? Land Gap Junction? Prof. Samuelson and everything she did for me without even meaning to at all?
All the things Jessie and I talked about in the Jewel Osco parking lot under the moon on Thursday night–things I can’t even remember now?
Walking down Michigan Avenue, feeling the most like a city girl I’ve ever felt?
That perfect cappuccino?
The Rainbow Connection?
Mechtild of Magdeburg?
Lincoln Park?
Ice?
The land?
An ode to Blackberry Market?!
An ode to Trader Joes?!
How handsome Isaiah looks in his new thrifted red sweatshirt?
Travelling?
“In the middle”?
“Despite my best efforts”?
Nearness?
Female saints – the way they speak / write?
“May what I do flow from me like a river” – that Rilke poem?
How it feels to know how to navigate in a place, though you don’t live there anymore?
Hand-quilting?
The Joan Didion documentary I watched on Netflix?
That tug in my gut I felt when we drove past my old office building?
How The Big Chill has probably the best movie soundtrack ever?
Land gaps – a lot like driving between places and being no where.
Where do we bend?
Seeing people who love me and still feeling loved by them even though I don’t live near?
Competent traveler / helpless traveler?
How my sister and I are so the same and so different?
Vivian Maier’s photographs?
How nice it feels to sit in the passenger seat with Isaiah driving?
How nice it feels to be with people who can take my incoherent answer to the question, “how are you?” and know exactly what I mean amidst my rambling?
Mark’s November marble?
Workout – standing in the window?
The tree, gone?
How much I like knitting?
How very many quilt ideas I have?
Chef’s Table: France?
Watching snatches of The Sound of Music with five-year-old Charlotte, watching her dance like I used to dance in front of the television?
That perfect ochre suit Julie Andrews wears in the film when she and the captain return from their honeymoon?
The confusion I feel about whether I really want to live in Wheaton or if I really don’t or how it doesn’t matter at all right now because I live in Wisconsin and will for a while, probably?
How much I hate “probably”?
How much Charlotte loves “probably”?
How I just dang miss Chicago, like I knew I would?
How we almost slid into a ditch on our way out of Three Lakes Thursday morning?
About angels? Annunciations? Advent?
How I want to try screen printing?
What I want for Christmas?
How much I LOVE Christmas?
Wisdom, feminine / Proverbs 8?
How I inexplicably also miss New York?
How I think I’m going to re-attempt a Tartine sourdough starter, ASAP?
A gift guide? Too silly?
About Mary?
How inter-generational relationships are actually possible?
How sometimes things really are special? How things don’t actually end?
How I’m glad we didn’t go near our old apartment this time?
Jesus, in the present?
How I’m so bad at being in the present?
How I will ALWAYS miss EVERYTHING?
Something about divine appointments?
Sitting with Jessie in Mark’s office? The rocking chairs?
How I REALLY need to make more clothes for myself but I just don’t have time?
Should I run a church some day?
It’s the greatest story ever told?!
How annoying it is that my phone is ALWAYS out of storage because I take so many pictures?
How I feel like I’m floating in time, moving quickly, never really on the ground?

 

Write about all of it, forever, right now.