Category: Freestyle

An Imaginary Conversation with Al Pacino at 4am

As seems to be happening increasingly often, I was awake between the hours of 4 and 5am this past Saturday night/Sunday morning.  I was sleeping on a bed with a slightly-too-small-fitted-sheet in a cabin in the middle of the woods.  My bunkmate, a pal from high school, was snoring loudly beside me, and even though I knew that wasn’t the reason I was awake, I persisted in periodically shaking the bed in the hopes that I could startle her into stopping (I couldn’t, God bless her).  I was burrowed in deep under 3 heavy blankets, tossing and turning in measured waves so as not to provoke the demise of the slightly-too-small sheet, and thus expose the surface of the mattress and its accompanying unknown past.  One foot out from under the covers.  Too cold.  Back in.

I began having an imaginary conversation with Al Pacino to pass the time.  A mentor of mine worked with him on a production of Julius Caesar in the 80’s.  He recently told me a story about a conversation they had, and an overactive imagination makes me feel like I had it, too.  Also, I watched The Godfather the previous weekend, and, quite frankly, I wish I could talk to him about it.  Maybe some day I will.  For now, this will do.

Fortunately, a transcription of our conversation survived the night.

I know his face is iconic in this picture but may I direct your eyeballs to his equally iconic ascot? (And, yes, the rumors are true, this is the background on my phone)

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From the notebook: if I were to write a book

On August 16th, 2016, I started a Google Doc called “If I were to write a book.” I added to it a few times between August and December of that year, and then left it to languish in my google drive until now, a little over a year later. Here, a call and response between me then and me now. A transcription of my very own words, reimagined, rediscovered, grief and truth anew in my reading them at twenty-four instead of writing them at twenty-three. These years have been so WIDE. So wild and wide and fascinating and endless and terrible and wonderful, and I am entirely different than I was in college and just after but so utterly informed by what was planted in me then. Just now sprouting, roots having gone very deep. Original text normal, new text in red italics. Call me crazy, but this secret forgotten google doc may be one of the most true things I’ve ever worked out for myself. I think I was saving it for later, thinking it wasn’t time to share it yet, but I’m not sure what that even means. No time but now, especially given how much things have changed in between (but also how much they haven’t). 75% of me still right in the middle of these words, and the other 25% is confidently sewing on her gorgeous Juki in the woods, sure of one thing but one thing only. 

Things written on different days separated by little dotted lines. My own heart, separated by little dotted lines, all of the versions of myself, all the women I am and have been, each fear and thought spinning still. I am on fire. You can get through the ice. Those are the flags I must wave, and do. That is all I know. 

This, a secret I’m ready to share. 

Me, August 2016, in my favorite chair before it was really, really my favorite in our apartment on Damen Avenue. 

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Home

When I walked down the alley of my building the other night, the lamplight from an apartment caught my eye.  The mantle was decorated with stockings and tinsel, and the walls were artfully covered with photographs and fixtures and taste.  The lighting was warm and the furniture I could see suggested a cozy interior, with couches and chairs at angles towards one another for optimum space and comfort.

This looks nothing like my own apartment.  There are currently two refrigerators in my roommate and I’s kitchen, one broken and thus emanating a mysterious smell, the other swiped by the handyman from a vacant apartment to replace the first.  Our living room is haphazardly occupied by an admittedly beautiful Ethan Allen couch from a thrift store and a table that has a monopoly on most of the space.  The walls are bare, with the exception of the Nice Jewish Guys calendar my roommate bought for me last Christmas.  Our one truly decorative piece hangs in the bathroom: a shower curtain populated by various cats with the face of Nicolas Cage superimposed on their lumpy bodies, purchased with money we raised on a GoFundMe page in college.  There are no Christmas decorations, as neither one of us felt like buying one more thing we didn’t know where to put.

While at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at the end of this summer, I was reading through the program and landed on a profile of the festival’s production of Mary Zimmerman’s The Odyssey.  She saw the story, as so many do, as the most basic human quest, in which there is “the longing for the journey, but the ultimate longing is to go home.”  When Odysseus comes home to Penelope after twenty years, it’s with a lot of sexy stories to tell marred by the shared awareness of 20 years spent apart.  The gratitude for coming home is always compounded by how long you’ve been away.

Her quote is clearly rife with metaphor, but let’s stick with the literal for a moment.  In terms of your first home, you don’t choose it.  In Meet Me in St. Louis, Tootie, a five year old, says, “How lucky am I that I was born in my favorite city!” I was born in Carmel, Indiana (which has since been voted, hilariously enough, the best place to grow up in America multiple times, despite its biggest attraction according to the Internet being a very long walk), and felt decidedly the opposite.  Even through the magic haze of the 90s and a relatively miraculous high school experience, I always wanted to live somewhere else later, which was more than a little influenced by the fact that I was raised by gypsies who met in California and spent years on the road as musician and manager.  I was born into forward momentum, at least geographically.  I grew up across from a cornfield that doubles as a soybean field in the appropriate harvest years.  I grew up learning about these crops in school, how it’s good for the soil to change crops during a certain rotation so that the nutrients are not entirely sapped from the soil by these respective plants.  I grew up learning about the peony, the state flag, and William Henry Harrison, but never Michael Jackson or James Dean except when I went in search of them.  I grew up in places John Green writes books about now, with people so funny I often double over in laughter by myself from a memory.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about musicians and other celebrities who, for all their successes, choose to keep their home base in their original hometowns.  Bon Iver (who I mostly actively dislike but cannot ignore) chooses to live in Eau Claire, WI, which is about the most boring place I’ve ever been.  The members of Sylvan Esso stay in Durham, North Carolina, and the members of The National in Cincinnati, Ohio (perhaps because the lead singer was in marketing up through his 30s).  Chance will never leave Chicago, and I don’t think anyone has ever been more enthusiastic about living somewhere than LeBron James has been about Cleveland.  I am fascinated by this, that people with so much momentum and opportunity choose to stay where they came from, or at least leave a leg in it.  That forward momentum and changing geography are not mutually exclusive.  I used to think the only place worth living in America, or the world for that matter, was New York.  Part of me still feels that way – who knows if it always will – but a growing part of me cannot ignore the pull of the homes we didn’t choose, the places where the deepest longings were cultivated and therefore either the most satisfied or the most disappointed.  It is the place where the comparison of all others begins, a decision that informs so many others made completely out of your hands.  Geography isn’t so much a place as a feeling.  I think this every year when I watch It’s a Wonderful Life and see George Bailey get thwarted again and again every time he tries to leave Bedford Falls.  I don’t know what it means that he never leaves, if we’re trying to come home to somewhere we’ve never left.

I grew up other places, too.  Philadelphia, Connecticut, Chicago, Holland.  I shouldn’t say grow up because it’s not limited to childhood.  Spent my childhood? Came of age?  These are the places I came from, come from.  I think what Mary Zimmerman is talking about is, of course, more the longing for the place we will feel safe, or the ultimate home of heaven.  There are plenty of people who genuinely hated where they grew up, and hated even more the people they grew up with.  I don’t think she’s talking about the tension between the actual geography of where you grew up – the literal streets and landscapes and buildings you spent your time in – and what you longed for it to be either.  We make our homes everywhere.  If I had my way, I would live out of my suitcase on the run, returning to the tiny homes I’ve made and building new ones.  I’d haul around the essentials, but I would also carry as cargo the conversations that have been homes, too.  I’d run and run until I remembered what a dining room table looked like and would maybe consider not running to set one of my own and then I would probably look at the moon and not do either thing.

Arcade Fire

{As evidenced by my neurotic love letter to the catalogue of Taylor Swift’s music, I really love talking about music that I love.  Really, really love.  And, eventually, I would like to write about Arcade Fire the way I wrote about Taylor Swift (yes, I really do like both of them equally and at the same time that much), but it won’t be today.  I will write it, I hope sooner rather than later. I prefer to talk about everything at once, always, so I suppose an exercise in brevity would be useful (though it is adamantly not preferred!), and I’ll attempt to stick to just talking about their concert I attended on Monday night.  Also, for the additional record, I hate intros like this!  I am a big believer in skipping the intro! But I also wanted to make clear that I wanted to write about everything! Everything now! I love a good neurotic love letter, and I’m bummed to not be writing one today!}

It started in blackness.  A loud, disembodied voice with the cadence of a sports announcer proclaimed that Arcade Fire was about to enter the boxing ring that had been constructed in the center of the auditorium, complete with roped edges and white matting.  The lights came on.  One by one, the seven of them came out, clad in various uniforms bearing symbols from their latest album, bouncing around, tying their shoes, making their way through the crowd before stepping into the ring.  I was reminded, not unexpectedly, of one of my favorite tenets from acting class in college: in acting (and really, in art), there can be no fake boxing.  You’re either boxing, or you aren’t.

I started listening to Arcade Fire in high school based on a recommendation from a boy I liked.  (They stuck; he didn’t.)  As I stood in the auditorium this past Monday night, I honestly felt like I was 17 again, but not in the bad way.  I’ve listened to them consistently over the past 7 years, most often to The Suburbs because it’s one of my very favorite albums of all time.  “Sometimes I can’t believe it, I’m moving past the feeling…”  They made me feel all right about growing up in the suburbs of the Midwest, something that sits prickly in my mind for reasons of my own making.  I liked hearing them sing about things I did with my friends, too, and about wanting to dig tunnels between houses.  In high school, I would listen to Funeral and Neon Bible on my way to school, loving how spooky so many songs sounded before the sun came up, and being met with the more hopeful songs when the sun came out on the afternoon drive back home.  They were and always have been both: spooky-hopeful.  I somehow missed Reflektor when it came out my sophomore year of college because I was still so full of The Suburbs that I didn’t want to make any room, which has actually worked out in my favor because I get to listen to it now, and now is exactly the right time.

Even the lead singers’ voices are spooky-hopeful.  It’s the husband-wife duo of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne – his voice sounds plaintive and and kind of like a lightsaber cutting through a velvet cloth, and hers varies back and forth between either childlike delight or shrieking dissatisfaction.  They are well suited to each other, sonically and otherwise.  I love the story of how they met.  She was singing jazz at an art show in Montreal, and he walked in and asked her to be in a band.  So many of their songs are about this sort of long stretch of loneliness looking for someone else of their kind.  And it’s very beautiful to watch them singing next to each other, in one seamless breathing unit that is fulfilling all these things they’re singing about.  They’ve found their kind in each other.  And they’ve found their kind in the 5 other musicians that write and perform all of these songs together, including Win’s brother Will and 4 other magical beings.  The music belongs to all of them.

I’ve seen them in concert once before, with my sister when I was 17 years old.  And what struck me in the interim between now and then is how joyfully consistent they have remained.  All 7 of them, at all times, are simply being themselves, filled with a certain wildness and joy that is really unrelenting.  No fake boxing allowed.  Most of them hop around between instruments, picking up this one for this song, that one for that, dancing in no particularly regulated fashion.  It creates an almost tangible ownership over the music, physically shows that all 7 of them are required to hold it up, and all 7 of them are entirely capable.  There’s a child-likeness to them, but there’s also this incredible confidence and assurance in each of them, this perfect mix of having the skill set of an adult and the imaginative power of a child.  It makes me wish I had more musicianship, more ability.  I love to sing, and I used to play the violin; I can pound out Teenage Dream and Fur Elise on the piano, and that’s as far as it goes.  And all of them know how to play all of the instruments!  I have all these thoughts about the music but not the right words for how to say them, how they revisit the same themes musically among the albums, how they refer back to words and notes and phrases over 5 albums that collectively make this separate world that’s been entirely fleshed out, that belongs to and is upheld by them.  A lot of their music, when recorded, sounds almost random and improvised, especially at the beginning of their songs.  But when they play live, it sounds exactly the same! Because, of course it isn’t random, it’s precisely chosen and laid over, but still!  They can consistently make the same strains of music sound improvised and random when they are in fact the exact opposite because that is how aware they are of sound! Wow!  And as they’re playing, you can see that it is truly what they were made to do.  There was no other option for any of them.  It had to be this thing.

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The Golden Egg

I have loved fairytales for as long as I can remember.  When I was small, I would go to the library with my mother and sisters and we would each disperse to our section of choice, reconvening hours later.  I always headed straight for the fairytale books in the far left corner on the lower level, decorated with large plush dragons and a life-size cloth doll with long yellow yarn for hair.  I would collect my books into my tiny arms, using the step stool for what was out of reach, and then march over to The Dream Tree – which, as far as I was concerned, was a transplant from Eden.  No matter what combination of books I selected, I always, always, always grabbed One Eye, Two Eyes, Three Eyes.  It’s a German folktale about a girl who gets traded over to a witch by a clumsy father, and becomes the servant of she and her hideous daughters.  The witch has three eyes, and her daughters have one and two, respectively, and they use them to spy on the girl while her goat does her chores on her behalf.  The witch, upon discovering this, kills the goat, but not before the goat informs the girl that she must bury his hoofs and horns and weep over them once he is dead.  This is no challenge for the girl, as she is heartbroken at the loss of her only friend – she weeps over his burial, and a beautiful tree bearing gold and silver apples grows almost immediately, which is in turn spotted by a prince (who I, even at age 5, greatly enjoyed was not particularly handsome) who sees her weeping and rescues her.  One eye, two eyes, and three eyes are turned into stone, and the girl becomes the queen of the land she was taken from.

I liked fairytales then, and am attuned to fairytales now, because they are straightforward tellings of a more ordered version of human desires.  If you take the poetry out of a fairytale, you get a mathematical equation: be beautiful + do good = get what you want; be ugly + do evil = get what you deserve.  Now, wouldn’t that be nice? I am fascinated by how fairytales continue to pop up, across cultures and time periods and generations, providing an alternative version of things in which good, honest people get what they want, in which life is a straightforward series of stepping stones (as if honest goodness is straightforward).  In which the desires of people are reflected in the fairytales they create, where magic makes easier the way of disappointment and life’s troubles.

My personal favorite modern fairytale is Into the Woods, a musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, which in itself is a compilation of retellings of 4 separate fairy tales: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & the Beanstalk, and one of their own creation – the Baker & his Wife.  (I will just go ahead and say now – everything I talk about from here on out is best served by listening all the way through to the soundtrack, which I feel compelled to say even though I know there will be two types of people reading this: those who already know Into the Woods, and those who will never listen to it no matter how much I plead.  But I can’t help but ask – go, listen!)  In the great compilation of all the lyrics he has written, Sondheim explains that the Baker & his Wife are meant to represent the modern fairytale of the average urban couple, as evidenced by the wish they spend their story pursuing: a child (and later, “more room,” aka a beautiful home).  The other wishes are as follows: Cinderella wishes to go to the ball, Little Red Riding Hood wishes for a loaf of bread, and Jack wishes for gold.

I have written about Into the Woods before, because I think it’s the quintessential example, the perfect fable for how “modern” desires intersect with tales literally as old as time.  But – the entire play is about how what you wish and what you want are not necessarily the same thing, and how the aftermath of having your wish granted never looks like you think it will.  The structure of a wish is such that in obtaining it, you ultimately get the thing you want.  The wish is a means to an end; the want is the underlying desire, cloaked in something external and chaseable.  If I get this, then that will be achieved.  For instance, the Baker’s Wife says she wishes for a child, but we learn through the course of the play that what she wants is romance and to be loved by a prince, and consequently to be airlifted out of life’s mundanities.  Sondheim is not even trying to be particularly clever: in the second song of the whole play, a character remarks, “Do you know what you want? / Are you certain what you wish is what you want?”  The wish is merely the thing we pin our hopes on, the external object or circumstance that will improve interior longing and calamity.  But the want – that’s a whole different story.  The Baker’s Wife ends up getting what she wants after a rendezvous with Prince Charming in the woods.  Here’s how she responds:

Was that me? Was that him? Did a prince really kiss me? And kiss me? And kiss me? And did I kiss him back?

Was it wrong? Am I mad? Is that all? Does he miss me? Was he suddenly getting bored with me?

Wake up! Stop dreaming. Stop prancing about the woods.  It’s not beseeming, what is it about the woods?

And to get what you wish, even just for a moment – these are dangerous woods! 

Why not both instead? There’s the answer if you’re clever

Have a child for warmth, and a baker for bread, and a prince for…whatever.  Never! It’s these woods

Must it all be either less or more, either plain or grand? Is it always “or,” is it never “and”?

The woods are, of course, life.  You have to go into the woods every now and again, square up to life and risk something in order to get anywhere.  But that’s not really the point – she gets what she wants and it makes her question everything – her very self – in the wake of it.  She gets the very thing that she wants! If only for a moment.  Only to realize that it’s not what she wanted at all, which she can only sort out after tending to the interior of things.  To get what you want – danger that way lies.  Not because what we want is inherently bad (though of course it sometimes is), but because it can never really sate anything while it’s still wrapped up as a wish.  The exterior can’t do anything at all if it’s not matching up to what the interior longs for.  People everywhere know this!  John Mayer makes a literal list in Something’s Missing of every good thing he has, checking them off, aching to know what’s there just beneath, just beyond.  Creature Comfort on Arcade Fire’s latest album mocks it (though I do think gently) when Win Butler cries,

Please God, make me famous!

If You can’t – just make it painless

Is that not the cry of the Instagram generation? I will be the first to admit that I have thought almost that exact phrase, word-for-word.   It’s awful when you hear someone else say it, and genuinely know the depth of your own folly (I do think Arcade Fire has generally been the best at doing this.  How do they stay so compassionate and simultaneously incisive? How are they famous but so not famous? Are you all aware that the lead singer met the other lead singer his wife by just walking into an art show in Canada where she was singing jazz? What is that about?).   This, of course, gives a little window into my wishes and wants: I have spent much of my life entertaining the wish – sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously – that if I were able to acquire fame, I would be able to transcend my own experiences of pain and discomfort through the accompanying wealth, recognition, and opportunity it entails, and that it would somehow also lead me to more secondary desires – travel, the ability to do a thing I love, the type of person I could see myself falling in love with.  The wish is fame – the want is immunity from suffering.  When boiled down that way, it is clearly just that – a wish.  A thing that could not possibly lead to the longing it reflects.  This modern fairy tale – the one of American consumerism, in which the wish for objective financial success will lead to the want of a satisfying life – is further contemplated on Everything Now, the title track of the album, as he laments, “And every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without.”  The fairy tale is flipped on its head – we’ve gotten what we’ve wished for, so why does the longing persist?

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Small Pilgrim

I’ve tried to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard a nice handful of times but none of the times ever stuck. I’d start and then reach for something else, wanting to find another Annie – the Annie of Holy the Firm or An American Childhood. I knew I should read Pilgrim, but I could tell that the time wasn’t right. Not yet. I was living in the city, feeling a million things, not seeing about me any sort of wilderness anywhere except for the wilderness of sidewalk and stranger, the wilderness of locked doors and storefronts full of things to buy that I did not have money for.

I saved it for later. For when I would need it more. For when I would, inevitably come face to face with real wilderness. For right this minute.

I live in the woods now, which I’ve told you before, of course. I’m telling you again, and I’m telling myself again, and again, and again. Every day, now, I wake up and look out the window and remember that I live here, amongst the pines and beeches, on the edge of a lake, with much moss and deer and sapling. I live in a collection of buildings surrounded by thick forest.

Around the time we decided to move here, I also started yearning for the woods. This is an unprecedented feeling for me. I grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb, perfectly happy to remain indoors most of the time. Aside from well-organized short hikes and 15-minute-spurts sitting serenely on fallen logs, I have never much felt a pull toward wandering the wilds. I’m sort of ashamed to say it, but I wouldn’t say that nature is a primary inspiration of mine. Frustratingly so. Creation’s splendor is all around, and I’m perfectly happy to read a book on a couch, to find splendors therein, to look at the trees through a window. It makes me feel thick, obtuse, that I’m not thrilled by all that is around me, every rock and tree. Only occasionally, particularly. Not all-together. Still, the yearning came, somehow, thin but real, met with perfect timing. We moved to the woods. I live now in a forest of unimaginable wonders, and I’m beginning, maybe, to see them. Or at least to want to see them.

Now is my time to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. If you haven’t read it, this is what you need to know: it’s a book by Annie Dillard in which she reflects on her experiences in nature while living near some creeks and some mountains in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Annie Dillard is an exquisite non-fiction writer who I like to think of as both a mentor and a dear friend, though she is actually neither to me. You should know that I think about her often, whether I’m in the middle of reading one of her works or not. I have not read everything she’s written, but the things of hers I have read I go back to again and again and again. I’m working my way through. I want more than most things to be something, anything, like her.

In a pleasing turn of events, I found a magic volume called The Annie Dillard Reader secondhand at Myopic Bookstore in Wicker Park. It is magic because it holds almost all of her writings all in one place, which makes it easy to carry around and refer to many things at once. I brought it with me to our new home in the woods, of course. It is here that I’ve begun Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Now is, quite clearly, the time.

At the moment, at least from where I stand, the earth seems troubled, with us troubled on it. The earth, that is, in the places where I’m not. In the places where there are hurricanes and wildfires and all manner of other troubling things happening. Here, in the woods, everything seems to be as it always was and will be forever. I know no difference. I see nothing to fear. I am small and I notice little. There is nothing I can do to fix anything involving the earth except try to keep my eyes open and bear witness to its changes and chances.

It is my only wish, really, to keep my eyes open. Or, more truthfully, to start to open them.

Now that I live in the woods, I feel like I can’t ignore the wilderness as I’ve always done. When we drive anywhere we drive on the sorts of roads that are two lanes only with trees thick on both sides, plus the occasional building. All of our drives lately have been “scenic drives” with eyes stuck on the windows trying to grab all the colors of the trees. I owe this place, these living objects in their many specificities and masses, my attention, my thought, my care, don’t I? I would hate to live in the world for as long as I will and not ever really care about the world as it is without me or anyone else messing with it. This will take some re-orienting. Does that make sense? Does any of it?

WHY AM I SO UNMOVED?

Hence, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I see to learn from Annie Dillard. To hear how it was for her. To soak up some of her wonder, her fear, her joy. I want to practice what she practiced, to be a pilgrim in the wilderness even for just the littlest of whiles. To at least try. This has everything to do with God, everything to do with myself, with hope, with wonder, with practice and discipline and with just dang trying to learn about joy and where to find it. God is in me and God is in creation and I am in creation and shouldn’t all of it just go together? I think it should. It will just take some waiting and some wondering while I wander out under the sky.

So, today (Sunday, I write on Sunday), I went for a walk. As I set out, I decided that I will walk every Sunday to practice loving creation like God loves it, like God loves me. To hear it groan a little and to groan a little with it while we all wait for God. I’m going to remember the walk here in conversation with bits from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. A transcription! Mostly me feeling clumsy and clunky and asking Annie, “HOW DID YOU DO IT?! HOW DID YOU SEE AND FEEL SO MUCH!? WHAT DO YOU SEE THAT I DON’T?!” (In all caps because I feel like shouting!!!) I read her words with reverence and wonder for things that I know to be true but can’t quite see myself. I read her words and I want to see more with my own two eyes, to be able to articulate the things that I see. I read her words and I want to be a pilgrim at my own tinker creek, my own Long Lake, my own mossy woods. I’m starting just by walking, by dancing, by singing, by wondering. I’m starting every Sunday, I hope. The smallest of pilgrimages, all the while feeling like I’m doing most things wrong, all the while doing them anyway.

(Annie’s words in italics, mine in not-italics, from here forward. I’ve only read the first little bit of the book, so that is where all these bits are found. Everything so in process, always!)

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Old News

On Monday, I spent what was supposed to be 15 minutes and turned out to be 3 hours in the waiting room of a Jeep dealership.  Despite the inherent impatience attached to them, I generally enjoy being in waiting rooms because of the truly endless metaphors that come to mind therein.  I almost always imagine I am a bystander in Revelation, my favorite Flannery O’Connor story, and someone is just on the edge of losing it in a room full of strangers.

On Monday, this was not how I felt.  There was a revolving door of strangers, but we were not united by our collective anticipation of something exciting happening.  We were united by our watching of the same broadcast, showing the same clips over and over and over again of a gunman from 32 stories up opening fire on a crowd of people at a country music festival in Las Vegas for over an hour.  In the first several seconds of cell phone footage, nobody really reacts to the sound of gunfire; you can tell that they think it’s part of the show.  And then, simultaneously, the group mind recognizes what’s going on, what nobody ever thinks will happen to them, and chaos ensues.  There was footage of people who couldn’t find who they came to the festival with, people in shock, hospitals overloaded with the hundreds of people injured.  The worst of all was an interview with the gunman’s brother in Florida, in which the reporter asked him how he felt in the wake of finding out what his brother had done.  “How do you think I feel?” he asked incredulously, pacing in and out of the camera’s frame, verbally processing in front of the whole world about the personal dimensions of his grief, the person left behind to hazard a guess as to why something like this happened.  The people in the waiting room with me were audibly swearing, sighing, coming and going as their cars got fixed, ignoring the TV, ignoring their children waiting with them, flipping through magazines.

The reason I rarely, if ever, say anything on the Internet about the news or politics is threefold (when taken into joint consideration of the fact that I am generally desirous of talking about it in the privacy of conversation).  Quite frankly, it doesn’t really do anything.  I think in general most social media activism is self-congratulatory, another slice of the unfilling pie of seeking to form an identity based on what a jury of your peers thinks of your presentation of yourself.  I recognize that this is inherently unfair, that I play the game in my chosen division as much as anyone else.  I know that many people are simply seeking to connect, process, inform, any number of other things, but I personally don’t understand how a space typically dedicated to cooking tutorials and wedding photos can satisfactorily transform into a useful platform for political discourse or philosophical discussion when called upon to do so.  Maybe they are just waving their flags like me – “I am trying,” “I am on fire,” “I am dismayed by the state of the world.” The second is that I don’t think evil is a political issue, and the two are often conflated with each other.  I can’t think of a single person I know who wouldn’t agree that what happened in Las Vegas is evil, heartbreaking, wrong.  There are countless things wrong, countless points being argued in this country, and necessarily so.  I’m by no means condemning those who use public platforms to discuss such things; it’s just never my first impulse.  The third is because – what could I possibly say?  And, in all honesty, what does it matter what I have to say? If a person is going to scroll past your memes and pictures of your pets, they are probably going to scroll past your diatribe condemning gun violence, especially if there is no context between you and the other person on where you stand on the topic to begin with.  It’s trying to have a conversation with 10 people at once that 100 other people can watch without having to share what they themselves actually think about it.  What all of my reasoning and allowances are ultimately getting at is that you cannot publicly comment on anything without then being expected to go down the rabbithole of expressing what you believe about everything; the nature of making any information public is that it consequently belongs to everyone.  I cannot say that I think automatic weapons should be outlawed in civilian use (something I would think everyone would agree with until you remember that obviously not everyone does) without then being pressed to answer on the ethics of war, self-defense, the perceived vs. actual powers of government, the Constitution, and every other political opinion I have, in process or otherwise.  There is significant danger in being able to share your opinion publicly to anyone who will listen on the Internet, because there is the optimum amount of opposition and the minimum amount of culpability.  In the so-called age of information, there are no objective facts.  And so, why bother?

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Mystics II: I shall be.

The sun’s dancing on the carpet. My small body is full of many things. One thing: the egg whites on toast + gala apple + tortilla chips + lemon la croix I ate for lunch, sitting on the orange couch. Another thing: warmth, from the space heater blowing onto my feet. And another: stacks of thoughts, wonderings about prophecy and blessing and art and womanhood and time and space, wishes for a thousand hours to sort it all out in, to read everything I wish to read, to sit very still and listen.

Since last Monday (and before then too, of course), I haven’t stopped thinking about what I began to unravel in “Mystics”. This space is decidedly for things that are in-progress. You’ve heard Jessie and I repeat again and again the phrase, “go before you’re ready,” a thing that our acting teacher used to remind us, a thing we have adopted wholeheartedly and have been trying to practice here, on Synchronized Swim. No polished essays here, edited and re-edited countless times before hitting publish. Quite often, Synchronized Swim Snack Mom Margaret has sent me a friendly text reporting my typos when she gets around to reading my posts, which I always feel grateful for. Someone to watch over me and my eagerness to write things down before I think about them too hard, to not rewrite when I can help it, to go by guessing, before I’m ready, and see what happens. “Mystics” was, is, the beginning of a thought, a tiny window into what I’ve been carrying around for a while now. One side of a thousand-sided thing. It is so in-progress in me that I feel extra-vulnerable (in a really good way) to have even shared it, and unsure of how to publicly continue the thought, though the thought has continued in me. Echoed really. I both have and haven’t moved forward from where I was last week. My feet are glued to the floor in wonder, but also racing around the library stacking up books, and also treasuring up everything in my heart, and also looking around at other people wondering if they are on fire too, wanting to shout, wanting to retreat.

Study of Figures, Charles Sprague Pearce, 1890. Still hanging out with Charles Sprague Pearce’s paintings and drawings everyday. Especially the drawings, the beginnings of a thought, a look at something that may be, that shall be. 

Today, after visiting a new church for the first time, Isaiah and I rode our bikes down Honey Rock Road to the path to Lost Lake. We walked until we reached the hanging bog, where we made our way through on submerged boards, slowly, relishing the warm water where the shade hadn’t reached. We stood together on the hanging bog around small, still Lost Lake, a place I somehow hadn’t been to before in my many wanderings of HoneyRock. Isaiah told me that no one at HoneyRock knew about this little lake until someone spotted it from a helicopter 15 or 20 years ago. Once they saw it, they used the boards to make a path through the surrounding hanging bog to the lake. A secret lake that you must walk on water to get to.

Everything a metaphor.

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Operatic Notes

I am thinking about too many things at present to talk about any of them coherently or meaningfully as I sit on the giant cobblestone steps within the labyrinth that is the Opryland Hotel.  Let’s make a list of them and see how we come out on the other side, shall we?

  1. Yesterday, on one of my million trips back and forth to my car, I stopped in the lobby of the hotel because there was a musician playing one of my very favorite songs, Why Georgia by John Mayer (I’ve always wondered – is Georgia a person or the state? Where is this 85 he is driving up?).  He struggled to play the riff that repeats throughout the song (honeycomb on college campuses everywhere when played successfully), even though he was considerably older than John Mayer was when he wrote it.  He struggled to hit the higher notes of the chorus, too, in his boaty white Stetson, playing to a lobby full of distracted people.  It is so, so hard to stand in front of people and ask them to listen to you, let alone like you.  I was the only person looking directly at him, which ironically made him uncomfortable I think as he snuck nervous glances my way throughout the song, even though I was just trying to let him know that I was listening and liked him!   I am wondering if it’s even harder to sing a song that’s someone else’s, asking to be identified by it while simultaneously apologizing for not having been able to write it yourself.  When he was done playing the song, he snapped into a Johnny Cash type of subdued bravado, pretending to not care if anyone had been listening.  “Still ‘everything happens for a reason’ / is no reason not to ask myself / if I am living it right – am I living it right?”
  2. Mystics. On the phone with Amy on my birthday, we talked, as we so often do, about the fire we generally always feel stirring in our bellies, the ever-present itching for what’s just outside our line of sight.  Amy wrote about it on Monday; I have a million things to respond to it with, all of which are just outside my line of sight.
  3. The reason I’m at the Opryland Hotel is to help my stepmom at a convention for counselors, with hundreds of booths full of people trying to help and be helped.  This is so clearly not my own calling, but it is a certain kind of special to see people fighting very hard for their own callings.
  4. Freddy B. I cracked open a book of meditations by fellow mystic and #seeker, Frederick Buechner, and, of course, went straight to the one on my birthday.  It reads: “But on the really crucial decisions of life – Do I love her enough to marry her? Is it worth dying for? Can I give my life to this? – when it comes to decisions like these, it is not just the pro-and-con-listing part of me or the coin-tossing and advice-seeking parts that are involved.  It is all of me, heart, mind, will and when the moment comes and I find myself moving out for good and all, one way or another, there is a kind of relentless spontaneity about it, a kind of terrific sense of conviction, so that if you are Matthew in the tax office, you lay down your slide rule and your pencil, do not even finish the form that you happened to be working on at the moment, but just push back your chair and start heading for the door without even bothering to pick up your coat hanging over by the water cooler.  And then you step out of there forever without once looking back over your shoulder, and start following the way you have chosen: not that way over there or that way right here, but this way. Of all the ten million and one ways in the world, you choose this way.  Or you choose each other, your way and you.” Need I say more? Could I say more?
  5. I don’t like Denver.  There, I said it.

Include in the list of things I’m thinking about that this floral structure looks exactly like the one in A Cinderella Story

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Mystics

It’s September, leaves are falling all around, the heat is lingering even here, up north, and I can’t stop staring at a painting. I first saw it via Instagram, where it was shared by Lindsey Glass-Deshmukh who goes by the handle @inandofSainte Genevieve by Charles Sprague Pearce.

This painting, instantly arresting. Her upturned face, her folded hands, her patchwork skirt, the faint halo, her hair, the sheep, the sky, the grass, the earth, the world, the air.

I couldn’t stop looking at it. I can’t stop looking at it. I google it, then close the tab, then google it again, then zoom in on just her hands. I have a hunger, these days, it seems, for female saints. Women mystics. I know they exist, I know they’re out there, were, have been, are. Names thrown around, names on churches, names of towns. WHO IN THE WORLD WERE THESE WOMEN AND WHAT WERE THEY FEELING IN THEIR BODIES AND HEARTS?! That’s what I want to know! That’s what I’m dying to know as I look at this painting, as I feel myself in it too, as I feel my own heart, soul, burning slowly in hunger for God, for beauty, for making things with my hands, for all that is true. But no one is talking about the female saints, the women mystics. Today, I went hunting in HoneyRock’s small library to see if, somehow, they had a book on the subject. Nothing. All the writings of the church fathers, yes, but no sign of church mothers. Unsurprising, given history and culture and all, but disappointing still.

Throughout the past year, Jessie and I have joked with undertones of grave seriousness and true wondering that we, ourselves, are Christian woman mystics, drawn to earth, fire, signs, wonders, visions, dreams. We talked about it this past Saturday night, even, a phone call on Jessie’s 24th birthday, remembering our yearnings, the way we feel always on fire, the way that feeling will never, must never go away, the way it has everything to do with the center of ourselves, with our souls. We are related to this tradition somehow, the mystic women, so seldom spoken about, so surely misunderstood.  We feel it in our guts. We hear that song. It’s part of why we started this website/project/experiment in the first place, and Jessie has a whole other set of things to say about it completely apart from me. We both are standing in ourselves, trying to make sense of it all. Mysticism. What is it and what does it mean?

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