Category: Freestyle

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?


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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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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I am not driving to Carbondale, IL today, so I will not see the first total eclipse (of the heart) (of the sun) in 38 years in America. I sigh as I write this. I could go, but I’m not. I have a thousand excuses, the biggest one of which is that I’m moving very soon and there is a lot to do and it will require a lot of driving, so driving six hours to southern Illinois does not sound desirable. Also, the forecast is calling for clouds today. Also, I’m tired and so in need of a vacation, and planning a trip to see a terrifying natural occurrence didn’t sound like a vacation to me. Also, I expect traffic. Also, everything is happening all at once and it’s overwhelming. Isaiah and I had been waffling back and forth about trying to maybe go, but we unanimously decided not to without too much hassle. We are tired. We are tired. We are trying to move our bodies and all our stuff to Wisconsin, and we are tired. Southern Illinois is in the wrong direction.

But, as in so many things, in this choice, there is also grief. I will not see a total eclipse today. Was this my once-in-a-lifetime chance? This eclipse, the way it is happening now, feels so heavy, so thunderous. I’ve been spending the last few evenings reading and re-reading Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse,” her astounding essay about seeing the totality in Washington in 1979, the last time there was a total eclipse that could be seen in America. This essay pounds in my chest when I read it. Annie Dillard tells me, “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it.”

When Annie Dillard writes about the total eclipse, she describes, tries to describe, a kind of terror, of panic, of not knowing how to process what the eye sees. “The sun was going and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum.” “From all the hills came screams. A piece of the sky beside the crescent sun was detaching.” “Our minds were light-years distant, forgetful of almost everything. Only an extraordinary act of will could recall to us our former, living selves and our contexts in matter and time. We had, it seems, loved the planet and loved our lives, but could no longer remember the way of them. We got the light wrong.” “It did not look like the moon. It was enormous and black.” “Seeing this black body was like seeing a mushroom cloud. The heart screeched. The meaning of the sight overwhelmed its fascination. It obliterated meaning itself.” “The world that lay under darkness and stillness following the closing of the lid was not the world we know. The event was over. Its devastation lay round about us.” “It had nothing to do with anything. The sun was too small, and too cold, and too far away, to keep the world alive.””When you try your hardest to recall someone’s face, or the look of a place, you see in your mind’s eye some vague and terrible sight such as this. It is dark; it is insubstantial; it is all wrong.”

“One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitutes of home.”

You should go read that essay. Stop reading this and go read it. Then come back. Every human should read that essay.

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The Braid

As always, everything is all a-jumble in my brain. Disparate things that become intertwined just because they’re all in there at the same time. Braided. In college, my dear, dear acting/life/everything teacher Mark always told us that our art, our faith, and our knowledge were all intertwined, braided, that one could not grow without pulling along all the others. He would knit his fingers together as he said this, showing the woven-ness of things, of our very selves.

I’ve felt this, the braid tightening, stretching as each strand of myself grows longer and longer. I feel my faith stretch with my knowledge. I feel my art stretch with my faith. Perhaps more simply, too, I feel the disparate things I take in and think about being braided together in my mind, feeding all of me, stretching it all at once. Like when it seems like all of your classes start bringing up the same subjects seemingly out of nowhere. Like when a friend mentions the very thing you’ve been mulling over all day. Like when you notice that things are very, very intertwined in ways that they should not necessarily be but are. The things that pull my knowledge don’t just stop there. They find their way into the other parts of me too, seeping into my prayers and the things I make. No compartmentalization here. I’m my own melting pot, everything muddled together. The woven-ness of things. The braid.

Right now, three strange things intertwining, stretching me. I can’t explain why, but that’s part of it probably. These three:

Terrorist acts of white supremacy in Charlottesville, VA

The International Code of Signals

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver 

I’ll talk about them serpentine, winding through and around the braid. Because that’s how they are for me. All wound up.

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My House

My friend Victoria wrote a beautiful piece earlier this week about the particular ache for something slightly more than home – that longing that never quite fills, only grows, the nostalgia that waxes so big it can’t quite be for something real. I feel that way more about people, less about places.  There are groups of people, or individual ones, that have represented home to me in the various sizes it comes in – I do long to go back to them, as they were during the time we shared.  But I rarely feel longing for a place.  While I love the house I grew up in and a lot of the things that happened in it, I have always been so busy running ahead of myself that I often don’t have time to wish for what’s already happened.  As a 4 on the Enneagram (did you really think I wouldn’t bring it up?), longing is more a state of being.  Me and Angelica Schuyler, we’ll never be satisfied.  What’s worse, often times when I come home I can’t just let myself sit and enjoy it because I’m so busy thinking of all the places I have yet to go.  Also, any time I’m “allowed” to sleep in, a la when I come home for a visit, I feel guilty.  Anyway!!! What I’m trying to say is that coming home is often a self-imposedly complicated mixture of happy-sad, but not today.

In my mother’s house, there are many pillows.  Fat ones.  The ones that I most obviously benefit from are on my own bed, but there are pillows almost everywhere in the house.  On the couch I am currently sitting on, there are fat green and purple ones to match the gorgeous purple walls my mother painted herself that I almost always take for granted in the main room.  On the couch I wrote on last night, there are fat white ones so big they cover half my body if I’m trying to hide (which my family occasionally likes to do whenever someone comes home)(we also almost always pretend to be asleep when someone walks in the door)(it is universally hilarious)(except when we do it to our friends and they are just confused).  Nearly anywhere you land in my house, there is something large and fat and comfortable behind you (sometimes taking the form of my enormously fat white whale of a cat, Q).  On my bed, my mother has stuffed it with so many pillows that I can sleep sitting up if I want to, which I do on occasion because it makes me feel fine and vaguely Victorian. If I leave the lamp on my nightstand on before I fall asleep, I can see the door to my closet, graffitied over and over again with lyrics (mostly by The Killers) that I wrote all over when I was 14.  Sometimes, even with the big fat pillows, this room makes me feel young and weird and antsy.  Not right now.  Right now it is a clean place, a place where I unpacked within two days of arriving, the place that has every book I’ve ever owned and fat pillows that catch and cover me as needed.  Simple and sweet.

the white whale, at rest

As tempting as it is to pretend I’m a #backhomeballer, that’s not really the case either.  While my mother and stepfather make no secret of being thrilled to have me home, I still get yelled at for leaving crumbs on the table and forgetting to lock the door.  Sometimes that makes me feel 14, until I remember that I’m not and just really should think about locking the door.  The muscle memory that takes over always surprises me – it’s a wonderful chance to see how much you’ve really changed, and a wonderful reminder of how hard it is to actually do so.  The house hasn’t aged; sometimes it feels like we never will either.

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