Monday, December 28, 2009

The Velvet Bag

I drew this word in a Scrabble game last night. I came this close to finally, finally winning and beating my verbally superior but incredibly graceful fiance. His defense always thwarts me.

It came out of the bag like this, people. A word worth 25 points, not including the double word score I had my eye on. I wouldn't have gotten the 50-point Bonus for using all my letters, (there was already an "N" on the board) but still.

We purchased a Peanuts Monopoly game over Christmas, and called the first game due to fatigue. But believe you me, I'm coming for his ass. It's cute and all, but I'm takin' it down...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

my favorite memory from my freshman year roommate:

The Christmas Song by Dave Matthews: blaring out of my speakers as my car winds through Southeast Indiana and Southwest Ohio. *sigh*

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; take him as her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling, dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love, while he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around

Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried Always out on his own
He met another Mary, who for a reasonable fee,
Less than Reputable as known to be
His heart was full of love love love
Love love love
Love, love is all around

When Jesus Christ was nailed to the his tree,
Said "oh, Daddy-o I can see how it all soon will be.
I came to she'd a little light on this darkening scene,
Instead I fear I spill the blood of my children all around"
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around

So I'm told, so the story goes,
The people he knew were less than golden hearted:
Gamblers and robbers,
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Like you and me, like you and me.

Rumors insisited he soon would be
For his deviations, taken into custody
by the authorities less informed than he.
Drinkers and jokers, All soul searchers
Searching for love love love
Love love love
Love, love is all around

Preparations were made for a celebration day.
He said, "Eat this bread and think of it as me.
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around."
The blood of our children's all around,
The blood of our children all around.

Father up above, why with all this hatred do you fill Me up with love?
Fill me love love love
Love love love
Love, love
And the blood of our children all around.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Under the sofa between the dust bunnies

I was determined to go to church on this Sunday, the Sunday before Christmas. I am an absolute sucker for ritual, and my sweetheart and I have been attending several worship houses intermittently. I have a MOUNTAIN of student work to sort through before turning in my grades, our apartment is a wreck, I just started Christmas shopping--that I can't afford-- and my partner, the guy who makes all this bearable, well he just got on a plane bound for his family. So I'm tackling all this by myself, on top of which missing him makes me achy.

But I love the Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday around that holiday. It always feels especially holy, as if it kind of twinkles with sacred mystery. It gives me goosebumps and makes it hard for me to breathe. The winter I find pretty bleak, but Christmastime is positively electric. The days are so short; the magic of darkness at four in the afternoon is wild to me. It's playing havoc with my body clock certainly: I've taken to falling asleep at nine, sometimes seven thirty, depending on when I've eaten dinner. It's not so good. But now that I have the time to begin to think about Christmastime, I'm stunned.

I don't mean to be cheesy. I am absolutely sincere when I say that the wonder, the mystery, the magic of Christmas blows my mind. It doesn't matter to me at all that we observe in December a birth that probably took place in April. It doesn't matter that Israel looks nothing like the Midwest, and all the other reasons people give to pale and temper this holiday. It's still pretty amazing. The birth of one man to a newlywed who'd as yet not lost her virginity in the middle of a pretty fierce tax audit, in the desert. A birth that brought shepherds out of the fields and three strangers from corners of the world to gaze on a whiny, wrinkled baby. The greatest revolutionary the world has ever known born more than two thousand years ago, and the world still celebrates his birth. That means something. The dark and the cold of the season, it makes me want to hole up in a candlelit stone chapel and bathe in the angelic voices echoing off the walls. On my knees, the wooden kneeler biting through the worn denim of my jeans, I can see my breath in cloudy devoted wisps around my head, reverently observing rituals that are meaningful to me, even though I'm not catholic.

So the church we've been worshipping at is nothing like this, nothing whatever, but nevertheless, I wanted to be there. It was the Sunday before Christmas. This desire for worship, combined with the absence of My Favorite, it makes me thirsty: a thirst I can feel under my right lung, insistent, muscular. I wanted to feed it.

But there was so much to do. Tires needed rotating, presents had to be bought and baked and constructed, not to mention an interesting book serving as a brilliant distraction. A cherished guest for dinner tonight that I had to prepare for: all these things stood between me and the front door of church, and ultimately they were effective. I didn't go. And yet I was still thirsty.

So what did I do? I put on a Nat King Cole Christmas album and cleaned my apartment, in preparation of guest and my forthcoming departure for family. Nat King Cole is the clearest and most resonant Christmas memory I have. His sacred music is full of that wonder and mystery that this time holds for me. O Holy Night makes me want to cry every single time I hear it.

Of course, the dangerous thing about putting Nat King Cole on, is that once the supernatural infatuation wears off, I'm left enjoying his voice and wanting to hear more of it. "Stardust" is a wonderful song, but lacks some of what I'm talking about.

At any rate, I'm learning this holiday season that God is hiding in a number of places, and not just the places where I always thought. In the faces of dead plants, and between the petals of orchids. Behind my toilet. I'm grateful for this, his ability to be both large and small enough to find me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How does your garden grow?

Yesterday, my sweetheart took me to the Chicago Botanic Gardens to walk around and look at the Christmas lights and decorations. It was a big surprise, to spend the afternoon and evening wandering around in below freezing temperatures looking mostly and sprawling gardens that--obvious by the overwhelming number of yellow, brown, drooping dead things--was dormant for the winter. But I'd been well prepped, and so was bundled to the teeth, literally, and was as warm as I could be.

Arm in arm, we walked under trellises, covered with twiggy, bare vines, and over bridges, stretching over still water, resting under a rime of crisp, warped ice. We dropped a leaf over the edge, wondering what would happen, and watched, nonplussed, as the leaf rested gently on top, without fanfare or impact.

"We need something heavier," he said. "Here, gimme your boot."

I was able to keep both boots, and we snuck into a greenhouse in the fruit and veggie garden that was still growing a few fruit trees and some edible herbs. After which, we went into the Regenstein Center and looked at three different greenhouses: a temperate one, suitable for houseplants; an arid one, chock-a-block with succulents and cacti; and a tropical one, boasting banana trees (yes, they did, about the length of your finger, and still very green) and orchids.

Overhead there were these giant balls suspended from the ceiling, burgeoning with phaleanopsis orchids. They didn't have much in the way of smell, but were incredibly striking to see. The greenhouse was peopled with insects really good at not being seen, that chirped and cricketed away to one another. Evidently, the tropical greenhouse is overrun by one kind of bug, so the horticulturalists have introduced its predator into the greenhouse to fight the infestation. Chatty little guys.

By the time we got out of the greenhouse, the sun had fairly well gone down, but we continued to walk. We discovered that the park wasn't quite as well lit as we'd expected. We walked down a gravel path, flanked on either side by large sculpted trees, arms ever stretching to the sky, yet utterly naked, and managed to climb stairs, up, up, up, to another section of the Gardens. We discovered it to be the Dwarf Conifer Garden, thanks to the flashlighting powers of his cell phone. After a short time whispering and joking in the dark, we came down again, walked back down this path. It was dreamy, walking this path, surrounded by bare branches. This time at its end sat the body of one of the greenhouses, white and red and green and blurry, cut by the lines of panes and the lines of branches, like a giant stained glass window. We went out to the car to get our picnic dinner, ate in the Garden's cafe, and then drove home, lapsing into large bouts of silence, considering the coming holiday.

Winter is such a difficult time for me. The winding down of fall makes me genuinely sad, the time of indoor activities and harvesting what's grown so it doesn't waste, the time of rain and gray and cold and snow. I've never enjoyed the autumn. My sweetheart loves the bright days, crisp like the first bite of raw apple with colors as sharp and sweet, but I know that the sunless sleep of winter is coming, so I always enjoy with a heavy heart. It was a real treat to walk among things that were growing, in warm steamy rooms and know that even in the winter we can make green and fertile and beauty, too.

More than that, though, I have recently found myself frustrated, to the point of pervasive irritation, with what I perceive to be a decided lack of growth in my life. I feel recently like I am in the same place where I was a year ago: like my writing process, despite its greater mass of material, bigger bank of words written, continues to lack the structure and focus I will need to sustain any kind of writing career. My teaching career is a continual, desperate clawing at the industry, one that wants teachers desperately, but will only employ them after a certain level of critical validation. Even my yoga practice, despite my newly-found-but-seldom-practiced headstand, feels in the same place: I'm more aware of the imbalance in my body, but this hip and that shoulder are as tight as they ever were, and are content to remain there.

I'm not ignoring perhaps one of the most significant changes in my life: I'm engaged to a man this year that I wasn't last year. I'm a committed partner this year. I have this relationship stretching before me, its track running parallel to that of my own, and last year none of that was certain. It's not for nothing; it's amazing growth. But it's not the sole thing I can hang my hat on. I'm more than my honey's partner: I'm also an artistic being, and a physical being and a spiritual one, and my sweetheart can do a lot, but encompass all of these things, he cannot. (And thank God for that.)

Here's what I learned yesterday, walking through this dead garden: Nature moves in cycles. There are times when things rise, burst and blossom, times when they ripen and mellow and seduce, times when they harvest, and times when they rest. The hibernation of a plant is critical to that plant's ability to be able to grow. It must have the winter so that the spring can again be beautiful. I was put in mind of how 150 years ago, our lives were governed by the sun, by the turning of the world and the seasons of the year. How modern we've become to be able to fight the elements, to bring sun indoors in order to work when we should be resting. But is this the thing we need, is it what's good for us? I am fighting the idea that there is something happening inside me that is utterly unmeasurable: I want results. But now may be the time of the work happening on such a deep, imperceptible level that I can't measure it. This work is as important as the work of what can be seen. If I don't do it, maybe the blossom in the spring won't be, or won't be as genuine, or as fantastic as it could be otherwise. I have to let myself look static and dead on the outside for this season, regardless of what's happening around me, regardless of how I feel inside. Without the stillness and the rest, there can be no movement.

None of this makes the stasis of where I feel now easier to bear. But it makes it meaningful. I don't know if it's particularly Christmas-y, what I'm saying. I know that at this time of year I get really reflective, and January holds this giant upsweep of forward moving energy for me. But for now, I just have to try and be comfortable with the stasis.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Treadmill or Footpath?

I'm making this list because my fiance told me to, in order to snatch my ass out of a quiet but powerful bout of self-pity.

Ten things I have improved upon, grown in, or gotten better at in the last year:

  1. I have learned to do salamba sirsasana in a way that makes me feel both safer and in the pursuit of an advanced pose.
  2. I have learned that list-making is an integral part of my writing process, that it is for me evocative, humorous, and even poignant.
  3. I have moved deeper into a storytelling cycle in the face of the myriad discomfort it would hold for me.
  4. I have learned (and am still in process of learning) how to feed myself in such a way that I look and feel healthier and happier.
  5. I have learned to listen to my fiance even when we disagree, and to argue with him without robbing him of any humanity. (Right, honey?)
  6. I have learned that it is always appropriate to give my students what they need, even if that means I have to throw the beloved pedagogy out the window.
  7. I have learned (I think) to honor and protect my artist self, and not just try to shove her in the direction of the task-master self. I have learned not to consider the artist that I am to be too flaky or too self-absorbed. (This one's probably still in process, too.)
  8. I have learned that despite the fact that I grew up with both parents in my home who loved me, that I never wanted for food, clothing or shelter, and that I have a good education, common sense and relentless ambition, that I still have powerful, unique and compelling stories to tell about my life and my upbringing.
  9. I have learned that I am a woman who treasures high heels and short skirts as much as she does a dogged pursuit of gender equality.
  10. I have learned that, like many things in my life, my pursuit of the Divine is a good deal less structured, regimented and official than I used to consider it, and that God still cares for me, seeks me and wants to engage with me outside of a paradigm I've known all my life.


11. I've learned that I have the strength to withstand being hurt over and over again. The sun still keeps coming up, my heart continues to beat, and despite my impatience and confusion with the world, I can and will continue to do what I can to live, thrive and figure it all out. Even if I'm hurt. I won't just collapse into a pile of dust.

Friday, December 11, 2009


More of my own, soon, I promise, but today, weeks after I've been back here, I can only muster up this.

Inertia oozed like molasses through Elaine's limbs. That's what it must feel like to have malaria, she thought.

At any rate, I'd be lucky if I wrote a page a day.

Then I knew what the trouble was.

I needed experience.

How could I write about life when I'd never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures amonth the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing?

--from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath