Friday, March 23, 2012

I Got Nothin' (Slice 23)

It's been a really long day--4:00am wakeup for a 4:45 taxi to the airport for my flight to Philly; then getting in and set at the hotel, 6+ hours putting together the booth, dinner with some high school friends--and I am super tired and achy (see reference to awake time and manual labor), so I really don't have it in me to blog tonight. This is my slice: I am exhausted, and hoping for my usual conference adrenaline infusion to get me going tomorrow.

Yup. That's it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Famous (Slice 22)

I've lived on my own, as an adult, independent from my mother (inasmuch as daughters ever are) for 6 years now, but some things still catch me off guard. One is that I am "famous" among my friends and community here for being a good baker and cook. Certain things--cinnamon rolls, snickerdoodles--are known as "mine" (use it in a sentence: "Those snickerdoodles from Hannaford were terrible--since I've had Chandra's, I can't eat any other kind.").

When I was growing up, even once I was a teenager and could, generally speaking, cook and bake without burning the house down or measuring out three cups of eggs, I still wasn't known for it, because my mother was the famous one. So it was more of a, "Oh, Chandra, you bake, too--just like your mom! How sweet!"

It's strange to take ownership of things that you know aren't really yours, but for all intents and purposes are. If I tell people here that these recipes are really my mother's, that I learned baking from the middle of a kitchen floor, gazing upward toward flour-covered counters and a whirring KitchenAid, they nod and say that's nice, but the snickerdoodles remain mine.

This is, perhaps, a silly little example, but it's a tile in the larger mosaic of us growing into real people, becoming our parents (despite our best efforts), and becoming an ever-changing identity. And it's strange how little things like cinnamon rolls are pieces of lasting identity, even when much else changes. I could lose 100 pounds, be brought into the witness protection program, become a lawyer, move to Thailand, learn to like math--but Christmas morning, you would still find me getting up early to roll out risen dough. And maybe by then, as I place cross-sectioned spirals in greased pans, I'll finally think of them as mine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Real Drafts (Slice 21)

I suppose it's only fitting, considering the name of this nifty blog of mine, that I post some drafts every once in a while.

If there were a non-distracting way to Track Changes, I would do it on everything I write. I'm fascinated by revisions, by what gets scrapped and what's held to. And I figured I'd do this tonight, and pulled up a poem I wrote several years ago--interesting ideas, but terribly, sing-songily rhymy. But lo and behold, I had already revised that. It's still not spot-on, but it's leagues better than I remembered.

So I went looking for something else, and found a pretty basic experiencial piece I wrote when some friends and I spent Easter weekend at Myrtle Beach. Most of it, as you'll see, got scrapped--in fact, the word probably needs to be reinvention, not revision. Amusingly, I didn't think about that I'd traded one poet's phrase for another until afterwards--T. S. Eliot shouldn't feel slighted, my heart still belongs to him and Mr. Prufrock, but since the first time I read it I have loved e. e.'s line from [maggie and millie and molly and may], and it just accidentally fell into place here.

Draft 1: April 2004 (possibly with mild edits since)

Myrtle Beach on Dead Saturday
I wake up early at beaches.
It’s something automatic.
7:30 pulls me from a nightmarish
scenario of waking at noon, 
cursing the day.
I come down to the beach
unshowered, sweatshirted,
to avoid the crowds.
My sandy-footed comrades
on the beach are not the tourists:
   the young couple walking dogs—
        his small and white, hers big and black.
   the teenagers gently, silently running
         in loose-fitting sweats.
   the shell-searching parents dabbling
         where toddlers soak up salt and sand
into every crack and pore.
These are not the tourists.
These—we—are the beachers.
Like whales we hear the roar
in the night and lumber through
our unconscious to wake up in sand,
pleasantly stuck and unable to leave.
But the rescuers—
   the cell phones, the dead-
   lines, the Monday mornings,
   the all-too human voices
wake us, and we drown.   

Draft 2: March 21, 2012

Whatever We Lose
Within the sound
of crashing waves,
I come out of panicked sleep,
fearful of lateness.
I leave silently, 
fearful of missing the singular
hour of daylight, quiet, peace.
The beach is not empty,
but I have beaten the tourists.
This early, tourists still 
curse at coffeepots
and ponder tide charts.
This early, it is only
beachers, naturals-- 
e. e. cummings said
we seek lost things
and find our own selves.
Like whales we hear the roar
and lumber through 
our unconscious 
to wake up in sand,
pleasantly stuck,
unable to leave.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Art of Redemption (Slice 20)

I'm glad I don't work the math of the universe. I'm glad I'm not the one keeping accounts or working the books. The times when I think I could run things better, I'm kidding myself.

Because I like things clean. I don't like things unfinished or up in the air. So when I'm feeling like I should go unearth something, I can be almost assured that it's a God thing, because left to my own devices, I'd leave things underground. A funeral plot is pretty neat and tidy until you bring in the backhoe.

But at divine prompting, I did some digging yesterday (no, not Martin--separate and much more involved thing). I don't know what was special about yesterday, and maybe it wasn't anything but the first time God could get my attention about it. But it was enough to make me sit down and write a letter and, furthermore, click send.

It wasn't much, really. Not on the scale of masterful correspondence in the history of the world. It was a simple reestablishment of communication, an unpolluted apology, a wish of wellness, an unassuming sign-off. Nothing much. Pieces of sentences, parts of stories. And I've spent today checking in about every 18 minutes to see if I had a reply.

I spent some time talking with a friend about it tonight, saying that I realized that unearthing the past was often a messy thing. Perhaps, rather than clean forgiveness or cleaner silence, I would be met with expletives and refusals. (This seemed unlikely, but you never know--5 years is a long time for two people to change.) I said that I was prepared to deal with the mess--the I had owned to the making of it, and I would claim it's clean-up as mine, too.

But I returned to find a similarly simple note waiting for me. Pieces of sentences, parts of stories. An acknowledgement and thanks, a summary of life lived in the interim and questions about mine.

And just like that--through the work of plain words--something that was dead lives. It's still too fragile to hold much promise--like signs of life coming from a comatose patient, it's impossible to predict what will change by tomorrow. But what a strange God who pursues us, who is not satisfied with leaving things in death, but weaves our lives in and out and back into other people's, knowing that there is perfection in the mess and beauty in the broken.

I've written this before I've written my reply. Maybe to make it more real, to release poetry before returning to reality. Maybe to prove it happened if renewed life is short. But God is in the art of redemption, not just of souls, but all of our selves, and tonight He's just plain showing off.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Other People Growing Up (Slice 19)

I'm not sure where this post will go. It started off as a dusting off of an older piece of writing, about times when I've said thing I shouldn't, or didn't say things that I needed to. It's a good piece--one of my favorites--and really didn't require enough brushing up today for me to feel like it was really slicing.

But in the piece, I reference some childhood memories, which brought me to pulling up Facebook and looking up some names from elementary and middle school. The school where I went from Pre-K through high school had a pretty high turnover rate from middle to high school, so a good deal of people who I was fairly close to (and some, less so) up through eighth grade have no long since fallen off my radar. In the early days of Facebook, several manically friended me or vice versa, but we have, since, re-cut those false ties.

At any rate, this all got me thinking (and Facebook stalking) about how other people grow up, especially when you're not around to see it. Some faces I recognized immediately, almost unchanged from junior high. The awkwardness and chubby cheeks that I assumed would fade were still clearly present, and it was like I was looking in an old yearbook. Others were a much bigger stretch--such that I can only be somewhat sure I found the right Martin Ryan, there being so many of them.

Martin's the one who got me thinking in this direction, truth be told. Of the people I'd like a second shot with, he'd be high up on my list. Don't get me wrong, nothing romantic, but he was one of those kids who was really smart and really interesting as a fifth-grader, and didn't care that those things made him a social pariah in the politics of junior high. Had I gotten over myself and been friends with him, I think I would have been a better person for it. It wasn't that I was ever mean to him--I don't recall being mean, anyway--but I was never particularly nice, let alone friendly. I bet he became a fascinating guy as an adult, assuming high school didn't get the best of him (as it did for many of us). And if the profile I found is the same Martin I knew--it's close enough that I'd buy it, anyway--then let's just say he grew out of his awkward gangliness and big glasses. Good for him--I'm honestly glad, and I hope that his life dramatically improved upon getting out of middle school (again, as it did for many of us). I hope he's living proof that the weirdest kids in junior high make the most interesting adults, and that his friends and family now make it hard for him to remember how hard life was in 1995.

Like I say, I don't know where this was going, but it's what I've been thinking about for the last hour or so, thus, SLICE.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Ram Jumped On Top (Slice 18)

Kolaches (pron. "KOHL-ah-chz") all in a row! From the top: poppyseed, apricot, and cherry.

I know I've said this before, but this time for real: I am SUPER tired, and definitely making myself go to bed ASAP in order to not feel like I'm running on fumes all week! So I will simply say that I did, in fact, make those kolaches today. I'll wear red tomorrow to celebrate St. Joseph's Day, I'm bringing kolaches to work, and now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go learn how to say this Czech proverb for the day:

Na Sv. Josefa vyskoči beran na vršek a poděkuje hospodáři.

"On St. Joseph's Day, the ram jumped on top and thanked the farmers."

...We're a strange people, us Bohemies...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Heritage (Slice 17)

I celebrated a rich tradition this St. Patrick's Day, one that I've honored for several years.

I didn't wear green.
I didn't drink green beer or, in fact, anything of either category.
I didn't sing an Irish drinking song.
I didn't claim that there's a bit of Irish in my blood, somewhere on my father's side.

See, every St. Patrick's Day, I remember (again) that I do, in fact, have traceable heritage, and today, once again, I went and looked up when St. Joseph's Day is. I'm generally an American mutt (shorthair domestic, thank you), but I'm a quarter Czech on my mother's side, and St' Joseph's is a pretty big deal--their St. Patrick's Day, though "a little more tame" according the myczechrepublic site.

But this got me thinking about heritage, what we hang on to and what we forget. I mused to a friend today, "I want to travel back in time and chat with an Irish New Yorker in, say, 1872. And I want to tell him, 'Don't worry about all this insane persecution you're dealing with right now. In 140 years, New Yorkers will be claiming they're Irish up one side and down the other, and will be drinking watery green beer to prove it.'" but the persecution isn't the fun part of history to claim. Nobody wants that part.

Instead, we claim the parties and the festivals, like out cultural histories were a Spring Break photo album set to slideshow.

I'm no better. I don't speak Czech, the only history I know is what I remember from an 8th grade research paper, and I have to look up what day St. Joseph's is every year.

It's this Monday, by the way. And I bought the supplies (yes, Mom, even the poppyseed filling) for kolaches today. I'll bake them tomorrow, and by the time I walk into work with them on Monday morning, I'll swear it's my annual tradition.

Friday, March 16, 2012

16 Happinesses (Slice 16)

It's late, and I'm not feeling wordy, so methinks it's time for a list slice. Today, I'm going with 16 things that have made me happy/grateful in the recent past. No particular order...

1. Two close family members getting jobs, after long months of prayer.

2. Coming up with a justification for starting another cross-stiching project (thank you, Pinterest), with hopes of avoiding the line from "Mansfield Park" that I inevitably think of while working: that a woman stitches things "of little use and no beauty.

3. Writing everyday, and getting feedback and support and love from friends, family, and strangers.

4. Getting totally wrapped up in a great television story--the newer "Battlestar Galactica." Don't judge until you've tried it--and getting a little weepy at the series finale tonight.

5. My Bleu Cheese Bacon BBQ Burger with sweet potato fries from Shay's today. Totally hit the spot.

6. Knowing that my sister-cousin is getting some help in her moving & late pregnancy stress from a friend I connected her with--God is good, even on the other side of the country. :)

7. Catching up on the backlog of flagged emails in my inbox today. I need to stop using the Flag function to mean, "I don't feel like doing this right now..."

8. Finishing my brother & sister-in-law's Christmas present--something I started for an unknown recipient 5-6 years ago. A long road, but I'm happy with the end product.

9. Wondering what to make for dinner tonight, and hearing Harrison Ford (from "Morning Glory") saying, "Frit-TA-tta." Roasted kale, brocolli, onions, and garlic, added the eggs with seasonings and siss cheese... Good idea, Harry.

10. Switching over to all-natural/organic hygiene products. 10 days in, and skin & hair are clearly much happier.

11. Having the thought last night, as I made a delicious dinner on the fly, that my future husband was somewhere heating up leftover pizza. (I don't know that this is true, of course, and the thought didn't make me happy, exactly, but having it did... if that makes any sense...)

12. I had a really nice dream last week: nothing big on plot points, but I was sitting on a couch holding hands with a man who loved me, and a little girl (not ours--but one we knew well) was laughing as she sat in between us and climbed around and over our arms.

13. Reading a thoughtful, sensible review of the "Blue Like Jazz" premiere at SXSW. I've been very concerned about it, but I'm holding out hope. I won't like it as much as the book--I don't think that's possible--but I'll try. :)

14. I booked my tickets for our biggest show of the year, which are also my tickets to go see my mom & our family in Iowa for a week in May.

15. I get to wake up early tomorrow, to meet Julie to go to Aurora Provisions before spending a day being crafty & productive before spending tomorrow evening with Esther watching Shakespeare movies. Who needs lazy-day Saturdays?!

16. When I started this list, I thought, "You really should have done this earlier in the month--16 things?? How far back are we reaching??" Answer: about 8-9 days, and it took me about 10 minutes. I'm pretty darn blessed if I do say so. And I do.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Am From a Midnight Sun Homeland (Slice 15)

[Much thanks to fellow slicer NewTreeMom for this awesome idea. Check out her March 14 post for her "I Am From" piece. This may shape itself into poetry eventually, but for now it's just a blog, and I'm claiming that freedom. That said, I'm pretty proud of this.]

I am from a Midnight Sun homeland, a name from thousands of years of waxing and waning, and thousand-mile journeys.

I am from Johnson County summers, waking up to roosters and the Sunday Morning Polka Show, watching Deda tie his boots for chores, waiting to leap into Dunham's Pond without touching the bottom, the barn radio staying on so the cows wouldn't get lonely.

I am from church in the morning and Disney Sunday Nights with popcorn for dinner, a trust in magic and romance, a hope in a God and happy endings.

I am from a world without fathers, of movies and bowling three times a year, and an earliest memory of being left, my red tricycle winding me away and back.

I am from long sand flats stretching out to the Target Ship, walking toward Boston and singing into wind and waiting on a cloud-banked sun, charcoal and salt in the air and Granmma teaching me to ask, "Is that a petting dog?" on the way home.

I am from a woman of purpose and fierce love, who wanted me and celebrated a miracle child; a woman crafting a life in letters with tails, potters' wheels and spinning glass, slow-rising bread. I am from still-healing brokenness, far from home.

I am from the wilderness of lesser Rockies and a school in a mansion, surrounded by wealth but having little and being the better for it.

I am from a brother who grew up too soon but still built my castles, who still can quote Sleeping Beauty and doesn't let me forget it, who will give me away at my wedding.

I am from libraries and schools, living and working in books and words and not caring for a different life to wish for.

I am from the darkness of depression, the feel of cool tiles and a contemplation of death; I am from a friend who loved me enough to call me to a way out from the dark to life, laughter and dining hall siestas, a chosen family of sisters in Woodson, Hollifield, Hurley.

I am from misquoted religion, seven years of divine silence, and perfect restoration and the 116th Psalm; from searching for home to inscribing "heavenly homeland" over my left shoulder; from being convinced of a lie to found in the truth of Romans 8.

I am from a sister-cousin who has shared my road, and entrusted to me a true and priceless gem.

I am a reborn New Englander, outlasting the tourists and riding the ferry loop for no reason but to feel at home on the water.

I am from a refound city, a moon-gazer claiming my home out of the one he traded me for; I am from vast spaces in the clouds and newfound promise, a life in the air and offered with open hands.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thumbs of a Normal Color (Slice 14)

This is going to be a quick slice, because I have been up late every night this week, and it's starting to take it's toll!

I bought seeds today--nothing fancy, just some basil and parsley, and potting soil and seed starters and some flower pots. And I'm excited about having plants--they're just herbs, after all, and they'll be contained--but I have this lingering expectation that I'll screw them up somehow.

Don't get me wrong, I love the IDEA of gardening, but I'm stymied by a few things:
A) I really don't like bugs. I don't freak out (unless they're centipedes--my fear of things is largely based on leg number), but I don't much like them, and my normal justification is that they're fine, I just don't like them in my house. But when I'm out in their space, I get a little nervous. No excuses.
B) I have a tendency to start strong on things, and then space out/get lazy/get distracted/forget/lose interest. And gardening does not cater to that mindset. Anyone can stick little pinches of promise into the dirt, and anyone can munch on a cucumber, but it's the months of work in between that separates the gardener from the grocers.

Okay, I lied, two things. Be that as it may, I'm attempting, and I'm starting out early and small. I figure if the herbs turn out well, I'll still have time to try my hand at more advanced vegetative matter--and dare I say, legitimize finally buying a Topsy Turvy--before it's too late in the season.

And if I fail... well, there's always the Portland Farmer's Market...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Lego Life (Slice 13)

I came across the black and white below a little earlier today, and saw the color image a few months ago. Both make me happy and nostalgic over how much my childhood was influenced by a very simple toy. It's a testament to my love that, despite my exhaustion and having just finished a length chat with a friend, I indeed to be a bit wordy here.

In short (haha), I learned much of what these ads describe: that I could create, could choose to follow directions or branch from them, could feel pride in my own creations, could play pretend with what I'd made. And Lego was one of the few things that Matt (my older-by-seven-years brother) and I could do together as kids without driving each other nuts--he would build things, I would play with them. His castle would be made with precision, using the special wall pieces and multiple floors. Mine would be made out of the traditional bricks, multi-colored and stocky, but I loved them anyway. There were no gas stations or space sets. All medieval, baby.

And we would splay out on the floor of his room and recreate Willow (I will hear no ill words of that movie--it is amazing), modified by his love of Piers Anthony books and twinges of my obsessions with The Swan Princess and Sleeping Beauty. And for some period of time--minutes or days, I couldn't say--we cohabitated and could have posed for an ad to fit right in with those below.

As I mentioned in posting "Peace" ad earlier today, it makes me a little sad that little (nothing?) is marketed this way anymore, and certainly not to kids. A sense of secret accomplishment? Quietness? What is this, Little House on the Prairie?? I love it. I love that we valued this once, enough to market product that way and see it pay off. And while I roll my eyes at Lego's revamping line, I look forward to sacking out on a floor one day with my nieces and nephews (Matt, apparently I've assigned you a large family--you and Karen better get cracking...), and I'll explain how you can make a second floor hallway end in a door to nowhere, sending intruders to the death dogs below.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Learning to Put Down a Book (Slice 12)

So for the longest time, I took a good deal of pride in finishing any book that I started--which is to say, any book I chose to start. Books assigned in classrooms fell outside my parameters. This wasn't so much a personal rectitude (geez, I love that word) as a component of the Type A parts of my personality. If I stopped reading a book, it would bug me incessantly. My enjoyment didn't factor in--I had started the story, and had abandoned it: characters paused mid-conversation and mid-arc. It would bother me to the point that I wouldn't dare to do it again. (For the record, I have a pretty similar stance to movies, but not at all to TV shows. I leave series on the wayside consistently.)

I've relaxed my stance a bit, but I'll still prefer to muck my way through a not-great book rather than leave it unfinished. Something about letting the characters have their full shot at winning me over.* (Insert here the ever-present response I get: "There are so many great books out there! Don't waste your time if you're not enjoying it!" Blah blah blah.)

I particularly get hung up when reading an author who I've loved in the past. Come on, I whine to the pages under my right hand, You are better than this. I know you have it in you. And sometimes they turn it around, but they often don't. (Examples: After loving Snow Falling on Cedars, I ended up abandoning Out Lady of the Forest; The Lovely Bones and particularly Lucky blew me out of the water, but The Almost Moon made me want to punch someone in the face, namely Alice Sebold and her protagonist; The Virgin Blue and Falling Angels made me a big fan of Tracy Chevalier, while Remarkable Creatures--and Burning Bright, to a lesser extent--left me wanting to sit her down for a chat, starting with, "Whyyyyyy??".)

And of course this is on my brain now because I am in the same quandary. I'm not ready to give up on Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry, but it isn't grabbing me. I remember The Time Traveler's Wife wrapping me up into a cocoon of voracious page-turning, and HFS seems every night only to be spinning webs of sleep (helpful to rest, not so much to reading).

I shall report back about how I fare in this particular war of different kinds of captivation. Wish me well.

* Incidentally: Have you, kind reader, read Inkheart? I've been meaning to ever since watching the movie a few years ago. The movie was (despite the presence of my much-loved Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, and Andy Serkis) pretty awful, but it flirted with being really good at moments, particularly with Bettany's character (a literary character read into real life) who is unsure if he can escape his novelist's limitations: "I can't help it, it's how I was written." Potentially fascinating stuff, but it isn't given enough focus to spiral well in the movie. I have hopes for the book--bookS, a triology, this bodes well!--but haven't gotten around to it (them) yet...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

3 Slices: Revelation, Conversation, and Poetry (Slice 11)

So, thanks to readers for hanging with me for twenty-four hours. The cat's out of the bag now, so I can type freely!

The tough news is: my beloved pastor and his family are moving back to Kentucky, to their old church (of 5 years ago, before they moved up here). It's an exciting time for them, and a new adventure for our church family as we embark on finding the next pastor to lead us. God is good, and while this knocked me off my feet yesterday, He was not only unsurprised, but the orchestrator of the whole thing. (He's awfully sneaky.) But it got me to thinking, as I wrote last night, about what defines a community.

And I've been working hard since last night to keep this positive attitude going, but let's be honest: change isn't many people's strong suit, and it certainly isn't mine. I love Scot and Cathy and their daughters (the youngest was one of my class of teens that I worked with all four years, so especially close to my heart), and it sucks to lose them. That doesn't counteract my feelings of excitement and new adventure, but tthay're all tangled up together. True to my prediction, I bawled like a baby this morning when he announced it, but am keeping my big-picture view going: Excitement. New adventure. God orchestrating. All good.


Different angle of slicing (with and against the grain, perhaps?):
Had a good long chat with a friend tonight about all manner of things. And I tried to keep my own challenge from a few days ago. It's not that Anna and I have very different opinions, but when you're talking about ideas of mercy and judgment and grace, everyone's views are a little different. And it was awesome to just let her talk and to listen, and to then respond, not out of proving my point or refuting hers, but just sharing my thoughts and perspectives. Good stuff.


And lastly, that put me in mind of a poem, so I had to go digging to look for it. It was, as I suspected, in my blue binder with the cover sheet reading, "Other People's Poetry, or, Alert the Media! Chandra Is an English Major After All!" (This was a personal project of mine when, after I'd finished eviscerating yet another member of the English literature canon, my unofficial college advisor demanded, "Could you bring me some form of literature that you actually LIKE??" I compiled the binder--and have added to it since--and brought it and some books over to him a couple weeks later. Aren't you jealous that you didn't have me as a student??)

I found this among some things of my grandmother's (yes, Jenny, our mutual) things. I think Dennis was her cousin, but I couldn't swear to that. To my knowledge, it was and remains unpublished--just in a collection of hers. I read this for the first time when I was still in high school, only hitting the tip of the iceberg of the writers' circles and publications he describes. Sadly, it becomes truer the older I get.

by Dennis Rodney Nicholson

More people write
than read poetry
So, apart from
vanity publishing--
Including magazines
which only contributors read
and circles where you listen
for your turn to speak
(still the user pays, but cheap)--
there is no margin
on this bottom line:
except in keeping
loonies off the streets:
costing less than the dole
or a padded cell
to fuel their self-esteem.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's the First Stage (Slice 10)

I got some tough news today, and they're not kidding when they say the first stage is denial. As soon as it becomes real, I'll be pretty upset--like in the cartoons when the kid is crying, but all your see are droplets of water six inches off her face. But right now, I'm still in slack-jaw stunned mode.

No worries, it's not anything drastic (health issues, etc.), just some news that's surprising and sad, but also good in other lights. (Sorry, it's under wraps, so must remain hush-hush. But since I just found out, and I've got 56 minutes left to slice for the day, this is the topic du jour... or du the last couple hours, anyway.)

It's also got me thinking about how tenuous our connections are. I've been in Maine for 5 1/2 years, and still my connections here are hardly permanent. I have a great job and a great church and wonderful friends, but how many variables would need to change to make that untrue? If I lost my job, if God pulled me from my church, if friends moved? And then where am I? No man is an island, but sometimes this girl feels like she's a piece of archipelago, unsure if she's drifting toward or away.

Apologies for the melancholia tonight--will give further news when I can.


To spin things around, slice elsewhere, and otherwise end on a happy note, a bit of amusing text conversation between myself and my good friend Esther tonight, regarding our mutual and complete love of the 1992 adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans (I rewatched it yesterday, she did today.)

E: "What are you looking at?" "I'm looking at you, miss." Nobody speaks like that anymore... Sigh.
C: UGHHHH. When I watched that yesterday, I just yelled, 'GOOD LINE. That's a good line.' Somebody tell my [future] husband. Use that one. Winner.
E: I'll pass it along to him. Maybe he'll even wear the loincloth.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Recap (Slice 9)

I've kept waiting to see if something would occur to me to slice about today, and nothing has. So, in brief recap:

- I had a nice dream last night--nothing specific, but just being with a man who loved me, and a little girl (not ours, just one we knew), who was having fun squeezing between us on a seat. No further plot than that--but a nice little way to spend a night. :)
- I had set my alarm for 7 (working from home today, so I could have slept in), but woke up at 6:10, well-rested (due to good dreams?) to discover that I had not, in fact, set that alarm. Thank you, Jesus.
- worked from home today, and walked to the grocery store at lunch, enjoying the ridiculously springlike weather we're having. Love it.
- Had my former roommate and her dog (Puggoh) over for dinner, and we watched The Dark Crystal. Wow, did we embrace some strange ideas in the '80s. Glad we're all better now.

That's about it! Serving tomorrow: helping some friends work on their newly-bought house, and then joining some friends to give our church's kitchen a much-needed deep clean. Lots of work, but I'm looking forward to it--since Jamaica, my hands seem to crave "real" work more...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Moderation (Slice 8)

I'm getting a little worried that moderation is becoming archaic.

There have been a couple things today that have put me in mind of this. One, a conversation about politics--not a political conversation, but a discussion of what politics has become--with a coworker; the other, my and others' reactions to the Kony 2012 YouTube video.

What concerns me is that we seem to be forgetting that it's okay to be middle of the road about things. Sometimes you don't have to pick a side. There are times when you can weigh evidence and be, yourself, a hung jury; or when you, frankly, just don't care enough to investigate and choose. By questioning something, you suddenly paint yourself as being against it, as taking a firm stand. By not arguing against something else, you must be condoning it. That's exhausting, and there's something to be said for an occasional stance somewhere in the middle.

And as we lose moderation, we also (related? not?) are losing our ability to have a civil, let alone friendly, discourse with someone who disagrees with us. An in-depth discussion is messy, and can lead to you reconsidering your own views. It's much cleaner to dismiss, label, name-call, besmirch. Maybe I'm just naive, but I thought we used to be able to do this: a Republican and a Democrat, a Muslim and a Christian, a pro and a con could sit down and talk something over, examine one another's views, and leave the better for it. Did I imagine this? Because it seems increasingly rare. Everyone seems settled in camps, and no one goes out after dark. The few who stumble about in the open are dismissed as wahoos.  And the sad thing is that as two sides grow increasingly entrenched, they alienate those who were undecided, and those undecideds become increasingly jaded and apathetic--it's not their hill to die on, and fighting seems to be the only option.

I'm sorry if I'm being equal parts vague and jaded here, myself. But I've spent a good chunk of the day talking specifics, and I don't feel like getting into them anymore. It just saddens me that we're losing the very democratic (or republican, if you prefer) keystone of discourse, political or otherwise.

My challenge, both to myself and to you: Go have a chat with someone who has a radically different opinion about something that you. Tell them ahead of time what you're doing, so they know they're not being set up. And ask them to talk to you about why they feel that way--not as a defense, not in preparation for your turn, but just to listen to them. Really listen to what they say: what they think, and why; how they came to this way of thinking. And then thank them for sharing, and change the subject to something innocuous, and go on being friends.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How I'd Like My Mornings (Slice 7)

It's funny how a brain works.

When I started contemplating moving out from my roommate of three years, I had this idea figured out: that once I lived on my own, I could start my mornings out right: make coffee, play some music, write in my journal/blog, maybe read my Bible a bit. I was convinced that once I had my own place, I would have this glowing, angelic start to my day.

Weird, you say? Wouldn't your roommate be upstairs asleep, you say? What was keeping you from doing this already, you say?

Diddly squat.

And, not surprisingly, I have not been starting my days this way, even though I moved into my own place last October. (Given, there were many other factors to the move, and my ole roomie and I are happily settled in new places, but I'm just eyeballing this particular justification.) Every once in a while I end up being ready a few minutes early, and try to arrange my little coffee & Jesus time, but it works out to about 7 minutes, which isn't quite what I was going for. ("Every little bit counts, blah dee blah dee blah.")

But this morning kind of worked, by a simple juggling of order. Ordinarily, I *say* I'm getting up early to have enough time for some morning downtime, and then some combination of the following happens: I hit the snooze button too many times (no more--hurrah for my SleepCycle app!), I lose 10 minutes to day-dreaming/day-planning while standing in the shower, I happen to need to have to check Facebook, it's one of those days that demands some lip-syncing into the hairbrush... You get the idea.

And suddenly it's, "Rebecca's going to be here in 4 minutes and I don't know where my pants are!"

Here's the puzzle: if I do oversleep, I can ACTUALLY get ready (showered, hair dryed, teeth brushed, dressed, lunch grabbed, out the door) in 20 minutes. So where does my daily hour go??

So this morning, we tried something different. I got up, and did not check Facebook when I went to turn SleepCycle off. I put on my super comfy zebra robe, and went out to the kitchen and set coffee to brewing. I pulled my Bible, my journal, and my Bible study book out and sat down to the table with coffee in hand. (I'd left the phone in the room, so I was music-less, but returning to it might have resulted in a lapse of Facebook ignorance.) And half an hour later, I put away my stuff, slurped down my coffee, and hopped in the shower.

I was two minutes late, hopping out of the house pulling a shoe on, but STILL. Overall success.

Tomorrow morning is another day--but here's hoping...


I was wondering, so I pulled up my statistics on SleepCycle: it helped that, despite the brevity, I got some rockin' deep sleep last night. :) (Going to bed with a love song in your head is a good sleep aid, perhaps?)

(Seriously, aside from Jesus, this might as well be an ad for SleepCycle. If you have an iPhone
and you sleep alone, it's about the best thing that's going to happen to you, ever. :) )

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Love Song (Slice 6)

Preface: I realize that some readers won't follow this post, in the sense that I'll sound like a raving lunatic. Sorry, and I wish I could offer some words of comfort, but the facts are these: despite the fact that I still live a pretty unconvincing life, God has made me something I couldn't have been on my own. He's healed and restored me from the pain and disappointment and brokenness of my past through the life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus. If I know you personally and you don't know this about me, all I can do is apologize for my hypocrisy, and ask you not to judge Him based on me.


I'm a romantic, and I love me a good love song. And most of the time, I'm in enough of a romantic-y, day-dreamy mood that I can picture getting sung to by my future husband. But tonight, I guess it just isn't one of those nights. And while a love song is stuck in my head, for the moment I can only hear it as it would be sung by Jesus.

"Oh, my dear, I'll wait for you.
grace tonight will pull us through:
until the tears have left your eyes,
until the fears can sleep at night,
until the demons that you're scared of
disappear inside;
until the guilt begins to crack
and the weight falls from your back,
oh, my dear, I'll keep you in My arms tonight."

The songwriter explains how it came to him, after a conversation with a then-girlfriend, and how it made him think of James 5:16, about the need to confess ourselves to each other, and I think this is true, and a totally valid basis for a song. But I think, like most love songs, this one works on another level, too. I think we can get so stuck in our own heads, so convinced that we need to keep up a facade, and God's sitting here, waiting, gently asking how long are we going to keep trying to fake it till we make it.

It's been one of those days where I've been frustrated, so I've resorted to complaining and whining for a good deal of the day. And I hate that, because at the time it feels like I've vented and I feel better, but at the end of the day all I feel like is a whiny little pansy jerk. And sometimes I need to hear that God doesn't hold that against me, that He remembers I'm only dust, that screwing up is allowed, and that His mercies are new every morning.

And on that note, good night.

Thanks to vague ignorance of copyright law,
you can listen to Tenth Avenue North's "Oh My Dear" here!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Trapped in 3x5s (Slice 5)

So I've come back from a mission trip to Jamaica, and lots of wonderful people gave me their financial and prayerful support, and I am incredibly grateful to those people, and want to give them a full report of how amazing the trip was, and how much we saw God work in ourselves and in the people we worked with. But I really don't like summarizing a trip in photographs.

Don't get me wrong, I think photos are wonderful, and I love going through them--mine or other people's (with them--I'm not that much of a creeper)--but especially when you're so newly back from something so awesome, they seem to stand in stark contrast to reality. (Incidentally, I think this may have been a benefit to the pre-digital age of photography. When I was a kid, you came home from a trip, and desperately packaged up your rolls of film in the paper envelopes at the store, and then waited the ETERNITY of days to see what came out. I know there are innumerable benefits to digital photography, but there's something about the death of anticipation that makes my photos less amazing.)

Case in point: the photo below. And this is just one of the 212 photos I just uploaded to Facebook. Just ONE. You see my problem.
I don't suppose this is such a great photo, just looking at it. It's blurry, and the light is weird, and you don't really know what you're looking at. But this is Derry, Peggy, and Lorna, our "kitchen angels." Not only did they make us three meals a day for nine days, but they sang for us--during the day, and even at night, when they could have finally gone home and escaped the 28 Americans who had descended on their existence. They sang for us in beautiful, spontaneous harmony. They were wonderful singers, but it was more than that--they sang out of joy, out of freedom from their pasts and their pain, out of marveling in a God who cared for them. 

I love this picture because it's so clearly not reality--the light is brighter than it should be, forms are unclear. Reality wouldn't have done it justice, because we weren't dealing with reality when they sang. We got a teaser for heaven from them everyday, and I'm okay that I didn't perfectly capture them as they really are on this earth. It's likely that I won't see these ladies again until I hit heaven's door, and when I do, this is what I'll look for: light, and joy, and raised hands.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kitchen Therapy (Slice 4)

There is something completely therapeutic about working in the kitchen. I really don't understand people who don't love to cook, as it's something completely ingrained in me. I have a photo (see below) in my current kitchen of me as a child, helping my mother in our kitchen (at the aforementioned Pottersville house), and it makes me smile whenever I see it, that even then I loved this thing. I was thinking of this today, as I spent a couple hours making my dinner. It was a new recipe, and I don't think it'll be a repeat, but I was smiling to myself at how I was enjoying it.

It's a sensory thing, for one: the sizzle and hiss--smell, sound, feel--of onions hitting the hot cast iron, the way they turn a new color as they're stirred; the way my chef's knife organizes the disorder of spinach leaves into uniform strips of green; the way flour and butter thicken milk to a bubbling gravy. These are simple things, and I love them for it. I love that, given enough time in my kitchen, all other stress can pass from my head. I love trying new things, learning new things, and the feel of success and accomplishment when it turns out. (I don't really mind when it doesn't--so long as it's edible, which it generally is.)

I joke with people that I am a not-so-secret fifties housewife, minus the husband. I love nothing more than cooking for other people--one person or a crowd. A friend identified it as a love language, and I had to agree--it's a way I demonstrate love, compassion, hospitality. And don't get me wrong, there are days when I don't feel like cooking, but in general, it's something I look forward to, even--especially--after a crazy day.

This same friend and I were laughing the other day at the idea of either of us settling down with a man who only ate pizza and hamburgers. A marriage with such a man would never work--he would starve in my kitchen. I don't try to nail down particulars with God about the man He has for me, but one thing has to be certain: he's an adventurous (and enthusiastic) eater--or he'll learn to be with me.

(Incidentally, that's Mewie--also mentioned in yesterday's slice--in the bottom right. A cat is a necessary kitchen companion...)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Home (Slice 3)

I've had a thoroughly boring day (which is to say, full of much-needed rest, watching movies on my laptop, and eating leftovers), so I went scrolling through other Day 3 slices for inspiration, and found it (thanks, Jee!). "What is home to you?"

I was snagged by this question, and it made me think of several things in quick succession. My brain is a little sludgy from the day, so I'm feeling like vignettes may be the call for this slice...

It's strange how a childhood house, even a fairly short-term one, works as a default setting for the word "home." Mine is a 3-bedroom ranch on McCann Mill Road in Pottersville, New Jersey. It was brick-red when I lived there, though it's been painted since. It's surrounded by a forsythia hedge, a wall of bright yellow for a few weeks each spring. And the yard runs down past the big tree (where Seal, our childhood mutt, was chained up in good weather), past where my mother kept the garden (the chicken wire forever bent toward the earth from the trespassing deer) to the Black River at the back. I don't remember as much of this place as I think I do, but it's filled with vignettes of its own: learning to cook and bake with my mother; discovering Seal's puppies upon coming home from Kindergarten one day; restaging the movie "Willow" in Legos with Matt in his room; my mom carrying Mewie to my bed when she (the cat) was too old to jump there. And while we only lived there a few years, that's where my brain goes when it hears the word.

When I was a junior in high school, my best friend was upset that they might be moving from the only house she'd ever known. She was crying on the phone, and apologizing to me because she knew that I'd moved a few times already, so she felt bad for mourning over something I never had. I remember not knowing how to process that. Had I never had a home? Everything else in my life seemed so up in the air then, that I couldn't really answer the question. It still nags at me every once in a while (which is, perhaps, why it caught my attention tonight).

For most of my life, my Fun Trivia Fact to share at ice breakers and cocktail parties has been that I was born in Alaska. We moved six months later, and I thus have no childhood memories of it, but it doesn't keep me from claiming it as identity-influencing. (I also spent a good deal of my fourth-grade year trying to convince my classmates that I was an Eskimo. At the time, I was certain it was true.) But in 2002, just before high school graduation, I got to go back and visit for a week. I would spend the next couple years trying (unsuccessfully) to put how it made me feel into poetry. In a word, it was a homeland, an idea I had never thought I could understand. I still can't explain it, but there was something about it that settled me. I remember sitting on the slopes of tundra in Denali, and wondering how I could be attached to earth. I still don't know.

I was just chatting with a coworker about this a couple days ago: the Eastham Public Library on Cape Cod might be my most treasured building. It is the only place I can go now that is entirely unchanged from when I was 5 years old. (This used to be my grandmother's house, but she moved and it was sold in 2004.) We went to the Cape every year of my childhood, and after a few years of separation, I'm back to visiting a few times a year. And the first time I was back, a couple years ago, I went with my uncle to the library. I didn't need anything--which is to say, I'd brought my own books--but stepping into the Children's Room, I was suddenly home (though a few feet too tall). I could see myself waiting (my mom, brother, and grandmother up in the adult stacks), happily curled up with Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories and hoping that Morris, the library's resident cat, would come by. I'm sure the place has been painted a few times, and they've probably switched from Dewey to LOC, but someone there loves me and they have, for the most part, kept with museum-like perfection my favorite room in the world.

Home is where my mother is. This has always been true for me--not just a sentimental musing, but truth. When we moved my senior year in high school, she asked after a few weeks if I felt at home yet. I answered without hesitation, and I think she thought I was just trying to make her feel better. I helped her pack and move out of that house last summer, and while it twinged a bit of nostalgia, I found that I wasn't as upset as I'd expected. A few months later, I entered for the first time and entirely recognized her new house in Iowa as home. I don't know how much of it is in my head, how much of it is tied to the stuff--the woven-bark wastebaskets and kaleidoscope candles and the smell of something recently-baked--but it's still true: after my last spring conference in Chicago this May, I'm coming home to a place I've never lived, but home it remains.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sharing Stories in the Dark (Slice 2)

I don’t know when it started, but going to the movies by myself has become one of my most loved escapes. I don’t go as often as I did a few years ago (when I averaged a movie per week), because real life, real story, outweighs what happens on a screen. But I still love stepping into a different world, seeing how life looks through other eyes. And while I like the social nature of going with a friend or a crowd, I LOVE going by myself, being part of a semi-connected audience that might laugh and cry together, but won’t ask, “What did you think?” at the credits.
That’s the real gist of it, I suppose. Beyond the atmosphere (the friendly dark settling in, the perfect fixation of sitting just close enough to catch the full screen in your peripherals), I love the level of community. We are strangers sharing stories in the dark, and we will go our different roads home and remain strangers, but for a couple hours we will be tied up together in someone else’s world.
I went to see “The Artist” earlier this week, and completely loved it. As a verbose sort, I am enthralled when someone can craft a beautiful, engrossing story with so few words. And I was glad I saw it in the theater: there was something perfect about sitting in a mostly-empty theater, sharing this dip into the past with a handful of anonymous reactors scattered behind me.
I think I love other stories so much because they remind me that I’m writing my own. Sometimes I think about God’s focus on each of our stories in this context. It’s an imperfect metaphor—an audience has no power of deus ex machina—but I think there’s a note of truth to it: that He, in his infinity and immeasurability, sits in the third row, just close enough to see everything, and pours Himself over us like laughter and tears.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Slice One: Weather as Identity

So my good buddies Ruth & Stacey (Two Writing Teachers) encouraged me to take a crack at their Slice of Life blogging challenge: essentially, accountability for writing at least once every day for the month of March. Not wishing to be called yeller, I accepted the challenge. :)

Let's do this thing.


It's snowing today in Maine, and I was going to write about how the weather in influences the identity of New Englanders, myself included. But it snows often here, and I can write about that another day, perhaps. For the moment, a different sort of weather is on my mind.

Because three days ago, I was in Jamaica under a sun that seems to hang lower than it does here, with a close humidity that seems to be magnetically pulled in once any sort of exertion is begun. The land seems baked and soft, sweet with sugar cane and orange groves, and the breeze personifies palm trees, letting them wave their arms lazily against the deeply blue sky. There is a constant hum of insects, the river, sugar cane harvesters, footsteps on the dirt road.

And the people are marked by all of it: a slowness not born of sloth or inability, but of understanding that speed only exhausts. Workers follow the shade around a building, and rest comfortably when they need to. "Jamaican time" is understood and always in effect: a small flexibility to what elsewhere are hard-and-fast rules of punctuality. Conversation--alternating between accented English and patois--are casual and loose, rarely raised in volume, peppered with soft laughter. It's not a permanent paradise, it can't be, but it's easy to think so: to step onto Jamaican soil is to loosen the collar, smile easier, check email less frequently. "Yea, mon," falls from your tongue sooner, and more authentically, than you would expect--but leaves your vernacular shortly after the return trip home.

And today I am back at home, back at work, back to the usual. With fresh-fallen snow covering most of my window, it's increasingly difficult to remember--by which I mean, mentally experience and not simply recollect--the feel of Jamaican sun and soil. It's not to say that I prefer the exotic--I loved my visit, but here I'm home--only that we are shaped by where we live. A land closely surrounded by turquoise seas and consistently well-heated by a golden sun will raise a different people than the ragged New England winters which yield to bright, temperate summers and definitive autumns. We are where we are. What happens to the place happens to us.